Exclusive - Barack Obama Full Interview

December 12, 2016 - President Barack Obama 12/12/2016 Views: 422,193

Trevor visits President Obama at the White House to discuss Russia's impact on the 2016 election, the incoming Trump administration, the future of Obamacare and modern racism. (22:23)

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-thank you for being on theshow. -It is great to see you.

Yeah, I'd like to apologize,first of all. I-I know you've

waited a long time for this andyou wanted to make this happen.

I just... I'm sorry. I...

You guys wouldn't,uh, wouldn't book us.

I kept on...I kept on calling.

I was focused on the election,and I apologize.

Uh, but let-let's get into it.No, thank you

for being on the show.

We are living throughone of the craziest times ever.

I mean, just beforewe came to the interview,

more news broke. Uh, we heardthat the CIA assessed,

with high confidence, that, uh,the Russians were involved

in the hackingof the DNC and RNC, uh,

with the specific intentof swaying the election

in favor of Donald Trump.

And we heard that, uh, you know,the president ordered a review

of... of this from allintelligence agencies.

-Right.-And you wanted the news...

or you wanted the briefingsto be concluded

before the inaugurationof Donald Trump,

-when he takes power.-Right.

Uh... why-why the rush?

Well, it's not a rush.Keep in mind that

when the DNC got hacked,

uh, we immediately assigned

our intelligence community,

our law enforcement toinvestigate what had happened.

And we determinedand announced in October

that it was the consensusof all the intelligence agencies

in law enforcement that, uh,

that organizations affiliated

with Russian intelligence

were responsible for the hacking

of the DNC.

Uh, materialsthat were being leaked.

So that was a monthbefore the election.

This was not a secret.

And the reason that I'm...

have called for a review

is really to just gatherall the threads

of the investigations,

the intelligence workthat has been done

over many months,

so that the publicand our elected representatives,

going forward,can find ways to prevent

this kind of interference

from having an impacton the elections in the future.

Uh, I will say this,though, Trevor.

None of thisshould be a big surprise.

-This was reported onbefore the election. -Yeah.

I don't thinkthere was any doubt

among anybody in the media

or among, uh,members of Congress

as to who was beingadvantaged or disadvantaged

by the political gossipthat was

being, uh, put out in drip,drip, drip fashion

-leading up to the election.-I-I think, now...

I think now the difference is

there isa President-elect Donald Trump.

-Yeah.-And now the big question is

what would bea suitable response?

People say,"Well, this is-this is an act

"towards the United Statesor this is Russia

undermining the very democracythat we stand on.

Well... But-butI think what's...

I think it's really important

for everybody to understand

what our challenge is.

Russia trying to influenceour elections

dates back to...the Soviet Union.

What they did here, hackingsome e-mails and releasing them,

uh, is not...

s... uh,a particularly fancy brand

of espionage or propaganda.


we were, frankly, more concerned

in the run-upto the election, uh,

to the possibilitiesof vote tampering,

which, uh,we did not see evidence of

and were confidentthat we could guard against.

But, Trevor, I thinkwhat everybody has to reflect on

is what is it about our...

political ecosystem,

what is it about the stateof our democracy,

where the leaks of...

what were, frankly,

not very interesting e-mails

that didn't have any...

explosive information in them...

The risotto was interesting.

...ended up being...

an obsession

and the fact that the Russianswere doing this

was not an obsession.

I-I... This was not a secretrunning up to the election.

The president-elect,

in, uh...

in some of his political events,

specifically saidto the Russians,

"Hack Hillary's e-mails,

"so that we can finally find outwhat's going on

and, you know, confirmour conspiracy theories."

You had, uh,what was very clear,

uh, relationships

between, uh,

membersof the president-elect's, uh,

campaign team and, uh, Russians

and, uh, a professed...

uh, shared viewon a bunch of issues.

The real question that I thinkwe all have to reflect on is

what's happenedto our political system,

where... some e-mailsthat were hacked and released

ended up beingthe overwhelming story

and the constant sourceof coverage,

breathless coverage,that was depicted

as somehow, uh,damning in all sorts of ways,

when the truth of the matterwas it was, um,

fairly routine stuff.

And-and the reason I say thatis because,

going forward, uh,

I worry that we don't spendenough time

on self-reflectionabout how our, uh...

how our democracy's workingand our campaign's working, um,

and how all of us have to,I think, do a better job,

uh, making sure that we talkabout what's at stake.

Uh, we... For example,

these e-mails got a lot moreattention than any policy...

(chuckles) that was beingdebated during the campaign.

Let me ask youabout what's at stake.

The president-electhas very clearly said

he refusesintelligence briefings.

Um, and so he's come outand said,

"I don't need them,because I'm a smart man."

You're a president.

You knowwhat a briefing entails.

Can you make effectiveand informed decisions

without intelligence briefings

and without the support of theagencies around the presidency?

Well, uh,

I think the president-elect

may, uh, say one thingand do another once he's here,

because the truthof the matter is

is that it'sa big, complicated world.

It doesn't matterhow smart you are.

Y-You have to havethe best information possible

to makethe best decisions possible.

And, uh, my experience

with our intelligence agenciesis that they are not perfect--

they'd be the firstto acknowledge that--

but they are fullof extraordinarily hard-working,

patriotic,and knowledgeable experts.

And i-if you're not gettingtheir... perspective,

uh, their detailed perspective,

then you are flying blind.

Y-You know,part of what we have done

is to, uh,

just hammer away

at the basic principle that...

intelligence shall not besubject to political spin.

And I'm very proudof the fact that,

over the courseof the eight years,

the message I've sentto every intelligence agency

is I want it straight,without spin.

Uh, and I think we've developeda culture that does that.

My hope is is that, uh,

that s... uh, remains.

Because we've seen, in the past,

-where there was political spinon intelligence, -Yeah.

or at least the-the intelligenceagencies felt obliged

to, uh,cater to the predispositions

of the president or his team

that, uh, you end up makingbad mistakes.

Let's move on and chatabout Obamacare.

-It's one of my favorite topics.-(Noah laughs)

I love... I love Obamacare.

-One of the major deadlinesis coming up. -Yeah.

I want everybody to sign upif you're not signed up.

-Where's the camera? -Here's...We've got many cameras.

Sign up. HealthCare.gov.

Here's one of the thingspeople ask is, some people go,

"President Obama,you asking me sign up

is like the CEO of Vinetelling me to join now."

What's the point ifthe incoming administration says

they're getting rid of it?

Well, first of all, uh,if you sign up now,

you will have insurancefor a year,

and it's betterthan not having insurance

for a year, at minimum.

Uh, and as I've said before,

for the majority of people,when they include

tax creditsthat they may be eligible for,

they can get health insurancefor 75 bucks a month,

which is cheaperthan their cell phone,

or their cable coveragein some cases.

Um, and that'll protect youagainst an accident,

a major illness,could end up saving your home,

or your bank accountor your pension,

um... and it'll give youpeace of mind.

But what you've also been seeingin the debate around Obamacare--

and this has been truefor six years--

this has become sort ofa holy grail for Republicans,

based on ideology and not facts.

The fact is

is that we have the lowestuninsured rate in history.

The fact is, despite all thepredictions to the contrary,

healthcare costs have gone upmore slowly

since I signed that law thanany time in the last 50 years.

The fact is that the law itselfprovides protections

that are really popular.

-It's just people don't knowit's Obamacare. -(laughs)

So the fact that you can't berefused health insurance

because of a pre-existingcondition,

the fact that your kid can stayon your health insurance plan

until they're 26 years old.

The fact women can't bediscriminated against

and charged more

simply for being a womanby an insurance company.

The fact that you don't havea lifetime limit.

Those are all protectionsthat are being provided

to people right nowwho get their health insurance

through their job.

Um, and they'd miss itif they didn't have it.

So, what happens is

that the Republicansnow are saying,

"Well, maybewe'll technically repeal it,

"but it won't go into effectfor another three years

while we come upwith a replacement."

And what I've said before is,

listen,if they had a great idea,

they should have come up with itfive, six years ago

when we were passing this bill,'cause I would have loved

to have somethingthat worked even better

and was even cheaper and wasless controversial, and...

The truth is is that

what we came up with werethe best ideas at the time.

There are some tweaksthat can be made to the program.

For example, a public optionin those communities

where there's not enoughcompetition among insurers.


More subsidiesso that it's cheaper

for people who areright at that borderline, and...

where they're finding itstill expensive

to buy health insurance.

Um, but my...

It will be interestingto watch Republicans

who now actuallyhave to produce,

come up with a replacementthat works better.

I don't think they will,and as a consequence,

you should sign up nowand, uh, count on the fact

that you're goingto have insurance for a while.

Here's a quick questionI have for you off that.

You know, the incomingadministration seems

to be making, you know,a complete 180

on a lot of your majorinitiatives. -Right. Yeah.

-So, climate change.-Right.

Donald Trump and his teamare going the other way.

-Immigration-- they're goingthe other way. -Right. Right.

Um, do you think this changes

your post-presidentialpublic life?

Does this changewho Barack Obama is

once he leaves The White House?

Well, a couple of points.

They may change policy on climate change,

but climate changeis still climate change.

-(both laughing)-It's still happening.

So if the oceans are stillgoing up and, you know,

uh, some streetsin Miami a mile or two

from where the president-electhas a golf course

are seeing floodingin the middle of sunny days,

and it's saltwatercoming up through the ground,

that's still gonna have to bedealt with one way or another.

Um... on...

on all of these issues,

reality doesn't go away,

and, you know,I've had several conversations

with the president-electin which I've said to him,

"Look, if you can finddifferent approaches

"to deal with the problems,you...

"I don't pretend that I wasthe repository of all wisdom.

What you can't do is pretendthey're not problems."

And I think every presidentcomes in and discovers

that, A)Reality doesn't go away,

B) The federal governmentis a... is an aircraft carrier.

It's not a speedboat.

Turning it is hard.

Now, in terms of my rolein this whole process,

uh... I think it is important

for me to recharge.

I think it's important for meto reflect,

it's important for meto get back in my...

-wife's good graces...-(laughs)

and take a decent vacation

and spend some time with her.


and I'll do some writing,

uh, and speaking, uh...

But what I have said is that...

uh... I'll be paying attention,I'll be a citizen

of this countrythat I love deeply.

And, uh, I don't anticipatethat I suddenly just vanish.

Uh, but I think it's important

to-to givethe incoming administration

the space...

and to give the public clarity

about what it isthat they're trying to do,

so that, uh, thatplays itself out a little bit.

And, uh, you know,there may be occasions

where, even in the first year,if I think core values of ours

are being threatened, I mean,I will-- I've said this--

if I thought a Muslim registrywas being set up

that... violatesthe Constitution

and violates who we areand would make us less safe,

because it'd make it easierfor groups like ISIL to recruit

-and radicalizehomegrown terrorists, -Right.

I might have to say somethingabout that.

Uh, if I saw DREAM Act kids,

uh, young people whoare brought here as children,

who are, for all intentsand purposes, Americans,

suddenly being rounded up,

uh, contrary to... who we are,

uh, as a nation of lawsand a nation of immigrants,

I might have to say somethingabout that.


But it's not, uh...

it's not my intention to be--

I think I've said this before--the old guy at the bar,

you know,who's just kind of hanging on.

You know, I need to...I need to take some time.

I've gotone more question for you.

Um... this isa personal question.

-Yeah.-It's a little bit selfish.

Um... I look up to you, becausewe share a lot in common.

We both have parentswho are black and white.

Uh, both half African.

South Side of Chicago.South side of Africa.


-In and around race...-Yeah.

when you are a personwho has a platform,

-Right.-when you are in a space

where you are engagingwith people...

it is often difficult...

to navigate and skirt that line

-Yeah.-between speaking your mind

-Right. -and sharing your...your true opinions on race,

whilst at the same timenot being seen to alienate

some of the peopleyou are talking to.

-Right. -You know, becauseif you are a white person

who's speaking about race,then you are just a person

-who is interested in race.-Right.

If you are a person of colorwho's speaking about it,

it's, like, "Oh,the black thing started again."


the question I'vealways wanted to know is,

-Yeah.-how did you navigate that?

'Cause we watched you do it,but I always wanted to know

how you navigated thatthrough your two terms.

You know...

my general theory

uh, is that...

if I was clear in my own mind

about who I was,comfortable in my own skin,

and... had clarity

about the way in which race

continues to be...

this powerful factor inso many elements of our lives,

but that itis not the only factor

in so many aspects of our lives,

that, uh...

we... have by no means

overcome the legacies

of slavery and Jim Crow

and colonialism and racism,

but that the progress we've madehas been real

-and extraordinary.-Mm-hmm.

Uh, if I'm communicatingmy genuine belief

that, uh...

those who are not...

uh, subject to racism

uh, can sometimeshave blind spots,

or, uh, lack appreciationof what it feels

to be on the receiving endof that,

but that doesn't mean thatthey're not open to learning

and, uh...

caring aboutequality and justice,

and that I can...

uh... win them over,

because there's goodnessin the majority of people.

If I... I always feltthat if I really knew that

and I just communicated itas clearly as I could,

that I'd be okay.

Um, another wayof saying this is

there's not been a timein my public life

or my presidency,where I feel as if

I have had to bite my tongue.

There have been times in mypublic life where I've said,

how do I say thisdiplomatically?

How do I say this,as you indicated,

in a way that it's received.


So there, there...

have been very few instanceswhere I've said,

well, that was racist,you are racist.

There have been timeswhere I've said,

you know, you might nothave taken into account...

(both laughing)

uh, the, uh...

the ongoing legacy of,of, uh, of racism

in why we have so many

black men incarcerated.

And since I know

that you believein the constitution,

and believe in justiceand believe in liberty,

um, how about if we try this?

Now, some might say

well, you're not speaking fullytruth to power

-because of that diplomacy.-Yes.

But, you know,

I don't think that, um,

trying to appeal to the betterangels of our nature,

as Lincoln put it,

uh, is somehow compromise.

There may be times where...

uh, you just have tocall things out

and name names.

But the challenge we face today,

when it comes to race,

uh, is...

rarely the overt,


uh, uh, racism,

and typically has more to do

with the fact that,

you know, people got other stuffthey want to talk about,

and it's sort of uncomfortable.

And it's...

somebody not getting called backfor an interview,

-although it's never explicit.-Mm-hmm.

Or it's, you know,

who gets the TV acting job?

The actress who doesn't quitelook the part,

and what does that mean.

In-in that environment,

where you'renot talking necessarily

about cut-and dried,

uh, racist behavior,

but ratherabout the complex ways

in which society is workingthese issues through,

uh, you know,trying to reach folks

in ways that they can hear,

I think, is, uh, is important.

And, I would add,

everybody's got a different roleto play.

Um, you know, if Chris Rock'sdoing standup,

then there is a benefit to him

doing somethingthat is different

from the president of the UnitedStates doing something.

For one thing, you know,

he doesn't have to, uh,edit his language

(laughing):quite as carefully,

because I am still subject to,

you know, some restraints...

You still got yourlast few days.

...on-on those seven words

-George Carlin talked about.-Yes.

See, I-I can't use those,

uh, as a general proposition,

because a lot of childrenare watching.

I try to comport myself in a way

that, uh,

my mother would approve of.

Well, I just want to saythank you so much

for being on the show.

Thank you for beingan inspiration,

and, most importantly,thank you

for giving me an opportunity tosee what I would look like

after eight years of thetoughest job in the world.

You know,I-I will say that I resent

how youngand good looking you are,

'cause, uh, I used to thinkof myself in those terms,

and, uh, it's been downhillfor quite some time.

-Thank you, sir.-Thank you, man.

-Thank you very much.-Appreciate it.