'This Week' Transcript: Axelrod

Transcript: Axelrod

ByABC News
January 22, 2010, 2:35 PM

July 11, 2010 — -- TAPPER: Hello again. From the Gulf to the unemployment lines, from Kabul to Baghdad, America is facing many difficult challenges, and Democrats are facing a tough political environment.

With the exception of Michelle, Sasha and Malia, there's probably no one in Washington who knows President Obama as well as our guest this morning, the president's top political adviser and close friend, David Axelrod.

David, thanks for being here.

AXELROD: Jake, thanks for having me.

TAPPER: So the president's popularity among independents is sinking. It's a real problem for him politically. One year ago, he was at 56 percent approval with independents. Now it's 38 percent. Why do you think independents are turning away from the president?

AXELROD: Well, first of all, there are all kinds of numbers out there, so this is one set of numbers. There are other sets of numbers.

But, look, I think I've said this to you before. When I -- when I sat down with the president and his economic advisers, a group of us in the middle of 2008, and they told us what was about to ensure and -- about the recession that we were well into at that point, I said to him, you know, we're going to -- your numbers are going to suffer here, and we're going to have a difficult election, because these are going to be difficult times for the country.

Our job is not, though, to worry about that, Jake. Our job is to worry about how we get people back to work, how we move this country forward, and if -- if we do our job, the rest will take care of itself.

And, remember, elections -- the presidential election is an eternity away. Elections are about choices, though. They're not referendums. And on the other side of the ballot in November will be a party that has an economic theory, and it was tested, and it led to catastrophe.

We lost 3 million jobs in the last six months of 2008. The financial market almost collapsed. They turned a $237 billion surplus that Bill Clinton left into a $1.3 trillion deficit. And they're running on the same policies.

So people have to decide, do they want to go forward or do they want to go back?

TAPPER: OK, but you're a smart guy, and you know underneath these numbers are things other than the fact that we're in tough economic times. White voters in particular have developed an even stronger skepticism about the ability of government to perform effectively. That's the exact opposite message of President Obama's campaign theme of a competent, yet activist government.

Do you think you overestimated your ability to convince the public that government can be effective?

AXELROD: No, look, Jake, you say "that aside." You can't say "that aside." When you run your...


AXELROD: No, no, no, no. When you govern -- when you're governing in a very difficult economic time, the worst economy since the Great Depression -- and that's what we walked into -- people are going to be unhappy, and they have a right to be unhappy. These are difficult times.

And so this is not unexpected. And the best thing we can do is make the right decisions for the country, and that's what the president is going to do.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about those decisions, because -- because obviously there is what Democrats on Capitol Hill call spending fatigue on Capitol Hill. How can you and how can the president create jobs without there being any willingness on Capitol Hill to spend money to do so?

AXELROD: Well, I think it's true that there's not a great -- there's not a great desire, even though there's some argument for additional spending in the short run to continue to generate economic activity. There's not a great appetite for it.

But I do think there are some things we still can accomplish. I do think that we can get tax -- additional tax relief for small businesses. That's what we want to do, additional lending for small businesses. They're an engine of economic growth. We're hoping we can persuade enough people on the other side of the aisle to put politics aside and join us on that.

Unemployment insurance, we ought to extend unemployment insurance. People are suffering.

TAPPER: You can't get the votes, though.

AXELROD: Well, we'll see. We'll see. But at a time when there's one job vacancy for five unemployed workers looking for jobs, clearly we have a responsibility to do it. The Republicans met that responsibility each time under President Bush, when he asked for -- to extend unemployment insurance. They ought to do it now. Let's not play politics with this issue.