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White House hits Johnson over claiming gun violence was a matter of the ‘heart’

The Biden administration hit back Friday on Speaker Mike Johnson’s recent comments that placed blame for mass shootings in the United States on Americans’ “hearts,” calling the remarks “offensive.”

In a statement, White House spokesman Andrew Bates said the administration “absolutely” rejected “the offensive accusation that gun crime is uniquely high in the United States because of Americans’ ‘hearts.’”

“Gun crime is uniquely high in the United States because congressional Republicans have spent decades choosing the gun industry’s lobbyists over the lives of innocent Americans,” Bates added.

The comments from Bates marks the first tiff between the newly elected Republican speaker and the Biden administration. It also serves as a reminder of the vast distance between the two most senior elected leaders of their respective parties, after a few short hours in which they showed a bit of good will toward each other.

On Thursday, Johnson appeared on Fox News, where he was asked about the murder of 18 people in Lewiston, Maine. The Louisiana Republican said it was not the right time to consider legislation and defended the Second Amendment.

“At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart. It’s not guns, it’s not the weapons,” Johnson said. “We have to protect the right of the citizens to protect themselves. That’s the Second Amendment and that’s why our party stands so strongly for that.”

The Biden White House, for its part, has renewed a call for gun legislation after the shooting in Lewiston. And it wasted little time hitting Johnson for standing in the way.

Gun violence is “not the result of an imagined deficiency in the hearts of the American people; nor is it because women have the right to make their own health care decisions, as the Speaker once claimed,” Bates said, referring to Johnson’s 2016 commentsthat attributed mass shootings to the “age of immortality,” including the legalization of abortion rights and teaching evolution in schools.

Johnson’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.

Johnson was critical of the Biden administration at several points in the wide-ranging interview on Fox News. He said he believes the president is experiencing cognitive decline and that the impeachment inquiry into the president will find “very likely impeachable offenses.” He also dubbed Biden’s tenure “a failed presidency,” declining to identify a policy area in which Biden has been successful.

Earlier Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pointed to gun violence legislation as a potential area of compromise with the new speaker. However, she named policy proposals that have been widely dismissed by Republicans.

“Let’s work together to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” she said. “Let’s work together to enact universal background checks, require safe storage of guns, and keep guns out of the hands of criminals and dangerous individuals who have no business being armed with a weapon of war.”

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