Gas prices, Japan and leadership likely to dominate at Obama's news conference

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 12, 2011; 12:28 AM

President Obama is planning a news conference at 12:30 Friday afternoon that the White House announced will focus on high energy prices. He will also no doubt address the massive earthquake in Japan, which has spawned a tsunami whose waves have hit Hawaii and Alaska.

Of course, the president himself only controls the agenda during his opening statement. So here's a look at what reporters might ask the president:

Will he tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

With unrest in the Middle East causing the price of gas to jump, Obama's aides have said they are considering such a move. But they have not adopted it, despite calls for tapping the reserve from Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Will he call for a no-fly zone in Libya?

Administration aides have also said they are considering imposing a no-fly zone, but they add that it is only one of many options for U.S. action in the violent turmoil in Libya. But momentum behind adopting a no-fly zone is growing: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), a close ally of the administration on most foreign policy issues, called for it in an op-ed in Friday's Washington Post.

Will he offer a specific plan to close the spending gap between the Democratic and Republican proposals for the 2011 budget?

Congressional Republicans and even Democrats have criticized Obama for his hands-off approach to the budget process on Capitol Hill, as parties struggle to reach an agreement to fund the government for the rest of the year.

The White House has pointedly decided not to issue its own proposal and instead has argued the administration is "halfway" to the $61 billion that congressional Republicans want to cut from the spending plan.

Obama is due to head to South America by the end of next week, so he might also be asked whether he will sign another temporary bill to fund the government. His aides, however, have argued that such measures cause economic uncertainty.

Is he running for reelection?

Even though he has been mentioning the 2012 race, dispatching aides to Chicago and appearing at fundraising events the past two weeks, the president has not officially said he is running for a second term. If he is asked, look for him to sidestep this question, as he would likely declare his candidacy in a more formal way.

Is he leading enough?

The narrative in Washington, pushed by Republicans but also held by some independent observers, is that the president is not leading enough. He has not been as aggressive as some leaders abroad in condemning the Libyan government, has been slow in addressing gas prices - trailing seemingly every politician in Washington - and hasn't weighed in enough on the divisive 2011 budget debate or on the larger issue of entitlement reform.

Does he support federal funding for NPR?

White House spokesman Jay Carney has already said the administration does not support GOP efforts to cut funding for public radio in light of this week's latest NPR controversy. But in an era in which both parties are calling for spending cuts, the president could be asked why he wants to fund a media organization.

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