Barack Obama photo

Interview with Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show

October 18, 2012

Stewart: My guest tonight, he is currently the president of these United States. Please welcome back to the program President Barack Obama. Nice to see you.

The President: Thank you.

Stewart: How are you?

The President: I'm good. How are you? Good to see everybody. Good to see you.

Stewart: How are you?

The President: I am doing great. Before I do anything else —

Stewart: Please.

The President: — I have to acknowledge we have some amazing women warriors -

Stewart: Yes.

The President: — our — we've got a whole crew of veterans — I had nothing to do with this — the USO wanted to bring them here. And I just wanted everybody to give them a big round of applause, too.

Nice to see you guys.

Stewart: I do want to ask you this, though, before we — I'm putting together a scrapbook of the whole 2012 campaign, and I don't — [laughter] — I have these great pictures from the two debates. But I don't know which debate they're from. So if you could — [laughter] — I have two pictures. There's — there's one picture. I don't know if you can get that.

The President: [chuckles]

Stewart: And then there's the other picture. And I'm wondering, could you tell me which were the — I don't — I don't know if I have the dates right. Do you know which debate is which?

The President: Cute. Cute, John.

Stewart: What happened? What? Did you feel — did you — here's what happens to me sometimes. Sometimes I'll go onstage and I'll have, let's say, an open-faced turkey sandwich and a shot of NyQuil. And —

The President: It's a good combination.

Stewart: — and halfway through, I'll look up and go, are we on?

The President: [chuckles]

Stewart: Did you sense — were you taken aback by the reaction to it? Did you sense this wasn't going as well as perhaps you would like it to? What happened?

The President: Look, you know, I think, obviously, I had an off night. The presentation wasn't the way it needed to be. But the issues haven't changed. They didn't change after the first debate, and they didn't change in the second debate —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — and that is that the stakes in this election are really big. You know, Governor Romney makes a good presentation, but the fundamentals of what he's calling for are the same policies that got us into this mess that we've been fighting against for the last four years, trying to dig our way out of an economy that was good for a few folks at the top, but wasn't working for ordinary Americans. And after 31 months of consecutive job growth, we've seen 5.2 million jobs created, manufacturing is starting to come back, the auto industry recovering, housing starting to rise again.

I want to make sure that we're not going back to those policies. And I want to make sure that, over the next four years, we're building on the progress that we've already made to create jobs right here in America for folks and to make sure that middle-class families have some security.

Stewart: Would you say — do you feel like you have a stronger, affirmative case for a second Barack Obama presidency, or a stronger negative case for a Mitt Romney presidency? What is — [laughter] — in your mind, what is the stronger case to be made? Or do you prefer a (melange ?)? But what is — because I'm curious, what do you think? Do you feel like you — do you feel you've made the strong enough, affirmative case, or a stronger negative case?

The President: I think I've got a strong case on both ends. Look, four years ago, I said I'd end the war in Iraq; we did. Said I'd pass health care reforms, make sure people don't go bankrupt when they get sick; we have. Said that we would refocus our attention on al-Qaida; we have. Made sure that — made sure that we saved an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse; we've done that.

So we've got a very strong story to tell, whether it's on social issues, like don't ask, don't tell, or economic issues that matter for middle-class families.

I do think that part of the president's job is not only moving forward on things that will work, but also preventing things that won't work.

Stewart: Right.

The President: So I think you want a president in the Oval Office who's going to say, no, we're not going to amend our Constitution for the first time to restrict rights for gay and lesbian couples. We're not going to — we're not going to — we're not going to pass a budget where all the work that we've done to make college more affordable for young people gets wiped aside so that suddenly lenders and banks are getting extra tens of billions of dollars. We're not going to rollback health care so that millions of people are thrown off the rolls. We're not going to turn Medicare into a voucher system.

So — but — but — when you think about it, it's — it is two sides of the same coin. The question is, what kind of vision do you have for this country? We need to make sure that we're developing oil and gas, but we're also developing solar and wind. So we're leapfrogging current technology to make sure that the technology 20 or 30 years from now is developed here in the United States.

That's what creates jobs.

And I — the most important thing is, when you think about the economy, I'm absolutely convinced, when you look at the historical record, that when middle-class families do well, when there are ladders of opportunity for poorer families to get into the middle class —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — the entire economy does well. And when a few folks are doing very well at the top and everybody else is getting squeezed, the economy grows slower. And that is the central issue in this election, that we've got to make sure we address.

Stewart: If you had to say, Governor Romney, there's one place where you feel like, man, that's an area I wish I had done — I had a stronger record on that he hits, is it unemployment? Is it the case — you know, he talked in the debate, you know, the administration had said, we're going to have this thing down to 5.4 percent, it's still at 7.8 percent, that's a difference of 9 million people. Is there something in what he says? Or is there a certain inevitability to a slower economic comeback?

The President: Well, here's what happened. We had the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We could be growing even faster than we have if Governor Romney's allies in Congress would move on some of the things that we've recommended. I'll give you an example. On housing, right now we could make sure that families whose homes are underwater, where they owe more than their mortgage — or more than their house is worth, if they refinance, typically they get 3,000 bucks in their pockets a year.

Stewart: Right.

The President: That's $3,000 they're spending —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — or $3,000 that they're putting back into equity in their home. Housing market would be helped. Employment would be helped. Even Governor Romney's own adviser says this is a good idea. And yet —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — Governor Romney opposes it. So —

Stewart: But don't you have a HAMP program? Don't you have — wasn't $50 billion set aside for HAMP, and only 5 1/2 billion of it has been used?

The President: No. Actually what's happened is we've got 5 million homes that have already — we've seen foreclosures prevented. We have a settlement with the banks that provides another $25 billion to help the housing market.

But the central question is, there are a whole bunch of things that we can do right now —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — that will make the recovery even stronger, put more folks back to work. When you look at what we did with the auto industry, that's not the only industry where manufacturing can take root back here in the United States again.

Now, we've got a whole bunch of cities where you've got workers who are, you know, trained in machinery and advanced manufacturing, but — and companies are starting to look at maybe we in-source instead of outsource. But we're going to have to change the tax code to make sure that companies have a strong incentive to do that.

Stewart: If the Republican Congress was obstinate before, won't — aren't they still going to be there? Or if you win again, do you get to, at some point, say — and I'm just going to throw a phrase out there — abracadabra? But — so — if their (obstinacy ?) is what created the drag on the economy, and that is not going to be ameliorated, what will be the difference?

The President: Well, number — number one, I want to make sure that we get as many Democrats re-elected as possible and maybe we can take some seats back. I think that's priority.

Number two — number two, when you look at some of the things that we need to do, let's say, in the first year, 2013, having a plan to bring down our deficit that's balanced, that will be settled one way or another next year. The question is going to be, do we do it in a balanced, responsible way, or are we not asking millionaires and billionaires to pay a dime of extra taxes to preserve investments in education?

Stewart: Wait, I'm sorry. This is the first I'm hearing of this. What is that about millionaires?

The President: It's true. It's true.

Stewart: What are you doing to us?

The President: John —

Stewart: No, I'm going to throw a commercial in. You and I are going to have a conversation and then we'll come back. We are going to have to go to commercial.

We'll be right back with more President Barack Obama.

Stewart: Welcome back. We're here with President Barack Obama. The second half. And we're going to start to go a little faster, the questions are going to get a little bit tougher. How many times a week does Biden show up in a wet bathing suit to a meeting? Just the ballpark figure.

The President: I had to put out a presidential directive on that. We had to stop that.

Stewart: You've got to put towels down.

The President: Yeah. I've got to say, though, he looks pretty good.

Stewart: I don't doubt that in any way, shape or form. All right. This is a little game I called "Still or No." So you're the president now. Before when you ran, you had certain things that you thought, I wonder if four years as president has in any way changed that.

OK, first one is, we don't have to trade our values and ideals for our security.

The President: We don't.

Stewart: Do you still feel that way?

The President: We don't. There's some things that we haven't gotten done. I still want to close Guantanamo. We haven't been able to get that (to Congress ?).

You know, one of the things that we've got to do is put a legal architecture in place, and we need congressional help to do that to make sure that not only am I reined in, but any president's reined in in terms of some of the decisions that we're making.

Now, there are some tough tradeoffs. I mean, there are times where there are bad folks somewhere on the other side of the world and you've got to make a call, and it's not optimal. But when you look at our track record, what we've been able to do is to say we ended the war in Iraq, we're winding down the war in Afghanistan, we've gone after al-Qaida and its leadership. It's true that al-Qaida is still active, at least sort of remnants of it are staging in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East. And sometimes you've got to make some tough calls.

But you can do so in a way that's consistent with international law and with American law.

Stewart: Within that, as it ratchets down, I think people have been surprised to see the strength of the Bush-era warrantless wiretapping laws and those types of things not also be lessened. That the strictures that he put in place that people might have thought were government overreach and that, and that maybe they had a mind that you would perhaps tone down, you haven't.

The President: Well, you know, the truth is actually we have modified them and built a legal structure and safeguards in place that weren't there before on a whole range of issues. Now, they're not real sexy issues. They're not the kinds of things that you're going to — you —

Stewart: You don't know what I find sexy.

The President: Let me put it this way. I saw you flash that "Shades of Grey" thing, so I know what you've been reading.

Stewart: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

The President: We're not going to go there.

Stewart: I appreciate that.

The President: I'm still the president.

Stewart: No, I understand that. I understand. I respect the position.

The second thing — and this one I thought — and in the debate, it was obviously a big moment. Governor Romney said, you never called what happened in Benghazi a terrorist attack, you said, check the transcripts. Candy Crowley said, he did call it that, but also said to the larger point there was confusion within the administration over what happened. Why? What was it that caused that confusion?

The President: Well, we weren't confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed.

Stewart: Sure.

The President: I wasn't confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened. I wasn't confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed. And I wasn't confused about the fact that we're going to hunt down whoever did it —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — and bring them to justice. So as I said during the debate, nobody's more interested in figuring this out than I am. When a tragic event like this happens on the other side of the world —

Stewart: Right.

The President: — immediately, a whole bunch of intelligence starts coming in, people try to piece together exactly what happened.

Stewart: Right.

The President: And what I have always tried to do is to make sure that we just get all the facts, figure out what went wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again. And we're still in that process now.

But everything that — every piece of information that we get, as we got it, we laid it out for the American people. And the picture, you know, eventually gets fully filled in and we know exactly what happens. And then we know how — we make sure we prevent it in the future.

Stewart: The difficulty, the perceptions seem to be that state was on a different page than you, or that you had Susan Rice five days afterwards saying on shows, well, this video and could have been a part of that and then other people were coming out —

The President: John, you know, the truth is is that information comes in, folks put it out. Throughout the process, people say it's still incomplete. What I was always clear about was we're going to do an investigation and figure out exactly what happened. And —

Stewart: Is part of the investigation helping the communication between these divisions of — not just what happened in Benghazi, but what happened within? But I don't know. I would say even you would admit, it was not the optimal response, at least to the American people, as far as us all being on the same page.

The President: Well, here's what I'll say. If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal.

Stewart: Right.

The President: And we're going to fix it.

Stewart: Right. All of it.

The President: All of it. And what happens during the course of a presidency is that, you know, the government is a big operation. At any given time, something screws up, and you make sure that you find out what's broken and you fix it. And you know, whatever else, you know, I have done throughout the course of my presidency, the one thing that I've been absolutely clear about is America's security comes first and the American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, national security and protecting Americans. And they will continue to get that over the next four years of my presidency.

Stewart: All right, so last question.

The President: Last question.

Stewart: This is the last question. We have been speaking now for, I think, a good 12 to 14 minutes. And I am curious, how many emails during that time do you think your campaign has sent me?

The President: It depends on — [inaudible]. But here's what I will say to everybody who's watching. The stakes on this could not be bigger. War, peace, Supreme Court, women's right to choose, you know, whether we're creating jobs in this country or whether they're getting shipped overseas, whether our kids are getting the best education they can, all that stuff is at stake. And you know, there is no excuse not to vote.

Stewart: That is for sure.

The President: So make sure to vote. Head to the polls. And I hope you vote for me!

Stewart: With President Barack Obama.

The President: Thank you.

Barack Obama, Interview with Jon Stewart of Comedy Central's The Daily Show Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Simple Search of Our Archives