Obama knocks GOP candidates for 'casualness' on costs of war

A pugnacious President Obama on Tuesday used his first full press conference since November to pummel Republicans who have criticized his approach to Iran and other issues in recent days.

Obama never mentioned Mitt Romney by name in the 45-minute session with reporters, but he railed against his likely opponent in the general election for his “bluster” on a possible war with Iran.

He also sought to draw a contrast between the responsibilities of the Oval Office and the efforts by Romney and the other GOP candidates to win over Republican primary voters, an internal battle that has left Romney bruised and some Republicans doubting whether he can defeat Obama in the fall.

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“What’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities — they’re not the commander in chief,” Obama told reporters. “When I see the casualness about which some of these folks talk about war, I think about the costs. ... This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it.

“And ... when I see some of those folks who have a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years,” Obama said. “It indicates to me that there’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a problem.”

The president added that the notion the United States has to make a decision on how to contain Iran’s nuclear threat in “next week or two weeks or month or two months is not borne out by the facts.”

The White House has insisted it is not in campaign mode, and Obama has repeatedly said he is not watching the GOP debates. But both the timing of the press conference and the substance of the president’s comments highlight the focus he and his team have on the Republican race.

Tuesday’s press conference was held the same day voters hit the polls in 10 states. Obama even mentioned the significance of the day at the top of the press conference.

“Now I understand there are some political contests going on tonight, but I thought I’d start the day off by taking a few questions,” Obama said.

When one reporter asked Obama to respond to Romney’s comment about Obama being the “most feckless president” since Jimmy Carter, Obama chuckled.

“Good luck tonight,” Obama said, as the press corps burst into laughter.

“No, really,” one reporter pushed back.

“Really,” Obama said.

When Obama was asked about his critics’ views that he wants gas prices to rise higher so that he can “wean” Americans off fossil fuels and onto renewable fuels, Obama scoffed.

“Just from a political perspective, do you think the president of the United States going into reelection wants gas prices to go up higher?” Obama said. “Is there anybody who thinks that makes a lot of sense?”

While he hit Republicans repeatedly on Tuesday, Obama also knocked talk show host Rush Limbaugh one more time, saying the conservative’s recent remarks — in which he called a law student a “slut” — don’t have “any place in the public discourse.” At the same time, Obama turned down an opportunity to bash the sincerity of Limbaugh’s apology to the law student, saying he didn’t know what’s in Limbaugh’s heart.

Obama said he called the law student to offer his support because he thought of his daughters Malia and Sasha, saying that young people should be able to “speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way, and I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens.”

The president began the press conference by announcing a program for homeowners that would be backed by the Federal Housing Administration, which he said would save Americans $1,000 annually. “We’re going to do this on our own. We don’t need congressional authorization to do it.”

He used the opportunity to take another veiled jab at Romney, who said last year the government should let the housing crisis run its course.

“I’m not going to be one of those people who says we should stand by and let housing hit bottom,” Obama said.

— Posted at 3:21 p.m. and updated at 9:33 p.m.