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The World Is Now Moving Forward: Summers

Nov.07 -- Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers discusses Joe Biden’s victory in the race for president and gives his outlook for the new administration. He speaks during Bloomberg’s special “Election 2020” coverage.

Video Transcript

DAVID WESTIN: Give us a sense now of what happens with a new administration that is decidedly likely to be different from what we've seen before. How does it pivot? How does it redirect the direction of the economy?

LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS: Let me say a couple of things, David. First, I think we're going to find that the band moves on. [AUDIO OUT] texts today. They're about what policies President Biden will pursue, who will be in President Biden's administration. They're not about the election. They're not about Arizona, or Pennsylvania, or Donald Trump's lawsuits. The world is now moving forward.

Second, you start by changing the tone. That's about what you say, that's about what you propose, and that's about what the results are. And Joe Biden is going to sound completely different than Donald Trump ever sounded as president. He's going to behave completely differently than Donald Trump did as president. He's going to introduce something that's always been part of the United States until four years ago-- a president who listens, who listens to the American people, a president who listens to expert's.

He's going to change the terms of our national debates. We're going to stop having a sterile and stupid argument about whether we should have a functioning economy, or whether we should crack down on COVID. He's going to replace that with the view that's been a huge success and has made every Asian country a big success in dealing with COVID-- that if you do the right things in terms of testing, in terms of quarantining, in terms of masking, in terms of contact tracing-- they let you have less COVID and more economic growth. That's something that President Trump could never understand. Frankly, it's something that some of his critics didn't completely understand. But that will be the central understanding that a Biden presidency will bring.

And I am very confident that he will [AUDIO OUT] in June than he is in January. And that will be a very substantial tailwind for a Biden presidency. I believe that this act of a return to [AUDIO OUT] of [AUDIO OUT] the best in Americans, rather than the worst of Americans, of having us invest collectively in our strength-- in our strength so that the middle class can prosper, in our strength so at a moment when the power of the American example is being challenged by China, that example should be strong and powerful to the world. I think those appeals are going to be very powerful.

And what history teaches us-- whether it's what happened when Ronald Reagan was elected-- and, look, I disagreed with most of Ronald Reagan's policies, but I would be the first to acknowledge that the feeling in the country, eight months into his presidency, was entirely different than the feeling in the country at the end of President Carter's period. The feeling in the country after John Kennedy won-- what was to that point, the most narrowly contested election of the century-- was very different than it had been under the outgoing President Eisenhower. The feeling in the country when Gerry Ford took office after all the depredations of Watergate, within six weeks, was a much less bitter and partisan feeling than it had been.

So I believe a president can change that feeling very, very quickly. And I believe in the current context there is an opportunity to show some very real results on COVID, and with a slightly longer time frame, on the economy that will put wind in the sails of his presidency. I am optimistic that we are going to govern from the progressive center and govern very effectively. I cannot imagine that the Republicans in the Senate want to look obstructionist coming into two elections in Georgia in January. I cannot imagine that they want to look obstructionist with respect to common sense middle-of-the-road ideas that will push our economy forward with 22-- 2/3 of the senators on the ballot two years from now being Republicans.

So I believe there is immense scope to start reinvesting in America, to start standing up for American workers on dimensions like minimum wage that, adjusting for inflation, is far, far below what it was when Ronald Reagan was president. There's a huge opportunity to do many, many things. And I think there's a very good chance that President Biden is going to be able to do them. So I'm more optimistic about our country's future certainly than I have been anytime in the last four years. And I think there's really opportunity for a profoundly important presidency.

DAVID WESTIN: For our Bloomberg Television and Radio audiences, we're waiting right now for remarks from the President-elect, as well as the vice president-elect, which are scheduled for the top of the hour at about 8:00 PM Eastern time. And for the TV audience, what we're watching there are people in Wilmington-- a celebration going on at Biden headquarters there in Wilmington, Delaware.

So, Larry, I hear what you say about optimism, and how much a president can do, invoking things like Ronald Reagan, for example, as well as FDR, others who've made a big change even fairly quickly, can he do that if he has a Republican Senate? Because it looks like that's a distinct possibility right now.

LAWRENCE H. SUMMERS: Ronald Reagan had a Democratic House of Representatives. John Kennedy had a Congress that was Democratic, but many of the Democrats were extremely conservative southern Democrats. I don't think more obstructionism is what is going to be in the interests of the Republican Party. Of course, they're going to resist the kind of radical ideas that they have always opposed, but when the issue is raising the minimum wage, which won decisively in Florida, even as President Trump was winning the popular vote in Florida. When the issue is fixing crumbling highways, when the issue is making broadband available so that kids who have to stay home are able to do school, when the issue is the United States working collaboratively with other countries, I don't think that the Republicans are going to find it in their interest to try to oppose that.

So I think we're going to see a period of pragmatism moving forward on what I suspect are the issues of most concern to people taking the temperature down, doing something effective that will let them send their kids to school and not tremble about the possibility of getting COVID. Seeing middle-income families have more income and less to fear, in terms of lost health care, having college educations be affordable, and having a United States that's not an international pariah. I don't think the American people want the United States to be an international pariah. Are there some hopes that some Democrats have that will be thwarted in this political context? Yes, absolutely. But is there a broad forward-looking looking progressive agenda that can be gotten done? I certainly believe there is.