Obama Mocks GOP Critics

By Dan Froomkin
1:52 PM ET, 03/12/2009

Obama greets attendees at a meeting of state officials at the White House today. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

President Obama yesterday challenged his Republican critics to do more than just say no.

"Opposition is always easy. Saying no to something is easy. Saying yes to something and figuring out how to solve problems and governing, that's hard," he said in a roundtable interview with regional newspaper reporters.

"On this budget debate, for example, if you've got people who on the one hand say, 'We want to bring down the long-term deficit, but we don't want to cut certain programs that are important -- oh, and by the way we don't want to raise taxes' -- well, sounds good, you know, and I'd like to make sure that the Chicago Bulls win the championship every year and the White Sox win the Series. But you know, show me how you're going to do it."

And disputing the growing chatter in Washington that he is trying to do too much at once -- and should concentrate solely on short-term measures to turn the economy around -- Obama said his ambitious goals in such areas as health care and energy policy are essential to laying the foundations for long-term growth.

"I think that extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures," he said. "Yes, they require some uncomfortable votes. If it was easy, I'm assuming it would have been done 20 years ago or 30 years ago. It's not easy, but it's the right thing to do.....

"The days of growing the economy through an overheated housing market or through people running up exorbitant credit cards bills are over," he said. "We've got to put our growth model on a different footing....

"There are no shortcuts to long-term economic growth, and we can't just keep on doing the same things we were doing before and somehow expect that all of our problems will be solved....

Obama seems well aware that even if the pundit class is quickly growing disillusioned with him, the public is taking a longer view.

"We've been in office all of seven weeks so far. This is a crisis that was eight years in the making, maybe longer in certain aspects of it," he said. "And the buck stops with me and we're responsible, but it's going to take some time, and the truth of the matter is the American people, I think, understand that it's going to take some time," he said.

"If you look at the public polling, they recognize that it's going to take awhile to dig ourselves out of the hole."

Obama did acknowledge concerns about his still-fuzzy plans to rescue the nation's financial markets. "I think the one area where there's still significant uncertainty has to do with the bank issue, and that's obviously a particular concern to Wall Street," he said. "The challenge for us there is ... we're in the process of conducting the stress tests for the banks, to get a better sense of where their capital positions are and how strong they are. And what we don't want to do is prejudge those tests or make a lot of statements that cause a lot of nervousness around banks that are already having difficulty."

It was Obama's second meeting in two months with reporters from regional newspapers, and Obama made no secret of his pleasure in talking to people who didn't necessarily share the obsessions of the national press corps.

"This is my monthly occasion to break out of the Washington bubble," he said. "I enjoy the keen insights of people outside of Washington."

And he spent much of the hour-long session answering smaller-bore questions than he normally faces, about such issues as ethanol, the Mexican border, the Voting Rights Act and the future of NASA.

I haven't been able to track down a complete transcript of the roundtable. (I'll add a link when and if I do.) (UPDATE: Here it is.) The quotes above instead come from a slew of excellent stories written by the reporters who attended.

Craig Gilbert of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel write: "Addressing his handling of the financial crisis, President Barack Obama said Wednesday that 'the buck stops with me, and we're responsible' but challenged Republican critics to do more than say no....

"'I think what will be interesting is the degree to which my Republican colleagues start putting forward an affirmative agenda that's not based on ideology but on the very real struggles and pain that people are feeling right now around the country and how do we get this economy back on its feet.' [Obama said.]

"Asked whether he thought he had done a good enough job communicating his approach to fixing the financial mess, Obama said, 'I think that we can always do a better job.'

"'Keep in mind it's only been two weeks since I gave a joint session speech to Congress, the day after which everybody said, 'Boy, that was really clear.'...The reviews were pretty good....

"Obama said the main message that he would deliver in the coming days and weeks is 'that it's going to take some time to get out of this deep hole we're in, but we're going to get out.'"

Kevin Diaz writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Speaking slowly and deliberately, like the college professor he was, Obama made clear that his administration is in its infancy and that he still has the public on his side....

"For early signs of hope, Obama pointed to his new housing plan to provide relief to homeowners facing foreclosure. 'You're already starting to see an uptick in refinancings that are providing families with relief,' he said. 'And in certain pockets of the country, you're starting to see housing prices stabilize after a long drop.'"

Michael Riley writes in the Denver Post: "Obama spoke to the reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, in a week that saw the emergence of a growing backlash by some moderate Democrats against a White House agenda that contemplates comprehensive health care reform, a major push toward renewable energy and an overhaul of tax policy — all while dealing with the biggest economic crisis in a generation.

"As doubts grow among a core of centrist Democrats in the Senate, Obama signaled he has no intention of backing off. He framed his administration's priorities — specifically the coming fight over the White House's 2010 budget proposal — as an urgent matter of solving problems that have been too-long delayed.

"'Whether we're talking about Republicans or my fellow Democrats, my argument is going to be that these are the right priorities for America, these are the right priorities for long-term economic growth,' Obama said."

James O'Toole writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Obama "said he expected battles in Congress over his budget proposals, but rebutted GOP assertions that the ambitious initiative represented a drastic lurch to the left.

"'For them to suggest that this was some radical assault on the rich makes no sense whatsoever,' he said, noting that a significant portion of the budget's tax increases -- rescinding former President George W. Bush's tax cuts for more affluent taxpayers -- had already been anticipated in Bush administration budgets despite Republican arguments, then and now, that they should be made permanent."

Philip Brasher writes in the Des Moines Register that Obama "says he wants to preserve the nation's ethanol industry while developing new versions of biofuels made from feedstocks other than corn."

Todd J. Gillman writes for the Dallas Morning News: "Mexico's drug war and the risks of cross-border violence deserve top-level attention, President Barack Obama said in an interview today, but it isn't time to send U.S. troops.

"'We've got a very big border with Mexico,' the president said. 'I'm not interested in militarizing the border.'...

"'We're going to examine whether and if National Guard deployments would make sense and under what circumstances they would make sense....I don't have a particular tipping point in mind. I think it's unacceptable if you've got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens.'"

Mark K. Matthews writes in the Orlando Sentinel: "President Barack Obama said Wednesday that NASA is an agency afflicted by 'a sense of drift' and that it needs 'a new mission that is appropriate for the 21st century.'"

Bruce Alpert writes in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: "President Barack Obama says he has not decided whether to restore the Federal Emergency Management Agency to a stand-alone department but promises that his administration is committed to robust Gulf Coast recovery efforts regardless of the agency's status.

"'We're going to be focused on New Orleans' reconstruction, and we're going to be paying a lot of attention to the systems that are in place to protect from hurricanes in the future,' Obama said during a White House interview Wednesday with The Times-Picayune and other regional newspapers."

Mary Orndorff writes in the Birmingham (Ala.) News: "The part of the 44-year-old Voting Rights Act that requires states such as Alabama to get federal permission before making election-related changes is still a necessary protection for minority voters, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.

"Obama, rebutting a sentiment in some Southern states that they no longer need Justice Department supervision, said the scrutiny remains important in places where blacks and whites and Hispanics are especially polarized in their voting patterns. The threat to minorities may no longer be as overtly discriminatory as refusing to register blacks to vote, he said, but may be that they won't have a real chance to elect their candidate of choice.

"'There are probably some parts of the South that ... if you looked at the data, are no longer that polarized. There are other parts that are probably still very polarized,' Obama said."

Neil H. Simon writes for Media General News Service: "President Barack Obama tried Wednesday to quell local community concerns about a potential move of suspected terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay to domestic prisons."

David Goldstein writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "'We would never put people into a situation that elevated the risks for surrounding communities,' the president said,...

"Obama said federal prisons already hold prisoners with terrorist backgrounds.

"'They are a serious risk,' but securing them is not much different than securing other violent offenders, he said."

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