Thursday, April 30, 2009

Barack Obama at 100 Days

Photo courtesy of New York Times

News from around the country as the Obama administration goes into Day 100.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

President Barack Obama said Wednesday night that waterboarding authorized by former President George W. Bush was torture and that the information it gained from terror suspects could have been obtained by other means. "In some cases, it may be harder," he conceded at a White House news conference capping a whirlwind first 100 days in office.

Obama also expressed much greater optimism now than a month ago that Chrysler could remain a "going concern," possibly without filing for bankruptcy or with a "very quick" one. Obama did not say so, but Italian automaker Fiat Group SpA is expected to sign a partnership agreement with Chrysler LLC by Thursday as part of negotiations to keep the struggling U.S. automaker alive without bankruptcy protection.

The president gave assurance that one way or another Pakistan's nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. He said he was confident "primarily, initially" because he believes Pakistan will handle the issue on its own. But he left the door open to eventual U.S. action to secure the weapons if need be.

The prime-time news conference was the third of Obama's presidency and the first not dominated by a recession that has thrown millions of Americans out of work.

At a town-hall style meeting in Missouri earlier in the day, as well as in the White House East Room, Obama said progress has been made in rebuilding the economy, yet more remains to be done.

"You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security — in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after," he said in opening his news conference.

He called on Congress to enact his ambitious all-at-once agenda, including education spending to produce a better-trained work force, greater support for renewable energy development, a high-priced system for companies to buy and sell rights to emit dangerous pollutants, a vast expansion of health insurance and new rules to rein in the riskiest Wall Street behavior.

Though Obama's most notable legislative triumphs to date have been enacted on party-line votes, he said he remains eager for bipartisan cooperation with Republicans. But, he said, "I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

Obama said Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's switch from Republican to Democrat wouldn't automatically change the math on legislation because of Specter's independence, nor give him a "rubber-stamp Senate." Specter gave majority Democrats 59 votes in the Senate, pushing them one step closer to the 60 needed to overcome Republican filibusters.

But the party change would "liberate" Specter to cooperate with Democrats more than he has in the past, Obama said.

The president also said he was "absolutely convinced" he had acted correctly in banning tough interrogation techniques including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, and in making public the Bush administration memos detailing their use on terrorist suspects. "Not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees ... but because we could have gotten this information in other ways, in ways that were consistent with our values, in ways that were consistent with who we are."

Obama has come under heavy criticism for his actions from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans. They have urged Obama to release memos they say will show the tough methods were successful in obtaining information.

Obama told reporters he has read the documents Cheney and others are referring to but said they are classified and declined to discuss their details. In a White House exchange with House Republican leader John Boehner last week, Obama said the record was equivocal.

The news conference lasted an hour and covered topics ranging from the outbreak of swine flu — which Obama referred to as the H1N1 virus, evidently in deference to U.S. pork producers — to abortion and the recent flare-up in violence in Iraq.

Alongside wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the situation in Pakistan has grown more ominous in recent days as a resurgent Taliban shows signs of strength.

Obama said he was "gravely concerned," not about an immediate takeover of the country by the Taliban but because he said the Pakistani government seems unable to deliver basic services and thus gain the kind of public loyalty necessary to survive against challenges over the long term.

The president also gave his strongest public admission yet that the overhaul of the current immigration system that he once promised to tackle in his first 100 days will not happen in 2009. He focused instead on the "key administrative steps" he has directed officials to take this year that he said would demonstrate competence to opponents in the contentious debate.

Obama defended his administration's continuation of Bush's policy that the president has inherent and unchecked power to shield national security information from disclosure — the so-called "state secrets" doctrine. Obama said that court filings came too quickly in his presidency to go in a new direction but that his advisers are already working on ways to have the doctrine modified, even while he said certain cases will require its use.

With the government now functioning as a major shareholder in financial institutions as well as, possibly, auto companies such as General Motors, Obama also said Washington has no intention of micromanaging private businesses or of remaining an investor for any longer than necessary. "I've got more than enough to do," he said.

But the president said the government does have the right, on behalf of the taxpayers, to "scrutinize what's being proposed and make sure that their money is not just being thrown down the drain."

Obama's intensive schedule marking his 100th day in office demonstrated the degree to which the administration saw both possibility and peril in the milestone — a symbolic evaluation point since Franklin Roosevelt took office in the depths of the Great Depression in 1933.

Presidential aides have derided it as a media-created "Hallmark holiday" in which the White House participates reluctantly. But they also recognize it is a time frame by which all modern presidents are judged, at least initially, and which can produce negative narratives that dog administrations for years. So the White House heartily embraced the marker, making high-level Obama advisers available anywhere they were needed over the last week and crafting the president's day to maximum advantage.

The opening act of the Obama presidency has been head-turning, not only for the dire times in which he took office but his flurry of activity.

The reward: strong public backing despite a still-staggering economy. An Associated Press-GfK poll shows that 48 percent of Americans believe the United States is headed in the right direction — the first time in years that more people than not expressed optimism for a brighter future.

But most of what Obama has done so far, as would be expected for little more than three months, amounts to no more than a down payment.

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Excerpts of Reuters:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - From reluctant CEO to chief U.S. medical adviser, President Barack Obama showed how many hats he wears at a news conference marking his 100th day in office on Wednesday.

Shrugging off critics who say he has taken on too many tasks in his young presidency, Obama said all the issues had landed in his lap at the same time and had to be dealt with simultaneously:

* First off, he was his own U.S. surgeon general, since he has yet to appoint anyone to the job, offering common-sense advice to Americans on how to deal with the threat of swine flu.

"Wash your hands when you shake hands, cover your mouth when you cough. I know it sounds trivial but it makes a huge difference," he said. "If you are sick, stay home. If your child is sick, keep them out of school."

* Obama was the top U.S. human rights advocate, saying the interrogation technique known as waterboarding used during the Bush administration is torture and questioned its use.

Those who insist the techniques gained useful information from terrorism suspects that saved lives fail to answer a core question, he said.

"Which is: could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question, are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?"

* The president, who taught law at the University of Chicago, showed himself to be a bit of a philosophy professor, talking about how he wants to leave behind a legacy of change, that he hopes in 10 or 20 years the next generation will look back and see this was a period of transformation.


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Excerpts from the Washington Post:

One hundred days into his term, President Obama used a pair of public events Wednesday to chart how far he has steered the country from the course set by the Bush administration, saying, "We are off to a good start, but it is just a start."

Capitalizing on the heightened public attention surrounding the milestone, Obama said his early achievements include setting a timeline to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq -- a war he inherited from President George W. Bush -- and moving quickly to remake an economy suffering as a result of irresponsible borrowing during Bush's tenure.

But his most pointed comments during a day that included a prime-time news conference at the White House and a town-hall forum in Missouri involved his decision to ban waterboarding and other abusive interrogation methods sanctioned by the Bush administration for use against terrorism suspects.

Last night, Obama flatly called those techniques "torture" and said the practice "corrodes the character of a country."

He said the "public justification" of those methods, including claims by Vice President Richard B. Cheney that they helped save American lives, "doesn't answer the core question, which is: Could we have gotten that same information without resorting to these techniques? And it doesn't answer the broader question: Are we safer as a consequence of having used these techniques?"

"This is a decision that I'm very comfortable with," Obama said. "And I think the American people over time will recognize that it is better for us to stick to who we are, even when we're taking on an unscrupulous enemy."

Obama appeared relaxed and reflective throughout the news conference, the third of his presidency, and he struck a reassuring tone on issues as diverse as the widening swine flu crisis and the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. With nearly seven in 10 Americans approving of his performance, according to polling, Obama spoke more personally than he has before on issues such as abortion and the surprises he has encountered since taking office.

He said he is encouraged that two large U.S. carmakers will remain in business. He said he is "confident" that Pakistan's military has a secure hold on its nuclear arsenal even as he acknowledged that he was "gravely concerned" about the stability of that country's government in the face of Taliban gains. And twice he detailed the precautions people should take to avoid exposure to swine flu -- wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, don't go to work if you feel sick.

"I know it sounds trivial," Obama said, "but it makes a huge difference."

Obama spent his 100th day in office in much the same way he spent the previous 99 -- in the public eye. He began the day welcoming Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter into the Democratic Party, bringing it closer to a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate, and ended it with the news conference.

In between, Obama traveled to Missouri, a state he narrowly lost to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in last year's election. At a boisterous town-hall meeting in Arnold, a distant suburb of St. Louis, Obama said, "We have begun to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off, and we've begun the work of remaking America."

"I'm pleased with the progress we've made, but I'm not satisfied," Obama told the cheering crowd at Fox Senior High School. "I'm confident in the future, but I'm not content with the present."


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The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that he was “gravely concerned” about the stability of the Pakistani government but that he was confident Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Speaking at a prime-time news conference on his 100th day in office, Mr. Obama called the government in Pakistan, where army forces are at war with Taliban insurgents who have been advancing on Islamabad, “very fragile.” Pakistan’s leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, is to visit Washington next week, and American officials have been pressing his government to be more aggressive in battling the insurgency.

“I am more concerned that the civilian government right now is very fragile,” Mr. Obama said, because it lacks the capacity to deliver services like health care and the rule of law. “As a consequence,” he added, “it’s very difficult for them to gain the support and loyalty of their people.”

Mr. Obama also hit back at critics including former Vice President Dick Cheney, maintaining that harsh interrogation techniques used by the previous administration did not yield any information that could not have been obtained through other means.

Responding to the fallout over his decision to release secret memorandums that laid out the Bush administration’s legal justification for interrogation techniques like waterboarding — which Mr. Obama called torture — the president said that none of the intelligence reports he had seen left him thinking such methods were justified or necessary. “I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said. “But I am convinced that the best way to do that is to make sure we’re not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are.”

He offered no shift, however, in his opposition to an independent inquiry into the Bush administration’s policies on the interrogation of terror suspects.

During the one-hour news conference, Mr. Obama struck a variety of notes, ranging from historian-in-chief to mom-in-chief, when he lectured Americans to take precautions against the swine flu.

“Wash your hands when you shake hands; cover your mouth when you cough,” he said. “I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference.”

There were a few light moments, particularly when Mr. Obama was asked what has surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled him in the past 100 days. “Wait, let me get this all down,” he said, taking out a pen.

He was surprised, he answered, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.

“I didn’t anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said. “The typical president has two or three big problems, we have seven or eight.”

He said he was troubled, or at least, “sobered” by how much “political posturing and bickering takes place even when we’re in the middle of really big crises.”

He called himself enchanted by American servicemen and women, and their sacrifices they make, although he allowed that “enchanted” might not be the exact characterization.

By the time he got to what humbled him, he was ready to expound, going on about the how the presidency was “just part of a much broader tapestry of American life” and how “the ship of state is an ocean liner, not a speed boat.”

Often over the course of the hour, he sought to draw distinctions between himself and his predecessor, and said that he had changed America’s relations with the world. “We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals,” he said.

Asked about his administration’s support in several recent court cases for the Bush administration’s position that the government had a broad right to invoke national security secrets to block litigation, Mr. Obama responded that he wants to modify the so-called state secrets doctrine, but had not had time to do so when the court cases came up.

“I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified,” he said. “I think right now it’s over broad.”

Addressing the economy, Mr. Obama said his administration had made progress but that there was much more to be done and that he ultimately wants a more stable economy less prone to boom and bust.

“We cannot go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand — on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards, on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of us all,” Mr. Obama said in an eight-minute speech before taking questions from reporters.

He offered a new catchphrase to describe his economic program, calling for a “new foundation for growth,” that would encompass increased spending on issues like education and renewable energy.

Mr. Obama suggested that the pressures of governing at a time of economic crisis, war and now a potential flu pandemic have led him to pay less attention to some issues of intense interest to his political base. Asked if he would keep a campaign promise to eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion, he said that while he favored abortion rights, getting rid of those restrictions were “not my highest legislative priority.”

Asked about how he would use the government’s power as a major shareholder in companies like General Motors and Citigroup, he said the government should limit its involvement.

“I don’t want to run auto companies. I don’t want to run banks,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve got two wars I’ve got to run already. I’ve got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we’re going to be.”

The news conference in the East Room of the White House was the final act in a daylong series of events staged to mark Mr. Obama’s 100th day in office.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama traveled to Missouri for a town meeting in a state that he narrowly lost last year. He offered an upbeat assessment of his first three months in the White House, but implored patience as he tackles a mountain of challenges, saying he could not work miracles.

The tone of Mr. Obama’s remarks on Wednesday reflected an assessment from several advisers that the next chapter of his presidency is likely to be even more difficult than the first. But his job approval rating remains high, particularly given the wave of challenges on his desk, which in the last week grew even larger with the first health emergency of his administration.


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(CNN) -- President Obama said Wednesday that he's under no illusions that he'll have a "rubber-stamp Senate" now that Sen. Arlen Specter has switched parties to join the Democrats.

"To my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine," Obama said at a prime time news conference capping his 100th day in office.

"I can't sort of define bipartisanship as simply being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work and the American people voted to change."

Specter on Tuesday announced he was changing parties, saying he's found himself increasingly "at odds with the Republican philosophy." He also admitted Wednesday he was worried about the prospects of facing a Republican primary in order to keep his seat next year.

Specter's move puts the Democrats one shy of a filibuster-proof Senate majority of 60 seats. Senate Democrats can reach the 60-seat mark if courts uphold Al Franken's disputed recount victory in Minnesota.

As if to prove the president's point, Specter voted against Obama's budget plan shortly before the news conference.

Asked if the GOP is in desperate straits, Obama said, "Politics in America changes very quick. And I'm a big believer that things are never as good as they seem and never as bad as they seem." Watch what Obama says about working with Republicans »

Obama has faced criticism from Republicans that he hasn't been reaching across the aisle. His budget moved through both chambers of Congress on Wednesday with no GOP support, and his economic stimulus plan passed with just three Republican votes from the Senate.

The president said he thinks the administration has taken steps to restore confidence in the American people, noting that "simply opposing our approach on every front is probably not a good political strategy."

In his first 100 days, he's been "sobered by the fact that change in Washington comes slow," said Obama. Watch Obama discuss what's surprised him in the first 100 days »

"That there is still a certain quotient of political posturing and bickering that takes place even when we're in the middle of really big crises," he said, adding that he'd like for everyone to say "let's take a time-out on some of the political games."

In a shift from his previous news conferences which were dominated by questions about the economy, Obama fielded multiple queries on the foreign policy front.

The president said a recent uptick in violence in Iraq won't affect his plan for a phased military withdrawal.

"Civilian deaths, incidents of bombings ... remain very low relative to what was going on last year," Obama said. "You haven't seen the kinds of huge spikes that you were seeing for a time. The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq."

Obama said more details need to be nailed down before U.S. troops leave Iraq -- including how oil revenues will be divided, what the powers of provincial governments there will be and the political relationships between minority Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites -- including the armed Sons of Iraq groups.

On Pakistan, the president said the United States has "huge national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable" and doesn't end up a "nuclear-armed militant state."

"I am gravely concerned about the situation in Pakistan, not because I think that they're immediately going to be overrun and the Taliban would take over in Pakistan. I'm more concerned that the civilian government there right now is very fragile and don't seem to have the capacity to deliver basic services," he said.

Obama also said Wednesday he is "very comfortable" with his decision to ban interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which he called torture. Watch what Obama says about torture »

The president called the practice a recruiting tool for terrorist groups like al Qaeda, citing World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who also rejected such "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

"Churchill understood that if you start taking shortcuts, over time that corrodes what's best in a people," Obama said. "It corrodes the character of a country."

Asked about the previous administration, he said, "I think that whatever legal rationale were used, it was a mistake."

On the recent outbreaks of swine flu, Obama insisted his administration is "prepared to do whatever it takes to control the impact of the virus."

"I've asked every American to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other flu: Keep your hands washed; cover your mouth when you cough; stay home from work if you're sick; and keep your children home from school if they're sick," he said.

Obama downplayed the possibility of closing the border with Mexico as a way to control the virus, also known by its clinical name of H1N1. Watch as Obama warns Americans about the flu »

"It would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out," Obama said

The first cases of the virus were detected in Mexico, where health officials suspect swine flu in more than 150 other deaths and roughly 2,500 illnesses. Only 26 cases have so far been confirmed, including the seven fatal cases.

So far, the World Health Organization has reported 148 cases in nine countries.

Obama said the $1.5 billion he asked from Congress to help fight the outbreaks will help government health officials monitor and track the virus and replenish the supply of antiviral drugs.

On immigration, Obama said he wants to work with members of Congress, including former Republican presidential rival Sen. John McCain, to revive efforts to reform the system.

Obama said he hopes lawmakers will begin working on such reform legislation and expects the process to be under way within the year.

Both Obama and McCain supported an ultimately failed plan backed by then-President Bush that would have fined illegal immigrants living in the United States but provided a pathway to citizenship for some.

Obama's news conference came just hours after both chambers of Congress passed his $3.4 trillion budget resolution for fiscal year 2010.

The measure approves most of Obama's key spending priorities and sets the federal government in a new direction with major increases for energy, education and health care programs.

Obama said his budget begins to lay a "new foundation" that will strengthen the U.S. economy.

"But even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I've also said that we can't go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand -- on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards; on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all," he said.

The United States "will see a better day," but there's still a lot of work to do, he said.

"I want to thank the American people for their support and their patience during these trying times, and I look forward to working with you in the next hundred days, in the hundred days after that, all of the hundreds of days to follow, to make sure that this country is what it can be."

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plez sez: 100 months ago, no one had heard of him. 100 weeks ago, he was a dark horse candidate. 100 days ago, he took the oath of office... and the world will never look at america the same again!

~ ~ Citations ~ ~

Read the article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the Reuters article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the New York Times article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the Washington Post article about Obama's first 100 days.

Read the article about Obama's first 100 days.

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