Obama continues to set the record straight

OBAMA CONTINUES TO SET THE RECORD STRAIGHT…. Barack Obama’s press conference this morning was ostensibly about healthcare policy and the officials the president-elect will rely on to reform the system. The political reality, though, is that reporters are far more interested in talking about the Blagojevich scandal than next year’s policy debate.

For what it’s worth, Obama didn’t appear to mind. In fact, he seemed to expect the questions, and offered straightforward answers.

Even before the Q&A began, Obama addressed the controversy on the minds of the reporters in the room.

“Let me say that I was as appalled as anyone by the revelations earlier this week. I have never spoken with the Governor on this subject. And I am quite confident that no representatives of mine would have had any part in any deals related to this seat. I think the materials released by the U.S. Attorney reflect that. I have asked my team to gather the facts of any contacts with the Governor’s staff about this vacancy so we can share them with you. And we will do that in the next few days.

“Finally, on this matter, let me say that this Senate seat does not belong to any politician to trade — it belongs to the people of Illinois, and they deserve the best possible representation. They also deserve to know that any vacancy will be filled in an appropriate way. I hope and expect that the leaders of the legislature will take steps to ensure that this is so.”

After introducing his healthcare team, and explaining the need for reform, Obama opened the floor to questions. Not surprisingly, nearly all were about the charges facing Illinois’ governor. What did we learn?

* Obama did not speak with Blagojevich about the Senate vacancy, and his team had “no involvement around any deal-making for this Senate seat.”

* The president-elect reminded his audience about what the governor had to say about him personally, based on the transcripts. “I won’t quote back some of the things that were said about me,” Obama said. “This is a family program, I know.”

* We were reminded again that the Fitzgerald criminal complaint made clear that Obama and his team weren’t playing ball: “As is reflected in the U.S. Attorney’s report, we were not perceived by the governor’s office as amenable to any deal-making.”

* Obama, in response to a question about what’s wrong with Illinois, pointed to some exemplary public servants from the state, including Dick Durbin.

* He also made some extended remarks about corruption in politics, noting that Blagojevich’s conduct appears to be on the “far end of the spectrum,” but adding that it’s also time to move past a political environment that’s tolerant of a more casual, routine corruption where lobbyists have excessive influence. Obama reminded the public, “You can get elected by playing it straight; you can get elected by doing the right thing.”

All in all, I’m not sure how Obama could have handled this any better. He answered the questions, explained that in the interests of transparency he’ll offer a full list of contacts between his staff and the governor, and reiterated an unambiguous condemnation. Obama wasn’t defensive in the slightest, and seemed understandably confident that this mess has nothing to do with him.

I don’t doubt that Fox News and some media detractors will find something to complain about as a result of Obama’s comments, I’m just not sure what it’ll be.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.