WASHINGTON (CN) – At a packed and at times contentious press conference Tuesday, President Barack Obama answered questions on Iran, health care and clean energy, defending the controversial plan for public health insurance while delivering his strongest verbal condemnation to date of the Iranian crackdown on protests.
“The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days,” he said. “I strongly condemn these unjust actions.”
Obama also dismissed the regime’s “tired strategy” of blaming Western nations for instigating the protests. “This is not about the United States or the West. This is about the people of Iran and the future that they, and only they, will choose,” he said.
The White House press conference was packed to the room’s edge, with cameramen jostling with reporters for position. Obama answered questions on Iran and administation initiatives in the areas of clean energy and health care.
He said he will only sign a health care bill that will control rising health-care costs, and that will provide relief to the uninsured. He rejected Republican criticism suggesting government insurance option would out-compete private insurance companies.
In a rare sight, and a possible harbinger of the end of the honeymoon period, Obama grew annoyed at some of the questions he fielded from reporters, who were pushing against each other as they stood to take notes.
Asked if his strong words against the Iranian regime’s crackdown on protesters were influenced by Arizona Sen. John McCain, who has called on Obama to speak more strongly against the Iranian regime, Obama replied with a wide but irritated grin, “What do you think?”
“Only I am the president of the United States,” Obama said. He added that it’s his responsibility to make sure the United States is not “used as a tool.”
“I mean, you guys must have seen the reports. They’ve got some of the comments that I’ve made being mistranslated in Iran, suggesting that I’m telling rioters to go out and riot some more,” he said of the Iranian regime. “There are reports suggesting that the CIA is behind all this.”
Obama said no plans have been made yet on how to respond to Iran, beyond presidential jawboning. “We are going to monitor and see how this plays itself out before we make any judgments about how we proceed,” he said. “Ultimately, this is up to the Iranian people to decide who their leadership is going to be and the structure of their government.”
On clean energy, Obama said Congress is working on a bill that “will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and confront the carbon pollution that threatens our planet.”
He said the legislation will make clean energy profitable by investing in renewable sources of energy and in ways to boost efficiency, like installing efficient windows.
“This legislation is paid for by the polluters who currently emit the dangerous carbon emissions that contaminate the water we drink and pollute the air that we breathe,” he said. “The nation that leads in the creation of a clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the 21st century’s global economy.”
When asked if the government’s health insurance plan to compete with private insurance companies, Obama appeared agitated. “Why would it drive private insurers out of business?” Obama replied, almost yelling.
“If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care, if they tell us that they’re offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can’t run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business?” he exclaimed. “That’s not logical.”
Another reporter asked if a cheap public insurance plan would cause employers to switch their employees to the public plan. Obama has promised that Americans will not have to change plans if they like what they have.
“So let’s assume that nothing happened,” Obama replied. “I can guarantee you that there’s a possibility for a whole lot of Americans out there that they’re not going to end up having the same health care they have,” he said, explaining that employers will likely reduce their care, or completely cut it off.
“So reform is not a luxury,” he said, “it’s a necessity.”