GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — CHUCK TODD: Mr. President, thank you very much.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Great to be here, Chuck. Thank you.
CHUCK TODD: All right, let's start with why you're here. It's another groundbreaking for one of these battery plants, an attempt to show some positive results from a stimulus program that is being received a little more skeptically by the public now, even as opposed to where things were 15 months ago. Why the difference?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — the — the first thing to know is specifically what's happening here in Holland, Michigan, but also all across the country. You know, when we came into office, America counted for about two percent of the advanced battery markets for electric and hybrid cars.
And what we did was, we said, 'Look, let's put up $2.4 billion that has to be matched by private dollars.' And now you've got nine advanced battery manufacturing facilities already up on line. Ultimately there are gonna be 21. And we expect that, by 2015, we are going to have about 40 percent of the market in advanced battery technology.
And — and that's going into, by the way — couple of the cars that we saw today — the — the — the Chevy Volt, as well as the Ford Focus. So this is an example, I think, of what our economic strategy has been from the start. We had a disaster on our hands. We've been able to stabilize the economy and prevent the freefall.
Instead of 750,000 jobs a month being lost, we've now gained jobs in the private sector for five consecutive months. But, we've still got a long way to go, and so, not surprisingly, the American people who are out of work or still struggling to pay the bills, they still wanna see more action when it comes to jobs. And I don't blame them. But what I do wanna point out is the very specific things that are being done as a consequence of some [unintelligible] that were taken by Democrats last year.
CHUCK TODD: Were there more things in the stimulus ... You talk about the public/private partnership.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
CHUCK TODD: We're seeing a ton of private capital not in the game right now. Couple of trillion dollars, one — one estimate says it is. Were there not enough public/private partnerships in this stimulus at the beginning?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it turns out that we are actually getting $3.00 in private investment for every $1.00 that went in to the Recovery Act, so that leveraging is taking place. You gotta remember also that about a third of the Recovery Act last year was tax cuts. And nobody talks about it, but those were not just tax cuts to individuals — they were also tax cuts to small businesses.
But there's no doubt that there's more that can be done, and so, that's why, for example, next week I hope the Senate takes up the proposal to get small businesses loans because, although big companies are now getting loans, you're still seeing problems with respect to small companies getting credit.
CHUCK TODD: You had this meeting yesterday with Warren Buffet [unintelligible] some other CEOs. And I — I understand the issue of private capital getting into the market I assume came up. What are they telling you? What are these CEOs telling you why this money isn't being spent right now to create jobs? You hear that it's — we don't — we don't know what the government's gonna do. There's too much uncertainty. Is that what you're hearing?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah, I'll — I'll — I'll tell you exactly what Warren Buffet said. He said, 'We went through a wrenching recession, and so we have not fully recovered. We're about 40, 50 percent back. But we've still got a long way to go.' And the reason people haven't fully invested yet and started creating as many jobs as we would like is because it takes some time to come back.
He used a good example in the housing market, where about 1.2 million households are formed that buy a house each year. That's been the historic trend. But we went through a span of time of four or five years, because of the bubble and subprime lending and all the shenanigans that were going on with the mortgage market, where we were building two million homes a year.
Now we're building 500,000. And what Warren pointed out was, look, we're gonna get back to 1.2. But, right now, we're soaking up a whole bunch of inventory. So a lot of the challenge is to work our way through this recession, try to accelerate not only profits because companies now are making money primarily because they cut costs, but also to see the opportunities out there. And that's what we were trying to show with this plant. There are enormous opportunities for the future. We just have to seize them.
CHUCK TODD: I understand Warren Buffet told some business leaders last week at a conference that he no longer fears a double-dip recession. Are you confident, no double-dip recession?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I am confident that we are moving in the right direction. The economy is definitely growing. And we are definitely seeing additional hiring.
CHUCK TODD: Should we fear a double-dip?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here's what we should fear — that, if we don't keep track, keep on track with the policies that we put in place, if we've started seeing, for example, a wrenching reversal in investments, the kinds of plants we saw today, we could end up having problems. We could further slow growth.
The other thing that — the main thing that keeps me up at night right now is we lost eight million jobs. The month I was sworn in, we lost 750,000 jobs. We've regained about 600,000 this year so far, and if we stay on pace, hopefully we'll gain several hundred thousand more. But making up for that eight million is still gonna be a challenge.
And that's gonna require us tapping into the new sectors, like the clean energy economy where there is growth to be had. It also means that we've gotta start selling more than we're buying, which is why I'm emphasizing export growth so much. But, look, nobody in the White House is satisfied with where we are right now. What we absolutely are convinced of, though, is that we're on the right track. And I think that the statistics bear that out.
CHUCK TODD: You know, in your remarks in Holland, you seem to also make a political argument about the other side saying that they, you know, weren't for these plans. What do you [unintelligible] tell the person who may have voted for you, can't find a job or got laid off since you took office? Why they should still keep the Democrats in charge? Because they're not feeling any of the positives yet.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, if somebody's out of work right now, the only answer that I'm gonna have for them is when they get a job. Up until that point, from their perspective, the economic policies aren't working well enough.
CHUCK TODD: And you're okay if they hold you accountable?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Look, the —
CHUCK TODD: — They can't find a job.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: That's my job is — as President is to — to take responsibility for moving us in the right direction. But what I'm absolutely convinced of is that we're gonna have a choice, not just in November, but for years to come. We can go back to all the same policies that got us into this mess, where we basically provide special interest loopholes. We don't regulate Wall Street. We have a healthcare system that is out of control. We provide tax cuts to folks who don't need them and weren't asking for them. Or we can take the approach that — that I've taken since I came in and that I campaigned on, which is to make sure that we start investing in our education system, to make sure that we're investing in clean energy, to get control of healthcare costs, to deal with our structural deficit, the fact that we're spending more money through entitlements and through a whole range of other things than we're taking in.
Those structural challenges have to be fixed. And it's hard because you don't see immediate gratification. But what I'd say to the person who's out of a job right now is we are gonna be doing everything we can to create the environment where the private sector can come in and start creating jobs. But I'm not any more satisfied than they are. And until they can find a job — I expect to be held accountable.
CHUCK TODD: You talk about a choice election this fall. Are you prepared for the fact that now that means your policy is a referendum on you and your policy, and that the voters may say, 'You know what? We're putting the Republicans in charge.' What'd that tell you?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well —
CHUCK TODD: What message does that send?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, we've got a long ways before the election, number one.
CHUCK TODD: You disagree with —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Number two —
CHUCK TODD: — in play?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Number two, we got— number two — this is going to be a choice between the policies that got us into this mess, and my policies that are getting us out of this mess. And I think if you look at the vast majority of Americans, even those who are dissatisfied with the pace of progress, they'll say that the policies that got us into this mess we can't go back to.
They understand that because they remember that even before the financial crisis wages were flatlined, jobs were moving overseas. And so, now when they look at Holland, Michigan — and they say, 'Instead of jobs moving overseas, we're seeing jobs move from South Korea here to the United States,' that's something. That gives them a sense of a future, a vision in which America's strong. It's competing. We are producing, we're not just consuming. That's the kind of future I think Americans want.
CHUCK TODD: You're prepared for November to be [unintelligible] referendum on your policies and this presidency?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Chuck, you're not listening to me. What I'm prepared is to be held accountable for the policies that I've put in place. But they — Americans don't have selective memory. They're gonna remember the policies that got us into this mess as well. And they sure as heck don't wanna go back to those.
CHUCK TODD: Do you think Washington is broken? And the reason I ask you this, because when you appointed — you did the [unintelligible] appointment of Donald [unintelligible]. You seem to send a message of one of two things. Either you didn't wanna debate about healthcare again on Capitol Hill — it got a little raucous a year ago — or, you know what? The Senate process is broken and we gotta go around them.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, what — what is true is when it comes specifically to appointments, whether it's judges or critical positions in national security, homeland security, FBI, there — there have been more delays, obstruction, and stalling when it comes to just appointing people to run the day-to-day aspects of Washington than any President has experienced in history.
And, you know, the fact of the matter is that I can't play political games with the Senate on these issues. I've got a government to run. And, at a certain point, we have to go ahead and just make sure that people are in place to deal with the enormous challenges that are ahead.
CHUCK TODD: You're not ready to say Washington's broken?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here — here's what I'm ready to say — that Washington has spent an inordinate amount of time on politics, who's up, who's down, and not enough on how are we delivering for the American people. The good news is that, despite no cooperation from the other side, we have over the last two years stopped an economic freefall, stabilized the financial sector. We're on the verge of passing a financial regulatory bill that provides consumers the kind of protections they deserve.
CHUCK TODD: Probably will be passed by the time —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Will be passed essentially by the time we land, I get back to Washington. A healthcare bill that not only is gonna make sure that everybody has access to coverage, but also is reducing costs. So when you look at the list of things we've been able to accomplish, it does show that, when people are determined and are willing to take tough votes even when it's politically inconvenient, we can still get things done.
CHUCK TODD: You know, that must be frustrating. You've had an enormous amount of legislative victory.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.
CHUCK TODD: It — it's comparable to any President in history. It is not translated into political capital with the public. It — it — is it — honestly, are you frustrated by that?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I'm not frustrated because we were in such a deep hole that, even if we got three quarters of the way up out of the hole, even if I know we're going in the right direction, people are still feeling —
CHUCK TODD: Do you think it's all economy —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: — things are tough.
CHUCK TODD: Do you think it's all —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I do. Look, when I — the — before I was sworn in, I remember talking to some of my guys. And we had just gotten the estimates from the economists about what we might be seeing in terms of not only job losses, but economic contractions. I think people would anticipate — you don't have to be a savvy political analyst like Chuck Todd to say, 'If unemployment is at 9.5 percent, the party in power's gonna have some problems, regardless of how much progress we've made and how much worse it would be if the other side had been in charge.'
CHUCK TODD: Two more questions, not about the economy. I wanna talk about the terrorist attack in Uganda. Clearly, your administration [unintelligible] very seriously. There's a lot of connection to al-Qaeda in Yemen. And then you have a senior official [unintelligible] organization with operational abilities of that entity out there — is maybe stronger than any other [unintelligible] of al-Qaeda. Should we be doing more militarily in Yemen than we are now?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, here's what we've done. Part of the reason that an analyst would say that al-Qaeda's stronger in Yemen than just about anywhere else is because we have actually been pretty successful at forcing al-Qaeda in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan to hunker down. They have been pinned down. And it's hard for them to carry out big operations. We've gotta keep that pressure up. It is absolutely true, though, that al-Qaeda in Yemen is dangerous. And what they've been able to do is not mount huge scale attacks, but they are successfully recruiting individuals who may carry out low level —
CHUCK TODD: — Oddly enough for some people.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, in — in some ways, it's harder because these are people whose — whose names aren't on a list. Abdulmutallab, the — the guy who tried to blow up the plane over Detroit is a classic example of — of the kind of person that al-Qaeda in Yemen is recruiting.
Many people are traveling to Yemen, getting indoctrinated and then being sent back to the West. So we've been cooperating with the Yemeni government. We wanna make sure that we are entirely on top of it. It is one of our highest priorities. They are cooperating. And they've been cooperative. But it is a very poor country. Its terrain is a little bit like Afghanistan. They've got their own ethnic problems there. And so, this is a tough part of the world. But we are building up capacity, working with them to make sure that we don't take our eye off the ball, even as we continue to put pressure between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
CHUCK TODD: All right. Here — I gotta leave it there. We'll — we'll have another hour or two [laughter] down the road. Gul — vacation in the Gulf? I know the First Lady went down there touting it in Panama City, Florida. Are we gonna see —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It was —
CHUCK TODD: — you guys down there?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: It was beautiful when I went down there. When we were in Pensacola, the beach looked as pretty as any beach —
CHUCK TODD: Are you gonna go?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: — that I've seen. So, you know, we're gonna be trying to figure out where we're gonna be able to take some time over the course of the summer. But a month of it's gonna be taken up with Malia going away for camp, which she's never done before.
CHUCK TODD: Wow.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: And I may shed a tear when she's on the way out.
CHUCK TODD: I — I get that feeling —
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely. Thank you.
CHUCK TODD: Thank you very much.