President Barack Obama, in a wide-ranging, reflective interview with Barbara Walters, staunchly defended his controversial policies — including sweeping health care reforms and the massive economic stimulus package — as bold but necessary steps to help transform an economy that was at the brink of collapse to one that is “growing.” ”The notion that somehow you can only do one thing at once is simply not true,” Obama told Walters in the interview, which aired on ABC Friday evening. “The fact is, that we stabilized the financial system … we turned an economy that was contracting to one that was growing. We have added a million jobs over the last year to the economy.”
And despite the intense criticism and political costs, the president said the health care overhaul will be “a lasting legacy that I am extraordinarily proud of.”
The interview covered an array of topics, from North Korea, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the 2010 midterm elections, family life inside the White House, and outrage over the Transportation Security Administration’s new enhanced airport screening procedures.
Obama said the system — in which passengers must pass through bomb-detection scanners that penetrate clothing, or undergo aggressive pat-downs that some have compared to sexual assault — is “gonna be something that evolves.
“We are gonna have to work on it,” the president said. “I understand people’s frustrations with it, but I also know that if there was an explosion in the air that killed a couple of hundred people … and it turned out that we could have prevented it, possibly … that would be something that would be pretty upsetting to most of us — including me.”
Of his sagging approval ratings, Obama told Walters, “First of all, I’m not so unpopular,” pointing out that his poll numbers are “a little higher” than Bill Clinton’s and Ronald Reagan’s at comparable points in their presidencies.
The president said he understands that unemployment numbers are “frustrating to people,” and that he isn’t making “any excuses.”
Still, he said, “We’ve been through tougher times before as a country, and we’ve always come up on top.”
Obama told Walters that in the coming months, he would like to focus on education, research and development, and reducing the deficit.
Obama said he’s looking forward to meeting with Republican leaders next week to discuss a tax-cut extension and is eager to “hear what their ideas are.”
“We need to get this resolved,” he said. “I expect that I don’t end up getting everything I want. I think hopefully they come to the table understanding they’re not going to get everything they want.”
Turning to North Korea, Obama called this week’s incident “one more provocative incident in a series that we’ve seen over the last several months.”
“We want to make sure all the parties in the region recognize that this is a serious and ongoing threat that this has to be dealt with,” he said. “South Korea is our ally. It has been since the Korean War, and we strongly affirm our commitment to defend South Korea as part of that alliance.”
He said he would not speculate on the possibility of military action yet but said the tensions represent “the cornerstone of U.S. security in the Pacific region.”
On ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who lambasted Obama and the media after she was criticized for confusing South Korea and North Korea in an interview, Obama said: “I don’t speculate on what’s going to happen two years from now … What I’m saying is that I don’t think of Sarah Palin.”
The president appeared in the interview with first lady Michelle Obama, who revealed to Walters that she told her husband “let’s get to work” after the so-called “shellacking” Democrats took in the midterm elections.
“I said, ‘Let’s, let’s get to work. There is a lot to do.’ … I think for, for us, it’s always the focus on what we need to get done, the work ahead,” the first lady said in the interview, which was taped on Tuesday at the White House.
Obama said the advice from his wife came after election night — because the first lady had gone to sleep before all the results had come in.
“She goes to sleep early,” he said.
“I go to bed early,” the first lady said with a laugh. ” I can’t stay awake for the returns … I gotta get up, work out. I figured … it was going to be whatever it was going to be the next day. So I did, I did go to sleep.”