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Obama talks to Oprah about Trump, Obamacare, success, and more

Former U.S. President Barack Obama sits down with talk show host Oprah Winfrey and discusses his new book ‘A Promised Land’, Trump, Obamacare, success, and more.

Video Transcript

OPRAH WINFREY: But first I just want to ask you, what was the one word that would best describe how you felt when it was announced that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris could be the next president and vice president of the United States?

BARACK OBAMA: I was thrilled. First of all, obviously Joe is somebody who stood by me on every major decision I had for eight years. He's become a brother, a genuinely good friend. Kamala is one of my earliest supporters when I first launched my presidency. So I'm personally invested in them. And they have the character and experience, I think, to do an outstanding job in a very difficult time, a very challenging time in this country.

But beyond the personal investment I have in them, I think this gives us a chance to get back to the kind of competent, caring government that we so badly need. Oprah, I would distinguish between the very real policy differences that exists between Democrats and Republicans and some legitimate tough issues, whether it's abortion, or it's taxes, you know, people have different views. And democracy is always going to be contentious.

I distinguish between that and the demonization of opponents, the flouting of institutional norms and rules that govern how our democracy is supposed to function, the kinds of things that I saw over the last four years that endanger democracy operating the way it should.

OPRAH WINFREY: Yeah.

BARACK OBAMA: And I think that what Joe and Kamala can do is to level set, to re-establish that we don't use the Justice Department, for example, to go after political enemies, that we don't mingle personal business interests with the business of government, that there is an expectation that the president doesn't routinely lie or reshape the truth to his own convenience, that he doesn't call journalists enemies of the state. Those kinds of things, which in some ways, we became numb to over the last several years, I think, that's the stuff that can be fixed. And Joe and Kamala will set a different tone.

I think every president has been held to a different standard relative to this president. I think Donald Trump breached so many norms, so-- so many basic assumptions about what a president should or should not do, that you can't come up with a comparable set of behaviors in the past.

I think-- Michelle and I joke about the fact that one of the bigger scandals of my presidency was me wearing a tan suit during a press conference. So I had to go back and take a look at the clips about the way folks, some pundits were talking about this tan suit. And it gives you some sense that folks were paying attention to what Michelle and I were doing, because it wasn't just me, it was our family, in ways that were unusual, but in some ways not unexpected.

And truthfully, Michelle and I, we felt that we should have higher standards in terms of how we behaved, and ethics, and fidelity to the truth. And part of that was because of a reverence for the office, and the space we were occupying, the people's house, the White House, the enormous responsibilities that we had.

Part of it, undoubtedly, because we were firsts and felt very much the need to exceed expectations rather than just meet them. Because we understood that, in the same way that any first, whether it's Jackie Robinson, or it's a female CEO, or, you know, in any of those positions, you know that because you don't look like the past, people are going to be scrutinizing things a little bit more carefully.

OPRAH WINFREY: Do you worry now that the Supreme Court may strike down the Affordable Care Act?

BARACK OBAMA: I don't think there's a basis for striking it down. It has been more resilient and now is more popular than I think people understood at the time that we passed it. America is unique among wealthy advanced nations in not providing health care to all of its citizens. And that is not only immoral, but it is also wildly inefficient, because we have people who pile into emergency rooms for the most expensive care because they don't have basic preventive care.

We are now seeing, in the middle of a pandemic, the consequences of not having a good public health infrastructure. Because no matter how good your health insurance is, if everybody around you is getting sick, then you're at risk as well.

We went through our rough patches in the White House, as she's written about and she's talked about. But I tell you that the thing that I think we were good about was talking stuff through, never losing fundamental love and respect for each other, and prioritizing our kids.

And the other thing that helps, and I write about this in the book, is having my mother-in-law. Miss Marian Robinson, she kind of kept things going. And I'm sure that there were times where Michelle was furious at me. But she'd go up to the third floor, and miss Marian was sitting there, and she'd be like, well. And I'm-- she-- she-- she, I know, defended her son-in-law more often than I was aware of. Kept-- kept me out of trouble.