John Podesta, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that allegations that Governor Chris Christie knew about lane closures on the George Washington Bridge may be “a killer” to the New Jersey Republican’s presidential ambitions.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with counselor to President Obama and former Bill Clinton chief of staff, John Podesta. John, thank you so much for being here.
JOHN PODESTA: It’s great to be back.
HUNT: State of the Union, scaled-back ambitions, given the realities of today, criticized by Republicans. Did it change anything?
PODESTA: Well, I think he laid out before the American people a real work plan for the next year, concrete proposals to increase growth, to strengthen the middle class, to build new ladders into the middle class. Some of that was a legislative agenda which we think there should be bipartisan support for -
HUNT: There was -
PODESTA: - starting with immigration reform, and there’s some, you know, I think, hope this week in Washington that comprehensive immigration reform can move forward.
HUNT: Do you think you’ll get an immigration bill this year?
PODESTA: I think there’s a good chance of that, yes.
HUNT: You do?
HUNT: Even though they’re saying that they won’t have a pathway to citizenship, which at least some pathways is sine qua non for most Democrats?
PODESTA: Well, I think that, you know, we have to wait and see what finally emerges from the House of Representatives, but the leadership, you know, it’s kind of changed their rhetoric even on that, said there’s no special pathway to citizenship. They recognize the need to give a pathway to citizenship for DREAM Act young people.
HUNT: DREAMers, right.
PODESTA: And so I think, you know, we have to wait and see what emerges, but I think it was a step forward that Speaker Boehner put forward a plan to move forward. And we’ll just have to work and see and -- and try to work as hard as we can to get a comprehensive bill through. The president’s position is clear, that he wants to see citizenship at the end of the pathway.
HUNT: You’ve long favored executive actions, which -
PODESTA: I have.
HUNT: - were a centerpiece of the president’s address the other night. How many jobs can you create with executive actions?
PODESTA: Well, you know, I think that you don’t want to put a numerical number on that. It’s hard to do it even on legislation. But I think what the president’s doing is kind of trying to reach out to people across the country to encourage new -- for example, last week, he went to North Carolina and started a new manufacturing hub, linking universities to high-tech manufacturers.
There’s a lot of interest in that. We’ve created four. He pledged to create four more in the State of the Union. He’s asked for the Congress to create four more after that. That’s concrete, real job-making potential.
This -- this week, he called in 300 top businesses in the country to change their business practices, so they could put long-term unemployed people back to work, to give them a chance at work again, to have them take care of their families.
That’s going to result -- those change in practices will result in dealing with, I think, one of our biggest both economic and social problems, with this long overhang from the Great Recession of the long-term unemployed.
Will people really go -- will they go back to work as a result of that? Yes, they will. You’re asking me to put a number on that? I think that today it’s going to be - it’s going to take the commitment of those CEOs to fulfill their -- their promises. But I think that it’ll be forthcoming.
HUNT: On executive actions, will President Obama issue one barring federal contractors from discriminatory hiring against people because of sexual orientation, gender?
PODESTA: Well, what he said in the State of the Union was he’s going to require federal contractors to pay a minimum wage of $10.10.
PODESTA: Now, the order that you’re talking about is under consideration at the White House. We’re looking at that.
HUNT: What do you think he’s likely to do?
PODESTA: Well, you know, I’m not going to prejudge that.
HUNT: You don’t want to? What’s the argument against doing it?
PODESTA: You know, I think the argument against doing it -- there is no real argument against non-discrimination in the workplace.
PODESTA: I think the question is -- and we’ve been putting forward the effort to try to get a comprehensive ENDA through the Congress. We’ll see whether that’s possible. If it’s not, I think we’ll have to take a look at whether we do it in the federal workforce.
HUNT: The Sochi Olympics start soon. Would you advise Americans who are considering going to Russia to go? Or do you think it’s too dangerous?
PODESTA: Well, I -- no, I think that -- that at this stage, there’s no -- the State Department has not issued an advisory to not go to the Olympics. The president spoke to this, this week. We have given full cooperation to the -- to Russian authorities. They, of course, have massive effort going to try to secure -- you know, particularly the interior rings of -- of the Olympics.
There’s a spike of, you know, kind of threat warnings right now, but that happens in front of all big events. So I think right now, people ought to consult, you know, the State Department and -- but I think if they’re planning to go, right now there’s no reason to tell them not to.
HUNT: You have criticized in the past Afghan President Karzai as erratic. And a war-weary nation is glad that we’re going to bring forces home. But it’s messy. And is there a fear -- do you in the White House have a fear that, as good as it is to bring most of our forces home, there’s a real chance that the Taliban and al-Qaeda will experience a resurgence there?
PODESTA: Well, look, Al, that’s why the U.S. negotiated a bilateral security arrangement with the Afghan government, with the expectation that President Karzai would sign that, which would have left a number of U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan with two missions, one, to continue to train the Afghan security forces, which now, I think, are operating in the field.
The U.S. has not -- U.S. forces are no longer in the lead in offensive combat operations. The Afghan security forces are, but to continue that training process.
And, secondly, to carry on counterterrorism operations, particularly against what remnants remain of al-Qaeda, in the region. So we put that --
HUNT: And you think that transition is working?
PODESTA: We put -- we put that BSA forward. It was negotiated. The Afghan government of President Karzai agreed to that. Now President Karzai has refused to sign that. You’ve noted my past comments before I re-entered government about what I thought about that and -- and the erratic way in which he’s operated. But what’s clear is there will be no U.S. or partner forces, NATO forces, in Afghanistan if the Afghan government doesn’t sign that BSA.
HUNT: So it’s up to him still?
PODESTA: I -- it is -- it is up to the Afghan government. Of course, there’s an election coming up. There will be a transition of power. But right now, the clock is really ticking, because we have to plan -- NATO has to plan for what the -- what the end state’s going to be.
I think there is still reason to maintain a partnership with Afghanistan for our -- for U.S. security reasons, but, you know, we -- that arrangement has to be finalized. And we have to plan for that small follow-on mission. Combat operations will come to an end at the end of 2014.
HUNT: Final question. And this is not your area now, I know, but you know a lot about politics. A story came out on Friday that Governor Chris Christie, the man he appointed to head the toll authority bridge in New Jersey, says the governor knew about those lane closings when they happened. If that story is true, John, do you think that that probably ends his presidential hopes?
PODESTA: I think it’s a killer, really. I think he was so - - in part because of what he initially said, that long press conference he gave, the absolute denial, and throwing his people under the bus the way he did, how hurt he was by them. If that was true, I don’t think there’s any coming back.
HUNT: OK. John Podesta, thank you so much for being with us.
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