Barack Obama photo

Interview With Bill O'Reilly of Fox News

February 06, 2011

O'REILLY: Mr. President, thank you very much for doing this. And I must thank you on behalf of the FOX News Channel for helping out Greg Palkot and Mr. Wiig who got roughed up in Cairo. That was you, it was Robert Gibbs, and the State Department, who really saved them --- and we all thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, those guys showed enormous courage, as so many journalists do around the world. And so, not only was it important for us to make sure they were safe for them and their families, but to uphold the basic principle of free speech and freedom of the press. That's a universal value we cared about. And I know FOX cares about. So, I'm just glad these guys are --

O'REILLY: Those guys could have died.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: And I just want everybody to know that, you know, the State Department really saved them.

All right. Mubarak, is he going to leave soon?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, he's -- only he knows what he's going to do.

But here's what we know: is that Egypt is not going to go back to what it was. The Egyptian people want freedom. They want free and fair elections. They want a representative government. They want a responsive government.

And so, what we've said is: you have to start a transition now. Mubarak has already decided he's not running for re-election again. His term is up this year. And what we've said is: let's make sure that you get all the groups together in Egypt, let Egyptian people make a determination on what's the process for an orderly transition, but one that is a meaningful transition and that leads to a government that's --

O'REILLY: So, you don't know when he's going to leave?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, ultimately, the United States can't absolute dictate --

O'REILLY: You can't force him to leave.

THE PRESIDENT: But what we can do, Bill, is we can say that, "The time is now for you to start making a change in that country."

O'REILLY: He's already done that. But the longer he stays in, the more people are going to die. And the other problem is, Mubarak knows a lot of bad things about the United States. I'm sure you're aware of that.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say this: the United States and Egypt have been a partner for a long time.

O'REILLY: Right. He's done the bad things.

THE PRESIDENT: He's been a good partner when it comes to the peace with Israel. There have been counterterrorism efforts that he's been very supported of. But we've also said consistently said to him both publicly and privately is that trying to suppress your own people is something that is not sustainable. And part of the message that I think we're seeing all around the world is, when you resort to suppression, when you resort to violence, that does not work.

O'REILLY: Yes, but it worked for 30 years. So, he had his run. But he knows a lot of bad things about us, rendition and all of that. And I'm sure you know that. So, I'm just worried that he might go off the reservation.

The Muslim Brotherhood, a great concern to a lot of people. Are they a threat to the USA?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that the Muslim Brotherhood is one faction in Egypt. They don't have majority support in Egypt. They are --

O'REILLY: Are they a threat?

THE PRESIDENT: But they are well-organized and there are strains of their ideology that are anti-U.S. There's no doubt about it. But here's the thing that we have to understand, there are a whole bunch of secular folks in Egypt, there are a whole bunch of educators and civil society in Egypt that wants to come to the fore as well. And it's important for us not the say that our only two options are either the Muslim Brotherhood or a suppressed Egyptian people.

O'REILLY: But you don't wan the Muslim Brotherhood...

THE PRESIDENT: What I want a representative government in Egypt. And I have confidence that if Egypt moves in an orderly transition process, that we will have a government in Egypt that we can work with together as a partner.

O'REILLY: I hope so. Those are tough boys, the Muslim Brotherhood. I wouldn't want them anywhere near that government. Federal judge in Florida said, your health care law is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court may follow on that, it's going to be very close. Are you prepared for that law to go down?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the judge in Florida was wrong. Keep in mind that we've had 12 judges said -- that just threw this case out -- the notion that the health care law was unconstitutional.

O'REILLY: But it goes to the Supremes now.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it first it goes to the appellate court -- there's district court, then there are appeal courts, and then it goes to the Supreme Court. But here's the key point, Bill, and I said this in the State of the Union, I don't want to spend the next two years refighting the battles of the last two years.

O'REILLY: Yeah, but you're going have to.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think that's...

O'REILLY: The Supreme Court is going to hear this one way or the other.

THE PRESIDENT: What the American have said is we want cost controls in health care, we want security in health care. What I've said to the Republicans is if you have ideas in terms of improving the health care system, if you have ideas that I can embrace on things like...

O'REILLY: They're not going to bother with it, though. They're going wait until it goes to the court and hope it thrown out 5-4. My question is are you prepared if it gets thrown out? What are you going to do?

THE PRESIDENT: Here's what I'm not prepared to do, I'm not prepared to go back to a day when the American people if you have got a pre-existing condition, if you had a heart attack then you can't get help.

O'REILLY: Here's what the Wall Street Journal said, I want you to react to this. Mr. Obama is a determined man of the left whose goal is to redistribute much larger levels of income across society. He may give tactical ground when he has to, as he did on taxes to avoid a middle class tax increase, but he will resist to his last day any major changes to Obamacare and the other load-bearing walls of the entitlement state.

This is The Wall Street Journal you know painting you as pretty left-wing guy. Are you going to go along?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the Wall Street Journal probably would paint you as a left-wing guy. I mean, if you're talking about the Wall Street Journal editorial page...

O'REILLY: I've got to tell you, that's what this is.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, that's like quoting the New York Times editorial...

O'REILLY: Do you deny the assessment? Do you deny that you are a man who wants to redistribute wealth.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: You deny that?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. I didn't raise taxes once, I lowered taxes over the last two years.

O'REILLY: But the entitlements that you championed do redistribute wealth in the sense that they provide insurance coverage for 40 million people that don't have it.

THE PRESIDENT: What is absolutely true is I think in this country, there's no reason why, if you get sick you should go bankrupt. The notion that that's a radical principle, I don't think the majority of people would agree with you.

O'REILLY: Then why do the majority people in the polls not support Obamacare?

THE PRESIDENT: Actually, I think it's pretty evenly divided.

O'REILLY: It's close.

THE PRESIDENT: It's evenly divided, Bill. And here's what I think a lot of people saw, over the last two years, at a time when people were concerned about the economy and about jobs, what they saw was a lot of arguing in congress, which is what they always see is a lot of arguing in congress. And they don't like the process and they felt that our focus wasn't on what they're focused on, which is how to win the future, how to make sure that jobs are right here in the United States of America. How are we building a competitive society at a time when we're losing jobs.

O'REILLY: Yeah, some people see it that way, but other people see it's a huge government intrusion and you guy just want to take over, basically, decision making for Americans. It's an ideological argument.

THE PRESIDENT: But, Bill, I just want to be clear about this, because if you look what we have done, what we said was, if you have health care that you like, you keep it.

O'REILLY: I know all that. I listen to it every day.

THE PRESIDENT: I know. And I listen to you. And what I hear you saying, Bill, for example, is that the notion that us saying to people that don't have health insurance, don't make me pay for your health insurance, if you get sick, you have a responsibility to make sure that you have got coverage. There's nothing socialist about that, that's saying to Americans, we're going each of us be responsible for our own health care. And that's something that I think that the majority of Americans...

O'REILLY: OK, but you understand that a lot of Americans feel you're a big government liberal who wants to intrude on their personal freedom. Now, they also say that you have been moving -- now, that's -- come on, you know that...

THE PRESIDENT: I think that a lot of folks who watch you don't believe that.

O'REILLY: They think way worse than me.

THE PRESIDENT: And I give you credit, you've got a pretty big viewership, so you can be persuasive.

O'REILLY: But the pundits now say you're moving to the center to raise your approval, is that true, are you moving to the center?


O'REILLY: No? Because we were set up over there, and then they moved you a little to the center.

THE PRESIDENT: [laughs] Here's what I think is true. Over the first two years of my presidency, we had a complete disaster. Right? We had a complete crisis. The financial markets were breaking down. We were slipping into a Great Depression. And we had to take a bunch of extraordinary steps in order to make sure that the economy was growing again, which it is now, growing. Making sure that the private sector was creating jobs again. It's now doing that.

And now our focus is not on refighting the battle of the last two years...

O'REILLY: So you're not moving to the center?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't -- I didn't move to...

O'REILLY: You haven't moved anywhere? You're the same guy?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm the same guy. My practical focus, my common-sense focus right now is how to we out-innovate, out-educate, out-building, out-compete the rest of the world? How do we create jobs here in the United States of America? How do we make sure that businesses are thriving? But how do we also -- making sure that ordinary Americans can live out the American dream?

O'REILLY: Listen, I hope you can do it.

THE PRESIDENT: Because right now, they don't feel like they are.

O'REILLY: I hope you can do it.

THE PRESIDENT: I know you do.

O'REILLY: Americans need to be secure in their lives.

OK. Worst part of this job? What's the worst, absolute worst part of being president of the United States?

THE PRESIDENT: Worst part of the job is, first of all, I've got a jacket on on Super Bowl Sunday.

O'REILLY: That's true.

THE PRESIDENT: If I wasn't president, that would not be happening.

O'REILLY: I have a tie. You don't have a tie.

THE PRESIDENT: The biggest problem for me is being in the bubble. It's very hard to escape. You know, you can't go to the corner...

O'REILLY: Everybody watching every move you make.

THE PRESIDENT: Every move you make. And you -- over time, you know, what happens is you feel like -- that you're not able to just have a spontaneous conversation with folks.

O'REILLY: Yes. OBAMA: And that's a loss. That's a big loss.

O'REILLY: What is it about the job that has surprised you the most? That you weren't prepared for coming in here?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that the thing you understand intellectually, but you don't understand in your gut until you're in the job, is that every decision that comes to my desk is something that nobody else has been able to solve. The easy stuff gets solved somewhere by somebody else. By the time it gets to me, you don't have easy answers. You don't have the best...

O'REILLY: So it's like wave after wave of complicated problems and there you are.

THE PRESIDENT: Complicated problems. Yes. And well, you have to make your best judgment about this is probably our best approach for the American people. But you know that you don't have perfect information, and you know that you're not going to have a perfect solution.

O'REILLY: Give it your best shot.

Now, people who know you have told me that you've changed a little bit since you've become president.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm a lot grayer. That's for sure.

O'REILLY: Every president does. But have you -- do you think you have changed as a person since you have become president?

THE PRESIDENT: I think if you asked Michelle, who knows me best, I think -- or my closest friends, I think they'd say I'm basically the same guy as when I came in.

O'REILLY: Can I tell you what they say?

THE PRESIDENT: What do they say?

O'REILLY: You're much more guarded.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think what is true is that, when you're in this job, everything you say could affect markets. It could affect...

O'REILLY: I know that. Even on a personal level. Some people who know you say, you know, he's not -- he doesn't have the -- the -- he's not as light as he used to be; he's not as spontaneous.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that -- look...

O'REILLY: Preoccupied?

THE PRESIDENT: I would say -- I would say that's probably true. I mean, look, there's no doubt that the weight of the office has an impact.

But I will tell you that the longer I'm in this job, the more I enjoy it. The more optimistic I am about the American people. The more optimistic I am about this country. There's something about this position that gives you a pretty good vantage point of the country as a whole. And for all the arguing that we get into and all the debates between Democrats and Republicans...

O'REILLY: A tremendous country. Right? It is.

THE PRESIDENT: There's just a sense -- there's a common sense and a decency to the American people that makes me optimistic even on the worst of days.

O'REILLY: I asked this to President Bush when I talked to him a few weeks ago. Does it disturb you that so many people hate you? No. I mean, it's a serious question.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, the truth is, that the people -- and I'm sure previous presidents would say the same thing, whether it was Bush or Clinton or Reagan or anybody. The people who dislike you don't know you.

O'REILLY: They hate you.

THE PRESIDENT: Even -- the folks who hate you, they don't know you.

O'REILLY: That's true.

THE PRESIDENT: What they hate is whatever funhouse mirror image of you that's out there. And they don't know you. And so, you don't take it personally.

O'REILLY: No. You don't ever?

THE PRESIDENT: No. Because you know that if you just...

O'REILLY: Doesn't it annoy you sometimes?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, look, I think that by the time you get here, you have to have had a pretty thick skin. If you didn't, then you probably wouldn't have gotten here. O'REILLY: FOX Sports has the Super Bowl tonight. You know, they're charging an enormous amount of money for it. And they're going to make a fortune. They pay all my expenses here. Who's going to win the game? Come on! Come on, come on.

THE PRESIDENT: Bill, here's the thing. Once my Bears lost, I don't pick sides.

O'REILLY: So, you don't care?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I do care. I want -- I want a great game. I want a great game.

O'REILLY: You don't care who wins?

THE PRESIDENT: But these are pretty evenly matched teams. You know, I think that, you know, Green Bay is probably a little faster. Steelers got a little more experience. I think the Steelers not having their starting center is something they've got to be worried about.

O'REILLY: Now, will you actually watch the game?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: Because I know there's a party here. J. Lo is going to be here, which is why I have to get out of here because I'll frighten her if she comes in.

THE PRESIDENT: You're invited there.

O'REILLY: No, I know I'm not.

THE PRESIDENT: You have to take off the tie.

O'REILLY: I don't want the ruin the party for you guys.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, barbecue -- [crosstalk]

O'REILLY: But are you going to watch the game? Are you going to --

THE PRESIDENT: Of course. I'll watch the game.

O'REILLY: Are you going to sit and you're going to watch?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to --

O'REILLY: You know, like, football, you know, like, blitzes and coverage and all that?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I know football, man.

O'REILLY: You do?

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

O'REILLY: I know you're a basketball guy.

THE PRESIDENT: I know football.


THE PRESIDENT: I know football and I will watch the game. What happens is I schmooze with everybody when they come.


THE PRESIDENT: Give them a little bit of time. But once the game starts, they can just sit and watch the game.

O'REILLY: And you're out there?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, I'll be sitting there with them, but I don't want them coming up chitting and chatting.

O'REILLY: All right.

THE PRESIDENT: We got to focus on football.

O'REILLY: Well, that's our live part of this deal. And I have to say, I enjoyed talking to you. I disagree with you sometimes. I hope you think I'm fair to you, I try to be. But I wish you well in the next two years.

THE PRESIDENT: Bill, it's always a pleasure. I enjoyed it.

O'REILLY: It's nice to see you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

O'REILLY: And we are going have more with the president, by the way, on THE FACTOR starting on Monday, going to do a little bit more Q and A.

So, enjoy the game.

Barack Obama, Interview With Bill O'Reilly of Fox News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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