National Security

Today Show Pans Obama’s Oval Office Address: ‘No Sense of Urgency’

Today Show panelists panned President Obama’s Oval Office address on Monday, saying it was "business as usual" and showed "no sense of urgency" about the threat of terrorism.

"Too much of what he’s done, including last night, using the Oval Office, was business as usual—repeating, basically, what he thinks the right policy is with nothing new and no sense of urgency, which is what a lot of Americans are feeling," Bloomberg reporter Mark Halperin said.

Obama’s rare address from the Oval Office, only the third of his presidency, was intended to reassure the country that he takes terrorism seriously. According to Today Show co-host Savannah Guthrie, the address was too little, too late.

"Number one, it acknowledges that they [the public] need reassurance—that up to this point they haven’t gotten it—, and number two, that they don’t know what our strategy is," Guthrie said.

Obama stated Sunday that the San Bernardino attack was an act of terrorism, days after it was labeled as such by the FBI. As the panelists pointed out, Obama’s tough rhetoric was not accompanied by new policy proposals.

"Are you surprised that in this speech he didn’t offer anything new in terms of strategy or policy, that it was basically stay the course?" Today Show co-host Matt Lauer asked.

"I’m surprised by that. I’m also surprised that had he didn’t do a good-enough job or maybe any job of reaching out to Republicans," Halperin said.

"To not explain new military options or new political options or to embrace some sort of unifying vision really is a problem," NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell said later.

According to the panelists, the address seemed like a pro forma speech on behalf of vulnerable Democrats worried about their reelection.

"He came to this position last night because of Democrats as well as Republicans, primarily Democrats in the leadership who are up for Senate seats saying ‘you’ve got to deal with this.’ The country is really scared," Mitchell said.

High-profile Democrats have been defecting from the White House line on terrorism following a spree of major terrorist attacks on Western targets, including the massacre in California two weeks ago.

Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from the administration’s hands-off foreign policy, despite her involvement in several of its key policy shifts as Secretary of State, including the 2011 withdrawal from Iraq. Clinton has recently called for stronger military action against the Islamic State.

"I know that Americans are anxious and fearful, and we have reason to be. The threat is real. The need for action is urgent," Clinton said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, has openly criticized the president for claiming that his strategy has contained IS.

"It’s often said that we have a big problem with terrorist groups and that ISIS is being contained. Well, it is now in 12 other countries," Feinstein said.

Mitchell said that Democratic concerns have stemmed from the president’s unreassuring response to threats like IS.

"He needed to speak after Paris. It was too long for him to not correct the image of ISIS as a JV team," Mitchell said.

Transcript below:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Stand by there. We want to bring into this conversation Mark Halperin, managing editor with Bloomberg Politics.

MATT LAUER: Presidents don't do this often, go into the Oval Office and address in primetime. This president hasn't done it since 2010. These are moments of importance and crisis. Because of that are you surprised that in this speech he didn't offer anything new in terms of strategy or policy, that it was basically stay the course?

MARK HALPERIN: I'm surprised by that. I'm also surprised that had he didn't do a good enough job or maybe any job of reaching out to Republicans. This is a time when we need national unity. We're in the middle of a presidential campaign, leaving office in a little over a year. Reaction from Republicans, as Andrea said, uniformly bad, not just the presidential candidates by the Capitol Hill leaders. I think nothing new and no sense of bipartisanship, not good for the country.

GUTHRIE: Mark, the White House would be quick to say this is not a speech that is for the political class. It's not for you. Not for us sitting at table. It's for regular Americans who might just be tuning into this issue. The problem with that, as I see it, number one, it acknowledges that they need reassurance, that up to this point they haven't gotten it and number two, they don't know what our strategy is. Shouldn't they?

HALPERIN: They need to know what the strategy is. Again, I think Americans—look, this is fundamental responsibility of Washington to protect the country, to protect American interests abroad, and when the president comes out and gives a speech and then it becomes just politics, it becomes for the chattering class. I think that's a failure of leadership of both parties, but the president's got the primary responsibility now, and you would like a world, like after 9/11, where the president addresses the country and says the we're in crisis and republicans say we'll put partisanship aside for a moment and work with him. That's not what we're seeing.

LAUER: Using the president's own words, early in the speech Americans see the threat of terrorism as a cancer with no immediate cure. Based on what you heard from the president last night should Americans feel like at least there is a cure down the road?

MITCHELL: No, and I thought that was actually a bad metaphor to use because people think of cancer in one way and what he needed to do was project power, as Mark was saying, that we have solutions and in fact with no new strategy to announce, having elevated this to a Sunday night primetime speech from the Oval Office which is, you know, incredibly—

GUTHRIE: Rarified air.

ANDREA MITCHELL: —Rarified air, as you point out, and to not have a new strategy, to not explain new military options or new political options or to embrace some sort of unifying vision really is a problem. Our new poll is indicating that there are real concerns about terrorism, and there is a partisan divide on this, but so many people are now after Paris and of course San Bernardino bringing it home. He needed to speak after Paris. It was too long for him to not correct the image of ISIS as a JV team.

LAUER: In fairness, he did hold a press conference after Paris.

MITCHELL: Yes, but the press conference doesn't convey that sense of it. He needed to address the nation sooner, his own critics of his own party say, and in fact he came to this position last night because of democrats as well as Republicans but primarily Democrats in the leadership who are up for Senate seats saying you've got to deal with this. The country is really scared.

HALPERIN: This isn't a business as usual moment. And too much of what he's done, including last night, using the Oval Office, was business as usual. A repeating basically what he thinks the right policy is with nothing new and no sense of urgency which is what a lot of Americans are feeling.

GUTHRIE: Mark Halperin and Andrea Mitchell, good to have you both. Thank you.