Obama spoke Thursday on counterterrorism, though his words did not get a warm reception from GOP members of Congress.
“The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to,” Obama said after a third interruption. “Obviously, I do not agree with much of what she said. And obviously, she wasn’t listening to me in much of what I said. But these are tough issues, and the suggestion that we can gloss over them is wrong.”
Moving Past Leaks
The speech might have, however, provided a momentary distraction from a series of controversies facing his administration.
But he directly addressed the uproar over Justice Department tracking of journalists’ phone calls. Obama said Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. had agreed to review guidelines for investigations that involve reporters and would convene meetings with media groups to hear their concerns, with a report due July 12.
“Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” Obama said. “Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach.”
The president also showed new openness to an update of the 2001 authorization for the use of military force (PL 107-40), which military officials, as recently as last week, said was adequate to current needs.
Obama pointed out that the law is now 12 years old, the Afghanistan war is winding down and core al-Qaida is weakened, while splinter groups such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula are newly prominent.
“Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al-Qaida will pose a credible threat to the United States,” Obama said. “Unless we discipline our thinking and our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states. So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further.”
The top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker of Tennessee, at least, welcomed Obama’s desire to work with Congress on a revision of the 2001 law.
“The original authorization is increasingly unrelated to current terrorist threats, so in order to protect the American people from these evolving threats, the administration must remain on firm legal footing provided by Congress,” Corker said in a written statement.
But appearing at the same news conference with Graham, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said Obama’s stated desire to repeal the 2001 authorization shouldn’t even be considered.
Obama again asked Congress to lift restrictions it imposed on the administration’s ability to transfer detainees out of Guantánamo.
“Given my administration’s relentless pursuit of al-Qaida’s leadership, there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened,” he said.
House Armed Services Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said he was willing to work with the president on closing the facility, but the president needed to provide Congress with more details of his plans.