Obama: Uptick in Iraq violence won’t affect withdrawal plans

President Obama says his budget lays a new foundation for economic growth.
President Obama said Wednesday that a recent uptick in violence in Iraq won’t affect his plan for a phased military withdrawal.

“Civilian deaths, incidents of bombings … remain very low relative to what was going on last year,” Obama said during a prime time news conference on his 100th day in office. “The political system is holding and functioning in Iraq.” Obama said more details need to be nailed down before U.S. troops leave Iraq — including how oil revenues will be divided, what the powers of provincial governments there will be and the political relationships between minority Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites — including the armed Sons of Iraq groups. In the first half of Obama’s news conference, he fielded questions on Iraq, Pakistan and terrorism — a shift from his previous two news conferences which were largely centered around the economy. Obama said Wednesday he is “very comfortable” with his decision to ban interrogation techniques like waterboarding, which he called torture. The president called the practice a recruiting tool for terrorist groups like al Qaeda, citing World War II-era British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who also rejected such “enhanced interrogation” techniques. “Churchill understood that if you start taking shortcuts, over time that corrodes what’s best in a people,” Obama said. “It corrodes the character of a country.”

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Asked about the previous administration, he said, “I think that whatever legal rationale were used, it was a mistake.” On immigration, Obama said he wants to work with members of Congress, including former Republican presidential rival Sen. John McCain, to revive efforts to reform the system. “We want to move this process,” Obama said. “We can’t continue with a broken immigration system. It’s not good for anybody.” Obama said he hopes a working group of lawmakers will begin crafting details of what would be in reform legislation and that he expects the process to be under way within the year. Both Obama and McCain supported an ultimately failed plan backed by then-President Bush that would have fined illegal immigrants living in the United States but provided a pathway to citizenship for some. When asked about the recent outbreaks of swine flu, the president downplayed the possibility of closing the border with Mexico as a way to control the problem. “It would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out,” Obama said. Obama said he’ll be looking to health officials for guidance on how to handle travel between the United States and Mexico, where the recent occurrence of the deadly virus began. At a news conference commemorating his 100th day in office, Obama said the $1.5 billion he has asked for from Congress to help fight the outbreaks will help government health officials monitor and track the virus and replenish the supply of antiviral drugs. Obama urged schools with cases of the flu, also known by its clinical name of H1N1, to consider temporarily closing. Watch as Obama warns Americans about the flu » “Everyone should rest assured that this government is prepared to do whatever it takes to control the spread of this virus,” Obama said. So far, the World Health Organization has reported 148 cases in nine countries. The economy has been the focus of the president’s agenda during the first part of his term, but this week, the swine flu outbreak has dominated headlines. Obama said Wednesday that the United States will “see a better day,” but cautioned that it will take time and work. Obama said that while he’s pleased with the country’s progress, he’s “not satisfied” yet. Given the economic, domestic and global challenges ahead, “you can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security — in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after that,” Obama said. “We are off to a good start. But it is just a start. I am proud of what we have achieved, but I am not content,” he said. Obama’s news conference comes just hours after both chambers of Congress passed his $3.4 trillion budget resolution for fiscal year 2010. The measure approves most of Obama’s key spending priorities and sets the federal government in a new direction with major increases for energy, education and health care programs. In both the House and Senate, the legislation passed largely along party lines, with no support from Republicans. In the House, 17 Democrats voted against it. Four Democrats voted against it in the Senate, including Sen. Arlen Specter, who announced Tuesday that he was switching sides and joining the Democratic Party. Obama said Wednesday his budget begins to lay a “new foundation” that will strengthen the U.S. economy. “But even as we clear away the wreckage of this recession, I’ve also said that we can’t go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand — on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards; on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of all,” the president said. In his first 100 days, Obama signed 19 executive orders, signed 14 bills into law, visited 12 states and traveled to nine countries. Wednesday’s event marks his third prime time news conference. While Democrats praise the steps Obama has taken in his first 100 days, some Republicans say Obama has failed to live up to his promise to reach across the aisle. Criticism intensified after one of Obama’s boldest initiatives — a $787 billion economic stimulus package — made it through Congress with no Republican support in the House and just three Republican votes in the Senate. According to a CNN poll released this week, Obama’s approval rating remains high, but the president is more popular than his policies.

The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll, released Monday, indicates 63 percent of Americans approve of how Obama is handling his duties as president. Three in four Americans feel Obama has the personal qualities a president should have. But when asked whether Obama agrees with the respondent on the issues, that number drops to 57 percent.