Barack Obama photo

Interview with Bill O'Reilly of Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor"

February 02, 2014

O'REILLY: Mr. President, thank you for doing this.

THE PRESIDENT: Great to be with you.

O'REILLY: Really appreciate it. I want to get some things on the record, so let's begin with health care.


O'REILLY: October 1st it rolls out. Immediately there are problems with the computers. When did you know there were going to be problems with those computers?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we all anticipated that there would be glitches because anytime you've got technology, a new program rolling out, there are going to be some glitches. I don't think I anticipated or anybody anticipated the degree of the problems with the website. And --

O'REILLY: All right, so you just didn't know when it rolled out that this was going to be a problem?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't think -- as I said, I don't think anybody anticipated the degree of the problems that you'd had on The good news is that right away we decided how we were going to fix it. It got fixed. Within a month and a half it was up and running and now it's working the way it's supposed to and we've signed up three million people.

O'REILLY: I don't know about that because last week there was an Associated Press poll of people who actually went to the website and only 8 percent of them feel that it's working well -- working well. Why didn't you fire Sebelius, the secretary in charge of this, because, I mean, she had to know after all those years and all that money that it wasn't going to work?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, my main priority right now is making sure that it delivers for the American people and --

O'REILLY: You're not going to answer that?

THE PRESIDENT: -- what we've -- what we've ended up doing is we've got three million people signed up so far. We're about a month behind of where we anticipated we wanted to be. We've got over six million people who've signed up for Medicaid. We've got three million young people under the age of 26 who have signed up on their parents' plan. And so what we're constantly figuring out is, how do we continue to improve it? How do we make sure that the folks who don't have health insurance can get health insurance and those who are underinsured are able to get the better health insurance?

O'REILLY: I'm sure -- I'm sure that the intent is noble, but I'm a taxpayer and I'm paying Kathleen Sebelius' salary, and she screwed up and you're not holding her accountable.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I promise you that we hold everybody up and down the line accountable, but --

O'REILLY: She's still (there ?).

THE PRESIDENT: -- when we're midstream, Bill, we want to make sure that our main focus is, how do we make this work so that people are able to sign up? And that's what we've done.

O'REILLY: All right. Was it the biggest mistake of your presidency to tell the nation over and over, if you like your insurance you can keep your insurance?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, Bill, you've got a long list of my mistakes in my presidency --


O'REILLY: But no, really, for you, wasn't that the biggest one?

THE PRESIDENT: But this is -- this is one that I regret and I've said I regretted in part because we put in a grandfather clause in the original law saying that, in fact, you were supposed to be able to keep it. It obviously didn't cover everybody that we needed to, and that's why we changed it so that we further grandfathered in folks and many people who thought originally when they got that cancellation notice they couldn't keep it are now --


O'REILLY: It's in the past, but isn't that the biggest mistake?

THE PRESIDENT: -- so -- well, I -- you know, Bill, as I said --

O'REILLY: You gave your enemies a lot of fodder for it.

THE PRESIDENT: You were very generous in saying I look pretty good considering I've been in the presidency for five years, and I think part of the reason is I try to focus not on the fumbles, but on the next play.

O'REILLY: All right. Libya. A House Armed Services testimony. General Carter Ham. You know the general.


O'REILLY: Security in Africa. He testified that on the day that the ambassador was murdered, and the three other Americans, all right, he told Secretary Panetta it was a terrorist attack. Shortly after Ham -- General Ham said that, Secretary Panetta came in to you. Did he tell you -- Secretary Panetta -- it was a terrorist attack?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, what he told me was that there was an attack on our compound in Benghazi.

O'REILLY: He didn't tell -- he didn't use the word "terror"?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, 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?

O'REILLY: Yeah, but I just want to get this on the record. Did he tell you it was a terror attack?

THE PRESIDENT: Bill, and what I'm -- I'm answering your question. What he said to me was, we've got an attack on our compound.

We don't know yet --

O'REILLY: No terror attack?

THE PRESIDENT: We don't know yet who is doing it. Understand, by definition, Bill, when somebody is attacking our compound, that's an act of terror, which is how I characterized it the day after it happened, so --

O'REILLY: But the --

THE PRESIDENT: -- the -- so the question ends up being, who in fact was attacking us and that --

O'REILLY: But it's more than that, though, because of Susan Rice.

THE PRESIDENT: -- but we -- no --

O'REILLY: It's more than that because if Susan Rice goes out and tells the world that it was a spontaneous demonstration --


O'REILLY: -- off a videotape, but your commanders and the secretary of defense know it's a terror attack --


O'REILLY: -- just as an American I'm confused.

THE PRESIDENT: Bill -- and I'm trying to explain it to you, if you want to listen. The fact of the matter is is that people understood at the time something very dangerous was happening, that we were focused on making sure we did everything we could to protect them.

In the aftermath, what became clear is that was that the security was lax, that not all the precautions that needed to be taken were taken. And both myself and Secretary Clinton and others indicated as much.

But at the moment -- when these things happen, Bill, on the other side of the world --


O'REILLY: It's the (fog of war ?) --

THE PRESIDENT: -- people don't know at the very moment exactly why something like this happens. And when you look at the videotape of this whole thing unfolding, this is not some systematic, well organized process. You see --

O'REILLY: It was heavy weapons used, and that's a -- heavy weapons. [inaudible]


THE PRESIDENT: -- what you -- Bill, Bill, listen, I've gone through this and we have had multiple hearings on it. What happens is you have an attack like this taking place and you have a mix of folks who are just troublemakers, you have folks who have an ideological agenda --

O'REILLY: All right.

THE PRESIDENT: -- you have some who are affiliated with terrorist organizations. You have some that are not. But the main thing that all of us have to take away from this is our diplomats are serving in some very dangerous places and we've --

O'REILLY: But there's more -- there's more than that, though.

THE PRESIDENT: -- and we've got to make sure that not only have we implemented all the reforms that were recommended by the independent agency, but we also have to make sure that we understand, our folks out there are in a hazardous, dangerous situation and we --

O'REILLY: I think everybody understands that, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: -- no, but actually not everybody does, because what ends up happening --

O'REILLY: I think (they do ?).


THE PRESIDENT: is -- what ends up happening is we end up creating a political agenda on --

O'REILLY: Absolutely. And that was my next question.

THE PRESIDENT: -- something on which Democrats and Republicans should be unified in trying to figure out how are we going to protect people --


O'REILLY: I've got to get to the IRS, but I just want to say that your detractors believe that you did not tell the world it was a terror attack because your campaign didn't want that out.

THE PRESIDENT: Bill, think about --

O'REILLY: That's what they believe.

THE PRESIDENT: And they believe it because folks like you are telling them that.

O'REILLY: No, I'm not telling them that. I'm asking you whether you were told it was a terror attack, and you --

THE PRESIDENT: And what I'm saying is -- what I'm saying is that is inaccurate.

O'REILLY: All right.

THE PRESIDENT: We revealed to the American people exactly what we understood at the time. The notion that we would hide the ball for political purposes when a week later we all said, in fact, there was a terrorist attack taking place the day after I said it was an act of terror. That wouldn't be a very good cover-up if that's what we were --


O'REILLY: All right. I've got to get to the IRS because I don't know what happened there and I'm hoping maybe you can tell us. Douglas Shulman, former IRS chief. He was cleared into the White House 157 times -- more than any of your Cabinet members, more than any other IRS guy in the history by far. OK, why was Douglas Shulman here 157 times? Why?

THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Shulman, as the head of the IRS, is constantly coming in because at the time we were trying to set up the and the IRS --

O'REILLY: What did he have to do with that?

THE PRESIDENT: -- the IRS is involved in making sure that works, as part of the overall healthcare team.

O'REILLY: So it was all health care?

THE PRESIDENT: Number two, we've also got the IRS involved when it comes to some of the financial reforms to make sure that we don't have taxpayer-funded bailouts in the future. So you have all these different agendas in which the head of the IRS is naturally involved.

O'REILLY: Did you speak to him a lot yourself?

THE PRESIDENT: [inaudible] -- I do not recall meeting with him in any of these meetings that are pretty routine meetings having to do --


O'REILLY: OK, so you don't recall seeing Shulman.

Because what some people are saying is that the IRS was used at a local level in Cincinnati, and maybe other places, to go after --

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely wrong. Absolutely wrong.

O'REILLY: But how do you know that, because we still don't know what happened?

THE PRESIDENT: Bill, we do. That's not what happened. Folks, again, had multiple hearings on this. I mean, these kinds of things keep on surfacing in part because you and your TV station will promote them.

O'REILLY: But don't -- don't you feel there are unanswered questions?

THE PRESIDENT: But when folks actually -- Bill, when you actually look at the stuff, there have been multiple hearings on it. What happened here was is that --


O'REILLY: But there's no definition on it.

THE PRESIDENT: -- you've got a 501(c)4 law that people think is confusing -- that the folks did not know how to implement. Because it basically says if you are involved --


O'REILLY: So you're saying there's no corruption there at all? None.

THE PRESIDENT: That's not what I'm saying, that's actually --


O'REILLY: No, no, but I want to know what you're saying. You're the leader of the country. You're saying no corruption.



THE PRESIDENT: No. There were some boneheaded decisions out of a --


O'REILLY: Boneheaded decisions, but no mass corruption?

THE PRESIDENT: Not even mass corruption, not even a smidgen of corruption.

O'REILLY: OK, I got a letter from Cathy Lemaster, Fresno, California. I said I'd read one letter for the folks.


O'REILLY: All right, Mr. President, why do you feel it's necessary to fundamentally transform the nation that has afforded you so much opportunity and success?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think we have to fundamentally transform the nation.

O'REILLY: But those are your words.

THE PRESIDENT: I think that what we have to do is make sure that here in America, if you work hard you can get ahead. Bill, you and I benefitted from this incredible country of ours in part because there were good jobs out there that paid a good wage, because you had public schools that functioned well, that we could get scholarships if we didn't come from a wealthy family in order to go to college --

O'REILLY: Right.

THE PRESIDENT: -- that, you know, if you worked hard, not only did you have a good job, but you also had decent benefits, decent health care.

O'REILLY: They're cutting me off.

THE PRESIDENT: And for a lot of folks, we don't have that. We've got to make sure that we're doing everything we can to expand the middle class and work hard, and people who are working hard can get into the middle class.

O'REILLY: You know, I know you think maybe we haven't been fair, but I think your heart is in the right place. Prediction for the game -- who's going to win the Super Bowl?

THE PRESIDENT: I can't make a prediction. I don't know. These guys are too evenly matched. I think it is going to be 24-21 --

O'REILLY: But you don't know.

THE PRESIDENT: -- but I don't know who is going to be 24 and I don't know who is going to be 21.

O'REILLY: Mr. President, thanks very much.

THE PRESIDENT: I enjoyed it. Thank you.

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

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