Obama: I’ll continue to reach out to GOPPresident says political rancor won’t stop him from meeting challenges
By Mike Celizic
March. 30, 2010
After more than a year in office and one of the more divisive legislative battles in American history, President Barack Obama has a new respect not just for his predecessor, President George W. Bush, but for every man who has occupied the Oval Office.
“Having sat in the Oval Office as president, I am much more sympathetic to all presidents generally,” Obama told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in a wide-ranging interview that aired Tuesday. “What is true is that there are big, tough decisions that you make, and you know that unless you try to avoid those problems, whatever you decide is going to make some people happy and some people unhappy.”
The president spoke in the wake of the passage of the health care reform bill that has been a centerpiece of his presidency, and having just returned from a surprise visit to Afghanistan, his first since assuming office.
Obama talked about the need for more rapid progress in Afghanistan on the part of President Hamid Karzai. Obama also talked about America’s relationship with Israel and addressed the deep political divide that has given birth to the Tea Party movement.
He also talked about his faith, including addressing why the Obamas have not settled on a regular church to attend, and his family. On a lighter note, he said ruefully that his NCAA basketball tournament brackets are “completely blown up,” but offered an excuse, saying, “It is a sign that I was paying a singular focus on health care.”
Health care reform passed without a single Republican vote and has deeply divided the country, helping to fuel the Tea Party movement that has embraced some of Obama’s harshest critics.
The political polarization of America has been going on for some time, Obama said.
“I do think that we now have a pattern of polarization not just with George Bush, but also previous to George Bush with Bill Clinton,” Obama said. “Frankly, it gets spun up in part because of how the media covers politics, in the 24/7 news cycle, cable chatter and talk radio and the Internet and the blogs, all of which try to feed the most extreme sides of any issue instead of trying to narrow differences and solve problems.”
The president said he believes the problem can be solved, but on health care, he said, “I am frustrated that Republicans who I think had an opportunity to help shape this bill declined that opportunity.”
He said that the bill that he signed contained many elements that were in the health care reform bill that Republican Mitt Romney supported and signed when he was governor of Massachusetts.
“What’s interesting is that if you actually break down the specifics of the bill, you will see that this, historically, has had a lot of Republican support,” Obama said. “I think what happened is that they made a calculation, which if you are thinking in terms of short-term politics, you can see the argument. Their attitude is, look, if we stop this bill and we stop this president here, then that will give us a lot of political benefit in November. What I’ve tried to say throughout is, I will continue to reach out to Republicans. I will continue to incorporate their ideas even when they don’t vote for the ideas that I’ve presented. But what I’m not going to be dissuaded from is us going ahead taking on these big challenges that are critical in terms of America’s long-term economic health.”
Afghanistan and Israel
Lauer asked Obama why he waited so long to make his first visit to Afghanistan. The president said that he hadn’t wanted to go during that country’s presidential election or during the shakedown period after the vote to avoid the appearance of trying to influence the election.
While acknowledging progress by Karzai in reducing corruption and cracking down on the drug trade, Obama said he is not happy with the pace of reform.
“It’s an important time for President Karzai. He has made some important steps in the right direction, improving governance, reducing corruption. But there’s a long way to go,” Obama said. “I think that progress is too slow. And what we’ve been trying to emphasize is the fierce urgency of now. My hope is that President Karzai can recognize the incredible opportunity he has to be the father of a modern Afghanistan.”
Obama’s administration has clashed recently with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over settlements in East Jerusalem. The president said that despite recent ill will, the United States and Israel remain firm allies.
“I think the underlying relationship is solid as a rock. So my commitment, my personal commitment, to Israel’s security is unwavering, and I think that there is broad bipartisan consensus on that. This is a disagreement among friends about how to move forward,” he said. “I think Prime Minister Netanyahu intellectually understands that he has got to take some bold steps. I think politically he feels it. But it’s not just on the Israeli side. I’ve been very clear that the Palestinians have to take steps.”
The Tea Party
Moving back to domestic topics, Obama took a measured view of the Tea Party movement that has focused its anger on him and his administration. He took care to distinguish between the people who question his citizenship and who are convinced he’s a socialist and those who are simply concerned about the future of a country going through economic turmoil.ETC ...