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Obama Addresses Syria, Russia, Gun Violence. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired October 2, 2015 - 16:30   ET


And, yes, Speaker Boehner's decision to step down complicates it, but I do think that there's still a path for us to come up with a reasonable agreement that raises the spending caps above sequester to make sure that we can properly finance both our defense and non- defense needs, that maintains a prudent, you know, control of our deficits, and that we can do that in short order.

It's not that complicated. It's -- you know, there's -- the math is the math. And what I've encouraged is that we get started on that work immediately, and we push through over the next several weeks and -- and try to leave out extraneous issues that may prevent us from getting a budget agreement.

I know, for example, that there are many Republicans who are exercised (ph) about Planned Parenthood. And I deeply disagree with them on that issue, and I think that it's mischaracterized what Planned Parenthood does. But I understand that they feel strongly about it, and I respect that.

But you can't have an issue like that potentially wreck the entire U.S. economy, any more than I should hold the entire budget hostage to my desire to do something about gun violence. I feel just as strongly about that. And I think I've got better evidence for it.

But the notion that I would threaten the Republicans, that unless they passed gun safety measures that would stop mass shootings, I'm going to shut down the government and not sign an increase in the debt ceiling, would be irresponsible of me. And the American people rightly would reject that.

Well, same is true for them. There are some fights that we fight individually. They want to defund Planned Parenthood, there's a way to do it. Pass a law, override my veto.

That's true across a whole bunch of issues that they disagree with me on. And I -- that's how democracy works. I got no problem with that. But you have to govern.

And I -- and -- and I -- I'm hoping that the next speaker understands that the problem Speaker Boehner had, or Mitch McConnell had, in not dismantling Obamacare, or not eliminating the Department of Education, or not deporting every immigrant in this country, was not because Speaker Boehner or Mitch McConnell didn't care about conservative principles.

It had to do with the fact that they can't do it, in our system of government, which requires compromise. Just like I can't do everything I want in passing an immigration bill, or passing a gun safety bill.

And that doesn't mean that I throw a tantrum and try to wreck the economy and put hard-working Americans, who are just now able to dig themselves out of a massive recession, put them in harm's way. Wrong thing to do.

Peter Alexander?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You addressed, I want to follow up on John's questions about the issue that's obviously deeply personal and moving to you. That is the gun issue.

Apart from Congress's inaction, apart from the desire for new laws, and beyond that, apart from the gun lobby, as you noted, the pattern is that these perpetrators are angry, aggrieved, often times mentally ill, young men.

Is there something that you can do with the bully pulpit, with your moral authority, with your remaining time in office, to help reach these individuals who believe that gun violence is the way out?

OBAMA: No. I -- I think I can continue to speak to the American people as a whole, and hopefully model for them basic social norms about rejecting violence and cooperation and caring for other people, but there are a lot of young men out there.

And having been one myself once, I can tell you that us being able to identify or pinpoint who might have problems is extraordinarily difficult.

So, you know, I think we as a culture should continuously, you know, think about how we can nurture our kids, protect our kids, talk to them about conflict resolution, discourage violence. I think there are poor communities where rather than mass shootings, you're seeing just normal interaction that used to be settled by a fist fight settled with guns, where maybe intervention programs and mentorship and things like that can work. That's the kind of thing that we're trying to encourage through My Brother's Keeper.

But when it comes to reaching every disaffected young man, 99.99 percent of whom will hopefully grow out of it, I don't think there's a silver bullet there. The way we are going to solve this problem is that when they act out, when they are disturbed, when that particular individual has a problem, that they can't easily access weapons that can perpetrate mass violence on a lot of people because that's what other countries do.

Again, I want to emphasize this. There's no showing that somehow we are inherently more violent than any other advanced nation or that young men are inherently more violent in our nation than they are in other nations. I will say young men inherently are more violent than the rest of the population, but there's no sense that somehow this is -- it's something in the American character that is creating this.

Levels of violence are on par between the United States and other advanced countries. What is different is homicide rates and gun violence rates and mass shooting rates. So it's not that the behavior, or the -- the impulses are necessarily different, as much as it is that they have access to more powerful weapons.

Julie Edwards (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You just said that you reject President Putin's approach to Syria and his attacks on moderate opposition forces. You said it was a recipe for disaster, but what are you willing to do to stop President Putin and protect moderate opposition fighters? Would you consider imposing sanctions against Russia? Would you go so far as to equip moderate rebels with anti- aircraft weapons to protect them from Russian air attacks? And how do you respond to critics who say Putin is outsmarting you, that he took a measure of you in Ukraine and he thought he could get away with it?

OBAMA: Yes, I've heard all before.


I've got to say, I'm always struck by the degree to which, not just critics, but I think people buy this narrative. Let's think about this. So when I came into office seven and a half years ago, America had precipitated the worst financial crisis in history, dragged the entire world into a massive recession. We were involved in two wars with almost no coalition support. U.S. -- world opinion about the United States was at a nadir. We were just barely above Russia at that time and I think potentially slightly below China's and we were shedding 800,000 jobs a month and so on and so forth.

And today, we're the strongest large, advanced economy in the world. Probably one of the few bright spots in the world economy. Our approval ratings have gone up. We are more active on more international issues and forge international responses to everything from Ebola, to you know, countering ISIL.

OBAMA: Meanwhile, Mr. Putin comes into office at a time when the economy had been growing and they were trying to pivot to a more diversified economy, and as a consequence of these brilliant moves, their economy's contracting four percent this year, they are isolated in the world community, subject to sanctions that are not just applied by us, but by what used to be some of their closest trading partners. Their main allies in the Middle East were Libya and Syria, Mr. Gadhafi and Mr. Assad.

And those countries are falling apart and he's now just had to send in troops and aircraft in order to prop up this regime, at the risk of alienating the entire Sunni world.

So what was the question again?


No, no, but I think it's really interesting to understand. Russia's not stronger as a consequence of what they've been doing. They get attention. The sanctions against Ukraine are still in place. And what I've consistently offered, from a position of strength, because the United States is not subject to sanctions. And we're not contracting 4 percent a year. What I've offered is a pathway whereby they can get back onto a path of growth and do right by their people.

So Mr. Putin's actions have been successful only insofar as it's boosted his poll ratings inside of Russia, which may be why the beltway is so impressed, because that tends to be the measure of success. Of course it's easier to do when you have a state-controlled media.

But this is not a smart, strategic move on Russia's part. And what Russia has now done is not only committed its own troops into a situation in which the overwhelming majority of the Syrian population sees it now as an enemy. But the Sunni population throughout the Middle East is gonna see it as a supporter, an endorser of those barrel bombs landing on kids. At a time when Russia has a significant Muslim population inside of its own borders that it needs to worry about.

So I want Russia to be successful. This isn't -- this is not a contest between the United States and Russia. It is in our interest for Russia to be a responsible, effective actor on the international stage, that can share burdens with us, along with China, along with Europe, along with Japan, along with other countries. Because the problems we have are big. So I'm hopeful that Mr. Putin, having made this doubling down of the support he's providing to Mr. Assad, recognizes that this is not going to be a good long-term strategy, and that he works instead to bring about a political settlement. Just as I hope that they can resolve the issues with Ukraine in a way that recognizes Russian equities, but upholds the basic principal of sovereignty and independence that the Ukrainian people should enjoy like everybody else.

But until that time, we're going to continue to have tensions and we're going to continue to have differences. But we're not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia. That would be bad strategy on our part. This is a battle between Russia, Iran, and Assad against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people.

Our battle is with ISIL and also our battle is with the entire national community to resolve the conflict in a way that can end the bloodshed and end the refugee crisis and allow people to be at home, work, grow food, shelter their children, send those kids to school. That's the side we're on.

This is not some, you know, superpower chess board contest. And anybody who frames it in that way isn't paying very close attention to what's been happening on the chess board.

All right, last question. Major Derrick (ph).

QUESTION: Mr. President, good to see you.

OBAMA: Good to see you.

QUESTION: And for the children there, I promise I won't take too long. So you've been very patient.

OBAMA: I've been boring them to death, I guarantee it.


But there have been times where I've snagged rebounds for Ryan when he's shooting three-pointers, so he's got to put up with this.

QUESTION: Understand -- understood.

Mr. President, I wonder if you could tell the country to what degree you were changed or moved by what you discussed in private with Pope Francis, what you think his visit might have meant for the country long-term.

And for Democrats who might already be wondering, is it too late for Joe Biden to decide whether or not to run for president? And lastly, just to clarify...


...were -- to what degree did Hillary Clinton's endorsement just yesterday of a no-fly zone put her in a category of embracing a half- baked answer in Syria that borders on mumbo-jumbo?

OBAMA: The -- on the latter issue, on -- on the last question that you asked, Hillary Clinton is -- is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems. She was obviously my Secretary of State.

But I also think that there's a difference between running for president and being president. And the decisions that are being made and the discussions that I'm having with the Joint Chiefs become much more specific and require, I think, a different kind of judgment.

And that's what I'll continue to apply as long as I'm here. And if and when she's president, then she'll make those judgments, and she's been there enough that she knows that, you know, these are tough calls, but that...

QUESTION: (inaudible)

OBAMA: No, that's not what I said. That's, perhaps, what you said.

What I'm saying is, is that we all want to try to relieve the suffering in Syria, but my job is to make sure that whatever we do, we are doing in a way that serves the national security interests of the American people, that doesn't lead to us getting into things that we can't get out of, or that we cannot do effectively. And as much as possible, that we're working with international partners.

And we're going to continue to explore things that we can do to protect people and to deal with the humanitarian situation there, and to provide a space in which we can bring about a -- the kind of -- you know, political transition that's going to be required to solve the problem. And I think Hillary Clinton would be the first to say that when you're

sitting in the seat that I'm sitting in, in the situation room, things look a little bit different. Because she's been right there next to me.

I love Joe Biden, and he's got his own decisions to make, and I'll leave it at that. And in the meantime, he's doing a great job as vice president, and has been really helpful on a whole bunch of issues.

Pope Francis, I love. He is a good man, with a warm heart and a big moral imagination. And I think he had such an impact in his visit here, as he's had around the world, because he cares so deeply about the least of these (ph). And in that sense, expresses what I consider to be, as a Christian, the essence of Christianity.

And he's got a good sense of humor.


Well, I can't share all his jokes. They were all clean.


The-- and as I said in the introduction in the South Lawn of -- when he appeared here at the White House, I think it's really useful that he makes us uncomfortable in his gentle way.

That he's constantly prodding people's consciences and asking everybody all across the political spectrum what more you can do to be kind and to be helpful and to love and to sacrifice and to serve.

And -- and in that sense, I -- I don't think he's somebody where we should be applying, you know, the typical American political measures, you know, liberal and conservative, and left and right. I think he is -- is speaking to all of our consciences, and we all have to then search ourselves to see if there are ways that we can, you know, we can do better.

QUESTION: Did that happen to you (ph)?

OBAMA: You know, it did (ph). I -- I think when I spend time with somebody like the pontiff -- and there are other individuals, some of whom are famous, some of whom are not, but who are good people, and deeply moral, then it makes me want to be better. It makes me want to do better.

And those people are great gifts to the world. And sometimes they're just a teacher in a classroom. And sometimes they're your neighbor. And sometimes they're your mom, or your wife. Sometimes they're your kids. But, you know, they can encourage you to be better. That's what -- you know, we're all trying to do.

I think -- and -- and that's part of the wonderful thing about Pope Francis, is -- is the humility that he brings to this. You know, his rejection of the absolutism that says, "I'm 100 percent right and you're 100 percent wrong," but rather, "we are all sinners and we are all children of God," and that's a pretty good starting point for being better.

All right? Thank you, guys, for your patience. You can now go home.


All right, thanks.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We were just listening to President Obama addressing the nation answering questions from reporters at the end there he was talking to some children, some very patient young people that had been sitting there the ones he was telling they could go home.

He spoke about his conversation with Pope Francis. He railed against Russia and Putin as well as Iran for propping up Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, for giving weapons to someone the president called an indiscriminate killer.

President Obama also saying that Vladimir Putin does not distinguish between the terrorist of ISIS and the U.S.-backed moderate Sunni rebel groups while defending his handling of foreign policy.

And perhaps most forcefully President Obama again addressing again yesterday's massacre in Oregon slamming Republicans who say new laws will change nothing about gun violence in this country speaking extensively on that issue.

Let's bring back in our White House correspondent, Michelle Kosinski, who is in the east room. Michelle, President Obama talking about his strategy going forward on this issue, gun violence.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, he was pretty clear saying there are things he can do, mainly talk about this issue and keep bringing it to the forefront and things he cannot do.

When he was asked is there a way to reach these people who are angry and disaffected? In one word he said, no. I think one of the most interesting parts was, you know, additional gun control laws are always proposed after this.

The president said himself in the American conversation about these tragedies it always kind of follows a pattern. And part of that pattern that we see is there's a question of what more could be done legislatively.

But often those goals don't fit with some of the incidents themselves. So on mental health issues he said, look, the best we can do is just make sure some of these people don't have access to an arsenal of weapons -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Michelle Kosinski in the east room of the White House. Thank you. We're going to take a very quick break. When we come back the panel is going to join me to discuss and digest everything President Obama had to say including his reaction to yesterday's tragedy in Oregon. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: Welcome back. President Obama just finished taking questions from reporters. I'm here with CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto, and former senior adviser to President Obama, Dan Pfeiffer.

Jim, quickly, President Obama really pushing back on this narrative that Putin is ascendant.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Basically Russia is getting itself into a quagmire in Syria, frankly the weakness but fighting the broader narrative saying look at where our economy is opposed to the Russian economy et cetera. There is truth to that, no question.

But the fact is Russian military options -- operations in Syria limit U.S. options there and we're seeing a similar pattern that we saw with Ukraine. What does the U.S. do? Does he have an answer? He didn't answer that question.

TAPPER: Dan Pfeiffer, on the subject of guns President Obama very passionately speaking about that. What do you make of the fact he hasn't talked about any specific legislative remedy? He's just talking about going against the gun lobby in general.

DAN PFEIFFER, FORMER SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think you're going to hear that. Remember after Newtown he asked the vice president to come up with a task force and a series of proposals including legislative of background checks, dealing with high capacity clips, assault weapons.

So I suspect as he said he'll be talking about this for a long time and over the rest of his presidency you'll hear about the specific things he pushed for in the wake of Newtown.

TAPPER: All right, Dan Pfeiffer, Jim Sciutto, thanks so much. That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper turning you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." I'll see you Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION."