Obama on Leno: president talks terrorism, NSA leaks, and broccoli

Obama, on Leno for the sixth time, said Americans should still travel but exercise caution, amid an elevated terror threat. Obama and Leno also talked Hillary, McCain, and a certain vegetable Obama claims to love. 

Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Obama on Leno: President Obama talks with Jay Leno during a commercial break during the taping of his appearance on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno' in Los Angeles Tuesday.

From the latest terror warnings to the merits of broccoli, President Obama and Jay Leno covered the waterfront Tuesday night in a 45-minute interview on "The Tonight Show."

The president urged Americans to go on living their lives but be prudent, amid a week-long closure of 19 US embassies across the Middle East and North Africa over a threat of terrorism. Americans should check with the State Department website before traveling abroad, Mr. Obama said.

“Find out what kind of precautions you should be taking, then I think it still makes sense for people to take vacations,” Obama told Mr. Leno in his sixth appearance on “The Tonight Show.” “They just have to make sure that they're doing so in a prudent way.”

The odds of people dying in a terrorist attack are still a lot lower than in a car accident, the president added.

Obama called the terror threat "significant enough that we're taking every precaution," and denied he was overreacting, in his first public remarks on the embassy closures. He would not reveal if the US learned of the threat through the controversial National Security Agency surveillance program that was leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

On the issue of Mr. Snowden, Obama said he was “disappointed” that Russia had granted him temporary asylum. He said he will still attend the G-20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September. But Wednesday morning, the Associated Press reported that Obama had canceled his meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.

Obama and Mr. Putin have had some famously dour-looking public meetings.

“I mean, look at this picture here,” said Leno, showing a photo. “You two don’t look pretty – you look like me and the NBC executives.”

Leno is retiring from “The Tonight Show” next spring.

Obama and Leno also talked domestic issues, some serious, some light-hearted:

Health-care reform. Leno gave Obama wide berth to promote the implementation of Obamacare, including the start of open enrollment for online marketplaces Oct. 1 for those who do not get insurance through work or government health coverage.

“So you can go to healthcare.gov, and right now you can pre-register essentially and start figuring out is this plan right for you,” Obama said.

Trayvon Martin. Leno noted the president’s recent, emotional comments on the case of the black teenager shot and killed by neighborhood watch activist George Zimmerman, and Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal.

“We were talking offstage – when you were a teenager, especially a teenage boy, you’re going to mess up, and you won’t always have the best judgment,” Obama said.

Young African-American males are disproportionately involved in criminal and violent activities, because of poverty, family disruptions, failing schools, the president noted.

But, he added, “we’re all asking ourselves: Are there some things that we can do to foster better understanding, and to make sure that we don’t have laws in place that encourage the kind of violent encounter that we saw there that resulted in tragedy?”

Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican and the president have had a bit of a bromance lately, 4-1/2 years after Obama defeated Senator McCain in the 2008 presidential election. McCain was a key player in getting immigration reform through the Senate.

“That's how a classic romantic comedy goes, right?” Obama said. “Initially you’re not getting along, and then you keep on bumping into each other.”

“John McCain and I have a number of philosophical differences, but he is a person of integrity,” he added. “He is willing to say things regardless of the politics.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton. The former secretary of State and first lady – and Obama’s top Democratic primary opponent in 2008 – had lunch recently, at the president’s invitation.

“We had a great time,” Obama said, noting that they had become “genuinely close” by the end of his first term. “She had that post-administration glow.”

Did she measure the drapes? Leno asked, an allusion to wide speculation that she will run for president in 2016.

“No,” Obama said. “Keep in mind, she’s been there before.” 

Broccoli. The president claims it’s his favorite food.

Leno: “Can you put your right hand on a Bible and say, ‘Broccoli’...” (laughter.)

Obama: “Let me say this – I have broccoli a lot” (laughter). “I mean, no, you can ask my staff.” 

Leno: “Really?”

Obama: “It is one of my staples. Me and broccoli, I don’t know, we’ve got a thing going” (laughter).

Leno: “Really?”

Obama: “It goes especially well with burgers and fries.”

Leno: “Right, right” (laughter).

Obama: “Absolutely.”

Leno: “And did Michelle make a broccoli cake with broccoli icing?”

Obama: “Well, I won’t go that far.”

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