Obama Pushes Health Changes On Sunday TV Shows

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President Obama has set a new record for appearing on Sunday morning TV talk shows. He became the first president to appear on five of those programs in one day. It's part of the president's stepped-up efforts to sell a sweeping overhaul of the nation's health care system.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm LINDA WERTHEIMER. Renee Montagne is away this week.

President Obama is taking another shot at recapturing the health care debate. The president turned up on five Sunday news shows. Tonight, he tries a different forum to reach those who skipped Sunday morning news. He'll be a guest on David Letterman. In a moment, we'll have analysis from NPR's Cokie Roberts.

We start with NPR's David Welna.

DAVID WELNA: The only network Sunday talk show President Obama did not appear on was Fox News Sunday. It seems to have been payback for Fox broadcasting, "So You Think You Can Dance" during President Obama's recent primetime address on health care to a joint session of Congress. That speech was interrupted by South Carolina House Republican Joe Wilson's cry of you lie. And his outburst has been replayed again and again on cable TV outlets. Yesterday, Mr. Obama told CBS's "Face The Nation," the news media themselves share some of the blame for the rough tone of the public debate.

President BARACK OBAMA: They focus on the most extreme elements on both sides. They can't get enough of conflict. It's catnip to the media right now. And so the easiest way to get 15 minutes of fame is to be rude to somebody.

WELNA: Still on NBC's "Meet The Press," the president rejected former President Jimmy Carter's contention last week that the vitriol aimed at President Obama is really motivated by the fact that he is African-American.

Pres. OBAMA: I'm not saying that race never matters in any of these public debates that we have. What I'm saying is this debate that's taking place is not about race, it's about people being worried about how our government should operate.

WELNA: On ABC's "This Week" host George Stephanopoulos pointed out that even some of the president's fellow Democrats in Congress worry about his stance on health care. They accuse him, Stephanopoulos said, of endorsing raising taxes by supporting a mandate for all Americans to buy health insurance.

Pres. OBAMA: My critics say everything's a tax increase. My critics say I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that. Look, we can have a legitimate debate about whether or not we're going to have an individual mandate or not, but…

Mr. GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (Host, "This Week"): Then you reject it?

Pres. OBAMA: I absolutely reject that notion.

WELNA: On several of the talk shows, the president was asked about a letter sent to him Friday by seven former CIA directors. They asked that he halt a new Justice Department probe of CIA interrogation practices. Mr. Obama told "Face The Nation" the probe must go forward.

Pres. OBAMA: I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an institution that they helped to build. But, I continue to believe that nobody's above the law and I want to make sure that, as president of the United States, that I'm not asserting in some way that my decisions overrule the decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law.

WELNA: The president's views on the eight year long war in Afghanistan were probed on several of the talk shows. On "Meet The Press," he was asked whether in his mind there's a timeline for withdrawal?

Pres. OBAMA: I don't have a deadline for withdrawal, but I'm certainly not somebody who believes in indefinite occupations of other countries.

WELNA: The president stressed on the same show, he's not wed to a war that lately has lost support as it's grown more deadly for U.S. forces.

Pres. OBAMA: I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan, or saving face, or in some way, you know, sending a message that America is here for the duration. I think it's important that we match strategy to resources.

WELNA: Mr. Obama said he won't decide about sending additional combat forces to Afghanistan until he's satisfied the right strategy is being pursued for preventing attacks from al-Qaida. On the home front, the president was asked on CNN's "State Of The Union" about the prospects for the unemployment rate coming down.

Pres. OBAMA: Probably, the jobs picture is not going to improve considerably, and it could even get a little bit worse over the next couple of months. And we're probably not going to start seeing enough job creation to deal with the, you know, rising population until sometime next year.

WELNA: Presumably Mr. Obama will hit a lighter note tonight, when he becomes the first sitting president to appear on David Letterman's "Late Show."

David Welna, NPR News, The Capitol.

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