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Obama Vows "Proportional" Response to Sony Hacking

Obama Vows "Proportional" Response to Sony Hacking

By Alexis Simendinger - December 19, 2014

President Obama on Friday rebuked North Korea for hacking into Sony Pictures’ computers and threatening American moviegoers, saying the United States will levy a “proportional” response he declined to reveal.

During a year-end news conference before departing for a holiday vacation in Hawaii, Obama said there was no evidence that China or another nation helped North Korea carry out what the FBI and the National Security Council have described as a “sophisticated” cyberattack that presented national security concerns beginning last month.

“We've got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country,” Obama said. The FBI released a statement Friday concluding that North Korea was responsible.

The president -- calling on female journalists from eight media outlets in an unprecedented (and stage-managed) shutout of men during a solo White House news conference -- said Sony “made a mistake” in pulling from theaters a comedy that spoofs North Korea and its dictator, Kim Jong Un. The film, titled “The Interview,” was to open nationwide on Christmas Day.

“I'm sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities,” Obama said. “I wish 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.’"

Obama began his 50-minute appearance in the White House briefing room with a seven-minute statement that highlighted favorable statistics about job creation, deficit-reduction, expanded health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, and U.S. leadership abroad, including battling Ebola in West Africa.

“America’s resurgence is real,” he said. “We are better off.”

But Obama detoured around the results of the November midterm elections, which decimated the ranks of Democrats in Congress, as well as in state legislatures and in governorships.

During his final two years in office, Obama will be challenged to compromise with Republican majorities in the House and Senate, or alternatively, to veto measures he and Democrats oppose. GOP leaders are planning to send a flurry of bills to Obama in January, inviting his vetoes on policies crafted to draw his rejections.

But with carefully inserted vows of optimism, the president said there was plenty he and congressional Republicans could work out, even if deep chasms of disagreement remain as he nears the end of his Oval Office tenure.

“Both sides are going to have to compromise on most issues. In order for their initiatives to become law I'm going to have to sign off,” the president said. “And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I'm going to take into account the issues that they care about.”

Obama said tax reform was one such area. Some House Republicans and many independent political analysts believe tax reform will wait for a new president in 2017 before there is agreement on any compromises. The president, who is aware that incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to send legislation to the White House in January to approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, said the administration’s ongoing assessment of the pros and cons of the TransCanada project will continue.

“I'll see what they do,” he said, referring to GOP lawmakers. “We'll take that up in the new year.”

The president rejected as unsubstantiated the criticism from conservatives that he could have achieved immigration reform legislation with Republican lawmakers if he had refrained from exerting his unilateral muscle.

“I've never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren't for the executive actions, they would have been more productive. There's no evidence of that,” Obama said.

“So I intend to continue to do what I've been doing, which is, where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I'm going to do it.”

The president brushed aside critiques of his executive decision, announced this week, to normalize relations with Cuba, establish a U.S. embassy in Havana, and forge new travel and commercial ties with the communist Castro government. He said changes would not appear “overnight” toward human rights and democracy on the island nation.

“I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people,” Obama said. “What I know deep in my bones is that if you've done the same thing for 50 years and nothing's changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome. And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome.”

A few hours later, the president signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, and issued a statement advising Congress he would continue to transfer detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison despite GOP provisions that attempt to block such action. Obama said the “principles” of the separation of powers were violated and would not be honored. Currently, about 130 detainees remain imprisoned by the United States at the base in Cuba.

Generating some end-of-the-year headlines with stagecraft, the president called on only female journalists, bypassing television correspondents and dozens of men in the briefing room. The White House said the intentional segregation was designed to be unique and include journalists and news organization that had not been granted interviews with Obama after the November elections.

The reporters who benefited were unaware that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest planned to bench their male colleagues by handing Obama a list of names that set a gender-centered precedent for his 32nd solo White House press conference. Initially, the list Earnest assembled included seven names, and Obama spontaneously included April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Network, to ask a final question.

“There are many women from a variety of news organizations who day-in and day-out do the hard work of covering the president,” Earnest said in a written statement released after the event. “We realized that we had a unique opportunity to highlight that fact at the president’s closely watched, end-of-the-year news conference.”

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

The Price of Being Hacked
Eugene Robinson · December 16, 2014
Hacking Sony? It's Near Treason
Debra Saunders · December 16, 2014
A Win For the Cuban People
Eugene Robinson · December 18, 2014

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