Barack Obama photo

Interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC's "World News"

January 26, 2012

SAWYER: Good evening tonight from Nevada, where we sat down with the president and he made it clear, the race for the presidency 2012 is under way.

Officially, he came here to promote clean energy, but we'll get right to it so you can see how the president...[audio gap]

THE PRESIDENT: ... where we're starting to come back. We've created 3 million jobs over the last 22 months.

But that work remains of making sure that the economy is working for everybody. And, you know, there's going to be a fundamental contrast between my vision of how we do that, with American manufacturing and American energy and skills for American workers, and a vision on the other side that basically says you're on your own and that America succeeds when the most powerful can play by their own set of rules.

SAWYER: Watching the debates?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I don't watch the debates, I got to say. Now, I read the reports. And what I get a sense of is that, you know, whoever wins the Republican primary is going to be a standard bearer for a vision of the country that I don't think reflects who we are.

The proposal you're seeing from the Republicans is they would actually cut taxes for those at the very top even further. But if we are not raising any additional revenue, then we start cutting into the bone of things like basic research or education or caring for our veterans that are critical to who we are.

SAWYER: But at the end of the day, Governor Romney says this is class warfare and it is so-cial engineering.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, you know, I think, whether it's Romney or Gingrich or Santorum or any of these folks, the question to ask them is, we now have the lowest tax rates in 50 years. And if, in fact, we're going to reduce our deficit while still investing in those things that we know make America grow, somebody's got to pay for it.

We — we had a — an economy that was built on debt and flimsy financing deals, and it resulted in a huge crash that lost us the most jobs since the 1930s. And why we would want to adopt something that we just tried and did not work doesn't make sense.

[begin video clip]

NEWT GINGRICH: The fact is, Barack Obama is the most effective food stamp president in American history.

[end video clip]

SAWYER: You talked about Speaker Gingrich. He has said you are the food stamp president and that more people have now been put on food stamps by you than any president in history.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Well, first of all, I don't put people on food stamps. People become eligi-ble for food stamps.

Second of all, the initial expansion of food stamp eligibility happened under my Republican prede-cessor, not under me.

SAWYER: In South Carolina, some people were arguing — as you know, there's been a debate about...


SAWYER: ... whether there is an undercurrent of race in the food stamp president accusation that was levied by Speaker Gingrich. And he took profound objection to that and said, absolutely not. What's your view?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, as I said, I didn't watch the debate.

You know, I think that what the American people are going to be interested in is not these kinds of rhetorical flourishes. What they're going to be interested in is who actually has a plan that makes my life better. And...

SAWYER: Not going to go there, on this issue?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I think the American people are going to make a judgment about, you know, who's trying to bring the country together and who's dividing it; who reflects sort of the core values that helped create this country, values of hard work and responsibility, but also looking out for one another; and who is, you know, tapping into some of our worst instincts.

And, you know, that's ultimately gonna be a judgment for the American people.

SAWYER: Is that what he did?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm — I'm just saying, they're going to be making these decisions.

SAWYER: We got a lot of questions after (ph) the State of the Union from our partners at Ya-hoo — and so many people suffering, homeowners suffering, people hoping for jobs to come back to this country. And they said the same thing: Why is he talking about this now? Why didn't this hap-pen in the first three years?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, in the first three years, we did a whole lot, which is why we're in a position now to continue the growth.

Look, the auto industry, which has now created 160,000 jobs and sees GM as the number one au-tomaker in the world again, that didn't just happen by accident, Diane. We had a little something to do with it.

When the body politick goes through a trauma as great as the one that we went through in 2008, 2009, then everybody, I think, is gonna be frustrated that we don't recover as quickly as we...[crosstalk]

SAWYER: You don't second-guess yourself?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, I second-guess myself constantly. About — look, I make a mistake, you know, every hour, every day. You know, there — there's always things that you're learning in the job. But I have no doubt that I'm a better president now than the day I took office just because you get more experience.

SAWYER [voice-over]: He personally ordered that daring SEAL Team 6 mission to rescue Ameri-can Jessica Buchanan who was kidnapped in Somalia three months ago.

THE PRESIDENT: I cannot imagine what he went through — you know, given, you know, Malia and Sasha — and for him to be able to stay strong and then for our incredible men and women in uniform to do what they do, it makes you proud about this country.

SAWYER: Have you spoken to her yet?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't spoken to her yet. I — I know that she still had some — some illnesses. I think she'll be fine. But, you know, the main thing I wanted to do is make sure that she had — she had a chance to talk to her dad.

SAWYER [voice-over]: And we also asked about that other headline in the last 24 hours with Ari-zona Governor Jan Brewer, who surprised everyone, flashing a letter asking him to a meeting after she'd written a book describing a previous meeting saying the president was patronizing to her?

SAWYER: There's a picture out there of you with Governor Jan Brewer. What was — what was going on there? She said you were tense, thin-skinned. She's all over the airwaves right now.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah. Yeah, well, you know, what I've discovered is, is that I think it's always good publicity for a Republican if they're in an argument with me. But this was really not a big deal.

SAWYER: Were you tense?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, Diane, I'm usually accused of not being intense enough, right? Too relaxed.

SAWYER: So you weren't?


SAWYER: A quick question about the family.


SAWYER: You told us before the first campaign that Sasha had said to you, "Are you going to be sad if you lose?"


SAWYER: What is Mrs. Obama saying to you about this one?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, Michelle is very enthusiastic about campaigning for the next nine months. And that hasn't always been the case. I mean, this puts a strain on families. But I think she feels very strongly that we're moving the country in the right direction. What she's told me is, you know, we should finish the job and we've got more work to do.

SAWYER: And the girls?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, the girls, fortunately, they don't spend too much time worrying about their daddy's job.

SAWYER: And do they have you on their ringtone now singing? [laughter]

[begin video clip]

OBAMA: [singing] So in love with you.

[end video clip]

SAWYER: Or were they embarrassed?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I don't think they were embarrassed. I — I have, I'm sure, done more embarrassing things for — to them than singing a little Al Green.

There will be a lot more of the president's interview tonight on "Nightline."

Barack Obama, Interview with Diane Sawyer of ABC's "World News" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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