WASHINGTON, April 30, 2009 -- As U.S. auto giant Chrysler heads toward bankruptcy protection, Vice President Joe Biden said the company would emerge stronger but warned that economic conditions would likely get worse before they get better.
Amid news that talks between the automaker's lenders and the Treasury Department had broken down, Biden said he shared President Obama's optimistic view that the Detroit automaker was destined for better days.
Plans are already in place, so "if, in fact, bankruptcy is declared today, it would be a relatively short process and that Chrysler would come out of the process as a sustainable company, not a liquidated company, and so that's our hope, that's our expectation," Biden said on "Good Morning America" today.
With the clock ticking for Chrysler to come up with a plan to remain viable, Obama said Wednesday evening that he was "very hopeful, more hopeful" than a month ago that the automaker would get it done. He also expressed confidence in General Motors.
"I would love to get the U.S. government out of the auto business as quickly as possible," the president said. "We have a circumstance in which a bad recession compounded some great weaknesses already in the auto industry."
Like the president, Biden is bullish on the overall economy, which shrunk 6.1 percent in the first quarter.
"Remember that we said it was an alarming but not unpredictable rate," he said. "The plans we've put in place to begin to turn this economy around are going to take some time, so it wasn't a shock. ... There will be a rise in unemployment, that is the process of coming out of this recession. We think we're putting in place building blocks ... to have the economy built not on artificial bubbles but on sustained growth."
Speaking during a prime-time news conference Wednesday night to mark the 100th day of his administration, the president talked not only about what he considers his achievements but what he considers the most pressing issues of the day -- swine flu, Bush administration interrogation memos and the nation's economy -- and his administration's plans for the future.
But it was a more personal question about his perspective on the office of the presidency that really got him going.
Asked by a reporter what has surprised, enchanted, humbled and troubled him the most about his job, Obama seemed taken aback at such an off-topic question.
Obama asked the reporter to go through the list again to make sure he had it all straight. "Now, let me write this down," he said.
The president said he was most surprised by the sheer volume of things his team has to deal with, "the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.
"You know, the typical president, I think, has two or three big problems. We've got seven or eight big problems," he said.
The president said he was less troubled and more sobered by the slow pace of change in Washington. Obama campaigned on bringing change to the nation's capital and said Wednesday night that a break from politics as usual, even when dealing with "really big crises," has not happened as much as he would like.
Obama demurred on what has enchanted him but said he is "profoundly impressed" by the men and women in the armed services and said he is humbled by the realization that no matter how "extraordinarily powerful" the presidency is, it is part of "a much broader tapestry of American life."
"I can't just press a button and suddenly have the bankers do exactly what I want or, you know, turn on a switch and suddenly, you know, Congress falls in line," Obama said.
Biden this morning had some different responses to the same question.
He told "GMA's" Robin Roberts that he's surprised most by how quickly the administration has had to make decisions. "What's surprised me is the pace -- and I've been in Washington a long time -- of decisions that have had to be made across the board," he said.
Biden said he's disappointed with his Republican counterparts, saying they seem to have an "offset determination not to cooperate. "What's troubled me is the failure ... to get the kind of cooperation we hoped we would get on major issues from some of our Republican colleagues," he said.
At the same time, however, he is humbled by the response of the U.S. people. "People are really banking on us changing the day and it really is humbling," he said.
As for what enchanted him the most, Biden said, "My wife on the night of the inauguration. She was gorgeous."
And on the subject of Sen. Arlen Specter's switching to the Democratic party after 29 years as a Republican from Pennsylvania, he said, "I started on Arlen six years ago, but that was Arlen's decision. He's an independent guy."
Biden deviated slightly from official swine flu warnings, suggesting on NBC's "Today" show" that Americans should avoid all mass transit, a slightly stronger precaution than what the president suggested Wednesday.
Waterboarding and the Economy
Wednesday evening was Obama's third prime-time news conference and, while it was scheduled to coincide with the 100th day of his administration, the president made it clear he was looking forward to the next 100 days and beyond.
The first question posed to the president was about the outbreak of swine flu in the United States and around the world. Obama reiterated that while the virus is a "cause for deep concern," it is not a cause for panic.
Obama said his advisers have not recommended closing the border between the United States and Mexico, likening it to "closing the barn door after the horses are out."
The president said he has requested an immediate $1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress to support efforts to monitor and track the virus and build the government's supply of antiviral drugs and medical equipment.
"The key now, I think, is to make sure that we're maintaining great vigilance, that everybody responds appropriately when cases do come up, and individual families start taking very sensible precautions that can make a huge difference," he said.
On the issue of interrogation policies and methods, Obama said that waterboarding is torture, but he would not specifically say that the Bush administration had sanctioned it.
Obama pointed to his decision to end such practices and said he has seen no information since taking office that has made him second-guess it.
"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," he said.
Biden was more forthcoming this morning.
"I think the Bush administration misread the law -- justified the action which both the president and I consider to be torture -- on a faulty rationale," the vice president said. "I think they were mistaken in their judgement on what constitutes torture. We believe it was torture. We've ended the practice."
Obama and Biden both touted the administration's economic recovery plans, and the budget, indicating that it was a step in the right direction.
Obama called the budget plan passed by Congress Wednesday the latest step in his administration's efforts to stabilize the American economy.
"This budget builds on the steps we've taken over the last 100 days to move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity," Obama said.
Both the House and Senate passed the $3.5 trillion, five-year budget plan that sets funding priorities for many of the president's top agenda items, including investments in education, renewable energy and health care.
"We must lay a new foundation for growth -- a foundation that will strengthen our economy and help us compete in the 21st century," Obama said. "And that's exactly what this budget begins to do."
Obama 'Pleased With Our Progress' in First 100 Days
Despite attempts by Obama's advisers to write off the president's 100-day anniversary Wednesday as a "Hallmark holiday," the administration had representatives fanned out across the airwaves touting the sheer size and scope of what Obama has accomplished in his short time at the White House.
Even the president got into the game a bit at his town hall meeting outside St. Louis Wednesday and in his remarks at the news conference before he took questions.
"You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security in the second hundred days, in the third hundred days, and all of the days after that," he said.
Obama echoed comments he made at a town hall meeting Wednesday morning in Arnold, Mo., and said that while progress had been made on the economy in the first 100 days of his administration, much work remains to be done.
"I am proud of what we have achieved, but I am not content," he said. "I am pleased with our progress, but I am not satisfied."
The Next 100 Days, and the 100 Days After That
The president ran through a list of big issues Wednesday that still need to be addressed: economic issues like unemployment, tight credit markets, the struggling auto industry and long-term deficits, and foreign policy issues such as the continued threat of terrorism, nuclear weapons and flu.
"The overture has finished, and now it truly begins," one adviser to the White House said, referring to the health care, energy, and automaker debates to come. "If people thought the first 100 days a productive one, it genuinely only served as a curtain raiser," the adviser said.
With the Senate likely to house 60 desks on the Democratic side of the aisle before too long, an emboldened majority in the House -- after winning some intraparty skirmishes like fast-tracking health care reform and an interparty victory in upstate New York-- and a troubled Republican Party still searching for a path back to power, Obama enters this next phase of his presidency in an enviable position, and one of a considerable strength.
But he acknowledged that even with Specter's party change, he still faces challenges from senators who "have very strong opinions.
"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," Obama said.
Meanwhile, political observers will be dissecting the president's news conference to determine whether he will put his favorable ratings and political capital on the line or keep most of his legislative battling ahead behind closed doors.
Leadership aides on Capitol Hill anticipate that perhaps the biggest White House push will come on a health care plan that includes a public option, a component that is of great concern to the insurance industry that Obama hopes to keep at the negotiating table throughout the legislative process in order to avoid a 1994-style blowup.
Obama Ready to Be 'Fundraiser-in-Chief'?
One new role Obama is expected to play as he heads into his next 100 Days is that of fundraiser-in-chief. The president has already headlined two fundraisers for the Democratic National Committee where he helped collect nearly $3 million.
He also e-mailed supporters about his endorsement of Scott Murphy, the new Democratic congressman from upstate New York. Other than that toe-dipping, Obama has shied away from pure politics.
But Specter's party switching, 100th day gift to Obama kicked off what is expected to be a more overtly political phase of his presidency as he helps to bolster Democratic bank accounts in advance of next year's midterm elections.
After attempting to clear the Pennsylvania Democratic primary field with his and Biden's endorsement of Specter this morning, Obama is also scheduled to shake the money tree for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., next month in Las Vegas.
The two Democratic campaign committees on Capitol Hill have announced the president will be headlining a June 18 fundraiser in Washington, D.C., to help fill their midterm coffers.
As he takes on that more partisan task, the president will strive to strike the balance of party leader without tarnishing his strong support from the key ideologically centrist Americans.