WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama promised Friday to work with Congress on “appropriate reforms” for the domestic surveillance programs that have stirred criticism at home and abroad, and said it is time to recalibrate the United States’ relationship with Russia, which is harboring NSA secrets leaker Edward Snowden.
“It’s not enough for me to have confidence in these programs,” the president declared of NSA domestic intelligence-gathering programs at a White House news conference, one day before his scheduled departure on a weeklong vacation. “The American people have to have confidence in them as well.”
The president announced a series of changes in a program begun under the anti-terror Patriot Act that was passed in the wake of the attacks of Sept, 11, 2001. But none of the moves would alter the basic core of the program, the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records.
As for Snowden, recently granted temporary asylum by Russia, Obama said he is not a patriot, as some have suggested, and challenged him to return to the United States to face espionage charges.
The hourlong news conference ranged over numerous issues, although the president became especially animated when the questions turned to Republicans in Congress. He said they would risk the wrath of the public if they vote to shut down the government this fall in an attempt to cut off funding for his signature health care law.
And on another congressional issue, he said that while he was open to House Republicans proposing an alternative immigration bill, his preference was for a vote on a Senate-passed measure that would combine border security with a chance at citizenship for millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
He said he was “absolutely certain” such a bill would pass in the GOP-controlled U.S. House.
On the U.S. economy, Obama said he has a range of candidates he is considering to become chairman of the Federal Reserve, a nomination he likened in importance to selecting a Supreme Court justice. Among the contenders are former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and Janet Yellen, the vice chair of the Fed, he said, adding that whoever replaces Ben Bernanke must focus his attention on keeping inflation in check and helping strengthen the recovery from the worst recession in decades.
While saying he won’t pick a Fed chairman until the fall, he expressed irritation at critics of Summers, including some Democrats in Congress, whom Obama said were engaging in “a standard Washington exercise that I don’t like” of launching pre-emptive attacks before an appointment has been made.
The president and his family are due to depart the White House on Saturday for a weeklong vacation at Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.
President Barack Obama said he’ll work with Congress to change the oversight of some of the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs and name a new panel of outside experts to review technologies.×