Updated at 3:36 pm and 3:56 pm EDT
“I want to make very clear right now — I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics,” President Barack Obama said today at a White House news conference, asked about the repercussions from Russia’s refusal to return the fugitive former national security contractor, Edward Snowden, to the United States.
Since the return of Vladimir Putin to the presidency, he said, “we have seen more rhetoric that is anti-American… I have encouraged Mr. Putin to think forward, rather than backwards… with mixed success.”
The president insisted that there is plenty of room for cooperation between the two nations: “My hope is that over time Mr. Putin and Russia recognize that… if the two countries are working together we can probably advance both peoples.”
Asked how he can conduct business with Russia without a good relationship with Putin, Obama went on to say: “I don’t have a bad personal relation with Putin. When we have conversations, they’re candid. They’re blunt. Oftentimes, they’re constructive. I know the press likes to focus on body language, and he’s got that kind of slouch, looking like the bored kid in the back of the classroom. But the truth is is that when we’re in conversations together, oftentimes it’s very productive.”
Snowden, Obama said, “is not a patriot.” He is accused of felonies in the release of information about U.S. surveillance programs.
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The president opened this news conference with an announcement about steps he is taking to increase public confidence in the surveillance programs that Snowden exposed: “There is no doubt that Mr. Snowden’s leaks triggered a much more rapid and passionate response” than if they had methodically gone about reviewing these programs.
“We have to strike the right balance” between security and privacy. he said. “Keep in mind that as a senator I expressed a healthy skepticism about these programs,” he said. As president, he said, he has worked to ensure that safeguards are in place. “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people need to have confidence in them as well.”
He announced that he is:
— Pursuing “appropriate reforms” to the section of the Patriot Act governing the collection of telephone records to improve oversight.
— Improving the oversight provided by the Federal Intelligance Surveillance Court that approves government requests for surveillance, adding a civil liberties advocate to the proceedings to ensure a balance.
— Declassifying the legal rationale for the government’s information collection, and adding a fulltime civil liberties officer.
— Forming a group of outside experts to review the entire network of communications technology, to review the capabilities of surveillance and to ensure there is no abuse of how surveillance is conducted.
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The president outlined his goal in the selection of a Federal Reserve chairman to replace Ben Bernanke in January — someone who heeds the need to expand the economy to create more jobs, as inflation is in check.
`My main criteria for the Fed Reserve chairman is somebody who understands they have a dual mandate,” he said — keeping inflation in check and keeping monetary policy appropriate, and “the other mandate is full employment.”
“If you look at the biggest challenges we have, the problem is not inflation, the problem is we have too many people out of work,” he said. “I want a Fed chairman who is able to look at those issues and have a perspective that keeps an eye on inflation… but also recognizes that, you know what, a big part of my job is to make sure the economy is growing.”
“It is definitely one of the most important economic decisions I will make in the remainder of my presidency,” he said.
Asked about two said to be the leading contenders, Larry Summers and Janet Yellen, he said:“ I have a range of outstanding candidates, you have mentioned two of them, Mr. Summers and Ms. Yellen, they are both terrific people.”
“The perception that Mr. Summers might have had an inside track had to do with” attacks that he was hearing in public debate about his former economic adviser “that I don’t like.” When he sees people “getting slapped around in the press before I’ve even nominated them for anything, I want to make sure somebody’s standing up for them.”
“I consider them both outstanding candidates,” he said, and there “are a couple of other candidates that are highly qualified as well.”
He said he has not decided yet, and will make the decision in the Fall.
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“The idea that you would shut down the government to prevent 30 million people from getting health care is a bad idea,” Obama said nearly 50 minutes into his news conference.
He was talking about Republican threats to attach the “defunding” of the president’s health care program to an increase in the federal debt ceiling.
“They used to say they had a replacement — that never actually arrived,” he said of Republican opposition to his plan — “quote unquote Obamacare.” “They don’t have an agenda to provide affordable healthcare.”
“The idea that you would shut down the government… that we would precipitate another crisis here in Washington that no economist thinks is a good idea, I am assuming they will not take that path,” he said. “I am assuming that common sense will prevail.”
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Obama closed his 53-minute news conference with a pitch for passage of an immigration bill. The Senate has approved one with 68 votes, including 14 Republicans. The Republican-run House remains an obstacle to passage.