On the day before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, President Obama's first major news conference in months resulted in him shifting a lot of blame to obstructionist Republicans — and Republicans immediately firing right back.
Beginning just after 11:00 a.m., the president wasted no time in attacking the GOP, saying in his opening remarks that the Republicans' failed policies and commitment to partisanship, not his administration, were responsible for the still-lagging economy. From there, he was off.
Speaking of his plan to let President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy expire at the end of this year, Obama said, "I'm prepared to work on a bill and sign a bill this month to ensure that middle-class families get tax relief." However, he added, the Republicans are "holding middle-class tax relief hostage."
Later, Obama would touch on his administration's efforts to float poorer families into the middle class. Reminding reporters that he had once been a community organizer "in some of the poorest neighborhoods on the South Side of Chicago," he said, "I think the most important antipoverty effort is growing the economy and making sure there are enough jobs out there — single-most-important thing we can do. It's more important than any program we could set up."
Responding to a question about how the lagging economy and 10 percent unemployment will affect the midterm elections, Obama answered indirectly, again critiquing the failed economic policies of his GOP predecessors: "For 19 months, what we have done is steadily work to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting rapidly and make it grow again."
Never one to miss an opportunity for a fight, Ohio congressman John Boehner, who will likely become Speaker of the House if the Republicans win a majority of the seats in November, posted to his Web site a rebuttal to Obama's press conference even before it was over. "Half-hearted proposals and full-throated political attacks won't end the uncertainty that is keeping small businesses from creating jobs," he wrote. "Republicans have proposed a two-part plan to boost the economy now by freezing all tax rates for two years and cutting government spending to where it was before all the bailouts, government takeovers, and 'stimulus' spending sprees. … If the president is serious about focusing on jobs, he should be willing to sit down with Republicans and discuss this new idea to get the economy moving again."
When not condemning Republicans who stymie progress, the president spoke in the somber, measured tones of last week's Iraq speech, tones dissimilar to those from his campaign trail. Asked how he has changed status quo Washington politics thus far, Obama said, "If you're asking why I haven't been able to create a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington, I think that's fair — I'm as frustrated as anybody by it."
The commander in chief also addressed tomorrow's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Before responding to a question about his strategy in the Middle East, Obama noted, "I just want to remind people why we're there, the day before Sept. 11: We're there because that was the place where al-Qaida launched an attack that killed 3,000 Americans, and we want to make sure that we dismantle al-Qaida and that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for attacks against Americans and the American homeland."
The final question of the morning asked for the president's opinion on the controversy swirling around the proposed Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero. Obama's answer was his strongest of the day, and perhaps his strongest bit of oration in weeks:
We're not at war with Islam; we're at war with terrorist organizations. It's important for us to remember that, because we've got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They're going to school with our kids. They're our neighbors. They're our friends, they're our co-workers. And you know, when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I've got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan, in the uniform of the United States armed services. They're out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we've got to make sure that we are crystal clear, for our sakes and their sakes: They are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don't differentiate between them and us. It's just us.
After nearly an hour and a half of talk, it was the closing of a true leader finally finding his footing, if only for a few moments.
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.