Two ordinary guys, Joe and Jimmy, sat down for a chat on Wednesday night, a heart-to-heart between a couple of Americans with working-class roots who managed to make something of themselves.
Jimmy was Brooklyn-born Jimmy Kimmel, host of an ABC late night comedy talk show. Joe was Scranton, Pa., native Joe Biden, president of the United States — or, as Kimmel put it to his guests, “the reason we all got a cavity search tonight.”
Things got more serious after that introduction, in what was Biden’s first appearance on a late night talk show since becoming president last year. He was in Los Angeles for a meeting with Latin and South American leaders.
Having grown impatient with the strictures of Washington, Biden has been eager to travel and talk, to press his case outside the Beltway. With his unabashedly liberal politics, Kimmel was a safe interlocutor for a president whose misstatements in high-stakes situations have proven, to say the least, problematic for the White House.
“Look, this is not your father’s Republican Party,” the president said Wednesday, reprising a line that he has recently become a favorite of his. “This is a MAGA party,” he said, using the acronym for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid.
Gun control dominated the conversation. Only hours before, Washington had been gripped by emotional testimony from surviving victims and family members of those who were killed in recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.
Biden has called for Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban that was in place between 1994 and 2004, and to pass other measures, like background checks, that would make it more difficult to purchase and own weapons. Those measures are popular with Americans but have been strenuously resisted by many GOP legislators on Capitol Hill.
Republicans, a relaxed-looking Biden told Kimmel, were “intimidated” by the National Rifle Association. He also offered mild intimidation of his own, vowing that gun control would become a “voting issue” in forthcoming congressional elections.
“Can’t you issue an executive order?” Kimmel wondered aloud. “Trump passed those out like Halloween candy.”
Biden said he did not want to “emulate Trump’s abuse of the Constitution” by acting unilaterally. The president did issue an executive order on so-called ghost guns in April, but any significant measure — like an assault weapons ban — would have to be endorsed by the Senate, where Democrats are well short of the votes they would need to break a Republican filibuster.
Gun violence is hardly the only crisis plaguing Biden’s administration.
“Inflation is the bane of our existence,” the president admitted. And he reiterated the case for the ambitious social spending agenda, once known as Build Back Better, that failed to pass muster in the Senate last year.
“It’s all screwed up,” Kimmel said of Washington’s quagmire on nearly every issue Americans say they care about.
“Well, it is screwed up,” Biden agreed. “But we are only a few votes away from being able to straighten it out.” Those votes, however, would have to come from legislators willing to take moderate positions that would serve as all-but-certain fodder for opponents in primary elections.
Kimmel offered that many of the nation’s seemingly intractable divisions could be blamed on a “Death Star pumping false information into our brains.”
Biden was ready with a retort: “Fox, right?”