Obama Admits Economic Recovery 'Not There Yet' In his first news conference since May, the president accused Republicans of "playing games" with measures designed to strengthen small businesses and create jobs. On the eve of the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, he also said the nation must remain vigilant against al-Qaida while stressing the need for tolerance of Islam.
NPR logo Obama Admits Economic Recovery 'Not There Yet'

Obama Admits Economic Recovery 'Not There Yet'

President Obama delivers opening remarks during a news conference Friday in the East Room of the White House. Mark Wilson/Getty Images hide caption

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Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama delivers opening remarks during a news conference Friday in the East Room of the White House.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Obama was faced with the difficult task of trying to reconcile conflicting arguments during his news conference Friday at the White House, his first since May and the longest of his presidency.

Obama sought credit for promoting economic policies that he said have helped middle-class Americans and laid a stronger foundation for the future. But he acknowledged that economic recovery overall has been "painfully slow."

To move forward, Obama called on Republicans to support proposals he unveiled this week to extend tax breaks for businesses and to spend an additional $50 billion on infrastructure projects.

Yet in the midst of the election season, the president castigated Republicans for "sitting on the sidelines" while he and fellow Democrats grappled with the nation's economic problems. He also accused the GOP of holding middle-class tax relief "hostage" and "playing games" with a small-business aid package that has stalled in the Senate.

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The difficulties of getting bickering parties in pursuit of mutually advantageous goals to cooperate came up again during his remarks on issues such as Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Asked how he had changed Washington, Obama cited specific policies he has pushed through but conceded that his project to "create a greater spirit of cooperation" in the capitol had fallen short.

"I'm as frustrated as anyone," the president said.

Digging Out Of A Huge Hole

Obama noted that the nation has seen eight consecutive months of private sector job growth. However, the number of jobs created has been relatively small — not enough to make up for the 8 million jobs lost during the recession, which the president called "a huge hole to dig ourselves out of."

He complained that Republicans were offering up versions of "the exact policies that got us into this mess," saying their platform of tax cuts for the wealthy and deregulation amounted to the same policies that led to the financial meltdown.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) issued a statement after the news conference saying that it was Obama's "same old" policies that have prolonged the crisis.

"President Obama squandered an opportunity to embrace bipartisan solutions that will stimulate the economy and create jobs. Instead, he called for more of the same failed economic policies: higher taxes on job creators and 'stimulus' spending that borrows on the backs of future generations," Pence said.

Notable Obama Remarks

On the economy: For 19 months, what we have done is steadily worked to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting rapidly and making it grow again. ... But we're not there yet.

On the GOP: The policies that the Republicans are offering right now are the exact policies that got us into this mess.

On former President Bush: One of the things that I most admired about President Bush was, after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam.

On the Quran-burning controversy: The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for.

On taxes: We have cut taxes for small businesses eight times during the course of the last 18 months. So we're hardly Johnny-come-latelys on this issue.

Obama said Democrats "will do fine" in November if voters credit them for policies that helped avert a depression and are still aiding the economy, "if not fast enough." A big win for the GOP in the upcoming congressional elections, which appears to be increasingly likely, would represent a retreat on economic progress, he argued.

Still, he conceded, "Since I'm the president and since Democrats have control of the House and Senate, it's understandable that people are saying, 'What have you done?'"

Not At War With Islam

On the eve of the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — and in light of recent controversies surrounding the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero and a Florida church's threat to burn the Quran — questions about terrorism and the war in Afghanistan were inevitable.

Obama cited the potential for inflaming anger overseas — potentially endangering U.S. men and women in uniform who are serving in Muslim nations — in calling for tolerance in allowing the construction of mosques wherever churches or temples would be welcomed.

We should be "crystal clear" that our war is against murderers and terrorists, not the Islamic religion that they "perverted," he said.

"We are one nation under God," Obama said. "We may call that god different names, but we remain one nation."

The president also sought to remind Americans that the reason the nation remains at war in Afghanistan is to make sure that country is never again used as a base for attacks in the United States.

He conceded that corruption in Afghanistan remains a major problem. He also admitted that he had not been able to fulfill a campaign promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which he noted is still used as a recruiting tool and "talking point" by al-Qaida.

Still Hoping For Progress

During a news conference lasting more than 75 minutes, Obama took questions from 13 reporters that touched on issues such as health care, poverty and education. He described the latter area as one "where actually we've seen some good bipartisan cooperation."

Obama also cited the need for a spirit of cooperation for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to succeed. He said that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu need to "start thinking about how to make the other succeed."

The president said Netanyahu should extend a moratorium on the construction of settlements as a gesture of good faith so long as talks remain constructive.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to the Middle East to attend their first round of meetings later this month, Obama said.

He also confirmed that Austan Goolsbee, who had served as a top aide during his 2008 campaign, will replace Christina Romer as the chair of the Council on Economic Advisers.

Obama refused to say whether he would appoint Elizabeth Warren — whom he described as a "dear friend" and "tremendous advocate" — to head the new consumer protection agency created under the recent financial oversight law. Warren, a Harvard law professor who has been heading a panel overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, is considered the intellectual godmother of the new agency. But she would very likely face a rocky Senate confirmation hearing.