Nov. 1, 2009 — -- ABC NEWS, THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS INTERVIEW WITH SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER VALERIE JARRETT
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST: It was one year ago this week thatBarack Obama made history with his sweeping win over John McCain. Howmuch has he changed the country? How much has the office changed him?We have the "Roundtable" standing by to debate those questions and allof the week's politics, including Harry Reid's role in the publicoption, and the GOP civil war that has forced their nominee out ofTuesday's congressional race in Upstate New York.
But first, let's check in with one of the president's closestfriends and advisers, White House counselor Valerie Jarrett.
Welcome to the THIS WEEK.
VALERIE JARRETT, ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR INTERGOVERNMENTALRELATIONS & PUBLIC LIAISON: Thank you, George. It's a pleasure to behere.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring you back to one of -- probably one ofthe best moments of your life, one year ago this week, when PresidentObama accepted the verdict of the country's voters. Here is what hesaid that night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, THEN-PRESIDENT-ELECT: Let's resist the temptation tofall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that haspoisoned our politics for so long. And while the Democratic Party haswon a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility anddetermination to heal the divide that have held back our progress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
STEPHANOPOULOS: One year later, the president's economic plan haspassed, but with no Republican votes in the House, only three in theSenate. It sure looks like right now no Republican support, the healthcare bills, as they are going forward in the Congress.
And our polling shows that this partisan divide persists on issueafter issue after issue. Why has that core promise of the president'scampaign, healing the divide, gone unfulfilled?
JARRETT: Well, you should ask that question to the RepublicanParty. I mean, frankly, just listening to the president's words again,it brought back terrific memories, and I think his message was aprofound one. And he has stayed true to that message. He has reachedout. He has listened. He has reached across the aisle.
Just recently meeting with both the Democrats -- the Republicans andthe Democrats in both the House and in the Senate. His effort has beensustained throughout the year. And the fact...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president bears no responsibility for thefailure to get Republican votes?
JARRETT: Well, I think -- I think what we look to the president todo is to lead by example. He has reached out. He has listened. He hasincluded very helpful advice from the Republicans when it has beenforthcoming. But the fact...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But not their ideas in the legislation..
JARRETT: Well, actually, that's not true. There have been examplesof where he has included their ideas. And ultimately whether they votefor a piece of legislation or not, doesn't mean that it hasn't been anopen and fruitful process.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So the president doesn't feel he needs to changethe way he does business at all, to reach out more to Republicans, toget more Republicans buy-in?
JARRETT: Oh, George, listen. He is constantly reaching out toRepublicans. Both he and his team. And he will continue to do that.But ultimately it's up to the Republicans to decide if they want to be aconstructive force and come to the table and work with us in a positive way.
We want to hear good ideas. The president is known for listeningmost closely to those with whom he disagrees. So the door is always open.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Does that mean, for example, that Speaker Pelosishould give the Republicans a vote on an alternative in health care?
JARRETT: I'm not going to in any way comment on what the speakershould do. She is an extraordinary leader and she is going to continueto do that. And she is going to reach out in a way that she deemsappropriate.
But your question is what is the president's leadership about it,and hearkening back to the message from last year, and I think he hasbeen consistent not just here, domestically, but also around the worldin the way he has reached out.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, to follow through, shouldn't he ask thespeaker then to give Republicans a vote?
JARRETT: To give them a vote and give them a voice. It gives theman opportunity to contribute constructively. That doesn't mean that youactually have to change what you think is in the best interests of theAmerican people simply to get a Republican vote.
What you do is you reach out, you listen, you collaborate, butultimately, the president is accountable to the Republican people -- tothe American people, sorry.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about this election coming up Tuesday inUpstate New York. The president created a vacancy by making John McHugh-- Congressman John McHugh, the secretary of the army. And now thereappears to be a bit of a Republican civil war going on there. TheRepublican nominee, Dede Scozzafava, was forced out of the race by aconservative challenger.
And I know that the president's political team is hoping to convinceher to throw her support to the Democrat, Bill Owens. Any luck on that?
JARRETT: Well, we'll see. We would love to have -- of course, haveher support. And it's rather telling when the Republican Party forcesout a moderate Republican and it says I think a great deal about wherethe Republican Party leadership is right now.
So of course we would love to have her support, and those are thepeople who are going to vote for her.
STEPHANOPOULOS: What does it say about where the Republican Partyleadership is?
JARRETT: Well, I think it's becoming more and more extreme and moreand more marginalized. Look at the number of people who actually saythat they are registered, consider themselves a Republican. And ifthat's the direction they want to go find, what we're going to do iswhat we've always done, and that is, we're going reach out, we're goingto try to include as many people to be a part of our governing process,being open, being transparent, and we're going to let the Americanpeople decide.
And right now what you see is a great deal of momentum movingforward, for example, on health care. The American people want change.They don't want the same old health care system that is not affordable,that doesn't offer coverage to everybody, that keeps escalating in costs.
And what we've seen from the Republicans is really a desire to havethe status quote. And, George, that's not acceptable anymore.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Our latest polling shows that there is not majoritysupport for the president's health care plans.
JARRETT: Well, we actually think that there is. And I suppose itdepends upon what poll you're looking at. But as more and more word hasgotten out about what health care reform is all about, whether it's ourdesire to make it affordable, whether it's to cover all people, whetherit's to make sure that people who have pre-existing conditions don'tlose their coverage, whether if somebody changes a job, they don't losetheir coverage, if somebody is unemployed they don't lose their coverage.
All of these are extraordinarily important to the American people.This has been an unusual process. It has been open, it has beentransparent. Oftentimes the sausage-making in Washington is a littlebit off-putting.
But look how far we've come. George, five different committees haveapproved health care. It's now being debated. And all of those fivecommittees have -- the content of those bills is consistent with whatthe president put forward.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, you say that all five bills areconsistent with what the president has put forward, but the bill comingout of the Senate Finance Committee includes a tax on these high-pricedinsurance plans.
Senator Charles Grassley, the Republican ranking member of thatcommittee has looked at Joint Tax Committee figures, and according tothose figures, it shows that 46 million families making less than$200,000 will eventually see their taxes go up under this plan. Thatwould break the president's promise not to raise any taxes on peopleearning under $250,000 a year.
So how can you say that's consistent with his plan?
JARRETT: Yes, well, first of all, there are lots of differentanalyses of the plans, and until we have a final bill, let's hold offprejudging what it's going to do. But the president has been clear, hedoes not want to impose a tax on the middle class. That's whyimmediately upon taking office, when the Recovery Act was passed, itprovided a tax relief to the middle class, something -- a very big pointhe made in the course of the campaign.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, then let me press this point, because it'snot just Republicans who say this. You've got union leaders like GerryMcEntee and several others have said this is also a tax increase on themiddle class. You've got 180 House Democrats who are saying the samething, saying that that's why they're opposed to it.
So are you saying that the president will not sign this proposal ifit does indeed raise taxes on the middle class?
JARRETT: What I'm saying to you, George, is, let's let the processgo forward. Let's not pre-judge to the end. There have been so manyconstructive conversations going on as recently as Friday with thevarious leadership in both the House and the Senate.
And I think what the president has said is, look, we do not want tohave any additional tax burden on the middle class. We want to haveaffordable health care. We want to make sure that people who have nothad insurance before have it. We need to bring down the costs, becausethat's going to help our federal deficit...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So if...
JARRETT: All of those parameters -- and no, what I'm saying is thatI'm not going to leap forward to the end. What we're going to do...
STEPHANOPOULOS: But don't you have to set the bottom line for the...
JARRETT: No, no. What you do and what he has done, and what hasbrought us to the point where we are right now where we have five billsfor the first time in history, after decades of effort, what he is doingis working. And what he is doing is talking constructively.
His team is up on the Hill every single day, meeting with theleadership, meeting with all of the different members. And we're goingto see where we go. And he has made it clear, as I said from theoutset, what his parameters are. And he's constantly...
STEPHANOPOULOS: So he will not -- bottom line, he will not violatethat commitment, is what you're saying?
JARRETT: What I'm saying is that he is confident that a bill that'sgoing to be passed is going to be consistent with his parameters, yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: OK. Let's talk about Afghanistan for a second. Wesee today the opposition candidate to President Karzai, AbdullahAbdullah, has said he's not going to run in the run-off. Is this awelcome development or is the White House worried the questions aboutthis election will cast a cloud over President Karzai and make it moredifficult for the president to implement his strategy?
JARRETT: We don't think that it's going to add a complication tothe strategy. It's up to the Afghan people and their authorities todecide how to proceed going forward. We watched the election verycarefully. And we're going to work with the leader of the Afghangovernment and hopefully that's going to improve the state of conditionsfor the people in Afghanistan, and also help us as we try to bring thiswar to a close.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So this is not a complication as far as you see it?
JARRETT: No. We don't see it as a complication.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we also -- we're getting some word followingthe president's meeting with the joint chiefs on Friday that the targetdate for announcing this decision may be slipping a bit. The presidentwants some more information from the Joint Chiefs.
Is it now possible that it's going to come after the presidentreturns from Asia, more like the end of November than the middle?
JARRETT: What the president has said consistently is he is goingthrough a very rigorous process. George, before he puts our men andwomen in harm's way, he wants to make absolutely sure that he has astrategy. This isn't just a matter of how many troops are sent over.Although that is a very important component.
We have to look at what's going on on the ground. We have to lookat what our allies are doing. We have to look at the state of thegovernment in Afghanistan. And he's looking for a strategy that leadsto keeping our nation safe. And so the timing for that is completely upto the president, who makes the decision when he is confident that hehas all of the facts that he needs to make the right decision for ourcountry.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So it could be later in the month.
Let me just -- also this week the president went to Dover. And wewant to show our audience some of the pictures from that. The presidentseemed -- did seem quite moved, almost stricken at times during thatvisit. It had quite an impact on the president, didn't it?
JARRETT: How could it not? I mean, my goodness, to meet thefamilies of people who have given their lives, the maximum sacrifice toour country? Of course he was deeply moved by the experience. Anyonewho was there would have to be.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you have a chance to talk to him about it andhow do you think it will affect his decision-making?
JARRETT: I think that he is going to make the decision that he --that he thinks is right for the American people. It certainly is areminder of what is at stake. And you talk about 40,000 troops, behindevery troop is a family. And it's a huge sacrifice that we're askingour men and women to make.
And I think going to Dover and showing respect on behalf of ourcountry for that sacrifice was something that was very important to thepresident. But ultimately he is going to make the decision that hethinks is going to keep our country safe.