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FULL TRANSCRIPT: Text of President Obama's First Full News Conference of 2012

President Barack Obama held his first news conference of 2012 today, in which he issued new initiatives as well as fielded questions on everything from Iran to Rush Limbaugh and Mitt Romney. Here's a transcript of the press conference. Plus, let us know what you think of the president's remarks by commenting on the post.

"Good afternoon, everybody. Now I understand there are some political contests going on tonight. But I'd thought I'd start the day off by taking a few questions which I'm sure will not be political in nature.

Before I do, I want to make a few announcements about some steps we're taking to help responsible homeowners who have been struggling through this housing crisis. Now we've clearly seen some positive economic news over the last few months.

Businesses have created about 3.7 million new jobs over the last two years. Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s. The auto-industry is back and hiring more than 200-thousand people over the last few years. Confidence is up and the economy is getting stronger.

But there are still

millions of Americans who can't find a job. There are millions more who are having a tough time making the rent or the mortgage, paying for gas or groceries. So our job in Washington isn't to sit back and do nothing. And it certainly isn't to stand in the way of the recovery.

Right now we've got to do everything we can to speed it up. Now, Congress did the right thing when they passed part of my jobs plan and prevented a tax hike on 160 million working Americans this year, and that was a good first step. But it's not enough. They can't just stop there and wait for the next election to come around.

There are a few things they can do right now that could make a real difference in people's lives. This Congress should, once and for all, end tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas and use that money to reward companies that are creating jobs here in the United States.

I've put forward a proposal that does just that, and there's no reason why Congress can't come together and start acting on it.

This Congress could hold a vote on the Buffett rule, so that we don't have billionaires paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries. That's just common sense. The vast majority of Americans believe it's common sense, and if we're serious about paying down our deficit, it's as good a place to start as any.

And finally, this Congress should pass my proposal to give every responsible homeowner a chance to save an average of $3,000 a year by refinancing their mortgage at historically low rates.

No red tape, no runaround from the banks. If you've been on time on your payments, if you've done the right thing, if you've acted responsibly, you should have a chance to save that money on your home, perhaps to build up your equity or just have more money in your pocket that you can spend on businesses in your community.

That would make a huge difference for millions of American families. Now, if Congress refuses to act, I've said that I'll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.
Last fall, we announced an initiative that allows millions of responsible homeowners to refinance at low interest rates. Today we're taking it a step further. We are cutting by more than half the refinancing fees that families pay for loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration.

That's going to save the typical family in that situation an extra thousand dollars a year on top of the savings that they'd also receive from refinancing. That would make refinancing even more attractive to more families. It's like another tax cut that'll put more money in people's pockets.

We're gonna do this on our own. We don't need congressional authorization to do it. We're also taking a series of steps to help homeowners who have served our country. It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families have been some of those who have been most susceptible to losing their homes due to the actions of unscrupulous banks and mortgage lenders. Over the last few years that happened a lot.

So as part of the landmark settlement we reached with some of the nation's largest banks a few weeks ago, here's what we're gonna do. If you are a member of the armed forces whose home was wrongfully foreclosed, you will be substantially compensated for what the bank did to you and your family.

If you are a member of the armed forces with a high interest rate who was wrongfully denied the chance to lower it while you were in active service, which banks are required to do by law, the banks will refund you the money you would've saved along with a significant penalty.

The settlement will make sure that you weren't forced into foreclosure just because you have a permanent change in station but can't sell your home because you owe more than its worth. Some of the money will also go into a fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms to our veterans. And there will be more foreclosure protections for every man and woman who is currently serving this country in harm's way.

As I've said before, no amount of money is going to be enough to make it right for a family who has had their piece of the American dream wrongfully taken away from them. And no action, no matter how meaningful, will entirely heal our housing market on its own. This is not something the government by itself can solve.

But I'm not one of those people who believe that we should just sit by and wait for the housing market to hit bottom. There are real things that we can do right now that would make a substantial difference in the lives of innocent, responsible homeowners. That's true in housing and that's true in any number of different areas when it comes to ensuring that this recovery touches as many lives as possible.

That's going to be my top priority as long as I hold this office, and I will do everything I can to make that progress. So with that, I'm going to take some questions, and I will start with Mike Vicara."

REPORTER QUESTION: "On the Middle East Gaddafi said he's going to send his forces to Benghazi, route opponents from their bedrooms and he was going to shoot them. You frequently cited that speech as a justification for NATO, the no fly zone military action. In Syria al-Assad is killing people. There's a massacre underway. Your critics here in the USA most notably John McCain said you could start airstrikes now. On Iran on Sunday Romney went so far as to say if you were re-elected Iran will get a bomb and the world will change. How do you respond?"

Obama: You asked a couple of question there. Let's start with the Iran situation since that's been a topic the last few days. When I came into office Iran was unified, on the move had made substantial progress on its nuclear program and the world was divided on how to deal with it. What we've been able to do over the last few is years is mobilize unprecedented crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified, Iran is politically isolated. What we have said is we won't countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is not letting them get a nuclear weapon.

Because if they get one that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the arms of terrorists. We've been in close consultation with all of our allies including Israel in moving this strategy forward. At this stage it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That's not just my view, it's the view of our top intelligence officials, and it's the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.

As a consequence we're going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the nations by giving assurances to the international community that theyre meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That's my track record. Now what's said on the campaign trail, those folks don't have a lot of responsibilities, they're not commander in chief. When I see the casualness when I see these folks talk about war, I'm reminded of the costs involved in war. I'm reminded the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our men and women into battle and the impact it has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy this is not a game and there's nothing casual about it. And when I see these folks that have a lot of bluster, and a lot of big talk but when you actually ask them specifically what t hey would do it turns out they repeat the things we've been doing over the last three years.

It indicates to me that that's more about politics than trying to solve a problem. Now one thing we have not done is we haven't launched a war. If some of these folks think it's time to launch a war then they should say so and explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk

With respect to Syria, what's happening is heartbreaking and outrageous and what you've seen is the international community mobilize against the assad regime and it's not a question of if assad leaves, it's a question of when. He has lost the legitimacy of his people and the actions he's now taking against his people is inexcusable and the international community has said so in a more or less unified voice. On the other hand for us to take military action unilaterally as someone suggested or to think that somehow there is some simple solution I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya is we mobilized the international community we had a UNSC mandate that had the full cooperation of the region of arab states and we knew we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a very complicated situation.

So, what we've done is to work with key Arab states, key international partners. Hillary Clinton was in Tunisia to come together and mobilize and plan how do we support the opposition, how do we provide humanitarian assistance, how do we continue the political isolation, how do we continue the economic isolation.And we are gonna continue to work on this project with other countries. And it is my belief that ultimately this dictator will fall as dictators in the past have fallen.

But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, you know, that -- that hasn't been true in the past and it won't be true now. We've got to think through what we do through the lens of what's gonna be effective, but also what's critical for U.S. security interests.

Jake Tapper, REPORTER QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if the diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran's leaders to change their behavior and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike their nuclear facilities? What kind of assurances did you tell him? And shouldn't we -- I recognize the difference between debate and bluster, but shouldn't we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?"

President Obama: "I think there's no doubt that those who are suggesting or proposing or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not one of those people. Because what I've said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we've got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

I'm not going to go in the details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but what I said publicly doesn't differ greatly from what I said privately. Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security. And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any prime minister of Israel, when they think about the potential threats to -- to Israel and the Jewish homeland.

What I have also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran -- and that's not just my assessment, that's, I think, a uniform assessment -- because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they're now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank, and because we're now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody's interests, the United States, Israel and the world's, to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion. And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks or month or two months is not borne out by the facts.

And the argument that we've made to Israelis is that we've made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries. But one of the functions of friends is that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal. Particularly one in which we have a stake this is not just an issue of Israeli interest, it is an issue of US interest. It's also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely; there are consequences to the United States as well. And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand that there is going to be a price to pay. Sometime it's necessary. But we don't do it casually. When I visit Walter Reed; when I sign letters to families that haven't, uh, whose loved ones who've not come home. I'm reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost but we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past, when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics we make mistakes and typically it's not the folks who are, uh, popping off who pay the price it's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price. and as a consequence, I think it's very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem and that is what we've been doing over the last three years-- that's what I intend to keep doing.

REPORTER: You did publically say, "We've got Israel's back. What does that mean?

President Obama: What it means is that historically we have always cooperated with Israel with respect the defense of Israel. Just like we do with a whole range of other allies. Just like we do with Great Britain; like we do with Japan; and uh, that broad statement i think is confirmed when you look at what we've done over the last three years with things like Irondome that prevents missiles raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel.

That potentially land on schools, children, or families. And we're going to continue that unprecedented security commitment. It was not, uh, a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about. That's a commitment we make. Uh, Jackie. Where's Jackie?

JACKIE: With the news this morning that US and its allies are returning to the table -- or taking up Iran's offer to talk again more than a year after those talks broke up in frustration. Is this Iran's last chance to negotiate an end to this nuclear question. And you said three years ago in a similar one-on-one meeting with PM Netanyahu that the time for talk... by the end of that year 2009... you would be considering whether Iran was negotiating in good faith and you said at that time we're not going to have talks forever. So here we are nearly three years later. Is this it? And did you think you would be here three years after these first talks?

President Obama: You know, there is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations, there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways the international community has concluded were not serious. And my expectations given the consequences of an action for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied; the huge toll it's taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they are feeling right now which is unprecedented. They understand that the world community means business. To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss and a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful.

The measure of my commitment to Israel is not measured by a single visit. The measure of my commitment to Israel is seen in the actions that I've taken as President of the United States. And It's indisputable that I've had Israel's back over the last three years.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Do you think Rush Limbaugh's apology to the Georgetown Law student was sufficient and heartfelt? Do you agree with the decision of the growing number of sponsors that have decided to drop his show and stop supporting his show? And has there been a double standard on this issue? Liberal commentators have made similarly provocative or distasteful statements and there hasn't been such an outrage.

OBAMA: You know I'm not going to comment on what sponsors decide to do. I'm not going to comment on either the economics or the politics of it. I don't know what's in Rush Limbaugh's heart, so I'm not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology. What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don't have any place in the public discourse. And the reason I called Ms. Flute is because I thought about Malia and Sasha and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about. Even ones I may not agree with them on. I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way. And I don't want them attacked or called horrible names because they're being good citizens. And I wanted Sandra to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her.

And that we want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves arguments and disagreements and debate. And we want you to be engaged. And there's a way to do it that doesn't involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you're a private citizen. Jessica Yellin?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Top Democrats have said that Republicans, on a similar issue, are engaged on a war on women. Some top Republicans say its more like Democrats are engaged in a war for the women's vote. As you talk about loose talk of war in another arena, and women, this could raise concern among women. Do you agree with the Chair of your Democratic National Committee that there is a war on women?

OBAMA: Here's what I think. Women are going to make up their own mind in this election about who is advancing the issues that they care most deeply about. One of the things I've learned being married to Michelle, is I don't need to tell her what it is that she thinks is important. And there are millions of strong women around the country who are going to make their own determination about a whole range of issue.

It's not going to be narrowly focused just on contraception. It's not going to be driven by one statement by one radio announcer. It is going to be driven by their view of what's most likely to make sure they can help support their families, make their mortgage payments, who's got a plan to ensure that middle class families are secure over the long term, what's most likely to result in their kids being able to get the education they need to compete.

And I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women about how we're going to solidify the middle class and grow this economy, make sure everybody has a fair shot, everybody's doing their fair share, and we got a fair set of rules of the road that everybody has to follow.

So, I'm not somebody who believes that women are going to be single issue voters. They never have been. But I do think we've got a strong story to tell when it comes to women.

QUESTION: Would you prefer that language be changed?

OBAMA: You know, Jessica, as you know, if I start being in the business of arbitrating... Right, and what I do is I practice it. And so I'm going to try to lead by example in this situation, as opposed to commenting on every single comment that's made by either politicians or pundits. I would be very busy. I would not have time to do my job. That's your job to comment on what's said by politicians and pundits.

QUESTION: Mr. President, polls are showing that Latino voters seem to be favoring your reelection over any Republican alternative. Yet some of them are still disappointed, others upset, about the promise that you made on immigration reform that has yet to come to pass. If you are reelected, what would be your strategy? What would you do different to get immigration reform passed with the Congress, especially if both houses continue as they are right now, which is split?

OBAMA: Well, first of all just substantively, every American should want immigration reform. We've got a system that's broken. We've got a system in which you have millions of families here in this country who are living in the shadows, worried about deportation. You've got American workers that are being undercut because those undocumented workers can be hired and the minimum wage laws may not be observed; overtime laws may not be observed.

(13:47:56) You've got incredibly talented people who want to start businesses in this country or to work in this country. And we should want those folks here in the United States, but right now the legal immigration system is so tangled up that it becomes very difficult for them to put down roots here. So we can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants. And it is not just a Hispanic issue. This is an issue for everybody. This is an American issue that we need to fix.

Now, when I came into office, I said, "I am going to push to get this done." We didn't get it done. And the reason we haven't gotten it done is because what used to be a bipartisan agreement that we should fix this ended up becoming a partisan issue. I give a lot of credit to my predecessor, George Bush, and his political advisers who said, you know, "This should not be just something the Democrats support; the Republican Party is invested in this as well."

That was good advice then. It would be good advice now. And my hope is that, after this election, the Latino community will have sent a strong message that they want a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform that involves making sure we've got tough border security -- and this administration has done more for border security than just about anybody -- that we are making sure that companies aren't able to take advantage of undocumented workers; that we've got, you know, strong laws in place; and that we've got a path so that all those folks whose kids often are U.S. citizens, who are, you know, working with us and living with us and in our communities and not breaking the law and trying to do their best to raise their families, that they've got a chance to be a fuller part of our community.

So what do I think will change?

QUESTION: What would you do differently?

OBAMA: Well, what I will do -- look, we're going to be putting forward, as we have done before, a framework, a proposal, legislation that can move it -- move the ball forward and actually get this thing done. But ultimately, I can't vote for Republicans. They're going to have to come to the conclusion that this is good for the country and that this is something that they themselves think is -- is important. And depending on how Congress turns out, we'll see how many Republican votes we need to get it done.

QUESTION: Today is Super Tuesday. So I wonder if you might weigh in on some of your potential Republican opponents. Mitt Romney has criticized you on Iran and said "Hope is not a foreign policy." He also said that you are "America's most reckless President since Carter." What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?

OBAMA: uhh.. Good luck tonight. [LAUGHTER]

[CROSSTALK] No, really?

OBAMA: Really! [LAUGHTER]

Lynn, since you've been hollering and you're from my hometown. Make it a good one.

QUESTION: My question is about the switch of the G8 Summit from Chicago to Camp David. A reason given from the White House is that now you wanted a more intimate summit. People in Chicago would like to know, what do you know now that you did not know when you booked hometown Chicago for the G8 that lead to the switch? And what role did security threats possibly play in the decision?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind, Lynn, we're still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders. We've got this NATO summit. Typically what's happened is we tried to attach the G8 Summit to the NATO Summit so that the leaders in the G8 Summit don't have to travel twice to whatever location. So last year in France we combined a G8 with a NATO Summit. We'll do so again.

I have to say this was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO Summit. Somebody pointed out that I hadn't had any of my counterparts whom I've worked with now for three years, up to Camp David. G8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way. And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop. I think the weather should be good that time of year. It should give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian President.

And from there, we will fly to Chicago. I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues. Whether its Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza or Bulls championships. We know how to deal with the crowd. And I'm sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail in making sure everything goes off well.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. President, just to continue on that. When NATO leaders get together in Chicago in May. Do you expect that they'll be able to agree on a transition strategy. And are you concerned at all that the Koran burning and the episodes that have followed since then threaten your ability to negotiate with the partners?

OBAMA: Well keep in mind that the transition policy was in placed and established at Lisbon. And we've been following that strategy that calls for us turning over increasing responsibilities to Afghans. And a full transition so that our combat role is over by the end of 2014. And our coalition partners have agreed to it. They are sticking with it. That continues to be the plan.

What we are now going to be doing at this NATO meeting and planning for the next two years, is to make sure that that transition is not a cliff. But there are benchmarks and steps that are taken along the way in the same way we reduced our role in Iraq so that it is gradual. Afghan capacity is built. The partnering with Afghan security forces is effective. That we are putting in place the kind of support, structures that are needed in order for the overall strategy to be effective.

Now, yes the situation with the Koran burning concerns me. I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment. And it's an indication that now is the time for us to transition. Obviously, the violence directed at our people is unacceptable.

President Karzai acknowledged that but what is also true is that President Karzai is eager for more responsibility on the Afghani side. We're going to have to find a mechanism whereby Afghans understand their sovereignty is being respected and that they're going to be taking a greater and greater role in their own security. That I think is in the interest of Afghans and is also our interests. I'm confident we can execute but it's not going to be a smooth path. There's going to be bumps along the road just as there was in Iraq.

REPORTER: bumps on the road- are you saying a deterioration on the relationship based on the corrandering itself, the violence that's followed, that inhibits your ability to work out how to hand off the detentions?

OBAMA: None of this stuff is easy and it never has been and obviously the most recent riots or protests against the Koran burning were tragic but remember this happened awhile back when the pastor in Florida threatened to burn a Koran in Iraq.

As we were making this transition there were constant crises that would pop up. And tragic events that would take place and there would be occasional setbacks, but what I tried to do is to set back a course to make sure that up and down the chain of command that everybody knows our broader strategy and one of the incredible things about our military is that when they know what our objective is, what our goals is- regardless of the obstacles that they meet along the way they get the job done, and I think President Karzai understands that we are interested in a strategic partnership with the Afghan people and the Afghan government. We are not interested in staying there any longer than is necessary to assure that al Qaeda is not operating there and that there is sufficient stability that it doesn't end up being a free for all.

So we share interests here itll require negotiations and there will be times when things won't look as smooth as I'd like. That's kind of the deal internationally on a whole range of these issues. All right? Thank you guys. Can I just make one more comment I want to express condolences for the family of Donald Payne. Congressman from NJ a wonderful man did great work both domestically and internationally. He was a friend of mine, so my heart goes out to his family and to his colleagues, all right?

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