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Live updates: Obama news conference

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April 30, 2014

 

Just hours before leaving for Hawaii for his holiday break, President Obama is taking questions at a press conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House.

The news conference marks the end of Obama’s toughest year as president, when he saw his popularity drop to the lowest levels of his presidency. It also comes just two days after the release of a report by a White House review panel that called for a variety of safeguards and limits on a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program, and amid new delays in the implementation of the new health-care law and reports of more robust economic growth.

Check here for the latest updates during the press conference.

  • Sara Carothers
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  • Aaron Blake
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Obama wrapped up the news conference about 3:20 p.m., wishing reporters season’s greetings as he left.

He’s now preparing to head to Hawaii for the holidays.

  • Juliet Eilperin
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Obama said reports have exaggerated the number of people who will now be able to sign up for catastrophic coverage under a policy Health and Human Services announced Thursday night.

“What we’re talking about is a very specific population that received cancellation notices from insurance companies,” he said, noting that many have been able to renew or sign up under a state or federal marketplace. “But there may still be a subset… that are still looking for options, that are still they’re concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year.”

“If there are adjustments that should be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them. But they don’t go to the core of the law,” he added. “This is essentially an additional net, in case people slip through the cracks.”

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

After the New York Times’s Jackie Calmes attempted to ask Obama about Politifact’s “Lie of the Year” and some other issues, Obama cut her off and asked her to narrow her scope a bit.

“You’re stringing a bunch of things along,” he told her. “Let’s see if we can hone in on a question.”

Calmes responded by saying that her run-on questions aren’t as bad as Fox News’s Ed Henry. The comment, made light-heartedly, was met with some laughter and gasps by the press corps.

  • Aaron Blake
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Obama said he’s not going to the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, because there is too much to do at home.

He noted he hasn’t been to other Olympics as president either.

“I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post-presidency,” Obama said.

  • Aaron Blake
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Obama said former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s disclosures have done damage that didn’t need to occur in order to have a discussion about surveillance.

“The fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides by the rule of law,” Obama said.

Obama then offered an example, saying that the disclosures have allowed countries without such sterling records to try to take the moral high ground.

“That’s a pretty distorted view of what’s going on out there,” Obama said.

  • Anne Bartlett
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The Post’s Greg Miller reports:

Obama is sounding increasingly convinced that the NSA’s program amassing citizens’ phone records will have to change. But he’s trying to argue that the change is necessary now because of the public reaction to leaker Edward Snowden’s disclosures, not because his administration failed to strike the right balance at the beginning.

  • Aaron Blake
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Obama made an interesting reference to two of his most dogged questioners in the White House press corps.

Talking about how tough he is on himself, Obama said to ABC’s Jon Karl: “”I probably beat myself up worse than you or [Fox News's] Ed Henry does.”

  • Aaron Blake
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ABC’s Jon Karl asked Obama about his biggest mistake.

Here’s what Obama said: “There’s no doubt that when it came to the health-care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks … the fact is, it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable.”

Obama added: “I’m in charge, and we screwed it up.”

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

President Obama and Fox News’s Ed Henry are getting a little in the weeds about NSA surveillance.

One thing that keeps getting mentioned: the “215″ program, which is part of the Patriot Act .

For more on precisely what that is, see here.

  • Juliet Eilperin
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President Obama announced Friday that “more than 1 million Americans have selected new health insurance plans” on the state and federal level since Oct. 1.

The Post reported on Wednesday that nearly 550,000 people signed up on the federal health insurance exchange in December, bringing the federal total to roughly 680,000 total enrollments.

“In California, for example, a state operating its own marketplace, more than 15,000 Americans are enrolling every single day,” Obama said, adding later, “So all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems with the Web site, are now poised to be covered by quality affordable health insurance come New Year’s Day.”

Obama said it was “a big deal” because there are “a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care, starting Jan. 1.

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

Obama reiterated that he believes the National Security Agency isn’t spying domestically, despite a federal judge’s ruling that the NSA’s collection of phone records is likely unconstitutional.

“I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around,” Obama said. “But I also recognize that as technologies change … that we may have to refine [the program] to give people more confidence.”

  • Aaron Blake
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  • Aaron Blake
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The first question is about whether Obama is disappointed with how the year went — particularly given his low approval rating.

Obama said he’s not happy that Congress failed to pass immigration and gun control legislation but that he keeps pushing forward.

“It’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about,” Obama said about immigration reform.

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

Obama seems to have a bit of holiday cheer today, offering a second holiday-themed joke as he prepared to take questions.

“Jay [Carney] prepared a list of who’s naughty and who’s nice,” Obama said about who he would call on.

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

President Obama said his health-care law, which has had a troubled rollout, has signed up 500,000 people so far this month.

“For all the challenges we’ve had … in dealing with both the [Affordable Care Act] and the Web site these last couple months, more than half a million Americans signed up for health care in the first three weeks of December alone,” Obama said.

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

President Obama walked into the briefing and declared it to be “the most wonderful press conference of the year.”

He then proceeded to talk about economic progress.

  • Aaron Blake
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From Philip Rucker and David Nakamura:

President Obama plans to hold a news conference at the White House at 2 p.m. Friday as he concludes what has been the most troubling year of his presidency.

Obama could face questions about whether he will protect or dismantle the National Security Agency’s far-reaching surveillance programs and the disastrous rollout of the online insurance exchanges at the heart of his signature health care law.

The president also will likely be asked to account for what has been a year of partisan turmoil in Washington and his inability to advance an ambitious second-term domestic policy agenda through Congress.

Obama’s initiatives on gun violence prevention and immigration reform failed or stalled, and the president was unable to prevent damaging spending cuts known as the sequester or a partial shutdown of the federal government.

As Obama sets off Friday evening for a 17-day vacation in his birthplace of Hawaii, his job approval ratings are at the lowest point ever through five years in office.

Recent polls suggest that record numbers of Americans disapprove of Obama’s job performance, while his earlier advantages over Republicans in Congress have eroded in many areas — a dramatic turn from his standing a year ago following his solid reelection victory.

Obama hopes to reboot his presidency in January by reshuffling his White House staff. In recent weeks he’s been recruiting seasoned advisers, including John Podesta, who served as President Clinton’s White House chief of staff during his second term.

On the surveillance issues, which have dogged the president for months, a federal judge ruled this week that the NSA’s sweeping collection of personal data was probably unconstitutional, while a White House panel released a report questioning whether the data had played any meaningful role in preventing terrorist attacks.

Obama’s news conference comes at a critical time for the health care program. The deadline for people to obtain coverage for next year is Dec. 23, and administration officials are preparing for increased online demand and at their customer service call center.

However, on Friday morning, the HealthCare.gov Web site went down; when people tried to apply for a health plan, the site said, the “system is down” as part of “scheduled maintenance.”

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

Expect President Obama to be asked about this untimely development.

From Post Politics earlier this afternoon:

With less than two hours to go before President Obama is scheduled to give his year-end news conference, people are not able to apply for health insurance on HealthCare.gov.

The home page is still present, but when one tries to apply for a health plan, the site says the “system is down.” A message on the screen says it is part of “scheduled maintenance.”

The deadline for people to obtain coverage for the New Year is Dec. 23 — Monday — which means the site could see in spike in visits in the coming days.

Joanne Peters, a spokeswoman with the Department of Health and Human Services, said the system was deliberately taken down Friday morning due to an error that needed to be fixed. She said it should be up by early afternoon.

“Right now HealthCare.gov is queuing consumers,” Peters said. “This system is in place while the tech team works on fixing an error that happened during routine maintenance last night. This work started at 10 a.m. and we anticipate this could take two to three hours and that the site will be up and running again soon.”

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, a senior administration official said they have “intentionally bolstered staffing at our call center” to cope with the increased online demand.

“We’ve added about 800 new agents to the overall staffing, so when you look at our overall staffing mix, we’ve got more than 12,000 trained customer service reps across 17 sites nationwide that are ready to take live calls, live web chats,” said the official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss ongoing operations. “And those people have all undergone additional training in preparation for December 23rd.”

The official added that Health and Human Services expected the Web site would have to activate its queuing system during peak demand times on Dec. 23.

Update 1:15 p.m.: The maintenance message is gone, but the Web site is overloaded and asking people wait.

  • Aaron Blake
  • ·

Today’s press conference comes just before President Obama and his family will again head to Hawaii for the holidays.

The Obamas are expected to spend more than two weeks on the state where the president was born.

Obama has spent all six Christmases as president in Hawaii.

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