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Chuck Todd On What Surprised Him About The Interview With The President Last Night

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Chuck Todd’s exclusive with Barack Obama is what drove the news cycle the last 24 hours, and guest host Carol Platt Liebau talked about what surprised him the most, including the fact that he had to pull the apology out of him, and that there’s really no plan for the White House to fix the problem of all those who have lost their insurance coverage due to Obamacare going into effect.

The audio is here.


The transcript is here.

CPL: Right now, we are joined by Chuck Todd, who is of course the chief White House correspondent for NBC News, and you’ve seen him everywhere – NBC Nightly News, Today, Meet The Press, Morning Joe. If you’re talking about politics on TV in America, there is a good chance Chuck Todd will be part of the conversation. Hey, Chuck, thanks for being with us.

CT: Good evening.

CPL: Congratulations on the interview with the President you got. That was a huge get that everybody wanted.

CT: Yeah, one of those times where it seems like he had a lot to answer for, so it was, timing’s everything, sometimes.

CPL: Well, congratulations. It was wonderful, and we were just interested in talking more with you about it. And you know, Chuck, I’m sure a lot of America has seen the interview and clips of it. This isn’t an ambush, but it’s a genuine question. You know, when the President was talking about his apology and his regrets, and the idea that he wishes that Obamacare had been implemented properly and all the rest, what was your sense as someone who was in the room about his body language and his eyes? You know, did he seem genuinely regretful?

CT: You know, yes, and I guess the question is what is, you know, there’s different ways to interpret it. You know, does he know he’s in a big political mess? Is he frustrated because he’s in a big policy mess? Is he frustrated, you know, that’s the part of it I don’t know, but I think all of that is intertwined, and all of that is there. I mean, I think that he seemed very much as if, it didn’t come across as if he was trying, realizing he had to face the music or take his medicine or something like that. But at the same time, I did get the sense of okay, you know, what I was, for instance, I was surprised, I thought maybe there’d be more little partisan shots at Republicans in Congress, or taking hits at insurance companies. And he didn’t then. I mean, he was very explanatory, and some might say over-explanatory about what exactly he meant on his promise, if you like your plan, you can keep it. But ultimately, he kept, every time on different questions, he kept coming around to taking responsibility himself more so than I think we’ve heard in other, at other times during this what is really a pretty rough political patch for him.

CPL: Sure. And you know, I was wondering if we could spool up clip 12, because when I knew him in law school, I was on the Harvard Law Review with him, and when criticized, he really did used to bristle a bit. He wasn’t criticized often, but when he did…and I was curious, here’s, as you recall, this Clarence Page criticism, clip 12.

HH: He knew he was lying?

CP: Probably. Probably. But that’s one of those political lies.

CPL: You know, did he bristle at any of that when you asked the question?

CT: I know, I asked him the very, I mean, when I, you know, it was one of those things when I realized I was getting the interview, and I’d literally read that Clarence Page column that morning, and I thought hometown newspaper? Perfect way to ask him this question.

CPL: Oh, yeah.

CT: You know, he does not believe he lied on this, and that’s the sense I get. I mean, I think that that’s, he’s taken issue with that before with folks off the record, and I got it’s a sensitive issue, felt like he did not sit there and say he intentionally lied. He said that he wanted to, he thought he was going to be able to keep this promise. I thought what was revealing in that answer, when I asked him that direct question about this, was this a political lie that you started to believe it, was he talked about well, you know, it turns out we had trouble in crafting the law. He used this phrase about crafting the law. And I remember just looking at it again, you know, sometimes you’re in the middle of it and you don’t hear everything. And you’re like crafting the law? Well, this goes to the big criticism that there has been about this from a lot of Republicans, which has to do with this law got rushed together, it got pushed through, how there were plenty of political reasons, and Democrats will say it’s because Republicans were holding it up. Whatever the case, it doesn’t change the fact. The law got rushed through, and there are parts of the law they wish they had fixed or changed, and they never did. Well, look at the mess it’s gotten us into now?

CPL: Right, and so I mean, just as setting aside the reporter hat, as just an American citizen, you felt as though he was pretty sincere, huh?

CT: I did. I mean, I think, and the question is, if sincere, what I can’t, you know, is it sincere like he’s trying to fix his political problems? Sincere that he’s trying to give himself breathing space so they can get this fixed? You know, that part of it, I’m not going to try to crawl inside his head, even though some people think I get paid to do that.

CPL: Sure.

CT: But I did feel there’s sincerity there. Ultimately, and it’s for this reason.

CPL: We have to go to break. We’ll be back with Chuck Todd on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

— – – – –

CPL: Again, Chuck, congratulations on getting the interview that everybody wanted, and that everybody’s talking about.

CT: Well, you’re kind to say that, and a little luck, a little timing, you never know.

CPL: Well, it’s all good. So Chuck, I was wondering, you know, in your estimation, is there a crisis of confidence in President Obama’s leadership? I mean, what are your thoughts on that?

CT: Well, I think it was interesting, I look at our last NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, and there are others out, and I looked at ours last week, and he hit a record low. I mean, I think it’s clear he’s got an issue. I’ve talked to some of his closest outside advisors who think that he has a confidence issue right now with the public. And in particular, it was this promise, this, you know, if you like your health care plan, you can keep it. And is this, you know, the website was one thing. This was a, this got to the core, this gets to the core of a personal connection the public has with their president.

CPL: Sure.

CT: And so I think he does have one. I think the White House does believe, here’s what I think they believe. I think they believe they have a confidence issue among the elite media, and among elite columnists, and among some supporters, and certainly leaders inside the Democratic Party. I don’t…I think they don’t think they have as much of a problem with the public as maybe we in the so-called media elite think. But I think that they do know that they have some issues to deal with.

CPL: Well you know, Chuck, that’s interesting, because for the past hour, I have been taking calls from Americans, and I mean, the calls are charged with emotion. There is every variety of bad luck story you can almost imagine. And that’s why I was wondering, and you know, I wonder if the President wouldn’t benefit if he doesn’t think that people sort of outside the bubble, as he likes to call it, are concerned with this. You know, he ought to listen, and more than that, I wonder what your thoughts are. If the President is perceived as having a crisis of confidence, do you think it would help in elevating his credibility if he was willing to come on with, say, a Bill Bennett, a Michael Medved, a Hugh Hewitt, a Mike Gallagher, someone who is obviously not someone…

CT: More adversarial?

CPL: Yeah, someone who is…

CT: Yeah.

CPL: …where he’s going to be challenged, one of his sharper critics.

CT: You know, that’s interesting. I remember during the, I think he tried to do that, I want to say in that, during that whole stimulus thing, I can’t remember who it is he went on with, it was somebody, but it wasn’t necessarily somebody, a very conservative radio host. I felt like it was more of a center-right one, where they were looking for that, and he obviously has done some meetings off the record with a few conservative columnists, Charles Krauthammer being the most notable of who he met with, but that was during the shutdown when he felt that he was sort of on the high ground. Obviously, now, he’s on lower ground when it comes to this. You know, it’s funny. I actually think he would benefit from just simply doing some town halls and not White House-screened town halls with supporters, but doing, you know, going back, essentially letting some folks vent, letting some folks vent, handling the vent a little bit. Now I say he’d, they probably wouldn’t want to do this until they actually had a working website. I think they think part of their problem is this issue of people losing, of people getting these cancellation notices. They thought well, okay, they’re going to get these notices, but wait until they see that they can get an equal or better deal in the exchanges. Well, guess what? Nobody can get on the website. Nobody can make it work very well. And so they realize that that’s sort of the pickle they’re in. If they, assuming they get this website up and running at the end of the month, I do think he would benefit from some sort of forum where people can vent, and he hears more of these stories in a personal way. I think they have worked too hard to only hear about the stories…there’s definitely, I think, a lot of sicker people, people that used the health care system a lot, that love this new plan. But then there are the folks that are not necessarily big users of the health care system who feel like they’re taking it on the chin a little bit, because their premiums are technically going up.

CPL: Well you know, Chuck, and what I was wondering is, you know, in a town hall, okay, first of all, there’s the whole idea that he’s got to overcome public cynicism about whether the questioners have been pre-screened and preselected.

CT: Sure, right. I mean, that’s always there. Right.

CPL: But you know, the other thing is, it seems, you know, isn’t there something of an inherent bigger power imbalance between just a person who has no real media experience sort of going toe to toe with the president of the United States? I mean, wouldn’t he gain more in terms of credibility if it were, he were seen to be willing to come on and address the objections of a knowledgeable, reasonable, but highly-articulate critic who has some public support in his own right, or at least some public following in his own right? Don’t you think that would do anything for him?

CT: I think it could. I mean, you know, remember when Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich did that joint town hall back in ’96, in ’97 in New Hampshire. It was a big, it was a good moment, frankly, for both of them. At the time, it ended up helping Clinton more than helping Newt, but it was sort of, that’s another way you could do this. I was thinking about you, and it’s a total and fair critique that, you know, and the average citizen might feel a little bit intimidated by the moment. Well, maybe he should do this tour with some Republican elected officials who are critics.

CPL: Yeah, take Paul Ryan.

CT: Do a town hall with them, you know, do it something like that. Maybe, you know, he and Bobby Jindal or he and Rick Perry or something…

CPL: Yeah.

CT: …who did, a couple of the governors that don’t want to take the Medicaid money. But that’s not, it’s never been one of his comfort zones.

CPL: No.

CT: Bill Clinton sort of enjoys the political theater…

CPL: The give and take, yeah.

CT: And I mean that, I don’t mean that in a negative. Look, political theater is very important to policy debates. And it’s very important.

CPL: No, I understand.

CT: And I think that Bill Clinton wasn’t afraid of those moments. It’s not that President Obama is, it’s just not, well, I mean, if you went to law school with him, you know.

CPL: Yeah.

CT: I mean, that’s not what he, that’s not his…

CPL: Comfort zone.

CT: …comfort zone. He’d rather be in a lecture hall.

CPL: Now you know, Chuck, just closing out, we’ve got about 40 seconds left, I mean, were you surprised that the President didn’t just flat-out apologize like Lanny Davis and a bunch of others have suggested he should, instead of sort of giving a lawyerly apology, a carefully, you could see it was carefully worded. Were you surprised?

CT: Look, I thought it was going to happen right of the top. So I was surprised that it didn’t come until the second or, I think it was my second question, the first follow up. But you know, who knows how he thought about it, about how it should come out, how it should look? So, but I will admit, I thought it was going to come right off the top.

CPL: Yeah.

CT: But it didn’t, so you know, it would have been shame on me if I didn’t ask for one.

CPL: Well you did, and that was great. So finally, and just briefly, the President has mentioned that he feels badly and he’s working to fix these problems. What, in your view, is it that he can actually do? I mean, is there a legal authority that’s actually going to allow him to do anything meaningful? We’ve got about 25 seconds.

CT: Well, I don’t know. They’re trying to see if they can do it without Congress. They don’t want to go through Congress.

CPL: Yeah, but what kind of regulations can you do at this point?

CT: So, well, it has to do, honestly, they don’t know, yet. They’re negotiating with, I just did a bunch of reporting for this tonight. They’re negotiating with the, you know, you basically have three entities you have to deal with here – the state insurance commissioners, for the state by state issues, the insurance companies, plus the federal, their own federal regulation. I think what they’re trying to come up with is can they basically do regulations that would allow, let’s say you got a cancellation notice, you can’t have the policy you like, but maybe they can get the insurance companies and the regulators to agree well, you know what? If you want to keep that policy, you can renew it through 2014.

HH: Okay, Chuck Todd from NBC News. We’ll be right back on the Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.


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