Obama blasts can­di­dates’ ‘big talk’ Ad­dresses mil­i­tary ac­tion, con­tra­cep­tion in Su­per Tues­day news con­fer­ence Obama lags when it comes to meet­ing the press

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY SU­SAN CRAB­TREE AND BY SU­SAN CRAB­TREE

In the first news con­fer­ence of his re-elec­tion year, Pres­i­dent Obama tried Tues­day to ap­peal to sev­eral key groups of vot­ers — as­sur­ing the war-weary that he is reluc­tant to launch mil­i­tary at­tacks in Iran and Syria, prais­ing women for sup­port­ing con­tra­cep­tion, and promis­ing His­pan­ics that he will achieve im­mi­gra­tion re­form if they vote out Repub­li­cans.

Mr. Obama crit­i­cized GOP pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, with­out men­tion­ing names, for “a lot of blus­ter and a lot of big talk” about tak­ing mil­i­tary ac­tion to pre­vent Iran from de­vel­op­ing a nu­clear weapon. For­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, in par­tic­u­lar, have ac­cused Mr. Obama of weak­ness in con­fronting Iran.

“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so,” Mr. Obama said, sched­ul­ing his first news con­fer­ence in five months on the day of the Repub­li­cans’ Su­per Tues­day pres­i­den­tial pri­maries. “They should ex­plain to the Amer­i­can peo­ple ex­actly why they would do that and what the con­se­quences would be. Ev­ery­thing else is just talk.”

Sev­eral re­cent polls have shown a ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans op­pose mil­i­tary ac­tion to stop Syria’s bloody crack­down against anti-gov­ern­ment pro­test­ers, and an NBC/WALL Street Jour­nal poll this week showed more Amer­i­cans fa­vor di­plo­macy with Iran as long as the regime hasn’t de­vel­oped a nu­clear weapon. In his White House news con­fer­ence, Mr. Obama chas­tised Repub­li­cans for “the ca­su­al­ness with which some of these folks talk about war.”

“Those folks don’t have a lot of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not com­man­der in chief. I’m re­minded of the costs in­volved in war.”

In a meet­ing Mon­day with Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, the pres­i­dent said he wants more time for di­plo­macy and sanc­tions to work with Iran’s lead­ers.

At Demo­cratic fundrais­ers, Mr. Obama is cam­paign­ing on the theme that he kept his prom­ise of 2008 to end the Iraq War, and that he has sched­uled an end to the Afghanistan War by 2014.

In the news con­fer­ence, he said he has been tak­ing a “care­ful, thought­ful, sober ap­proach” to Iran for three years. Although he did not men­tion Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s decision to in­vade Iraq, Mr. Obama im­plied that he is more re­spon­si­ble

De­spite his pledge to run the most open and trans­par­ent White House in his­tory, Pres­i­dent Obama has held the ex­act same num­ber of for­mal news con­fer­ences as his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor and far fewer than the two pres­i­dents be­fore that.

The pres­i­dent’s news con­fer­ence Tues­day, dom­i­nated by ques­tions about Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions and his for­eign pol­icy on Syria and Libya, marks the 67th time Mr. Obama has faced re­porters and cam­eras di­rectly and ex­ten­sively dur­ing his three years in of­fice, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The Washington Times of track­ing by the Amer­i­can Pres­i­dency Project at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Santa Bar­bara.

At the same point in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s time in of­fice, he also had held 67 news con­fer­ences. Mr. Obama ranks far be­hind pres­i­dents Bill Clin­ton and Ge­orge H.W. Bush, each of whom had held about 70 per­cent more news con­fer­ences at the same point in their first terms.

Mr. Clin­ton, who loved the lime­light and of­ten seemed to rel­ish his in­ter­ac­tions with the White House press corps with the no­table ex­cep­tion of the pro­longed pe­riod when the Mon­ica Lewin­sky scan­dal dom­i­nated head­lines, with pres­i­den­tial war pow­ers.

“We don’t play pol­i­tics with it,” Mr. Obama said. “When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in pol­i­tics — we make mis­takes. And typ­i­cally, it’s not the folks who are pop­ping off who pay the price. It’s these in­cred­i­ble men and women in uni­form and their fam­i­lies who pay the price.”

Mr. Obama also was asked about Rush Lim­baugh’s apol­ogy for call­ing a Ge­orge­town Univer­sity law stu­dent a “slut” af­ter she spoke out in fa­vor of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­tra­cep­tion pol­icy. The pres­i­dent had called San­dra Fluke last week to ex­press his sup­port for her, and he said she was set­ting a good ex­am­ple for his daugh­ters.

Mr. Lim­baugh has since apol­o­gized for his lan­guage, and the pres­i­dent said he couldn’t com­ment on the sin­cer­ity of that. had held 114 af­ter three years and two months of his first term. The el­der Mr. Bush ranks the high­est with 117 news con­fer­ences at the same point in his White House ten­ure.

Be­fore Tues­day, the first news con­fer­ence of his re-elec­tion year ef­fort, Mr. Obama’s last for­mal, solo full-scale news con­fer­ence was Oct. 6, although he has since then held seven ab­bre­vi­ated “press avail­abil­i­ties,” ac­cord­ing to records kept by CBS Ra­dio’s veteran White House re­porter Mark Knoller.

“Pres­i­dent Obama keeps say­ing he has the most trans­par­ent ad­min­is­tra­tion, but it ap­pears to be far more opaque than Ge­orge W. Bush’s White House,” said Richard Benedetto, a for­mer White House cor­re­spon­dent for USA To­day and veteran Washington jour­nal­ist who teaches jour­nal­ism at Amer­i­can Univer­sity. “We never lacked for words di­rectly from the pres­i­dent on key is­sues of the day.”

In ad­di­tion to hold­ing for­mal press con­fer­ences, Mr. Bush would usu­ally an­swer one or two ques­tions dur­ing photo ops, Mr. Benedetto added, but Mr. Obama has a ten­dency to use ad­min­is­tra­tion sur­ro­gates, such as Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, to speak out on touchy is­sues, leav­ing him free to avoid the con­tro­versy.

“Why the White House press corps doesn’t call him out is be­yond me,” he said.

“What I can com­ment on is the fact that all de­cent folks can agree that the re­marks that were made don’t have any place in the public dis­course,” he said. “The rea­son I called Ms. Fluke is be­cause I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to en­gage in is­sues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on. . . . And I don’t want them at­tacked or called hor­ri­ble names be­cause they’re be­ing good cit­i­zens.”

Asked by a re­porter whether Repub­li­cans are wag­ing a “war on women,” Mr. Obama gave a plug for his party in this year’s elec­tion.

“Women are go­ing to make up their own mind in this elec­tion about who is ad­vanc­ing the is­sues that they care most deeply about,” he said, play­ing down a spe­cific fo­cus on con­tra­cep­tion or Mr. Lim­baugh.

“It is go­ing to be driven by their view of what’s

Af­ter the pres­i­dent suf­fered a public-re­la­tions blow dur­ing the late-sum­mer debt talks, Demo­cratic were wring­ing their hands over his fail­ure to move Repub­li­cans, and the pres­i­dent’s dis­ap­proval rat­ing peaked at 54 per­cent in late Au­gust.

Com­ing out of the Au­gust re­cess, Mr. Obama launched his “We Can’t Wait” cam­paign urg­ing con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans to ap­prove multi­bil­lion-dol­lar jobs pro­grams and pay­roll-tax cuts.

But in early Oc­to­ber, Mr. Obama still faced a bar­rage of ques­tions about Washington grid­lock and whether the public had given up on Washington be­ing able to pro­vide so­lu­tions to the coun­try’s most vex­ing prob­lems.

In the in­ter­ven­ing months, Mr. Obama has seemed to avoid the full for­mal news con­fer­ences un­til his poll num­bers im­proved in Fe­bru­ary, edg­ing close to the 50 per­cent mark amid signs that the econ­omy is on the mend. The pres­i­dent also has since won a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle with Repub­li­cans over ex­tend­ing the pay­roll­tax cut and un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits with­out pass­ing spend­ing cuts or tax in­creases to off­set the cost.

He has granted sev­eral in­ter­views with tar­geted me­dia out­lets, in­clud­ing a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view Feb. 23 with Univi­sion, the na­tion’s largest Span­ish-lan­guage TV net­work. most likely to make sure they can help sup­port their fam­i­lies, make their mort­gage pay­ments; who’s got a plan to en­sure that mid­dle-class fam­i­lies are se­cure over the long term; what’s most likely to re­sult in their kids be­ing able to get the ed­u­ca­tion they need to com­pete. And I be­lieve that Democrats have a bet­ter story to tell to women” about that, he said.

On im­mi­gra­tion, Mr. Obama said he has failed be­cause “this ended up be­com­ing a par­ti­san is­sue,” and he urged vot­ers to send a mes­sage to Repub­li­cans.

“My hope is, is that af­ter this elec­tion, the Latino com­mu­nity will have sent a strong mes­sage that they want a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort to pass com­pre­hen­sive im­mi­gra­tion re­form,” he said. “De­pend­ing on how Congress turns out, we’ll see how many Re­pub­li­can votes we need to get it done.”

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