'This Week' Transcript: Sens Lieberman, Conrad and Hutchison

Transcript: Sens Lieberman, Conrad and Hutchison

ByABC News
January 23, 2011, 4:00 AM


AMANPOUR (voice-over): This morning on "This Week."

(UNKNOWN): Madam Speaker...

AMANPOUR: On the eve of the State of the Union...

(UNKNOWN): ... the president of the United States.

AMANPOUR: ... we assess the state of the presidency. For BarackObama, it's been a year of highs...

OBAMA: We are done.

AMANPOUR: ... and lows.

OBAMA: ... take a shellacking like I did last night.

AMANPOUR: And this week is another defining moment for him, ashe talks to the country.

OBAMA: Jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010.

AMANPOUR: But what will he say? And what should he say? Thisweek, the state of the presidency, starts right now.


AMANPOUR: Good morning. As President Obama enters the secondhalf of his term, he's grappling with making the economy grow andcreating jobs. Americans are overwhelmingly demanding in poll afterpoll that the president and Congress work together on the big issues.

Today, we'll hear from three top retiring senators with recordsof working across party lines, independent Joe Lieberman, DemocratKent Conrad, and Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. We'll get theirperspective on the state of the country and the state of thispresident.

We begin with ABC news senior White House correspondent JakeTapper and our "This Week" cover story.


TAPPER (voice-over): We all know what the president will sayabout the state of the Union. It's what presidents always say aboutthe state of the union.

OBAMA: Our union is strong.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Our union is strong.

CLINTON: ... is strong.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: ... is strong.

REAGAN: The state of our union is strong.

TAPPER: But what about the state of the Obama presidency? Whatabout the state of Obama? Just two-plus months ago, after what hecalled a shellacking in the midterm elections, it seemed as thoughPresident Obama might now be in a crouched posture as the RepublicanHouse of Representatives takes office.

OBAMA: It feels bad.

TAPPER: But he's not feeling bad now. His poll numbers are up.Job approval is 54 percent, up 5 points from last month and 8 pointsfrom his career low in September. Perhaps even more striking, whilein September Americans split 50 percent to 48 percent on whetherPresident Obama understands the problems of people like you, thatnumber is now overwhelmingly positive for the president by an 18-pointmargin, 58 percent to 40 percent.

What changed?

AXELROD: The economy is growing. It is beginning to create jobsat a steadier and steadier clip. And I think the cumulative effect ofall of that is positive and people are feeling better.

GIBBS: The American people would like to see Democrats andRepublicans sit down at a table, be it here, be it there, and workthrough important solutions to the problems that face the Americanpeople. I think that's what the president wants to continue to do.

TAPPER: So more bipartisanship in action and tone.

GERGEN: Much of his bounce has come among independents. Theyare up the most sharply, and that's the group that was sort of souredon him. I think turning back toward the center, the kind of thingshe's done, working with Republicans across the aisle in the lame duck,you know, bringing -- sending signals that he really does want to workwith the business community, and then the Tucson speech was judged tobe extremely effective and resonated so well with the public.

TAPPER: But how much bipartisanship is truly possible? TheTucson shooting seems to have just delayed the fighting. HouseRepublicans voted to repeal the health care law just one week later.

(UNKNOWN): And a motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

TAPPER: The White House suggests the smart politics will bethose who reach across the aisle.

AXELROD: I think those who make the honest effort to do thatwill have support, public support. Those who don't, won't. Andthat's a great motivator in this town.

TAPPER: And the White House seems to be clearly signaling a newday, especially for the business community, part of which may comefrom the appointment of centrist Democrat and former JPMorgan Chaseexecutive Bill Daley as new White House chief of staff.

So out with the old rhetoric, as seen on "60 Minutes" in 2009...

OBAMA: I did not run for office be helping out a bunch of, youknow, fat-cat bankers on Wall Street.

TAPPER: ... and in with the new tone, a business-friendly tone.

(on-screen): On Tuesday, you'll hear the president talk aboutwhat he calls his competitiveness agenda and the importance ofincreasing exports.

(voice-over): As he discussed with Chinese President Hu Jintaolast week, with a touch of the late-night cable TV pitchman.

OBAMA: We want to sell you all kinds of stuff. We want to sellyou planes; we want to sell you cars; we want to sell you software.

TAPPER: That was accompanied by a Wall Street Journal op-ed bythe president talking about getting rid of dumb government regulationsthat have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growthand jobs.

On Friday, the president announced a new presidential council onjobs and competitiveness to be chaired by the CEO of GE, RepublicanJeffrey Immelt.

GERGEN: The State of the Union is an enormous opportunity forhim to continue this -- this rebound, this comeback, because he's --he's got chance now to really provide a theme for his presidency forthe last two years. He's in one heck of a lot better shape than hewas only a few weeks ago, but no one should underestimate the barriersthat are still in his way.

TAPPER: The unemployment rate is stubbornly high. Toughdecisions need to come about the national debt. And the new Congressis full of Tea Partiers who are wary of any new spending.

(on-screen): Where does President Obama think the state of hispresidency is?

GIBBS: Jake, I -- I don't know that he spends a lot of timeseparating the state of the country and where he is in his presidency,because his task is -- the task that he has before him and the taskthat he'll bring to -- to the next two years is helping our economycontinue to recover. Obviously, there are aides inside of here andoutside of here that spend time worrying about the president'spolitical standing.

TAPPER (voice-over): Indeed. Aides to the president havealready started the process of preparing the paperwork for thepresident's re-election campaign. And White House senior advisersRobert Gibbs and David Axelrod are leaving the Casa Blanca to work onthe campaign.

AXELROD: It feels right to me. This feels like the right time.

TAPPER: And for President Obama, this feels like a pivotal time.For "This Week," I'm Jake Tapper at the White House.


AMANPOUR: And the question remains: Will the president findbipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill? Joining me now, Senators JoeLieberman, Kent Conrad, and from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison. Allthree have recently declared they will not be seeking re-election.

So thank you all for joining us this morning. Let me ask you,Senator Lieberman, what will you be listening to from the president atthe State of the Union? What does he need to say?

LIEBERMAN: Well, the president listened to the results of theelection in November, and that's -- that's the right thing to do inAmerica. Elections have consequences. And since then, he has reallyreconnected to the vital center of American politics and, I think, tothe American people.

And the way he reconnected was through the remarkableaccomplishments of the lame-duck session and then an extraordinaryunifying speech in Tucson. I think he's got to keep that going.

So I think the mood of the State of the Union has to be bothunifying and confident, optimistic that we can do things if we worktogether. I think the main focus really has to be on, how do you keepgrowing jobs and at the same time deal with the biggest long-termthreat to America's strength and our economy, and that is the debt?

And I hope the president will really be hands-on and say he'sready to take political risks if we are to get America's books back inbalance for the sake of our children and grandchildren.

AMANPOUR: Senator Hutchison, do you think the president canconvey that -- that message of unity and confidence to move forward?

HUTCHISON: I think he can convey the message. But I think thequestion, Christiane, is, will there be a follow-through? Will hereally get his regulatory commissions to cut back on the regulationsthat are hurting the growth of business? Will he agree to somechanges in the Obamacare which is keeping people from hiring?

I can tell you, I'm all over my state. That's what I hear.They're not going to hire people if they are looking at these bigfines and big expenses in the health care bill.

So I think he's -- if he really is going to follow through with amessage that I'm sure will be good, with action that shows that hereally means it, that's when we will have a -- a true way forward.

AMANPOUR: Senator Conrad, what does he need to say?

CONRAD: Well, I think three things that are at the top of mylist and I think on the tops of the lists of many Americans. Numberone, growing the economy and jobs. Number two, as Senator Liebermanreferenced, the debt threat. That's got to be taken on. And, numberthree, I believe reducing our dependence on foreign energy, because Ithink all three of these are deeply related. And I hope that he willcome out and be specific about what his plans are in each of theseareas.

AMANPOUR: We talked a lot about bipartisanship. And clearly,that is the will of the American people. Everywhere you look,everywhere I go in the country, people say that they want theirleaders to work together. You three senators have records of workingacross party lines, and yet you're retiring.

Let me ask you why you're doing that. First of all, SenatorLieberman, why are you retiring? Is it because it's too tough abattle to win re-election again?

LIEBERMAN: No. It's really because, for me, it's time for achange. At the end of this term, I will have served 24 years in theU.S. Senate, 40 years in elective office. I've run 15 campaigns inConnecticut. I want to try something different. I want to begin anew chapter of my life.

I've loved service in the Senate. I feel good about what I'vebeen able to accomplish working across party lines. But I must say,I'm excited about a new chapter and new opportunities. I'll alwayswant to be involved in public service in whole or in part, working onthe causes to which I've devoted a lot of my public life, includingparticularly national security.

AMANPOUR: If you think you could have won, why not -- now thebattle is being joined for issues that you care deeply about, like theeconomy -- why not stay and fight this battle...


LIEBERMAN: You can always find a reason to continue, you know?But I think you've got to know when it's time to -- to move on.

I was not -- I believed I would have won re-election. Obviously,it would have been a tough campaign. But, you know, as I said, sowhat else is new? I've run -- almost all my campaigns have beentough. That's not the reason why I didn't run. I didn't run becauseI want to try something different.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you -- before we were talking about a senseof contentment that you all three felt, so let's get beyond that and Iwant to ask you, Senator Conrad, you know, in your state, Democrats inCongress are becoming an endangered species. They may, in fact,become extinct in the next round of elections. What is it about theDemocratic message that seems not to be selling or not to be beingbought in the heartland?

CONRAD: You know, it's very interesting. What I hear all acrossmy state are three words: Enough is enough. When you put togetherTARP, of course, which was done under the Bush administration, but itsort of all runs into the same reaction by people, and you addstimulus, and the auto bailout, and the health care bill, it juststruck people that there was too much coming from the federalgovernment, and so people wanted to make a change. AMANPOUR: Let me turn to you, Senator Hutchison. First of all,in a new report today in the New York Times, they say that, in fact,TARP will cost maybe $28 billion to the taxpayer, instead of the $700billion. They say that bailing out the auto industry will cost maybein the end about $15 billion, rather than the many tens of billionswere put in.

What about you? You yourself have been facing -- even thoughyou're a reliable conservative -- Tea Party competition in Texas. Arethey outflanking you?