What You Need to Know From President Obama’s Press Conference

The president addresses al-Qaida, Putin, and the Fed.

President Barack Obama speaks during his news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, Aug. 9, 2013. 
National Journal
Matt Berman Brian Resnick
Aug. 9, 2013, 11:35 a.m.

It’s a Fri­day af­ter­noon in early Au­gust. Most of Wash­ing­ton ap­pears to be on va­ca­tion, and it’s amaz­ingly hu­mid. So it’s time for a pres­id­en­tial press con­fer­ence.

Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced po­ten­tial big changes for the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency Fri­day af­ter­noon, which you can read about here. Here are some of the biggest mo­ments from the rest of today’s con­fer­ence.

On Rus­sia and the Olympics

“I want to just make very clear right now: I do not think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to boy­cott the Olympics… No one is more of­fen­ded than me by some of the anti-gay and les­bi­an le­gis­la­tion” in Rus­sia. The pres­id­ent also said that he looks for­ward to LGBT U.S. ath­letes bring­ing home some medals. “If Rus­sia doesn’t have gay or les­bi­an ath­letes, it would prob­ably make their team weak­er.”

The pres­id­ent also pushed back against the idea that he has a bad re­la­tion­ship with Vladi­mir Putin. He called his con­ver­sa­tions with Putin “can­did, blunt” and “of­ten­times very pro­duct­ive.” But that, as things stand right now, re­la­tions with Rus­sia are just a mat­ter of where Putin and the Rus­si­an people want to go.

I know the press likes to fo­cus on body lan­guage, and he’s got that kind of slouch, look­ing like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is, is that when we’re in con­ver­sa­tions to­geth­er, of­ten­times it’s very pro­duct­ive.

On the Fed, Larry Sum­mers, and “Mr. Yel­len”

Pres­id­ent Obama made clear how im­port­ant he views the nom­in­a­tion of the next Fed chair, call­ing the job “one of the most im­port­ant policy makers in the world.” 

The pres­id­ent, asked about the can­did­a­cies of Larry Sum­mers and Janet Yel­len, ac­ci­dent­ally slipped and re­ferred to Dr. Yel­len as “Mr. Yel­len,” say­ing that “they’re both ter­rif­ic people.” From there, Obama went in­to a strong de­fense of Larry Sum­mers:

When someone has worked hard for me, and worked hard on be­half of the Amer­ic­an people”¦.then I want to make sure some­body is stand­ing up for him. I felt the same way when people were at­tack­ing Susan Rice.

Obama said that for him, the most im­port­ant qual­i­fic­a­tion for a Fed chair isn’t someone with an in­side track — it’s someone who is able to look at and ad­dress the ser­i­ous is­sues in the U.S. eco­nomy. “The chal­lenge is not in­fla­tion,” he said, point­ing in­stead to the high level of un­em­ploy­ment. Obama again said that he’d an­nounce a nom­in­ee in the fall.

On the Snowden Leaks

The pres­id­ent stressed that while the Ed­ward Snowden and The Guard­i­an bring up the pos­sib­il­ity for gov­ern­ment ab­use, and he says there’s no evid­ence to be­lieve they have been ab­uses. “What you are not read­ing about is the gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally ab­us­ing these pro­grams, you’re read­ing about the pro­spect of the ab­uses,” he said. However, he un­der­stands why people may be con­cerned. “If you’re an or­din­ary per­son, well, un­der­stand­ably people would be con­cerned. I would be too if I wasn’t in the gov­ern­ment.”

On al-Qaida

The pres­id­ent was asked spe­cific­ally if he still be­lieves, after the threats over the last week, that al-Qaida has been decim­ated. His re­sponse: “core al-Qaida is on its heels, has been decim­ated. But… al-Qaida and oth­er ex­trem­ists have meta­stas­ized in­to re­gion­al groups” that can pose sig­ni­fic­ant threats. He said these groups “have the ca­pa­city to go after our em­bassies,” and “po­ten­tially to go after our busi­nesses.”

Obama re­fused to com­ment on the re­cent re­por­ted drone strikes in Ye­men.

On Obama­care

The pres­id­ent, ob­vi­ously, gave a de­fense of his sig­na­ture health care pro­gram, but ac­know­ledged that “there is no doubt that in im­ple­ment­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act”¦ there are go­ing to be some glitches.” “Our goal,” he said, “is to ac­tu­ally de­liv­er high qual­ity, af­ford­able health care for people…I make no apo­lo­gies for that.”

Obama did use ag­gress­ive lan­guage in his cri­ti­cism of Re­pub­lic­an at­tacks on the ACA.

Ad­dress­ing a pos­sible plan to de­fund Obama­care, he said that “the idea that you would shut down the gov­ern­ment un­less you pre­vent 30 mil­lion people from get­ting health­care is a bad idea.” And that “Re­pub­lic­ans have de­term­ined that they don’t want to see these people get health­care.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4380) }}

On Russia and the Olympics

“I want to just make very clear right now: I do not think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate to boy­cott the Olympics… No one is more of­fen­ded than me by some of the anti-gay and les­bi­an le­gis­la­tion” in Rus­sia. The pres­id­ent also said that he looks for­ward to LGBT U.S. ath­letes bring­ing home some medals. “If Rus­sia doesn’t have gay or les­bi­an ath­letes, it would prob­ably make their team weak­er.”

The pres­id­ent also pushed back against the idea that he has a bad re­la­tion­ship with Vladi­mir Putin. He called his con­ver­sa­tions with Putin “can­did, blunt” and “of­ten­times very pro­duct­ive.” But that, as things stand right now, re­la­tions with Rus­sia are just a mat­ter of where Putin and the Rus­si­an people want to go.

I know the press likes to fo­cus on body lan­guage, and he’s got that kind of slouch, look­ing like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is, is that when we’re in con­ver­sa­tions to­geth­er, of­ten­times it’s very pro­duct­ive.

On the Fed, Larry Summers, and "Mr. Yellen"

Pres­id­ent Obama made clear how im­port­ant he views the nom­in­a­tion of the next Fed chair, call­ing the job “one of the most im­port­ant policy makers in the world.” 

The pres­id­ent, asked about the can­did­a­cies of Larry Sum­mers and Janet Yel­len, ac­ci­dent­ally slipped and re­ferred to Dr. Yel­len as “Mr. Yel­len,” say­ing that “they’re both ter­rif­ic people.” From there, Obama went in­to a strong de­fense of Larry Sum­mers:

When someone has worked hard for me, and worked hard on be­half of the Amer­ic­an people”¦.then I want to make sure some­body is stand­ing up for him. I felt the same way when people were at­tack­ing Susan Rice.

Obama said that for him, the most im­port­ant qual­i­fic­a­tion for a Fed chair isn’t someone with an in­side track — it’s someone who is able to look at and ad­dress the ser­i­ous is­sues in the U.S. eco­nomy. “The chal­lenge is not in­fla­tion,” he said, point­ing in­stead to the high level of un­em­ploy­ment. Obama again said that he’d an­nounce a nom­in­ee in the fall.

On the Snowden Leaks

The pres­id­ent stressed that while the Ed­ward Snowden and The Guard­i­an bring up the pos­sib­il­ity for gov­ern­ment ab­use, and he says there’s no evid­ence to be­lieve they have been ab­uses. “What you are not read­ing about is the gov­ern­ment ac­tu­ally ab­us­ing these pro­grams, you’re read­ing about the pro­spect of the ab­uses,” he said. However, he un­der­stands why people may be con­cerned. “If you’re an or­din­ary per­son, well, un­der­stand­ably people would be con­cerned. I would be too if I wasn’t in the gov­ern­ment.”

On al-Qaida

The pres­id­ent was asked spe­cific­ally if he still be­lieves, after the threats over the last week, that al-Qaida has been decim­ated. His re­sponse: “core al-Qaida is on its heels, has been decim­ated. But… al-Qaida and oth­er ex­trem­ists have meta­stas­ized in­to re­gion­al groups” that can pose sig­ni­fic­ant threats. He said these groups “have the ca­pa­city to go after our em­bassies,” and “po­ten­tially to go after our busi­nesses.”

Obama re­fused to com­ment on the re­cent re­por­ted drone strikes in Ye­men.

On Obamacare

The pres­id­ent, ob­vi­ously, gave a de­fense of his sig­na­ture health care pro­gram, but ac­know­ledged that “there is no doubt that in im­ple­ment­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act”¦ there are go­ing to be some glitches.” “Our goal,” he said, “is to ac­tu­ally de­liv­er high qual­ity, af­ford­able health care for people…I make no apo­lo­gies for that.”

Obama did use ag­gress­ive lan­guage in his cri­ti­cism of Re­pub­lic­an at­tacks on the ACA.

Ad­dress­ing a pos­sible plan to de­fund Obama­care, he said that “the idea that you would shut down the gov­ern­ment un­less you pre­vent 30 mil­lion people from get­ting health­care is a bad idea.” And that “Re­pub­lic­ans have de­term­ined that they don’t want to see these people get health­care.”

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4380) }}

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