MSNBC "GREGORY LIVE" TELEPHONE INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR BARACK OBAMA (D-IL) INTERVIEWER: DAVID GREGORY
SUBJECT: TROOP SURGE
MR. GREGORY: It is six minutes after the hour. Coming up a little bit later, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock from Cannes, France.
But we're very pleased right now to have Senator Barack Obama, candidate for president of the United States and the senator from Illinois, joining us by phone.
Senator Obama, good morning.
SEN. OBAMA: David, I'm a poor substitute for Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld from Cannes.
MR. GREGORY: Well, I think you might have some good material here this morning. You never know. You new know how this might go. I want to ask them about you actually and see, you know, see if they've got some good material.
SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) Absolutely.
MR. GREGORY: (Laughs.) How are you doing?
SEN. OBAMA: I'm doing fine, thanks.
MR. GREGORY: How's the campaign trail?
SEN. OBAMA: The campaign is just wonderful. We are traveling all across the country and have been getting a terrific response. I haven't been home enough, so I'm missing my kids, but other than that it's been great.
MR. GREGORY: Where are you in this campaign right now? I mean, you've had great media attention, great enthusiasm and crowds and people showering you with money. And yet at the same time, do you feel like you're riding this wave as a phenomenon, that there's a pivot point that you've got to take now, that people expect you to make a pivot?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, look, I think there's no doubt that after a huge surge of excitement, you know, we're now into the heart of the campaign where you have to grind it out a little bit. And I think that people seem to be very responsive to the broader themes of my campaign. I think they believe that we need to bring the country together and get past some of the traditional divisions. I think they believe that we have to aspire to a higher vision of where America can be and recognize that we've got a series of challenges on health care and energy and foreign policy that can't be put aside. We've got to address them now. I think that what people are going to be examining, though, is since I am new on the national scene, I think they'll look more closely at my policy proposals. They want to open the hood and kick the tires. You know, they want to have confidence that I can perform effectively as president and commander in chief. And so there's going to be a vetting process that takes place over the next several months. And that's something that I'm looking forward to, because I think that, you know, this is a pretty important job that we're applying for. And the American people have the right to really get a detailed knowledge of what we intend to do with the office.
MR. GREGORY: Let me ask you about the war in Iraq and your support, as I understand it, of a bill that failed in the Senate to cut off funding for the war by March 31st of next year. If you think that kind of step is necessary, then why not take it now? Where's the urgency?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, keep in mind that I am somebody who's opposed this war from the start. Six months before the president launched it I said this would be a mistake, and I've been consistent in that opposition. My view has always been that we need to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in, that we have responsibilities to our troops as well as national security interests in the region. And so what I did is in January I introduced a bill that said we would begin a phased redeployment out of Iraq starting last week, the first of May, and would have our combat troops out by March 31st of next year. The Democrats in the House and the Senate passed a very similar bill. That's the bill that the president vetoed. And so we are now at an impasse where it's important I think to build additional support for that responsible end to our combat engagement in Iraq. The vote that we had this week was largely symbolic, because nobody anticipated that we would have the votes. But I thought it was important to send a signal to the president that we are not going to be there in perpetuity. And if I'm given a choice between continuing on the same disastrous path that we're on right now and bringing this war to an abrupt end, I'll be forced to choose the latter. But my preference would be that we can put together a bipartisan consensus that starts bringing our troops home but also says to the Iraqi people we want to be a partner with you in stabilizing the country, but we can't do it militarily. You're going to have to arrive at some political accommodations.
MR. GREGORY: Eleven minutes after the hour. We're talking to Senator Barack Obama.
Bill Clinton has been interviewed the last couple of days about his global warming initiative. And one of the things he said last night is that there really isn't any difference between you and Senator Clinton in terms of your voting records on Iraq. Do you think that's about right?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, I suppose that's true if you leave out the fact that she authorized it and supported it, and I said it was a bad idea. You know, that's a fairly major difference.
MR. GREGORY: And to you, I gather, this becomes a fundamental question of judgment, does it not?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, it does. I mean, I think very highly of Senator Clinton. I think she's a wonderful senator from New York. And I think very highly of Bill Clinton. But I think that it is fair to say that we had a fundamentally different opinion on the wisdom of this war, and I don't think, you know, we can revise history when it comes to that.
MR. GREGORY: Is it your feeling that it is part of the rationale for your candidacy that as prepared and proficient and as much of a force as Senator Clinton is that when you think about Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton, when people go into that voting booth, they're just going to pause and say, do we want all of this again?
SEN. OBAMA: No. Look, I'm not running against Senator Clinton. You know, we're all on the same team. We're just trying out for quarterback.
MR. GREGORY: Well, nobody's really going to believe you're not running against Senator Clinton, Senator.
SEN. OBAMA: Well, no, no, what I'm saying, David, is that my understanding at least is that there are a number of other pretty capable candidates out there who are all running. And you know, all of them bring strengths and all of them have some weaknesses, and that includes myself.
The rationale for me running is because I think I have the potential -- it's not a certainty but there's a potential -- of being able to bring new people into the process, reach beyond some of the ideological divisions that we've had over the last several years and maybe shape a consensus to actually move the country forward rather than just win an election. And that's something that, you know, I'm very interested in doing. On an issue like health care, for example, we're going to need 60 percent of the country to agree to something to actually get it done. And I think that I may be able to get more people moving in the same direction than some of my competitors, and that's the reason I'm running.
MR. GREGORY: Senator, we've been talking a little bit this morning about, you know, I'm staying here in New York, and I was supposed to get a wake-up call at 3:45 a.m. and I got it at three, and it really kind of threw me. It kind of irritated me this morning. And I know that's important. But I'm just wondering, you know, you are out there traveling the country. And you know, your wife, Michelle, speaks rather, you know, candidly about you and about herself and about the family. So you know, are you high maintenance at all when you go around the country? Is there anything that really kind of irritates you on the campaign trail?
SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) Well, I'm not a morning guy, so it's a testimony to your persuasiveness that I'm on this early in the morning.
MR. GREGORY: Well, I do appreciate that.
SEN. OBAMA: Look, the thing that is tough is your kids. I mean, I've got two daughters -- eight and five -- and you know, I don't see them enough. And I grumble to my staff when I'm not touching base at home. Now, the summer's coming up which means they're going to be able to do a little traveling with us. But you know, that's a very difficult thing. And you know, I think that anybody who decides to do this has to feel that they've got something to offer, because the sacrifices, with respect to family life, are very great.
MR. GREGORY: But you might grumble a little bit if you don't get a daily phone call with them.
SEN. OBAMA: Oh, well, I always get the phone call no matter what. Now, they don't always pay me as much attention as I want, you know. They're having fun and on a play date and doing stuff. So sometimes I, you know, just get the executive summary of their day. They said everything's fine, do you want to talk to mommy?
LESLIE GOLD: David, could I jump in and ask the senator --
MR. GREGORY: Leslie Gold is here as well.
Yeah, go ahead, Leslie, real quick.
MS. GOLD: Senator Obama, I have a question for you.
SEN. OBAMA: Go ahead.
MS. GOLD: You mentioned that you were new on the national scene. And I learned about you for the first time as just, you know, a regular layman voter when you appeared on "Oprah."
SEN. OBAMA: There you go.
MS. GOLD: Right. And I wonder how important the "Oprah" factor is for you or was in increasing your recognition and broadening your appeal. And would you ever consider making her your running mate?
SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) I think Oprah is far more powerful than a vice president. I think that would be a demotion for her. You know, she's a terrific friend. You know, we've gotten to know each other over the last couple of years. I'm very proud that she's supporting my campaign. I don't think that there's any single individual or factor that's going to make a difference in this campaign because, you know, the job's so important. And I think that the country understands we're at a critical moment in history. So you know, they may like me a lot as a consequence of me appearing on "Oprah," but they're not going to like me president just for that. They're going to like me president because they think I can do something about the health care crisis, that I'm going to have an agenda for energy, that I can make us more safe and secure in the world. Those are going to be the reasons that people make a decision to vote for me.
MR. GREGORY: Seventeen minutes after the hour. We're talking to Senator Barack Obama. And I know you have to go, Senator. I do want to end on this, though, because it's been a story over the past couple of weeks, the fact that you did get Secret Service protection after it appeared like there were some specific threats. It is unusual on the campaign trail at this stage for that to happen. Are these race-based threats that you're dealing with? Is there a uniqueness to what you're facing on the campaign trail?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I don't want to go into the details of it. Sure, there are race-based threats that take place. They tend to be general, you know, and it's just sort of par for the course. I think that, you know, security is a concern for any candidate who's running for president. I'm grateful that Secret Service has been provided. It is probably the hardest thing for me to get used to of anything that I've done so far during the course of the campaign just because I'm not a big entourage guy. And you know, when you've got a bunch of folks hovering around you and you can't just jump in the car and go to the grocery store to pick up, you know, some stuff for your wife then that's a profound change. But it's part of the process. It's something that I'm getting adjusted to. And I'm certainly glad that these guys are around, because they're very professional. They do a terrific job.
MR. GREGORY: On a slightly lighter note here, when you're out on the campaign trail, you mentioned you're not a big entourage guy. Do you like "The Sopranos" at all? Have you been watching that?
SEN. OBAMA: You know, I --
MR. GREGORY: (Laughs.) I know that's not what you were meaning to talk about.
SEN. OBAMA: I can't wait for the last three episodes.
MR. GREGORY: Really?
SEN. OBAMA: And the nice thing about "The Sopranos" and "Entourage" is they keep on replaying it all through the week. You know, I'm never in one place at any given time, but usually, you know, I'm hopefully back in a hotel room by 10:00 or 11:00 and, you know, if I have a chance to catch these last three episodes I'm looking forward to it.
MR. GREGORY: You know, the other thing that you might think about if you already haven't -- I do this with my Mac -- you know, with my laptop -- and I've got the little camera in there, and I actually videoconference with the kids at home.
SEN. OBAMA: Just bought one. David, we just bought one because the technology is so terrific, and it's so easy to set up. So that's something that I'm really looking forward to implementing.
MR. GREGORY: Because I know the kids don't really get to see you on TV very much so that would be kind of an upside for them.
SEN. OBAMA: (Laughs.) Well, you know what? I have not made an appearance on Nickelodeon yet.
MR. GREGORY: (Laughs.) You're right, so you are nobody.
SEN. OBAMA: At some point (they'll maybe have me ?).
MR. GREGORY: Senator, I don't want to take too much of your time, because I want to interview you at other times in the future, and I really appreciate you getting up.
SEN. OBAMA: Thank you so much. Take care.
MR. GREGORY: All right. Senator Barack Obama -- 20 minutes after the hour.