Transcript from Tom Joyner’s interview with President Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show”
TOM JOYNER: This is a very special day on the TJMS because we have the president of the United States on the phone. Good morning, sir.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What’s going on, Tom?
How you doing?
I am doing great, and I want to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. I hope everyone is having a great Christmas. I know folks here in D.C. got hung up here with a little snow, but overall, I hope everybody is having a great time.
Are you calling from the White House or from Air Force One?
I am calling from the Oval Office. Just as I speak, I am looking out over the South Lawn, and it is covered with snow. We got our Christmas tree up. Yesterday, Bo was jumping through the snow and then tried to rush into the Oval Office and get everyone wet. So it’s quite a scene around here.
When are you guys leaving for Hawaii?
You know, it depends on how soon the Senate can make that last vote on health care. It may end up being Christmas Eve, but we are on the brink of something historic here, so I want to make sure I’m here to solve any last-minute problems.
Are you ready for Christmas?
You know, here’s a good thing: Michelle and I made a bargain about 10 years ago that we don’t buy each other Christmas presents.
Oh, good one.
But she makes me pay during her birthday and our anniversary. It doesn’t save me money, but it does save me some wrapping time. So basically we just have to make sure the kids are taken care of, and these days, they don’t ask for too much. They like a lot of iPod stuff and video game stuff, books …
And what do they get you?
Listen, I don’t get nothing. It’s just like Father’s Day. You know, you get a tie. So that’s how that rolls.
I know, I know. Yeah, and then you open the gifts and you go, “Ahh, nice.”
That’s a great looking tie.
Oh, look, this one lights up!
(Laughter) That’s exactly right, but it’s the thought that counts. All I need from them is some hugs, and I’m happy.
Well, this is going to be a tough Christmas for a lot of Americans.
Especially African-Americans. So we’re going to have to really dig deep to celebrate, and we can only do that by remembering the true meaning of what Christmas is all about this year, a lot of us.
Well, listen, we’ve just gone through the toughest year we’ve had at least since 1981 and maybe since 1933. So there are a lot of folks hurting out there.
What do you have to say to the struggling people this Christmas?
Well, I think the main message I have is a) I know you’re hurting. I get letters from people across the country everyday that I read, and you know, the stories are heartbreaking. Folks are worried about losing their homes. They’ve lost their jobs. They’re trying to figure out how they can still pay for their kids’ college education. They’ve been sending out resumes, and nothing’s happening. They’ve lost their health care. The main message I have for them is help is on the way. I know it’s not coming as quick for some as we would like, but our first job this year was to make sure that the economy just didn’t collapse because then it would have been even worse. We could have had an unemployment rate that is double what it is right now. We’ve stabilized the economy and it’s starting to grow again.
I think slowly people are starting to hire back again, so I’m very confident that 2010 is going to be better than 2009. In the meantime, what we try to do is make sure that things like unemployment insurance is in place. That the Cobra program is cheaper so that people can buy health insurance or keep their health insurance if they’ve lost their job. Made sure that states had budgets, budget assistance so that they wouldn’t have to lay off teachers, police officers and other vital services. So we’re making progress on that front.
By the way, people need to understand that one out of every five African-Americans do not have health care. Nobody stands to gain more from this health care bill passing – 30 million people who are going to get health care from this insurance deal. It’s going to be disproportionately people who are of low-income. They work every day, but they’re not getting health care, so that’s going to be in place. But then next year, we’ve also got to focus on things like the education reforms that we’ve been initiating. Additional child care dollars. Setting up green jobs so that we can train some of those young men on the street to weatherize homes and put up insulation, put in new windows. That saves people on their energy bills, but also starts refurbishing and revitalizing communities that have been neglected too long. So there’s some long term projects to revitalize communities that are going to be in place next year, and I’m confident that 2010 is going to be better than 2009. And I think 2011 is going to be better than 2010.
We just want to keep making steady progress for a more just and equal society, and that may not be complete consolation for folks who are really struggling right now. Just know that Michelle and I are thinking about them every day. As I said to one interviewer the other day, it’s not as if Michelle and I don’t have relatives who are going though this stuff and are unemployed. One of the things about being part of the African American community is that no matter how well you do, you know there’s somebody in your family that’s still hurting because we’re not that far away from the neighborhood. And people need to know that I carry their stories with me whenever I come into the Oval Office.
You told us when we last talked, and it’s been about a year, that it was going to be tough, and it was going to be a tough job ahead. You warned us about it when we talked to you. So what’s been the toughest part for the first year as the first African-American president?
You know the truth is that I probably had more crises on my desk than any president since FDR, and that’s just subjectively speaking. You think about two wars, the economic crisis, the banking crisis, swine flu, we just had a lot of stuff coming at us quickly. I think we have managed it well, but the thing that I think is the toughest is, number-one, that the job growth is not as quick as we’d like. We’ve got the economy growing, but companies are not hiring back yet, and so we’re doing everything we can to try to push companies now that they’re making a profit again to start hiring some of those folks who were laid off so that they can further support the economy. Because if a worker is getting a paycheck, that means he’s spending buying products, buying services, circulating that money in the neighborhood, and that lifts everybody up. We’ve still got something of a crisis of confidence in the business community when it comes to hiring, and that’s been a very challenging thing ‘cause, you know, you can’t force a company to hire somebody; all you can do is give them incentives to hire.
And then the second thing is Afghanistan. You know, when you go out, and you meet family members of fallen soldiers, nothing weighs on you more heavily, so the decision I had to make to try to initiate a surge to get some folks in there help train Afghans and stabilize the situation so we can start pulling our troops out in a couple of years was a very difficult decision. And it’s a big tough messy situation. There were no good answers to it. I think we came up with the best possible plan, but it still has risks involved, and you know that some young men and women may not come home as a consequence of that decision. And that weighs on you pretty heavily.
You mentioned the swine flu, and I understand that you got your H1N1 shot just the other day.
I just got my shot the other day.
A lot of us are scared. A lot of us in our community are scared. We don’t think it’s safe.
Well, listen, here’s the main message I have to everybody who is listening. Michelle and I had Malia and Sasha get that shot about a month and a half, two months ago, when it first became available to kids. If people think that I would let my daughters, the most precious things in my life, get a shot that wasn’t safe, they’re crazy. So if the president and the First Lady are having their children get a shot, then you need to get your kids at least their shot. Because the problem with H1N1 is that unlike seasonal flu, which disproportionately affects older Americans, the H1N1 disproportionately affects younger Americans – particularly children. We’ve got a high rate of children who have asthma and underlying issues, health issues that make them more vulnerable, and so the mortality rate can still be significant. Heaven forbid that because somebody didn’t want to get their kid vaccinated finds their children really sick. We’ve already had two of my senior staff’s children who didn’t get shots had swine flu and had to be hospitalized, and they were perfectly healthy little girls. So I would really strongly urge everybody who is listening, you can now get a flu shot. Ask the school where your child attends where to go get it if you don’t already have that information or if you don’t have a regular doctor, but go ahead and at least make sure your child is vaccinated. And now we have enough vaccine for adults to be vaccinated. I just got mine yesterday. It didn’t hurt, and it gives you some added protection against what can be a pretty serious disease. And although there was a peak H1N1 wave that came through last month, usually with flu seasons, there is another wave that will be coming up after Christmas, so now is the best time to get it.
So, we’re not out of the woods. Now, at the Christmas party there at the White House, you couldn’t see (Bill) O’Reilly and the other Fox news people at the party all frowned up, and they were eating up all the shrimp and the ham. Drinking all the liquor. I mean, the people that bad mouth you were there at your party. How hard is it to deal with that – or does it make you stronger and more determined?
Well, look, first of all, they all got their pictures taken with me.
So, I think that’s part of the Christmas spirit, and Michelle and I try to kill them with kindness. Michelle starts hugging all of them.
Ha, ha – I saw that.
‘Oh, it’s great to see you!’ And you know, look, the thing about a lot that goes on in cable news – and you know this better than anybody Tom – I mean, these guys fundamentally are entertainers. They are often times not thinking from a journalistic perspective; they are thinking, ‘How can we generate some controversy to boost our ratings?’ You know, the difference between you and them is you’re explicit about the fact that you’re entertaining people, and some of the stuff they try to pass off as news. My hope is that with the health care debate winding down, we get that done. The people, everybody takes a deep breath and remembers that everybody’s an American. I’ve got my birth certificate to prove it. We are all just trying to do what’s best for the country. We’re gonna have our differences, but we don’t have to attack each other’s motives which I think has become a habit in Washington. You know you know me pretty well, Tom, and I’m always an optimist. I don’t hold grudges, and I’m just interested in getting the job done.
Well, I’m here for you. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We’ll always be here for you. On the King holiday, I’m doing a town hall meeting in Houston on the campus of Texas Southern, and it’s going to be on MSNBC. Chris Matthews and I are hosting, and it’s going to be called “Hope and Fear in Obama’s America.”
Well, you know, I might watch that! I might watch that. But, you know, I think the main message that I’ve got for the African American community as we go into this next year is that this has been a hard one. It’s been a tough one. But Michelle and I are so blessed by the support that we receive, and everywhere we go, people come up to us and say, “We’re praying for you, thinking about you and rooting for you.” I just want everybody to know that goes both ways, and I’m praying for all your listeners and thinking about all your listeners, and we’re rooting for you. And that’s not just Michelle and me – that’s Malia and Sasha, the first grandmother.
How’s Mrs. Robinson doing?
You know, she’s doing fine. You know, at first she didn’t want to come here. You know how folks get; they’ve been living in the same house for 40 years, and they say, “I’m not moving,” and “I don’t need all that fuss.” And we said, “Well, do it for us for three months because we need help with the transition,” and she said okay. And then she got here, and she’s got a life! Now suddenly, you know, she’s been using that box at the Kennedy Center, going out with Betty Curry, Bill Clinton’s old secretary, and they’ve been having fun. So she’s quite the lady about town. But the nice thing is that she just walks out the gate and goes over to CVS and starts doing her shopping or whatever.
Well, give Mrs. Robinson a hug for me.
You know I will.
And the First Lady and the children. And give the dog a high-five.
Alright, Tom. It was great to see the family, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Happy holidays, sir.