In a wide-ranging CNN exclusive interview, President Barack Obama discusses college costs; student loans; the administration's response to the crisis in Syria and if a red line has been crossed; Egyptian foreign policy and whether or not a military coup happened; NSA surveillance vs. privacy protection; and inaction in Congress.
CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo sits down with the President in Syracuse after he finishes his bus tour in upstate New York. Later during a walk and talk, the President gives his thoughts on Antoinette Tuff, Sasha and Malia growing up and the family's new dog, Sunny.
President Obama addresses allegations that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime used chemical weapons on civilians, saying "what we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern." His immediate solution includes communicating with the international community and the United Nations and calling on Syrian government officials to allow an investigation. He says, "There is no doubt that when you start seeing chemical weapons used on a large scale - and, again, we're still gathering information about this particular event, but it is very troublesome." The President tells Cuomo that the financial and human cost of the war in Afghanistan is still accumulating and we don't have to "get involved with everything immediately" and "drawn into very expensive, difficult, costly interventions that actually breed more resentment in the region."
Asked if Syria has crossed a red line, President Obama responds, "If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work, and, you know, those are considerations that we have to take into account."
With regards to the political and deadly chaos in Egypt, President Obama states that "there's no doubt that we can't return to business as usual" and that "the aid itself may not reverse what the interim government does." Regarding the overthrow of former President Mohamed Morsy and the Unites States' position during that time, he claims, "There was a space right after Mr. Morsy was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation. They did not take that opportunity." The President replies "yes" twice when Cuomo asks him if there is now an abbreviated time frame to make a decision on Syria and Egypt.
President Obama defends the NSA's surveillance programs, acknowledging that mistakes were made and will be corrected with better safeguards to keep up with rapidly developing technology. He says he is "very confident" that people are not trying to abuse the program and read personal emails and listen to calls and believes that these programs are needed to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. He acknowledges "disclosures that were made by Mr. Snowden" made it clear that people are concerned about their privacy, and as a result, the government needs "to do a better job of giving people confidence in how these programs work."
On domestic issues, President Obama speaks about the road to lowering college costs that have skyrocketed over the last several decades. Putting pressure on state legislatures, holding universities accountable and dealing with student debt head on are some of the initiatives he is going to undertake. He denies that Congress' negotiated fix on student loans leaves students in a more difficult position than they were before the legislation passed. President Obama says, "What happened was that the student interest rate had doubled. And what we were able to do was to negotiate it so it was back down to a low level. Now, what's true is, as interest rates go up because it's now tied to market interest rates, that could push the interest rate higher."
The President also gives his thoughts on the effectiveness of Congress, stating that he doesn't think the branch has "a whole lot of core responsibilities." "One core responsibility is passing a budget, which they have not done yet," President Obama says. "The other core responsibility that they've got is to pay the bills that they've already accrued. And if Congress simply does those two things when they get back, then the economy can continue to recover...."
After the sit down interview, Cuomo walks with the President and catches up on a few other topics. The President says that Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who talked a gunmen into surrendering at a school, was "remarkable" and that she maintained her calm energy when he called her. He also gives credit to First Lady Michelle Obama for his daughters' respectful demeanor. Acknowledging that the more time he wants to spend with his kids over the years, the less "excited" they get. In addition to Sunny being a play companion to their other dog Bo, President Obama admits that the two dogs will keep them company when the kids leave the nest.