American presidential incumbents rarely comment on current electoral campaigns but, on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said he did not believe Republican favorite Donald Trump has what it takes to lead as president. He also criticized the language used by Trump and other Republican candidates, while trying not to take sides in his own party’s primaries. “I continue to believe Mr Trump will not be president, and the reason is because I have a lot of faith in the American people, and I think they recognize that being president is a serious job,” Obama said at a press conference in California. “It’s not hosting a talk show or a reality show.”
The businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump earned second place in Iowa’s caucuses, the first voting contest of the primary season, and then went on to win the primary in New Hampshire. He is at the top of the polls in South Carolina and in Nevada, where contests will be held on February 20 and February 23, respectively.
Whoever is standing where I’m standing right now has the nuclear codes with them President Obama
“It’s not promotion, it’s not marketing, it’s hard. And a lot of people count on us getting it right,” Obama said of his job. “Whoever is standing where I’m standing right now has the nuclear codes with them, and can order 21-year-olds into a firefight, and have to make sure that the banking system doesn’t collapse, and is often responsible for not just the United States of America but 20 other countries that are having big problems or falling apart and are going to be looking for us to do something.”
The president’s remarks came during a press conference held after meetings with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at Rancho Mirage in California, the first conference the organization held on American soil. But the president was really speaking in the context of the open political brawl caused by the sudden death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Friday. Just a few hours later, Republican candidates and the Republican majority in the Senate said they would block any Obama nominee to replace Scalia. A progressive judge would shift the balance on the bench at a delicate moment, when the viability of several presidential actions depend on the interpretation of the Court.
“The Constitution is pretty clear about what is supposed to happen now. When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the President of the United States is to nominate someone,” Obama began. “Historically, this has not been viewed as a question.” Yet Republicans argue that there is a tradition that calls for holding off nominations during an election year. “I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there,” the president said in response to Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, a Texas solicitor general who has appeared before the Court many times and who, like Scalia, calls himself an originalist, meaning that he favors a literal 18th-century interpretation of the Constitution without adapting it to current times.
I’m amused when I hear people who claim to be strict interpreters of the Constitution suddenly reading into it a whole series of provisions that are not there President Obama
Obama also mentioned Republican primary contender Marco Rubio, saying that he sponsored a comprehensive immigration reform bill, which the president also supported, but then abandoned it when he could not get it passed in the House of Representatives, and now “he’s running away from it as fast as he can.” Rubio has spent the entire campaign so far defending himself from this sort of attack, especially since his fellow Republicans and now electoral rivals are accusing him of flip-flopping on immigration.
The president said that he will nominate “somebody who indisputably is qualified” for the vacant Supreme Court seat. Asked if that meant he would choose a moderate nominee, Obama flatly responded: “No.”
English version by Dyane Jean François.