President Barack Obama gives a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House in Washington on December 20, 2013. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
David Jackson, USA TODAY
In a pre-Super Bowl rumble, President Obama and Fox News host Bill O'Reilly jousted Sunday over the health care law, the attack in Benghazi, and claims that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative organizations.
Obama expressed regret for saying people who liked their health insurance plans could keep them - millions saw their policies canceled after the new law took effect in October - and said his administration did not seek to cover up the causes of the 2012 terrorist attack on a U.S. facility in Benghazi, Libya.
In a discussion about another dispute, Obama said indications that some IRS officials targeted conservative groups resulted from "bone-headed decisions," and "not even a smidgen" of corruption.
In a jab at Fox News, Obama at one point told the conservative host of The O'Reilly Factor: "These kinds of things keep on surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them."
O'Reilly also read a letter from a woman in California who asked Obama why he wants to "fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success."
Obama replied that he wants to create new opportunities for Americans in the middle class, and those trying to get there. "What we have to do is is make sure that - here in America - if you work hard you can get ahead," Obama said during the live interview at the White House during the pre-game program on the Fox network.
There were no questions about more current issues, such as the administration's push for an immigration bill. Obama has granted a Super Bowl Sunday interview every year he has been in office. It's the second one done by O'Reilly. He also did the honors in 2011, the last time Fox broadcast the game.
This edition was reminiscent of the first one, in which O'Reilly and the Democratic president went back and forth over such issues as Egypt, the health care law, and the nation's ideological divides.
O'Reilly asked Obama why he didn't fire Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the website problems that crippled the rollout of the health care plan late last year. Obama said he is focused on making sure the website is running smoothly and that the law is working.
When O'Reilly repeatedly asked Obama whether the flawed promise about existing health care policies is the biggest mistake of his presidency, Obama said "this is one that I regret." Obama also used a day-appropriate football metaphor: "I try to focus not on the fumbles, but on the next play."
Earlier in the discussion, Obama told O'Reilly, "Bill, you've got a long list of my mistakes."
On Benghazi, O'Reilly told Obama that "your detractors" believe that officials at first blamed the attack on a spontaneous demonstration because the 2012 re-election campaign didn't want it known there had been a terrorist attack.
"They believe it because folks like you are telling them," Obama told O'Reilly, saying it took time to figure out what happened, and his administration reported on what it knew when it knew it.
Both Benghazi and the IRS have been subjects of "multiple" congressional hearings, and no wrongdoing has been found, Obama said.
On a lighter note, Obama declined to venture a prediction on the game between the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. "These guys are too evenly matched," Obama said."I think it is going to be 24-21, but I don't know who's going to be 24."