THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Internal Transcript October 27, 2010
ROUNDTABLE INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
3:14 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, I know we’ve got limited time, so I’m not going to give a long speech on the front end.
I thank you guys for coming in. Obviously a huge part of my base reads you guys, cares about what you do. The staff does as well. I think that what the blogosphere has done is to create a conversation that encourages activism across our citizenry, and I think that’s absolutely crucial.
We benefit from the constructive feedback and criticism that we get, and it helps hold us accountable. But you guys obviously have also done a great job holding the mainstream press accountable, and that’s really important to us.
So I’m glad that I’ve got time to sit down with you guys. This is completely open, so you guys can take it wherever you want. And what I’ll do is I’ll just go down the line, everybody gets a question, and then we can just mix it up. How does that sound?
Q Sounds great.
THE PRESIDENT: Sounds good? All right. John, we’ll start with you.
Q Thanks for having us here, Mr. President. Just to start off, because the news of the day is obviously what just happened in Kentucky. What’s your feelings on the thought of a Rand Paul supporter actually stepping on the neck of a female MoveOn supporter?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, I think that one of the things that I’ve always tried to promote is civility in politics. I think we can disagree vigorously without being disagreeable. And what we saw on the video was an example of people’s passions just getting out of hand in ways that are disturbing.
In fairness, I don’t expect every candidate to be responsible for every single supporter’s actions, but I do think that all of us have an obligation to set a tone where we say the other side is — may be wrong but it’s not evil, because when you start going down that path of demonizing folks, then these kinds of incidents are more likely to occur. And my expectation in the remainder of this campaign is that all candidates out there are a little more careful about making sure that they’re framing the debate around issues and sending a clear message to their supporters that our democracy works when we disagree, we debate, we argue, it gets contentious, but that there are certain lines we don’t cross.
Q Mr. President, you’ve said that you want to work with Republicans after the election, but there’s probably a pretty good chance that they’re not going to advance with you. Is there sort of a breaking point you have of where you try to work with them and they just refuse to budge, which they’ve indicated so far? Is there a breaking point for you just like you’re going to have to go off on your own and find a way around them?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, the — I’m a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to, on the one hand, trying to get cooperation. I don’t give up just because I didn’t get cooperation on this issue; I’ll try the next issue. If the Republicans don’t agree with me on fiscal policy, maybe they’ll agree with me on infrastructure. If they don’t agree with me on infrastructure, I’ll try to see if they agree with me on education.
So I’m just going to keep on trying to see where they want to move the country forward.
In that sense, there’s not a breaking point for me. There are some core principles that I think are important for not just me to stick with but for the country to stick with. So if the Republicans say we need to cut our investments in education, at a time when we know that our success as a nation is largely going to depend on how well trained our workforce is, I’m going to say no. And there are going to be areas where, after working very hard, we just can’t find compromise and I’m going to be standing my ground, then essentially we debate it before the American people.
But I don’t go into the next two years assuming that there’s just going to be gridlock. We’re going to keep on working to make sure that we can get as much done as possible because folks are hurting out there. What they’re looking for is help on jobs, help on keeping their homes, help on sending their kids to college. And if I can find ways for us to work with Republicans to advance those issues, then that’s going to be my priority.
Q Along those lines, Mr. President, on the economy, we do have 9.6 unemployment; economic projections aren’t looking very positive from anybody, with the ongoing foreclosure crisis, as you suggested. Can we expect further initiatives coming out of the administration and maybe Congress post-election?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. We can’t stop. A concern I have right now is that the main economic idea that the Republicans seem to have is continuing the tax cuts for the top 2 percent, and then a vague statement about cutting spending without identifying what those spending cuts might actually be. And I don’t know any economists who would say that’s a recipe for more job creation.
We have to deal with our debt and we have to deal with our deficits in a responsible way. As you know, most of the problem with our debt and deficits is structural and has to do with the medium and long term. So my hope is, is that we can find a sensible way to deal with it that doesn’t squelch economic growth, because a single-point increase in economic growth actually has as much impact on the debt and deficits as all of the Bush tax cuts. I mean, it’s trillions of dollars over the life of the economy. And so we’ve got to emphasize economic growth.
Now, we were successful in reversing our descent into a depression. The Recovery Act worked in stopping the freefall. We followed up with that with everything from a package to cut taxes for small businesses to providing additional assistance to states so that they could keep teachers and firefighters and police officers on the job.
I’ve already put forward proposals for infrastructure, which I think can have a huge long-term ramification — putting people back to work right now, doing the work that America needs done, laying the foundation for long-term competitiveness.
I think that there may be additional ideas that traditionally have garnered some bipartisan support that we can move forward on. But the point that you’re making I think is really important. Yes, people are concerned about debt and deficit. But the single thing people are most concerned about are jobs. And those jobs are going to come from the private sector. We’re not going to be able to fill the hole of 8 million jobs that were lost as a consequence of the economic crisis just through government spending, but we can strategically help jumpstart industries. We can make a difference on clean energy. We can make a difference on getting businesses to invest in 2011 as opposed to deferring until 2012 or ‘13 or ‘14.
And there should be ways that we can come to some agreement with Republicans if their focus is in fact on improving the lives of the American people as opposed to just positioning for the next election.
Q Mine is an easy question. Will you rule out raising the retirement age to 70?
THE PRESIDENT: We are awaiting a report from the deficit commission, or deficit reduction commission, so I have been adamant about not prejudging their work until we get it.
But I think you can look at the statements that I’ve made in the past, including when I was campaigning for the presidency, that Social Security is something that can be fixed with some modest modifications that don’t impose hardships on beneficiaries who are counting on it.
And so the example that I used during the campaign was an increase in the payroll tax, not an increase — let me scratch that. Not an increase in the payroll tax but an increase in the income level at which it is excluded.
And so what I’ve been clear about is, is that I’ve got a set of preferences, but I want the commission to go ahead and do its work. When it issues its report, I’m not automatically going to assume that it’s the right way to do things. I’ll study it and examine it and see what makes sense.
But I’ve said in the past, I’ll say here now, it doesn’t strike me that a steep hike in the retirement age is in fact the best way to fix Social Security.
Q Thank you.
Q I was glad to hear that you and your staff appreciate constructive feedback.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, that’s something we enjoy. (Laughter.)
Q We’ve been more than willing to offer that. We’ve certainly been more than willing to offer than from AMERICAblog, particularly on issues related to the LGBT community, which, you know, there is a certain amount of disillusionment and disappointment in our community right now.
And one of the things I’d like to ask you — and I think it’s a simple yes or no question too — is do you think that “don’t ask, don’t tell” is unconstitutional?
THE PRESIDENT: It’s not a simple yes or no question, because I’m not sitting on the Supreme Court. And I’ve got to be careful, as President of the United States, to make sure that when I’m making pronouncements about laws that Congress passed I don’t do so just off the top of my head.
I think that — but here’s what I can say. I think “don’t ask, don’t tell” is wrong. I think it doesn’t serve our national security, which is why I want it overturned. I think that the best way to overturn it is for Congress to act. In theory, we should be able to get 60 votes out of the Senate. The House has already passed it. And I’ve gotten the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to say that they think this policy needs to be overturned — something that’s unprecedented.
And so my hope and expectation is, is that we get this law passed. It is not just harmful to the brave men and women who are serving, and in some cases have been discharged unjustly, but it doesn’t serve our interests — and I speak as Commander-in-Chief on that issue.
Let me go to the larger issue, though, Joe, about disillusionment and disappointment. I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history. I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history. We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation.
On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.
And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.
Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.
So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.
All right, now, at this point we can just open it up. I just wanted to make sure everybody got at least one question, and then you guys can –
Q I have one. Crooks and Liars, we’re very proactive for the Latino community and rights, for immigration reform. And you’ve just gone on Spanish radio and said how we need comprehensive immigration reform. I guess I have two points. One is, will you — how far will you go on helping to get the DREAM Act passed? Because it’s very important. And also — and it’s been mentioned in these questions — with the conservative movement not governing to us appears — as far as helping the American people more on ideology — how do you expect or hope to get conservatives onboard with truly doing immigration reform?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, this is a challenge. I mean, right now, I’ll be honest, we are closer to getting the votes for “don’t ask, don’t tell” than we are for getting the votes for comprehensive immigration reform. That’s a reversal from four years ago when you had John McCain and Ted Kennedy cosponsoring comprehensive immigration reform.
The center of gravity within the Republican Party has shifted. And so out of the 11 Republicans who are still in the Senate who voted for comprehensive immigration reform, I don’t know that any of them came out in favor publicly of comprehensive immigration reform during the course of the last couple of years.
And that’s a problem, because unfortunately we now have essentially a 60-vote requirement on every single issue, including trying to get judges confirmed who’ve passed through the Judiciary Committee on a unanimous basis.
Having said that, I think the logic behind comprehensive immigration reform is sufficiently compelling that if we are making the case forcefully — that we’ve increased border security, we have more Border Patrols down on the border than we’ve ever had before, we’ve got more resources being devoted to enforcement than before — and yet the problem continues, that means that we’ve got to try something different.
And that involves, on the one hand, being serious about border security, but it also involves being serious about employers and making sure that they’re not exploiting undocumented workers, and it means getting the 10 to 12 million people who are in the shadows out of the shadows and giving them an opportunity to get right by the law so that we can create an orderly process in which this is still a nation of immigrants and it’s a nation of laws.
So I’m going to keep pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. It is going to continue to be a priority of my administration. I’m going to try to make the case to Republicans and to the American people that it’s the right thing to do.
The DREAM Act is one component of it that I’ve been a strong supporter of. I was a sponsor — a cosponsor of the DREAM Act when I was in the Senate, and what I told Piolin when I was on his radio show, and what I’ve said repeatedly, is that my strong preference is to do a comprehensive piece of legislation. But I’m going to consult with immigrants’ rights groups and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. If they see an opportunity for us to get the DREAM Act and they think this is something we should go ahead and do now and that it doesn’t endanger the possibilities of getting comprehensive immigration reform, the other components of it, down the road, then that’s something I’ll consider. But my goal right now is to do a broader approach that allows everybody to get out of the shadows, paying their taxes, and contributing to our society.
Q Mr. President, you’re often pressured from both the left and right on one issue or another, and then even within the Democratic Party you get pressured from the more conservative, more progressive side of the party. So I’m curious, you sort of govern as a — sort of as a pragmatist, and I’m wondering if you view yourself as a progressive.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I mean, the problem with labels is everybody thinks they mean different things. So I would define myself as a strong progressive in the sense that I believe in that essential American Dream that everybody gets a chance to make it if they’re willing to work hard, that government has a role to play in ensuring opportunity by making sure kids get a decent education and can afford to go to college; that workers are able to train and retrain for the jobs of the future; that we’re building strong infrastructure; that we are using our diplomacy alongside our military to protect our national security; that we believe in the Bill of Rights and we actually act on it, even when it’s inconvenient; that we are promoting the equal treatment of citizens under the law.
Those core beliefs that America prospers not just when a few people do well but when everybody has the chance to do well, when we’ve got a growing middle class, where we — people are able to live out their dreams without the barriers of race or gender or sexual orientation, those are things I deeply believe in.
In that sense, though, I think Abraham Lincoln was a progressive. He was a Republican. He was the first Republican President. And that just gives you a sense of how these categories change so much.
It used to be that the values I just described had a home in the Republican Party as well as the Democratic Party. I think it’s only been in recent years that you can’t find that articulation of some of these values in the Republican Party, and that in fact if you champion them that you’re considered some wild-eyed radical. That’s a shift, and not a good shift, in terms of our public debate.
Q I was wondering if you’re happy with the federal response to the foreclosure crisis or if you think there’s more that either should have been or could be in the future done either through HAMP or Fannie and Freddie or various mechanisms?
THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think I’m happy with millions of foreclosures or millions of houses being underwater. This is — this was both a powerful symptom as well as a cause of the economic crisis that we’re in. So we’ve got to do as much as we can to stabilize the housing market.
I do think that the steps that we’ve taken helped stabilize the housing market. The HAMP program has gotten a lot of criticism, but the fact of the matter is, is that you’ve got half a million people who have gone through permanent loan modifications that are saving 500 bucks a month. And I get letters every day from people whose homes were saved as a consequence of it.
I think that the broader steps we took to stabilize the economy mean that housing prices are not plummeting the way they were.
But this is a multitrillion-dollar market and a multitrillion-dollar problem. And the challenge that we’ve had is we’ve got only so much gravel and we’ve got a really big pothole. We can’t magically sort of fix a decline in home values that’s so severe in some markets that people are $100,000 to $150,000 underwater.
What we can do is to try to create sort of essentially bridge programs that help people stabilize, refinance where they can, and in some cases not just get pummeled if they decide that they want to move.
I think that we have tinkered with the HAMP program as we get more information to figure out can we do this better, can we do this smarter with the resources that we have.
The biggest challenge is how do you make sure that you are helping those who really deserve help and if they get some temporary help can get back on their feet, make their payments and move forward and stay in their home, versus either people who are speculators, own second homes that they really couldn’t afford because they’d gotten a subprime loan, and people who through no fault of their own just can’t afford their house anymore because of the change in housing values or their incomes don’t support it.
And we’re always trying to find that sweet spot to use as much of the money that we have available to us to help those who can be helped, without wasting that money on folks who don’t deserve help. And that’s a tough balance to strike.
I had a meeting with Warren Buffett in my office and his basic point was there was a lot of over-building for a long period of time. Now there’s under-building because all that backlog of inventory is being absorbed. Some of that is just going to take time. And we can do as much as we can to help ease that transition, but we’re not going to be able to eliminate all the pain because we just don’t have the resources to do it. The market is just too big.
The other aspect of the housing market that is worth bearing in mind is that whereas initially a lot of the problems on the foreclosure front had to do with balloon payments people didn’t see coming, adjustable rate mortgages that people didn’t clearly understand, predatory lending scams that were taking place — now the biggest driver of foreclosure is unemployment. And so the single most important thing I can do for the housing market is actually improve economic growth as a whole. If we can get the economy moving stronger, if we can drive the unemployment rate down, that will have probably the biggest impact on foreclosures, as well as housing prices, as just about anything.
Q I want to go back to the idea of working with Republicans. And given the comments from McConnell and — well, all of them — I think that what a lot of people find frustrating is that our side compromises and continues to compromise just to get that one Republican on. We’re going to get one of the Maine twins — whatever. And it doesn’t happen, and then by the time health care or whatever goes through we’ve compromised; we still don’t get any Republicans.
I don’t anticipate this changing in the next two years. I think it’s going to get worse. How are you going to get Democrats to understand that compromise means the other side has to give something sometimes, one day?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, obviously I share your frustrations. I’ve got to deal with this every day.
Q Well, I don’t expect you to talk like a blogger. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But I guess I’d make two points. The first is, I’m President and not king. And so I’ve got to get a majority in the House and I’ve got to get 60 votes in the Senate to move any legislative initiative forward.
Now, during the course — the 21 months of my presidency so far, I think we had 60 votes in the Senate for seven months, six? I mean, it was after Franken finally got seated and Arlen had flipped, but before Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. So that’s a fairly narrow window. So we’re right at the number, and that presumes that there is uniformity within the Democratic caucus in the Senate — which, Barbara, you’ve been around a while. You know that not every Democrat in the Democratic caucus agrees with me or agrees with each other in terms of complicated issues like health care.
So it is important for me, then, to work every angle I can to get as much done as I can. If we had a parliamentary system, then this critique would make sense to me because you do as much as you can to negotiate with the other side, but at a certain point you’ve got your platform and you move it forward and your party votes for it.
But that’s not the system of government we have. We’ve got a different system. I will say that the damage that the filibuster I think has done to the workings of our democracy are at this point pretty profound. The rate at which it’s used just to delay and obstruct is unprecedented. But that’s the reality right now.
So I guess my answer is that there has not been, I think, any issue that we’ve worked in which I have been willing to sign on to a compromise that I didn’t feel was a strong improvement over the status quo and was not the best that we could do, given the political alignments that we’ve got.
And, yes, it leaves some folks dissatisfied. I understand that. But let’s take the health care bill. As frustrated and angry and dispirited as the base might have been — we didn’t have a public option, and it just dragged on for such a long time, and you’re having conversations with Grassley, even though it turns out Grassley has no interest in actually getting something done — all the complaints which I was obviously very familiar with, the fact of the matter is, is that we got a piece of legislation through that we’ve been waiting a hundred years to get through; that in the aggregate sets up a system in which 30 million people are going to get health insurance; in which we’ve got an exchange that forces insurance companies to compete with a pool of millions and will be policed so that they can’t jack up prices; that pool has purchasing power that they’ve never had before; that you’ve got a patient’s bill of rights that was the hallmark, sort of the high-water mark of what progressives thought we could do in the health care field — we got that whole thing basically just as part of the bill.
You’ve got investments in community health centers and preventive medicine and research that’s going to help improve our health care delivery systems as a whole. And we can build on that.
And I know this analogy has been used before, but when Social Security was passed, it was for widows and orphans. And a whole bunch of folks were not included in it. But that building block, the foundation stone, ended up creating one of the most important safety nets that we have. And I think the same thing is going to happen with health care.
I think when you look at financial regulatory reform, there’s been a whole bunch of debates about where that could have gone and how it could have gone. And there are folks in the progressive community who complain we should have broken up the banks, or the derivatives law should have been structured this way rather than that way.
But the truth of the matter is, is that this is a incredibly powerful tool. You’ve got a Consumer Finance Protection Agency that that can save consumers billions of dollars — is already saving folks billions of dollars just by having it passed. Already you’re starting to see negotiations in terms of how mortgage folks operate, in terms of how credit card companies operate.
You’ve got capital requirements that are being imposed on banks and other financial institutions that are much higher than they were before, which creates a cushion against the kind of too-big-to-fail that we’ve seen in the past.
You’ve got derivatives markets that are now being forced into open clearinghouses and markets so people know exactly what’s going on. You’ve got Volcker rule that some people didn’t think it was strong enough, but basically prohibits some of the proprietary trading that helped to create this market in securitized subprime loans that helped to trigger this disaster.
So in each of these cases, this glass isn’t full, but it’s got a lot of water in it. And so I guess my point is that on all these debates, my constant calculation has been, are we better off going ahead and getting this done? Or are we — is it better for us to have a fight that may end up being symbolically satisfying but means that we lose because we just don’t have enough votes.
And I’ll give you one last example because I know this is a famous example in the blogosphere, is the stimulus. I mean, if folks think that we could have gotten Ben Nelson, Arlen Specter and Susan Collins to vote for additional stimulus beyond the $700 billion that we got, then I would just suggest you weren’t in the meetings.
This notion that somehow I could have gone and made the case around the country for a far bigger stimulus because of the magnitude of the crisis, well, we understood the magnitude of the crisis. We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly.
And getting 60 votes for what was an unprecedented stimulus was really hard. And we didn’t have the luxury of saying — first of all, we didn’t have 60 votes at the time. We had 58. And we didn’t have the luxury to say to the Senate, our way or the highway on this one.
So we did what we could in an emergency situation, anticipating that we were going to have to do more and hoping that we could continue to do more as time went on.
Q So I have another gay question. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: It’s okay, man. (Laughter.)
Q And this one is on the issue of marriage. Since you’ve become President, a lot has changed. More states have passed marriage equality laws. This summer a federal judge declared DOMA unconstitutional in two different cases. A judge in San Francisco declared Prop 8 was unconstitutional. And I know during the campaign you often said you thought marriage was the union between a man and a woman, and there — like I said, when you look at public opinion polling, it’s heading in the right direction. We’ve actually got Republicans like Ted Olson and even Ken Mehlman on our side now. So I just really want to know what is your position on same-sex marriage?
THE PRESIDENT: Joe, I do not intend to make big news sitting here with the five of you, as wonderful as you guys are. (Laughter.) But I’ll say this –
Q I just want to say, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you this question.
THE PRESIDENT: Of course.
Q People in our community are really desperate to know.
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a fair question to ask. I think that — I am a strong supporter of civil unions. As you say, I have been to this point unwilling to sign on to same-sex marriage primarily because of my understandings of the traditional definitions of marriage.
But I also think you’re right that attitudes evolve, including mine. And I think that it is an issue that I wrestle with and think about because I have a whole host of friends who are in gay partnerships. I have staff members who are in committed, monogamous relationships, who are raising children, who are wonderful parents.
And I care about them deeply. And so while I’m not prepared to reverse myself here, sitting in the Roosevelt Room at 3:30 in the afternoon, I think it’s fair to say that it’s something that I think a lot about. That’s probably the best you’ll do out of me today. (Laughter.)
Q It is an important issue, and I think that –
THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s an entirely fair question to ask.
Q And part of it is that you can’t be equal in this country if the very core of who you are as a person and the love — the person you love is not — if that relationship isn’t the same as everybody else’s, then we’re not equal. And I think that a lot of — particularly in the wake of the California election on Prop 8, a lot of gay people realized we’re not equal. And I think that that’s — that’s been part of the change in the –
THE PRESIDENT: Prop 8, which I opposed.
Q Right. I remember you did. You sent the letter and that was great. I think that the level of intensity in the LGBT community changed after we lost rights in that election. And I think that’s a lot of where the community is right now.
THE PRESIDENT: The one thing I will say today is I think it’s pretty clear where the trendlines are going.
Q The arc of history.
THE PRESIDENT: The arc of history. Anything else?
Q Well, can I ask you just about “don’t ask, don’t tell,” just following up? (Laughter.) I just want to follow up. Because you mentioned it –
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sure. Go ahead.
Q Is there a strategy for the lame-duck session to –
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q — and you’re going to be involved?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Will Secretary Gates be involved?
THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to tip my hand now. But there is a strategy.
THE PRESIDENT: And, look, as I said –
Q Can we call it a secret plan? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I was very deliberate in working with the Pentagon so that I’ve got the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs being very clear about the need to end this policy. That is part of a strategy that I have been pursuing since I came into office. And my hope is that will culminate in getting this thing overturned before the end of the year.
Now, as usual, I need 60 votes. So I think that, Joe, the folks that you need to be having a really good conversation with — and I had that conversation with them directly yesterday, but you may have more influence than I do — is making sure that all those Log Cabin Republicans who helped to finance this lawsuit and who feel about this issue so passionately are working the handful of Republicans that we need to get this thing done.
Q Yes, I don’t have that relationship with them. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: But, I mean, it’s just — I don’t understand the logic of it.
Q Nor do I.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re financing a very successful, very effective legal strategy, and yet the only really thing you need to do is make sure that we get two to five Republican votes in the Senate.
And I said directly to the Log Cabin Republican who was here yesterday, I said, that can’t be that hard. Get me those votes.
Because what I do anticipate is that John McCain and maybe some others will filibuster this issue, and we’re going to have to have a cloture vote. If we can get through that cloture vote, this is done.
Q On that same issue, because a lot of progressives — and you said you’re not the king — well, a lot of progressives feel that senators, especially in the minority they think — we call them the House of Lords.
And are you in favor of any form of filibuster reform? Because there are several bills being talked about. And there is a unique time that — by the way, we’re also very happy that Vice President Biden went down to do a fundraiser for Alan Grayson. He’s the type of Democrat that speaks out and fights. And that’s what the progressive community really likes.
But he also might have the opportunity in January to be — to help out. And can we get — or are you for any of the bills that are out there to support — to change this rule that is paralyzing the administration?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ve got to be careful about not looking like I’m big-footing Congress. We’ve got separate branches of government. The House and the Senate have their own rules. And they are very protective of those prerogatives.
I will say that as just an observer of our political process that if we do not fix how the filibuster is used in the Senate, then it is going to be very difficult for us over the long term to compete in a very fast moving global environment.
What keeps me up at night is China, Germany, India, Brazil — they’re moving. They make decisions, we’re going to pursue clean energy, and the next thing you know they’ve cornered half the clean energy market; we’re going to develop high-speed rail in the span of five years — suddenly they’ve got high-speed rail lines going; we’re going to promote exports, here’s what we’re going to do — boom, they get going.
And if we can’t sort of execute on key issues that will determine our competitiveness over the long term, we’re going to fall behind — we are going to fall behind.
And the filibuster is not part of the Constitution. The filibuster, if you look at the history of it, may have arisen purely by accident because somebody didn’t properly apply Robert’s Rules of Procedure and forgot to get a provision in there about what was required to close debate. And folks figured out very early, this could be a powerful tool. It was used as a limited tool throughout its history. Sadly, the primary way it was used was to prevent African Americans from achieving civil rights.
But setting aside that sordid aspect of its history, it was used in a very limited fashion. The big debates, the big changes that we had historically around everything from establishing public schools to the moon launch to Social Security, they weren’t subject to the filibuster. And I’m sympathetic to why the minority wants to keep it. And in fairness, Democrats, when we were in the minority, used it on occasion to blunt actions that we didn’t think were appropriate by the Bush administration.
Q On occasion.
THE PRESIDENT: And in fairness, there were a whole bunch of folks here who were already writing blogs at the time who were saying, filibuster, block them, do anything you can to stop them. And so if we’re going to call for reform, it’s got to be with open eyes and an understanding that that also means that if Republicans are in power, it’s easier for them to move their agendas forward.
But my general view is, what that does at least is it opens it up to serious public debate. Things don’t get bogged down in the kinds of procedural nonsense that makes it just hard for us to do business. I mean, during the financial crisis, half my Treasury slots weren’t filled — couldn’t get them filled. And this is a time when we were worried that the entire financial system was melting down. So that’s — I believe it’s something that we’ve got to take seriously.
MR. PFEIFFER: We need to get you to your next event, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, guys. I enjoyed it.
Q Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Appreciate it. We’ll do it again.
Q Thanks a lot.
THE PRESIDENT: All right. Thank you.
Q How about the game tonight?
THE PRESIDENT: Which one? Oh, the Series?
Q The Series.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, let me not wade into this one. (Laughter.) I think it’s fun. But my White Sox aren’t in it, so I just want a seven game. But I’ve got to say, Lee looks like a pretty tough pitcher. (Applause.)
END 4:05 P.M. EDT
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