President Barack Obama was grilled repeatedly on Thursday on unmet promises of his 2008 campaign – facing some of the toughest questioning of his reelection effort to date.
At the Univision presidential forum on Thursday at the University of Miami, the president was pressed about his failure to achieve comprehensive immigration reform and on his administration’s decision to label last week’s violence at the Libyan embassy a terrorist attack.
The decision regarding the assault on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, which killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and four other Americans, brought increased criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill, Politico
When asked before the primarily Hispanic audience why the United States was not better prepared with increased security on the 9/11 anniversary, Obama discussed the incident in the context of a video that Muslims found offensive.
“This is obviously something that is used as excuse by some to carry out inexcusable violent acts on westerners or Americans,” Obama said, Politico reports, “and my number one priority is to keep our diplomats safe and our embassies safe.”
But earlier on Thursday, Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, said that the president considered the Benghazi attacks terrorism.
“We’re still doing an investigation,” he said, according to Politico. “What we do know is that the natural protests that arose because of the outrage over the video were used as an excuse by the extremists to see if they could directly harm U.S. interests.”
In other Univision questioning, Obama acknowledged that he had not changed the tone of Washington, as he had promised in 2008.
“I think that I’ve learned some lessons over the last four years – and the most important lesson I’ve learned is that you can’t change Washington from the inside,” Obama said. “You can only change it from the outside. That’s how I got elected. And that’s how the big accomplishments like health care got done.”
The comment drew a strong response from Obama’s GOP challenger, Mitt Romney, Politico reports.
Speaking in Sarasota on Thursday, Romney – who appeared at the Univision forum on Wednesday – said Obama’s comment amounted to throwing in “the white flag of surrender.”
“I can change Washington,” Romney said, according to Politico. “I will change Washington. I will get the job done from the inside.”
At much of Obama’s forum, time was spent discussing the president’s failure to get comprehensive immigration reform. The president attributed that to focusing instead on the economy and blaming Republicans in Congress.
But to host Jorge Ramos, the response was not good enough, Politico reports.
“You promised that, and a promise is a promise,” Ramos said. “And with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.”
Obama then explained the separation of powers in the federal government.
“There’s the thinking that the president is somebody who is all-powerful and can get everything done,” Obama said, according to Politico. “In our branch, in our system of government, I am the head of the executive branch. I’m not the head of the legislature, I’m not the head of the judiciary. We have to have cooperation from all these sources in order to get something done.
“So I am happy to take responsibility for the fact that we didn’t get it done, but I did not make a promise that we would get everything done, 100 percent when I was elected as president.”
The president later was asked what has been his biggest failure as president.
“As you remind me, my biggest failure is that we haven’t gotten comprehensive immigration reform done,” he said, according to Politico. “So we’re going to be continuing to work on that. But it’s not for lack of trying or desire.”
Obama also blamed Congress when reminded that he has presided over more deportations than any president in history.
“As the head of the executive branch, there’s a limit to what I can do,” he said. “Part of the reasons that deportations went up was Congress put a whole lot of money into it and when you have a lot of resources and a lot more agents involved, then there are going to be higher numbers.”
And asked if his action to stop deporting some people in the country illegally — announced in June, as the campaign was heating up — was done purely for political purposes, Obama focused his response on the Republicans’ immigration proposals.
“I think if you take a look at the polls, I was winning the Latino vote before we took that action,” Obama said, according to Politico. “Partly because the other side had completely abandoned their commitment to things like comprehensive immigration reform.”
The president also seized the opportunity to further his critique of Romney’s videotaped comments that 47 percent of the nation will support Obama only because they depend on government benefits – though Politico reports that he sidestepped directly answering a question about whether this is what Romney actually believes.
“When you express an attitude that half the country considers itself victims, that somehow they want to be dependent on government,” Obama said, “my thinking is maybe you haven’t gotten around a lot.”
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