President Obama At Press Conference: In Charge, But Not In Control

After the first 100 days of his second term, President Obama just can't stop talking about the limits of his own power.

  • Share
  • Read Later
Charles Dharapak / AP

President Barack Obama speaks at a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington.

After the first 100 days of his second term, President Obama just can’t stop talking about the limits of his own power.

At a press conference Tuesday morning, he said he wanted a smooth roll out for ObamaCare, but then added, “even if we do everything perfectly, there’ll still be, you know, glitches and bumps.” He reaffirmed his desire to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, but said “Congress determined that they would not let us close it.” He argued for an end to the sequester, only to add that he doesn’t have enough sway with Congress to make it happen. “You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities, and that my job is to somehow get them to behave,” he said to one reporter. “That’s their job!”

In the White House briefing room, the President stayed largely on defense, ticking through the topics offered to him by reporters by explaining all that he could not do. Asked if he still had “the juice” to get the rest of his agenda through Congress, Obama smiled. “Maybe I should just pack up and go home, golly,” he responded from the White House podium before paraphrasing a quote from Mark Twain. “Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point.”

The first 100 days have not exactly gone according to plan: Gun control measures in which he invested his political capital died weeks ago, immigration reform faces a perilous path in the House of Representatives, budget and deficit reduction talks are mired in slow moving back room negotiations, and the sequester remains in place with a few targeted exceptions. As nearly every legislative priority has stalled, his approval rating has fallen below 50 percent.

More often than not, he said the problem is Congress, with the GOP-controlled House and the filibuster-loving Senate Republicans, repeating a refrain that has long been a part of his public comments. “I think it comes to no surprise, not even to the American people, but even members of Congress themselves (find) that right now things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill,” Obama said.

But even on matters of national security, he resisted questions that implied he should have taken more decisive action. On Syria, he is still waiting for clarity on the circumstances surrounding the use of chemical weapons. “We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened,” Obama said, blaming incomplete intelligence and warning that he’s trying to avoid another Iraq. “And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I’ve gotta make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect.”

(PHOTOS: Chaos and Killing in Syria: Photos of a Slow-Motion Civil War)

On the Boston bombing, he said that ongoing investigations would help clarify whether more should have been done before the attacks, but that early signs suggested that there was little that he or his government could have done to prevented the attacks. “What I can say is that based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties,” he said. “Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff.”

Then there’s the prison in Guantanamo Bay, which Obama pledged to close as his first executive order four years ago. It is a “recruitment tool for extremists,” Obama agreed. Hunger strikes have led US troops to force-feed 21 inmates. “I’m gonna go back at this,” Obama said. But he did not predict speedy victory.

(PHOTOS: Inside Guantanamo)

On immigration, he made it clear that he was happy to take a backseat to the Senate and House, which are drafting their own bills. “There are elements of it that I would change,” he said of the Senate proposal, “but I do think that it meets the basic criteria that I laid out from the start.” As for the House proposal, he said he is waiting to judge. “I think we’ve gotta be open-minded in seeing what they come up with,” he said. Like so many other issues, the bill to fix the nation’s immigration system was on his radar, though not within his control.