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Ten Questions for Obama


Obama's February news conference. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

President Obama holds a press conference tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Here are some of the questions I'd like him to answer:

1. After last week's disclosure of an International Red Cross report, there's no longer any doubt whatsoever that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques amounted to torture. And, in addition to what the CIA did, hundreds of detainees -- many of whom may have been entirely innocent -- were terribly abused at Bagram and Abu Ghraib prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, among others. Assuring that detainees are treated humanely from this point forward is one thing. But don't we owe it to the detainees, to the world, and to ourselves to fully understand what was done to whom, and to hold to account those responsible? Leave the politics aside for a moment: Ethically, what is the least that we as a nation are required to do?

2. Your hugely ambitious budget proposal is an assault on the Washington establishment and the status quo. You've said that yourself. But to get it passed, you need the support of Congress: the very people who either made -- or at the very least acquiesced to -- the "irresponsible policy choices" that you argue brought us to this point. (And yes, that includes much of the Democratic leadership.) Presumably, these members of Congress felt they were acting in their best interests then; why do you believe you can get them to so dramatically reverse course -- especially when it would require them to do more in the next few months than they've done in years?

3. Who is your primary audience in the coming weeks as you go about stumping for your budget? Is it Congress? Or are you resigned to the fact that Congress will balk at following your lead until or unless the public expresses its will more assertively? If the latter, what gives you confidence that you can marshal an effective grassroots movement, or that individual members of Congress will heed it?

4. When it comes to the bailouts of financial institutions, it seems like the taxpayers are getting the short end of the stick. Why shouldn't the banks and insurance companies that would be insolvent without taxpayer funds be put under the direct control of the government? And, yes, we know that your top economic advisers tell you that's not a good idea, but why do you trust them? And what makes you so sure that the growing number of eminent economists who think that your advisers are too beholden to Wall Street and that short-term nationalization is the only reasonable answer are wrong?

5. Your new financial rescue plan, according to New York Times opinion columnist Paul Krugman, offers "a one-way bet: if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn't really about letting markets work," he writes. "It's just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets." Why do you disagree? And why do you think it's fair for taxpayers to bear the cost if things go wrong, but for stockholders and executives and hedge funds to get the benefits if things go right?

6. On the key issues being debated in the White House these days, whose advice to you listen to the most, and why? What exactly is your political adviser David Axelrod's role in setting economic policy? And how do you resolve conflicts between trusted advisers?

7. You've talked in the past about how your administration will inevitably make mistakes. What's been your biggest mistake so far? And what did you learn from it?

8. Some of your administration's moves have appeared to validate key elements of Bush's anti-terror strategy -- quite a surprise given your stated positions during the campaign. For instance, there was your Justice Department's support for an outrageously broad application of the state secrets privilege in a case in California, and the recent assertion of your right to hold certain prisoners indefinitely, without charge. Are these just short-lived aberrations that you intend to resolve after some more due diligence? Or have you found that the exigencies of national security make things a little less black and white than you expected?

9. Why do you think your honeymoon with the political and media elite has ended so much faster than your honeymoon with the public? And what do you intend to do about it?

10. Why hold a news conference if you're just going to fillibuster each question and not take follow ups?

I could go on. But why don't you? My White House Watchers discussion group is open for suggestions. There's also a new experiment in collecting citizen questions here.

On Huffingtonpost.com, Ari Melber raises some questions about tonight's press conference, including: Will President Obama call on more New Media?

I'm also wondering: Will reporters try to turn tonight into a public grilling of the president over the AIG bonuses -- or whether he appears sufficiently angry or insufficiently depressed in his public interviews -- or will they ask questions of substance?

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 24, 2009; 12:35 PM ET
 
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Comments

Has the Obama team set the rules so that no follow-ups from the press are allowed? Are you kidding? What kind of cr*pola is that? Shoule I even waste my time tuning in.

Let's set a new rule then: absolutely NO softball questions from reporters. AND: No interruptions or jokes made by the president while each question is being asked.

Should we ban Ann Curry from morning television for making stupid cracks about tonight's prime time press conference interrupting American Idol and upsetting millions of viewers? If Obama does fillibuster, then are American Idol viewers entitled to their outrage?

Posted by: laloomis | March 24, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Why is the press so gutless that they won't ask the hard questions?

For example, why are banking firms allowed to outsource jobs under TARP rules to companies in other countries?

GET TO WORK, PRESS!

Posted by: WillSeattle | March 24, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

First, I counted 24 questions, not 10 but that is typical liberal journalistic math that we have come to expect from Froomkin. Second, the real question from Froomkin should be, 'Mr. President Potentate, thank the Lord for you for taking time out of your day to answer questions....do you find it hard to walk with me constantly kissing your hind quarters and practicing an utter lack of journalistic integrity.?'

Posted by: cartmanva | March 24, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

You have shown outrage over bonuses paid out from AIG. How do you feel about politicians who took donations in 2008 from AIG, do you feel that those funds --should be returned?

Posted by: SayWhat4 | March 24, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

"First, I counted 24 questions, not 10 but that is typical liberal journalistic math that we have come to expect from Froomkin."

The mind boggles. What are you, like 10?

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 24, 2009 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Good questions, Dan. I don't understand why the WaPo doesn't give you a press pass and let you have at it.

Posted by: SarahBB | March 24, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Regarding President Obama's ambitious budget proposal, perhaps he is governing with an instinct for what really matters and proposing a vision for those who can look beyond narrowed self interest and chronic angry criticism. Are we locked into adversarial debate that always creates losers in order to win? Can we recognize a future where our interdependency is acknowledged and we all win?

Posted by: apbacon | March 24, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Good questions with the exception of #9. Political / Media Elite are oxymorons. There is nothing elite about the current political or media establishment. Dan you're perpetuating the "honeymoon is over" narrative. I think it could be phrased better by asking "Can you explain why public support for you and your policies remains high while support from the political and media establishment has waned so quickly?" The political and media elite seems like a label that has been adopted by the pundits and news brokers to describe themselves.

Posted by: Indyssent1 | March 24, 2009 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Maybe it's just 'wistful' thinking, but I keep wondering about Bush/Cheney's first 2 months in comparison to the present.

I don't recall much in the way of vituperation, brickbats or outright hatred of that administration at this juncture, despite having assumed office under the cloud of the Florida vote count and the Supreme Court's playing ball along party lines.

One could argue Clinton left a pretty good national metabolism, I think. Also, the ills we are facing today seem to be unparalleled.

But I still wonder at the opposition and venom expressed toward Pres. Obama at this point. I wonder what agendas those who spew it are pursuing? They don't seem to articulate anything constructive.

Can anyone explain?

Posted by: Spectator | March 24, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Here's one:

"Mr. President, how do you answer the charge that you are outraged by the AIG bonuses and all they represent and enabling them at the same time?"

Posted by: SarahBB | March 24, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Mr. President. The long term perspective is not getting the attention it deserves as we deal with all these short term problems. Have you considered appointing a Native American to your inner circle as Seventh Generation Representative?

Posted by: LHO39 | March 24, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

I`d like to ask him if he is getting a sore neck from constantly looking left and then right to read from each of his 2 teleprompters. It is almost like watching a swinging door.

Posted by: justmyvoice | March 24, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Some of those questions aren't that bad, but most are. And, almost all of them would simply generate a stock speech. Since the WaPo did their best to get BHO elected, no one should be surprised that they'd like to serve as his set-up man.

Here's a better question:

http://24ahead.com/ask-stimulus-bill-question-illegal-aliens-taking-jobs-us-cit

I'm sure the WaPo will be tripping over themselves to get that question asked.

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | March 24, 2009 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Or they should ask him who does he blame more for our current situation:

a) George Bush, for being so inept and stupid?

or b) The DittoHead Idiots who voted him to two terms?

That's a start.

Posted by: LeftwithNochoice | March 24, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Spectator:
Maybe it's just 'wistful' thinking, but I keep wondering about Bush/Cheney's first 2 months in comparison to the present.
Can anyone explain?

Did Bush/Cheney do anything in the first 2 months?

Posted by: JohnnyCanuck1 | March 24, 2009 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Dan, so far as question # 9 goes, I heard a report the other day that one of the right-wing broadcasters is claiming that FEMA is setting up concentration camps. Which gave me a flashback to Clinton and the black helicopter days. Considering the ferocity, intensity, and paranoia of the right-wing media, I don't think that Obama can ever hope for any kind of balanced treatment from them, and they must constitute about 60% of political broadcast time.

Posted by: gposner | March 24, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

It would be refreshing if the press asked questions of substance tonight but I won't hold my breath waiting for it to happen. I sure hope that he is at least asked question #1

Posted by: pmorlan1 | March 24, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

I like DF's ques. #1,4,5,6,10. Along with #1 (torture), I'd ask about our getting a special prosecutor on the issue, immediately. Robert Haas, author of "Bush War Criminal?", on WBAI, on Michael Ratner,et al, show "Law and Disorder", suggested Pres. Obama was being "cautious" in re dealing with the torture allegations, but so far he counts 22 possible allegations of war crimes of the Obama Administration. (And he's got, using many sources, about 269 for Bush Admin.)www.wbai.org

I'd add questions about widening the (illegal) war on/into Pakistan (drones/missiles "leftover" policies from Bush Admin.), plus "advisers". (The drones/missiles have been criticized by Haas, and Col. ((retired)) Ann Wright, the latter on WBAI's "Talk Back" with Hugh Hamilton recently.)

I'd like to ask about "exit strategies" in re Afghanistan. Forgetting that it was P.T. Barnum, just put up a sign "This way to the egress.". OK, a little humor doesn't hurt....

Posted by: NYCartist | March 24, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

You take the AIG bonus and you give them to the innocent victim of torture and they may desire American citizenship; if so, we will treat them with respect a and dignity as we do so every day to our fellow Americans We have really become the 'ugly American' worldwide over the actions of a few. It is only a few that act this way and since the average person gets no attention for just being a decent human being power and greed become the impression for the world. Linda Joy adams

Posted by: LindaJoyAdams | March 24, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

You take the AIG bonus and you give them to the innocent victim of torture and they may desire American citizenship; if so, we will treat them with respect a and dignity as we do so every day to our fellow Americans
_____
Give AIG bonus to "innocent victims of torture"? Please.. and what every person who desires to have American citizenship we have to treat as an American citizen? These men were picked up on a battlefield in Afghanistan.. the fact we can't prove guilt does not PROVE they are innocent. You see I on the otherhand think the AIG bonuses should go to the men and women serving in our military. Especially those persons wounded and the families of those who died. That's who deserves the money.. people that DEFEND this nation not those who HATE it!!!

Posted by: sovine08 | March 24, 2009 4:15 PM | Report abuse

I can answer Frookin first question (which is really two)......

But don't we owe it to the detainees, to the world, and to ourselves to fully understand what was done to whom, and to hold to account those responsible?
_____________
NO.

Leave the politics aside for a moment: Ethically, what is the least that we as a nation are required to do?
_________
NOTHING. TURN THE PAGE AND MOVE ON.
NEXT QUESTION?

Posted by: sovine08 | March 24, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Only thing i can remember Bush/Cheney doing was the secretive energy meeting Cheney held, but 8 years later still wont answer who was there. But the American people found out a few months later who was there when Enron was found manipulating the energy markets, Sound familiar with the banks?

Also for the tele prompter commentators, I guess in this day and age you cannot come up with your own material so you parrot the Fox group. I have seen him interviewed several times the past week and have seen him speak intelligently and thoughtfully without the use of a teleprompter, i guess you cant see that for yourself.

And for the WAPO elected Obama, now you GOP lovers may elect an official based on what Fox tells you, but me nor anyone i know was persuaded by the media. I myself watched all the debates and figured out who was the best candidate. Did the media cause McCain to suspend his campaign during the financial turmoil fly to Washington and then ask NO questions? I dont think so. But hey i was once dumb myself, then i turned 1......

Posted by: rharring | March 24, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

How about this?

Mr. President,

Why are you risking becoming a war criminal by shielding war criminals from investigation?

Posted by: davidbn27 | March 24, 2009 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Today's CBS poll effectively ends this discussion - the press has become irrelevant, mainly due to questions like these. Get outside the Beltway Dan.

Posted by: WorthWeller | March 24, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

@sovine08: "These men were picked up on a battlefield in Afghanistan.. the fact we can't prove guilt does not PROVE they are innocent."

Battlefield?

Last week I thought you didn't understand the torture situation. Now I realize you don't WANT to understand. The reality that many were citizens in the wrong place at the wrong time conflicts with your treasured existing biases about Muslim extremism, so you go on spouting lies that you know are lies because it's mentally easier than thinking a little for yourself. Throw a little mud around, accuse people of hating their country, and your sticky situation is resolved.

American Taliban indeed.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 24, 2009 5:07 PM | Report abuse

I think he should just call on the conservative media. I actually enjoy seeing him making them look like the idiots they are.

Posted by: mikem1 | March 24, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Dan why don't you combine this set of softballs into one overarching question and ask that.

"Mr President what makes you so awesome and perfect? Is it your awesome Obamaness or your Barakness?'

Really, these are the sorts of questions a cheerleader asks the team quarterback during an interview at prom.

Get some backbone, and actually have some opinions besides sycophantic groveling aimed towards the President.

Posted by: DCDave11 | March 24, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

Throw a little mud around, accuse people of hating their country, and your sticky situation is resolved.
______
They don't hate THEIR country.. they hate OUR country.. so excuse me that I don't want to reward them with the money AIG got.
You have a problem with giving it to OUR military service men and women instead???

Posted by: sovine08 | March 24, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

I would like to ask Obama why is Britain being black-mailed by threatening to throttle back on intelligence sharing when:


1. All CIA intelligence is received by the UK. MI6 has seen the fruits of every CIA waterboarding session and rendition torture. Very many will have been passed on to ministers and senior officials.

2. Ministers decided the principle of the universality of the UK/US intelligence sharing agreement was more important than any aversion to torture. We could not refuse this material from the CIA without compromising the basic agreement.

3. Ministers did know they were receiving intelligence from torture. There was a definite, internally promulgated and legally cleared policy to receive intelligence from torture, directed in person by Jack Straw.

4. The format of intelligence reports contains a deliberate double blind; by excluding the name of the detainee from the final report, Ministers can state they have never knowingly seen intelligence from torture.

5. The government’s public lines that we do not condone, endorse, encourage or instigate torture, even that we condemn it and work against it, do not answer the key question:

"Are we prepared on a regular basis to receive intelligence from torture?"

That question is capable of a one word answer. The true answer is yes. The administration refuses to give a straight answer.

Posted by: coiaorguk | March 24, 2009 7:13 PM | Report abuse

How Obama Can Help The Economy


The Stock Market and the jobless rate continue to slide into negative territory since Obama's election. Both are voting No to Obamas various schemes and he continues to not get it. Irresponsible federal spending, Cap & Trade programs that will hurt manufacturing, increased taxes that will stifle small business job creation, threats of more regulation, planned Federal Judge appointments that are not favorable to tort reform and a host of other ideas are not the sort of things that make the business community feel optimistic. In addition, all of Obamas talk of big changes and government solutions mean that business can't clearly plan so they wait, shrink and posture their business plans in a defensive manner.
The fact that Obama either does not care or does not understand that he is scaring the hell out of the U.S business community is nothing short of amazing, given that he seems like a bright fellow.

A promise of fiscal responsibility, predictably constant taxes, no cap & trade schemes, judicial appointments that are not activist in nature, and a level or reduced capital gains tax is what will turn the market around and get business hiring again.

Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 24, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Obama Hides From Press
President Barack Obama is taking a lot of well deserved heat from the press lately. As it has become apparent that the honeymoon is over with the media who got him elected, he and his team have overtly begun to attempt to avoid the traditional White House press course reaching out to liberal commentators, local reporters and ethnic media more friendly to his messaging.
While those called on in this "press" conference support the facts, the best recent examples of the new approach was the President giving an interview to progressive radio host Ed Schults and Obama signalling his intent by first calling on a reporter from the left leaning Huffington Post at his first news conference. When he released his ambitious spending plan the administration put White House budget director Peter Orszag on a conference call with non traditional administration friendly writers and not the White House Press Corps. Rahm Emmanual has been hitting the African American and Hispanic media outlets heavily to drum up support.

The first amendment it is said that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." Obama may be the first President fully able to avoid press and its ability to redress grievances of the people.


Posted by: smokedsalmoned | March 24, 2009 9:18 PM | Report abuse

"A promise of fiscal responsibility, predictably constant taxes, no cap & trade schemes, judicial appointments that are not activist in nature, and a level or reduced capital gains tax is what will turn the market around and get business hiring again."

Judicial appointments? LOL! This is political MadLibs isn't it? Let me try:

_Thoroughly investigating and prosecuting Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld_ is what will turn the market around and get business hiring again.

_Sharply restricting signing statements and restoring FISA to its 2004 language_ is what will turn the market around and get business hiring again.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 25, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

@sovine08: "You have a problem with giving it to OUR military service men and women instead??? "

My apologies, I misread your post and thought you were accusing the left of hating our country. Regardless, the majority of Muslims don't hate the U.S.

I would like to see our military paid more. I would also have preferred to see them treated much better than they were by the "military-supporting conservatives" who extended their tours, reduced their benefits, and implemented stop loss procedures.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 25, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

In regards to "10. Why hold a news conference if you're just going to fillibuster each question and not take follow ups?" Probably because the old warhorse media giants are struggling to be relevant. Don't get me wrong, I read articles from your site and appreciate much of what your site produces. The problem is that the mainstream media has calcified. Obama was hardly softballed by the people he did call upon. Why complain about your missed opportunity as long as the public is served (if they were)? I'm sure he won't freeze you guys out everytime. Maybe, he is just bored, which is something I can understand perfectly. There are far more experts around than compelling coverage. Unfortunately, your publication has not completely escaped that predicament itself.

P.S. One sign of a challenged online publication is its inability to correctly connect newsletter links to corresponding articles. This may seem far afield to you, but hey, you work there and it happens on a semi-regular basis. The funny thing is: the incorrect links all lead to the same article. Is the Post trying to tell us something?

Posted by: melange1 | March 26, 2009 1:07 AM | Report abuse

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