Barack Obama photo

Interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday

April 10, 2016

Wallace: Mr. President, welcome back to FOX NEWS SUNDAY.

The President: It's great to be with you.

Wallace: It's been a while.

The President: Better late than never.

Wallace: You're trying to pressure Senate Republicans to consider Judge Garland. But Senate Republicans, the GOP, is applying pressure of its own. And just this week, two Senate Republicans, Moran and Murkowski, reversed themselves, and said they no longer support even holding confirmation hearings.

So far, there has not been a break in Republican ranks.

The President: Well, I think that things will evolve as people get familiar with Judge Garland's record. As it becomes apparent that the overwhelming majority of the American people think that the President nominates somebody to the Supreme Court, and the Senate should now do its constitutional job and give him a hearing.

And originally, the Republicans said they wouldn't meet with him at all. Now, a number of them have already had meetings. And the questioning that they're having privately with Judge Garland is something that should be done publicly. Through a hearings process, so the American people can make their own assessment.

But I recognize there's pressure on the other side. Our goal is just to make sure that the Senate does its job and treats him fairly.

Wallace: Now, you talk about the Senate doing its job. You're calling for an up-or-down vote on Judge Garland.

The President: Yes.

Wallace: But back in 2006, Senator Barack Obama joined a filibuster on Sam Alito, a Bush appointee, which would have prevented an up or down vote. Isn't there a fair amount of hypocrisy on both sides, frankly, including you?

The President: I think there's no doubt that Democrats and Republicans have gotten into a fix inside the Senate, in which the confirmation process becomes too much of a tit for tat, or becomes politicized.

I will point out though, Chris, that never has a Republican president's nominee not received a hearing, not received a vote.

So, I don't object to Republicans saying, "Look, Merrick Garland may be a fine man. He may be an excellent judge, but I just disagree with him philosophically on a whole range of issues, so I'm going to vote against him."

Wallace: So, you'd be OK if he got defeated, as long as they go through the process?

The President: I think that if they go through the process, they won't have any rationale to defeat him.

So my point is, go through the process, go through the hearings. I think if you do that, the American people and the majority of senators will determine that, in fact, he is qualified to be on the Court.

Wallace: Some Republican senators say, "Look, if a Democrat wins in November, well maybe we'll consider Garland in a lame duck hearing."

The President: Yes.

Wallace: Have you made a commitment to Garland that you're going to stick by him through the end of your term? Or perhaps, let's say Hillary Clinton is the newly elected president, would you pull him and let her make the pick?

The President: As more senators meet with him, I think they will recognize the qualities of this individual.

What I think we can't have is a situation in which the Republican Senate simply says, "Because it's a Democratic president, we are not going to do our job, have hearings, and have a vote."

Wallace: But --

The President: Because if that happens, Chris, then it is almost impossible to expect that the Democrats -- let's say a Republican president won -- that the Democrats wouldn't say the exact same thing. They'll say, "Let's wait for four years, and we'll take our chances on the next president."

Wallace: But just to button this up --

The President: Yes.

Wallace: Are you saying you will stick with Merrick Garland through the end of your term?

The President: Yes.

Wallace: No pulling him after --

The President: Absolutely not.

Wallace: I want to ask you about an interview, and extensive interview you did with the Atlantic Magazine recently. It says that you think that the fear of terrorism among politicians, among the press, among the public, is exaggerated. And then the article goes on to say, quote, "Obama frequently reminds his staff that terrorism takes far fewer lives in America than handguns, car accidents, and falls in bathtubs do."

Do we make too big a deal of the terror threat?

The President: I don't think we make too big of a deal of the terror threat. My number one job is to protect the American people. My number one priority right now is defeating ISIL. My number one priority throughout my presidency has been going after terrorist networks that would attempt to do harm to --

Wallace: So what you're point?

The President: -- Americans inside, or outside of America.

My point is that, how we do it is important, that we have to make sure that we abide by our laws. We have to make sure that we abide by our values. And we have to make sure that what we do doesn't end up being counterproductive. So when I hear some candidates saying we should carpet bomb innocent civilians --

Wallace: Ted Cruz.

The President: -- that is not a productive approach to defeating terrorism.

When I hear people suggesting that we should ban all Muslims from entering the country, that is not a good approach to defeating terrorism.

Our approach has to be smart.

Wallace: But the pushback against this --

The President: Uh-huh.

Wallace: -- when you say more people die in bathtub accidents, and I understand you're not saying it's not important, but you're saying we can't overreact to it, is bathtub manufacturers aren't trying to kill us, and they're not trying to up the body count -- I think it's fair to say that some of the sharpest criticism of you, from both sides during your presidency, has been the way that you've responded -- personally, not necessarily in policy -- to terror attacks.

After James Foley was beheaded, you went out and played golf. After Paris, you said it was a setback.

The President: Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can't lose sight that there has been progress being made.

Wallace: After San Bernardino, you talked about gun control.

The President: Right now, people on the no fly list can walk into a store and buy a gun. That's insane.

Wallace: And some people wonder, I think the concern is, do you worry about terrorism and feel the threat of terrorism the way they do?

The President: And I would say this -- there isn't a president who's taken more terrorists off the field than me, over the last seven-and-a-half years.

I'm the guy who calls the families, or meets with them, or hugs them, or tries to comfort a mom, or a dad, or a husband, or a kid, after a terrorist attack.

So, let's be very clear about how much I prioritize this. This is my number one job --

Wallace: Then why is it --

The President: -- and we have been doing it effectively. You're --

Wallace: So why do people sometimes think you're diffident --

The President: Well, I think part of it is that, in the wake of terrorist attacks, it has been my view consistently that the job of the terrorists, in their minds, is to induce panic, induce fear, get societies to change who they are.

And what I've tried to communicate is, "You can't change us. You can kill some of us, but we will hunt you down, and we will get you. And in the meantime, just as we did in Boston, after the marathon bombing, we're going to go to a ballgame. And do all the other things that make our life worthwhile. And you have nothing to offer."

That's the message of resilience that we don't panic, that we don't fear. We will hunt you down and we will get you.

Wallace: Last October, you said that Hillary Clinton's private e-mail server did not jeopardize national secrets.

The President: I can tell that you this is not a situation in which America's national security was endangered.

Wallace: Since then, we've learned that over 2,000 of her e-mails contained classified material, 22 of the e-mails had top-secret information. Can you still say flatly that she did not jeopardize America's secrets?

The President: I've got to be careful because, as you know, there have been investigations, there are hearings, Congress is looking at this. And I haven't been sorting through each and every aspect of this.

Here's what I know: Hillary Clinton was an outstanding Secretary of State. She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy.

And what I also know, because I handle a lot of classified information, is that there are -- there's classified, and then there's classified. There's stuff that is really top secret top secret, and there's stuff that is being presented to the president or the secretary of state, that you might not want on the transom, or going out over the wire, but is basically stuff that you could get in open source.


Wallace: But last October, you were prepared to say, "She hasn't jeopardized."

The President: Yes. Well --

Wallace: And the question is, can you still say that?

The President: I continue to believe that she has not jeopardized America's national security. Now what I've also said is that -- and she has acknowledged -- that there's a carelessness, in terms of managing e-mails, that she has owned, and she recognizes.

But I also think it is important to keep this in perspective. This is somebody who has served her country for four years as secretary of state, and did an outstanding job. And no one has suggested that in some ways, as a consequence of how she's handled e-mails, that that detracted from her excellent ability to carry out her duties.

Wallace: Mr. President, when you say what you've just said, when Josh Earnest said, as he did -- your spokesman -- in January, the information from the Justice Department is she's not a target, some people I think are worried whether or not -- the decision whether or not, how to handle the case, will be made on political grounds, not legal grounds.

Can you guarantee to the American people, can you direct the Justice Department to say, "Hillary Clinton will be treated -- as the evidence goes, she will not be in any way protected."

The President: I can guarantee that. And I can guarantee that, not because I give Attorney General Lynch a directive, that is institutionally how we have always operated.

I do not talk to the Attorney General about pending investigations. I do not talk to FBI directors about pending investigations. We have a strict line, and always have maintained it, previous president.

Wallace: So, just to button this up --

The President: I guarantee it.

Wallace: You --

The President: I guarantee that there is no political influence in any investigation conducted by the Justice Department, or the FBI, not just in this case, but in any case.

Wallace: And she will be --

The President: Full stop. Period.

Wallace: And she will be treated no different --

The President: Guaranteed. Full stop. Nobody gets treated differently when it comes to the Justice Department, because nobody is above the law.

Wallace: Even if she ends up as the Democratic nominee?

The President: How many times do I have to say it, Chris? Guaranteed.

Wallace: Finally, we've seen in this campaign, I think both on the -- among some Trump voters, and among some Sanders voters -- anger --

The President: Yes.

Wallace: -- about Washington, about Wall Street.

Do you feel any personal responsibility that eight years after you came into office, there are millions of people out there who still feel cut out --

The President: Yes.

Wallace: -- from the decisions that affect their lives?

The President: Well, there's no doubt that I feel frustrated about it. My whole, you know, operating assumption, in terms of our democracy, is the more people are involved, the more they know, the more they are involved, the more responsive our government is.

Wallace: So why do all these people, Democrats and Republicans?

The President: Yes, I think that, I think it comes out of a couple things, Chris. Number one, we're still shell-shocked from what happened in 2007, 2008.

We've now had more than six years straight of job growth, and cut the unemployment rate down to 5 percent. But, people lost homes, lost jobs, lost life savings. And they still don't fully know how that happened, and was the system fixed in a way that they can have confidence in. I also think that --


Wallace: So, have you fixed that in eight years?

The President: Well, actually we've done a better job than I think most people give us credit for.

Wallace: I don't mean fixed the system.

The President: Yes.

Wallace: I mean fixed the perception.

The President: Well, the perception is going to be changing over time, as people see results, as they get more confident.

But, and this is the big but, nobody's going to be 100 percent satisfied -- in a democracy like ours -- with every outcome. And I think the danger, both among Republicans, and among Democrats, who increasingly just listen to each other. Or they just listen to people who already agree with them. Republicans, they have their own TV station. They're own radio --

Wallace: Go ahead. You can say FOX News.

The President: They've got their own publications, their own blogs. Democrats, same thing.

Increasingly what happens is, we don't hear each other. And so what happens then is, when Republicans promise to repeal Obamacare, and it doesn't get repealed, they're outraged. Well, it must be because Republicans were corrupt or unresponsive, or big money got involved.

If Democrats get frustrated, they say, "Well, why didn't we have a public option in our healthcare system? Or have a single payer system?"

Well, it turns out that 85 percent of people get healthcare through their jobs. They're pretty satisfied with it. They don't want big change on them. That's why it didn't happen.

It wasn't necessarily because there was some, you know, corruption, or venality, or that people were unresponsive to democracy. People disagree.

I want, occasionally, people to step back and take a look. America's got the best cards. We are the envy of the world. We have the most powerful military on earth, by a mile.

Our economy right now, is stronger than any other advanced economy. We have the best workers, we have the best universities. We are the most innovative. We have the most advanced scientific community. We have an incredibly diverse and talented population.

This can be our century, just like the 20th century was, as long as we don't tear each other apart, because our politics value sensationalism or conflict, over cooperation, and we don't have the ability to compromise. And if we get that part right, nobody can stop us.

Wallace: Mr. President --

The President: I enjoyed it.

Wallace: -- thank you.

The President: Thank you so much, Chris.

Wallace: Later in the program, we take a walk with the president as he discusses the highs and lows of his eight years in office.

And there is more from our sit-down with Mr. Obama on our website,

Up next, we'll bring in our Sunday group to discus what the president had to say. Plus, what would you like to ask the panel about whether the Clinton case will be handled fairly by the Justice Department? Just go to Facebook or Twitter @FoxNewsSunday, and we may use your question on the air.

[commercial break]

The President: Here's what I know: Hillary Clinton was an outstanding secretary of state. She would never intentionally put America in any kind of jeopardy.

Wallace: President Obama in our exclusive interview doubling down on his defense of Hillary Clinton in the private e-mail scandal.

[commercial break]

Wallace: A look outside the beltway at the University of Chicago Law School, where we sat down this week with President Obama. And we're back now with more of our exclusive conversation with the president.

We talked with Mr. Obama in the library at the law school where he taught for 12 years. He reminisced about that and a presidency that is winding down.

[begin videotape]

Wallace: Since I'm sure this is a sentimental journey for you, I'd like to do a lightning round --

The President: Sure.

Wallace: About the past eight years. Quick questions, quick answers.

The President: Yes.

Wallace: Best day in the White House?

The President: The day that we passed health care reform. And we sat out on the Truman Balcony with all the staff that had worked so hard on it and I -- I knew what it would mean for the families that I'd met who didn't have health care.

Wallace: Worst day in the White House?

The President: The day we traveled up to Newtown after Sandy Hook.

Wallace: No explanation needed there.

The President: No.

Wallace: Biggest accomplishment?

The President: Saving the economy from a great depression.

Wallace: Worst mistake?

The President: Probably failing to plan for the day after what I think was the right thing to do in intervening in Libya.

Wallace: What you're going to miss most when you leave office?

The President: Other than Air Force One?

Wallace: No, that's a -- that's a -- that's an answer.

The President: Yes. Well, you miss -- what I'll miss most is the breadth of interactions you have with the American people. When you are president, you meet people from every walk of life, every region and it gives you a unique appreciation for this unbelievable country of ours.

Wallace: What you're looking forward to most when you leave office?

The President: Being able to take a walk outside.

Wallace: I -- I have to ask, with all due respect, when you look at yourself in the mirror, and you've got a little bit more gray hair than you had, and you look back over these last eight years, has it been a tough job? Has it aged you?

The President: You know, I don't think it has aged me spiritually or mentally. Obviously, I've gotten older. But I suspect that in some ways the job may keep you younger just because every day is a new challenge. It is fascinating. It is an extraordinary privilege. I, you know, I -- I have no doubt that when I leave the office, after a day, a week, a month, maybe six months, you'll start realizing that day to day burdens that you are carrying and you'll probably be a little bit lighter. But, on the other hand, the degree to which every part of you is tested and engaged, that keeps you young.

Wallace: Now, we've ended up here and there's a plaque. "Barack Obama, president of the United States, senior lecturer at Chicago Law School, wrote 'Dreams From My Father' in this office."

The President: How about that? It is true that I -- I got an offer to come. I could write and teach a seminar and eventually I end up teaching here at the university.

Wallace: Can -- can we go in?

The President: We -- we -- we should go in. I will tell you that it was pretty Spartan then.

Wallace: Oh, my Lord.

The President: And it is pretty Spartan now.

Wallace: This -- quite a journey from the Oval Office, starting here.

The President: The Oval -- the Oval has better light.

Wallace: It's got more room too.

The President: It's got a little more room. I don't even think I had a -- a plant. Partly because I don't have a green thumb and I -- I was sure --

Wallace: You -- you don't --

The President: Unlike Michelle with her garden, I was pretty sure that --

Wallace: Yes. Given what "Dreams From My Father," what was your dream back then? You certainly didn't think president.

The President: Finishing. Finishing that book.

Wallace: Finishing the book.

The President: Because I was -- I was a -- I was past the deadline.

Wallace: So what would you tell -- if you could go back 12 years in time -- that law professor? What would you tell him that he didn't know about how the world works?

The President: Well, first of all, that law professors back then would think I was crazy saying that somehow you might end up being president. You know what? What I would tell him is what I was telling some of those law students downstairs, that for all the frustrations of democracy and all the contention, it is not always a straight line, but if you put your shoulder to the wheel and you have faith in our democracy and our system, it works.

Wallace: So it's more complicated than people would have understood then?

The President: Absolutely. And, you know, I think that when you're outside of the system, you are properly outraged at this ineptitude of the government or this corruption or this issue that you feel deeply about. When you're in it, what you realize is, is that if you follow this process, if you're respectful of this process, then we can sort it out. And not everybody's going to be completely happy with it. But it will beat any other system given that we are human and given original sin. You know, this is going to work about as well as it can.

Wallace: Mr. President, thank you.

The President: Thank you.

Wallace: Thanks for talking with us.

The President: Enjoyed you bringing me back here.

[end videotape]

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

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