Transcript: Diane Sawyer Interviews Obama

ABC's Diane Sawyer's interview with President Obama at the White House.

ByABC News
January 25, 2010, 5:21 PM

Jan. 25, 2010— -- DIANE SAWYER, ABC'S "WORLD NEWS" ANCHOR: Mr. President, thank you.


SAWYER: So, looking back a year, going before a joint session of Congress. What's the biggest difference in going this week?

OBAMA: Well, you know, this may seem counterintuitive, but the biggest difference is that I was more worried about where the country was going a year ago than I am now. Keep in mind that when I made that joint session speech, we still didn't know whether the financial system was going to stabilize. We still were looking at five, six, seven hundred thousand jobs per month being lost. It still wasn't clear whether or not we were going to be able to generate economic growth again.

And so, the steps that we took at the beginning of this year have meant that the potential meltdown of the economy has gone away. What hasn't gone away is the desperation that people are feeling who were one of the 7 million who lost jobs during that period, and so right now, I think there's frustration and anger about why can't we get this thing moving faster? And it's a frustration that I feel as well…

SAWYER: Republicans are already out today saying what you're talking about so far for Wednesday night is not going to create any new jobs.

OBAMA: The -- well, I would suggest that they save the rebuttal for after the speech. They haven't really heard what we're proposing.

SAWYER: But what is it going to be? New stimulus money -- as we know, in the House, they have talked about $170 billion or so for new stimulus money…

OBAMA: Here's what we're going to talk about. We're going to talk about how we can first of all, focus on job creation and growth. And I've met with the Republicans, by the way, several weeks ago. So, I have their ideas. I know what they're proposing. And some of the things we propose are things that actually should get some strong bipartisan support.

We're also going to make sure we're focused on some issues that have been burdening the middle class well before the crisis hit. You know, what's happening in terms of affordability of college. How can people save for their retirement in a more secure way? How do they deal with both child care and elderly parents that they've got to take care of?

So, there are going to be a set of proposals that we put forward that help to stabilize the situation and deal with the growing insecurity and anxiety of people who, even if they haven't lost their job, are still feeling squeezed by their incomes shrinking and their costs going up.

SAWYER: But a year ago, you said the first item on the agenda, a year ago, jobs.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

SAWYER: Painted a picture of jobs from coast to...

OBAMA: Well, now, Diane, I think that's not fair. Here's what I said...

SAWYER: A hope for jobs, at least, infrastructure...


OBAMA: Here's what I said, was that our number one priority was stopping the economic contraction and putting people back to work. Now, we have stopped the economic contraction. The economy is growing again, and we did create or save several million of jobs. That's not my opinion. That's the opinion of conservative economists as well as liberal economists, was that the Recovery Act, which is a combination of tax cuts, infrastructure improvements, helping states stabilize their budgets -- all those things helped to lessen the fall.

But we've still lost 7 million jobs. So, I understand why the American people, their attitude is not "It could have been worse." Their attitude is, "How do we make sure we keep on making it better?". And that's what we'll be talking about on Wednesday.

SAWYER: New proposal? Something surprising?


OBAMA: Well, you know, I'll let you guys judge whether it's surprising or not. There's going to be consistency though in the sense that my first job coming into office was to rescue the economy from great peril. My second job was to make sure that we create a new foundation for economic growth.

Here's part of what happened. Over the last decade, even when people were saying that the economy was doing fine, it was one of the first times in history where the middle class actually saw its incomes decline. We actually saw very little job growth during that period. And on a whole host of measures from health care cost, college affordability, people were having a harder and harder time getting by. So what I've said is we can't go back to the same pattern where you've got bubbles, whether it's in housing or the boom that are fueling a lot of speculation, making a lot of people a lot of money, but leaving a lot of people in the middle and low-income people behind.

What we have to have is a foundation that's built on a good education system, a sound energy policy, a health care system that works for everybody, financial regulations that ensure we don't have this crisis again, and those foundations for long-term economic growth are going to be my focus this year. They're going to be my focus next year.They're going to be my focus the year after that because if we don't get that stuff right, then it's going to be very difficult for us to answer the anxieties that people feel over the long-term.

SAWYER: A couple of quick news questions if I can. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke going to be confirmed. Do you guarantee the markets that he's going to the Fed chairman?

OBAMA: He has my strongest support. I think he's done a good job. What we've seen is not only Democratic leaders, but also Republican leaders say that he should be confirmed and I'm confident that he will be confirmed.

SAWYER: Even though Barbara Boxer, John McCain have come out and said look -- John McCain said he's the guy who steered into the iceberg. Barbara Boxer said we need a representative of Main Street on the Fed.

OBAMA: What we need is somebody at the Federal Reserve who can make sure that the progress that we've made in stabilizing the economy continues. And I think Bernanke is the best person for that job.