President Barack Obama opened his first press conference in eight months, noting that America remains in a difficult economy. After reiterating his campaign boilerplate language regarding jobs and education, the president noted that he had met with “civic leaders” before he meets with business leaders later today. Those “civic leaders” included union heads and the leader of far-left MoveOn.org.
The president stated that no one in either party wants the nation to go over the “fiscal cliff.” He said that he was open to compromises and new ideas.
The first press question asked Obama for assurances that there have been no national security breaches in the affair that ended Gen. David Petraeus’ career at the CIA and threatens Gen. John Allen, commander of US forces in Afghanistan. Obama said that he had “no evidence” of any breaches of security (whoops, here it is), and lauded Petraeus’ service while noting that Petraeus admitted that he did not meet up to his own standard of conduct. Obama said that he hoped Petraeus’ family could “move on” from the affair.
Calling on reporters from a prepared list, Obama then called on CNN’s Jessica Yellin, who asked him why he shouldn’t be expected to “cave” on the “Bush tax cuts” again as he did two years ago. Obama’s pro forma answer — we were in a worse economic way then than we are now — suggested that both the reporters’ names and their questions were handed to the president ahead of the press conference. Obama said that America cannot afford to extend the tax cuts that he extended just two years ago. At that time, Obama joined a consensus that allowing those tax cuts to expire would be bad for the economy. It’s acceptable now, because…? Because he says so. The president based his argument for allowing the tax cuts to expire, and raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, on his re-election. The same electorate, though, returned Republicans who ran against his tax policies.
The third pre-approved question regarded immigration reform, as a reporter asked if he would send legislation to Congress that includes a path to citizenship, as he failed to do in his first term. Obama hailed Latino turnout as “powerful and good for the country.” He said he is confident that Washington can “get immigration reform done.” He said that he expects to get a bill introduced, and hailed some Republicans who have been warm to the idea of “comprehensive immigration reform.” He said it should include “strong” border security as well as severe penalties for companies that hire illegal aliens, along with a pathway to citizenship for the millions of illegal aliens who are already here.
Obama then called on Chuck Todd of left-leaning NBC, who asked whether the president should’ve known sooner about Petraeus’ affair. Todd also asked the president for clarity on his tax rate stance. Obama replied that he is withholding judgement on how the Petraeus situation “came up” before allowing that he has “a lot of confidence in the FBI.” On tax rates, Obama said that he is “open to ideas” as long as they raise revenue, maintain the tax code’s “progressivity,” and reduce the deficit. The president then went on a tangent about how he would not support a policy that ends up burdening the middle class or people with special needs kids to close the deficit. No one is actually offering such a proposal. It must have come from the army of straw men this president routinely slays with his mighty wit.
The fourth question went to Nancy Cordes of CBS, who asked when President Obama would meet with Mitt Romney to discuss ways of moving the country forward. The president promised such a meeting, but he has not even met with his own jobs council in nearly a year. Obama complemented Romney on how he saved the Olympics, even allowing that that skill-set translates well into running the federal government. Obama would never have said such a thing before Nov. 6. At that point, Romney was a felon vulture capitalist who had idled while a man’s wife died. Cordes followed up, asking why Obama has not reached out to build relationships with Congress. The question gave Obama the opportunity to look humble by declaring that “I can always do better,” an opportunity that he took full advantage of. He struck a humble note when he said that he hoped he would be a better president in his second term than he was in his first. It’s sort of like that Beatles song, I guess: He admits he’ll get better because he can’t get any worse.
Question five angled against Republican senators who are asking tough questions about Benghazi. Obama hailed Ambassador Susan Rice for doing “exemplary work,” in response to opposition from Sens. John McCain, Kelly Ayotte and Lindsey Graham to her possible nomination to become the next secretary of state. Those senators are calling for a special investigation into the Benghazi attack. Obama said that those senators should not be going after Rice, but should instead be going after him, for the five-repeat of lies she told in the aftermath of the Benghazi assault. Obama called their opposition to Rice, who he said “had nothing to do with Benghazi,” “outrageous.” He said that she was merely working from the best intelligence available at the time of her five-repeat lies that Benghazi happened because of a YouTube video, a statement that has already been proven false multiple times by US personnel who were in Benghazi during the assault. Obama said that he had not determined whether to nominate Rice to head the State Department, but that he might. No one in the media called the president on his demagoguery here; he had just tried to browbeat two senators on what would be a very contentious and divisive nomination, and denied that Rice had lied on her own. In fact, he owned her multiple lies and challenged the senators to “come after me” since she was working on orders from the White House. Perhaps they will take him up on the offer, as it’s clear no one in the room at today’s press conference will.
Ed Henry of Fox asked Obama about the statements of the families of the victims of Benghazi, who have said that they believe Obama’s administration did nothing to help them during the deadly attack. Henry asked Obama if he had issued any orders to try to protect their lives. Obama said that he would address the families not through the press, but “directly,” and said that the assault is being investigated. He has tended to address families of fallen Americans via form letter. “If people don’t think that we did everything we could to save the lives of the people I sent there, then you don’t know how” his government and its agencies think. Obama never directly answered Henry’s question, only saying that he ordered others to “do whatever we need to do” to make sure they’re safe. Henry also asked about Obama’s view of his second term mandate, and the president said that his mandate was to help the middle class and those trying to get to the middle class. If you’re rich or aspiring to be rich, therefore, you’re not part of the president’s plans, except in proposing to raise your taxes.
Another question about the fiscal cliff. Will it happen? Obama said that Republicans should give him what he wants on tax hikes for the wealthy in exchange for his word on spending cuts. Will he stop Iran’s nuclear program? He denied that the US had agreed to direct talks with Iran.
A question about Michael Bloomberg and climate change. Is Hurricane Sandy evidence of climate change? How, Mr. President, will you finally stop the seas from rising as you promised four years ago? That’s not the exact wording of the question, but it’s the gist. Obama declined to connect Sandy to climate change before stating that the temperature is going up around the globe (even though it isn’t). Obama said that we have an obligation to future generations to do something about climate change, including doubling the fuel standards on cars and doubling the use of “clean energy.” He also promised more “investments” in green tech along the lines of his first term investments in Solyndra, Ener1, and so forth, which failed but did make several of his political supporters richer. He hoped to find common ground on a climate change proposal that would attract bipartisan support. It was one of the president’s many lines that should have elicited laughter, but Washington’s laugh track appears to be broken.
Obama allowed his final question to come from Mark Felsenthal of Reuters, who asked if the US would consider arming the rebels in Syria. Obama bragged that he was among the first leaders to call out Assad’s most recent brutality. He said the US is helping the opposition get organized and is working with neighboring countries to assist them. He never answered whether the US would help arm the rebels, though the New York Times has reported that the US is already running guns to them through a network that was organized by former CIA head David Petraeus. He called the Syrian opposition a “broad based inclusive group” and stressed that it should seek a democratic Syria before allowing that there are “extremist elements” among that opposition. If Libya and Egypt are any guide, those “extremist elements” will eventually take power in Syria with American help.
Obama cut off questioning only to have a reporter not on his approved list shout a question out to him. The president declined to answer it. And with that, President Obama’s control of the state-run media is complete.
Update: Here’s video of Obama defending Ambassador Susan Rice, and admitting that “the White House,” which means Obama, asked her to make those fateful appearances on Sunday shows in which she repeatedly blamed Benghazi on a movie.
Among the fascinating bits in the video, Obama shows anger at anyone who would “besmirch” Rice’s reputation. He just spent the better part of a year besmirching Mitt Romney’s reputation. He called Romney a felon, a murderer, a vulture capitalist and probably a poopy head to boot. Why was that fine with Obama, but criticism of an ambassador who demonstrably lied to the American people is not?
The idea Obama puts up here is that Rice is above criticism. That’s ridiculous. He just admitted that she lied on his orders. That admission would move the scandal along nicely if we had a media that was worth more than a bucket of spit, and if we did not have a Senate that has become nothing more than an adjunct of the West Wing.