Denis McDonough on 'This Week'

The White House chief of staff on the president's second term agenda.
9:30 | 02/17/13

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Transcript for Denis McDonough on 'This Week'
Good morning, and welcome to "this week." A "this week" exclusive. Gabby giffords deserves a vote. The families of newtown deserve a vote. After obama's appeal on guns,immigration and the minimum wage, how will republica respond? We'll ask congressman paul ryan here live only on "this week." Plus, how is president obama going to get any of this out of congress? White house chief of staff, denis McDonough, is here. Then -- the debate time for senator hagel is not yet over. Hagel on hold and -- straight out. Was this really a big deal? Don't worry, senator rubio, nobody noticed that you gave a speech. our powerhouse roundtable takes on all the week's politics. George will, democratic congressman joaquin castro, former speaker of the house newt gingrich, ruth marcus from "the washington post" and former romney adviser, stuart stevens. Hello again. George is off today. It's great to have you with us. In a "this week" exclusive congressman paul ryan is standing by to join us live, but first a major political story breaking overnight. A new report from "usa today" with what the paper says is a draft of the white house immigration proposal. According to the report, the plan includes allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status with a pathway to citizenship after eight years. It also expands e-verify and border security. Joining us now to talk about this is the new white house CHIEF OF STAFF, denis McDonough. Thank you for joining us. Thanks for having me, jon. Now, this hit with a thud as far as marco rubio is concerned. He said late last night in a statement, quote, this legislation is half baked and seriously flawed. It would actually make our immigration problems worse. If actually proposed, the president's bill would be dead on arrival in congress leaving us with unsecured borders and a broken legal immigration system for years to come." Let's be honest. There is no passing an immigration bill without marco rubio. How could the white house be working on a draft without republican input? Jon, you know, the president has always approached this question of immigration reform from four principles. One, let's make sure that the border is secure. Two, let's make sure that we enforce on businesses who are gaming the system, enforce their requirements to live up to the law. Three, make sure that we are reforming legal immigration so that we can use it to make sure that those who have come here legally have a reasonable option. And we've not proposed anything to capitol hill yet. We've got a bill. We're doing exactly what the president said we would do last month in las vegas which is we're preparing. We're going to be ready. We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed because the fact of the matter is, jon, you know as well as i do, going back to 2001, this has been a priority for many conditions. So let's make sure that they get this done and they're up there working on it right now. Senator rubio, senator durbin, senator schumer and others, and let's see how they do and we'll be ready to work with them. Back to my question, how could the white house be working on a draft, even if it's a white house drafithout at least talking to republicans about it? I mean, has the president even met with marco rubio on immigration? We're talking with all the parties to the gang of eight effort in the senate. Jon -- he says there's been no consultation. We've been working with all the members up there. We have our staff working this very aggressively with their staffs and with the members and we're working this very aggressively as you think we would with such a high priority for the country. This immigration system is broken. Border security, we've made great progress for the last four years. We want to build on that, and we're going to continue to work with senator rubio and others on this, but he says it's dead on arrival if it's proposed. Let's make sure it doesn't have to be dead when proposed and make sure the gang of eight makes good progress on these efforts as much as they say they want to and that's exactly what we intend to do to work with them. What do you say to marco rubio on this? He's saying half-baked, flawed. What do you say to him? How do you do some damage control? I won't get engaged in the back and forth which is often the practice in washington. A big political scrum before -- it's already here. He started it. Look, I'm not going to engage as I said in some kind of back and forth. What I will do is make sure team is doingg exactly what the president said and what he said to the country in the state of the union the other night which is we have to make progress on immigration reform. We should enact this this year and the president will continue to work with the team to make sure that happens. Okay, I want to move to the other big battle you have coming up right now with congress. The so-called sequester. These automatic spending cuts. We've heard some dire warnings about what they would mean. We've heard 70,000 kids kicked off head start, the equivalent of 1,000 federal agents off the job, the navy shutting down four air wings, delaying a carrier air strike to the persian group and had a senator talk about five-hour waits at airports if these cuts go in effect, so tell me straight with me how bad will this be if it happens? We didn't even raise thing that concerns the president most about the sequester, which is we've seen pretty good economic activity over the course of the last several months. The housing market is healing. The stock market is coming back. You've seen consumer confidence restored. So the lens through which the president looks at this fight, jon, is a lens that says, are we doing everything we can in this country to strengthen middle class families? That's how our country, our economy is strongest when a thriving, rising middle class is the engine for growth in this country. That's exactly what we want to do. When you look at sequester the impact on middle class families, what's it going to be, teachers in schools, 13,000 schools -- 13,000 teachers are going to be hit, 6,000 schools. You look at mental health, if you look at food inspections and you've already heard the devastating list of horribles that the pentagon has said are going to be out there. So the question is, on top of all those things that you just talked about is what is the impact on the middle class? So the question the president is asking is why don't we take a step back, let's fix this in a kind of balanced way the president has proposed and the senate democrats have proposed with a reasonable amount of spending cuts and a reasonable amount of revenue raisers so that we can get this thing done and move on to the business of the country. But help me understand because we have a budget. This is -- look at exactly what this is. 85 billion this year out of a budget of 3.8 trillion. See just the small slice and then if you look at the sequester over ten years, we're talking about 1.2 trillion out of $47 trillion in projected government spending. Is it really impossible to find less than 3% of savings in a federal budget without making those kind of horrible cuts? You know what, it's not impossible, and that's exactly what the president has done over the last year, $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction. He's ready to do another trillion and a half to get up to the $4 trillion target that economists across the country tell us is needed to stabilize the debt over the next ten years. So that's exactly what the president has done working with democrats and republicans. But you're going to hold on tax increases -- we're going to insist on doing it -- which means tax increases. Insist on doing it in a balanced way, a way that allows us to maintain the kind of stments that middlass families in this country rely on, jon. We were just talking about our families, our kids. You know what, we're not going to put at risk the education investments in this country because we can't get together to resolve this in a balanced way. This is not an ideological effort, jon. This should not be a social science experiment. This should be a question where we ask ourselves what is most important to the economy, what is most important to the middle class families of this country and that's the way the president is going to do this. We're almost out of time. Very quickly, two other things. Yeah. Chuck hagel, the nomination delayed, also cia director looks like he'll be delayed. Is this a threat to security? It's of grave concern. If you look at chuck hagel, decorated war hero, republican senator, somebody who over the course of the last many years either as a republican senator or as the chairman of the president's intelligence advisory board I've worked with very closely, this guy has one thing in mind, how do we protect the country? Is there a danger of this being delayed? Between john brennan, cia director and chuck hagel as secretary of defense, we want to make sure that we have our -- those guys sitting in the chairs working because I don't want there to have been something missed because of this hangup here in washington. Okay, and very quickly, john boehner had a very -- seemed like a harsh comment directed toward the president saying that "i don't think he has the guts to cut or to deal with the entitlement problem. He doesn't have the courage to take on the liberal side of his own party." What do you say to speak her of the house john boehner? In the state of the union address tuesday the president laid out a very detailed plan to get to the 4 trillion in deficit reduction and grow the economy, strengthen the middle class. That's exactly what he's done and takes on his party and ask the republicans to do a little bit too. And that's what we're going to continue to do. All right. denis McDonough, brand-new white house chief of staff. Thanks for coming on "this week." Thanks so much for having me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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