CROWLEY: Joining me now, senior campaign strategist for the Obama re-election campaign, David Axelrod. David, thanks for being here.
Now, before you get just too giddy about these latest economic —
AXELROD: I don’t get giddy. I don’t get too low, but I don’t get giddy. That’s one of the keys here.
CROWLEY: Well, and the fact of the matter is, that’s it’s a daunting task when you look at some of these economic stats that are out there. These are hard numbers for the Obama campaign: 14 million Americans still unemployed, and we all know the number is much greater than that; 86 percent of Americans describe the economy as poor, that’s a right track/wrong track question which always is a problem for people looking for re-elect; only 38 percent of Americans approve of President Obama’s handling of the economy.
Given those, what is your strategy?
AXELROD: Well first of all, let’s talk about what’s going on with the American people because their life is more than just what’s going on in the political game and the fact is that it’s not just about jobs. It’s about wages. It’s about what’s happened to the middle class over a long period of time.
CROWLEY: Sure, wages are down.
AXELROD: And they’ve been down over the course of the last decade. And these are trend lines that we have to attack so we need to do things that will recover from the recession and create jobs in the short run, and rebuild the economic security the middle class has lost in the long run.
We have ideas — the president’s all over the country talking about what we can do immediately. He’s got ideas about how we rebuild the middle class in the long run. And the other side will offer their ideas. Theirs seem to be to go back to what we were doing before the crisis.
I think we’re going to have a great debate and the American people are going to decide where their interests lie and who best represents them.
CROWLEY: Some of these initiatives, you’ve heard a lot of economists I’m sure saying, look, anything helps, but these are kind of minor. A lot of people brought up the Clinton dress code, these tiny initiatives saying really around the margins these may help but these are not big things. There are much larger sort of political things…
AXELROD: Let me just say, there’s no panacea. But if you’re one of the millions of homeowners who can’t refinance their homes because their home values have dropped, even though they’ve made their payments every month, it’s not a small thing. It is a big thing.
CROWLEY: No, of course not on an individual basis.
AXELROD: It is easy to sit in Washington and make those judgments, but if you’re out there in this economy these things do make a difference.
CROWLEY: Sure. But looking at the economy as a whole, this is a small dent. I understand in people’s lives…
AXELROD: Well there are larger things we can do. Obviously the American Jobs Act, all economists agree would have a market effect on economic growth and would create millions of jobs. We just have to get the congress to act on it. Their strategy seems to be obstruction and delay. And people can’t afford that. That’s why the president is embarking on this — he will take every action he can take under the law on his own to improve the economy, to give a little more security to the middle class. But it would be great to get some cooperation.
CROWLEY: One year ago, two years ago, now almost three years into the Obama administration, things have been lousy for a lot of people. So in his “we can’t wait” campaign, isn’t the question, OK, fine, if these are great initiatives for people, why did he wait almost three years?
AXELROD: Well, he’s embarked on a lot of initiatives. This — look. The problems we got into, Candy, were years in the making. They are deep, they are complicated and they’re going to require sustained perseverance and lots of ideas. There’s no silver bullet for them, so you have to keep chipping away at this problem and that is what he’s doing.
What we shouldn’t do is go back to doing what we have heard from these Republican candidates from the congress, let’s just deregulate Wall Street, let them go back to writing their own rules, let’s cut taxes for the — cut taxes at the very top. It is the same strategy that has failed this country and they want to go back to it.
So there is a very big difference between what the president is trying to do and what the Republicans are offering.
CROWLEY: Let me ask you about a story that appeared recently, I believe in the New York Times, about lobbyists. You have raising money for the president — and people called bundlers, which is they give what they can, the maximum allowed — all of this is perfectly legal, let me say that.
And so you have people who really are, by any stretch of the imagination, lobbying congress, lobbying the White House. They are lobbyists and they are bundlers, that is they ask other people to give money.
And The New York Times pointed out a number of individuals who didn’t ask for this so let’s not go through the individuals. But just in general, are you guilty of going by the letter of the president’s promise and not the spirit?
AXELROD: Well, it’s interesting that you talk about the president’s promise …
CROWLEY: His promise, by the way not to have…
AXELROD: Everyone should understand the reason why The New York Times can write that story is because the president is disclosing everyone who raises money for him. None of the Republican candidates are willing to do that.
The president has imposed on himself a ban on taking contributions from federal lobbyists. He has imposed on himself a ban from taking money from political action committees. But more importantly as president, he has ended the resolving door between industry and the government so he doesn’t hire lobbyists to come in — the last administration you saw lobbyists come in, write the rules, write the laws, then go back to their jobs in industry. That is not going on right now. This is a profound change.
So we can quibble about issues like this, but when you look at the substance of what he’s done, he’s gone so much farther than anybody has ever gone before. Is it perfect? Its not perfect, Candy. We are not in a perfect political system.
We are raising money because we have to. There are people who are promising to spend, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars against us who don’t have to disclose anything. So we have to be prepared to ward that off.
So it is not a perfect system. But is he better than anybody has ever been before on this? Has he made a real difference on this? Absolutely.
CROWLEY: Without taking away anything he’s done in this score, would you concede that you have people who are bundlers and who are raising money for President Obama that, by the definition of the word lobbyist, are in fact federal lobbyists?
AXELROD: Well, I don’t — I mean I’d have to run through the list of people who were there and i don’t know the answer. But what I do know is..
CROWLEY: It’s possible though.
AXELROD: …this administration has been more scrupulous and more transparent than any administration in history.
CROWLEY: And also promised not have federal lobbyists raise money for them. That’s why we’re having this conversation.
AXELROD: We promised not take conversations from federal lobbyists and we don’t take contributions from federal lobbyists.
CROWLEY: That are registered.
AXELROD: But the point here is, do lobbyists leverage the kind of influence in this administration that they have in past administrations? There isn’t a person in Washington who could argue the answer to that is yes.
CROWLEY: Let me move you on to something the president said at a fundraiser Wednesday, which it was reported in one of the San Francisco papers, in which he said to fundraisers at a fundraisers, “we used to have the best stuff. Anybody been to Beijing airport lately or driven on high-speed rail in Asia or Europe? What’s changed? We have lost our ambition, our imagination, and our willingness to do the things that built the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam and unleashed all the potential in this country.”
I tell you, I read that and I thought Jimmy Carter malaise. It’s sounds like the president blaming…
AXELROD: What he was commenting on was the Republican notion that we can just — in the 21st century that we can withdraw, that we don’t have to build the high-speed rails, that we don’t have to make the kinds of investments that other countries are making in research and development, that we don’t have to educate our kids and make sure they’re the most competitive in the world and he is challenging our government and our politics to respond to these long-term challenges. That’s a lot of what this election is going to be about.
The president’s commitments are very clear. He wants to lead the world in all these areas because that’s how we’re going to rebuild the middle class, that’s how we’re going to create jobs on which people can earn a living.
CROWLEY: We’ve lost our ambition, we’ve lost our imagination, we’ve lost our willingness…
AXELROD: That’s his commentary on the approach that’s being advocated by almost the entire Republican ticket.
AXELROD: This notion that we can just withdraw, pull up the drawbridge, don’t do anything about education, don’t do anything about research and development, don’t do anything about rebuilding our roads and bridges and airports and railways, and expect to be competitive. That is not a winning strategy for the 21st Century.
CROWLEY: Let me also read you something that the new White House chief of staff — well, not so new anymore actually, William Daley has been around there for a while now, when he was talking to Politico on Friday and he said: “On the domestic side, both Democrats and Republicans have really made it very difficult for the president to be anything like a chief executive. This has led to a kind of frustration.”
So, together with those things, it certainly sounds as though, well, we’d like him to be a chief executive but the Republicans and the Democrats have stopped him from doing that. Does the president bear any responsibility for the current state of the economy and for the current what’s perceived as lack of action on Capitol Hill?
AXELROD: Well, let me just review a few things. First of all, when he got to — we were in a free fall when he got to office. And the last quarter in the last administration was the worst since 1930. Minus 9 our economy was shrinking, losing 750,000 jobs the month that he took over.
He to steps that were as unpopular…
CROWLEY: It was bad. I think everyone could see that.
AXELROD: He took decisive steps that were as unpopular as they were necessary. That’s why we have an American auto industry today, why, instead of losing a million jobs there, they’re now gaining jobs.
That’s why the economy has been growing, albeit at too slow a pace. We’ve got a lot of work to do but the fact is he took steps, those steps made a difference. And now we have to take more steps to get back what the middle class has lost, which is their economic security.
That is a long-term project. It took years for us to get into this problem, it is going to take longer than anybody would like to get out of this.
CROWLEY: Should it be surprising though that a president has a hard time with Congress? (INAUDIBLE) oh, we’re so frustrated here at the White House.
AXELROD: Well, look, I think this is something — something different going on right now. When you have the leader — the Republican leader of the Senate say, our number one goal — in the midst of this economy, our number one goal is to defeat the president, and they’re acting like it.
They don’t want to cooperate. They don’t want to help. Even on measures to help the economy that they traditionally have supported before, like a payroll tax cut, like infrastructure, rebuilding our roads and bridges and surface transport. These — so you have to ask you a question, are they willing to tear down the economy in order to tear down the president or are they going to cooperate?
And, listen, there’s a reason why the Congress is at 9 percent in some polls, approval, lowest in history. Because this is different than we’ve ever seen before.
CROWLEY: But, again, he’s blaming Democrats in here. But I’ve got to ask you a final question. And that is, you’re beginning to take friendly fire as well from Democrats saying, you know, the latest was Dennis Cardoza, the retiring — from California, saying the housing policy has been rotten, et cetera, et cetera.
And we’re now seeing stories that it’s sort of the every man for himself story that tends to come maybe a little later in the election cycle. What is your advice to Democrats in conservative places in terms of how they embrace President Obama, who, at this point doesn’t have very high approval ratings?
AXELROD: Well, first of all, let me say, you said at the front end, don’t be too giddy. And I said I never get too giddy and I never get to low because we’ve been through ups and downs, even in the last campaign where the same people who were very downbeat before, the same folks who said, I’m not sure about this, were writing us off, and then they came back when we came back.
I believe we’re going to win this campaign and we’re going to win this campaign because on the fundamental issue, which is, who’s going to stand up for an economy in which the middle class can grow and not shrink, people can — where hard work is rewarded, responsibility is rewarded, and we stick to the values that made our economy strong, we are on the right side of that fight.
This president is working every day in that regard and I think all Democrats are going to be able to line up behind him. By the way, if you look at polls, his support among Democrats is higher than previous Democratic presidents were at this point.
It’s very robust. I’m not worried about Democrats supporting the president. I think Democrats will support the president. Ultimately I think independents will as well.
CROWLEY: Come back and we’ll talk a little more about independents at some point.
AXELROD: Thank you. OK.
CROWLEY: David Axelrod, chief strategist for the re-elect campaign, thanks so much for being here.
AXELROD: Thanks, Candy. Great to be here.
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