Former President Bill Clinton, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” predicted that unemployment numbers will drop faster than expected and help President Barack Obama win re-election.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: Welcome to “Political Capital.” My guest is the 42nd president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.
Mr. President, when you won re-election in 1996, the unemployment rate was 5.2 percent. Barack Obama’s going to have well over 8 percent. No president’s been re-elected with a higher than 7.2 percent since World War II. It’s going to be a tough slog, isn’t it.
BILL CLINTON: Well, I still believe he’ll win, and I believe he’ll win because I think he’s got a better economic record than he’s gotten credit for and because I think he’ll be - have more credible positions than his opponent, if the Republicans stay anywhere near where they are right now.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if he could actually get the unemployment rate down a little faster than people think if they will do a few basic things. If they get - if they can speed up hiring the people that are already - where the jobs are being offered. We talked about this, you and I. There’s more than 3 million jobs being posted today. We’re filling them half as fast as we have in the past.
You could speed that up to normal rate, get another 2 million jobs. There’s - if you could speed up the retrofitting of buildings, you could get another million jobs if you did it right.
If we could clean out this mortgage - this bad mortgage debt, if we could use the Bank of America settlement as a model to now make sure all investors, everybody’s taken care of, so write these mortgages down to the value of the home and clean out the debt of the rest.
I think 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.
HUNT: When was the last time you talked to him about the economy?
CLINTON: I don’t know - a few weeks ago. But I try never to bother him. I really go out of my way not to do that. I think you know, if he - if there’s something I can do to help or he wants to talk, it’s fine. But when - if I have some idea, I’ll call his national economic adviser, Gene Sperling, who worked with me.
HUNT: You have some familiarity -
CLINTON: Yes, or I’d call Vice President Biden because he’s been working on all these jobs issues for some time. Or I’d talk to Jeff Immelt on the Jobs Council because he’s interested in the efficiency issue.
I don’t - I know he’s got a complicated, tough job. I don’t want to complicate that.
HUNT: You’ve expressed your views about what Washington is fooling around with this - with this debt ceiling, but there’s a lot of stuff going on now. Harry Reid said the Senate is going to cancel its July 4th recess as the president requested. Is now the time that President Obama should get Speaker Boehner and others and go to someplace like Camp David and say, “Hey, we’ve really got to spend some intense couple days and not just meet every third or fourth day”?
CLINTON: I don’t know enough about the state of play to know that. I’ve told you what I think should be done. I think, first of all, the president should tie the budget negotiations to what he’s been doing on the economy and say there is not a shred of evidence that settling this budget thing is the big thing holding up the economy, and the first thing is the economy.
We can’t have big spending cuts, and certainly not another round of tax cuts for people in my income group, which is what the Republicans want right now. This is - nor should we have big tax increases right now. We shouldn’t do any of this. We should work on the economy.
So what I’d like to do is to get - I’d like to see the Republicans agree to go ahead and honor our debt obligations. We’ll look foolish if we don’t pay our bills. A big honorable country pays its bills. And we shouldn’t be playing around with that. We incurred the debt. We ought to pay it.
CLINTON: Now, then both sides need to come up with 10-year plans.
HUNT: But do you have a feel that - fear that Republicans may look at this now and say, “Hey, you know, if we don’t do anything, the other guy’s going to get blamed. Just sitting there and no action, a, helps us with our base, and also, if it doesn’t help the economy, it’s going to be their (inaudible).”
CLINTON: Well, they - or they may think if we don’t do anything, we might get blamed, but it’ll still hurt him at election time -
CLINTON: .. if the economy is not in good shape.
I don’t know. First of all, that shouldn’t - nobody should want that. Not after all the suffering the American people have been through. But that’s a pretty big gamble if - if they caught - 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.
HUNT: Let me try one final political question: You’ve talked about the - the GOP field. You’ve praised some of the candidates.
Who do you think would be the toughest Republican to face the Democrats next year? And - and what surprise should we look for in the next year?
CLINTON: Well, the only surprise you should look for is if we can figure out a way - let’s let me answer that one first.
If we can find a way to clear this mortgage debt and secure a lot of people in their homes, and all their neighbors in the value of their homes -
CLINTON: - if we can find a way to really make this energy efficiency on existing structures work, and if we can get this infrastructure bank going so we get manufacturing and construction going, what - the surprise you should look for in the next year is a lot more jobs being created than anybody thinks right now.
HUNT: And which Republican would you least like to face - have your party face?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I’d least like to face the one that I most agree with, that I think is the most moderate. But that may not be the best politics.
It’s so predictable - I mean it’s so unpredictable now. I - you know, it’s - and I pray that every time I say something nice - if I say something nice about Governor Huntsman, whom I think did a good job for us in China, was a creative governor -
HUNT: Do you think he’d be the strongest candidate?
CLINTON: - or - well, I don’t know because he hasn’t told us exactly, specifically what he wants.
CLINTON: But I certainly am impressed with the way he started.
I think Governor Romney’s doing a better job this time than he did four years ago.
But I think - on the other hand, I saw Michele Bachmann speak at that Conservative Political Action Committee, and I’ve seen her several times since. 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.
So I’d - I’m not - I’ve been so out of politics, I don’t know that I know what’ll sell or what’ll be best for them.
All I can tell you is - I’ll make this prediction: Whatever the unemployment rate is, if it doesn’t go up, if it still keeps going down, and the policy direction stays more or less where it is, I will be surprised if the president is not re-elected, because I believe he has done a better job than he has gotten credit for.
And I think a lot of the members of our party and Congress have. And I think that, you know, fooling around with the full - with the credit of America is not good strategy. So I - I think he’ll make it.
But what I want more than anything else is to see him get together and work this out, and get to work on the jobs issue.
HUNT: Mr. President, you still stand pretty sharp on politics to most of us.
Thank you so much for being with us.
CLINTON: Thanks (inaudible)
HUNT: - for the rest of your Clinton Global Initiative.
CLINTON: Thank you.
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