Obama on the Defensive at Press Conference

President blames Congress for lack of action on agenda.

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President Obama's latest news conference was a 47-minute exercise in defensiveness.

At the 100-day mark of his second term on Tuesday, Obama seemed eager to show that he's still trying to get something done, even though his agenda appears to be slipping away.

At one point, he brought back memories of two of his predecessors as they struggled to recover waning power. Jonathan Karl of ABC News asked Obama if he still has "the juice to get the rest of your agenda through this Congress." Obama wasn't pleased.

"As Mark Twain said," the president replied, "rumors of my demise may be a little exaggerated at this point." Obama blamed a "dysfunctional" Congress for the Senate defeat of his gun-control plan and the stalling of his other major initiatives.

In 1995, Bill Clinton declared that "the president is still relevant" amid growing criticism of his performance in office. In 1992, George H.W. Bush got into such political trouble that Time magazine published a cover story titled, "The Incredible Shrinking President."

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This bit of history offers both positive and negative precedents for Obama. Clinton managed to make a comeback and win re-election in 1996. Bush lost his re-election bid in 1992.

Obama, of course, won re-election last year, but he is fighting impressions that he is already becoming a lame duck with fading influence.

He blamed his lack of legislative success on the Republican opposition in Congress. Addressing Karl, he said, "Jonathan, you seem to suggest that somehow, these folks over there have no responsibilities and that my job is to somehow get them to behave.

"That's their job. They are elected – members of Congress are elected in order to do what's right for their constituencies and for the American people."

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Actually, many Americans expect enough leadership and savvy from the president to make the system work. And that's not what's happening in Washington right now.

At his news conference, Obama called on only seven reporters, including five journalists from U.S. television networks and one a foreign correspondent from Chile. He gave lengthy answers that took up lots of time without making news on topics ranging from the budget and the crisis in Syria to his failed plan to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, and he seemed miffed at several points.

Dana Perino, a Fox News commentator and former White House press secretary to President George W. Bush, wondered why Obama held the news conference in the first place. She said he made so little news and had so few answers to obvious questions that it wasn't worth meeting with reporters on this particular day.

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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 kwalsh@usnews.com, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.