ABC's George Stephanopoulos Prompts Obama to Tout His Legacy

Good Morning America's George Stephanopoulos on Friday interviewed Barack Obama from Russia and prompted the President to tout his legacy. The former Democratic operative also pressed Obama to weigh in on Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's decision to make April Confederate History Month.

On the subject of foreign policy, Stephanopoulos did conduct a tougher interview than many might have expected, highlighting Sarah Palin's attack on his nuclear policy. But on domestic issues, he first read an earlier quote of the then-candidate, asserting that he wanted to avoid being an inconsequential President. The ABC journalist gushed, "You're pretty confident, now, you're going to avoid that fate?"

It seems as though Stephanopoulos' question was aimed at health care, yet the subject of the legislation or its continuing unpopularity never came up. The co-anchor did manage to focus part of his interview on Governor McDonnell and his proclamation about Confederate History Month: "So, that really sparked a firestorm in the state which Obama won in 2008. So, I asked him to weigh in on the controversy."

On foreign policy, Stephanopoulos did challenge Obama, even irritating the President. First, the host played a clip of Palin slamming the decision to limit the instances when America can use a nuclear weapon. Obama snidely dismissed Palin, "Last I checked, Sarah Palin's not much of an expert on nuclear issues," prompting Stephanopoulos to retort, "But, the strain of criticism has been out there, among other Republicans, as well. They think you're restricting use of nuclear weapons too much."

The question has to be asked, though, would a liberal journalist allow a Republican to so blithely dismiss the criticisms of a female politician? Or would charges of sexism be raised? Stephanopoulos just moved on.

The ABC reporter drew the ire of the President when he quoted dismissive comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama complained, "Well, let's see, George. So far you've quoted Sarah Palin. And President Ahmadinejad." "You're trying to get a rise out of me," he added.

The current Democratic President may have been expecting an easier series of questions from the former employee of Bill Clinton. But, Stephanopoulos could have been tougher. Asking about health care, instead of throwing softballs about the legacy of a man who's only been President for a year and three months, would have been a good start.

A transcript of the second part of the interview, which aired at 7:43am EDT, follows:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And we're back in St. Petersburg for more of my exclusive interview with President Obama. We also got into some issues brewing at home, including that controversy in Virginia over the Confederacy. You might have heard the Republican governor of that state, Bob McDonnell, named April Confederate History Month. But, the proclamation made no mention at all of slavery at all. So, that really sparked a firestorm in the state which Obama won in 2008. So, I asked him to weigh in on the controversy.

BARACK OBAMA: I'm a big history buff. And I think that understanding the history of the Confederacy and understanding the history of the Civil War is something that every American and every young American should, should be a part of. Now, I don't think you can understand the confederacy and Civil War unless you understand slavery. [Laughs] And so, I think that was a unacceptable omission. I think the Governor's now acknowledged that. And I think it's just a reminder that when we talk about issues like slavery, that are so fraught with pain and emotion, that we better do so, thinking through how this is going to affect a lot of people and their sense of whether they're a part of a commonwealth or part of a- of our broader society.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaking of history, the new book out by David Remnick, a biography of you, includes a story with the historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, She recounts a story she had with you during the campaign, where she was really struck by your ambition. She quotes you saying, "I have no desire to be one of the presidents just on the list. You see their pictures lined up on the wall." You're pretty confident now you're going to avoid that fate?

OBAMA: Well, look, here's what I've been spending my time thinking about. I'm pretty confident that we're not going to plunge into a great depression, which I wasn't so clear about a year ago. I'm pretty confident that we've stabilized the financial system. I'm pretty confident that the economy's on the mend. I'm also pretty confident that we have got a heck of a lot of work to do to put people back to work. I'm confident that health care was the right thing to do. And that's going to be a significant achievement when generations look back on it. And I think this START. Treaty we signed is the start of a good direction for American national security policy. But I'm going to wait until I'm maybe ten years out of office, before I start making assessments about how I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Mr. President, thanks very much.

OBAMA: All right. Thank you, George.

[interview ends]

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, the President, not ready to handicap the history books yet. What I thought was most interesting about that answer, Robin, is how quickly he's focused on foreign policy, he turned it back to the economy at home. Because, I think the President understands very deeply that that's how voters today are going to judge him.

ROBIN ROBERTS: Yes. And that was a criticism of spending so much time on health care reform. What about jobs? Jobs? Jobs? You haven't seen the President since health care was passed. And that was a bruising time. And now, with the treaty, some criticism there. How did you find the President to be? His mood and everything, George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's faced criticism over both those things. But these are two, big victories for the President. I think he has a got a little bounce in his step over that. But this President is really pushing it. He is very, very tired. He had come off, basically, an all-nighter. Not only was he flying over to Prague, but they were kept up because of the reports of the incident over Denver, with the Qatar diplomat had that terror scare. They were kept up all night over that. He reflected personally when we were off camera about the lessons he's learned. He said, one big one he learned that everything in Washington takes a lot longer than you think. Whether it's health care or the START treaty. He says he knows he has to keep pushing. But he also has to be patient.

ROBERTS: Yeah, but is he taking on too much? That's one thing that people feel like- does it have to be all so much so soon?

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, I don't know that he has a choice, Robin. There are a lot of big challenges. A lot of big problems in the country right now, around the world right now. And as you saw in that story related in David Remnick's biography, I think the President came to office with ambitions do big things. He's not going to back down from that.

ROBERTS: No, he's not. All right, George.