President Barack Obama lamented the polarization of U.S. politics, saying if people listen only to those who agree with them, outrage and frustration will grow.
In an interview aired on “Fox News Sunday,” Obama pledged to stick with Merrick Garland as his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court — no matter what Senate Republicans decide to do — and talked about his approach to terrorism.
The president, who was interviewed last week during his trip to Chicago to promote Garland’s nomination, said people don’t give his administration enough credit for repairing the economy after the Great Recession — calling avoiding a depression his biggest accomplishment in office — and described Americans as still “shell-shocked.”
“They still don’t fully know how that [the recession] happened and whether the system was fixed,” Obama said. “We’ve done a better job than most people give us credit for. … That perception will change over time.”
Obama said in a democracy, nobody can be 100 percent satisfied with every outcome.
“The danger among Republicans and Democrats who increasingly just listen to people who agree them … we don’t hear each other,” Obama said. “What happens then is when Republicans promise to repeal Obamacare and it doesn’t happen, they’re outraged. … If Democrats … say why didn’t we have a public option [for healthcare] or a single-payer system … 85 percent get healthcare through their jobs. They don’t want change.
“People disagree. I want people to step back and take a look.”
Obama said he recognizes people are “outraged” at what they consider government’s ineptitude and corruption. But “if you follow this process … then we can sort it out. Not everyone is going to be completely happy, but it beats any other system. This is going to work about as well as it can.”
Obama took Republican leaders to task for refusing to go through the confirmation process for Garland, saying the “Senate should do its constitutional job.”
“Our goal is just to make sure the Senate does its job and treats him fairly,” Obama said, noting some Republicans have agreed to meet privately with Garland even though the leadership has maintained it will not hold hearings on his nomination to replace Antonin Scalia, who died in February.
Obama said the Senate’s refusal is unprecedented and warned Republican intransigence could lead to more “tit-for-tat” retaliation from Democrats.
“We can’t have a situation in which the Senate says because there’s a Democratic president, we are not going to do our job. … If that happens, it is almost impossible not to expect the Democrats wouldn’t say the exact same things,” Obama said, adding there would be nothing to stop them from saying if a Republican wins the presidency, they will wait four years to act on a high court nominee.
“I think if they go through the process, they won’t have a rationale to defeat him [Garland],” he said.
Obama denied his approach to terrorism is too soft, saying he has “taken more terrorists off the field” than any previous president, and criticized Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for promoting carpet-bombing to fight the Islamic State group and banning Muslims from entering the United States, calling such suggestions counterproductive.
Obama said his “No. 1 job” is to protect the American people and his “No. 1 priority” is to defeat ISIS.
“How we do it is important,” Obama said. “We have to make sure we abide by our laws. We have to make sure we abide by our values. … Our approach has to be smart.”
Obama said his best day in office was the day healthcare reform passed in 2009, and the worst was the day he visited Newtown, Connecticut, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that left 26 people dead, mostly 6 and 7 year olds. His worst mistake, he said was not planning for the aftermath following the intervention in Libya.
What is Obama looking forward to most once he leaves office? “Being able to take a walk outside.”