WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama on Sunday encouraged parents to vaccinate their children and said the U.S. is doing everything in its power to rescue a 26-year-old woman held by the Islamic State, speaking in a wide-ranging interview also covering football and politics.
Obama's comments to NBC came as the U.S. grapples with a measles outbreak traced back to California's Disneyland theme park and a day after the release of video that purportedly showed the beheading of a Japanese journalist held by the militants.
Obama says he has watched videos of hostages being beheaded. "I think it would affect anybody who has an ounce of humanity. And it's part of the reason why I think we've been so successful in organizing such a broad-based coalition" to go after the Islamic State, Obama said.
Three Americans — aid worker Peter Kassig and journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff — were beheaded last year by the Islamic State. A fourth American being held is a woman captured last year in Syria while working for aid groups. U.S. officials have asked that she not be identified out of fears for her safety.
"Obviously this is something that is heart-breaking for the family and we want to make sure we do anything we can to make sure that any American citizen is rescued from this situation," Obama said.
On the measles outbreak that has spread to more than 100 people, Obama said children who are not vaccinated are putting infants and other people who can't get vaccinations at risk. "You should get your kids vaccinated," Obama said directly.
Some parents continue to believe debunked research linking vaccines to autism and refuse to vaccinate their children.
"I understand that there are families that, in some cases, are concerned about the effect of vaccinations," Obama said. "The science is, you know, pretty indisputable."
Obama spoke to NBC's Savannah Guthrie before hosting a Super Bowl party at the White House for his friends. His comments on terrorism and vaccinations were taped to air on The Today Show Monday, but NBC released excerpts in advance.
Lighter topics were covered in a short segment that aired live in the pregame show. As Guthrie and Obama sampled White House-brewed beer from the executive mansion's kitchen, they mixed a discussion of the game's high-profile controversy — deflated footballs — with a brief discussion of politics.
But the president ducked picking between possible 2016 Democratic presidential contenders Joe Biden and Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Love 'em both," Obama said with a smile.
He also wouldn't pick a favorite in the New England Patriots Super Bowl match-up against the Seattle Seahawks. "I think it's always wise for me not to choose a team because then I just alienate one big city," Obama said.
As the NFL investigates how the Patriots used the deflated balls in their 45-7 AFC championship victory, Obama said the team would have defeated the Indianapolis Colts "regardless of what the footballs looked like."
"The one thing I did not realize — and I'll bet most fans didn't — was that each team prepares its own footballs and brings them to the game," Obama said. "I don't think there's any other sport like that so I'm assuming one of the things the NFL is going to be doing just to avoid any of these controversies is figuring out how the officials are in charge of the footballs from start to finish."
Pressed on whether the Patriots were cheating, Obama said: "I think that if you break the rules then you break the rules."
The president rejected the idea he was doing his own end zone dance with a defiant State of the Union address after Democrats lost seats in the midterm election. "My job is not to trim my sails," Obama said, confidently arguing for his ability to win over even some of his political rivals. He spoke on the eve of his presentation of a budget to Congress, where his proposals are certain to get a rough reception from the Republican majority.
"One thing I've learned over the last six years is that when I tell the American people very clearly what direction I think the country should go in, sometimes people change their minds," Obama said. "And even Republicans occasionally start agreeing with me, although sometimes a little bit later than I would like."
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(Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)