Joint Interview with President Obama

STEVE KROFT: There are few people we think we know more about then President Barack Obama and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and everyone has an opinion—about their politics, their marriages and a rivalry that is one of the richest in American history. On Friday we had the opportunity to sit down with the two of them, side by side. The White House offered us 30 minutes—barely enough time to scratch the surface of their complicated personal and professional relationship, let alone discuss their policies on Iran and Israel, Russia and China, Egypt and Libya. There’s been much speculation about thire evolution from bitter opponents to partners in the corridors of power and the motivation for doing this interview. Now, you can be the judge.

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KROFT: This is very improbable.

CLINTON and OBAMA: [laughing]

KROFT: This is not an interview I ever expected to be doing. But I understand, Mr. President, that this was your idea. Why did you want to do this, together, a joint interview?

OBAMA: Well the main thing is, I just wanted to have a chance to publicly say thank you. Because I think Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretary of states we’ve had. It has been a great collaboration over the last four years. I’m gonna miss her. Wish she was sticking around. But she has logged in so many miles I can’t begrudge her wanting to take it easy for a little bit. But I want the country to appreciate just what an extraordinary role she’s played during the course of my administration, and a lot of the successes we’ve had internationally have been because of her hard work.

KROFT: There’s no political tea leaves to be read here?

CLINTON: We don’t have any tea. We’ve got some water here the best I can tell. But you know, this has been just the most extraordinary honor, and yes, I mean, a few years ago would have been seen as improbable because we had that very long, hard primary campaign. But you know, I’ve got around the world on behalf of the president and our country, and one of the things that I say to people because I think it helps them understand, I say, “Look, in politics and in democracy, sometimes you win elections, sometimes you lose elections. I worked very hard but I lost and then President Obama asked me to be secretary of state and I said yes. And so this has been just an extraordinary opportunity to work with him as a partner and friend to do our very best on behalf of this country we both love, and it’s something I’m going to miss a great deal.

KROFT: It’s no secret that your aides cautioned you against—actually, were against—you offering Secretary Clinton this job and you were just as determined not to take it…

CLINTON: [laughing]

KROFT: And you avoided taking her phone calls for a while because you were afraid she was going to say no? Why were you so insistent about wanting her to be secretary of state?

OBAMA: Well I was big admirer of Hillary’s before our primary battles and the general election. You know—her discipline, her stamina, her thoughtfulness, her ability to project, I think, and make clear issues that are important to the American people—I thought made her an extraordinary talent. She also was already a world figure and I thought that somebody stepping into that position of secretary of state at a time—when, keep in mind, we were still in Iraq, Afghanistan was still an enormous challenge, there was great uncertainty in terms of how we would reset our relations around the world—to have somebody who could serve as that effective ambassador in her own right without a having to earn her stripes, so to speak, on the international stage, I thought, would be hugely important.

KROFT: You’ve been quoted as thinking or telling people that there was no way you were going to take this job and you weren’t going let anybody talk you into it.

CLINTON: [laughing] Well, I was so….

KROFT: What did he say that night, that made you…?

CLINTON: Well, I was so surprised because, you know, after I ended my campaign I immediately did everything I could to help the President get elected because despite our hard-fought primary, we had such agreement on what needed to be done for our country.

OBAMA: Made for tough debates, by the way….

CLINTON: It did.

OBAMA: Because we could never figure out what we differed on.

CLINTON: Yeah, we worked at that pretty hard. And so I really thought I’d be going back to the Senate, where I would be supporting the President on all of the issues and what surprised me is he said, “Well, I want you to come to Chicago.” And honestly at the time I thought, well you know that’s a very nice gesture and maybe he wants to ask me about some people that might serve in the administration. So when I got to Chicago and he asked me if I would consider being his secretary of state, I immediately said, “Oh, Mr. President, there are so many other people. Let me give you some other names.” Because it just took me by surprise. But he is pretty persuasive, I’ll tell you that much, and he kept saying, “Well, I want you to think about it again. I want you to wait a minute. Don’t give me a final answer.” I’ll tell you what I finally thought. I thought, you know, if the roles had been reversed and I had ended up winning, I would have desperately wanted him to be in my cabinet. So if I’m saying I would have wanted him to say yes to me, how am I going to justify saying no to my president? And it was a great decision, despite my hesitancy about it.

KROFT: What did he promise you? Has he kept the promises?

CLINTON: It was going to be hard, but you know…

OBAMA: [laughing] And I kept that promise.

CLINTON: …welcome to hard times! [laughing] Because the one thing he didn’t mention was, he basically said, “You know, we’ve got this major economic crisis that may push us into a depression. I’m not going to be able to do a lot to satisfy the built-up expectations for our role around the world, so you’re gonna have to get out there and, you know, really represent us while I deal with, you know, the economic catastrophe I inherited. But you know, we’re both gluttons for punishment and my assessment was look, we are in a terrible fixe and you know I felt like this president was gonna get us out of it but it wasn’t going to be easy and it was gonna need everybody, you know, pulling together.

KROFT: Has she had much influence in this administration?

OBAMA: Well, I think everybody understands that Hillary’s been, you know, one of the most important advisors that I’ve had on a whole range of issues. Hillary’s capacity to travel around the world, to lay the groundwork for a new way of doing things, establish a sense of engagement, that our foreign policy was not going to be defined solely by Iraq, that we were going to be vigilant about terrorism but we’re were going to make sure that we deployed all elements of American power diplomacy—our economic and cultural and social capital—in order to bring about the kinds of international solutions that we wanted to see. I had confidence that Hillary could do that. And you know, one of the things that I will always be grateful for is—it wasn’t just that she and I had to integrate. I mean we had Bob Gates, who was a holdover from the Bush Administration. You know, Leon Panetta to take over the CIA. And so we had a lot of very strong personalities around the table. And you know, I think one of the things that Hillary did was establish a standard in terms of professionalism and teamwork in our cabinet, in our foreign policymaking, that said we’re going to have an open discussion, we’re gonna push each other hard, they’re gonna be times where we have some vigorous disagreements. Once the President makes a decision, though, we’re gonna go out there and execute.

KROFT: How would you characterize your relationship right now?

OBAMA: I consider Hillary a strong friend.

CLINTON: I mean…very warm, close…. I think there’s a sense of understanding that, you know, sometimes doesn’t even take words because we have similar views, we have similar experiences that I think provide a bond that may seem unlikely to some but has been really at the core of our relationship over the last four years. I mean, I have read a lot about other presidents and I’ve, you know, been in the White House as a first lady and I was a senator in the time of 9/11 and spent time in the White House in the Bush Administration, and I know how critical it is to really forge that sense of discipline that the President is referring to. Are there going to be differences? Yeah. Deep differences? Of course. You have a lot of strong-willed, minded people. But the president deserves our best judgment, our advice and then he deserves us to stand with him and to execute. Now, I’ve watched other administrations where there was pitched warfare between this cabinet secretary and another or this member of the White House. That’s not good for the country and it’s not something that would have served this president.

KROFT: It’s one thing have disagreements between cabinet people. I spent time with both of you in the 2008 campaign. That was a very tough, bitter race and I’m going to spare you reading some of the things that you said about each other during that campaign.

CLINTON: [laughing] Please do.

OBAMA: Of course.

KROFT: But—how long did it take you to get over that? And when did it happen?

OBAMA: You know what, it didn’t take as long as I think people would perceive. As I said, once the primary was over, Hillary worked very hard for me. Bill worked very hard for me. So we were interacting on a fairly regular basis. I think it was harder for the staffs, which is understandable because, you know, they get invested in this stuff in ways that I think the candidates maybe don’t. You know, Hillary mentioned part of our bond is we’ve been through a lot of the same stuff and part of being through the same stuff is getting whacked around in political campaigns, being criticized in the press. You know, we’ve both built some pretty thick skins, and sometimes our staffs don’t go through that. So they are taking umbrage and offense and they’re reading every blog and every tweet and you know, and most the time, you know, Hillary I suspect handles this the same way I do—we kind of have a block, a screen from a lot of the silliness that happens during presidential campaigns. And so for me, at least, you know, by the time Hillary joined the administration, I felt very confident and comfortable in our working relationship. I think what did evolve was a friendship as opposed to just a professional relationship. Friendships involve a sense a trust and being in the foxhole together, and that emerged during the course of months when we were making some very tough decisions.

KROFT: You said the staff took a little longer to forget the campaign stuff. What about the spouses? Was that an impertinent question?

CLINTON: What I was going to say, Steve, having been a spouse, having been a candidate, I think spouses take it much harder. In a way…

OBAMA: There’s no doubt.

CLINTON: …just as the President said, we’re out there and we’re responding minute by minute and you just don’t have time to sit around and, you know, think about what, you know, some insult that you felt you’ve suffered. I can remember, you know, watching my husband do debates. I mean, I was like this and he was relaxed and everything like that. And then when the shoes were on the other feet and of a sudden, you know, this calm, cool guy who never was upset by anything is all of a sudden watching me. So look—but that is just ancient history now, and it’s ancient history because of who the kind of people we all are. But also—we’re professionals.

KROFT: This administration—I mean, you’ve generally gotten high marks, particularly from the voters for your handling of foreign policy—but there’s no big, singular achievement in the first four years that you can put your names on. What do you think the biggest success has been, foreign policy success, of the first term?

OBAMA: For us, to be able to wind down one war, to be on the path of ending a second war, to do that in a way that honors the enormous sacrifices our troops have made, to sustain the pressure on al Qaeda and terrorist organizations so that not only did we avoid a significant terrorist attack on the homeland but we were able to dismantle the core leadership of al Qaeda. That’s all a consequence of the great work that Hillary did and her team did and the State Department did in conjunction with our national security team.

KROFT: What’s the… I have to ask you—what’s the date of expiration on this endorsement?

CLINTON: Oh, Steve, you know, I know, you….

KROFT: You know, I have to ask that question—I mean, come on. You’re here sitting here, together. Everybody in town is talking about it already, and the interview is taking place.

OBAMA: You know, Steve, I gotta tell you. You guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated [checks watch as Clinton laughs] four days ago, and you’re talking about elections four years from now.

CLINTON: Yeah and I am, as you know, Steve, I’m still secretary of state so I’m outta politics and I’m forbidden from even hearing these questions.

KROFT: Right.

CLINTON: I think that…. You know, look. Obviously, the President and I care deeply about what’s going to happen for our country in the future, and I don’t think, you know, either he or I can make predictions about what’s going to happen tomorrow or for the next year. What we’ve tried to do over the last four years is get up every day, have a clear-eyed view of what’s going on in the world, and I’m really proud of where we are.

KROFT: When we come back, the President and Secretary Clinton discuss the disaster in Benghazi and the state of her health.

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