President Barack Obama has passed some of the most significant legislation in American history and was decisively re-elected in 2012. But Chuck Todd says the man who came to office as a brilliant campaigner has been one of the worst ground-level politicians in Washington. In a new book, the moderator of “Meet The Press” explains how the president’s decisions have changed American politics and what he can accomplish in his final two years with a Republican Congress. Diane talks with Chuck Todd about his love of politics, President Obama’s legacy and the future of Sunday talk shows.


  • Chuck Todd Moderator of "Meet The Press" and former chief White House correspondent for NBC News.

Read A Featured Excerpt

Excerpted with permission from “The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House” by Chuck Todd. © 2014. Little, Brown and Company. All Rights Reserved.

The Stranger

Video: Chuck Todd On The Future Of Sunday Talk Shows

Chuck Todd talks with Diane about the future of Sunday talk shows and journalism at-large.



  • 11:06:53

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. President Obama took office six years ago with a Senate majority and a promise to change the way Washington works. Now, he emerges from a disastrous midterm election estranged from his fellow Democrats and from the American people. In a new book titled, "The Stranger," Chuck Todd explores the promise versus reality of the Obama presidency. The moderator of "Meet the Press" joins me from our NPR studios in New York to talk about why he loves covering politics, Obama's legacy and the future of Sunday talk shows.

  • 11:07:37

    MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure you'll want to weigh-in with your own thoughts about the Obama presidency. Give us a call at 800-433-8850, send an email to, follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Chuck Todd, it's good to see you, even though we are on Skype.

  • 11:08:03

    MR. CHUCK TODDI am just -- you have no idea how giddy I am to be on your show.

  • 11:08:06

    REHMOh, come on. Come on.

  • 11:08:07

    TODDI've never been on your show before and this is a treat. I -- you've invited me before and we've never been able to work out the timing. I'm just -- I'm not kidding. This is -- this is different. This is neat. So thank you for having me.

  • 11:08:17

    REHMI'm glad. Thank you, Chuck. And congratulations on your new role as moderator of "Meet the Press."

  • 11:08:26

    TODDStill pinching myself on that one.

  • 11:08:27

    REHMWell, I was going to ask you, how do you feel about stepping into that role?

  • 11:08:34

    TODDLook, it's, honestly, pretty daunting. It is -- I've been a ball of anxiety. But it's exciting. Look, you think about political journalism, Washington journalism -- it's hard to find a bigger platform than "Meet the Press." So, you know, you want the opportunity. You dream of -- when you're in this business, I think you dream of the opportunity to succeed or fail on that big platform. And, you know, just to have the opportunity -- hey, I could fall on my face in six months, Diane, and I have to say, I'll always be able to say, I got to do it, and that's pretty exciting.

  • 11:09:12

    REHMHow many years has "Meet the Press" been on the air?

  • 11:09:18

    TODDWell, so -- it's as if you might have watched Sunday and our birthday. We just turned 67.

  • 11:09:26

    REHMHow about that?

  • 11:09:26

    TODDThink about that.

  • 11:09:27

    REHMHow about that?

  • 11:09:28

    TODDThe longest -- this is what we claim, and we believe it's true -- the longest running show on television in the world, continuous run show in the world. We know for sure in America. We've gone ahead and claimed the world as well.

  • 11:09:43

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:09:44

    TODDSixty-seven years, unbelievable. "Face the Nation," our friends over there, we wish them a...

  • 11:09:47


  • 11:09:48

    TODD...a happy 60th.

  • 11:09:49


  • 11:09:49

    TODDAnd we told them, we're collecting Social Security, guys. You got a few more years.

  • 11:09:52

    REHMNow, tell me, having said that -- 67 years -- what do you think the future holds for the Sunday talk shows?

  • 11:10:07

    TODDYou know, I am -- I'm pretty optimistic about it because I feel, you know, one of my mentors, Mr. Brokaw, Tom Brokaw, likes to describe the current state of the media landscape as that it's like the Big Bang. And everything's up in the air and the particles are starting to settle. And we're trying to figure out what the new media world order is. But I'm pretty optimistic about the future of weeklies and monthlies, in general. Forget just television or Internet or whatever. But I look at how monthly magazines are thriving at a time when perhaps the old weekly news magazines, of course, are struggling.

  • 11:10:46

    TODDI think the longing and yearning for perspective on television is what gives the Sunday shows -- and I mean all five of them, not just "Meet the Press" -- a golden opportunity. We see the daily churn of the way political media works now -- whether it's cable television, whether it's Twitter, whether it's Politico, whatever you want to describe it as -- and there does seem to be now an opening and a yearning from the audience, and I'd like to think I'm preaching to a choir here when it comes to the folks that listen to your show, that are looking for more than just a three-minute shout-a-thon on cable.

  • 11:11:23

    REHMIndeed. I agree with you. I want to talk to you about the title of your book...

  • 11:11:32

    TODDMm-hmm. Yeah.

  • 11:11:32

    REHM..."The Stranger" and why you chose that title.

  • 11:11:38

    TODDYou know, it's funny. We -- it was a long conversation between my editors and myself about this. There was different versions of this. You know, I find -- you know, President Obama's background is so interesting to me in the, you know, there's a metaphor in the fact that, here he was, born on an island in Hawaii and in many ways, you know, brought up a lot differently than people get raised in the other 49 states. Hawaii is just -- it's just a different -- different climate. So, you know, there was a time where we were thinking, almost like, the island or something like that. But I worried that people would wrongly interpret what that meant.

  • 11:12:18

    TODD"The Stranger" felt right because that is what he is. Everybody knows him -- knows of him, but do they know him, right? This is a -- the riddle of Washington. How many people -- and, Diane, I know you run into these people in Washington, too -- who work for him and say they don't know him. He is a -- he is a hard nut to crack. And I mean this in a very human way. And I kind of -- it's sort of -- it's kind of nice. He doesn't wear everything on his sleeve. Nothing wrong with that. But we're not used to that with our presidents anymore, particularly in this modern era. We're not used to that with all of our politicians.

  • 11:12:57

    TODDHe really is sort of the anti-Clinton, the un-Clinton, if you would, or the un-Bush in many ways. He just is -- he's sort of a stranger to politics, a stranger to Washington. And I think that that's -- in an odd way, I think that's how he prefers it.

  • 11:13:16

    REHMAnd do you think that that title somehow has been part of how he has suffered here in Washington, despite the extraordinary achievements, which we have to say, you do talk about in the book.

  • 11:13:40

    TODDI talk about it at length. I mean I think that that's what, you know, I think some people just read the, you know, sometimes people do the Washington read -- sometimes they read the beginning and they read the end -- they don't really sort of... I felt like I -- I wanted to do this as thoroughly as I could. This was not meant to be a liberal defense or conservative critique -- just sort of what I saw. Okay? Sort of the old-fashioned observer, what I saw -- a second draft, right? If daily reporting's the first draft of history, my attempt, maybe, I'm trying a second draft. Somebody else is going to do it far better...

  • 11:14:12

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:14:12 a third, fourth, fifth, you know? I'm well aware of this. The -- I think the great promise of Barack Obama was never that he was going to deal with an issue. The great promise of Barack Obama goes back to 2004 in that speech to the Boston Convention. He was going to change our politics. He was going to change the conversation. He was going to break this polarizing nature we were in. At that time, it was 12 years -- remember, people were worn out in 2004. There was something -- he was a breath of fresh air, not for how he said it, for what he said. It was neither a red America or a blue America, we're the United States of America.

  • 11:14:50

    TODDAnd there was -- there was a patriotism to it. There was this unifying element to it. And he campaigned on it. And I think there was this -- and maybe, you know, I've had people say, "You hold him -- you're holding him to too high of a standard." But one thing he didn't do is he didn't prioritize changing our politics. He prioritized -- and you can say, he doesn't, he didn't get the presidency he planned on, but what president does. But when he had to come in with the crisis that he had to deal with and then immediately go into health care, he blew a big opportunity to sort of change the early dynamics of Washington. And if you don't do it right at the beginning, you never have a chance at the end. And, you know, that's...

  • 11:15:33

    REHMHow do you believe the statement by Mitch McConnell on the day he was selected, saying, "Our goal is to ensure that this man does not get a second term." And that those Republicans from day one, set out to undermine his presidency.

  • 11:15:58

    TODDI think that when you go to the McConnell -- well, first of all, you got to remember, party leaders are elected to do one thing, either keep power or get power. I've always thought one of the mistakes that this White House has made and continues to make is dealing with the leadership. Leadership is a necessary evil that you have to deal with sometimes. But leadership's job, whether Democrat or Republican, is not to accomplish stuff. It is to get power or keep power. That's the way it works now. I'm not saying that's the way it should work. I'm just -- it's the reality of the situation. And, in fact, I think it is why Congress is so broken. I think it's too dominated. I think the leader...

  • 11:16:37


  • 11:16:38

    TODD...the four leaders have too much power and committee chairs and rank-and-file members have too little. But I think, you know, one of the weird burdens that I think the president had on him when he came into office was having too many Democrats. This is going to sound odd. But imagine the priority he puts on finding ten Republican Senators to work with, if he has 52 Democrats in the Senate rather than 59, and eventually he gets Arlen Specter for a year and a half, at 60.

  • 11:17:04

    REHMYou're saying he would be more likely to work with...

  • 11:17:08

    TODDHe would have had to. Diane, he would have had to. It wouldn't have -- it would have been a necessity. So what happened in that first year is that his outreach to Republicans was done perfunctory. He did some perhaps out of symbolism. But when push came to shove, if it got hard, he could just walk away. He didn't need it. And frankly, he was getting pressure from the Congressional Democratic leadership, Don't. You know, don't go down that road. We don't need them. And I think in hindsight it set the wrong tone. I think he could have -- look, I'm not saying he could have ever made peace with Mitch McConnell and Eric Cantor and John Boehner. I'm not suggesting that.

  • 11:17:46

    TODDI think he could have done the model that Clinton and Bush and Reagan over the years pushed, which was, you find your own coalition of the willing on the opposing party. You know, Reagan had the boll weevil Democrats. Clinton was very good at finding that five or ten moderate Republicans who were still left. And, you know, that's what's funny about landslides. The Republicans that would have been most likely to work with Obama in 2009 got defeated in 2008. And by the way -- Republicans are going to find this out -- the Democrats that were most likely to work with them in 2015 are the ones they just wiped out in 2014.

  • 11:18:20

    REHMChuck Todd, he is moderator of "Meet the Press," and the author of a new book. He calls it second draft of the history of President Obama's presidency. It's titled, "The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House." Short break. We'll be right back.

  • 11:19:59

    REHMAnd welcome back. Chuck Todd, who is the moderator of NBC's Meet the Press is with me. He joins me from our NPR studios in New York. I can see him on Skype. And perhaps, if it works, you'll be able to see some clips a little later of our conversation.

  • 11:20:25

    TODDOh, that's neat.

  • 11:20:27

    REHMThe title of his new book "The Stranger: Barack Obama in the White House." What do you make of President Obama's reaction to the midterms? You said on election night that the GOP landslide should put an end to President Obama acting alone on immigration. Do you think he will?

  • 11:21:01

    TODDWell, I think he's going to act. You know what's been interesting in having conversations that I've been having with some White House folks, even the ones that might not be thrilled with a couple of the takes on this book, they remind that he is feeling a sense of freedom right now. And that may seem odd. You know, all of a sudden he's lost all his allies, right. He lost his pocket veto in Harry Reid.

  • 11:21:22

    TODDBut I have to tell you, I think the relationship -- and, you know, it's just one of those things even after I've written the book and sometimes you realize that there's even another conclusion that I should've included -- been more aggressive about -- I think the relationship that he's had with congressional Democrats has been -- has really hurt him in so many ways. And I think he now sees it.

  • 11:21:47

    TODDI think he -- I think the bad blood's going to be too strong of a way to describe it but I think the relationship between Senate Democrats and the White House, which has never been great, is going to get worse. Because...

  • 11:21:59

    REHMWell, but what about the relationship between the White House and Senate Republicans? How much worse could that get?

  • 11:22:08

    TODDWell, I understand that but I think the president feels as if he got benched by Senate Democrats. Senate Democrats came to him and said, don't do immigration now. Oh, my god, we've got to save Mark Pryor. Can you please delay? So he capitulates. By the way, three months earlier Senate Democrats went to him and said, hey, you do consider this because we think it'll help Mark Udall.

  • 11:22:29


  • 11:22:30

    TODDBut by the way statistically, I think the original assessment was right. If you look at Charlie Crist and the Latino turnout in Florida and the Latino turnout in Colorado, and frankly it was a tad lethargic, would it have been different had the president acted on immigration before the election? I think that's a war gaming that some politicos are doing right now and wondering.

  • 11:22:52

    TODDBut let's put the -- I do think the president feels as if he is not going to let others tell him what's politically feasible right now. I think -- I don't want to quite describe it that he's in full "Bullworth" mode. If you remember the movie of Warren Beatty where he just decided, I'm done listening to everybody. And I'll tell you, as a political reporter, I'm dying someday for some politician to do that, to pull a full "Bullworth."

  • 11:23:17

    TODDHe's not ready to do that, but he's tired of -- politically appease somebody, whether it's Senate Democrats or whether it's House Democrats. So I think that's why -- and so, even if Democrats come to him, oh my god, be careful of immigration, he's like, no, I want to do this and this is -- I only have two years left. That's why he was aggressive on net neutrality in a way that a lot of his allies weren't expecting yesterday.

  • 11:23:43

    TODDSo I'll be curious to see how long he -- that attitude stays at the White House. But right now that's his reaction to the election, which is, you know what? There it is. I lost the Senate. Fine, these are the people I've got to deal with. I'm going to do what I want to do.

  • 11:23:58

    REHMWhat about Harry Reid? Do you think he'll keep his job?

  • 11:24:04

    TODDIf he wants this job he's going to keep it. If -- you know, the old saying, if you don't have -- if you can't kill the king don’t' go after him. And there's -- I hear nothing but grumbling from a lot of Senate Democrats. And they all admit they don't want to challenge him. And they don't know if they want the job. They think, you know, it's -- look, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are too good at understanding the rules of how the Senate works, which I think has led to what is this bad dysfunction in the Senate, right.

  • 11:24:34

    TODDThey know how to manipulate the Senate rules and ways that the other 98 senators probably are glad they don't know. But, I mean, they know them so well that I think it has really caused this bizarre standoff. And I have to say, you know, I think, Diane, imagine if the president had -- you know, one of the great talking points -- because the White House is trying to figure out, how is it that the public decided gridlock was one of the two most important issues in this election and decided the Democrats are to blame for it, not the Republicans. Or they didn't split blame. They gave it all to the Democrats.

  • 11:25:09

    TODDAnd the White House is sitting there going -- there's some that are going, you know what, it's because we listened to Harry Reid. And Harry Reid said, look, we're going to do it this way. We're not going to bring up votes. You know, we're going -- and I'm saying, there's a disagreement, I think, in Washington among some Democrats about the strategy Harry Reid went about in running the Senate the last year-and-a-half, and wonder in hindsight if you had done it differently that maybe you -- it'd have at least shared the dysfunction. I don't think Democrats ever thought they would somehow be the party that got the full blame for Washington dysfunction.

  • 11:25:43

    REHMAll right. Chuck, I've gotten at least half dozen emails to this effect. This is from John in Cincinnati and it most succinctly puts the question forward. He writes, "By being used in a political ad by Mitch McConnell, does Chuck feel that that disqualifies him as being perceived as an objective journalist in the future? Wasn't it a career-defining event to be featured in a partisan political ad? Does he feel his commentary can ever again be viewed as being impartial?"

  • 11:26:40

    REHMAnd I think we have to remind listeners that what happened was that on Morning Joe, discussing the Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes and her refusal to answer the question about who she voted for in 2008, you said on Morning Joe, I think she disqualified herself. And you said that to host Joe Scarborough that was then used in a campaign ad. How do you feel about that?

  • 11:27:28

    TODDOh, I'm sick to my stomach to be used in a TV ad. No journalist wants to be. Sadly we're being used all the time in TV ads. I hate it and we fight it. Do I wish I would've said, that's going to be disqualifying for some voters rather than just simply saying disqualifying, Diane? Absolutely. I don't take back the -- that was what I was trying to imply. I don't take back the critique. I probably shorthanded it to the point where it looked like my opinion rather than what I was trying to assess, which was I think it was a disqualifying moment for some voters.

  • 11:27:58

    TODDBecause you're trying to run against somebody who you believe has been overly political and you yourself sound like this overly consulted politician. That's no way to defeat -- that's no way to make your point to that voter who may be totally worn out by Mitch McConnell. And yet you're offering up a very -- you know, that was like the -- what a stereotype negative caricature of how we think politicians handle tough questions. So, look, that's what I -- but, you know, I understand people took it very personally. That's why I love...

  • 11:28:38

    REHMAnd got very angry at you.

  • 11:28:40

    TODDAt me, right. And I -- look, one of the reasons why I love covering politics is the passion. I do think we have gotten to the point though it is amazing, this zero sum game, right, this anger that's out there left and right, that they want to beat the living daylights out of us that are -- the gatekeepers.

  • 11:29:03

    TODDAnd I understand they get frustrated. They can't get mad at their own candidates so get mad at the referees. Get mad at the officials. I respect the passion. I understand the anger but, you know, it is one of those things that I'll admit to being -- I wish I would've said it the specific way I just said it to you.

  • 11:29:23

    REHMBut it's a lesson for all of us...

  • 11:29:26

    TODDIt's a slip -- yeah. That's right. It's a lesson. Absolutely.

  • 11:29:29

    REHM...that you really, really have to be careful about what you say or else it will be taken out of context.

  • 11:29:41

    TODDAnd I tell you thought -- but here's something about this, Diane, that really bothers me because I do think we're all going to learn the wrong lesson. You know, the world of social media is just trying to -- there are people out there who just want to destroy careers, politicians or media figures or whatever.

  • 11:29:56

    TODDHere's what's going to happen. We are now going to become -- the journalistic community won't -- will be -- everything will be very sanitized. Our politicians are already coming across sanitized because they're afraid of people that are tracking them. I think our political discourse -- if the goal was to make it more open and transparent and honest, the way we're going about it and the way some people act on social media sometimes is only going to sanitize it and make it even worse.

  • 11:30:27

    REHMSo what would you change even about what you do if you could?

  • 11:30:36

    TODDHum. Um...

  • 11:30:38

    REHMWhat would you change about social media? How would you and...

  • 11:30:44

    TODDWell, look, I think I wonder if it's the anonymity. I mean, I think the anonymity helps make it so -- I guess my issues would dehumanize people too much. I see it -- politicians really play into it sometimes. And I think that the goal is to -- if you dehumanize an opponent it's easier to spew crazy things about them.

  • 11:31:09

    TODDSo, you know, one of my favorite things to do when somebody gets really heated up on social media, you know, and they'll use awful language or all the stuff -- they'll attack my kids or they'll attack my wife for some reason, I'll say, does your mother follow you on social media?

  • 11:31:22


  • 11:31:23

    TODDThat's what -- basically what I say is, here's what I assume. I assume my mom's reading everything I write. And I think if we all just had that in our head, you know, I bet you we would just think a second, just pause and maybe say to yourself, everybody's a human being...

  • 11:31:42

    REHMHere's an email from you written from Henry in Bristol in the United Kingdom. He says, "To what extent do journalists who work at the White House become part of the White House culture? How does this affect their ability to report objectively on political matters?

  • 11:32:08

    TODDI think it's a great question and it's tough. It's easy, you know, on one hand -- I think the best reporting gig in Washington is Capitol Hill, not the White House. There's more freedom on Capitol Hill. Five-hundred-and-thirty-five members up there, most of whom only -- don't have an entire team of people that are designed to keep the press away from them, you know, so you get real acts...

  • 11:32:31

    REHMMany of them do. Many of them do.

  • 11:32:33

    TODDSome of them do now, you're absolutely right.

  • 11:32:34

    REHMYeah, yeah.

  • 11:32:34

    TODDThey built up a little mini fortress.

  • 11:32:36


  • 11:32:36

    TODDBut it's nothing like the White House, Diane, you know that.

  • 11:32:38

    REHMYeah, yeah, yeah.

  • 11:32:39

    TODDIt's nothing like that. And I think it is certainly -- it is certainly harder. I understand where it's coming from. And, look, part of my job when I was chief White House correspondent, part of our job sometimes is what is the White House doing and why? And I'm reporting and some people might think I'm defending the White House. Or some people might be thinking I'm just parroting what the -- well, my job is to tell you what is happening at the White House and why they're doing it. Not, you know, why I think but like, you know, explaining the why.

  • 11:33:11

    TODDAnd I think -- I understand where that's coming from but I think people need to understand what the role sometimes of the White House reporter is, which is we're there to just, you know, tell you what's going on.

  • 11:33:21

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Okay. We've got lots of callers, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Beth in Halstead, Kan. Hi, Beth.

  • 11:33:44

    BETHOkay. I don't have a question. I think instead I have a statement. One asks why Obama is so aloof, so cool, so withdrawn, so controlled. He's been raised that from a tiny child. If he was going to make it as a black man in a white world and become somebody really great, he had to have control all the time. He cannot let loose. And it has cost. It has cost him in his presidency because I think we play games when we don't talk about his blackness because that's why he is hated by the Republican Party.

  • 11:34:32

    REHMGood point.

  • 11:34:33

    TODDI have to -- it is a wonderful point and I want to say I would like to think that Beth may have read my introduction, at least, to the book. I get to this a lot. I think, look, we're all defined by who we are and how we were brought up. And one -- so there's a few things that I think boy, she is really perceptive about President Obama and his upbringing.

  • 11:34:54

    TODDThe son of an anthropologist, his mother, so he was taught these keen observation skills, by the way, that I think have served him incredibly well at understanding other politicians. And sometimes when he says things like the people in rural Pennsylvania cling to their guns and Bibles, it'll come across as an attack when he's just observing the way an anthropologist would observe a society.

  • 11:35:19

    TODDAnd then it is important, he was brought up by his white grandparents, by the way, in a multicultural city, an unusual -- you don't have that upbringing in any other American city than Honolulu. So he had -- and yes, I think there's -- absolutely that he was basically brought up to say, you're going to be judged by the color of your skin. And you always have to realize that. I think you can't discount that.

  • 11:35:48

    TODDI think on the temperament front it is what made him -- why somebody who had limited experience in 2008, why voters gravitated toward him because I think when they compared his temperament to John McCain's temperament, people said, that guy's going to be cool under crisis. So here's -- again, his best asset can...

  • 11:36:10

    REHMThey got what they expected.

  • 11:36:12

    TODDThat's right. His best asset also was a handicap, right, that coolness, that temperament. Never too high, never too low, but it sort of is the anti-Washington sometimes. And I think that that -- look, I think she was very perceptive. And it's certainly -- I have certainly believed that his upbringing has had an impact on the style of politician that he is.

  • 11:36:39

    REHMThe outsized expectations of the American people also played into it.

  • 11:36:46

    TODDHuge. And, Diane, I think, look, he came on that stage in 2004. We were worn out. We wanted politics to change. And here we are, frankly, he's going to leave and now instead of -- it's going to be 24 straight years of this hard polarization.

  • 11:37:01

    REHMAll right.

  • 11:37:01

    TODDAnd you're right, expectations were too high.

  • 11:37:04

    REHMShort break and when we come back, we'll take more calls, bring you more of our email. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:39:53

    REHMAnd welcome back. Chuck Todd is my guest. He is, of course, the host and moderator of the powerhouse program, "Meet the Press," seen every Sunday. Now, he is also the author of a new book. He calls it the second draft of history, of President Obama. The book is titled, "The Stranger." And subtitled "Barack Obama in the White House." We are going to go back to the phones, but I want to pick up on something you've written in the book, Chuck.

  • 11:40:41


  • 11:40:42

    REHMYou say that if Obama had been more courageous and less concerned about winning a second term, he could have accomplished more. And he, himself, said early on...

  • 11:41:04


  • 11:41:04

    REHM...he'd rather be a really winning one term President than go for that second term.

  • 11:41:13

    TODDYou know, Diane, I wonder if other presidential candidates and future Presidents don't study these first terms. Of Bush, in particular. Obama now. And study the second terms, and the study the way, at least, if political parties are gonna do what they're gonna do and sort of the way the sort of topsy turvy nature of American politics now. I wonder if you're gonna see maybe more Presidents decide to be more aggressive in their first terms. When you realize how quickly it all slips away in the second term, even when you win.

  • 11:41:46

    TODDThat basically, winning a second term, all it does is give you a chance to cement what you got done in the first term. So, if that's the case, then you can't help but look back and say, well, (unintelligible) , boy, cause you know, one of his great regrets is climate change and the whole energy issue in general. And there certainly were other circumstances that sort of caused, that put, made it hard to get something done. The BP oil spill. Six months later, the tsunami that hit the Japanese nuclear facility, which of course, you know, nuclear -- this was going to be the great compromise, right?

  • 11:42:20

    TODDObama was a nuke guy, willing to be pro-nuke. And it was going to -- you had a possibility of creating interesting coalitions. Would have been the most bipartisan piece of legislation he would have been able to get done in the first term. And then, of course, the politics of it shifted, just in the same way we've seen the politics of immigration shift out in the country. I'm not talking about in Washington. But, I think, looking back, I think more Presidents are going to say boy, the lesson from Obama is do more in the first term.

  • 11:42:48

    REHMWhat do you regard as the most revealing statement President Obama has ever made directly to you?

  • 11:43:03

    TODDDirectly to me?

  • 11:43:04

    REHMTo you. To you.

  • 11:43:05

    TODDTo me. Look, I think it was in -- I thought it was in my interview with him for the first "Meet the Press." When we talked about, remember, the beheading of Mr. Foley, the journalist. And I asked him, I said, essentially, I said, do you want to -- do you wish you had that back, you know, the decision he went golfing right after making a statement about it? And got a lot of criticism for it. And he said something to me, he said, you know, I don't do the theatrics of the presidency very well.

  • 11:43:41

    TODDI thought, again, it goes to the nature of here's Barack Obama the anthropologist on himself. I mean, one of the things about him, that I think is, again, he's compelling because he -- there's a, there's a rational humanity about him. He can be somewhat self-reflective. I think he's too insul -- I think he's too naïve about the ways of Washington in some ways. I think that's been a struggle for him.

  • 11:44:05


  • 11:44:06

    TODDBut about himself, sometimes, I think he's sort of -- like, I thought, well, you don't hear many Presidents would have said that about themselves. I don't do the theatrics of the White House very well. And I think he's right. I think, and I think that's been, you know, that has cost him precious time. It has. I don't know -- you can't put your finger on it, but it costs you time, because you spend time dealing with the overreaction about the -- about how you reacted to something rather than focusing on the work itself.

  • 11:44:40

    REHMAll right. Let's take another call. This time, David in Houston, Texas. You're on the air.

  • 11:44:48

    DAVIDHi Diane.

  • 11:44:49


  • 11:44:49

    DAVIDThank you so much for taking my call.

  • 11:44:50


  • 11:44:51

    DAVIDWell, I have a bit of a contrary opinion to something that Mr. Todd said. And I want to say that I appreciate journalists and the jobs that they do, and I receive the news. And daily. However, I think that he said that journalists are the gatekeeper. And I disagree with that. I believe that today, journalists have taken on a role of opinion makers and opinion shapers. And I disagree that that is their role, but I believe that that's what they have become. I believe that we have a Fox News and an MSNBC and based on the opinions that people want to hear, they pick one or the other, basically.

  • 11:45:39

    DAVIDAnd I think that, in many cases, even the most objective of journalists, of news sources, claim that they're objective, because they get journalists with different opinions on the show and let them battle it out. And I believe that whoever wins that battle, you know, takes on the role of opinion shaper for the day. I believe that the journalist estate has become more of an opinion shaper than a gatekeeper, and I do not believe that they can be truly called objective most of the time.

  • 11:46:16

    DAVIDI believe that there are some very objective journalists doing a great job. I believe I would love to see journalism reign itself in, journalists reign themselves in. But that's not what people want. And...

  • 11:46:28

    REHMAll right. Chuck.

  • 11:46:30

    TODDWell, look, I think he's identified the problem, and he's struggling with -- it sounds like, I want to say you're struggling with the solution in the same way we are. A business decision was made by Roger Ailes. Let's -- pure and simple. He made a business decision and it was a successful one, with what was done at Fox, targeting the niche audience. And frankly, by the way, this is not just in the news business anymore. Right? The idea that you can make money targeting a niche audience in media now. In general, whether it's having, having the Home And Garden Network Television.

  • 11:47:07

    TODDOr Animal Planet or Fox News, MSNBC, CNN. So, it's a -- let's call it what it is. It's a business model. I do think what it's done and how -- and I understand the caller's critique when he says -- I use gatekeeper. I'm not saying, I don't know if we're good gatekeepers or bad gatekeepers. We are the gatekeepers or the filters or however you want to describe us.

  • 11:47:31


  • 11:47:31

    TODDWhether we like it or not. You're one of them, Diane. I'm in charge of a show that's perceived as one of them. I do think this rise of opinion based journalism, and the problem is there are more opinion based journalists now than non-opinion based journalists. And they dominate the noise. The daily noise machine of news and report. And so, I think it drowns out whatever attempts there are at just sort of the -- I always say there's no such thing as fair and balanced. There's fair, period. You're fair and you can't balance the truth. Okay? You can't balance facts. Now, is it true that the same set of facts, people have different opinions on the impact of those facts? Like statistics, when it comes to say...

  • 11:48:20

    REHMClimate change.

  • 11:48:22 tax cuts. Right. Do, well, let's talk about tax cuts.

  • 11:48:24


  • 11:48:24

    TODDDo tax cuts create jobs or not?

  • 11:48:26


  • 11:48:26

    TODDYou know? We don't -- it's still not an agreed upon thing, you know, because the right will say, give it five years. And the left will say, well, all you've done is cut this, you know? And there is no right answer, so therefore, you're going to have this ideological debate. And that's, that's okay. That's what politics is supposed to be about. But I think we've taken it to another level. And there's just -- there are more people wanting to do opinion based journalism rather than just straight forward.

  • 11:48:56

    REHMHere's an email from Jim. Do you think Obama wants to see a Hillary Clinton presidency?

  • 11:49:08

    TODDHere's what I think Barack Obama wants. I do believe he's a student of history. A Democrat succeeding him for a third term would be quite a validation. Period. Maybe Hillary Clinton's running for Bill Clinton's third term. Maybe she's running for Barack Obama's third term. Lo and behold, maybe she's running for her own first term. You know, there's gonna be different ways people interpret her candidacy. But if you think for a second he doesn't want a -- I mean, just, you look back at history, Diane.

  • 11:49:40

    TODDThe -- you, that is a, that is, that is a validator for the two term President. They want a Democrat to succeed them, regardless of who it is.

  • 11:49:47

    REHMAnd in the book, you also say that the Affordable Care Act is obviously a big part of his legacy. But, you know, there are a lot of people who understand that he helped to prevent another depression from occurring…

  • 11:50:12

    TODDThat's right.

  • 11:50:12 this country.

  • 11:50:14

    TODDI think the issue with his economic record is that the problem is -- I think it's always, at the end of the day, healthcare is going to dominate all. You know? Bush defenders always like to say, well, after 9/11, look at how secure he made the country. Look at the things he did. But it doesn't matter. Any success he might have had, keeping the country safe, whatever he did in Afghanistan, always clouded by what? His decision to do Iraq. And in many ways, and people are going to hate this comparison, but for Obama, his economic record will be considered better if healthcare's a success.

  • 11:50:53

    TODDIf you get my drift on this. But if healthcare, because maybe it gets dismantled by this surprising decision by the Supreme Court to do what they're going to do, I mean, I...

  • 11:51:04

    REHMWho knows?

  • 11:51:05

    TODD...that, who knows? Or the fact that we've so politicized it that half the country doesn't want to sign up for it, because they think somehow it would be a political -- that they would be committing some sort of political error. That they'd be, you know, if you're a Republican, you're not supposed to sign up for it. I mean, I would not think that people would feel that's the case. But I think there is -- you certainly, you're -- I think some in the White House are concerned that all the negative advertising on healthcare over the last year is going to impact their enrollment.

  • 11:51:37

    TODDAnd, of course, if enrollment is down, it impacts the whole program, and it may not be successful. And suddenly, it may be financially a problem. So, I just think he'll never be separated from healthcare. Good, bad or indifferent. If healthcare's a success in 10 years, Diane, his presidency will be considered more successful than if it's not.

  • 11:51:55

    REHMI find myself wondering whether you and I make a mistake in bringing on, say, two politicians from absolutely opposing sides, who defend their own positions. And undermine the trust of the American people. They are left with huge questions in their minds. And the facts get twisted in the process. The facts don't necessarily come through when you've got those politicians, each representing not just the correct position, but their party's position on an issue.

  • 11:52:56

    TODDWell, it's funny you say that. Look, one of my goals with "Meet the Press" is to try to -- I don't want cliché left/right.

  • 11:53:03


  • 11:53:03

    TODDWhat you just described. Okay, I don't want it. I'm trying hard not to. And I say trying hard, because sometimes, it happens even if you don't plan on it.

  • 11:53:11


  • 11:53:11

    TODDAnd I’m not gonna -- I don't want to single out a guest by name, but I had somebody on in the first two months because they were a part of an organization that was, that was a big deal on this one specific issue. And they came in and acted like a total partisan hack rather than, rather than talking about the subject matter I wanted to talk about. That was clear we were doing. This was not meant, this was not, you know, a cable shop fest. And I think they mistakenly believed they were somehow supposed to be playing a role rather than just simply debating the philosophy of the issue.

  • 11:53:51

    TODDAnd again, I'm being vague because I don't -- I'm sure you feel the same way. You don't want to ever single out a guest by name. It's, you know, but it was a lesson learned, and I'm like, boy, I am going to work harder to make sure...

  • 11:54:03


  • 11:54:03

    TODD...when I book somebody and say look, I'm not, if you, I only want you on if you're willing to have this, if you're willing to, to sort of engage.

  • 11:54:10

    REHMEngage. Exactly.

  • 11:54:10

    TODDIn this, in this topic in a philosophical way. In a way that's illuminating, that's a little bit light. I'm not looking for heat type of thing. And look, it's what I hear people want, from some morning show.

  • 11:54:24

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Want to ask you about your own family life. And what this new job -- how it's affected how you are able to be with your family.

  • 11:54:44

    TODDDiane, it's been difficult, because my weekends, my kids are seven and 10. So, guess what? Busy. You know? Softball, baseball, flag football.

  • 11:54:56

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:54:57

    TODDYou know, they got all this. We're about to start basketball. Saturday's an important day for show preparation. So, look, the good news is Monday is my new Sunday. And on Mondays, and granted, they're in school. But I...

  • 11:55:11

    REHMYeah, they're in school.

  • 11:55:11

    TODD...I try to -- I at least take them to school and pick them up from school. It's -- this has been the difficult part, and I'll be honest, I'm still working on that balance. I fully admit it, and, you know, we're -- these are first world problems. Other people, you know, have to, you know, are working two jobs to -- and don't get to see their kids and all this stuff, so I don't want to do a woe is me here. So, but I, you know, look, everybody, I'm working on it. And here's a piece of advice I always give people. And it's gonna sound morbid.

  • 11:55:42

    TODDBut when you ever -- read an obituary and tell me the last time you ever saw that the person was survived by their co-workers. You never are. And just think about that every once in a while when you have to make a decision between work and family.

  • 11:55:54

    REHMFinal question. Do you think Jeb Bush is going to run?

  • 11:56:00

    TODDI, I don't think so. I think, I think this is a very difficult path. I think he wants to, but I don't think he -- if, I think the idea that he's more likely to lose the nomination than win it makes it very difficult for him to...

  • 11:56:16

    REHMBecause. Because.

  • 11:56:17

    TODD...I don't think he wants to be Don Quixote. He -- two specific issues, Diane. Immigration and common core. They light up the right like you wouldn't believe. It is -- they've become more -- you cannot have a debate about them, almost. It is more of a cultural identity, positions on that, with some conservatives. And I just think that, that, that I don't know if he can ever clear a hurdle with conservatives on those two specific issues.

  • 11:56:42

    REHMChuck Todd. He's the moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press." And the author of a new book, titled, "The Stranger: Barack Obama In the White House." Good luck to you, Chuck.

  • 11:57:00

    TODDThank you, Diane. This was a pleasure.

  • 11:57:00

    REHMAnd good to see you. Hope to see you again.

  • 11:57:03

    TODDI hope so too.

  • 11:57:04

    REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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