Worried Lauer Presses First Lady On Health Care: 'Can Your Husband Get It Done?'

Michelle Obama sat down for an exclusive, multi-part interview with NBC's Matt Lauer on Wednesday's Today show and as expected with any Q&A with a First Lady the co-host tossed the perfunctory softballs on topics like family life in the White House and her cause of childhood obesity, but Lauer also extended the favorable treatment when discussing health care reform as he pressed: "Will it pass? Can your husband get it done?" Lauer also reminisced with Michelle Obama about his interview with the President last year when "It was a heady time for you as a family and for Democrats," but noted that the "mood and the tone have changed," and admitted to personally being "worried if that stings a bit." [audio available here]

LAUER: You did get out there and push for health care reform. And, and since the loss of Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, it's, it's far from certain. And it seems some Democrats are willing to maybe let it go to the back burner and let it go with the whimper as opposed to a bang. Will it pass? Can your husband get it done?

OBAMA: I hope so. The country needs health care. It's hard, it's scary, it's confusing, but I hope for our country's sake that we can do this now and not wait until things get worse. I mean, I agree with the President when he said that we don't have the option to do nothing. He's right.

LAUER: I was here almost a year ago today interviewing your husband on Super Bowl Sunday. It was a heady time for you as a family and for Democrats. There was all the talk of hope and change, and here as we sit here a year later, the mood and the tone have changed dramatically, and, and, and I'm just worried if that stings a little bit.

The following is the complete transcript of the first part of Lauer's interview with the First Lady as it was aired on the February 3 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Now to our exclusive interview with First Lady Michelle Obama. She has been under intense scrutiny ever since her husband decided to run for President, and the spotlight has only grown brighter during President Obama's first year in office. We sat down with Mrs. Obama at the White House on Tuesday, and I began by asking her what it's like to have everything you do, say and wear make headlines all around the world? Could you have imagined the magnitude-

MICHELLE OBAMA: No.

LAUER: Of the attention that you've received over these past 12 months?

OBAMA: No, no. No I don't think I'm that interesting. I still, I don't think my husband is that interesting. I keep wondering, are they still talking about you? But no, it's there's, there's no way I could have predicted it, but I can say that I've enjoyed this year. I feel honored and privileged to be this nation's First Lady. It's, it's been a wonderful welcome.

LAUER: It seems a guessing game going on about you, Mrs. obama. People are trying to figure out what kind of First Lady you want to be, and, and do you want to be a First Lady in the Laura Bush mold, a little lower profile and less controversy or maybe in the Hillary Clinton mold, a little higher profile and maybe with that comes more controversy? Have you thought about that?

OBAMA: Every First Lady who, who sat in these shoes or stood in these shoes has brought something very different to, to the, to the task. That's sort of the beauty of this. We don't have a job description.

LAUER: Right.

OBAMA: So I think every, every model is, is one that I learned from, but my goal overall is just to be helpful. I mean, fundamentally, I want to look back on this time and feel like I affected somebody's life because I was here.

LAUER: Your popularity, I mean at the polls, right now they have you at about a 70 percent approval rating. That is higher than Mrs. Bush at this stage of her being First Lady, higher than Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady, and I should mention that your husband's approval rating -- you're chuckling -- has gone a little bit in the other direction. He came in, in the mid-sixties, he's now at about 47 percent. Has it been hard for you, over this past year, to witness some of the things that have been said about him, the criticism that has been leveled at him and the reality of this job?

OBAMA: It's, it's, it's part of the job. This has been a tough year for the nation, folks out of work, two wars. We have an economy that we pulled from the brink of depression. Folks, you know, they're looking for work, they're losing their homes. I mean, so Americans are rightfully frustrated, and the person in charge is the person folks look to.

(Begin clip)

MICHELLE OBAMA: Health insurance reform is the next step, so we're going to need you all.

(End clip)

LAUER: You did get out there and push for health care reform. And, and since the loss of Ted Kennedy's seat in Massachusetts, it's, it's far from certain. And it seems some Democrats are willing to maybe let it go to the back burner and let it go with the whimper as opposed to a bang. Will it pass? Can your husband get it done?

OBAMA: I hope so. The country needs health care. It's hard, it's scary, it's confusing, but I hope for our country's sake that we can do this now and not wait until things get worse. I mean, I agree with the President when he said that we don't have the option to do nothing. He's right.

LAUER: I was here almost a year ago today interviewing your husband on Super Bowl Sunday. It was a heady time for you as a family and for Democrats. There was all the talk of hope and change, and here as we sit here a year later, the mood and the tone have changed dramatically, and, and, and I'm just worried if that stings a little bit.

OBAMA: You know, I think we're all, you know, working. We, we have to continue to work on how to disagree without being disagreeable. Barack warned us about this over the course of the campaign. I mean he talked a lot about hope, but he said that hope, with that, comes compromise and sacrifice, and it's painful and it takes time, and it's true, and we're sort of feeling the, the pain of that, and it's, it's a natural reaction for-

LAUER: But has it been hard to keep your spirits up and his spirits up?

OBAMA: I don't want to seem, you know, unrealistically optimistic, but our experiences on the ground are outstanding.

LAUER: You mean, when you go out and meet people.

OBAMA: When we go out and meet people, even people who are struggling. Folks are gracious in this country. They're enthusiastic. They want this country to succeed. I think that they are confident that they have a president who cares and who's serious. They may not agree with the direction, but that's what we feel.

LAUER: During the campaign, when, when your husband was running for president, you were out on the campaign trail, there was a lot of criticizing of President Bush and his policies. I'm just wondering now 12 months later, being the, the family in the White House, if your perspective on that has changed, in that perhaps maybe it would have been better to be less judgmental now that you know the pressures that the President is under?

OBAMA: Yeah, well, you know, I think that on the campaign trail my husband, his goal was to be truthful and honest about the problems that we face. The truth is, is that this job is hard.

LAUER: Right.

OBAMA: It's hard for every person who sits in that office. I think that's one of the sort of unifying things about presidents and former presidents, is that only they and their families understand the pressure of this job, and obviously, we have much more respect for those who've, who've held the position. But Barack will face others who will follow him, who will be critical and should have the right to be critical of things that they don't agree with.

LAUER: You just mentioned the pressures of the job, and I'm not sure if your husband were standing here I'd ask this question in the same way, but I'll try with you privately. You know, if I were to hold a picture of your husband up from 16 months ago let's say, and I were to hold a picture up next to it of today, the obvious truth is, the job has aged him a little. You look at his hair, it's grayer.

OBAMA: Yeah.

LAUER: There's, there's a little more wear and tear on his face. He still looks good, mind you.

OBAMA: He's cute!

LAUER: Yeah I know, no I'm not, I'm not bad mouthing your husband here. But, but-

OBAMA: Hey! No.

LAUER: When you look at him, do you, do you notice the toll that it's taken physically on him?

OBAMA: You know, probably -- no, because I see him every day.

LAUER: Every day, yeah.

OBAMA: And it's the kind of thing, you see your kids every day, you don't notice that they've grown two inches until you stand up next to them and go what happened to you? You know, I tease Barack all the time, because you know, the gray issue is interesting because his mother, his grandfather, they were all completely gray, so he was going that direction anyway.

LAUER: Let me read you some of the accolades you've received over the past year or so, okay?

OBAMA: Take your time.

LAUER: Okay, I'll go through them slowly. You were named to Forbes magazine's Most Powerful Women list, People magazine's Most Beautiful list, Time magazine's most influential list, and you made Maxim magazine's list of Hottest Women.

OBAMA: No, I didn't hear that.

LAUER: You didn't, I don't know many women who are able-

OBAMA: Are there people laughing about that?

LAUER: No, no. I didn't even hear a chuckle, not one chuckle. I don't know a lot of people who can live in those two worlds that I've just mentioned here.

OBAMA: Yeah, yeah I don't know anyone who can, either. It's a good thing I don't know. Well, you know, I approach this position like I approach my life. I try to be as authentically me as I can be – I've said this before -- because it's easier to maintain it. So, what people have seen over the course of the year is really Michelle, and I find a level of comfort in that role. So, I don't think about occupying a list or a title. I still see myself as Michelle Obama, the girl who grew up on the South side of Chicago, Marian and Frasier's daughter. I've got this husband who does these interesting things and I'm Malia and Sasha's mother.

(End of interview)

LAUER: And Malia and Sasha, by the way, were upstairs doing their homework while we were doing that interview.

MEREDITH VIEIRA: You know you understand why her, her approval rating is as high as it is. She's just a very, very likable person. Extremely.

LAUER: Yeah there's no question about it.

Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens
Geoffrey Dickens is the Deputy Research Director at the Media Research Center.