Barack Obama in Meet the Press: Meet the Candidates 2008 series, with Tim Russert


On Energy & Oil: Gas tax holiday is a classic Washington gimmick

Q: One issue that has really defined the two campaigns here in Indiana is this debate over gasoline: he price of it and whether there should be a tax holiday from the federal taxes. Hillary Clinton’s ad says, “Gas prices are skyrocketing, and she’s ready to act again. Hillary’s plan, use the windfall profits of the oil companies to pay to suspend the gas tax this summer. Barack Obama says no, again.” Why are you against it?

A: You’re right; this defines the difference between myself and Senator Clinton This gas tax, which was first proposed by John McCain and then quickly adopted by Senator Clinton, is a classic Washington gimmick. It is a political response to a serious problem that we have neglected for decades. Here’s the upshot. You’re looking at suspending a gas tax for three months. The average driver would save 30 cents per day for a grand total of $28. That’s assuming that the oil companies don’t step in and raise prices by the same amount that the tax has been reduced.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On Energy & Oil: Voted for failed IL gas tax holiday & learned from mistake

Q: Would a gas tax holiday cause oil companies to raise prices?

A: I have some experience on this because in Illinois we tried this when I was in the state legislature, and that’s exactly what happened. The oil companies, the retailers were the ones wh ended up benefiting.

Q: But you voted for it.

A: I did.

Q: When gas was only $2 a gallon.

A: I voted for it, and then six months later we took a look, and consumers had not benefited at all, but [the state] had lost revenue.

Q: So you learned from a wrong vote.

A: Yeah, I learned from a mistake. And, in addition, this would come out of the Federal Highway Fund that we use to rebuild our roads and our bridges. Now, Sen. Clinton says that she’s going to use the windfall profits tax to fill it, but she’s already said that she’s going to use the windfall profits tax to invest in clean energy. More importantly, nobody thinks that George Bush is actually going to sign a law for windfall profits taxes, so that’s not going to happen this summer.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On Energy & Oil: $150B investment over 10 years to reduce oil usage by 35%

Q: How long before our automobiles are off of gasoline oil and using something like an alternative fuel?

A: If we decided right now that we were going to make the kind of investment I’ve proposed--$150 billion over 10 years--then I think at the end of the decade we could have a auto industry that has significantly reduced our consumption of oil by as much as 35% or 40%. The technologies exist right now for plug-in hybrids. We should continue to investigate the possibilities of electric cars. The problem is that we have not been serious about it, and Detroit ended up making investments in SUVs and large trucks because that’s where they perceived a competitive advantage and that’s where they felt they could make the most profit. I think it was a mistake for them not to plan earlier. Now we’re seeing a huge growth in fuel-efficient cars that is benefiting the Japanese automakers, and Detroit is getting pounded some more. And I think that we can make those cars here in the US.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On Energy & Oil: Figure out how to sequester carbon and burn clean coal

Q: In terms of global warming, you’ve talked about wind and solar and biofuels. What about nuclear?

A: I think we do have to look at nuclear, and what we’ve got to figure out is can we store the material properly? Can we make sure that they’re secure? Can we deal with the expense? My attitude when it comes to energy is there’s no silver bullet. We’ve got to look at every possible option. You know, I’ve said the same thing about coal. I have a aggressive goal of reducing carbon emissions, and coal is a dirty fuel right now. But if we can figure out how to sequester carbon and burn clean coal, we’re the Saudi Arabia of coal, and I don’t think that we can dismiss out of hand the use of coal as part of our energy mix. What we are going to have to understand, though, is that global warming is real, it is serious and that whatever options we come up with, if they are not addressing the fact that the planet is getting warmer, then we are failing not just this generation, but future generations.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On Environment: Willing to suspend ethanol subsidy to keep food prices down

Q: Ethanol usage in gas is criticized for raising food prices. Would you be willing to change ethanol subsidies so that people are not using corn for ethanol, & lowering food prices?

A: We’ve got rising food prices here in the US. In other countries we’re seeing riots because of the lack of food supplies. So this is something that we’re going to have to deal with. There are a number of factors that go into this. Changes in climate are contributing. There’s no doubt that biofuels may be contributing to it. My top priority is making sure that people are able to get enough to eat. And if it turns out that we’ve got to make changes in our ethanol policy to help people get something to eat, then that’s got to be the step we take. But I also believe that ethanol has been a important transitional tool for us to start dealing with our long-term energy crisis ultimately. Over time we’re going to shift to cellulosic ethanol, where we’re not using food stocks but we’re using wood chips & prairie grass.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On Principles & Values: I joined church to commit to Christ, not to Rev. Wright

Q: What has the controversy over Reverend Jeremiah Wright done to your campaign?

A: Well, obviously it’s distracted us. I mean, we ended up spending a lot of time talking about Reverend Wright instead of talking about the issues. And so it wasn’t welcome. But, you know, I think that the American people understand that when I joined Trinity United Church of Christ, I was committing not to Pastor Wright, I was committing to a church and I was committing to Christ. And it is a wonderful church. It’s a member of the United Church of Christ, a denomination that dates back to the battles around abolition. And, as a consequence, when Rev. Wright, who married me and baptized our children, when I learned of his statements that I found so objectionable, I felt that they didn’t define him. I don’t think Rev. Wright’s [more recent comments] represented well the church. And I had to make a clear statement [against Wright]. Hopefully we’ve been able to put it behind us.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On War & Peace: Iran is biggest strategic beneficiary of invasion of Iraq

Q: The administration is drawing up some plans for potential airstrikes in Iran at different missile weapons factories or special force compounds because they have evidence that the Iranians are helping some of their supporters within Iraq to kill US troops. If it could be demonstrated that was a fact, would you be in support of such limited attacks in Iran?

A: Well, let me not speculate yet. I want to take a look at the kind of evidence that the administration is putting forward, & what these plans are exactly. As commander in chief, I don’t take military options off the table and I think it’s appropriate for us to plan for a whole host of contingencies. But let’s look at the larger picture. Iran has been the biggest strategic beneficiary of our invasion of Iraq, they are stronger because of our decision to go in; and what we have to do is figure out how are we going to recalibrate our strategic position in the region. I think that starts with pulling our combat troops out of Iraq.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On War & Peace: Military surge in Afghanistan to eliminate the Taliban

Q: The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating as the Taliban continues to reconstitute itself. Would you, as president, be willing to have a military surge in Afghanistan in order to, once and for all, eliminate the Taliban?

A: Yes. I think that’s what we need. I think we need more troops there, I think we need to do a better job of reconstruction there. I think we have to be focused on Afghanistan. It is one of the reasons that I was opposed to the war in Iraq in the first place. We now know that al-Qaeda is stronger than any time since 2001. They are growing in capability. That is something that we’ve got to address. And we’re also going to have to address the situation in Pakistan, where we now have, in the federated areas, al-Qaeda and the Taliban setting up bases there. We now have a new government in Pakistan. We have an opportunity to initiate a new relationship, so that we can get better cooperation to hunt down al-Qaeda and make sure that that does not become a safe haven for them.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series May 4, 2008

On War & Peace: 2002: Iraq will require US occupation of undetermined length

Q: [to Clinton]: The same week that you voted for the 2002 resolution on the use of military force against Iraq, Sen. Obama said: “I know that Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the US, or to his neighbors. I know that even a successful war against Iraq will require a US occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences. I know that invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale, without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than the best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda. I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.“ Who had the better judgment at tha time?

CLINTON: In Sen. Obama’s recent book, he clearly says he thought that Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, and that he still coveted nuclear weapons. By the summer of 2004, Sen. Obama said he wasn’t sure how he would have voted.

Source: Meet the Press: 2008 “Meet the Candidates” series Jan 13, 2008

On Foreign Policy: Ok to postpone Pakistani elections, but not indefinitely

Q: Do you believe the elections scheduled for January 8th in Pakistan should be postponed due to Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?

A: The key is to make sure that there’s legitimacy to those elections. And given the enormous tragedy that has happened, I think that it is understandable if those elections are delayed slightly. But it’s important that this is not used as an excuse to put off, indefinitely, elections. My main concern is making sure that the opposition parties feel comfortable that they have the opportunity to participate in fair and free elections. That also means that we reinstate an independent judiciary in Pakistan, that there is a free press, that the campaigning can proceed. Because our primary interest is making sure that whatever government emerges in Pakistan is viewed as legitimate. The vast majority of the Pakistani people are moderate and believe in rule of law. That’s who we want as allies in the fight against Islamic extremism.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Dec 30, 2007

On Civil Rights: Being gay or lesbian is not a choice

Q: You had one supporter on a Bible tour in South Carolina who said that homosexuality was a curse and that he had been cured by prayer. Do you believe homosexuality’s a curse?

A: No.

Q: Do you believe that it is something that you are born gay or that you can change your behavior?

A: I do not believe being gay or lesbian is a choice. And so I disagree with [that supporter]. But part of what I hope to offer as president is the ability to reach to people that I don’t agree with, and the evangelical community is one where the Democratic Party, I think, we have generally seen as hostile. We haven’t been reaching out to them, and I think that if we’re going to makes significant progress on critical issues that we face, we’ve got to be able to get beyond our comfort zones and just talk to people we don’t like. I’ve tried to do is to reach out to the evangelical community and tell them very clearly where I disagree.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Nov 11, 2007

On Foreign Policy: Willing to meet with Fidel Castro, Kim Jung Il & Hugo Chavez

Q: In July, you were asked if you were willing to meet separately without pre-condition during your first year with Fidel Castro, Kim Jung Il, Hugo Chavez. You said yes. You stand by that?

A: I do. Now, I did not say that I would be meeting with all of them. I said I’d be willing to. Obviously, there is a difference between pre-conditions and preparation. Pre-conditions, which was what the question was in that debate, means that we won’t meet with people unless they’ve already agreed to the very things that we expect to be meeting with them about. And obviously, when we say to Iran, “We won’t meet with you until you’ve agreed to all the terms that we’ve laid out,” from their perspective that’s not a negotiation, that’s not a meeting.

Q: You’re not afraid of being used in a propaganda way?

A: You know, strong countries and strong presidents speak with their adversaries. I always think back to JFK’s saying that we should never negotiate out of fear, but we shouldn’t fear to negotiate.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Nov 11, 2007

On Government Reform: Money is the original sin in politics and I am not sinless

Q: You’ve been talking a lot about lobbyists and money in politics. The Boston Globe in August reported: “In Obama’s eight years in the Illinois Senate, almost 2/3 of the money he raised for his campaigns came from political action committees, corporate contributions, unions, and many other corporate interests.” You now talk about, “Well, I’m not taking any money from lobbyists.” You do take money from state lobbyists. You took $1.5 million from federal employees who work for federal lobbying firms. There seems to be a real inconsistency between the amount of money you raise and where it’s coming from, and your rhetoric.

A: I have said repeatedly that money is the original sin in politics and I am not sinless. I have raised money in order to bankroll my campaigns. But what I have been consistent about is fighting to reduce the influence of money in politics at every level of government. I am the only candidate in this race who has really pushed hard to reduce the influence of lobbyists.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Nov 11, 2007

On Social Security: Cutting benefits & raising retirement age are wrong answers

Q: You said earlier this year that everything should be on the table for Social Security, including looking at raising retirement age, indexing benefits, and then suddenly you said, “I’m taking them off the table.”

A: That’s not what I said. I said I will convene a meeting as president where we discuss all of the options that are available. I believe that cutting benefits is not the right answer; and that raising the retirement age is not the best option, particularly when we’ve got people who are still in manufacturing.

Q: But in May you said they would be on the table.

A: Well, I am going to be listening to any ideas that are presented, but I think that the best way to approach this is to adjust the cap on the payroll tax so that people like myself are paying a little bit more and the people who are in need are protected. That is the option that I will be pushing forward.

Q: But the other options would be on the table?

A: Well, I will listen to all arguments and the best options.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Nov 11, 2007

On War & Peace: Voted to fund war until 2006; now wants no blank check

Q: Some involved in the anti-movement have said that in 2004, 2005, 2006 Barack Obama voted to fund the war; that you were not a leader in trying to stop the war until you ran for president and had a sense of the anti-war fervor in the Democratic base. Where was the leadership?

A: I disagree with that. Throughout I was a constant critic. It is true that my preference would not be to end this war simply by cutting off funding. My preference would be for the president to recognize that we needed to change course, and that was what I continually pushed for. At the point where we realized the president was not willing to change course, I put forward a very clear timetable for when we should remove our troops. And, when that was vetoed, I then suggested that the only way to negotiate a different direction in Iraq is by not giving Bush a blank check when it comes to funding.

Q: You have changed now in your support of cutting off funding.

A: But I haven’t changed in my opposition to the war.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Nov 11, 2007

On War & Peace: Meet directly for diplomacy with the leadership in Iran

Q: In March you voted for a Senate resolution that said: “The Secretary of State should designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a Foreign Terrorist Organization.” But you contend that the language in the Sep. 26 2007 resolution is ‘saber-rattling’, because it said it is the “critical national interest of the US” to stop Iran from creating a Hezbollah-like force in Iraq.

A: Look, there’s a broader issue at stake here, and that is how do we approach Iran? I have said, unlike Senator Clinton, that I would meet directly with the leadership in Iran. I believe that we have not exhausted the diplomatic efforts that could be required to resolve some of these problems--them developing nuclear weapons, them supporting terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. That does not mean that we take other options off the table, but it means that we move forward aggressively with a dialogue with them about not only the sticks that we’re willing to apply, but also the carrots.

Source: Meet the Press: 2007 “Meet the Candidates” series Nov 11, 2007

The above quotations are from Meet the Press: Meet the Candidates 2008 series, individual interviews with Tim Russert, throughout 2008.
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