By Pamela Gentry, Senior Political Analyst
June 23, 2009 – The president delivered his priorities to a packed White House briefing room Tuesday when the press event was moved from the Rose Garden. But the cramped quarters didn’t stop reporters from grilling the president on Iran, healthcare reform, unemployment and his on-again-off- again smoking habit.
Here are a few highlights from the news conference, beginning with unemployment:
Obama was reminded that his administration had predicted in January unemployment would rise no higher than 8 percent with the help of $787 billion stimulus package. Now that it has exceeded that mark and is at 9.4 percent Obama was asked would another stimulus be needed.
“At that point, nobody understood what the depths of this recession were going to look like,” Obama said. “If you recall, it was only significantly later that we suddenly get a report that the economy had tanked. And so it’s not surprising, then, that we missed the mark in terms of our estimates of where unemployment would go.”
The president said it’s not time to start talking about another stimulus until they determine “how effective the first stimulus is.”
On Iran, the president delivered stronger language against the recent crack down on protestors following the election. But he delivered an even stronger smack down to his Republican critics when asked if his recent tough talk was influenced by pressure from Republicans like Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain(R-Ariz.). Obama smiled and scoffed: “What do you think?” Following up that his critics are free to say what they like: “Only I’m the president of the United States.”
The president suggested Iran’s leaders will face consequences if they continue “the threats, the beatings and imprisonments” against protesters but stopped short of saying what they might be. Leaving room to keep his options open, the president said, “We don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out.”
”It is not too late for the Iranian government to recognize that there is a peaceful path that will lead to stability and legitimacy and prosperity for the Iranian people. We hope they take it.”
While Iran dominated the questions, health care was a close second. The president said the work in Congress on a health care bill is underway and he has been clear about the overall objective. “We have not drawn lines in the sand other than reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don’t have health insurance or are underinsured.”
Is the president still smoking? “I would say I’m 95 percent cured, but there are times where I mess up,” Obama admitted.
On Monday the president signed an anti-smoking bill into law, and told reporters, “The new law is not about me. It’s about the next generation of kids coming up.”