Obama: I’m No Cheney on Spying

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  June 18, 2013 at 9:15 AM EDT


Protesters rally outside the U.S. Capitol against the NSA’s recently detailed surveillance programs. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Morning Line

President Barack Obama is defending his administration’s broad collection of information from technology and phone companies, outlining what he deems strict parameters for surveillance programs and saying the debate has “gotten cloudy.”

In an interview broadcast on PBS with Charlie Rose, the president compared the “tradeoffs” from surveillance programs to airport security and checkpoints for drunk drivers.

“We say, ‘Occasionally there are going to be checkpoints. They may be intrusive.’ To say there’s a tradeoff doesn’t mean somehow that we’ve abandoned freedom. I don’t think anybody says we’re no longer free because we have checkpoints at airports,” Mr. Obama said.

The president ticked off ways in which the National Security Agency generates reports that lead to the FBI seeking warrants for more information, and noted repeatedly that the content of phone calls are never revealed. “It is transparent,” he insisted.

He also acknowledged the political pressure he’s been under since news about the programs surfaced several weeks ago:

The whole point of my concern, before I was president — because some people say, ‘Well, you know, Obama was this raving liberal before. Now he’s, you know, Dick Cheney.’ Dick Cheney sometimes says, ‘Yeah, you know? He took it all lock, stock, and barrel.’

My concern has always been not that we shouldn’t do intelligence gathering to prevent terrorism, but rather are we setting up a system of checks and balances? So, on this telephone program, you’ve got a federal court with independent federal judges overseeing the entire program. And you’ve got Congress overseeing the program, not just the intelligence committee and not just the judiciary committee — but all of Congress had available to it before the last reauthorization exactly how this program works.

The fact the spying programs dominated the interview illustrates the difficulties of communicating the “balance” Mr. Obama talked about to the American people.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center and USA Today found the American people divided over whether the surveillance programs are in the public interest, but want to see 29-year-old former government contractor Edward Snowden prosecuted for leaking classified information to The Guardian and others.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein said this week the Intelligence panel is waiting on more information from the NSA before revealing details about the programs in a public hearing.

The Charlie Rose interview aired after Snowden hosted an unusual several hours-long live chat on the Guardian’s website. He defended leaking sensitive information to the press, and presented himself as somewhat of a hero.

Among the memorable moments? This line: “Ask yourself: if I were a Chinese spy, why wouldn’t I have flown directly into Beijing? I could be living in a palace petting a phoenix by now.”

The president’s 47-minute Rose interview was taped before he headed overseas to the Group of Eight meetings in Ireland, so he was not asked to respond to Snowden’s tirade.

During the interview, Mr. Obama detailed his stance on China’s challenges, the elections in Iran and what the United States should do in Syria, saying the nation is wary of a rush to war.

“It’s very easy to slip-slide your way into deeper commitments,” Mr. Obama said.

Another highlight from his remarks on Syria:

What I’m saying is, that if you haven’t been in the Situation Room, pouring through intelligence and meeting directly with our military folks and asking, what are all our options, and examining what are all the consequences, and understanding that for example, if you set up a no-fly zone, that you may not be actually solving the problem on the zone.

Or if you set up a humanitarian corridor, are you in fact committed not only to stopping aircraft from going that corridor, but also missiles? And if so, does that mean that you then have to take out the armaments in Damascus and are you prepared then to bomb Damascus? And what happens if there’s civilian casualties.

And have we mapped all of the chemical weapons facilities inside of Syria to make sure that we don’t drop a bomb on a chemical weapons facility that ends up then dispersing chemical weapons and killing civilians, which is exactly what we’re trying to prevent.

Unless you’ve been involved in those conversations, then it’s kind of hard for you to understand that the complexity of the situation and how we have to not rush into one more war in the Middle East.

The White House promoted the interview heavily.

Watch the full interview here or check out the top soundbites.

SCOTUS RULES

The Supreme Court on Monday struck down an Arizona law that requires people submit proof of citizenship when they register to vote in federal elections. The 7 to 2 decision, with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissenting, found that a state law cannot take precedence over a 1993 federal law — the Motor Voter Act — that streamlines election registrations through a national form system.

Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal explained the Court’s decision:

Justice Scalia wrote for the majority. And as he was during oral arguments, he was very skeptical of Arizona’s argument that, under the federal law, which requires states to accept and use the federal form, the terms accept and use means only to willingly receive the form and use it as part of the state’s registration process.

He said this was a mandate in the federal law for a specific purpose. And if Arizona and other states could tack on to the federal law different requirements, pretty soon, the federal law would no longer have a very simple and unified form.

But Coyle also noted that the ruling gave states an opening to tighten voter laws.

“I think it’s one of those two-sided decisions. He did provide a road map for the states if they want to add requirements on to voter registration forms,” Coyle said. “On the other hand, he also spoke to the elections clause and the power that Congress has given here as being quite broad. I think ultimately what we’re going to see is states are going to try to add some state-specific requirements to the federal form.”

Watch here or below:

Hours after the decision, Sen. Ted Cruz used the news to push his amendment to the immigration overhaul that would require voters show ID at the polls.

The Supreme Court still has more than a dozen cases for which to announce decisions. We’re watching a few major topics that have yet to see the justices’ opinions: affirmative action in higher education, the Voting Rights Act, and California’s Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which both involve same-sex marriage.

On decision days, the NewsHour homepage will host SCOTUSblog’s live coverage beginning at 10 a.m. ET. For more in-depth Supreme Court coverage of the 2012-13 term, visit our page.

LINE ITEMS

  • Mr. Obama and Vladimir Putin huddled Monday to discuss Syria, but “failed to resolve” their vast differences, writes Scott Wilson of the Washington Post.

  • Former U.S. Medicare and Medicaid administrator Don Berwick announced his plans to run for governor of Massachusetts. Joshua Miller of the Boston Globe rounds up the political consequences.

  • Jeremy Peters of the New York Times notes that Republicans are pursuing new limits on abortion to appeal to the party’s base.

  • Politico’s John Harris and Maggie Haberman explore Bill Clinton’s “autumnal mood” these days.

  • The New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman profiles Alabama GOP Sen. Jeff Sessions, one of the leading opponents of the immigration reform plan in the Senate.

  • The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday is expected to take up an immigration reform proposal that focuses on border security.

  • Even though efforts to pass gun control measures failed in Congress, the White House continues to push its own initiatives to reduce gun violence, reports NewsHour’s Tiffany Mullon. In January, Mr. Obama signed 23 executive actions intended to curb gun violence, and in a 1 p.m. speech Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden will highlight “completed or significant progress” on 21 of those 23 measures. Chief among them: lifting a freeze in gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control, new training for “active shooter” situations, and new emergency response plans for schools and houses of worship. Previewing the speech, a senior administration official told reporters, “The vast majority of the American people support these critical steps, it’s time for Congress to take action and get this done.” The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker has more.

  • A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found that Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist leads Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott 47 percent to 37 percent in a potential 2014 gubernatorial contest in the Sunshine State. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson also holds a 10-point advantage over Scott in a hypothetical matchup.

  • Democratic Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, who is up for re-election in 2014, said Monday that he is more of a Rockefeller Republican than a Pelosi Democrat.

  • Guy Taylor reports for the Washington Times that the State Department is taking over the process for vetting security contractors to the embassy in Iraq.

  • New Jersey Citizen Action and New Jersey Communities United filed a brief in state Supreme Court Monday, highlighting the “smoking gun” in a 1915 state law that they say could force Republican Gov. Chris Christie to hold the election to replace the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg on the same day as this November’s general election.

  • Democratic consultant Mo Elleithee wrote a letter to his daughter for Father’s Day about sexism in America and how working for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign shifted his views. He talked about it on Morning Joe Monday.

  • Jim Holshouser, who was North Carolina’s first Republican governor of the 20th century, died Monday at 78.

  • Well, it’s a close contest as to who voters think would win a fight between a shark and a bear. 56% chose the bear, and 44% the shark, according to a new survey from Public Policy Polling.

  • Apparently there aren’t reindeer in “American Somolia.” Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., would know.

  • Yeah, the journalism business is hard for everyone.

NEWSHOUR ROUNDUP

  • The latest in our “Inside Immigration Reform” series explores the issue of E-Verify, highlighted further Monday after a raid of 7-Eleven stores that had hired undocumented immigrants. Ray Suarez talked with Mark Krikorian and Chris Calabrese of the ACLU.

Watch here or below:

TOP TWEETS

Meena Ganesan, Simone Pathe and Politics Desk Assistant Mallory Sofastaii contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Christina Bellantoni at cbellantoni-at-newshour-dot-org.

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