President Headlines on Five TV Networks
President Obama was the headliner on five major Sunday talk shows, giving pre-taped interviews to CNN, CBS, NBC, ABC and Univision, the Spanish-language network. The appearances focused primarily on the president's controversial health-care reform efforts, but Obama also touched on subjects ranging from the Afghanistan war to race relations to the dictionary definition of a tax.
The White House skipped an appearance on Fox News Sunday, prompting host Chris Wallace to deride the Obama administration as "the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington."
Fox, a favorite of conservative viewers, has had strained relations with the Obama White House.
-- State of the Union (CNN)
Obama said that a compromise health reform bill put together by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) meets "some broad goals that all the bills that have been introduced meet," but he stopped short of endorsing the proposal. Obama also suggested he still had concerns about affordability for consumers and other issues.
"Right now I'm pleased that, basically, we've got 80 percent agreement," he said. "We've got to really work on that next 20 percent over the last few weeks."
The president reiterated that "illegal immigrants would not be covered" under health reform just as they are not covered by many existing federal social programs. "I think that's a pretty straightforward principle that will be met," he said.
The president also took a shot at Republicans such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who told a conservative group that the GOP was "winning" the health-care debate.
"They were saying they were winning during the election, too," Obama responded.
Obama said his family expects to be vaccinated for the H1N1 virus along with the rest of the country. But he noted that he and the first lady, Michelle, would likely get their shots later than daughters Malia and Sasha, since vulnerable groups like children and the elderly will be treated first.
"We want to get vaccinated," Obama said. "We think it's the right thing to do. We will stand in line like everybody else. And when folks say it's our turn, that's when we'll get it."
-- Meet the Press (NBC)
Obama pushed back against an asssertion by interviewer David Gregory that he had effectively ruled out formation of a public insurance plan to compete with private insurers. The idea has been embraced by liberals as a centerpiece of reform but is strongly opposed by Republicans and the insurance industry.
"You effectively said to the left, 'It's not gonna happen,'" Gregory told Obama, referring to his joint speech before Congress earlier this month.
"No, no, that's not true," Obama responded. " ... What I've said is the public option, I think, should be a part of this but we shouldn't think that, somehow, that's the silver bullet that solves health care."
Obama also reiterated his disagreement with former president Jimmy Carter, who grabbed headlines last week by saying that the "overwhelming portion of the animosity" toward Obama was because he is black.
"What I think is going on is that we've got a healthy debate taking place," Obama said. "The vast majority of people are conducting it in a very sensible way ... Every president who's tried to make significant changes along these lines, whether it was FDR or Ronald Reagan, elicit very strong passionate responses.
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), appearing live on the NBC show, attacked Obama's health reform plans as part of a broader "government takeover" in the auto industry, the energy sector and others areas. He also reiterated GOP assertions that the $787 billion stimulus package approved earlier this year "turned into nothing more than spending, spending and more spending."
"What's going on here is unsustainable," Boehner said. "Our nation is broke, and at a time when we've got the serious economic problem and near 10 unemployment, we ought to be looking to create jobs in America, not kill jobs in America.... Americans are scared and that's why they are speaking up and that's why they are engaging in their government."
-- This Week (ABC)
In an animated debate with interviewer George Stephanapoulos, Obama rejected claims by Republicans and some Democrats that the Baucus plan would amount to a tax increase because it would require all Americans to have health insurance.
Obama -- who opposed a so-called individual mandate during last year's campaign -- said the approach could work if there were enough subsidies in place for those who truly could not afford insurance. He said claims that the proposal amounts to a tax increase ignores the reality of the current health-care system, in which families with insurance pay an average of $900 a year in premiums for costs related to the uninsured.
Stephanapoulos quoted a Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of "tax" as "a charge, usually of money, imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes," and suggested that an individual mandate would meet that definition.
"George, the fact that you looked up Merriam's Dictionary, the definition of tax increase, indicates to me that you're stretching a little bit right now," Obama said, adding: "My critics say everything is a tax increase. My critics say that I'm taking over every sector of the economy. You know that."
Obama also launched a broad defense of his overall approach to government, saying that his health-care proposal is "very modest" but that conservatives have "seized on this and tried to use this as a proxy" for an argument against big government.
"This isn't a radical plan. This isn't grafting a single-payer model onto the United States. It's simply trying to deal with what everybody acknowledges is a big problem," he said.
-- Face the Nation (CBS)
Obama said he would remain skeptical of demands for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan until he's certain that military leaders have a winning strategy in place.
"The only reason I send a single young man or woman in uniform anywhere in the world is because I think it's necessary to keep us safe," Obama said. "So whatever decisions I make are going to be based first on a strategy to keep us safe and then we'll figure out how to resource it. We're not going to put the cart before the horse and just think by sending more troops, we're automatically going to make Americans safe."
The president also defended the decision by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to launch an investigation into potential wrongdoing by CIA interrogators accused of torture after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Seven former CIA directors sent a letter to Obama last week criticizing the decision.
Obama said that while he doesn't want any "witch hunts taking place," Holder "has a job to uphold the law."
"I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an institution that they helped to build," Obama said. "But I continue to believe that nobody is above the law. I want to make sure that as president of the United States that I'm not asserting in some way that my decisions overrule the decisions of prosecutors who are there to uphold the law."
In a live appearance on the same show, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele lambasted Obama in response to a report in the New York Times that the White House had used an intermediary to ask unpopular New York Gov. David Paterson (D) to withdraw as a candidate for re-election.
Steele called the report "stunning," and cast it as an affront to black politicians since Paterson is one of only two African-American governors.
"I just think that it's a curiosity for me that the president would inject or the White House would inject itself into that debate when I don't think it's appropriate nor necessary because it's a primary," Steele said, adding that it "will be very interesting to see what the response from black leadership around the country will be about the president calling the governor to step down or not run for election."
In his interview with the Spanish-language network, Obama focused on health-care reform and how it would help Latinos, whom he said are particularly hard-hit by skyrocketing medical costs.
But Obama emphasized that health reform plans would not cover undocumented immigrants, who would have to rely on the private insurance market as they do now if they wanted coverage.
Obama also reiterated his vow to attempt to reform the immigration system, though he declined to commit to a firm timeline.
In a separate appearance, interviewer Jorge Ramos asked House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) if he believed Obama was lying when he says undocumented immigrants will not be covered by health reform.
"The president says that undocumented immigrants should not have access to this program," Boehner said. "But, that's not what the bill says. The bill says otherwise. But frankly, I agree with the president."
Obama and Boehner took care to refer to "undocumented," rather than "illegal," immigrants in their Univision interviews. The latter term is considered offensive by many Latinos; Obama said he used the phrase during his address to Congress because that was the formulation used by critics.
-- Fox News Sunday
Wallace portrayed his show's lack of an Obama interview as a plus: "Today, the president is talking and talking, but we have a 'Fox News Sunday' exclusive -- the only place you won't see Barack Obama making yet another pitch for health care."
Instead, Wallace focused much of his show on the controversies surrounding the liberal community organizing group ACORN, which has spotty ties with Obama dating back to his days as an activist in Chicago.
Congress voted last week to strip the group of federal funding in the wake of videotapes showing ACORN employees giving tax advice to two conservative activists who posed as a pimp and prostitute.
Republicans have also dug up records showing internal allegations of financial mismanagement and fraud at the group.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), one of ACORN's leading GOP critics, said on Fox that the group lacks transparency and that questions remain over the way it handled an embezzlement case involving one of its founders.
"We have literally hundreds of organizations tied under the ACORN umbrella and you can't even find out what their incorporation is, whether they pay taxes, who makes what or, more importantly ... whether or not those monies are fungibly moved illegally," Issa said.
ACORN CEO Bertha Lewis, who appeared on the show with Issa, said she was "outraged" by the conduct in the video and defended the group's handling of the financial fraud case. But she added that "any organization is not entirely perfect" and criticized Congress for "just singling out one organization."
"We continue to make sure that all of our employees, if they're too stupid to understand that they are not reaching professional standards, we terminate them," Lewis said.
Although Obama did not appear on Fox, he addressed the ACORN issue during his interview with ABC, saying that the conduct shown in the videotapes should be investigated -- but also playing down the overall importance of the group's troubles.
"This is not the biggest issue facing the country," Obama said. "It's not something I'm paying a lot of attention Wallace portrayed his show's lack of an Obama interview as a plus: "Today, the president is talking and talking, but we have a "Fox News Sunday" exclusive -- the only place you won't see Barack Obama making yet another pitch for health care."
Posted at 4:09 PM ET on Sep 20, 2009
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