White House

Obama Lists What’s Not Working in Washington, the World

The president also addressed post-9/11 America, saying, “We tortured some folks.”

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 01: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks and takes reporters' questions in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House August 1, 2014 in Washington, DC. Obama talked about the new jobs numbers, the failure of Congress to pass border security legislation, the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict and the crisis in Ukraine. 
National Journal
Add to Briefcase
Emma Roller, Marina Koren and Matt Berman
Aug. 1, 2014, 10:53 a.m.

In a last-minute press con­fer­ence at the White House Fri­day, Pres­id­ent Obama hit con­gres­sion­al Re­pub­lic­ans for not passing an emer­gency bor­der fund­ing bill and for, as he sees it, keep­ing Con­gress un­pro­duct­ive.

“We all agree that there’s a prob­lem that needs to be solved in a por­tion of our south­ern bor­der, and we even agree on most of the solu­tions,” Obama said. “In­stead of work­ing to­geth­er … House Re­pub­lic­ans, as we speak, are try­ing to pass the most ex­treme and un­work­able ver­sions of a bill that they already know is go­ing nowhere.”

The House GOP is scram­bling, Obama said, “just so they can check a box be­fore leav­ing town this month.” On the crisis, Obama said, “I’m go­ing to have to act alone.”

Obama also ad­dressed post-9/11 Amer­ica in re­marks about the Cent­ral In­tel­li­gence Agency. “We tor­tured some folks,” he said. “We did some things that were con­trary to our val­ues. I un­der­stand why it happened. I think it’s im­port­ant when we look back to re­call how afraid people were after the twin towers fell, and the Pentagon had been hit, and a plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know wheth­er more at­tacks were im­min­ent, and there was enorm­ous pres­sure on our law-en­force­ment and our na­tion­al se­cur­ity teams to try to deal with this.”

He con­tin­ued: “A lot of those folks were work­ing hard and un­der enorm­ous pres­sure, and are real pat­ri­ots. But hav­ing said all that, we did some things that were wrong.” The pres­id­ent also said that he has “full con­fid­ence” in CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan, des­pite the agency’s ad­mis­sion this week that it had hacked Sen­ate com­puters.

It may be the first day of Au­gust, but there is a lot go­ing on, so it’s not sur­pris­ing that Obama de­cided to weigh in be­fore the week­end. A cease-fire in Ga­za brokered by the U.S. and the U.N. on Thursday fell apart less than two hours after it took ef­fect, and there are now re­ports that an Is­raeli sol­dier has been cap­tured by Hamas. In his state­ment, Obama slammed Palestini­an mil­it­ant group Hamas for break­ing the cease-fire and ab­duct­ing an Is­raeli sol­dier, but he also ac­know­ledged that ci­vil­ian deaths by Is­raeli air strikes “weigh on our con­science.” “A cease-fire was one way in which could stop the killing,” he said.

Obama also chas­tised Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans for block­ing con­firm­a­tion of an am­bas­sad­or to Si­erra Le­one, which is in the midst of an Ebola out­break, and to Guatem­ala, which is on the oth­er end of the U.S. im­mig­ra­tion crisis. He cited those law­makers for drag­ging their feet on a vote on a new am­bas­sad­or to Rus­sia for “purely polit­ic­al reas­ons.”

“We shouldn’t be hav­ing an ar­gu­ment about pla­cing ca­reer dip­lo­mats with bi­par­tis­an sup­port in coun­tries around the world where we have to have a pres­ence,” he said.

“The truth of the mat­ter, he con­tin­ued, “is that there’s a big world out there, and that as in­dis­pens­able as we are to try to lead it, there’s still go­ing to be tra­gedies out there, and there are go­ing to be con­flicts, and our job is to just make sure that we con­tin­ue to pro­ject what’s right, what’s just, and, you know, that we’re build­ing co­ali­tions of like-minded coun­tries and part­ners in or­der to ad­vance not only our core se­cur­ity in­terests, but also the in­terests of the world as a whole.”

In his state­ment, Obama slammed Hamas for break­ing the cease-fire and ab­duct­ing an Is­raeli sol­dier, but he also ac­know­ledged that ci­vil­ian deaths by Is­raeli air strikes “weigh on our con­science.” “A cease­fire was one way in which could stop the killing,” he said.

He ad­ded: “I want to see everything pos­sible done to make sure that Palestini­an ci­vil­ians are not be­ing killed, and it is heart­break­ing to see what’s hap­pen­ing there.”

On the Ukraine crisis, Obama said that he spoke with Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin Fri­day morn­ing. The White House, to­geth­er with the European Uni­on, an­nounced new sanc­tions Tues­day against more Rus­si­an banks and en­ergy and de­fense com­pan­ies.

“We can’t con­trol how Mr. Putin thinks, but what we can do is say to Mr. Putin, if you con­tin­ue on the path of arm­ing sep­ar­at­ists, with heavy arma­ments that evid­ence sug­gests may have res­ul­ted in 300 in­no­cent people on a jet dy­ing and that vi­ol­ates in­ter­na­tion­al law and un­der­mines the ter­rit­ori­al in­teg­rity and sov­er­eignty of Ukraine,” Obama said, “then you’re go­ing to face con­sequences that will hurt your coun­try.”

The pres­id­ent brushed off a ques­tion about wheth­er the U.S. has lost its in­flu­ence in the world. “Ap­par­ently, people have for­got­ten that Amer­ica, as the most power­ful coun­try on Earth, still does not con­trol everything around the world,” he said. “And so our dip­lo­mat­ic ef­forts of­ten take time.”

“Do you wish you could have done more?” CBS’s Bill Plante said then.

“On which one?” Obama asked.

“On any of them,” Plante replied.

Back in Wash­ing­ton, House Re­pub­lic­ans are cur­rently work­ing to­ward a vote on a bor­der meas­ure that provides emer­gency fund­ing to ad­dress the in­flux of un­ac­com­pan­ied minors from Cent­ral Amer­ica. That $694 mil­lion bill, even if it does pass the House later Fri­day, is at a fund­ing level far be­low what the Sen­ate wants, which in turn is less than what the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has asked for.

Without le­gis­la­tion for emer­gency fund­ing, the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment may not have enough money to ad­equately con­trol the crisis in the com­ing weeks, Sec­ret­ary Jeh John­son has said. “We’re go­ing to run out of money to deal with this,” John­son said in late Ju­ly. With the Sen­ate now ad­journed un­til Septem­ber, with no work planned dur­ing Con­gress’ five-week re­cess, and the House soon to fol­low, there is vir­tu­ally zero chance of Con­gress giv­ing Home­land Se­cur­ity and the White House any of the $3.7 bil­lion in funds they had re­ques­ted by Au­gust.

“Without ad­di­tion­al re­sources and help from Con­gress,” Obama said Fri­day, “we’re just not go­ing to have the re­sources we need to fully solve the prob­lem. That means while they’re out on va­ca­tion, I’m go­ing to have to make some tough choices to meet the chal­lenge. With or without Con­gress.”

Speak­er Boehner’s spokes­man Mi­chael Steel put the bor­der blame on Obama. “When it comes to the hu­man­it­ari­an crisis on our south­ern bor­der, Pres­id­ent Obama has been com­pletely AWOL,” Steel said in a state­ment dur­ing the press­er. “Sen­ate Demo­crats have left town without act­ing on his re­quest for a bor­der sup­ple­ment­al. Right now, House Re­pub­lic­ans are the only ones still work­ing to ad­dress this crisis.”

The pres­id­ent opened with a state­ment about Ju­ly’s jobs growth, which showed that the U.S. eco­nomy ad­ded 209,000 in the month. The re­port it­self wasn’t any­thing ground­break­ing: it came in slightly be­low ex­pect­a­tions, and many key as­pects of the re­port — such as the num­ber of long-term un­em­ployed, and av­er­age hourly wage growth — re­mained un­changed from June.

“That’s why my ad­min­is­tra­tion keeps tak­ing whatever ac­tions we can take on our own to help work­ing fam­il­ies,” Obama said.

Next week, the pres­id­ent will par­ti­cip­ate in the U.S.-Africa Lead­ers Sum­mit, a three-day con­fer­ence in Wash­ing­ton. The pres­id­ents of Liber­ia and Si­erra Le­one, two of the three West Afric­an na­tions hit hard­est by the Ebola out­break, have can­celed plans to at­tend. Obama said Fri­day that the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion and oth­er fed­er­al agen­cies are work­ing to help West Africa con­tain the out­break, the worst of its kind in re­cor­ded his­tory.

To­ward the end of the press con­fer­ence, as mul­tiple re­port­ers shouted ques­tions at him, the pres­id­ent played chummy. “I thought that you guys were go­ing to ask me how I was go­ing to spend my birth­day,” said Obama, who turns 53 on Monday. “What happened to the happy birth­day thing?” Even­tu­ally, someone ob­liged.


Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.