In an unusually tough interview with President Obama on Sunday’s 60 Minutes on CBS, correspondent Steve Kroft described the President’s West Point speech as being “greeted with a great deal of confusion” and that “some people thought it was contradictory.” He later said of the health care bill: “some people think is incomprehensible....I’ve not met anybody who’s read it.”
Kroft began the interview by asking about the new Afghanistan strategy and made some observations about Obama’s announcement of the plan: “In your West Point speech, you seemed very analytical, detached, not emotional....There were no exhortations or promises of victory. Why? Why that tone?” Obama argued: “...that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I’ve made.” And then hit the Bush administration: “...one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. There was a tendency to say, ‘We can go in. We can kick some tail. This is some glorious exercise.’”
Kroft went on to note that the speech: “was greeted with a great deal of confusion.” A testy Obama interjected: “I disagree with that statement.” Kroft rephrased: “...it raised a lot of questions. And some people thought it was contradictory. That’s a fair criticism.” Not according to the President: “I don’t think it’s a fair criticism....There shouldn’t be anything confusing about that.” Obama then touted a Bush administration success to make his point: “...that’s something that we executed over the last two years in Iraq. So, I think the American people are familiar with the idea of a surge.”
In the second half of the interview, Kroft focused on domestic policy, particularly the struggling health care bill: “You wanted to change the status quo in Washington. Then you came in, and you turned over your top priority, health care, to the Congress.” Obama tersely replied: “That’s not true.”
Kroft further explained: “...well, you laid out what you wanted and what – you set the guidelines....And then stood back and turned it over to 535 people who produced a 2,000-page bill that is-” Kroft paused, causing the President to urge him to continue: “Finish your thought, Steve.” Kroft went on: “Well, I haven’t read it....I’d say some people think is incomprehensible. Not very many people have read it. I’ve not met anybody who’s read it.”
Kroft concluded the interview by asking about the White House security breach. As soon as the topic was mentioned, Obama sarcastically remarked: “It’s really a shame that I had to go through a whole 60 Minutes interview without talking about the gate crashers. Good catch.”
Kroft wondered about the role of White House official Desiree Rogers in the scandal: “Were you unhappy with your Social Secretary?” Obama dodged: “I was unhappy with everybody who was involved in the process....it was a screw up.”
Here is a transcript of portions of the interview:
STEVE KROFT: As President Obama approaches his first anniversary in the White House, some of the public’s enthusiasm for his ambitious agenda at home and abroad is on the wane. While he helped avert a worldwide financial collapse, and may well achieve his goal of health care reform during his first year in office, the U.S. economy is still very weak, with double-digit unemployment, and his approval ratings are at the lowest point of his presidency. This past week, before he left for Europe to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, we sat down with the President in the Map Room at the White House for a wide ranging discussion, much of it focused on his decision to send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Was that the most difficult decision of your Presidency so far?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.
OBAMA: Because when you go to Walter Reed and you travel to Dover and you visit Arlington and you see the sacrifices that young men and women and their families are making, there is nothing more profound. And it is a solemn obligation on the part of me as Commander in Chief to get those decisions right.
[CLIP OF WEST POINT SPEECH]
OBAMA: I do not make this decision lightly.
KROFT: In your West Point speech, you seemed very analytical, detached, not emotional. The tone seemed to be, ‘I’ve studied this situation very hard. It’s a real mess. The options aren’t very good. But we need to go ahead and do this.’ There were no exhortations or promises of victory. Why? Why that tone?
OBAMA: You know, that was actually probably the most emotional speech that I’ve made, in terms of how I felt about it. Because I was looking out over a group of cadets, some of whom are going to be deployed in Afghanistan. And potentially some might not come back.
There is not a speech that I've made that hit me in the gut as much as that speech. And one of the mistakes that was made over the last eight years is for us to have a triumphant sense about war. There was a tendency to say, ‘We can go in. We can kick some tail. This is some glorious exercise.’ When in fact, this is a tough business.
KROFT: Most Americans right now don’t believe this war is worth fighting. And most of the people in your party don’t believe this is a war worth fighting.
KROFT: Why did you go ahead?
OBAMA: Because I think it’s the right thing to do. And that’s my job. If I was worried about what polled well there are a whole bunch of things we wouldn’t have done this year.
KROFT: Do you feel like you’ve staked your Presidency on it?
OBAMA: There are a whole bunch of things that I’ve staked my Presidency on. Right? That are tough and entail some risks. There’s no guarantees. But that I’m confident we have addressed in the best possible way.
KROFT: The West Point speech was greeted – it was greeted with a great deal of confusion.
OBAMA: I disagree with that statement.
KROFT: You do?
OBAMA: I absolutely do. 40 million people watched it. And I think a whole bunch of people understood what we intend to do. Now-
KROFT: Well it – it raised a lot of questions. And some people thought it was contradictory. That’s a fair criticism.
OBAMA: I don’t think it’s a fair criticism. I think that what you may be referring to is the fact that on the one hand I said, ‘We’re gonna be sending in additional troops now.’ On the other hand, by July 2011, we’re gonna move into a transition phase where we’re drawing out troops down.
OBAMA: There shouldn’t be anything confusing about that.
OBAMA: That’s – first of all, that’s something that we executed over the last two years in Iraq. So, I think the American people are familiar with the idea of a surge.
In terms of the rationale for doing it, we don’t have an Afghan military right now, security force, that can stabilize the country. If we are effective over the next two years, that then frees us up to transition into a place where we can start drawing down.
KROFT: You mentioned Congress and health care. You ran for office based on – on the fact that you were going to try and reform the system. You wanted to change the status quo in Washington. Then you came in, and you turned over your top priority, health care, to the Congress.
OBAMA: That’s not true.
KROFT: 535 – well, you laid out what you wanted and what – you set the guidelines.
OBAMA: Right. Exactly.
KROFT: And then stood back and turned it over to 535 people who produced a 2,000-page bill that is-
KROFT: Well, I haven’t read it, so-
OBAMA: Finish your thought, Steve.
KROFT: I can’t really. I’d say some people think is incomprehensible. Not very many people have read it. I’ve not met anybody who’s read it.
OBAMA: Steve, let’s – let’s be clear here. Seven presidents have tried to reform a health care system that everyone acknowledges is broken. Seven presidents have failed up until this point. We are now that close to having a bill that does all the things that I said, and most experts said, needed to be done when we started this process. It is not only deficit neutral, but will actually bring down the deficit according to the Congressional Budget Office.
KROFT: Do you think it’s going to pass?
KROFT: Do you do you think it’s gonna pass before Christmas? In the Senate?
OBAMA: I think it’s – I think it is going to pass out of the Senate before Christmas.
KROFT: Are you going to be involved in that process?
OBAMA: I’ve been involved the whole time.
KROFT: At that point, we thought the interview was over, and then our executive producer suggested one more question. The gate crashers.
KROFT: By now, you must know-
OBAMA: It’s really a shame that I had to go through a whole 60 Minutes interview without talking about the gate crashers. (laughter) Good catch.
KROFT: You must know – you must know what happened. Can you share that with us?
OBAMA: I think that what I know is what everybody knows. Which is that these people should not have gotten through the gate.
KROFT: Were you unhappy with your Social Secretary?
OBAMA: I was unhappy with everybody who was involved in the process. And so, it was a screw up. Now, I don’t think that from a policy perspective, this was the most important thing or even the fifth or sixth most important thing that happened this week, although it got the most news.
KROFT: Were you angry when you found out about it?
OBAMA: Yes. That’s why-
KROFT: Seriously angry? Right.
OBAMA: Yes. That’s why it won’t happen again.