JIM LEHRER: This afternoon’s White House news conference was called originally for the president to discuss rising gasoline prices. But events from Japan to Libya and the federal budget ended up dominating the questioning.
Here are some excerpts, beginning with the first question from Chuck Todd of NBC News.
CHUCK TODD, NBC News: You had said that you want to see Gadhafi leave — leave power, leave office. Are you prepared to use any means necessary in the United States government to make that happen?
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, first of all, let’s take a look at what we’ve already done.
He is more and more isolated internationally, both through sanctions as well as an arms embargo. NATO will be meeting on Tuesday to consider a no-fly zone. And we’ve been in discussions with both Arab countries, as well as African countries, to gauge their support for such an action.
In addition, Secretary Hillary Clinton will be meeting with the opposition in the next several days. I am absolutely clear that it is in the interests of the United States, and more importantly in the interests of the Libyan people, for Mr. Gadhafi to leave. And I have not foreclosed these options.
MIMI HALL, USA Today: Mr. President, just to follow up on Libya — and I also have a budget question — you say you’re concerned, but is Gadhafi staying, is that an acceptable option for you, ever?
And my question on the budget is there’s been some criticism from members of your own party about your leadership on negotiations on spending. And I’m wondering, given that, if you can talk about where you stand on a three-week C.R., on longer-term priorities, and what you would and would not accept on…
BARACK OBAMA: Sure.
MIMI HALL: … on cuts. Thank you.
BARACK OBAMA: Going back to the Gadhafi question, you know, when you say, “Is it ever acceptable?” I mean, what I think what you’re asking is, you know, are we going to do — engage in any potential military action to make that happen?
When it comes to U.S. military actions, whether it’s a no-fly zone or other — other options, you’ve got to balance costs vs. benefits. And, you know, I don’t take those decisions lightly.
Now, with respect to the budget, the Republicans in the House passed a budget that has been now rejected in the Senate. They are not going to get 100 percent of what they want.
The Democrats have put forward spending cuts, many of them pretty painful, that give Republicans already half of what they were seeking, because they’re the right thing to do. Many of those cuts are ones that were already embodied in the budget that I proposed for 2012.
Now, that’s been rejected as well.
So, here’s what we know: that both sides are going to have to sit down and compromise on prudent cuts somewhere between what the Republicans were seeking that’s now been rejected and what the Democrats had agreed to that has also been rejected. It shouldn’t be that complicated.
We can’t keep on running the government based on two-week extensions. That’s irresponsible. I mean, we’ve — you know, I have — we have got a war in Afghanistan going on. We have got a wide range of issues facing the country on a day-to-day basis. And the notion that we can’t get resolved last year’s budget in a sensible way with serious, but prudent spending cuts, I think, defies common sense. And so, we should be able to get it done.
CHIP REID, CBS News: I would like to go at the Libya thing in a slightly different way.
In an interview with CBS News, Gadhafi’s son Saif, said — quote — “The plan,” — said, “The plan is,” quote, “to squash the rebels with no mercy.”
If he follows through — if the Gadhafi regime follows through on that, can the United States simply stand by and do nothing? And I say that in light of the fact that, in the past, you have said there are times when a brutal government is massacring its own citizens that the United States has a moral obligation to intervene militarily.
BARACK OBAMA: I continue to believe that, not only the United States, but the international community, has an obligation to do what it can to prevent a repeat of something like what occurred in the Balkans in the ’90s, what occurred in Rwanda.
And so, part of, for example, maintaining 24-hour surveillance of the situation there is for us to have some sort of alert system if you start seeing defenseless civilians who were being massacred by Gadhafi’s forces.
I believe that Gadhafi is on the wrong side of history. I believe that the Libyan people are anxious for freedom and the removal of somebody who has suppressed them for decades now.
And we are going to be in contact with the opposition, as well as in consultation with the international community, to try to achieve the goal of Mr. Gadhafi being removed from power.