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« Cantor: GOP Won't 'Sit By Idly' | Blog Home Page | Barbour Deflects 2012 Talk »

News Conference Reflects Obama's Tentative Style

At the end of today's press conference, the White House wanted Americans, it seems, to have the impression that President Obama had toughened his rhetoric regarding Iran. But don't dare ask the president whether he's shifted his tone.

"We've been entirely consistent," he said.

Obama opened today's afternoon press conference, the fourth solo affair in just over five months, by highlighting "powerful images and poignant words" Americans have witnessed in Iran, paying special tribute to the "courageous women stand[ing] up to the brutality and threats."

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost," Obama said.

Many, particularly Republicans, had criticized the president for a timid response. And even with stronger language, Obama did continue to walk a fine line by saying that the U.S. "respects the sovereignty" of Iran and is "not at all interfering" in its internal affairs.

Asked bluntly by Fox's Major Garrett why it took so long to take a stronger stand, Obama bristled.

"I don't think that's accurate. Track what I've been saying," he said. "My role has been to say the United States is not going to be a foil for the Iranian government to try to blame what's happening on the streets of Tehran on the CIA or on the White House, that this is an issue that is led by and given voice to the frustrations of the Iranian people."

Simply making these points in the high-profile forum of a presidential news conference gives his views more weight, it should be noted. And in what has to be a first for a presidential news conference, Obama called on the Huffington Post to relay a question directly from an Iranian citizen, who asked under what circumstances the U.S. might accept the result of an election there.

"There [are] significant questions about the legitimacy of the election," he said. But in typical Obamaese, he hedged: "Ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States."

As the topic of Iran dominated today's newser, also took an opportunity to jab his critics in Congress.

"Members of Congress, they've got their Constitutional duties and I'm sure they will carry them out in a way they think is appropriate," he said. "I'm President of the United States and I'll carry out my duties."

Asked if the critique of John McCain in particular had an impact on his language today, Obama reacted with a sly grin: "What do you think?"

"Only I am the president of the United States, and I've got responsibilities in making certain we are continually advancing our national security interests," he said.

It's a point the White House has made behind the scenes, arguing that it's easier for members of Congress than the president to speak in black-and-white terms.

The president was a bit feistier at today's news conference than he was in his first three extended sessions with the press. Perhaps it was because of the more informal, daytime setting of the briefing room instead of the ornate East Room. But while his answers were peppered with the occasional zinger, they still reflected his tentative style.

Take health care for instance. He spoke out strongly in favor of a public option, saying he thought it was the best mechanism for bringing down health care costs. "Why would it drive private insurers out of business?" he answered at one point. "If they tell us they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

And yet when pressed on whether he thought a public option must be included in final legislation, he offered the usual caveats.

"We have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are under-insured," Obama said. "There are a whole host of other issues where ultimately I may have a strong opinion, and I will express those to members of Congress as this is shaping up. It's too early to say that. Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense."

Obama's opening statement also included a plug for comprehensive energy legislation, though no reporters had follow up questions. Obama could not escape a question about his smoking habits, however, conceding that he has fallen off the wagon on occasion.

"I would say that I am 95 percent cured," he said.