WASHINGTON-President Obama hosted his second press conference of his administration Tuesday, 64 days in, and faced a hard-hitting Washington press corps on the economy, the deficit, and stem cell research.
From the first question to the last, the president fielded few softball questions.
"Why do you think the public should sign on for another new sweeping authority for the government?" asked Jennifer Loven of the Associated Press, in the first question of the evening.
When the president gave his answer about how a lack of regulatory authority got the country into its economic mess, she immediately followed up: "Why should the public trust the government to handle that authority well?"
The president replied that government is "effective when we've got the tools."
Chip Reid of CBS pressed the president about the projected deficit for his budget.
"If we don't make investments . . . we won't grow," Obama answered. "Critics tend to criticize, but they don't offer an alternative budget. I'm not going to lie to you . . . it is tough."
Ed Henry of CNN followed up on the deficit, asking about the debt Obama's daughters would be inheriting.
"If this were easy, we would have already had it done, and we would have voted on it, and we would have gone home," Obama said. "This is hard. The alternative is just to stand pat."
Then Henry asked why Obama didn't express frustration with AIG when he first found out about the bonuses, days before the news hit the public.
"I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak," Obama said pointedly.
Mike Allen of Politico asked why Obama had decided to reduce the charitable tax credit, part of the president's plan to pay for his budget.
"That shouldn't be a determining factor of whether you're giving that $100 to the homeless shelter down the street," the president said. "It's not going to cripple them. They'll still be well to do. Those who are more fortunate are going to have to be able to give more."
But, Allen persisted, what about the charities themselves?
"There's very little evidence that this has a significant impact on charitable giving," Obama responded.
The president attempted to walk a fine line when Jon Ward of The Washington Times asked him about the role of scientific consensus versus moral standards in determining laws for issues like stem cell research.
"If the science determines that we can completely avoid a set of ethical questions or political disputes, then that's great. I have no investment in causing controversy," Obama said. "What I don't want to do is predetermine this based on a very rigid ideological approach."
But, Ward pursued, does scientific consensus then determine those laws?
"There's always an ethical and moral element that has to be a part of this," the president replied.
One hour after the conference began, the president had covered peace between Israelis and Palestinians, an international currency, and what role race had played so far in his administration, though no one posed a single question about Iraq, Afghanistan, or terrorism -and he waved "good night."