|Obama Defends FBI on Boston|
|By SHUSHANNAH WALSHE (@shushwalshe) , Z. BYRON WOLF and JORDAN FABIAN (@Jordanfabian)||Apr 30, 2013, 10:00 AM|
In his first news conference since the Boston Marathon bombing, President Obama defended the FBI and said Americans will continue to go on about their lives. During the wide-ranging Q and A with reporters, he also said more investigation is required to determine whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its people. He said he's still relevant with Congress and he defended the implementation of Obamacare. See more on each subject below.
ABC's Mary Bruce contributed to this report from the White House.
President Obama said the FBI and law enforcement officials worked appropriately and swiftly in chasing down the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing and the country should be "proud of their work," although the country might be more at risk to lone-wolf attacks because of the amount of intelligence gathered and pressure put on organized terrorist networks.
"Based on what we've seen so far the FBI performed its duties, the Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing. But this is hard stuff and I've said for quite some time that because of the pressure we put on al Qaeda core, because of the pressure we put on these networks that are well financed, more sophisticated and can engage in and project transnational threats again the United States, one of the dangers we now face are self radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States who in some cases may not be part of any kind of network. But because of whatever warped twisted ideas they may have they may decide to carry out an attack and these are in some ways they are more difficult to prevent," the president said at a press conference on the 100th day of his second term today.
Obama said that "for months" he has directed his "entire counterterrorism team" to look at the danger of lone wolf-type extremists, calling it a "threat that's looming on the horizon."
"Are there more things we can do, whether it's engaging with communities where there is a potential for self -radicalization of this sort?" the president said, explaining how the United States will prevent such attacks in the future. "Is there work that that can be done in terms of detection?"
Obama also said the Russian government have been "very cooperative" since the attack on the Boston Marathon April 15, which left three people dead and more than 260 injured, as well as the death of a police officer during the manhunt. The president did indicate, however, that "old habits die hard" when it comes to old "suspicions" between the United States and Russia.
"There are still suspicions sometimes between our intelligence and law enforcement agencies that date back 10, 20, 30 years to the Cold War, but they are continually improving," Obama said. "I've spoken to President [Vladimir] Putin directly. He's committed to working with me to make sure those that report to us are cooperating fully in not only this investigation, but how to work in counterterrorism generally."
President Obama said more investigation is required to determine who used chemical weapons in Syria and he would not commit to engaging in military action if it turns out to be the Syrian government.
The U.S. government determined last week that such weapons had been used. And President Obama had said that their use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would constitute crossing a "red Line" and fundamentally change U.S. involvement in the ongoing civil war there.
But at his first news conference since the U.S. determined chemical weapons have been used, President Obama said it is not entirely clear who used the weapons. He cautioned that the United States would be "prudent" in moving forward.
The president would not commit to U.S. military intervention if it is determined that the Syrian government did use chemical weapons against rebels in their own country. Some on Capitol Hill from both parties have endorsed such a tactic.
Obama said only that the United States would "rethink the range of options" against Syria.
"As early as last year I asked the Pentagon, our military, our intelligence officials to prepare for me what options might be available," he said. "And I won't go into the details of what those options might be, but you know, clearly, that would be an escalation, in our view, of the threat to the security of the international community, our allies and the United States. And that means that there's some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would -- that we would strongly consider."
ABC News' Jonathan Karl asked the president about recent losses on gun control and not being able to stop or put a halt on the sequester, asking Obama, "Do you still have the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress?"
With a smile, Obama answered, "Well, if you put it that way Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly!"
He then employed a famous Mark Twain line, "Rumors of my demise are maybe a little exaggerated at this point."
"Look, we understand that we are in divided government right now," the president said, noting that the House of Representatives is controlled by Republicans and there are 60 votes needed in the Senate for measures to be passed there. "Despite that, I am actually confident there are a range of things we will be able to get done. I feel confident that the bipartisan work that has been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House and gets on my desk. That has been a historic achievement and I've been complementary of the efforts of both Republicans and Democrats in those efforts."
The president went on to say "it is true" that the sequester is "damaging our economy, hurting our people," but he is continually engaging Republicans, saying "those conversations are continuing" and there is a "genuine desire to move past not just the sequester, but Washington dysfunction."
"Whether we can get it done or not?" the president asked. "We'll see."
President Obama defended the implementation of the health care law, the signature legislative accomplishment of his presidency. Even some Democrats have said that implementing the rest of the law – the bulk of insurance requirements go into effect Jan. 1, 2014 – is troubled.
Obama said most of the law has already been implemented and is working just fine.
"Despite all the hue and cry and sky is falling predictions about this stuff, if you've already got health insurance, the part of Obamacare that affects you is already in place," he said, speaking into the camera to Americans watching on TV.
That's about 85 percent of the country, he said, although he later admitted that "even if we do this perfectly, there will be glitches and bumps."
President Obama, an avid basketball fan, personally called Jason Collins Monday to congratulate the free agent NBA player on coming out in an interview with Sport Illustrated.
Obama made a point today of saying nice things about Collins and his decision to become the first openly gay NBA player. The president wasn't at first asked about Collins during a news conference with reporters, but he came back to the podium to say this:
"Yeah, I'll say something about Jason Collins. I had a chance to talk to him yesterday. He seems like a terrific young man, and, you know, I told him I couldn't be prouder of him. You know, one of the extraordinary measures of progress that we've seen in this country has been the recognition that the LGBT community deserves full equality, not just partial equality, not just tolerance but a recognition that they're fully a part of the American family.
"And, you know, given the importance of sports in our society, for an individual who's excelled at the highest levels in one of major sports go ahead and say, this is who I am, I'm proud of it, I'm still a great competitor, I'm still seven feet tall and can bang with Shaq and, you know, deliver a hard foul — and for, you know, a lot of young people out there who, you know, are … gay or lesbian, who are struggling with these issues, to see a role model like that who's unafraid, I think it's a great thing. And I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly. And everybody's part of a … family, and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, and not their sexual orientation. And so I'm very proud of him. All right?"
President Obama believes that Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill despite a lack of bipartisan cooperation on other key issues.
"I feel confident that the bipartisan work that has been done on immigration reform will result in a bill that passes the Senate, passes the House and gets on my desk," he said during a news conference today at the White House. "And that's going to be a historic achievement."
See Also: The Era of Partisanship Isn't Over
On other key issues in Obama's second term, such as taxes, deficit reduction, and the sequestration spending cuts, a lack of bipartisan agreement has impeded the president from achieving these goals. He laid blame for that at the feet of Republicans in Congress.
"You seem to suggest that somehow these folks over there have no responsibilities, and that my job is to get them to behave," Obama said. "That's their job."
But a drastic overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that offers a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants has proven to be an exception for today's divided Congress. The effort has received support from Republicans and Democrats on both sides of the aisle in both chambers.
Obama has been wary of inserting himself into the policymaking process on immigration, perhaps an acknowledgement that his involvement could turn off Republicans who are helping guide the bill through Congress.
Even though the president remarked that the Senate's proposal is "not the bill I would have written," he said it meets his general principles for reform; namely a clear pathway to citizenship, heightened border security, and streamlining the legal immigration system.
And he declined to weigh in on the details of the negotiations of a bipartisan group in the House, which has not yet released its own immigration bill.
"I haven't seen what members of the House are yet proposing. Maybe they think they could answer some of those questions differently," he said. "I think we have to be open minded in seeing what they come up with."
But Obama did say that the House plan, which will reportedly be a more conservative product than the Senate's, must still meet his general criteria. That includes a pathway to citizenship.
"If it doesn't meet those criteria, I will not support such a bill," he said.
The president was asked about an ongoing hunger strike among prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility for suspected terrorists on Cuba.
Closing the prison was a priority for him when he took office in 2009, but in the face of extreme pressure from Congress, he was forced to abandon plans to try suspected terrorists stateside in federal court. Some detainees have been at GTMO for more than a decade. And some have engaged in the hunger strike.