Barack Obama photo

Interview with Cindi Leive of Glamour Magazine in Portland, Oregon

July 24, 2012

Leive. Back in 2008 you told Glamour that your mother once said, and I'll quote, "the best indicator of whether a country does well is how it treats its girls and its women."

The President. Still believe it.

Leive. So, by your mother's standards, give me a thumbnail sketch of how America is doing.

The President. Well, when I came into office, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Now the economy has grown for two and a half, three years, and the unemployment rate has begun to come down, but we've got a lot of people who are still out of work, men and women. At the state levels, and the local levels, some of the biggest layoffs have been in teaching, for example, professions that are disproportionately represented by women. So a lot of what I've tried to do is make sure not only that the economy is growing but also that everybody gets an opportunity. And that means passing the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

Leive. Your first bill.

The President. My first bill, to make sure that women are getting the same pay for the same work. It means making sure that access to college and training is widely spread, so we expanded things like Pell Grants and set up tax credits so that middle-class families could better afford college. We're actually seeing more women than men in not only undergraduate but also professional schools, graduate schools. If they're burdened with $25,000 or $35,000 worth of debt when they graduate, that's a problem.

I think the way I'd grade the United States right now is incomplete. There are more opportunities for women than ever before. I think women excelling in school is now translating into greater opportunities in their professional lives. Some of the steps that we've taken have helped to open up additional access, but I'm not going to be satisfied until every young person who is willing to work hard and take responsibility can fulfill their dreams. I think this campaign is going to be so important because it really presents two fundamentally different visions about how we expand opportunity for all people.

Leive. You mentioned unemployment. There are about three quarters of a million more unemployed women now than at the beginning of your presidency. One study shows that young women believe that Governor Romney will do better at job creation than you. How do you persuade women their financial future is best off in your hands?

The President. When we've gone through such a difficult economy—that began before I took office—it's natural that young people who are coming of age and entering the work force look at the president and say, "Let's get this thing going faster." I completely understand that. On the other hand, if you look specifically at what I've proposed and what Mr. Romney has proposed, then I think most young women would agree with my approach.

Mr. Romney's primary approach is cutting taxes, particularly for the wealthiest Americans, rolling back regulations that constrain insurance companies, big polluters, or the banks from taking advantage of consumers and families. His premise is that the market will take care of everything else. I believe the way we're going to grow a strong economy for everybody is investing in education, making college more affordable, investing in basic science and research so we keep our technological edge, balancing our budget in a responsible way so that we're asking the wealthiest Americans to do a little bit more even as we're cutting out programs that don't work, making sure that we continue to provide people who work hard the chance to get affordable health care. All those things contribute to a strong middle class.

It's true, if you start from the day I was sworn in, that unemployment is still higher for women. If, on the other hand, you start from when my policies started taking effect—and recognize that the first six months of my administration, really, we were trying to slow a train that was derailing—then growth in the private sector, not just for women but for all Americans, has been significantly stronger than it was for much of the decade before I took office, when my predecessor tried many of the same ideas that Mr. Romney's talking about.

Leive. Moving to a new topic, I have a question from a reader for you. Twenty-one-year-old Jessica Salley in Covington, Louisiana, asks: "Why has the federal government been fairly mum about abortion laws that threaten to shut down the only clinic in Mississippi?" As you know, states passed 92 restrictions on abortion access last year—more than in the three previous years combined. What do you think of this trend?

The President. Well, I don't think I have been mum. What I've said is women need to be able to control their health care choices. Most of these laws now are being made at the state level. But where we have impact, at the federal level, we want to make sure that women continue to have full access to health care, including their reproductive rights. When Mr. Romney says, "We're going to get rid of Planned Parenthood," and his allies in Congress attempted to federally defund Planned Parenthood, we said no. Precisely because in many of these states Planned Parenthood is your only possible access to not only abortion but Pap smears, cervical cancer screenings, mammograms. It is a place where women who may not otherwise have the means can take care of their own bodies.

I feel very strongly that this has to be an issue for women in this campaign. All the work we've done—including in the Affordable Care Act—to expand women's access to health care could be rolled back at the federal level, and that would further restrict what women in states across the country are able to enjoy.

Leive. Why do you think contraception is so controversial politically? Virtually every woman of childbearing age in this country uses it.

The President. Well, you're probably going to have to ask the folks who find it controversial. I think part of it is that it's gotten wrapped up in other cultural issues. There is a sense that somehow the federal government is not doing enough to help shape how women make decisions about their own bodies and their own health.

Look, I've got two daughters, and I've repeatedly said that I want to empower them to make good decisions. They're not going to make good decisions because somebody in Congress is restricting their access to health care. They're going to make good decisions because hopefully they've been raised wisely and trust their parents enough to have open conversations about issues that they're going to be confronting as they grow up.

I think in the minds of most Americans—men and women—access to contraception should be a no-brainer. Part of the reason we included that in our health care reform bill is that it affects everybody. It's also an economic issue. For a woman of childbearing age, $250, $300, [is] a lot of money and could make the difference as to whether you can pay the rent.

Leive. Speaking of family discussions with Sasha and Malia, you told ABC's Robin Roberts that those kinds of talks around the dinner table were part of what changed your thinking on same-sex marriage. Roughly three fourths of our readers support it. If you feel [legalizing it] is a moral issue, what can you personally do about it?

The President. Well, there are a couple of things that we've done. The first is to make sure the federal government is no longer defending the so-called Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA), which essentially orders the federal government not to honor [same-sex] marriage contracts, even in those states that have approved same-sex marriage. Historically, this has been a state issue, and for the federal government to intrude in this way, which is contrary to tradition, indicates that this is specifically targeted against gays and lesbians without a very good public policy rationale. My view is that [DOMA] is unconstitutional, and the Justice Department is now arguing the other side. Ultimately the Supreme Court over the next year or two is probably going to be making a decision on this.

In the meantime, what I'm trying to do is constantly expand the scope of administrative laws that the federal government takes so that we're a good model. So that we're treating our gay and lesbian employees in a way that's fair.

Leive. Okay, we are Glamour, so we've got to get into some pop culture, right?

The President. Go for it.

Leive. Thinking about Sasha and Malia, when you ran for office last time, they were both little girls, and now Malia is a teenager. What kind of music does she listen to?

The President. You know, we actually don't constrain what she listens to. We expect her to show some good judgment. She listens to my iPod and has gotten hip to stuff that was made well before she was born like Motown, jazz, classic rock. There's a whole bunch of stuff that she's picking up on. We actually share tastes in hip-hop and rap music but we don't listen to it together, because some of the language in there would embarrass me—at least while I'm listening to it with her. Folks like Jay-Z, Nas, we both like them, but when it comes on and I'm sitting with her and Sasha, then I fast-forward because it would make me blush…. It's interesting, both Malia and Sasha, they're very much up on pop culture, but what I'm pleased to see is that they're interested in making culture too. They both play the piano, and Sasha's dancing, and Malia's interested in filmmaking.

Leive. One last question. You have a very popular secretary of state in Hillary Clinton. Would you encourage her to run for president in 2016?

The President. Hillary has done an outstanding job, and I take her at her word that after this first term she's going to want to take a break. She's now the most-traveled secretary of state in history, but she is incredibly capable. She has made America safer and more respected around the world because of the work that she's done, and I think she could do anything well. Ultimately, after this phase is finished, this is really going to be a matter of: Does she want to continue to serve in the public spotlight, or does she want to shift into something that is not quite as high profile and stressful? She's been in the public eye a lot longer than I have, and it's not always easy. I couldn't be prouder of the work that she's done, and couldn't be more appreciative of the great relationship that we've been able to develop over the last three and a half years.

Leive. Thank you so much, Mr. President.

The President. Thank you—this is one interview Sasha and Malia will actually read.

Barack Obama, Interview with Cindi Leive of Glamour Magazine in Portland, Oregon Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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