TRANSCRIPT: Jake Tapper Interviews Barack Obama
Presumptive Democratic Nominee on Gay Marriage, Education & the General Election
June 16, 2008
The following is a transcript of an interview conducted by ABC News' Jake Tapper with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., for "World News with Charles Gibson" on June 16, 2008, in Flint, Michigan.
TAPPER: You talked about the need to change the status quo in education today.
TAPPER: But one of the ways that proponents of school choice say that the best way to change the status quo is to give parents, inner-city parents a choice. Why not?
OBAMA: Well, the problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom. We don't have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools.
So what I've said is let's foster competition within the public school system. Let's make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let's make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.
But what I don't want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools. That's going to make things worse, and we're going to lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so important to building this country.
TAPPER: So it would help some kids, but overall it would be bad for the system?
OBAMA: I think it would be overall bad for most kids.
TAPPER: It's a Democratic year. And the president's numbers, poll numbers are horrible.
TAPPER: The right track-wrong track numbers indicate a record number of Americans think we're on the wrong track. The heads of the Republican House and Senate committees anticipate they're going to lose lots of seats.
TAPPER: And yet you and Senator McCain right now are pretty much tied.
TAPPER: Why aren't you doing better? Why didn't you get a bounce?
OBAMA: Oh, well, you know, my understanding is the current polls show me up, despite the fact that we went through an extraordinary primary. I mean, we went through a long, long contest. And Senator Clinton was a formidable and terrific candidate.
And so while we were doing that, John McCain basically was getting a pass, both from the media, from you guys, as well as from other opponents. And so I think that that explains it.
But, look, the truth is, is that a presidential contest is always going to be closer than a congressional contest. People are always going to be taking measure. We haven't seen any blowout elections any time over the last several years, even when Congress has shifted significantly, as it did during Bill Clinton's midterm, as it did during George Bush's midterm.
So we've seen these kinds of trends before. What I'm confident about is that when people get to know my track record and contrast it with John McCain's, when they know that I'm giving a middle-class tax cut to working families, and he's giving a tax cut, a quarter of which goes to people making more than $2.8 million, when people see that I'm offering universal health care, and John McCain is not, those are going to be decisive issues during a year when families, like those here in Flint, are really feeling left behind.
TAPPER: John McCain is aggressively going after women's vote, especially former supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton. He said he'll be a better president for them. Your response?
OBAMA: Well, I'm glad that John McCain is going after women. I think that everybody should go after every voter.
I think John McCain is going to have trouble making the case, when on almost every single issue that's important to women, he's been on the wrong side. You know, he is in favor of judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. He has opposed equal pay. He has opposed the CHIP program, that would make children insured.
He has opposed efforts to protect women against some of the discrimination that they experience in the workplace. You know, that's not going to be a track record that I think is going to be very appealing to women.
TAPPER: Speaking of the Supreme Court, you applauded the decision that the Supreme Court made last week. The Bush administration says, no matter what people think about other programs, other policies they've initiated, there has not been a terrorist attack within the U.S. since 9/11. And they say the reason that is, is because of the domestic programs, many of which you opposed, the NSA surveillance program, Guantanamo Bay, and other programs.
How do you know that they're wrong? It's not possible that they're right?
OBAMA: Well, keep in mind I haven't opposed, for example, the national security surveillance program, the NSA program. What I've said that we can do it within the constraints of our civil liberties and our Constitution.
TAPPER: They disagree, though.
OBAMA: Well, but the fact that they disagree does not mean that they're right on this. What it means is, is that they have been willing to skirt basic protections that are in our Constitution, that our founders put in place.
And it is my firm belief that we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution. And there has been no evidence on their part that we can't.
And, you know, let's take the example of Guantanamo. What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks -- for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.
And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, "Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims."
So that, I think, is an example of something that was unnecessary. We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that was consistent with our laws.
TAPPER: You and Senator John McCain are both talking about the need to reach across the partisan divide.
TAPPER: It's not difficult to look at Senator McCain's record and see examples of times when he reached across the partisan divide at great political risk to himself: immigration reform, Gang of 14, campaign finance reform.
I know that you have worked across the aisle.
TAPPER: But have you ever worked across the aisle in such a way that entailed a political risk for yourself?
OBAMA: Well, look, when I was doing ethics reform legislation, for example, that wasn't popular with Democrats or Republicans. So any time that you actually try to get something done in Washington, it entails some political risks.
But I think the basic principle which you pointed out is that I have consistently said, when it comes to solving problems, like nuclear proliferation or reducing the influence of lobbyists in Washington, that I don't approach this from a partisan or ideological perspective.
And the same is true when it comes to the economy. The same is true when it comes to national security. You know, this administration, the Bush administration, has made, for example, the war on terror into a sharply partisan issue.
But the truth is, is that I admire some of the foreign policy of George Bush's father. And I've said so before. I think that there's a tradition of us working together to make sure that we are dealing with the threats that are out there and that we are building a consensus here in the United States. That's the kind of approach I intend to take when I'm president of the United States.
TAPPER: OK, last one, and that is same-sex marriage is now going on in California.
TAPPER: You oppose same-sex marriage.
TAPPER: Do you think that the fact that this is now going on in California, does that cause you to re-think your pledge to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act?
OBAMA: No. I still think that these are decisions that need to be made at a state and local level. I'm a strong supporter of civil unions. And I think that, you know, we're involved in a national conversation about this issue.
You know, I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I also think that same-sex partners should be able to visit each other in hospitals, they should be able to transfer property, they should be able to get the same federal rights and benefits that are conferred onto married couples.
And so, you know, as president, my job is to make sure that the federal government is not discriminating and that we maintain the federal government's historic role in not meddling with what states are doing when it comes to marriage law. That's what I'll do as president.
TAPPER: Does it bother you, what California's doing?
TAPPER: OK. Thank you, Senator. We really appreciate your time.
OBAMA: Appreciate your questions.
TAPPER: Good luck. Good luck on the campaign trail.
OBAMA: Thank you very much, Jake.