By Aamer Madhani, USA TODAY
Obama's failure to pass gun control measures in the wake of the Newtown shooting will be a dark spot on the president's legacy -- and has some wondering just how much he can get done in his last years as commander in chief.
When President Obama introduced his ambitious gun legislation, he vowed to use "whatever weight this office holds" to make his gun-safety proposals a reality.
But with the failure Wednesday of Sens. Joe Manchin's and Pat Toomey's legislation - the best legislative hope for bolstering background checks - Obama may regret that he didn't lean in far enough.
The president spoke with heart - and as an anguished parent - in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and took to the road on several occasions to make his case for a major overhaul of the nation's gun laws.
After the Senate failed to muster enough votes to move forward with the Manchin-Toomey amendment, Obama spoke with anger.
"The American people are trying to figure out, how can something have 90% support and not happen?" said Obama, noting that polls show a vast majority of Americans back bolster background checks. "All in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington."
In the days after Sandy Hook, the president's senior advisers, including David Plouffe and Dan Pfeiffer, told him it would be very difficult if not impossible to get something done, according to a White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
But Obama responded that he had to try and he was willing to put his political capital into it. The White House was also concerned about how to use the president to keep the issue in the public sphere without burning out the public, the official said.
When it came to the political fight necessary to move this legislative mountain, Obama left much of the heavy lifting to Vice President Biden.
Biden was the one who met with the National Rifle Association, victims of gun violence and other stakeholders as he crafted recommendations for the president's gun-safety agenda.
He was the president's bulldog who lamented the "black helicopter crowd" that accused Obama of wanting to take Americans' guns away. Biden was the one who shamed lawmakers worried about their NRA scoring, telling them to get some "courage" like the parents of the Sandy Hook victims. He also clumsily interjected that he told his wife to shoot into the dark with a double-barrel shotgun if she felt threatened at home.
The decision to deputize Biden made sense. House Speaker John Boehner had clearly indicated that the GOP-controlled House was going to force the Democratic-led Senate to take a lead on the issue.
Biden's 36 years in the Senate and friendships with lawmakers made him a more credible point man than Obama, someone whose track record advocating gun control only dates to his years as a state senator in Illinois.
But in taking on the most significant effort to change gun rules in nearly 20 years, perhaps this was one where the president had to take the lead.
Obama has called the Sandy Hook tragedy the worst day of his presidency.
When he's writing his memoirs a few years from now, he might remember Wednesday as his most disappointing day in Washington.