WASHINGTON (CNN) – The top Republican in the Senate had rare praise Sunday for President Obama on a foreign policy issue but continued to challenge the president over the Democratic Party’s plans for health care reform.
“The president enjoys very strong support among Republicans in the Senate for what he’s doing in Afghanistan,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
That said, McConnell also expressed concern Sunday about the apparent delay on the part of the White House and the Pentagon in releasing a troop level assessment in the Afghanistan done by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in the country.
“We’d like to see Gen. McChrystal and Gen. [David] Petraeus come up to Congress like they did during the Iraq [war’s] surge and give us the information about what they’re recommending. We think the time for decision is now.”
McConnell added that if Obama ultimately decided on a change in strategy in Afghanistan or on adding additional troops, the White House would have the support of Senate Republicans.
On health care, McConnell rejected the suggestion that Republicans were trying to block the Democrats’ reform efforts and trying to frustrate Obama’s goal of having a health care reform bill to sign by year’s end.
"I think President Clinton's assessment was that [Kim's] - he's pretty healthy and in control," President Obama said in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, "And that's important to know, because we don't have a lot of interaction with the North Koreans. And, you know, President Clinton had a chance to see him close up and have conversations with him.
"I won't go into any more details than that. But there's no doubt that this is somebody who, you know, I think for a while people thought was slipping away. He's reasserted himself. It does appear that he's concerned about - he was more concerned about succession when he was - succession when he was sick, maybe less so now that he's well."
Obama also told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King that his administration's approach to the largely-isolated Asian nation "is a success story so far."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - With the last of five congressional committees finally set to begin work marking up its version of health care reform legislation, President Obama said he is concerned about making sure there is affordable coverage available for the tens of millions of currently uninsured Americans who will likely be required to purchase health insurance if reform legislation is enacted.
"I'd like to make sure that we've got that affordability really buttoned down," the president said in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, "because I think that's one of the most important things... if we're offering people health insurance and we're saying that people have to get health insurance - if it's affordable, we've got to make sure it's affordable."
After months of closed-door negotiations by the Senate Finance Committee's so-called "Gang of Six" – three Democrats and three Republicans – committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Montana, unveiled a bill last week that lacked any Republican support. The full committee is set to begin its mark-up of Baucus' proposal this week.
Obama would not say whether or not he would sign Baucus' proposal as-is if it arrived on his desk in the Oval Office. "[T]hat's such a hypothetical, since it won't get there as-is, that I'm not going to answer that question. But can I say that, it does meet some broad goals that all the bills that have been introduced meet."
Obama pointed out that the Baucus bill included insurance underwriting reforms like prohibiting denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. The proposal also would not add to the federal deficit in the next 10 years and it seeks to decrease the rate at which health care costs have been rising, the president said.
"[T]here are a whole bunch of details that still have to get worked out," Obama told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, "But what I'll say is, is that right now I'm pleased that, basically, we've got 80 percent agreement, we've got to really work on that next 20 percent over the last few weeks."
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Eight months after Inauguration Day, the Obama administration is still working out its strategy for continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, the president said in an interview that airs Sunday on CNN's State of the Union.
"I think that what we have to do is get the right strategy, and then I think we've got to have some clear benchmarks, [a] matrix of progress," President Barack Obama told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King about the war torn country.
Obama said "our original goal" in the country "was to get Al Qaeda, the people who killed 3,000 Americans [in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks].
"To the extent that our strategy in Afghanistan is serving that goal, then we're on the right track. If it starts drifting away from that goal, then we may have a problem."
Obama also offered a window into his decision maknig process as the commander-in-chief.
"[T]his is something that I ask every single one of my economic advisers every single day," Obama said when asked about jobs during an interview that airs Sunday on CNN's State of the Union. "Because I know that ultimately the measure of an economy is, is it producing jobs that help people support families, send their kids to college? That's the single most important thing we can do."
While the president said there was evidence the financial markets were beginning to function properly again and that the manufacturing sector is beginning to pick up, he refused to say definitively that the recession which began last year was over.
And Obama even suggested that the national unemployment rate, which is hovering at just under 10 percent, could climb higher in the near future.
"I want to be clear, that probably the jobs picture is not going to improve considerably - and it could even get a little bit worse - over the next couple of months," the president told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, "And we're probably not going to start seeing enough job creation to deal with the - a rising population until some time next year."
Obama added that he thought the economy would be creating jobs throughout the end of 2009 - but not enough to keep pace with population growth and to make up for steep losses in employment that occurred earlier this year.
"I think we'll be adding jobs, but you need 150,000 additional jobs each month just to keep pace with a growing population. So if we're only adding 50,000 jobs, that's a great reversal from losing 700,000 jobs [a month] early this year - but, you know, it means that we've still got a ways to go."
In an interview that airs Sunday on CNN's State of the Union, CNN Chief National Correspondent John King pointed out that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, recently told a conservative group Republicans were "'winning the health care debate.'"
The president's response to McConnell was simple but pointed.
"Well, you know... they were saying they were winning during the election, too," Obama told King.