Transcript: President Barack Obama, Part 1

"60 Minutes" Correspondent Steve Kroft Interviewed The President Nov. 4, 2010

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KROFT: You said at your news conference that you've been doing a lot of reflecting. Are there things that you wish you could do over?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, I think . . . .

KROFT: Pull back?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think there are things every day that I think about doing better. I'll give you an example. You know, 'cause this is fairly concrete. When we first came in and we were organizing to get the Recovery Act done you know, we knew that we were gonna have to act fast through Congress and get a lot of stuff moving. And there were a bunch of unfinished budgets that were wrapped up in an omnibus bill coming from the previous Congress.

And it was full of earmarks. Now, I campaigned saying we should stop doing earmarks. You know, even though it's small as a part of our overall federal budget, you know, what people consider to be pork projects, no matter how worthy, make people feel that government's not accountable. And there should be a better way of doing it. But I had to make a decision, "Do I sign this omnibus bill to finish last year's business? And, you know, make sure that I can keep on working with Congress to get all these things done? Or do I veto that bill and have a big fight right away in the middle of an economic crisis?"

Well, I decided to sign the bill. Now, that's an example of where I was so concerned about getting things done that, you know, I lost track of part of the reason I got elected. Which was we were gonna change how business was done here. And, you know, each one of those decisions may be justifiable in isolation, but cumulatively I think what people started feeling was, "Gosh, this is sort of business-as-usual in Washington." And that's part of what I ran against.

And so, I reflect a lot about over the next two years, making sure that I remind myself, my job is not legislator in chief. It's not just a matter of how many bills I'm passing, no matter how worthy they are. Part of it's also setting a tone in Washington and for the rest of the country that says, "We're responsible. We're transparent. We're open. We're talking to each other. We're civil." You know?

In some cases, there may be worthy projects that we can't do right now, just because we haven't built the consensus for it. You know, that's an aspect of leadership that I didn't pay enough attention to in the first couple of years.

KROFT: You ran as somebody who was gonna come to Washington and change it. And in the end, as some of your predecessors, it ended up changing you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I . . .

KROFT: To a certain extent.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah. I'm not I . . .

KROFT: You haven't given up?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Exactly. I think it's fair to say it hasn't changed me in terms of my ideals. But I think that in terms of how I operated on a day to day basis, when you've got a series of choices to make, I think that there are times where we said: let's just get it done, instead of worrying about how we're getting it done. And I think that's a problem.

As I said before, in a crisis situation, in an emergency situation -- which is really what we were in the first six to nine months -- I think it's fair to say that, you know, we made the right decisions in making sure that we stabilize the economy. But in terms of setting the tone and how this town operates, we just didn't pay enough attention to some of the things that we had talked about. And, you know I'm paying a political price for that.

KROFT: Well, to a certain extent the Tea Party and some of the Republicans ran on the same message or much of the same message that you ran on two years ago. Which is, "We're gonna change Washington." And now, you are Washington.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well you know, that's one of the dangers of assuming power. And you know, when you're campaigning, I think you're liberated to say things without thinking about, "Okay, how am I gonna actually practically implement this."

KROFT: Do you think you were naïve?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I don't think I was naïve. I just think that these things are hard to do. You know, this is a big country. And democracy is an inherently messy business. And Congress is an institution that has a whole lot of traditions, some of 'em that aren't, you know, all that healthy. And there are a lot of special interests who've got a lot of power. And a lot of lobbyists who are paid a lot of money to influence legislation.

And so, you know, it's a hard, long slog to push up against that. But I think you make a good point, Steve, which is that you now have a lot of Republicans who ran as outsiders, who are coming in. And my hope is that we may be in a position now where the two sides meet and agree on some things that need to be changed. I noticed that [Virginia Congressman] Eric Cantor, one of the leaders in the House, said, you know, we really need to put an end to earmarks.

There are some sincere Republicans in the Senate like Tom Coburn, Oklahoma, who is about as conservative as they come, but a real friend of mine and somebody who has always had the courage of his convictions and not, you know, bringing pork projects back to Oklahoma. And it may be that that's an example of where, on a bipartisan basis, we can work together to change practices in Washington that generate a lot of the distrust of government.