President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an interview with Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that there’s “no question” Republican Chuck Hagel, a former Nebraska senator, will be confirmed as the next U.S. secretary of defense even after a contentious Senate hearing in which he was put on the defensive by members of his own party.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the show with the newly appointed senior adviser to the president, Dan Pfeiffer. Dan, thank you so much for being with us.
DAN PFEIFFER: Thank you, Al. Thanks for having me.
HUNT: There have been some - some at least semi-troubling economic reports out in the last couple of days, GDP in the fourth quarter. The jobs report out Friday was OK, not as - not as much as you all would hope. Is the White House formulating any new - any new programs to promote economic growth?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think, as we look at the jobs report today, it’s - we’ve now created private-sector jobs for 35 straight months, 6.1 million jobs in those 35 months, so that’s a good sign. But as the president has said many times, there’s a lot more work to do. We’re creating jobs, not enough. Economy has been - in certain industries have been growing, not enough.
And there are some hopeful signs in housing. You know, in this jobs report -
HUNT: There are.
PFEIFFER: - there’s for the first time some real growth in construction jobs. So that’s good. The question is, is Washington going to get out of the way, as we’ve seen with - you know, with the sequester, with the debt-ceiling debates of recent months, that has an impact. And the president’s very focused on an agenda that creates jobs, grows the economy, and helps the middle class.
HUNT: Well, you bring up the sequester. That’s - that’s a month away. Do you think it’ll be headed off?
PFEIFFER: Well, the president certainly hopes it’ll be headed off.
HUNT: But what do you think is going to happen?
PFEIFFER: Well, we’re disturbed by reports that Republicans who decried the sequester, said it would be the end of civilization as we know it during the election campaign, now seem comfortable letting it go - having it go into effect. That would be bad for the economy. The last - the GDP report that came out about last quarter, earlier this week, says - showed that the potential of the sequester going into effect had a dramatic effect on the economy. So we shouldn’t let that happen.
HUNT: But no signs yet that any kind of a deal is dealing place to avoid it?
PFEIFFER: Well, we think - we think, with a balanced approach, you can avoid it. The president’s preference would be to do it over the long term, as part of a long-term deal to reform our tax code, reform our entitlements, and deal with spending and deficits. That would be the best way to do it. We were able to delay it for two months, working with Congress. Our hope is that Republicans and Democrats will be willing to work together with us to do that.
HUNT: Another congressional question. Chuck Hagel got a real rough going-over before that committee in the Senate. Are you confident that Senator Hagel will be confirmed as defense secretary?
PFEIFFER: We’re very confident of that. There’s no question that there will be more than 50 votes to confirm Senator Hagel.
HUNT: And you’re not worried about a filibuster?
PFEIFFER: I - I would be disappointed and surprised if the Republicans - if the Republicans were willing to filibuster one of their former colleagues for the secretary of defense.
HUNT: OK. Let me turn to immigration. The president has said that if Congress doesn’t act in a timely fashion that he’ll submit his own legislation. He told a network the other day that, you know, he wants a Senate bill by March. If you don’t get a Senate bill by April 1, the president then submits his own?
PFEIFFER: Well, we’re going to monitor this. I think -
HUNT: So it’s not a firm deadline?
PFEIFFER: I think if progress is being made, we’re going to - we’re going to continue to give the Senate room to work. It’s important to recognize how far we’ve come. When the president first got to the Senate, there were 23 Republicans who supported comprehensive immigration reform. A year later, it was down to like seven or nine. For the last five years, it’s been zero. And so the fact that seven days after the president was sworn in again, you have the - the Republican Party’s 2008 nominee, potential 2016 candidate in the Republican Party coming together with Democrats to put forward a bipartisan framework that reflects the president’s vision. That’s a good sign.
So we’re going to let this continue. And we’re going to see if they’re making progress. But we can’t wait forever, because we can’t let - as the president said in his remarks, we can’t have this fall victim to endless debate.
HUNT: There was, as you know, widespread support and a remarkable coalition in the Senate, and they agree on a whole lot of things. One thing, however, that they don’t agree on, Republicans like John McCain say that there can’t be any bill that offers immigration benefits to same-sex couples. That’s off the table. Would that be a deal-killer?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think the president in his plan said that you should treat same-sex families the same way we treat heterosexual families. It’s wrong to discriminate. It’s a natural extension of the president’s view about same-sex marriage, the view about providing equal rights, no matter who you love. And so we’re going to work with the Senate. Our hope is that they will come around and do the right thing here. But our - the president’s view is there’s good bipartisan progress. We’re going to let that go forward. But he believes strongly that it would be wrong to discriminate against same-sex couples.
HUNT: But you’re not going to say it’s a deal-killer at this stage?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think our view - our step on all issues is to lay out what the president wants done, provide that as a roadmap for this Senate gang, and let them work. And we’ll see what their product is in the end.
HUNT: Dan, you were at the White House in a key role during Obamacare, the enactment of Obamacare, and I think most people would acknowledge that Rahm Emanuel was the experienced White House point man who helped guide that through in a very important way. Rahm would certainly say that. Who’s the Rahm Emanuel of immigration?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think we have a number of people with tremendous legislative experience who will help drive this. Rob Nabors, who was the president’s legislative director, is now deputy chief of staff. He’s going to work very closely with the Senate. Denis McDonough has many, many years on the Hill working for - both in the House and the Senate, including working for the Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle. So we have a lot of people who are going to be -
HUNT: So there will be a number of Rahm Emanuels, not one?
PFEIFFER: I think that Rahm would be the first to tell you, it’s going to take more than one person to be the Rahm Emanuel of anything.
HUNT: You have got a very experienced and loyal team - you’ve mentioned some of them - at the White House. And you’ve brought in certainly interesting cabinet members. There are some Democrats - not just Republicans, some Democrats - who worry that it’s too insular. You’ve heard this complaint, that they wish there was some - an infusion of some fresh blood, not replacing people, but just bringing in more new thinking of this. What do you say to that complaint?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think it’s going to be incumbent upon those of us who are in the White House, those of us who work for the president, to be - do the best job we can to reach out to get outside voices in, whether they’re meeting with the president, whether we’re calling them for advice. You know, we’ve heard the criticism that we’re too insular, and I’m sure sometimes that’s right. But it’s not because we don’t respect the advice of other people and we don’t want to hear what they have to say. It’s just sometimes in the White House you’re just trying to get through the five minutes in front of you and you don’t have time to reach out to folks.
So we have - we’ve done - we’ve tried to bring folks in to meet with us, people with experience in both parties and different administrations, different parts of government, to give us some advice on how we go about enacting the president’s agenda and helping the country. We’re going to continue to do that. I know that’s going to be a big priority of Denis McDonough’s when he assumes the chief of staff role next week.
HUNT: Dan, second terms are always different than first terms. That’s a rather obvious statement. But what’s the - what’s the main difference you see in how you think you all will govern over the next four years versus the past four years?
PFEIFFER: Well, I think we’re going to try to - I think we view the second term as an extension of the first term. The President Obama that folks - America sees this month is not different from the one they saw last month.
I do - we are aware of the fact that time is limited, you know, and the president said to us, this is the best opportunity we’ll have to do the most good for the most people in our lives over the next four years. And so we want to take it - he wants to take every one of those days and use it to make sure we get everything out of it, because we’ll - there will - there’s lots of things you can get more of. You can’t get more of time.
HUNT: Do you think most of it has to be done in the first of those next four years?
PFEIFFER: No, I don’t - that is sort of - I think the sooner you do it, the better.
PFEIFFER: I think that, you know, presidents have had great accomplishments in their second two years or their last two years of their second term.
HUNT: That’s true.
PFEIFFER: And so we don’t necessarily agree that you can’t - that, you know, come 18 months from now that he’ll - he won’t be able to keep (inaudible) we don’t buy that. But you want to use every day as you have it.
HUNT: Do you have a big worry that keeps you awake at night, other than the fact that your Georgetown basketball team loses sometimes?
PFEIFFER: That does keep me up. I think - I mean, in - you know, when you work in the White House, you have national security worries, you have worries about the economy. The things that end up being some of the biggest things, you never even thought could happen, an oil spill in the gulf, potential flu pandemic in 2009 -
HUNT: So you can’t anticipate -
PFEIFFER: It’s the things you can’t -
PFEIFFER: There are a lot of things I worry about. The things I worry about most is the thing I haven’t thought I should worry about it.
HUNT: Dan Pfeiffer, congratulations on your new assignment, and thank you for being with us.
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