Return to Transcripts main page
PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT
Obama's Second Term
Aired January 19, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Tonight you're looking at the White House on the eve of the inauguration of President Obama's second term. What will the next four years mean for him and for you?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I, Barack Hussein Obama, do solemnly swear.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: The toughest issues facing America, jobs, gun, health care, immigration, climate change and more, but frankly, can both sides agree on anything? I'll talk to Obama's campaign co-chair, Governor Deval Patrick.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK (D-MA): We want stuff done. We want solutions. We don't need perfection. We need progress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Also presidential historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Doug Brinkley, his legacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, AUTHOR AND PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I do think you can learn from the past, and I think he has tried to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: And [Miles dot] panel what Obama needs to do for America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PATRICK: He's swinging big. He's swinging for the fences.
MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Second-term presidencies have been filled with misspent political capital.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MORGAN: This is "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." Good evening and welcome to a special "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." Tomorrow must before noon in the Blue Room of the White House, President Obama will put his hand on the Bible, taking oath for the second time for his second term in office. That will be followed on Monday by the public swearing-in ceremony, one that will be followed by his inaugural address.
America has of course great expectations for President Obama and mark two, at the same time great uncertainty. The country is divided on issues that matter to everyone. President Obama is promising to bring the country together, but can he? And what will his agenda look like In the next four years? Tonight we're going to find out with top advisers and experts. Let's get started. Joining me now is Massachusetts's governor, Duval Patrick, President Obama's campaign co-chairman. Welcome to you. How are you governor?
PATRICK: Good evening, Piers. I'm well. How are you?
MORGAN: I'm very well. I'm excited by inauguration weekend. It's the first one I've covered since I've been at CNN and there's a palpable, I think, anticipation in the air about what kind of Barack Obama we're going to see now perhaps the shackles are off in the sense that he doesn't have to worry about being re-elected. He's got four years left and it's an opportunity for him to really go for it.
PATRICK: Well, I think we're going to see a president with a new level and a new kind of resolve as we did through the campaign. I think we're going to see some of the things we heard about already in terms of immigration reform and new moves around gun safety. I think we'll see some progress on the in peacekeeping around the world, and we will see an emphasis on economic growth, which is absolutely key.
MORGAN: Now, he's obviously facing big, tough challenges certainly economically, and also with the Republicans who still hold the House. And it's a fine line, isn't it? He's already shown I think a sign since he got re-elected that he's not going to take any nonsense from the Republicans and he's being pretty tough on them. But that's not necessarily going to help him get stuff done. It may, if anything, make them more intransigent. How does he play that tricky line?
PATRICK: Well probably he's the better one to answer that question, but I think that it's more and more apparent to the American people and I think to the Republicans who are paying attention to the American people that we want stuff done, that we want solutions. We don't need perfection and we don't need ideological rigidity. We need progress.
And that may mean that the Republicans on the House side, in particular, who are willing to cut a deal and come to resolution and compromise will have to break from the caucus and find common cause with Democrats who have shown readiness to do that for the last term.
MORGAN: The president really struggled I think on this in his first term. He struggled to get with things to a point of compromise. We saw that before with Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton. And in Clinton's second term, they did actually get stuff done. They worked it out between them. Does the president have that kind of relationship with John Boehner, say, where we can feel optimistic that they're going to have a very different kind of relationship that can actually be more effective?
PATRICK: Well I think there's a different kind of dynamic that Speaker Boehner has to deal with. I don't know him personally, but his reputation is that he can get deals done, but then he has to sell them in a caucus, some of whom, a minority, but a vocal minority of whom are very rigid indeed. So I think that the speaker has an opportunity to show his more magnanimous leadership and to lead the whole of the house, and not just his caucus. And as he does that, I think his relationship, not just with the president, but with the general public will improve, and I hope he does.
MORGAN: One of the biggest issues he's going to face is of course gun crime, gun control, gun violence, generally. He's been generally audacious I think in terms of the proposals he's put forward, but there's a reality check. Within minutes of him doing so there were people queuing up on both sides in the Senate and the House from Democrats and Republicans all saying, look, he may want an assault weapons ban but he's not going to get one, almost like the white flag was being flown already. How can he overcome that kind of rather dispiriting negativity?
PATRICK: I think it would be a disgrace to the memory of the tragedy in Newtown if the Congress was unwilling to deal with the causes of Newtown and tragedies like it too numerous to name. And I think that the president is uniquely positioned to take that case to the American public, and without saying so in so many words, remind people that there will be another election in two years' time, and that there should be consequences for the lack of leadership in the next couple of years.
MORGAN: is it time that I think particularly for the Democrats in the Senate worried about losing their seats if they stand up to the NRA, is it time for a bit of moral fiber, a bit of political courage rather than cowardice in relation to the NRA?
PATRICK: Well, look, I think you know I feel very strongly that we should grow a backbone, that we have to stand up for what we believe in. That doesn't mean demonizing people who differ with us, but it does mean pressing hard for things we believe in that will make a better and stronger country. And getting some sensible gun control is entirely possible without running afoul of the Second Amendment, but it does mean we're going to have to confront extremists, frankly on both sides, but within the NRA camp as well. And that can be done because the American people are ready.
MORGAN: Now there are also rumors we may see your name on a ticket in 2016. Do you want to put your firm denials in right away as get it out of the way?
PATRICK: Piers, thank you for the invitation, but I don't have announcements tonight. I'm going to finish my term in two years' time and return to the private sector, which is something I have promised my wife and family and I'm looking forward to it.. But in the meantime, we have a very, very ambitious agenda here in Massachusetts, and we look forward to working to support the president's ambitious agenda national.
MORGAN: Can you make a statement along the lines of I have absolutely no desire to ever be president, just so I know you're probably quite interested?
PATRICK: Nice try, Piers. Thank you and good night. I see my time is up.
MORGAN: Deval Patrick, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. Enjoy the weekend.
PATRICK: Be well. Thank you.
MORGAN: Coming up, how will Obama's legacy match up against the greatest presidents in American history? I'll talk with two famed historians, including the woman who wrote the book on Lincoln.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY FALLON, COMEDIAN: On Sunday the White House will hold a private swearing-in ceremony for President Obama. Not to be outdone, on Sunday Republicans will hold a private swearing at ceremony for President Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SUPREME COURT JUSTICE JOHN ROBERTS: I Barack Hussein Obama I solemnly swear --
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I Barack Hussein Obama do solemnly swear --
ROBERTS: -- that I will execute faithfully the office of President to the United States faithfully.
OBAMA: And I will execute --
ROBERTS: -- faithfully the office of president of the United States.
OBAMA: -- the office of President of the United States faithfully.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: A famous flub during the last inauguration. By Monday afternoon and Chief Justice Roberts will have recited the oath of office together four times. Only FDR can match that. Well joining me now, presidential historians, Doug Brinkley and Doris Kearns Goodwin, is also the author of "Team of Rivals," which became the basis for Steven Spielberg's Oscar nominated film, "Lincoln." Welcome to you both.
DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Thank you.
GOODWIN: Thank you, glad to be here.
MORGAN: But, Doris, I'm feeling excited to finally talk to you because I've talked to Doug a few times because I went to see "Lincoln" the other day and thought it was absolutely a magnificent movie, and really just showed me firsthand what an extraordinary man Lincoln was.
GOODWIN: There's no question. I'm so proud of what they did. You almost feel like you're watching Abraham Lincoln walking and talking and the political genius that he had in our time now to see the possibility of getting those characters in Congress to come together to do something is a great sobering lesson.
MORGAN: Do you wish perhaps that today's politicians from the president down showed some of the moral courage that Lincoln showed over the issue of slavery, for example?
GOODWIN: I think that's the real point. Everybody talks about we wish that the politicians today showed the compromise which the movie shows and Lincoln showed, but it's the moral courage and the convictions of fighting for the right thing that even precedes the fact that then you do whatever you can to get that end of slavery accomplished.
MORGAN: Doug Brinkley, tell a layman Brit like me why you have to have the oath said twice this year, because apparently it's not always the case. So explain to me what happens if it falls on a Sunday?
DOUG BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well and Sunday we're going to do the at a White House ceremony. And so he'll be officially inaugurated in. And then on Monday it's going to be the grand inauguration parade and the speech and all the hoopla. And it happens to be on a federal holiday, Martin Luther King Day. And already we're getting a lot of intimations the president is going to have his hand on Martin Luther King's Bible. He's doing the whole weekend before the inaugural. It's all about Martin Luther King in service. And Myrlie Evers Williams, Medgar Evers' widow, is doing the convocation before the inaugural speech. So it's a big Martin Luther King Day, but legally he'll be our second president as of Sunday, second term.
MORGAN:And I understand you met with President Obama recently?
BRINKLEY: A group of historians, including Doris, we meet periodically, a few times now at the White House and have what we call a historians' dinner, and talk to President Obama. They're off the record, but I think it's fair to say he likes talking about presidential history and likes hearing about Abraham Lincoln. He's from Illinois and really cares about Lincoln, is aware of something like Lincoln's famous second inaugural. but also people like Theodore Roosevelt, and Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan. I look at it is more as a form of relaxation for the president when we -- and he gets to just chew the fat a little bit about past presidents.
MORGAN: Doris, you're a presidential expert. How do you rate President Obama in the pantheon of great presidents, or just presidents?
GOODWIN: Well when you think about the great presidents, usually like old Abigail Adams once said, great necessities call forth great leaders. So George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, FDR had these huge crises to face. Obama had a pretty serious crisis, the financial crisis being second only to the Great Depression. He did accomplish in health care something that presidents since old Teddy Roosevelt had been trying to accomplish. but I think most importantly, we'll see now the fact that he's got a second term that's really important to embolden him for what he can accomplish, and more importantly to show that the country supported during a very difficult time his leadership and they wanted him back again.
So I think he's got a shot. It depends a lot on what happens in the second term, if he can create -- I wish he would go in the midterms to try to take the House back, and think in some ways that might be the only way to break this dysfunction, but even if he doesn't get the House back, if he's able to somehow build on the electoral majority that he had this time around, Ronald Reagan lasts in history because he built an electoral majority that lasted after him, FDR too. So that's the direction that I think by mobilizing his base that he might be able to go.
MORGAN: What was interesting to me, Doug Brinkley, is when I watched the Lincoln movie was you saw there a very different kind of atmosphere in Congress amongst the representatives of the American people. There were people that prepared to go against their party line because of moral and personal principle. I don't see a lot of that going on these days. We need to get back to that?
BRINKLEY: Well, remember, a point of history is to remind us our own times aren't uniquely oppressive. Lincoln may have had a little more of that advantage, but half the country had after all just bolted and formed the confederacy. So it wasn't very happy times for Lincoln. And but it is inspiring that this particular inauguration is the 150th of the Emancipation Proclamation. And Doris' book has just really influenced this president more than I think any other book of our time, "Ream of Rivals."
He references it. His first term in many ways with bringing Hillary Clinton and others in was part of it, but on the second term, and particularly for this inauguration, I would ask people to read FDR's second inaugural given in 1937 because FDR had inherited the Great Depression, started his New Deal programs, and we had incrementalism out of that Great Depression. And he invokes that in the speech, and this president, and Obama inherited the Great Recession and he has a time now to I think talk about how we're incrementally getting better, but we're not whole if middle class and poor people still aren't part of the American dream
MORGAN: Doris, is the key to this a mixture of personal courage by a president at seizing the moment, but also thinking big and bold, because FDR had a much worse inheritance in many ways than Barack Obama, bad though Obama's was. but you just got a sense of somebody who had his hand on history and thought, right, I'm just going to go for this. And I feel at the moment that Obama, he shows signs of wanting to do that, but at the moment he hasn't actually done it.
GOODWIN: Well I think what happened is he ran on a hope that he could be above ideology, that he could bring red and blue together. And it just proved very difficult, if not impossible. I think he's learned that lesson. The most important thing to look for in a second term is what does a president learn from the experience of the first term. And already you see much more fiery kinds of language. You see him willing to draw the lines.
And I think that boldness -- I agree with Doug. I think the second term might well be bolder, just as FDR's was bolder than the first term. FDR had it easier in certain ways. It sounds crazy to say that, but we were in such terrible shape that we had to do something. And the country looked for leadership. It was less clear what we needed in the financial depression than it was in the real depression. So I would say the second term is going to be the mark of what happens, and this is an obvious statement, the mark of what happens in the future.
MORGAN: Doug, what do you want to hear the president say, Doug, because it seems to me he's got to produce a vision now. He's got to say to the American people what the President Obama legacy may well be in years to come. And for that you need to have a vision. I'm not sure most people in America are fully clear what that vision is because we can't keep being a slightly negative, well, things have been really bad, we're trying to make them a bit better. There's got to be a little more oomph about it, a little bit more positivity and grand vision.
BRINKLEY: I would go back to the famous Caesar Chavez line, yes, we can, and really inject a lot of optimism in this inaugural. The burden on the president is that in 2008 it was electric here in Washington, a million people coming, our first African-American president. This time around it's a little more humdrum. We're exhausted from the 2012 presidential election where Newtown has all of us in a tizzy and angry.
We've got the problems going on with fiscal cliff and a new debt crisis. So the mood is not great. The way to change it is a big, bold speech. I personally would like to see the president evoke gun control, which I know you've been so helpfully outspoken on, and evoke climate change, but with that said, this is not a state of the union, it's an inaugural, and there tends to be more song-like lyrical music to these speeches than there is substance.
MORGAN: Doris, I suppose my question of you would be should Barack Obama as he walks out to make the speech think what would Abraham Lincoln do? And what would the answer be?
GOODWIN: Well, I think the most important thing about, not just Abraham Lincoln, but FDR or Teddy Roosevelt, is when a president looks back at history, they can learn from the stories, and the triumphs and the failures of previous presidents, which mean they're not just walking in there alone. And that's the great thing about a president who cares about history, as Harry Truman did, as Barack Obama did, as FDR did, as Teddy Roosevelt did. Then they've got a whole layer -- obviously we as historians have to believe it matters, but I do think you can learn from the past and I think he has tried to do that.
MORGAN: Doris Kearns Goodwin and Doug Brinkley, thank you both very much. A fascinating trip down history lane there, so I really appreciate that.
GOODWIN: Thank you.
MORGAN: When we come back, predictions of our all-star panel on President Obama's next four years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: That's how it all began for President Obama. Four years later he's poised to take the oath again. but what will his second term look like? Joining me now is CNN political contributor and Republican consultant, Margaret Hoover, also Democratic strategist, Jamal Simmons, and Ryan Lizza, CNN contributor and Washington correspondent for the New Yorker. Welcome to you all.
Margaret, let me start with you, obviously heavy heart I should imagine, watching a Democratic president about to make his second inaugural speech, but what has he got on his plate, the president, which he needs to deal with in the second term?
HOOVER:: Well not too heavy a heart, I will say. Of course Republicans want to win, but we're happy, in the day of the inauguration we can be happy for the president, we can be happy for the country --
MORGAN: Really? I don't believe that.
HOOVER: -- that there is a peaceful transition of power.
MORGAN: You're not happy for the president. Come on.
HOOVER: I absolutely am. You can try to caricature me into a terrible Republican, but there are plenty of us that are perfectly patriotic. What - look, he has a very big plate. He has a huge agenda that he wants to get through. And he still has the reality of a divided Congress. I think Republicans in the House of Representatives have realized they are one half of one third of the federal government, and they're trying to get their expectations in check in terms of what they can do, specifically on the debt ceiling, for example. And we've just heard that the House Republicans are going to try to negotiate a short-term debt ceiling deal so they can then try to go for a grand bargain.
Second-term presidencies have been just spent and filled with misspent political capital that has just overreached in terms of presidents looking for a legacy, and trying to go for a legacy and then overspending their political capital. So I think that's the risk that President Obama --
MORGAN: Ryan, it's interesting in the CNN poll of polls that has just come out, how is President Obama handling his job as president, approve 53 percent, disapprove 42 percent. So that's a plus for him. But when they are asked how is the country headed they say in the right direction 35 percent and the wrong direction 57 percent. So they approve of the president, but they think he's going completely in the wrong direction.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.
MORGAN: And he's a lucky boy many would argue that he's gotten a second term given the state of the economy, and given the fact that most Americans believe the country is going in the wrong direction. But he's been given that lucky second chance. And he campaigned well. You have to acknowledge that. What are the big challenges for him in the second term?
LIZZA: Well the first thing every president has to be careful of in a second term is, as Margaret alluded to, is overreach, misinterpreting your mandates. There's always a period after you win, and especially after you win a reelection where you -- it seems like your first-term policies have been validated that you look at those results and you think you're all powerful.
The famous example in recent history is George W. Bush. In 2005, remember he came out and did that press conference and said he had political capital and he meant to spend it. And the first thing he did was try to pass a plan to reform Social Security that was just destroyed by the Democrats.
And then Katrina happened and his presidency was over by the end of 2005, at least the second term. So, I spent a lot of time reporting on this the last year, talking to White House people, and they were very acutely aware of the dangers hidden in a second term. And I think the -- I think what they'll be looking for is not over interpreting that mandate, putting out an agenda one that he campaigned on, right, not doing things he didn't talk about in the campaign, but two, trying to find some kind of bipartisan compromise in a Congress that is very polarized.
MORGAN: Yes. But this is a key thing isn't it, Jamal Simmons, because as we saw with the gun proposals they were very, very ambitious. I was very proud of the president for what he did there, given the way that we have campaigned for that kind of thing on this show, and yet immediately, the reaction from Washington is he well he hasn't got a cat in hell's chance of any meaningful gun control at all. And that is coming predominantly from Republicans in Congress who say, no, we hold the power here, he's not going to get it. How does he somehow get through this impasse with the Republicans who are still seething about him winning again, and were pretty successful frankly in thwarting him in his first term?
JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well the president has been pretty clear this time on a couple of measures. First of all, he's swinging big. He's swinging for the fences. He's not negotiating with himself, as George Bush used to say.. He doesn't negotiate with himself. He puts out the plan that he wants and he's looking for the Republicans to put out some alternative and then they'll figure out how to the final result. That's very different.
Secondly, he's also talking about going directly to the country and bringing the American people and the people who are signed up, a part of his big mass database and voter turnout operation, bringing those people to bear in the political process. But we're very focused on guns. Guns is going to be a big issue. There will be a variety of other ones, but there's one more issue that we haven't heard a lot about that I think this White House is focused on, which is the economy, and still making sure people are going to get jobs, still making sure the economy is going to try to grow a little bit faster.
The president is reaching out to business leaders. People on his staff like Valerie Jarrett are reaching out to business leaders. And I think the more of that happens, and more economic growth the more that wrong track number turns around.
MORGAN: Margaret, the difficulty and the economy is not just I think a small issue. It's a huge issue, a $16 trillion debt. You've got 7.9% unemployment. These are really poor figures like for a country like America. And you're facing lots of threats now from China, and India, and Brazil and other emerging superpowers. And there's a reality check for America. Washington has to get stuff done to try and help the national interest. Never mind the individual political interest of senators or Congressmen. This is about the national interest. How are we going to see this ludicrous, childish behavior we saw over the debt ceiling argument for example come to an end and people getting into a room and getting stuff done? This is the key thing I think for his second term.
HOOVER: Well, Jamal alluded to a new strategy at the White House, which is going to be to go around Congress and go directly to the American people. The White House believes the reason they got a deal in the 12th hour is because they went to the American people and the American people said, by God, get something done.
MORGAN: Are they right?
HOOVER: Look, it did work. Boehner has also indicated he's not going to deal with the president one-on-one. They're going to go through the regular order.
That means the Senate is going to have to do something, the House is going to have to do something. They're going to meet in conference and send it to the presidency. So, there may be an entirely new strategy here.
But I think the president's legacy to go big, to get a grand bargain, to have long-term economic growth but also to have a legacy of fiscal sustainability could be his major legacy piece.
MORGAN: It could be --
HOOVER: And I think even though he wants to do guns, even though he wants to do immigration, even though he wants --
MORGAN: Right. I agree with you, I agree with you. And it should be a priority. If America is not in good financial health, then the problems are huge for the people of America.
But here's the problem. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both enjoyed very prosperous second terms because the economy rebounded strongly. Well, I'm saying economically in the sense that they saw the economy of the country getting much, much stronger in their second terms and that always gives you a chance to do other things.
There's not much sign of real recovery in America's economy now. And if it doesn't recover soon, President Obama won't have much wiggle room really on the economy, will he?
HOOVER: But there are things that he can do through his leadership that could stimulate the economy, the economy and corporate tax reform, corporations -- their outreach to business leaders. Business leaders are begging for corporate tax reform.
To have tax reform being part of a debt deal, a long term fiscal negotiation or fiscal (INAUDIBLE), all of these things will help get the economy on course faster than it is now.
MORGAN: Ryan Lizza, listen, it seems to me this is the absolute crux, isn't it? This sort of paralysis we've seen in Washington, the very silly behavior that many would see, as we've witnessed in the last two years.
This has to come to an end. I'm quite disturbed really, when Margaret says John Boehner is not going to get in a room and get stuff done. That's what Gingrich and Clinton did. They both told me that. They learned the hard way when government came to a grinding halt. And that's when they got in a room together.
I would like to see the speaker and the president get in a room. I think they've been equally to blame in many ways for this impasse between them in the last four years. I don't want to see them just try and do it the official way, because you have a Democratic Senate, a Republican Congress, I don't see how stuff gets done.
LIZZA: Well, a couple of thoughts about that. I mean, one, the 1996 re-election of Bill Clinton basically settled the debates of '95 and '96. So you go into '97, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich decided, OK, politics are behind them and they cut a deal.
The great question of the 2012 campaign was -- as Obama often said, was his victory going to break the fever in the Republican Party? In other words, were Republicans, if Obama wins going to realize that pure obstructionism wasn't a winning strategy? And I think the initial evidence is no, the fever hasn't been broken. If you look at the fiscal -- the way the fiscal cliff deal went down in December, not a very encouraging sign for moving forward.
I think that, you know, this week, the Republicans have decided they're not going to play chicken with the debt ceiling, that's the sign that maybe we're moving in a direction of some kind of potential for compromise with the White House.
SIMMONS: Maybe at least just the Senate.
LIZZA: That's the big question.
MORGAN: I mean, look, I wish I could you, I've spoken to senior Republican senators actually who were almost laughing as they said, OK, he had his fun with the fiscal cliff, you just wait for what's coming around the corner with the debt ceiling.
So I don't really share your optimistic view of what have may happen.
But let's take a break. As we come back, Jamal, I'll come back and ask you, what have been Obama's great triumphs and his great failures, and what do you want to see from him in the second term?
MORGAN: Four years has taken the toll on the president, at least with his hair, definitely got grayer.
I'm back with my all star panel: Margaret Hoover, Jamal Simmons and Ryan Lizza.
Extraordinary pictures, Jamal, aren't they? Literally almost turned ashen in four years. Certainly, toughest job is being president.
SIMMONS: It is hard. I mean, he's definitely gotten a whole lot older from when we all first met him on the national stage.
MORGAN: What has been his big triumphs and his big failures do you think?
SIMMONS: Well, there's no question, the two big triumphs that you can't just argue, one, he saved the economy from going into a depression when he first came into office. You see those numbers and those graphs that we saw at the end of the campaign, the turnaround in the economy, the turnaround in jobs, there's no question that was a huge deal.
And then two, it's health care. I think getting health care done, which is something Democrats have been talking about election year after election year for 40 years, getting that done is a very big deal. Americans want that.
Now, they've got to implement it. They've got to figure out directions to make this thing work, and put all together, but getting it passed and getting it moving is a big deal.
Failures, for me, you know, I'm an old political hand so it's hard for me not to look at the politics of this. But I feel like the president did a really good job substantively while not doing the best job politically. I think the style of how they operated as a White House -- I used to always say, it was like the presidency is the fastest, best Ferrari there is and they drove it like a Chrysler K car. You know, they didn't use the power of the office to really attract people, to make -- to paint vivid pictures and to get things done.
So, I want to see more of that. In a long-term issue, I think the president ought to be focused on American competitiveness, what we have to do to broaden opportunity in our country to more Americans so we can all participate in a growing economy.
MORGAN: Margaret Hoover, I had a checklist of what I believe to be the five biggest challenges he faces -- reforming immigration, reducing the deficit, gun control, averting climate change, maybe Iran's nuclear program.
Certainly, you get a sense it's going to be mainly domestic. I mean, certainly, if you're looking at the tick box in the first four years, you would say killing bin Laden, you know, getting rid of Gadhafi in Libya, the help America gave to the Arab spring, even though, obviously, it's not without difficulty, pulling troops out of Iraq and subsequently setting a timetable for Afghanistan. These have all been a sign that President Obama would rather focus on domestic issues rather than foreign issues.
HOOVER: I think that's true. And I think you see that, you know, every time he takes the bully pulpit. He doesn't go out and speak well. I mean, they' had several blunders on foreign policy issues.
I think the most recent one is a failure for America to retaliate in some meaningful or symbolic way on the death of an American ambassador in Benghazi.
MORGAN: But let me ask you that, because it's a very interesting point, because the George Bush administration would have piled in there, and blown things to pieces and exacted terrible retribution. That was the American way for a long time. Is that the right way?
Would that created -- however awful the incident of a death involving a death of an ambassador is -- is it right that President Obama takes a backward step and says, wait, slow down, let's be sensible, let's get this in context, let's not invade, let's not attack, let's not go to war again, because actually wars are extremely costly, both financially and with the human loss of life?
HOOVER: Who said anything about war? You just went from zero to 60. What I'm saying is, in 2000, 1999-2000, one of the things -- when learned after 9/11, one of the things we learned from Osama bin Laden is the jihadist and al Qaeda was strongly emboldened when there was no American response to the bombing of the USS Cole. There was no response that demonstrated you can not do this to Americans.
MORGAN: What would you have done in Benghazi in the aftermath?
HOOVER: Look, I'm not a general. I'm sure there's --
MORGAN: Hang on. Wait a minute, you said I went from naught to 60, what's the middle ground between taking action and not taking action?
HOOVER: Look, as a person who reads the papers just like you, you and I both know that the guy who was there on the ground, who was putting on his social media line by line at the time line of the attack, was in custody in a neighboring country until just a couple of weeks ago. I mean, to do --
MORGAN: That's not the request question. The question is, what do you do after the assassination of an ambassador?
HOOVER: You round up the people who are responsible and you hold them responsible.
MORGAN: You don't take military action?
HOOVER: I'm not a general. I think that you can do it without taking military action.
MORGAN: You make it all sound very easy. I give credit for the president removing America from its position, which I never thought it felt comfortable with, of being the world's policeman. You know, there comes a point when you have a $16 trillion debt and as there was at one stage, 10 percent unemployment, Americans actually would rather their president focus on stuff happening in America than waste a lot of time, energy and military lives, you know, attacking countries like Iraq or going into Afghanistan or wherever it may be.
And what he did in Libya to me was a really big moment, I thought for America, where he -- America took a very much backward -- not a backward role, but a behind the frontline role, if you like. And let others be the police force.
LIZZA: Yes. It was described one time by a White House official as leading from behind, which became is a somewhat controversial statement.
I guess I disagree with Margaret a little bit. I don't think the Obama administration has been shy about using things like drones to, you know, take out American enemies and members of al Qaeda.
And, you know, I would disagree with you a little bit Piers on the domestic front being a focus in his second term. Usually the way the second terms play out is you only have about 10 to 12 months in the first year to hit the ground really fast and pass your domestic agenda. Once that is up, a lot of presidents in their second term start to turn towards foreign policy. And he's got a long list of foreign policy challenges in the second term -- Iranian nukes, how to deal with China.
You know, a big sort of macro agenda in the Obama administration has been to reduce our footprint in the Middle East, become less entangled in that part of world and pivot towards engaging with East Asia. And there's been a lot of work in the first term that has strengthened ties between the U.S. and many East Asia countries. And Obama officials talk about that as a big project of the second term.
MORGAN: Well, that is the perfect segue to my next guest, because I've got Christiane Amanpour. I don't think there's anyone better to talk about America's footprint than her around the world. And we'll do that after the break.
Ryan Lizza, Margaret Hoover, Jamal Simmons, thank you all very much.
LIZZA: Thanks, Piers.
MORGAN: From ending the war in Afghanistan to the never-ending crisis in the Middle East, and then dealing with China and North Korea, foreign policy will dictate much of President Obama's second term.
Joining me now is CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, anchor of CNN International's nightly interview program, "AMANPOUR".
Welcome, back Christiane. How are you?
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm great, great. Nice to be with you.
MORGAN: Here's my gut feeling, either confirm or deny this about President Obama's foreign policy aspirations. I think they are pretty minimal. I think his instinct is: I need to focus on domestic issues in my second term and the less frankly I can get our boots dirty on the ground around the world, the better.
AMANPOUR: Well, I agree with you. He said it himself. In an interview with a competing around the fiscal cliff around the fiscal cliff negotiations, he was asked his priorities for the second term. And he listed five. None of them were foreign policy.
AMANPOUR: But as you know, and as the president knows obviously in and any administration knows, even if that's not your priority, it has a way of biting you in the bottom. Look what's going on right now in Mali and Algeria, al Qaeda, which everybody had told us had been whacked to death, is not. And so the president and the West is going to have to deal with beating them back -- like they did successfully in Somalia.
MORGAN: Right. What is the smart way to do that? Because, clearly, Afghanistan became a quagmire. Iran became a quagmire. Going into countries with boots on the ground --
AMANPOUR: We're not talking boots on the ground. But --
MORGAN: What's a smart way of dealing with al Qaeda's amorphous global presence in all its guises? How do you take on that organization in the most efficient, smart way?
AMANPOUR: Well, the way to do it is to aim to defeat them, not contain them. You saw what happened when the U.S. first went into Afghanistan after 9/11. They were defeated and they were sent out of the country.
In Somalia, which is where the first affiliate sort of sprouted up, al-Shabaab, it was when the U.S. backed an African force and it took five years to push back al Shabaab, al Qaeda's East Africa affiliate, from the Horn of Africa, from Mogadishu, the capital and elsewhere. And now, there's a president and the rest of the world, and elected, who is now being held as a success story.
Mali, the U.S. and the west started to do this several years ago to defeat any al Qaeda remnants there, AQIM, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Then I'm told the policy changed to one of containment. Well, you saw what happened. All of a sudden, out of the blue, everybody caught by surprise, this AQIM started moving towards the capital, nearly got to the capital Bamako until the French intervened.
So, now, you've seen the repercussions in Algeria. It has to be dealt with. It can't just be a little attempt to contain it. It has to be decisive.
But nobody's talking about American boots on the ground. This is always the straw man. How can you do it, no boots on the ground? There will be no U.S. boots on the ground. There are other ways of doing it.
MORGAN: What is the threat in real terms from Iran, from North Korea, and indeed from the fallout from the Arab spring, do you think?
AMANPOUR: So, the Arab spring, we're already seeing the fallout, in some areas, like what's happening in Mali, because a lot of those fighters came from Libya.
Iran, though, is a whole different kettle of fish. It's not about this kind of al Qaeda. Terrorism is about the nuclear file and what's going to happen. We've had years of very little progress on that.
Incidentally, the day after President Obama's inauguration will be the election in Israel. President Obama has to be able to manage the relationship with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who everybody thinks is going to win, and see if he can keep him from going to war against Iran -- if that's what the U.S. feels should be the case.
Beyond that, the negotiations that are already under way will require sensible action from Iran but also political courage from the president and from this administration because you cannot -- it's not a one-way, just sticks process. It has to be carrot and sticks.
But it will take political courage and political capital to say to Iran, well, you can enrich only to this amount and we'll have strong processes in place. We'll able to monitor, because people in Congress, in Israel, they don't want any enrichment.
So, that will be the challenge for the president --
MORGAN: And North Korea, do you see that as a real threat?
AMANPOUR: North Korea may very well launch another nuclear test. Other diplomats have told me that's a possibility. It's not the kind of immediate threat that some of the other countries are. Nobody really believes that North Korea is going to launch a nuclear weapon against either its neighbor or the United States.
MORGAN: And is the biggest challenge not a military one or the threat of being attacked but the relationship with China going forward in terms of America's ability to recover economically, is it time that they got into bed more with the Chinese?
AMANPOUR: They're in bed. They are definitely in bed, no matter what anybody says. They're in bed economically. They're bed in all sorts of ways. I think that's, you know, a relationship that's going to grow and mature and we're going to see how that's dealt with, because no matter what anybody says, the U.S. and China are inextricably linked because of the economy, because of how one affects the other.
MORGAN: And the amount of debt that China --
AMANPOUR: That's precisely is. That's the economy, exactly.
I think what's interesting and what I'm looking to see is, what exactly does this vaunted pivot to Asia mean? Because does that mean they're going to take their eye off other crucial areas, like what's happens in Africa with the al Qaeda affiliates. What about the Middle East peace process? We just talked about Israel.
You know, the truth of the matter is unless Israel/Palestine is fixed and solved, many of these neighboring countries are going to feel the reverberations.
MORGAN: Should Obama make that a priority?
AMANPOUR: Well, I think so. And so do many people who cover that region. Absolutely. Again, it will take political capital and political courage. Because without a vested U.S. presidential involvement that is really consistent and persistent, not much is going to change.
And previous histories have shown when the U.S. president is really into it, things do change.
But I think come back to Afghanistan, you know, the president wants to get out of that country and is, 2014 will be the out date. This is where al Qaeda started. And people are consider concerned that the U.S. and other forces will leave without the Afghan forces being stood up enough to be able to safeguard the country.
MORGAN: Which I would say is an almost certainty.
AMANPOUR: I think Afghans fear that. They've made sufficient gains that they're worried about losing them, particularly Afghan women and girls. But if we want to keep the world safe, I think Afghanistan is something we have to look at very closely as well.
MORGAN: Are you encouraged by John Kerry's appointment as secretary of state?
AMANPOUR: I think it's really interesting. I think it's kind of a no-brainer. Many people expected him to be.
He's been very close to President Obama. He's traveled. He's got a war record, veteran of the Vietnam War. And he's very involved in that.
And it will be very interesting because he'll also know, you know, what the limits are in terms of Congress and the whole American system when it comes to enacting foreign policy.
MORGAN: Are you encouraged -- just finally, are you encouraged, optimistic by where the Arab spring may go this year or are you quite pessimistic?
AMANPOUR: I've been of optimistic from the beginning. I have always know like most people who observe this, that there will always be bumps in the road. But for me, this monumental, epochal, history- making transformation in that part of the world is very potentially positive. And democracy is what has to happen in that part of the world.
We're seeing the ugly side of the fallout in Mali. But that can be dealt with if the West is willing to do it. You can't pussy-foot around these people. You have to be there for the long haul, whether it's politically difficult or not. You don't have to put boots on the ground, but you have to facilitate other boots on the ground and really decide that you're going to defeat and not just, you know, contain.
MORGAN: Christiane Amanpour, thank you very much, indeed.
AMANPOUR: Thank you.
MORGAN: We'll be right back.
MORGAN: The White House on the eve of the inauguration. A reminder: I'll be back tomorrow night at 9:00 live on my Inauguration Day special from Washington. I'll be joined by the president's inner circle, David Axelrod, Jim Messina, and Stephanie Cutter and many others. That's tomorrow night, at 9:00 p.m.
That's all for us. Have a good night tonight.