Obama: ‘What More Can You Do?’

U.S. President Barack Obama enters the Brady Press Briefing Room on Aug. 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama enters the Brady Press Briefing Room on Aug. 1, 2014 in Washington, DC.

“The nature of being president is that you’re always asking yourself, `What more can you do?”’ President Barack Obama said today.

“Short of going to war,” there is little more the U.S. can do to dissuade Russian President Vladimir Putin from fomenting unrest in Ukraine, Obama said in a nearly hour-long appearance in the press briefing room at the White House. And the U.S. has gone to great lengths to negotiate a lasting cease-fire in the month-old conflict between Israel and Hamas, he said.  While Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks, he said, the deaths of Palestinian citizens weigh on everyone’s consciences.

America, as the most powerful nation on Earth, “still doesn’t control everything around the world,” the president said today.

“There’s a lot of anger, and there’s a lot of despair, and that’s a volatile mix” in the Middle East,  Obama said. “Part of the reason America remains indispensable is… we’re willing to plunge in and try… Nevertheless, we try, we go in there and we make an effort.”

And the president certainly can’t control everything in Washington.

Even as he spoke of gains made in the economy over the past several months, the president today had to concede that so much more progress could be made if Congress were willing to work with him.

“This morning we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July,” Obama said in an opening statement before taking reporters’ questions. “We are now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 jobs each month.”

This is the first time such a “streak” has been recorded since 1997.

And the 53-month stretch of month-to-month job growth is historic.

“Our engines are revving a little bit louder,” the president said on the day of the monthly employment report showing a slight uptick in unemployment, at 6.2 percent.

“We have come a long way over the last five and a half years,” he said, evoking the depths of the worst recession since the Great Depression in which his first term began. “Our challenges are nowhere near as daunting as they were when I came to office.”

Yet, he said, “we could be much further along… if Congress would do the job the people sent them here to do.”

Thanking Congress for enacting Veterans Affairs hospital reforms this week and handing lawmakers a backhanded compliment for passing a short-term highway funding bill, the president also chided lawmakers for slow-walking an immigration funding bill to cope with a crisis of children crossing the U.S. border.

As the Senate heads home for the August recess, the House’s leaders were advancing “an extreme… unworkable” bill that the Senate would never pass — “and if it did, I’d veto it,” Obama said. The House’s problem is not even a problem between him and the Republicans who run the chamber, he noted — it’s a conflict between Republicans and Republicans.

“I’m going to have to act alone” on the border problem, the president said — explaining that resources will have to reallocated to house the Central American children flooding the border and getting immigration judges in place to hear their claims for refugee status. The White House can’t even get the Senate’s confirmation of a new ambassador to Guatemala, at a time when the U.S. is attempting to stem the exodus of children from that and other countries.

Although the White House wasn’t planning a news conference, the president stepped out to the podium today for a statement about the economy and the conflict in the Middle East and failure of a border bill at home and ended up in a long — and somewhat forlorn — conversation with reporters about how much is not getting done in Washington.

“There are some big issues where I understand why we have differences,” he said. “But getting our ambassadors confirmed? These are career diplomats… Making sure that we pass legislation to strengthen our borders and put more people down there, those shouldn’t be controversial.”


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