Reporters Lob Softballs to Obama, He Tells Them How to Cover Campaign

During a White House press conference in the 12 p.m. ET hour on Friday, President Obama was treated to a series of softball questions from reporters, who repeatedly teed him up to bash Republicans and promote his liberal agenda.

Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason got the first question: “Mr. President, what's your reaction to Donald Trump becoming the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party this week? And given the delegate math, do you think it’s time for Bernie Sanders to step aside on the Democratic race?”

Obama lectured: “...most importantly, and I speak to all of you in this room as reporters as well as the American public, I think I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment, this is not a reality show.”

Margaret Brennan of CBS News was next: “Mr. President, what did Speaker Ryan's comments tell you of the state of the Republican Party and how you advise your fellow Democrats, who appear to have to now run against Donald Trump, as to how they can win in November?”

Obama sneered: “There is no doubt that there is a debate that's taking place inside the Republican Party about who they are and what they represent. Their standard bearer at the moment is Donald Trump. And I think not just Republican officials, but more importantly, Republican voters are going to have to make a decision as to whether this is the guy who speaks for them and represents their values.”

Surprisingly, an unidentified reporter actually asked about Hillary Clinton’s e-mail scandal: “Mr. President, what's your message to Democratic voters who have yet to cast their vote, who maybe hesitant to vote for the Democratic frontrunner because of the ongoing e-mail scandal and investigation?”

However, the seriousness of that question was immediately ruined by this one: “And also, did you see Donald Trump's taco bowl tweet? And your thoughts on it?”

Obama was able to use the Trump tweet question to completely dodge being pressed on Clinton’s e-mails:

I have no thoughts on Mr. Trump’s tweets. As a general rule, I don’t pay attention to Mr. Trump’s tweets. And I think that will be true, I think, for the next six months. So you can just file that one.

[LAUGHTER]

In terms of Democratic vote coming up, I’m going to let the voters cast their ballots and not, you know, try to meddle in the few primaries that are remaining. Let the process play itself out. We'll know soon enough, it’s not going to be that much longer.

Finally, David Nakamura of The Washington Post gave the President a chance to hammer the GOP on infrastructure spending:

I just want to ask you one on infrastructure. Not long before your nuclear summit where you had 50 world leaders here, the D.C. Metro was closed for over 24 hours. You, at the White House Correspondents Dinner made note that you’ll soon sort be a more ordinary District resident. I’m wondering what that says that the nation's capital, their own Metro system, was closed for 24 hours and that is having a number of safety related problems? And what can your administration do if Republicans are standing in the way of the infrastructure bill specifically for the D.C. Metro to potentially provide more funding or any more support for such a critical service?

Obama launched into a predictable rant against his political opponents:

...it is just one more example of the under-investments that have been made....The problem we have is that the Republican congress has been resistance to really take on this problem in a serious way. And the reason is, is because of an ideology that says government spending is necessarily bad. And I addressed this when I was in Flint [Michigan]. That mind set, that ideology has led to us not investing in those things that we have to do together....if we have a  mind set that says whatever the government’s doing must be bad then these are going to be the results. And it’s going to continue to get worse.

Tell the Truth 2016

Throughout the friendly presser, Obama told reporters how he wanted them to cover the 2016 campaign. Specifically, he instructed them on how he wanted them to attack Republicans in their coverage:

And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny. It means that you got to make sure that their budgets add up. It means that if they say they’ve got an answer to a problem that it is actually plausible and that they have details for how it would work. And if it’s completely implausible and would not work, that needs to be reported on. The American people need to know that.

You know, if they take a position on international issues that could threaten war or has the potential of upending our critical relationships with other countries or would potentially break the financial system, that needs to be reported on. And the one thing that I’m gonna really be looking for over the next six months is that the American people are effectively informed about where candidates stand on the issues, what they believe, making sure that their numbers add up, making sure that their policies have been vetted, and that candidates are held to what they’ve said in the past. And if that happens, then I’m confident our democracy will work.

(...)

Everybody needs roads. Everybody needs airports....this is as good example of making sure that the candidates are speaking to this issue as you go into the presidential election. I’ve put forward very specific proposals for how I would pay for additional infrastructure investment. The numbers add up. And so, the question is, how do the remaining candidates for the presidency intend to tackle this? How do members of Congress intend to tackle this? What's the Republican agenda for infrastructure? Do they have one? How do they pay for it? Do they pay for it by cutting Medicare or Medicaid? If they do, that needs to be fleshed out and the consequences for working families needs to be explained.

Here are excerpts of the May 6 press conference:

12:24 PM ET

(...)

JEFF MASON [REUTERS]: Mr. President, what's your reaction to Donald Trump becoming the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party this week? And given the delegate math, do you think it’s time for Bernie Sanders to step aside on the Democratic race?

BARACK OBAMA: Well, with respect to the Republican process and Mr. Trump, there’s going to be plenty of time to talk about his positions on various issues, he has a long record that needs to be examined and I think it’s important for us to take seriously the statements he’s made in the past. But most importantly, and I speak to all of you in this room as reporters as well as the American public, I think I just want to emphasize the degree to which we are in serious times and this is a really serious job. This is not entertainment, this is not a reality show. This is a contest for the presidency of the United States.

And what that means is that every candidate, every nominee needs to be subject to exacting standards and genuine scrutiny. It means that you got to make sure that their budgets add up. It means that if they say they’ve got an answer to a problem that it is actually plausible and that they have details for how it would work. And if it’s completely implausible and would not work, that needs to be reported on. The American people need to know that.

You know, if they take a position on international issues that could threaten war or has the potential of upending our critical relationships with other countries or would potentially break the financial system, that needs to be reported on. And the one thing that I’m gonna really be looking for over the next six months is that the American people are effectively informed about where candidates stand on the issues, what they believe, making sure that their numbers add up, making sure that their policies have been vetted, and that candidates are held to what they’ve said in the past. And if that happens, then I’m confident our democracy will work.

And that's true whether we’re talking about Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton or Bernie Sanders or anybody else. But what I’m concerned about is the degree to which reporting and information starts emphasizing the spectacle and the circus, because that's not something we cannot afford. And the American people, they’ve got good judgment, they’ve got good instincts, as long as they get good information.

(...)

MARGARET BRENNAN [CBS NEWS]: Mr. President, what did Speaker Ryan's comments tell you of the state of the Republican Party and how you advise your fellow Democrats, who appear to have to now run against Donald Trump, as to how they can win in November?

OBAMA: Well, I think you have to ask Speaker Ryan what the implications of his comments are. There is no doubt that there is a debate that's taking place inside the Republican Party about who they are and what they represent. Their standard bearer at the moment is Donald Trump. And I think not just Republican officials, but more importantly, Republican voters are going to have to make a decision as to whether this is the guy who speaks for them and represents their values. I think Republican women voters are going to have to decide, “Is that the guy I feel comfortable with in representing me and what I care about?” I think folks who historically have been concerned about making sure that budgets add up and that we are responsible stewards of government finances have to ask, does Mr. Trump's budgets work? Those are going to be questions that Republican voters, more than Republican officials, have to answer.

(...)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. President, what's your message to Democratic voters who have yet to cast their vote, who maybe hesitant to vote for the Democratic frontrunner because of the ongoing e-mail scandal and investigation? And also, did you see Donald Trump's taco bowl tweet? And your thoughts on it?

OBAMA: I have no thoughts on Mr. Trump’s tweets. As a general rule, I don’t pay attention to Mr. Trump’s tweets. And I think that will be true, I think, for the next six months. So you can just file that one.

[LAUGHTER]

In terms of Democratic vote coming up, I’m going to let the voters cast their ballots and not, you know, try to meddle in the few primaries that are remaining. Let the process play itself out. We'll know soon enough, it’s not going to be that much longer. David?

DAVID NAKAMURA [WASHINGTON POST]: I just want to ask you one on infrastructure. Not long before your nuclear summit where you had 50 world leaders here, the D.C. Metro was closed for over 24 hours. You, at the White House Correspondents Dinner made note that you’ll soon sort be a more ordinary District resident. I’m wondering what that says that the nation's capitol, their own metro system, was closed for 24 hours and that is having a number of safety related problems? And what can your administration do if Republicans are standing in the way of the infrastructure bill specifically for the D.C. Metro to potentially provide more funding or any more support for such a critical service?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, I know this is a somewhat self-interested question, I assume, because a bunch folks here take the Metro.

[LAUGHTER]

But it is just one more example of the under-investments that have been made. Look, the D.C. Metro historically has been a great strength of this region. But over time we under-invested in maintenance and repair. And the steps that are being taken now I’ll refer to the Department of Transportation, but I can say obviously safety comes first and we want to make sure that if there are safety concerns that they’re addressed. The broader issue, though, is we got bridges, we got roads, we have ports, we have airports, we have water mains and pipes, as we saw in Flint, that suffer from neglect. And in many parts of the country we’re still relying on systems that were built 30, 50, in some cases a hundred years ago.

And the reason we’ve been neglecting them is not because we don’t know how to fix them, it’s not because people haven’t been aware of the need, we’ve known for years now that we’re a trillion or two trillion dollars short in terms of necessary infrastructure repair. I talked about this when I came into office and sought to do more in terms of investing in our nation’s infrastructure. The problem we have is that the Republican congress has been resistance to really take on this problem in a serious way. And the reason is, is because of an ideology that says government spending is necessarily bad.

And I addressed this when I was in Flint. That mind set, that ideology has led to us not investing in those things that we have to do together. You know, as you point out, this metropolitan area, the nation's capital, economically, is actually doing really well. But it doesn’t matter how much – how big your paycheck is, if you’ve been taking the Metro and suddenly it’s shut down for a month and now you’re stuck in traffic trying to drive to work instead, you can’t build your own Metro system, you can’t build your own highway, you can’t build your own airport. And so, we have a specific problem with under-investing in infrastructure.

Now’s the time, by the way, for us to do so. Interest rates are so low and there are so many contractors and construction workers that are underemployed at the moment that you can actually get jobs done on time, on schedule. It would give a boost to our overall economy because we know that when we spend a dollar in infrastructure, then we actually get a bigger bang for the buck in terms of the economy overall, surrounding businesses, suppliers, you know, food trucks, everybody does better. And it gives us a huge boost to the economy and it lasts for a long time.

Think about the investments we made in things like the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge or Metro. It’s a good thing to do. And it historically was not and should not be partisan. But, if we have a  mind set that says whatever the government’s doing must be bad then these are going to be the results. And it’s going to continue to get worse. It’s already tough in poorer communities like Flint, but you know, we’re seeing these kinds of infrastructure problems spring up in communities all across the country. And it doesn’t distinguish by race or by region. Everybody needs roads. Everybody needs airports. So hopefully, this will prompt a conversation.

The last thing I’m going to say about this, this is as good example of making sure that the candidates are speaking to this issue as you go into the presidential election. I’ve put forward very specific proposals for how I would pay for additional infrastructure investment. The numbers add up. And so, the question is, how do the remaining candidates for the presidency intend to tackle this? How do members of Congress intend to tackle this? What's the Republican agenda for infrastructure? Do they have one? How do they pay for it? Do they pay for it by cutting Medicare or Medicaid? If they do, that needs to be fleshed out and the consequences for working families needs to be explained.

Alright, thank you everybody.


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