Tim Geithner appeared on Good Morning America, Monday, to promote his new book. While co-host George Stephanopoulos avoided negative comments about the Obama administration, he made sure to tout praise of Hillary Clinton and to lobby for an endorsement. After the former Treasury Secretary explained how he recommended Clinton as a possible replacement, the GMA anchor enthused, "Is she your candidate for president next time around?"
Geithner dodged and the host repeated, "Is she your candidate for president next time around?" Stephanopoulos also pressed the ex-cabinet official from the left, wondering, "So, what's the simple answer, then, to critics like Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, who say you focused too much on big financial institution, not enough on family?"
“I remember during one Roosevelt Room prep session before I appeared on the Sunday shows, I objected when Dan Pfeiffer wanted me to say Social Security didn’t contribute to the deficit. It wasn’t a main driver of our future deficits, but it did contribute. Pfeiffer said the line was a ‘dog whistle’ to the left, a phrase I had never heard before. He had to explain that the phrase was code to the Democratic base, signaling that we intended to protect Social Security.” (p. 458-9, 467)
This did not come up on GMA. Instead, Stephanopoulos stuck to open-ended, generalized questions, such as asking: "Of all the lessons that you learned what is the single most important thing that Washington can do to prevent the next crisis?"
A transcript of the May 12 segment is below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Tim Geithner was right at the government's response to the financial crisis, first as head of the New York Federal Reserve. Then as President Obama's first Treasury secretary. Now he's out with a new book telling his side of the story. Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises. Tim Geithner, welcome to GMA. And I actually I love that title, Stress Test. It's a nice play on words. Because it gets what you guys did to the big banks. You gave them the stress test but also, what, in some ways, Washington did to you.
TIM GEITHNER: You know, it was a pretty dark moment and, you know, I wanted to give people a sense of how it felt to land that burning plane in the fires of the crisis, to get people a better feeling for why we did and how we were able, ultimately, even this messy broken political system was ultimately able to deploy the overwhelming force of the United States, not to just prevent a Great Depression, but get the economy growing again in six months. In six months.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And one of the things you struggle with in the book is that people till don't buy it. They believe you were protecting banks at their expense and the banks think you were appeasing public opinion at their expense. And real trap: Looking back, was there any way out of it?
GEITHNER: I don't think so. In a financial panic, the most important thing you have to do, again, to land that plane safely, is make sure you do everything possible to keep the lights on in the financial system because we don't like to admit it, but the financial system is absolutely critical to the economy functioning. And if you let the lights go out, it's devastating. So, what we did was try to make sure that we kept the system functioning, got the economy growing again and, so people didn't face the risk of another Great Depression.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, what's the simple answer, then, to critics like Elizabeth Warren, the senator from Massachusetts, who say you focused too much on big financial institution, not enough on family?
GEITHNER: By the way, I have a lot of respect for her. I think she's a very talented person. But this general view that what it takes to put out a financial crisis and it's a mistaken view, is to, you should let the fire burn. You should worry about putting people in jail. Although that's an understandable position, if you do that like we saw in the Great Depression you cause amazing damage to the innocent victims of the crisis so first obligation, land that plane safely and then you can figure out how to reform the system to make a crisis not likely in the future.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It takes a toll, though, a personal toll on you and you write about that as well and also on your family. Also I thought it was a very resealing moment. You talk about a conversation with your daughter where she compared your situation serving the country, to the military fighting overseas and she says at least the public believes the military is fighting for them.
GEITHNER: Yeah, it's very hard. It's much harder for your family than for me, because I'm in there fighting, deciding, trying to decide what to do in the fog of war. But they just have this huge loss of privacy. It's very hard on the family.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, you even write about this scene, the John Oliver Show – of the Jon Stewart Show. It was actually right on your front law.
GEITHNER: It's a perfect moment. It was my daughter's graduation day and we were trying to sell our house, so they could move to Washington with me. Tough housing market, as you remember. It was a terrible time at that moment. So, did what they probably thought was a tempting thing, obvious thing to do, which is to use that as an example to say, to explain to people, to say to people that the economy was really terrible. Even the Secretary of the Treasury couldn't sell his house.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did it get sold after being on TV?
GEITHNER: We rented it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a start. We live in it today.
GEITHNER: We moved back into it, which I'm really glad about.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You tried to resign several times and I was surprised to read when you were finally leaving you suggested to President Obama that Hillary Clinton replace you.
GEITHNER: Well, I had a lot of good ideas for the President. She was one of them. And she would have been excellent at it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You think she would have been a good Treasury secretary?
GEITHNER: Of course. She would have been excellent at it. She could be a master of that.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is she your candidate for president next time around?
GEITHNER: I have tremendous confidence in her. I think she's terrific.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Is she your candidate for president next time around?
GEITHNER: I'm not – I'm not a political person.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay. So, you're not going to answer that. Let me give you one final question. Of all the lessons that you learned what is the single most important thing that Washington can do to prevent the next crisis?
GEITHNER: It's two things, I would say. One, you have to build and maintain very strong shock absorbers against risk in the financial system. When you don't do that, it's devastating. But you also have to keep a strong fire station there so when things fall apart you can deploy massive financial forces as quickly as you can, not to protect banks. But to protect people from the consequence, the unemployment that follows financial panics.