On Friday, President Obama appeared in the East Room of the White House for a press conference. The questioners had been pre-selected; the answers strained both credulity and patience. At one point, Obama, obviously frustrated issues ranging from Obamacare employment mandate to Benghazi to immigration reform, blurted out, “there are very few human problems that are 100% solvable.”
Obama opened with a short statement about the continuous revelations about National Security Agency surveillance of both Americans and foreigners. Obama ripped into national security leaks from Edward Snowden, bashing the “passionate but not always fully informed way” the debate over civil liberties was being carried out. Obama cited his history of worries about surveillance when he was in the Senate, adding, “it’s right to ask questions about surveillance.” He said, “it’s not enough or me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people have to have confidence in them as well.”
Obama then said he wanted to discuss four steps he would be taking to “move the debate forward.” First, he said, he would “work with Congress” to reform Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which collects phone records. Second, Obama continued, he would “work with Congress” to improve public confidence in the foreign intelligence surveillance courts. Third, Obama promised to be “more transparent.” He said he would make “public as much information about these programs as possible.” He said at his direction, the DOJ would make public its legal rationales under Section 215, release NSA missions and oversight information, and create a website that would “serve as a hub for further transparency.” Fourth, Obama stated, “we’re forming a high level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies.”
All these steps, Obama said, would ensure that the American people could “trust” that these efforts would “align on our interests and our values.” American surveillance, he said, was not interested in “spying on ordinary people.”
He called members of the intelligence community “patriots” and also called those concerned about civil liberties “patriots.” He suggested “vigorous public debate, guided by our constitution, with reverence for our history as a nation of laws.” When questioned later whether he considered Snowden a “patriot,” he said no.
Queried about his current conflict with Russia over their asylum for Snowden, Obama said there was “always tension” between the United States and Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Obama said he’d “encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward as opposed to backwards…with mixed success,” but added that he could not “disguise” differences between the two countries. Obama added that Putin “had that kind of slouch, looking like that bored kid sitting in the back of the classroom.” With regard to the Olympics, Obama said “I do not think it is appropriate to boycott the Olympics.” He said he was “offended” by anti-gay legislation in Russia as well as other countries. “One of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay or lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes we’re seeing there. And if Russia doesn’t have gay or lesbian athletes, it will probably make their team weaker.”
When asked why he should be trusted on surveillance, Obama blamed the media for “sensationalized” reporting, then answered with an analogy: he said that if he told Michelle that he had done the dishes and she was skeptical, he might have to “show her the dishes.” He then said, “I’m comfortable that the program is not being currently abused.”
Asked about why he had stated that Al Qaeda had been decimated months before closing 22 embassies around the globe, President Obama suggested that “core” Al Qaeda was on his heels, but that the threat had “metastasized” into a different sort of threat. He said that it was consistent to believe that this “tightly organized” Al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11 has been “broken apart” and is “very weak,” and to simultaneously claim that the Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could still pose a serious threat.
Obama truly got snippy, however, when asked by Fox News’ Ed Henry why he had promised to track down those responsible for the September 11, 2012 Benghazi terrorist attacks, and why there had apparently been no progress in that pursuit. Obama promptly answered, “I also said we’d get Bin Laden and we didn’t get him in 11 months.”
Things quickly got worse for the president, who was then asked about why he had unilaterally delayed the Obamacare employer mandate. Obama said he didn’t choose to delay the business mandate to buy insurance for employees “on my own,” but in “consultation with businesses around the country…concerned about the operational details of changing their HR operations.” The American public can sleep well at night knowing that the Fourth Branch of Government, the Congress of Business, helps the president delay duly enacted legislation.
He swiveled from that quasi-ridiculous response to a small stump speech on Obamacare, talking about its benefits, including the story of a cancer victim who had somehow gone into remission thanks to Obamacare. In his comfort zone, he began bashing Republicans, stating that Republicans had made “preventing these people from getting health care their Holy Grail.” He said that the “one unifying principle” for Republicans was keeping 30 million people from getting healthcare, hurting the elderly, removing care for the ill. “There’s not a pretense now they’re going to replace it with something better,” Obama said. He accused Republicans of an “ideological fixation.” He then compared the Obamacare rollout glitches to glitches in Apple rolling out a new iPad. “I make no apologies” for such glitches, he stated. Then he said it would be foolish for Republicans to “shut down the government to prevent 30 million people from getting healthcare.”
Obama was asked about immigration; after blaming “internal Republican caucus politics” for slow progress on immigration reform, Obama stated that “there are very few human problems that are 100% solvable.” With this president in office, that may have been the only fully true statement of the press conference.
Ben Shapiro is Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the New York Times bestseller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America” (Threshold Editions, January 8, 2013).