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Obama Surprises Reporters At White House Briefing


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm David Greene.

President Obama will be out talking to voters today, with events in the battleground states of Ohio and Nevada. But by this time in an election year, a sitting president is campaigning even when he's home. The president made a surprise appearance, yesterday, in the White House briefing room. You can imagine what most of the questions were about. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama used his White House bully pulpit to challenge a claim that Republican rival Mitt Romney's been making at campaign rallies and in TV ads. Romney's accused the Obama Administration of stripping the work requirement out of the 1996 welfare reform.

In fact, the administration's offered to give states more flexibility, to put more welfare recipients to work. The Tampa Bay Times Politifact checkers gave Romney's ad the dubious rating: Pants on Fire. And Mr. Obama says they're not alone.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Everybody who's looked at this says what Governor Romney is saying is absolutely wrong. Not only are his superPACS running millions of dollars worth of ads making this claim, Governor Romney himself is approving this and saying it on the stump.

HORSLEY: The president acknowledged that an ad produced by a pro-Obama superPAC also stretches the facts with its suggestion that Romney contributed to a woman's death. The woman died years after her steelworker husband lost his job and his health insurance at a mill once owned by Romney's investment firm. Mr. Obama stressed that ad was made without his approval and said with the exception of news coverage, it's barely been seen on TV.

In general, Mr. Obama defended the tone of his re-election campaign. He says there's nothing out of bounds in calling for Romney to release more than just two years of tax returns.

OBAMA: This isn't, sort of, overly personal here, guys. This is pretty standard stuff. I don't think we're being mean by asking you to do what every other presidential candidate's done.

HORSLEY: When Romney's father ran for president in 1968, he released more than a decade of tax returns. Mr. Obama says voters might have legitimate questions after reviewing the one return Romney has released so far.

OBAMA: He used Swiss bank accounts, for example. Well, that may be perfectly legal. But I suspect if you ask the average American, do you have one and is that part of how you manage your tax obligations, they would say no. They would find that relevant information.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama was also asked about Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin's controversial comment this week, that women can avoid pregnancy if they're victims of, quote, "legitimate rape." The Missouri lawmaker said later he misspoke, that he meant to say forcible rape. That's a term some Republicans, including vice presidential hopeful Paul Ryan, have proposed to narrow the rape exception in anti-abortion laws. Mr. Obama calls the Akin comment offensive, adding, rape is rape.

Republicans have also denounced Akin's comments and some are urging him to drop out of the Senate race. Beyond the controversial language, Mr. Obama says there's a larger issue at stake.

OBAMA: We shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women.

HORSLEY: While domestic politics filled much of the president's news conference, Mr. Obama also discussed his foreign policy, including Syria. So far, he's resisted the use of American military force there. But Mr. Obama warns that could change if Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad fails to secure his stockpile of chemical weapons.

OBAMA: A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus.

HORSLEY: Meantime, the president says the U.S. will continue to assist the Syrian opposition in preparing for a future political change and will likely increase its humanitarian aid, so the large number of Syrian refugees don't destabilize the surrounding region.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horlsey
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