Obama’s Interview with “Today Show” Ann Curry (transcript)

but let’s begin with our exclusive interview with president barack obama . we spoke to him in north carolina on monday. we begin with the president’s take on congressman anthony weiner ‘s scandal.

well, obviously what he did was highly inappropriate. i think he’s embarrassed himself. he’s acknowledged that. he’s embarrassed his wife and his family. ultimately there’s going to be a decision for him and his constituents. i can tell you that if it was me, i would resign because public service is exactly that, it’s a service to the public. and when you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can’t serve as effectively as you need to, at a time when people are worrying about jobs and their mortgages and paying the bills, then you should probably step back. you know, ultimately this job is not about us, it’s not about our ambitions, it’s not about our positions, it’s about how well are we serving the people who sent us to washington. again, ultimately there’s going to be a decision that he and his constituents make, but i know that, for me, if i didn’t think i could do the job as well as i need to, that it would be time for me to go.

you know the head of the dnc has called for his resignation. did she speak to you as head of the democratic party ?

she didn’t speak to me directly. and frankly, i understand why this has generated a lot of attention, and i don’t want to minimize how inappropriate the congressman’s behavior was. but i’ve got a lot of other stuff to do, and so on my list of things that consume me on a day-to-day basis, jobs, the economy, afghanistan, this is not something probably that i would have spent a lot of time on or will be spending a lot of time on.

the president of the united states .

that’s me.

you’re here encouraging private sector hiring. this just after “the new york times” just passed this past friday reported that since the recovery began, businesses have spent just 2% more on hiring people, while at the same time spending 26% more on equipment. so why at a time when corporate america is enjoying record profits have you been unable to convince businesses to hire more people, mr. president?

i don’t think it’s a matter of me being unable to convince them to hire more people. they’re making decisions based on what they think will be good for their companies. a couple of things happened. look, we went through the worse crisis since the great depression. we are now in a process where the economy is growing again and we created 2 million jobs over the last 15 months. but it’s not as fast as it needs to be to make up for all the jobs that were lost. the other thing that happened, though, and this goes to the point you were just making, is there are some structural issues with our economy where a lot of businesses have learned to become much more efficient with a lot fewer workers. you see it when you go to a bank and you use an atm, you don’t go to a bank teller , or you go to the airport and you’re using a kiosk instead of checking in at the gate. so all these things have creakrecreated changes in the economy and this counsel is identifying where the jobs of the future are going to be, how do we make sure there’s a match between what people are getting trained for and the jobs that exist, how do we make sure that capital is flowing into those places with the greatest opportunity. we are on the right track. the key is figuring out how do we accelerate it.

that said, you know that with 14 million americans unemployed, and another 8 1/2 unable to get full-time work, that there is a lot of human suffering attached to this. we’re talking about bankruptcies, homelessness, hunger. the stress of this, the shame of this. people have started to wonder, because you speak so calmly about this, whether you really truly empathize with these people who have lost their jobs, who are suffering, and people are asking, you know, why are you not angrier, why are you not angrier about what is happening here.

ann , ann , you know, first of all, i don’t think people are asking that. people some in the press might be asking that. i think ordinary folks understand, i spend all my time thinking about this stuff because i’m talking to these folks every single day. i wake up every morning thinking about how can i help that man in north carolina or that woman in indiana or that family in pennsylvania get back on their feet, because they write me letters and they say, mr. president, we’re about to lose our house, can you help us. mr. president, i worked here for 30 years, right before retirement i got laid off, what do i do now? i have to write back to them. and when i see them at meetings and they start crying, the notion somehow that i’m calm about that is nonsense. but what is true is that, as president, my job is to make sure that i am finding every good idea that we can to move the country forward. what you saw today, you know, our investments in clean energy , making sure that we’re dealing with community colleges so that they are more effectively training our workers for jobs, making sure that the economy as a whole is not burdened by regulations that are outdated or don’t make sense, making sure that we continue the kinds of tax cuts for small businesses and that we’re also providing financing for those small businesses . those are the things ultimately on which i’m going to be judged.

it used to be that when there was corporate growth, jobs would follow. that has not happened this time. and so there’s a lot of concern that maybe what’s happening is something that’s kind of intrinsic, something that’s going to be part of the future. and so it’s sort of begs the question, in hindsight, did you miss an opportunity by focusing on health care in not focusing enough on job creation last year?

well, you know, i have to tell you, ann , everything i thought about over the first two years was how do we get the economy back on track. that’s what we focused on then, that’s what we focus on now. but health care is part of our challenge because if companies are spending billions of dollars on rising health care costs, that’s money that they’re not putting in to hiring the workers or new plants or equipment. talk to any of these businesses, large or small, and they will tell you, as a consequence of their health care costs going up 25%, 50%, or in some cases 100%, that has a dampening i pact on their ability to invest and create jobs.

house republicans are threatening to not allow the debt ceiling to be raised. if you don’t agree to deep spending cuts, do you think they’re bluffing, given how financially disastrous it would be for the united states to not have the debt ceiling raised, and are you willing to make deep spending cuts?

keep in mind we’ve already made deep spending cuts. i’ve proposed a freeze on federal spending, during the last threatened government shutdown we made some really tough cuts on programs that i actually think make a big difference. but given the size of the deficit, i think it was important for us to send a signal that we were serious about getting spending under control. i am absolutely confident that we can move forward on a plan that gets our debt under control, gets our deficit under control, but also makes sure that we’re making the investments in the future that are going to help us put people back to work. and the debate that’s going to be taking place between me and republican members of congress is not whether or not we are dealing with our deficit in an effective way, there’s a way of solving this problem that doesn’t require any great changes. what it does require is everybody makes some sacrifices and we make these changes in a balanced way. so far at least in the conversations that i’ve had and the vice president’s been hosting with leaders from both the house and the senate, we’ve seen some progress. i think that where it’s going to get tough is right now republicans are very resistant to any kind of revenue and would rather see us make some sacrifices in programs that the vast majority of the american people think are really important. making sure that seniors on medicare have the kind of security and protection that they need, for example, or making sure that, you know, government functions like food safety or weather satellites are still up there, making sure that our veterans are properly cared for. you can’t pay for those things unless we have some additional revenue. and that’s going to be a tough debate that takes place. but i take the republican leadership at their word when they say it would be disastrous for us to not increase the debt limit. i do not want to see the united states default on our obligations. the full faith and credit of the united states is the underpinning not only of our way of life but it’s also the underpinning of the global financial system . and we could actually have a re reprise of a financial and we’re going to get it done in a sensible way. that’s what the america people expect.

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