Obama admits ‘enemies’ reference a mistake but says GOP using it against him unfairly

Jon Ward | Contributor

President Obama on Monday admitted he made a mistake last week when he referred to those who disagree with him as “enemies,” but argued that Republicans are misinterpreting his remark.

“I probably should have used the word, ‘opponents’ instead of enemies,” Obama said, during an interview with African-American radio show host Michael Baisden.

The president clarified his remark hours before House Minority Leader John Boehner, Ohio Republican, was set to use the comment as a centerpiece of his final speech of the 2010 campaign.

Obama implied that he felt Republicans were unfairly politicizing the comment.

“Now the Republicans are saying that I’m calling them enemies,” Obama said. “What I’m saying is you’re an opponent of this particular provision, comprehensive immigration reform, which is something very different.”

The president’s original comments came last Monday in an interview with Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo of Univision Radio.

“If Latinos sit out the election instead of saying, we’re going to punish our enemies and we’re going to reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us, if they don’t see that kind of upsurge in voting in this election, then I think it’s going to be harder — and that’s why I think it’s so important that people focus on voting on November 2,” Obama said.

Even John Podesta, a strong ally of the president’s who runs the Center for American Progress, acknowledged Monday morning that the president’s comments were “a poor choice of words.”

Here is a full transcript of Obama’s interview with Baisden, one of several such radio interviews the president conducted Monday:

INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY MICHAEL BAISDEN

3:32 P.M. EDT

Q Great to have you back on the show. President Barack Obama, it’s show time, sir. Twenty-four hours before Election Day, how are you doing?

THE PRESIDENT: Michael?

Q Yes, sir?

THE PRESIDENT: How are you, sir?

Q I’m doing wonderful. It’s time to get out the vote.

THE PRESIDENT: It is time to get out the vote. And I really appreciate you taking me on today, and I want to make sure that all your listeners understand the importance of this election. My name may not be on the ballot, but the future of the country, in terms of us being able to move forward, create jobs, grow the economy, make sure young people get a good education, all that is going to be dependent on me having some folks in Congress who are ready and willing to cooperate. And that’s going to be determined largely by the turnout in this election.

Q Well, George and I are very enthusiastic. We know that the polls are saying this and that, but George and I are not listening to the polls, are we, George?

Q Not at all. Not at all.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, the fact is if we have the same folks coming out in 2008 come out in 2010, then we are going to do fine. And a lot of this is going to have to do with turnout and enthusiasm. But the other side is enthusiastic. They feel the wind at their backs because they know that the economy is still in a tough place. We’ve got 9.6 percent unemployment. And they understand that folks are frustrated, as I am.

But the key, I think, for folks who are listening is to understand that the progress we’ve made over the last two years — in taking an economy that was shrinking but is now growing; an economy that was losing hundreds of thousands of jobs a month, now we’re seeing nine consecutive months of job growth in the private sector — that progress is going to be at risk unless people are turning out to vote.

Q President Obama, a lot of people don’t understand that there’s been progress. I saw Nancy Pelosi on MSNBC with Keith Olbermann, and she said that you’ve created more jobs over an eight-month period than the whole Bush administration did in eight years.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, it is true that we have actually made enormous progress. But we were in a very deep hole. And I understand if you’re out of a job right now, you don’t care about statistics. All you care about is when am I going to find work. If you’re losing your home, you’re not interested in hearing about how the overall economy is stabilized. You’re worried about you being foreclosed on.

And so people, I think legitimately, want to see faster progress on the economy than they’ve seen. The only way for us to do that, for us to be able to make investments in infrastructure and clean energy, and make sure that young people can continue to go to college because they’re getting more assistance on their student loans, the only way that we could make sure that tax cuts for the middle class are made permanent rather than the wealthy — all those things are going to be contingent on us turning out to the polls on Election Day.

Q President Obama, we had a young lady call into the show the other day, and we got so many calls on her. She could not distinguish the difference between voting for a Democrat and a Republican. Can you please make it clear to all our listeners what that difference is?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, obviously, there are some wonderful people who are Republicans, just like there are wonderful people who are Democrats. But right now there’s a very clear choice in terms of governing philosophy. The Republicans have said that their main economic priority, their number-one idea for creating jobs, is to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, even if that means cutting back, let’s say, 20 percent on education.

When it comes to putting people back to work, their basic attitude is we shouldn’t invest in our infrastructure, even though we’re falling behind countries like China; that we should instead just deregulate and allow health insurance companies to drop you when you get sick, or allow credit card companies to jack up your interest rates without any notice.

There is just a fundamentally different philosophy where they are interested in rolling back a lot of the provisions that we passed over the last two years that ensure consumers are getting a fair shake and that middle-class families are being treated fairly and have an opportunity to achieve their American Dream.

And that’s the fundamental difference, I think, between the two parties right now.

Q And I know it’s easy to villainize immigrants during bad economic times. What is your position on immigration reform that could let people understand that there is a plan to deal with immigration?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, we’re a nation of laws and we’re a nation of immigrants. And what that means is that everybody has responsibilities. The government has a responsibility to make sure that we are securing our borders. We’ve actually put more resources into border security than anything that the previous administration did.

But we also think that it’s important to make sure that we have a comprehensive immigration reform approach that says to folks who are already here, who are, in some cases, if they’re young people, here because their parents brought them here and have been raised as American kids but may not have their papers — that those folks are coming out of the shadows; that they’ve got to pay a fine, they’ve got to learn English, they’ve got to make sure that they pay their back taxes, but they’ve got a pathway, an opportunity to become citizens. Because we are a nation of immigrants — that’s how this nation was formed.

And you know, it’s interesting right now, there was a — I had a conversation with a Hispanic radio outlet, Univision, and during the course of that conversation, one of the things that I had to say to the Latino community, which is frustrated that we haven’t seen progress on immigration reform, was that they can’t sit out of this election. There were arguments being made that because Democrats hadn’t gotten this done, that Latinos should vote against Democrats or just sit out the election.

And I said, well, you can’t punish your friends when — the folks who’ve been supporting it. Now, I did also say if you’re going to punish somebody, punish your enemies, and I probably should have used the word, “opponents” instead of enemies. Now the Republicans are saying that I’m calling them enemies. What I’m saying is you’re an opponent of this particular provision, comprehensive immigration reform, which is something very different.

But the key issue here is that if you are supportive of comprehensive immigration reform, if you are supportive of health care reform, if you are supportive of making sure that credit card companies are treating us fairly, making sure that banks are properly regulated so they don’t end up getting taxpayer bailouts — if you support those things, then you’ve got to support those who helped to put those provisions into law. And you’ve got to make sure that those who are opposed to that legislation, that they get a clear message that they shouldn’t be standing in the way of the progress, but rather we should be moving this country forward.

Q President Obama, I’ve got to give you the final word. To everybody sitting at home who is registered to vote, who has not decided to vote, what is the final word that you want to say to them?

THE PRESIDENT: We’ve gone through as tough a two years as any that we’ve seen in our history. And my hope when I first came into office was that Democrats and Republicans would come together in this moment of enormous challenge to try to solve problems. I have not gotten the cooperation that I would have liked from Republicans. My expectation and hope is, is that after this election we can get back to the work of putting people back to work and growing this economy.

But right now, the most important thing is, is that everybody out there who wants to see Washington work on their behalf rather than on behalf of special interests are heard. I mean, we’ve got millions of dollars of special interest money that’s been pouring into these races, negative ads just hammering Democratic candidates all across the country. They want to see the progress we’ve made rolled back.

And something that I think everybody has to remember is it’s not as if we haven’t tried what the Republicans are promising. We tried it. From 2001 to 2009, we had a Republican administration; for most of that period we had a Republican-controlled Congress. And we know exactly what happened. We had the most sluggish job growth since World War II. We had incomes of middle-class families actually go down by 5 percent during that period. We went from record surpluses to record deficits.

Now you’ve got Republicans claiming somehow that they’re the party of fiscal responsibility. But they were the ones who ran up the tab and now are looking to balance the budget on the backs of seniors and veterans and people who are vulnerable.

And so we have experimented with their philosophy. It didn’t work.

Q No, it didn’t.

THE PRESIDENT: I do hope that after this election, that cooler heads prevail on their side. I am going to be ready and willing to cooperate with them. But my main focus is making sure that we move this country forward, because we’re competing against countries like China and Germany and South Korea, that are investing in clean energy, that are educating their workforces, that are building their infrastructure, and I don’t want to see us slip behind. I want us to maintain our leadership in the world.

And in order to do that, we’re going to have to make some smart investments and make some good decisions. All that depends on whether or not folks vote.

So, Michael, anybody who’s listening to your program, I hope that they are making sure to turn out, talking to their friends and neighbors and coworkers and anybody else that they meet, making sure that they vote come Election Day.

Q Well, Mr. President, I cannot thank you enough for calling into the show and reaching out to the 75 cities that we’re on, because people really do want to hear from you. And I think that the message and the choices are pretty clear.

So we’re behind you a hundred percent. We know our families are going to get out and vote.

And, George, any final words you want to say to the President?

Q Just get you some juice, get you some sleep. (Laughter.) We already know that it’s going to be a tough, long night. But we’re going to keep on fighting. We’re going to keep getting the vote out for you.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, guys. Appreciate it. Bye-bye.

END 3:42 P.M. EST

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Tags : barack obama center for american progress immigration john boehner john podesta jon ward keith olbermann nancy pelosi
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