Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Obama on defense

Before he left for a Hawaiian vacation with his family, President Obama conducted a long year-end news conference last week, tackling a number of pointed, even hostile, questions.

Mr. Obama met the White House press corps against a background that included a bipartisan congressional budget agreement, a gradual smoothing of the disastrous rollout of his Affordable Care Act, and unexpected U.S. economic growth. Gross domestic product grew in the most recent quarter at a robust yearly rate exceeding 4 percent.

Some reporters posed questions that were less than festive. Was this the worst year of Mr. Obama’s presidency? What had been his biggest mistake?

The President defended the health care reform law vigorously, arguing that its basic structure is essentially working despite the problems with its execution. More people who need affordable health care are getting it; Americans who recall the early days of Social Security and Medicare may not find the act’s early difficulties to be outrageous.

Mr. Obama also faced tough questions about the activities of the National Security Agency. He defended the “metadata” program, arguing that the United States needs the intelligence it provides.

He said he understands fully the need to balance Americans’ civil liberties, privacy, and values against imperatives of security and safety. He did not respond to a suggestion that he should fire Director of National Intelligence James Clapper for lying to Congress, or offer amnesty or a plea bargain to leaker Edward Snowden, who is holed up in Russia.

Mr. Obama listed his priorities for the remaining three years of his presidency, notably immigration reform. Just as his critics see the Affordable Care Act as his Achilles’ heel, he sees Republicans’ vulnerable position on immigration reform as theirs, and intends to push the issue as important to the country.

He insisted he has not forgotten gun control, referring poignantly to last year’s Newtown school massacre. He expressed the strong wish that Congress would not make raising the federal debt ceiling, due to loom again in the spring, a potential government-closing issue.

Mr. Obama said tax reform remains alive. He added that the composition of the official U.S. delegation to the Winter Olympics in Russia in February, and his decision not to attend the games, are not major issues.

He urged Congress not to impose new economic sanctions on Iran while negotiations on the future of its nuclear program proceed, referring pointedly to Americans’ desire to see no new wars.

The President appeared petulant at times in responding to some questions at the news conference. But overall, he showed himself to be appropriately engaged in the next phase of his presidency.

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