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Obama Responds To Questions On IRS, Benghazi, AP Phone Logs


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. Turkey's Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan is visiting Washington today. After meeting with President Obama, the two leaders took questions from the press in the White House rose garden. As NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, the president took the opportunity to respond to some of the controversies that have been buffeting his administration.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This week has provided one lesson after another in the limits of presidential power. The IRS scandal took Obama by surprise, the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records happened without the president's knowledge. And as this rose garden news conference started 45 minutes late, it began to rain.

Turkey's prime minister diplomatically called the splatter a source of abundance. President Obama finally summoned a couple of Marines with umbrellas.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They're going to look good next to us just 'cause I want to - I've got a change of suits, but I don't know about our prime minister.

SHAPIRO: The president suggested that his power to prevent bad things from happening is limited and that he's focused on dealing with crises that come to his attention. He's had plenty of opportunities in the last few days.

OBAMA: My concern is making sure that if there's a problem in the government, that we fix it.

SHAPIRO: So, he said, when he learned from press reports that the IRS politicized its decisions on tax-exempt organizations, the acting IRS commissioner got the boot.

OBAMA: We're going to make sure that we identify any structural or management issues to prevent something like this from happening again.

SHAPIRO: And within hours, Obama named a new acting IRS commissioner, Danny Werfel, a White House budget official. In Benghazi, Libya, the administration did not prevent or stop attacks that killed four Americans. The president said his job now is to keep it from happening again. He tried to shift the focus from talking points about the attacks to diplomatic security in the future.

OBAMA: And I'm calling on Congress to work with us to support and fully fund our budget requests and improve the security of our embassies around the world.

SHAPIRO: On a controversy involving the Justice Department's seizure of reporters' phone records, Obama was more circumspect.

OBAMA: I'm not going to comment on a specific and pending case, but I'll - I can talk broadly about the balance that we have to strike.

SHAPIRO: He framed that balance in terms that are quintessentially Obama, two competing values, both important. On the one hand...

OBAMA: Leaks related to national security can put people at risk.

SHAPIRO: And on the other hand...

OBAMA: We also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function.

SHAPIRO: To that end, he said his administration is glad to see Senator Chuck Schumer reintroduce a federal reporter shield law. Obama added that he has complete confidence in Attorney General Eric Holder. The president's guest at this rose garden event is from Turkey, a country that shares a long border with Syria.

Turkey is stretched to capacity with Syrian refugees. And while both leaders today said Bashar al-Assad must leave, Obama also characterized this civil war in an ongoing lesson in the limits of American power.

OBAMA: We would've preferred Assad go two years ago, last year, six months ago, two months ago.

SHAPIRO: But at home and abroad, the president is coming to appreciate how many things are beyond his control. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.
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