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‘Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated,’ President Obama told reporters during a White House press conference on Tuesday.
WASHINGTON — President Obama said he’s still got the political juice, scoffing Tuesday at the notion that’s he’s increasingly irrelevant or politically weak.
“Maybe I should pack and go home. Golly!” he said facetiously, when asked whether a recent defeat on guns legislation and signing a patchwork bill to fix airport delays demonstrate a lack of “juice” in getting his agenda through Congress.
At a White House news conference, Obama slightly mangled a famous Mark Twain line — “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated” — as he declared, “As Mark Twain said, ‘Rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated.’”
He quickly pointed a finger at Congress, in particular the Senate, where 60 votes are increasingly needed to get anything passed, a mandate that has “gummed up the works.”
And the ongoing, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration, he said, are “damaging our economy, hurting our people and we need to lift it” via a larger budget deal that is clearly not imminent.
But he expressed confidence that progress will come, in particular that immigration reform will pass “and that will be a historic achievement.”
Still, the question on relevance unavoidably recalled similar questions put to past presidents. The most famous media symbol was a 1993 Time magazine of Bill Clinton, with a small image of Clinton underneath a large headline, “The Incredible Shrinking President.”
Obama was asked first, however, about the apparent use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and whether he’s overly cautious in not confirming the evidence so far as crossing a “red line” he warned Syria not to cross.
Obama underscored that while he has indeed called use of such weapons a “game changer,” there remain fundamental questions as to where, when and how they have been used.
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President Obama also answered reporters’ questions on Syria, Guantanamo Bay, sequestration and immigration reform.
“When I am making decisions about American national security, I have to make sure I have the facts,” he said. “If we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, we could find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to do what we want to do.”
No surprise, he was interrogated repeatedly about the Boston Marathon bombings and allegations of FBI mishandling of Russian warnings about one of the brother bombers.
Obama conceded what everybody knows about those Russian intelligence alerts concerning the older brother and his mother as potentially sympathetic to extremists.
But he defended the FBI. “It’s not as if the FBI did nothing,” he said. “They interviewed the older brother and concluded there were no signs that he was engaging in extremist activity.”
Obama then spoke about the state of terrorism and how “this is hard stuff” to combat. In particular, he noted how the U.S. faces a new challenge of “self-radicalized individuals already in the United States, perhaps not part of any network, but because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they have, maybe decide to carry out an attack.”
“Those may be more difficult to prevent,” he said.
Obama was also asked if the administration is hypocritical in expressing a desire to close the terrorist detention center at the Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but keeping it open, especially amid an ongoing hunger strike by detainees.
“I continue to believe we have to close Guantanamo,” he said. “It’s expensive, inefficient, hurts our international standing, impairs relations with allies who believe it should be shut, and is a de facto recruitment tool for American enemies, he said.
But, as with the budget impasse and guns, he blamed Congress for refusing to close the camp.
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