February 24, 2020
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Obama Reflects On 2013- Full Press Conference


But you know what they say — it’s the most
wonderful press conference of the year — right now. (Laughter.) I am eager to take your questions,
but first, I just want to say a few words about our economy. In 2013, our businesses created another 2
million jobs, adding up to more than 8 million in just over the past 45 months. This morning,
we learned that over the summer, our economy grew at its strongest pace in nearly two years.
The unemployment rate has steadily fallen to its lowest point in five years. Our tax
code is fairer, and our fiscal situation is firmer, with deficits that are now less than
half of what they were when I took office. For the first time in nearly two decades,
we now produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world, and our
all-of-the-above strategy for new American energy means lower energy costs. The Affordable
Care Act has helped keep health care costs growing at their slowest rate in 50 years.
Combined, that means bigger paychecks for middle-class families and bigger savings for
businesses looking to invest and hire here in America. And for all the challenges we’ve had and all
the challenges that we’ve been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and
the website these past couple months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled
through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone. In California, for
example, a state operating its own marketplace, more than 15,000 Americans are enrolling every
single day. And in the federal website, tens of thousands are enrolling every single day.
Since October 1st, more than one million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through
the federal and state marketplaces. So, all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems
with the website, are now poised to be covered by quality, affordable health insurance come
New Year’s Day. Now, this holiday season, there are mothers and fathers and entrepreneurs
and workers who have something new to celebrate — the security of knowing that when the unexpected
or misfortune strikes, hardship no longer has to. And you add that all up and what it means
is we head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than it was when we started
the year. More Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck.
Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014
can be a breakthrough year for America. But as I outlined in detail earlier this month,
we all know there’s a lot more that we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity
and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action. It’s a good start that earlier this week,
for the first time in years, both parties in both houses of Congress came together to
pass a budget. That unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that created headwinds for
our economy. It clears the path for businesses and for investments that we need to strengthen
our middle class, like education and scientific research. And it means that the American people
won’t be exposed to the threat of another reckless shutdown every few months. So that’s
a good thing. It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak
of bipartisanship. But it’s also fair to say that we’re not condemned to endless gridlock.
There are areas where we can work together. I believe that work should begin with something
that Republicans in Congress should have done before leaving town this week, and that’s
restoring the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet when they are looking
for a job. Because Congress didn’t act, more than one million of their constituents will
lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job-seekers without any source
of income at all. I think we’re a better country than that.
We don’t abandon each other when times are tough. Keep in mind unemployment insurance
only goes to folks who are actively looking for work — a mom who needs help feeding her
kids when she sends out her resumes, or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working
part-time and still earning the skills he needs for that new job. So when Congress comes
back to work, their first order of business should be making this right. I know a bipartisan
group is working on a three-month extension of this insurance. They should pass it, and
I’ll sign it right away. Let me repeat: I think 2014 needs to be a
year of action. We’ve got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn
the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer
the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security. We still
have the task of finishing the fix on our broken immigration system. We’ve got to build
on the progress we’ve painstakingly made over these last five years with respect to our
economy and offer the middle class and all those who are looking to join the middle class
a better opportunity, and that’s going to be where I focus all of my efforts in the
year ahead. And let me conclude by saying just as we’re
strengthening our position here at home, we’re also standing up for our interests around
the world. This year, we’ve demonstrated that with clear-eyed, principled diplomacy, we
can pursue new paths to a world that’s more secure — a future where Iran does not build
a nuclear weapon; a future where Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed. By the end
of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over, just as we’ve ended our war in Iraq,
and we’ll continue to bring our troops home. And, as always, we will remain vigilant to
protect our homeland and our personnel overseas from terrorist attacks. Of course, a lot of our men and women in uniform
are still overseas, and a lot of them are still spending their Christmas far away from
their family and their friends, and in some cases, are still in harm’s way. So I want
to close by saying to them and their families back home, we want to thank you. Your country
stands united in supporting you and being grateful for your service and your sacrifice.
We will keep you in our thoughts and in our prayers during this season of hope. So, before I wish a Merry Christmas to all,
and to all a good night, I will take some questions. Jay prepared a list of who’s naughty
and nice — (laughter) — so we’ll see who made it. Julie must be nice. (Laughter.) Julie Pace. Q Thank you, Mr. President. Despite all of
the data points that you cited in your opening statement, when you look back at this year,
very little of the domestic agenda that you outlined in your inaugural address and your
State of the Union have been achieved. Health care rollout obviously had huge problems and
your ratings from the public are near historic lows for you. When you take this altogether,
has this been the worst year of your presidency? THE PRESIDENT: I’ve got to tell you, Julie,
that’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years — close to five
years — was running for President for two years before that, and for those of you who’ve
covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has
probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences. And what I’ve been focused on each and every
day is are we moving the ball in helping the American people — families — have more opportunity,
have a little more security to feel as if, if they work hard, they can get ahead. And if I look at this past year, there are
areas where there obviously have been some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved
more aggressively. Not passing background checks in the wake of Newtown is something
that I continue to believe was a mistake. But then I also look at because of the debate
that occurred, all the work that’s been done at state levels to increase gun safety and
to make sure that we don’t see tragedies like that happen again. There’s a lot of focus on legislative activity
at the congressional level, but even when Congress doesn’t move on things they should
move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re still doing. So we don’t always
get attention for it, but the ConnectEd program that we announced where we’re going to be
initiating wireless capacity in every classroom in America will make a huge difference for
kids all across this country, and for teachers. A manufacturing hub that we set up in Youngstown,
something that I talked about during the State of the Union, is going to create innovation
and connect universities, manufacturers, job training to help create a renaissance — build
on the renaissance that we’re seeing in manufacturing. When it comes to energy, this year is going
to be the first year in a very long time where we’re producing more oil and natural gas here
in this country than we’re importing. That’s a big deal. So I understand the point that you’re getting
at, Julie, which is that a lot of our legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward
as rapidly as I’d like. I completely understand that, which means that I’m going to keep at
it. And if you look at, for example, immigration reform, probably the biggest thing that I
wanted to get done this year, we saw progress. It passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan
vote. There are indications in the House that even though it did not get completed this
year that there is a commitment on the part of the Speaker to try to move forward legislation
early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I’d prefer is obviously
frustrating but it’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about. Q But, sir, it’s not just your legislative
agenda. When you look at polling and you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence
in you, trust in you. Your credibility has taken a hit. Obviously the health care law
was a big part of that. So do you understand that the public has changed in some way their
view of you over this year? THE PRESIDENT: But, Julie, I guess what I’m
saying is if you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through
the course of my career. I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run
for President. I was polling at 70 percent when I was in the U.S. Senate. I took this
job to deliver for the American people. And I knew and will continue to know that there
are going to be ups and downs on it. You’re right, the health care website problems
were a source of great frustration. I think in the last press conference I adequately
discussed my frustrations on those. On the other hand, since that time I now have a couple
million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that
is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office. And as long as I’ve got an opportunity every
single day to make sure that in ways large and small I’m creating greater opportunity
for people — more kids are able to go to school, get the education they need; more
families are able to stabilize their finances; the housing market is continuing to improve;
people feel like their wages maybe are inching up a little bit — if those things are happening,
I’ll take it. And I’ve said before, I’ve run my last political
race. So at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back
and say we’re delivering something — not everything, because this is a long haul. Mark Felsenthal. Q Thank you, Mr. President. One of the most
significant events of this year was the revelation of the surveillance by the National Security
Agency. As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge said that,
for example, the government had failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of
the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify
any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that
data is useful to national security and should continue as it is? THE PRESIDENT: Let me talk more broadly, and
then I’ll talk specifically about the program you’re referring to. As you know, the independent panel that I
put together came back with a series of recommendations, 46 in total. I had an extensive meeting with
them down in the Situation Room to review all the recommendations that they had made.
I want to thank them publicly, because I think they did an excellent job and took my charge
very seriously, which is I told them I want you to look from top to bottom at what we’re
doing and evaluate whether or not the current structures that we have and the current programs
that we have are properly addressing both our continuing need to keep ourselves secure
and to prevent terrorist attacks, or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or other threats
to the homeland, and are we also making sure that we’re taking seriously rule of law and
our concerns about privacy and civil liberties. So what we’re doing now is evaluating all
the recommendations that have been made. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to assess
based on conversations not just with the intelligence community but others in government and outside
of government how we might apply and incorporate their recommendations. And I’m going to make
a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January where I’ll be able to say,
here are the recommendations that we think make sense; here are ones that we think are
promising but still need to be refined further; here’s how it relates to the work we’re doing
not just internally but also in partnership with other countries. And so I’m taking this
very seriously because I think, as I’ve said before, this is a debate that needed to be
had. One specific program, the 215 program, is
the metadata, the bulk collection of phone numbers and exchanges that have taken place
that has probably gotten the most attention, at least with respect to domestic audiences.
And what I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing
this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to
be able to track if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United
States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone, and that having
that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be
confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats. And I think it’s important to note that in
all the reviews of this program that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual
instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in
the use of this data. But what is also clear is from the public debate, people are concerned
about the prospect, the possibility of abuse. And I think that’s what the judge and the
district court suggested. And although his opinion obviously differs from rulings on
the FISA Court, we’re taking those into account. The question we’re going to have to ask is
can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways
that give the public more confidence that, in fact, the NSA is doing what it’s supposed
to be doing. I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance
or snooping around, but I also recognize that as technologies change and people can start
running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that we’re downloading
on a daily basis into our telephones and our computers, that we may have to refine this
further to give people more confidence. And I’m going to be working very hard on doing
that. And we’ve got to provide more confidence to
the international community. In some ways, what has been more challenging is the fact
that we do have a lot of laws and checks and balances and safeguards and audits when it
comes to making sure that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are not spying on Americans.
We’ve had less legal constraint in terms of what we’re doing internationally. But I think
part of what’s been interesting about this whole exercise is recognizing that in a virtual
world, some of these boundaries don’t matter anymore, and just because we can do something
doesn’t mean we necessarily should. And the values that we’ve got as Americans are ones
that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders I think perhaps more systematically
than we’ve done in the past. Okay? Ed Henry. Q Thank you, Mr. President. I want to follow
up on that because — and merry Christmas, by the way. THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas to you. Q When Edward Snowden first started leaking
the information, you made a statement on June 7th in California, and you claimed to the
American people that you had already reformed many of these surveillance programs. You said
you came into office — “my team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually
expanded some of the oversight,” and you did expand some of it. THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Q You also said we may have to rebalance some,
there may be changes. But you concluded with, “You can complain about Big Brother and how
this is a potential program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then
I think we’ve struck the right balance.” That was only six months ago. Now this judge is
saying no, your own panel is saying no, even you’re saying no, we haven’t really struck
the right balance perhaps, that changes have to be made. My question is: Were you wrong
then because you were not fully read in not just on these programs but on other programs
outside of the ones you just talked about, where we were potentially listening in on
the German leaders, the Brazilian leaders and others, that suggest there were abuses?
Number one. And number two, if you were fully read in
on these programs, is it another example of what Julie was getting at with this question
of credibility with the American people, that just like on health care, “you like your plan,
you can keep it”? On surveillance, you looked the American people in the eye six months
ago and said, “We’ve got the right balance,” and six months later you’re saying maybe not. THE PRESIDENT: Well, hold on a second, Ed.
I think it’s important to note that when it comes to the right balance on surveillance,
these are a series of judgment calls that we’re making every single day, because we’ve
got a whole bunch of folks whose job it is to make sure that the American people are
protected. And that’s a hard job, because if something slips, then the question that’s
coming from you the next day at a press conference is, “Mr. President, why didn’t you catch that?
Why did the intelligence people allow that to slip? Isn’t there a way that we could have
found out that in fact this terrorist attack took place?” Q so why were you so — why did you say we
struck the right balance? THE PRESIDENT: So the point is, Ed, not that
my assessment of the 215 program has changed in terms of technically how it works. What
is absolutely clear to me is that given the public debate that’s taken place and the disclosures
that have taken place over the last several months, that this is only going to work if
the American people have confidence and trust. Now, part of the challenge is, is that because
of the manner in which these disclosures took place, in dribs and drabs, oftentimes shaded
in a particular way, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had in terms of
declassifying information and getting it out there, that that trust in how many safeguards
exist and how these programs are run has been diminished. So what’s going to be important
is to build that back up. And I take that into account in weighing how we structure
these programs. So let me just be very specific on the 215
program. It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence
community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private
phone companies keep these records longer and to create some mechanism where they can
be accessed in an effective fashion. That might cost more. There might need to
be different checks on how those requests are made. There may be technological solutions
that have to be found to do that. And the question that we’re asking ourselves now is,
does that make sense not only because of the fact that there are concerns about potential
abuse down the road with the metadata that’s being kept by a government rather than private
companies, but also does it make sense to do it because people right now are concerned
that maybe their phone calls are being listened to, even if they’re not? And we’ve got to
factor that in. So my point is, is that the environment has
changed in ways that I think require us to take that into account. But the analysis that
I’ve been doing throughout has always been periodically looking at what we’re doing and
asking ourselves, are we doing this in the right way? Are we making sure that we’re keeping
the American people safe, number one? Are we also being true to our civil liberties
and our privacy and our values? Q I understand it’s a tough job, and, God
forbid, there’s another terror attack, every one of us is going to be second-guessing you,
and that is extremely difficult to be in the Oval Office. THE PRESIDENT: That’s okay. I volunteered. Q But as you said, you took that on. THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Q You put it on your back. And so my question
is do you have any personal regrets? You’re not addressing the fact the public statements
you’ve made to reassure the public — your Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper,
months ago went up, got a question from a Democrat, not a Republican, about whether
some of this was going on, and he denied it. Doesn’t that undermine the public trust? THE PRESIDENT: Ed, you’re conflating, first
of all, me and Mr. Clapper — Q He’s the Director of National — he’s still
on the job. THE PRESIDENT: I understand. But what I’m
saying is this, that, yes, these are tough problems that I am glad to have the privilege
of tackling. Your initial question was whether the statements that I made six months ago
are ones that I don’t stand by. And what I’m saying is, is that the statements I made then
are entirely consistent with the statements that I make now, which is that we believed
that we had scrubbed these programs and struck an appropriate balance, and there had not
been evidence and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been
abused in how it was used, and that it was a useful tool, working with other tools that
the intelligence community has, to ensure that if we have a thread on a potential terrorist
threat, that that can be followed effectively. What I’ve also said, though, is that in light
of the disclosures that have taken place, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration
of this particular program may have may be outweighed by the concerns that people have
on its potential abuse. And if that’s the case, there may be another way of skinning
the cat. So we just keep on going at this stuff and
saying, can we do this better? Can we do this more effectively? I think that the panel’s
recommendations are consistent with that. So if you had a chance to read the overall
recommendations, what they were very clear about is we need this intelligence. We can’t
unilaterally disarm. There are ways we can do it potentially that gives people greater
assurance that there are checks and balances, that there’s sufficient oversight, sufficient
transparency. Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information
when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse. And that’s exactly what we should be doing,
is to evaluate all these things in a very clear, specific way, and moving forward on
changes. And that’s what I intend to do. Q So you have no regrets? You have no regrets? THE PRESIDENT: That’s what I intend to do. Jon Karl. Q Thank you, Mr. President. It’s been a tough
year. You may not want to call it the worst year of your presidency, but it’s clearly
been a tough year. The polls have gone up and down, but they are at a low point right
now. So what I’m asking you — you’ve acknowledged the difficulties with the health care rollout.
But when you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you
did, what you didn’t do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake? THE PRESIDENT: With respect to health care,
specifically, or just generally? Q The whole thing, back at this tough year. THE PRESIDENT: Well, there’s no doubt that
when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every
three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good
experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need, and knowing what
the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health
care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way
that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up. Part of it, as I’ve said before, had to do
with how IT procurement generally is done, and it almost predates this year. Part of
it, obviously, has to do with the fact that there were not clear enough lines of authority
in terms of who was in charge of the technology and cracking the whip on a whole bunch of
contractors. So there were a whole bunch of things that we’ve been taking a look at, and
I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten
through the initial surge of people who’ve been signing up. But having said all that, bottom line also
is, is that we’ve got several million people who are going to have health care that works.
And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self-reflection here. I promise you, I
probably beat myself up even worse than you or Ed Henry does on any given day. But I’ve
also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day, and that
we keep moving forward. And when I look at the landscape for next
year, what I say to myself is, we’re poised to do really good things. The economy is stronger
than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody
benefits from that, not just a few folks. And there are still too many people who haven’t
seen a raise and are still feeling financially insecure.
We can get immigration reform done. We’ve got a concept that has bipartisan support.
Let’s see if we can break through the politics on this. I think that, hopefully, folks have learned
their lesson in terms of brinksmanship, coming out of the government shutdown. There have
been times where I thought about, were there other ways that I could have prevented those
three, four weeks that hampered the economy and hurt individual families who were not
getting a paycheck during that time — absolutely. But I also think that, in some ways, given
the pattern that we had been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might
have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what
the American people think is acceptable. They want us to try to solve problems and be practical,
even if we can’t get everything done. So the end of the year is always a good time
to reflect and see what can you do better next year. That’s how I intend to approach
it. I’m sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun. Brianna. Q Thank you, Mr. President. On the debt ceiling,
your Treasury Secretary has estimated that the U.S. government will lose its ability
to pay its bills come late February or early March. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul
Ryan has said that “Republicans are going to decide what it is they can accomplish on
this debt limit fight” — his words. Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the
debt ceiling? THE PRESIDENT: Oh, Brianna, you know the answer
to this question. No, we’re not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued. Here’s the good news — I want to emphasize
the positive as we enter into this holiday season. I think Congressman Ryan and Senator
Murray did a good job in trying to narrow the differences and actually pass a budget
that I can sign. It’s not everything that I would like, obviously. It buys back part
of these across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester, but not all of them. So we’re still
underfunding research; we’re still underfunding education; we’re still underfunding transportation
and other initiatives that would create jobs right now. But it was an honest conversation. They operated
in good faith. And given how far apart the parties have been on fiscal issues, they should
take pride in what they did. And I actually called them after they struck the deal and
I said congratulations, and I hope that creates a good pattern for next year, where we work
on at least the things we agree to, even if we agree to disagree on some of the other
big-ticket items. I think immigration potentially falls in that
category, where let’s — here’s an area where we’ve got bipartisan agreement. There are
a few differences here and there, but the truth of the matter is, is that the Senate
bill has the main components of comprehensive immigration reform that would boost our economy,
give us an opportunity to attract more investment and high-skilled workers who are doing great
things in places like Silicon Valley and around the country. So let’s go ahead and get that
done. Now, I can’t imagine that having seen this
possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress that folks are thinking
actually about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis
that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years. To repeat: The debt ceiling is raised simply
to pay bills that we have already accrued. It is not something that is a negotiating
tool. It’s not leverage. It’s the responsibility of Congress. It’s part of doing their job.
I expect them to do their job. Although I’m happy to talk to them about any of the issues
that they actually want to get done. So if Congressman Ryan is interested in tax reform,
let’s go. I’ve got some proposals on it. If he’s interested in any issue out there, I’m
willing to have a constructive conversation of the sort that we just had in resolving
the budget issues. But I’ve got to assume folks aren’t crazy enough to start that thing
all over again. Q If I may just quickly, on a more personal
note, what is your New Year’s resolution? THE PRESIDENT: My New Year’s resolution is
to be nicer to the White House Press Corps. (Laughter.) You know? Absolutely. Q All right. THE PRESIDENT: Major Garrett. Q That’s quite a lead-in, Mr. President, thank
you. Rick Leggett, who is the head of the NSA task force on Edward Snowden, told “60
Minutes” that it was, “worth having a conversation about granting Edward Snowden amnesty.” To
what degree, sir, were you pleased that he floated this trial balloon? And under what
circumstances would you consider either a plea agreement or amnesty for Edward Snowden?
And what do you say to Americans, sir, who after possibly being alerted to Judge Leon’s
decision earlier this week, reading the panel recommendations, do you believe Edward Snowden
set in motion something that is proper and just in this country about the scope of surveillance
and should not be considered by this government a criminal? THE PRESIDENT: I’ve got to be careful here,
Major, because Mr. Snowden is under indictment, he’s been charged with crimes. And that’s
the province of the Attorney General and, ultimately, a judge and a jury. So I can’t
weigh in specifically on this case at this point. I’ll make — I’ll try to see if I can
get at the spirit of the question, even if I can’t talk about the specifics. I’ve said before and I believe that this is
an important conversation that we needed to have. I’ve also said before that the way in
which these disclosures happened have been damaging to the United States and damaging
to our intelligence capabilities. And I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation
without that damage. I’ll give you just one specific example. The
fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides
by rule of law, that cares deeply about privacy, that cares about civil liberties, that cares
about our Constitution. And as a consequence of these disclosures, we’ve got countries
who actually do the things that Mr. Snowden says he’s worried about very explicitly — engaging
in surveillance of their own citizens, targeting political dissidents, targeting and suppressing
the press — who somehow are able to sit on the sidelines and act as if it’s the United
States that has problems when it comes to surveillance and intelligence operations.
And that’s a pretty distorted view of what’s going on out there. So I think that as important and as necessary
as this debate has been, it is also important to keep in mind that this has done unnecessary
damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy. But I will leave it up to
the courts and the Attorney General to weigh in publicly on the specifics of Mr. Snowden’s
case. Q Sir, if I could follow up, Mr. Leggett is
setting this in motion, at least raising this as a topic of conversation. You, sir, would
I’m certain be consulted if there was ever going to be a conversation about amnesty or
a plea bargain with Edward Snowden. THE PRESIDENT: I think that’s true, Major,
and I guess what I’m saying is there’s a — Q Would you rule it out forever that you would
never consider it? THE PRESIDENT: What I’m saying is, is that
there’s a difference between Mr. Leggett saying something and the President of the United
States saying something. Q That’s why I’m trying to get at you. THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. (Laughter.) Chuck Todd. Q Thank you, Mr. President, and Merry Christmas
and Happy New Year. You talk about the issues with health care and the website rollout,
but there have been other issues — the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended
deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How
do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing
it? This one here, this new waiver last night, you could argue you might as well have just
delayed the mandate. THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, that’s not true,
because what we’re talking about is a very specific population
that received cancellation notices from insurance
companies. The majority of them are either keeping their old plan because the grandfather
clause has been extended further, or they’re finding a better deal in the marketplace with
better insurance for cheaper costs. But there may still be a subset — a significantly
smaller subset than some of the numbers that have been advertised — that are still looking
for options, are still concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year. And we
just wanted to make sure that the hardship provision that was already existing in the
law would also potentially apply to somebody who had problems during this transition period.
So that’s the specifics of this latest change. You’re making a broader point that I think
is fair and that is that
in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking, is this working
the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out
the transition, we should make them. But they don’t go to the core of the law. First of all, the core of the law is, is that
for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better
consumer protections, and ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan until they’re
26, thousand-dollar or five hundred-dollar discounts on prescription drugs for seniors
on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last
three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law. And, by the
way, if it were to be repealed, you would be taking away all those benefits from folks
who already are enjoying them. You had this sub-portion of the population,
15 percent, who either don’t have health insurance or are buying it on the individual market.
And that’s still millions of people. And what we’re doing is creating a marketplace where
they can buy insurance and we can provide them some tax credits to help them afford
it. The basic structure of that law is working
despite all the problems — despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems.
Despite all that, it’s working. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve
got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first
three months, despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because
of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine.
And yet you’ve still got 2 million people who signed up, or more. And so what that means then is that the demand
is there and, as I said before, the product is good. Now, in putting something like this
together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may
have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a
common-sense way. And we’re going to continue to try to do that. But that doesn’t negate
the fact that a year from now or two years from now, when we look back, we’re going to
be able to say that even more people have health insurance who didn’t have it before.
And that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. That is part of the reason why I pushed
so hard to get this law done in the first place. And I’ve said before this is a messy process,
and I think sometimes when I say that people say, well, A, yes, it’s real messy; and B,
isn’t the fact that it’s been so messy some indication that there are more fundamental
problems with the law? And I guess what I’d say to that, Chuck, is when you try to do
something this big, affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard. And every instance
— whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug plan under President
Bush — there hasn’t been an instance where you tried to really have an impact on the
American people’s lives and wellbeing, particularly in the health care arena, where you don’t
end up having some of these challenges. The question is going to be ultimately, do we
make good decisions trying to help as many people as possible in as efficient a way as
possible. And I think that’s what we’re doing. Q But with 72 hours to go, you make this change
where people are buying the junk — frankly, a junk-type policy that you weren’t — you
were trying to get people away from. THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind, Chuck,
first of all, that the majority of folks are going to have different options. This is essentially
a additional net in case folks might have slipped through the cracks. We don’t have
precision on those numbers, but we expect it’s going to be a relatively small number,
because these are folks who want insurance and the vast majority of them have good options.
And in a state like North Carolina, for example, the overwhelming majority of them have just
kept their own plans — the ones that they had previously. But we thought and continue to think that
it makes sense that as we are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are
higher, people don’t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had insurance until
they hit a limit, and next thing you know they still owe $100,000 or $200,000 or $300,000
for a hospital visit — that as we transition to higher standards, better insurance, that
we also address folks who get caught in that transition and there are unintended consequences. And I’ll be — that was the original intent
of the grandfather clause that was in the law. Obviously, the problem was it didn’t
catch enough people. And we learned from that, and we’re trying not to repeat those mistakes. Q So does the mandate need to be enforced? THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Yes. Let’s see, Phil Mattingly. Q Thank you, Mr. President. What was the message
you were trying to send with not only your decision not to attend the Sochi Games, but
also with the people you named to the delegation to represent the United States at those games? THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I haven’t
attended Olympics in the past, and I suspect that me attending the Olympics, particularly
at a time when we’ve got all the other stuff that people have been talking about, is going
to be tough, although I would love to do it. I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post-presidency.
(Laughter.) I think the delegation speaks for itself. You’ve got outstanding Americans,
outstanding athletes, people who will represent us extraordinarily well. And the fact that we’ve got folks like Billie
Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody
acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be
members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth — that when
it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we don’t make distinctions on the basis of
sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the
court — on the field and off the field. And that’s a value that I think is at the heart
of not just America, but American sports. I’m going to just roll down these last few,
real quickly. Ari Shapiro. Last day at the White House. He deserves a question. (Laughter.) Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. Senator
Max Baucus was widely seen as the best hope for a large-scale deal to overhaul the tax
code. What does your decision to nominate him as ambassador to China say about your
hopes for major tax bill in your second term? THE PRESIDENT: It says that Max Baucus is
going to be an outstanding ambassador to China, and I’d like a swift confirmation. And my
expectation and hope is, is that if both the Senate Democrats — or if Democrats and Republicans
in the House and the Senate are serious about tax reform, then it’s not going to depend
on one guy, it’s going to depend on all of us working together. And my office is ready,
willing, and eager to engage both parties and having a conversation about how we can
simplify the tax code, make it fairer, make it work to create more jobs and do right by
middle-class Americans. Jackie Calmes. Q Thank you, Mr. President. And how do you
say it in Hawaii? Mele Kalikimaka? THE PRESIDENT: Mele Kalikimaka. (Laughter.) Q Since we’ve been looking back at the year,
I’d like to ask you what your reaction was to the nonpartisan truth-telling group, PolitiFact,
when it said that the lie of the year was your statement that if you like your health
care plan, you can keep it. And related to the health care problems that
we’ve seen over the past year, the fallout from that seems to be making Democrats, particularly
in the Senate, a little rambunctious and independent of you, which is evidenced most clearly in
the debate over the Iran sanctions. It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has
expedited consideration of an Iran sanctions bill for January, even as your administration
— and you have been trying to get them to lay off sanctions while your — THE PRESIDENT: Jackie, I’ve got to say, you’re
stringing a bunch of things along here. Let’s see if we can hone in on a question. I mean,
I — Q Two questions. That’s a lot less than Ed
Henry had. (Laughter.) Q Oh! I thought we were trying to get along
for Christmas. (Laughter.) THE PRESIDENT: How about I separate out the
Iran question from the health care question? On the health care question, look, I think
I’ve answered several times — this is a new iteration of it — but bottom line is that
we are going to continue to work every single day to make sure that implementation of the
health care law and the website and all elements of it, including the grandfather clause, work
better every single day. And as I’ve said in previous press conferences, we’re going
to make mistakes, and we’re going to have problems, but my intentions have been clear
throughout, which is, I just want to help as many people as possible feel secure and
make sure that they don’t go broke when they get sick. And we’re going to just keep on
doing that. On Iran, there is the possibility of a resolution
to a problem that has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade
now, and that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon. Already,
even with the interim deal that we struck in Geneva, we had the first halt and, in some
cases, some rollback of Iran’s nuclear capabilities — the first time that we’ve seen that in
almost a decade. And we now have a structure in which we can have a very serious conversation
to see is it possible for Iran to get right with the international community in a verifiable
fashion to give us all confidence that any peaceful nuclear program that they have is
not going to be weaponized in a way that threatens us or allies in the region, including Israel. And as I’ve said before and I will repeat,
it is very important for us to test whether that’s possible, not because it’s guaranteed,
but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict
to resolve the problem with all kinds of unintended consequences. Now, I’ve been very clear from the start,
I mean what I say: It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But
I sure would rather do it diplomatically. I’m keeping all options on the table, but
if I can do it diplomatically, that’s how we should do it. And I would think that would
be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill because that sure is the preference of
the American people. And we lose nothing during this negotiation
period. Precisely because there are verification provisions in place, we will have more insight
into Iran’s nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously. We’ll
know if they are violating the terms of the agreement. They’re not allowed to accelerate
their stockpile of enriched uranium — in fact, they have to reduce their stockpile
of highly enriched uranium. Ironically, if we did not have this six-month
period in which we’re testing whether we can get a comprehensive solution to this problem,
they’d be advancing even further on their nuclear program. And in light of all that,
what I’ve said to members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — is there is no need for
new sanctions legislation. Not yet. Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t
give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address
some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity,
it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further.
I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no
reason to do it right now. And so I’m not surprised that there’s been
some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions — I think the politics of trying
to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in
office. But as President of the United States right now, who’s been responsible over the
last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions
regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table
to negotiate — what I’m saying to them, what I’ve said to the international community,
and what I’ve said to the American people is let’s test it. Now is the time to try to
see if we can get this thing done. And I’ve heard some logic that says, well,
Mr. President, we’re supportive of the negotiations, but we think it’s really useful to have this
club hanging over Iran’s head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions
already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in
lost oil sales. We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied
even as the negotiations are taking place. It’s not as if we’re letting up on that. I’ve heard arguments, well, but this way we
can be assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher
sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt
that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do
that in a day, on a dime. But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an
atmosphere in which Iran is willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and
contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us.
And we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in
this kind of action. Okay, everybody, I think I’m going to take
one more question. Colleen McCain Nelson. And that is it. Q Thank you, Mr. President. THE PRESIDENT: There you are. Q Some of your longtime advisors are leaving
the White House and new folks are coming in. Others are taking on new roles in the West
Wing. As you reshape your team a bit, how does that change the dynamic here and how
does it impact what you think you can accomplish going forward? THE PRESIDENT: I just had lunch with Pete
Rouse, who is leaving me. And that’s tough. Q He says so. THE PRESIDENT: He says so right now at least.
I love that guy and that will be a significant loss, although he’ll still be in town and,
hopefully, I’ll be able to consult with him on an ongoing basis. I think the fact that John Podesta is coming
in will be terrific. He may deny it, but I’ve been trying to get him in here for quite some
time. He ran my transition office. I asked him when he was running the transition office
if he would be willing to join us, and at that time I think he was still feeling that
he wanted to develop CAP and other organizations. But John is a great strategist, as good as
anybody on domestic policy. And I think he’ll be a huge boost to us and give us more bandwidth
to deal with more issues. I suspect that we may have additional announcements
in the New Year. There’s a natural turnover that takes place. People get tired. People
get worn out. Sometimes, you need fresh legs. But what I can tell you is that the team I
have now is tireless and shares my values, and believes the thing that I think I’ve repeated
probably four or five times in this press conference, which is we get this incredible
privilege for a pretty short period of time to do as much as we can for as many people
as we can to help them live better lives. And that’s what drives them. That’s the sacrifice
they make being away from families and soccer games and birthdays, and some of them will
end up working over Christmas on issues like Iran. And the fact that they make those kinds
of sacrifices I’m always grateful for. And if they then say to me after making those
sacrifices for three, four, five years, I need a break, then I completely understand. All right? Have a great holiday, everybody.
Appreciate you. Q Merry Christmas. THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas. Happy New
Year.

Robin Kshlerin

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Bill Melater Posted on December 20, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    LOL @ 50:00, he didnt care for that much.

    Reply
  2. trangaroo882 Posted on December 21, 2013 at 12:23 am

    Hard to have any confidence in any of this with how many lies have taken place from the administration.  Clapper lied under oath to congress and he is still the Director of National Intelligence.

    Reply
  3. Sean Easter Posted on December 21, 2013 at 4:05 am

    stfu republicans aint shit

    Reply
  4. James Kennedy Posted on December 23, 2013 at 2:49 am

    Whether you agree or disagree with Obama, this was an awful press conference. Obama reminds me of Jimmy Carter here – very monotone, sullen, uninspiring. He truly looks like a man that's having the worst year of his life.

    Reply
  5. Atom Force Posted on December 23, 2013 at 11:36 am

    Started to doze off there. Thank God for the truly terrified journalist at 23:55. Tell his family he loves them.

    Reply
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