Exclusive: President Obama Says Terry Jones' Plan to Burn Korans Is 'A Destructive Act'

President talks economy, tax cuts and midterm elections in exclusive interview.

September 8, 2010, 9:23 PM

Sept. 9, 2010 — -- A Florida pastor's plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of 9/11 could result in "serious violence" against American troops in Pakistan and Afghanistan and would be "a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda," President Barack Obama said in an interview that aired today on "Good Morning America."

"If he's listening, I just hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values … this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance," Obama said. "As a very practical matter, as commander (in) chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan."

In the exclusive one-on-one interview on Wednesday with "GMA" anchor George Stephanopoulos, the president discussed initiatives to boost the flagging economy, tax cuts and the upcoming midterm elections. He also said Terry Jones' actions could boost recruitment of people who would be willing to "blow themselves up" in cities in America or Europe.

Click HERE to read the full transcript of the interview.

Obama said he hoped Jones understood that he would be engaging in "a destructive act."

Jones' plan to burn copies of Islam's most sacred text at his Dove World Outreach Center – a small, non-denominational congregation in Gainesville -- has unleashed a flood of opposition. Protests have been mounted in Afghanistan and in Indonesia, and the FBI has warned that Islamic extremists likely would retaliate.

While the pastor has said he is continuing to pray about the plan, he has shown no indication that he will back down. He also has said he would not be responsible for any deaths that may occur as a result of his church's provocative actions.

The president told Stephanopoulos that he hoped Jones would reconsider.

"He says he's someone who is motivated by his faith," Obama said. "I hope he listens to … those better angels."

Obama's comments are the latest in the growing call from numerous politicians and community and interfaith leaders who've all spoken out in recent days, urging Jones to forgo his controversial plan and its potentially harmful consequences.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has warned that the Koran burning could so inflame the Muslim world that there could be retaliation against American troops and their partners. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, evangelist Franklin Graham and the Vatican are among the other influential voices that have registered opposition to the planned Koran-burning.

Compromise on Tax Cuts?

On the issue of tax cuts, the president again questioned the Republican Party's push for the extension of tax breaks for the wealthy. House Minority Leader John Boehner has called for a bill that would cut non-security spending to 2008 levels and enact a freeze on tax rates.

Obama wants to let the tax cuts expire for families earning more than $250,000 a year, a move the GOP argues will hamper the country's fragile economic recovery.

In a political speech Wednesday in Cleveland, Obama proposed new incentives for businesses and assailed Republicans for impeding his efforts and for wanting to revert to "the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place."

His incentives would allow businesses to write off 100 percent of their spending on new plants and equipment through the end of 2011 and retroactive to Sept. 8.

The proposal, White House officials said, would benefit 1.5 million companies and would be "the largest temporary investment incentive in American history," resulting in tax cuts of $200 billion over two years. The president also urged the Senate to pass the small business jobs bill that has stalled because of partisan deadlock.

Asked by Stephanopoulos whether he would veto a Congressional extension of tax cuts, the president replied: "There are a whole bunch better ways to spend the money."

That Obama faces disagreement from within his own party doesn't make his job any easier.

Even Obama's former budget director Peter Orszag said Tuesday that the tax cuts should be extended for two years.

"Higher taxes now would crimp consumer spending, further depressing the already inadequate demand for what firms are capable of producing at full tilt," wrote Orszag, the former director of the Office of Management & Budget, in a column in the New York Times.

A handful of Senate Democrats also have weighed in against letting the tax cuts expire.

The president also responded to critics of his handling of the economy, and to polling that shows Republicans appear to have a decided advantage in the upcoming midterm elections.

He said he believed people had hoped his administration could turn the corner more quickly than it has after coming into a tough situation.

President: I Had to Take 'Unpopular' Measures

"I think what people feel is 'Gosh, we should be able to do something faster to solve these problems.' And I desperately wish that we could."

According to the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll, 33 percent of Americans believe Obama's economic program has made the economy worse, while only 30 percent believe it has improved the situation. Moreover, a record 57 percent disapprove of how the president has handled the economy.

While he acknowledged having made mistakes, including ineffective communication to the public at times, he maintained that his administrations had taken the right steps to move the country forward "after a very devastating recession … ."

He pointed out that the recession and the financial crisis was "a direct culmination" of a series of decisions made by the Republicans when they were in charge.

"And we have now spent two very difficult years trying to pull the economy out of the ditch, and I just want the American people to understand exactly what the choice is in November," he said.

During his tenure, his administration had to take a series of unpopular "emergency measures" that included making sure the auto industry and the banks didn't fail, he said.

"My belief is in the free market, and the private sector generating jobs, generating growth … But we have had so much neglect, such lax regulation of key sectors like the financial industry, that we had to take some very difficult decisions early," he said, adding that he knew those decisions would "carry a political cost."

When Americans were deciding how to cast their votes in their various Congressional districts, they should think about whether the opposition had ideas that could advance the country, he said.

"I have not seen a single new idea out of the Republicans," he said. "I have not seen a single proposal that any credible economist would say, 'boy, this is really going to jumpstart the economy. This is going to encourage innovation. This is going to make us more competitive.'"

The challenge for the economy is to grow the middle class through skills training to meet the demands of a technologically complex society, a focus on exports and investment in clean energy, he added.

"When the chairman of the Congressional committee was asked 'what do you plan to do if you guys re-take Congress,' he said, 'We're going to go back to the exact same policies that were in place before Obama came into office. Well," Obama said, "we lost 4 million jobs in the six months before I came into office."

'Daddy's Making the Best Decisions That He Can'

His administration was successful in preventing the American economy from sliding into a depression, he said. The economy is growing – although he conceded that it was growing too slowly.

Given America's discontent, the president acknowledged Democratic incumbents could be in trouble in November.

"If the election is a referendum on, are people satisfied about the economy as it currently is, then we're not going to do well. Because I think everybody feels like this economy needs to do better than it's been doing," he said.

The president also talked about whether his daughters, Sasha and Malia, were aware of just how turbulent things were.

"People are very gracious to them," he said. "It's not like somebody's going up and saying 'You know, I think your Dad is a bum,'" he said, laughing. "That has not yet happened to them. I think people understand that … kids are off-limits on these issues."

But, he said, he didn't believe they were aware that "we're going through a tough time."

"They know that we're involved in two wars … They know that we had a big oil spill in the Gulf. And so, we talk about those issues. And what I try to explain to them is that the issues that we're dealing with are really tough. Daddy's making the best decisions that he can to help the most people in the country."

ABC News' Huma Khan and Matthew Jaffe contributed to this story.

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