President Barack Obama took questions from the press for the first time in three months this afternoon, holding his first news conference of 2012.
The press conference was held as voters head to the polls in 10 Super Tuesday Republican primaries. Although the White House insists the timing is “coincidental,” it was nevertheless a convenient bit of political counter-programming that stole some of the spotlight from the GOP horserace.
The stated purpose of the conference was to unveil a new mortgage relief plan, the administration’s latest attempt to ameliorate the unrelenting housing crisis. But the President faced questions on a range of topics, including the 2012 election, gas prices, Iran and Israel, and the escalating crisis in Syria.
Live updates below.
Obama arrived on time to his press conference. He joked that he will take a few questions, “that I am sure will not be political in nature.”
He is now unveiling the new mortgage relief initiative.
The new plan will allow borrowers to refinance federally-insured mortgages at lower rates, and also includes an agreement with major lenders to compensate servicemen and veterans who were wrongfully foreclosed. The plan will cost between $5 billion and $10 billion.
Obama is now taking questions.
The first question is on Syria and Iran.
Obama answers on Iran first:
“What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented crippling sanctions on Iran,” Obama said. “Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way.”
Obama: “My policy is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
“What’s said on the campaign trail … those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They aren’t commander in chief.”
“The one thing we haven’t done is we haven’t launched a war.” He added that if the GOP candidates “think it’s time to launch a war, they should say so.”
“What’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous,” Obama said. “On the other hand, for us to take military action, unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there’s some simple solution, i think is a mistake.”
The second question is from ABC’s Jake Tapper on Israel:
Obama says he won’t go into the details of his conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday but adds that Israel is “its own sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions” about its national security.
He concludes with remarks on military action in general, saying that “when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes.”
Another question on Iran:
Obama says that the window is still open for diplomacy, but the onus is on Iran to come forward and prove that their nuclear ambitions are peaceful. Adds: “They know how to do it.”
Next question is from Fox News’ Ed Henry on rising gas prices.
Obama gets a little snippy:
“Ed, do you think the President of the United States going into re-election wants the gas prices to go up? Does anyone in this room think that?”
Obama gets a question on the Rush Limbaugh-Sandra Fluke controversy:
“I’m not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology,” Obama said. “I don’t know what’s in Rush Limbaugh’s heart.”
Adds that he called Fluke because he thought about his daughters, Malia and Sasha.
Also, he called Limbaugh a “radio announcer.” (h/t Chris Cillezza)
Obama is asked whether he thinks there is a “war on women.”
Obama: “Women are going to make up their own mind in this election.”
Next question is on immigration.
Obama says it is not just a Latino issue: “Everyone American should want immigration reform. We’ve got a system that’s broken.”
Obama says that the reason his administration has been unable to accomplish comprehensive immigration reform is because the issue has become partisan.
Interestingly, he adds: “I give a lot of credit to my predecessor George W. Bush and his political advisors” for realising that Republicans should start talking about immigration reform.”
A reporter just asked Obama if he has any words for Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday.
“Good luck tonight,” he said wryly.
“Really?” another reporter asked.
The press room erupted in laughter.
Obama asked about the decision to move the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David. He responds that it was for travel reasons, not security or the possibility of protests and notes that the upcoming NATO summit will still take place in his home town.
He adds a cute shout-out to Rahm Emanuel: “I am sure your new mayor will be very attentive to the details.”
He also referred to Lollapalooza as “La-palooza.”
Obama closes out his press conference by offering his condolences to the family of his “friend” U.S. Rep. Donald Payne, who passed away this morning. Payne, who served in the House for 12 terms, was the first (and only) black congressman to represent New Jersey.
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