Valerie Jarrett Discusses President Obama’s State Of The Union Address, Gov. Jan Brewer, The Obamas Book & FLOTUS

Pres. Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address this week. In it, he laid out his blueprint for the economy, an economy built on American manufacturing, homegrown energy, skills for workers, and a renewal of American values; but he was particularly forceful on the question of fairness.

Here with us to discuss the President’s “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” is Senior White House Advisor and Pres. Barack Obama’s right-hand woman and good friend Valerie Jarrett.

MR. MARTIN: Pres. Barack Obama gave his State of the Union address this week.  In it, he laid out his blueprint for the economy, an economy built on American manufacturing, homegrown energy, skills for workers, and a renewal of American values; but he was particularly forceful on the question of fairness.


PRES. BARACK OBAMA:  Let’s never forget millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same.  It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom:  no bailouts, no handouts and no copouts.  An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.

Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households.  Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.  Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research, a strong military and care for our veterans?  Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.


MR. MARTIN:  Here with us to discuss the President’s “Blueprint for an America Built to Last” is Senior White House Advisor and Pres. Barack Obama’s right-hand woman and good friend Valerie Jarrett.

Valerie, welcome back.

MS. VALERIE JARRETT:  Thank you.  It’s a pleasure to be back, Roland.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  A big speech, and w- — on Tuesday.  What I found to be very interesting about – about the whole deal was this – now all of a sudden, it’s a fight over what is fair.  Now, that’s now being called “class warfare,”  you know, redistributing money.  And so what do you make of this whole battle?  The President talked about fairness and equality, but the Republicans are saying, “Oh, you’re now instigating class warfare.”

MS. JARRETT:  Well, nonsense!  The President said it’s common sense, and that’s exactly what it is.  In a country as great as ours, we cannot have this continuing disparity between the very wealthy and everybody else.  The President’s in Ann Arbor today at the University of Michigan, talking about what we need to do to make college more affordable.  It’s gotten to the point where, if you work hard, you can no longer afford to send your children to college; you can no longer afford to retire with dignity with a pension in your pocket.  And that’s not fair, and so the President is fighting for all of those who really still believe in that American Dream and helping to make that dream a reality.

MR. MARTIN:  Is it also an issue, when you begin to break it down, that it – it goes beyond, act- — when – when it comes to money?  It also speaks to “do you have an opportunity to get out of that rut?”

MS. JARRETT:  Exactly!

MR. MARTIN:  I – I was –

MS. JARRETT:  Exactly.

MR. MARTIN:  — reading Harry –

MS. JARRETT:  Exactly.

MR. MARTIN:  — Belafonte’s book, and he was talking about poverty with his mother, and he said, man, no matter what she did, she was still mired in that position.  And the people out there who are poor, who are working their tails off, and they just don’t sense that they have the opportunity to get out of that.

MS. JARRETT:  Well – and it’s worse than that.  They don’t feel like they’re getting a fair share; and they see other people, who are not playing by the rules, who are.  That’s a big part of why, when the President came in, and we were in the middle of a[n] economic crisis, it was so important to put rules of the road in place so that we didn’t see a few taking risks with other people’s money, where taxpayers have to come in.  And then we see what happened to the housing market.  So many people who were losing their homes, and yet they saw how certain banks misbehaved, and there were no consequences.

We need fairness all the way around.

MR. MARTIN:  In the speech, the President said, quote:  “… a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while more Americans barely get by.”  Now, he has been criticized by many.  We’ve had Dr. Cornel West on this show talk about the issue of the poor and the p- — and those who’re impoverished.  The President did not specifically say that in his speech, but when it comes to his policies, how will they be affected?

MS. JARRETT:  Well, he cares very much about making sure that we have a strong middle class and, for those who want so desperately to get into the middle class, they have an opportunity.  And it’s – it’s a multi-dimensional strategy.  We need to make sure that our young children are being trained for the jobs of tomorrow – not the trai- — jobs of the past.  We need to make sure that college is affordable.  We need to make sure that, in college, they’re getting the right skills that they need.  We need to make sure that the tax system is one that’s fair.  In your introduction, you mentioned, you know, Debbie, Warren Buffett’s secretary, who works really very hard; but, yet, she’s paying taxes at a higher tax rate than he is.  Well, that doesn’t make sense!

And so you have to look at all the different ways where we can create incentives, for example, for manufacturing to invest in our country; for manufacturing to be incentivized to go into communities that ’ve been depressed, so we can give them a reason to go into a neighborhood that’s seen great job loss and locate a plant in that location.  We want to make sure that we’re getting rid of the incentives that incentivize companies to move overseas; and let’s help those companies who want to invest right here in America, that want to make products that say “MADE IN AMERICA.”

So, it’s all a matter of your priorities.  It’s a matter of government doing what it can to create a level playing field where everybody can compete on a level playing field.


MS. JARRETT:  And that’s what the President’s message was the other night.

MR. MARTIN:  — we saw on Friday the report saying our GDP grew by some 2.8 percent.  Some said they expect more, but it is growing.  The President talked about that on Tuesday, saying how we are improving.  Clearly, the economy’s going to be the critical issue in – i- — in the election, and so will it be a very forceful message from the President, fro- — from Vice President Joe Biden that, look, “This is” – “This was going to take time, and the things that we put in place – we’re finally seeing the results of that work the third year in, but w-” – “but we had to go through the difficult path of the first two years”?

MS. JARRETT:  That’s exactly right, and the President said the other night in the last six months of the prior administration, our country lost 4 million jobs.  In the first – first – first six months of the Obama Administration, we lost another 4 million jobs before any of his policies could take hold.  But now, we’ve had 22 consecutive months of private-sector job growth – over 3 million jobs; but, yet, as you and I have discussed many times, the unemployment rate is still too high.  We have to keep moving in this direction.

And I think another thing, Roland, about the President’s speech [is] it was a hopeful and optimistic speech; it was one that believes in America, but that says you have to invest in America if we want to compete in a global marketplace – not pull back.  Yes, we have to bring down our deficit, but that doesn’t mean that we sacrifice public education.  That doesn’t mean that we sacrifice investing in innovation and new technology so that we have the great inventions that our country is so well known for.

So, it’s priorities; and the President’s priorities are clearly ones that create a sustainable, strong economy for the future.

MR. MARTIN:  He is not someone who is going to throw a roundhouse punch.  I think he probably likes to throw a few jabs, but in one of those jabs in his speech he really went after Congress by saying, “Look, you guys are running around out here” – really – I think he was talking about, really, GOP candidates – talked about how ‘America is failing,’ how ‘America has gone backwards.’  “That’s just utter nonsense.”  And so are we seeing a president, who has talked about bipartisanship, who’s tried to reach out, realize that the folks across the table aren’t playing the same game he is; and so he is going to have to throw a few more punches at them [to] let them know, “I’m not going to back down from any kind of fight with you”?

MS. JARRETT:  I think his message the other night was very clear.  There’s a lot that we could do together, working with Congress.  I think, at the end of his speech, when he described the Navy SEALs and how they go about a mission, where everybody has an important role to play, and they’re not focusing on who’s a Democrat or a Republican; they’re focusing on the mission – I think that was a wakeup call for everybody to say, “Look, we need to keep our focus on what’s good for the country, what’s good for the American people.”  And he made it clear he wants to work with the Republicans in Congress.  He also made it clear that if he can’t, he’s going to go it alone and do what he can do.  So, when he appointed Rich Cordray, it wasn’t intended to be, you know, an insult; but it was intended to say the American people need a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau looking out for them, and if you’re not willing to act, then he’s going to do what’s within his power to do.

MR. MARTIN:  We have the photo of Arizona governor Jan Brewer sort of shaking or wagging her finger at the President, and got – it’s gotten a lot of response.  Many people say that was absolutely disrespectful of – of her to the President.  The – the reaction from the White House and – in terms of that – that moment, but also the characterization of the meeting as well.

MS. JARRETT:  Well, you know what?  I think it’s much ado about nothing.  I think what the American people really care about is – is that when he left the airport, he went to Intel, a terrific, global company that’s expanding here in the United States.  We had a[n] opportunity to visit one of their other plants several months ago.  Here in Arizona, they’re creating jobs.  They’re investing billions of dollars.  They believe in America, and I think that’s what’s most important to the people who are watching.

MR. MARTIN:  But – but are you al- — though, concerned, though, with what many perceive to be a c- — a consistent disrespect of this president – not in terms of whether [it’s] “You lie!” in a speech, whether it’s that – signs, or whatever – a – a c- — a considerable disrespect for the office of the President of the United States?

MS. JARRETT:  I think what we focus on is what people sitting around their kitchen tables focus on:  how are we going to move the country forward, how are we going to try to figure out how we can disagree without being disagreeable – but only because we need to move the country forward.  The stakes are so high right now, Roland, that we can’t waste a lot of time having hurt feelings.  We really have to focus on the mission at hand:  building a strong economy for tomorrow, making sure that our children are going to be doing a little bit better than we’re doing – and that that’s the same story that we find around the country.  So, we’re not that sensitive.

MR. MARTIN:  Last question.  A lot of people were talking about Jodi Kantor’s book The Obamas.  Unlike a lot of people, I read the whole book.  I – I did not see it as coming across as the – as the First Lady being angry and upset.  Frankly. I saw that book as being, “Here’s a very smart woman who understands what she wants and also understands messaging and what needs to happen.”  And so your – your response to how that’s being portrayed and your position – someone who’s known her quite some time, some – you know, how does she feel about it as well, and how is she doing?  And for her, is it about, look, getting the job done and making sure that what her husband is doing is being told properly and – and then that folks are being used properly?

MS. JARRETT:  Well, you know as well as anyone how I feel about the First Lady.  She’s an extraordinarily gifted woman.  She is committed to her husband and her family.  She loves our country dearly.  She spends so much time working on issues such as making sure that militir- [sic] — military families are taken care of – when our forces come home, the people coming – men and women coming home from Iraq, they deserve a job; tackling an issue like childhood- — -hood obesity, a huge problem in our country, a huge problem in the Black community.  She’s focusing on issues that are so important, that she feels passionately about.  And I think that – my hope is – is that people appreciate just everything that she’s trying to do to move the country forward, and they don’t spend too much time reading, kind of, articles, or stories, or books about her.  They – from people who really don’t know her that well, don’t know her the way you and I know her.

MR. MARTIN:  All right.  Valerie, thanks a lot.