Live Blogging the Press Conference….

Sorry about the lack of advance notice on this, but I forgot Obama was holding a press conference tonight.  Some background info: George W. Bush held 19 “press conferences” in his first year, although most of them weren’t full-fledged White House-based conferences like tonight’s.  Bush held only 4 of these latter type, with another one in Crawford, I believe, in his first year, but I’ll need to check this data.

First question out of the box is the stimulus bill.  He shouldn’t be surprised.

Chip Reid raises the lack of bipartisanship in the stimulus debate.  I hope Obama doesn’t really believe that gestures that don’t go beyond symbolism are going to change the culture of Washington.  I think he might actually believe he can reach across the aisle with making real policy concessions.

Does Obama know this is a press conference?   These are extraordinarily long and detailed answers.  The worry is that he will lose his audience. We are almost 1/2 hour in and he’s taken 4 questions..doesn’t he know 24 is supposed to be on?

Three questions on the economy, one on foreign policy.

Two more economic questions. Finally – a question on Afghanistan but it deals with transparency.  Nice response by Obama to acknowledge the recent deaths of US soldiers.  Ironically, the response is almost word for word what Bush said regarding the most difficult part of being president.

This is an extraordinarily gentle set of questions so far.  The honeymoon with the press is certainly not over.  The sharpest questions seem to be oriented toward establishing some metric for determining whether the TARP payments, or the stimulus legislation (if it passes) is actually working.  Otherwise a very docile group of journalists.

I think Joe Biden just got dissed!

A question about A-Roid and steroids….a complete waste of a press conference question.  Obama looks relieved to get a fastball down the middle..

Ok, a sign of the times: a question from the HuffingtonPost on trials for the Bush advisers.  Here’s a chance for Obama to mollify the netroots.  Let’s see how he does…and he basically says he’s not interested in prosecuting Bush officials. Let’s see how the netroots react after the speech…

Back to the lack of bipartisanship… .to his credit (or perhaps not) he is persisting in claiming that he believes in the possibility of bipartisanship.  He is either naive, or idealistic, or he knows something I don’t.

It is somewhat troubling that he seems to believe that because economists say something is so, people should – in effect – ignore the politics involved.  The reality is that politics will determine the shape of the stimulus bill, not economic theories.   I’ve seen this before with the Clintons (particularly Hillary when she first entered the presidency and tried to pass health care)  – smart people with legal training often overestimate their ability to sell policies on the basis of abstract reasoning.  He will learn how important politics is to shaping the details of policy.

All in all, no damage done.  It took him a while to cut his answers down to sound-bite size, but eventually he got there.  It’s not as easy as it looks and eventually, if history is any guide, he will learn that these types of press conferences serve primarily as an opportunity for the media to play “gotcha” and he will gradually reduce his accessibility to the national press in these types of forums.

There were some interesting parallels with George W. Bush’s first press conference that I’ll develop in a longer discussion of press conferences tomorrow.  But to refresh your memory, Bush held his first press conference on Feb. 22, but it was held in the afternoon (beginning at 2:40).  He began the conference with an opening statement which included this:

“One of my missions has been to change the tone here in the Nation’s Capital to encourage civil discourse. I think we’re making pretty good progress. I want to thank the Democrats and the Republicans who have been coming up to the White House to hear me make my case. I appreciate their responsiveness. I just hope they vote for my agenda that I’ll be submitting next week in a budget address to the Congress.”

Eight years later we hear Bush’s successor promising to lead us down the same bipartisan garden path…

There were lots of other parallels  between the two press conferences, including the Helen Thomas “weird question” of the day.  What is striking is just how similar the topics under discussion were – not much has changed in eight years!

But I’m eager to hear your reactions….


  1. Matt, I was impressed that he went to Elkhart and then came back to Washington and told America what he saw. He used this to justify the stimulus package.

    Compare this to what Bush saw from 10,000 feet over New Orleans and how the country perceived his “knowledge and involvement in that problem.”

    Jack Goodman

  2. I also thought the question on steroid use in baseball was a waste of time; Mr. Obama would have done well to leave the question unanswered.

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