O: Are you surprised, though, Mr. President, and Mrs. Obama, that the climate is more acrimonious than ever? You were the candidate of hope.
BO: Well, look, politics in this country is always tough. It's always contentious, because this is a big country and a diverse country, and people have strong points of view, and we've got a great diversity of interests.
O: But are you surprised at how bad it's gotten?
MO: The truth is, there's a difference between what you see on the news and in this bubble and what you see when you go out there, and I just wish more people had the opportunity that we had to go to Iowa or Florida. People are fired up. They are feeling hopeful. They are, as Barack said, as engaged as they were three and a half years ago, even though times are tough.
BO: Michelle's right—when you travel around the country and even talk to folks who don't plan to vote for me, there is not that acrimony you see in Washington. People are courteous and they listen, and if they disagree, they usually present their disagreements in ways that don't imply you're somehow un-American or out to get them. That's not how Americans think. That's unique to a culture in Washington that we have not changed as much as I would have liked. Am I frustrated by that? Absolutely, and we're gonna keep on working at it. My attitude is I'm just gonna stay on it.
O: Could you have reached out more?
BO: You know, we've reached out constantly and will continue to, because most of the ideas I present, at one time or another, have been supported by Republicans. The healthcare bill is the greatest example. There's a reason it's difficult for Governor Romney to talk about the healthcare bill—because it's his bill! He passed it in Massachusetts. And the idea of the Recovery Act—a third of it was tax cuts, and traditionally, Republicans are in favor of tax cuts. So some of this has just been politics, but we are going to keep reaching out and presenting the best ideas possible for how to grow the economy and build a strong middle class. We are going to have to break a stalemate, though, because I do think at the moment the Republican Party has decided to think in very ideological terms about how we should manage this economy, and it involves cutting taxes as much as possible for especially the wealthiest, eliminating as many regulations as possible, and letting the free market do whatever it wants. That's not been historically how we grow. We have to invest in education, in rebuilding broadband lines and roads and runways, and it's important that we bring back American manufacturing and regulations to prevent consumers from being cheated. All those things are important. And a safety net for those most in need.
O: I meant to ask this when we were talking about healthcare: Is Chief Justice John Roberts your new best friend?
BO: [Laughs.] He's a very smart, very capable person. I have to say, I always was optimistic, much more optimistic than everybody else was, that this law would be upheld.
O: Did you think you'd have his vote?
BO: I actually did.
O: You did?
BO: I thought we'd also get Justice Kennedy's vote, so I was surprised that it was only five to four as opposed to six to three. But there's no doubt that Justice Roberts, both in his reading of the Constitution and his recognition of the role of the court, decided that it would be very damaging for the court and the country to overturn this law.
O: Have you spoken to him since?
BO: No; generally we're pretty careful about that, for separation-of-powers reasons.
O: You're not allowed to give him a high five?
BO: I can't call him up and say, "Thank you, my buddy."
O: "Thanks, dude."
Next: President Obama on his relationship with God
We Hear You!