White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley predicted "a very tough and close election" in 2012, thanks to continuing "tough times for the American people" and a highly polarized electorate that has ricocheted between parties in elections since 2006.

Daley, a former Commerce Secretary who rarely makes public remarks, was interviewed at the Washington Ideas Forum by CBS Chief White House Correspondent Norah O'Donnell in a wide-ranging conversation that addressed the president's upcoming re-election campaign, White House hopes for the economy and the president's jobs bill, and Ron Suskind's recent book. 

Washington Ideas Forum - Full Coverage

"It's an extremely volatile political season right now," Daley said. A "mantra" among some Republicans of taking "a very hard-line position of 'no'" against the president since 2009 has helped foster that. "The president came to town to have a different voice, a less shrill voice," Daley said.

Asked which Republican contender the White House feared most as a presidential nominee in 2012, Daley quipped, "Christie" -- adding to laughter, "Is he not running?"

Daley declined to offer an opinion on Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, saying he had never met him. "Whoever the Republican Party nominates will be a formidable candidate because the nation is very divided," he said.

Daley also said he did not believe the nation was heading for renewed recession. "The expectation right now is that we won't have a double dip," he said. But he acknowledged that "the expectations of the first half of this year for a stronger second half and stronger '12 are not going to be fulfilled." That's why the president is pushing so hard for his jobs plan, he said.

Daley shrugged off allegations that the White House was a near-hostile work environment for women, as reported in Ron Suskind's book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President.

Observing, "since I'm not a woman, I can't tell you" what the White House was like for women, Daley said he had "not sensed any problem" and that senior staffers had "a great relationship."

"I heard that there were some issues early on with my predecessor," he quipped, referring to former White House chief off staff and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. "He's probably watching this thing," Daley said.

Asked by an audience member about his best and worst day in the White House since joining the administration nine months ago, Daley said the Sunday Osama bin Laden was killed was "the highlight" of his time there, thanks to the opportunity to be in the room with senior national security staff who had been working for 10 years to kill or capture the al-Qaeda leader.

The day the debt ceiling negotiations fell apart when "we were so close on a deal" and the U.S. economy was on the line was the worst, he said.

Video clip: Daley contrasts Barack Obama with Bill Clinton

View the full session at FORA.tv

Full transcript of the Daley session:




OCTOBER 5, 2011



O'DONNELL:  And Secretary Daley, thank you so much for joining us, of course, the White House Chief of Staff.  I want to start this off sort of in a little bit of a fun way, get some insight about you and your position and start by asking you how do you start your day and what do you read first?

DALEY:  I read the Post and the New York Times because they're delivered.  I still actually open a paper.  And then I go online and begin to read the Times and the Financial Times and the Journal and the Chicago Tribune, just to make sure I can watch what my predecessor is doing so that when he calls 10 minutes later I can harass him about something.

O'DONNELL:  Does Rahm call you a lot?

DALEY:  We talk a lot, yeah, yeah.

O'DONNELL:  And what does he say?

DALEY:  This is being recorded, isn't it?  You want to know what he -- how he says and what he says in -- you don't know if you have to hear it from somebody else.  And then I'm usually in by 7:00 and start with a 7:30 meeting of the senior staff, and we do an 8:30 meeting with about 50 people, the leadership of the entire West Wing, NOBOB (ph).  And then the day begins and finishes up usually -- at least I leave somewhere around 7:00, 7:30.

O'DONNELL:  You joined the White House in January.  You had previously worked in the Clinton administration as the Secretary of Commerce.  How would you say President Obama and President Clinton are different?

DALEY:  Well, let me think -- think about that.  There's lots of ways they're different.  Obviously the times are very different, which I think when you look at presidents it isn't just their personality, their style of management, it's the times in which they're in.

President Clinton was a very different -- he was somebody who expressed himself quite a bit and rather vocally.  He was very open in his emotions and the way he conveyed it through his feelings to people.

President Obama, as people have said, is, you know, no drama Obama.  He's very steady, controlled, constantly searching for more information.  Bill Clinton also was, but it's just -- stylistically, they're very different.  But the times really I think impact how they operate and how they manage more so than even their personalities, to be very frank with you.

O'DONNELL:  You were brought into the White House and there was a lot of discussion you were gonna strengthen ties with Capitol Hill, with the business community.  How's that going?

DALEY:  It's going great.  Can't you tell?  I mean, you know, things are just really great.  There's no problem and business community loves us and they love the rhetoric and there are just no problems.

No, look, these are tough times for American people, and the difficulties in this town politically -- I know Senator Rubio is on next -- is just -- is much more reflective of what's going on out there in America.  

What happens in this town is much more reflective than we sometimes like to admit.  So the difficulty politically, we have been a divided nation politically for a very long time.  If you look back at the elections of the last number of years, '08 and some -- to some degree was an aberration.  '04 was a relatively close election.  60,000 votes in Ohio and we would have had a different outcome.  2000, which I chaired Al Gore's campaign was 500 votes in Florida.  '96, Bill Clinton got less than 50 percent of the vote, and in '92 got less than 50 percent of the vote.

So for the -- for the last number of years, America is divided and you've had these enormous swings, '06, '08, '10, and the American people are, you know, stressed out, but they are -- it's an extremely volatile political season right now and -- 

O'DONNELL:  There's no doubt there's been a history of polarization, but what would you say about this state of the relationship between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill?

DALEY:  Well, I think it's -- I think the Republican mantra starting in '09, shortly after the president was inaugurated, of basically, you know, we're gonna take a position, a very hard line position of no, and that's pretty much been it, when the Majority -- when the Minority Leader, pardon me, of the Senate says, "My number one goal is to defeat the president," that's a pretty amazing statement, and -- I mean, we all believe him and that is his goal and that is his objective, and he's every day trying to accomplish his objective.

That puts a certain different twist on trying to get accommodation.  The president came to town to try to have a different voice, a less shrill voice, someone who's -- who, as he did in previous positions in Illinois was very much bringing people together, but it's proven to be much more difficult than I think he or anyone else thought it would be.

O'DONNELL:  But I was in the press briefing room with you this summer when the president came in, gave us about a five minute notice, came in at 6:00 to announce that he had just received a call from Speaker Boehner that they were breaking off talks on the debt ceiling, and the question I asked at that time to the president was it seems like there's been an extraordinary breakdown of trust.  Are you guys even talking anymore?  Do you talk to --

DALEY:  Sure, I talk to the speaker.  The president speaks to the leadership.  But there's no question that -- and it's partly because of the -- in my opinion, you've got the -- this happens every cycle.  The presidential elections begin earlier than anyone likes, but every cycle we all complain about it, but we all participate in it.

So you -- you have that going even earlier than usual, and I think that impacts, obviously, the Hill and impacts the politics on the Republican side.  We don't have a primary going on, so that's a little different, and it -- it's well known that there's a struggle within the Republican party as to what is the actual heart and soul of the Republican Party.

You had an election in the fall that was very much driven by a wing of the party that became much -- much more energized, much more aggressive.  The leadership that came in on that wave was not part of that wave.  And so that -- that presents a struggle within their caucus, and we watch that play out in the debt ceiling and that continues to play out in other votes.  So they also -- struggles also.

O'DONNELL:  Is it not just -- but is it -- the president has been out on the road and blaming Republicans, is now naming names, specifically talked about Mr. Cantor yesterday, Congressman Cantor.  But isn't it the -- isn't there an issue with the Democrats too on the Hill?  I mean, there are currently no co-sponsors of the president's jobs bill, his number one priority, and -- and Durbin, Senator Durbin has said the Democrats don't have the vote, and Harry Reid has been reluctant to schedule a vote.

DALEY:  The senator is going to schedule -- said today in a press conference that the vote will be very shortly.  There's no question in my mind.  We didn't think it would be before mid to end of October, and that's gonna happen, as is we're dealing with the trade agreements, we're dealing with TAA.  

The Congress, which as you may have noticed, has a rather light schedule lately, but they've got a lot of things on their plate.  So trying to tee up issues and get them through is very difficult, considering the schedule.  I think the House leaves -- after three weeks they take a week off and go back in district.  Not imply that it's a vacation, but they take about every third week off.  So there isn't a lot of time.

O'DONNELL:  What do you think has happened?  I mean, as a senator said to me the other night, that Tip O'Neill and Bob Michel spoke more in one day than Boehner and Pelosi speak in a year.  What's happened?

DALEY:  I think I'm one who believes that our politics -- you know, lots of people say, oh, it's a -- not as civil as it used to be and if only the politicians could get together.  The truth is our overall society has gotten less civil to each other.  What's popular on TV?  Reality TV shows that are generally somebody doing something outrageous or obnoxious or treating somebody in an obnoxious way.  And we can't think that somehow politics is separate from that, or that's separate from politics.

So I often think about the incivility that seems to be in politics, is a little more reflective of the incivility that may be going on in our general society, which is not a positive thing to see, obviously.  But there is not -- there is not the engagement anymore that there used to be, and we've heard this story.  

Senators go home much more now than they used to and not as many live here.  Congressman running every two years and the cost of it and the fear of being out of a job, as opposed to, you know, if you lose your job and you'll get another one, that -- it's created a very different climate that even 10 years ago when I was here under Clinton, President Clinton, you could just feel it.  It's very different.

O'DONNELL:  Just one more on this and then we'll move on to other issues about the economy and foreign policy.  But do you -- do you take some responsibility for the relations with Capitol Hill and with Speaker Boehner?

DALEY:  Well, I -- I think there's no question that -- I would -- yeah, I would take some responsibility for the -- for the relationship.  That's part of my job.  I think everybody in this room, everybody in media, everybody in this town, everybody active in politics has to take responsibility for some of the way our political system has gone.

It's unfortunate, but it has not only gotten less civil, it's -- there's a whole bunch of changes that have occurred, and very recently -- just your business, how people get their news.  And what's news anymore is debatable.  You know, is Jon Stewart news or is it entertainment?  You make the argument it's entertainment, lots of people watch it and think it's news.  So those are things you struggle with I know in your business, but the impact on the political system is enormous.

O'DONNELL:  On the economy, I want to get to you on the Fed chairman.  Ben Bernanke of course made news yesterday when he told Congress that the recovery is close to faltering.  How do you respond to that?

DALEY:  Well, I think it's pretty obviously that the expectations of the first half of this year for a stronger second half and a stronger '12 are not gonna be fulfilled.  That's one of the reasons the president put together the American Jobs Act, in order to try to create economic growth and jobs.

I think if the predictions that had been for most of the spring through the spring had been fulfilled in the second half, I don't think you'd have the pressure, at least the impetus probably for us to feel so strongly that we've got to do something to create jobs and some economic growth.  And that's what the president announced a month ago and is fighting to try to get a vote in the Senate next week or the week after.  

And hopefully at some point the House will deal with a job creating bill in order to put some buffer so that the expectation of some that the economy may slip backwards, we've got some buffer to try to stop that.  And most independent analysts who analyze the president's job package said it would add a point to a point and a half in GDP growth and a million to 1.7 million jobs.

O'DONNELL:  But there's no expectation that the president's full bill will be passed.  We know that.  It's dead on arrival, the full thing in the House.

DALEY:  Well, hope springs eternal.  I don't -- I -- to say it's dead on arrival, my answer is that may be someone's political judgment.  OK, if it is, what's the -- what's the plan of other people?  The president put the -- put a package forward.  No one else has put a package forward that can be independently analyzed and decided whether it creates jobs or causes economic growth.

So he's led.  He's put something on the table.  Don't just say no.  Have something that's real, not some talking points, something that can be scored and by outside analysts, not political inside analysts or think tanks that are in the tank with whatever side, excuse me, who may be -- and there are plenty of them, as we know, in this town.

So, you know, my challenge to everyone else who runs around and says, "Well, his job package is dead," what are you gonna do for the economy, as opposed to just talk about it?  But this plan, if it is passed, outside analysts, independent, will say that it will be positive.  So let's get it out.  Let's call the question, have the vote, and if it doesn't pass, there is a responsibility of those who vote against it to have a plan, or else they're just gonna say to the American people, "We don't need something."

O'DONNELL:  Given Chairman Bernanke's comments yesterday, how worried are you about another recession?

DALEY:  Well, I think the general consensus of the experts is that you won't have a recession, another recession, a double dip, or a new dip.  But I think what's going on in Europe causes, as you can see in the marketplace, great concern.

The president speaks to the European leaders quite often, and the expectation is that they will take action to prevent serious negative results that would cause the world to slip back even further than we are.  But we follow it.  We're very concerned about the possibility, but the expectations as of right now is that we would not see a double dip.

O'DONNELL:  I hope you know the White House press corps is hanging on every word that you say.

DALEY:  That's why I usually don't do this.

O'DONNELL:  Exactly.  Is is --

DALEY:  Because Bradley and Walter -- 

O'DONNELL:  Yeah, it is -- it is a real treat.

DALEY:  I don't know why I said yes to this.

O'DONNELL:  We're just getting started.

DALEY:  I know.  That's the problem.

O'DONNELL:  The super committee, as many people know, they've got to come up with a -- those cuts mandated by the debt ceiling deal.  They've got to do it by Thanksgiving.  How likely do you think it is that they'll be able to get their work done?  Do you think it's a 50/50 chance?  How would you rate -- 

DALEY:  Well, having gone through the debt ceiling negotiations with the speaker and -- twice, I know hard it is to come up with a balanced package.  If it's not a balanced package, you're not gonna get a decision and will have a sequester in '13.

Our hope is -- and the president here too put a $3 trillion package forward and people can say it's real or it's not real or whatever, and it was balanced with revenue and real -- more entitlement cuts than we've seen in a very, very long time, if ever, in actual dollars.  And so if that's not gonna be acted on and the committee is gonna come up with $1.2 trillion, that obviously is the minimum they should come up with.  

I think it is well intended.  I think the membership is -- are truly the leaders of Congress, and if they can't do something bold, then that would be another sort of damnation of the system, and that would be unfortunate.  My expectation is -- I don't want to give percents.  They know it.  I've talked to almost all of them and they're sincere, but they're also finding out how difficult it is.  

And then to build the coalition, even within the 12 to get seven to five or eight to four, I don't think it's a one -- one -- one member of the Republican Party jumps with the Democrats, or one Democrat jumps over to the Republicans.  I think there's got to be a broader consensus in order for -- our analogy was always in our negotiations let's all hold hands and jump off the edge, not knowing if there was a net, but at least you were holding hands with somebody when you hit the floor.

O'DONNELL:  Gotcha.  I'm going to ask you about 2012 in a minute, but I do want to ask you about Al-Qaeda following the killing on Friday of Anwar al-Awlaki.  Back in July, Secretary of Defense Panetta said the strategic defeat of Al-Qaeda is within reach.  How close do you believe we are to that goal?  You were there for bin Laden and the Friday -- news on Friday.

DALEY:  I think the Friday action was a -- a very substantial -- has a very substantial impact on Al-Qaeda and those who want to do harm to our homeland.  There are lots of people around the world who are terrorists, but there are a few very --

O'DONNELL:  How close to strategic defeat?

DALEY:  I think we're -- we're -- we're very close, but this is the sort of organization that we will be vigilant for as long as we are all alive, because they can rear their heads in parts of the world and in ways that we -- we just historically have not been used to.

But the aggressiveness of the last three years by this president, who, to be honest, lots of people when he ran were, oh, you know, he's a community activist.  What does he know about, you know, all these very difficult, complex foreign policy and military issues?

I would say that this president has proven a certain steel, without using techniques that made America less popular in the world, in a way that's been aggressive far beyond any administration that occupied this office in recent times.

O'DONNELL:  Liz Cheney is sitting over there, but she'll have a moment to respond to that later.

DALEY:  I'm sure she'll have more than a moment.

O'DONNELL:  2012, which Republican are you most worried about running against?

DALEY:  Christie.


DALEY:  Is he not in?  I don't know.  You know, it's -- who knows?

O'DONNELL:  What do you think of Mitt Romney?

DALEY:  I've never met him, so I don't -- look, whoever the Republican Party nominates will be a formidable candidate, because the nation is very divided.  We are in a very difficult time.  People are very nervous about the future.  We've seen these enormous swings, as I said, in '10 and '08 and '06.  

And so we've seen them all over, so it's -- this is a difficult time for America, so if you're in any incumbency, if you're the CEO of a company, if you're an anchor on a network, you better worry about your job every day, OK?  And so this will be a very close -- unless you're --

O'DONNELL:  (inaudible) is still here.

DALEY:  Unless -- so it is going to be a very tough, close election.  I don't care -- and that's how we approach it.  That's how the president approaches it, and, you know, bring it on.

O'DONNELL:  OK, Margaret has some questions from Twitter, but I have to ask one more real quick, which is that you play golf -- President Obama played with President Clinton recently.  You were part of that foursome.  Who won?

DALEY:  I think it was -- I don't -- to be honest with you, you don't keep score when you play with Bill Clinton.  And he's a friend, OK?  Now, he's playing pretty well, to be very frank with you.

But we had a lot of fun.  It was a -- it was a -- it was a fun day and the president -- President Clinton looked great and President Obama, and he was probably as much time as they've been able to spend together.  And, you know, we just kind of all -- all of us literally hacked around the course for four hours, so -- so that's about what we did.

O'DONNELL:  Margaret Carlson has some questions.

QUESTION:  How many (inaudible) were there?

DALEY:  You know, I don't play for money, so I don't really care.  If someone wants to say he shot a 40, shoot a 40.  I don't care.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  So I have some audience questions.  How big a hole am I in with you already?

DALEY:  Pretty deep.

QUESTION:  Pretty deep?  OK.  But thank you for coming.

DALEY:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  From the audience, what has been your best and worst day so far?  Not in your whole life.  I think just in the White House.

DALEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  But you could do your whole life.

DALEY:  No, no.  The best day, to be frank with you, was the Sunday of Osama bin Laden.  I was one of the only non -- may have been the only non-national security person in the White House who knew from -- the first day I got here, got to the job, they -- in the PDB (ph) -- I don't know if I -- anyway, it was mentioned this --

QUESTION:  You can do it.  You can do it.

DALEY:  Probably -- this compound, and I thought, gee, that's interesting.  And so that Sunday, and the -- the -- seeing the thing progress over the months and the dedication and focus of the intelligence agencies and the military and the way they work together and to pull that off -- you know, there were people in that room who had for 10 years been trying to find this fellow.  And so that would be the highlight of -- of -- that would probably have been the best day in the nine months that I've been there.

Probably the worst day in -- in that sense was -- in a sense was the -- when the debt ceiling -- when we thought we were so close on a deal that I believe would have really made -- had an impact on our country, on our economy, and it fell apart on the debt ceiling was probably the worst day of the nine months.

QUESTION:  We only have a minute left, so (inaudible), but one of the questions they wanted to ask was how do women get along in the White House?  Now, you've been pretty good to Norah and me here, but how is it in the White House for women?

DALEY:  Since I'm not a woman, it's hard for me to answer that.  I don't -- you know, I read this --

QUESTION:  Do they complain?

DALEY:  But that was for my -- during my predecessor's year.  I've not sensed any problem, and I think speaking -- and I know both Valerie and Melody will be here later on, they probably obviously can answer that.  We have a great relationship in the senior staff and I think throughout the administration, and that comes from the top down.  The president has -- through his campaigns and through the issues that he's fought for obviously has fought and been on the edge on women's issues.

So I don't see it as a -- I didn't even read the book, but I -- but I did heard that -- hear that there was some issues early on under a predecessor of mine.  So I can dump on him for that.

QUESTION:  Yeah, right.  Yeah, you phone him tomorrow morning.

DALEY:  No, he'll probably phone me.  He's probably watching this thing.

QUESTION:  Back to you, Norah.

O'DONNELL:  All right, well, please thank the Chief of Staff, the present Chief of Staff for being here, William Daley.


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