Appearing on Monday's NBC Today to preview his exclusive interview with President Obama, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams revealed some of his softball questions: "I went on to ask him when he's going to channel his inner Harry Truman, as members of his base have been asking....I also asked him about all the people who voted for the man on the poster that said, 'Hope.' That answer was illuminating."
Near the end of the segment, co-host Matt Lauer asked Williams about Obama's strategy of running against Republicans in Congress. Williams explained: "While not quite painting it as a do-nothing Congress, he's going to be running against Congress as he goes out into all these congressional districts." Lauer remarked: "Yeah, like 80% of people would like to get rid of that particular Congress." Williams added: "Yeah, 82%, I think."
In the portion of the interview that was played, Williams asked the President several open-ended questions with little follow up. As one example, Williams simply wondered: "Tea Party here to stay?" That gave Obama the opportunity to bash the conservative political movement:
You know, we've always had a anti-federal government bent in a chunk of our population. That's nothing new. I do think that the extreme position that you hear that says government has no role to play in growing our economy, that the federal government has no function to play in building a strong middle class, is absolutely wrong. I reject that view and I think the vast majority of Americans reject that view.
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In contrast to Williams calling on Obama to find his "inner Harry Truman," during Wednesday's Republican debate on MSNBC, he routinely hit GOP candidates with questions from the left.
Williams did present some challenging questions, like quoting Mitt Romney saying that Obama "doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again." The President deflected the criticism: "I'm not going to start reacting to Republican rhetoric in a presidential campaign."
Williams also quoted Obama back to himself: "You said to Matt Lauer, February of '09, 'If I don't get this done in three years then there's going to be a one-term proposition.'" The President argued: "What we've done is we've been able to stabilize the economy and, you know, that is an enormous accomplishment..." Williams refrained from actually playing a clip of Obama's 2009 comments.
Here is a full transcript of the September 12 segment:
7:00AM ET TEASE:
MATT LAUER: NBC News exclusive. President Obama talks to Brian Williams about the struggling economy, the GOP presidential contenders, and his poll numbers.
BARACK OBAMA: If I was worrying about polls I wouldn't be sitting here interviewing with you.
LAUER: The President speaks out as he gets set to send his jobs plan to Congress today.
7:01AM ET SEGMENT:
MATT LAUER: But let us begin on this Monday morning with President Obama's thoughts on the economy and the GOP presidential candidates. NBC's Brian Williams spoke to the President exclusively. Brian, it's good to have you here. Good morning.
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Well, Matt, thanks for having me. Good morning. And what an interesting weekend to go to Washington, to the White House, and talk to this president. First of all, we had the terror warning, of course, and, second, all those op-ed pieces warning this president he's going to be a one-term president. Started out by asking about his poll numbers. 37% of the people believe in the way he's handling the economy and his overall approval rating of 44%.
BARACK OBAMA: One of the things that I learned very early on is not to worry about polls, because if I was worrying about polls I wouldn't be sitting here interviewing with you. As I recall when I was running for president, I was down about 30 points around this time in my first run for the presidency.
You know, the truth of the matter is the American people have gone through the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and they are understandably impatient. And I can say to them, 'Look, all the actions we've taken have been the right actions. If we hadn't taken those actions things would be much worse,' but the bottom line is unemployment is still at 9%. And there's still a lot of folks hurting out there, and my job as President of the United States is not to worry about my job, my task is to worry about their job and their economic situation.
WILLIAMS: Did you watch any of the Republican debate?
OBAMA: You know, I didn't watch my own debates much less somebody else's.
WILLIAMS: Mitt Romney, quote, 'The President's a nice guy. He doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again.' Your reaction?
OBAMA: I'm not going to start reacting to Republican rhetoric in a presidential campaign. Let them decide who it is that is going to be their standard-bearer and we'll have more than ample time to have a debate with them.
WILLIAMS: What do you make of Rick Perry, who is, I guess, the front-runner?
OBAMA: Well, you know, he's – he's been the governor of a big state, and, you know, there's no doubt he's a credible candidate, as is Mr. Romney, and a whole bunch of other folks.
WILLIAMS: Tea Party here to stay?
OBAMA: You know, I think the strains that you're seeing in the Tea Party are a permanent part of the American political landscape. You know, we've always had a anti-federal government bent in a chunk of our population. That's nothing new. I do think that the extreme position that you hear that says government has no role to play in growing our economy, that the federal government has no function to play in building a strong middle class, is absolutely wrong. I reject that view and I think the vast majority of Americans reject that view. I think having Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid programs that provide a social safety net for people, that is a vital role for our government. It's not enough for us to just leave that to local charities.
WILLIAMS: You said to Matt Lauer, February of '09, 'If I don't get this done in three years then there's going to be a one-term proposition.'
OBAMA: Well, it would be – you know, what we've done is we've been able to stabilize the economy and, you know, that is an enormous accomplishment, but the fact of the matter is that we are not where we need to be. And it is important for us to not relitigate all the arguments of the past but rather to say, 'Right now what are the smartest things we can do to put people back to work?' And when you look at what independent economists are saying about the American Jobs Act, my jobs plan, uniformly what they are saying is this buys us insurance against a double-dip recession, and it almost certainly helps the economy grow and will put more people back to work, and that's what the American people want right now.
WILLIAMS: Interesting day with the President. I went on to ask him when he's going to channel his inner Harry Truman, as members of his base have been asking. And we were just getting started. I also asked him about all the people who voted for the man on the poster that said, 'Hope.' That answer was illuminating. We'll have that tonight on Nightly News.
LAUER: When you talked to him about the idea that it could be a one-term presidency because he hasn't turned the economy around and he said, 'Well, stabilizing it was an enormous accomplishment,' do you think voters are going to see it that way?
WILLIAMS: Well, the voters are going to see a different president as a candidate in terms of energy and trying to defeat the opponent. Whether that's going to make any difference to them on the economy, it still goes back to your question, can he move it off the dime? And if not, voters have a funny way of enforcing their will.
LAUER: He's on the road a lot this week. He'll be in Ohio, he'll be in North Carolina, he's pushing this jobs plan. How's he framing the debate on that versus the Republicans?
WILLIAMS: Well, I asked him, is this just a big jobs program, a big put people to work, dig into the soil and make roads? He says, no, this has a lot of different facets, and he's going to, while not quite painting it as a do-nothing Congress, he's going to be running against Congress as he goes out into all these congressional districts.
LAUER: Yeah, like 80% of people would like to get rid of that particular Congress.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, 82%, I think.
LAUER: There you go. Brian, good to have you up with us this morning.
WILLIAMS: Thanks for having us.
LAUER: Thanks very much. And you can see more of Brian's interview with President Obama, that's tonight on NBC Nightly News.