Political Highlights February 9, 2009: President Obama’s First Press Conference

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor / Features Editor at HNN. She has a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in history at Concordia University.


Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

President Obama, at his White House news conference on Monday night, where he discussed the Democratic stimulus plan and opposition to it by Republicans.


In Focus: Stats

  • FACT CHECK: Obama has it both ways on pork: Obama’s sales pitch on the enormous package he wants Congress to make law has sizzle as well as steak. He’s projecting job creation numbers that may be impossible to verify and glossing over some ethical problems that bedeviled his team. – AP, 2-9-09
  • Obama’s Ratings: The Gallup Organization released a poll Monday showing Obama’s approval rating holding steady at 67 percent, with Congress much less popular. Republicans in Congress drew only 31 percent approval, and Democrats had 48 percent. The poll also showed that 80 percent think it’s either important or critically important that a stimulus plan be approved. – AP, 2-9-09
  • Senate Vote 61-36 in Favor: The Senate on Monday voted 61-36 to end debate on an $838 billion economic stimulus bill, one more vote than needed to avoid a potential filibuster on the measure when it goes to a final vote as early as Tuesday. – PBS Newshour, 2-9-09


Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Though conceding that “the plan is not perfect,” President Obama asserted that “a failure to act will only deepen this crisis.” More Photos >

The Headlines…

  • Analysis: Obama makes serious case for stimulus: No drama with Obama. No joking with Obama. In his first prime-time news conference, Americans saw a determined, deadly serious President Barack Obama make his case for a historically huge economic recovery plan — pledging to push it through Congress in record time, even if he and fellow Democrats must steamroll Republicans to do it. No more blind bipartisanship with Obama, either…. – AP, 2-9-09
  • Analysis: Obama learning to deal with Washington’s partisan ways: In his first three weeks in the bully pulpit, President Barack Obama has offered a post-partisan vision while resorting to old-school pressure tactics. So far he has managed to draw three Republican votes – learning, as presidents inevitably do, that Washington will not bend easily to his will. – Dallas Morning News, 2-9-09
  • Obama: ‘Only Government’ Can Break Cycle of Job Loss, Economic Downturn: President Obama, in his first prime-time press conference, warns that a failure to pass his economic recovery plan could “turn a crisis into a catastrophe.” – Fox News, 29-09
  • Obama presses case for stimulus: President Obama took his case for more than $800 billion in economic stimulus directly to the American people Monday, accusing Republicans of playing politics with a plan that’s “exactly what this country needs.” – USA Today, 2-9-09
  • It Seemed Familiar, and Yet So Different: President Obama insisted that he was nothing like his predecessor. “What I won’t do is return to the failed theories of the last eight years that got us into this fix in the first place,” he said Monday night, “because those theories have been tested, and they have failed.” Yet Mr. Obama’s first prime-time presidential news conference had an eerie similarity to the first one held by George W. Bush, in 2001. – NYT, 2-10-09
  • Taking on Critics, Obama Puts Aside Talk of Unity: President Obama has made a show of reaching across the aisle since taking office, inviting three Republicans into his cabinet and wining and dining other opposition leaders. But by Monday, he sounded like a candidate back on the trail, railing against the status quo and dismissing critics as apostles of a failed philosophy. – NYT, 2-10-09
  • Live Blogging the Obama News ConferenceNYT, 2-9-09
  • Obama to Congress: Pass stimulus, don’t play games: President Barack Obama, urgently pressuring lawmakers to approve a massive economic recovery bill, turned his first news conference Monday night into a determined defense of his emergency plan and an offensive against Republicans who try to “play the usual political games.” – AP, 2-9-09
  • Obama Says Failing to Act Could Lead to a ‘Catastrophe’: President Obama took his case for his $800 billion economic recovery package to the American people on Monday, as the Senate cleared the way for passage of the bill and the White House prepared for its next major hurdle: selling Congress and the public on a fresh plan to bail out the nation’s banks. – NYT, 2-9-09
  • Stimulus bill draws Kennedy back to Senate: Sen. Edward M. Kennedy returned to the Senate in the midst of his battle with brain cancer Monday to vote for President Barack Obama’s massive economic stimulus package. “We are obviously very concerned” about the recession, Kennedy said as he donned a coat and stepped into an elevator to leave following a key test vote. He was expected to return Tuesday for the vote to approve or reject the measure. – AP, 2-9-09
  • Stimulus bill narrowly survives Senate test vote: An $838 billion economic stimulus bill backed by the White House survived a key test vote in the Senate on Monday despite strong Republican opposition, and Democratic leaders vowed to deliver legislation for President Barack Obama’s signature within a few days. – AP, 2-9-09


President Obama in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

Political Quotes

  • Press Conference Transcript: Obama takes questions on economy: CNN, 2-9-09 Download Mp3: …As we speak, similar scenes are playing out in cities and towns across America. Last Monday, more than 1,000 men and women stood in line for 35 firefighter jobs in Miami [Florida]. Last month, our economy lost 598,000 jobs, which is nearly the equivalent of losing every single job in the state of Maine.
    And if there’s anyone out there who still doesn’t believe this constitutes a full-blown crisis, I suggest speaking to one of the millions of Americans whose lives have been turned upside-down because they don’t know where their next paycheck is coming from.
    And that is why the single most important part of this economic recovery and reinvestment plan is the fact that it will save or create up to 4 million jobs, because that’s what America needs most right now.
    It is absolutely true that we can’t depend on government alone to create jobs or economic growth. That is and must be the role of the private sector. But at this particular moment, with the private sector so weakened by this recession, the federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life.
    It is only government that can break the vicious cycle, where lost jobs lead to people spending less money, which leads to even more layoffs. And breaking that cycle is exactly what the plan that’s moving through Congress is designed to do.
    When passed, this plan will ensure that Americans who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own can receive greater unemployment benefits and continue their health care coverage…..
    But as we’ve learned very clearly and conclusively over the last eight years, tax cuts alone can’t solve all of our economic problems, especially tax cuts that are targeted to the wealthiest few Americans. We have tried that strategy time and time again, and it’s only helped lead us to the crisis we face right now.
    And that’s why we have come together around a plan that combines hundreds of billions in tax cuts for the middle class with direct investment in areas like health care, energy, education, and infrastructure, investments that will save jobs, create new jobs and new businesses, and help our economy grow again, now and in the future….
    Now, after many weeks of debate and discussion, the plan that ultimately emerges from Congress must be big enough and bold enough to meet the size of the economic challenges that we face right now.
    It’s a plan that is already supported by businesses representing almost every industry in America, by both the Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. It contains input, ideas and compromises from both Democrats and Republicans.
    It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we’re spending every dime. What it does not contain, however, is a single pet project, not a single earmark, and it has been stripped of the projects members of both parties found most objectionable.
    Now, despite all of this, the plan’s not perfect. No plan is. I can’t tell you for sure that everything in this plan will work exactly as we hoped, but I can tell you with complete confidence that a failure to act will only deepen this crisis, as well as the pain felt by millions of Americans.
    Now, my administration inherited a deficit of over $1 trillion, but because we also inherited the most profound economic emergency since the Great Depression, doing little or nothing at all will result in even greater deficits, even greater job loss, even greater loss of income, and even greater loss of confidence.
    Those are deficits that could turn a crisis into a catastrophe, and I refuse to let that happen. As long as I hold this office, I will do whatever it takes to put this economy back on track and put this country back to work.
    I want to thank the members of Congress who’ve worked so hard to move this plan forward, but I also want to urge all members of Congress to act without delay in the coming week to resolve their differences and pass this plan.
    We find ourselves in a rare moment where the citizens of our country and all countries are watching and waiting for us to lead. It’s a responsibility that this generation did not ask for, but one that we must accept for the future of our children and our grandchildren.
    The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debate, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. That’s the test facing the United States of America in this winter of our hardship, and it is our duty as leaders and citizens to stay true to that purpose in the weeks and months ahead.
    After a day of speaking with and listening to the fundamentally decent men and women who call this nation home, I have full faith and confidence that we can do it, but we’re going to have to work together. That’s what I intend to promote in the weeks and days ahead.
  • President Obama, Indiana Town Hall on Economic Recovery, 2/9/09, REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AT TOWN HALL, Concord Community High School, Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009:
    I don’t know if you guys have been noticing, but we’ve had a little debate in Washington — (laughter) — over the last week or two about the economy. You know, we tend to take the measure of the economic crisis we face in numbers and statistics. But when we say that we’ve lost 3.6 million jobs since this recession began, nearly 600,000 in the past month alone; when we say that this area has lost jobs faster than anywhere else in the United States of America, with an unemployment rate of over 15 percent, when it was 4.7 percent just last year; when we talk about layoffs at companies like Monaco Coach, and Keystone RV, and Pilgrim International — companies that have sustained this community for years — we’re not just talking numbers, we’re talking about Ed. We’re talking about people in the audience here today. People not just in Elkhart, but all across this country. We’re talking about people who have lost their livelihood and don’t know what will take its place.
    We’re talking about parents who’ve lost their health care and lie away at night, praying their kids don’t get sick. We’re talking about families who’ve lost the home that was the corner — their foundation for their American Dream. Young people who put that college acceptance letter back in the envelope because they just can’t afford it. That’s what those numbers and statistics mean. That is the true measure of this economic crisis…. – WH Blog, 2-9-09


White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. (Photo: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

Historians’ Comments

  • ELLEN FITZPATRICK, University of New Hampshire “Obama Courts Public Support for Economic Stimulus Plan President Obama traveled to Indiana Monday and planned a primetime news conference to build support for the stimulus bill that is nearing a final Senate vote. Reporters examine the next steps for the stimulus plan.”:
    Absolutely. I think it was essential. Barack Obama is in the position of undertaking one of the largest attempts to stimulate the economy in modern American history, and he’s doing it after four decades of a political culture that has turned around a bashing of the federal government.
    We’ve had very strong anti-federal government, anti-tax language and mobilization of extreme views on all sides and even in the middle around that message. And he is attempting to do something that flies in the face of that and to try to educate, re-educate the public that the federal government can actually do good on behalf of all the citizens. – PBS Newshour, 2-9-09
  • ROGAN KERSH, NYU’s Wagner School of Public Service “Obama Courts Public Support for Economic Stimulus Plan President Obama traveled to Indiana Monday and planned a primetime news conference to build support for the stimulus bill that is nearing a final Senate vote. Reporters examine the next steps for the stimulus plan.”:
    Every president — every modern president has tried it. Ronald Reagan was the most successful. He came into office facing a hostile Democratic Congress, promised a program of tax cuts. Congress fiddled, didn’t move much on it. He went directly to the people, called going public, and got an overwhelming number of folks writing and calling their members of Congress.
    These are elected officials. They listen to their constituents. And that helped Reagan get his tax cut through. It was known as the velvet steamroller plan after that, so successful was he.
    Other presidents haven’t had as much luck. Jimmy Carter tried to go to the people complaining about the malaise of a sort of slowed down presidency around economic and other issues, didn’t have as much luck. So one has to use this carefully.
    At the same time, Obama we know is a master of mobilization. He’s the chief — he’s playing mobilizer-in-chief now. And I think he’s going to have success, judging from the pictures today of making members of Congress listen, as your previous guests have been saying. – PBS Newshour, 2-9-09
  • Julian Zelizer: Commentary: Obama’s 100 days of problems?: Tomorrow marks the end of the third week of President Barack Obama’s Hundred Days. After what can only be described as a euphoric inauguration, Obama has encountered some trouble. Despite his effort to court Republicans in the House, he failed to obtain a single GOP vote for the economic recovery package….
    It is still too early to know what the economic recovery bill will mean for Obama’s Hundred Days. His response to the negotiations in conference committee over the next two weeks could be a defining moment for his presidency. The huge size of this legislation raises the stakes beyond what many presidents confronted in their Hundred Days.
    On the one hand, Obama might have found a compromise, moving through Congress one of the most ambitious uses of government to strengthen the economy in several decades. If this is the case, the rough patches from the first weeks will quickly be forgotten.
    On the other hand, if the legislation turns out to be misguided — or if it is weakened too much in the congressional negotiations — and fails to stimulate the economy or provide substantial relief to struggling states and unemployed workers, then this bill could become an albatross for Obama and Democrats.
    The failure of the financial bailout legislation of September, 2008 diminished the confidence of many Americans in government intervention, leaving the impression that a lot of money was thrown into a sinkhole. This could happen again. If Obama makes the wrong decisions in the negotiations, he might find himself in rougher waters as the midterm elections approach. – CNN, 2-9-09
President Obama’s news conference in the East Room of the White House. (Photo: Doug Mills/ The New York Times)

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White House photo by Pete Souza

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