President Obama shared his thoughts on multiple topics in a wide-ranging series of interviews with NBC’s Brian Williams on "Rock Center" Thursday night. The interviews, taped over the course of two days that Williams traveled with the president, were interspersed with segments describing the nonstop campaign blitz.
In the first segment, the president confided to Williams that he’d had a “bad night” in the first debate.
“I think that, you know, in debate settings, you’re going to have good nights and you’re going to have bad nights,” the president said.
“We always knew this was going to be a close race from the start,” he said. “What we have right now is a lead that we’ve maintained throughout this campaign, and we are going to just continue to drive home the message that there are two fundamentally different [choices] in this election about where we take the country.”
When asked about the dynamic between the president and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, Obama demurred, remarking that they hadn’t particularly interacted prior to the campaign.
“Perhaps after I win, [if] the governor wants to continue to be engaged in public life, and we’ll have a chance of getting to know each other better.”
The only time they’d met before had been at a Gridiron Club Dinner when Romney was still governor of Massachusetts, soon after Obama had been elected senator.
“He was pretty funny, actually … I was, too,” Obama said with a chuckle.
The second interview, later that day in Colorado, took place after a person of interest was picked up in Tunisia in connection with the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Williams asked the president if he was satisfied with what he had been able to learn via the intelligence community, especially in a post 9/11 world.
“Obviously, when four Americans are killed, you have to do some soul-searching in terms of making sure that all our systems are where they need to be. … What I’m confident about is that we will be able to figure out who perpetrated this act, that we’ll be able to bring them to justice,” adding that officials were confident they had the cooperation of the Libyan government.
“Why not visit Israel as president?” Williams asked.
Obama answered by pointing out that there were several countries he had not visited as president, and had in fact visited Israel prior to becoming president.
“When I go to Israel, I want to make sure that we’re actually moving forward.”
Williams finished the segment by asking if the president had been thinking about life outside the Oval Office. Obama said that he hadn’t been considering it because he intended to win another term.
“There’ll be plenty of time over the next four years to consider how I can be a productive citizen in a post-presidency,” Obama answered.
The final segment with the president took place aboard Air Force One, hitting on the topic of women’s health.
“These attempts to redefine rape in some way make no sense to me,” Obama said, “and I don’t think they make sense to the vast majority of women across the country. But more broadly, I think what these episodes point to is the fact that you don’t want politicians—majority of them male—making a series of decisions about women’s healthcare issues.”
“I think most people thought that a lot of these debates were well behind us,” he said.
When Williams presented the president with a choice between "fixing" the Electoral College or reducing the amount of money spent in politics, the president chose the latter, calling it an easy decision. He bemoaned the amount of money being spent on the campaign, noting his opposition to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision.
“The amount of money that is being spent in my campaign and Mr. Romney’s campaign and the super PACs out there is ridiculous.”
In the last segment, Obama spoke about the office and campaign.
“None of [the trappings of office] is the presidency. The presidency is all about who’s going to fight for the American people every single day even when you’ve got to make tough decisions that are unpopular because you have some compass about what this country can be. During the course of these four years, there are all kinds of mistakes that I’ve made every single day. But my compass has been true, and I’ve focused on what’s going to be best for the American people.”
Williams said a similar invitation to go behind the scenes with the Romney campaign was pending.