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WASHINGTON -- President Obama, in his 51st day on the job, acknowledged that he has yet to reassure a nervous public about his game plan for stabilizing the financial system that has pulled the rug out from under the economy. "We can always do a better job," he said Wednesday during a roundtable discussion with 15 regional newspapers, including the Star Tribune.
"I recognize the degree of concern that people have. We've been in office all of seven weeks so far. This is a crisis that was eight years in the making, maybe longer, in certain aspects. The buck stops with me and we're responsible, but it's going to take some time."
The meeting was Obama's second with regional reporters who cover Washington, part of an aggressive media strategy that has seen the new president reach out to bloggers and columnists across the political spectrum.
From Mexico to Minneapolis
"This is my monthly occasion to break out of the Washington bubble," Obama said in the West Wing's Roosevelt Room. "I enjoy the keen insights of people outside of Washington."
He walked into the room with a casual "Hey, how you guys doing?" He spent the next hour holding forth on topics ranging from Mexican border violence to 57 extra police officers in Minneapolis, citing the latter as evidence of the benefits of his recently passed $787 billion economic stimulus package.
"Obviously, our overarching focus right now is the economy," Obama said. "I'm very mindful of the hardships that are taking place all throughout the country."
Speaking slowly and deliberately, like the college professor he was, Obama made clear that his administration is in its infancy and that he still has the public on his side.
"The truth of the matter is the American people, I think, understand that it's going to take some time," he said. "If you look at the public polling, they recognize that it's going to take awhile to dig ourselves out of the hole."
Obama noted it has been only two weeks since he laid out his plans in a joint session of Congress. "The reviews were pretty good," he said.
He noted that one aspect of the stimulus package -- money to preserve police officer jobs -- was highlighted by Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, a co-chairman of Obama's presidential campaign in Minnesota. "People are getting the message that slowly, surely, we are making progress on these fronts," Obama said.
As for the unanimous opposition to his stimulus plan from House Republicans, including the three from Minnesota, Obama said, "Saying 'no' is easy. ... I'm not impressed by just being able to say no."
For early signs of hope, Obama pointed to his new housing plan to provide relief to homeowners facing foreclosure. "You're already starting to see an uptick in refinancings that are providing families with relief," he said. "And in certain pockets of the country, you're starting to see housing prices stabilize after a long drop."
The president acknowledged, however, that there's "significant uncertainty" in the markets about the banking sector, which has been decimated by bad loans and mortgages. "That's obviously a particular concern to Wall Street," he said.
One problem is that the administration is still in the process of "stress-testing" or evaluating the financial strength of banks. "What we don't want to do is to prejudge those tests," Obama said. "On that particular issue we've got to explain to people -- and as I said, we can always do better -- why it is so important to get lending going again, to get credit flowing to businesses and consumers.
"I'll be making statements about this tomorrow and the next day and in my radio addresses next week. And the main message I'm going to be delivering is that it's going to take some time to get out of this deep hole we're in. But we're going to get out."
By the time Obama took his last question, his water glass was still more than half full.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753