Obama gives a pass to energy defectors

President Obama said Sunday that he is sympathetic to the House Democrats who voted against his energy bill Friday, even though they nearly cost him his first major legislative defeat since coming into office.

In an interview Sunday with a handful of reporters, Obama said he understands that the 44 Democrats who joined Republicans in voting against the so-called "cap-and-trade" bill have reelection to worry about.

The transcript of the interview was provided by the White House.

The president, joined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and White House coordinator of energy and climate policy Carol Browner, said "those 44 Democrats are sensitive to the immediate political climate of uncertainty around this issue."

"They've got to run every two years, and I completely understand that," Obama said.

The president acknowledged that the Republicans' talking points on the legislation, most notably that the House version of the bill will amount to a massive tax increase for most families, will "in some cases, have some short-term impact."

"So are there going to be naysayers? Absolutely," Obama said. "Are there going to be short-term instances where you can get political gain by scaring the bejeezus out of people and telling them that their electricity rates are going to go up a thousand percent and this is going to be a tax of $3,000 -- even though the studies that they cite the authors of say that these guys are just lying about these costs?"

Obama said that he thinks the House's action "is going to be a prod for the Senate to take action," but he expressed concern about some of the provisions the House included in its version. The provision that Obama noted was one that puts tariffs on imports from countries that don't have carbon restrictions.

"There are going to be a series of negotiations around this, and I am very mindful of wanting to make sure that there's a level playing field internationally," Obama said. "I think there may be other ways of doing it than with a tariff approach."

As for whatever the Senate does pass, the president said "there's going to be a strong overlap, but not perfect overlap."

"The final legislation that emerges is probably not going to satisfy the Europeans or Greenpeace," Obama said.

When asked about the Senate's loaded schedule, Obama conceded that he has burdened the upper chamber with a full plate.

"How the Senate times all this stuff is going to be, obviously, up to Harry Reid and the leadership in the Senate," Obama said. "But with the House having taken the lead and set a benchmark, I think the Senate is going to recognize now is the time to act.

"It may be that the Senate decides to do health care before they do energy. We've still got financial regulation in place. And the air traffic control system on all this legislation, how we land all of it I think is going to require enormous hard work and a deft touch by legislative leaders. What we want to do is to simply encourage the Senate and the House to seize the day, seize the opportunity."

Obama, who called the legislation "an extraordinary first step," said he was convinced he "could not get the Senate to move aggressively until they saw how the politics aligned in the House."

"And I think now that you've seen somebody like a Rick Boucher of Virginia able to enter into very constructive negotiations with a Henry Waxman of California, that, I think, provides a blueprint for how the Senate can proceed," the president said.