From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
EN ROUTE FROM CHICAGO TO SAN DIEGO -- In a brief, informal press conference aboard his plane last night, Obama said he would not be making any promises regarding a withdrawal timetable to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki when he visits the country, because America has "one president at a time." He also spoke about his likely travel companions on the trip, Sens. Chuck Hagel (R) and Jack Reed (D).
And Obama talked about a conversation he had with Jesse Jackson before the civil rights leader's controversial comments came to light; discussed concern about lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; responded to a Wall Street Journal report that his June fundraising numbers were "underwhelming"; and answered questions about whether he should speak at Berlin's Bradenburg Gate when he visits later this month.
On his upcoming trip to Iraq: "Sen. Hagel and Sen. Reed, I think, may be coming with us," he said. "They're both experts on foreign policy. They reflect, I think, a traditional bipartisan wisdom when it comes to foreign policy. Neither of them are ideologues, but try to get the facts right and make a determination about what's best for US interests and they're good guys.
Moreover, Obama said he had been watching the situation with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac closely, it was of "extraordinary concern." But he was less clear about whether he believed a government bailout would be necessary.
"I am absolutely committed -- both as a senator and should I have the good fortune to be elected president, as president -- to make sure that we [have] liquidity in the housing markets. Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae play critical roles in that process," he said. "There are a lot of different definitions of what a bailout would look like. There are issues related to the short term liquidity. Can they borrow money -- versus issues related to whether the underlying assets of the two corporations are really unsound? And I think we need to watch carefully to see how it plays out before we make a decision about which steps need to be taken if any."
He spoke about the need to move swiftly to pass legislation to help homeowners and measures to help the economy overall. "I think we also have to have an economic stimulus package out quickly. I have little doubt that we've moved into recession at this point," he said. "The sooner we can get money into people's pockets the sooner that we can stabilize the housing market and the sooner that we can send a message to the markets that we're serious about creating an energy policy that will create greater energy efficiency over the next decade or so, I think the sooner we're going to get our fundamentals right."
Obama seemed to scoff at a question about a recent Wall Street Journal report in the Wall Street that said his June fundraising numbers were "underwhelming."
"Since the Wall Street Journal was wildly off in their estimates -- I have no idea where they got their numbers -- I think you guys should wait 'til we release our numbers to make a decision as to how underwhelming they are," he said.
On Jesse Jackson
Obama said he had not spoken with Jackson since the news of his crude remarks surfaced, but that he had spoken with the civil rights leader a few days before about the concerns Jackson had raised about the senator's speech on fatherhood.
The senator said he told Jackson that he believed there were structural inequalities in the country that must be addressed -- but that it was also important to discuss some of the specific problems affecting the black community.
"My argument is simply that it's not an either-or proposition... The government and society as a whole has an obligation to deal with poverty, particularly poverty that's deep rooted, not just in the inner cities but in rural communities all across America," he said. "But we also have to recognize that there is particularly a problem when more than a half of African-American children are growing up without a father in the house and often times not even knowing their father. That is a problem and I won't back up one bit in asserting that that's a problem that we have to be honest about."
On the Bradenburg Gate and more
Obama said he did not want the location of his speech in Germany to be a distraction. "We didn't have a particular site in mind," he said. "I want to make sure that my message is heard as opposed to creating a controversy. So, you know, our goal is just for me to lay out how I think about the next administration's role in rebuilding our transatlantic alliance, and so I don't want the venue to be a distraction. What I want to do is just work with the folks on the ground to find some place that's appropriate."
Obama told reporters he had gone to see the movie "Wall-E" with his daughters and that it was "great." He also declined to comment on whether he had had a conversation with a Clinton donor about whether she was being vetted as part of his search for a vice president.
And he said that health insurance companies should be required to pay for birth control, responding to a question that had been put to his rival John McCain earlier in the week.