Bill O’Reilly Grills Obama on Health Care, Benghazi, IRS

In a heated pre-Super Bowl interview, the Fox News host pressed the president on a number of issues — and Obama pushed back.

Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Feb. 2, 2014, 1:23 p.m.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4700) }}

When Pres­id­ent Obama sat down with Bill O’Re­illy for an in­ter­view on the day of the Su­per Bowl three years ago, the Fox News host in­ter­rup­ted the pres­id­ent 48 times in 15 minutes, or about 3.2 times per minute. This year’s pregame chat was no dif­fer­ent.

The in­ter­view, filmed Sunday at the White House, fo­cused heav­ily on mis­haps or scan­dals sur­round­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Again, the long­time host of The O’Re­illy Factor wasn’t shy about chal­len­ging the pres­id­ent. First up: the health care web­site rol­lout.

“Why didn’t you fire Se­beli­us, the sec­ret­ary in charge of this?” asked O’Re­illy, re­fer­ring to Kath­leen Se­beli­us, the head of the Health and Hu­man Ser­vices de­part­ment who last year told a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee to hold her re­spons­ible for the bungled launch of the web­site. “I mean, she had to know after all those years and all that money that it wasn’t go­ing to work.”

“You know, my main pri­or­ity right now is mak­ing sure that it de­liv­ers for the Amer­ic­an people,” Obama re­spon­ded. “You’re not go­ing to an­swer that?” O’Re­illy asked.

The pres­id­ent did not, so O’Re­illy pressed on: “I’m sure that the in­tent is noble, but I’m a tax­pay­er and I’m pay­ing Kath­leen Se­beli­us’s salary and she screwed up, and you’re not hold­ing her ac­count­able.”

“I prom­ise you that we hold every­body up and down the line ac­count­able,” Obama said.

“She’s still there,” O’Re­illy countered.

The verbal spar­ring con­tin­ued for the rest of the in­ter­view. Next up: Benghazi. Namely, former De­fense Sec­ret­ary Le­on Pan­etta’s role in alert­ing the pres­id­ent about the 2012 at­tack.

O’RE­ILLY: Did he tell you, Sec­ret­ary Pan­etta, that it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack?

OBAMA: You know, what he told me was that there was an at­tack on our com­pound.

O’RE­ILLY: He didn’t use the word “ter­ror”?

OBAMA: In the heat of the mo­ment, Bill, what folks are fo­cused on is what’s hap­pen­ing on the ground. Do we have eyes on it? How can we make sure our folks are safe?

O’RE­ILLY: But I just want to get this on the re­cord. Did he tell you it was a ter­ror at­tack?

OBAMA: Bill, and I’m an­swer­ing your ques­tion, what he said to me was, “We’ve got an at­tack on our com­pound.”

O’RE­ILLY: No ter­ror at­tack?

Later on:

O’RE­ILLY: Your de­tract­ors be­lieve that you did not tell the world that there was a ter­ror at­tack be­cause your cam­paign didn’t want that out. That’s what they be­lieve.

OBAMA: And they be­lieve it be­cause folks like you are telling them that.

Then, the scan­dal sur­round­ing the In­tern­al Rev­en­ue Ser­vice, which was found to have tar­geted polit­ic­al groups, spe­cific­ally con­ser­vat­ive or­gan­iz­a­tions, for closer scru­tiny in their ap­plic­a­tions for tax-ex­empt status.

There was no cor­rup­tion there, Obama told O’Re­illy. “But how do you know?” the host countered. “These kinds of things keep on re­sur­fa­cing in part be­cause you and your TV sta­tion will pro­mote them,” the pres­id­ent said.

O’Re­illy hit on is­sues that con­ser­vat­ive law­makers in Wash­ing­ton have loudly pressed in re­cent months, wheth­er through more con­gres­sion­al hear­ings or calls for in­vest­ig­a­tions. But the new year and a new con­gres­sion­al agenda has pushed them on the back-burn­er, if not in­to the past al­to­geth­er. Men­tions by con­ser­vat­ive Con­gress mem­bers on the floor of “Benghazi” and “IRS” spiked last fall, ac­cord­ing to Cap­it­ol Words, a pro­gram that tracks con­gres­sion­al re­cord tran­scripts. Since then, however, the fre­quency of re­mind­ers has plummeted. Con­ser­vat­ives have turned their at­ten­tion to oth­er burn­ing policy is­sues, such as in­come in­equal­ity and im­mig­ra­tion re­form.

In his in­ter­view, O’Re­illy wanted the pres­id­ent to ad­dress past is­sues rather than look ahead. But if the last few weeks of re­l­at­ively min­im­al par­tis­an bick­er­ing are any in­dic­a­tion, the talk-show host may be in the minor­ity.

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