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Major Garrett Interviews President Obama (Transcript)

GARRETT: Mr. President the Fox News Channel is very happy to see you.

OBAMA: Good to see you

 GARRET: And on behalf of the news channel, let me wish you, Michelle, Sasha and Malia a very happy and joyous 2009 holiday season.

OBAMA: That's so nice, I appreciate it, to the Fox family let me say the same.

GARRETT: Very good. Ah, we have a lot of ground to cover, kind of a lightening round nature to this, I’ll have short questions, indulge yourself if you will in short answers. A couple on health care. 

Dick Durbin said the new deadline for signing legislation is now State of the Union. Why is that delay acceptable to you? And how upset are you about it?

OBAMA: You know, I want this done as soon as possible; and, I think the American people do. We've had a long debate, but, you know, there's a reason why Health Care hasn't been reformed in forty, fifty, seventy years. It is a big, complicated piece of business. And frankly, Congress is not accustomed lately to doing big complicated pieces of business like this.

We are pushing and prodding as hard as we can. I do think that a lot of the delay has been that the Congressional Budget Office, which scores or determines how much things cost, how much they might save- they’ve been overloaded. And it's taken a lot longer for us to get that, and I think it's entirely appropriate for legislators to say we want to make sure we get final numbers on any piece of legislation before we actually vote on it

 GARRETT: So the end of the year? That's going?

OBAMA: Well, no I haven’t given up on it. We're going to keep on pushing as hard as we can to make that happen.

GARRETT: Will you sign legislation on Health Care that includes the Stupak language? 

OBAMA: You know, I think that there is a balance to be achieved that is consistent with the Hyde amendment - what existed before we reformed Health Care.

I believe in the basic idea that federal dollars shouldn't pay for abortions. But I also think we shouldn't restrict women's choices, so, I think there's some negotiations going on, not just on the Democratic side, but I think among people of good will on both sides, to see if we can arrive at something that meets that criteria and I'm confident we can do that.

GARRETT: Yes or no, does the Stupak language strike that balance?

OBAMA: Not yet

GARRETT: Very good, a couple on the economy, you have a jobs summit next month. You want a jobs bill in 2010. Will that jobs bill raise the deficit or will you demand that it be deficit neutral?

OBAMA: You know, our first job was to get the economy to recover; and, we're now seeing that. We've seen economic growth; we anticipate economic growth next quarter as well. I always said the job growth would lag behind economic growth. The question now is: how can we accelerate it?

There may be some ways that we can accelerate it without spending money. For example, one of the keys to this Asia trip is to start promoting the notion of balanced growth where the US is an exporter again. This is a region where right now we're sending about 25-26 percent of our exports. If we just boosted our share of exports by one percent, that might be 250,000 well paying jobs in the United States. So export promotion would be an example of something we could do without spending money.

There may be some tax provisions that can encourage businesses to hire sooner rather than sitting on the sidelines; so, we're taking a look at those. I think it is important though to recognize that if we keep on adding to the debt, even in the midst of this recovery, that at some point, people could lose confidence in the US economy in a way that could actually lead to a double-dip recession.

And so one of the trickiest things we're doing right now, is to on the one hand make sure the recovery is supported and not withdraw a lot of money either with tax increases or big spending cuts - and states, for example, need a lot of support to keep hiring teachers and so forth - at the same time, making sure that we're setting up a pathway longterm for deficit reduction. It's about as hard of a play as there is, but it's what we have to do and whatever jobs, additional jobs legislation comes out, has to fit into that broader framework

GARRETT: Does it raise the deficit or does it not?

OBAMA: Well, the.

GARRETT: Or you haven't made up your mind on that?

OBAMA: We haven't seen that, and that's part of a reason why I think we want to take a look at the summit.

GARRETT: You mentioned trade. Will you make a commitment to in 2010 having Congress pass the pending South Korea trade agreement?

OBAMA: We are going to be discussing this with South Korea. I want to get the deal done.

GARRETT: In 2010?

OBAMA: Well, the question is whether we can get it done in the beginning of 2010, whether we can get it done at the end of 2010, there's still some details that need to be worked out. Overall, I think it's a potential good deal for US exporters. But there's certain sectors of the economy that aren't dealt with as affectively and that's something that I'm going to be talking to talking to President Lee about.

GARRETT: David Obey said yesterday that erroneous estimates from the Administration on the job creating power of the stimulus bill - and I'm quoting now - are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct these ludicrous mistakes. Your reaction?

OBAMA: Look I understand David Obey's frustration- I think that we made a decision very early on, on the biggest stimulus package in history. And, every economic model that we looked at at the time said that if you start economic growth, that unemployment will cap out at a certain rate. Now, there is no doubt that unemployment's been worse than any of the economic models that occurred at the time.

GARRETT: But his criticism isn't about the job creating part, it's just about what you have said about the job creating. Have there been mistakes and do they need to be corrected?

OBAMA: Look, I think this is an inexact science. We're talking about a multitrillion dollar economy that went through the worst economic crisis since 1933. The first measure of success of the economic recovery is: did we pull ourselves back from the brink? We did. Have we gotten economic growth going again? We have.

The question now is: can we make sure we're accelerating job growth? That's my number one job. Nobody's been more disappointed than I have to see how high the unemployment rate has gotten. And, I spend every waking hour, when I'm talking to my economic team, about how we are going to put people back to work.

GARRETT: So this is a side issue? The estimate thing?

OBAMA: This is a side issue.

GARRET: Got it.

Do you support or oppose GM using bailout funds for its overseas operations, specifically Opel?

OBAMA: What I have said is that we are not going to meddle in GM's decisions. They now owe the US government money. We are a share holder but we are not an active shareholder. We have specifically said that we are not in the business of running a car company; we want to make sure that you did not have the collapse of the US auto industry in the midst of a very fragile economic situation. But we want to get out of that business as soon possible.

I was pleased to see that GM thinks it may be able to repay some of the US government loans sooner than anticipated- that's something we’d encourage, in the meantime, we're not being involved, we’re not getting involved in day to day management.

GARRETT: By how much will you miss the deadline to close Guantanamo by the expiration of an executive order and how disappointed are you in that?

OBAMA: You know I'm not disappointed, I knew this was going to be hard, ah, it’s hard not only because of the politics, people I think understandably are fearful after a lot of years where they were told that Guantanamo was critical to keeping terrorists out. So, I understood that that had to be processed, but it’s also just technically hard because of the fact that

GARRETT: Harder than you thought it would be?

OBAMA: No, as hard, I just think as usual in Washington things move slower than I anticipated.

One of the things we knew very early on, there are a set of detainees in Guantanamo that can be convicted, and they will be convicted. There are a set of detainees that can be deported and sent to other countries, and they will be. There is a set of detainees though that are dangerous to the United States, but unfortunately evidence against them may be tainted. Figuring out how to deal with them always was going to be difficult, ah, and we are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantanamo will be closed next year.

I'm not going to set an exact date because a lot of this is also going to depend upon cooperation from Congress.

GARRETT: You said in Shanghai, quote "it makes me a better leader" this is talking about criticism that you receive, "it makes me a better leader because it forces me to hear opinions that I don’t want to hear" Can you give me an example?

OBAMA: Oh I figured, I would...

GARRETT: What criticism has made you a better leader?

OBAMA: Well I, you know, I think for example, when I'm thinking about Afghanistan right now, ah, you've got strong voices on both sides, in a very complex issue. There are voices who say "this is a quagmire and we're wasting our resources and endangering our young men and women's lives and we should just focus on Pakistan, and Al- Qaeda that's in Pakistan.

There are those who say "we’ve gotta go all in and commit and rebuild Afghanistan so it’s a stable just society."

If I was just hearing one side, then I would probably not be getting the full reality of what's going on in Afghanistan: which is that, yes we have a vital interest there, yes we have to make sure that we don’t get mission creep and that we define our interests narrowly to make sure we're just going after extremists and preventing them from having safe havens. Yes, we have got to have an effective Afghan government and right now we don’t have the kind of partner that we'd like; yes we've got to have Pakistan cooperating; yes we've got to have more civilian ah cooperation; so all those variable then go into the decision making process and as I said if I was just listening to hawks or doves on either side of the debate, then I probably wouldn't be making a very good decision.

GARRETT: Yes or no, are you going to read Sarah Palin’s book?

OBAMA: (laughs) You know, I probably will not, but I wish her well, you know, it looks like she's going to do very well without my readership. 

GARRETT: the Israelis have announced intentions to put more settlements in Gilo, I believe is the name of the city, how helpful or hurtful to the process it that and do you consider it a rebuke of your efforts to stop those settlements?

OBAMA: Well there is no doubt that I haven't been able to stop the settlements; and, there is also no doubt from my perspective that it’s in, not only the US interests but  actually Israeli interests to not build settlements.

Look, the situation in the Middle East is very difficult, and I’ve said repeatedly and I’ll say again, Israel’s security is a vital national interest to the United States, and we will make sure they are secure. 

I think that additional settlement building does not contribute to Israel’s security, I think it makes it harder for them to make peace with their neighbors, I think it embitters the Palestinians in a way that could end up being very dangerous, and it makes, makes it hard to re-launch any kind of serious talks about how you achieve s two state solution

GARRETT: Mr. President, thank you very much for your time

OBAMA: Appreciate it, thank you.