John Harwood to Obama: Is Wall Street As 'Harmful' To Us as Big Tobacco?

New York Times writer and CNBC contributor John Harwood, in an interview aired on Thursday's Today show, pressed Barack Obama about the need to regulate Wall Street as he questioned the President if Americans needed to view them in the same way they view Big Tobacco as "companies whose core activities are harmful to the country?" Obama declined to make the comparison to the tobacco companies, but went on to insist Wall Street needed new rules to protect against "excess."

JOHN HARWOOD: Should average Americans think about big Wall Street institutions the way that some have come to think about tobacco companies, that is, companies whose core activities are harmful to the country?

BARACK OBAMA: No. We have to have a thriving financial sector. But, we also have to have basic rules of the road in place to make sure that investors, consumers, shareholders, the economy as a whole, are protected against excess. We have gotten into one of those places where we need to update those rules of the road, and if we do so, not only is that good for the economy, not only does it protect consumers and investors, it's also good for the financial sector.

Harwood did manage to ask Obama about contributions he received from Goldman Sachs and the fact that his former White House counsel is representing them as he pried: "In the 2008 campaign you got a lot of money, about $1 million, from employees of Goldman Sachs. Your former White House counsel Greg Craig is apparently going to represent Goldman Sachs. In light of this case, do either of those things embarrass you?"

However at the end of the segment Today co-anchor Meredith Vieira claimed Republicans were "warming up" to a financial reform bill and did the White House have "a sense" of "victory over this?" To which Harwood responded "Average Americans dislike Wall this is a case where public opinion's on the President's side. He was hitting Republicans over the head with that and they're finally coming to the table..." And just before signing off Harwood ominously warned higher middle class taxes could be on the way:

MEREDITH VIEIRA: You know Republicans are warming up to this reform bill where they were adamantly opposed to it before some revisions were introduced. Was there a sense at the White House of, of victory over this?

HARWOOD: I think so. Look this is an issue, unlike health care, where public opinion was divided. Average Americans dislike Wall Street, in many cases as much as they dislike Washington. So this is a case where public opinion's on the President's side. He was hitting Republicans over the head with that and they're finally coming to the table and looks like they're gonna make a deal pretty soon.

VIEIRA: And on a very different note, during your interview the President did not rule out the possibility of raising taxes on the middle class, something he has always opposed in the past. Was he sending up a trial balloon?

HARWOOD: Watch this story, Meredith. This is likely to be the biggest - next big debate in American politics in 2011 because as the economy recovers, many on the President's team believe we need a serious assault on the deficit, and the amount of revenue that's needed can't all be gotten from the rich.

- Geoffrey Dickens is the senior news analyst at the Media Research Center.