Obama Opens The Floor To Questions

Despite the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, there's not much unity in the political world right now. NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley reports on President Barack Obama's Friday news conference and his plans to commemorate the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

President Obama marks the anniversary of the September 11th attacks today with a wreath laying at the Pentagon and some volunteer work in Washington, D.C. The president says he hopes this national day of service and remembrance will rekindle the spirit of unity and common purpose that Americans felt in the days after the attacks nine years ago.

There's not much unity in the political world right now with midterm elections less than a couple months away. In a moment we'll hear from Republican Congressman Tom Price of Georgia.

First, more on the president's White House news conference yesterday from NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Improving relations with the Muslim world has been a priority for President Obama. So he was asked why there seems to be more suspicion or outright resentment of Islam this year - from the controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero to a fringe pastor's plan to burn copies of the Quran.

Mr. Obama suggested anxiety and tough economic times may be fueling fear and division, but he made a personal appeal for religious tolerance.

President BARACK OBAMA: As somebody who, you know, relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand, you know, the passions that religious faith can raise. But I'm also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don't subscribe to the exact same notions that I do.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama praised former President Bush for making it crystal clear after September 11th that the U.S. was not at war with Islam.

Mr. Obama was less charitable about his predecessor's economic policies, saying one reason he pursued the White House was to challenge tax cuts for the rich and a laissez faire attitude towards business.

President OBAMA: And I ran precisely because I did not think middle-class families in this country were getting a fair shake, and I ran because I felt that we had to have a different economic philosophy in order to grow.

HORSLEY: But more than a year and a half into his term, with unemployment still near 10 percent, many people have grown skeptical of Mr. Obama's economic policies. Congressional Democrats are likely to pay a price for that in November.

The president argues a return to Republican policies is the wrong way to go, but he acknowledged many voters are frustrated and angry.

President OBAMA: People who have lost their jobs around the country and can't find one, moms who are sending out resumes and not getting calls back, worried about losing homes, not being able to pay bills, you know, they're not feeling good right now - and I understand that.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama accused Senate Republicans of blocking many of his proposals for political gain. This week he suggested more business tax breaks and government spending on the transportation network. The White House pointedly avoids calling this a second stimulus, given public doubts about how the first stimulus worked, but Mr. Obama says his goal is still helping people to find jobs.

President OBAMA: I have no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and hiring. Isn't that what I should be doing? I would assume that's what the Republicans think we should do.

HORSLEY: The president signaled yesterday he's not about to change his economic philosophy when he named Austan Goolsbee to head the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Goolsbee was already a member of the council and he's been advising Mr. Obama since the campaign. He's also an amateur comedian. He won a stand-up contest last year as D.C.'s funniest celebrity.

Mr. AUSTIN GOOLSBEE (Council of Economic Advisers): I'm just a guy from Chicago - future pitcher(ph) - and the thing is...

HORSLEY: The former University of Chicago professor once joked that with a name like Austan Goolsbee, he could've been a character in a Harry Potter novel. That could be a plus for Mr. Obama, who needs all the economic wizardry he can muster.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House.

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