Opinion: Why Obama’s sudden news conference today? And what he’ll say


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You don’t need to be a basketball-loving president of the United States to know that if you’re trying to block opponents’ shots in your end, you sure aren’t increasing your own totals. You can’t score points on D.

So President Obama’s news conference this morning is his bid to steal the ball from his opponents and scoot down the court for his own layup. It’s a classic political reset of the play clock. At 9:30 a.m. Pacific (12:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. GMT), Obama will make a statement in the White House Rose Garden and then take questions.


Obama has lost some mojo in recent days on this month’s pressing issues, especially Iran’s ongoing protests and healthcare reform. Obama’s printed Saturday statement about Iran on his way out the White House door for ice cream with his daughters was insufficient media competition for the appallingly graphic video of the young woman Neda dying on a Tehran street. Some called the presidential statement ineffective and ‘mealy-mouthed.

On Father’s Day, while the president played golf out of camera-sight, others were on TV declaring the U.S. must say more to support the unarmed protesters in Iran.

Here’s the scary thing for the new White House: the terrifying words ‘Jimmy Carter’ have started appearing in print and on the air, recalling the ex-Georgia governor’s ineptness and....

...apparent powerlessness in handling his Iranian (hostage) issues in the late 1970s. That impression lead to 12 years of Reagan-Bush Republican White Houses.

Over the weekend Democratic stalwart Sen.Dianne Feinstein was also suggesting on TV that even with 60 seats in the Senate, the president might not have enough support to pass his beloved massive healthcare reforms. Not to mention some modest slippage in Obama’s poll numbers.

According to the neverending political momentum game in Washington, Obama needs to re-seize the initiative; hence, Monday’s decision to schedule a Tuesday presidential news conference. Such staged affairs are not only irresistible to the media (CBS will break into normal programming to carry it live), but they suck the oxygen out of any other competing story for the cycle.

Hence Vice President Joe Biden’s schlep to talk about middle-class families in Ohio will go largely unnoticed outside the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky markets, which is too bad for White House media message planners. As will Biden’s appearance this evening at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Boston, which is a good thing for them to be overlooked raising political money for next year at a time of contemporary crisis.


These news conferences do carry risks. The president could make an unlikely flub. Remember back in March when Obama similarly seemed to have lost momentum even as he held two townhalls in California. So he called a news conference, also for a Tuesday. But he made no news and people wrote and talked more about his ubiquitous teleprompter.

Obama’s staff spent all of Monday evening envisioning with a good degree of predictive accuracy the questions to be thrown at him today and blueprinting preferred answers: Iran, Neda, Iran, Neda, healthcare, Iran.

The president will make an opening statement, in an attempt to set the discussion agenda. If he were silly enough to try something on GM or financial regulatory reforms, the reporters would listen politely and then blow right by that to their newsier urgent agenda.

It’s much harder for officials in public discussions to explain why they are not doing something than why they are doing something.

Obama wants to play offense. So he’s more likely to make a newsworthy announcement of some kind, perhaps dispatching someone somewhere for a new initiative of some kind. Anything to give the media something to ask others about.

Obama will still get the predictable queries:

Can the U.S. do anything more to help the democracy protesters in Iran? Have you seen the Neda video and what was your reaction? What makes you think talking to such a regime could have any beneficial effects? Are you worried about losing the healthcare issue, one of your administration’s top priorities, even with your party controlling both houses of Congress?

As The Ticket noted on Saturday, Obama walks a tight line between competing forces -- an American population approaching the birthday of its successful revolution (thanks to the timely strategic ‘interference’ of France) that’s instinctively drawn to underdog democratic proponents facing tanks in the streets and Obama’s much-touted non-interference promise in his recent speech to the Muslim world from Cairo.


And the ex-senator’s oft-professed eagerness to show that talking does hold potential for diplomatic progress with a regime like Tehran. Or that other bad boy in the now-nonexistent axis of evil, North Korea.

Sen. John McCain’s angry Senate Neda speech Monday, also reported and analyzed here with a video, dramatically changed that equation, forcing Obama to talk today more powerfully about the power of talk.

We’ll be live-blogging the news conference right here. And publishing its full transcript and analysis later.

-- Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Reuters