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Obama grilled during 'Daily Show' appearance

Host Jon Stewart peppers the president with tough questions about 'timid legislation.' Obama says that in order to get things done, his administration 'basically worked with the process as opposed to transforming the process, and that frustrated folks. It frustrates me.'

October 27, 2010|By Jordan Steffen and Michael A. Memoli | Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — An appearance on "The Daily Show" offered President Obama little comic relief from the serious midterm election campaign, as he was peppered with tough questions rooted in whether he has lived up to the promise of his 2008 campaign.

The mood was light-hearted during Obama's interview with Jon Stewart on the satirical Comedy Central program, but exchanges were hard-hitting and direct.

Stewart challenged the president about "timid legislation" to reform the nation's healthcare system, economic recovery and financial reform, and whether it was possible to keep the inspiration and change promised in his 2008 campaign moving forward.

"You ran on the idea that this system needed basic reform. It feels like some of the reforms that passed – like healthcare – have been done in a very political manner that has papered over a foundation that is corrupt," Stewart asked at one point.

Obama argued that the work of his administration was unfinished, that he had promised "change you can believe in," not "change you can believe in in 18 months."

"Over the last two years in the emergency situation, our attitude was that we've got to get some things done. In order to do that, [we] basically worked with the process as opposed to transforming the process, and that frustrated folks. It frustrates me," Obama said.

He acknowledged that frustration would likely be reflected in the coming election.

"Over and over again we have moved forward on an agenda that is making a difference in people's lives each and every day," he said. "Now is it enough? No, and so I expect and I think that most Democrats out there expect that people want to see more progress. We have done an awful lot that we talked about during the campaign and we're going to do more."

Obama challenged most strongly Stewart's suggestion that health reform was "timid." 

"This is what most people would say is as significant a piece of legislation as we have seen in this country's history," he said. "What happens is it gets discounted because the assumption is we didn't get 100 percent of what we wanted, we only get 90 percent of what we wanted -- so let's focus on the 10 percent we didn't get."

Obama appeared on set with the Comedy Central host, who is taping in Washington this week, as part of a frenzied final push for votes from constituencies that strongly supported him in 2008 but typically don't vote in strong numbers in midterm elections.

Earlier Wednesday, Obama taped an interview with conservative talk radio host Michael Smerconish. He phoned into Al Sharpton's American Urban Radio Network program Tuesday, and taped an interview with Spanish-language radio host "Piolin" while in California last Friday.

The White House has regularly put Obama on platforms that have rarely, if ever, seen a president before. He became the first sitting president to appear on a late night talk show in 2009 when he was a guest on "The Tonight Show," and later visited David Letterman's "Late Show" set as well.

In each of the past two years, he's appeared on ESPN's SportsCenter to make NCAA basketball tournament selections. And he also was a guest on a daytime talk show, “The View.”

"There's a lot of different channels for people to watch these days," press secretary Robert Gibbs said Tuesday. "They get their information from not just television news and cable and newspapers and radio and the Internet. … And the president hasn’t been shy about going to the places where people are getting their information and trying to make his case."

Gibbs added that the White House agreed to the "Daily Show" interview before Stewart announced his "March to Restore Sanity," planned for the National Mall this Saturday. While making it clear Obama was in no way endorsing the event, Gibbs said that any effort to "get people involved in and excited in participating in that democracy on either side is a good thing."

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