In his first solo press conference since April 30, President Obama spoke for one hour to reporters Friday from the White House, the day before the first family leaves for an eight-day vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.
Although he started a few minutes late, Obama opened with calling for reforms to the NSA surveillance programs in an effort to “restore public confidence,” and to find ways to “safeguard against abuse.” But, Obama said, “America is not interested in spying on ordinary citizens.”
Obama laid out a four-point plan:
1) Work with congress to reform relevant section 215 of the Patriot Act – “the program that collects telephone records.”
2) Work with congress to improve confidence in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) by ensuring the court is approaching issues of intelligence from both standpoints of “security and privacy.”
3) For the NSA to be more transparent: The NSA will now employ a “full-time civil liberties and privacy officer and release information that details its mission, authorities and oversight.” A new NSA website is also being created for additional transparency.
4) Will bring in outside experts, an independent group, to review intelligence capabilities and surveillance technologies. This group will work to maintain trust of the people and assure there is no abuse in the intelligence technology.
“I’m confident the American would people would see that the NSA was following the law and “doing what they are supposed to be doing.”
The softball questions were lobbed and Obama answered airily, as usual:
On his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin: Obama maintained he does not have a bad relationship with Putin. Obama said his conversations with Putin are usually “candid, blunt and often times, constructive.”
On saying al-Qaida was “decimated:” “Core al-Qaida has been decimated, but it has metastasized into regional groups that can pose significant dangers. I said that back in May. They have the capacity to go after our embassies, our businesses, to be destabilizing and disruptive in countries where the security apparatus is weak.” “We will not eliminate terrorism, but we can weaken it. So it doesn’t pose the horrible threat that we saw on 9-11. I will not discuss operational issues.”
On why there have been no arrests in the Benghazi terror attack: “We have a sealed indictment. We are intent on capturing those who carried out this attack and we will stay close until we get them. Anyone who attacks Americans, kills Americans, we will do all we can to catch them.”
On healthcare: “Many businesses are supportive of the Affordable Care Act. As we speak, right now, 85% of people are benefiting from being able to keep their kid on their plans, seniors get discounts on prescription drugs, and people are covered with pre existing health conditions.”
“From November 1 on, the remaining 15% can sign up for affordable quality health insurance for a significantly cheaper rate than they can currently get. We will provide a tax break for those who still struggle to afford it.”
“There will be glitches in the implementation – even Apple has glitches when it rolls out the new iPhones. But our goal is to deliver high quality healthcare for people. I make no apologies for that.”
“Now, the idea that [Republicans] would shut down the government to prevent 30 million people from getting healthcare is a bad idea. We should be looking at how can we improve for middle class families to get ahead? The GOP doesn’t have an agenda to provide healthcare at affordable rates. But I have confidence that common sense will prevail (and the GOP won’t shut down the government).”
On immigration: “I’m absolutely confident the Senate bill would pass if it was on the floor of the House. The problem is internal Republican caucus politics. And that’s what the American people don’t want us to be worried about.” “Labor, the Chamber of Commerce, student groups, all are supportive of this bill.”