Today on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley, DNC chairman Tim Kaine spoke about the Democratic agenda for 2011. Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry guest anchored today’s program. A full transcript follows.
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HENRY: I'm Ed Henry and this is State of the Union. Candy Crowley is off today.
The president returns to Washington Tuesday. The new congress is sworn in Wednesday. With the 2012 presidential campaign is already under way and this week, Democratic Party leader Tim Kaine went on offense writing "at the half way point of this term the president's list of achievements already dwarves that of many presidents. Taken together these accomplishments represent the most progressive and productive period of U.S. governance since the New Deal."
Now former Governor Kaine now joins us from Richmond. Happy New Year and thanks for joining us governor.
KAINE: You bet, Ed. Glad to be with you today.
HENRY: Great. And in your op-ed in Politico you noted all the president's accomplishments and yet a new Gallup poll shows that the president's approval rated 2010 at 53 percent, ended the year with a 47 percent approval despite all those accomplishments you listed. So you've made your case but seems like the American people are still not buying it, sir.
KAINE: Well, relatively if you look at the president's numbers compared to other presidents in the mid terms his numbers are fine. If you look at the president's numbers compared to how folks look at members of congress or other elected officials, he's fine.
It's a tough time, Ed. And with a challenging economy, folks are going to be dissatisfied until they see things moving more dramatically the right way. But the president's accomplishments have laid a foundation which we think we're already seeing start to work in improved economic signs and that's what it will take over the course of the next few months. And I think we'll see it and the president's numbers will continue to get better.
HENRY: Now you mentioned that difficult economy, employment still very high at 9.8 percent. The president mentioned that yesterday in his weekly radio and Internet address. Let's will be to what he said.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As president, that's my commitment to you, to do everything I can to make sure our economy is growing, creating jobs, and strengthening our middle class. That's my resolution for the coming year.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HENRY: Now when you make a resolution, usually that means that you did something wrong and you want to do something better in the new year and that is year-end news conference the president also said his singular focus in the next two years is going to be focusing on creating jobs. Does that suggest that maybe he did not fully focus on creating jobs in the first two years?
KAINE: Well, Ed, he had a lot of things he had to do. When he started as president we were in the midst of two wars. He stopped one of them and we were also in the midst of the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression and we to spend an awful lot of time stabilizing the financial system of the country so that it wouldn't put us into a deeper tailspin.
With that work done he now can focus specifically on increasing job production. We've seen an economy from losing 750,000 jobs a month when he started to gaining jobs now. We just have to do work to accelerate the path of that recovery.
HENRY: But are you acknowledging, though, that all the time he spent on health care reform, for example, in the first two years, did that pull him off having that singular focus on jobs in the first two years?
KAINE: Well, Ed, I think health care reform is going to go down in history as one of the great achievements of this president. And it's not unrelated to the economy. One, you know, one-sixth of the American economy is health care and what we see in the small businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to provide health care to their employees. So it was important, both for the future of the economy, the health care and dealing with the deficit to bring health care costs down.
The president again has taken an economy that was shrinking in terms of its size, GDP, jobs being lost and now we're gaining jobs again, but we just have to, you know, now that we're climbing out of the ditch we were in, we have to keep climbing and that's what the president is focusing on.
HENRY: Well now another factor in your trouble selling the policies to the public has been a determined Republican minority now is going to become a determined Republican majority in the House this week. And I want to get your reaction of before our next guest comes on, Congressman Darrell Issa. He says in this morning's L.A. Times, quote, "after a trillion-dollar stimulus that didn't create jobs, a trillion bailout of Wall Street and a trillion health care overhaul, the American people believe we need more oversight, not less."
We're going to fact check him when he comes on, because obviously...
KAINE: Please do.
HENRY: The Wall Street bailout obviously started under the Bush administration, we'll point that out and there are also signs that jobs are being created, so when he says the stimulus has not created any jobs, we'll talk about that later in the show. But my question is, how does a president work with Republicans who seem determined to insist he hasn't accomplished anything?
KAINE: Well, Ed, there's a couple of points. What we saw at the end of the 2010 in that lame duck session was dramatic accomplishments, the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the approval of the START treaty, tax compromise going forward with additional stimulus, all those were done with some Republican votes. So if there are going to be members of the Republican Party who are willing to reach out and work as the president reaches toward them, we'll see some strong accomplishments.
We're also going to see this president not being afraid to be the chief executive of the American public asked him to be. He's not going to play "mother may I" with the Republicans. He's going to govern. But if the Republicans are willing to work as they did at the end of that lame duck session I think we will see productive efforts in a number of ways.
There will be disagreements, surely, that's part of the process, but there are many more areas where we can continue to agree and move forward.
HENRY: Well let's get a little specific on what he might work with Republicans, what he might do on jobs. He has a big State of the Union address at the end of this month. Can the American people expect a jobs plan in there? What is the president going to tell the American people at the end of January?
KAINE: Well, I'm going to let the president decide on when to announce that, Ed. But let me just say in terms of working together, here's one, the president wants there to be earmark reform. You're going to have Congressman Issa on. He's the head of the government reform committee in the House, probably the most significant reform that the American people want to see is a reform in congress. I understand Congressman Issa agrees with no earmarks and I hope he'll use his leadership within his caucus to be about that.
The president is very serious about deficit reduction. With the bipartisan deficit commission, you're going to see the president roll out a series of proposals from that commission and others who have weighed in during his budget and State of the Union and we're going see if the Republicans are serious about cutting the size of government. They weren't during the Bush administration. Perhaps now they'll decide that they do want to get serious about that.
So those are two areas where we think there's significant room. And then always in terms of fighting for the middle class and fighting for job creation. Often the Republicans in the last years fought against things like small business lending bill and stimulus for the economy, but now the majority in the House they have the opportunity and responsibility to govern and we'll see if they take that seriously or not.
HENRY: But governor I want to challenge you on the deficit reduction part. You're saying the president is serious about deficit reduction, he spent $787 billion on the first stimulus. This tax deal your touting that he worked with Republicans on in December, $800 billion to $900 billion, maybe even – it amount to a second stimulus. Didn't the American people send your party a tough message in the shellacking in November that Washington has to stop spending money?
KAINE: They certainly sent a message that they're concerned about the deficit, but I think the number one priority of the American public, Ed, as you know and I'm sure you agree is getting the economy going again. The best way to deal with the deficit is through economic growth. The tax compromise wasn't ideal from the president's standpoint. He didn't like the fact the Republicans were holding the middle class hostage to give the wealthiest Americans tax cuts. Nevertheless the president found compromise, which is what you ought to be doing in Washington, and convinced the Republicans to do things like payroll tax adjustments and unemployment insurance extension, that will have a stimulating effect on the economy going forward.
But now is the time when we see the economy picking off some strong Christmas sales numbers and lowered unemployment claims, now is the time to start wrestling with the side of the federal based budget. The president will challenge Republicans in congress to just do that.
HENRY: But let's talk about that point on the deficit, governor. Because earlier in December the president's own debt panel as you mentioned came out on December 3rd, and the Democratic co-chair Erskine Bowles said, quote, "I really am pleading with you, please make the tough Choices, reduce spending." The president came out later that day with a written statement. In part he said, quote, "we must correct our fiscal course." That was December 3rd.
Then on Monday December 6th, just three days later, the president cut the tax deal with Republicans, $800 billion to $900 billion, and said, quote, "we have arrived at a framework for a bipartisan agreement for the next two years. Every American family will keep their tax cuts."
Very high cost to that. I know what you're saying, in the short- term you have to try to rebuild the economy. But didn't the president throw his Own debt panel under the bus there?
KAINE: You know what? Well, Ed I doubt that. I don't think the debt panel said the best thing for the American economy is let all the tax cuts expire. The tax cuts, if they expired were going to hit low income working people the hardest in a way that would have hurt the economy, hurt revenues and likely exacerbated the deficit by slowing down economic growth. But now we have to deal with the deficit panel's recommendations and there have been other groups as well, Alice Rivlin and former Senator Domenici have come up with a strong plan for dealing with the deficit, other members have weighed in. And you're going to see the president put that out for congress to deal with and we'll see if they'll take it seriously in the House.
HENRY: Governor, let's talk a little bit about 2012. You started out as a civil rights attorney. So I know the words of Clarence B. Jones, a former confidante of Dr. King with matter to you. He wrote in the Huffington Post recently, I'm sure you saw it.
Quote: "It is not easy to consider challenging the first African-American to be elected, but regrettably I believe the time has come to do this."
Will the president face a primary challenge in 2012, a challenge from the left?
KAINE: Ed, I think it's very unlikely that the president is going to face any kind of a serious primary challenge within the Democratic Party. You and I know that you can always get a fringe candidate or somebody to run.
So, you know, could somebody throw in their name? And, yes, it's possible. But I think the likelihood of any serious challenge to the president is virtually nil. And I think the president's strong performance and especially the three major accomplishments at the end of the year make it even smaller.
HENRY: Senator - Governor, Sarah Palin may also run in 2012. One of the president's top advisers is so confident that she would lose a general election, he told me recently: "I'll pay her filing fee if she wants to run."
You have got the Democratic Party's checkbook. Are you ready to write the check this Sunday morning so that Sarah Palin will get in?
KAINE: No, look, I'm going to let the other guys sort it out on their side. You know, what we are seeing, Ed, is polling done even since the midterm elections, which were tough for us, obviously, the president matches up very, very well against any of the Republican potential contenders, including Sarah Palin.
And so, you know, we just feel like if he keeps doing the job that the American public elected him to do, we feel very good going into the 2012 cycle.
HENRY: Governor, last question I want to ask you real quick about your future. There have been reports that Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, he might want to be DNC chairman. I've talked to other officials who say your interested in a cabinet secretary post if one opens somewhere.
And David Axelrod at the White House basically says, look, this is up to Tim Kaine, if he wants to serve another two years, the president will have him as DNC chair. So what is it? Do you want it? Are you going to stay on?
KAINE: My agreement with the president is I was going to do what he wants me to do. And what I know sitting here today is he wants me to continue in this spot and that's what I'm going to do with excitement, you know, traveling all around the country, going through the TSA lines like everybody else, going out and being the president's advocate, and promoter. And it's a wonderful job and I intend continue it.
HENRY: Governor, thank you for your time this morning and happy New Year.
KAINE: OK. Ed, thanks.
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Megan Grant | CNN Washington
202.515.2920 | Megan.Grant@cnn.com