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White House / WHITE HOUSE

Transcript of President Obama's Interview on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno

October 26, 2011

Below is a transcript of President Obama's interview on Tuesday's Tonight Show With Jay Leno as provided by NBC.



JAY LENO:  It's an honor and a privilege to welcome my first
guest back to the show.  Welcome the 44th President of the
United States, President Barack Obama.


Welcome back.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  It is good to be back.

JAY LENO:  It's good to have you back, sir.  Of course, the big
news this week, Gaddafi is dead.  Rebel forces -- killed by rebel
forces.  Your reaction?  Your take on this?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is somebody who, for 40 years, has
terrorized his country and supported terrorism.  And he had an
opportunity during the Arab spring to finally let loose of his
grip on power and to peacefully transition into democracy.  We
gave him ample opportunity, and he wouldn't do it.  And,
obviously, you never like to see anybody come to the kind of end
that he did, but I think it obviously sends a strong message
around the world to dictators that --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- people long to be free, and they need to
respect the human rights and the universal aspirations of people.

JAY LENO:  Now, the mob mentality -- and it was a rebel mob, I
guess.  It wasn't a government --


JAY LENO:  -- they televised the death.  Your thoughts on that?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, obviously, that's not something that I
think we should relish.  And there was a reason after Bin Laden
was killed, for example, we didn't release the photograph.  You
know, I think that there's a certain decorum with which you treat
the dead even if it's somebody who has done terrible things.

JAY LENO:  Now, you took some heat for the whole
leading-from-behind tactic here with Libya.  Explain that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the truth was, we -- this was a phrase that
the media picked up on.

JAY LENO:  Okay.

THE PRESIDENT:  But it's not one that I ever used.


THE PRESIDENT:  We lead from the front.  We introduced the
resolution in the United Nations that allowed us to protect
civilians in Libya when Gaddafi was threatening to slaughter
them.  It was our extraordinary men and women in uniform, our
pilots who took out their air defense systems, set up a no-fly
zone.  It was our folks in NATO who were helping to coordinate
the NATO operation there.  And the difference here is we were
able to organize the international community.  We were able to
get the U.N. mandate for the operation.  We were able to get Arab
countries involved.  And so there was never this sense that
somehow we were unilaterally making a decision to take out
somebody.  Rather, it was the world community.  And that's part
of the reason why this whole thing only cost us a billion
dollars --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- as opposed to a trillion dollars.  Not a
single U.S. troop was on the ground.  Not a single U.S. troop was
killed or injured, and that, I think, is a recipe for success in
the future.


JAY LENO:  Let me ask you about that because, with
Osama Bin Laden, I remember the night before you were at the
correspondence dinner and the whole deal.


JAY LENO:  How hard was it to make that decision to send in those
Navy SEALs? because that could have been --

THE PRESIDENT:  It could have been a disaster, but the reason I
was able to do it was -- when you meet these SEALs and you talk
to them, they are the best of the best.  They are professional.
They are precise.  They practice.  They train.  They understand
what exactly they intend to do.  They are prepared for the worst
in almost every circumstance.  So even though it was 50/50 that
Bin Laden would be there, I was a hundred percent confident in
the men, and I could not have made that decision were it not for
the fact that our men and women in uniform are the best there is.
They are unbelievable.


JAY LENO:  Now, you just announced the troops coming out of --


JAY LENO:  -- Iraq.  We have, like -- 4,000, I think, were


JAY LENO:  Billions of dollars spent, nine years.  What was
accomplished?  What did we accomplish there?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, Saddam Hussein is gone, and that's a good

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  The Iraqis now have the opportunity to create
their own democracy, their own country, determine their own
destiny.  And I'm cautiously optimistic that they realize that
the way they should resolve conflict is not through killing each
other but, rather, through dialogue and discussion and debate.
And so that would not have been possible had it not been for the
extraordinary sacrifices not just of our Armed Forces, but also
their families.  You know, when you think about the rotations
that over a million of our troops went through --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- and reservists and National Guardsmen and
-women and the strain that that placed on those families during
this long period, it's remarkable.  So I think Americans can
rightly be proud that we have given Iraqis an opportunity to
determine their own destiny, but I also think that policymakers
and future Presidents need to understand what it is that we are
getting ourselves into when we make some of these decisions.  And
there might have been other ways for us to accomplish those same
goals.  But the main thing right now is to celebrate the
extraordinary work that our men and women did.  Having them home
for the holidays for good is going to be a big deal.


JAY LENO:  Let me ask you now, many members of -- many members of
the GOP opposed withdrawing from Iraq.

THE PRESIDENT:  It's shocking that they opposed something I

(Laughter and applause.)

JAY LENO:  But, I mean, wasn't it originally -- didn't they want
to get out of Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, I don't know exactly how they are
thinking about it.  You know, as you said, we've been in there
four years, over 4,000 young men and women killed, tens of
thousands injured, some of them for life, spent close to a
trillion dollars on this operation.  I think the vast majority of
the American people feel as if it is time to bring this war to
a close --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- particularly because we still have --


You know, we still have work to do in Afghanistan.  We are
transitioning to Afghan lead there.  Our guys are still -- and
gals are still making sacrifices there.  We would not have been
able to do as good of a job in decimating al Qaeda's leadership
over the last two years if we had still been focused solely on
Iraq.  And one of the arguments I made way back in 2007 was, if
we were able to bring the war in Iraq to a close, then that would
allow us to go after the folks who perpetrated 9/11, and
obviously, we've been very successful in doing that.  We are not
done yet.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  But al Qaeda is weaker than anytime in recent
memory.  We have taken out their top leadership position.  That's
been a big accomplishment.


JAY LENO:  Can I ask you about taking out their top leadership,
al-Awlaki, this guy, American-born terrorist?  How important was
he to al Qaeda?

THE PRESIDENT:  Do you what happened was we put so much pressure
on al Qaeda in the Afghan/Pakistan region --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- that their affiliates were actually becoming
more of a threat to the United States.  So Awlaki was their head


of external operations.  This is the guy that inspired and helped
to facilitate the Christmas Day bomber.  This is a guy who was
actively planning a whole range of operations here in the
homeland and was focused on the homeland.  And so this was
probably the most important al Qaeda threat that was out there
after Bin Laden was taken out, and it was important that working
with the enemies, we were able to remove him from the field.


JAY LENO:  I'll tell you, we are going to take a break.  When we
come back, I want to ask you about Hilary Clinton and her role
with the President right after this.

(Commercial break.)

JAY LENO:  Welcome back, talking to the President of the
United States.  So tell me about Hilary Clinton and the job she's

THE PRESIDENT:  She has been, I think, as good of a Secretary of
State as we've seen in this country.  She's been outstanding.


JAY LENO:  Very good.

THE PRESIDENT:  I'm really proud of her.

JAY LENO:  I mean, something I think is really great is the fact
that you guys are both rivals.  And I did a lot of jokes about
you guys going after each other, but you come together for the
sake of the country.  And I thought that was pretty interesting.
Tell me about how that works.

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, it really wasn't that difficult.  The
truth is Hilary and I agree on the vast majority of issues.  We
did during the campaign.  In fact, one of the problems with all
of those debates was you started running out of stuff to say
because --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- we had a similar world view.  She was, I
think, understandably tired after the campaign and hesitant about
whether or not this would be a good fit, and I told her that I
had complete confidence in her, that the country needed her.  She
stepped up to the plate.  She works as hard as anybody I've ever
seen.  She is tenacious, and we are really very proud of her.
The entire national security team that we've had has been
outstanding, and it's not just rivals within the Democratic
party.  My Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, is a Republican.

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  He was a carryover from the Bush Administration.
He made an outstanding contribution.  So I think one of the
things that we have done is been able to restore a sense that
whatever our politics, when it comes to our national security,
when it comes to the national defense, everybody has to be on the
same page.  And so the question now is, as we end the war in
Iraq, it is time for us to rebuild this country, and can we get
that same kind of cooperation when it comes to fixing what's
wrong here?


JAY LENO:  Now, let me ask you something.  And this is a fun
story.  This is stuff I love, this rumor that Joe Biden and
Hilary might swap, and she might run for Vice President and he
might -- is there any --

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, Joe Biden is not only a great Vice
President, but he has been a great advisor and a great friend to
me.  So I think that they are doing great where they are, and
both of them are racking up a lot of miles.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Joe tends to go more to Pittsburgh.

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hilary is going to Karachi.

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  But they've both got important work to do.  They
are doing great.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.  But you don't want to say "big f'ing deal" in
Karachi.  That could have some problems.  Now, I want to -- now,
the approval rating -- the bad news is your approval rating is
41 percent.


JAY LENO:  The good news is you are still three times better than
Congress.  They are at 13 percent.  So explain.  I mean -- so if
you are grading on a curve -- if you are grading on a curve, you
are killing.  You are just killing.

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, look, we have gone through the worst
financial crisis, the worst economic crisis since the
Great Depression.  People are hurting out there, and they've been
hurting out there for a while.  And people were having a tough
time even before the crisis.  You know, incomes, wages, we are
all flat.  Costs of everything from college to health care to gas
to food, all of it was going up, and so people were feeling a lot
of pressure even before this crisis.  And so I --

every day I wake up saying to myself, "Look, you can't expect
folks to feel satisfied right now."  I'm very proud of the work
that we've done over the last two or three years, but they are
exactly right.  We've got more work to do, and that's why, right
now, for example, our biggest challenge is to make sure that we
are putting people back to work.  We stabilize the economy, but
there are not enough people working.  And so we put forward this
jobs bill that has proposals that traditionally have been
supported by Democrats and Republicans.  I mean, we've got -- we
are putting construction workers back to work rebuilding our
roads and our bridges.  I suspect folks here this L.A. would say
that there are some roads that could be fixed.  You know, that's
just my guess.


JAY LENO:  See, here's the problem.  And the thing that angers me
and I think a lot of Americans is I didn't like what they did to
President Bush.  I don't like when they do it to you.  When
Mitch McConnell says, "Our goal is to make this guy a one-time
president."  I mean, why -- does that anger you?  How is that a
goal?  That doesn't help the --

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, I think the things that folks across the
country are most fed up with, whether you are a Democrat,
Republican, Independent, is putting party ahead of country or
putting the next election ahead of the next generation.


And so what we need -- there are some real differences between
the party in terms of where we want to take the country.  I
believe we've got to invest in education and research and
infrastructure in order for us to succeed in the long-term, and I
think that there's nothing wrong with us closing the deficit and
making our investments by making sure that folks like you and me
who have been incredibly blessed by this country are doing a
little more of a fair share.  They have a different philosophy.
We can argue about that, but on things that, traditionally, we
have agreed to like infrastructure, like tax cuts for small
businesses to give them incentives to hire veterans, on things
that traditionally haven't been partisan, we should be able to
get together.  The election is 13 months away.  We've got a lot
of time, and the last thing we need to be doing is saying to the
American people that there's nothing we can do until the next
election.  We've got to do some work right, putting people back
to work.


JAY LENO:  Well, you are by passing congress now and giving these
executive orders.


JAY LENO:  Explain that.  Explain that.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, if Congress is gridlocked, if the
Republicans in Congress refuse to act, then there is going to be
a limit to some of the things we'd like to do, but there's still
some actions that we can take without waiting for Congress.  So
yesterday, for example, we announced working with some of the
federal housing agencies.  Let's make it easier for people to
refinance.  A lot of these folks, because their homes are
underwater now, their mortgages are higher than what their homes
are worth, a lot of them are having trouble getting refinanced by
their banks.  And so they are locked in at high rates when rates
should be a lot lower for them.  We've said, "Let's figure out a
way to waive some of the fees, waive some of the provisions that
are preventing them from being able to refinance."  And that
could mean an extra couple thousand bucks in people's pockets
right now.  They then have that money to buy a computer for their
kid for school or what have you, and that will get the economy
going again.  So we are going to look for opportunities to do
things without Congress.  We can't afford to keep waiting for
them if they are not going to do anything.  On the other hand, my
hope is that, at some point, they start listening to the American
people, and we can work with Congress as well.


JAY LENO:  Well, you are talking about listening to the American
people.  As President, you look out your window.  Do you see this
occupy Wall Street movement?  What do you make of it from your --

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, people are frustrated, and that frustration
has expressed itself in a lot of different ways.  It expressed
itself in the Tea Party.  It's expressing itself in occupy
Wall Street.  I do think that what this -- what this signals is
that people in leadership, whether it's corporate leadership,
leaders in the banks, leaders in Washington, everybody needs to
understand that the American people feel like nobody is looking
out for them right now.  And, traditionally, what held this
country together was this notion that if you work hard, if you
are playing by the rules, if you are responsible, if you are
looking out for your family, you are showing up to work every day
and doing a good job, you've got a chance to get ahead.  You've
got a chance to succeed.  And, right now, it feels to people like
the deck is stacked against them, and the folks in power don't
seem to be paying attention to that.

So if everybody is tuned in to that message and we are working
every single day to figure out how do we give people a fair shake
and how do we make sure that everybody is doing their fair share,
then people won't be occupying the streets because they will have
a job and they will feel like they are able to get ahead.  But,
right now, they are frustrated.  And part of my job over the next
year is to make sure that if they are not seeing it out of
Congress at a minimum, they are seeing it out of their President,
somebody who is going to be fighting for them.

JAY LENO:  We'll take a break.  When we come back, we'll talk
more with the President, ask him some personal issues.  We'll get
to an issue, of course, that's very big here in Hollywood, this
issue on the Kardashians.  We'll find out more about that.
Okay.  Right back with President Obama right after this.

(Commercial break.)

JAY LENO:  Welcome back to our President, President Obama.  We're
going to talk about some lighter stuff, about dealing with the
pressure of being President.  Now, I know you quit smoking.

THE PRESIDENT:  I did.  I did, definitively.

JAY LENO:  It's out.


JAY LENO:  All right.  Remember you are under oath.


JAY LENO:  So tell me how you cope with the daily pressures.  How
does --

THE PRESIDENT:  Big on exercise.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Work out in the morning with Michelle.  We've got
a little gym in the White House.  She's in better shape than me,
though.  So --

JAY LENO:  And she's very competitive.


JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  And so it's embarrassing sometimes.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah.  She'll get up there a half an hour earlier
than me.  She will have already run 10 miles or something.

JAY LENO:  You know --

THE PRESIDENT:  And I'm, you know --

JAY LENO:  Speaking of that --

THE PRESIDENT:  -- staggering up to the gym.

JAY LENO:  As President, everything is public.  And I turned on
the news last night, and I see my President at a very famous
restaurant here in Los Angeles called "Roscoes Chicken and
Waffles."  Now, I think you ordered the Country Boy Special.
What is that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Wings and waffles.

JAY LENO:  Wings.

THE PRESIDENT:  With hot sauce.

JAY LENO:  So the fried chicken wings, waffles with syrup, and
wings with hot sauce.  Now, is Michelle -- I mean, she's sitting
back, watching the news.  Here you are scarfing down the waffles.

THE PRESIDENT:  Originally, it was just a way to be out there and
say hi to everybody, but --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- once we got in the car, it smelled pretty

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  So, I mean, I'm eating the wings.  You've got the
hot sauce on there.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  The fancy presidential limousine --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- smelling like chicken.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.


THE PRESIDENT:  And we were actually going to a fund-raiser --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- with Will Smith and Jada.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  And I didn't realize it was so close.  So,
suddenly, we pull up, and my sleeves were rolled up, and I got a
spot on my tie.  And my fingers are -- I'm looking for one of
those Wet Ones, you know, to see if I have chicken on my teeth.
Anyway, it was not elegant --


THE PRESIDENT:  -- but outstanding chicken.

JAY LENO:  Outstanding chicken.

THE PRESIDENT:  Outstanding chicken and --

JAY LENO:  Now --

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, here's the secret, though.  Here's the
secret.  Michelle, she's done a great job with this healthy
eating --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  - and let's move and get exercise.  But Michelle,
as quiet as this is kept, she loves french fries.  She loves
pizza.  She loves chicken.  Her point is just in moderation.

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  So she does not get upset as long as, you know,
it's not every day.

JAY LENO:  Right, right.  Okay.

THE PRESIDENT:  And that's the theory.  She doesn't mind the
girls having a -- having a smack, although Halloween is coming

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  And she's been giving, for the last few years,
kids fruit and raisins in a bag.


THE PRESIDENT:  And I said, "The White House is going to get
egged" --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- "if this keeps up.  We are going to" --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.  You've got to go -- yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  "You need to throw some candy in there."

JAY LENO:  Yeah, moderation.  Come on.  Exactly.  Exactly.

THE PRESIDENT:  A couple Reese's Pieces or something.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.


JAY LENO:  Okay.  You turned 50 recently.


JAY LENO:  Okay.  Biggest gripe?

THE PRESIDENT:  My hair is getting a little gray.

JAY LENO:  Yeah, it is getting a little gray, a touch in there, I

THE PRESIDENT:  But, you know, overall, I feel great.  You know,
Michelle thinks I look old, but that's okay.  She still thinks --
she still thinks I'm cute.  That's what she tells me.

JAY LENO:  How are the girls doing, Malia and Sasha?

THE PRESIDENT:  The girls are doing wonderfully.  You know, they
are growing -- they just grow up so fast.  They are thriving.
They -- it's amazing how steady, well-mannered, kind they are.
You know, they are just good people.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  And part of this, I think, is a testimony to
Michelle, also having my mother-in-law in the house --

JAY LENO:  Oh, yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- because she doesn't take any mess.  So --

JAY LENO:  Do they have cell phones?

THE PRESIDENT:  We have -- Malia got a cell phone, but their not
allowed to use it during the week just like they are not allowed
to watch TV during the week.

JAY LENO:  Really?  Boo.  Boo.  Really?  Wow.

THE PRESIDENT:  During the weekends, they get their TV time,
but --

JAY LENO:  Oh.  Speaking of TV time --


JAY LENO:  -- now, you recently said that you didn't like the
girls watching the Kardashians.


JAY LENO:  Have you seen the show?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I have not seen the show.

JAY LENO:  Ah-hah.  So you are making a judgment without ever
seeing the show.

THE PRESIDENT:  I am probably a little biased against reality TV
partly because, you know, there's this program on C-SPAN called
"Congress" --

JAY LENO:  Right.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- that is -- that I -- that I -- that --

(Laughter and applause.)

No, I have not seen the show.  And do you recommend it, Jay?  Do
you think that --

JAY LENO:  I just think it's a wonderful show.  I don't know if
it's something -- I don't know.  Has Michelle seen it?  Have the
girls ever seen it?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think the girls have seen it, yeah.

JAY LENO:  Now, have you been watching the GOP debates?

THE PRESIDENT:  I'm going to wait until everybody is voted off
the island before --


Once they narrow it down to one or two, I'll start paying

JAY LENO:  Well, I know you are a huge basketball fan.  This
lockout, this is really depressing.

THE PRESIDENT:  It's heartbreaking.

JAY LENO:  What needs to be done here?  Who is wrong?


THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, if you look at the NFL, they were
able to settle theirs.

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  And I think they understood.  Players were making
millions of dollars.  Owners, some of us are worth billions of
dollars.  We should be able to figure out how to split a
nine-billion-dollar pot so that our fans, who are allowing us to
make all of this money, can actually have a good season.  And I
think the owners and the basketball players need to think the
same way.


JAY LENO:  Do you think the whole season is going to go?  I mean,
it's two weeks, and it's another -- it's a month.

THE PRESIDENT:  I'm concerned about it.  I think they need to
just remind themselves that the reason they are so successful --

JAY LENO:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  -- is because a whole bunch of folks out there
love basketball.  And, you know, basketball has actually done
well, but these kinds of lockouts a lot of times take a long time
to recover from them.

JAY LENO:  Exactly.  Now, who have you got in the World Series?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, my White Sox are not in there.  So I
just want to see a good game.

JAY LENO:  I'm with you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I do not take sides unless it's my side.

JAY LENO:  Wow.  Wow.


THE PRESIDENT:  Do not take sides unless it's your side.

JAY LENO:  Well, Mr. President, it has been an honor and a
privilege to have you here.

THE PRESIDENT:  Always a pleasure.

JAY LENO:  Say hello to Michelle and the family.  Thank you so

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

JAY LENO:  We'll be right back with music from Yo-Yo Ma.


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