By BETH FOUHY and FRANK ELTMAN
WOODBURY, N.Y. - Sarah Palin stuck to her guns on "death panels" Thursday, and on guns for that matter, in a rare public appearance in which reporters were allowed. She continued tweaking the first lady's efforts to fight childhood obesity, but chided some of her own supporters for sustaining the "annoying" claims that President Barack Obama is foreign-born and Muslim.
As for the big question - whether she's running for president in 2012 - the former vice presidential Republican nominee said she's thinking about it.
"No one is more qualified, really to multitasking and the things you need to do as president than a woman, a mom," said the former Alaska governor, who has five children.
Palin sat for a wide-ranging interview with the president of the Long Island Association, a business group outside New York, at the group's annual meeting. Kevin Law pressed her on gun rights, potential presidential aspirations and how she usually communicates through Facebook and Fox News, where she is a contributor, rather than talking to reporters.
Reporters were allowed at the New York event, unlike many Palin speaking engagements where they have been banned, but they did not get a chance to ask questions.
Law asked Palin if she would support efforts to restrict semiautomatic weapons or multi-bullet clips, like the clips used the shooting last month in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded.
"There are already on the books many gun control measures and I do support those that are on the books. I do not support taking away more freedom from the good guy," Palin said. "The people who have no intention of using that weapon to harm another person so, no additional gun control measures could be supported."
Palin was criticized after the shootings for having published campaign literature that marked some Democratic districts, including Giffords's, with crosshairs, but she pushed back, saying Republicans were being unfairly blamed for the act of a crazed shooter.
She said Thursday, "Prayers should continue for the full recovery of Gabby Giffords and others who were involved in such a tragic, tragic event."
Palin criticized Obama on a range of issues, from his handling of the recent democratic uprising in Egypt to his latest budget proposal, which she said would do little to close the deficit. She claimed the press had been complicit in allowing Obama to claim that his budget did not add to the national debt. The White House expects government spending and revenues to eventually reach balance, but that doesn't include interest payments on the debt.
"Criticism of the press is what I do," she said.
Whether she runs for president or not, Palin predicted an unconventional Republican contest in which social media would play a pivotal role.
"That's what going rogue is all about," Palin said, referring to the title of her best-selling memoir.
She also praised the tea party movement, saying it had forced Republicans and Democrats to "rethink the way they do business." She said she supported tea party-supported lawmakers' push for entitlement reform and their threats to vote against increasing the debt ceiling.
Palin did, however, distance herself from the so-called "birthers" who believe Obama was not born in the United States, and others who contend he is not Christian, as he insists, but Muslim. She said she does not question the president's faith or citizenship and added, "It's distracting. It gets annoying. Let's stick with what really matters."
Palin said the landmark health care bill Obama signed into law last year gave her heartburn. She also defended her much-criticized claim that the law would lead to federal "death panels" determining who would receive care. Provisions of the law that were dropped called for voluntary end-of-life planning.
"My question was, who are these faceless bureaucrats on a panel who will decide?" Palin said. "Will it be my baby with Down syndrome, who maybe somebody may judge him as not having that level of productivity somebody else may have. So maybe if rationed care is part of this, maybe he wouldn't receive the care."
Palin also noted the recent increases in the price of food and mocked Michelle Obama to make her point. The first lady is encouraging mothers to breast feed their infants as part of her campaign to reduce childhood obesity - an effort that has drawn scorn from some conservatives.
"No wonder Michelle Obama is telling everybody you better breast feed your babies," said Palin, who as governor declared October 2007 "Breastfeeding Awareness Month." "I'm looking and say, 'Yeah, you better because the price of milk is so high right now."'