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CBS Interview - Transcript


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CBS Interview - Transcript


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MS. COURIC: President Obama had hoped to focus today on his economic stimulus package. He invited a handful of journalists to the White House to talk about that, but it was all overshadowed by the Daschle story, and as I interviewed the president, he was clearly distressed about what happened.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It's frustrating for me, and it's something that I take responsibility for. Tom, I think, is an outstanding individual. I'm absolutely convinced that he would have been the best person to help shepherd through what's going to be a very difficult process to get health care for American families, but I don't want my administration to be sending a message that there are two sets of rules, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes every day.

I think I messed up. I screwed up in not recognizing the perception that even though this is an honest mistake I believe on Tom's part, that, you know, ordinary people out there are paying taxes every day and whether it's an intentional mistake or not, it was sending the wrong signal.

MS. COURIC: Meanwhile, a former lobbyist for the defense contracting firm Raytheon is slated to be the number two person at the Pentagon. During the course of the campaign, you spoke passionately about ethics reform and against lobbyists.


MS. COURIC: So what happened? It gives people the impression that you talk the talk during the campaign, but now you're in office and you're not walking the walk.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: On this one, I think, I'll disagree. We've got the highest lobbyist standards in terms of former lobbyists or people who want to influence the government, being involved in our administration, the highest standard that's ever been set up and I'm appointing thousands of people. Now, what I said in appointing to Mr. Lynn was that this, along with maybe a handful, maybe three or four positions, may end up being so unique that we are going to make an exception. That doesn't obviate the fact that we are setting a standard that no other president has ever met and it's the right standard.

MS. COURIC: Let's talk about the stimulus package, which I think is what you really wanted to focus on today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right. Well, this is the problem when you make these self-inflicted wounds; you end up being distracted from really the peoples' business.

MS. COURIC: You met last night here at the White House with the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate and word has it you were pretty blunt with them. What did you tell them?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here's what I said. We have to act and we have to act now. If you look at the overarching package, its got no earmarks in it. Most of the money is either going directly to families in the form of unemployment insurance or making sure that they've got health insurance if they've lost their job or its designed to spark the economy by creating jobs.

So, you know, what has happened and this is what tends to happen in this town is people have plucked out this program or that program that doesn't look particularly stimulative, the contraceptives issue being a primary example. If you add all that stuff up, it accounts for less than one percent of the overall package.

Now, that doesn't mean that the package can't be improved and that's what I said to the leadership last night. Let's improve it and let's make this a package that is big enough for the moment.

MS. COURIC: Let me mention some of the spending in this package, $6.2 billion for home weatherization, $100 million for children to learn green construction, $50 million for port modernization, water and wastewater infrastructure needs in Guam, $50 million for the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts. Even if some of these are a legitimate use of taxpayer dollars, Mr. President, why are they included in this bill designed to jumpstart the economy and create jobs right now?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let's take that example. We're going to weatherize homes that immediately puts people back to work and we're going to train people who are out of work, including young people, to do the weatherization. As a consequence of weatherization, their energy bills go down and we reduce our dependence on foreign oil. What would be a more effective stimulus package than that, I mean, you're getting a three-fer, not only are you immediately putting people back to work, but you're also saving families on their energy bills and we're laying the groundwork for long-term energy independence. That's exactly the kind of program that we should be funding.

MS. COURIC: Finally, in closing, you campaigned to change the culture in Washington.


MS. COURIC: To change the politics as usual culture here. Are you frustrated? Do you think it is much, much harder to do that than you ever anticipated?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I never thought it was easy. Change is hard just like changing how campaigns were run was hard; we didn't do that overnight, you know, if you recall my campaign for president, we had a lot of fits and starts. I wasn't the best candidate and we made a lot of mistakes in the beginning and over time, we stayed focus on being true to our central message, which was that the American people deserve a better government. That passion has not changed and I'm confident that if we just stay on the course, if we stay focused on what's good for the American people that, ultimately, we're going to be able to deliver and as long as we're doing that, I think we'll have a good outcome.


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