President Barack Obama, citing an improving economy and the enrollment of 1 million people in his health-care plan, said the country was poised for a strong year in 2014.
Obama, speaking at a White House news conference yesterday before leaving for a family holiday in Hawaii, said economic progress made during the past year was helped by the Affordable Care Act and said his poll numbers, at the lowest point of his presidency, weren’t important.
“We head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than it was when we started the year, more Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck, our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs,” Obama told reporters. “And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.”
The president’s remarks came amid signs the economy is growing. The gross domestic product rose during the third quarter at a revised 4.1 percent annual mark, its fastest pace in almost two years, the Commerce Department said yesterday.
The president also promised to take action in January on the findings of his advisory panel on U.S. government surveillance of phone and Internet communications, and said he’s confident the National Security Agency hasn’t been “snooping” on Americans. He also said he sees the possibility of a resolution with Iran on nuclear power, “the first time that we’ve seen that in almost a decade.”
As another national public opinion poll showed the president’s job approval at the lowest point of his presidency - - a CNN survey published yesterday put his approval rating at 41 percent -- Obama said he is more concerned about maintaining progress on health care, jobs and other fronts.
Asked if this was the worst year of his presidency, Obama told reporters: “That’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years. Was running for president for two years before that and, for those of you who cover me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs,” he said.
“This room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences.”
The president said the botched rollout of the website signing people up for health insurance is his fault, yet said the program offers promise for many.
“The health-care website problems were a source of great frustration,” the president said. “I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on Jan. 1, and that is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office.”
‘Screwed It Up’
“When it came to the health-care rollout,” he said, “the fact is, it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable.” He added: “And since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up.”
Obama said he will act in January on the recommendations of an advisory panel suggesting changes in NSA surveillance. He’ll decide which suggestions “make sense” and which need further work, he said.
The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, a five-member panel, offered 46 policy changes this week that would allow surveillance to continue while limiting worldwide collection of communications by the NSA.
The proposals, which Obama isn’t obligated to adopt, are in response to a domestic and international backlash over the extent of U.S. surveillance exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. While promising changes, the president said he doesn’t believe the NSA has abused its power.
“The NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around,” he said, while “we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence” because of evolving technology.
The president also said “there is the possibility” of a resolution to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear development.
“That has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade now, and that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The first time we’ve seen that in a decade.”
The president attributed his decision not to attend the Winter Olympics Games in Sochi, Russia, to a busy schedule at home. Asked about his inclusion of gay athletes in the U.S. delegation to the games -- at a time when Russian policies toward homosexuals are attracting global criticism -- he said his delegation “speaks for itself.”
The White House said on Dec. 17 that Obama and Vice President Joe Biden wouldn’t attend the Winter Games opening ceremonies on Feb. 7. The U.S. has had tense relations with Russia over foreign policy, human rights and Snowden, whom Russia has harbored since arriving there under U.S. indictment.
Obama said he is busy dealing with health care, the NSA surveillance and other issues in Washington.
“I would love to do it,” he said. “I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post-presidency.”