CBS News devoted 15 and a half minutes on Wednesday night and Thursday morning to an interview with Barack Obama. Despite April 15th having just passed, correspondent Major Garrett offered no questions on taxes or the IRS scandal. He also avoided any queries on ObamaCare or the Benghazi terrorist attack.
Instead, more than four minutes on This Morning were given over to a horse race discussion on 2016. (Joe Biden joined the interview for that section.) Garrett did press the President on Russia and Ukraine, quizzing, "In your mind, is there a line, never mind the color, is there a line in eastern Europe or Ukraine, that Vladimir Putin must not cross?" After Obama paused as he formulated an answer, the journalist prodded, "Can you articulate that for the world and for the Russian government?" [MP3 audio here.]
The President seemed to reverse the question, assuring, "I think the world understands very clearly that Ukraine is a sovereign nation that has deep historical roots with Russia. None of us think that somehow Ukraine can ignore Russia, should be hostile toward Russia."
He finally added, "But we also don't think that Ukraine should be a vassal state."
When Biden joined the This Morning interview, Garrett's questions became very circular. At one point, he asked how his interview would impact the two men:
MAJOR GARRETT: What I really want to know, Mr. Vice President, is the expectation. Even the optics of this [interview] will be viewed by some through the prism of 2016. That's going to be true whatever you do from the moment you declare you're a candidate or not. Does that change your ability to work on behalf of this president?
After Obama gave a non-committal answer about 2016, Garrett enthused, "It sounds like what you're describing is whoever the candidate would be running would be running for a third term of the Obama presidency or an extension of the Obama agenda?"
The morning show featured a third segment on the interview in the 8am hour. This time, co-host Charlie Rose merely summarized the President's stance on immigration and included a lengthy snippet of Obama lobbying for Republicans to pass reform.
On Wednesday night's Evening News, the two men discussed Russia and the President's planned speech on job training and grants. Perhaps the still-high jobless rate (6.7 percent in March) could have been mentioned. It was not.
Fifteen minutes is a rather large amount of time to devote to one person, especially considering that it was way back on January 29th that CBS This Morning last brought on a GOP presidential contender. (In that case, Rand Paul.) At the very least, Garrett could have brought up conservative concerns, such as the IRS, Benghazi or ObamaCare.
A transcript of the section with Obama and Biden is below:
NORAH O'DONNELL: Right now more news with the conversation with President Obama. At one point, it became a rare joint interview with the President and Vice President Biden. Major Garrett spoke with them about the next presidential race. Major, good morning.
MAJOR GARRETT: Good morning. It's not very often that a correspondent get chance to talk to the President and Vice President about a topic that the people here at the White House likes to pretend doesn't matter but everyone does. The next presidential campaign. Vice President Biden is clearly looking to run again. So, I asked the President and Vice President how the inevitable focus on 2016 will affect their working relationship and, oh, by the way, whether the president would endorse his Vice President. What I really want to know, Mr. Vice President, is the expectation. Even the optics of this will be viewed by some through the prism of 2016. That's going to be true whatever you do from the moment you declare you're a candidate or not. Does that change your ability to work on behalf of this president?
JOE BIDEN: There is nothing I would do differently if I absolutely knew I wasn't going to run or I absolutely knew I was. There's nothing I'd do differently over the next seven, eight, ten months. We have a very important job to do. The President, his agenda, is one I strongly believe in. And we have upcoming elections in 2014. If I decide to run, believe me, this will be the first guy I talk to. But that decision hasn't been made, for real. And there's plenty of time to make it. We have a lot of work to do between now and November.
GARRETT: Mr. President, how does this filter through your daily life?
OBAMA: I couldn't say have said it better myself. I've got somebody who I think will go down as one of the finest vice presidents in history and he has been, as I said earlier, a great partner in everything that I do. I suspect that there may be other potential candidates for 2016 who have been great friends and allies. I know that we've got an extraordinary secretary of state who did great service for us and worked with me and Joe to help make the country safer. Whoever the Democratic standard bearer is going to continue to focus on jobs, making sure that our kids are getting a great education, making sure we're rebuilding prosperity from the middle class out in this country, and I am very much interested in making sure that some of the stuff that we've gotten started continues.
GARRETT: It sounds like what you're describing is whoever the candidate would be running would be running for a third term of the Obama presidency or an extension of the Obama. – Is that true?
OBAMA: Oh, I don't want to start -- I don't want to necessarily jam them up. You know, we all are part of this relay race whether we're vice presidents, presidents. You know, the truth is that we build off what folks have done previously. And in some cases that includes, the by the way, Republican presidents. That's the beauty of democracy. It keeps evolving. And I'm sure there are going to be some things that whoever the next president is they're going to want to continue. There's going to be some things I'm sure they want to do differently. But the trajectory, hopefully, is going to be one in which we're broadening out the opportunity for every American.
GARRETT: The president did not, in the end, say whether he would endorse Vice President Biden or number he's clearly keeping himself out of this race. But clearly Vice President Biden will play a role all year in the White House and campaign extensively for Democrats in the midterm elections. That will keep speculations about him in 2016 very much alive.