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Interview with Obama Advisor David Axelrod

Interview with Obama Advisor David Axelrod

By The Situation Room - February 23, 2012

BLITZER: When President Obama took office, a gallon of gas cost less than $2. Now, it's almost doubled what it was then and almost $4 on average. I spoke to the president's chief strategist about what the president is doing to put that money back into your pocket.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: And joining us now from our Chicago bureau, David Axelrod, a key adviser to the president's reelection campaign. David, thanks very much for coming in. Let's talk about gas prices for a moment. As you know, because you served in the White House, a gallon of gas when the president took office was under $2.

Now, it's approaching $4 a gallon. What is the president doing to deal with this, because, as you well know, this is almost a regressive hidden tax on all Americans?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN CHIEF STRATEGIST: Yes. It's one of the reasons why it was so important that we pass the payroll tax extension, because that's going to help offset some of that cost, Wolf.

I also -- you're right, I was in the White House, I do remember that. I also remember the June before we got there when gas prices were at $4.10 a gallon, really under scores the face that these spikes have been coming on a repeated basis over a long period of time. Not just years, but decades.

And it speaks to the need to have a national energy strategy, such as the one that the president is embarked on, one that is an all of the above strategy where we're drilling for more oil, but also natural gas, where we're promoting renewable energies, wind, solar, biofuels, where we're exploring every potential avenue for energy, because we can't simply rely on oil and be at the mercy of the global oil markets, as we are today, and as we have been for a long time.

We are importing less oil today than we have in the past 20 years. We're pumping more oil than we have in the last decade. We've opened up hundreds of -- thousands of acres -- millions of acres to new oil exploration, including in the Arctic last week, but we have to have a broader strategy if we're going to get control of our energy future.

BLITZER: Who do you think won that Republican debate last night?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, the Republican candidates --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: Well, that's hard to say. I'm not a scorekeeper in that regard. I'll tell you who didn't win, anybody who tuned in who was looking for some positive vision for the country, someone who tuned in hoping that they were going to hear about how we're going to rebuild the middle class in this country, someone who is looking for a balanced, measured view of how we move forward. It seemed like such a negative grinding affair going after each other, going after the president, in certain ways going after the country. And that was a dispiriting thing to watch.

BLITZER: What they all agreed on was that this president should not be reelected. I'm going to play a few clips for you and get your response quickly to each one. Here's Mitt Romney speaking about the president and the whole issue of religion.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think we've seen in the history of this country the kind of attack on religious conscience, religious freedom, religious tolerance that we have seen in Barack Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a strong statement from Mitt Romney, arguably the man you fear the most --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: -- as far as Republican is concerned, but go ahead and respond to that.

AXELROD: It's a preposterous statement by Mitt Romney, among many preposterous statements I heard last night. You know he was -- he made a reference to the president's decision and HHS's decision to move forward and require that contraception be part of health care packages for women in the country. The president effected a compromise that protects religious freedom, and it's very much like what's in place in Massachusetts, and was when Mitt Romney was governor, and he didn't say boo about it then.

The fact is that Mitt Romney has proven that he is willing to say whatever he thinks he needs to say to close the deal with these Republican primary voters, and he's moving farther and farther and farther to the right to do it. But it wasn't just that remark, Wolf.

One of the things that struck me was how every single problem and every single question elicited from him and everybody on the panel, comments about how the president's responsible for this and everything that is wrong with America is because of the president and so on. I don't think that's what people believe. And really what they want to hear is how are we going to move forward from here, how are we going to build on the momentum that started, how are we going to rebuild the middle class, how are we going to address the fundamental problems that people see in their every day lives and their communities and so on, didn't get any of that from these guys last night, Romney or any of the others.

BLITZER: Here's Santorum hitting the president when it comes to Iran and its potential for someday getting a nuclear bomb. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's afraid to stand up to Iran. He opposed the sanctions in Iran against the Central Banks until his own party finally said you're killing us, please support these sanctions.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right go ahead and respond to Santorum.

AXELROD: Well, Wolf, I know you're a student of that region, so I'm not telling you anything you don't know but the president over a painstaking period of years has brought the world along in the most withering set of sanctions that have ever been administered against any country. The Iranian economy is in disarray as a result of it. The Iranian leadership has spoken to this, so this notion that somehow the president hasn't stood up to Iran stands in contrast to what Iran is saying and what is obvious from the facts.

And what was striking to me is for all of the bellicose talk that you heard on that platform not one person suggested that they would do anything differently than the president is doing right now. They all said we need tough sanctions, well we've got tough sanctions and they're getting tougher all the time. And they said we need to keep all options on the take, and we're keeping all options on the table. So you know we've got a lot of -- a lot of -- you know what they -- what do they say down south? All hat and no cattle?

BLITZER: Newt Gingrich went even one step further, a blistering attack on the president. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think this is a very sober (INAUDIBLE) and I believe this is the most dangerous president on national security grounds in American history.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The most dangerous president on national security grounds doesn't get stronger than that.

AXELROD: Yes. I'm sure that Osama bin Laden would like to offer a rebuttal if he could. All the leadership of al Qaeda, two thirds of which have been destroyed would probably offer a different testimony to that. You know I don't think the American people buy that and it is a sober moment in our history and it requires sober thoughtful leadership and certainly a comment like that doesn't reflect sobriety.

BLITZER: One final thing, I was following your tweets last night during the debate. You had this one, and you're @DavidAxelrod (ph). You wrote Mitt Romney, severe reality check, back then Mitt referred to himself as pro-choice and a moderate with progressive views. Is it fair to say that almost all of your criticism of the Republican candidates and like so many other Democrats, focusing on Romney, he's the guy you fear the most?

AXELROD: No, I don't think it's a matter of fearing him. He is the -- he has been from the beginning a weak front-runner for this nomination. He remains a weak front-runner for this nomination. I don't know how it's going to turn out, but certainly he, you know in these kinds of breathtaking leaps from one position to another, you know he almost begs some kind of comment. I mean everybody in Massachusetts can attest to the fact that Mitt Romney ran not so many years ago he was governor up until 2007, as a moderate pro-choice. He said he had progressive views, and now he calls himself a severely conservative governor when he's trying to appeal to the right wing of the Republican Party.

And it does leave the question that we have raised before, which is where is the core, what does he actually believe? And what can we count on from him in the future if he changes his position so radically from year to year and even day to day.

BLITZER: David Axelrod, we'll continue this conversation down the road. Thanks very much for joining us.

AXELROD: All right, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: All right, appreciate it very much. 

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