Obama Defends Plans In Primetime Address
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones tackled a new challenge. He travels the globe to play some of the world's most difficult sports. He joins us to talk about the "Dhani Tackles the Globe," his new series with the Travel Channel in just a few minutes. But first: political leaders on the economy. President Obama spoke to the nation last night and reassured the country that his administration is squarely facing the nation's problems.
President BARACK OBAMA: None of us know exactly what's going to happen six or eight or 10 years from now. Here's what I do know: If we don't tackle energy, if we don't improve our education system, if we don't drive down the cost of health care, if we're not making serious investments in science and technology and our infrastructure, then we won't grow 2.6 percent. We won't grow 2.2 percent. We won't grow.
MARTIN: The president went on to defend his plans to create jobs, boost the housing market, loosen the credit markets. In a moment, we'll hear about how Detroit is coping with the economic crisis. Unemployment has hit a staggering 22 percent there, and we want to hear how the president's remarks were received there. But first, to talk more about the president's remarks, here with me now in our Washington, D.C. studio is Pamela Gentry. She's the senior political analyst and blogger for Black Entertainment Television. She was at the press conference. Welcome back.
Ms. PAMELA GENTRY (Senior Political Analyst and Blogger, Black Entertainment Television): Thank you.
MARTIN: Second primetime press conference, why that forum and why now?
Ms. GENTRY: I think that he realizes he is the best person to deliver his message. He does not need surrogates to do it for him. And he walked right out, he gave his opening remarks to the American public before taking those questions.
MARTIN: The president was clearly defending his proposed budget against Republican criticism that the budget's too expensive, that it'll increase the deficit. But did he have a message to his own party? I was intrigued by Jake Tapper of ABC. He had a question suggesting that they were moving - that the Democrats are moving forward without some of the middle class tax cuts and other initiatives that he wanted in part to win by bipartisan support.
Ms. GENTRY: He was ready for that question. He was so - he was very direct in the way he answered it, too. He was very specific that there were three things that he wanted in that budget. Now they could talk about cuts, they could talk about changes, but I think he sent the message back to his fellow colleagues. I want to see energy, I want to see health care, and I want to see, you know, foreclosures, economy, that stuff(ph). He says without that, he basically promised a veto. He wouldn't say that. But I think he promised a veto.
MARTIN: I'm ready to deal, but not on…
Ms. GENTRY: Yeah.
MARTIN: …but not on these core issues. I was curious - I wanted to ask you, what was the atmosphere like there? These things are always so fraught. I mean, last press conference he was criticized because - he was praised for calling on somebody outside the traditional meeting. He called on a blogger, but then he didn't call on anybody from the so-called black media - you know, a black-oriented news outlet. This time he did. He called on somebody from Ebony. He also called on somebody from Univision and AFP, the Agence France-Presse. What was the atmosphere like, and do you have any…
Ms. GENTRY: Oh, it was incredible. First of all, all week, it was you know, since it was announced at the press conference was going to take place, they were inundated with requests for credentials. This probably - this press conference was packed. And the interesting thing to me is that there is so much international press now, even for the daily briefings when I'm there - I mean, French television is there, German television. I mean, they're there daily. They're not popping in. So there is this core now - this core has grown. And then when you have an event like this, the room was buzzing. I mean, that was the word I used in my column this morning.
There were just people everywhere. And one of the things that really intrigued me was watching how much of his senior staff actually came to his press conference - very unusual at a White House press conference.
MARTIN: Really? I always thought - when I covered the First Bush White House -H.W. Bush, Bush 41, that that was customary.
Ms. GENTRY: Not real customary in the - that I noticed during the Clinton years, and I didn't go as much during the Bush years - but that they actually came in lined the wall in the back.
MARTIN: I saw that. That was interesting. One more thing I wanted to ask for we bring Rochelle Riley in: He fielded a question from Ann Compton of - also of ABC News, asking about whether race had come up in any policy debates in the White House, or whether he was experiencing a color blind period. I want to play his answer. Here it is.
Pres. OBAMA: At the inauguration, I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country. But that lasted about a day.
MARTIN: Pam, what did you think of his answer?
Ms. GENTRY: I thought that his answer…
MARTIN: Is it true?
Ms. GENTRY: I think his answer was probably true, because he's got a lot on his plate and he probably doesn't have a day-to-day encounter with the issue of race. But I don't think that is completely something that's non-existent. But what I do think is interesting as his office still has a policy issue. There is one. He still has an office of sort of minority affairs for even the media. So there is a person designated there to deal with the black press and the Hispanic press. So it does exist. There is some policy there.
MARTIN: That's interesting. Pam Gentry, I want to ask you to stay with us.