WASHINGTON — Before heading to Martha’s Vineyard for a week-long family vacation, President Barack Obama took questions Friday from reporters at the White House.
He hadn’t held a formal, solo press conference since April 30 – and topics ranging from the economy to government surveillance to terror threats arose at Friday’s question and answer session.
The president also announced new measures to instill greater transparency in the government snooping programs that were revealed earlier this summer, which critics said amounted to massive federal overreach.
President Barack Obama announced that he wants a Federal Reserve chairman to keep an eye on inflation as well as other key aspects of the economy. He said both Larry Summers and Janet Yellen are “highly qualified” candidates for the job, and he will make a decision on who will replace Ben Bernanke in the fall.
Obama mentioned that al Qaeda still possesses the ability to threaten U.S. embassies and businesses. He said, “We are not going to completely eliminate terrorism” and the priority is to “Weaken it and strengthen partners so it cannot pose the type of horrible threat” seen on 9/11.
Obama added that NSA leaker Edward Snowden can return to the United States and appear in court and “make his case,” if he “believes what he did is right.” The president said there were “other avenues,” through whistle-blower protections, he could have taken instead of leaking national security surveillance information directly.
He rejected calls to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, over Moscow’s handling of Edward Snowden and anti-gay laws that have generated scrutiny. Obama said he is “looking forward to gay and lesbian athletes” winning medals for the United States, and believes Russia’s team will be weaker if it has no gays or lesbians competing.
The president also said that his decision to not go to Moscow next month for a summit was not solely related to Russia’s decision to grant temporary asylum to the admitted NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He said the United States must “take a pause” in dealing with Russia to assess where things stand. He added that his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin is often productive, and that Snowden is not a patriot for exposing surveillance secrets.
He noted that it is “important to ask questions” about privacy amid leaks and other revelations about government surveillance programs that have prompted scrutiny. “It’s not enough for me, as president, to have confidence in these programs. The American people have to have confidence as well,” he said.
President Barack Obama added that he’s taking steps to improve public confidence in national security surveillance.
Steps include working with Congress to pursue appropriate improvements of the telephone surveillance program; reforming the secret court that approves that initiative; improving transparency to provide as much information as possible to the public, including the legal rational for government collection activities; and appointing a high-level, independent group of outside experts to review surveillance technologies.
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