President Obama sat down with The New York Times' Jackie Chalmers and Michael Shear for an interview that focused on the economy, while also touching on racial tensions in America and the President's rocky relationship with Congress.
Obama told the Times (in the paper's first interview with the President since 2010) the economy may be "far stronger" than it was four years ago, but he recognizes he must take action to make sure economic recovery doesn't stall because of the sequester cuts and looming budget battles with Republicans. "If we don’t do anything, then growth will be slower than it should be. Unemployment will not go down as fast as it should. Income inequality will continue to rise," the President said. Speaking just days after his emotional speech about race in America, that after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, Obama also said that the economic slowdown would only contribute to bubbling racial tensions across the country. "Racial tensions won’t get better; they may get worse, because people will feel as if they’ve got to compete with some other group to get scraps from a shrinking pot," he said. "If the economy is growing, everybody feels invested. Everybody feels as if we’re rolling in the same direction." While speaking with Chalmers and Shear over the forty minutes they had with the President, he also blasted certain members of Congress for challenging every legislative move he tries to make:
But there’s not an action that I take that you don't have some folks in Congress who say that I'm usurping my authority. Some of those folks think I usurp my authority by having the gall to win the presidency. And I don't think that's a secret. But ultimately, I’m not concerned about their opinions -- very few of them, by the way, are lawyers, much less constitutional lawyers.
In this particular instance, Obama was answering questions about people who questioned the motives of his decision to delay part of the Obamacare bill that required large business to provide insurance for employees or face government fines. "This is the kind of routine modifications or tweaks to a large program that’s starting off that in normal times in a normal political atmosphere would draw a yawn from everybody," he told the Times. A normal political atmosphere? Ha.
The interview is also notable because the President has faced criticism for how rarely he makes himself available to journalists for questioning. It's the first time Obama has granted the Times an interview in three years, since 2010, when he spoke with the paper about limiting the country's nuclear options and with the magazine about his first two years in office. It's been a while. In the intervening years, Obama's developed a reputation for keeping the press at bay. He's been accused of keeping the press at an unnecessarily long arms' length away from the White House, so much so that the rare occasions Obama does speak with the White House press corps are events in and of themselves. You'll notice that Edward Snowden and the National Security Agency didn't come up once during the conversation.