President Obama isn't "surprised" that the administration's prisoner exchange to free POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl ended up being a big Washington controversy, because apparently nothing ever surprises him anymore. The remarks, from the president's press conference in Brussels on Thursday, come as at least one Republican senator — Lindsey Graham — has called for Congress to consider impeaching Obama.
Legislators (some of whom previously called for the administration to do something to free Bergdahl and/or initially praised his release) and conservatives are mad that 1) Obama didn't give Congress 30 days' notice before exchanging five Guantanamo prisoners for the U.S. soldier and 2) that Bergdahl was captured after walking off his base in Afghanistan, with the implication that he was deserting his post. When asked about his take on that negative reaction, Obama said:
I’m never surprised by controversies that are whipped up in Washington, all right? That’s — that’s par for the course. But I’ll repeat what I said two days ago. We have a basic principle. We do not leave anybody wearing the American uniform behind. We had a prisoner of war whose health had deteriorated and we were deeply concerned about. And we saw an opportunity and we seized it. And I make no apologies for that.
Obama was also asked, essentially, whether his administration would do things differently if they could, both to loop in Congress a bit more to the exchange beforehand, and to spare the soldier's family the villianization that has followed what he seemed to think would be a positive Saturday Rose Garden announcement. Here's the rest of his response, via the Wall Street Journal:
We had discussed with Congress the possibility that something like this might occur. But because of the nature of the folks that we were dealing with and the fragile nature of these negotiations, we felt it was important to go ahead and do what we did. And we’re now explaining to Congress the details of how we moved forward.
But this basic principle that we don’t leave anybody behind and this basic recognition that often means prisoner exchanges with enemies is not unique to my administration. It dates back to the beginning of our republic, and with respect to how we announced it, I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction. This is not a political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land who they hadn’t seen in five years and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again.
And as commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids, and I get letters from parents who say, if you are, in fact, sending my child into war, make sure that that child is being taken care of. And I write too many letters to folks who, unfortunately, don’t see their children again after fighting a war. I make absolutely no apologies for making sure that we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back.