President Obama, at a year-end news conference, danced around the question of whether the rough Obamacare roll-out and his sinking poll ratings made this the worst year of his presidency.
“We have had ups and we have had downs.... This room has probably recorded 15 near-death experiences,” Mr. Obama said to the assembled White House press corps.
He insisted that the White House was still getting a lot done – it’s just not reflected in legislation passed by Congress. He cited his ConnectEd initiative, intended to allow 99 percent of US students to have access to wireless Internet in classrooms within five years, as well as efforts to promote manufacturing hubs in cities across America.
Obama admitted that the first weeks of implementation of his signature domestic health initiative were a big disappointment, perhaps his biggest of the year.
“Since I’m in charge, obviously, we screwed it up,” he said.
But he defended the Affordable Care Act (ACA), saying that millions of people who otherwise would not have been covered will have health insurance policies in 2014. The administration’s loosening Thursday of the individual mandate, in which those who have lost policies due to the ACA were exempted from the requirement that they have coverage in 2014, is not indicative of larger problems, according to the president.
“There are adjustments to be made ... but they don’t go to the care of the law. The basic structure of the law is working despite all the problems,” Obama said.
Many of the questions at the press conference dealt with Obama’s year-end feelings, or with specifics of the NSA surveillance revelations. The president said his administration was evaluating surveillance policy recommendations, and that he was taking the issue “pretty seriously.”
Obama did address the question of a possible amnesty for NSA leaker Edward Snowden, given the intelligence community’s desire to know what he knows, and the fact that his revelations have sparked a nationwide debate that Obama himself has said was necessary.
It did not sound as if amnesty is forthcoming.
“The way in which these disclosures happened has been damaging to the United States and to our intelligence capabilities. I think there was a way to have that conversation without that damage,” Obama said.
The president said that given current circumstances it makes little sense for him to travel to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He’ll likely visit lots of Olympics after his term in office is over, he said.
He also hinted that the shake-up his staff has undergone in recent months is far from over.
“I suspect we may have additional announcements in the New Year,” he said.
Finally, the president did say he had a New Year’s resolution.
“My New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps,” he said, to the room’s laughter.