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Obama tackles country's major concerns

On the evening of his 100th day in office, Barack Obama held his third prime-time news conference as president. Wednesday night's event came after a midday town-hall-style meeting in Arnold, Mo. Obama began the news conference with a eight-minute opening statement that touted his administration's focus on the economy and offered an update on the nation's response to the swine flu virus, which he, like other federal officials now do, referred to as the H1N1 virus. Obama said he requested $1.5 billion in emergency funding from Congress and asked Americans "to take the same steps you would take to prevent any other virus." The president also said the economy will continue to be a top priority. He said he expects to sign legislation by year's end to set new "rules of the road" for Wall Street. "You can expect an unrelenting, unyielding effort from this administration to strengthen our prosperity and our security in the second hundred days, and the third hundred days, and all the days after," he said. The first question, from The Associated Press, was whether the nation should close the border with Mexico to fend off the swine flu outbreak. Obama said his advisers suggested a border closing would be ineffective. "It would be akin to closing the barn door after the horses are out," Obama said. "This is a cause for deep concern, but not panic." He urged people to wash their hands frequently and cover their mouths when they cough. "It sounds trivial," he said, "but it works." The second question, from the Detroit News, asked whether Chrysler will be forced to declare bankruptcy and if Obama is satisfied with General Motors' restructuring plans. The president said the details of any Chrysler-Fiat merger are not final and he will wait until they are to make a decision. He also said GM "has a lot of good product" and he hopes the company will survive. The company, he said, "is making a lot of hard choice," and he does not wish for the federal government to be in the automobile-production business. "My goal is to make sure we have a strong, viable, competitive auto industry," he said. Jake Tapper of ABC News, in the third question, asked if Obama believes the Bush administration sanctioned torture. Obama said he believes waterboarding techniques that took place during Bush's presidency constitute torture, but did not directly answer the question. "I believe that waterboarding is torture and whatever legal rationales were used was a mistake," he said. CBS Radio asked a follow-up question about whether Obama would consider using so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. Obama said he has not. "There have been no circumstances during the course of this first 100 days in which I have seen information that would make me second-guess the decision I have made," he said. Chuck Todd of NBC News asked Obama if he is concerned that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal could fall into the hands of terrorists, given the country's budding civil war with the Taliban. Obama said the United States needs to support Pakistan's government. Pakistan's military, he said, realized too late that its primary threat is not its neighbor and longtime rival, India. "The obsession with India as the mortal threat to Pakistan has been misguided," Obama said. "The threat is internal." CBS News' Chip Reid posed the first question about domestic politics, asking if the switch by Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter from the GOP to the Democratic Party will give Obama an effective one-party rule. Obama said he does not expect a rubber stamp from Specter or other Democrats in Congress. He said his personal outreach to Republicans has been genuine but warned that he will not soon adopt conservative positions simply for the sake of bipartisanship. "I can't define bipartisan as being willing to accept certain theories of theirs that we tried for eight years and didn't work," he said. CNN's Ed Henry asked Obama is he still hoped to sign legislation to expand abortion rights. Obama said it is not "my highest priority" and reiterated his support for a woman's right to choose. He called abortion a "moral choice and an ethical choice." Jeff Zeleny of The New York Times drew the first laughs of the night with a four-part personal question - what has surprised, enchanted, troubled and humbled Obama the most during his first 100 days. After taking time to make notes on the question, Obama said he is surprised at how far he has come. "I am surprised compared to where I started when we first announced for this race," he said, seemingly forgetting that he is no longer in a campaign. He said he is enchanted by his meetings with military servicemen and woman, humbled by the power of the office and yet the difficulty in changing policy on broad issues. "I have a much longer time horizon than I think you do when you're a candidate, or when listening to the daily media reports," he said. A reporter from the Spanish-language TV station Telemundo asked Obama if he still plans to have immigration reform during his first year in office and how he plans to implement it. Obama said the nation "can't continue with a broken immigration system." He called it dangerous and said it strains border communities. He said the Homeland Security Department must focus on how to secure the border before a new immigration plan can be taken seriously. "We want to show that we are competent in getting results around immigration," he said. "So we are building confidence among the American people that we can follow through on whatever legislation emerges." Andre Schuldt from Black Entertainment Television asked Obama which of his policies will help depress inner-city black unemployment rates and when people should expect to see results. "Every step we're taking is designed to help all people," Obama said. "But folks who are the most vulnerable are the most likely to be helped." Time's Michael Scherer asked Obama to articulate the difference between his and Bush administration positions on the State Secrets Act, given that Obama Justice Department lawyers have defended some Bush-era positions on secrets. Obama said he hopes to relax the state secrets law, but that his administration did not have time to reach a decision before it faced court dates on the matters. The final question, from The Wall Street Journal, asked Obama what type of shareholder he would be, given that the federal government is now owns a large percentage of several banks, mortgage companies and auto manufacturers. Obama said he hopes to soon divest the nation of those companies, returning their shares to the stock market. "Our first role should be shareholders who are looking to get out," he said. "I don't want to run auto companies, I don't want to run banks. I've got two wars to run already; I've got more than enough to do. The sooner we're going to get out of that business, the better off we're going to be." The news conference ended without any questions on health care, Iraq or North Korea.

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