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President Obama said Guantanamo Bay 'must close,' but stayed vague on US action in Syria.
President Obama fielded tough questions on both domestic and international issues from the White House press corps on Tuesday, from US action in Syria to the Guantanamo Bay hunger strike to intelligence surrounding the Boston Marathon bombings.
Obama on the "red line" in Syria
Fox News' Ed Henry posed the first question on the US potentially losing international credibility if they don't take action in Syria.
"For several years, we've been seeing a slowly unfolding disaster for the Syrian people. We have not been simply bystanders here," Obama said. "My position has been that Assad has lost his credibility, has harmed his own people."
He also called the conflict "a blemish on the international community."
However, he was firm on reiterating America's efforts.
"We have organized the international community, we are the largest humanitarian donor, we have strengthened the opposition, offered them non-lethal assistance, applied sanctions," Obama said.
Obama stood by his earlier stance that the use of chemical weapons would be a "game-changer" in Syria. While acknowledging that evidence of chemical weapon use was present, Obama said, "we don’t know when they were used, how they were used. We don’t know who used them."
He explained that a "game-changer" for him means that a "range of options would be considered" that have "currently been shelved."
...On intelligence the Boston Marathon bombings
Obama responded to questions about Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's request for a full report of intelligence-gathering before the Boston Marathon bombings by calling it "standard procedure around here."
"We want to leave no stone unturned," Obama said. "Are there additional protocols we can have in place to prevent these kinds of attacks?"
He also responded to Senator Lindsey Graham's comments that "Benghazi and Boston are examples of the US going backwards" in terms of intelligence.
"I think what we saw in Boston was every agency rallying around a city that had been attacked, identifying perpetrators just hours after the scene was secured," the president said. "All our law enforcement officials behaved in an exemplary fashion and we should be proud of them."
Obama mentioned the tip-off from Russian intelligence services to US agencies about "the older brother and the mother," and noted that the FBI investigated the older brother, interviewed him, and "concluded that there were no signs he was engaging in extremist activity."
"The question then is, what happened to trigger radicalization and the decision to engage in the tragic attack?" Obama said.
"This is hard stuff," Obama added. "Because of the pressure we've put on these [terrorist] networks that are well financed and more sophisticated, one of the dangers we now face are self-radicalized individuals not part of any network."
...On the failed gun control bill
When asked if he had run out of "juice" while campaigning for the expansion of background checks on guns, Obama joked, "Maybe I should just pack up and go home, Golly."
"Rumors of my demise might be exaggerated," the President added, in reference to the gun control bill that failed to pass in the Senate.
He made reference to the currently-divided government, but said there are genuine desires amongst politicians on both sides of the aisle to get past the sequester and "Washington dysfunction" to put forth a comprehensive approach to gun control.
...On the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay
Obama called the infamous prison a "no man's land" in response to a question about the inmates "preferring death to confinement with no end in sight."
"It's no surprise to me we have problems in Guantanamo. I said when I was elected that we need to close Guantanamo. I still think that," Obama answered.
Though Congress has prevented the prison's closure despite recommendations that many of the prisoners could be returned to their own countries or third-party nations, Obama said he was going to re-engage with Congress "to make the case that this is not in the best interest of the American people. It's not sustainable."
The president reiterated his feeling that Guantanamo is "not necessary to keep America safe."
"It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies, it is a recruitment tool for extremists," he said.
The president added that it is a "tough problem" because "for many Americans, it's "out of sight, out of mind."
...On skepticism over healthcare's implementation
Obama sought to clarify the Affordable Care Act "for the American people," saying that "a huge chunk" has already been implemented and that those with insurance — the majority — are already experiencing the benefits of the plan "without even knowing it," including free preventive care and allowing children to stay on their parents' plans.
The implementation issues come in for those that don't have health insurance, the president said, especially those with pre-existing conditions or who can't afford health care.
"In a country as wealthy as ours, nobody should go bankrupt because they get sick," said the president.
...On immigration reform
"I have been impressed by the work that was done in the Senate," Obama said, adding that the "Gang of Eight" plan meets his basic criteria — more effective border security, making sure the United States is cracking down on employers who are "gaming the system," and making the legal immigration system more effective and less bureaucratic.
"We want to make sure we have a pathway to citizenship that is tough but allows people to earn legal status over time," the president added.
As for Mexico — Obama said he was looking forward to his visit to the country, his first "more extensive consultation" with the country's new president Pena Nieto.
"A lot of the focus [of our meetings] is going to be on economics," Obama said. "We spend so much time on security issues that we forget that Mexico is a massive trading partner. We want to see how we can deepen and improve that over a long period of time."
"My impression is that [Nieto] is serious about reform...which will improve our bilateral relationship," Obama said.
...On Jason Collins
"I couldn't be prouder of him," Obama said, coming back to the podium to speak about the basketball player, adding that LGBT Americans deserve to feel "part of the American family."
"For a major competitor in the sport, to come out and say 'this is who I am,' ...that I'm 7 feet tall and can still bank with Shaq...I think it's a great thing," said the president.
Watch the president's comments on Syria: