Highlights of an exclusive interview with President Barack Obama by The Associated Press. The president spoke about the shaky start of enrollment under the health care overhaul, the government shutdown, the threat of a U.S. default, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and other topics.
Obama blamed reports of long waits to get on health care websites and difficulty signing up for coverage on a level of public interest that he said exceeded expectations and overwhelmed the system. He said people are working around the clock to make things run smoother. Obama said people shouldn’t give up on signing up since coverage doesn’t kick in until January and the enrollment period ends in March. He said he did not have data on how many people had successfully signed up to buy insurance from private companies, mostly through websites that went live this past Tuesday.
Obama said if he were the owner of the Washington Redskins football team, “I’d think about changing” their name because it offends many people. Native Americans, in particular, have objected to the name.
He said the government could reopen quickly because there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House to pass a bill to do that, but he again blamed House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, for not allowing a vote in an attempt to extract additional concessions from the administration. House Republicans want to delay the health care law in exchange for reopening the government, but Obama says ending the shutdown is not a matter he will negotiate.
Obama said America has never failed to pay its bills and that he won’t negotiate with House Republicans over the debt ceiling. Obama said no party had ever threatened to not pay America’s bills until 2011, when Boehner and House Republicans did so thinking it might give them more leverage in negotiations. He said the U.S. can’t allow a faction of one party in one chamber in one branch of government threatens economic collapse unless it gets to have its way.
Obama said the world must test whether Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is serious about pursuing a diplomatic resolution to international concerns over its nuclear aspirations. He said the U.S. won’t take a bad deal from Iran and will make sure that anything agreed to can be verified. Obama said Rouhani has staked his position on the idea that he can improve relations with the rest of the world, and has been saying a lot of the right things. He said the question the world is waiting for an answer to is whether Rouhani can follow through.
Obama said he prefers that Afghan troops take care of the country’s security needs after the U.S. combat mission there ends at the end of 2014, but that they aren’t ready to fully take on the responsibility just yet. He said he would consider leaving behind an unspecified number of U.S. troops in a training and advisory role. To do that, however, requires a bilateral security agreement that would ensure that American troops who stay behind would be protected, and negotiations on such a pact continue.
Obama said freshman senators who seek attention by playing to political extremes are behaving in a way that is not good for government. He said he recognizes that being controversial and rallying extreme parts of a political base are the shortest routes to attention and raising money. But he said such behavior isn’t good for the people they serve. Obama was asked about senators such as Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, three Republicans who oppose Obama’s agenda and are talked about as possible presidential candidates in 2016.