Obama rebukes Sanders on breaking up big banks

President Obama is defending his handling of the financial crisis from Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersSchumer: Franken should resign Franken resignation could upend Minnesota races Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign MORE and others on the left who say the White House's Wall Street reform plan did not go far enough.

“It is true that we have not dismantled the financial system, and in that sense, Bernie Sanders’s critique is correct,” Obama said in an interview with The New York Times Magazine published online Thursday. 

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Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, has repeatedly called on America’s biggest banks to be broken up, a call that has galvanized his liberal supporters.

Obama suggested that such a plan is unrealistic.

“But one of the things that I’ve consistently tried to remind myself during the course of my presidency is that the economy is not an abstraction,” he said. “It’s not something that you can just redesign and break up and put back together again without consequences.”

The president offered an even tougher critique of the economic plans of Republicans running to succeed him in the White House.

“If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they don’t simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy,” Obama said.

The policies, such as cutting taxes for the rich and erasing environmental regulations, won’t create “5 percent or 7 percent growth ... while balancing the budget.”

“Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible,” Obama said.

With the 2016 presidential election just months away, Obama’s economic record has come into focus once again. Obama is not on the ballot, but many Americans are likely to cast their vote based on how they see the country performing under the president’s watch.

Obama is making the case that the U.S. economy is performing better than the public believes it is.

“I actually compare our economic performance to how, historically, countries that have wrenching financial crises perform,” he said. “By that measure, we probably managed this better than any large economy on Earth in modern history."

Democrats likely could have kept control of Congress in 2010 and 2014 if he better explained how his policies helped the economy recover, Obama said.

“I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter, then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

But he also acknowledged the economy could be growing at a faster pace. Obama said the fact that he could have done more “keep[s] me up at night sometimes.”

The interview was released the same day the Commerce Department announced that the economy grew at only 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2016, the slowest pace in two years.

“I can probably tick off three or four common-sense things we could have done where we’d be growing a percentage or two faster each year,” he said. “We could have brought down the unemployment rate lower, faster. We could have been lifting wages even faster than we did.”

Obama said his administration could have done more in his reelection year of 2012 and two years after that to start a “massive” infrastructure project that would have created jobs and drawn attention to his administration.

“It was the perfect time to do it; low interest rates, construction industry is still on its heels, massive need — the fact that we failed to do that, for example, cost us time,” Obama said.