President Obama sat down with Jay Leno this afternoon for the sixth time to tape an interview that will air during Leno's "Tonight Show" this evening. While the full interview won't air until 11:30 p.m. in most time zones, the pool reports detail the outline of the "newsy" conversation, which covered Edward Snowden, NSA, embassy closings, Russia, Hillary Clinton, economy, and healthcare.
According to the pool report from Anita Kumar at McClatchy News, the President faced a crowd of mostly friendly spectators as he approached and entered the Burbank studios. Once inside, Leno and Obama talked about the following subjects (all quotes are from the pool unless otherwise credited):
The Embassy Closings: The U.S. isn't "overreacting"
According to the pool, Obama told Leno that the U.S. wasn't "overreacting" with the unprecedented closures of nearly 20 embassies in the Middle East this week due to an al-Qaeda-linked threat in the region. While encouraging people to take a vacation overseas if planned, but carefully, the president said "The odds of dying in a terrorist attack are a lot lower than they are of dying in a car accident, unfortunately." According to the AP report, Obama wouldn't say whether the intercepted messages leading the U.S. to the threat were caught under one of the NSA's surveillance programs.
The NSA and Edward Snowden: "We don’t have a domestic spying program"
"We don’t have a domestic spying program," the President said, noting that the NSA disclosures from Edward Snowden have "raised a lot of questions for people." He added: "What we do have is some mechanisms that can track a phone number or an email address that is connected to a terroritst attack...That information is useful."
As for Snowden himself, the president said that the U.S. wanted to maybe not use so many contractors in response to the leaks. On what Snowden represents, the president said, "we don’t know exactly what he did, except what he said on the Internet and it's im important for me not to judge."
Russia: Obama will attend the G-20; weighs in on the Olympics gay rights controversy
The President said that he will attend the G-20 summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia, despite their decision to grant Snowden asylum for one year. He said, "There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking and Cold War mentality. What I continually say to them and to President Putin, that’s the past." However, the president indicated that he thought the two nations could work together on Afghanistan and the Boston bombing. Obama also apparently weighed in on the gay rights controversy surrounding the upcoming Olympics there. He said that he doesn't think it'll affect the games, in the end.
Update, 10:45 p.m.: The pool, and NBC, released a few more clarifying quotes and details on Obama's remarks to Leno about gay rights in Russia. Obama criticized Russia's new so-called propaganda law, which severely limits freedom of expression in the country concerning gay rights. Obama said he has "no patience for countries that try to treat gays and lesbians and transgendered persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them," adding, "I’ve been very clear when it comes to universal rights, people’s basic freedoms." he also noted that he's seen similar problems (presumably referring to laws criminalizing LGBT expression or actions) in other countries, including in Africa.
To put his remarks on the Olympics in context, the pool explains that Obama believes the issue won't be a problem at the Russia-hosted Olympics coming up, because "I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work." he added: "I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn't tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently."
Here's the video of the exchange:
The Economy: "this is just like fixing your house."
The president stuck to his usual message here, while focusing on housing and the need for bi-partisan agreement. "My argument to Congress has been, this is just like fixing your house….Sooner or later, you’re going to have to fix it, and it’s going to be more expensive the longer you put it off."
Bromances: Will McCain and Obama Live Happily Ever After?
Apparently Leno asked Obama about his "bromance" with McCain, as evidenced by, say, the Senator's trip to Egypt at the president's behest this week. Obama, jokingly, said "That’s how a classic romantic comedy goes. Initially you’re not getting along and then you keep bumping into each other."
Hillary Clinton: At lunch, “she had that post administration glow."
The two talked about Clinton's presidential prospects, with the president praising her personally and professionally, discussing their recent lunch together. When asked whether she was measuring drapes for the Oval Office, Obama said, "Keep in mind she's been there. She doesn't have to measure them."
Apparently, the president brought Leno a gift of a toy model of "the Beast," his giant presidential limo. Leno asked him to sign it. Also, Obama told the talk show host that his birthday (on Sunday, he's 52) was kind of lame and basically involved basketball and golf games: "It was a sad state of affairs. A bunch of old guys…” he said, laughing.
Trayvon Martin: "the system should work for everyone"
Leno asked Obama about his "from the heart" remarks on the George Zimmerman verdict. Via NBC, here's the transcript and video of that exchange:
JAY LENO: Something I thought was -- I thought you spoke very eloquently about the Trayvon Martin case, and I could tell you were speaking from the heart. Tell me about that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, I think all of us were troubled by what happened, and any of us who are parents can imagine the heartache that those parents went through. It doesn't mean that Trayvon was a perfect kid. None of us were.
We were talking off stage, you know, when you're a teenager, especially a teenage boy, you're going to mess up, and you won't always have the best judgment. But what I think all of us agree to is that we should have a criminal justice system that's fair, that's just. And what I wanted to try to explain was why this was a particularly sensitive topic for African-American families is because a lot of people who have sons know the experience they have had of being followed or, you know, being viewed suspiciously. We all know that young African-American men disproportionately have involvement in criminal activities and violence for a lot of reasons, a lot of it having to do with poverty, a lot of it having to do with disruptions in their neighborhoods and their communities and failing schools and all those things.
That's no excuse, but what we also believe in is that people, everybody should be treated fairly, and the system should work for everyone. And so what I'm trying to do is just make sure that we have a conversation and that we're all asking ourselves are there some things that we can do to foster better understanding and to make sure that we don't have laws in place that encourage the kind of violent encounter that we saw there that resulted in tragedy.
The president promoted the opening of the October 1 health insurance marketplaces. Video excerpt via NBC:
JAY LENO: So what's the latest on health care? What's new?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, on October 1st people are going to be able to sign up if they don't have health care. If you have health care you don't have to do anything. The only thing that's happened for people who have health care right now is you have been able to benefit from the fact that we put in place a law so that insurance companies have to spend 80 percent of your premiums on health care, and if they spend it on administrative costs and high CEO salaries they have to send you a rebate, and that's been a benefit to people.
If you've got a kid who has just graduated and doesn't have a job with health care they can stay on their parents' plan. That's in place right now.
Free preventive care and free contraceptive care for young women and families. All that stuff is in place now. No lifetime limits.
So a lot of consumer protections got put in place, but on October 1st, if you don't have health care right now, you can join what are called these marketplaces, and you'll be able to get lower cost health care. Here in California it's estimated it will be 20- to 30-percent cheaper than what you're already getting, and we'll give you subsidies, you know, tax credits essentially if you still can't afford it. So you can go to healthcare.gov, and right now you can preregister essentially and start figuring out is this plan right for you.
JAY LENO: Well, I was able to get health care, but the guys that work in my shop for me are all over 50. They don't have health care, and I was able to get it now because you can't be turned down, so thank you for that.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You can't be turned down because of a preexisting condition.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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