Republicans are turning their backs on President Obama.
House Republicans are shrugging off Obama's latest executive actions on gun control, and instead say they want to focus on building their own agenda for the year. The GOP reaction stands in stark contrast to years of battling Obama's actions through legislation and the courts, and it signals a course change for Republicans who are now more interested in who will be in the Oval Office in 2017 than duking it out with the current president.
"We will look at all our options but we will not take this distraction for more than it is, which is a distraction," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said Wednesday when asked about Obama's gun move.
But Ryan indicated this will be the GOP's strategy for other issues as well. He said the GOP is focused not on fighting Obama, but on an upcoming joint House and Senate Republican retreat, where lawmakers will formulate an agenda they hope will help the party capture the White House in 2016.
"We know the president wants to fill this year with distractions," Ryan said. "If we're ever going to get our country back on track, we need to make this year about ideas, not about Obama's distractions. And that is exactly what we're going to do."
Obama's gun move posed the first test for Republicans in 2016. But a day after Obama's tearful White House announcement that he plans on using executive powers to beef up background checks for gun purchases, Republicans say a close examination of his plan shows it mostly reflects current law, and that it can therefore be ignored.
"It's looking like much ado about nothing," Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., said Wednesday as he exited the first closed-door Republican Conference meeting of the year in the House basement.
A top Republican aide said lawmakers have been studying Obama's announcement and have determined, "It really isn't much of anything."
Background checks are already required at gun shows and in many private sales, for instance, so Obama's pledge to require them doesn't change the law. In his first press conferences of the year, Ryan also seemed to downplay Obama's gun policy prescription, by noting current law requires checks already.
"There isn't a loophole," Ryan insisted on Wednesday.
Obama's announcement garnered a mixed reaction from the GOP earlier in the week, with some lawmakers pledging to take action while others hedged their response by promising oversight.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., said Obama's announcement "was more emotion than substance," adding that now that GOP lawmakers have now reviewed his plan, "There is a growing consensus that there is not a lot too it."
Brooks and others in the GOP say some of what Obama plans to do won't stand up in court, such as a plan to requires the Social Security Administration to devise a rule expanding their power to determine who is mentally incompetent. The SSA would then be required to report that information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which is used to block gun purchases.
But Ryan made no promises Tuesday that the House would legally challenge the move in court, as it has other Obama administration actions on health care and same-sex marriage.