Everything You Need to Know About Obama's News Conference (But Were Afraid to Ask)

In his fourth primetime news conference, President Obama delivered an extended defense of his policies on health care and the economy—two issues where he's lost significant ground in public opinion in recent weeks. And when we say extended, we literally mean extended. In the hour-long presser, Obama took just 10 questions. That's a pretty low number even for him, as he took his time responding, if not always answering, each of the queries. During his first six months in office, Obama has become the master of using questions to simply get out his preferred talking points, and Wednesday was no exception. From the top of the news conference, Obama's assignment was to explain this increasingly complicated push for reform and sell the American people on why it's so necessary to do something now. "I realize that with all the charges and criticisms being thrown around in Washington, many Americans may be wondering, 'What's in this for me?'" Obama said in his opening statement. "How does my family stand to benefit? …Tonight, I want to answer those questions." Some of Obama's responses were so long and so technical, it's hard to judge if he actually accomplished that goal. Here's a few more things that struck your Gaggler:

Professor Obama returns. Your Gaggler wondered all week if we'd see him at the presser, and we sure did, beginning with Obama's initial statement where he cited data and figures to back up his argument that the nation can't afford to wait on health reform. The difference between this Professor Obama and the one we saw emerge during stimulus talks: Passion. At his newser a month ago, Obama seemed to be aching for a fight as he went before reporters in the White House press briefing room. He was snippy and challenged reporters on their questions on health care. Last night, Obama was cautious and careful to stay on message. There wasn't much fight behind the message. He often seemed to ignore questions completely, only to use the time to communicate the points he needed to make. Take the first question of the night from the Associated Press's Ben Feller, who asked Obama if he's signaled to House and Senate leaders on policies he wants and which ones he doesn't and how he thinks the bill should be paid for. Both were questions that Democrats have been increasingly calling on Obama to answer, but he didn't tonight. "Before we talk about how to pay for it, let's talk about what exactly needs to be done," he said. For more than eight minutes, Obama rambled on the need for health reform, how costs will rise if we don't tackle the problem now. By our clock, he went on for almost nine minutes but it was nothing we hadn't heard before.

Obama's new term: "Health Insurance Reform." At the top of tonight's remarks, Obama referred to the reform debate as "health insurance reform" rather than "health care reform." Now Obama actually has been slipping in this term for a few days, but this was the first time many reporters actually noticed. What's going on here? White House aides are trying to reframe the debate and center it on a central boogie man: insurance companies. One problem administration officials have acknowledged and Obama himself admitted tonight is that the debate over reform has become increasingly convoluted. What does all of this actually mean? Average people know what insurance companies are, and they don't particularly have good feelings about them. Obama hopes to use those bad feelings to turn public opinion his way.

Changes to current coverage aren't completely unavoidable. One thing that Obama has repeated in recent days but didn't say explicitly tonight is that if someone likes their current insurance plan, they can keep it. That's something Congress and the White House say they want, but in truth, it's something they can't really control. Asked point blank if Obama could guarantee that there would be no cuts or reduction in services, the president admitted no—but he insisted that was the point, that some decisions are being driven by financial considerations set by insurance companies rather than actual medical advice from doctors. "Can I guarantee that there are going to be no changes in the health care delivery system? No," he said. The whole point of this is to try to encourage changes that work for the American people and make them healthier. The government already is making some of these decisions. More importantly, insurance companies right now are making those decisions. And part of what we want to do is to make sure that those decisions are being made by doctors and medical experts based on evidence, based on what works, because that's not how it's working right now." BTW, this question, posed near the end of the hour, marked Obama's first real detailed mention of the so-called public option. We still don't know if he'd veto a bill that didn't include a government plan. He wasn't asked.

What sacrifices will Americans have to make? We still don't really know. ABC's Jake Tapper posed this exact question to Obama, who replied, "They're going to have to give up paying for things that don't make them healthier." The president then went into long answer about how doctors and hospitals aren't coordinating enough on tests and treatments, and wasting money in the meantime, and that they need to be prescribing cheaper drugs. (Isn't that more of a drug patent problem?) And then Obama got rolling on the deficit and government spending, even working in a mention of those F-22 fighters he successfully lobbied against to save money. Remember those talking points we mentioned? But wait, what about those sacrifices?

Who's playing politics? Not me! It's not a health care event if Obama can't work in a mention to Jim DeMint and his GOP critics. "I understand how easy it is for this town to become consumed in the game of politics, to turn every issue into a running tally of who's up and who's down," Obama said in his opening remarks. "I've heard that one Republican strategist told his party that, even they may want to compromise, it's better politics to "go for the kill," another Republican senator that defeating health reform is about "breaking" me." You don't say. The only problem with this argument: Republicans aren't the only problem here. It's the Democrats, who are split over Obama's push for reform. NBC's Chuck Todd mentioned this to Obama, who insisted he hasn't been out there blaming the GOP. He name-checked some Republicans who, in his view, has been helpful, including Sen. Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, and talked about all the GOP input on the bill. But what about those Democrats? Obama acknowledged differences within his party, including concerns about "regional disparities" on Medicare but otherwise didn't wade into what is clearly one of his biggest political problems at the moment. He dismissed it as the "normal give and take" of the legislative process.

The only moment where Obama got excited: When someone changed the subject. The last question Obama took was about the controversial arrest of Henry Louis Gates, an Obama friend and Harvard professor, who was picked up by Cambridge police at his home after they responded to a call reporting a possible burglary. Obama was asked what the issue says about race in America. The prez, who prefaced he didn't know all the facts, said he believed the police acted "stupidly" and that despite progress, blacks and Hispanics still seem to be targeted unfairly by law enforcement. "Race remains a factor in the society," Obama said. "That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us."