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Bill Clinton Predicts Speedier Unemployment Declines Will Help Obama

Former President Bill Clinton predicted President Barack Obama will win a second term in part because the U.S. unemployment rate may drop more quickly than expected.

“I believe he’ll win because I think he’s got a better economic record than he’s gotten credit for,” Clinton said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt” airing this weekend. He’ll “have more credible positions than his opponent, if the Republicans stay anywhere near where they are right now.”

The Democratic former president, interviewed in Chicago during his Clinton Global Initiative conference, said U.S. unemployment, at 9.1 percent in May, may drop more quickly than most analysts assume.

The jobless rate is projected to be 8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News in June. No president since World War II has won a second term with unemployment higher than 7.2 percent on Election Day.

When asked whether Republicans might be tempted to refuse any compromise that would help the economy as Obama campaigns for re-election, the former president said that would be a risky move.

“That’s a pretty big gamble,” he said, “if they don’t want to be caught working for the failure of the economy. I wouldn’t think that would be a good thing.”

Adding Jobs

Clinton said he wouldn’t be surprised if Obama could get the unemployment rate down faster than people think with a few basic steps. Speeding up the hiring of people, quickening the pace of retrofitting buildings to make them more energy efficient, and streamlining the settlement of bad mortgage debt could add millions of jobs to the economy, he said.

“If you could do those three things, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could create 50 percent more jobs than anybody thinks is possible,” Clinton said.

As a former president, Clinton, 64, said he has “more sympathy” for the challenges Obama faces. He said the two men spoke “a few weeks ago,” although he is more likely to share ideas with Vice President Joe Biden, White House National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling or General Electric Co. (GE) Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt, who leads Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

“I try never to bother him,” Clinton said of Obama. “I really go out of my way not to do that.”

‘Clever’ Politics

Clinton laughed and dismissed as “clever” politics recent compliments by Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who said he was nostalgic for the Clinton administration’s pro- trade and pro-business approach.

“Bill Clinton’s got a leg in the grave -- it’s safe to say something nice about him,” the former president said. “Senator McConnell is a very adroit politician. And he would like to defeat the president and have a candidate of his own choosing. So I’ve become kind of a convenient foil.

‘‘But I get tickled,’’ he said. ‘‘All these guys that used to, you know, say I was the worst thing since Attila the Hun, all of a sudden now they want to build statues to me.’’

On the still-emerging Republican presidential field for 2012, Clinton called the crop of potential candidates ‘‘so unpredictable now.’’

He offered praise for Jon Huntsman Jr., a former Utah governor who was Obama’s ambassador to China, calling him a ‘‘creative governor’’ who ‘‘did a good job for us in China.’’

Praise for Bachmann

Clinton complimented some of the other Republican candidates as well, including former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who is making his second White House bid, and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

‘‘Governor Romney’s doing a better job this time than he did four years ago,’’ he said.

On Bachmann, who formally announced her presidential bid on June 27 in Iowa, Clinton said: ‘‘She comes across as having vigor and energy and believing what she says. I don’t agree with what she’s saying, but she comes across as real.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff, said in a separate interview that he expects the current president will have a “tough” re-election fight. Still, like Clinton, he predicted Obama will get credit for improvements in the economy.

“The American people know straight up that the president of the United States inherited one of the worst conditions the country had been in over 70 years,” said Emanuel, 51. “The question is who has the ideas for the future. And I think they’ll see him with the right priorities and the right values versus another candidate.”

Gay Rights

Obama has drawn criticism from some traditional allies, including gay-rights advocates, who say he has failed to show enough leadership, as New York and other states have approved same-sex marriage and civil union laws. Emanuel defended his former boss’s record on gay rights.

“To the president’s credit, under his watch a 10-year battle on hate-crime legislation was signed into law,” he said. “That’s a milestone. Under his watch, the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was a milestone in the march of civil liberties in this country.”

To contact the reporter on this story: John McCormick in Chicago at jmccormick16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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