President Barack Obama marked his first 100 days in office last night with a prime-time news conference. It was the third of Obama's presidency, and the first not dominated by the recession. Jay Newton-Small, Washington reporter for Time Magazine, joins The Takeaway to analyze the press conference.
Femi Oke:Well President Barack Obama marked his first hundred days in office with a prime time news conference. It was the third of his presidency and the first not dominated by recession, but there are other threats on the President's mind. We're joined by Jay Newton-Small, she's the Washington reporter for Time Magazine. Good morning, Jay.
Jay Newton-Small: Good morning, Femi.
Femi Oke:Well of course the President really started off the conference talking about Swine flu. Did his remarks actually comfort you?
Jay Newton-Small:Well no, and that was the point, they were meant to scare you a little bit. I heard from administrative officials that he really wanted people to be a little bit wary, like oh my god, I didn't realize it was that serious, because it's better to err on the side of caution than to say no, its OK, everything is OK, just keep going about your business and if you really do not feel well, stay home from work, if your kids aren't feeling well, keep them home from school, don't get on an airplane, and try not to spread this thing, and he did that. I think he wanted to make sure that people were a little bit freaked out by it.
Femi Oke:Also, one reporter put the question to him about how about closing the border to Mexico? Have a listen to his response here.
President Barack Obama [on tape]: At this point they have not recommended a border closing. From their perspective it would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out, because we already have cases here in the United States. We have ramped up screening efforts as well as made sure additional supplies are there on the border so that we can prepare in the eventuality that we have to do more than we're doing currently.
Femi Oke:Jay, did you get any sense the President knows more than he's actually sharing with the public?
Jay Newton-Small:I'm not sure the President knows more than he's sharing with the public. He is the President, after all, and gets lots of briefings that we don't get, but I mean, look, even reported in the news you had kids who fell sick because they were visiting Disneyworld in Orlando and spread it there, so just because you close the border now, you have tons of Mexicans that have come into the country since the beginning of this illness, you have lots of Americans that have gone to Mexico. In terms of trade it would be catastrophic. I think at this point we've got so many cases, more than 90 or 100 cases in the U.S. already. He's right, it would be sort of closing the barn door after the horses had already gotten out. You're not going to prevent it from spreading to the U.S.
Femi Oke: During this speech last night, the President actually also allotted a certain amount of money as well to tackling Swine flu. Have a listen to this.
President Barack Obama [on tape]: That's why I asked for an additional $1.5 billion, so we can make sure that everything is in place should a worse case scenario play out.
Femi Oke:And Todd, you were talking to me this morning about this $1.5 billion. It has a specific relevance, doesn't it?
Todd Zwillich:Yeah, well they want to use it, I was in a hearing the other day where Congress, members of Congress and the Senate first brought this money up. They tried to get some of this money in the stimulus, but they want it for anti-viral drugs like tamaflu, to ramp up local and state stockpiles of those drugs, to hire public health workers, to get masks, basic equipment, all of the really really basic things, aside from hand washing, that really help stop the spread of any kind of flu pandemic, including H1N1. Jay, the President was really quick to jump on this $1.5 billion, looks like it's going in the war supplemental that's coming up, right? Emergency funding?
Jay Newton-Small: Yeah, absolutely, and there's two things about this. One is that the President was very quick to acknowledge that President Bush's preparedness plans for this stuff, which were put in place after the avian flu/SARS scare were excellent, and in fact they've been using the Bush plan and it's been working really well. At the same time, there were a lot of democrats who are also saying look, we had $900 million in the stimulus bill for pandemic flu preparations, which the Republicans took out, and now we're going to get $1.5 billion which will put in the war stuff, this is an example of why the stimulus is so important, it's an example of how the money could potentially be spent out a lot quicker than you would imagine.
Todd Zwillich:Alright, well Jay, the other day in the subcommittee hearing, when I was in there, the hearing was going on with Senator Tom Harkin, who was asking the money and talking to the public health officials, and then another senator walked into the room and sat on the democratic side of the aisle for the very first time in his Senate career, and believe me, everyone in the room noticed. It was Arlen Specter, and he had just announced about an hour before that he was switching parties. And he came into that subcommittee, he used to be a ranking Republican on that subcommittee, and he sat down on that side of the aisle and everybody tittered and shuffled when he did it. So Arlen Specter's joining the democrats-- you like my segway? I just segwayed right into this. Is the Republican party now in desperate straights now that Arlen Specter has deserted them? He seems to think that they are in dire straights.
Jay Newton-Small: Well certainly the Republicans, they woke up yesterday morning and were sounding the alarm, oh my god, 60 votes, there's going to be no checks and balances, rampant Democratic control. And Obama was right and he struck a much more calmer tone and he said loo, it's not always going to be 60 votes that easily. And I think he's right, there's a lot of Democrats that he has a problem bringing on board in the Senate for some of these really big ticket items like health care reform, like energy reform. But where it will make a difference, very quickly and very easily, is a lot of these procedural votes which, you and I have both seen this in the past few years where there's been 158 motions for cloture filed, not all of them have gone through but just a lot of gumming up the works--
Todd Zwillich: Motions for cloture just means delay, right?
Jay Newton-Small:Well, it's to overcome a filibuster, it takes 60 votes to overcome it, and they file it for everything, from, like, you know, moving on to to talking about this amendment. No, we don't want to talk about this amendment, we want to keep talking about the other amendment. Which for no particular reason, or for whatever reason they want, slows things down, and it basically strips them of the ability to slow things down the way they have in the past few years, and it'll fast track a lot of stuff.
Femi Oke:Jay Newton-Small, she's the Washington reporter for Time Magazine. Jay, thanks for getting up early for us this morning.