Barack Obama photo

Interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News

February 03, 2009

WALLACE: Mr. President, thanks for talking with us.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much for being here.

WALLACE: Did you or anyone else in your administration tell Tom Daschle he had to step down as your nominee?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I'm not going to go into the details of it as has been reported, Tom made the decision that he was going to be too much of a distraction to carry out what he's so passionate about, which is health care reform. What I did tell him was that I take responsibility for this mistake, I mean, I think that Tom took responsibility for the mistake on his taxes. I think it was an honest mistake, and I made the assessment, I made the judgment that he was the best person to achieve health care reform and bring people together, but what became clear to me is that we can't send a message to the American people that we've got two sets of rules, one for prominent people and one for ordinary people and, you know, so I consider this a mistake on my part and one that I intend to fix and correct and make sure that we're not screwing up again.

WALLACE: Well, the reason I ask is because yesterday in this office you were asked whether you supported him and you said, absolutely.


WALLACE: And it becomes clear from your answer that you played a role in the decision for him --

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, no. I don't want to misstate the issue here. Tom made the decision here. He called me and indicated this was his decision.

WALLACE: Would you have continued to back him?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don't want to get into hypotheticals, Chris. Here's what I'll say. I think Tom is an outstanding person. I think this was an unintentional mistake on his part, but a substantial one and there's no excuse for the mistake. He took responsibility for it. Ultimately, I have to take responsibility for a process that resulted in us not having an HHS Secretary at a time when people need relief on their health care costs, and so, you know, this is a mistake, probably not the first one I'm going to be making in this office, but what I'm absolutely committed to doing is fixing it, getting a highly qualified HHS Secretary and then making sure that we start providing some health care relief to families who so desperately need it.

WALLACE: On your first day in office, you signed an executive order on lobbyists.


WALLACE: That you said marks a, quote, "clean break with business as usual," and yet in less than two weeks, you have signed waivers to allow the hiring of lobbyists to be Deputy Secretary at the Pentagon, Deputy Secretary at HHS and Chief of Staff at the Treasury.

Is that a clean break?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's three out of hundreds of appointments that we've made.

WALLACE: But it's three of the top jobs in three really important departments --

THE PRESIDENT: But let me say this, Chris. We disclosed these ahead of time. We set a very high bar and everybody acknowledges that we have the toughest standards, not only of people who have lobbyists previously and the restrictions on them working in this White House, but also going forward and those rules will still apply.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the economic stimulus plan and the bottom line question.


WALLACE: Will it work? You are taking hits right now from all sides, right and left. Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs calls it a, quote, "astounding mishmash of tax cuts, public investments, transfer payments and special treats for insiders." Why not just pull it back, forget about the February 16th deadline and get it right?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think, actually, that we are closer to getting it right than all these critics, partly because all these critics --

WALLACE: Alice Rivlin from the left, Martin Feldstein from the right.

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on a second, Chris, you want me to answer your questions --

WALLACE: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: It turns out that all these critics have contradictory suggestions, don't they? Some of them are saying, well, it doesn't spend out fast enough except it turns out that they also want infrastructure projects that might last for four or five or six years.

There is no magic bullet to these situations. Here's what this package does. It provides payments like unemployment insurance to people who've lost their jobs and are in desperate need of help and every economist says that that's a smart thing to do because that gets the money out right away. It provides support for people who've lost their health care because they've lost their jobs, and I think that's the right thing to do for families.

It also invests in green technologies, infrastructure, that will lay the groundwork for long-term economic growth and most of the criticisms that have been leveled and that you've heard on your show about various pet projects that members of Congress might have put in there, when you tally all those up amount to less than one percent of the entire package.

The last point I'd make is that many of the critics what they're calling for are more tax cuts, when, in fact, this is already $300 billion worth of tax cuts and many of the people on the other side of the debate consider many of those wasteful, but you know, I actually think that Mitch McConnell is right, that we should have some tax cuts in this package.

This is not going to be a package that makes everybody happy, but the main criteria I have is it going to put people back to work? And I think it actually will.

WALLACE: Is the February 16th deadline firm?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, because nobody disagrees with the idea that if we keep on putting this off that we're going to end up seeing more months with half a million people losing their jobs each month. We can't afford to wait.

WALLACE: You reportedly told Senate Democratic leaders when you met with them yesterday that you want some changes in the bill. So let's do if we can, sir, I used to do this with you as a candidate, but I'm going to ask you as president to do a lightning round of quick questions and answers about specific changes, tax credits for people who buy homes or businesses, good or bad?

THE PRESIDENT: I think it has some potential and I'm willing to take a look at it.

WALLACE: Federally guaranteed lower mortgage rates?

THE PRESIDENT: Our intention has always been that in addition to this recovery and reinvestment package that we're also going to have a housing bill, that we've also got to fix the banking system, that we're going to have to make sure that, for example, issues like executive compensation for banks that are getting money through the TARP that that's dealt with.

I actually agree with Democrats and Republicans that we've got to do more to provide relief to homeowners to prevent foreclosure.

WALLACE: Strip out by the Buy American provision for steel and iron in the bill, which a number of our allies are saying is too protectionist.

THE PRESIDENT: I agree that we can't send a protectionist message. I want to see what kind of language we can work on this issue. I think it would be a mistake though at a time when worldwide trade is declining for us to start sending a message that somehow we're just looking after ourselves and not concerned with world trade.

WALLACE: Since you became president, you have warned Republicans, quote, "You can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done."

THE PRESIDENT: Now, how do you know that's a quote?

WALLACE: Well, I read it in the media.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. (Laughter.)

WALLACE: Did you not say anything about Rush Limbaugh?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I just want to -- I'm not sure that was the exact quote.

WALLACE: All right. Let me throw another one at you.


WALLACE: And you tell me whether this was an exact quote. You were widely quoted when you met with the House GOP Caucus saying, "Go ahead, feel free to whack me, I'll watch Fox News and feel bad about myself."

THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) That one I did say.

WALLACE: Perhaps, let me just raise the possibility --


WALLACE: Are you a trifle thinned-skin?

THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, I said it in good humor. I think everybody understood that that was a joke. No, I think, Chris, it's fair to say that I don't always get my most favorable coverage on Fox, but I think that's part of how democracy is supposed to work, you know, we're not supposed to all be in lockstep here and you've always been very gracious to me.

WALLACE: And if that improves or hurts or my stock at Fox, but thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: It may hurt it.

Barack Obama, Interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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