From: Mufson, Steven [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, July 21, 2015 04:24 PM
To: Barnes, Desiree N. EOP
Subject: pool #14
Mr. Obama noted that negotiations with the Soviet Union over nuclear stockpiles was undertaken at a time when the Soviets were considered the evil empire.
"That posed a much greater threat, and we actually had to give something up," Mr. Obama said. "In this situation, we're not giving anything up.”
Stewart then dug into Obama’s record with reforming the Veterans Administration, where many veterans had waited scandalously long times for treatment. The comedian got serious saying Obama had come into office promising reform but that he “couldn’t do it after five years.”
POTUS said that "Government works better now than it ever has given what we ask it to do.” He said "if you have a government that was built on 1930 models and it’s not updated for decades there’s going to be a gap relative to what other folks do.” he noted that the government had two million people.
Stewart said that VA waiting times were back up and that “you’ll find almost unanimous agreement that you’ve failed.”
POTUS interrupted saying that a lot of people were coming home from the wars. Stewart said “when you got a lot of wars” that’s not a big surprise.
Obama on troubled VA healthcare system : "It is my firm belief that we have a sacred duty to these guys and gals. ... When they come home we’re supposed to be there for them."
“We've been able to systematically add resources to the VA.”
“You still have this massive structure with millions of people being served."
He said his challenge is to “systematically work through some of the challenges of a big, freaky(?) bureaucracy.”
He said he worked to do electronic on-paper appointments, reduce backlogs of claims, even as more veterans are coming into the system.
"We allowed folks who had symptoms" that had been ignored and shortchanged.
Mr. Obama pushed back against Mr. Stewart's accusation that the government is not working as well as it should to provide services to people
The president blamed Congress for not providing enough money to agencies and said that when that happens "we shouldn't be surprised that there are going to be gaps."
Mr. Obama gave the example of the IRS, where he said Mr. Stewart and other critics had jumped on the story that employees had been targeting conservatives.
"It turns out," Mr. Obama said, that wasn't true. He said Congress "passed a crummy law" that provided vague guidance to the people who worked at the IRS. And he said that employees implemented the law "poorly and stupidly."
"Boy, you really do have only a year left," Mr. Stewart interjected.
But the president jumped back in, saying that the "real scandal around the IRS is that they have been so poorly funded that they cannot go after these folks who are deliberately avoiding tax payments."
Should people blame the president? Mr. Obama said that "you can't use that as an excuse for the big structural problems that we are facing.”
POTUS moved the issue back to Iran, saying he had take into account “Iran’s saving face” in the negotiations, conceding that it was Stewart’s job to look at the part of the loaf of bread that the administration didn’t get. “You are really go with this whole sandwich analogy?” Stewart responded wryly.
Mr. Obama was on a roll, talking about how deeply he feels that "stuff gets better if we work at it and we stay focused on where we are going."
For example, he said, when he was running for office, people had all these "hope posters" suggesting that everything would be fixed right away.
Stewart jumped in: "We didn't make those. You make those. I'm pretty sure they came from you."
Mr. Obama grinned broadly, but kept on going with his point -- that things would not get solved immediately if he was elected, and that people all over would be part of the solution.
"Look at what I said at the time, this is going to be an ongoing project," he said.