Obama: 'Put The Fire Out' on Economic Crisis

Democratic candidate Barack Obama strikes conciliatory tone on bailout bill.

Sept. 30, 2008 — -- The following is an ABC News transcript of an interview between Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and ABC News' John Berman today in Reno, Nev.

Berman: Senator, you called on both Democrats and Republicans to step up to the plate today [on the economic crisis], what are you doing personally to make sure they do?

Obama: Well, I started the day talking to President Bush. [Democratic Majority] Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Pelosi, I spoke to late last night, and what I've told them is let's do what's required to get the plan done.

If that means me making calls to individual members, we can do that. If it means thinking through additional tweaks to the basic structure that improves it and makes it more likely that we get support from some House Republicans, as well as others, then let's do that. So for example, there's one that should gather some good bipartisan support --

Berman: Are you calling members today?

Obama: I will be calling members and getting their ideas. The main thing is to just move away from this hyper-political environment and recognize the house is on fire, lets put the fire out first and we can figure out what caused it.

Berman: You're a very persuasive man, you have a certain amount of influence with your own party, could you have done more, should you have done more, before the House vote yesterday to lobby for votes?

Obama: Oh, absolutely, not because -- if you think about it, there was a deal struck between [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and Republican [Minority House] leader [John] Boehner.

The Democrats were supposed to get 120 votes, they got 140 so there was no sense on the Democratic side that we weren't following through on our commitments and apparently there were some problems on that side. I don't think me calling House Republican members would have been that helpful, I tend not to be that persuasive on that side of the aisle.

But if you look at how I've approached this throughout, I haven't done a lot of work in the spotlight, I haven't gone out of my way to try to take credit for this. But if you look at the final product of this bill and you compare it to the principles I announced the first day, in terms of making sure the taxpayers were protected, that we didn't have money going to CEO's, that we have strong oversight, homeowners were helped, those are the central improvements to the bill that have been made.

I think that the work I've done with the leadership as well as Hank Paulson has gotten us to a place I think we can get something passed.

Berman: In today's speech, you delivered a 36 minute speech without once mentioning the name John McCain. Are you going to stay away from talking about John McCain until this deal is passed?

Obama: Well, I think that right now, everybody needs to lower their rhetoric and just focus on getting the job done. What I thought was very important today, was to describe for the American people, what exactly this package is about because I think there had been the sense on the part of a lot of voters that people are just throwing out $700 billion to help people who really don't need much help and to describe two key principles.

Number one, that if this is structured properly, taxpayers should get their money back and number two, if we don't do this, this is not just a problem for main street, but this is a fire that could spread across the country and affect small business owners and affect people who are trying to get college loans, that I think was absolutely critical as well.

Berman: Do you think the American people need more convincing?

Obama: Well, I think the American people need to know that, particularly those who find themselves now threatened through no fault of their own, they need to understand that they're going to get help and this is not just something that is helping big boys with -- fancy lobbyists on Wall Street. That I think has not been made as clear as possible.

Berman: Do you need to do more personally to make that clear?

Obama: Well, I'll keep on doing what I did today, which is to make the case for why we need to solve this immediate crisis but also to point out that there's going to be a lot more that needs to be done after this immediate crisis to ensure that we've got strong economic fundamentals.

You know, part of the problem here is that we haven't spent time talking about the people who had their homes foreclosed here in Nevada, we haven't spent a lot of time dealing with the fact that wages and income have flat lined for the average American worker and so understandably, when they don't see any urgency about those issues coming out of Washington, and yet they see suddenly everybody in a tizzy about Wall Street, they start getting the sense that maybe they're forgotten.

And I think it's very important for all the leaders involved now to make clear, our primary concern is not a few banks in New York, but our primary concern is making sure that the ordinary person is going to be able to support their family and that has to be put out front.

Berman: Thanks, senator.

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