Don Francisco: First, Mr. President, thank you for the invitation to come to the White House and for granting us this interview.
President Barack Obama: Welcome.
Don Francisco: Mr. President; it has been a year and a little over eight months since you have been President of the United States, how do you feel? What is the best and worst that has happened to you personally?
President Barack Obama: We’ll obviously it is a great honor being president and I think the best moments have been when we’ve been able to make changes in the law that helps people directly. For example, very early in office I was able to change the law so that 4 million children could get health insurance including legal immigrant children which up until that point had not been served by the system and when you meet a parent and they tell you “oh, my child now has health insurance, which they did not have before” that makes you feel good. The most difficult thing, obviously is that I came into office at a time when the economy had collapsed because of the financial crisis on Wall Street, that had a huge effect around the world, it’s had a huge effect here in the United States and even though we’ve been able to stabilize the system, a lot of jobs were lost and we are still working to recover, and sometimes I wish that we could recover more quickly than we have.
Don Francisco: Does that mean that it is hard to be President?
President Barack Obama: Oh yes, I think I knew that being president was going to be difficult but we’ve had the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, since the 1930s. And when you have that and you have two wars, one in Iraq, one in Afghanistan and you are trying to make changes in health care laws and you have to reform our financial system, it means I’ve had more on my plate than it is normal even for a United States president.
Don Francisco: Do you worry about opinion polls? A recent one reveals that only 46% of Americans approve of your administration. If we recall, when you took the presidency on January 20, 2009 you had a 69% approval rating?
President Barack Obama: You know, I think it is fairly typical not just in the United States but around the world that when you come in, everybody is happy because you haven’t done anything yet. Once you start doing things some people are unhappy some people are not. I think it is typical that somewhere midway in your first term that you have difficulties but especially when you have an economic situation like what we have now. I don’t spend that much time worrying about my polls day to day because I think that if I’m doing the right thing, if I’m helping people find jobs, if I’m helping young people get an education, if I’m helping people get healthcare, if I solve difficult problems like immigration reform… if I do those things then I’m confident that over the long term the politics will follow.
Don Francisco: A week before the elections we had a chance to speak with you. You spoke about immigration and about those 12 million undocumented workers that still wait for a solution to their problems… (Video)
President Barack Obama: People don’t come here because they want to cross the border, they come here because they need work, they need jobs; they need opportunities. And, if we can help create more opportunities in those countries then many people will decide that they would rather stay in Mexico. But for the people who are already here, who put down roots, who had children who are going to schools, who are U.S. citizens, many of the children are, we have to make sure that we give them a path way so they are not livings in the shadows.
What I said in that interview, I still strongly believe; that we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. The problem we’ve had is that we’ve had no cooperation from the Republicans. So today, as we speak, we haven’t had an opportunity to have a debate on the “Dream Act” which says that children that may or may not be documented, through no fault of their own, but have been going to school here, who are of good character, who want to go to college or serve in our military, that they should have an opportunity to become U.S. citizens. We could not have that debate because not a single Republican was willing to vote for this. And so, that has been a source of frustration. But my hope is that after the election maybe some of the Republicans who previously had supported these measures will come back and come to their senses and recognize that this is the right thing to do.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, within our Hispanic community, there is a concern that noy only the problems that we face are not being solved, but that they are getting worse. For example, Arizona’s SB1070 law which practically turns immigrants into criminals; What do you think that?
President Barack Obama: With respect to deportations, I think that when you a look at Arizona’s law, the frustration that people have is that the problem has not been solved at the federal level. And my Justice department has filed suits saying we think the Arizona law is a bad idea. But ultimately the way we are going to be able to solve that is if we can in fact have a comprehensive law at the federal level that holds everybody responsible; holds the federal government responsible for securing the border, make sure that we are holding businesses responsible so that they don’t take advantage of undocumented workers, holds those workers responsible for paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English, getting on pathway to citizenship. I think that if we all come together, there is no reason why we can’t solve this problem and this is something I’m going to continue working hard on in the months to come.
Don Francisco: Let’s change subjects now; I wanted to talk to you about health reform, which undoubtedly has been a triumph for your administration. Many are very grateful , but the question is, Why have you excluded the 12 million undocumented immigrants from it?
President Barack Obama: Well, the fact of the matter is that we have gotten 30 million people health insurance. And that includes probably nine million Latinos because... the group that is most likely to not have insurance, even though they are working, are Latinos. We couldn’t cover all undocumented workers, there wasn’t the budget for it and frankly the real solution there is make sure that they are legal. Once they are [legal]; if we can provide a pathway of citizenship for them, then they will be eligible for the same benefits as everybody else.
Don Francisco: We know that you receive over 20 thousand letters and messages every day and that you have asked your aides to chose 10 to reply to every day. What do people ask? What DO THEY WORRY ABOUT? What do people want to know?
President Barack Obama: Well you know, it’s a wide variety of letters. Some people write to tell me a story about their situation; maybe they’ve lost their home and they want to know why we can’t have programs to get the banks to modify their mortgages. Some might write to say their child has an illness and they haven’t been able to get health insurance and [ask if we] can help. Sometimes they write and say they think I’m an idiot [laughs]. Sometimes they write and say they think I’ve been doing a good job. So, it’s a cross section of America, but it’s very valuable to me because sometimes, in this beautiful place that we call the White House, you can feel isolated from the people. Because of security concerns I’m not able to just go and take a walk, sit down at a barbershop or at a restaurant and just talk to people as easily as I used to. And these letters, on a day-to-day basis, are able to keep me connected.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, we also wanted to bring questions from our audience. They submitted their questions via Sábado Gigante official page on Facebook and through our cameras. If it’s ok with you, we’ll pause for a moment and when we come back we will choose a few for you to respond. We’ll be right back.
Don Francisco: Welcome backñ this is Sabado Gigante, with U.S. president Barack Obama who has kindly accepted our interview here at the White House in Washington. First, the questions sent by viewers through our cameras, Mr. President. For example, this is a question from Emilio Flores, a Mexican worker from Chicago.
Emilio Flores: Mr. President Obama, have you ever wondered what your life would be like without your daughters? What can you say to the millions of children and young adults who are growing-up without their parents’ help because their parents have been deported?
President Barack Obama: Well, I think what I would say to them " this is why we have to have comprehensive immigration reform. We have to solve this problem so that we don’t have the tragedy of families being separated. And I think that’s something that I’m committed to doing, but it is going to require, again, help from the other side. And the one thing I have to say to all the viewers here and the Latino community here in the Unites States: To be very clear; Democrats, including myself, are consistently supportive of a comprehensive immigration reform package; we have not gotten cooperation from the other side; if we don’t get cooperation from the other side it is very difficult for us to solve this problem.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, (through) our Facebook page, people also sent you some questions; I’d like to read some of them. (Don Francisco reads questions from Ana Miguelina). This one from Ana Miguelina. She says: “I would like to you in person to ask you if you a are happy about being President of the United States and what do you wife and daughters say about all the negative comments they hear about you; and also, How do you feel about keeping and breaking the promises you made?
President Barack Obama: Well, I feel very proud of the fact that we’ve kept our campaign promises. Those that we haven’t been kept yet, we are going to keep. You know I’m only halfway done in my first term as president. And I think sometimes people want everything done today. And you know, this is a democracy, so we have these big debates; it’s very difficult sometimes getting Congress to move forward in the ways that they need to. If you look at what I said I would do before the election and what I’ve done after; I’m very proud that we’ve done probably about 70% of the things that we said we were going to do. In terms of my wife and daughters, they don’t watch the news, that way they don’t hear the negative comments that are said about their husband or their father.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, you and your Democratic Party have committed your support for immigration reform, especially for this plan witch you’ve already spoke about before, the Dream Act, with would give permanent residency to hundreds of thousands of undocumented students who excel in school and that came to the country when very small children. When do you think will be possible?
President Barack Obama: Well, you know, I believe that maybe after this election some of the Republicans who had supported comprehensive immigration reform in the past, who had supported the Dream Act in the past, maybe they will come to their senses and say [that] instead of trying to play politics with this issue let’s try to solve the problem. And my hope is that after November they will stop the rhetoric on this issue and try to actually solve the problem and I’m going to push very hard to see if we can get it done.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, according to the census, one out of four Hispanics lives in poverty in the United States. We have about 12 million undocumented people and the unemployment rate in our community is 12% higher than the national average. How can our community believe in the promises if the situation has really gotten worse in these last 18 months?
President Barack Obama: Well look, we are going through a very difficult time right now. I think the whole country is going through a difficult time. Unemployment is very high in the United States; we have seen a lot of people lose their homes; we’ve seen a lot of people lose their jobs, people are feeling insecure. I think what people can feel confident about is, though, that the steps my administration is taking are moving us in the right direction. We found ourselves in a very deep hole when I came into office. We are now digging our way out of the hole. It takes time and it requires patience. But if you look at my commitment to healthcare for the Latino community, when you look at my commitment in terms of providing educational opportunities and student loans and better schools and lower drop-out rates for Latino children, when you look what we’ve been doing in terms of building infrastructure in this country that can put construction workers back to work many of them Latinos. All those positions that I’ve been taking are the ones that are improving the situation, moving us in the right direction and I feel very confident that we are going to see a significant improvement not just this coming year but in years to come.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, I would like to offer you our cameras so you can chat directly with our audience and tell them what you deem convenient.
President Barack Obama: It is a great pleasure to have this opportunity with Don Francisco to discuss these important issues. I think the main message that I have is that whether it is comprehensive immigration reform or improving the economy, putting people back to work, that I am absolutely committed to working with you to ensure that we have a better future for our children and our grandchildren. And I think that one of the great things about America is the promise for the future. That’s why people come here because they believe that if they work hard and take responsibility, abide by the law that their lives can improve. I’m committed to making sure that the American Dream continues for the next generation and I look forward to your support in creating that reality for everybody, for all Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Americans of very race and nationality.
Don Francisco: Now, Mr. President, I have a personal question for you. I just came back from Chile where we are celebrating the Bicentennial Anniversary of our Independence. You know that my country was hit by a tsunami and earthquake and that we have 33 mine workers practically buried 700 meters deep into the earth, so if possible, I would like you to please send a message to Chile for this 200 year celebration and to the Chilean people and the mine workers trapped in the mine.
President Barack Obama: Well to the people of Chile, the friendship between the United States and Chile has only grown stronger over time. Obviously, Chile has experienced some great challenges of its own. My heart goes out to the families of the miners, we are so glad that they are alive but this is obviously a very challenging time. I’m sure that by God’s grace they will be able to emerge and be back with their families sometime soon. And to the people of Chile, I look forward to continuing to build the strong trade relationship and the strong political relationship that we’ve built over the years and I’m sure that having such an excellent representative of Chile and as one of the most popular TV personalities in the world that, that is a source of great pride to your countrymen.
Don Francisco: Mr. President, I would like to thank you this interview from the beautiful gardens at the White House. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
President Barack Obama: Thank you; I enjoyed it very much.