Asked during an online “fireside hangout” about Thursday’s Senate vote on secretary of defense nominee Chuck Hagel, President Obama said that he expects and continues to hope that the former Nebraska senator will be confirmed. But he slammed Senate Republicans for their “unprecedented filibuster” of a defense nominee.
“What seems to be happening, and this has been growing over time, is the Republican minority in the Senate seems to think that the rule now is that you need to have 60 votes for everything,” Obama said. “Well, that’s not the rule.”
He added that “it’s just unfortunate that this kind of politics intrudes at a time when I’m still presiding over a war in Afghanistan and I need a secretary of defense who is coordinating with our allies” when it comes to U.S. strategy in the region.
Obama’s response came during a wide-ranging online chat that lasted nearly an hour. Questioning him were five young people from across the political spectrum.
Among the highlights of the chat:
Obama defended his gun-control agenda and assured one questioner that he wouldn’t seek to ban handguns. “What we’re saying is there may be a small category of weapons that we think really can drastically increase the incidence of gun violence, and we already have some restrictions,” he said.
He maintained that companies would not “be obliged to go out of business” if his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage were to take effect. “It might have some modest impact on their profits,” he acknowledged. But he argued that “the fact of the matter is, corporate profits are at record highs.”
Asked why the United States government continues to mint pennies, Obama responded, “I don’t know.” He said he was open to the possibility of discontinuing production of the one-cent coins and mused that the reason that no one has moved to do so yet might be because Americans are “emotionally attached” to them.
On the issue of U.S. drone strikes, Obama maintained that “there has never been a drone used on an American citizen on American soil.” As for strikes on Americans abroad, he said that the rules governing such actions are different. “We respect and have a whole bunch of safeguards in terms of how we conduct counterterrorism operations outside of the United States,” he said.
He touched briefly on the issue of the attack in Benghazi, Libya, arguing that “that was largely driven by campaign stuff” and that “Congress is sort of running out of things to ask” on the matter.
Obama gave several answers when asked what book might better help his opponents to understand his political philosophy. “I have to tell you that where I draw inspiration from is the writings of Lincoln — and I’m assuming you’re a Republican,” he began. “This was our first Republican president. But the core philosophy that he espouses, this sense that we are this nation that is built on freedom and individual initiative and free enterprise but there are some things we do in common together … that’s probably where I start in terms of political philosophy.” He went on to cite the Bible as well as Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”