- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 29, 2009

President Obama on Tuesday acknowledged that enhanced interrogation tactics such as waterboarding may glean information from terrorists but said those techniques constitute “torture” and said the country is safer without using them.

On his 100th day in office, Mr. Obama, in a prime-time press conference, took a victory lap to tout his economic recovery efforts and his outreach to other countries, but said he’s been surprised by the myriad challenges that have hit at the same time, ranging from deterioration in Pakistan to continued problems with the U.S. auto industry to the political fallout from his decision to end use of the enhanced interrogation techniques.

“I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe, but I am absolutely convinced that the best way I can do that is to make sure we are not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are,” he said. “There have been no circumstances during the course of this first hundred days in which I have seen information that would make me second guess the decision I have made.”

He said he has read the memos former Vice President Dick Cheney has asked be declassified and that Mr. Cheney says would show the tactics worked to get critical information that prevented attacks. But Mr. Obama said the memos don’t prove the information couldn’t have been gotten by other methods, and said even if Americans’ job is harder, it’s worth the tradeoff.

“You start taking short cuts, and over time that corrodes what’s best in the people - corrodes the character of a country,” he said.

The most immediate challenge facing Mr. Obama is on Chrysler, which has a Thursday deadline to complete deal to merge with another automaker, Fiat, and prove that it can survive in the modern marketplace.

“I’m feeling more optimistc than I was,” Mr. Obama said of that plan.

He also sounded concern on Pakistan, saying the civilian government there has not proved it can provide “basic services, schools, health care, rule of law, a judicial system that works for a majority of the people.” Still, he said he is not worried that nation’s nuclear weapons will fall into the wrong hands, saying that Pakistan’s military is a strong institution with a good working relationship with the U.S.

He also had prominent praise for his predecessor, saying Mr. Bush’s efforts to stockpile vaccines against the bird flu in 2005 will pay off now as the country prepares to battle the swine flu.

“The Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so we can respond,” he said.

Mr. Obama portrayed his first 100 days as “a good start” and said the time allowed him to “clear away the wreckage of this recession.”

Warning as he often has of more tough days ahead, Mr. Obama said his aim has been to lay a “new foundation” and offered another pitch for his budget that cleared both chambers of Congress Wednesday.

“I am proud of what we have achieved, but I am not content,” Mr. Obama said. “I am pleased with our progress, but I am not satisfied.”

Republicans used the 100-day mark to argue Mr. Obama’s legacy is red ink.

“President Obama has had a record-breaking 100 days in office,” said Rep. John Shadegg, Arizona Republican. “Unfortunately, hes broken all the wrong records [-] spending, taxing and borrowing more money in less time then ever before.”

The 100-day point came as the Commerce Department announced the nation’s gross domestic product, the measure of the economy, fell by an annual rate of 6.1 percent in the first quarter of this year.

It was Mr. Obama’s third press conference of his young administration, and each of them came in prime time.

And for the second time, he coupled the evening affair with a town hall earlier in the day to take questions from average Americans.

Speaking at a high school in the St. Louis suburb of Arnold, Mo., the president fielded questions that ranged from how he plans to make his administration more environmentally friendly to how he’d assure worried workers they will still have Social Security and pension funds when they retire.

He took particular umbrage with “those of you who are watching certain news channels … on which I’m not very popular and you see folks waving tea bags around,” referring to the antitax tea parties conservatives attended earlier this month that received heavy coverage on Fox News Channel.

“I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we’re going to stabilize Social Security,” he said. “Let’s not play games and pretend that the reason is because of the Recovery Act, because that’s just a fraction of the overall problem that we’ve got. We are going to have to tighten our belts, but we’re going to have to do it in an intelligent way, and we’ve got to make sure that the people who are helped are working American families.”

He added the “formula” from the Bush administration [-] giving tax cuts to the rich and cutting programs [-] “did not work, and I don’t intend to go back to it.”

On Social Security, Mr. Obama said he favors raising the cap on the payroll tax.

Asked about the ailing auto industry, the president made a point to say “the Bush administration had already given several billions of dollars worth of aid,” but did not mention that his transition team was instrumental in urging Mr. Bush to offer the money.

He said foreign aid is very important in terms of policy because many countries in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe need help, but noted it is unpopular.

“Sometimes people ask me, why should we help other countries when we’ve got so much to do here at home,” he said. “It’s probably the single most unpopular thing. If you just ask the average American, they’ll say, why should we be giving money to other countries?”

Mr. Obama said the U.S. gives just 1 percent of its gross domestic product to foreign countries, adding, “We give less in foreign aid than any other wealthy country as a percentage of our GDP.”

The president mocked the media cycle and reminded voters he is not a creation of Washington.

He said “it’s not like anybody should be surprised” with his actions since his Jan. 20 inauguration.

“There’s no mystery to what we’ve done,” he said. “The policies we’ve proposed were plans we talked about for two years in places like this all across the country with ordinary Americans. The changes we’ve made are the changes we’ve promised. … We are doing what we said we’d do.”

While standing in the one competitive battleground state that went for his Republican rival in November, Mr. Obama said he likes getting out of Washington to hear from everyday people.

“You’re who I’m working for every day in the White House,” he said. “I don’t want to let you down.”

Mr. Obama consistently used campaign-style language, praising the “middle of America where common sense often reins” and keeping an eye on the Show Me state’s swing status, reminding Missourians he spent one of his last days during the election.

He also offered a glance backwards to when he was the underdog and people “didn’t give us much of a chance, they didn’t know if this country was ready to move in a new direction.”

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