President Obama came across as affable and reasonable in his appearance on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" Tuesday night. Obama didn't make much news, but that wasn't the point. It was to remind middle Americans, Leno's core audience, why they liked him in the first place and perhaps reverse the slide in his job-approval ratings.
Obama, appearing relaxed and confident, said his "Number One priority" is to "create an economy where if you work hard, you will succeed," and he argued that his economic initiatives are working. He said, "The economy is growing," unemployment is declining, and health care costs aren't going up as fast as they have in recent years. But he admitted that "we have a lot more work to do" and pledged to cooperate with congressional Republicans wherever possible even though they have opposed him on many issues.
He said he was disappointed that Russia gave former government contract employee Edward Snowden a one-year asylum even though the Obama administration is seeking Snowden's return to the United States to face prosecution for leaking classified information about U.S. surveillance programs.
But Obama said it was important not to overreact because the Russians still cooperate with the United States in important ways, such as by helping to track down terrorists. "There are times when they slip back into Cold War thinking," Obama said, but he added that he tells Russian President Vladimir Putin: "That's the past and we have to think about the future."
Obama defended the government's surveillance programs. He said the United States does not have "a domestic spying program" and added that gathering intelligence is "a critical component" in finding terrorists. "What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an email address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat and, you know, that information is useful," the president said.
"But, you know, what I've said before, you know, and I want to make sure I repeat and that is we should be skeptical about the potential encroachments on privacy. None of the revelations show that the government has actually abused these powers, but they are pretty significant powers."
Obama said his much-publicized lunch with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week at the White House went very well. "We had a great time," he said. Obama told Leno that Clinton, widely expected to run for president in 2016, had the "post-administration glow. You know, when folks leave the White House, about two weeks later, they look great."
At the end of their chat, Obama gave Leno, a car collector, a model of his armor-plated limousine, nicknamed "The Beast."
It was Obama's fourth visit to Leno's show as president and his sixth appearance with Leno overall.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.