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Iran, Health Care Dominate Questions For Obama

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, I'm Renee Montagne.

DAVID GREENE, host:

And I'm David Greene in for Steve Inskeep.

President Obama, yesterday, condemned the Iranian government crackdown on demonstrators in the streets of Tehran and he called, heartbreaking, the death of one young Iranian woman caught on videotape. Mr. Obama was pressed on how he plans to respond to Iran at a White House news conference, he also talked about the White House goal of overhauling the nation's health care system.

NPR's Don Gonyea has this report from the White House.

DON GONYEA: For a week and a half, the world has watched the crackdown on protests in Tehran. President Obama has called for an end to the violence. He's defended what he calls the universal right of people to dissent. And yesterday he used the start of his news conference to make that point in his strongest language yet.

President BARACK OBAMA: The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, of the beatings and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost.

GONYEA: But during questioning, the president would not state the consequences Iran faces if the violence continues. He stuck to his position that the U.S. cannot be seen as meddling in Iranian politics noting that the government there would quickly use that as a tool against demonstrators. When asked if he still hopes to engage Iran in negotiations over its nuclear program, he said, yes. But added that the administration has to see how the current crisis plays out.

Pres. OBAMA: What we've been seeing over the last several days, the last couple of weeks, obviously is not encouraging in terms of the path that this regime may choose to take.

GONYEA: As per Republicans in Congress who say he has not responded forcefully enough, among them Senator John McCain, the president had this response when asked if his words were now tougher because of such critics.

Pres. OBAMA: What do you think?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: The other dominant topic yesterday was health care. The president wants to give people the option of enrolling in a government sponsored plan that would compete with private insurers. The battle in Congress is just underway, but signs of how tough it will be are already evident. Republicans and some Democrats have already blanched at an estimated price tag topping a trillion dollars. The president maintains that will be offset by cost savings and through new efficiencies. And, he says, maintaining the status quo would be prohibitively expensive because premiums keep going up and up.

Pres. OBAMA: So, the notion that somehow we can just keep on doing what we're doing and that's okay, that's just not true. We have a long-standing critical problem in our health care system that is pulling down our economy, it's burdening families, it's burdening businesses, and it is the primary driver of our federal deficits.

GONYEA: And the president responded to claims by big health insurers who say they won't survive if forced to compete with a government plan.

Pres. OBAMA: Well, why would it drive private insurance out of business? If private insurers say that the marketplace provides the best quality health care, if they tell us that they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical?

GONYEA: But the private insurers worry that it would be impossible to compete against a government plan that's heavily subsidized. The president also talked about the economy. He was asked if higher than projected jobless rates nationally and the slow pace of the recovery mean a second government stimulus package will be needed. Not yet, he said. Then he added…

Pres. OBAMA: Look, the American people have a right to feel like this is a tough time right now. What's incredible to me is how resilient the American people have been and how they are still more optimistic than the facts alone would justify, because this is a tough, tough period.

GONYEA: Those are words that describe much of what the president is dealing with - domestically and abroad.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.