OTR Interviews

Is President Obama Tone-Deaf When It Comes to Major Crises?

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," March 16, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Today continues to be harrowing. We are watching Japan, wondering if there will be a nuclear meltdown. Meanwhile, millions of people in Japan have no food, no shelter, no power, and it is really cold. And there is fighting in Bahrain and Libya. No one knows what will happen in those two hotspots. And that is not all that happened today.

Today, President Obama announced his "March Madness" picks. Now, the president reported his picks on ESPN, and that's is not going unnoticed. Fred Thompson in an op-ed said President Obama will already have spent 20 minutes unveiling his NCAA brackets on national television, so maybe he can take a few minutes to look over the needs of our nation. And Donald Trump calls President Obama golfing this weekend very inappropriate. So is the president tone-deaf?

Rick Klein, senior Washington editor for ABC "World News" and co-host of the webcast "Top Line" joins us. And it wasn't 20 minutes on ESPN, it was only a little bit less than five. I checked that out!

RICK KLEIN, ABC "WORLD NEWS": Doesn't take that to long to fill it out.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doesn't take that long to fill it out. Tone-deaf, or should we cut the president some slack on this?

KLEIN: Well, I -- look, he's, like -- it's a national obsession to fill out your brackets, and this is a subject that the president clearly knows something about. That said, they didn't have to do this. I mean, you don't have to -- there's nothing that says you have to spend some time doing this. You know what you're projecting. I think, from the White House political perspective, you may be reaching a bit of a different audience. He seems like a regular guy who's out there filling out brackets, like everyone else in the country. You do know that you're going to take some flak for it because every minute that you're that, people are saying, Well, that's minutes taken away from what you could be doing as president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you say - first of all, they did say at the time he was doing his brackets, he said, "Give money to Japan."

KLEIN: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: So they attempted to do that, give it -- you know, they tried to solicit funds to give to Japan. In terms of being a regular guy, he does play basketball, often plays -- you know, and plays other sports, so it's not like this was his only moment to show that he knew something about sports.

KLEIN: No, but I mean, you watch that. He clearly knows a lot about college basketball. Personally, I was -- I was more scandalized by the fact that he had all number one picks going into the final four. There's nothing -- there's no audacity in making picks like that. But I think -- I think they realize that when you do something like this, you're going to take some heat for it, and I think the president wanted to do it anyway. The White House felt comfortable with taking the time to do it anyway. Again, it gets him out there in a different form, a different format. He's done it for each of the last couple of years, going back to his time as a candidate.

VAN SUSTEREN: And less than five minutes, and he can certainly multi-task. We women do it all the time. All right, his approval ratings, March 13 to 15, they're now approval 48 percent, disapproval of 44 percent. What does that -- what does that tell you?

KLEIN: It says, actually, that he's been holding pretty strong, given all of the barrage of bad news that's been out there, the bad economic news that continues, all the foreign news that's out there. He still has a base of support that is pretty consistent. Republicans haven't been able to really make inroads with their approval ratings and say anything. People still generally like the guy. And I think whether it's the regular (INAUDIBLE) on things like the brackets or just generally feeling like he's on their side, he still has that base. And I think it's rather remarkable, given all of the setbacks they've had. They really they want to be spending this time, the last couple of months, talking about jobs, talking about the economy, talking about education. And it's just been from every different direction some other news.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you've got the budget discussion on Capitol Hill. You've got Libya, and you've got the secretary of state basically handling that. She's over in that part of the region. I'm just thinking to myself, is it -- is it -- you know, does he worry at all how this looks?

KLEIN: Well...

VAN SUSTEREN: And maybe it doesn't look -- I mean, with his approval ratings, maybe it doesn't look bad!

KLEIN: Yes, I don't think these are the kind of things that people spend a lot of time worrying about, and particularly swing voters, independent voters who are making their judgments about -- about presidential candidates. It gives people to talk -- something to talk about now, certainly. President -- other -- other candidates, other potential candidates -- you mentioned Donald Trump there -- it's an easy shot for folks like that. But I don't think there's a huge political down side that the White House sees in spending some time on brackets.

VAN SUSTEREN: Have they begun to get ready for 2012?

KLEIN: Very much. Very much.

VAN SUSTEREN: What are they doing?

KLEIN: They're already staffing up in Chicago. David Axelrod is out there, very involved in the campaign. And they're game-planning out a lot of the -- a lot of the potential opponents. You've noticed a couple of times where President Obama has a lot of praise for Mitt Romney, a lot of praise for Jon Huntsman, that kind of killing them with kindness strategy that...

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that deliberate? You think that's deliberate?

KLEIN: Oh, I think they know that they're -- they're creating some mischief in the Republican field by talking about what a great ambassador to China Jon Huntsman has been for President Obama.

VAN SUSTEREN: Who do you think they fear most tonight?

KLEIN: I think there's a lot of concern about the kind of candidate that Mike Huckabee would be potentially. I think they see flaws in all of the candidates. I think they feel pretty good about the matchups. But I think the thing that they're probably most concerned about is someone that can really scramble the electoral map, make a kind of different appeal than a traditional Republican. That's -- they're comfortable with the map that they saw the last time around. If they can fight on that territory, they're in pretty good shape.

VAN SUSTEREN: Rick, thank you.