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Transcript: Univision interview with President Obama after State of the Union address

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Univision interview with President Barack Obama

President Obama delivering his State of the Union address

PBO: Barack Obama, President
MES: Maria Elena Salinas

MES: Thank you so much for being here Mr. President.

PBO: It’s great to be with you.

MES: In your State of the Union you proposed a series of measures that you say would create jobs that would help the economy, strengthen the economy. Can you move forward on any of them without Congress, without the support of Congress?

PBO: Well, I think there are a number of things we can do without Congress. As you know, we started back in the fall saying we can’t wait. And so helping families refinance their homes, we went ahead and did it administratively. Some of the changes that we’re making on immigration, we’re trying to make sure that we’re prioritizing criminals. That the three in 10 program is something that we can change administratively so that families aren’t separated so long, when they have the opportunity to apply for citizenship. There are things that we’re doing with community colleges, and on education that we can do administratively. But ultimately, we can obviously do a lot more if Congress is willing to move.

MES: In terms of creating jobs and strengthening the economy.

PBO: There’s no doubt that when it comes to jobs, our biggest priority is manufacturing. We’re here at this Intel plant that is going to provide 1,000 jobs here in Arizona. And thousands of construction jobs building this facility. And companies like Intel are not unique. What they’re finding is they can be competitive here in the United States, but we’ve got to change our tax codes in order to provide even more incentives to invest in the United States. When it comes to American energy. There are a lot of things that we can do administratively, for example, natural gas. We think that we’re going to be looking at 600,000 jobs in natural gas extraction here in the United States and all the industries that come with it. But we could be doing more if we’re investing in clean energy. So on each of these areas, making sure that we’re building the skills of American workers, making sure that we are encouraging American manufacturing. Making sure that we’ve got a strong American energy program. That we can do some things administratively, but ultimately Congress, which has the power of the purse, is going to have to act as well.

MES: Unemployment is about 11 percent among Latinos, much higher than the national average. What can you say to Latinos? And what can you do for Latinos who are looking for jobs?

PBO: Well, there are a couple of things that obviously would make a huge difference. One of them is all the construction workers who were laid off. Latinos were highly represented in the construction trade, and when the housing bubble went bust a lot of people got laid off. That’s one of the reasons why we’re going to continue to encourage refinancing, and we’re actually expanding the refinancing program that we talked about a few months ago so that it can reach more people. And that should help shore up the housing market. And that could help create jobs. But we’re also going to make sure that we try to push Congress to fund infrastructure projects that put a lot of construction workers back to work all across the country. Latinos are just unfortunately represented when it comes to small businesses. And so one of the things that we want to do is to continue to get more effective financing programs to small businesses and start-ups, because they create most of the jobs here in the United States. So everything that we do is designed to help America as a whole grow, but there are certain industries that have been badly affected because of the housing crisis. Latinos have been badly affected by them. If we can start helping those areas, then that’s going to give a big boost.

MES: You spoke a lot about fairness in your speech. You mentioned the importance or the need for all to pay their fair share. Governor Romney we know that recently said that he’s paid only 13.9 percent on [his] 46 million income. Does he represent the inequities in our tax system?

PBO: Well, I’ll let Governor Romney speak to his own taxes. What I know is that as a general rule, those who are making the most in the top one percent or in the top one-tenth of one percent often times pay lower tax rates than their secretaries, or their drivers, or the people who are working in their homes. And that’s not fair. Now what makes it especially important is because right now we’ve got a big deficit. And we’re all debating how do we reduce the government debt and the deficit, so we have a stable fiscal environment. We can’t reduce the deficit if people like me or anybody else who’s making a lot of money are in a position where they’re paying the lowest rate in taxes in 50 years, even lower than they were under Ronald Reagan, lower than they were under Bill Clinton. It’s not good for the economy. It’s not good for our deficit. And ultimately what we don’t want to do is to cut more programs for higher education or cut more programs in basic science and research that create these tremendous innovations like you see here in Intel. If instead we could be making those investments, also closing our deficit by making sure that everybody is paying their fair share.

MES: Well, you have been strongly criticized by Republican contenders. For example, Romney says, that you are – you failed America. And Newt Gingrich told Univision today that your presidency is littered with broken promises.

PBO: Yeah.

MES: He challenged you to three or – seven three-hour debates. When are you going to respond to them?

PBO: Well, I’ll let them determine who their standard bear is going to be. Until the Republicans have a nominee, we don’t have a campaign. Right now they have to decide who it is that they want representing them. I will…

MES: Who will be a more challenging contender for you? Newt Gingrich or Romney?

PBO: You know, I don’t really think about that. What I can say is this. That whoever their nominee is, they represent ideas that I think are wrong for America. They believe that we should actually make the tax code more unequal. They believe that we should not provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who were brought here when they were very young children, and are basically American kids, but right now are still in a shadow. They’ve said that they would veto the Dream Act. Both of them. They both believe that we should repeal a healthcare law that stands to provide millions of Latinos who work every single day the opportunity to make sure that they’ve got health insurance. And so on a whole range of issues I think that whether it’s Mr. Romney or Mr. Gingrich or Mr. Santorum or whoever else they might decide to select, they represent a fundamentally different vision of America. And it’s not the bold generous forward looking optimistic America that I think built this country.

MES: Republicans are also criticizing you saying that you are campaigning instead of governing. Now as an incumbent, you have the right to campaign for your re-election. But how will people be able to differentiate between your campaigning and your governing?

PBO: Well, you know, the truth of the matter is, is that I think a lot of commentators have said that I spent most of my first three years not doing a lot of politics, ‘cause we were so busy with policy. And you know, my general instinct is to focus on doing my job because my attitude is, if I’m doing my job well, people will recognize it, and the politics will follow. Obviously right now we’re having a big debate in the country as a whole about the direction that we’re going in. And the views that are held by the presidential candidates are the same views that are held in the House of Representatives. You know, when we had an argument back in December about whether or not we should extend the payroll tax cut, or as some Republicans were arguing, we should go ahead and let middle class families suffer a $40 per paycheck increase in their taxes. You know, there were politics involved in that debate. But politics in the sense of how we are determining what’s best for our country. And so I can’t really separate these debates. What I’m trying to do is persuade as many members of Congress as possible, as well as the American people, that we’re making progress.

PBO: We’ve created three million jobs in the last 22 months. We have seen a recovery in manufacturing. And probably the best manufacturing hiring that we’ve seen since the 1990’s. The auto industry is coming back. We’re moving in the right direction. What we can’t do is go back to the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place. It also means by the way that when I’m out on, you know, in Arizona or other states I’m going to be arguing about issues like regulation. One of the things that we’ve been talking about is the reason we had this housing crisis was because we didn’t have strong regulations in place. And people were subject to predatory lending. They were fooled into buying homes that they couldn’t afford. And so we’ve had to, for example, appoint Richard Cordray as the head of the Consumer Protection Bureau that we’ve setup. – without any help from the Republicans. And I want to build a case as to why that’s important. Because for Latino families it’s very important to make sure that they’re not cheated when they’re purchasing a home. It’s very important that when they send remittances to Mexico that somebody is not taking too much of their hard-earned paychecks.

MES: Right.

PBO: So those are the kinds of fights that we’re going to have. And you know, some people may interpret that as campaigning. I consider that to be important to my leadership in governing this country.

MES: Talking about Latino families there’s a new Univision/ABC /Latino Decisions poll that has good and bad news for you. Hispanics continue to support you. However, the enthusiasm level has lowered. Fifty-three percent – they are less excited about your performance. In part, because they feel that you didn’t keep your promise for immigration reform. Can you explain to them why?

PBO: Well, it’s very simple. We couldn’t get any Republican votes. Zero. None. And yeah, the way that the House and the Senate work right now. Yeah, Senate, even if you have a majority of votes, even if you have 51 votes you still can’t pass something through the Senate. And a lot of Republicans who used to support comprehensive immigration reform decided that it was bad politics and they wouldn’t support it anymore. So I have continued to advocate on behalf of comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously in the State of Union yesterday, I couldn’t have been clearer about not only my interest in comprehensive immigration reform, but if we can’t do the whole package, at minimum let’s get the Dream Act done. But we now have two Republican candidates who said they’d veto a Dream Act. And you know, that kind of lack of responsiveness to the very real stories that are out there of families who work hard, who are contributing to our society, young people who should be our next engineers here at Intel or next teachers in our schools, are not able to access the kind of opportunity that I think everybody feels they should. So this is the kind of barrier that we’re meeting in Congress. We’re just going to keep on pushing and pushing until hopefully we finally get a break.

MES: But Mr. President, one of the concerns is the deportations. Over 1.2 million people have been deported under your administration. More families separated under your administration than any other president. You couldn’t do anything administratively for this?

PBO: Well, there are some things that we are doing. Now first of all, the fact is Congress allocates this money. That means that there are additional enforcement mechanisms out there. Whoever was president, you were going to see some increase in terms of enforcement.

MES: But why the deportations? Why is it necessary?

PBO: But, but, well, because that’s the law that’s on the books right now. And the way our system works, the president doesn’t have the authority to simply ignore Congress and say, we’re not going to enforce the laws that you’ve passed. What we do have the ability to do, and what we have systematically done, is to use our administrative authority to prioritize and say, let’s not focus on Dream Act kids. Let’s not focus on a law-abiding family that is out there trying to, you know, make their way. Let’s focus on folks who are engaged in criminal activity. Let’s focus on those that are breaking laws not just immigration laws. And in fact you’ve seen a steady increase in the percentage of those who are deported who have committed crimes. Now I can’t, again, just wave away the laws the Congress has put in place. But what we’ve tried to do is to, you know, create a system that’s more humane, that is better prioritized. And until we get comprehensive immigration reform, there’s going to continue to be heartbreaking stories. That’s what we’re trying to change. But ultimately the way we change it, is we’ve got to change our politics. And that’s why I talked about it at the State of the Union and that’s why I’m going to keep on talking about it.

MES: There’s a couple more questions. One is, as you know, your government expelled the Consul of Venezuela in Miami. After a Univision documentary showed that she was participating in some kind of cyber espionage against the U.S.

PBO: Right.

MES: Were you involved in the decision making? Were you aware that this was happening?

PBO: You know, I won’t go into the details of this. Obviously there were investigations and follow-up that took place. My wish is that we could see improved relations with Venezuela. We don’t desire ruptured relations with any country. Unfortunately, there’s been a tendency on the part of the Venezuelan government to use the United States as an excuse for some of their own policy failures back home. And also to cause problems for some of their neighbors. But you know, we are going to continue to try to pursue a diplomatic path in Latin America that upholds the values that we care about. Democracy, you know, respect for human rights, respect for freedom of the press, making sure that no country is interfering with, you know, the legitimate claims of their neighbors. And so you know, that is going to create some tensions with Venezuela. But you know, there are tensions that we can manage.

MES: Is the growing influence of Iran in Latin America including Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, does that concern you?

PBO: You know, I think Iran is an example of a country that has become more and more isolated because of its own actions. Obviously it’s trying to reach out to some countries in Latin America. But overall Iran has never been more isolated, because they’re pursuing nuclear weapons that violate international law. And I think the world community recognizes that the last thing we need is an arms race in the Middle East. What we’ve done is organized international sanctions. We’ve worked collectively with other countries to try to put pressure on Iran. But we’ve also said, you have a path to reintegrate with the world community. You can pursue peaceful nuclear power, forego nuclear weapons, and the international community I think will accept you. But so far at least they haven’t been willing to take that path. And we’re going to be relentless in continuing to apply pressure on them until they make a better choice.

MES: Thank you Mr. President. We’ve run out of time. By any chance have you been practicing your Spanish? I heard somewhere that you have and that you have a few words or lines that you can say.

PBO: You know, I have to say, Malia and Sasha are both studying Spanish. And already they’re much better than me. So what I’ve told them is that my biggest regret was not studying Spanish hard enough when I was in high school. Hopefully, they’ve got head start on me. And they’ll be entirely fluent. So they maybe will translate for me the next time I’m out.

MES: Muchas gracias Señor Presidente.

PBO: Muchas gracias.

MES: Thank you very much.


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