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?
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.