Interview with Obama Advisor David Axelrod

Interview with Obama Advisor David Axelrod

By The Situation Room - August 11, 2011

BLITZER: President Obama certainly has a lot on his plate these days. But he has more to worry about than simply his day job. The Republican presidential race is heating up and so are the attacks against the president.

Let's discuss what's going on with David Axelrod.

He's the senior adviser to the Obama reelection campaign.

David, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: I see you're in Ames, Iowa right now, getting ready for some Republican activity that's going on over there.

AXELROD: Indeed.

BLITZER: But let's talk a little bit about Mitt Romney, arguably the frontrunner right now for the Republican nomination. There was a story in Politico the other day, saying the Obama re-election strategy is going to go right after him. Let me read a line from that article, which I'm sure you saw.

"Barack Obama's aides and advisers are preparing to center the president's reelection campaign on a ferocious personal assault on Mitt Romney's character and business background, a strategy grounded in the early stage expectation that the former Massachusetts governor is the likely the GOP nominee."

Is that true? A ferocious personal assault?

AXELROD: No, here's what I would tell you, Wolf, if you could identify the sources of that story, I would tell you take them out of your Rolodex, because they don't know what they're talking about.

Of course we're prepared for a tough campaign with whomever the Republican nominee is going to be. But it's going to be a tough campaign about records, about vision, and about how we rebuild this economic in a way that restores middle-class economic security. It's not going to be about gratuitous personal attacks. So I would discount that. And let's focus on the real differences between us.

Governor Romney was here in Des Moines today, at the state fair, and he said in response to questions about Social Security and Medicare, corporations are people too, and explaining why he won't close any of these corporate loopholes or tax upper income Americans any more than they're being taxed today. That's a real issue, that's a debate worth having. This other stuff is not.

BLITZER: We're going to get into that later this hour.

Rick Perry, he's going to announce formally this Saturday, the Texas governor, he's running for the Republican nomination. He does have an impressive record in creating jobs in Texas. He could run on that, right?

AXELROD: He'll certainly try to run on that. That record will be examined, and perused. Obviously the oil industry has done very well recently. And that's had a lot to do with what's happened in Texas. But how he's approached that, approached the budgets in Texas, education and some other issues down there, all of that will be part of the discussion.

BLITZER: Who worries you more, Rick Perry or Mitt Romney?

AXELROD: You know something, I get this question all the time. I don't know how to answer it, because I do know presidential politics, I know about campaigns. I know that you don't really know how effective a candidate is going to be until you see them out on the stump, as Governor Romney was today. That's when you get those revealing moments and you learn about how someone is going to be as a candidate. What they stand for and so on. So I don't know that.

But here's what I do know. From what I've seen of these Republican candidates and will see more again tonight in this debate, is not one of them has been willing to step out of the orthodoxy of a party that is now totally in the thrall of its most strident voices. They all prize tax loopholes for corporations, tax cuts for the wealthy above education, above research and development, Social Security and Medicare, they have that in common. So whomever the nominee is, I suspect the debate will center on how we move forward into the future and whether those are the values that we should embrace.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised that the president is getting criticized from the Republicans from the right. I am surprised at the ferocious nature of some of the criticism coming against the president from the left, from Democrats, from liberal Democrats.

Roberts Reich the former Clinton Labor secretary, was here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday. Let me play a little clip. Because he seems to be very disappointed in the president.


ROBERT REICH, FMR. CLINTON LABOR SECRETARY: I supported him. But I think right now, by continuing to lead the country to think that this is a deficit and debt crisis, agreeing with, basically, the Republicans. And not standing up, as any president should, right now when the economy is dead in the water, we are losing jobs, a larger percentage of the adult population is really looking for work, out of work, in terms of full-time jobs than we have seen in 30 years-


BLITZER: How worried are you that you may be losing some of that base of the Democratic Party?

AXELROD: First of all, there's a fundamental misapprehension in what the secretary said. The president-obviously, this is the president that pushed for Recovery Act, this is a president whose cut taxes 26 times, mostly on-for the middle class and small businesses. This is a president who thinks every single day about job creation and how we rebuild or economy. He's challenging the Congress right now, as he did today in Michigan, to take a series of steps that would move our economy forward, that would accelerate economic growth that would create jobs. All he said is we also have to deal in the mid- and long-term with our deficit issue, because ultimately that will be a great weight on our economy.

So we need to in the short term deal with this jobs issue, but we have to do it in a fiscally responsible way. Now it is up to Congress to respond to that. And if the Congress-one of the things we hope is that when the Congress is home, and they hear their neighbors, over this break, that they'll come back in a mood to compromise and do the things that are necessary to get this economy moving. The president will challenge them to do that.

BLITZER: A lot of criticism of the president from the Left suggesting he hasn't been assertive enough. Maureen Dowd writing in "The New York Times", an article entitled "Withholder In Chief": "His withholding and reactive nature has made him seem strangely irrelevant in Washington, trapped by his own temperament. He doesn't lead and he doesn't understand why we don't feel led." Were you surprised to read that from Maureen Dowd?

AXELROD: Not really, because Maureen has been writing that same column for probably three years. She wrote that column even as we passed the Recovery Act. She wrote that column when we passed health care reform. She wrote that column after we passed the repeal of "don't ask/don't tell," after we passed the most significant financial reform since the Great Depression, overcoming a furious lobbying campaign by Wall Street. So this has been a familiar refrain of hers.

But the facts every the facts. This president, with the most divided Congress, has done some very, very substantive things in a very difficult time. And is going to continue that fight for middle- class people, to do the things that will restore economic security for the middle class. And you have a Republican array of candidates on the other side who have taken an entirely different tact and sided with Wall Street, with major corporate interests against closing loopholes, against asking wealthy Americans to do a little bit more to deal with our -- to deal with our problems. We're going to have a debate. And it's not going to be about psychology. It's going to be about economics and it's going to be about competing visions for the future.

BLITZER: He's going to continue hi vacation next week as scheduled, right?

AXELROD: His family is going on vacation next week, I think he'd like to join his family. But, you know-and if he goes, and I expect that he will go at some point and join them, you know, he's going to continue working. I heard Jack Cafferty's piece.

I've got to tell you, I've watched this president, from before we took office, deal day and night with these issues, think about them, meet with people, move programs forward to try and deal with problems that have been in the making for a very long time. And he never quits. And he's not going to take a hiatus from that work.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, thanks for joining us from Ames, Iowa. Appreciate it.

AXELROD: Great to be with us, Wolf. Nice to see you.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay in close touch. 

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