Barack Obama photo

Interview with Matt Lauer of NBC News

February 05, 2012

LAUER: I'm here in the Blue Room at the White House with the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. Mr. President, happy Superbowl Sunday.

THE PRESIDENT: It is great to see you again, Matt. Once again uh, we're the only guys wearing coats, you're wearing a tie.

LAUER: Exactly, exactly. Everybody else is drinking beer and eating chips. It's a good matchup, today. I know your Bears aren't here. Do you like the matchup?

THE PRESIDENT: It is gonna be a great game. You know, what the Giants have done, coming back from a tough situation in the middle of the season has been pretty remarkable and Belicheck and Brady they're always tough. So it's gonna be a close game.

LAUER: Who do you like?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I can't call it. I think this is gonna be one of those where it comes down to a turnover or some ball on somebody's helmet. . .

LAUER: Come on, come on. Three years ago I sat right here, it was Pittsburgh vs Arizona, you went right out on a limb and said the Steelers would win. Why this year is it different?

THE PRESIDENT: I, I think this is gonna be a tough game. Both teams have have their weaknesses. They're not as strong as they were uh I think,a couple of years ago. When you look at the Patriots, their defense is a little shaky. Uh, the Giants have just come back. So I can't, I can't tell you who's gonna win this one.

LAUER: Little history for you. OK, 2004 when the Patriots were in it, they won it. George Bush went on to become president of the United States. 2008, the Patriots were in it, they lost it to the Giants, a guy named Barack Obama went on to become President, so who do you do you want to win this year?

THE PRESIDENT: You're not gonna get me. You're not gonna get me. I'm gonna look for a great game.

LAUER: What about the ladies in the Obama household, do they feel about Tom Brady the same way ladies all around the country feel about this guy?

THE PRESIDENT: I think they know he's a good lookin guy, there's no doubt about it.

LAUER: Is there perhaps a poster of Tom Brady somewhere in the East Wing?

THE PRESIDENT: You know they haven't. . the girls 13, 10; they're not quite of the age yet where they start to uh putting up the pictures of guys yet. Uh,

LAUER: Justin Bieber maybe.

THE PRESIDENT: When that happens, I will uh, I, I may, you know, call some executive privileges and say that's not appropriate.

LAUER: Let's change subjects a little bit because there are a lot of other headlines I'd like to ask you about, one in particular seems to be building tension between Israel and Iran. It seems now the Israeli's are signaling that they may act and conduct a strike inside Iran at their nuclear sites, sooner than later. Do they have your full support for that raid?

THE PRESIDENT: I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do. I think they, like us, believe that Iran has to stand down on its nuclear weapons program. And we have mobilized the international community in a way that is unprecedented. And they're feeling the pinch. They're feeling the pressure, but they have not taken the step that they need to, diplomatically, which is to say, "We will pursue peaceful nuclear power. We will not pursue a nuclear weapon." Until they do, I think Israel rightly is going to be uh very concerned, and we are as well.

LAUER: Has Israel promised you that they would give you advanced warning to any such attack should they give you that warning?

THE PRESIDENT: You know I won't go into the details of our conversations. I will say that we have closer military and intelligence consultation between our two countries than we ever have. And my number one priority continues to be the security of the United States but also the security of Israel. And we are gonna make sure that we work in lock step, as we proceed to try to solve this, hopefully diplomatically.

LAUER: When you talk about the security of the United States, Iran has had a long time to contemplate how they might respond to such an attack. Do you fear that they will wage attacks within the United States on American soil?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, we don't see any evidence that they have those intentions or capabilities right now. And again, our goal is to resolve this issue diplomatically, that would be preferable. But we're not going to take any options off the table, though. Obviously any kind of uh additional uh military activity inside the Gulf is disruptive and has a big effect on us. It could have a bit effect on oil prices. We've still got troops in Afghanistan, which borders Iran. And so our preferred solution here is diplomatic. We're going to keep on pushing on that front, but we're not gonna take any options off the table. And I've been very clear, that we're gonna do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating an arms race, a nuclear arm race, in a volatile region.

LAUER: Three years ago we sat for this interview on Superbowl Sunday. You had been president for just 10 days, and we talked about the state of the economy which was in dire straits, and you said this to me, quote "if I don't have this done in three years, then it's going to be a one-term proposition. You got good news on Friday in terms of jobs. The unemployment rate went down to 8.3%. But I think if you go out on the street and you ask average Americans is the recovery done, overwhelmingly they will tell you it is not. So do you deserve a second term?

THE PRESIDENT: I deserve a second term, but we're not done. Look, when you and I sat down, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. In fact we had found out just a few days before we sat down that we'd lost, that month, 750,000 jobs. Now we're creating 250,000. We've created 3.7 million jobs over the last 23 months. We've created the most jobs since 2005, the most manufacturing jobs since 1990, but we're not finished. And we've got to not only boost up American manufacturing, so that not just the auto industry but all American manufacturing is building again and selling overseas. We've got to make sure that we're pushing American energy. And that includes not just oil and gas but clean energy. We've got to make sure that the skills of American workers are the best in the world, and we're making progress on that front. And we've got to return to old-fashioned American values--everybody getting a fair shot, everybody doing their fair share, everybody playin by the same rules. And that means, for example, regulations to make sure that Wall Street is followin the same rules that Main Street is doin. But we've made progress, and the key right now is just to make sure we don't start turning in a new direction that could throw that progress off.

LAUER: We've got a lot more to talk about. You've been kind enough to say that we can stick around here and we'll tape something that people will see tomorrow morning on the Today Show. Mr. President, enjoy the game. Thanks very much.

THE PRESIDENT: I hope everybody has a great Super Bowl. It's gonna be a great game.

LAUER: All right. We're going to be back with the countdown to SuperBowl 46 from Indianapolis right after this.

. . .

LAUER: I asked the President if he was satisfied with Iran and the Intelligence on their nuclear ambitions.

THE PRESIDENT: I think we have a very good estimate of when they could potentially achieve breakout capacity, what stage they're at in terms of processing uranium. But do we know all the dynamics inside of Iran? Absolutely not. And I think that one of the difficulties is is that Iran is a lot more divided now than it was. Knowing who is making decisions at any given time inside Iran is tough, but we do have a pretty good bead on what's happening with the nuclear program.

LAUER: One of the things we do know, I would imagine, is that they are conducting a lot of this research and development far underground. And I understand the United States is in the process of developing the next generation of bunkerbusting bombs that can go far beneath the surface and take a site like that out. Will those bombs be ready in time? Would you use them, unilaterally, against those sites.

THE PRESIDENT: Matt, I'm not going to discuss specific military programs or go into details in terms of what our planning is. I will say this, that uh, we have done extensive planning over the last several years about all our various options uh in the Gulf, and, uh, we are prepared to exercise these options should they, should the need arise. But, my goal is to try to resolve this diplomatically mainly because the only way over the long term we can assure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon is by getting them to understand it is not in their interest.

LAUER: Let's talk about domestic politics. Mitt Romney is a guy who's running for your job. He may eventually become the nominee. He's a guy who's been incredibly successful in his life and career. He's made a lot of money. It's not a crime. It's part of the American dream.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

LAUER: Do you think, though, that Mitt Romney can identify with the middle class and the underclass in this country?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I'm not going to comment on any particular candidate until they decide who it is. . .the Republicans decide who their nominee's gonna be. I think most people are thinking the election's nine months away — the last thing we need is to start it right now when the other side hasn't determined its nominee. But I do think the vast majority of the American people understand, (a) we want everybody to be successful, and nobody begrudges people who've been successful because they're making things, creating new products, new services. That's the American way. But, what people also wanna see is that everybody is doin their fair share; we're all pulling together. That we're creating ladders of opportunity for all Americans. Whoever the Republican nominee is, I fundamentally disagree with a formula that would go back to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place.

LAUER: This idea, this idea of being able to reach out and connect to the middle class and having the middle class reach out to a political candidate.


LAUER: On Friday you held a fundraiser.


LAUER: You raised $900,000 in a couple of hours, I think. Twenty-five wealth individuals paid $36,000 apiece to spend a couple of hours with you.


LAUER: How do you think the guy sitting drinking a beer and eating chips watching the game today can identify with something like that?

THE PRESIDENT: Right. Well I think, Matt, if you uh if you noticed uh about a month and a half ago I also had lunch with five folks who had given 25 bucks each who were part of this huge base of supporters we have all across this country. And it's precisely because we've been able to create a grassroots movement that I was successful in 2008 and I, uh, I think we'll be successful this time. Now if you ask me would I love to take some of the big money out of politics, I would. Unfortunately, right now, partly because of Supreme Court rulings and a bunch of decisions out there, it is very hard to be able to get your message out without some resources.

LAUER: : Maybe the better question is how will you spend the money. And by all accounts you've raised a lot of money for this campaign, some people say up to a billion dollars. We've just seen in Florida on the Republican side a lot of money spent, about 100 percent of it spent on extremely negative personal ads. If you raise a billion dollars to keep this job, can we expect the same kind of negativity coming from that money?

THE PRESIDENT: What I can tell you is that in 2008, part of the reason that we were successful is that we ran an affirmative campaign about my vision for where Am. . the United States should go. And I think what American s want to hear more than anything else is how are you gonna help me right now? If they're hearing a persuasive argument, about how we are gonna recreate a solid path for middle-class success in this country, then I think I'll win regardless of the negative ads coming out.

LAUER: : And to that end, now this may sound like a little bit Pollyanna, Mr. President,


LAUER: But when the Republican nominee is chosen would you agree to meeting with that person, whether it's Governor Romney or Speaker Gingrich, or whoever, and getting together with that person and talking about how the two of you plan to conduct yourselves over the course of this campaign. I think the American people would like that. Would you agree to that?

THE PRESIDENT: You, you know, I think that uh you'll be able to see how we conduct ourselves in the campaign. I think it will be consistent with how I conducted myself in 2008 and hopefully how I've conducted myself as president of the United States. I, uh, one of the worries we have obviously in the next campaign, is that there are so many of these so-called super-pacs, these independent expenditures that are going to be out there, uh, there's going to be just a lot of money floating around. And I guarantee you a bunch of that's going to be negative. But it's not gonna be enough just to say the other guy's a bum. You've got to explain to the American people what your plan is to make sure that there are good jobs at good wages and that this economy is growing over the long term. Whoever wins that argument I think is going to be the next president.

LAUER: Which leads me well into this next question because I have talked to so many people over the last couple years, President Obama, who were huge supporters of yours back in 2008. And today they are not sure. I hear more and more that they're disappointed in you. That you aren't the transformational political figure that they hoped you would be. How does that make you feel when you hear that?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh I, you know I think this is the nature of being President. What's frustrated people is is that I have not been able to force Congress to implement every aspect of what I uh said in 2008. Well, it turns out uh that our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes. But what we have been able to do is move in the right direction. And what I'm going to just keep on doing is plodding away, very persistent. And, you know what? Uh, one of the things about being President is you get better as time goes on.

LAUER: Why though should a voter look and say, look he wasn't able to fix Washington, which is a big job for any one man. Perhaps there's more gridlock and more divisiveness in Washington now than there ever has been in the past. Why will he be able to do it in the next four years, and if he can't do it, isn't nothing going to get done?

THE PRESIDENT: Even with a bunch of uh obstruction over uh on, uh, Capitol Hill, we've been able to save an auto industry. We've been able to take 750,000 jobs being lost a month and move it so that it's 250,000 jobs being created this month. We've been able to make sure that we ended uh the War in Iraq on schedule. We've been able to make sure that we ended policies like "don't ask, don't tell." So we've been able to get a lot done. Not as fast as we want. Sometimes it's messy; the process is frustrating. I do think that this is going to be a critical election because uh, having yanked ourselves out of the risk of a great depression; having stabilized the economy; we now have a broader question which is how do we take it to the next level. And I think whoever comes in, both in Congress and in this White House, is going to have to uh take a strong message from the American people about which direction to go. And I think that will allow us to make more progress over the next couple of years.

[Why hasn't the Administration done more to stop the violence in Syria like they did in Libya?]

THE PRESIDENT: I said at the time with respect to Libya that we would be making these decisions uh on a case-by-case basis based on how unified the international community was, what our capacities were. Uh, but we have been relentless in sending a message that is time for Assad to go, that the kind of violence that we've seen exercised against his own people over this weekend and over the past several months, is inexcusable. But uh not every situation is going to allow for the kind of military solution that we saw . . .

LAUER: But would you consider military action with our allies without UN approval, especially considering that China and Russia vetoed this latest resolution at the UN?

THE PRESIDENT: It is important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention and I think that's possible. My sense is you are seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter and the Assad regime is feeling the noose tightening around them. We're gonna just continue to put more and more pressure until hopefully we see a transition. This is not going to be a matter of if; it's going to be a matter of when.

LAUER: Here we sit on Super Bowl Sunday. There's the cover of the New Yorker, the most recent New Yorker, and it has a picture of you watching the big game on TV. And there you are sitting there and up on screen it's not the Patriots and the Giants. It's Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, same team, and they are pummeling each other. And look at the smile on your face there. Is art imitating life here?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, uh, look, I've been through these primaries, they're tough. You know, I think...

LAUER: But does this help you?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think ultimately this will be forgotten by the time they make a decision on who their nominee is. And the American people are going to make a decision on my platform and where I want to take the country and where the Republican does. A lot of this stuff is good for selling newspapers and boosting ratings on TV, but I think in the end what they're going to be asking a question about is not the horse race. They're going to be asking, "How is this going to help me in my life?"

LAUER: And finally on a personal note, Mrs. Obama gave an interview recently reacting to something that was written about her in a recent book, where she said that, you know, the image that has been out there since you decided to run for president was she was some kind of angry black woman. And she said, "That's not me. And the way to fight it is just go out there and be me and hopefully people will judge me based on me.


LAUER: Taking the fact that you're the president out of it, as a husband, how does it make you feel when she's forced to address something that's clearly a characterization that upsets her?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, uh, as a husband, one of the things – and a father, one of the things that is toughest for me is that my family gets brought into the political realm, which isn't always very pleasant. And, you know, that weighs on me. Having said that, Michelle has been as good a first lady as I think anybody can imagine. And, when I watch her making a difference all across the country in terms of changing how kids are getting exercise and eating, and the passion she brings to the military families, uh I could not be prouder of her. I, I think she had some reservations about taking on this whole process going on this journey at the beginning of it and she's admitted that. She's talked about it. She's turned out to be really good, so-

LAUER: Is she ready for four more years?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think she is. Because she thinks, uh, that the work is really important. And I think even those folks who wish that I was doing more of this or more of that or questioning me on these policies or those policies, when you ask them about Michelle Obama, they give her a thumbs-up, and rightfully so.

LAUER: That is President Barack Obama.

Barack Obama, Interview with Matt Lauer of NBC News Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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