September 10th, 2010
01:06 PM ET

Obama: 'We are not at war against Islam'

[Updated at 12:25 p.m.] President Obama was asked about his thoughts on the Islamic center being built near ground zero in New York.

"All men and women are created equal, they have certain inalienable rights, and one of those is to practice their religion freely," Obama said. "You can build a church on a site, you can build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, you should be able to build a mosque."

Obama said he recognized the sensitivity in the area because of the 9/11 attacks and acknowledges that family members are continuing to experience pain and anguish over their losses.

However, he urged people to remember who our real enemies are.

"We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam," Obama said. "If we're going to deal with the problems Ed Henry was talking about - reducing the terrorist threat - we need all the allies we can get."

Obama pressed that in fact, the anti-Islam sentiment and a war between the West and Islam is exactly what terrorist organizations are hoping for.

"Al Qaeda,  that's what they've been banking on," Obama said. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace-loving - are interested in the same things that you and I are interested in."

Obama stressed it is important that Americans do not believe the entire religion of Islam is offensive.

iReport: Share your thoughts on controversy surrounding Islamic Center

For more on Obama's question-and-answer session and analysis check out CNN's Political Ticker.

CNN analysts weigh in

[Updated at 12:17 p.m.] CNN's Ed Henry asked President Barack Obama whether he still agrees with his statement that it is crititical to capture Osama bin Laden and if he views it a failure that he hasn't been captured, despite Obama's promise to run a smarter war on terrorism than President Bush.

"I think capturing or killing bin Laden ... would be extremely important to national security," he said. "It doesn't solve all of our problems, but it is a high priority for our administration."

Obama touted success in forcing members of al Qaeda to retreat because of ramped up pressure on its leaders.

"They have been holed up in ways that have made it harder for them to operate - and part of what's happening is bin Laden has gone deeper underground," Obama said. "We have the best minds, the best intelligence officers, the best special forces who are thinking about this day and night, and they will continue to think about it day and night as long as I'm president."

[Updated at 12:07 p.m.] Obama said that although he has missed the deadline to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, "it is not for lack of trying."

"It's because of politics," he said.

He insisted that he believes the U.S. justice system is capable of handling procedures involving terrorist suspects and that military tribunals are not necessary.

"I am absolutely convinced that the American justice system is strong enough, that we should be able to convict people who murdered innocent Americans and that carried out terrorist attacks against us," he said. "We should be able to lock them up and make sure they don't see the light of day. We can do that, and we've done it before."

[Updated at 12:00 p.m.] Obama acknowledged that the looming expiration of Israel's moratorium on settlement construction is a "major bone of contention."

The internal politic pressures for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this issue "are very difficult," Obama said.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have to figure out "how to help each other succeed," he added.

[Updated at 11:58 a.m.] Obama was asked about levels of corruption within the Afghanistan government and what is being done to curtail it.

"We are in the midst of a very difficult but very important project. I just want to remind people why we're there, the day before September 11. We're there because that was the place where al Qaeda launched an attack that killed 3,000 Americans. And we want to make sure we dismantle al Qaeda and that Afghanistan is never again used as a base for attacks against Americans and the American homeland."

Obama asked people to remember that Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world and that change won't happen overnight, but his administration is working with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Obama criticized former President George W. Bush's administration for failing to provide adequate training of Afghan military forces.

"After seven years of policies in which we weren't even effectively training security forces, we're saying we're going to work with the Afghan government so they can be responsible for their own security. We're going to promote a political settlement in the region that can help to reduce the violence. We're going to encourage an Afghan government that can deliver services for its people."

He insisted that progress has been made in terms of rooting out corruption from the government in Kabul, but "we're a long way from where we need to be on that," he said.

The White House will continue to pressure Karzai on the issue of corruption, Obama said.

[Updated at 11:52 a.m.] Obama said that a proposed settlement for black farmers - who have historically been the target of racial discrimination by the federal government - is "fair" and "just."

The White House will continue to make funding of the settlement - now blocked in the Senate - "a priority," he said.

[Updated at 11:51 a.m.] Obama insisted Friday that skyrocketing medical costs will ultimately decline as more people are covered due to his administration's health care reform initiative.

[Updated at 11:44 a.m.] Obama was asked about Pastor Terry Jones in Florida, who had plans to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, and whether he was concerned that by having the secretary of defense call him, it was actually elevating his platform.

"The idea that we would burn the sacred texts of someone else's religion is contrary to what this country stands for. It's contrary to what this nation was founded on. My hope is that this individual prays on it and refrains from doing it," Obama said. "But I'm also commander in chief, and we are seeing today riots in Kabul, riots in Afghanistan, that threaten our young men and women in uniform, and so we have an obligation to send a very clear message that this kind of behavior or threats of action put our men and women in danger."

Obama said he doesn't think his administration is what elevated this story, but "in the age of the internet, this is something that can cause us profound damage."

"It's also the best imaginable recruiting tool for al Qaeda," he said. "We don't start having a bunch of folks all across the country think this is how to get attention. This is a way of endangering our troops. You don't play games with that."

[Updated at 11:40 a.m.] Obama conceded Friday that there are "enormous hurdles" to the new Middle East peace talks. His administration understood that "it was a risk for us to promote these discussions, but it is a risk worth taking," he

It is in the interests of America, the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a comprehensive settlement, Obama said. The issue of Middle East peace must be dealt with if, among other things, Israel is to remain both Jewish and Democratic, Obama said.  A settlement would also help the United States deal with Iran.

"If these talks break down, we're going to keep on trying," he said.

[Updated at 11:34 a.m.] Obama was asked about why he believes that nine years after the attacks on September 11, 2001, there is now a growing suspicion and resentment of Islam.

"I think that at a time when the country is anxious generally, and gone through a tough time, then you know fears can surface, suspicions, divisions can surface in a society, and so I think that plays a role," Obama said.

Obama then praised former President George W. Bush for his specific rhetoric on religion following the attacks.

"One of the things I most admired about President Bush was after 9/11, him being crystal clear about the fact that we were not at war with Islam, we were at war with terrorists and murderers who had perverted Islam ... to carry out their acts."

Obama said he was proud the country had rallied around the idea that we can't be divided because of religion or ethnicity - and hopes that is something that can continue.

"We are all Americans, we stand together," Obama said. "I think it is absolutely important now for majority of Americans to hang onto that thing that is best in us: a belief in religious tolerance. We have to make sure we don't start turning on each other."

"We are one nation under God. We may call that God different names, but we are one nation."

[Updated at 11:32 a.m.] Obama said Friday that one of the reasons he hasn't created a greater spirit of cooperation in Washington is because some GOP leaders decided when he took office that "we're going to sit on the sidelines and let the Democrats solve" the economic crisis.

Taking on tough issues with entrenched special interests creates "a lot of big fights," he said.

[Updated at 11:25 a.m.] Obama deflected a question Friday about whether his new economic plans should be referred to as another "stimulus" package. "Everything we've been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth," he said.  "I have no problem with people saying the president is trying" to do that.

He was then asked about several pending Senate nominations - including judges and Homeland Security officials.

"I'm concerned about all Senate nominations these days," he said, noting he wasn't making a joke. "I've got people who have been waiting for six months to get confirmed that nobody has an official objection to ... and I can't get a vote on them."

Obama said it was frustrating when "you've got a determined minority" that is attempting to filibuster all of his nominations.

"They're just playing games," he said.

[Updated at 11:20 a.m.] President Obama was asked about why he waited so long to introduce his latest economic policies and if they are merely being used as a political weapon for the election season.

"We have this notion that we waited until now, but just on the small business issue alone, we have cut taxes for small businesses eight times," Obama said. "So we are hardly Johnny-come-latelys on this issue."

Obama touted a variety of  policy successes as the reason the economy is better than it was when he took office.

"When you put all the things we did together, it made a difference," he said.

[Updated at 11:19 a.m.] Obama said there is room for discussion on competing tax plans.

"If the Republican leadership is prepared to get serious ... I would love to talk to them," he told reporters at the White House.

Obama insisted, however, that GOP plans to extend the Bush tax cuts for individuals earning over $250,000 are a bad idea.

[Updated at 11:13 a.m.] A reporter asked Obama about his assertion that Democrats wouldn't do well in the midterm elections in November if it would be a referendum on the economy.

"For 19 months we have steadily worked to avoid a depression, to take an economy that was contracting and making it grow again," Obama said. "But we're not there yet."

Obama acknowledged Americans' anger about the slow progress.

"And because I'm the president and the Democrats have controlled the House and the Senate, it's understandable that people are saying 'what have you done?' "

However, Obama said, the Republicans don't offer a better solution - in fact, their policies are worse.

"The Republicans' offers are exactly the ones that got us into this trouble," he said. "If you want the same kind of skewed policies that led us to these problems, the Republicans are ready to do that."

[Updated at 11:11 a.m.] Obama announced that Austan Goolsbee will be named chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Goolsbee will replace Christina Romer, who stepped down this month as chair of the council, a panel of three White House officials who offer the president economic advice and help formulate policy.

[Updated at 11:08 a.m.] Obama on Friday once again urged the Senate to pass his small business jobs bill, arguing that it has been blocked by "a partisan (Republican) minority."

Obama praised Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, for announcing that he would not help GOP leaders block the bill.

[Updated at 11:02 a.m.] Obama said the goal of his latest proposals is to help jump-start an economy still dealing with the impact of the recession.

"Even though the economy is growing again ... the hole the recession left has been huge," Obama said.

"Millions of Americans are still looking for work."

He touted his administration's investments in infrastructure as a chance to remain competitive with other countries that are working on similar projects including high-speed rail.

[Posted at 10:50 a.m.] President Obama will hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Friday, his first full-scale question-and-answer session at the White House in nearly four months and his seventh full-scale news conference at the White House since he took office.

The last presser was back in May when the president answered questions mainly about the oil spill. This one is expected to focus on the economy.

soundoff (818 Responses)
  1. Daniel Gehrmann

    How stupid can they be? The people who make $250K or more a year are the small business owners who make a decent profit. Raising taxes or letting the tax break expire for them will mean they cannot hire people, so his plan will not help job growth; if anything, businesses will have to let employees go to pay for the higher taxes.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  2. Trevor

    The President is right....what will the Republicans do differently?? Well I hope someone will give those of us on Main Street our own Stimilus check to stimulate this economy....I didn't like Bush at all but he did this for us twice...hey maybe the Republicans may not be to bad!!

    September 10, 2010 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  3. Obama2012

    It's amusing to see all these people hating on Obama. I already knew once he was elected that he would be in a world of hell. People are so upset and angry at this distinguished and intelligent man in the White House who is working tirelessly to get the job done and fix 8 years' worth of Bush's/Republican stupidity that has practically destroyed this country. People in this country would rather suffer than to let this man do his job. Republicans expect him to do his job, but how can he when all they do is put obstacles in his way? It only further shows the lack of common sense people left in this country. I admire Obama for having the patience to deal with so many ignorant people. Any other president would have given up and given in to the stupidity. Obama is steadfast, calm, cool and collected no matter what the situation. He's what America needs to get the country back on track.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Gehrmann

      The rep. did not have control in the last 2 years of Bush's term, the dems. had the control which is when everything went down hill. Obama even said it was the last 2 years of Bush's term and blaming the rep. as ussual.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • stephanie mitchem

      You are right. Yet, I do not feel such humor at the people who are hating on Obama. They are the roots giving birth to the fringe not-really-a-pastor in fla. Or the gun-totin' tea folks. All of whom are working their own interests and letting the rich get richer! These self-righteous people are willing to destroy this country and anger about a billion muslims in order to retain their very narrow idea of privilege. Failure of Obama, they think, will make them stronger, smarter. But ultimately, they are not good Americans. Here's the humor: I wonder if they are really agents for foreign countries set on destroying us?

      September 10, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike scarpelli

      ITS the ECONOMY, dummy! Don't you remember when he was running, he said, he could chew gum and play BBALL and fix the economy at the same time. Remember the jabs thrown at MCCAIN? NOW, 'he is the man", its his presidency and it will be based on "HIS" economy, can you say, GOOD BYE?

      September 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • itslate

      Obama was not a good choice for the presidency. He was voted in by Dems who will only vote Democratic, Republicans who did not care for Palin along with being eager to show they were not racist and would embrace a person of color in the white house. He does appear distinguished, seems devoted to his family but so far his ideas for change are not what this country wants or needs. Nice guy for sure but.......

      September 10, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      I could not agree with you more.I've never seen anything like it,practically every single thing Obama believes in, Boehner,MCConnell,FOX,MCCain,Beck,and the list goes on,are against.They would all would love anything he does to bring the country down,just to get him out of office.It shouldn't surprise me,as i saw the look on Boehner's face standing a few feet behind Obama as he was being sworn in.

      September 11, 2010 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. ToGetherWeStand

    Give the man a break!

    This is the hardest working president we have ever had... and he is working for us. Yes, need to be reminded that the GOP is what got us into this mess. Thankfully, they will not regain control of anything this Fall!!!!

    September 10, 2010 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheila Widner

      Keep smoking weed...Republicans are going to make major gains in November; meanwhile, the "hardest working man" sends his wife to Spain with dozens of friends, blowing millions in taxpayer money.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Gehrmann

      As i said before, the Rep. did not have control over the congress in the last two years of the Bush Admin. The last two years is when the econ. went down hill, not when the Rep. had control

      September 10, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • Nate OLY

      The trip was paid for with PRIVATE funds, do some research Steph.

      September 11, 2010 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  5. Bloggers are crybabies.....

    Look at all you angy little people, spewing your hatred from your isolation booths

    September 10, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Courtney

      Revolutions begin underground.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Chrissy

      LOL!!!! Right

      September 10, 2010 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Daniel Gehrmann

    Obama had said the Rep. plans will cost $700B, but that is nothing compared to the trillions of dollars the Dems. have been spending.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      Very true. I still haven't figured out how they can justify all the spending they have done. It's a debt that can't be fixed and paid for the way that they have set forth.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. skillit59

    Tax cuts for us middle class folks will come in handy when the rich get taxed more and cut back on their spending and more of us middle class people lose our jobs. woohoo that tax cut might get us through another week.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • jillbear73

      I am amazed that the GOP has been so successful in brainwashing 'middle class' people into defending tax cuts for the rich. In such a deep economic crisis, one would think it made sense to end the tax cuts that helped create the crisis in the first place. Brilliant manipulation of less than able critical thinkers. Bravo, GOP.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:23 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mike scarpelli

    YEA lets tax the RICH, so I can go get a job from some poor guy! AND yea, another GOV STIM check in the mail, I wonder where that MONEY comes from? OH yea, RICH guys! LOL

    September 10, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Alvin Lee said it best in his song" I'd love to change the world"....."tax the rich, feed the poor till there are no rich no more"

      September 10, 2010 at 1:12 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Courtney

    Not yet ONE mention of Afghanistan... I sure do miss my little brother...

    Couldn't this press conference be used more effectively??

    September 10, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  10. sharon

    PEOPLE lets get real now!!! Pres. Obama did not..Repeat ..Did not lose our jobs...He is not responible for sending jobs overseas. He is working very hard bring our jobs back. The REBULICANS knew this problems was going to happen.They just simply ignored it, because they were getting PAID BIG TIMES. It will take time & money to bring the jobs back. Mark my words if the Republican get in office more jobs will be lost. Major Company & lobbyist will be lining thier pockets and the rich will be getting anothe tax break & middleclass tax bracket will continue to increase. If the Repbulican get in office & no changes being corrected I do not want to see any whinning nor complaining in this blogs. You have been warned. (CNN please post this..Thank you

    September 10, 2010 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheila Widner

      I'm willing to take that chance...the current administration has blown the deficity sky high...far more damage than Bush ever did. Bailouts of Unions (automakers, teachers, etc), while giving unemployed over 2 YEARS of benefits for doing nothing. Ridiculous.

      Throw all the welfare state dems out of Congress.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Jason Hoff

      Maybe you should check your facts.....some of these so called green jobs he has created...such as one of his backers with GE....hmm shutting down plants and sending jobs to China

      September 10, 2010 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • $15K Plan

      What good is a middle class tax cut when most have been forced out of the workforce or to take employment that is categorized and underemployed?

      Having invested over $3Trillion in corporate America between GW Bush and B Obama has produced nothing but more unemployed, underemployed homeless and increased the wealth of corporate America.

      Investing in the US citizen is the only way to help families who would never accept welfare, or food stamps, yet cry daily when they roll up their car windows to sleep. I don't care if you call it socialism, left wing BS or any other name. Invest in the US citizen and the economy will turn around.

      But claiming Obama is fixing things by donating money to CEO's who have sacked the retirement coffers for decades is reprehensible. This economic crisis started when Clinton was in office and hasn't stopped or missed a beat. When a foreign H1b worker can immigrant spent two years earning a low ball wage, and they seek citizenship and immediately gain 8A set aside government contracts, the system is broken.

      US citizens have held this country together from main street Alaska to Florida in spite of DC and only an investment in US citizens will work now.

      So go ahead everyone cut it up.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rocker77

      I agree!

      September 10, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Team Obama

    @ToGetherWeStand and Obama2012

    ......................Amen!!! You both just said a tele~prompter mouth full!!!

    September 10, 2010 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • this

      i'm just awestruck at our first muslim president and catching every word that the messiah reads from his trusty teleprompters.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  12. Bloggers are crybabies.....

    All I see is a President attempting to keep the wingnuts from Lying their way back in......History shows that the pendulum swings back........Revisionist History will make Bush out to be GOD!

    September 10, 2010 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. Team Obama

    @Mike Scarpelli....what's so wrong with the GOV Stimulus check..Bush gave us two....did you sqeal like a pig then...Heck no you stimulated this friggin economy!!! Stop trippin Mr. Fake and Bake!!

    September 10, 2010 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  14. mike scarpelli

    OH those checks were great, problem was, they were ONLY Temporary. The checks were too little too late! JUST lowering the Overall TAX rates would have been more helpful, they were merely giving you back "your" money.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. Kivi

    Obama, You are doing a great job. Keep it up. It is the time republicans start giving us solutions rather that being party of NO.

    September 10, 2010 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Sheila Widner

      His liberal agenda ends in two months when Democrats lose the House and possibly the Senate. No more unemployment benefit extensions paid for by those of us who more spending hundreds of billions on healthcare reform that the majority of Americans don't want...and no more BLAMING a man who LEFT office nearly TWO YEARS ago for his failures.

      September 10, 2010 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Daniel Gehrmann

      The Rep. have been giving ideas, but the dems. are basically telling them to sit down and shut up. Besides, the Dems. have the majority, they don't need rep. support, they can pass any bill they want. Saying the Rep. are blocking them is rediculous.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • AF Chief

      Kivi – I watched the Republicans give the President advice at the Blair House Health Care summit. He rejected every idea, then forced the bill through congress using reconciliation.

      September 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      How can the bill the President just talked about be bipartisian if the republicans are the party of NO? You don't need to go out of your way to see the blatent lies and politics of Obama.

      September 10, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
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