Interview with Valerie Jarrett

Interview with Valerie Jarrett

By This Week - November 1, 2009

STEPHANOPOULOS: But first, let's check in with one of the president's closest friends and advisers, White House counselor Valerie Jarrett.

Welcome to the THIS WEEK.

JARRETT: Thank you, George. It's a pleasure to be here.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring you back to one of -- probably one of the best moments of your life, one year ago this week, when President Obama accepted the verdict of the country's voters. Here is what he said that night.


OBAMA: Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divide that have held back our progress.


STEPHANOPOULOS: One year later, the president's economic plan has passed, but with no Republican votes in the House, only three in the Senate. It sure looks like right now no Republican support, the health care bills, as they are going forward in the Congress.

And our polling shows that this partisan divide persists on issue after issue after issue. Why has that core promise of the president's campaign, healing the divide, gone unfulfilled?

JARRETT: Well, you should ask that question to the Republican Party. I mean, frankly, just listening to the president's words again, it brought back terrific memories, and I think his message was a profound one. And he has stayed true to that message. He has reached out. He has listened. He has reached across the aisle.

Just recently meeting with both the Democrats -- the Republicans and the Democrats in both the House and in the Senate. His effort has been sustained throughout the year. And the fact...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president bears no responsibility for the failure to get Republican votes?

JARRETT: Well, I think -- I think what we look to the president to do is to lead by example. He has reached out. He has listened. He has included very helpful advice from the Republicans when it has been forthcoming. But the fact...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But not their ideas in the legislation..

JARRETT: Well, actually, that's not true. There have been examples of where he has included their ideas. And ultimately whether they vote for a piece of legislation or not, doesn't mean that it hasn't been an open and fruitful process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president doesn't feel he needs to change the way he does business at all, to reach out more to Republicans, to get more Republicans buy-in?

JARRETT: Oh, George, listen. He is constantly reaching out to Republicans. Both he and his team. And he will continue to do that. But ultimately it's up to the Republicans to decide if they want to be a constructive force and come to the table and work with us in a positive way.

We want to hear good ideas. The president is known for listening most closely to those with whom he disagrees. So the door is always open.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean, for example, that Speaker Pelosi should give the Republicans a vote on an alternative in health care?

JARRETT: I'm not going to in any way comment on what the speaker should do. She is an extraordinary leader and she is going to continue to do that. And she is going to reach out in a way that she deems appropriate.

But your question is what is the president's leadership about it, and hearkening back to the message from last year, and I think he has been consistent not just here, domestically, but also around the world in the way he has reached out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, to follow through, shouldn't he ask the speaker then to give Republicans a vote?

JARRETT: To give them a vote and give them a voice. It gives them an opportunity to contribute constructively. That doesn't mean that you actually have to change what you think is in the best interests of the American people simply to get a Republican vote.

What you do is you reach out, you listen, you collaborate, but ultimately, the president is accountable to the Republican people -- to the American people, sorry.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about this election coming up Tuesday in Upstate New York. The president created a vacancy by making John McHugh -- Congressman John McHugh, the secretary of the army. And now there appears to be a bit of a Republican civil war going on there. The Republican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, was forced out of the race by a conservative challenger. And I know that the president's political team is hoping to convince her to throw her support to the Democrat, Bill Owens. Any luck on that?

JARRETT: Well, we'll see. We would love to have -- of course, have her support. And it's rather telling when the Republican Party forces out a moderate Republican and it says I think a great deal about where the Republican Party leadership is right now.

So of course we would love to have her support, and those are the people who are going to vote for her.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does it say about where the Republican Party leadership is?

JARRETT: Well, I think it's becoming more and more extreme and more and more marginalized. Look at the number of people who actually say that they are registered, consider themselves a Republican. And if that's the direction they want to go find, what we're going to do is what we've always done, and that is, we're going reach out, we're going to try to include as many people to be a part of our governing process, being open, being transparent, and we're going to let the American people decide.

And right now what you see is a great deal of momentum moving forward, for example, on health care. The American people want change. They don't want the same old health care system that is not affordable, that doesn't offer coverage to everybody, that keeps escalating in costs.

And what we've seen from the Republicans is really a desire to have the status quote. And, George, that's not acceptable anymore.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Our latest polling shows that there is not majority support for the president's health care plans.

JARRETT: Well, we actually think that there is. And I suppose it depends upon what poll you're looking at. But as more and more word has gotten out about what health care reform is all about, whether it's our desire to make it affordable, whether it's to cover all people, whether it's to make sure that people who have pre- existing conditions don't lose their coverage, whether if somebody changes a job, they don't lose their coverage, if somebody is unemployed they don't lose their coverage.

All of these are extraordinarily important to the American people. This has been an unusual process. It has been open, it has been transparent. Oftentimes the sausage-making in Washington is a little bit off-putting.

But look how far we've come. George, five different committees have approved health care. It's now being debated. And all of those five committees have -- the content of those bills is consistent with what the president put forward.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you say that all five bills are consistent with what the president has put forward, but the bill coming out of the Senate Finance Committee includes a tax on these high-priced insurance plans.

Senator Charles Grassley, the Republican ranking member of that committee has looked at Joint Tax Committee figures, and according to those figures, it shows that 46 million families making less than $200,000 will eventually see their taxes go up under this plan. That would break the president's promise not to raise any taxes on people earning under $250,000 a year.

So how can you say that's consistent with his plan?

JARRETT: Yes, well, first of all, there are lots of different analyses of the plans, and until we have a final bill, let's hold off prejudging what it's going to do. But the president has been clear, he does not want to impose a tax on the middle class. That's why immediately upon taking office, when the Recovery Act was passed, it provided a tax relief to the middle class, something -- a very big point he made in the course of the campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then let me press this point, because it's not just Republicans who say this. You've got union leaders like Gerry McEntee and several others have said this is also a tax increase on the middle class. You've got 180 House Democrats who are saying the same thing, saying that that's why they're opposed to it.

So are you saying that the president will not sign this proposal if it does indeed raise taxes on the middle class?

JARRETT: What I'm saying to you, George, is, let's let the process go forward. Let's not pre-judge to the end. There have been so many constructive conversations going on as recently as Friday with the various leadership in both the House and the Senate.

And I think what the president has said is, look, we do not want to have any additional tax burden on the middle class. We want to have affordable health care. We want to make sure that people who have not had insurance before have it. We need to bring down the costs, because that's going to help our federal deficit...


JARRETT: All of those parameters -- and no, what I'm saying is that I'm not going to leap forward to the end. What we're going to do...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But don't you have to set the bottom line for the...


JARRETT: No, no. What you do and what he has done, and what has brought us to the point where we are right now where we have five bills for the first time in history, after decades of effort, what he is doing is working. And what he is doing is talking constructively. His team is up on the Hill every single day, meeting with the leadership, meeting with all of the different members. And we're going to see where we go. And he has made it clear, as I said from the outset, what his parameters are. And he's constantly...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So he will not -- bottom line, he will not violate that commitment, is what you're saying?

JARRETT: What I'm saying is that he is confident that a bill that's going to be passed is going to be consistent with his parameters, yes.

STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let's talk about Afghanistan for a second. We see today the opposition candidate to President Karzai, Abdullah Abdullah, has said he's not going to run in the run-off. Is this a welcome development or is the White House worried the questions about this election will cast a cloud over President Karzai and make it more difficult for the president to implement his strategy?

JARRETT: We don't think that it's going to add a complication to the strategy. It's up to the Afghan people and their authorities to decide how to proceed going forward. We watched the election very carefully. And we're going to work with the leader of the Afghan government and hopefully that's going to improve the state of conditions for the people in Afghanistan, and also help us as we try to bring this war to a close.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So this is not a complication as far as you see it?

JARRETT: No. We don't see it as a complication.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we also -- we're getting some word following the president's meeting with the joint chiefs on Friday that the target date for announcing this decision may be slipping a bit. The president wants some more information from the Joint Chiefs.

Is it now possible that it's going to come after the president returns from Asia, more like the end of November than the middle?

JARRETT: What the president has said consistently is he is going through a very rigorous process. George, before he puts our men and women in harm's way, he wants to make absolutely sure that he has a strategy. This isn't just a matter of how many troops are sent over. Although that is a very important component.

We have to look at what's going on on the ground. We have to look at what our allies are doing. We have to look at the state of the government in Afghanistan. And he's looking for a strategy that leads to keeping our nation safe. And so the timing for that is completely up to the president, who makes the decision when he is confident that he has all of the facts that he needs to make the right decision for our country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So it could be later in the month. Let me just -- also this week the president went to Dover. And we want to show our audience some of the pictures from that. The president seemed -- did seem quite moved, almost stricken at times during that visit. It had quite an impact on the president, didn't it?

JARRETT: How could it not? I mean, my goodness, to meet the families of people who have given their lives, the maximum sacrifice to our country? Of course he was deeply moved by the experience. Anyone who was there would have to be.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you have a chance to talk to him about it and how do you think it will affect his decision-making?

JARRETT: I think that he is going to make the decision that he -- that he thinks is right for the American people. It certainly is a reminder of what is at stake. And you talk about 40,000 troops, behind every troop is a family. And it's a huge sacrifice that we're asking our men and women to make.

And I think going to Dover and showing respect on behalf of our country for that sacrifice was something that was very important to the president. But ultimately he is going to make the decision that he thinks is going to keep our country safe.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One final question, the president received both praise and criticism for doing that visit with television cameras there. Why was it important for the president to do that somewhat in public?

JARRETT: Well, he wouldn't have done it in public if the families had objected. So the first and foremost thing is what is important to the families. And I think that it's important for us all to recognize what is at stake. And so when you talk about numbers, like 40,000 troops, as I said a minute ago, I think it's a reminder about how deep the sacrifice is.

And it's something that's open and transparent, and it was a way for him as the president to convey to those families on behalf of the American people how much we appreciate that enormous sacrifice they've made.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Valerie Jarrett, thanks very much.

JARRETT: You're welcome. Good to see you.


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