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Live-blogging Obama's press conference

From Msnbc.com's Carrie Dann and Tom Curry

12:19 ET: After 80 minutes of questions, Obama's eighth press conference has concluded.

He took questions from 15 reporters. Here's a list of what he was asked about, per Msnbc.com's Mike Brunker.
(Several also referenced how the economic situation and the legislation passed by Congress over the last two years will impact the 2010 midterm elections)

Economy generally: 1 question
Small business bill/infrastructure spending plan/tax cuts: 2
Consumer protection agency: 1
Health care reform: 1
Fighting poverty: 1
Changing the culture of Washington: 1
Resentment of Islam/Quran and N.Y. mosque controversies: 3
Guantanamo/military tribunals for terror suspects: 1
Bin Laden/terror threat: 1
Mideast/Palestinian-Israeli peace talks: 2
Afghan corruption: 1

12:19 ET: Curry's context on the questions regarding civilian trials for terrorists:

Attorney General Eric Holder announced last fall that he planned to try 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a civilian court in New York.

Obama said today on a potential trial for KSM that he wants to “move this forward in a way that is consistent with our standard of due process, consistent with our Constitution.”

Holder has not announced any further plans for the trial.

Back in July Sen. Lindsey Graham pinged the attorney general on this, telling Holder, “In your testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 14, 2010, you stated that ‘New York is not off the table; as a potential trial venue, and that you expected to have a decision ‘in a number of weeks.’ However, months have gone by, and the Department of Justice has failed to reach a decision on where the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks will be tried.”

Back in April New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat who is up for re-election this year, said there is a consensus in New York that the KSM trial should not be held there. He added, "We know the administration is not going to hold the trial in New York. They should just say it already."

12:18 ET: There are Muslims serving in the armed forces, Obama says. "They are Americans. We honor their service."

12:17 ET: Obama said in August that "I will not comment on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there," one day after he insisted that Muslims "have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," including "the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan."

12:16 ET: "We've got to be clear about" the fact that we are not at war with Islam, Obama emphasizes.

"We need all the allies we can get."

12:14 ET: Religious freedom means "If you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on a site," Obama says.

12:12 ET: Next question: what would it say about this country if organizers were talked out of building an Islamic community center near the ground zero site?

12:10 ET: Back to tax cuts for a minute, here's a piece from Msnbc.com business writer Allison Linn on how the various proposals could affect you.

12:09 ET: Capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden remains "a high priority" of the administration, Obama says. He "has gone deep underground."

12:08 ET: Al Qaeda operatives still cite Guantanamo as a "talking point" and argument for attacking the U.S., Obama says.

One of his most vehement promises as a candidate was to close the prison; that pledge remains unfulfilled.

12:06 ET: Obama points out that the cost of holding detainees at Gitmo is "massively higher" than holding them at a supermax prison in the United States.

12:06 ET: Asked about the prosecution of terrorists, Obama says "the American justice system is strong enough," to convict terrorists ... We can do that. We've done it before."

12:04 ET: The president continues to take questions after the one-hour mark comes and goes.

12:02 ET: On the impending lapse of a moratorium on the building of settlements in areas disputed between Israel and Palestine, the president says "it makes sense to extend" the moratorium as peace talks continue.

He calls on Palestinian leader Abbas to show seriousness in negotiation with Israelis so as to help Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu with his own political difficulties. If Abbas helps progress, then Netanyahu’s own internal politics “would be little bit easier” Obama said, so that he might extend the moratorium on settlements

The key for Abbas and Netanyahu is “how can they help the other to succeed” as opposed to making sure the other fails, he says.

11:59 ET: The public is split about whether the recent increase in troop levels in Afghanistan has improved the situation there. The latest NBC/WSJ poll showed that 27 percent thought the troop boost "made things better," 26 percent sayid "made things worse," and 36 percent believe that it's too soon to tell.

11:56 ET: Obama speaks about the difficulty of reducing violence in Afghanistan and the training of security forces, says "we've made progress" on addressing the issue of political corruption. "We have seen Afghan-led efforts that have gone after police commanders, significant business people," he says, but we are "a long way from where we need to be on that."

11:52 ET: Next question from the NYT: How can you lecture Karzai on corruption when many of the corrupt Afghan officials are receiving support from the United States? Also an additional question on Mideast peace.

11:47 ET: Curry notes that, in his pragmatic response to the question about the insurance reform bill, Obama just seemed to give a green light to Democratic congressional candidates who are running against his health care effort.

11:46 ET: "The most important anti-poverty effort is growing the economy," Obama says in response to a question about fighting poverty.

"I am constantly thinking about how do we create ladders for communities and individuals to climb into the middle class."

11:45 ET: What about the fact that some Democrats are running against health care, ABC asks.

Obama responds that every district is different and that each candidate responds to his or her would-be constituents. Each one must make the best possible argument in the midst of a difficult political environment. "That's how political races work."

11:43 ET: The president said “bending the cost curve is hard to do” on health care, says he will work to “Slowly bring down those costs.”

A report released this week by the staff of chief actuary of Medicare said provisions of health care law which take effect this and through 2013 are estimated to increase national health spending by $10.2 billion through 2013.

But major parts of the law – such as expansion of Medicare coverage – don’t take effect until 2014.

As a result of the coverage expansions, growth in national health spending is projected to be 9.2 percent in 2014, versus growth of 6.6 percent in 2014 that was expected prior to the enactment of health reform legislation.

For 2015–19, national health spending is now projected to increase 6.7 percent per year, slightly less than the 6.8 percent average annual growth rate projected in February 2010.

As a result of the new law, By 2019, the insured share of the population is projected to be 92.7 percent— about ten percentage points higher than projected prior to the health reform legislation. The number of uninsured will be reduced by 32.5 million.

11:41 ET: Asked about Florida pastor who has proposed burning copies of the Quran, Obama repeats his response to Good Morning America earlier this week, calling the idea "the best imaginable recruiting tool for al Qaeda." He says that burning a holy book is "contrary to what this nation stands for" and says that he must send a strong message that it would put American troops in harm's way.

"I hardly think we’re the ones who elevated this story," he says. "But it is in the age of the Internet something that can cause us profound damage around the world. So we have to take it seriously."

Obama refers to Pastor Jones as "the individual down in Florida" twice.

11:40 ET: On peace talks between Israel and Palestine, Obama says: "It is a risk worth taking because the alternative is a status quo that is unsustainable." He argues that a Israeli-Palestinian accord would help the U.S. deal with “Iran not willing to give up its nuclear program.”

"We're not just doing this to feel good," he adds.

11:39 ET: On the issue of "changing Washington" that Chuck Todd asked about, Msnbc.com's Tom Curry notes what Obama said as a candidate when he declared his candidacy in 2007: “What's stopped us is the failure of leadership, the smallness of our politics, the ease with which we're distracted by the petty and trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our preference for scoring cheap political points instead of rolling up our sleeves and building a working consensus to tackle the big problems of America.”

11:35 ET: Obama clearly emphasized his Christian faith in his response to a question about Islam. But many Americans do not believe that he is Christian. In August, a Pew Research Center study found that 18 percent of Americans say Obama is a Muslim. That's up from 11 percent in March 2009.

More from Pew:

The view that Obama is a Muslim is more widespread among his political opponents than among his backers. Roughly a third of conservative Republicans (34%) say Obama is a Muslim, as do 30% of those who disapprove of Obama’s job performance. But even among many of his supporters and allies, less than half now say Obama is a Christian. Among Democrats, for instance, 46% say Obama is a Christian, down from 55% in March 2009.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans
(up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly
(up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

11:34 ET: Obama answers that one of the things he admired the most about President Bush was that he was "crystal clear" that America was not at war with Islam after the attacks. He says he will do all he can "to remind the American people that we are one nation under God. And we might call that God different names, but we remain one nation."

He adds that he "relies heavily on my Christian faith."

11:33 ET: Next question from the Washington Post: Why is there still such suspicion of Islam, nine years after the September 11 attacks?

11:32 ET: Here's a little bit more context on the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts:

According to the Treasury Department the cost (in terms of revenues the government would not get) of extending all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for another two year would be $457 billion.

To put that number in perspective, the Congressional Budget Office currently estimates that the federal budget deficit for 2010 will be about $70 billion below last year’s total but will still exceed $1.3 trillion.

As a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), this year’s deficit is expected to be the second-largest in the past 65 years: about 9.1 percent of GDP.

11:27 ET: Obama: "If you're asking why I haven't been able to create a greater spirit of cooperation?... That's fair. I'm as frustrated as anybody."

"When you take on tough issues ... where special interests are deeply entrenched ... you end up having a lot of big fights here in town. And it's messy. And it's frustrating." Obama says he had the option not to take on those issues (like health care and financial reform) but "that's not the kind of leadership" Americans wanted from their president.

11:26 ET: Before he arrived in Washington, Obama answers, policies were "skewed toward" special interests. He names the health care and financial regulatory bills as examples as his changes to that structure.

11:25 ET: NBC's Chuck Todd: "How have you changed Washington?"

11:24 ET: Bloomberg asks about Elizabeth Warren, whose name has been floated as the head of the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency but could face a difficult Senate confirmation.

"The idea for this agency was Elizabeth Warren's," he says. He'll "have an announcement soon about how we're going to move forward."

11:23 ET: Obama declines to call additional infrastructure spending "a second stimulus."

"There is no doubt that everything we’ve been trying to do is designed to stimulate growth and additional jobs in the economy," he says, adding that he has no problem with people saying he is trying to "stimulate growth and hiring."

11:21 ET: President says that Republican and Democrats "ususally agree on infrastructure."

11:19 ET: Third question comes from CBS. Chip Reid asks why the president waited until a "super-heated" midterm election season to unveil new economic proposals.

11:18 ET: "Let's give certainty to families out there that are having a tough time."

11:17 ET: Here's a little bit of background to Obama's response to the first question that the economy hasn't fully recovered. "We're not there," he said.

Last month, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent. There were 14.9 million people unemployed.

In February of 2009 when Obama signed the Recovery Act (stimulus) into law, the unemployment rate was 8.1 percent and there were 12.5 million unemployed.

After 18 months, the employment situation is worse.

But non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the economy would be in even worse shape today had the stimulus not been enacted.

The CBO estimated in a recent report that the stimulus has increased the number of jobs by at least 1.4 million in the current year and has cut the unemployment rate by as much as 1.8 percentage points.

11:16 ET: Obama says Republicans and Democrats agree that taxes on the middle class should be low. "Let's work on that."

11:14 ET: In his opening statement, Obama also spoke about his new infrastructure proposal, which he unveiled earlier this week. It would invest an initial $50 billion on roads, rails and runways.

Here is what he said in Milwaukee earlier this week: “It doesn’t do anybody any good when so many hardworking Americans have been idled for months, even years, at a time when there is so much of America that needs rebuilding.”

Here is what he said last year when he signed the stimulus bill in February 17, 2009:

"Because we know we can't build our economic future on the transportation and information networks of the past, we are remaking the American landscape with the largest new investment in our nation's infrastructure since Eisenhower built an Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. Because of this investment, nearly 400,000 men and women will go to work rebuilding our crumbling roads and bridges, repairing our faulty dams and levees, bringing critical broadband connections to businesses and homes in nearly every community in America, upgrading mass transit, building high-speed rail lines that will improve travel and commerce throughout our nation."

11:12 ET: The president calls GOP economic proposals "the exact policies that got us into this mess." He references NRCC chairman Pete Sessions' comment on Meet the Press that "We need to go back to the exact same agenda" from before the Obama presidency.

11:10 ET: First question comes from the Associated Press: How can the midterm elections not be a referendum on the economy and your handling of it?

Obama responds that, if the election is about policies -- those [from Democrats] that could move us forward or those [from Republicans] that led America into economic crisis -- "I think Democrats will do well."

11:09 ET: In his opening remarks, Obama references “tax cuts for millionaires” in the Bush administration. The 2001 tax law cut all income tax rates. Eleven Democratic senators joined 47 Republicans in voting for it in May 2001. Those rates expire at the end of this year.

Obama has proposed to allow the 2001 tax rates to expire for couples with income over $250,000 and others with income over $200,000.

11:09 ET: He urges Americans to "rekindle that spirit of unit and common purpose" that followed September 11.

11:07 ET: Obama says of Christina Romer, departing chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors: "Christie is brilliant, she is dedicated, she is part of the team that helped save this country from a recession." Formally announces Austan Goolsbee as her successor.

11:05 ET: Obama: "One thing we can do next week is end a month-long standoff on a small business bill .. that has been held up by a partisan minority." Retiring GOP Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio has said he will vote for cloture, potentially giving Democrats the 60 votes they need to break the filibuster. Obama praised him by name.

11:03 ET: Obama: "Even though the economy is growing again... the hole the recession left was huge. Progress has been painfully slow."

11:01 ET: Obama is now at the podium, says he will opens with comments addressing "our continuing efforts to dig ourselves out of this recession."

10:45 ET: President Obama will hold the eighth press conference of his presidency at 11a.m. ET, his first since late May. As First Read wrote this morning, he'll likely be asked to address his party's chances going into the final stretch of a difficult midterm election cycle, as well as the continuing controversy over the NYC Islamic community center and a Florida pastor's proposal to burn copies of the Quran. But front and center will be economic issues -- the president's plan for tax cuts, the stubbornly high unemployment rate, and the administration's new efforts to kick-start the economy. (He'll also announce that longtime economic advisor Austan Goolsbee will succeed Christina Romer as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.)

And one of the most interesting things to watch for will be if - and how - Obama characterizes his own presidency so far.

We'll be live-blogging the news conference here.

Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered a preview of the president's press conference today on The Daily Rundown. Take a look, and keep refreshing First Read throughout the newser for breaking news and analysis from the political team.

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