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And NetSuite dotcom activity Natsui dotcom slash activity. Everybody is David Plouffe, welcome to Campaign HQ, vice presidential selections, conventions, presidential debates, vice presidential debates, closing stretch of a presidential campaign, GOTV battle ground states, all that's right in front of us. And who better to give us some unique perspective than someone who knows a thing or two about that because he's actually been in the arena. Hope you enjoy this conversation with President Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama.
Thank you for being with us. David Plouffe, good to talk to you again, brother.
Who would have thought when we first met would be talking through an app called Squad cast on something called a podcast? Right.
Well, let me just say that I did not as you'll remember during the campaign, I was good about delegating tech issues to twenty five year olds.
That was not my forte.
Right. Right. Well, what are your forte's was making good decisions. So let's jump at our old friend. Kamala Harris was picked just a couple of days ago by Joe Biden to be his running mate. You put out a statement on this, but expound, if you could, a little bit more on what she's going to bring to both the ticket and if they win the White House and what it says about Joe Biden that he made this choice.
I think it was a terrific decision and indicative of the kind of decision making Joe is going to display once he gets to the White House.
He chose somebody who would be prepared on day one to assume the presidency in the event that that was necessary. He chose somebody who is experienced at just about every level of government. He chose somebody who shares his core belief that everybody counts and that it is the job of public servants to. See and empathize with and embrace the dreams and the struggles of Americans from every walk of life out there so that we can help knock down some of the barriers that stand in the way of true opportunity and a better life for everybody.
And, you know, somebody I've known for years. She is smart. She is tough. She is somebody who I think will be able to share the stage with Mike Pence or whoever, nobody else, and dissect some of the terrible decisions that have been made over the last four years that have helped create worse problems than were necessary in the midst of this pandemic. And most importantly, I think she's somebody who is going to be able to give Joe sound advice and be a terrific sounding board when he has to make tough decisions during the course of his presidency.
You know, the thing about Joe that was so valuable to me, it wasn't any particular portfolio that he took, although as you and I both know, he did an outstanding job helping to manage the Recovery Act and help rebuild the economy after the financial crisis and the terrible recession in 2007, 2008. He was critical on a whole host of big foreign policy initiatives that we had and helped wind down the war in Iraq.
But the most important thing Joe provided was just somebody whose judgment I trusted so that after we had gone through briefings and.
Puzzled over what options were available to solve big problems. I could say to Joe, what do you think? And I knew that he would give me reasoned advice and he would make sure that whatever advice he gave was private. And if I made a decision that was contrary to what he was advising, he went out there and sold it. That kind of trust is something that I think Joe and Carmela can develop, and I think they'll make a terrific team.
Yeah, I very much agree with that. So I'm curious, you know, this decision is often referred to as the first presidential decision someone makes, even though they're not currently in the Oval Office. I remember back when we went through this 12 years ago, when you're not picking Joe Biden, you sent Axelrod Nia round to visit some of the finalists. And you said, listen, I just want to make sure you guys there's not something I'm missing.
I'm interested in your advice, but quite frankly, not that interested because I got to live with this decision like it is a lonely decision.
Right? It really and it is in many ways, I think so many decisions you make in a situation room and all the LOPSA are lonely. But talk about that a little bit because it is something you have to live with. And I think in this case, you got that decision right. But I think it does shed a lot of light in terms of how somebody might make decisions as president.
Well, at the end of the day, you have to be honest with yourself and understand what it is that you think will help you be the best possible president.
And what I like about Joe's decision is it shows a quality that he always displayed during the time that we were together in the White House, and that is he is not afraid of or intimidated by strong people who have strong opinions.
He welcomes debate and he welcomes people who can bring something to the table that he may not have. And that was certainly one of the reasons I felt good about choosing Joe.
As you'll remember at the time, Joe was not the person I was closest to of the candidates. You know, we were different age, different background. His politics were a little bit different than mine. But it was precisely those differences that I thought made him ideal, what we shared was some core beliefs, some core values, and as a result, I had a basic trust in him. But I've said this before. There's no way, as president, the United States that you are going to be an expert on every subject that comes before you.
You are not going to have mastery of epidemiology.
Climate change, science, how to get the vote out of a conservative senator in your caucus, you know what farmers in Nebraska are thinking about corn prices. You're not going to have all that. What you can do is assemble the strongest team possible and create a culture that says, let's all focus on a problem. Let's bring in top experts. Let's look at the facts. Let's challenge assumptions. And then the president has to make a decision. And what I think Joe always showed me during his time in the White House was he enjoyed that back and forth.
He wanted and encouraged me to access experts. It's one of the reasons why I'm confident that he's going to be able to put us in a much better footing when it comes to covid-19.
It's a sharp contrast to the current administration that seems to purposely try to ignore or contradict experts. And I think the fact that he chose Comilla is an indicator of his comfort with strong people who who've got strong views. Right.
Well, for Joe Biden, Kamala Harris to dig us out of the hole we're in now, they first have to win the election. And, you know, you were a very competitive person.
Maybe not everybody realized that from the outside your customer. But I think you helped us in our campaign to make sure everything was a concern. We never rested. Right. And so in the best of circumstances, good campaign staff and candidates don't take anything for granted. But now we have a pandemic. We have the central way that many people may vote by mail. The US Postal Service under attack. So what's keeping you up at night?
I mean, there's a long 80 days between now and Election Day. And so what should we think about this? What can we do about it? And how concerned are you about just the execution? This election may affect its outcome?
Look, as you said, I worry about everything, but Joe Biden is the right candidate. He's now picked an outstanding running mate. And those are big pieces of the puzzle. I think the convention will be an important opportunity to describe for the American people his vision for digging us out of the hole that we're in. But let's face the fact that it's not a live convention probably alters its impact somewhat. We don't yet know. We've never been in this circumstance before.
All kinds of events can change. There's no possibility of a vaccine for covid being developed.
And distributed. Between now and the election, but it is possible that some of the trials that are being done result in us knowing before the election that a vaccine is on the way that might relieve people's anxieties. And that can and that's good. We should hope for that. But that also can change the dynamic, particularly when you have a president who takes responsibility for nothing, but takes credit for everything, and you don't know how the economy might react to that.
So there are a whole bunch of circumstances, most of which Joe Biden can't control. Here's what Joe Biden and Democrats can control is making sure that we vote. So if you ask me the single thing that I am most concerned about between now and November. It is.
That we do everything humanly possible to ensure that everybody who wants a change in administration actually registers that change at the ballot box, whether that is in person or by mail in voting. Now, what we've seen in a way that is unique to modern political history is a president who's explicit in trying to discourage people from voting. But I mean, usually the Republican Party for quite some time has actively tried to discourage people's votes from counting and all kinds of ways, whether it's voter ID laws or, you know, blatant gerrymandering, making it difficult for people in certain precincts to find their polling places.
You know, all that stuff. Is contrary to American democracy, but I think the Republicans view has been it's all fair game as long as it helps us gain power.
What we've never seen before is a president say I'm going to try to actively kneecapped the Postal Service to encourage voting.
And I will be explicit about the reason I'm doing it. Yeah, that's sort of unheard of. Right. And we also have not had an election in the midst of a pandemic that is still. Deadly and killing a lot of people and we still don't know the long term side effects of contracting the illness, so in that circumstance, the thing I'm most worried about is, A, how do we protect the integrity of the election process? How do we make sure that people's votes are counted?
How do we police and monitor how state officials are setting up polling places and ensuring that every vote is counted? So there's a whole bunch of work to be done there. And by the way, that's not all just the job of political operatives and lawyers. You know, one of the things that is going to be of concern is just getting poll workers. Everybody who's voted in person knows that historically that's been disproportionately seniors. You know, people who volunteer their time.
They are hugely important and underappreciated just to make sure that folks get their ballot and that it's taken properly and all that stuff. Understandably, I think a lot of older poll workers are going to be a little more hesitant about exposing themselves to the pandemic. And so one thing that those of us who are interested in helping democracy, not just the campaign, can do if we're relatively young and healthy and less at risk of serious damage, if we can track the disease, is to volunteer as a poll worker, that can be hugely important.
So there's a whole bunch of stuff just in terms of the mechanics of the election. And then there's the second big piece. And this is in everybody's control and that is just making sure folks turn out to vote. Right.
And I know Michelle and I talk over the dinner table with our girls, and there is this part of us that says if you're not motivated yet to vote, if you don't think this is important, at a time when we've got a record blow to the economy, we've got a pandemic that's raging out of control. And that would have been difficult under any circumstances for any president. But we actually have a comparison between what's happening in the United States and what's happening in every other wealthy industrialized country in the world.
And we are dead last in how we have effectively responded if you don't have more proof of the need for change. It's hard to come up with what the arguments would be. But I'm assuming that anybody who's listening to your podcast is motivated. What's still necessary is making sure that you take the steps to vote early and as much as possible relieve some of the burden that's going to be placed on local elected officials.
If you are in a in a jurisdiction, if you're in a state where you have the option to vote early, you need to do that now because the more votes are in early, the less likely you're going to see a last minute crunch, both at polling places and in those states where mail in ballots are permitted.
As much as possible, we want to relieve that pressure because I'm confident that if we get a high percentage of people voting, I'm confident Joe Biden will be the next president of United States. That, I think, is the big hurdle that we're going to have to overcome. But look, this is not the kind of hurdle that John Lewis had to overcome to cast a ballot. Yeah, right. This is not the kind of hurdle that folks in South Africa, the first time apartheid was lifted and they had the franchise, what they had to endure in terms of hours and hours of lines.
In some places it's going to be tough. But but we do have to maintain some perspective. As much as Republicans try to make voting more difficult in this country, if you decide that you're going to vote, you can vote. And I'm hoping that everybody makes that decision.
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So I'm curious what some of what you think Democrats in Congress can do about this? What should they be doing to make sure that the worst doesn't come to pass here?
Look, the Democrats are doing the right thing, which is to say we are in a crisis, we are in an emergency. They put forward a proposal months ago. To make sure that people got additional relief, that small businesses got additional help. And that certain parts of government, including the post office, as well as state and local governments that are getting clobbered by this crisis also get help so that they can keep on doing the important business that they do to help the American people in all kinds of ways.
And for reasons that you and I probably don't completely understand, other than, I guess, pure ideology on their part and this consuming hatred of government, the Republicans didn't put anything forward. So you had negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress go to the last minute. They're now deadlocked. You now have the president throwing in this additional monkey wrench, trying to starve the postal service. I think the Democratic leadership in Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, have been very clear.
And they want to do what's right by the American people. And that includes making sure that the American people get direct relief and help, because that's good for all of us. Even if you still have a job, even if you haven't been as hard hit, you've been lucky enough that you haven't had to rely on, you know, these additional unemployment benefits and so forth or small business loans. As we learned in 2008, 2009, if you have high unemployment and people hurting, then that brings the entire economy down.
When you put money into the pockets of people who need help, that lifts the entire economy up.
I think the real question, David, but of course, this has been a question for the last three and a half years is what are the Republicans doing? What are the Republicans in Congress doing? The post office is not simply a delivery system for mail in ballots, right? The post office sends out. Critical benefits, Social Security benefits, veterans benefits, disability benefits, the post office helps veterans get prescription drugs filled. The post office is a lifeline for a whole bunch of people who can't afford FedEx or UPS who still operate by mail.
The post office is important to a whole bunch of seniors who, you know, aren't plugged in to the Internet. It is their lifeline. So I guess my question is not what should the Democrats be doing? My question is, what are Republicans doing where you are so scared of people voting that you are now willing to undermine what is part of the basic infrastructure of American life? I mean, it'd be the equivalent of we're not going to repair highways because people might drive to the polling places.
Right. So we just will just let massive sinkholes in the middle of the interstate linger because we're worried that folks might use those roads to vote.
And in the meantime, trucks and people trying to get to their jobs, et cetera, are all fallen into the sinkhole.
That cannot be. I hope what the Republicans in Congress believe or are comfortable with.
And I guess I would like to think that even Republican voters, you might have a few Republican voters that listening to you there.
I would hope that you would contact your representatives, people you support and say, look, it's one thing for us to have profound disagreements about policy. Those are real. Democracy is messy and conflict is inevitable. But there has to be some boundaries that we don't cross. There have to be some basic shared assumptions that bind us together. And one of those is that we don't actively hurt people or undermine key parts of our lives just for partisan advantage. I agree with that.
I think there are a lot of Republicans, more voters right now than elected officials. Hopefully they'll lift their voice. I think this is a distinctly minority view and I think we should be on offense about it each and every day. So I'm curious, you know, there's very few humans in our country's history who have been major party nominees for president. Only a handful in modern times have done it twice like you. I'm curious, like putting your old candidate hat on.
That's probably mostly good memories, some not so good memories.
But you're kind of like this is, you know, a get serious now. You've got the convention, you've got debates, you've got, you know, all the issues around getting out the vote. It's different this time because you're not flying around the country. You're doing a lot of virtual events.
But kind of like just from a candidate perspective, knowing every candidate's different, what did you find helpful to kind of really lock in for the close? Because I think in both of your races, you know, you closed exceedingly well.
Yeah. With the exception of that one debate. But you did you did go five and one. OK, that gets you in the playoffs.
But you had one stinker in there. Now one just on you. We all. Yeah, yeah. No, I was busy on you guys. I appreciate you trying to share the blame on that one.
Look, I tell you what, and to the extent that I don't think Joe needs my advice, nor does Comilla. But here's actually the one thing that I found helpful once the primary was done and I was the nominee. And that is just to keep in mind that at that point you have a pretty good likelihood of ending up being president. United States. And that is a sobering, daunting responsibility. And what I found useful in those final months was trying to speak and make decisions.
In a way that would be consistent with me governing and not just politicking, right? I felt as if at this stage of the game, I need to show people. The kind of president they can expect and model, in my words and in my actions and my decision making, this is how I intend to do the job.
And I was fortunate enough that particularly in 2008, when I wasn't yet tested, you know, I was a young and relatively inexperienced candidate on the national stage. I think that helped. I think people said, all right, you know, the guy seems to be taking this seriously and wants to do the right thing by us and isn't running a bunch of stunts and phony games. He seems to be given to a straight. And that, I think is my best advice for Joe.
You are not going to.
Out controversy, this president, you're not going to get more attention. The circus that he runs is not something that Joe should try to compete with, and that's I don't think is what the American people are looking for. I think what the American people are looking for is sober, serious, thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic leadership that's listening to them and understands what they're going through and is trying to bring the country together. And that's who Joe is. So if he projects that, if Kamela projects who she is, then I think that part of it will be fine.
I'm a big believer in not trying a bunch of stunts, certainly not at this stage in the campaign. The spotlight's already on you. You don't need the attention. Everybody understands this is a big deal. So just be yourself and try to do what's right.
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You've had some really good advice, I think, for Democrats both in elected office and citizens, but some up kind of you put on your candidate hat your your old community and political organizer hat. As you know, Democrats, as a creature, we tend to be nervous. And what's your advice to people so that they sort of focus on, you know, organizing and not agonizing over the next 80 days? What's kind of your checklist for them?
Well, look, I actually think that the people are thinking about this the right way. During the primary, there was a huge amount of hype. Understandable. That's what the press does. Nothing wrong with it in emphasizing all the internal differences among Democrats.
And, you know, it was the left versus the center and new generation versus old generation and this and that and the other. My impression is now that people feel good about this ticket, I thought that Joe did a wonderful thing, not just politically, but it was the right thing substantively to engage Bernie Sanders after the election, put together task forces, hammer out some consensus platforms on big issues like climate change and economic inequality. You look at what's contained in those documents.
Those are serious well thought through ideas that really, you know, I think potentially can make a difference.
So the good news is that a lot of the so-called divisions within the Democratic Party, I think, are not going to be a major factor in the election. I think everybody's unified around the idea that everybody should have health care and that the Affordable Care Act, which I'm very proud of, needs to be built on. I'm the first one to believe it. So hopefully all my supporters do, too. It's not an insult to say that we can improve what we got started there.
I think all of us care deeply about climate change. And Joe has serious specific plans to make big strides on that front. I think all of us are concerned about issues of race in this country and the continuing stain of racism that affects all walks of life. But in particularly the criminal justice system, I think, again, although that's primarily a state issue in terms of day to day practice.
Joe's got, I think, serious plans to make sure that the federal government's on the right side of that. So I think from a policy perspective, there's broad unity there. The main thing I would say to people is rather than worry about things you can't control, worry about the things you can't. Right. And I will repeat, the one thing we can control is voting. We can cast our ballots like we never have before. And I do think maybe there's one aspect of this that I should probably address, and that is voting among young people in particular, which, you know, you and I have always stressed about.
Because the interesting thing about young people is they are the most progressive. Most idealistic. Most passionate among us, and when they vote, good things happen, yeah. But historically, they vote at low rates even, and you'll have the numbers at the top of your head here. But but even in 08, right. Which was viewed as historic and we saw a lot of ways, we did remake the map by bumping up the percentage of the overall electorate that was young.
But even then, it was still relatively low. It was still lower than other age groups. And we've seen the power of these young people in the demonstrations that swept the nation after George Floyds murder. Now channeling that energy into politics not as a alternative to protest, but as a. Part of the overall agenda of making the country better that, I think, is something that most young people embrace, but not enough. When I talk to Emily and Sasha, I still get too many reports of young people who are progressive on every checklist, but somehow have convinced themselves, well, voting.
That's so establishment, that's so old school. That's not going to make a difference when I hear that.
And generally, young people have enough sense not to say that directly to me, but when I hear of those messages, I just have to say, well, who do you think makes a decision whether or not to prosecute a police officer who is shot an unarmed man in the back? Who do you think makes decisions about whether or not schools have computers and textbooks that are up to date in their classrooms? Who is it that is going to determine whether polluters have to stop polluting or not?
At a certain point, government is inescapable one way or another. And this is why I think at the eulogy of my dear friend John Lewis, I was probably more explicit about the need to cast a ballot and to get rid of barriers to voting than might have been normal in a in that kind of setting, because that was his legacy. He got beat over the head, almost died, went to jail innumerable times, suffered all kinds of death threats, as did C.T. Vivian and Diane Nash and all those members of Snake who went door to door in remote areas.
And they did that not for kicks. They did it not because they thought that just marching was going to change things. They did it because they understood that this was the lever through which you could get this big machinery called the U.S. government.
To stand on the side of right, right and look at the outcomes of any government policy are imperfect and they're going to be disappointments and they're going to be people you elect who don't do the right thing. And Lord knows Congress can be frustrating. But when we have voted in large numbers, particularly young people. We make progress, and when we don't, that vacuum is filled by people who are only interested in protecting their own power and their own privilege and prerogatives, and and we've seen a pretty good evidence of that over the last three and a half years, right?
No, I think you offered the perfect call to action in John Lewis, his memory. And you're right. I mean, we had good turnout and he could have been better is actually stronger in 12 in the battleground states amongst young people would surprise people, including us, because I think young people knew what was at stake and we saw it happen in 18. So I think you're right. Now, your point about prosecutors and holding polluters accountable, also issues of what are we go to war or not?
Who gets health care? Not at their core. We have to convince people, particularly young people. These are really they are electoral decisions before their policy decisions. That's what they are. And you've got to get in the arena. Well, listen, brother, thank you for your time and wisdom today and for all you and Michelle are going to do over the next two days. And hopefully we'll get together and celebrate, you know, the election and inauguration of just an amazing president and Joe Biden.
Well, I'm confident that if we do our jobs, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are going to be able to do their jobs and the country will be better for it. So you're rocking that beard as well.
Appreciate it, man. Talk to you about.