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Rove: Oil Spill Crisis Reveals Obama's Ineffectiveness and Inexperience as a Leader

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," June 10, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Why does Karl Rove think President Obama's voting present? Karl Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, nice to see you.

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH SENIOR ADVISER-FOX CONTRIBUTOR: Great to see you, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Karl, before I get to the topic about which we lured you here to the set, I wanted to ask you one thing. I know that you're in Des Moines, Iowa. Have you been able to sort of to see which way the wind is blowing for the various candidates as they've sort of been floating through that state in the last couple weeks and months?

ROVE: Well, it's interesting. They've already begun to float through the state in preparation for 2012. But look, Iowans are used to seeing candidates a lot, and so they tend not to make a decision until about who they're going to be for until they see them perform on behalf of others and until they've seen them several times.

So they've got a hot gubernatorial contest this year that's drawing a lot of attention, at least one tightly contested congressional race, a lot of state legislative races, and Senator Grassley is on the ballot. So Iowans are paying attention to domestic politics before they begin looking at national politics.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's always such an interesting waltz is everyone sort of vacations in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and then denies...

ROVE: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... saying, you know, any sort of political reason. All right, so now the reason why I did lure you here, you have an op -- you have an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, and it essentially says - - at least, this is my interpretation of it -- that you think the president is voting present on very -- on important issues. Is that a fair digest of what you've written?

ROVE: Yes. He had a habit when he was in the Illinois legislature, which allows you to vote, Yes, No and Present. He voted present 130-some- odd times, which is an unusually large number, and he did so on controversial big issues.

And my point was that this habit of sort of being detached and not really engaged and involved is what he's carried over to the presidency, most notably and most recently in the gulf oil spill. He was late in recognizing the magnitude of the problem, late in visiting the region, took him 12 days to get there, late in feigning anger or concern about it.

And even today, 51 days into the crisis, the federal government, which is in charge of this, has put out no independent plan to plug the hole. Other than the president holding a White House meeting in which he supposedly yelled at his White House aides, Plug the damn hole, as if that was a, you know, fresh and new idea, the administration has been absent on this issue, making decisions late, not even meeting with industry experts.

He has yet to meet, 51 days into this, with the head of BP, British Petroleum. And when asked about it, he said, Well, he'll -- in essence, He'll just lie to me. I mean, this is a -- the president will meet with Ahmadinejad and Chavez and Castro without any precondition, but apparently, he won't meet with the head of British Petroleum because he thinks he's going to mislead him.

So and my point was the president's acting present on this and other things, and as a result, he has dropped in the polls pretty dramatically and I think it's going to add to the Democrats' electoral problems this year.

VAN SUSTEREN: So but where do you draw the line between being an effective delegator -- because he can't get down in the weeds on every single issue. I mean, he's got to -- he's got to delegate things to others to accomplish it. I mean, so, you know -- you know, in some ways to me, it now seems like he's trying to play catch-up and scrambling to the reaction, and every time someone gets on TV complaining, he runs down to the Gulf Coast now. And so, you know, that seems rather -- you know, he seems like in an awkward position about this.

ROVE: Well, he is in an awkward opinion. The Fox/Opinion Dynamics poll out today shows that the American people don't think he's been fast acting, aggressive or a strong leader on this issue. They do seem (INAUDIBLE) he exhibited compassion by 60-34 margin. But otherwise, they see him as being timid, slow moving and not a strong leader, and that's dangerous for a president.

But you touched on something interesting. Look, you do need to delegate, but you need to know enough about this in order to be smart. So why has he not met with industry experts to say, Explain to me what we ought to be doing? And if he doesn't want to meet with people in the oil industry, then you -- there are plenty of very smart petroleum engineering professors in America's great colleges and universities he could meet with.

And then when you outsource it, you better outsource out to people who know what the heck they're doing. To me, one of the key examples was, you know, he sent -- he keeps talking about, My Nobel Prize-Winning energy secretary, Dr. Stephen Chu. He's examining all contingency plans.

Well, you may remember, a week ago Friday, they put -- the had the -- or excuse me, last Friday, they put the device, the cap on top of the pipe. They had to first of all cut the pipe in order to give it a flat surface. They then put the cap on top of it. But there are baffles, there are -- in the -- in the -- in the cap so that -- which are open so the oil can flow, and then they begin to close those baffles to see how much pressure the cap that's sitting on top of that pipe can take.

Well, Chu is in the operations room -- operations center watching the video link in Houston when they put the cap on, and the oil continues to flow. And the Nobel Prize-winning energy secretary says to everybody, Well, why is the oil continuing to flow? And the engineers have to tell him, Well, you know what? We -- we -- we have these baffles, these vents that are venting oil, and we'll begin to close those slowly in order to make certain that it can sustain the pressure and also so we don't have these methane hydrate crystals form that will clog it up.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, are you saying in your description of the president -- are you saying that you disagree what he's doing, that he's detached from the seriousness of the purpose, or are you saying he's inexperienced and doesn't know what he's doing?

ROVE: Well, I think the two things are connected. I think the president lacks experience. In fact, I mention in my piece today in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post/ABC asked in March of 2008 if people thought that President Obama was inexperienced, lacked the experience to be an effective president. And 46 percent said yes.

In October, they asked the question again, and over the course -- the long course of the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was not able to satisfy people on this question. Forty-four percent said he lacked the experience to be an effective president. Yet they voted for him because they were hopeful and aspirant -- that this aspirational and inspirational figure would work it out.

And I think there were these deep doubts. And what he has done since then, like outsourcing the writing of the stimulus bill, being diffident and unengaged in these major policy decision -- he's a cheerleader for them, but he's not involved in helping them fashion them -- has led people to believe that this guy is not a strong and effective leader, and this latest crisis is only adding to it.

VAN SUSTEREN: How -- what -- what -- tell me exactly -- I mean, like, if were you advising President Obama, like, what exactly, at this point, in light of the fact that he hasn't met with the CEO of BP and now he's making these trips down to the golf course -- Gulf Coast, rather, and he's got these other issues (INAUDIBLE) what would you advise him to do next week?

ROVE: Look, if he has a plan, lay it out. If he doesn't have a plan, shoot straight with the American people. In fact, this is his biggest shortcoming. I think he should have come out at the very beginning of this and said, Look, we're dealing with a very difficult crisis here because this well is 5,000 feet under the surface of the water and this is a depths that we've never dealt with before. The only sure method of solving this is relief wells, which will take up to three months to drill. In the meantime, we're going to try -- we're going to be sitting down with BP and we're going to put the best minds on it, and we're going to coming up with -- we're going to throw everything we can at it and hope something works. But this is going to be long and this is going to be arduous because the only sure thing that we know that will work is going to take a lot of time. In the meantime, we're going to be doing everything we can, and we're going to be doing it in close concert with the people who have the skills.

Next thing I'd do is, I would bring in next week, if the president hasn't met with him, and his schedule -- the schedule that they up on the White House Internet -- on the White House Web site, available on the Internet, shows that he's not yet met with industry experts. I'd get the smartest engineering minds in the petroleum and -- and -- petroleum engineering departments of major universities to come in and brief him. Maybe there are some other ideas that BP has not done that might be usable.

But the president has bungled this, and we're 51 days into it, and to try 51 days into something to try and resurrect your reputation and look like you're aggressive and forward-looking and fast-moving -- it's impossible. We're long past that point.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it's interesting you raise the issue of resurrecting your reputation because since part of being a leader, regrettably, is the perception of whether people think you are a leader or not so they'll take your counsel. He's got the additional problem...

ROVE: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... in that he's got former president Clinton being successful down in Arkansas with Senator Blanche Lincoln, when he himself wasn't summoned there. And then now you've got President Clinton going out to Nevada to help Senate majority leader Harry Reid. Meanwhile, you know, he's back at the ranch, out with big important things on his plate, but he's got this sort of roving former president who's looking a little bit more like the leader.

ROVE: Well, it was a unique opportunity for President Clinton because it's a home state of Arkansas, and he knows everybody in every corner and every nook of that state, and it was enormously powerful for Blanche Lincoln. But you touch on a bigger problem. The president is politically weak. He couldn't -- he couldn't take Specter across the finish line, even though he, the president, was the object or the subject of the Specter campaign's last ad.

He couldn't bring Blanche Lincoln a-crossed in the first go-round. It required President Clinton dropping in and spending day and day and day and day after day in Arkansas to bring her a-crossed. The president couldn't win Arkansas -- Pennsylvania 12th congressional district. In fact, the winning Democrat candidate ran against him by saying, I don't want him to come in to campaign. I'm pro-life. I'm pro-gun. I'm against "Obama care" and I'm against Obama on cap-and-trade. So the president's looking politically weak.

And his numbers are dismal. In the FOX/Opinion Dynamics poll, 46 approve, 44 -- 45 disapprove. In the Gallup poll, it's 44 approve, 48 disapprove. And that's not where you want a president to be. Last October -- excuse me -- last November, when they lost all those races in New Jersey and Virginia and Pennsylvania, the president's popularity was 54 percent approve. So he's even worse off today.

You've got to be, if a Democrat, looking there, saying, This is a weak guy who's got a -- only a tenuous hold on American public opinion, and I don't want to be closely associated with him except for purposes of winning primaries occasionally and raising money.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Next, more with Karl Rove. Does former governor Sarah Palin have the magic touch when it comes to endorsements or just some lucky picks? Karl tells you next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Does President Obama have a thankless job? We continue with Karl Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: To what extent, though, is it a thankless job that he has? You know, I mean, first he's got -- he's got Iran with Ahmadinejad, who's not agreeable to any -- talking to anybody or working with anybody and he doesn't seem to respond to any sort of sanctions or anything. You've got him in one corner. You've got a dismal economy that -- even if -- even if the stimulus bill works, it's going to be a long time before it works. Now you've got this disaster down in the Gulf of Mexico, which was something that's created by a corporation failing to be -- to make a safe deep drilling. So you know, to what extent is this just a thankless job, and you know, you can't blame him for that? Or not?

ROVE: Well, look, it is a thankless job, but you -- but even then, these are self-inflicted wounds. Imagine what would have happened if he'd come out the first week and said, This is going to be a difficult thing to do, an arduous task, and explained the reality of it to the American people? What if he had been making decisions?

Look, it took them from May 11th to May 27th to respond to Louisiana's request to build berms, and it took him until June 2nd to tell Louisiana how they'd be paid for. That's not leadership. That's not rapid response. That's not prioritizing it.

The stimulus bill -- he told us when he signed the bill that all kinds of things would happen right away. In fact, they handed out even before the bill was passed a chart that showed what would happen to the American economy if nothing were done and what would happen to the American economy and job creation if the bill were passed. None of that has come to pass.

In fact, last Friday, when the job numbers came out for May, 411,000 jobs created in -- temporary jobs created in the Census, only 41,000 jobs in the private sector, down from 218,000 the month before. The markets were cratering while the president is standing out there saying, This shows everything is going in the right direction, we're fine.

And that disconnect -- people don't believe the stimulus bill he supported is good. People don't agree with the health care reform bill that he passed. People don't support the cap-and-trade tax, the energy tax that he wants to pass. It's the policies are that driving people away from him. They like him personally. They think he's showing compassion in the situation in the Gulf. They just don't think what his leadership is and what his -- what his answers for our challenges are, are appropriate or right. And that's a big problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: (INAUDIBLE) we go back to where, essentially, we started, where, you know, if you look at -- you know, he was a state senator. He was a U.S. Senator for a short time. You know, the question is, you know, to what extent does experience count? And he may -- you know, may be a very bright man, but, you know, there is some aspect of that and the American people knew exactly, you know, his experience or lack thereof when they voted for him.

ROVE: Well, they did, and they had concerns. And those concerns have only grown since he got into office, not been assuaged. He came in with the best wishes of the American people, with a chance to do a lot of great things. And they had an impression that he would govern from the center, and they were nervous about him. They had some doubts, but they were hopeful. And those doubts have simply been confirmed.

He is -- he lacks the experience to make executive decisions. His policies have turned out to be very, very liberal. And he's populated his administration with people just like him, eggheads from academia who have no practical working knowledge of how the American economy works or what ordinary families face in their daily lives, and the disconnect simply is growing.

For a president -- for this president this quickly, having come into office with the mandate that he received, to be in the place that he is in today is a mighty commentary on the failure of his policies and the failure of this White House to manage the events that have come its way.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, one quick question. Since we just went through an election and there's a lot of talk about Governor Sarah Palin's endorsements -- she was -- she endorsed Nikki Haley in South Carolina, Carly Fiorina in California. Coincidence that these two women did well, or is Governor Palin's endorsement -- does it matter?

ROVE: It obviously helps. In South Carolina, there was probably an even more powerful endorsement of Nikki Haley, and that was former first lady Jenny Sanford. And between Sanford and Palin, they did an enormously effective job of defending Haley against these last-minute charges of having had an affair with an influential blogger.

In California, her endorsement gave, you know, additional credibility to the argument that Carly Fiorina was making was that she was the effective conservative who could beat Barbara Boxer. So yes, these help. They're -- you know, they're more important in a primary, less important in a general election. They can't win it all. She endorsed, for example, a candidate in Arkansas's -- in the runoff for the Arkansas congressional seat given up by the Republican nominee for the Senate, John Boozman, and that candidate, a state senator, did not win. So you can't work it every time.

But in a primary, you want to show constant momentum. And so candidates who are able to show, I'm winning endorsements, I'm raising money, I'm winning points, I'm doing well in debates, I'm showing larger crowds, all these things add to a sense of momentum that's important for a winning candidate. And a Palin endorsement this spring has been an potent momentum giver.

VAN SUSTEREN: Should Mr. Barrett in South Carolina pull out of the June 22nd runoff with Nikki Haley or not?

ROVE: Well, he's a really good man and this is a decision that's up to him. But you know, 49 percent -- if it was a 49-46 or a 49-40, and the other candidates were rushing in to endorse Barrett, it'd be one thing. But 49 percent to 20-some-odd percent -- that's a big gap to make up. He's got make that decision himself.

But I think a lot of people in South Carolina who supported other candidates are now going to find themselves, you know, sort of moving naturally into the campaign of the candidate who got nearly as many votes as all the rest of the candidates combined, which included Congressman Barrett, Attorney General McMaster and Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer and a variety of other candidates. So it was a pretty strong election night showing for State Representative Nikki Haley.

VAN SUSTEREN: Karl, thank you.

ROVE: Thanks for having me, Greta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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