Barack Obama photo

Informal Exchange with Reporters in Clearwater, Florida

September 24, 2008

I wanted to have a chance to talk to you, because, obviously, there's a moment of great uncertainty in America. As I mentioned at the rally today, the era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington has led us to a financial crisis as serious as any we have faced since the Great Depression. And there's much blame to go around for causing this crisis. But we're now here. Every American has a stake in solving this crisis and saving our financial system from collapse, because, if we don't act soon, then people's jobs, people's savings, the economic security of millions of Americans will be put at risk. So, the clock is ticking.

We have to act swiftly, but we have to -- we have to also get it right. And that means everyone. Republicans and Democrats, the White House and Congress need to work together to come up with a solution that protects American taxpayers and our economy, without rewarding those whose greed helped bring us to this point. This cannot fall victim to the usual partisan politics or special interest lobbying.

It's in this spirit that I reached out and called to -- called to Senator McCain this morning. I initiated the call, after determining that many of the principles that I had set forth were ones that Senator McCain had adopted as well, in terms of how this financial proposal should be structured.

And I also need to give credit to Republican Senator Tom Coburn, who had called me, suggesting that a joint statement might be useful.

I asked him -- he called me back at about 2:30 this afternoon, after our rally. And I asked him to join me in issuing a joint statement to let this Congress and this administration know where we stand and what we expect from this proposal, because, over the last few days, it's been clear that we have come to agree on some broad principles.

And let me just reiterate the principles that I have talked about previously.

First, I think everybody should be in agreement that we need to set up an independent board selected by Democrats and Republicans to provide oversight and accountability for how and where the money is going to be spent at every step of the way.

Second, if American taxpayers are financing the solution, they should be treated like investors. And that means that Wall Street and Washington should give every penny of taxpayers' money back once this economy recovers.

Third, we cannot and will not simply bail out Wall Street without helpings the millions of innocent homeowners who are struggling to stay in their homes. They deserve a plan, too.

And, finally, this is one that's important. The American people should not be spending one dime to reward the same Wall Street CEOs whose greed and irresponsibility got us into this mess. We can't allow this plan to become a welfare program for Wall Street executives.

Senator McCain, as I mentioned, returned my call this afternoon. We agreed that this was a critical time for everyone. Democrats and Republicans need to come together to help to stabilize the economy. I have been in constant contact with leadership in Congress. I have talked to Secretary Paulson just about every day. I spoke to him twice today, indicated to him that I intend to do everything that's required to be helpful.

And we should all do everything that's necessary to get a bill passed that contains the proposals that I mentioned. There are times for politics, and then there are times to rise above and -- politics, and do what's right for the country. And this is one of those times.

I don't think any of us enjoy putting taxpayer dollars at risk, but the risk of doing nothing is economic catastrophe, potentially. And that is a risk we cannot afford to take. No matter how this begun, this is no longer a Democratic or a Republican problem. It is an American problem. It requires an American solution.

And, with that, let me just open it up to some questions.

Jeff (ph)?

QUESTION: Do you plan on attending the debate on Friday? And is Senator McCain playing politics with this by saying (OFF-MIKE) not go to this debate?

OBAMA: Well, let me say this. Just to go through the chronology today, I called him this morning with the intent of issuing a joint statement. I got called back around 2:30. We had a conversation. I made the suggestion to him. He agreed to that suggestion.

He then suggested, in addition, that we need to have a meeting in Washington with the congressional leaders and potentially the president. And what I told him is, well, why don't we get the joint statement out first to enunciate the principles that both of us agree to and to send a clear signal to the members of Congress that this, in fact, is something that should not be bogged down by partisan politics?

And, now, when I got back to the hotel, he had gone on television to announce what he intended to do. I believe that our staffs are still working on this joint statement.

I -- I think the important principle at this point is to send a clear signal to members of Congress, as well as the country, that this is a serious problem that has to be solved and not -- should not be subject to the usual partisan politics.

With respect to the debates, it's my belief that this is exactly the time when the American people need to hear from the person who, in approximately 40 days, will be responsible for dealing with this mess. And I think that it is -- it is going to be part of the president's job to deal with more than one thing at once.

I think there's no reason why we can't be constructive in helping to solve this problem, and also tell the American people what we believe and where we stand and where we want to take the country. So, in my mind, actually, it's more important than ever that we present ourselves to the American people and try to describe where we want to take the country and where we want to take the economy, as well as dealing with some of the issues of foreign policy that were initially the subject of the debate.

QUESTION: Just so we're clear here, when Senator McCain called you back at 2:30, he agreed that there was a need for this joint statement.


QUESTION: Then he mentioned this meeting in Washington.

OBAMA: Right.

QUESTION: Did he also say to you that he was not going to participate in the debate?

OBAMA: Well, he -- you know, he mentioned that he was intending, potentially -- he was going to fly to Washington, and that he thought that perhaps we should suspend the debates.

I thought this was something that was -- that he was mulling over. Apparently, this was something that, you know, he was more decisive about in his own mind.

But, you know, as I said before, I think that one of the things that we need to determine is how can we be most helpful. I have spoken to congressional leaders every day this week. I have spoken to Secretary Paulson every day this week.

It's my sense that the most helpful thing we can do right now is to let everyone know that this is a sufficiently important problem, that the Democratic standard-bearer (AUDIO GAP) have come together to issue a statement saying that, in fact, we need to deal with this problem.

What I also think is important is that we tell our respective party leaders that extraneous issues or issues that threaten to cloud this thing with partisan politics needs to be left out of this particular piece of legislation.

So, earlier this week, I had said to the speaker of the House, as well as Harry Reid, that issues like bankruptcy reform, which are very important to Democrats, is probably something that we shouldn't try to do in this piece of legislation, that the stimulus package that I have been advocating for months now is not necessarily something that we should have in this package.

And my hope is, is that Senator McCain is going to be talking to Republicans, and sending them the same message, that there are some issues that they may be concerned about or things that are priorities for them.

But what we shouldn't do is to try to get everything done in this package. What we should be doing is following the clear principles, that taxpayers are protected, that we have oversight, that taxpayers are going to get their money back, and that the housing crisis is going to be dealt with as well.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) change your decision to stay here? Or are you still going to stay here in Florida and prepare for the debate, or are you thinking of going back to Washington?

OBAMA: You know, what I'm going to do is, I'm going to -- what I have told the leadership in Congress is that, if I can be helpful, then I am prepared to be anywhere any time.

What I think is important, though, is that we don't suddenly infuse Capitol Hill with presidential politics at a time when we're in the middle of some very delicate and difficult negotiations.

So, you know, I think the message is, if you need us, if I can be helpful, I'm prepared to be there at any point.

But, keep in mind, again, I'm talking to Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, the congressional leadership, Hank Paulson, I'm talking to them every single day. We have been working around the clock. And, you know, presidents are going to have to deal with more than one thing at a time. It's not necessary for us to think that we can only do one thing and suspend everything else.

QUESTION: Senator...


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Whenever this package is put together, do you think it's appropriate for both you and Senator McCain to be in Washington and actually vote on it?

OBAMA: I -- I -- my sense is, because of the delicate nature of the negotiations and the controversy surrounding how this thing may be structured, that it may be necessary for both of us to be present to -- to send a strong message that, in fact, we need to get something done.

Now, keep in mind, I continue to insist that this package contain the conditions that I have set forth, because, again, I don't think those are Democratic or Republican conditions. I think they're the conditions that the American people want to see before they pony up the amount of money that is being asked for by the administration.

QUESTION: Senator (OFF-MIKE) go to Oxford on Friday, will this debate go forward?

OBAMA: I believe that we should continue to have the debate.

I think that it makes sense for us to present ourselves before the American people to talk about the nature of the problems that we're having in our financial system, to talk about how it relates to our global standing in the world, what implications it has for our national security, how it relates to critical questions, like the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And, you know, obviously, if it turns out that we need to be in Washington, we have both got big planes. We have painted our slogans on the sides of them. They can get us from Washington, D.C., to Mississippi fairly quickly.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) do you think that this is a problem of such magnitude that you should suspend your campaigning, pull your ads off the air, not do any campaign events?

OBAMA: You know, I think it's very important that the American people see the people who potentially could be in charge of this problem over the next -- within the next couple of months.

And, so, my attitude is that we need to be focused on solving the problem, as I have been over the last several days. But I think it is also important that we communicate to the American people where we need to go in getting us out of this situation. And -- and, again, I think it's possible for us to do both.


QUESTION: Senator McCain has suspended his campaign ads and fund-raisers. You're not going to match that at all?

OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what I'm planning to do right now is debate on Friday. And that's what I'm preparing to do.

Well, there are only two days between now and -- as I said before, you can talk to my staff, but my general view is that the American people need to know what it is that we plan to do in moving the economy forward.

OK. Yes.

QUESTION: Given that, apparently, there was some degree of noncommunication between your campaign and McCain's over this...


QUESTION: ... do you think a joint statement now will do any good? Are you still interested in pursuing that?

OBAMA: Well, I have still -- I have done what I -- Senator McCain and I discussed we were going to do.

What I have done is, is that I have instructed my staff to communicate with them. They have communicated with them. I think making sure that we have a statement that lays out the principles, the conditions of a package that would make sense from a bipartisan perspective, I think, could still serve an important purpose.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) when you heard the news McCain suspended his campaign (OFF-MIKE) were you shocked? And what was your reaction? And do you think that he -- this is a (OFF-MIKE)

OBAMA: I think you should direct that to Senator McCain.

I mean, I think that the conversation we had was -- was cordial. I think we both agreed that this was a very important issue that we had to deal with.

You know, I proposed putting out the joint statement. And he concurred to -- with that. He then said, "I would actually also like to look at us potentially suspending campaigns and pushing debates off."

What I suggested to him was, well, why don't we get the joint statement out first and our staffs will discuss this?

I think the only mis -- the only possible miscommunication might have been how quickly there was an announcement and somebody was on television.

I think, probably, my assumption was is that the joint statement would go out initially.



QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to the idea when you talked to him that I don't think we should postpone the debate, we need to go forward?

OBAMA: What I told him was, I think what we should do is figure out what we need to do that would be helpful, and let's get this statement out first.

But -- but, look, the -- let's be clear. You know, Senator McCain is running his campaign. I'm running mine. I think that, given the fierce competition of this election and the enormous stakes involved, that the fact that both parties agree that we need to focus on this problem on Capitol Hill, and that this is an issue that should transcend the typical day-to-day politics, I think that's an important statement.

And it's one that I'm glad to be a party to, because one of the things that we have to be clear with the American people about is that this is a serious problem. We need to solve it. But I think the American people also need to understand that it can be solved, that, in fact, there are a set of principles out there that will allow taxpayers to have some protection, will allow homeowners to get the help that they need, will make sure that we get through this immediate emergency.

And then there are going to be a whole host of structural issues that still have to be dealt with by the next administration. And I don't want us to lose sight of that. Even before the most recent Wall Street crisis, we had a problem with a health care system that was broken. We had a problem with jobs that were being shipped overseas. We have lost well over 600,000 jobs since the beginning of this year.

Young people are still trying to figure out how to go to college. So, there are a whole host of issues that we're going to have to deal with, beyond this immediate crisis. But I think it's important to recognize that we do have a problem on our hands. Let's solve this problem.

Let's assist the administration in getting it right. And then let's make sure that we continue to present to the American people our ideas for how we're going to restore the economy, not just in the short term, but also in the long term, so it works for Main Street, and not just Wall Street.

All right?


OBAMA: Thank you.

Barack Obama, Informal Exchange with Reporters in Clearwater, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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