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Blame Republicans' "Unified Opposition" for Obama's Woes?

On Sunday's Today show on NBC - during which correspondent Savannah Guthrie filed a report which seemed to credit President Obama for "managing to avoid a depression," while also acknowledging that "the President's once sky-high approval rating slumped as unemployment stubbornly stayed in double digits" - after Guthrie's report, anchor Jenna Wolfe wondered if Republicans were partly to blame for Obama's plunging poll numbers.

Hosting former Bush Chief of Staff Andy Card and former Clinton White House Spokesperson Joe Lockhart, Wolfe at one point asked Card: "Andy, you mentioned earlier about the President's popularity. Yes, it's down. Recent polls show his approval rating at 47 percent. Yes, the economy accounts for much of that drop. How much of it can be linked to unified opposition from Republicans for initiatives like health care?"

Below is a transcript of Savannah Guthrie's report, followed by the interview with Andy Card and Joe Lockhart from the Sunday, January 17, Today show on NBC:

JENNA WOLFE: This week, it's an anniversary of sorts as President Barack Obama marks his first year in office. Much has happened since he was sworn in last January, from the economy, health care, jobs, and an earthquake in Haiti. NBC's Savannah Guthrie takes a look back at his inaugural year.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear-

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: The President was sworn in with the economy at the edge of the abyss and the nation at war.

OBAMA: Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real.

GUTHRIE: Immediately putting his political capital on the line, the President pushed through a $787 billion stimulus plan he promised would create jobs.

OBAMA: Today does mark the beginning of the end.

GUTHRIE: In between bailing out Wall Street, the auto industry and managing to avoid a depression-

OBAMA: Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

GUTHRIE: -the President nominated the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, then took on the toughest domestic battle of his presidency, an ambitious reworking of the American health care system-

CLIP OF PROTESTERS: No ObamaCare!

GUTHRIE: -spurring a passionate debate.

REP. JOE WILSON (R-SC): You lie!

GUTHRIE: The fight stretched into the new year and the President's once sky-high approval rating slumped as unemployment stubbornly stayed in double digits.

CHARLIE COOK, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: You have to question the decision to persevere on health care given what's happened with the economy.

GUTHRIE: On the foreign stage, the Obamas stepped out and were the toast of world capitals, the President promising to restore America's image abroad.

OBAMA: As-Salamu Alaykum.

GUTHRIE: But as the President reached out, Iran dug in, and a newly aggressive Taliban led the President to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Even as he wound down the Iraq war, the President struggled to meet his own deadline to close Guantanamo's prison. Accepting a surprise Nobel Peace Prize in December, Mr. Obama reminded the world he is a wartime President. At year's end, the President tried to squeeze in a holiday rest, but a Christmas Day terror attempt and intelligence failure was a wake-up call.

OBAMA: The system has failed in a potentially disastrous way.

GUTHRIE: The beginning of 2010 has proven to be just as challenging with unemployment not budging, and now a humanitarian crisis in Haiti. For Today, Savannah Guthrie, NBC News, the White House.

WOLFE: Joining us now with some insight are Andy Card, chief of staff for former President George W. Bush, and Joe Lockhart, press secretary for former President Bill Clinton. Good morning, gentlemen, thanks for being with us. ... So it has indeed been an extraordinary year for the President. Andy, let me start with you. What is your assessment of this administration thus far?

ANDY CARD, FORMER BUSH CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, it's been a year of contrasts on the one hand and the other hand. (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES) great frustration (TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES) and couldn't deliver. He challenged Congress, and they didn't live up to the responsibility. So I think it was kind of a frustrating year for the President, even though certainly it was a year of great celebration and hope for him. And we all celebrated his inauguration. That was a historic time for the country. But the reality of the job, I think, has weighed him down, and it's caused him not to end the year the way he expected he would.

WOLFE: Well, Joe, let me ask you this: You heard Charlie Cook in that piece question the President's decision to pursue health care, that while the economy is as sluggish as it's been - you worked for a President who tried to push health care through - did President Obama

pick the right time to do this again?

JOE. LOCKHART, FORMER CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think he picked the only time you can do it. Health care is probably the most difficult issue for a political leader to tackle, and your power is at your apex at the beginning, so I don't think he had a choice, and he ran on it and he promised the people that he would, and I think he's satisfied that he's gotten it done. It's been a long, bitter battle. But I think if you look at the year, I think politically, the political benefits have lagged the policy benefits. We were on the precipice of a great depression where 10 percent unemployment would be nothing. Remember, we had 25 percent unemployment in the last Great Depression and it took a decade to recover from. This economy has turned around in part, in large part because of the president's decisive actions. The political benefits will catch up eventually.

WOLFE: Andy, you mentioned earlier about the President's popularity. Yes, it's down. Recent polls show his approval rating at 47 percent. Yes, the economy accounts for much of that drop. How much of it can be linked to unified opposition from Republicans for initiatives like health care?

CARD: I actually think the reason that the President's popularity is not as high as he would like it is that his policies are not consistent with the direction America wants to take. And so I think the expectations for the American people and Barack Obama's expectations might not have been the same when he took the oath of office. The American people rightfully were looking for change, but I don't, I'm not sure that they wanted the kind of change that Barack Obama decided to deliver to America. And I don't think that it was right for him to pursue the health care reform effort the way he did given the real needs that we had in the country to establish a solid foundation for our economy. So I don't think that the right resolve was demonstrated from Washington, DC, to address the challenges of our economy. We need more discipline from Congress and from Washington rather than have a Congress that is pursuing its wants rather than addressing the nation's needs.

WOLFE: Well, Joe, right now the President's going to be pursuing the situation in Massachusetts in that Senate race with the special election coming up on Tuesday, he's trying to help fill Ted Kennedy's seat there. What will Tuesday's results tell us about the President's ability to push for initiatives through?

LOCKHART: Well, I think, you know, the tight race there reflects the way politics works. To bring about massive change, which the president's trying to do and will do in health care, creates great controversy. The legislative process is ugly and messy. But I think you'll see within the next couple of weeks the President in the rose garden signing a health care bill that fundamentally changes the way our health care system works, you'll have tens of millions of Americans who will get health insurance. They haven't had that. We lose focus on those things when we get into the nitty gritty of the politics. So again, political calendars don't always fit exactly the way you want. It is a messy process, but the President promised change, and he's delivering on that change as messy as it is in Washington with all the partisan bickering.

WOLFE: Why do I feel like we can talk about this all day? Joe Lockhart and Andy Card, thank you both so much for being with us.

LOCKHART: Thanks, Jenna.

CARD: Thank you, Jenna. Good to see you.

-Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.