Interviews with Senator John Barrasso & David Plouffe

Interviews with Senator John Barrasso & David Plouffe

By State of the Union - January 20, 2013

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley on the National Mall in Washington. Joining me, senior White House adviser David Plouffe.

David, thanks for being here on this special morning.

PLOUFFE: Thanks for having me, Candy.

CROWLEY: So tomorrow's speech, tonally explain it to me in a word or two.

PLOUFFE: Well, I think it's going to be a hopeful speech. I will let the president speak for himself, obviously. But what he is going to do is I think remind the country that our founding principles and values still can guide us in a changing -- a modern world.

He is going to talk about the fact that our political system doesn't require us to resolve all of our disputes or settle all of our differences, but it doesn't (ph) compel (ph) us to act where there should and is common ground. He is going to make that point very clearly.


CROWLEY: ... some unity.

PLOUFFE: Sure. But he is also -- and I think these speeches need to be viewed as a package. We have a State of the Union just in three weeks. So in the inaugural address he is really going to lay out his vision for his second term and where he thinks the country needs to go in the years ahead, the values undergirding that, and then obviously a detailed agenda and blueprint in the State of the Union. So we view these speeches as a package.

CROWLEY: Let me talk to you about the president's tone between the election and now in light of the fact that he does want to talk about things we can do on common ground. And these are just a couple of the things that he said at a White House news conference recently. Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Republicans in Congress have two choices here, they can act responsibly and pay America's bills, or they can act irresponsibly and put America through another economic crisis. What I will not do is to have that negotiation with a gun at the head of the American people.


CROWLEY: So there was that. There was his reference to, well, listen, you need call people on Capitol Hill, because if they are against my gun legislation, they care more about the NRA than little first graders.

These -- you know, you talk to Republicans and even some Democrats are sort of push-away things, and there is a lot of talk about the president is now decided bipartisanship is not possible and he is going to come out, sort of that stronger, look, here is what I want, and push it through.

PLOUFFE: Well, first of all, we think bipartisan is eminently possible. In fact, at the end of the year...

CROWLEY: But is it if you suggest that your opponents don't care about first graders being killed?

PLOUFFE: Our point was we are trying to enlist the American people in these debates. The only way change is going to really happen and we make progress is the American people. It's one of the lessons of the first term. They need to be involved at center of this and pushing here.

Support for, you know, clip legislation, universal background checks, balanced deficit reduction, huge majorities, even in the Republican Party. So the point is, the barrier to progress here in many respects, whether it is deficits, measures to help economy, immigration, gun safety legislation, there's huge support amongst all independents, Democrats and Republicans, throughout the country.

The barrier is there are factions here in Congress, Republicans in Congress, who are out of the mainstream. And so we need to bring the American people into these debates.

CROWLEY: Do you need to bring the American people into these debates by suggesting evil motivation by your opponents? I think that's what -- you know, it's hard to see a president calling for unity when he is suggesting that people who disagree with him don't disagree with him on policy but disagree with him because they care more about the NRA or they don't care, in the case of the debt ceiling, whether the country falls into recession again. Is that the way to go about this?

PLOUFFE: Well, on the debt ceiling, it is the truth. Think about this, Candy. For the first time in our country's history...

CROWLEY: Just reminding people that the president himself, when he was in the Senate, voted against the debt ceiling, so these people that he is suggesting want the country to go into default are doing the same thing he did when he was a senator, I know he has changed his mind.

PLOUFFE: Well, he -- no, absolutely not. He did vote against. He has spoken to that. Said, you know, that was a political vote, and he has learned from that. But at the time, Congress wasn't threatening to say, we are not going to pay our bills unless we get what we want, deeper cuts in Medicare than are required, or we're going to tank the economy.

I mean, this is not -- this false equivalence needs to stop. The barrier to progress here is not the president. We need more Republicans in Congress to think like Republicans in the country who are seeking compromise, seeking balance, because we are poised here to really grow.

If Washington can do its part and not get in the way, our economies continue to grow, we can make big progress.

CROWLEY: So is this a president that we are going to see, hey, he is reaching out more than he did in the first term or is this a president who largely has said, no, I need a larger army, I need to use my campaign machinery and rally the people who voted for me behind causes? Which president are we going to see?

PLOUFFE: It's not an either/or. I mean, well, obviously, we are going to seek common ground with Republicans in Congress...

CROWLEY: Where is that?

PLOUFFE: ... whenever we can. We think it is going to be around balanced deficit reduction, measures to grow the economy and help the middle class.

CROWLEY: Gun control?

PLOUFFE: We think on immigration -- gun safety, sure. I think there are 60 votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House, if votes will come up, for some of these gun safety measures, like clips, like universal background checks, absolutely.

There is a consensus in America on this and I think we can get there here on Capitol Hill.

CROWLEY: Let me -- as you know, there are a lot of Democrats out there voicing -- looking at this package the president wants on gun control measures. Let me just read you one of them.

This is Mark Begich, who I know you know, a Democrat from Alaska: "I think they have got a long haul here," he's talking about you all. "To be frank, I feel like it is going to be hard for any of these pieces of legislation to pass at this point."

So it's not just Republicans we are talking about, it's Democrats as well, a lot of them up for re-election. You know this very well, how tough it is in some of these states, swing states, or Western state, interior Western states, where it's very difficult, it's a difficult call.

Is the president on the phone with them saying, here's why you've got to come with me?

PLOUFFE: Well, we are going to make our case. We are going to make our case directly to lawmakers. We are going to make our case, the vice president, the president, other members of the cabinet, to the public. Because I think in almost every state in the country, right, this is a tough issue, for some Democrats, some Republicans.

Like a lot of issues we are dealing with, immigration, how we reduce our deficit, strong feelings. But we do think, as you look at the public on some of these measures, I think Newtown has changed the debate. Sadly, it took a tragedy like that.

But you're seeing a lot of people, by the way, Democrats and Republicans think differently about this issue, post that tragedy. And so I think it's going to take a lot of work, it's not going to be easy.

But we think we can get to a point where we get -- as we said, I think there are 60 votes in the Senate, 218 votes in the House, if the process can just play itself out and we can really get votes on some of these things we think. But it's going to be hard work.

CROWLEY: What's, as far as you're concerned, the window in a second term for a president to get something done? We generally hear 14, 16 months and then he's kind of in lame duck status.

PLOUFFE: I don't believe that. I mean, let's just look where we are right now. We're not like casting about the -- you know, roaming the halls of the White House looking for things to do in a second term.

CROWLEY: No, but...

PLOUFFE: We have...

CROWLEY: ... you have got your peak of your power in the second power.

PLOUFFE: Well, right, but, you know, whether it is immigration, deficit reduction, measures to help the economy, energy, gun control and safety, immigration, these are all stacked up right now.

So this is going to take us, you know, well through the year. So no, we look at this as the challenges and opportunities are enormous. The economy is still too weak, we have got a lot to do. It's not like Washington is just going to shut down.

So we look to have a very...


CROWLEY: Surely not the first 16 months.


CROWLEY: But you can see that there will be a point at which people begin to look at...

PLOUFFE: Well...

CROWLEY: ... 2016 and where do you think that is.

PLOUFFE: We are getting way ahead of ourselves, but I don't think in the spring of 2013...

CROWLEY: Well, it's a big agenda.

PLOUFFE: ... you know, people are going to be sitting around saying, well, we are not going to do anything until 2017. That is just not the way things work today. CROWLEY: Finally, just for this year, do you see immigration reform passing and being signed this year? Do you see some form of gun control passing and being signed this year?

PLOUFFE: Well, there is no reason that immigration, first, shouldn't pass. I think there is a huge consensus, business community, Republicans around the country, the faith community.

PLOUFFE: So, obviously, the legislative process has to work its way through.

But, you know, this is the moment. The stars seemed to be aligned to finally get comprehensive immigration reform. So we would expect that.

I think on gun safety, we have a very good opportunity. You know, with avenue gee very good opportunity. You know, we took some executive actions, obviously, but there's a lot that congress needs to do here. And so again as you mentioned, it is going to be a hard battle, but we are confident. And that's one reason we want to stay in communication with the American people, because I think they are going to demand action here.

CROWLEY: Where to next?

PLOUFFE: For me?


PLOUFFE: Well, I'm going just going to enjoy this week. This is a special moment for all of us who started this when no one gave us a chance. It looked -- even we thought we had very little chance to win. Six years ago today, we were just starting our primary campaign. And so this is a remarkable journey and we are all going to just treasure this week.

CROWLEY: Hope so. Enjoy tomorrow, David Plouffe, senior White House adviser. Thanks.

PLOUFFE: Thanks.

CROWLEY: Next up, we are going to talk to Senator John Barrasso about where he sees areas of compromise.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CROWLEY: We're looking at a live picture of the White House. Actually, the president and first family are not there right now. We are told they are at the Metropolitan AME Church in D.C., paying tribute in a special service to Martin Luther King Jr. As we know, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday tomorrow. It coincides with the public inaugural festivities. Today here in Washington, we are having the official inaugural activities, and that is the swearing-in of both the vice president, which has already happened and the president, which will happen in the 11 am hour.

I am joined now by Republican Senator John Barrasso from Wyoming. He is the chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and as they might stay in Wyoming, this is not your first rodeo this inaugural?

BARRASSO: No, Candy, this is actually the ninth time I'm seeing a different president come into office. My dad took me to John Kennedy's inauguration when I was 8. We come every time, Republican and Democrat, because of this great country. My dad, as a guy, had to quit school in the ninth grade, fought in the battle of the Bulge. And spent his life pushing wheel barrels of heavy wet cement. So we've gone from pushing cement to now in one generation pushing legislation. But we always want any president to succeed, to do well, that means America does well and Americans do well.

CROWLEY: You know, it's interesting that you mention that because there was a poll recently that CNN took and the question was do you hope that President Obama's policies will fail? Republicans, 52 percent said yes. Independents, 28 percent said yes. Democrats 4 percent.

So 52 percent of Republicans in this poll said they hope President Obama's policies will fail.

BARRASSO: Well, there is a difference between policies and the person. The president, to me, has -- really has a big problem with spending. He is addicted to spending. And those are policies that will hurt our country long term. We need to focus on getting people back to work, focus on jobs, the economy, the debt and the spending. That's what will improve the quality of life for American families and for hard-working taxpayers. People feel they want to get value for their tax dollars and they are not getting it now, Candy.

CROWLEY: It might be a distinction without much difference, though, if you have people saying I want him to fail. And you are saying, well, it is policies, we I don't like his policies. And if they go in place certainly you don't want those poll cities to fail.

BARRASSO: This is a time of divided government. We have re- elected majority leadership in the House and we have a re-elected president but it's time to divide a government you can actually do big things for the country.

CROWLEY: So, what big things? What big thing is going to get done?

BARRASSO: Specifically, have to deal with the debt, we're at $16 trillion. You want to continue with the social safety net: the good, the bad and the ugly parts of that, you have to have a vibrant economy. You have to have growth of the economy. But I need to see policies that will actually do that. We don't see them now. CROWLEY: I spoke with David Plouffe in the segment before this. And he said that he is confident that there are enough votes in the House. And there are there requisite 60 votes in the Senate to pass universal background checks for gun owners and limiting the clips, those high- capacity magazine clips that I can fire of so many rounds to 10 and under. Do you think that's so? Do you think congress would pass a ban on those clips with ten or over and a universal background check is that going to happen? BARRASSO: No, I don't think it will. And Candy, that gets beside the major issues this face American families which are jobs and the economy...

CROWLEY: But don't you think American families looking at...

BARRASSO: ...and the debt and spending, that's where people are focused, that's the big anxiety of this country.

CROWLEY: Sure, I agree with you, but as you know, you deal with a lot of things up there and at the White House, people and their families deal with a lot of things, and one of the things out there are is gun control of some sort, something that addresses Newtown, whether it's gun control or better access to mental health. And so you know the president is going to push that.

BARRASSO: As doctor, as a doctor I can tell you the president's essentially ignored the major issues of mental health and violence in society in the media and video games and he has focused so much on what may be happening at gun shows or on gun shelves at gun stores that I think that he is failing to try to really find a solution to the problem of the tragedy of Newtown.

No one wants that to happen, but the legislation that he is promoting, David Plouffe, may have said they have 60 votes, I would really welcome the opportunity to have a fair and open debate on that on the floor of the United States Senate, but I don't think Senator Harry Reid even brings it to the senate floor because he has six Democrats up for election in two years in states were the president received fewer than 42 percent of the votes. And he doesn't want his Democrats to have to choose between their own constituents and the president's positions.

CROWLEY: What about immigration? Seems too me that that is something in the interest of the Republican Party that you all would like to see get passed, some kind of immigration reform. Will that happen this year?

BARRASSO: You know, I mean, I'm child of immigrants. That is the history of this country. Immigration is good and important for our country. Legal immigration needs to really be modernized. Marco Rubio is working on that. We need to find ways. You know, we are educating so many people and then telling them to leave the country who are from other countries. You know, go back, we don't want you here. We have issues of labor that we need additional labor. We need to deal with immigration. And I think we will, Candy.

CROWLEY: And, quickly, you're on the committee that will listen to testimony from Secretary of State Clinton this week on Benghazi and what she knew about it. What else -- we know that there was a breakdown somehow in getting appropriate security to Benghazi. What else do you need to know?

BARRASSO: Well, the president promised right when this happened that people would be brought to justice. Where is the justice?

CROWLEY: Well, they did fire -- there were people punished in -- at the State Department, I mean, what else do you want?

BARRASSO: Well, I mean, I have seen the videos and the surveillance cameras and the things from the drones. There were people, terrorists who came into essentially U.S. territory, our embassy, our consulate, and murdered Americans. And that's who the president said was going to be brought to justice.

So far, as of today, there are no suspects being questioned, nothing is done and it's four months later.

CROWLEY: But is that a secretary of state thing?

BARRASSO: Well, let's ask her that. I want to know what lessons have been learned so that the new secretary of state will not put people in that position again. And I want to know what she was doing. Did she give any orders during this whole process? Take a look at it from before, during, and after the attacks.

CROWLEY: OK. And finally, what do you make of the tone of the president since the election when it comes to issues like the debt ceiling? He has said that Republicans were more interested flood throwing the country back into recession. Talking about gun control, saying, you know, ask -- you should call your congressman and ask why they are against us, is it because of the NRA, and they care more about them than they do about first graders.

What do you make of the tone of the president at this point?

BARRASSO: The president, Candy, seems so fixated. The president seems so fixated on demonizing Republicans that he is blinded to the opportunities as well as the obligations that he has to deal with the big problems of this country on debt and on the entitlements.

CROWLEY: And you have those same opportunities on the Republican side as well, correct? BARRASSO: I continue to want to work together. The president, if he hits the reset button, like did he with Russia, it's time to hit the reset button with Republicans and really look for solutions to the major problems. And divided government is the perfect time do it, Candy.

CROWLEY: Senator John Barrasso, thanks for joining us this morning.

BARRASSO: Thanks for having me. 

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