Barack Obama is going where no President has gone before – to a federal jail.
His visit Thursday to El Reno Federal Correctional Institution in Oklahoma reflects a President who is willing to take unprecedented steps to highlight the issues he cares about – in this case, criminal justice reform – during his final years in office.
Like he said during an impromptu jaunt to Starbucks last summer, it’s clear that once again “the bear is loose” – a sign that Obama is relishing the fourth quarter of his presidency that has allowed him to be less cautious and instead more freewheeling and authentic. That demeanor that has been on display multiple times in the last month, from singing “Amazing Grace” at the Charleston funeral to his decision to use the N-word during a podcast interview.
During a White house press conference on Wednesday, Obama took his critics head on, addressing criticism after criticism leveled against the Iran deal he signed off on this week, rejecting each attack on what will very likely be the capstone to his foreign policy legacy.
“I just want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stones unturned here,” Obama said Wednesday as he invited more questions on the Iran deal. “I really am enjoying this Iran debate.”
On Wednesday he pointed out his press secretary was likely “getting a little stressed here” as he went on taking questions.
The Iran deal is the latest opportunity Obama has had to lay into his critics and make an ardent pitch on an issue he is fiercely devoted to – in ways he has also done on race issues, gun control and even the fight against ISIS.
“You know what, I will take a question,” Obama said after remarks on the latter topic, before taking two questions.
The deal now in Obama’s hands is the result of a nearly two-year negotiations haul and an effort to engage Iran that has spanned his entire presidency – and he can finally play it up in definite terms. And though the deal faces stiff opposition from Republicans – and some Democrats – in Congress, it’s unlikely lawmakers will be able to muster the veto-proof majority needed to derail the multinational agreement.
In the process, he even laid into a veteran White House reporter who asked why he was “content with all the fanfare around this deal” given that four Americans still languish in Iranian prisons.
“The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better,” Obama said, scolding CBS White House Correspondent Major Garrett. “I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody’s content.”
Feeling content and confident after addressing the slew of questions on Iran, Obama carried his “loose” attitude into a question on a totally different topic: Bill Cosby.
He could have avoided the question on a controversial, hot-button topic that would pull some news coverage of the press conference away from his larger pitch on Iran.
But he didn’t. Instead he answered the question of whether he would revoke Cosby’s Medal of Freedom, and went a step further.
After noting that there is no “mechanism” for revoking the honor from Cosby and after noting that he tends “to make it a policy not to comment on the specifics of an ongoing case,” Obama made a point about the Cosby case and rape.
“I’ll say this. If you give a woman, or a man, for that matter, without his or her knowledge, a drug and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape, and I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape,” Obama said.
And as Obama prepared to ditch the podium shortly thereafter, Obama made it clear he’ll be back – and the American public should expect more of the same.
“I promise you, I will address this again, all right?” Obama said as he moved away from the podium.
But then, he leaned back into the microphone with a grin.
“I suspect this is not the last that we’ve heard of this debate,” he said.