The White House is doing something with its local TV interviews that it could not easily get away with in encounters with the White House press corps, which President Obama has been studiously ignoring: choosing the topic about which President Obama and the reporter will talk.
In interviews with three local TV stations Monday, two from states critical to Obama’s reelection effort, Obama held forth on the possibility of “sequestration” if he and Congress fail to reach a budget deal, allowing him to make his favorite political point that Republicans are willing to cause grievous harm to the economy and jobs in order to protect the rich from tax increases.
Obama Monday threw the White House press corps a bone by suddenly appearing in the briefing room for 22 minutes and taking questions from a total of four reporters. It was his first press conference at the White House – albeit in miniature – since March, and only his second of the year. Obama before Monday had taken exactly one substantive question from White House reporters since June.
But the three other interviews Obama also held Monday pointed to the advantage he gets by focusing on local press, with whom he has been speaking more regularly.
Under sequestration, if a budget deal is not reached by the end of the year, harsh automatic spending cuts will occur. Each of the network reporters were from cities with major military facilities that could be unduly impacted if sequestration occurs.
Two of the reporters were from Norfolk, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida, both presidential battleground states. The third was from San Diego.
The reporters mostly made no effort to hide the arrangement. “The president invited me to talk about sequestration,” NBC 7 San Diego’s reporter told her audience. In the interview, she set Obama up with a perfectly pitched softball the president couldn’t have been more eager to take a swing at:
“What do you want individual San Diegans to know about sequestration?” she asked.
Donna Deegan of FCN Jacksonville initially seemed to apologize for not broaching the appointed subject right away.
“Mr. President, I know we were asked to talk about sequestration today,” she said, but then added she wanted to talk about something else first. Finally, she got to it:
“Let’s talk a little bit about sequestration, because I know that’s why you invited us here,” she said.
Obama used an interview with WVEC Norfolk to specifically bash Republicans.
“The only thing that’s standing in the way of us getting this done right now is the unwillingess on the part of some members of Congress, and folks in in the Republican Party, to give up on some tax breaks for people like me who don’t need them,” he said.
The reporters were able to ask about other topics. But with their face time with the president limited to under ten minutes, and Obama well rehearsed to discuss at length his favored topic, there was little room for much else to come up.