In the first news conference of his re-election year, President Obama tried Tuesday to appeal to several key groups of voters — assuring the war-weary he’s reluctant to launch military attacks in Iran and Syria, praising women for supporting contraception, and promising Hispanics he’ll achieve immigration reform if they vote out Republicans.
Mr. Obama criticized GOP presidential candidates, without mentioning names, for “a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk” about taking military action to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, in particular, have accused Mr. Obama of weakness in confronting Iran.
“If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so,” Mr. Obama said, scheduling his first news conference in five months on the day of the Republicans’ Super Tuesday presidential primary. “They should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.”
Several recent polls have shown a majority of Americans oppose military action to stop Syria’s bloody crackdown against anti-government protesters, and an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll this week showed more Americans favor diplomacy with Iran as long as the regime hasn’t developed a nuclear weapon. In his White House news conference, Mr. Obama chastised Republicans for “the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war.”
“Those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Mr. Obama said. “They’re not commander in chief. I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.”
In a meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the president said he wants more time for diplomacy and sanctions to work with Iran’s leaders.
At Democratic fundraisers, Mr. Obama is campaigning on the theme that he kept his promise of 2008 to end the Iraq War, and that he has scheduled an end to the Afghanistan War by 2014.
In the news conference, he said he’s been taking a “careful, thoughtful, sober approach” to Iran for three years. Although he did not mention President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, Mr. Obama implied that he is more responsible with presidential war powers.
“We don’t play politics with it,” Mr. Obama said. “When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics — we make mistakes. And typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.”
Mr. Obama also was asked about Rush Limbaugh’s apology for calling a Georgetown University law student a “slut” after she spoke out in favor of the administration’s contraception policy. The president had called Sandra Fluke last week to express his support for her, and he said she was setting a good example for his daughters.
Mr. Limbaugh has since apologized for his language, and the president said he couldn’t comment on the sincerity of that.
“What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse,” he said. “The reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on. … And I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens.”
Asked by a reporter whether Republicans are waging a “war on women,” Mr. Obama gave a plug for his party in this year’s election.
“Women are going to make up their own mind in this election about who is advancing the issues that they care most deeply about,” he said, playing down a specific focus on contraception or Mr. Limbaugh.
“It is going to be driven by their view of what’s most likely to make sure they can help support their families, make their mortgage payments; who’s got a plan to ensure that middle-class families are secure over the long term; what’s most likely to result in their kids being able to get the education they need to compete. And I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women” about that, he said.
On immigration, Mr. Obama said he has failed because “this ended up becoming a partisan issue,” and he urged voters to send a message to Republicans.
“My hope is, is that after this election, the Latino community will have sent a strong message that they want a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “Depending on how Congress turns out, we’ll see how many Republican votes we need to get it done.”