Barack Obama photo

Interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC

October 29, 2012

Brzezinski: Why has it been so easy for critics to say the administration does not have its story straight on Benghazi?

The President. Well, look, the fact of the matter is that this is a tragedy. There's all kinds of legitimate questions to ask because anytime a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans who were serving our country get killed, we have to figure out what happened, and fix it. And most importantly, we've got to bring those folks who carried that out to justice. That's exactly what we're going to do. But I do take offense, as I've said at one of the debates, with some suggestion that in any way, we haven't tried to make sure that the American people knew, as information was coming in what we believed happened. And-

Scarborough: Was it the intel community that gave you bad information early on?

The President. That-that

Scarborough: Because the story keeps changing.

The President. Well, that's what we're going to find out from the investigation. But the truth is that across the board, when this happened, my number 1 priority was, secure Americans, figure out what happened, bring those folks to justice. We are in the process of doing that right now. Congress has been getting the flow of information continuously from day 1. And what my attitude on this is, if we find out we that there was a big breakdown, and somebody didn't do their job, they'll be held accountable. Ultimately, as commander-in-chief, I'm responsible, and I don't shy away from that responsibility. My number 1 responsibility is to go after the folks who did this, and we're going to make sure we get them. I've got a pretty good track record of doing that.

Scarborough: So, how do you feel? It's like - you got to be excited.

The President. I'm excited.

Scarborough: But at the same time, it's like Dr. J, when he went around, you only have 9 more days to do this.

The President. Well, we are going to be campaigning as hard as we can. One of the things that happens at this point is - it's just kinetic energy. You're just running, and you just want to make sure that your voters are enthusiastic, that you're getting your message out in a clear and concise way.

Scarborough: Right.

The President. And...

Scarborough: Why did you look at me when you said "concise?"

The President: Because Mika [chuckles]

Scarborough: [chuckles] because Mika, exactly...

Brzezinski: Because some people accuse the President of maybe not being clear enough about the next four years. I don't know who would do that.

Scarborough: Not me.

The President. Well, but it's also, you know - in rallies like this, at this point, what people just want to know is not every point on every plan. What they want to know what's the vision that you've got for the country, and the good news is, I'm feeling very optimistic about the next four years. I think the country is bouncing back, as we always do from tough times.

Scarborough: Right.

The President. I want to make sure that I lead over these next four years.

Scarborough: But, this is though. When I say that this is like Dr. J, you know. He went around last year, and it's bittersweet.

The President. It is.

Scarborough: This has to be bittersweet for you. 'Cause I saw you out there, and I thought, Oh my god. This guy is not going to be doing this again, after and then, you're going to have to be like Bill Clinton and find other people to campaign... [laughs]

The President. It is true.

Scarborough: It has to be bittersweet for you.

The President. Well, you get a little nostalgic. I mean, you start thinking about your first campaign. I was thinking about my first campaign, when I was running for state senate.

Scarborough: Right.

The President. We had like four volunteers around the kitchen table, designing our own flier, taking it over to Kinko's, you know? And now, I'm not going to be doing this much longer. And you know, the nice thing is though, the energy, the crowds that we've seen, makes me feel as if we're running this campaign in the right way. We're ending strong, and I think we're going to do well.

Brzezinski: So, let's talk about the next 4 years, and try and get specific as possible. What is- How would you define your mandate for the next four years? And what is ? I'd like to know the sacrifice that will not be asked of just the 1% but of the 99% as well?

The President. Well, there's no doubt that our first order of business is going to be to get our deficits and debt under control. And the good thing is that there's a forcing mechanism. You know, the Bush tax cuts end at the end of the year. We know that we've got the sequester looming. That wouldn't be the right way to do things, that's taking a machete to something, as opposed to a scalpel, and after the election, I think that both Democrats and Republicans have to step back and say, "You know what, this is something that the country wants to solve." If I've won, then I believe that's a mandate for doing it in a balanced way. We've already made a trillion dollars worth of cuts. We can do some more cuts. We can look at how we deal with the health care costs in particular under Medicaid and Medicare in a serious way, but we are also going to need some revenue. If we get that piece done, and we kind of settle on the big question, how much government are we going to have, and how are we going to pay for it? Then, a lot of the other stuff falls into place.

Scarborough: Can you get Medicare done? Because...

The President. I think we can.

Scarborough: Because Republicans demagogue it. Democrats demagogue it. Everyone's demagogued it through the years. Can you go to the Republicans, and say, "Guys, wait a minute, we got to do this together?"

The President. Well, look, here's what we can do. I mean, look, I'm on record. I think turning it into a voucher, premium support is a bad idea. I do think though that anybody realistically looks at it and says, you know, if we're spending 17% of our GDP on health care, and every other country is spending 11%, and their outcomes are better, that difference is 6%, that's our deficit and our debt, and so, let's find good ideas. Now, I stole a whole bunch of ideas from a Massachusetts governor that I think over time is going to save us money, and you know, part-the $716 billion dollars that Governor Romney suggests that I stole from Medicare is actually money that we are saving in the system, and extending the life of Medicare, so I think there are ways that we can do this in a creative way, but if we get that piece done, then, immigration reform, I think is there to get done. And I think your side is going to need to get it done because you can't continue to alienate the fastest growing segment of the country, and it's the right thing to do. I think that infrastructure, Joe, when you were in Congress, since when did roads and bridges become Democratic issues? Those have been historically Democratic and Republican issues.

Scarborough: A guy named Ike kind of liked infrastructure, didn't he?

The President. But the thing is, we got a whole bunch of deferred maintenance. Interest rates are low. Contractors are begging for work ? Putting folks back to work right now as part of an overall package, This has also got long term deficit reduction, can jumpstart the economy, at the same time that housing is starting to recover. And the education agenda that I've got is one that even Jeb Bush has occasionally complimented, because you know, we have said, you can't just give more money into a system without reforming it, and there's got to be a lot more accountability.

So, there are a whole range of issues, I think where we can actually bring the country together, with a non-ideological agenda, the question's going to be: How do Republicans react in Congress post-election? Because there's going to be a war going on inside that party. It just hasn't broken out. It's been unified, in opposition to me.

Scarborough: So, let's say you win.

The President. Yeah.

Scarborough: Boehner still is Speaker, and the House goes either Democratic or Republican by 1. You're still in the same situation in the next four years, you were in the last four years. So, what's going to make the difference. We've talked about this to you, one-on-one before, what makes the difference over the next 4 years? What is there for Americans to hope and believe that Republicans and Democrats can work together?

The President: I truly believe that if we can get the deficit and debt issue solved, which I believe we can get done, you know, in the lame duck, or in the immediate aftermath, of the lame duck, then that clears away a lot of the ideological underbrush. And then, you know, now, we can start looking at a whole bunch of other issues, as I've said has historically not been that ideological.

Let's take an example. You know, Republicans say that I've over-regulated. Now, the truth is, I put out fewer regulations than George Bush did. Some were significant. Obviously, Dodd-Frank, welfare reform, Wall Street reform is a big example of that. But I have actually initiated a whole process to look back at all the old regulations to see, are there ones that don't work? That should be a project Republicans are happy to work with me on, because you know, if we're going to streamline government, we're going to do it smartly.

I've said I want to consolidate a whole bunch of government agencies. We should have one Secretary of Business, instead of nine different departments that are dealing with things like getting loans to SBA or helping companies with exports. There should be a one-stop shop. Now, the reason we haven't done that is not because of some big ideological difference. It has something to do with Congress talking a good game about streamlining government, but protective about giving up their jurisdiction over various pieces of government. So, there are going to be a whole things of government that I think we can work on, the first thing though is, let's go ahead and get settled, how big a government, how do we pay for it?

If we solve that problem, and I think we can solve it, and we have to solve it, then, I think we'll be in a position to make some progress in the last four...

Barack Obama, Interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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