Obama answers reporters’ questions during a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Friday.
Obama said he’s comfortable that abuses of those powers are not taking place and would be illegal if they did, but given Snowden’s leaks, some of which he said were sensationalized, the issue required more public debate.
He said that the government is not “willy nilly sucking in” data and using it as they please, an impression some could get by reading the headlines, he said.
“The question is how do I make the American people more comfortable?” he asked.
He likened it to telling Michelle Obama that he had done the dishes and, if she was skeptical, showing her the dishes.
As for Snowden himself, Obama said: “No, I don’t think Mr. Snowden was a patriot.” He challenged him to return to the United States and make his case in court.
Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck pegged the public’s concern about the NSA to the president.
“Much of any public concern about this critical program can be attributed to the president’s reluctance to sufficiently explain and defend it. Transparency is important, but we expect the White House to insist that no reform will compromise the operational integrity of the program. That must be the president’s red line, and he must enforce it. Our priority should continue to be saving American lives, not saving face.”
The president said that he had signed an executive order giving national security whistle-blowers protections to come forward legally.
He also touched on his relationship with Putin, saying that they don’t have a bad relationship and then joking that the Russian president has a tendency to slouch and look like the “bored kid in the back of the classroom.”
The president also said that he has not made a decision yet on who to select for the Federal Reserve, saying that he defended Larry Summers not because he has the inside track for the job but because he was being unfairly attacked in the press. He likened his defense of Summers to his defense of Susan E. Rice. Rice, of course, ended up not getting the secretary of State post and became Obama’s national security adviser instead.
Obama acknowledged the Federal Reserve decision is one of the most important he will make, and he made clear he wants someone focused on growth.
“The challenge is not inflation,” he said, but too much slack in the economy.
Obama said that he continues to push Republicans to pass an immigration overhaul, reiterating his presence for them to vote on the Senate bill. Obama said that he’s “absolutely certain” the votes would be there to pass that bill on the House floor but the only thing standing in the way is internal Republican Party politics.
An earlier version of this article listed an incorrect former job for Susan E. Rice.