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Takeaways From Obama’s Press Conference

Warren dismissed "empty promises" made about trade agreements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Warren dismissed "empty promises" made about trade agreements. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama says his fight with “Elizabeth,” as in Warren, has never been “personal.”  

He’s happy the Senate is moving forward on his fast-track trade bill but wants to keep reaching out to opponents on the left.  

He hopes to pass a long-term highway funding bill soon, and pointed to the doc fix deal as a hopeful example of what can be accomplished.  

Obama spoke about the horrific Amtrak crash and transitioned into a pitch for infrastructure spending — though he didn’t explicitly tie the two together.  

“We need to invest in the infrastructure that keeps us that way. And not just when something bad happens, like a bridge collapse or a train derailment, but all the time. That’s what great nations do,” he said.  

He said there is “an urgent need” for the Palestinians to have their own state.  

And he’s still hopeful of reaching a deal with Iran that will contain its nuclear program and get the backing of the world.  

He said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew assured the other countries “there would be no sanctions relief until we could confirm that Iran had actually carried out its obligations under any nuclear deal.”  

When asked about Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons such as chlorine, Obama said if it was confirmed he would appeal to Russia and other countries to help put a stop to it. He didn’t say the words “red line.”  

Obama also took on environmentalists upset with his administration’s plan to allow Arctic drilling.  

“I know a little something about the risks of off-shore drilling, given what happened in the Gulf very early in my presidency, and so nobody’s more mindful of the risks involved and the dangers,” Obama said. “That’s why, despite the fact that Shell had put in an application for exploration in this region several years ago, we delayed it for a very lengthy period of time, until they could provide us with the kinds of assurances that we have not seen before taking account of the extraordinary challenges, if in fact there was a leak that far north and in that kind of an environment, which would be much more difficult to deal with than in the Gulf.”  

And he made no apologies for supporting more domestic oil and gas production.  

“I would rather us, with all the safeguards and standards that we have, be producing our oil and gas, rather than importing it, which is bad for our — for our people, but is also potentially purchased from places that have much lower environmental standards than we do,” Obama said.  

As for the contretemps with Warren, Obama said it was about policy:

“You know, the issue with respect to myself and Elizabeth has never been personal. I think it’s fun for, you know, the press to see if we can poke around at it when you see two close allies who have a disagreement on a policy issue. But there are a whole bunch of — some of my best friends in the Senate, as well as in the House, some of my earliest supporters who disagree with me on this.

And I understand because like me, they came up through the ranks watching plants close, jobs being shipped overseas. Like me, they have concerns about whether labor agreements or environmental agreements with other countries are properly enforced. Like me, they have concerns about whether in fact trade ends up being fair and not just free.

And like me, they have a deep concern about some of the global trends that we’ve seen, and trends that we’ve seen in our own countries in terms of increased inequality and what appears to be the effects of automation and globalization in allowing folks at the very top to do really, really well, but creating stagnation in terms of incomes and wages for middle class families and folks working to get their way into the middle class.

So, these are folks whose values are completely aligned with mine. I notice that there was sort of a progressive statement of principles about what it means to be a progressive by some of these friends of mine. And I noted that it was basically my agenda, except for trade. That was the one area where there was a significant difference.

And this just comes down to a policy difference and analysis in terms of what we think is best for our people, our constituents. It is my firm belief that despite the problems of previous trade deals, that we are better off writing high-standard rules with strong, enforceable provisions on things like child labor or deforestation or environmental degradation or wildlife trafficking or intellectual property — we are better off writing those rules for what is going to be the largest, fastest-growing market in the world.”

The 114th: CQ Roll Call’s Guide to the New Congress

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