TOLEDO, Iowa — Sen. Bernie Sanders is under fire from Democratic rival Hilary Clinton amid a new campaign by the White House to pressure Democrats into backing his gun control proposals.
On Thursday night, President Obama published an op-ed in The New York Times in which he warned he would "not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform." Among other measures, the president called on Democrats to support ending a law that grants gun manufacturers immunity from certain lawsuits. Sanders voted for legislation that included the immunity provision in 2005 and indicated earlier this year that he still supports shielding gun companies and dealers from legal action.
Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs told Politico that Sanders was "willing to take another look at that legislation." In an October debate, the candidate said he did not agree with the entire 2005 bill and was mostly concerned with protecting small gun shop owners rather than large companies.
Sanders told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Friday that he did not believe Obama's op-ed was aimed at pushing him to the left on gun control and emphasized their agreement.
"You know, there are a lot of candidates and money in the House and the Senate who may be opposed to sensible gun control legislation," Sanders said. " I happen not to be one of them. I strongly support the executive order that the president is working on right now. "
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters on Friday that breaking down opposition to gun immunity among Democrats like Sanders was exactly Obama's intention.
"I certainly noticed that Senator Sanders told one of your [colleagues] here when asked this very question, he was eager to point out that Senator Sanders had made clear that he was willing to revisit that position," Earnest said. "That's exactly the goal here, right? We want people to change their minds."
Earnest added that he was not familiar with Sanders' record and that the op-ed was "not any sort of secret or subtle signal to demonstrate a preference in the presidential primary" when it came to candidates. Nonetheless, he said that any Democratic nominee would need to prove their commitment to "common-sense measures" on guns in order to earn Obama's support.
Clinton has attacked Sanders over gun control in the past and her campaign scheduled a conference call with the media on Friday to highlight the issue in response to the news.
"I voted against it," Clinton said in an October Democratic debate against Sanders. "I was in the Senate the same time. It wasn't that complicated to me. It was pretty straightforward to me that he was going to give immunity to the only industry in America — everybody else has to be accountable, but not the gun manufacturers, and we need to be able to stand up and say enough of that, we're not going to let it continue."