Obama Holds News Conference
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
One hundred days into his presidency, Barack Obama took the podium this evening in the East Room of the White House for a primetime news conference. He pointed to a vigorous performance in his first three months plus. And he promised that that would continue.
President BARACK OBAMA: You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security in the second 100 days and the third 100 days and all the days after that.
SIEGEL: The president addressed a number of big topics in the news. On the global outbreak of swine flu, Mr. Obama encouraged the public to take simple precautions. On the auto industry, the president said he was hopeful that Chrysler and General Motors will get back on their feet, that Chrysler could avoid bankruptcy, and that GM could be a viable auto company in the future. And Mr. Obama said he's confident that Pakistan's nuclear weapons will remain in safe hands.
NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea joins me now to recap those and other points in the news conference. Hi.
DON GONYEA: Hi.
SIEGEL: Topic number one was the swine flu outbreak. Did the president offer anything new in this?
SIEGEL: Well, it was the first thing in his opening statement. And the first question that he faced - what we've heard is basically what we've been hearing from him over the past few days. But he did stress that the government is prepared to do whatever it takes to confront this. That $1.5 billion he's asked for from Congress, he says, is kind of an insurance policy. It's to have the money there, to get things in place in case a worst-case scenario breaks out. But he really did lay out some just very nuts-and-bolts advice for the American people.
Pres. OBAMA: Wash your hands when you shake hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference. If you're sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school. If you are feeling certain flu symptoms, don't get on an airplane.
SIEGEL: Now, the first question is traditionally asked by an AP reporter for a wire service reporting. But the second question is a free choice for the president. And he called upon a Detroit newspaper reporter, so we knew what the question was going to be about. He wanted to be asked about the auto industry.
GONYEA: Absolutely. And tomorrow is deadline day for Chrysler. Recall, a month back, he gave Chrysler 30 days to arrange a partnership, a marriage, call it what you will, with the Italian automaker Fiat. GM was given 60 days. That means they've got another month before their D-day.
Chrysler has filed some preliminary papers that could get them ready for bankruptcy. So the question was: is bankruptcy going to happen tomorrow? The president said he feels better about Chrysler's chances of survival than he has in the past. They've made progress. He said workers have made sacrifices. There have been some negotiations and some deals with bondholders. So, we'll hear something tomorrow. But he seemed positive.
SIEGEL: And those filings he said were simply prudent to do earlier on, to be ready in case…
SIEGEL: …that was what would happen. Mr. Obama was asked about Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Let's listen to the question from Jake Tapper of ABC News.
Mr. JAKE TAPPER (Senior White House Correspondent, ABC News): Can you reassure the American people that, if necessary, America could secure Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and keep it from getting into the Taliban's hands or worst-case scenario, even al-Qaida hands?
Pres. OBAMA: I'm confident that we can make sure that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal is secure.
GONYEA: Robert, I think it's interesting that there was more focus on Pakistan in this press conference than there was about Iraq and Afghanistan. The president said his big concern is that the civilian government in Pakistan is fragile and doesn't seem to be able to deliver basic services.
SIEGEL: Although about Iraq, he said the recent bombings are a legitimate cause for concern but the level of violence is still much lower than it was a year ago.
GONYEA: And that it's not a significant spike upward, he said.
SIEGEL: Right. One questioner tried to draw him out and tried to make him say, you've called waterboarding torture. Did the previous administration sanction torture? And he would not repeat that sentence. It was a follow-up, and he just wouldn't say it.
GONYEA: No. He said it was a mistake what the previous administration did.
SIEGEL: Yeah. Now, it wouldn't be a presidential news conference without an off-the-wall question, and tonight, that one came from Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times.
Mr. JEFF ZELENY (New York Times): During these first 100 days, what has surprised you the most about this office? Enchanted you the most about serving in this office? Humbled you the most and troubled you the most?
Pres. OBAMA: Let me write this down.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Pres. OBAMA: I've got...
Mr. ZELENY: Surprised, troubled...
Pres. OBAMA: I've got - what was the first one?
Mr. ZELENY: Surprised.
Pres. OBAMA: Surprised.
Mr. ZELENY: Troubled.
Pres. OBAMA: Troubled.
Mr. ZELENY: Enchanted.
Pres. OBAMA: Enchanted, nice.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ZELENY: And humbled.
Pres. OBAMA: And what was the last one, humbled?
Mr. ZELENY: Humbled. Thank you, sir.
SIEGEL: And he eventually answered all of that.
GONYEA: He did. And I've got a few of them very quickly. Surprised at, you know, the confluence of the crises he's had to deal with. He also called that troubling. But troubling, too, he said, is the bickering that you see in Washington - sounded like George Bush when he's talked about how hard it is to change the tone. Enchanted - a lot of us thought he was going to mention the dog or maybe his girls in the White House - he talked about meeting U.S. troops and seeing their sacrifice. And he said he…
SIEGEL: We thought that was humbled when he said that.
GONYEA: Well, many, yes. Then he said he's humbled by the American people. So, he did list them all. He did come up with an answer for each.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Don.
GONYEA: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea.
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