Good morning and welcome to your Tuesday afternoon liveblog of today's White House press conference, which will feature President Barack Obama fielding questions on matters various and sundry, foreign and domestic. Likely to be on the table: Iran, North Korea, health care reform, climate change policy, and, of course, spending and deficits, which the press is obsessed with.
And here we go:
Obama opens by "addressing three issues," the first being Iran. Obama condemns the violence against "innocent civilians" but avoids taking a strong stance on winner-picking. Instead, Obama calls the hardliners' efforts to draw the United States into the fray as "tired scapegoating" that won't work anymore in Iran. "Powerful images and poignant words have made their way" to the United States, and Obama runs down a litany of what we've all seen, including a glancing mention of the now-famous Neda. The clear message is that he, and the United States, are bearing witness.
The second issue is on "clean energy economy" and "historic legislation" in the form of the energy bill, which Obama purports to be an innovation driver, a profit-maker, and a cost-reducer. "It's a bill that will open a door to a better future for our nation."
Third: health care reform. "Legislation that must and will be paid for...it will not add to our" long term deficits. Obama goes on to cite the skyrocketing costs of standing pat, the importance of "preserving what's best" about our current system while acting, now, to fix the system before it breaks down. "The status quo is unacceptable and unsustainable...reform is not a luxury, it's a necessity."
The first is on Iran, responses and redlines. Obama says that nothing's changed on the core security issues: no nuclear weapons, no exporting terror. It's up to Iran as whether they "choose that path." The reward for doing so is engagement. Recent events obviously are "not encouraging." Obama states that they will continue to "wait and see," but that the "path" to engagement remains the same. "We don't know how they will respond yet." As for consequences in the aftermath of the election, Obama says that how they handle the dissent will shape future relations.
Obama then goes to our own Nico Pitney, who presents a question from an Iranian: "Under what conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad?" Obama says that it's clear that a sizable portion of Iranians feel the election is illegitimate and that "ultimately, the Iranians must consider whether or not the results will be held as legit" by its own people. He reiterates that Iran's crackdown tactics violates the norms of decency, and that it's not too late for Iran to take a peaceful path.
As to the other question: wouldn't engaging a future Ahmadinejad regime be a "betrayal" to the Iranian people, Obama doesn't touch that.
Question on whether Obama is supportive of Ben Bernanke. The economy is back in the press room! Obama, not surprisingly, supports Bernanke! He also supports his crisis prevention plan. "The Fed performed better than most regulators, prior to the crisis," Obama says, but allows that even the Fed didn't see the systemic risk coming. Nevertheless, Obama says the Fed has the "most technical expertise" and the "best track record" to monitor the systemic risk in the future.
Major Garrett cites Obama saying he was "appalled and outraged" at Iran at the top of the presser, and then asks, "What took you so long?" Obama says that his contention that somehow he was not outraged "is nto accurate." He tells Garrett to "track what he's been saying," and that basically amounts to the White House clearly and consistently condemning violence without interjecting the U.S. into the matter as a "foil for the Iranian government." But what about those Iran/U.S. Fourth of July parties? Are they off? Obama won't cancel the parties, but says Iran must choose the right path, and the right brand of grillable hot dogs, I guess.
David Jackson says the health insurance companies are worried that health care reform will dismantle their industry, and wonders if the public option is "non-negotiable." Guess what? We are apparently on a path that is not sustainable, and that is the primary driver of government debt. So, reform of a widescale sort is needed. The status quo is a path to health care breakdown. Yet! Costs must be controlled and that the reform must be paid for -- money can be better spent, in POTUS's opinion.
As for the public option putting private insurers out of business, Obama says, "That's not logical." His basic premise being that if private insurers actually have the best products in the marketplace, consumers will pick them.
Chip Reid, he really loves John McCain. Does Obama love John McCain? Maybe they could get together later, and have a John McCain Appreciation Club, which will meet every weekend at the Dairy Godmother, in Del Ray, Virginia?
Chuck Todd wants to know why Obama won't spell out consequences for Iranian human rights violations. Obama says that first the events need to play out. "I know that everyone here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I'm not."
Jake Tapper does his best to ask two questions, including the unasked Dave Jackson "Is the public plan non-negotiable." Hilarity ensues! Obama asks Jake if that's his question and if he's become the press corps' ombudsman. Jake says, "OK, I have a two part question!" Everyone laughs!
Anyway, what Jake wants to know is how will private insurers compete of employers all opt for a cheaper public health care plan. Then Obama makes a joke about "pitching and catching," and about his ears. I guess he doesn't want this bromantic moment with Jake to fade. So, Rahm pipes in some Air Supply, and things get weird for a while.
I wish! Actually, Obama says that it's "too early in the process" of health care reform sausage-making to say with certainty whether anything is non-negotiable, only that "a public plan makes sense."
He also says that if the public plan were "simply eating off the taxpayer trough," then the concerns of competitiveness would be a "legitimate concern." He intimates that this will not be the case, that this public option will have to provide a competitive product of its own. He goes on to state that the public plan might, through cost controls and efficiencies, inspire market-wide improvement. That's the big "if," though, isn't it?
"I take those advocates of the free market to heart," Obama says.
What about the whole changing plans, chaning doctors promise? Obama says that the bigger problem will be people changing plans and doctors to the null set.
WTF, McClatchy? You are really going to ask about whether Obama is smoking? The reporter couches it in a question about tobacco legislation, but Obama decodes that! "I just think that you think it's neat to ask me about my smoking." Anyway, sometimes he smokes, it happens. And he gets that question "once a month," so WAY TO GO McCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS. NEAT.
Olivier Knox tweets: "Dammit. If just two more journos had asked Obama about smoking I could make a joke about 'pack journalism.'"
Now Obama is giving props to Chilean President Bachelet, in front of whom he has never smoked.
Back to the economy, and stimulus packages. The unemployment figures are already shot past the rosy projections of yore, so does that mean a second stimulus package? Obama says, no, not yet. He asks people to recall that the stimulus was one of the first Presidenty-things he did in office, before he got the hang of things. Now, he'll simply state that he doesn't have a crystal ball, with unemployment figures of the future.
April Ryan, still on the economy, which as a subject, has made a press conference comeback. Ryan's concern is with the escalating unemployment rate in the black community, on its way to 20% "by the end of this year." Why not target an intervention now? Obama says that he recognizes that the African-American unemployment rate runs consistently above the national rate, but that he has to intervene in the economy as a whole, "or I'm not going to be able to help anybody." Meanwhile, he is searching out local programs that are demonstrating a good track record, getting people placed in jobs, in the hopes of "potentially duplicating" their successes. Nevertheless, his strategy is focused globally, on the economy as a whole. He moves on, over a followup question attempt.
Obama is asked whether he has seen the video of "Neda" being shot. He says he has, and that it's "heartbreaking" and "unjust." Is he concerned about the protest movement "dying" or going underground? Obama's concern is with the stifling of legitimate concerns. Helen Thomas apparently has some sort of legitmate concern, which Obama then stifles, "Hold on a minute, Helen, that's a different question." "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, and we have to have faith that justice will prevail."
Meanwhile, the arc of the White House Press Corps: bending toward Iran concerns, broad economic questions, but surprisingly, not as many health care questions as I'd have thought, given the run up.