Given the White House’s policy ambitions since the midterm elections, there’s been ample talk lately about President Obama’s newly liberated style. The Beltway expectations may have been that the president would have no choice but to accept a lesser, conciliatory status, but in the wake of Democratic defeats, Obama has adopted an unbowed posture.
As it turns out, that’s reflected in his rhetorical posture, too. At his year-end press conference, the president seemed about as relaxed and upbeat as I can remember seeing him. Some of the highlights from his unguarded presser:
Asked about Sony Entertainment’s decision to pull distribution of “The Interview,” the president was willing to acknowledge his opinion on the studio’s move.
“Sony’s a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.“In this interconnected digital world, there are going to be opportunities for attackers to engage in cyber assaults, both in the private sector and the public sector…. We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.“Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.”
The president added that he’s sympathetic to a private company worried about liabilities, but he wishes “they had spoken to me first. I would’ve told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.’”
As for North Korea’s responsibility to the cyber-crime, Obama went on to say the United States “will respond. We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose. It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.”
Incidentally, the first question came from Politico’s Carrie Budoff Brown, who’s soon leaving for Europe. The president acknowledged her looming departure, adding, “I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.”
The press conference went on to cover quite a bit of ground:
* Obama still sees tax reform as a possible area of compromise with congressional Republicans.
* He’s optimistic about the future of U.S./Cuba relations, adding, “I think it’ll happen in fits and starts, but through engagement we have a better chance of bringing about change than we would have otherwise.”
* The president is clearly unimpressed with the Keystone XL idea: ”At issue in Keystone is not American oil. It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada. That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry and enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf. Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world. So there’s no – I won’t say no – there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices, what the average American consumer cares about, by having this pipeline come through.”
One of the more striking aspects of today’s press conference was the fact that literally every reporter called on to ask a question is a woman. Rachel will take a closer look at this on tonight’s show.