Live blog: Obama’s news conference

President Obama is holding his first news conference since March 1 at 10:30 a.m. from the Brady Briefing Room.

The president has had domestic two news conferences this year -- one shortly after the New Year and the second on the day the deep spending cuts, known as sequestration, took effect.

Between the two, his demeanor evolved. Defiant at the start of the year, he was humbler by the second, when it was clear the strength of his reelection and public opinion wouldn't fundamentally alter the balance of power between the White House and the Republican-led House of Representatives.

Which Obama will we get today? Follow along with us live.

[liveblog]

Obama: Jason Collins ‘part of the American family’

As his press conference concluded, President Obama answered a shouted question about NBA player Jason Collins, who came out as gay in a Sports Illustrated column Monday.

"I told him I couldn't be prouder," Obama said of his phone conversation with Collins on Monday. "One of the extraordinary measures of progress we have seen in this country is the recognition that the LGBT community deserves full equality ... not just tolerance but a recognition that they're fully a part of the American family."

Collins's membership in the NBA made the announcement a notable one in the history of gay rights, Obama said. "Given the importance of sports in our society," he said, for someone to come out and say, "I'm still 7-foot tall and can bang with Shaq and deliver a hard foul" is significant.

"For a lot of young people out there who are gay or lesbian who are struggling with those issues to see a role model out there, who is unafraid, I think it's a great thing," he said.

Senate immigration plan ‘meets the basic criteria’

President Obama praised the work of a bipartisan Senate group that has proposed a sweeping immigration reform bill, saying he has been “impressed by the work that’s been done.”

Although the Senate proposal is not perfect, Obama added, the bill “meets the basic criteria I laid out from the start.” He listed stronger border security, fixes to the legal immigration system and a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants.

Obama has made immigration a top second-term priority, and he has been content to let the Senate working group take the lead in authoring a legislative proposal in hopes of avoiding the partisan gridlock that has plagued other efforts on gun control and the budget.

On reports that House Republicans might be considering alternatives to the Senate plan, Obama said: “If it doesn’t meet those criteria, I will not support such a bill. So we’ll have to wait and see.”

There will be health care ‘glitches,’ Obama says

A big undertaking like health-care reform will always be difficult, President Obama said:  "Even if we do everything perfectly, there will still be glitches and bumps."

But the president suggested that a lot of the concern about the law was based on a misunderstanding of how it works.

“Despite all the hue and cry and sky-is-falling predictions about this stuff, if you’ve already got health insurance that part of Obamacare that affects you, it’s pretty much in place,” Obama said. “What is left to be implemented is those provisions to help the 10 to 15 percent of the public that is unlucky enough that they don’t have health insurance.”

Obama said that his administration is beginning to implement pools for individuals to buy their own insurance with better deals from insurance companies.

“The challenge is that setting up a market-based system, basically an online marketplace where you can go on and sign up and figure out what kind of insurance you can afford and figuring out how you can get the subsidies -- that’s still a big, complicated piece of business,” Obama said.

Obama favors television correspondents’ questions

Perhaps hoping he can make a direct appeal to the public, President Obama is favoring the television networks, calling on all five of their correspondents in a row to open the press conference.

Under normal protocol, Obama calls first on the Associated Press, but the president bucked convention and has yet to call on a newspaper or wire service reporter. By calling on television networks directly, Obama probably has a better shot of getting a video clip onto the nightly newscasts that is played in full.

Update: Obama took one question from El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, but none from American print or wire outlets.

Obama: Some GOP senators open to broad fiscal deal

President Obama said that some Republican senators he has been talking with are open to achieving a broad fiscal deal that would lower the deficit and replace the automatic budget cuts known as sequester.

“I think there’s a genuine desire on many of their parts to move past not only sequester but Washington dysfunction,” said Obama, who has held several private dinners with GOP senators. “Whether we can get it done or not, we’ll see.”

Obama said the sequester was slowing the nation’s economic growth. “It’s resulting in people being thrown out of work and its hurting folks all across the country,” he said.

Obama criticized the measure Congress passed last week to curb flight delays, but said it was only a short-term fix and “not a solution.”

“There are commonsense solutions to our problems right now,” Obama said. “I cannot force Republicans to embrace those commonsense solutions. I can urge them to, I can put pressure on them, I can rally the American people around those commonsense solutions. But ultimately they themselves are going to have to say we’re going to do the right thing.”

Obama added that conservative activists consider compromise with the president to be “somehow a betrayal,” making the politics for Republican lawmakers treacherous.

“We’re going to try to do everything we can to create a permission structure for them to be able to do what’s best for the country,” Obama said.

‘We need to close Guantanamo’

Asked about the hunger strike at Guantanamo, President Obama said the detention center needs to be closed but that Congress has kept that from happening.

"Now it’s a hard case to make because for a lot of Americans, it’s out of sight, out of mind," he said. "This is a lingering problem that is not going to get better. It's going to get worse."

Guantanamo "is not necessary to keep America safe, it is expensive, it is efficient  it hurts us in terms of international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on terrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists," Obama said. He promised another attempt to shut it down: "I'm going to back at it, because it's important."

The Pentagon does have some power to waive restrictions on releasing detainees on a case-by-case basis, but the administration has not used it.

Obama invokes Mark Twain

When asked by ABC News' Jonathan Karl is he has enough "juice" to get his legislative agenda passed, the president invoked writer Mark Twain.

"Well, if you put it that way, Jonathan, maybe I should just pack up and go home. Golly," Obama said.

"As Mark Twain said, rumors of my demise might be a little exaggerated at this point."

(Twain actually wrote, "The report of my death was an exaggeration," but the comment is often misquoted, "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.")

Fox News gets first question

The Obama administration and Fox News have not always seen eye-to-eye, to say the least. But President Obama gave some love to Fox White House correspondent Ed Henry by calling on him first at the news conference.

Henry is the outgoing president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, and he sat next to Obama during the correspondents’ dinner Saturday night, exchanging jokes with the president.

After entering the James S. Brady briefing room, Obama announced he was there to answer questions in honor of Henry’s service as WHCA president.

Henry responded by asking Obama about Syria’s reported use of chemical weapons – and the love-fest was over.

Obama looking into self-radicalization threat

Obama said the threat posed by young Muslims, “self-radicalized” over the Internet while living in the United States like the Tsarnaev brothers who allegedly carried out the Boston bombings, is in some ways more difficult to defend against than foreign-sponsored terrorist plots.

He said he has asked his director of national intelligence, James Clapper, to determine what lessons have been learned about the dynamics of domestic Muslim communities. “What more can we do on that front that is looming on the horizon?” Obama said. “Is there more we can do to engage communities where there is the threat of self-radicalization?

“But all of this has to be done in the context of our laws,” he said.

Obama: Russians ‘very cooperative’

President Obama told reporters that Russian authorities had been "very cooperative" in the ongoing investigation into the Boston marathon bombing, but added, "Old habits die hard. There are still suspicions."

Obama on Syria: Chemical weapons a ‘game changer’

President Obama warned again Tuesday that there is still not enough evidence that Syria’s government has used chemical weapons to put down a widening rebellion to depose President Bashar al-Assad to warrant immediate U.S. action.

Last week, the administration told Congress that it has “varying degrees of confidence” in evidence Assad has used such weapons, which Obama had previously said would cross a “red line.” In his news conference today, he said, “I've got to make sure I've got the facts.” He appeared to tacitly refer to the run-up to the Iraq invasion to explain why caution in this case is important for U.S. credibility and diplomacy.

“If we end up rushing to judgment without hard objective evidence than we may run into a situation where we can’t organize the international community around what we want to do,” Obama said. “If I can establish in a way, not only the United States but also the international community, the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game changer.”

He continued, “That portends not only further use of those weapons against civilians but also the threat that they could fall into the wrong hands.”

While Obama reiterated that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be "a game changer," he did not say what he would do as a result.

"By 'game changer,' I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us," he told reporters. "Clearly that would be an escalation, in our view, to the security of the international community, our allies, and the United States."

About those Benghazi whistleblowers

President Obama was asked by Fox News' Ed Henry about whistleblowers who say they've been blocked from testifying about information about Benghazi.

"I'm not familiar with this notion that anybody's been blocked from testifying," the president replied.

Henry was referring to a Fox News report; the Atlantic has looked into the claims and suggested they be taken with a grain of salt.

Briefing room ‘filled to the gills’

A few minutes before President Obama was scheduled to come out, dozens of reporters filed into the White House briefing room, filling every possible corner.

"It is filled to the gills," CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin remarked on air.

There are 49 seats in the James S. Brady press briefing room – all of them assigned to particular news outlets -- but once they fill up, reporters crowd into the aisles on either side for a standing-room only effect.

White House chooses Twitter over e-mail

So much for e-mail, now in the category of old media in the eyes of the White House. Press Secretary Jay Carney announced the president’s first domestic news conference since March 1 early Tuesday morning by Twitter rather than through the White House e-mail account, as has been customary. That once-modern, now-dated method of announcement came 20 minutes or so later.

 

Obama’s press conferences by the numbers

President Obama's news conference Tuesday will mark his second solo appearance before the White House press corps in his second term, coming two months after he took questions in the briefing room March 1.

On that day, the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester took effect, and that was his primary subject.

Obama’s other press conferences this year include a joint appearance in Jordan on March 22, with King Abdullah II, and a short press appearance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in Jerusalem on March 20.

Obama and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan held a joint press conference on Jan. 11 at the White House, before Obama was sworn in for his second term later that month.

Obama was criticized during his first term for the infrequency of his press conferences. According to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller, who chronicles presidential daily activities, Obama held 21 formal, solo news conferences at the White House during his first term.

By Knoller’s count, Obama had a total of 108 press availabilities in his first term, including 57 joint press briefings with foreign leaders and other, informal meetings with the press.

Does Obama have any power?

In his last domestic press conference exactly two months ago, President Obama was asked whether he has any persuasive power left.

“The issue is not my persuasive power,” he replied. “The American people agree with my approach. … The question is, can the American people help persuade their members of Congress to do the right thing?”

On the 100th day of Obama’s second term, the answer seems to be “no” – at least for Obama’s supporters. Opinion polls show the American people agree with Obama on taking new measures to stem gun violence and on replacing the deep spending cuts known as sequestration with a more balanced package of tax hikes and spending cuts.

But Congress hasn’t gone along with either proposal. Only an overhaul of immigration laws seems relatively likely now, and that’s because Republicans see it as being in their own electoral interest.

The structural forces shaping Congress – in particular, the fact that an important group of Republicans worries more about primary challenges from the right than broad public opinion – appear stronger than a popular president’s ability to convert public opinion into legislative action.

And so the central question of Obama’s second term remains how can he pursue his agenda in the face of such a challenging political dynamic.

His latest strategy involves working to woo lawmakers in personal meetings – his talents in that area don't seem particularly strong – and even he has suggested considerable skepticism about whether that can work.

At today's news conference, look for Obama to make the case that he still has a reasonable chance of getting his agenda over the next year. But he's also likely to argue that Republicans are squarely to blame if he fails.

In a year and a half, after all, he'll have his last, best chance at changing Washington: the 2014 mid-term elections.

Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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