Obama On 60 Minutes: Interview Highlights

60 Minutes' Steve Kroft Interviewed The President At The White House On March 20, 2009

On Friday, March 20, 2009, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed President Barack Obama at the White House. It was one of the longest interviews the president has granted since taking office.

  • When asked if he was surprised by the public outrage over the AIG bonus debacle, Obama said, "I wasn't surprised by it. Our team wasn't surprised by it. The one thing that I've tried to emphasize, though, throughout this week, and will continue to try to emphasize during the course of the next several months as we dig ourselves out of this economic hole that we're in, we can't govern outta anger."
  • Talking about criticism of his Treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, the president told Kroft there has been no discussion about replacing him. When asked if Geithner had volunteered or asked whether to step down, Obama told Kroft, "No. And he shouldn't. And if he were to come to me, I'd say, 'Sorry, Buddy. You've still got the job.' But look, he's got a lot of stuff on his plate. And he is doing a terrific job. And I take responsibility for not, I think, having given him as much help as he needs."
  • Speaking about discussions on limiting executive compensation and bonuses and how firms fear they might lose top talent due to lower pay, the president said, "I've told them directly, 'cause I've heard some of this. They need to spend a little time outside of New York. Because you know, if you go to North Dakota, or you go to Iowa, or you go to Arkansas, where folks would be thrilled to be making $75,000 a year without a bonus, then I think they'd get a sense of why people are frustrated.
  • Asked if he was surprised at the depth of the recession when he took office, Obama told Kroft, "I don't think that we anticipated how steep the decline would be, particularly in employment. I mean if you look at just, you know, hundreds of thousands - now millions - of jobs being shed over the course of two months or three months, that slope is a lot steeper than anything that we've said we've seen before."

    "Now, there's a potential silver lining, which may be that things are so accelerated now, the modern economy is so intertwined and wired, that things happen really fast for ill, but things may recover faster than they have in the past," he added.

  • Talking about Afghanistan, and what America's mission there should be, Obama said, "Making sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the U.S. homeland and U.S. interests and our allies. That's our number one priority. And in service of that priority there may be a whole host of things that we need to do. We may need to build up economic capacity in Afghanistan. We may need to improve our diplomatic efforts in Pakistan."
  • Commenting on former Vice President Dick Cheney's recent assertion that the closure of Guantanamo will make America more vulnerable to attack, Obama said, "I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney. Not surprisingly. You know, I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests. I think he's drawing the wrong lesson from history."

    "The facts don't bear him out. I think he is, that attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against U.S. interests all around the world."

  • Finally, talking about his new role and how he and his family are adjusting to life and work in the White House, Obama said, "The bubble that the White House represents is tough. And one of the things that I am constantly struggling with is how to break out of it. And I've taken to the practice of reading ten letters selected from the 40,000 that we get every night, just to hear from voices outside of my staff. But the inability to just go, and you know, sit at a corner coffee shop and have a chat with people, or just listen to what folks are saying at the next table, that I think, is something that, as president, you've gotta constantly fight against."

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