Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Thursday trumpeted his exclusive interview with Barack Obama and rewarded the President with 16 minutes of air time, just as the midterm election season kicks off.
Stephanopoulos served up several softballs during the four part interview. Speaking of the pastor in Florida who intends to burn a Koran on 9/11, he sympathized, "I wonder what this must feel like from behind your desk. You're President of the United States. You have to deal with the fallout. And here's a pastor who's got 30 followers in his church. Does it make you feel helpless or angry?" [MP3 audio here.]
The host informed viewers that the issue is "of deep concern too him as President, as a Christian and as Commander in Chief."
Pointing out criticism of Obama, Stephanopoulos highlighted the President's children: "You know, and you have had the chance to have dinner at home a lot. You know, when you're going through these hard times, how much of it bleeds through to them? And how do you protect them from it?"
Perhaps because of the extensive running time, 16 minutes and 15 seconds, and because of Stephanopoulos' past a Democratic campaign operative, the host did offer some tough questions.
Stephanopoulos repeatedly challenged the Democrat on letting the Bush tax cuts expire. At one point, he asserted, "It's not just Republicans, though, Mark Zandi independent economist says that right now the economy, the recovery is just too fragile to take any risk. Don't have any tax increases at all."
Later, he chided, "More Americans seeing you as liberal. And when you ask questions like, 'Does he share my values?'" Stephanopoulos told the President that some Americans think he doesn't "get it."
In 2007, leading up to the presidential elections, GMA devoted 64 minutes to town halls featuring Democrats and zero for Republicans.
A partial transcript of the September 9 segment can be found below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And, as you said, Robin, And the FBI worried also very worried about that possible backlash if this Koran warning goes forward on Saturday. When I spoke with the President about it, it is very clear that this has seized his attention at the highest levels of government. It's of deep concern too him as President, as a Christian and as Commander in Chief.
Let me ask you about Pastor Terry Jones. He gave a press conference today. Says he's going to go through with burning the Korans. Is there anything you can say to him to convince him not to?
OBAMA: If he's listening, I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans. That this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.
And as a very practical matter, as commander of chief of the Armed Forces of the United States I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We're already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat that he's making.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What more could happen? What are you worried about?
OBAMA: Well, look, the- this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan.
This could increase the recruitment of individuals who'd be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities. You know and so you know, I just hope that, he says he's- he's someone who is motivated by his faith.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And he says he's praying on it.
OBAMA: Yeah. I hope he listens to those better angels and, and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I wonder what this must feel like from behind your desk. You're President of the United States.
You have to deal with the fallout. And here's a pastor who's got 30 followers in his church. Does it make you feel helpless or angry?
OBAMA: It, well it is frustrating. Now, on the other hand, we are a government of laws. And so, we have to abide by those laws. And my understanding is that he can be cited for public burning. But that's the extent of the laws that we have available to us.
You know, part of this country's history is people doing destructive or offensive or harmful things. And yet, we still have to make sure that we're following the laws. And that's part of what I love about this country.
STEPHANOPOULOS: We also spoke to President Obama about the economy. He has come out swinging the last few months before the midterm election. And now he's putting a face on his opponent. That's House Minority Leader John Boehner.
Of course, he was here yesterday. The President mentioned Boehner's name eight times in that speech in Ohio. Of course, that's Boehner's home turf. And I began by pointing out that he seems determined to make Boehner the most well-known Republican in the country.
OBAMA: Well, you know Congressman Boehner is saying that Republicans have a good chance of winning the House.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I talked to him this morning. He seemed pretty confident.
OBAMA: And he thinks he may be Speaker. And I think it's very important that the American People understand what the Republicans are offering, which is essentially more of the same.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He said he was open to the ideas on tax cuts that you talked about, today. But he had two of his own. And I want to know if you're open to those.
He said, "Freeze spending at the 2008 levels and extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years." I know you're against any permanent extension, but what about two years?
OBAMA: But keep in mind that they said back in 2001 and they said back in 2003 that these tax cuts for the rich would stop at 2010. That's why we're in the predicament that we're in now. And when you ask them why not just go ahead and give 97 percent of Americans a tax break, which is what we're prepared to do tomorrow, they say no.
And the reason is they're holding- all those middle class folks who need tax relief hostage right now in order to provide tax breaks for the top two percent, wealthiest Americans, who don't need a tax break, aren't asking for a tax break.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Your own budget director up until a month ago, Peter Orszag wrote in the New York Times yesterday that it was a good compromise.
OBAMA: No, what, what Peter Orszag said was he'd like to eliminate all these tax cuts, but that politically the best you may be able to do is to get the Republicans to agree to only extend them for two years.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said it was a good compromise. He said it made sense.
OBAMA: But, that's something we can't afford.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no compromise? No short term extension?
OBAMA: We've got to make some decisions now that are gonna have huge ramifications over the long term. Now, if Mr. Boehner and the Republicans want to help small businesses right now, which is the rationale that they've provided for trying to extend tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, if they want to help them right now, we've got a small jobs bill.
Bipartisan bill- written by Democrats and Republicans that provides tax cuts to small businesses. It eliminates capital gains for small businesses. Provides loan assistance to small businesses. And we could vote on that immediately.
The reason it's been held up is because we haven't seen compromise from the other side. When you look at what the Republicans are offering, it is exactly the same as what landed us in this mess in the first place.
STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not just Republicans, though, Mark Zandi independent economist says that right now the economy, the recovery is just too fragile to take any risk. Don't have any tax increases at all.
OBAMA: But what, what every economist that I've talked to has said is that if you're gonna spend, say $95 billion, even just for two years for these tax cuts, probably the least efficient way of actually giving the economy a boost is to provide that $95 billion to millionaires and billionaires.
I mean, if Warren Buffet gets a tax break, that's not gonna change his spending patterns. If those families that I were talking to out in, out here in Cleveland or across the country get a tax break, that may mean a new computer for their kid.
It may mean that they're able to make their mortgage payments. It may mean that they can buy a new coat for winter. And that's where our money should be going.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How deep is your commitment to this fight? Are you saying that if Congress passes a short term extension of all the tax cuts, you're gonna veto it?
OBAMA: You can't have Republicans running on fiscal discipline that we're gonna reduce our deficit, that the debt's out of control, and then borrow tens, hundreds of billions of dollars to give tax cuts to people who don't need them.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean you will veto an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy?
OBAMA: What I am saying is that if we are going to add to our deficit by $35 billion, $95 billion, $100 billion, $700 billion, if that's the Republican agenda, then I've got a whole bunch of better ways to spend that money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're not saying you're gonna veto it?
OBAMA: I, there are a whole bunch better ways to spend the money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: How come you don't want to say veto?
OBAMA: There are a whole bunch better ways to spend the money.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, first, we're going to have more of my interview with President Obama. 60 Days to the election right now. Less than 60 days.
And Democrats are pulling out all of the stops. And for President Obama, that means to pull out a little campaign trail deja vu and calling on his secret weapon.
Now, you're going to have the First Lady's help out on the campaign trail, we're reading.
OBAMA: Well, you know, she is far more popular than me. And rightly so. She spent most of this week making sure that the girls start off well in school.
They had their first day of school on Tuesday. And I guarantee you, we get more requests for her than just about anybody else.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you bring up- you bring up the girls. You know, and you have had the chance to have dinner at home a lot.
You know, when you're going through these hard times, how much of it bleeds through to them? And how do you protect them from it?
OBAMA: You know I think they are still young enough where they don't watch the nightly news. I apologize for that, George. But-
STEPHANOPOULOS: They might get some on the Internet, right?
OBAMA: But, you know, I , when we're sitting around the dinner table, we're talking about them, and their lives …
STEPHANOPOULOS: They're not worried? They don't, they don't hear things?
OBAMA: No, I think, well, first of all, people are very gracious to them. It's not like somebody's going up and saying, you know, I think your dad is a bum. That has not yet happened to them. I think people understand that kids are off limits on these issues.
I do think that they know that we're going through a tough time. They know that we're involved in two wars. They know that we had a big oil spill in the Gulf. And so, we talk about those issues. And what I try to explain to them is that the issues that we're dealing with are really tough.
Daddy's making the best decisions that he can to help the most people in this country. Some of 'em are going to work. Some of 'em aren't going to work exactly the way we want.
But, what I try to describe to them and instill in them are the same values that I inherited from my mom and from my grandparents, and that Michelle inherited from hers.
And that is what I talked about today. Hard work, responsibility, looking out for other people.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And, remember at that last press conference, the President did say that Malia came up to him and said, "We need to plug the hole, daddy?"
ROBERTS: Oh, I remember that, right. Yeah. But, it's nice to know that people are being gracious to the kids, as you would imagine.
STEPHANOPOULOS: But, it is good to hear. It is good to hear that.