Interviewed on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning, President Obama told host David Gregory that he thinks the “fiscal cliff” will be avoided in “the next 48 hours”; he also addressed questions about gun control and the attack in Benghazi. Perhaps because he was interviewing the President in the White House, David Gregory refrained from waving around a gun magazine to illustrate any point.
Obama referred to some of his policy opponents in Congress as “folks can’t say ‘yes’ to good offers.” Gregory responded, “What is it about you, Mr. President, that is so hard to say ‘yes’ to?”
Obama’s response was basically a verbal shrug: “The way [the Republicans] are behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.”
David Gregory is, as they say, having a moment. In addition to landing this exclusive interview with the President, he recently got pretty sniffy with NRA official Wayne LaPierre, provoking LaPierre to utter the deathless phrase “Call me crazy” in regard to his position on gun control. And the newsman landed himself in a bit of a P.R. pickle after he waved a high-capacity gun magazine under LaPierre’s nose, since it turned out it’s illegal to possess such an item in Washington, D.C. and is now being investigated by local law enforcement.
Top that, George Stephanopoulos! I fear the host of ABC rival This Week is going to have to wave a shiv in the general direction of Peggy Noonan’s blow-out to achieve similar media attention.
“You’ve gotta talk tough to senior [citizens], don’t you?” asked Gregory, trying to talk tough to the President about reducing the debt. “What I’m not willing to do is have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student-loan rates … You are not going to cut your way to prosperity … cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students, and so forth.” The President emphasized that there has to “be shared sacrifice,” that “millionaires and billionaires have to do more.”
Obama said he was reasonably confident that “we’re going to see an agreement in next 48 hours” – but that if not, on Jan. 4, he’ll have Congress introduce a bill that will immediately prevent rates from increasing for the middle class.
Regarding gun control laws in the wake of the Newtown, CT, shootings, the President said, “I am skeptical” about LaPierre proposal to put armed guards in every school but that “America has to do some soul searching” when it comes to guns.
On the subject of the deaths at the American embassy in Benghazi, Obama said he was not going to be “defensive about this,” that “this was a huge problem” and “we are going to fix this so that it does not happen again.”
Gregory is not a tough network TV journalist – indeed, it would be difficult to find one, given how important it is for network news anchors to maintain good relations with the subjects they cover – but he did press the President at various points. He asked, during the Benghazi conversation, whether Obama hadn’t let Susan Rice “hang out there to dry a little bit,” given that Rice felt she had to withdraw her name from consideration for Secretary of State.
Obama’s response was blunt: “This was a politically motivated attack on her … why she was targeted individually was puzzling to me [and] those attacks were not acceptable.”
Obama also said that people ask him about the movie Lincoln. He said that one lesson to be gleaned from the film is that “Democracy has always been messy.”
In the post-Presidential interview Meet the Press scrum, David Brooks should be singled out for particular scrutiny. The New York Times columnist’s long-standing, highly successful presentation of himself as a moderate who sees both sides of every issue is increasingly being revealed for what it truly is, a conservatism of a haughty sort. While granting that “the Republicans have had a brain-freeze” in regard to their positions on the fiscal cliff, he reserved his most withering comment for Obama, describing the President as being “like a visitor from a morally superior civilization.” Brooks calling Obama smug? Best Sunday laff of the week.