Obama downplays poor poll numbers
By: Jennifer Epstein
December 20, 2013 02:41 PM EST
President Barack Obama dismissed his falling poll numbers on Friday and defended his administration’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act as he spoke at a year-end White House news conference.
“Obviously we screwed up” with HealthCare.gov’s faulty launch, the president said, but he repeatedly pointed to new sign-up numbers for health insurance as evidence that Obamacare is delivering. One million people signed up for insurance through state and federal exchange, the White House said Friday.
Those challenges are reflected in the president’s declining poll numbers, but Obama said he’s not concerned about them. “If you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot throughout my career … If I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for president,” he told reporters in the White House briefing room. “I took this job to deliver for the American people.” A CNN/ORC poll released an hour before Obama took questions pegged his approval rating at 41 percent, tying for the lowest numbers of his presidency.
Obama was protective of his oversight of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, though he acknowledged that for all the heat he faces from others, he’s even tougher on himself.
“I probably beat myself up even worse than you or Ed Henry does on any given day,” Obama told ABC’s Jon Karl, referring to the Fox News White House reporter.
His New Year’s resolution, he later added, is to be nicer to the White House press corps.”
NSA’s practices are under review and he intends to offer a proposed overhaul in a speech early in 2014.
But Obama lets even the harshest self-criticism roll off his back as he vows “do better the next day and keep moving forward.”
Heading into the new year, “what I say to myself is: we’re poised to do really good things,” the president said.
“I think 2014 needs to be a year of action,” he told reporters at another point in his press conference, as he outlined his plans to create more jobs, raise “wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security,” and complete the immigration reform process that began in 2013.
With GDP growing, the unemployment rate falling and the registration process for federal and state health care exchanges under way, “we head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than when we started the year,” he said.
Asked if 2013 was the worst year of his presidency, Obama wouldn’t bite. “That’s not how I think about it,” he said. Instead, he’s been focused on whether he’s helping American families get more opportunity and more security.
“There are areas where there are obviously some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively,” he said. It was “a mistake” for Congress not to tighten background check laws for buying guns.
On the Affordable Care Act, Obama touted the December sign-up figures and other evidence that the law is working.
“Despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, it’s working,” he said. Still, he acknowledged that there would be bumps and changes, as there was on Thursday when the administration announced that people whose plans have been canceled will have the option of getting a “hardship exemption” from the individual mandate.
“When you try to do something this big, affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard,” he said. “If there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them.”
That’s even as website problems continue. HealthCare.gov went down before Friday morning after an error was discovered overnight during routine maintenance. Work to repair the error started at 10 a.m., and a Health and Human Services spokeswoman expected that it would take two-to-three hours to fix. In the meantime, users were being directed to a page urging them to wait or to sign up to be emailed once the site was restored, which happened minutes before Obama emerged for his press conference. Monday, Dec. 23, is the deadline to select coverage to take effect on Jan. 1.
Some Senate Democrats are pushing for new sanctions against Iran, but for now the United States should be focused on diplomacy. “There is no need for more sanctions legislation. Not yet,” Obama said. If diplomatic efforts go sour, “we can pass more Iran sanctions in a day, on a dime.”
Though Obama on Friday formally nominated Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, to serve as U.S. ambassador to China, he said it’s not a sign he’s giving up on tax reform. It’s “not going to depend on one guy, it’s going to depend on all of us working together.”
Obama was also asked about his decision not to go to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and to send a delegation that includes three openly gay athletes, in apparent protest of Russia’s tough anti-gay laws. He noted that he hasn’t gone to the Games since taking office — though he said he intends to once he leaves office — and said he is proud of the group of athletes and officials he’s chosen to send.
“I think the delegation speaks for itself,” he said. “You should take that for what it’s worth.”