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U.S. President Barack Obama answers questions after a meeting with Congressional leaders in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington March 1, 2013. Obama pressed the U.S. Congress on Friday to avoid a government shutdown when federal spending auth
President Obama held a press conference this afternoon, his first since the end of April. In his opening remarks, Obama discussed the NSA surveillance controversy and announced four steps to help assure Americans that their civil liberties are protected, including "appropriate reforms" to phone-related portions of the Patriot Act, working with Congress to "build greater confidence" in the FISA court process, make public the Department of Justice's legal rationale for the collection efforts (with a "website" for "further transparency"?) and an outside panel of experts to deliver a report on further reforms by the end of the year.

Then it was on to the questions:

  • In response to a question about tension with Russia, Obama said "nobody's more offended than me" at new Russian anti-gay legislation.
  • "No, I don't think Mr. Snowden was a patriot": Obama says "my preference" would have been for a "lawful, orderly examination" of the leaked programs. He emphasized repeatedly that he had already ordered the review of the programs before the Snowden revelations, and that "there were other avenues available" for Snowden to make his concerns known.
  • On a new Federal Reserve chair, "I have a range of outstanding candidates." Obama says of Summers and Yellin, "They're both terrific people," and that he has defended Larry Summers not because Summers has an "inside track" but because he felt Summers was being unfairly attacked.
  • Obama noted he was critical of the NSA programs as a senator, but "when I looked through what was specifically being done," the programs "offered valuable intelligence that helped protect the American people." "What you're not reading about is the government actually abusing these programs," Obama says, because "checks are in place."
  • In response to a Fox News Benghazi question: "Core al Qaeda is on its heels, has been decimated" but extremists have "metastasized into regional groups" that have the capacity to be "destabilizing and disruptive," adding, "we are not going to completely eliminate terrorism; what we can do is weaken it."
  • Obama was at his most animated in defending "Obamacare," with choice words for Republicans seeking to block implementation of the legislation. He questioned why Republicans had made preventing 30 million people from getting health care their "Holy Grail," calling it an "ideological fixation." "The idea that you would shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care ... is a bad idea."

    “The one unifying principle in the Republican Party at the moment is making sure 30 million people don’t have health care.”

  • On the prospect of a government shutdown unless Obamacare was defunded, Obama was dismissive of the idea "that we would precipitate another crisis in Washington," perhaps cheekily predicting, "I'm assuming they will not take that path. I have confidence that in the end common sense will prevail." Oh, you.
  • On immigration reform, Obama praised the Senate bill and expressed hope that reform would get a vote in the House, saying he was "absolutely confident" that "if that [Senate] bill was on the floor of the House, it would pass."

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