Obama Defends Positions At Surprise News Conference
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish. President Obama called a surprise news conference at the White House this morning. Perhaps the biggest surprise was how little news he made. The president reiterated his positions time and time again on Syria, the sequester and immigration reform. And at one point, he had to fend off a reporter's suggestion that Obama has lost his, quote, "juice" just 100 days into his second term.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: In recent weeks, we've seen President Obama looking angry one day, determined the next. Today, the president looked hamstrung. Faced with bad actors abroad and political dysfunction in Washington, Obama repeatedly turned to variations of - it's hard, it's difficult, it's tough.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Maybe I should just pack up and go home, golly. You know, I think it's a little - as Mark Twain said, rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated.
HORSLEY: Obama does have plenty of challenges on his plate. He acknowledged evidence that someone in Syria has already used chemical weapons, a move he said in the past would be a game changer. Obama said he instructed the Pentagon as far back as last year to draw up possible military options for Syria.
Before any such escalation, though, he said the U.S. must be sure of its facts.
OBAMA: If we end up rushing to judgment without hard effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can't mobilize the international community to support what we do.
HORSLEY: Obama credited the FBI and other law enforcement for their quick response to the Boston Marathon bombing two weeks ago, but with renewed questions about intelligence gathering, he also said the government's conducting a full review to see if warning signs were missed before the attack.
OBAMA: Based on what I've seen so far, the FBI performed its duties. Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff.
HORSLEY: Obama said Russia has been cooperating with the U.S. in probing the bombing suspect's ties to that country. In some ways, the president's been getting more cooperation from Russia than he has from Congress. This month, U.S. lawmakers failed to pass a gun control bill that Obama had lobbied hard for.
Then, they rushed through relief for delayed air travelers, a move the president dismissed as a mere Band-Aid. Obama bristled at the idea these legislative letdowns are his fault.
OBAMA: You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That's their job.
HORSLEY: Lawmakers have also stymied the president's long running effort to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Today, Obama called that prison a lingering problem, but one that's tough to undo.
OBAMA: I think for a lot of Americans the notion is out of sight out of mind and it's easy to demagogue the issue.
HORSLEY: The president sounded more optimistic about prospects for immigration reform, saying he's pleased with the bipartisan bill now making its way through the Senate. He did not venture an opinion on the alternate immigration bill in the GOP-controlled House. Later this week, Obama travels to Mexico and Central America, where he hopes to focus on economic integration.
OBAMA: This is a massive trading partner responsible for huge amounts of commerce and huge numbers of jobs on both sides of the border.
HORSLEY: Obama started to leave the news conference, but he turned back to answer one final question about NBA player Jason Collins, who came out publically yesterday as gay. Obama had telephoned Collins to congratulate him and he said it's another step towards full equality.
OBAMA: For, I think, a lot of young people out there who, you know, are gay or lesbian who are struggling with these issues, to see a role model like that who's unafraid, I think it's a great thing.
HORSLEY: There was a time when Obama himself was the one breaking barriers, but after four plus years in the White House, he's no longer a novelty on the court. Americans are now watching to see if he can put the ball in the basket. Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.