At a press conference this afternoon, President Obama touted the accomplishments of the past several weeks, and sought to rebut any impression that he had been diminished as president after the midterm election results.
“A lot of folks in this town predicted that after the midterm elections, Washington would be headed for more partisanship and more gridlock,” said Obama. “And instead this has been a season of progress for the American people.”
It was a very different Obama compared to his press conference two weeks ago, when he tongue-lashed liberals he described as “purist” and “sanctimonious” for criticizing him for making too many compromises with Republicans.As his key examples today, Obama cited the compromise package with Republicans on extending tax cuts and unemployment benefits, the repeal of the ban on gays serving in the military, the ratification of the New START nuclear weapons treaty, and the food safety bill.
“So I think it’s fair to say that this has been the most productive post-election period that we’ve had in decades, and it comes on the heels of the most productive two years that we’ve had in generations.”
At one point, Jake Tapper asked Obama how he would justify gay people being able to serve in the military — but not get married. Obama touted the accomplishment of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal itself, but then gave an ambivalent answer on his own attitudes about gay marriage:
As I’ve said, my feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this. I have friends, I have people who work for me, who are in powerful, strong, long-lasting gay or lesbian unions. And they are extraordinary people, and this is something that means a lot to them and they care deeply about. At this point, what I’ve said is that my baseline is a strong civil union that provides them the protections and the legal rights that married couples have. And I think that’s the right thing to do. But I recognize that from their perspective it is not enough. And I think this is something we’re gonna continue to debate, and I personally am gonna continue to wrestle with going forward.
And later on, Obama seemed to be quoting the great moral maxim from a source that I don’t think we’ve ever heard an American president go to before — his favorite superhero comic book series, Spider-Man. “My sense is the Republicans recognize that with greater power is gonna come greater responsibility,” he said. “And some of the progress that I think we saw in the lame duck was a recognition on their part that people are gonna be paying attention to what they’re doing as well as what I’m doing, and what Democrats in the Congress are doing.”
Obama did make clear that he would be continuing debates on taxes, spending, the deficit and other issues. And as a major disappointment, he cited the failure to get the DREAM Act passed, which would have provided avenues to education and military service for illegal immigrants who were brought to this country when they were children, and have lived here for virtually their whole lives.
“And so one thing I hope people have seen during this lame duck – I am persistent. I am persistent. You know, if I believe in something strongly, I stay on it,” said Obama. “And I believe strongly in this [the DREAM Act]. And I am happy to engage with the Republicans about, if they’ve got ideas about, more on border security, I’m happy to have that conversation. And I think that it is absolutely appropriate for the American people to expect that we don’t have porous borders and anybody can come in here any time. That is entirely legitimate. But I also think about this kids. And I want to do right by them, and I think the country is gonna want to do right by them as well.”