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  • BARACK OBAMA: The U.S has the most durable economy in the world.

  • HILLARY CLINTON: I don't think President Obama gets the credit he deserves for digging us

  • out of the ditch that the republicans dropped us into.

  • DONALD TRUMP: We have other countries basically sucking away our money, sucking away our jobs.

  • BERNIE SANDERS: Anyone in this country who works 40 hours a week should not live in poverty.

  • IF you want a job in Elkhart County, you can find a job.

  • Its a good place to live for people who need a job who are not college-educated.

  • People tend to live paycheck to paycheck. The foodstamps that we get are not enough

  • to feed a family.

  • Most of our society thinks they deserve something. The Government tends to give too much to people

  • who don't want to work. I think we're more divided than we've ever been and the people

  • running for office now--who in the world are you going to vote for?

  • ANNOUNCER: This is a PBS NEWSHOUR special -- Questions for President Obama.

  • Now, from the Lerner Theatre in Elkhart, Indiana, PBS NewsHour co-anchor, Gwen Ifill.

  • GWEN IFILL: Good evening.

  • And welcome to Elkhart, Indiana, as we sit down with President Obama and the residents

  • of this community to discuss their concerns, look back on his time in office and assess

  • the feverish campaign to succeed him.

  • This marks the president's fifth visit to the once and again RV capital of the world

  • -- a small city where the unemployment rate hit 19.6 percent his first year in office

  • and now has dropped to about 4 percent.

  • But this White House isn't getting any credit for that turnaround. Residents here voted

  • for Ted Cruz in this year's primaries and Mitt Romney by two to one in 2012. Even when

  • President Obama won Indiana in 2008, just as the economy was crashing, Elkhart went

  • with John McCain.

  • So what gives?

  • We've asked some of the people who live here to join us on the stage of the beautiful Lerner

  • Theatre here downtown for an intimate conversation.

  • But first, the president of the United States, Barack Obama.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hi, Gwen.

  • (APPLAUSE)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.

  • (APPLAUSE)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.

  • (APPLAUSE)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: How are you?

  • GWEN IFILL: Hi, Mr. President.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's good to see you.

  • GWEN IFILL: Thank you.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Hello.

  • (APPLAUSE)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you.

  • (APPLAUSE)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you, guys.

  • GWEN IFILL: Our residents have been waiting faithfully, patiently and eagerly to see you

  • today.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, I'm eager to see them.

  • And this is a beautiful theatre.

  • GWEN IFILL: It is beautiful.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Which got converted. Congratulations on a wonderful venue.

  • IFILL: Some of them voted for you, some of them didn't. We'll be talking about that...

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, that's what we’d expect.

  • GWEN IFILL: -- in a moment.

  • But I first want to ask by talking to you a little bit about this campaign.

  • What do you think it means when you hear the wordslet's make America great again”?

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think America is pretty great. And, you know, it's interesting,

  • I do a lot of commencement speeches this time of year. In fact, tomorrow, I'm going to be

  • going to the Air Force Academy to deliver a commencement for the second time there.

  • And I always remind young people that despite all the challenges that we face right now,

  • if you had the choice to be born in -- in any one period of time in -- in our history,

  • and you didn't know ahead of time whether you were going to be rich or poor, black or

  • white, male or female, you know, you just had to guess on what moment do you have a

  • best chance of succeeding, it actually would be now.

  • That America is the strongest country on Earth. Its economy is the most durable on Earth.

  • You know, we are a -- a country that has incredible diversity, people are striving, working hard,

  • creating businesses. We've got the best universities in the world, the best scientists.

  • You know, so we've got -- we've got some challenges and we've just come through a very rough stretch

  • as a consequence of the financial crisis, but overall, not only are we recovered from

  • the crisis that we had, but we're well positioned to do extraordinarily well going forward as

  • long as we make some good decisions.

  • GWEN IFILL: And yet, many people, including probably some folks in this room...

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL: -- think the deficits have gone up and the jobless rate has gone up. And,

  • in fact, that their lives have not improved.

  • How -- in fact, we have your nominee for the -- the presumptive nominee for the Republican

  • Party saying, Donald Trump, saying this -- America is a third world nation.

  • How do you persuade -- or I suppose, how does your likely Democratic successor, possible,

  • persuade anybody that's not true?

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it's important you said my successor, because Michelle would

  • be very upset if she thought I was running again.

  • Look, you just look at the evidence here in Elkhart. As you mentioned in the introduction,

  • when I took office, this was the first city I came to. And unemployment about a month

  • after I took office, a month and a half after I took office, was almost 20 percent. One

  • out of 10 people were behind on their mortgage or in foreclosure.

  • Today, the unemployment rate is around 4 percent. It's only about one in 30 people who are behind

  • on their mortgage. The RV industry, which is, uh, central to Elkhart, is on track to

  • break records in terms of sales. And so that doesn't mean that folks aren't struggling

  • in some circumstances. And one of the things that I've emphasized is that there are some

  • long-term trends in the economy that we have to tackle in terms of wages not going up as

  • fast as they used to, some big costs, like college costs or health care costs that are

  • still a challenge, people still worrying about retirement.

  • And so we're going to have to make sure that we make some good decisions going forward.

  • But the notion that somehow America is in decline is just not borne out by the facts.

  • That...

  • GWEN IFILL: But it resonates. It resonates among a lot of...

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well...

  • GWEN IFILL: -- aggrieved people who are voting in big numbers for Donald Trump.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, look, -- I think that what it is also -- always been true in

  • American politics is that when we've gone through a tough time -- and we went through

  • the worst financial crisis of our lifetimes. I'm looking around and I -- I think it's safe

  • to say that it's been the worst in -- in the lifetimes or memories of most people here.

  • Then you feel nervous. People lost homes. People lost savings. People were worried about

  • whether or not they could make ends meet.

  • And so we're -- even though we've recovered, people feel like the ground under their feet

  • isn't quite as solid. And in those circumstances, a lot of times it's easy for somebody to come

  • up and say you know what, if we deport all the immigrants and build a wall or if we cut

  • off trade with China, or if we do X or Y or Z, that there's some simple answer and suddenly

  • everything is going to feel secure. And...

  • GWEN IFILL: Why don't -- why don't you mention Donald Trump by name?

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, he seems to do a good job mentioning his own name,

  • so...

  • (LAUGHTER)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: -- I figure -- you know...

  • (LAUGHTER)

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: -- I'll let him do his advertising for him.

  • GWEN IFILL: Do you consider at all that any of the support for him is backlash against

  • you personally?

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, here's one thing I would say -- and I just spoke about this

  • at the local high school. I think Trump is a more colorful character than some of the

  • other Republican elected officials, but a lot of the story that he's telling is entirely

  • consistent with what folks have been saying about me or the general story they've been

  • telling about the economy for the last seven and a half, the last 10, the last 20, the

  • last 30 years. And you can -- you can actually describe the story fairly concisely, right?

  • The -- the basic story they tell is that the problems that the middle class working families

  • are experiencing has to do with a big bloated government that taxes the heck out of people

  • and then gives that money to undeserving folks, welfare cheats or, you know, the 47 percent

  • who are takers or, you know, whatever phrase they use, that businesses are being strangled

  • by over-regulation, that, you know, Obamacare has killed jobs.

  • And the fact of the matter is when you look at it, the government, as a proportion of

  • our overall economy, is actually smaller now under my presidency than it was under Ronald

  • Reagan...

  • GWEN IFILL: Let me read you something...

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: : -- I have...

  • GWEN IFILL: -- that Bill Clinton said, though.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: But -- but let me -- let me finish, Gwen.

  • GWEN IFILL: OK.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We have fewer federal employees today.

  • GWEN IFILL: Um-hmm.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The -- the health care costs since I signed Obamacare have actually

  • gone up slower than they were before I signed it. Twenty million more people have health

  • insurance.

  • So the arguments they're making just are not borne out by the facts. But what is true is

  • that if people are feeling secure -- feeling insecure and they're offered a simple reason

  • for how they can feel more secure, people are going to be tempted by it, particularly

  • if they're hearing that same story over and over again.

  • GWEN IFILL: Perception. So Bill Clinton said, "Millions and millions and millions of people

  • look at that pretty picture of America you painted," which you just described, "and they

  • cannot find themselves in it to save their lives."

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: The pretty picture that...

  • GWEN IFILL: The pretty picture of all the things that have gone well. Why is there a

  • disconnect between -- that he's describing here?

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, look, here's what has changed in the economy over the last

  • 20 to 30 years. Right after World War II, America was ascendant. It was dominant around

  • the world because Europe was blown up. Japan was digging itself out of the rubble. China

  • was still a backwater. Eastern Europe was behind the Iron Curtain.

  • There wasn't much competition. We were the only folks who were seriously making cars

  • and trucks and appliances and you name it.

  • We had strong unionization, which meant that workers had leverage so that they could get

  • a good share of a growing pie. And people saw each year and each generation their standards

  • of living going up pretty rapidly.

  • And what started happening is you started seeing foreign competition. Unions started

  • getting busted, so workers had less leverage, which meant their wages didn't go up quite

  • as fast. You started seeing the end of defined benefit pension plans. In terms of health

  • care programs, if you had health care on your job, suddenly you were paying a lot of deductibles

  • and premiums.

  • College costs started going up because the public university system, which used to be

  • generously funded by state governments so that tuition was low, suddenly state governments

  • were spending more money on prisons than they were on universities, which meant tuition

  • went up.

  • You add all those things together, and people then start feeling more stressed.

  • Now, the answer to that is how do we get wages up; how do we make sure that you can save

  • for retirement; how can you make sure that your kid can afford to get a higher education

  • to compete for the jobs of the future. And the question then is what is actually going

  • to get that done?

  • To me, if we raise the minimum wage; if we make it easier not harder for people to unionize;

  • if we negotiate trade deals that raise labor standards and environmental standards in other

  • countries, instead of letting them sell here and we can't sell there; if we make sure that

  • we're rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure to put a bunch of folks

  • in hard-hats back to work; if we make Social Security stronger rather than cutting it.

  • If we do those things, then we are going to see wages go up, labor markets tighten, and

  • we will relieve a lot of the stress that people feel. But if you look at the arguments that

  • are being made by the Republicans and the actions that have been taken by those members

  • of Congress, it's hard to see how cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, deregulating

  • Wall Street again, is somehow going to benefit middle class families.

  • GWEN IFILL: But let's turn to the audience and see what they think. We're going to open

  • this conversation up. I have a lot more questions, but they do, too. And we're going to be right

  • back in just a moment with that.

  • (BREAK) GWEN IFILL: So Mr. President, we are back

  • with a few questions for you from our invited audience here. They are anxious to get started

  • and so am I.

  • You're a small businessman here in Elkhart.

  • BILL KERCHER, Farmer: Yes, I am.

  • GWEN IFILL: What's your name?

  • BILL KERCHER: Bill Kercher.

  • GWEN IFILL: What's your question for the president?

  • BILL KERCHER: Mr. President, I am a fifth-generation fruit and vegetable grower here in Elkhart

  • County. And over the last six years, we've seen a dramatic increase in the number of

  • regulations that touch all aspects of our business, from the Food Safety Modernization

  • Act to Obamacare and many others.

  • Now, large farms are able to comply with these regulations more easily, and small family

  • farms we've seen actually exiting the industry. At what point are we overregulated, if not

  • now? And how can we encourage younger growers to either stay or enter an industry when the

  • barriers to entry are higher than ever?

  • Thank you.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, it's a great question. And first of all, my administration's

  • policy has been to encourage family farming, rather than big agribusiness, because not

  • only is that sort of a model of farming that built this country, but as Michelle will tell

  • you, it actually produces food that's better for you, as she reminds me constantly.

  • So, you know, we want you to succeed. Now, if you look at the trend lines in terms of

  • small family farms, the problem generally has been actually farms getting bought up

  • by larger agricultural operations. It's been you guys not always getting good prices for

  • the products that you put together.

  • I don't doubt that some elements of the regulations I put in place have probably put a burden

  • on you. So let's take health care for example. It may be that previously you weren't -- you

  • didn't think you were able to provide health insurance for your employees. The problem

  • is that if they're not getting health insurance through you, then that means that they're

  • relying on the emergency room. And they're relying on, you know, taxpayers like everybody

  • else to cover those costs if they get in an accident or if they get sick.

  • And so it has always been our view that if we can put something together where people

  • can buy health insurance through a pool, it's subsidized if they're not making enough money

  • to pay for their own health insurance, that that overall is going to be a more efficient

  • way to do it and in fact health care inflation, the rate at which healthcare costs have gone

  • up, for small businesses as well as large businesses, has been significantly slower

  • since I passed the law than it was beforehand.

  • Now, what I would say is that there are a bunch of regulations that have been put in

  • place in the past that may have been well intentioned, but didn't work, sometimes they're