Obama answers reporters’ questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Friday.
President Barack Obama ridiculed Republicans on Friday for making the repeal of his signature health care law their unifying principle and said it would be a “bad idea” for them to shut down the government to defund it.
Obama’s derisive remarks about the GOP came during a wide-ranging news conference where he also outlined new transparency measures aimed at boosting public confidence in National Security Agency surveillance, touched on his sometimes awkward relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and declared that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was not a patriot.
He also said he didn’t think it was appropriate to boycott the Olympics and discussed his thinking as he selects a new chairman of the Federal Reserve this fall.
But his health care remarks and pushback against a shutdown threat by Republicans were pointed.
Asked about his unilateral decision not to enforce the employer mandate for a year, Obama said his preference would be to ask Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, for a legislative fix.
“In a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the Speaker and say, ‘You know what? This is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law. . . . Let’s make a technical change to the law.’ That would be the normal thing that I would prefer to do,” Obama said. “But, we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to, quote/unquote, ‘Obamacare.’”
Ironically, House Republicans passed a legislative fix anyway, over a veto threat from Obama’s White House — a fact the president did not mention.
He said there is no longer a pretense among the GOP that they will actually replace the health care law, and he was incredulous that the “holy grail” and “unifying principle” of the party “is making sure 30 million people don’t have health care.”
He dismissed the push by conservatives to defund the law, threatening a government shutdown.
“The idea that you’d shut down the government unless you prevent 30 million people from getting health care . . . is a bad idea,” the president said.
Obama did say that he had discussed the budget with Boehner shortly before the congressional recess, but he was not asked about his own White House’s veto threats on spending bills, which the GOP says could also trigger a shutdown.
The president also outlined several new measures aimed at reforming the NSA’s surveillance programs and increasing transparency as a result of the Snowden leaks.
“It’s not enough for me to have confidence in these programs,” Obama said as he announced his plans to work with Congress to include new safeguards in the law that authorized the NSA’s extraordinary surveillance measures.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.