Jake Tapper tries to get President Obama to admit that the Bush Administration sanctioned torture which would then cause a feeding frenzy over the issue but Obama doesn't fall into the trap.
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. You've said in the past that waterboarding, in your opinion, is torture. Torture is a violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions. Do you believe that the previous administration sanctioned torture?
Obama: What I've said -- and I will repeat -- is that waterboarding violates our ideals and our values. I do believe that it is torture. I don't think that's just my opinion; that's the opinion of many who've examined the topic. And that's why I put an end to these practices.
I am absolutely convinced it was the right thing to do, not because there might not have been information that was yielded by these various detainees who were subjected to this treatment, 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.
I was struck by an article that I was reading the other day talking about the fact that the British during World War II, when London was being bombed to smithereens, had 200 or so detainees. And Churchill said, "We don't torture," when the entire British -- all of the British people were being subjected to unimaginable risk and threat.
And then the reason was that Churchill understood, you start taking short-cuts, over time, that corrodes what's -- what's best in a people. It corrodes the character of a country.
Mark Knoller tries to carry water for Dick Cheney but President Obama ain't having it.
Question: Thank you, sir. Let me follow up, if I may, on Jake's question. Did you read the documents recently referred to by former Vice President Cheney and others saying that the use of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" not only protected the nation but saved lives?
And if part of the United States were under imminent threat, could you envision yourself ever authorizing the use of those enhanced interrogation techniques?
Obama: I have read the documents. Now they have not been officially declassified and released. And so I don't want to go to the details of them. But here's what I can tell you, that the public reports and the public justifications for these techniques, which is that we got information from these individuals that were subjected to these techniques, 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?
Chip Reid asks about Arlen Specter switching parties but President Obama is able to transition in his answer to talking about how bipartisanship should be defined between himself and the GOP. I think his point about compromise was huge because its something that's hardly ever taken into account on cable news.
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. On Senator Specter's switch to the Democratic Party, you said you were thrilled; I guess nobody should be surprised about that.
But how big a deal is this, really? Some Republicans say it is huge. They believe it's a game-changer. They say that, if you get the 60 votes in the Senate, that you will be able to ride roughshod over any opposition and that we're on the verge of, as one Republican put it, "one-party rule."
Do you see it that way? And, also, what do you think his switch says about the state of the Republican Party?
Obama: Well, first of all, I think very highly of Arlen Specter. I think he's got a record of legislative accomplishment that is as good as any member of the Senate.
And I think he's always had a strong independent streak. I think that was true when he was a Republican; I think that will be true when he's a Democrat.
He was very blunt in saying I couldn't count on him to march lockstep on every single issue. And so he's going to still have strong opinions, as many Democrats in the Senate do.
I've been there. It turns out, all the senators have very strong opinions. And I don't think that's going to change.
I do think that having Arlen Specter in the Democratic caucus will liberate him to cooperate on critical issues, like health care, like infrastructure and job creation, areas where his inclinations were to work with us, but he was feeling pressure not to.
And I think the vote on the recovery act was a classic example. Ultimately, he thought that was the right thing to do. And he was fiercely berated within his own party at the time for having taken what I consider to be a very sensible step. So -- so I think it's, overall, positive.
Now, I am under no illusions that suddenly I'm going to have a rubber-stamp Senate. I've got Democrats who don't agree with me on everything, and that's how it should be.
Congress is a co-equal branch of government. Every senator who's there, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, I think truly believes that they are doing their absolute best to represent their constituencies.
And we've got regional differences, and we've got some parts of the country that are affected differently by certain policies. And those have to be respected, and there's going to have to be compromise and give-and-take on all of these issues.
I do think that, to my Republican friends, I want them to realize that me reaching out to them has been genuine. 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.
But there are a whole host of areas where we can work together. And I've said this to people like Mitch McConnell. I said, look, on health care reform, you may not agree with me that I -- we should have a public plan. That may be philosophically just too much for you to swallow.
On the other hand, there are some areas like reducing the costs of medical malpractice insurance where you do agree with me. If I'm taking some of your ideas and giving you credit for good ideas, the fact that you didn't get 100 percent can't be a reason every single time to oppose my position.
And if that is how bipartisanship is defined, a situation in which basically, wherever there are philosophical differences, I have to simply go along with ideas that have been rejected by the American people in a historic election, you know, we're probably not going to make progress.
If, on the other hand, the definition is that we're open to each other's ideas, there are going to be differences, the majority will probably be determinative when it comes to resolving just hard, core differences that we can't resolve, but there is a whole host of other areas where we can work together, then I think we can make progress.
Ed Henry asks a classic Republican talking point question on abortion. President Obama turns the talking point on its head.
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. In a couple of weeks, you're going to be giving the commencement at Notre Dame. And, as you know, this has caused a lot of controversy among Catholics who are opposed to your position on abortion.
As a candidate, you vowed that one of the very things you wanted to do was sign the Freedom of Choice Act, which, as you know, would eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion. And at that it was above -- quote, "above my pay grade."
Now that you've been president for 100 days, obviously, your pay grade is a little higher than when you were a senator.
Do you still hope that Congress quickly sends you the Freedom of Choice Act so you can sign it?
Obama: You know, the -- my view on -- on abortion, I think, has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue.
I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they -- if they suggest -- and I don't want to create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with and families and individual women have to wrestle with.
The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that -- that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their doctors, with their clergy.
So -- so that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted presidencies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.
And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.
Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's -- that's where I'm going to focus.
BET gets a question. How's that for change? LOL
Question: Thank you, Mr. President.
As the entire nation tries to climb out of this deep recession, in communities of color, the circumstances are far worse. The black unemployment rate, as you know, is in the double digits. And in New York City, for example, the black unemployment rate for men is near 50 percent.
My question to you tonight is given this unique and desperate circumstance, what specific policies can you point to that will target these communities and what's the timetable for us to see tangible results?
Obama: Well, keep in mind that every step we're taking is designed to help all people. But, folks who are most vulnerable are most likely to be helped because they need the most help.
So when we passed the Recovery Act, for example, and we put in place provisions that would extend unemployment insurance or allow you to keep your health insurance even if you've lost your job, that probably disproportionately impacted those communities that had lost their jobs. And unfortunately, the African-American community and the Latino community are probably overrepresented in those ranks.
When we put in place additional dollars for community health centers to ensure that people are still getting the help that they need, or we expand health insurance to millions more children through the Children's Health Insurance Program, again, those probably disproportionately impact African-American and Latino families simply because they're the ones who are most vulnerable. They have got higher rates of uninsured in their communities.
So my general approach is that if the economy is strong, that will lift all boats as long as it is also supported by, for example, strategies around college affordability and job training, tax cuts for working families as opposed to the wealthiest that level the playing field and ensure bottom-up economic growth.
And I'm confident that that will help the African-American community live out the American dream at the same time that it's helping communities all across the country.
I give Michael Scherer a hard time on a regular basis over at Swampland but I believe he had the question of the night. The question he asked about States Secrets is a major issue on progressive and liberal blogs and other media but you hardly ever hear the right talking about it so really this was just about the only question in the whole press conference which came from almost a purely left wing orientation. President Obama's answer probably didn't end the issue for civil libertarians but he at least made the case that he hasn't changed his mind about the need to reform the states secrets issue and that he is working to do that.
Question: Thank you, Mr. President. During the campaign, you criticized President Bush's use of the state secrets privilege, but U.S. attorneys have continued to argue the Bush position in three cases in court. How exactly does your view of state secrets differ from President Bush's? And do you believe presidents should be able to derail entire lawsuits about warrantless wiretapping or rendition if classified information is involved?
Obama: I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it's overbroad.
But keep in mind what happens, is we come in to office. We're in for a week, and suddenly we've got a court filing that's coming up. And so we don't have the time to effectively think through, what exactly should an overarching reform of that doctrine take? We've got to respond to the immediate case in front of us.
There -- I think it is appropriate to say that there are going to be cases in which national security interests are genuinely at stake and that you can't litigate without revealing covert activities or classified information that would genuinely compromise our safety.
But searching for ways to redact, to carve out certain cases, to see what can be done so that a judge in chambers can review information without it being in open court, you know, there should be some additional tools so that it's not such a blunt instrument.
And we're interested in pursuing that. I know that Eric Holder and Greg Craig, my White House counsel, and others are working on that as we speak.
- I think one of the major things that President Obama did was take the opportunity to swat down wingnut memes in the course of answering the questions. He addressed the "pro abortionist" meme, the "socialist" meme, the "he's doing too much" meme, and the "torture made us safe" meme. I think its important to push back on these false cannards just as he did during the campaign season so that reasonable people who watch FoxNews will hear him say out of his own mouth that the stuff they have heard and read in emails aren't true.
- Its nothing new but just seeing President Obama answer each question thoughtfully and have a well informed answer to every question is just so impressive to me. It shows that he is on top of everything and that inspires confidence.
- Even when he was clearly being baited by Jake Tapper, Chuck Todd and Ed Henry, President Obama stayed calm and didn't allow himself to show any emotion. Could you imagine John McCain trying to answer those questions?
- I still can't believe Fox though it was a good idea not to carry the presser.
- I expect that his approval numbers will get a bump for the next few weeks or so.