Washington, May 1 — Echoing Mark Twain, President Barack Obama has confidently asserted that he has enough “juice” in him to get things done in Washington despite a divided and politically dysfunctional amosphere.
“Golly, I think it’s a little — as Mark Twain said, rumours of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point,” Obama said Tuesday in response to a question at a White House press conference 100 days into his second term.
“We understand that we’re a divided government right now. (and) things are pretty dysfunctional up on Capitol Hill,” he said when asked if he still had “the juice” to get his agenda through Congress since lawmakers had blocked several of his initiatives.
But said he is still confident that a range of priorities will get done, like immigration reform offering a path to citizenship to an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, including some 260,000 Indians.
“That’s going to be historic achievement,” Obama said. “I’ve been very complimentary of the efforts of both Republicans and Democrats in those efforts.”
The president said an immigration reform bill proposed by the so-called “Gang of Eight” senators meets criteria that he believes is necessary.
This includes more effective border security, a crackdown on employers “gaming the system,” making the legal immigration system work more effectively, and making sure there is a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already in the country.
Turning to the Boston Marathon bombings, Obama said he had asked “our entire counterterrorism team what more can we do” to meet the threat posed by “self-radicalized individuals” like the Boston suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
With the core of Al Qaeda weakened, he said, “one of the dangers that we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are already here in the United States, in some cases may not be part of any kind of network.”
“But because of whatever warped, twisted ideas they may have (and) may decide to carry out an attack. And those are in some ways more difficult to prevent,” Obama said.
“And so what I’ve done for months now is to indicate to our entire counterterrorism team what more can we do on that threat that is looming on the horizon?”
Obama defended the way the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) handled a tip from Russian intelligence about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, but said his administration would “review every step that was taken” to see if more could have been done to prevent the attack.
“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the FBI performed its duties. Department of Homeland Security did what it was supposed to be doing,” Obama said “But this is hard stuff.”
He said Russian officials had been “very cooperative” since the attack on April 15, as American investigators have travelled to Dagestan in southern Russia to try to reconstruct the activities of Tamerlan during a six-month visit last year.
As for the sweeping $85 billion in forced spending cuts that took effect in March due to congressional inaction on deficit reduction, Obama said the austerity is “damaging our economy” and “hurting our people.”
Lifting them will require compromise, he said asking both parties to “sit down” and commit themselves to reduce “our deficit sensibly” and ensure investment in infrastructure, education and basic research that will help the economy and the country grow.
“That’s what the American people want,” he said.
(Arun Kumar can be contacted at [email protected])