Larry King – President Obama Interview Transcript; Airs Tonight at 9pm ET on CNN
Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.
This is a rush transcript and may not be in its final form and may be updated.
LARRY KING, HOST: Mr. President, thank you for being with us on our 25th anniversary week.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Larry, congratulations on 25 wonderful years.
KING: Thank you. It’s been a special honor.
KING: And an honor to be here and be with you.
OBAMA: Thank you.
KING: I know you’re going down to the Gulf again. But there’s a question that a lot of us are pondering. After this is over, what about hurricanes, what about oil raining down? Have we thought about what we’re going to do when it’s over?
OBAMA: Well this is an unprecedented oil spill. We haven’t seen anything like this before. That’s why the minute that the rig blew up and then sank down to the bottom of the ocean, I called in my entire team. I have to tell you, Larry, the worst case scenario was even worse than what we’re seeing now because —
KING: This is worse than what you thought it would be?
OBAMA: No, no, no. What I’m saying is it could have been — get even worse.
OBAMA: So we realized right away this was going to be a big event, a big problem, and that we had to put everything we had into it. Right away we started mobilizing our Coast Guard, making sure that we are putting pressure on BP to activate their response. Eventually we ended up sending our top scientists — we not have about 100 of the top scientists from around the world in our national labs — to look over BP’s shoulder in terms of figuring out how they’re going to plug the well.
We also knew though that ultimately the only way to relieve the well safely is to drill what are called these relief wells. Now, BP and other oil companies traditionally just drill one. We said, drill two in case one of them doesn’t work. But that takes some time. It takes about three months. In the meantime they’ve been experimenting with a whole bunch of other ways that they can capture the oil. But we’ve had a big spill and we know that it’s going to be a long response, a long cleanup.
My commitment has always been, the last 40-some days, to make sure that we are doing everything we can to mitigate the damage, to help clean up, help recover because this is an area that already got battered during hurricane season. And this is an area that is a concern not only for the economy of the Gulf, but also for an entire way of life.
KING: Have the scientists discussed, what about a hurricane?
OBAMA: I had a Situation Room meeting about a week and a half ago, where we got the report that this could be a more severe than normal hurricane season. I asked, well, how does a potential oil spill interact with a hurricane? It turns out that — now these are all estimations and probabilities — it turns out that a big, powerful hurricane, ironically is probably less damaging with respect to the oil spill because it just disperses everything and the oil breaks up and degrades more quickly.
It’s those tropical storms and tides that would just wash stuff into the marshes that would really be an ecological disaster. But, look, We’ve got a couple of tasks right now. Number one, BP has to shut down this well. The only guarantee to shut down is the relief well and that’s going to take a couple of months. In the meantime we hope that by cutting the riser, putting a cap on this thing, they can funnel up the oil and that will help.
In the meantime we’ve still got all these barrels of oil that are sloshing around in the Gulf. They move with the currents, we don’t always know where they are. But what we can do is make sure that our response doesn’t hold anything back. That we put everything we’ve got into Louisiana, which has been hardest hit so far, Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida.
KING: Senator Nelson wants the Defense Department — he says, more fully involved. More troops.
OBAMA: You know I think there’s a mistake in understanding. First of all, the Coast Guard is part of our Armed Services and they’re responsible for the coordinating along with the responsible party, in this case, BP, to make sure that recovery efforts are top notch.
What I’ve said to Thad Allen, who’s the national incident coordinator, is somebody who has been dealing with oil spills for 39 years now is, whatever you need, you will get.
KING: So if he says troops, he’ll get troops.
OBAMA: If he says that that’s equipment that helpful in dealing with this problem, he will get it. But keep in mind that all this stuff has to be coordinated. Right now we’ve got over 20,000 people who are working there. We’ve authorized the activation of 17,000 National Guardsmen. We’ve got 1,700 vessels already in the water.
What you don’t want is a situation where everybody is stepping on each other and not doing the best possible job in coordination with the state and local levels.
KING: What part of it is your baby? What part of it is the country and not BP?
OBAMA: BP caused this spill. We don’t yet know exactly what happened. But whether it’s a combination of human error, them cutting corners on safety, or a whole other variety of variables. They’re responsible. So they’ve got to pick up the tab for the cleanup, the damages, fishermen who are unable to fish right in the middle of their most important season.
My job is to make sure that they are being held accountable, that we get to the bottom of how this happened, that they are paying what they’re supposed to be paying, that they cap this well.
In terms of actually solving the problem, BP has particular expertise when it comes to capping the well. They’ve got the equipment that our Defense Department — first thing I asked was, do we have some equipment that they don’t have? And they, along with other oil companies, had the best equipment, had the best technology to deal with the well at the bottom of the ocean.
What we have a responsibility for is to make sure that the recovery efforts, mitigation efforts along the coastline, making sure that fishermen and businesses that are being affected are getting paid properly, making sure the local people are being hired. All those efforts are ones where we can do it better. What we’ve said is, you’re going to pay. You will coordinate, BP, with us. But ultimately if we say that you need to deploy folks over there, or you need to compensate such and such here. Or you need to, for example, most recently help to dredge up and create some barrier islands in some selective areas of Louisiana, in accordance with some of the ideas that the state had down there, then you need to do it.
KING: I know you appear so calm. Are you angry at BP?
OBAMA: You know, I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions. It’s imperiling not just a handful of people. This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years.
KING: Has the company felt your anger?
OBAMA: Well, they have felt the anger. But what I haven’t seen as much as I’d like is the kind of rapid response.
Now they want to solve the problem, too, because this is costing them a lot of money. And the one thing that I think is important to underscore is that I would love to just spend a lot of my time venting and yelling at people. But that’s not the job I was hired to do. My job is to solve this problem and ultimately this isn’t about me and how angry I am. Ultimately this is about the people down in the Gulf who are being impacted and what am I doing to make sure that they’re able to salvage their way of life. And that’s going to be the main focus that I’ve got in the weeks and months ahead.
KING: Governor Jindal, the governor of Louisiana. He’s asked you to — he’s got concerns about the impact of stopping, the moratorium you have on drilling. And now that’s been extended to the shallow waters, as well.
What would you say to him?
OBAMA: Well, actually, the moratorium has not extended to the shallow waters.
KING: Oh, that’s wrong?
OBAMA: It’s only the deep water wells that we placed a moratorium.
Look, we’ve just seen an environmental disaster that’s come about because these oil companies said they had a plan to deal with the worse case scenario and obviously it wasn’t a very good plan because it’s not working, Larry. Nobody is being impacted more than the citizens of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal’s state.
I have said in the past that we need to transition to a more clean energy future. But we’re not going to do that overnight. We’ve got to have domestic oil production. I am supportive of offshore drilling if it can be done safely and it doesn’t result in these kinds of horrible environmental disasters. The problem I’ve got is that until I’ve got a review that tells me A, what happened; B, how do you prevent a blowout of the sort that we saw; C, even if it’s a one in a million chance something like this happens again, that we actually know how to deal with it.
Until that happens, it would be irresponsible of me to lift that moratorium.
KING: Couple of other things. Former President Carter has condemned the Israeli raid against those ships in the flotilla trying to break the blockade of Gaza.
Where do you stand in that? A former American president has condemned it.
OBAMA: The United States, with the other members of the U.N. Security Council said very clearly that we condemned all the acts that led up to this violence. It was a tragic situation. You’ve got loss of life that was unnecessary. So we are calling for an effective investigation of everything that happened. I think the Israelis are going to agree to that — an investigation of international standards — because they recognize that this can’t be good for Israel’s long-term security.
Here’s what we’ve got. You’ve got a situation in which Israel has legitimate security concerns when they’ve got missiles raining down on cities along the Israel/Gaza border. I’ve been to those towns and seen the holes that were made by missiles coming through people’s bedrooms. Israel has a legitimate concern there. On the other hand you’ve got a blockage up that is preventing people in Palestinian Gaza from having job opportunities and being able to create businesses and engage in trade and have opportunity for the future.
I think what’s important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out, how can we meet Israel’s security concerns, but at the same time start opening up opportunity for Palestinians, work with all parties concerned — the Palestinian authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians and others — and I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process once we’ve worked through this tragedy. And bring everybody together to figure out how can we get a two-state solution where the Palestinians and Israelis can live side by side in peace and security.
KING: Premature then, to condemn Israel?
OBAMA: I think that we need to know what all the facts are. But it’s not premature to say to the Israelis and to say to the Palestinians, and to say to all the parties in the region that the status quo is unsustainable. We have been trying to do this piecemeal for decades now. It just doesn’t work.
You’ve got to have a situation in which the Palestinians have real opportunity and Israel’s neighbors recognize Israel’s legitimate security concerns and are committed to peace.
KING: You met with the Arizona governor today. Will the administration bring a legal challenge to that law?
OBAMA: I’m not going to comment on that, Larry, because that’s really the job of the Justice Department and I made a commitment early on that I wouldn’t be putting my thumb on the scales when these kinds of decisions are made.
I’ve expressed a personal opinion which is that, although I understand the frustration of the people of Arizona when it comes to the inflow of illegal immigrants, I don’t think this is the right way to do it. I think this puts American citizens, who are look Hispanic, are Hispanic, potentially in an unfair situation.
OBAMA: And more importantly, it also creates the prospects of 50 different laws in 50 different states when it comes to immigration. This is a federal job. What we have to do is take on that federal responsibility by working with border states on border security.
I’ve told Governor Brewer that we’ve already put more resources into border security than we ever have. We have got more border guards in Arizona that we ever have. We just made decisions to put in additional National Guards. But without comprehensive immigration reform — that is Congress’ responsibility — we are not going to solve this problem and that’s what we have to do.
KING: A couple of other quick things because I know we have a little bit of a time limit.
First, do you still like this job?
OBAMA: This is the best job on earth. It’s an extraordinary privilege to be able to wake up everyday and know that you have the opportunity to serve the American people and make their lives a little bit better. Or maybe it’s the next generation’s lives a little bit better.
KING: No matter what a poll says.
OBAMA: You know what? The truth of the matter is, is that given everything we’ve gone through, my poll numbers are doing all right.
KING: I think 48 percent. Is that —
OBAMA: You know, we’ve gone through the worse recession since the Great Depression. We’ve got two wars going on right now. We have multiple crises that have cropped up and people still haven’t fully recovered in terms of their job losses, in terms of what’s happening in housing.
So people, I think, understandably are frustrated but what they’re starting to see is that the economy is getting better. We had the biggest job growth in years last month, and I think we’ll have decent job growth this month —
KING: Tomorrow —
OBAMA: Tomorrow we’ll get an announcement. Businesses are starting to invest again. Manufacturing is stronger than it’s been. The investments that we made early on — some of which were controversial — are paying off. Just to give you one example, the auto industry. I mean, GM is now turning a profit and hiring again. The banks, as frustrating as the situation to have to bail them out was, they are repaying that money.
A lot of the decisions that have been made are starting to pan out. But we’re not out of the woods yet. People are still hurting. It is a great privilege for me to have the most interesting job in the world. And one where, every once in a while I’ll get a letter from somebody — I was traveling through Iowa, a woman comes up to me says, you know what, that healthcare bill you passed, I’m a small business woman. I’m going to take advantage of that credit this year. This is going to help me and I might be able to hire somebody else because you just gave me the chance to get decent healthcare.
KING: One other thing. LeBron James is with us tomorrow night. We pre-interviewed him and he says, all things being equal, he’ll probably lean toward Cleveland. That’s where the grew up in Akron. But he grew up a Bull fan. You want him to go to Chicago, right?
OBAMA: No, no, no. I —
KING: What did you say?
OBAMA: I want to be clear. What I said to —
KING: Clear it up.
OBAMA: First of all, LeBron, I had a chance to meet him. Wonderful young man, amazing talent. What I said to him was, I didn’t say it to him, I said it to Marv Albert. He needs to be in a place where he’s got a coach and a team around him that can do what Phil Jackson and the Bulls did for Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan couldn’t win a championship on his own. It’s all about having a team concept that works. He hasn’t quite gotten that yet and he needs to find that situation.
I’ll be honest with you, and my folks in Chicago may be mad at me for saying this, but I think it’d be a wonderful story if LeBron says, you know what, I’m going to stay here in Cleveland. He’s from Ohio. That’s a town that has had some tough times. For him to say, I’m going to make a commitment to this city, you know, I think would be a wonderful thing.
But he’s got to make sure that he’s got a team around him and a coach that he respects, he’s bought into a team concept, he’s willing to be coached. If he does that, he’ll have an even more remarkable career than he’s having right now.
KING: I saw you singing to Michelle last night with Paul McCartney. That was a pretty night kick, huh?
OBAMA: Let me tell you. I think that was one of the highlights that Michelle’s had is when Paul McCartney sings “Michelle” to her. When she was a little girl growing up on the South Side of Chicago, I suspect she didn’t think that was ever going to happen.
KING: Thank you, Mr. President.
OBAMA: Thank you, Larry. Appreciate you.
KING: Thanks for celebrating with us.
OBAMA: Congratulations again.
KING: President Barack Obama.
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