Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky argued Wednesday morning President Obama is using the families of victims from the Newtown elementary school shooting for political purposes and compared them to "props" in the ongoing gun control debate.
His comments later elicited a fiery response from Obama after the Senate voted down a proposal to expand background checks on firearm purchases.
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Talking about the gun control legislation at a Washington breakfast with reporters, Paul said the issue is a legitimate subject to debate but said it was unfortunate that families who have suffered from gun violence are being drawn into the political scene on Capitol Hill.
"In some cases, I think the president has used them as props," he said.
A number of Newtown families traveled to Washington in recent weeks to lobby senators as the upper chamber considered tougher gun laws.
One of the main amendments of a gun package, however, failed to gain enough support in the vote Wednesday after nearly all Republicans and four Democrats opposed the legislation, saying it doesn't address the problem of gun violence.
(Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also voted no at the last minute for procedural reasons, allowing him to bring the amendment back up at a later date.)
"I've seen the fathers and mothers testifying," Paul said, adding he's aware they came voluntarily and wanted to be part of the debate. "It still saddens me just to see them."
Pressed later during the breakfast about his comment referring to "props," Paul said he wants people to know that he cares about those families.
"I'm someone who's presenting a face to the public. The face I want to present is that I do care about those kids and I understand the grief that (the families) are going through," he said. "Politics isn't only about facts. It is about whether you're seen as being empathetic and I do want people to know that I do care about those families and I care about their grief.
Following Wednesday's vote, Obama appeared in the Rose Garden with Newtown families and angrily chided those who opposed the measure. And in a somewhat veiled swipe, the president addressed Paul's comment.
"I've heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced–a 'prop,' somebody called it," he said. "Are they serious? Do they really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don't have a right to weigh in on this issue? Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate?"
"So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day in Washington," he added.
Paul was one of the Republican senators who conducted a filibuster of the bill, preventing it from moving forward last week. However, their filibuster was overcome when the Senate obtained the 60 votes it needed to proceed with the legislation.
The senator said he didn't consider the background check proposal, which expands the system to cover private sales at gun shows and online, as a solution to gun violence, arguing those who commit mass shootings are going to do so no matter what.
Instead, he favors strengthening the current background check system and allowing teachers to keep guns in the classroom as a way to protect students.
The current actions on the Hill, he argued, are akin to "window dressing."
"It's a dog and pony show, it's a parade, it's theatrics," he said, adding some lawmakers just want to be able to say they "did something" on gun violence, even if it's not effective in the end.
Also at the breakfast with reporters, Paul confirmed he was considering a presidential bid and outlined further plans for his travel to early primary states this year.
"We're considering it, but we won't make a decision before 2014," he said at the breakfast, sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.
Paul is scheduled to travel to the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire next month, but he said he's also adding South Carolina to his itinerary this summer.
"Whether I run or not, I would consider it as something that allows me to have a larger microphone," he said.