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Interview with Obama Advisor Valerie Jarrett

Interview with Obama Advisor Valerie Jarrett

By The Situation Room - December 6, 2011

BLITZER: President Obama today laid out his vision of a nation where the middle class gets its fair share, drawing a sharp line between his approach and that of his critics, especially the Republicans. We're joined now by Valerie Jarrett, the senior adviser to the president. She's joining us from the briefing room. Valerie, thanks very much for coming in.

VALERIE JARRETT, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRES. OBAMA: My pleasure, Wolf, good evening.

Good evening. Here's a line that certainly jumped out at me when I heard the president say it. Let me play it for you and our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Would we allow our citizens and even our children to work ungodly hours in conditions that were unsafe and unsanitary?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Was that a swipe at Newt Gingrich, the Republican presidential frontrunner who, in recent days, has said maybe child labor laws should be changed so that young kids in poor neighborhoods could work as janitor's helpers, if you will?

JARRETT: It wasn't a swipe. It was an opportunity to remind the American people, give it historical context, for where we are as a country and where we want to go. And there's nothing I think better than to look at history to say over 100 years ago, President Teddy Roosevelt gave a bold speech about the pivotal choices that we have as a country.

And the president wanted to do the same thing today where he can talk about fairness, where we can talk about balance, where we can talk about the American dream, really coming true for everybody.

And what we've seen over the last several years in our country is increasing disparity between those of the very top of the income (ph) who are very wealthy, and their incomes and their investments have grown dramatically and the rest of the country is struggling. So, it's a speech to really provide a historical context for that, Wolf. BLITZER: So, it's just a coincidence. He wasn't thinking of Newt Gingrich in his controversial remarks?

JARRETT: I assure you --

BLITZER: We, certainly, have generated a lot of commotion over the past few days.

JARRETT: I assure you he was not. I think that if you listen closely and if you read the speech, it was a terrific speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave. He talked about the importance of the eight-hour workweek. He talked about minimum wages for women, talked about making sure that we have unemployment insurance.

The safety net that makes our country so great and that is so important and distinguishes us from countries all across the world. I think that if you listen closely and you read the speech, it was a terrific speech that Teddy Roosevelt gave. He talked about the importance of the eight-hour workweek, he talked about minimum wages for women, talked about making sure that we have unemployment insurance, the safety net that makes our country so great, and that is so important and distinguishes us from countries all across the world.

And this is the choice that the American people have before them. And the president wanted to really stake out his vision for the country and take a step back and remind us of the fact that that vision is really grounded in our roots and our history.

BLITZER: You know, Newt Gingrich also calls President Obama the food stamp president, and says this -- I'll play this little clip from the former Speaker.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Just look at the record. More people have gotten on food stamps under Barack Obama than any other president in American history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: When he calls him the food stamp president, do you see that as an insult?

JARRETT: Look, I can't really comment on what Newt Gingrich is thinking. What I can say is that our country has gone through a very tough time, the toughest time since the last -- the Great Depression. And what's been very important is that we provide that safety net, whether it's unemployment insurance, whether it's food stamps, whether it's making sure that those who are most vulnerable have a bridge through these difficult times.

That's why the president was fighting so hard -- is fighting so hard for the American Jobs Act. The payroll tax that's currently being debated before Congress, if it isn't extended, every family on average is going to have $1,000 less in their pocket. So, at a time when the Republicans are taking a pledge, saying that they don't believe in raising taxes on the wealthy to help pay for benefits for the rest, but they are willing to raise taxes on the middle class, they are willing to say on January 1 that you're going to have $1,000 less to pay for food and groceries and your rent and so many of the basics that the American people are struggling so hard for right this minute. So I think today was a great opportunity to take a step back and remind us about what makes America so great.

BLITZER: I just want to be precise on this. If the Republicans hold firmly to their position they're not going to raise taxes on even millionaires -- and there's every indication they will hold firmly to this -- what is plan B in making sure that millions, tens of millions of Americans, continue to have that payroll tax cut, $1,000, $1,500 a year, which they desperately, obviously need? Are you going to make a concession and say, all right, we're not going to raise taxes on the rich?

JARRETT: Well, this is a matter of math. I mean, how do you pay for it? And what the president has said is, we need to have a fiscally responsible plan.

Everything in the American Jobs Act had a way for paying for it. It was a modest increase on the wealthiest Americans in order so that everybody else could have a little bit of extra money in their pocket during these tough economic times. That's the president's plan.

And so what we're going to do between now and the end of the year is we're going to push very, very hard. We're going to ask the American people to get educated, understand what's at stake here, and what the president has called on is for Congress to act. And that's what we expect them to do. Otherwise -- and that's why we have the clock up here in the White House -- time is wasting.

Come January 1, average Americans are going to lose $1,000. That is unacceptable.

BLITZER: Here's an idea. It's not original to me, but I'll throw it out. You want to pay for the tax cuts for the middle class? How about slowing down $2 billion a week going to Afghanistan, more than $120 billion a year? You could pay for the tax cut simply by doing that.

JARRETT: Well, you know what? We're going to leave it to the experts to figure out the resources that we need to fight a war against terrorism, to fight al Qaeda, and to make sure that we keep America safe.

But I think if you go around the country, as we have, Wolf, and talk directly to the American people, what they are looking for is fairness, they're looking for equity, they're looking for balance. And I think it isn't asking too much for those who have benefited so greatly for our country to pay just a little bit more so that people who will go out and spend that $1,000 and jolt the economy, which will help not just themselves, but will help the economy overall, why not allocate our resources that way? And so the president has taken his message directly to the American people. Overwhelmingly, they support the American Jobs Act. Overwhelmingly, they're calling not just, Wolf, for the extension of the payroll tax credit, but also the unemployment insurance, which will also lapse come January 1, two vitally important benefits to help keep our economy going and to make us strong again.

BLITZER: Valerie Jarrett, thanks very much for coming in.

JARRETT: You're welcome. Have a great evening.

BLITZER: Good luck.

JARRETT: Thank you. 

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