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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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April 10th, 2013
05:59 PM ET

Michelle Obama wades into gun debate

First Lady Michelle Obama took a rare step into politics Wednesday, making an emotional speech condemning gun violence that has wounded her hometown of Chicago.

"Hadiya Pendleton was me. I was Hadiya Pendleton," an emotional Michelle Obama said Wednesday, speaking of the 15-year-old student who was killed in Chicago one week after travelling to Washington to participate in President Obama's Inauguration in January.

This is a different side of the First Lady. She's tackled uncontroversial issues like healthful eating, all while staying away from the gory political fights between the White House and Capitol Hill. But as the gun debate is reaching its most critical moment, here she is, for the first time weighing in on a major policy issue that could define her husband's legacy.

"What the First Lady is doing today is speaking to an issue that affects families across the United States, in her own way," said Anita Dunn, former White House communications director. Dunn has known Mrs. Obama for nearly a decade.

The White House is intensively protective of the First Lady's image. The administration does not want to be seen as using her to push a political agenda, but knows her popularity is a powerful tool.

"People close to her say she doesn't want to be popular for the sake of being popular, she wants to use her popularity to move issues forward," said Jodi Kantor of The New York Times, and author of "The Obamas."

"This is a dramatic test case because as we have seen in the last couple days, the gun legislation on the Hill is kind of right on the border, the outcome is uncertain. And so part of the test here is if she can use her popularity and personal appeal to help ease the legislation into a move favorable position," added Kantor.

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