WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — In a wide-ranging interview on U.S. foreign policy, the Africa summit and American business, President Barack Obama said that his track record speaks for itself, noting that “there’s almost no economic metric by which you couldn’t say the U.S. economy is better” than when he took office.
Speaking with The Economist from Air Force One, Obama took on a series of international and domestic issues ranging from an upcoming Africa summit in Washington to his views of America’s international economic leadership role six years into his presidency. Obama touted the U.S. economy while taking a few jabs at China and Russia, saying “Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity.”
When asked if he feels let down “personally” by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s handling of recent international affairs , Obama remained optimistic about U.S.-Russia relations and noted a need for a wider perspective of Russia itself.
“I don’t feel let down. We had a very productive relationship with President Medvedev. We got a lot of things done that we needed to get done. Russia I think has always had a Janus-like quality, both looking east and west, and I think President Putin represents a deep strain in Russia that is probably harmful to Russia over the long term, but in the short term can be politically popular at home and very troublesome abroad.”
“But I do think it’s important to keep perspective. Russia doesn’t make anything. Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity. The life expectancy of the Russian male is around 60 years old. The population is shrinking. And so we have to respond with resolve in what are effectively regional challenges that Russia presents. We have to make sure that they don’t escalate where suddenly nuclear weapons are back in the discussion of foreign policy. And as long as we do that, then I think history is on our side.”
Obama joked with John Micklethwait, editor-in-chief of The Economist, and Edward Carr about the magazine’s own cover stories saying “how unfriendly” the Obama administration has been with businesses. Obama responded that corporations will always complain about regulation, and that the U.S. economy has only improved during his time in office.
“They always complain about regulation,” said Obama. “That’s their job. Let’s look at the track record. Let’s look at the facts. Since I have come into office, there’s almost no economic metric by which you couldn’t say that the U.S. economy is better and that corporate bottom lines are better. None.”
Obama discussed implementation of the Affordable Care Act and Dodd-Frank, saying that the processes could have been simpler, but that democracy is often a “messy” process.
“And so could we have designed a far more elegant health-care law? Of course,” Obama responded. “Would I have greatly preferred a blank canvas in which to design financial regulations post-2008 and consolidated agencies and simplified oversight? Absolutely. But the truth of the matter is, is that we saved the financial system. It continues to be extraordinarily profitable.
“And on health care, as messy as the whole process has been, here’s what I know—that we have millions of people [insured] who didn’t have insurance before, and health care inflation is the lowest it’s been in 50 years, for four consecutive years, corresponding to when we passed the law.”
Obama criticized the Republican Party on multiple topics including its opposition to immigration reform and a Tea Party “anti-globalization” sect of the GOP. However, he did express optimism regarding corporations’ embrace of immigration reform.
“Now, to their credit, I think on an issue like immigration reform, for example, companies did step up,” said Obama. “And what they’re discovering is the problem is not the regulatory zealotry of the Obama administration; what they’re discovering is the dysfunction of a Republican Party that knows we need immigration reform, knows that it would actually be good for its long-term prospects, but is captive to the nativist elements in its party.”
Obama said that climate change “deniers” are simply engaging in arguments that are “nonsense.”
“And the same I think goes for a whole range of other issues like climate change, for example. There aren’t any corporate CEOs that you talk to at least outside of maybe—no, I will include CEOs of the fossil-fuel industries—who are still denying that climate change is a factor. What they want is some certainty around the regulations so that they can start planning.”
Obama continued: “Given the capital investments that they have to make, they’re looking at 20-, 30-year investments. They’ve got to know now are we pricing carbon? Are we serious about this? But none of them are engaging in some of the nonsense that you’re hearing out of the climate-change denialists. Denialists?”
“Deniers,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, corrected.
“So the point, though, is that I would take the complaints of the corporate community with a grain of salt,” said Obama, adding that the wealthiest Americans have little to complain about from his time in office.
“If you look at what’s happened over the last four or five years, the folks who don’t have a right to complain are the folks at the top,” said Obama.
“Where we have made less progress than I would like, and is my obsession since I came into office and will continue to be my obsession until I leave office and afterwards, is the broader trend of an increasingly bifurcated economy where those at the top are getting a larger and larger share of GDP, increased productivity, corporate profits, and middle-class and working-class families are stuck. Their wages and incomes are stagnant. They’ve been stagnant for almost two decades now. This is not a phenomenon unique to the United States, but it is global.”