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Obama Press Conference

Aired March 1, 2013 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would have done it. What I can do is I can make the best possible argument. And I can offer concessions. And I can offer compromise. I can negotiate. I can make sure that my party is willing to compromise and is not being ideological or thinking about these just in terms of political terms. And I think I've done that and I will continue to do that.

But what I can't do is force Congress to do the right thing. The American people may have the capacity to do that. And in the absence of a decision on the part of the speaker of the House and others to put middle class families ahead of whatever political imperatives he might have right now, we're going to have these cuts in place. But again, I'm hopeful about human nature. I think that over time people do the right thing. And I will keep on reaching out and seeing if there are other formulas or other ways to jigger this thing into place so that we get a better result.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What do you say to the people like Mayor Bloomberg -- who's no critic of yours in general. He endorsed you -- who argues that there is some -- what he calls posturing in these claims that there are going to be big layoffs and a lot of people out of work, and think that the effects of this spending cuts are being overstated by the administration?

OBAMA: Well, Jessica, look. I'll just give you an example. The Department of Defense right now has to figure out how the children of military families are going to continue with their schooling over the next several months because teachers at these army bases are typically civilians, they are therefore subject to furlough, which means that they may not be able to teach one day a week.

Now, I expect that we'll be able to manage around it. But if I'm a man or woman in uniform in Afghanistan right now, the notion that my spouse back home is having to worry about whether or not our kids are getting the best education possible, the notion that my school for my children on an Army base might be disrupted because Congress didn't act, that's an impact.

Now, Mayor Bloomberg and others may not feel that impact. I suspect they won't. But that family will. You know, the border patrol agents who are out there in the hot sun doing what Congress said they're supposed to be doing, finding out suddenly that they're getting a 10 percent pay cut and having to go home and explain that to their families, I don't think they feel like this is an exaggerated impact. So I guess it depends on where you sit. Now, what is absolutely true is, is that not everybody's going to feel it. Not everybody is going to feel it all at once. What is true is that the accumulation of those stories all across this country, folks who suddenly -- you know, might have been working all their lives to get an education just so that they can get that job and get out of welfare and they've got their kid in Head Start and now suddenly that Head Start slot is gone and they're trying to figure out, how am I going to keep my job because I can't afford child care for my kid. You know, some of the suppliers for those ship builders down in Virginia where you've got some suppliers who are small businesses, this is all they do and they may shut down those companies and their employees are going to be laid off.

The accumulation of all those stories of impact is going to make our economy weaker. It's going to mean less growth. It's going to mean hundreds of thousands of jobs lost. That is real. That's not -- we're not making that up. That's not a scare tactic. That's a fact.

Starting tomorrow, everybody here, all the folks who are cleaning the floors at the Capitol, now that Congress has left, somebody's going to be vacuuming and cleaning those floors and throwing out the garbage. They're going to have less pay. The janitor, the security guards, they just got a pay cut and they've got to figure out how to manage that. That's real.

So I want to be very clear here. It is absolutely true that this is not going to precipitate the kind of crisis we talked about with America defaulting and some of the problems around the debt ceiling. I don't anticipate a huge financial crisis. But people are going to be hurt. The economy will not glow as quickly as it would have. Unemployment will not go down as quickly as it would have. And there are lives behind that. And that's real. And it's not necessary. That's the problem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, didn't --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, Mr. President --

OBAMA: Christi Parsons (ph).

CHRISTI PARSONS, REPORTER: Thank you.

OBAMA: Hey, Kristy.

PARSONS: Mr. President, your administration weighed in yesterday on the Proposition 8 case. A few months ago it looked like you might be averse to doing that. I just wondered if you could talk a little bit about your deliberations and how your thinking evolved on that. Were there conversations that were important to you? Were there things that you read that influenced your thinking?

OBAMA: As everybody here knows, last year, upon a long period of reflection, I concluded that we cannot discriminate against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage. That the basic principal that America is founded on, the idea that we're all created equal, applies to everybody regardless of sexual orientation, as well as race or gender or religion or ethnicity. And, you know, I think that the same evolution that I've gone through is an evolution that the country as a whole has gone through. And I think it is a profoundly positive thing.

So that when the Supreme Court essentially called the question by taking this case about California's law, I didn't feel like that was something that this administration could avoid. I felt it was important for us to articulate what I believe and what this administration stands for. And although I do think that we're seeing on a state by state basis progress being made, more and more states recognizing same-sex couples and giving them the opportunity to marry and maintain all the benefits of marriage that heterosexual couples do, when the Supreme Court asks, do you think that the California law, which doesn't provide any rationale for discriminating against same- sex couples other than just the notion that, well, they're same-sex couples, if the Supreme Court asks me or my attorney general or a solicitor general, do we think that meets constitutional muster, I felt it was important for us to answer that question honestly. And the answer is no.

PARSONS: Well, and given the fact that you do hold that position about gay marriage, I wonder if you thought about just -- once you made the decision to weigh in, why not just argue that marriage is a right that should be available to all people in this country?

OBAMA: Well, that's an argument that I've made personally. The solicitor general, in his institutional role of going before the Supreme Court is obliged to answer the specific question before them. And that specific question presented before the court right now is whether Prop 8 and the California law is unconstitutional.

And what we've done is we've put forward a basic principal, which is -- which applies to all equal protection cases. Whenever a particular group is being discriminated against, the court asks the question, what's the rationale for this, and it better be a good reason. And if you don't have a good reason, we're going to strike it down. And what we've said is, is that same-sex couples are a group, a class, that deserves heightened scrutiny, that the Supreme Court needs to ask the state why it's doing it. And if the state doesn't have a good reason, it should be struck down. That's the core principal as applied to this case.

Now, what the -- you know, the court may decide that if it doesn't apply in this case, it probably can't apply in any case. There's no good reason for it. That's -- if I were on the court, that would probably be the view that I'd put forward. But I'm not a judge. I'm the president. So, the basic principal, though, is, let's treat everybody fairly. Let's treat everybody equally. And I think that the brief that's been presented accurately reflects our you views.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President.

OBAMA: Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, REPORTER: Thank you, Mr. President. You said a few minutes ago, and you've said repeatedly, that the country has to stop careening from crisis to crisis.

OBAMA: Right.

SHAPIRO: So with a few crises behind us and a few more crises ahead of us, taking a step back from this specific debate over the sequester, how, as the leader of this country, do you plan to stop the country from careening from crisis to crisis?

OBAMA: Well, a couple of things.

Number one is, to make sure that we keep making progress wherever we can on things that are important to middle class Americans and those who are fighting to get into the middle class. So if you set aside budget fights for a second, we've been able to get now the Violence Against Women Act done. The conversations that are taking place on a bipartisan basis around immigration reform are moving forward. We've seen great interest in a bipartisan fashion around how we can continue to improve our education system, including around early childhood education. There have been constructive discussions around, how do we reduce gun violence. And, you know, what I'm going to keep on trying to do is to make sure that we push on those things that are important to families. And, you know, we won't get everything done all at once, but we can get a lot done. So that's point number one.

With respect to the budget, what I've done is to make a change to the American people that we have to make sure that we have a balanced approach to deficit reduction, but that deficit reduction alone is not an economic policy. And part of the challenge that we've had here is that not only Congress, but I think Washington generally, spends all its time talking about deficits and doesn't spend a lot of time talking about how do we create jobs. So I want to make sure that we're talking about both.

I think that, for example, we could put a lot of people back to work right now rebuilding our roads and bridges. And this is deferred maintenance. We know we're going to have to do it. And, you know, I went to a bridge that connects Mitch McConnell's state to John Boehner's state and it was a rotten bridge and everybody knows it. And I'll bet they really want to see that improved. Well, how do we do it? Let's have a conversation about it. That will create job. It will be good for businesses. Reduce commuter times. Improve commuter safety. That has to be part of this conversation, not just this constant argument about cutting and spending.

So I guess my point is, Ari, that what I want to try to do is to make sure that we're constantly focused. That our true north is on, how are we helping American families succeed? Deficit reduction is part of that agenda. And an important part. But it's not the only part. And I don't want us to be paralyzed on everything just because we disagree on this one thing.

And as I already said to Jessica, what I'm also hoping is, is that over time, perhaps after Republicans step back and, you know, maybe they can say, you know what, we stuck tough on the sequester, this makes us feel good, and the Republican caucus is in a better mood when they come back, maybe then we can have a more serious discussion about what the real problems on deficit and deficit reduction are.

And, you know, the good thing about America is that, you know, we -- sometimes we get to these bottlenecks and we get stuck and you have these sharp partisan fights. But the American people, pretty steadily, are common sense and practical. And eventually that common sense, practical approach wins out. And I think that's what will happen here, as well.

And in the meantime, just to make the final point about the sequester, we will get through this. This is not going to be an apocalypse, I think, as some people have said. It's just dumb. And it's going to hurt. It's going to hurt individual people and it's going to hurt the economy overall. But if Congress comes to its senses a week from now, a month from now, three months from now, then there's a lot of open running room there for us to grow our economy much more quickly and to advance the agenda of the American people dramatically. And so, you know, I -- this is a -- this is a temporary stop on what I believe is the long term outstanding prospect for American growth and greatness.

All right? Thank you very much.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, so there the president of the United States wrapping up his statement followed by questions going into detail on what he needs to do right now. The president making it abundantly clear he can't just order everyone to get a deal done to avoid these forced intending cuts from going into effect at midnight tonight. He said I'm not a dictator. I am the president.

He's got to work with the Republican leadership in the House and the Senate, had that meeting just before he came into the White House briefing room with the Republican and Democratic leadership of Congress.

Let's go to Congress right now. Dana Bash is standing by.

Dana, there is some significant news I think emerging from the meeting that the president had with the Republican and the Democratic leadership, what the speaker said and now what the president said.

It looks like they'll be able to pass what's called a continuing resolution that will keep the government going beyond March 27th, get rid of that issue, even as they he continue to debate over sequester, what's called sequester, these forced budget cuts. That would be significant.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It would be, and I'm glad you brought that up because I think that we need to give our viewers a bit of a reality check through this little bit of optimistic talk on both sides.

What's going to happen, and we knew this before this meeting, is that the House led by Republicans are going to vote on this legislation to keep the government running. The way they're going to craft, we understand, is going to keep it running through the end of the fiscal year, so the end of September of 2013.

But here's the "but." We understand that they are also going to include in it the ability for the Pentagon to have some flexibility with those forced spending cuts.

And on the Senate side, Democrats who run the Senate, they don't necessarily like that idea.

So, yes, we are going to see the House pass something next week, but then it is still an open question whether or not the Senate will do that and we could get to the point where we're stuck over the same thing we're stuck on now as we head up to that date, March 27th.