Transcript: ABC News' Jake Tapper's Exclusive Interview With President Obama


Tapper: You have gotten a lot passed though, much of your agenda has been passed -- the stimulus, health care, Wall Street reform -- so we're sitting in a state right now where a majority of the voters disapprove of your handling of the economy and we're going to Virginia later, where a majority of the voters do not thing you deserve to be re-elected. We're sitting in a school, what grade would you give yourself?

Obama: Well, you know I'm not going to give myself a grade.

Tapper: Not even a midterm?

Obama: Other than "incomplete" because the work that we started is not yet done, but the fact is that the American people are rightly frustrated over what they see as a system in which responsibility is not always rewarded, where people who have done the right thing all their lives still seem to be struggling, that sense that the American dream is slipping away. I think that is something that helped get me elected but it hasn't been entirely solved yet, and in some ways it's gotten tougher for folks because of the financial crisis.

And I think most people understand that we didn't get into this problem overnight and we're not going to solve it overnight, but I think that after two-and-a-half, three years of elevated unemployment, home values declining substantially, people feeling as if everything they've worked for is still leaving them vulnerable and not having the security they've counted on, it's not surprising that people are feeling frustrated and as president of the United States, even though they don't think I caused the problem, they're still going to feel a justifiable impatience in terms of why aren't we able to get this in a better place.

What I say to the American people is that we are moving in the right direction, it is going to take time to heal all the problems that exist out there, the health care bill that we passed is absolutely the right thing to do but it's going to take awhile before it's even fully implemented, much less taken full effect, and you start seeing health care inflation stabilize. When it comes to education we're doing great reforms at the elementary and secondary levels but it could take 10 years before we start seeing the full effects of education reform taking place. That's why the jobs bill is so important because even as we're doing these structural reforms that put us in a stronger position in the long terms, we still have to help people now and the most important thing we can do right now is to make sure we're putting people back to work.

Tapper: Some of the frustration that has come out in this 'Occupy Wall Street' protest, you have expressed sympathy with their position, with their feeling of powerlessness. First of all, how do you, as president of the United States, channel an energy and anger that is aimed at you in some ways, aimed at Washington? And the other question I have is it seems as though sometimes your pitch, or the White House pitch, is you're almost a victim in this. You're not responsible when you have gotten so much past. I just wonder if you think that's effective to say, "it's those mean Republicans who are blocking me," when you've really gotten a lot done?

Obama: Well what we've gotten done I'm enormously proud of and it's making a difference, and in some cases we've had a chance to actually work with the Republicans. When they show themselves willing to actually engage to try and get stuff done, then we can do a lot of good for the country.

We just signed a series of trade agreements that potentially can create tens of thousands of jobs throughout this country so that we're starting to sell cars in South Korea and not just buy cars from South Korea. We just passed a bill to reform our patent system so our entrepreneurs are able to make sure that they're rewarded for the great ideas that they have and get them to market quicker. So wherever we can find areas of common cause, I'm ready and willing to work with them right away. But I don't say that we're victimized, I say that we got too little of the kind of "let's work together" attitude in Washington that we need, and that has been true since I came into office.

And that's just a fact, that the truth of the matter is that on a series of very important measures that could make a big difference, the most prominent being right now is putting people back to work, rebuilding our infrastructure, getting teachers back in the classroom, we haven't seen that attitude of cooperation that's necessary. The fact of the matter is, in the absence of some Republican support, they are able to block proposals even if they have gotten the support of the majority of American people. Sixty-three percent of the American people support the elements of my jobs plan, they support the idea that we should have the best infrastructure in the world. They support the idea that we shouldn't be firing teachers at time when we know education is the most important thing we can do to make sure our kids can compete in this economy. And yet, even though we've gotten a majority of senators in the Senate willing to move forward on this, because of the filibuster, because of the rules that are set up in the Senate, those things are blocked.

And most prominently on the debt ceiling debacle that we just went through, everybody knows that we are going to have to get our deficit under control, but we have to do it in a way that allows us still to invest. What I've said is I'm willing to go beyond the one trillion dollars in cuts that we've already made, we can cut programs that don't make sense, curb government spending but in order to close the deficit, people like myself should also pay a little more in taxes. People who are making a million dollars or more can afford to do a little bit more, and that ideological stubbornness that's unwilling to compromise and create a balanced approach to deficit reduction is another example of why people are so frustrated.

You asked earlier about "Occupy Wall Street" and what I've said is that I understand the frustrations that are being expressed in those protests. In some ways, they're not that different from some of the protests that we saw coming from the Tea Party, both on the left and the right. I think people feel separated from their government, that the institutions aren't looking out for them and that the most important thing we can do right now is those of us in leadership, letting people know that we understand their struggles, we are on their side and that we want to set up a system in which hard work, responsibility, doing what you're supposed to do, is rewarded, and that people who are irresponsible, who are reckless, who don't feel a sense of obligation to their communities and to their companies and to their workers, that those folks aren't rewarded.

You know, I think that we're at a critical moment in this country where if we can regain some of the values that help build this country, that people I think long for, where they feel that everybody gets a fair shake but we're also asking a fair share from everybody, but if we can go back to that, then I think a lot of that anger and frustration dissipates.

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