As stated by the President, this press conference was in honor of outgoing White House Correspondents’ President Ed Henry, of Fox News. Accordingly, the first recognized was Henry, and he offered questions on Syria and Benghazi. On Syria, Henry asked what the next move is for this administration. It is not surprising that since chemical weapons are the bone of contention in Syria, that Obama went directly for what can only be considered a thinly-veiled statement referring to actions of the Bush Administration on Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq:
And what we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them; we don’t have chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts.
That’s what the American people would expect. And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in the position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do. There may be objections even among some people in the region who are sympathetic with the opposition if we take action. So, you know, it’s important for us to do this in a prudent way.
When pressed by Henry on the question of whether or not the U.S. would act militarily against the Assad regime in Syria, Obama came short of stating that would happen, opting to merely state that he has options outlined by the Pentagon. What those options are were not mentioned, for security reasons.
On Benghazi, the question was on members of the administration that have apparently been blocked from testifying about what they know about the attack that lead to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three members of the consulate staff.
Ed, I’m not familiar with this notion that anybody’s been blocked from testifying. So what I’ll do is I will find out what exactly you’re referring to. What I’ve been very clear about from the start is that our job with respect to Benghazi has been to find out exactly what happened, to make sure that U.S. embassies not just in the Middle East but around the world are safe and secure and to bring those who carried it out to justice.
It’s not surprising that Obama denied that anyone was being blocked from testifying, but it’s also unlikely that there will be any follow-up on the question as promised. Obama moved on to the next reporter after this.
Jessica Yellin of CNN offered the next question on whether or not we, as a nation, are moving backwards in national security and intelligence, citing Senator Lindsey Graham’s concerns on the matter. Note that the question focused on the failure in preventing the Boston bombing, not the subsequent reaction and investigation.
No. Mr. Graham is not right on this issue, although I’m sure it generated some headlines. I think that what we saw in Boston was state, local, federal officials, every agency, rallying around a city that had been attacked, identifying the perpetrators just hours after the scene had been examined. We now have one individual deceased, one in custody. Charges have been brought.
I think that all our law enforcement officials performed in an exemplary fashion after the bombing had taken place. And we should be very proud of their work, as obviously we’re proud of the people of Boston, all the first responders and the medical personnel that helped save lives.
What we also know is that the Russian intelligence services had alerted U.S. intelligence about the older brother as well as the mother, indicating that they might be sympathizers to extremists. The FBI investigated that older brother. It’s not as if the FBI did nothing. They not only investigated the older brother; they interviewed the older brother. They concluded that there were no signs that he was engaging in extremist activity. So that much we know.
Obama did go on to note that we need to be vigilant to prevent a future attack, stated that the Department of Homeland Security and FBI had done their jobs, and stated that we need to go on living our lives.
The next question was from Jonathan Karl at ABC, and bluntly asked if the President felt that he had the ability to pass his agenda, given the push back he has been getting from both sides of the aisle in Congress. Sequestration was also brought up in this segment, particularly the FAA.
Look, we — you know, we understand that we’re in divided government right now. Republicans control the House of Representatives. In the Senate, this habit of requiring 60 votes for even the most modest piece of legislation has gummed up the works there. And I think it’s — comes to no surprise, not even to the American people, but even to members of Congress themselves, that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill.
Despite that, I’m actually confident that there are a range of things that we’re going to be able to get done. I feel confident that the bipartisan work that’s been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate and passes the House and gets on my desk. And that’s going to be a historic achievement. And I’m — I’ve been very complimentary of the efforts of both Republicans and Democrats in those efforts.
And on the FAA, and Congress:
Well, hold on a second. The — so the alternative, of course, is either to go ahead and impose a whole bunch of delays on passengers now, which also does not fix the problem, or the third alternative is to actually fix the problem by coming up with a broader, larger deal.
But, you know, Jonathan, you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job. They are elected, members of Congress are elected in order to do what’s right for their constituencies and for the American people. So if, in fact, they are seriously concerned about passenger convenience and safety, then they shouldn’t just be thinking about tomorrow or next week or the week after that; they should be thinking about what’s going to happen five years from now, 10 years from now or 15 years from now.
The only way to do that is for them to engage with me on coming up with a broader deal.
And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do is to continue to talk to them about are there ways for us to fix this. Frankly, I don’t think that if I were to veto, for example, this FAA bill, that that somehow would lead to the broader fix. It just means that there’d be pain now, which they would try to blame on me, as opposed to pain five years from now. But either way, the problem’s not getting fixed. The only way the problem does get fixed is if both parties sit down and they say, how are we going to make sure that we’re reducing our deficit sensibly; how are we making sure that we’ve investing in things like rebuilding our airports and our roads and our bridges and investing in early childhood education and all — basic research, all the things that are going to help us grow, and that’s what the American people want.
The last questions were offered by Bill Plante of CBS, Chuck Todd of NBC, and Antonieta Cadiz of the Chilean press, offering questions on Guantanamo Bay, ObamaCare, and Immigration respectively. Obama did make a parting statement on NBA player Jason Collins “coming out of the closet”. A full transcript of the press conference is available at the Washington Post website.