Obama clashes with Fox News’s O’Reilly over record

Tom Curry

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In a combative interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, President Barack Obama defended his record on Super Bowl Sunday, from health care to his handling of the Benghazi attack.

Most pointedly, the president aggressively pushed back at suggestions that he should have fired Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius over the botched rollout of Obamacare.

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"My main priority right now is making sure that it delivers for the American people," Obama insisted.

Obama said the initial problems with the government's Healthcare.gov web site have been fixed "and now it's working the way it's supposed to and we've signed up 3 million people…. We're about a month behind of where we anticipated we wanted to be."

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He brushed off questions from O'Reilly on why he hadn't fired Sebelius for the fiasco of the web site's debut.

When O'Reilly complained that "I'm paying Kathleen Sebelius's salary and she screwed up and you're not holding her (Sebelius) accountable," Obama replied, "We hold everybody up and down the line accountable" and added later in a Super Bowl allusion, "I try to focus not on the fumbles, but on the next play."

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O'Reilly also grilled the president on how he and his aides handled the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Libya that resulted in the killing of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

O'Reilly pressed Obama on whether Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had told him that the attack was carried out by terrorists, as Gen. Carter Ham of the U.S. Africa Command had informed Panetta.

"What he (Panetta) told was there was an attack on our compound…. In the heat of the moment, Bill, what folks are focused on is what's happening on the ground, do we have eyes on it, how can we make sure our folks are secure."

This led to several minutes of interruption and crosstalk as Obama and O'Reilly debated whether the administration had misled the American people about the nature of the attack because Obama and his aides didn't want Benghazi to affect the 2012 re-election campaign.

Obama said he had characterized the attack as an act of terror the day after it took place.

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Obama told O'Reilly that "when you look at the videotape of this whole thing unfolding, this is not some systematic, well-organized process…. You have a mix of folks who are just troublemakers, you have folks who have an ideological agenda, you have some who are affiliated with terrorist organizations, you have some that are not" but the main lesson of the episode is that "our diplomats are serving in some very dangerous places" and need better protection.

Obama also tangled with O'Reilly over the Internal Revenue Service's investigation of conservative political groups that sought non-profit status.

He said the reason that former IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman had visited the White House 157 times was that he was discussing with Obama aides the IRS's role in implementing the Affordable Care Act. The agency is responsible for administering tax credits which will go to those who qualify for subsidies to buy insurance.

Obama said Shulman had also been working with White House aides on ways to implement financial reforms to avoid taxpayer bailouts of corporations.

(Read more: Why Obama may not giveAmerica what it wants)

He added that while "bone-headed decisions" were made in the IRS probes of non-profit groups, there was "not even a smidgen of corruption."

As for Super Bowl, Obama deftly sidestepped giving a prediction about the winner. The two opposing teams are "too evenly matched," he said.

He predicted a final score of 24 to 21, but said "I don't know who's going to be 24 and I don't know who's going to be 21."

By Tom Curry of NBC News