Obama: No ‘Rush’ on Syria

The president says he’s still not sure who used chemical weapons in the Syrian war. Howard Kurtz reports.

President Obama said Tuesday there is evidence that chemical weapons have been used in Syria but that the U.S. doesn’t know “how they were used, when they were used, who used them”—and that he would not be “rushing to judgment” without more facts.

In a hastily called news conference, Obama stopped short of promising further action, even after having said that the Assad government would be crossing a red line by employing such weapons. All he would say is that if chemical warfare was confirmed, he “would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.” Obama insisted that Americans are not simply “bystanders” in the war and repeated his call for Bashir al-Assad, who has “killed his own people,” to step down.

In responding to a leadoff question from Ed Henry of Fox News about whether certain people are not cooperating with investigations of the fatal attack on the embassy in Benghazi, Obama said he did not know “that anybody’s been blocked from testifying.”

On the Boston bombing, Obama said the FBI had earlier investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev—“it’s not as if the FBI did nothing”—and concluded that “there were no signs they were engaging in extremist activity.” He said he would “leave no stone unturned” in examining whether there were shortcomings in the law enforcement handling of intelligence about Tsarnaev and his younger brother. “This is hard stuff,” Obama said, walking a fine line between defending his administration and appearing open to criticism based on further investigation.

The president added that “one of the dangers we now face are self-radicalized individuals who are now here in the United States” who, based on their “twisted” ideas, “may decide to carry out an attack.”

Pointing to Boston fans going to Fenway Park soon after the terrorist attack, Obama said, “we’re not going to be intimidated.”

When ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked about the failure of gun control legislation—and asked whether he still had the “juice” to push through his agenda—the president tried to deflect the question with humor. “If you put it that way, Jon, maybe I should just pack up and go home,” he said. “Gol-lee.” He said Karl’s question let members of Congress off the hook “and that my job is to somehow get them to behave. That’s their job … I cannot force Republicans to embrace those commonsense solutions … Their base is worried that compromise with me is somehow a betrayal.”

More substantively, Obama said “things are pretty dysfunctional” in Washington and that while he wants a broader deal with the Republicans on replacing the budget sequester with more targeted cuts, it made sense to quickly fix the airport delays caused by furloughs of air traffic controllers.

It was a snapshot of a president complaining that the opposition is being intransigent but essentially admitting there are limits to what he can do to budge the other side.