Meet the Press   |  February 02, 2014

Obama's 'Year of Action': An Inside Look

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough visits Meet the Press to discuss the remainder of President Barack Obama's agenda.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> and what he's calling his year of action. he went on the road this week to make his case for the initiatives he laid out in the state of the union case.

>> the question i posed to kong dress yesterday is whether folks in washington are going to help or they're going to hinder the progress we've been making. whether they're going to waste time creating new crises that slows down our economy or they're going to spend time creating new jobs and new opportunities and i don't know what their plans are but i choose a year of action.

>> joining me now denis mcdonough , are welcome back to "meet the press." here's my question. he's got more than 1,000 days left. to a lot of people, it seems like a smaller state of the union , that his agenda is smaller. a shrinking presidency. last year he talked about gun control, talked about climate change . remaking the health care system . has he gone small?

>> if you think about the things he laid out on the table this week, $10.10 an hour minimum wage is not going to be small for the hundreds of thousands of people who lift from that. long-term employment, the president bringing in 300 of the country's biggest employers to say to them, hey, let's resolve this issue that's dogging our economy and when those guys get a fair shot at a job and in fact, a new job at some point, that's not going to be small to them. later this week, you'll hear the president talk about connect ed, an opportunity where several private american companies will commit over a half billion dollars to insure our schools across the country have the kind of technology so that your 0 kids can compete in this economy. fcc says it's going to wire 50,000 schools, get 20 million kids online in the kind of learning not the way you and i grew up which is you had a computer science lab where you went to once a day. they sit at their tables all day, the laptops with tablets. that's the kind of education he wants kids to have.

>> i'm not saying these issues are unimportant, but this is a president ho had big apple big after a very tough year, do you conceive that he looks at washington and says, maybe i have to be a little less ambitious about what we can actually achieve here?

>> no, i don't. i concede that the president doesn't spend a lot of time looking at washington . he spends a lot of time looking at what families across the country want. they want clear discernible concrete actions that he can take so that he can move this thing forward, not wait for congress which you've said many times on this show and during the course of this week as you commented about the speech, congress has not lived up to its past experience and in fact, one that's been quite slow.

>> yeah. the issue of the economy is a big one. do you ever wonder why the president doesn't get more credit for an economy that is rebounding? ing

>> i don't spend a lot of time wondering about credit for the president. he doesn't. i don't wonder about anything other than how do we make sure that people want a fair shake. the fundamental it will premise of the country which is you play by the rules, work hard and you get a chance to get ahead.

>> here's a few newsy items. one has to do with the keystone pipeline , the ability to move all of that oil down through the middle of the country. republicans have been calling for this. they say it's big for jobs. a report from the state department says there's no real impact on the climate. is this thing ready to be green lighted by the president? what would hold him back from saying the pipeline should go forward?

>> he laid out his view on this last summer. if this is to go forward, it should not exacerbate the climate crisis in this country.

>> didn't the state department say it won't?

>> the friday report is the an important input into the process. we'll hear from other cabinet secretaries . think about this for a second. this year for the last three months of last year, october, november, december, we produced more oil than we imported for the first time.

>> you didn't answer myquette.

>> another thing. this morning in the "new york times," terrible drought in the west including california as a result of climate change . we're going to resolve the keystone question, but that's one in a much bigger issue.

>> but i'm focused on it so indulge me. what would stop him from saying yes at this point given his own state department saying there's not a big impact on the climate from doing this?

>> he's been very clear he's going to insulate this process from politics. washington loves politics.

>> you got a state department study.

>> we have one department with a study. now we have other expert agencies. the epa and many others, the energy department , who had an opportunity to look at this and make their determination. the president wants make this decision based on the most sound science .

>> where is the sweet spot on immigration? do you think you have a deal that can provide a pathway to legal status, and if it falls short of citizenship, could the president live with that.

>> the president's principles on immigration have been out there for some time. the bottom line, he does not want to see an in irk where we have two permanent classes, citizens and noncitizens as we proceed. that's his principle. nevertheless, the principles that were laid out by the republican leadership towards the end of last week, we think that's a pretty good step, pretty good progress in this debate coming from are with they were to where they are now. our job is to step back, let the debate happen in the house. we'll continue to press for our principles. the house democrats will, as well. we feel pea pretty good we'll get a bill done this year.

>> you assume obamacare is here to stay. what's one thing the president could live with if the republicans said here's a change we want to make?

>> i wish they were talking about it, but their position is fundamentally let's epeel this. a bill introduced earlier this week by several republicans in the senate all great people including doc coburn. you know what the first provision was? repeal obamacare, the affordable care act . if that's what they want to do -- ings.

>> harry reid said there's substantive changes you can make.

>> we're happy to look at all sorts of changes to make this better and trying to meet with democrats and republicans to do just that.

>> is the health care law as strong as it could be.

>> no law is as strong as it could be out of the block. when you've seen big changes in social positions, congress tinkers with it, identifies problems. a very interesting situation earlier this week where a person called her congressman asking for help on the law. . the congressman didn't decide to try to help use the marketplaces, use technology to fiend a cheaper more affordable quality health care plan. they just let that person toil under the plan they had developed. and that's not the way we should work. we should take the law, improve it where we can, help constituents where we can to get quality affordable health care .

>> are you persuaded, is the president persuaded the olympic games will be safe?

>> we're following this very, very closely, we're in close touch with the russians. as we get new information, we're sharing it.

>> is there any information you've got that disturbs it the president.

>> we're always looking for more information. you're going to see different threats at different times. when we will have new information, we'll share it. we ask american people to go to the state department website, check in with the state department when the they travel. we'll make sure we share information when we get it.

>> is the president an asset or liability to democrats in this campaign year?

>> the president is an asset to democrats, the president is an asset using the great power in this office as you'll see later this week when he talks about this opportunity to wire schools. you know, 15,000 of them, 20 million students getting access.

>> so it would be a mistake if democrats don't want the president to campaign with them?

>> i'll leave it to democrats to make their decision how they want to run their campaigns. they're very good at that. we're good at focusing on the economy, getting the kind of clear attainable goals laid out that the president put in the speech the other night. that's what we're focused on, an methat works for us.

>> speaker boehner said he wants to see the republican party as a party of alternative ideas. is that what the party is now?

>> is the republican party ? i'll let them characterize themselves. they introduced the s.t.o.p. act this week. if there was ever a fitting bill for them to introduce after the last several years, surely the s.t.o.p. act is one.

>> you're a football player.

>> i am, i was.

>> would you let your sons play?

>> this is a subject my wife and i talk about quite a bit. so they're young guys now. weigh see what happens pap they're great soccer players, great swimmers.

>> do you have doubts whether it's safe enough for them to play.

>> you look at science and all the things we see. these are tough questions. families are struggling with them across the country. a lot of the science we know about came from the department of the army . we spent billions of dollars over the course of the last ten years looking at the impact of concussive events on troopers, soldiers and fair families. that's important and a good addition to the national interest . we're thankful to the army for doing that.

>> broncos or seahawks.

>> i like is the broncos.