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Diplomacy in Action

A Point of View from the White House- How the Election Will Affect the Obama Administration's Agenda

FPC Briefing
Mike Allen
White House Reporter for POLITICO
Foreign Press Center
Washington, DC
November 4, 2010

Date: 11/04/2010 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Mike Allen, White House reporter, POLITICO,  gives his analysis on how the election will affect the Obama Administration agenda at the Washington Foreign Press Center on November 4, 2010. - State Dept Image

10:30 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Our second briefing today is going to be with Mike Allen, who is a White House correspondent for Politico, and he will talk about the midterm election results and how it’s going to affect the White House and the Obama Administration’s agenda. Thank you.

MR. ALLEN: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it. Thank you all very much for coming out. I really appreciate it and I’m excited to bring you into the conversation in just a second and talk about the things that you want to talk about. And I apologize that I was a few minutes delayed, but I really appreciate your being here.

I understand that some of you got to see firsthand some of the midterm excitement in Florida and Nevada. If you were there, you were at Ground Zero. Those were the best two places to be, even better than Washington, because that’s where the news was actually happening.

And we all were fortunate to experience something pretty unusual because, as you all know, normally in the United States, we have a national election every four years. But I call this the leap election because we got to have an extra national election, a time when there was no part of this crazy country where there wasn’t a race that was close and a race that was important and a race that was interesting and exciting to cover. And now the best part is that all these candidates, many of whom very colorful, very interesting, will be coming to Washington. So now we get to cover them firsthand.

I’m just going to time travel a little bit and flash forward to February 2011, when you have the new Congress, when you have a Speaker Boehner, when you have a President Obama who’s starting to think about his reelection in 2012, and when you have a number of – a big number, probably – of Republicans who are starting to think about running for president. So in January or February or early next year, we’re going to have this amazing convergence of all the most exciting things you can see in American politics: a new world order, a new order of prominence on Capitol Hill, and this amazing election – sorry about that; excuse me – and at the same time, the beginnings of an election that’s going to run for close to two years.

The most exciting thing about this election, and what makes it a great story for Politico and for all of you, is that changes in American politics, revolutions in American politics, waves in American politics, used to come every 30 years, maybe every 12 years. Now we’re getting them every two years. As you guys remember, whether you were here or whether you were posted elsewhere, in January 2009, Barack Obama was not only untouchable in America but Republicans were totally on the back foot. Time Magazine was out with a cover of an elephant and it said, “Endangered Species.” And so in less than two years, we’ve had a complete reversal of fortune. People like myselves, and so you shouldn’t listen to me – people like myselves said that it would take a generation for Republicans to come back, that they would need a whole new message, that they would need a whole new cast of characters. But now, instead, with the same cast of characters and with the same message, Republicans are bigger than ever and are toe to toe with Barack Obama, who is an amazing historical force.

Now the most important single gamble that President Obama made, and he’s made a lot of big bets, his biggest bet was that he could focus on the long term, that by passing health reform, by passing Wall Street reform, by making a play for big change in American energy policy, that in the long run, American voters would reward him for that; that in the long run, it would be better for the country, it would be better for him, that he would get reelected, that maybe he would be on Mount Rushmore. But it was always apparent to the Obama White House that there would be a short-term political price to be paid. And that bill came due on Tuesday, and they paid it. And we now have President Obama on the front page of a lot of your papers this morning either looking like he’s under water, which is what I imagine The Economist this week will be, and probably, like, President Obama may be peeking out of the ocean or looking down or looking backward, these – all these signs that President Obama is suddenly having to fight to command center stage in a country where he’s dominated the podium until now.

Now, his – in this January-February flash forward here, John Boehner, the leader of the House, will be in a very interesting position because he can’t do anything by himself. He has just one chamber. The Senate, as you guys know, is kind of locked up. And so John Boehner is going to be working around the edges on things. And this is the most useful thing that I’m going to tell you: The House Republicans have a three part plan for how to use this power that they have, which is constrained by the fact that they don’t have the Senate and don’t have the White House. And I call it spending, subpoenas, and stunts.

Spending – because American spending bills, appropriations bills, start in the House, they’re able to slow down some things that Obama wanted to do. So you hear the talk about them repealing the health reform bill. As you guys know, that’s not going to happen. That would require President Obama to sign it. No way. No way. But they can slow it down by holding back money that would have gone to the IRS agents or to our health department, Health and Human Services Department, to help implement it. And that won’t last forever, because there is also a Senate and the tax collecting bills are part of a larger Treasury bill and you’re not going to shut down the government over trying to hold back some IRS agents, but it’s a way for House Republicans to put their imprint on the process and to slow down what the White House would have wanted to do, to nibble around the edges of healthcare, to undermine healthcare, because taking it head on is not going to do anything for you.

Second, subpoenas. As you know, House Republicans, now that they control a chamber, their biggest single power is their ability to demand documents from the White House. They’re going to be able to ask for emails, they’re going to be able to ask for calendars, they’re going to be able to ask for all sorts of documents that they then can release to ourselves and both make the White House’s life more difficult and perhaps otherwise constrain the White House. So they’re looking over the shoulder of the White House in a way that they weren’t before.

Now, House Republicans will tell you that they are going to be wise about how they use this. They recognize that one of the big lessons of this election was that the American people don’t want overreach, the American people don’t want them to go too far, that the biggest way for House Republicans to get into trouble, to get turned out of their office themselves, would be to make mistakes that have been made by Republican majorities in the past, the last Democratic majority, and do too much. So they’re going to focus on policy things. They’re going to focus on healthcare, focus on Wall Street reform. They’re not going to investigate the President’s birth certificate because they know that the American people would react badly to that. What you’ll hear them say is that as government has grown, oversight should grow as well. And so that’s subpoenas.

And third is what I call stunts. And that is that a number of you were out covering the Tea Parties because these House Republicans were elected and became a majority because of this very conservative stripe of the American electorate. And the Tea Party – I think most of you get this, but just to spell it out – but the Tea Party is a catchy name for something that American politics has always had and that is this most conservative element. What gave them their power was that in this election, every poll will show you, that they were able to merge with the center in American politics, that independents came to identify with the Tea Parties. And that’s the only reason the Tea Parties were anything other than a great story and a loud voice. And so the challenge for Republicans will be to keep that group together.

But you have these Tea Party candidates, these very conservative freshmen, coming to Washington. And John Boehner, the speaker – when he’s Speaker Boehner, who wants to work with the President, his instincts are to be pragmatic, his instincts are not to be a bomb thrower. But to keep that swath of his party satisfied, he’s going to have to be aggressive on some of these issues. So one of the first things, or one of the early things – they have not committed to a timetable – one of the early things that this majority will do is to put forward a bill to completely repeal healthcare. And we’ve talked about why that’s not going to happen, but it’ll be out there and it’ll be a way for them to generate debate.

Now about spring is about when the President’s – presidential reelection campaign will launch. There will be some changes in the White House leading up to that. You’ve seen that the manager of the President’s reelection campaign, David Plouffe, will be coming into the White House. David Axelrod, the President’s Karl Rove, will be coming out of the White House to work on the reelection campaign, which we expect will be based in Chicago, as the President’s original campaign was. That’s largely to send the signal that he’s not of Washington, that when you run the building – when you run the government, you can’t really run on change, so the President’s going to run as a reformer. And so he wants to send that reform message by being in Chicago.

But the President has a big job. History will tell you that the President’s chances of being reelected are overwhelming. The percent – it’s very, very, very, very rare that Americans turn a president out. We did with President Bush’s father, George H.W. Bush, but he’d had eight years of Reagan before him. So you’d have 12 years of Republicans. That’s a lot. And then Jimmy Carter was a special case. But it’s unusual. And if the economy gets somewhat better – and, like, some of you know a lot more about this than I do, but the indicators are that it will not get dramatically better quicker – quickly. But if it gets somewhat better, like, you have to call this President the overwhelming favorite. There’s not going to be an effective challenge to him from within the Democratic Party. You’ll see a lot of coverage of it. Just ignore that. Like, save your time because that’s not going to happen. You’ll see coverage of whether there could be a third force, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York. Also very unlikely. Michael Bloomberg is to the left of the President on a lot of social issues. He will tell you himself that’s not what people are looking for.

And the – but even though the deck is very much stacked in the President’s favor, he has a big job ahead of him. And that’s because the mechanics of our system, which don’t require a simple majority but have this, like, fantastic system of primaries and the electoral college, so the President needs to win certain states, a certain combination of states. And if you look at where the President won last time, he has a very big job. A normally Republican state where he won, Virginia, he’d have to fight for. A normally Republican state that he won, North Carolina, he’ll have to fight for. And I believe – and I think this will be announced very soon, by the way – I believe that – this is not set in stone, but I think Democrats may have their national convention in 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina as a way to make the President stronger in that important state. Republicans have already said that their convention is going to be in Tampa, Florida, in the Tampa-St. Pete metro area.

He’ll have to fight for North Carolina. A big prize in American politics, Florida, he’ll have to fight for that. And then Republicans got much stronger in this election in other states where he won before and that really matter to him: Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan he won before. And then in the center of the country, he won in New Mexico, Colorado. Those are all places that have been really hit hard by what’s happening in the economy.

The most interesting stat in all the exit polls from the other night was that the exit polls that our networks took, 19 percent of people had had someone in their household lose a job in the last two years. I’ve never seen a single stat that told me more, like, the toll that this economy is taking and the challenge that it presents to the party in power.

And the last quick thing I’ll talk about before I bring you in and I can ask you for your questions in two minutes is the Republican side. Republicans think that the nomination is very worth having. They think that President Obama is vulnerable. There would have been a time a year and a half ago when we might have said that whoever was running as the Republican would be what we call a sacrificial lamb, that they would run but they were unlikely to win, but they were out there to take one for the team. Now, Republicans think that under the right set of circumstances with the right candidate, President Obama could certainly be beat. And as a result of that, a lot of them are going to run, and they’re going to start quickly, because they’re all competing for the big donors who can help them raise money, who have friends that they can get checks from. The endorsements of key people in states, the key labor leaders, the key local leaders – governors, mayors – you want to get their endorsement, and the key staff members, people who know how to run an American presidential campaign. There’s only so many of them, and those get snapped up as well.

So you have this wide swath of people who are all competing for those same assets. We call it the invisible primary because it’s the first contest of the presidential cycle and it’s one that doesn’t go on in public. You can read about it in Politico and you can read about it in other places, but it’s not something that you’re going to see on the evening news. And yet, it has a real role in shaping whatever eventually is going to happen.

So now I’d love to take your questions about anything – about media, 2010, 2012. Ah, yes. I’m sorry.

MODERATOR: Yeah, I’m going to.

MR. ALLEN: Okay.

MODERATOR: If that’s okay with you. (Laughter.)

MR. ALLEN: Yes, ma’am. Yeah.

MODERATOR: Okay, go ahead, right here.

QUESTION: Maggie Tait from New Zealand Press Association.


QUESTION: Hi. Hey, what do you think of Marco Rubio’s chances of getting anywhere in the primary?

MR. ALLEN: Mm-hmm. Were you down in Florida? Yeah, that was a great place to be. And Marco Rubio had a huge international press at his election night, which was a – which is a small indicator of how much attention there’s going to be for him. And I’m glad you made that connection because I think he will get perhaps more attention than anyone else who’s coming to Washington as a freshman. There’s a few others, but he is of instant interest. I think it will be very difficult for him to run for president, having just been elected. What is possible is that he would be chosen as the vice presidential – as the running mate or ticket mate for the people who’s – the person who’s running. As you guys know, Hispanic population in America is growing. The Republican Party, because of their stance on immigration, is having a very difficult time with that population. Having Marco Rubio on the ticket will be a way to address that overnight. That would make the Republican ticket much stronger.

It would be difficult for him because the running for president in America is such a drawn out basically two year, definitely a year and a half, process, it would be very difficult to just get your job and then already tell the people in Florida you’re – pardon me – you’re going to run for president. Like, history shows that, like, states have not reacted well to that, that rather than being excited that their guy is running for president, which we would call the favorite son, like, usually that’s a way to get in trouble back home.

QUESTION: I’m Prasanna Dattatraya Zore from, India.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, sir. But to see our president?


MR. ALLEN: Yeah, okay. Are people happy about that, or what’s it like? What do people –

QUESTION: They are very happy.

MR. ALLEN: Okay.

QUESTION: Very excited.

MR. ALLEN: Okay.

QUESTION: Will the Tea Party set the agenda for 2012 elections? And about outsourcing, it’s a bone of contention between the two countries. President Obama’s views are not too liked by Indians about outsourcing, but the U.S. economy hasn’t created too many jobs despite the Dow being close to its all-time high.

MR. ALLEN: Mm-hm.

QUESTION: People want jobs. People are also angry that the jobs are going to China, India, Vietnam, to Southeast Asia. Have – do you think the voters have rejected the outsourcing views of Obama?

MR. ALLEN: That’s a great question. I would not say that, that you can’t read that into this election for the reasons that you’ve articulated. It is a powerful argument in American politics. It is an argument that’s made by the labor unions in American politics, which have a lot of muscle and machinery for turning out voters, traditionally or almost always Democratic voters. What Republicans will tell you is that, and I think what your readers would like to hear, is that you don’t have to choose, that it’s possible to both create jobs abroad – create jobs in America and also, like, open opportunities for countries elsewhere. So I would not look that as – at that as a settled question. But I think you’re astute to put your finger on it as an early issue and something to watch, of what each of the Republicans says going into 2012 because these – they’ll position themselves in different ways. They all learned, taking a lesson from these midterm elections. They all are focusing on jobs as their early message, and it will be very interesting to see, like, how they navigate that particular part of it.

QUESTION: Did the Tea Party set an agenda for Republicans in these elections?

MR. ALLEN: No. No. The conservative Republicans who you can think of as the Tea Party, they’ll have a big voice in who that candidate is. No candidate, no Republican who wants to be president is going to take them on or oppose them. But because Iowa has such an outsized voice, where you do get a lot of conservative voters, because New Hampshire, as you know, has a very outsized voice which is a little more – is a less predictable group of voters, they’ll have a big voice. The White House will try to push to you the idea that the Tea Party will dictate who the candidate is because that makes a good force for them to run against, to play up, the most extreme elements of the Republican Party. The successful Republican nominee is the one who can navigate the different parts of the Republican Party, who is going to be in sync with the leadership – the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, which is more establishment, more mainstream, with people who are most concerned about fiscal issues, with people who are most concerned about the social issues. So no one stripe is going to decide who the nominee is. The successful person will be able to bring those together.

MODERATOR: We’re going to go to New York. New York, go ahead with your question, please.

QUESTION: Yeah. Pincas Jawetz, Sustainable Development Media, Austria. To the question of jobs, economy, and money, you say that the House has a handle on approving money. Now, to move the economy, there is a need for education and for new technology development zone. These are subjects for the federal government, for big government. These are subjects that produce results in the long term, not in the immediate. In the immediate, you throw money at past technologies and you solve nothing because that’s not where the future is. Now how do you predict the House to handle this kind of a situation where the fruits are really not within the next six months but down the road?

MR. ALLEN: That’s a very astute question, and I think you’re going to see that debate played out in American politics. But it’s going to be backward-looking. People are going to debate how wise we – the previous stimulus, which I think was about $750 billion, how that was spent, whether there would have been better ways to spend it. Your question suggests that it should’ve been that – or a lot of people will argue, congruent with your question, that the money could’ve been spent on wiring every classroom in America, for instance, which would be more looking toward the future, as opposed to fixing a park in D.C., where you will see a stimulus or Recovery Act sign. But I do not expect these House Republicans to invest more in big projects like that. I think any future spending that you see will be very specific. For instance, on infrastructure in America – airports, railroads, bridges, roads – there will be spending in those areas, but it’s not going to be a big, massive project. It’s going to be something specific. Because of the way this money was spent before, American voters have very clearly turned on this.

I think you can argue the Democrats, the President, would have been better off to divide up that big package and have a separate bill for green energy projects, to have a separate bill for schools, to have a separate bill for roads. But you added it up all together, voters rejected that, and you can expect House Republicans to fight against that.

MODERATOR: Go all the way in the back.

QUESTION: My name is Karamoko Thioune from West Africa Democracy Radio in Dakar, Senegal. We know that President Bush had a good policy as regards to health and agriculture, mainly in Africa. So President Obama also continued somehow that policy. Now the Democrats have lost seats in the House. My concern is, are African countries which had profit from that going to expect the worst? I mean, is the government going to continue that support in terms of HIV/AIDS and malaria and agriculture as well?

MR. ALLEN: That’s a very good question, and the answer is that you should expect the government to continue that support. The President was just asked about this the other night. You maybe saw, at one of his events, he was asked about U.S. funding for HIV programs and others abroad, and the President reiterated his very strong support for that. As you know, President Bush also supported this very strongly, and I don’t think President Obama wants to fall behind where President Bush was on that. Republicans also have been very strong on this issue, and that creates a tension or push in the American system for the Democrats to continue their support there.

The President has an obvious historical interest in Africa. Republicans, many of these Republican governors, both who are rising up in the party and who are coming up, have done trade missions to Africa, so that will remain an issue that’s important to the American political system, and no one is going to turn their back on it.

MODERATOR: Here you are.

QUESTION: Thank you. Andres Martinez, independent journalist from Bolivia.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, sir. Hi.

QUESTION: You have said – you have told us about these sudden changes, dramatic changes, in the last years. Do you think that those changes and the outcome of this election respond to reshape of the role of the government in this country?

MR. ALLEN: That’s a very good question American journalists are asking themselves. I would warn you against overestimating the results of this election, that this country is still very much a centrist country. This country is very much a 50-50 country. And you’ll look – and if you haven’t seen USA Today today, I would buy USA Today. It’s the best dollar you’ll spend this week because they have a very fascinating map on page 10 today showing the country, in red and blue, how America voted. And it’s very red because the larger districts vote Republican because they tend to be less sparsely populated, whereas your urban districts that are more concentrated are blue. So the effect of the map is to have the country look very red. In fact, this is a 50-50 country where, in this case, the middle found common cause with the right and were able to switch a lot of districts. But just the fact I’ve talked through how hard it will be for a Republican to unseat President Obama, like, that suggests to you the task that’s ahead.

So I talked about how just in January ’09, we were talking about how Republicans were out of power forever. In November 2004, when President Bush had just been reelected, they were talking about a permanent realignment in American politics. In fact, it turns out that those assumptions are naïve. So for people who are covering America, whether from someplace else or from here, we have the best possible story, which is that we have a country where you just can’t predict, you just can’t tell, where both sides have to stay on their toes and constantly fight for their position in order to be strong.

MODERATOR: Go over there, all the way in the back.

QUESTION: We have seen a surge in armed groups in the United States recently. Is it somehow parallel with the radicalism we’ve seen in Tea Party? That’s my first question. The second one is a very different one. What result, what we will see in big ticket weapons programs like JSF and the tanker, which is a very long-running project, after this election?

MR. ALLEN: Right. On the armed groups, I would urge you to be cautious and not to be naïve about that. That’s not a major force in American politics. And the American press will overplay it because it’s a good story, and it’s a good story for you, and I understand that people are going to cover that. But it’s not – it’s no different than it’s ever been. Like, yes, they’re out there, but no, they’re not a major voice or a major force.

On big ticket defense weapons programs, I can tell you that defense spending in America will continue to increase slightly. As you guys know, as you may know, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that he wants to do cutbacks within the Pentagon budget to slice off some of the management level, if you will, at the officers level, but that’s only to keep the Pentagon budget within a slowly increasing budget. So the United States is not going to spend less on weapons. We’re not going to do a UK-France alignment like they’ve done. And so big ticket weapons will continue to be bought. The competition for those dollars may be greater, but there’s no dramatic change in the slope of American defense spending on the horizon.

MODERATOR: Right here.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Sebastian Lacunza from Ambito Financiero newspaper from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: What about the role that media are playing? As regards those media who have very strong positions, such as Fox News, do they really influence the – influence voters?

MR. ALLEN: Okay. Thank you. That’s a very astute question, and I’d love to visit with you guys about that. I can stay here after and visit and I’d love to talk to you about that and get your own view because you’re looking at the American media with a fresh eye and I’d love to hear what you think. You mentioned the trend of people getting their news from either a conservative source or perhaps a more progressive or liberal source. That is an unmistakable trend in America, that people are tending to get information more from places that they agree with. But I think – and you can correct me if I’m wrong because you know a million times more about it – my sense is that in many international markets that’s always been the case, that a particular media outlet might be more associated with a particular point of view or thought. You’re seeing that more in America.

A fascinating phenomenon that Politico has written about is what we call the Fox primary, which you could Google, and it’s an interesting article that pointed out that four of the most likely presidential candidates – Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania who’s big on the life issue, Mike Huckabee, and Sarah Palin – are all under contract to Fox and they can’t appear on other stations, even CSPAN. And that has a fascinating effect, that it may delay their participation in the primaries, both so they can continue their Fox contract, but also for the reason you’re suggesting: the Fox audience has – will have a big say in the Republican nominating process, that a lot of the conservative viewers of Fox are going to vote in Republican primaries, and so it’s a great audience for them to talk to.

MODERATOR: What about right here?

QUESTION: Hi. I’m Esther Sieteiglesias from La Razon newspaper in Spain.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Even if you’ve said that no doubt, Obama’s going to present and campaign for the next election, I would like to know if inside the Democratic Party, there are, like, going to be new trends or new ways of doing politics as they’ve lost. And also if they are leaning inside the party on Obama because of the (inaudible).

MR. ALLEN: Thank you. That was a very good question. What about the reasons for the Democratic losses? What do the Democratic losses in 2010 tell us about politics for 2012? And you don’t find people blaming President Obama because President Obama was, in a way, too successful for his own good, that he implemented, like, a number of the policies that he promised to implement. The problem was that those turned out to be, at least in the short run, unpopular. And – but those are all policies that most people in the Democratic Party support. That’s why the President got such an overwhelming win. Just two years ago today was the big Obama win, which is hard to believe.

So going into 2012, the challenge for the President is to get back to win the support of the people who voted for him in 2008. That’s why the President in the midterm had so much emphasis on younger voters, Hispanic voters, African American voters, new voters, students. That was – those new voters that he brought into the system were part of what has made his campaign in 2008 so popular. So he needs to get those back. At the same time, and this is the real challenge for him and this is what you’ll see a lot of stories about in the American media, is at the same time, how does he also get back the center of American politics, which he had. When he was elected, if you look at the polls, a very large number of Republicans were rooting for him to succeed because of the magic of his personal story. And so his challenge is not to win over people but to win back people.

QUESTION: Thanks for chance. I am Leina Yagoub Mohamed Ali from Sudan, working for Akhbar newspaper, the Sudanese newspaper. Asking, after two years from Obama Administration, is the policy towards Sudan changed, especially in Darfur (inaudible) referendum? And – because the government thinks and said always, the Sudanese Government, the U.S. policy towards Sudan will never change because there are many sides, like Congress, and no big groups affected their policy. So, what do you think of that?

Thank you.

MR. ALLEN: No, I think you’ve pointed to the dilemma and I do not expect major changes in the American policy as a result of this election. The President – we’re about to see very powerful evidence of this in the President’s trip that’s coming up. He leaves – as a gentleman in the third row mentioned, the President leaves Friday for India and is on a lengthy trip to Asia. And we’re going to see there the power of the President separate from whatever is going on in Washington. So you’ll see stories that say that the President’s leaving the country at a bad time. I don’t agree with that at all. The President is going to be able to be on the world stage, to be seen as his commander-in-chief role. Thanks to the State Department, thanks to the advance people at the White House, presidents always look majestic on the international stage. They may get less coverage in some American media, but this – with all the back-and-forth that’s going on about domestic politics, this may be a fine time for the President to go.

So you’re going to see the President in that setting and you’re going to be reminded that it’s the President that sets American foreign policy. And yes, he tries to have buy-in from Congress, he depends on Congress for certain things, but most of that resides in the President, and nothing has changed there.

MODERATOR: We’ll go to New York for a question. New York, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Andrej Brstovsek, Dnevnik, Slovenia. I just wonder if you could comment on whatever happened with issues of terrorism and war in this election. And I know that the economy was by far the most important issue and this is a congressional and not presidential election, but still, I think there was a survey last month that showed that only one percent of people stated terrorism as a main issue, and only three percent the war, which is pretty interesting, I think, in comparison to the last elections.

And second question, could you comment on the closing on Guantanamo? I mean, there was a lot of problems already with that. You mentioned that Republicans will control the appropriations in House. Do you see anything going forward on that? Or do you see it still opening (inaudible)?

MR. ALLEN: I thank you, sir, for two very insightful questions. About war and terrorism, I could not agree with you more. And I had not seen that poll, but I agree that that is fascinating. And it shows in part the magnitude of the economic problems that everyday Americans are fighting – facing – but it also shows, like, the short attention span of the American people. And so there will be some sort of international event that will refocus American news coverage, it will refocus American attention on global security issues. There was a little bit of a terrorism issue in the few days before the election, but at least according to the poll that you saw, that didn’t really break through.

So Americans tend to concentrate their attention all at once. So something will happen internationally, and the number of people who are focused on the wars or are focused on terrorism will shoot up and the number of people who are focused on the economy will shoot down. And our very recent history suggests that there are always cycles where something huge happens internationally that refocuses Americans’ attention. So you can’t – it’s not the case that Americans are uninterested in international affairs, but their interests go in spurts. So – and this may be well true everywhere. But they tune in and are all fascinated at once. People compare it to small children playing soccer ball, like everybody’s on the same ball at one time and that’s the economy, and then the ball moves over here and they all move over there.

On Guantanamo, Guantanamo is not going to close. The President has made it clear that that has dropped down his priority list. You talk to people in the American government, they will talk to you about the fact that the complications of closing Guantanamo are even more than they realized. The Administration had hoped, as some of you know, that they had a deal with some Republicans to build a prison or build a facility, a detention facility, in Illinois and you astutely pointed to the funding issue there, that may be built but that’s not going to happen soon. And all signs are now that Guantanamo will still be open at the end of the – or certainly when the President runs again.

May we do the lady in black, has – yes ma’am, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR. ALLEN: No, thank you for being patient.

QUESTION: Victoria Kupchinetsky, Voice of America Russian Service. I just keep asking my question of the day. How will the elections affect the Russian-American relations and the reset? And also, how do you see the future of the ratification of the new START agreement in the Senate?

MR. ALLEN: Just today, the President reiterated just this morning while you were in here, the President reiterated that the ratification of START is an issue that’s important to him. It’s an issue where he is going to be able to engage Republicans. And so I think that you will see this focused on as one of the few issues – or one of the few issues where the Congress and the White House are going to be clearly work together. I think some of the free trade agreements are another place where that’s going to occur.

I do not think that this election is going to affect American-Russian relations, for the reason we talked about before, that this President is someone who sticks with his principles, sticks with his policies. I had a conversation yesterday with a White House official who said that yes, they’re going to learn the lessons of this election and that it’s clear the American people want them to focus on the economy broadly to include jobs, to include the deficit, but that the President does not plan any changes in his principles. And in fact, that is this President’s history, that he got elected by going through a campaign sticking with his plans, sticking with what he thought, even when others thought that he was losing, and that’s paid off for him, and I expect that to continue.

QUESTION: Hi. Mattia Ferraresi, Il Foglio, Italy. And Obama yesterday said that he wants to engage Republicans and try to work with them. And I want to ask you if you think there is room for debate, actual room for debate, and on what issues especially.

And second question is do you feel like Nancy Pelosi is leaving the House?

MR. ALLEN: Okay, two issues. First issue is whether they can work together. I think it’s going to be difficult for them to work together because – in part, because both of them have to be concerned about their own bases of support for 2012. The clear issue where they’re going to try to work together is on spending in the American Government, to bring down the level of increase in American spending. December 1st, a bipartisan commission appointed by the President that includes Members of Congress, that includes both Republicans and Democrats, will be making a report with some recommendations in there that Congress and the White House don’t have to take, but it will be the centerpiece of debate.

And so it’s hard to see how the House Republicans and the White House are going to agree on how to do that, but they’re going to agree on that as an important issue. The President, while you were in here today, invited House and Democratic leaders to the White House on November 18th. He’s also invited the new governors to the White House. And I think this will be – I know that this will be the number one issue that they’ll talk about. Whether they make any progress, can’t be sure.

Speaker Pelosi has not said whether she will remain in Congress. She was just reelected with 80 percent of the vote in her San Francisco district. She did an interview with Dianne Sawyer of ABC News last night where she was asked about this. She said she was focused on her Members at the moment. Politico has a story up this morning in which she sent a letter to the House Democrats, the top House Democrats, that suggested that she might stay, that -- people who read the letter told our reporter, Jonathan Allen (ph), that the letter did not sound like somebody who was preparing to leave. So no one knows. It’s a great story that will be played out in the American press in the next couple days.

QUESTION: I’m Jamal Bourfissi, Assabah, Morocco.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I have two questions, please. The first is, how will the results of these elections impact on the political agenda of the President Obama? In other words, will these, the results, have -- oblige Obama to change his agenda, or his political priorities?

The second, it's reported that Mitch McConnell, the head of the Republicans groups in the Senate, said that the Republicans' political priority for the next two years is to avoid the new election -- or the reelection of the President Obama. I just want your position about this. Thank you.

MR. ALLEN: Thank you. That's a very thoughtful question. First, on the President's agenda, I think you will see the White House looking for things that they can do to influence the American debate, to influence the government, to influence the country that don't require the involvement of Congress. So, Congress isn't going to pass a lot of things that they want. That's just a fact. So the President will be looking for other ways that he can put his stamp on the country, that he can, as he would say, move the country forward or push a reform agenda.

In part, he can do that through the many parts of the executive branch, all the -- Department of Justice, Department Agriculture -- all the departments or ministries are things that are under his total control and he can do some more -- his regulators, the Environmental Protection Agency, our environmental regulator, he, through his will, can affect policies that way. The President can use his stage, what we call the bully pulpit, which is that there is no one in the world, I guess, who -- or certainly no one in this country -- who can command saturation coverage, television, elsewhere if they want to talk about a topic. And so you will see the President using that to push topic.

As far as whether his agenda will change, I think it's clear that his agenda will be reshaped to refocus on issues that the center of America cares about: jobs, economy, spending, these issues that we talked about. There is nothing in this President's history or in our reporting to suggest that there is going to be some sort of radical change in what this President does. That just is not his -- in his essence or his DNA.

You spoke about a quotation by the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who was quoted in an interview as saying that they would try and stop the President's agenda. I think that is -- for your understanding, I would not put too much stock in that. Both sides will say a lot of things to try and stake out their positions. But you could well have the Senate Republican leader also soon talking about something he wanted to work with the White House on.

So, the -- I mentioned all the leaders are going to be working together. I think, for a little while at least, there is going to be an effort by the two sides -- or three sides, four sides, however many sides there are -- to say, "Okay, the campaign is over, we are going and focus on the business of the American people." I can't say how long that will last, I can't say what that will accomplish. But I think in this medium term, certainly until Congress reconvenes in January, when you get a new congress, when you get Speaker Boehner, I think that there will be an effort to say that they would like to do that.

MODERATOR: One last question.

QUESTION: Shahbaz Anwaar, Express Tribune in Pakistan.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can the Obama Administration still deliver on their promise of trade concessions to some of the countries?

MR. ALLEN: I don't know the answer to that. So why don't we do one more?

MODERATOR: Anybody else?

QUESTION: Ahwa Said from Muscat Daily Newspaper, Muscat.

MR. ALLEN: Yes, ma'am.

QUESTION: You said two things -- you mentioned two things, that bringing down the level of spending is important for both parties. And then a little earlier you said that defense spending will increase likely. How are they going to manage to do both?

MR. ALLEN: Sure. Well, you put your finger on a great debate. What I said is -- or what the reality is -- is that there is no plans in American politics to cut the actual amount of money that's spent on defense spending, that the amount of defense spending has been -- increases a few percent -- increases slightly each year. There is no discussion of cutting that off.

What there is discussion of by Defense Secretary Gates that's very fascinating, and something that is new and might be a good story for some of you, is about his effort to cut spending within the Pentagon that would allow them to grow in the places they want to by cutting away some of their administration or -- the inefficiencies. So, by cutting inefficiencies, that they would be able to keep spending more, but stay within that slightly increasing amount.

And just to be clear, what I said was that both -- or what the fact is, is that both parties will focus on spending cutting as an agenda item, or something that they talk about, or that they say that they want to do something about. There is no indication that Americans are going to -- there is no sign of Britain-style cuts in American politics. Instead, what you will see is an effort to restrain the growth of spending, both for our own -- both for the country's fiscal soundness, and also looking for the longer term.

So, this has been a great honor to talk to you. It's so nice of you all to come out on such a busy day in the news. I am grateful. I am grateful to our friends in New York for their questions. And I am going to stay afterwards to visit with you if there is any question I didn't answer adequately, if there is any other questions. So I thank you for the honor of speaking to you. And good luck, and congratulations on your posting. You're in a great place for a great story.

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