to selecting a Supreme Court justice. Among the contenders are former Treasury
Secretary Larry Summers and Janet Yellen, the vice chair of the Fed, he said,
adding that whoever replaces Ben Bernanke must focus his attention on keeping
inflation in check and helping strengthen the recovery from the worst recession
While saying he won't pick a Fed chairman until the fall, he expressed irritation at critics of Summers, including some Democrats in Congress, whom Obama said were engaging in "a standard Washington exercise that I don't like" of launching pre-emptive attacks before an appointment has been made.
The president and his family are due to depart the White House today for a weeklong vacation at Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts.
It was Obama's first full-blown White House news conference since April, and both his opening statement about surveillance programs and the questions that followed underscored the constantly shifting mix of issues in the nation's summertime capital.
Chief among them was the topic of surveillance, a subject the administration has struggled with since Snowden's leaks triggered a vigorous public debate about the proper balance between government intelligence-gathering programs designed to combat terrorism and individual liberties enshrined in the Constitution.
In his remarks, the president gave no indication he was prepared to change the core of one of the most controversial programs, an effort to collect and store identifying information about virtually all the phone calls made in the United States.
There was quick reaction from lawmakers.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement saying he would "carefully examine the materials released today and will continue to press for greater transparency, including the release of significant FISA Court opinions."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgian and senior Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said, "I believe there is a consensus among my colleagues that any modifications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act must be made on a strong bipartisan basis and must not impede the intelligence community's ability to prevent terrorist attacks."
Obama announced relatively modest changes, including one to create an independent attorney to argue against the government during secret hearings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which reviews requests for surveillance inside the U.S. Under current law, prosecutors now make their legal case without opposing argument, subject only to a ruling by a judge.
Obama is creating an outside advisory panel to review U.S. surveillance powers, although it is unclear how that differs from the U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, an existing panel mandated by Congress, to monitor surveillance systems and constitutional considerations.
Obama said the NSA would hire a privacy officer and that intelligence agencies would build a website explaining their mission.
As Obama spoke, the Justice Department released what Obama called "the legal rationale" for the surveillance. The document appeared to be primarily a recitation of what the administration has previously told Congress.
On another subject, the president declined to confirm a series of drone strikes recently reported carried out in Yemen to deter a suspected terrorist plot.
At the same time, he said the United States was making progress toward arresting the killers of four Americans who perished last year in a terrorist attack at a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya. "We are intent on capturing those who carried out this attack. And we're going to stay on it until we get them," he said.
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