Return to Transcripts main page


Obama to Speak in Illinois; Barack Obama's Speech. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 7, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your Friday with us.

Sixty days now to the midterm elections, and Barack Obama rejoins the fray. The former president is making a big speech, framing the 2018 stakes, in just moments. We will take you there live when it happens.

Plus, two Democrats mulling 2020 presidential bids make a big splash at the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, but they also get the fact checkers busy, and there's no evidence they changed the math that favors a Supreme Court confirmation.

And the president calls that damning "New York Times" op-ed from a top administration official treason, says his supporters better vote to save him from impeachment. A top Senate ally says the president, forgive me, his language, not mine, is pissed off but urges him to let it go.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The op-ed piece should disturb you because you do have disloyalty in your ranks, but don't dwell on the op-ed piece. Don't dwell on the book. You're going to get re-elected based on your performance. So far, so good.

He said, well, I've got to fight back. I said, fight back smartly.


KING: Back to that story in a moment.

But a live look here at Urbana, Illinois, where the 44th president of the United States is about to make his case against the 45th. And consider this remarkable fact as Barack Obama prepares to take a central role in the 2018 midterm debate. President Obama has not spoken to the man who succeed him since Inauguration Day 2017. The bad blood between the two is obvious, but today is noteworthy because Mr. Obama has mostly stayed on the sidelines. Today, though, begins a flurry of campaign activity. This speech

framing the stakes, then campaigning in California this weekend, Ohio next week.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is at the White House.

Jeff, it has been some time since we have seen President Obama in such a political setting. What do we expect, and how direct do we look for here in the confrontations with the current president?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, it has been some time. Of course we saw President Obama delivering one of the eulogies at Senator John McCain's funeral over the weekend, last weekend. And there were political undertones to that, no doubt.

But this is an entirely different moment. This has been in the works for a while. This is his 2018 midterm kickoff. And, no, he is not going to mention President Trump by name. He is not going to do that, I'm told, by advisers. That's not surprising at all.

But there will be no mistaking the fact that he is, indeed, talking about this moment in our time. He's talking about a backlash to a progress, in the words of one aide, and essentially that this administration, this White House has been trying to undo everything that he did during his eight years in office. So it is a bit unusual.

And this wasn't always the plan, to have the president get back in the fray, but they believe that the time is too important. His advisers, and, in fact, he believes the time is too important to stay out of the fight.

Now, he certainly knows something about presidents losing midterm elections. He had a bruising 2010 midterm election, a bruising 2014 midterm election. He would like, and Democrats would like, President Trump to have the same thing as well.

But, John, it will be very interesting to see how he calibrates this. He has always been of the mind, don't boo, vote, always been of the mind of getting activists and supporters out to midterm elections. Democrats have not done a very good job of that. They certainly are fired up in this respect. But he will have some tough medicine, I'm told, for Democrats as well, and independents, to do the right thing, in his view.

So, John, a very interesting speech. And, as you said, he'll be campaigning more between now and November.


KING: Appreciate that. Live from the White House, Jeff Zeleny.

You see the student there on stage introducing the former president. We're going to keep that picture right there. We'll take you to President Obama when he starts to speak.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights on this busy Friday, "Politico's" Eliana Johnson, Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times," Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post," and CNN's Abby Philip.

It is -- this is -- it began as no drama Obama back in 2008-2009. Now he's stepping back into the stage. And it's hard to understate the drama of this moment, whether we're talking about the chaos, the anger of the current president, the chaos inside the White House, and the stakes for the Democratic Party in an election that is just 60 days away.

What should we be looking for most here? And I'll start with this. It's just -- if you look at the primary so far, it is the Obama coalition plus, as some have said -- that is coming out in these elections. We see African-Americans voting in higher numbers in a lot of these key primaries than they traditionally do in midterm elections. We know Republican grip on the House is going to come down to suburban women, a constituency that Obama has pretty good support with. And then the college audience, younger voters. Will they play in a midterm? They usually don't. Indications this time are the Democrats can maybe get them out.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean, look, midterm elections are typically base elections. I don't think that this will be all that different. So, you know, he was -- remains one of Democrats' best motivators for their base.

[12:05:01] I think the dynamics are a little bit interesting, though, as you point out because, of course, ex-presidents usually refrain from criticizing current presidents. And it's hard to see how he gets through a speech like this without making some kind of critique of the current administration, even if he doesn't necessarily, you know, name President Trump by name, I think that message will be implicit, if not explicit, in his remarks.

KING: Right, your health care is at risk is one thing I'm told he's going to talk about.

LERER: Right.

KING: He's going to talk about climate. The question is, does he use the words "President Trump"? That's one thing.

And to the point where we started, it is remarkable, unprecedented in my time in Washington, that the current president of the United States has not had one conversation with the previous president, the man who handed him the keys to the Oval Office and the White House since leaving office. Presidents routinely check in, sometimes on big -- for advice -- and sometimes for big advice.

And here we go. Let's just watch this. President Obama returning to the stage, 60 days before the 2018 midterm elections. His first big political speech this year in his adopted home state of Illinois. The 44th president of the United States. Let's listen.







OBAMA: OK, OK, just checking to see if you're awake.

Please, have a seat, everybody.

It is good to be home. It's good to see corn, beans. I was trying to explain to somebody as we were flying in, that's corn. That's beans. They were very impressed at my agricultural knowledge.

Please give it up for Amari (ph), once again, for that outstanding introduction.

I have a -- I have a bunch of good friends here today, including somebody who I served with who is one of the finest senators in the country, and we're lucky to have him. Your senator, Dick Durbin, is here.

I also noticed, by the way, former Governor Edgar here, who I haven't seen in a long time, and somehow he has not aged and I have.

It is great to see you, governor.

I want to thank President Killeen and everybody at the U of I system for making it possible for me to be here today. And I am deeply honored at the Paul Douglas Award that is being given to me. He is somebody who set the path for so much outstanding public service here in Illinois.

Now, I want to start by addressing the elephant in the room. I know people are still wondering why I didn't speak at the 2017 commencement. The student body president sent a very thoughtful invitation. Students made a spiffy video. And when I declined, I hear there was speculation that I was boycotting campus until Antonio's Pizza reopened. So I want to be clear, I did not take sides in that late-night food debate. The truth is, after eight years in the White House, I needed to spend some time one on one with Michelle if I wanted to stay married. And she says hello, by the way.

I also wanted to spend some quality time with my daughters, who were suddenly young women on their way out the door. And I should add, by the way, now that I have a daughter in college, I can tell all of the students here, your parents suffer. They cry privately. It is brutal. So please call. Send a text. We need to hear from you. Just a little something.

The truth was, I was also intent on following a wise American tradition of ex-presidents gracefully exiting the political stage and making room for new voices and new ideas. And we have our first president, George Washington, to thank for setting that example.

[12:10:07] After he led the colonies to victory, as General Washington, there were no constraints on him, really. He was practically a god to those who had followed him into battle. There was no Constitution. There were no democratic norms that guided what he should or could do. And he could have made himself all powerful. He could have made himself potentially president for life. And, instead, he resigned as commander in chief and moved back to his country of state.

And six years later, he was elected president. But after two terms, he resigned again and rode off into the sunset.

And the point Washington made, the point that is essential to American democracy, is that in a government of and by and for the people, there should be no permanent ruling class. There are only citizens, who through their elected and temporary representatives, determine our course and determine our character.

I'm here today because this is one of those pivotal moments when every one of us, as citizens of the United States, need to determine just who it is that we are. Just what it is that we stand for. And as a fellow citizen, not as an ex-president, but as a fellow citizen, I'm here to deliver a simple message, and that is that you need to vote because our democracy depends on it.

Now, some of you may think I'm exaggerating when I say this November's elections are more important than any I can remember in my lifetime. And I know politicians say that all the time. I have been guilty of saying it a few times, particularly when I was on the ballot.

But just a glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.

And it's not as if we haven't had big elections before or big choices to make in our history. Fact is, democracy has never been easy, and our founding fathers argued about everything. We waged a civil war. We overcame depression. We've lurched from eras of great progressive change to periods of retrenchment.

Still, most Americans alive today, certainly the students who are here, have operated under some common assumptions about who we are and what we stand for. Out of the turmoil of the industrial revolution and the Great Depression, America dap adapted a new economy, a 20th century economy, guiding our free market with regulations to protect health and safety and fair competition, empowering workers with union movements, investing in science and infrastructure and educational institutions like U of I, strengthening our system of primary and secondary education, and stitching together a social safety net. And all of this led to unrivalled prosperity and the rise of a broad and deep middle class and the sense that if you worked hard, you could climb the ladder of success.

Now, not everyone was included in this prosperity. There was a lot more work to do. And so in response to the stain of slavery and segregation and the reality of racial discrimination, the civil rights movement not only opened new doors for African-Americans, but also opened up the flood gates of opportunity for women and Americans with disabilities and LGBT Americans, others to make their own claims to full and equal citizenship.

[12:15:24] And although discrimination remained a pernicious force in our society and continues to this day, and although there are controversies about how to best ensure genuine equality of opportunity, there's been at least rough agreement among the overwhelming majority of Americans that our country is strongest when everybody's treated fairly, when people are judged on the merits and the content of their character and not the color of their skin or the way in which they worship God or their last names. And that consensus then extended beyond our borders. And from the wreckage of World War II, we built a post-war web, architecture, system of alliances and institutions to underwrite freedom and oppose soviet totalitarianism and to help poorer countries develop.

And American leadership across the globe wasn't perfect. We made mistakes. At times we lost sight of our ideals. We had fierce arguments about Vietnam and we had fierce arguments about Iraq. But thanks to our leadership, a bipartisan leadership, and the efforts of diplomats and peace corps volunteers, and most of all thanks to the constant sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we not only reduced the prospects of war between the world's great powers, we not only won the Cold War, we helped spread a commitment to certain values and principles, like the rule of law and human rights and democracy and the notion of the inherent dignity and worth of every individual. And even those countries that didn't abide by those principles were still subject to shame and still had to at least give lip service to the idea, and that provided a lever to continually improve the prospects for people around the world.

That's the story of America. A story of progress, fitful progress, incomplete progress, but progress. And that progress wasn't achieved by just a handful of famous leaders making speeches. It was won because of countless, quiet acts heroism and dedication by citizens, by ordinary people, many of them not much older than you. It was won because rather than be bystanders to history, ordinary people fought and marched and mobilized and built, and, yes, voted to make history.

Of course, there's always been another darker aspect to America's story. Progress doesn't just move in a straight line. There's a reason why progress hasn't been easy and why throughout our history every two steps forward seems to sometimes produce one step back. Each time we painstakingly pull ourselves closer to our founding ideals, that all of us are created equal, endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, the ideals that say every child should have opportunity and every man and woman in this country who's willing to work hard should be able to find a job and support a family and pursue their small piece of the American dream. Our ideals that say we have a collective responsibility to care for the sick and the infirm. And we have a responsibility to conserve the amazing bounty, the natural resources of this country and of this planet for future generations.

[12:20:26] Each time we've gotten closer to those ideals, somebody somewhere has pushed back. The status quo pushes back. Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it's manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because it helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege. And you happen to be coming of age during one of those moments.

It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He's just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years, a fear and anger that's rooted in our past but it's also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.

And, by the way, it is brief. I -- when I heard Amari was 11 when I got elected, and now he's like starting a company, that was yesterday.

But think about it. You've come of age in a smaller, more connected world where demographic shifts and the wind of change have scrambled not only traditional economic arrangements, but our social arrangements and our religious commitments and our civic institutions.

Most of you don't remember a time before 9/11 when you didn't have to take off your shoes at an airport. Most of you don't remember a time when America wasn't at war or when money and images and information could travel instantly around the globe. Or when the climate wasn't changing faster than our efforts to address it.

And this change has happened fast. Faster than any time in human history. And it created a new economy that has unleashed incredible prosperity, but it's also upended people's lives in profound ways. For those with unique skills or access to technology and capital, a global market has meant unprecedented wealth. For those not so lucky, for the factory worker, for the office worker, or even middle managers, those same forces may have wiped out your job, or at least put you in no position to ask for a raise. And as wages slowed and inequality accelerated, those at the top of the economic pyramid have been able to influence government to skew things even more in their direction, cutting taxes on the wealthiest Americans, unwinding regulations and weakening worker protections, shrinking the safety net.

So you have come of age during a time of growing inequality, a fracturing of economic opportunity. And that growing economic divide compounded other divisions in our country. Regional, racial, religious, cultural, and made it harder to build consensus on issues. It made politicians less willing to compromise, which increased gridlock, which made people even more cynical about politics.

[12:25:19] And then the reckless behavior of financial elites triggered a massive financial crisis. Ten years ago this week, a crisis that resulted in the worst recession in any of our lifetimes and caused years of hardship for the American people. For many of your parents. For many of your families.

Most of you weren't old enough to fully focus on what was going on at the time, but when I came into office in 2009, we were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Eight hundred thousand. Millions of people were losing their homes. Many were worried we were entering into a second great depression.

So we worked hard to end that crisis, but also to break some of these longer term trends. And the actions we took during that crisis returned the economy to healthy growth and initiated the longest streak of job creation on record. And we covered another 20 million Americans with health insurance and we cut our deficits by more than half, partly by making sure that people like me, who have been given such amazing opportunities by this country, pay our fair share of taxes to help folks coming up behind me.

And by the time I left office, household income was near its all-time high, and the uninsured rate had hit an all-time low and wages were rising and poverty rates were falling. I mention all this just so when you hear how great the economy is doing right now, let's just remember when this recovery started.

I mean I'm glad it's continued, but when you hear about this economic miracle that's been going on, when the job numbers come out, the monthly job numbers, and suddenly Republicans are saying it's a miracle, I have to kind of remind them, actually, those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015 and 2016 and -- anyway, I digress.

So we made progress, but -- and this is the truth -- my administration couldn't reverse 40-year trends in only eight years, especially once Republicans took over the House of Representatives in 2010 and decided to block everything we did. Even things they used to support.

So we pulled the economy out of crisis, but to this day, too many people, who once felt solidly middle class, still feel very real and very personal economic insecurity. Even though we took out bin Laden and wound down the wars in Iraq and our combat role in Afghanistan, and gotten Iran to halt its nuclear program, the world's still full of threats and disorder that come streaming through people's televisions every single day.

And these challenges get people worried. And it frays our civic trust. And it makes a lot of people feel like the fix is in and the game is rigged and nobody's looking out for them, especially those communities outside our big urban centers.

[12:29:43] And even though your generation is the most diverse in history, with a greater acceptance and celebration of our differences than ever before, those are the kinds of conditions that are ripe for exploitation by politicians who have no compunction and no shame about tapping into America's dark history of racial and ethnic and religious division.