Matt Lauer Prods Obama to Push Back Against GOP on NBC-Universal Wide Broadcast

With just five weeks to go before the midterms NBC-Universal devoted a full half hour of commercial free air time, across its many properties including MSNBC, USA, Bravo and even Syfy, so that President Obama could offer his views on the state of public education and yes even lash out against Republicans, something Matt Lauer, on Monday's Today show, pushed him to do. Initially invited on to discuss education, the President was, essentially urged by Lauer to take a swipe at the GOP as he asked "Do you intend to change your tone or your emotion in terms of your pushing back?" [audio available here]

MATT LAUER: We are five weeks before the midterm elections and it's getting pretty heated, there's no question. You said at a speech recently, you said, you know, "The Republicans they're treating me like a dog." There's a lot of rhetoric out there, coming from the Republicans toward you, coming from the Tea Party toward you.

BARACK OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: Former President Clinton said he doesn't think the Democrats, and you included, have been rigorous enough in pushing back against some of the Republican attacks. Over these next five weeks, Mr. President, do you intend to change your tone or your emotion in terms of your pushing back?

OBAMA: Well I think that if, if you've heard me speak around the country over the last several months I think that it's clear we, I've got a very sharp difference with the Republicans on a lot of issues. And, and when I say Republicans, I really should say Republican leadership because I think there are a lot of wonderful people out there who consider themselves Republicans or independents who have, maybe some criticisms of my administration, but basically recognize we've got to solve some big problems. We've got to be serious. We've gotta base our decisions on facts. What I'm seeing out of the Republican leadership, over the last several years has been a set of policies that are just irresponsible. And we saw in their Pledge to America, a similar set of irresponsible policies. They say they want to balance the budget. They proposed $4 trillion worth of tax cuts and $16 billion in, in spending cuts. And then they say we're gonna somehow magically balance the budget. That's not a serious approach. So the question for voters, over the next five weeks, is who is putting forward policies that have a chance to move our country forward so that our schools have improved, so that we have world class infrastructure. So that we're serious about helping small business. We're serious about getting a handle on our spending and who is just engaging in rhetoric. And, and I think that if, if that debate is taking place over the next five weeks, we are gonna do just fine.

Before that exchange Lauer allowed Obama to pitch his policy prescriptions to the NBC-Universal viewing audience on the economy and to rail against Republicans on pushing for "tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," as he told Lauer: "One of the major disagreements I've got, for example, with the Republicans right now, has to do with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, you and me. You and I, Matt, we're not likely to spend any additional tax cut because whatever we need for our families, we can afford right now."

The following exchanges were aired on the September 27 Today show:

MATT LAUER: Some other topics. Recently the poverty rate in this country was announced.

BARACK OBAMA: Yeah.

LAUER: It's at 14.3 percent. That means roughly 44 million Americans are living at or below the poverty level. It's stunning to me to know what the poverty level is - $22,000 a year for a family of four. So consider a family of four making $30,000 or $40,000.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: They're not living the dream either. They're struggling every single week. How can any American president hear those numbers and not decide to declare there's some kind of national emergency.

OBAMA: Well look we have gone through the worst recession since the Great Depression and although the steps that might administration have taken have been able to, to stem some of the, the crisis and stabilize the situation we're still in the midst of the after-effects of that. When you got eight million people unemployed, when you've got a lot of people underemployed it means that the poverty rate is gonna go up. And that's why taking the steps that I've been pushing for, to make sure that we've got tax breaks to encourage companies investing here in the United States. Making sure that the small business bill that I passed and that I'm gonna be signing today provides loans to small businesses and, and cuts their taxes on things like capital gains to encourage investment, building infrastructure, so that we are improving our ability to perform internationally. All those things are gonna make a difference. Because the single most important anti-poverty program we is making sure that there's enough job growth out there.

LAUER: Last time we sat down you said to me that you were confident that this recovery, when it seemed like more of a recovery, at the time, would not be a jobless recovery.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: It seems to me I'm listening to more and more economists who aren't so sure about that. Have you changed your thinking, at all, that a lot of these eight million jobs simply aren't coming back.

OBAMA: Well here's the challenge. It's not that this is a jobless recovery. We're actually, we've seen eight months, in a row, of private sector job growth. We're actually seeing more job growth so far in this recovery, than we did in the last recovery that we had back in 2001. The problem is we just lost so many jobs because of the, the crisis that we've got a much bigger hole to fill. And that means we're gonna have to accelerate job growth and we've gotta do everything we can to focus on that. And, and that means making sure that anything we do, we're spending that money wisely. That, you know, one of the major disagreements I've got, for example, with the Republicans right now, has to do with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, you and me. You and I, Matt, we're not likely to spend any additional tax cut because whatever we need for our families, we can afford right now. What we need is tax cuts for the middle class who are struggling and if they get a tax cut they are likely to spend it, which means that a small business is potentially gonna get a customer and we're gonna see job growth. So we, we can't spend $700 billion on a tax cut that is not gonna spur job growth. We can spend money on things like infrastructure, on things like school construction. On making sure that small businesses are getting loans because those are the things that are more likely to generate the job growth we need.

LAUER: You remember Velma Hart?

OBAMA: I do.

LAUER: Velma Hart was a woman, you met at a town hall meeting-

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: -on CNBC a week ago today and, and she's the woman who said that she was one of your biggest supporters, your core supporters and she was exhausted defending you.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: It, it seemed to me what she was saying, and, and I've heard others say, as of late, Mr. President, is that there's a feeling that in some way you have lost touch with the struggles of the average person on the street. I say it with some sense of irony, because you began your career in public service as a community organizer.

OBAMA: Right.

LAUER: That is all about getting in touch with people on the street. So how can this criticism now be coming up of a guy who started out as a community organizer?

OBAMA: You know it's interesting, Velma, I think subsequently was interviewed and she just talked about the fact that, "Look the President is really trying, he's, he's working hard. A lot of things he's doing I think are right but it's just not happening fast enough. Well everybody feels that frustration right now. I feel it, and acutely. And you know the, the fact of the matter is, that as long as unemployment is as high as it is. As long as we haven't recovered as quickly as we should have, people are gonna be hurting. And even if they think that I know they're hurting, what they're asking is, "When are you gonna be able to do something concrete that allows me to get a job or make sure that I can pay my bills or make sure that I don't lose my house. And you know all I can communicate to the American people is that every single day that, that the thing I wake up with and the thing that I go to bed with is the fact that there are too many Americans out there who are doing the right thing, working hard, taking their responsibilities seriously and are still having a tough time in this economy. We are doing everything we can to make sure that, they have an opportunity to live out that American dream.

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