In a break from the usual softballs that Barack Obama receives at news conferences, the President on Friday endured some tough questions, including a testy exchange with ABC's Jon Karl. The White House correspondent pressed Obama, looking for a "direct response" to a previous question: Will the U.S. launch strikes against Syria, regardless of whether Congress approves it?
Obama lectured, "And you're not getting a direct response. Brianna [Keilar of CNN] asked the question very well. You know?" Karl shot back, "It's a pretty basic question." [See video below. MP3 audio here.] An annoyed Obama, in Russia for the G20 meeting, complained, "Did you think that I was going to give you a different answer? No."
NBC's Chuck Todd, mentioning how the American mood is shifting against strikes, wondered, "And it seems as if the more you press your case, the more John Kerry presses the case on your behalf, the more the opposition grows...Why do you think you've struggled with that?"
Julie Pace of the Associated Press offered a basic question. Regarding aides who claim that a large number of countries back the President, she quizzed, "Can you tell us, publicly, what countries are backing your call for military action and did you change any minds here? [in Russia]?"
Major Garrett of CBS News questioned if the public tide against the President had impacted his thinking: "I wonder if you leave here and return to Washington seeing the skepticism there, hearing it here, that might delay military action?"
Clearly, these journalists are capable of actually pressing Obama. If only they would do it more often.
A list of questions to Obama from the September 6 news conference is below:
JULIE PACE (AP): Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the number of countries condemned the use of chemical weapons, but your advisers also say you're leaving this summit with a strong number of countries backing your call for military action. President Putin just a short time ago indicated a short time ago it may only be a handful of countries including France and Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us, publicly, what countries are backing your call for military action and did you change any minds here? President Putin also mentioned your meeting with him earlier today. Can you tell us how that came about and did you also discuss both Syria and Edward Snowden? Thank you.
BRIANNA KEILAR: Mr. President, on the resolution to authorize the use of force, one of the big challenges right now isn't just Republicans. But it's from some of your loyal Democrats. It seems the more they hear from classified briefings, that the less likely they are to support you. If the full Congress doesn't pass this, will you go ahead with the strike? And also Senator Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans who breaks with her party to give you support at times, she says, "what if we execute the strike and then Assad decides to use chemical weapons again? Do we strike again? And many Democrats are asking that as well. How do you answer her question?"
KEILAR: Just to follow-up. Unless you have full congressional approval– What if the Senate votes yes and the House does not? Would you go ahead with the strike?
OBAMA: You know, Briana, I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate because, right now, I'm working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.
CHUCK TODD: I want to follow up on Brianna's question, because it seems these members of Congress are responding to their constituents and you're seeing a lot of these town halls. And it seems as if the more you press your case, the more John Kerry presses the case on your behalf, the more the opposition grows or maybe it's just the more the opposition becomes vocal, why do you think you've struggled with that? And you keep talking about a limited mission. We have a report that indicates you've actually asked for an expanded list of targets in Syria and one military official told NBC News, characterized it at mission creep. Can you respond to that report?
JON KARL: Thank you, Mr. President. One of your closest allies in the House said yesterday, "When you've got 97 percent of your constituents saying no, it's kind of hard to say yes." Why should members of Congress go against the will of their constituents and support your decision on this? And I still haven't heard a direct response to Brianna's question. If Congress fails to authorize this, will you go forward with an attack on Syria?
OBAMA: Right. And you're not getting a direct response. Brianna asked the question very well, you know?
KARL: It's a pretty basic question.
OBAMA: Did you think that I was going to give you a different answer? No. What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I put this before Congress for a reason. I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action. I'm not going to engage in parlor games, Jonathan, about whether or not it's going to pass.
MAJOR GARRETT: Thank you, Mr. President. Those of us who remember covering your campaign, remember you saying militarily when the United States acts, it's not just important what it does but how it goes about doing it and that even when America sets its courses it's important to engage the international community and listen to different ideas as it is pursuing that action.
I wonder if you leave here and return to Washington seeing the skepticism there, hearing it here, that might delay military action? For example, some in Congress giving the Syria regime 45 days to sign the chemical weapons convention, get rid of its chemical stockpiles. Do something to enhance international sense of accountability for Syria, but delay military action. Are you, Mr. President, looking at any of these ideas or are we on a fast track to military action as soon as Congress renders its judgment one way or another?
GARRETT: So, currently, the only way to enforce this international norm is militarily and even giving the Assad regime extra time wouldn't achieve your goals?
TANGI QUEMENER (AFP) Yesterday night, you had two unscheduled bilateral meetings ,with your Brazilian and Mexican counterparts, afterward voiced very strong concerns about being, allegedly targeted by the NSA. What was your message to them? And do releations, constant stream of relations this summer make it harder for you to build confidence with your partners in international forums such as this one?