The Washington Post

Obama would much rather talk about Iraq than Ferguson

President Obama commended Iraqi and Kurdish forces for their teamwork in the retaking the country's largest dam from Islamic militants on Monday. Obama said the U.S. will continue to deliver humanitarian aid to those displaced by the fighting in the region. (AP)

President Obama explained why he was less interested in talking about the events in Ferguson, Mo., even as he carefully — even unenthusiastically — talked about them. "I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed," he said. Because when the Department of Justice is investigating something, "I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I'm putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other."

Thanks largely to a question from ABC's Ann Compton, he said more on the topic Monday than he has at any other point since Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson on Aug. 9, the same day Obama left Washington for his vacation on Martha's Vineyard.

Iraq has been a more pressing issue over that period than the events in Missouri, in part because the unrest that followed Brown's death didn't gain national attention until a few days later.

Nonetheless, the president's public comments on Iraq have been much lengthier. We pulled transcripts of his remarks from the White House Web site, counting how many words he spent on Iraq, Brown, fundraising and everything else.

(The fundraising comments were from an Aug. 11 event for the Senate Democrats.)

Among the "everything else" were commemorations for the deaths of former Sen. Jim Jeffords, who died Monday, and actor Robin Williams. A brief statement on Brown's death was about the same length as the remembrances for the other two. (Excluded from the list are readouts of conversations with foreign leaders. Obama has had 12 such calls since Aug. 9, including talking to the prime minister of Ukraine twice.)

Obama's spent much more time speaking about Iraq than Brown — more than 45 minutes versus less than 20.

(The one minute spent on other topics during Monday's news conference was his tribute to Compton, who is retiring.)

The numbers don't fully convey Obama's clear preference for discussing Iraq over Ferguson. Both on Monday and during his comments last week, Obama led with Iraq. When asked questions after his comments Monday, he was clearly more energized when answering questions about Iraq.

As he said, he has to be careful in what he says about Ferguson, though he did manage about 15 minutes on the topic today. More importantly, one can assume, is that his efforts in Iraq — retaking a key dam from ISIS — are going significantly better than the situation in Missouri, which is largely out of his control.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He is based in New York City.



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Philip Bump · August 18, 2014

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