Steve Kroft Interviews President Obama on 60 Minutes

March 22nd, 2009

Obama Interview: Wall Street was 'Out of Balance'
By David Jackson

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Sunday it isn't “anti-Wall Street” to say that the “best and the brightest” made poor investment decisions that have plunged the nation into economic crisis.

“Because of bad bets made on Wall Street, there have been enormous losses,” Obama said during a 60 Minutes interview in which he defended his advocacy of increased federal regulation. “I want them (the people on Wall Street) to do well, but what I also know is that the financial sector was out of balance,” he said.

The 60 Minutes interview with Steve Kroft — taped Friday, broadcast Sunday — was the latest in a string of high-profile television appearances by Obama. They come amid the furor over $165 million in bonuses paid to employees of American International Group, which has received $170 billion in federal bailout money.

Obama, who last week did The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, conducts a prime-time news conference Tuesday.

During his 60 Minutes appearance, Obama also defended Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and hit back at criticism by former vice president Dick Cheney over counterterrorism policies. The president also said he is re-evaluating the war in Afghanistan.

Amid public anger over the AIG bonuses, Geithner has come under increasing fire from some congressional Republicans. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told Fox News Sunday, “My confidence is waning every day.”

Obama told 60 Minutes he wouldn't accept Geithner's resignation even if he offered it. “I'd say, 'Sorry, buddy. … You've still got the job.' ”

Before the end of March, Obama's national security staff is scheduled to complete its strategic review of Afghanistan. Obama said the goal in Afghanistan is to make sure that al-Qaeda does not reclaim the country as a base for terrorist operations against the United States. That requires economic and diplomatic initiatives as well as military ones, he said, “and there's got to be an exit strategy.”

Obama told 60 Minutes that sending an additional 17,000 U.S. servicemembers to Afghanistan was the hardest decision of his young presidency.

He defended his national security record against Cheney, who said plans to close the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have made the nation less safe. Obama said policies backed by Cheney created “a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment.”

Obama occasionally laughed during discussion of the nation's economic woes, prompting interviewer Steve Kroft to ask, “Are you punch drunk?”

“There's got to be a little gallows humor to get you through the day,” Obama said.