The mother of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Connecticut school shooting used the opportunity to fill in for President Barack Obama during the weekly radio and Internet address to make a personal plea from the White House for action to combat gun violence.
“Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief,” said Francine Wheeler, choking back tears in the address broadcast Saturday. “Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.”
Ben Wheeler was among the 20 first-graders and six adults killed in the Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.
Francine Wheeler was the first person to deliver the address other than Obama or Vice President Joe Biden since the two took office in 2009.
Her husband, David Wheeler, sat silently next to her as she made the recording in the White House Library. Both wore the small green pins that have become a symbol of the shooting.
Obama asked Wheeler to deliver this week's address, which was taped Friday. The White House said Wheeler and her husband wrote the remarks.
“Sometimes, I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home — the same firehouse that was home to Ben's Tiger Scout Den 6,” Francine Wheeler said. “But other times, I feel Ben's presence filling me with courage for what I have to do, for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon.”
Some of the Sandy Hook families, with Obama's blessing, have launched a stepped-up effort to push a gun control bill through Congress.
Obama traveled Monday to Hartford, Conn., about an hour's drive from Newtown, to make his case for action. On the return trip to Washington, he brought back 12 of the victims' family members, who have been meeting with senators.
The Senate is considering a Democratic bill backed by Obama that would expand background checks, strengthen laws against illegal gun trafficking and slightly increase school security aid. The bill passed its first hurdle on Thursday, and senators will vote on amendments to the legislation in the coming week.
Its fate in the Republican-controlled House is uncertain.
Shortly after the vote Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the voices of the Newtown families may have been the decisive factor.
In the Republicans' weekly address, freshman Rep. Jackie Walorski of Indiana criticized the tax increases Obama proposed in the $3.8 trillion budget blueprint he unveiled Wednesday, calling it “a blank check for more spending and more debt.”
Although she acknowledged that Obama's budget “offers signs of common ground” in the form of entitlement reforms the GOP has previously requested, she said it's wrongheaded for Obama to insist he'll only agree to those reforms if Congress also agrees to higher taxes.