In an exclusive interview with President Obama aired on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie began the exchange by fretting over gun legislation in Congress "hanging by a thread"
and scolding the President for not pushing for gun restrictions sooner:
"You are asking Democrats in conservative states to take a tough vote
politically, something you, yourself, did not do. You didn't run on this in 2008 or 2012, not after Tucson, not after Aurora."
Later in the discussion, Guthrie helped to portray Obama's budget plan as a centrist compromise that riled both Republicans and Democrats: "[Republicans] say it's not enough and they say it's not enough to make a deal....you've got Democrats a little mad at you, too, saying you've cut Social Security and Medicare and now this is going to come back and haunt them in their races." The President touted: "It does not give Republicans everything they want, frankly it doesn't reflect everything that I would like to see."
Dismantling the image of Obama as moderate, The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes explained:
Obama proposed a more accurate way of calculating the inflation rate for annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security....Then came the catch. The president's price for adopting this gentle reform was hundreds of billions in new tax increases. It was a price Republicans were certain to reject, as Obama surely knew. Rather than grounds for a bipartisan bargain, his "compromise" was a political contrivance to put Republicans at a disadvantage.
Guthrie failed to mention the tax hikes in her questions to Obama.
The second part of the interview, which Guthrie conducted with Obama on Monday prior to the Boston bombings, will air on Wednesday's Today.
Here is a full transcript of first part aired on April 16:
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: On Monday evening President Obama spoke about this tragedy, offering his thoughts and prayers to the city and vowing justice to those involved. I happened to sit down with him shortly before these explosions and we talked about a number of things in the headlines. We began with the gun legislation before Congress that many say is now hanging by a thread.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Today Exclusive; Gun Laws, The Budget & North Korea; Savannah Goes One-On-One With President Obama]
BARACK OBAMA: I think we've got a good chance of seeing it pass if members of Congress are listening to the American people. So let's just take the example of background checks. 90% of Americans think that we should make it tougher for criminals or people with serious mental illnesses to obtain a gun, and so the notion that Congress would defy the overwhelming instinct of the American people after what we saw happen in Newtown, I think, is unimaginable.
GUTHRIE: You are asking Democrats in conservative states to take a tough vote politically, something you, yourself, did not do. You didn't run on this in 2008 or 2012, not after Tucson, not after Aurora.
OBAMA: Well, I think that all of us had to reflect on what we did or didn't do after Newtown. If the question is, is this potentially difficult politically because the gun lobby is paying attention and has shown no willingness to budge? Then the answer is yes. That's a given. Now, if the question is, what's the right thing to do and what are the American people believe in overwhelmingly? If that's what's guiding members of Congress during the next couple of weeks, then this will pass.
GUTHRIE: Let's move to North Korea. Is Kim Jong-Un unstable?
OBAMA: Well, I'm not a psychiatrist, and you know, I don't know the leader of North Korea. What I do know is, is that the actions they've taken, the rhetoric they've engaged in has been provocative. It has been condemned across the board internationally, and it's unnecessary, because what it's done is ironically isolated North Korea further. If they want to rejoin the community of nations, that path is available to them. But they-
GUTHRIE: This is a cycle of provocation for them, as you well know. Is there something qualitatively different about this time?
OBAMA: Well, this is the same kind of pattern that we saw his father engage in and his grandfather before that. Since I came into office, the one thing I was clear about was we're not going to reward this kind of provocative behavior. You don't get to bang your – your spoon on the table and somehow you get your way.
GUTHRIE: Is this the closest we've been to war with North Korea on your watch?
OBAMA: You'll recall that North Korea shot down a Korean, South Korean fishing boat, that wasn't just words, that was action, so we've seen this kind of pattern before. I think all of us would anticipate that, you know, North Korea will probably make more provocative moves over the next several weeks, but our hope is, is that we can contain it, and that we can move into a different phase in which they try to work through diplomatically some of these issues so that they can get back on a path where they're actually feeding their people.
GUTHRIE: Does North Korea, in your estimation, have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a ballistic missile?
OBAMA: Based on our current intelligence assessments, we do not think they have that capacity, but, you know, we have to make sure that we are dealing with every contingency out there and that's why I've repositioned missile defense systems to guard against any miscalculation on their part.
GUTHRIE: On the budget, is this your last best final offer to Republicans?
OBAMA: What I tried to do is put forward a budget that I think is a realistic compromise.
GUTHRIE: Would you go farther on entitlement cuts?
OBAMA: It does not give Republicans everything they want, frankly it doesn't reflect everything that I would like to see. What it does is it puts forward some of the ideas that Republicans had suggested around entitlement reform that I think are reasonable policy.
GUTHRIE: But they say it's not enough and they say it's not enough to make a deal, would you go farther?
OBAMA: I think that before we go anywhere, right now we've got to see from Republicans what exactly is it that they want to do. I mean, when they say they want to go farther, what do they want to do? What are they putting on the table?
GUTHRIE: By the way, you've got Democrats a little mad at you, too, saying you've cut Social Security and Medicare and now this is going to come back and haunt them in their races.
OBAMA: Part of what we have to think about, whether we're Democrats or Republicans, is how do we create a system where our social insurance programs, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, are sustainable for the long-term and my budget does that. It makes sure that people in need are cared for, but what it also says is let's make sure that we're not spending it all down now so that the next generation that's paying into the system isn't going to have those same benefits.
GUTHRIE: A lot to talk to the President about, Matt, and of course we sat down with him just a few hours before all of this happened in Boston. So much going on in the news, between the gun legislation, immigration legislation being unveiled, and yet, as we are so often reminded, news events, something like this, changes everything in an instant.
OBAMA: Yeah, nothing can be predicted now, another big issue, perhaps, on his plate, and I look forward to more of your interview tomorrow, Savannah, here on Today.