March 24, 2009: President Obama’s Second Press Conference Focusing on the Economy & Budget


Doug Mills/The New York Times President Obama spoke in the East Room of the White House Tuesday.


In Focus: Stats

  • President Barack Obama “Obama Defends Economic Recovery in News Conference”: “We will recover from this recession. But it will take time, it will take patience, and it will take an understanding that when we all work together; when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interests to the wider set of obligations we have to each other — that’s when we succeed.” – Newshour, PBS, 3-24-09
  • FACT CHECK: Obama Having It Both Ways on Economy?: President Barack Obama’s plea for patience in the economic turmoil Tuesday fits with the view of most economists that a turnaround will take some time. It doesn’t fit quite so neatly with his bullish budget. The president’s spending plans and deficit projections rest on the assumption that the economy will post solid growth next year after a mild, further decline this year. Many economists think that’s too rosy. Obama was more cautious than that in his prime-time news conference — possibly to the point of having it both ways…. – AP, 3-24-09
  • Obama Says Nation Judging Him on Work, Not Race: President Barack Obama says Americans are judging him by the job he’s doing, not the color of his skin. – AP, 3-24-09
  • CBS News Poll: Public Wants Government to Recover Bonus Funds: Only 13 percent agreed that A.I.G. had to pay their executives those bonuses, while 83 percent said they thought the company could have found a way not to pay them.
    And 71 percent disagreed that banks and other financial institutions need to pay large bonuses to hire and keep employees with essential skills.
    Half said they were angry about the bonuses that A.I.G. executives received, and 38 percent said that, while they were not angry, the bonuses “bothered” them. Only 12 percent said they were not bothered. – NYT, 3-24-09


The Headlines…

  • Obama Tries to Rally Nation to His Agenda: President Obama tried to rally the nation behind his ambitious agenda Tuesday night, hoping to channel outrage at Wall Street excess into support for changes in tax, health care and energy policy that face skepticism even within his own party in Congress…. – NYT, 3-24-09
  • Live Blog: Obama’s News Conference: The second prime-time press conference for Mr. Obama is in the books. Thirteen questions, but not one about Iraq or Afghanistan. That would have been impossible to imagine during his presidential campaign. So what’s the headline? “Hang on Americans, We’ll Get Through This.”…. – NYT, 3-24-09
  • Obama Defends Economic Recovery in News Conference: With the Obama administration set to take on one of its toughest battles yet over their proposed $3.6 trillion budget, the president took to the airwaves Tuesday night, defending his team’s efforts to combat the financial crisis and pledging better days to come…. – Newshour, PBS, 3-24-09
  • Obama’s uses news conference to stress patience and persistence as he tackles problems: President Obama this evening held his second prime-time Q&A since taking office two months ago…. – USA Today, 3-24-09
  • Obama expects strong support for regulatory powers: President Barack Obama says he expects strong support from Americans and Congress for his push for unprecedented regulatory authority over financial institutions…. – AP, 3-24-09
  • Obama sees support for financial wind-down powers: “We should have obtained it much earlier so that any institution that poses a systemic risk that can bring down the financial system, we can handle and we can do it in an orderly fashion, that quarantines it from other institutions. We don’t have that power right now, that’s what (Treasury) Secretary (Timothy) Geithner is talking about and I think there’s going to be strong support from the American people and Congress to provide that authority.” – Reuters, 3-24-09
  • Obama defends budget as essential to recovery: President Obama said Tuesday “there are no quick fixes” to pull the economy out of recession, but he insisted the country will recover…. –
  • Bill Schneider: Obama gives tough answer to CNN: President Obama gave a pretty tough answer to CNN’s Ed Henry when asked why he waited days to express outrage on the AIG bonuses. “It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak,” he said. It seemed to imply the question was impertinent. CNN, 3-24-09
  • Gloria Borger: Lack of foreign policy questions astonishing: It’s astonishing President Obama was not asked more about foreign policy. The president himself had to raise the issue of his Iran tape. There was some talk on Mexico and a tad on the Middle East, but NO Iraq and Afghanistan??? How can that be? And when was the last time a president had a press conference without mentioning those, or without being asked about those?…. – CNN, 3-24-09
  • Obama to focus on economy in news conference: President Barack Obama looked to steer the nation’s economic attention to the bigger picture Tuesday night and away from recent days’ micro-focus on outrage over executive bonuses, declaring signs of progress as his administration attacks the crisis “on all fronts.” “It’s a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to restart lending and to grow our economy over the long term,” Obama said in remarks released in advance of his prime-time news conference. – AP, 3-24-09
  • House Republicans miss Obama’s news conference: As President Obama prepared to hold his second prime time news conference, more than 1,200 Republicans gathered 12 blocks away to break bread at a multi- million dollar fundraiser and discuss the road back to power in the nation’s capital. – CNN, 3-24-09
  • Bleak Deficit Numbers Projected Under Obama’s Budget Plan: The Congressional Budget Office released figures Friday forecasting that President Barack Obama’s budget will produce $9.3 trillion worth of red ink over 2010-2019 and that the deficit for this fiscal year will rise to a record $1.8 trillion. – Newshour, PBS, 3-24-09
  • For Populism, a Return to Economic Roots: In selecting villains, politicians reflect the anxieties of their era. Today’s populist uproar reaches far beyond the American International Group — and may mark a turning point…. – NYT, 3-24-09
  • Geithner Seeks Broader Powers Over Financial Firms: The crisis surrounding the American International Group was a near-tragedy that underlines the need for broad new government authority to regulate or even take control of financial institutions other than banks, the government’s top fiscal officials told lawmakers on Tuesday…. – NYT, 3-24-09
  • Geithner seeks new powers over financial companies: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sought broad new powers Tuesday to regulate tottering nonbank financial companies like insurance giant AIG, and President Barack Obama said he hopes “it doesn’t take too long to convince Congress” to grant them. – AP, 3-24-09
  • Democrats in Congress Are Ready to Pare Budget: Alarmed by rising deficit predictions, Congressional Democrats prepared Tuesday to pare spending in President Obama’s budget and limit some middle-class tax cuts even as Republicans stepped up their criticism of the plan as irresponsible…. – NYT, 3-24-09
  • Senate Democrats to scrap Obama’s $400 tax credit: A top Democrat in the Senate announced a budget blueprint Tuesday that would scrap Barack Obama’s signature tax cut after 2010 and blends sleight of hand with modest cuts to domestic programs to cut the deficit to sustainable levels. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., promises to reduce the deficit from a projected $1.7 trillion this year to a still-high $508 billion in 2014. But to do so, he assumes Congress will let Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit delivering $400 tax cuts to most workers and $800 to couples will expire at the end of next year. Those tax cuts were included in Obama’s stimulus package. – AP, 3-24-09
  • Next Foreign Crisis Could Be Next Door: Mexico’s economy is being dragged down by the recession to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway, and its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. Nafta promised 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads, but the Obama administration says they are too unsafe for that… – NYT, 3-24-09
  • Senate approves former Wash. governor for Commerce: The Senate confirmed former Washington Gov. Gary Locke as commerce secretary Tuesday, handing President Barack Obama an easy victory after his first two nominees for the post withdrew. Locke, 59, was the nation’s first Chinese-American governor, serving two terms from 1997 to 2005. He has promised to focus on job creation and to closely oversee the 2010 census. – AP, 3-24-09
  • Cheney helping or hurting GOP?: Former Vice President Dick Cheney has come back into the spotlight with his criticisms of President Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center. But some Republicans wish he weren’t being so vocal…. – USA Today, 3-24-09
  • Bishop to skip Notre Dame commencement over Obama: The Roman Catholic bishop whose diocese includes the University of Notre Dame says he will boycott President Barack Obama’s commencement speech at the Catholic school because Obama’s policies on stem cell research and abortion run counter to church teaching. – AP, 3-24-09
  • NY Gov. orders 8,900 layoffs: Gov. David Paterson on Tuesday ordered layoffs that could total about 4 percent of state workers after unions refused concessions amid a staggering economic downturn that was projected to push the state’s deficit to $16 billion in the next year. AP, 3-24-09


Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Political Quotes

  • Transcript: President Obama’s News Conference: Following is the transcript, as it becomes available, of President Obama’s prime-time press conference on March 24, as transcribed by Federal News Service. – NYT, 3-24-09
  • La. Gov. Jindal urges GOP to stand up to Obama: “We are now in the position of being the loyal opposition,” Jindal said at a Republican congressional fundraising dinner that only by coincidence fell on the same night as Obama’s news conference. “The right question to ask is not if we want the president to fail or succeed, but whether we want America to succeed.” Saying “the time for talking about the past is over,” Jindal said Republicans have begun to find their voice after back-to-back elections losses — motivated by what he called historic Democratic spending excess…. “They’re not allowed to show my speech at Gitmo anymore,” he said. “They’ve banned that.” – AP, 3-24-09
  • President Obama’s News Conference Excerpts:
    Now, it’s important to remember that this crisis didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t result from any one action or decision. It took many years and many failures to lead us here. And it will take many months and many different solutions to lead us out. There are no quick fixes, and there are no silver bullets. That’s why we’ve put in place a comprehensive strategy designed to attack this crisis on all fronts. It’s a strategy to create jobs, to help responsible homeowners, to restart lending, and to grow our economy over the long term. And we’re beginning to see signs of progress….
    You know, there was a lot of outrage and finger-pointing last week, and much of it is is understandable. I’m as angry as anybody about those bonuses that went to some of the very same individuals who brought our financial system to its knees, partly because it’s yet another symptom of the culture that led us to this point. Bankers and executives on Wall Street need to realize that enriching themselves on the taxpayer’s dime is inexcusable, that the days of outsize rewards and reckless speculation that puts us all at risk have to be over. At the same time, the rest of us can’t afford to demonize every investor or entrepreneur who seeks to make a profit. That drive is what has always fueled our prosperity, and it is what will ultimately get these banks lending and our economy moving once more….
    We’ll recover from this recession, but it will take time; it will take patience; and it will take an understanding that when we all work together, when each of us looks beyond our own short-term interest to the wider set of obligations we have towards each other, that’s when we succeed. That’s when we prosper. And that’s what is needed right now. So let’s look towards the future with a renewed sense of common purpose, a renewed determination, and, most importantly, renewed confidence that a better day will come….

    With respect to the American people, I think folks are sacrificing left and right. They — you’ve got a lot of parents who are cutting back on everything to make sure that their kids can still go to college. You’ve got workers who are deciding to cut an entire day and entire day’s worth of pay so that their fellow co-workers aren’t laid off. I think that across the board people are making adjustments, large and small, to accommodate the fact that we’re in very difficult times right now….

    Now, we never expected, when we printed out our budget, that they would simply Xerox it and vote on it. We assume that it has to go through the legislative process. I have not yet seen the final product coming out of the Senate or the House, and we’re in constant conversations with them. I am confident that the budget we put forward will have those principles in place….

    We are providing hundreds of additional personnel that can help control the border, deal with customs issues. We are coordinating very effectively with the Mexican government and President Calderon, who has taken on a(n) extraordinarily difficult task dealing with these drug cartels that have gotten completely out of hand…. One last point that I want to make about this. As I said, President Calderon has been very courageous in taking on these drug cartels….

    First of all, I suspect that some of those Republican critics have a short memory, because as I recall, I’m inheriting a $1.3 trillion deficit, annual deficit, from them. That would be point number one….

    QUESTION: So on AIG, why did you wait — why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? … It seems like the action is coming out of New York in the attorney general’s office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we’re outraged. Why did it take so long? PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it took us a couple of days because I like to know what I’m talking about before I speak. (Laughter.) All right?…

    I think it is a realistic way for us to raise some revenue from people who benefitted enormously over the last several years. It’s not going to cripple them. They’ll still be well-to-do. And, you know, ultimately if we’re going to tackle the serious problems that we’ve got, then in some cases those who are more fortunate are going to have to pay a little bit more….
    I mean, if you look at the evidence — there’s very little evidence that this has a significant impact on charitable giving. I’ll tell you what has a significant impact on charitable giving is a financial crisis and an economy that’s contracting. And so the most important thing that I can do for charitable giving is to fix the economy, to get banks lending again, to get businesses opening their doors again, to get people back to work again. Then I think charities will do just fine….

    Well, the first thing I’d say is that I’m heartbroken that any child in America is homeless. And the most important thing that I can do on their behalf is to make sure their parents have a job. And that’s why the recovery package said, as a first priority, how are we going to save or create 3.5 million jobs? How can we prevent layoffs for teachers and police officers? How can we make sure that we are investing in the infrastructure for the future that can put people back to work right away? How do we make sure that when people do lose their jobs, that their unemployment insurance is extended, that they can keep their health care?…. Now, in the meantime, we’ve got to work very closely with the states to monitor and to help people who are still falling through the cracks….

    I think that the last 64 days has been dominated by me trying to figure out how we’re going to fix the economy, and that’s — affects black, brown and white. And you know, obviously, at the Inauguration I think that there was justifiable pride on the part of the country that we had taken a step to move us beyond some of the searing legacies of racial discrimination in this country, but that lasted about a day. And you know, right now the American people are judging me exactly the way I should be judged, and that is, are we taking the steps to improve liquidity in the financial markets, create jobs, get businesses to reopen, keep America safe?…
    What we do know is this; that the status quo is unsustainable. That it is critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in their own states with peace and security. And by assigning George Mitchell the task of working as special envoy, what we’ve signaled is that we’re going to be serious from day one in trying to move the parties in a direction that acknowledges that reality. How effective these negotiations may be, I think we’re going to have to wait and see….
    And what that tells me is that if you stick to it, if you are persistent, then — then these problems can be dealt with. That whole philosophy of persistence, by the way, is one that I’m going to be emphasizing again and again in the months and years to come, as long as I am in this office. I’m a big believer in persistence. I think that when it comes to domestic affairs, if we keep on working at it, if we acknowledge that we make mistakes sometimes and that we don’t always have the right answer, and we’re inheriting very knotty problems, that we can pass health care, we can find better solutions to our energy challenges, we can teach our children more effectively, we can deal with a very real budget crisis that is not fully dealt with in my — in my budget at this point, but makes progress….
    And I’m sure there’ll be more criticism and we’ll have to make more adjustments, but we’re moving in the right direction…. We haven’t immediately eliminated the influence of lobbyists in Washington. We have not immediately eliminated wasteful pork projects. And we’re not immediately going to get Middle East peace. We’ve been in office now a little over 60 days. What I am confident about is that we’re moving in the right direction, and that the decisions we’re making are based on, how are we going to get this economy moving? How are we going to put Americans back to work? How are we going to make sure that our people are safe? And how are we going to create not just prosperity here but work with other countries for global peace and prosperity? – Transcript

  • Jindal urges GOP to put ’08 in rear view mirror: “Let’s agree on this tonight, the time for talking about the past is now over,” Jindal told 1,200 people attending a House GOP fundraiser here in Washington. “It has been healthy for Republicans to look in the mirror. It has been healthy for us to realize and admit the mistakes of the past. We have done that quite a bit. I personally have done that quite a bit since the election last fall. It’s now been close to five months since the last election. He added, “It’s time to declare our time of introspection and navel gazing officially over. It’s time to get on with the business of charting America’s future. So as of now, be it hereby resolved, that we will focus on America’s future, and on standing up for fiscal sanity… before it is too late. “Thanks primarily to the Republicans in the House of Representatives, the Republican Party has once again decided to be the conservative party in this country,” Jindal said. – CNN, 3-24-09
  • Meghan McCain: ‘I support the president’: Larry King: [President Obama] is taking some criticism for smiling and laughing [during his “60 Minutes” interview.] Are you one of those critics?
    Meghan McCain: You know, I actually am not. I think anyone that would possibly think that the president is not taking the economy seriously — I just think it’s ridiculous. …
    King: [Is President Obama getting overexposed]?
    McCain: I think he is on the verge of it. I do think you have to be careful. But it is a different generation. [My] generation … we like our celebrities. And I think that he realizes that because he is very much a Generation Y president. However, he is on the risk of alienating his older followers.
    King: Does Obama seem like the same guy who ran against your dad? How do you view him?
    McCain: He’s our president and when the election was over and when President Obama won, all negative feelings were gone. I support the president. – CNN, 3-24-09
  • Aaron Shock: Republican stalked by gossip site like he’s a Hollywood starlet: “I didn’t know what was going on,” Schock said of his first encounter with TMZ. “I was on my way to the floor for a vote, I’m talking to a constituent literally on my cell phone and there’s some guy with a handycam in street clothes walking next to me. And, so, I didn’t know what to expect.”…. “I was actually surprised by how many text messages, e-mails, phone calls I got from stay-at-home mom’s that were watching the [TMZ] show,” Schock said on State of the Union on Sunday. “People that log onto their Web site I guess regularly and check out the news on TMZ. … People who watch TMZ or different mediums don’t expect to see their congressman on such a show. They’re used to seeing the Britney Spears or the movie star.” “Some of these alternative forms [of media] are important because it gets nontraditional voters engaged,” he said. “If they’re learning about me on TMZ or some of these other blogs and YouTube videos, then they’re recognizing my face and my name so that when I’m out on CNN or the other networks talking about issues, they’re going to maybe stop . . . and listen to what I have to say.”
    The young Republican was recently voted the hottest freshman in the current Congress by readers of the Huffington Post, a liberal Web site, and he has already received a fair amount of personal attention from President Obama — though it was not enough to convince Shock to support Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. – CNN, 3-24-09
  • Why Obama Is Still Smiling: But Obama was so calm — even jolly — in his “60 Minutes” interview broadcast last night that anchor Steve Kroft asked him about it straight out: “You’re sitting here. And you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people gonna look at this and say, ‘I mean, he’s sitting there just making jokes about money.’ How do you deal with, I mean, explain the…mood and your laughter?…Are you punch drunk?”
    Obama replied with another laugh: “No, no. There’s gotta be a little gallows humor to get you through the day. You know, sometimes my team — talks about the fact that if — if you had said to us a year ago that — the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem — I don’t think anybody would have believed it. But — but we’ve got a lot on our plate. And — a lot of difficult decisions that we’re going to have to make.”…

    “The one thing that — I’ve tried to emphasize, though, throughout this week, and will continue to try to emphasize during the course of the next several months as we dig ourselves out of this — the economic hole that we’re in — is we can’t govern out of anger. We’ve got to try to make good decisions based on the facts, in order to put people back to work, to get credit flowing again. And I’m not going to be distracted by — what’s happening day to day. I’ve gotta stay focused on making sure that — we’re getting this economy moving again.” – WaPo, 3-23-09


Historians’ Comments

  • Julian Zelizer “AIG bonuses follow an American tradition”: In the explosion of outrage over the AIG executive bonus scandal, each party has hurled charges at the other. Both parties are blaming each other for rejecting measures that would have limited executive bonuses. A few Republicans have called for the resignation of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner — with efforts to paint him as the Michael Brown of this administration — and President Obama is promising that this week he will outline more stringent requirements for the financial world.
    These partisan accusations miss a bigger factor behind last’s week’s revelations — America’s middle-way in dealing with business-government relations. In many ways, the bonus scandal was utterly predictable and would likely have happened regardless of which party was in power. And if history is a guide, the populist outrage over the bonuses may not fundamentally change the federal government’s relationship to private business….
    As a result, like many of their predecessors, the White House and Congress allowed management the flexibility to make decisions, such as the bonuses, which have already come back to haunt them. During the next round of negotiations, the administration and Congress might rethink their earlier approach, indeed the approach we have taken to economic intervention since the progressive era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
    The federal government might place tighter regulations on the institutions receiving assistance (as it has with other recipients of government assistance, such as the poor) so that public support for the much needed interventions in this crisis doesn’t suffer more political blows. – CNN, 3-23-09
  • Joyce Appleby “Obama needs some FDR magic” In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt defied history and boosted his agenda by increasing Democrats’ strength in Congress. Can the current president do the same in 2010?: President Obama’s $3.55-trillion budget tackles the nation’s highest priorities while promising to cut deficits in the long run. Breathtakingly bold and refreshingly honest, the budget speaks louder than words about Obama’s confident leadership. But, alas, it only makes more acute the dilemma he faces….
    Does Roosevelt furnish a template for Obama? The two men share a lot. As president, both face the awesome task of reviving the economy. Obama’s personal popularity outstrips support for his party, as did FDR’s. Of necessity, Obama’s hope for matching Roosevelt’s successful record of reform and recovery is going to rest on his pulling off an electoral victory in 2010 like FDR’s 76 years ago. – LAT, 3-23-09
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