From NBC/NJ's Athena Jones
CHICAGO -- There was no rest for the weary as Obama attended a meeting of minority journalists today, just hours after returning from a whirlwind eight-day trip abroad that he deemed a success.
Obama said he was puzzled by the criticism by some of his trip abroad as "audacious" or somehow inappropriate, arguing as he did in a press conference yesterday that McCain had also traveled to these countries -- as well as to Mexico, Canada ,and Colombia after winning his party's nomination.
"Nobody suggested that that was 'audacious.' I think people assumed that what he was doing was talk to world leaders who we may have deal with should we become president. That's part of the job that I'm applying for," he said. "Now, I admit we did it really well. But that shouldn't be a strike against me. You know, if I was bumbling and fumbling through this thing, I would have been criticized for that."
The senator said he felt he had been able to assure world leaders that he would have to work with if he becomes president. "I do think that, in terms of me governing, being an effective president, that this trip was helpful, because I think I've established relationships and a certain bond of trust with key leaders around the world who have taken measure of my positions and how I operate and I think can come away with some confidence that this is somebody I can deal with."
As he did in London, Obama said he was unsure what kind of effect his trip would have on poll numbers since he had left the country at a time when people were most worried about pocketbook issues, saying "that's what we will be talking about for the duration." He said he was pleased the housing bill was passed, that President Bush planned to sign it, and that he would be bringing together his top economic advisors Monday -- including former Federal Reserve Chief Paul Voelcker; billionaire investor Warren Buffett, and former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin -- to talk about short-term and long-term strategies for strengthening the economy.
Throughout the 40-minute discussion, Obama repeated talking points he had used throughout his trip, saying he had learned that troop morale was high; that he had seen that situation in Iraq had improved, but that a timetable for a phased troop withdrawal was still needed; and that more troops were needed in Afghanistan and more cooperation with Pakistan. He also touched on the need for the United States to be deeply engaged in the Middle East peace process and the importance of transatlantic cooperation to meet today's challenges.
In questions posed by minority journalists, Obama spoke about comprehensive immigration reform and said affirmative action programs should take into account not just race but also economic status. He said the best kind of reparations for slavery, the treatment of native Americans or other groups was good schools and affordable health care for all Americans, while suggesting he would be open to some sort of official apology to Native Americans.
"I personally would want to see our tragic history or the tragic elements of our history acknowledged, and I think that there's no doubt that, when it comes to our treatment of Native Americans, as well as other persons of color in this country, that we've got some -- some very sad and difficult things to account for," he said. "What an official apology would look like, how it would be shaped, that's something that I would want to consult with Native American tribes and councils to talk about, and -- because, obviously, as sovereign nations, they also have a whole host of other issues that they're concerned about and that they've prioritized."
On affirmative action, he criticized McCain for endorsing a Ward Connerly-sponsored Arizona ballot initiative that would end preferences based on race and gender in that state. "I am disappointed, though, that John McCain flipped and changed his position," he said. "I think in the past he had been opposed to these kinds of Ward Connerly referenda or initiatives as divisive. And I think he's right. You know, the truth of the matter is, these are not designed to solve a big problem, but they're all too often designed to drive a wedge between people."