When asked at last night’s news conference what “surprised” him most about his role as the nation’s chief executive, President Barack Obama shared with the nation the enormity and randomness of the challenges he’s confronted over the past 100 days. “I’ve been surprised by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head at the same time,” he says. “The typical president I think has two or three big problems. We’ve got seven or eight big problems. So we’ve had to move quickly.”
He’s had to contend with problems he knew would require his immediate attention as he assumed the presidency: an ailing economy, rising unemployment, a failing financial system, a crippled auto industry and two costly wars. And from day one, he hit the ground running, unveiling a slate of policies and legislation — the centerpiece being the $787 billion economic stimulus package — that rivaled the output of presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson.
Then there were issues he didn’t even fathom, including scuttled cabinet nominations, pirates and the spread of the H1N1 virus — commonly known as ” swine flu” — into a global pandemic. The administration yesterday committed $1.5 billion to tackle the latest health scare as the World Health Organization raised its global alert level to phase 5.
But there was good news as Obama entered what some officials termed a “Hallmark holiday.” Two days ago, Republican Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties and now represents the state of Pennsylvania as a Democrat. Specter’s move positions the Democrats to gain full control of a filibuster-proof Senate, which would be key to Obama’s ability to get other planks of his legislative agenda enacted. And to cap his 100th day, the president received news that Congress passed the $3.5 trillion budget proposal.
During the one-hour news conference, attended by Black Enterprise and scores of other media outlets, Obama maintained that the administration was “off to a good start but it’s just a start. I’m proud of what we’ve achieved but I’m not content. I’m pleased with our progress but I’m not satisfied.”
At the session, Obama displayed his usual cool, calm, and confident demeanor. He used his answers as educational opportunities on the short-term and long-range policy objectives, his policies’ components and, at times, engaged in humorous exchanges with reporters.
In the coming months, he says the administration will stay focused on his economic program which he framed as a “new foundation for growth,” emphasizing future investments in education and renewable energy.
On the international front, he discussed his concerns about the stability of Pakistan’s government but expressed confidence that its nuclear arms would not fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents.
He also addressed recent criticism from conservatives like former Vice President Dick Cheney regarding the use of harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding to gain information from terror suspects. Obama views such practices, which were used by the Bush administration, as torture and asserts he would “make sure we’re not taking short cuts that undermine who we are.”