You know, all my life I hoped this would happen. Ever since childhood I expected it. I knew these creatures were alive somewhere, but I had no proof, scientific proof, and I had to keep it to myself, or my colleagues would have all laughed at me. -- Dr. Sampson, The Giant Behemoth
Q: Mr. President, you've said that you want to work with Republicans after the election, but there's probably a pretty good chance that they're not going to advance with you. Is there sort of a breaking point you have of where you try to work with them and they just refuse to budge, which they've indicated so far? Is there a breaking point for you just like you're going to have to go off on your own and find a way around them?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, the -- I'm a pretty stubborn guy when it comes to, on the one hand, trying to get cooperation. I don't give up just because I didn't get cooperation on this issue; I'll try the next issue. If the Republicans don't agree with me on fiscal policy, maybe they'll agree with me on infrastructure. If they don't agree with me on infrastructure, I'll try to see if they agree with me on education.
So I'm just going to keep on trying to see where they want to move the country forward.
I'm President and not king. And so I've got to get a majority in the House and I've got to get 60 votes in the Senate to move any legislative initiative forward.
Now, during the course -- the 21 months of my presidency so far, I think we had 60 votes in the Senate for seven months, six? I mean, it was after Franken finally got seated and Arlen had flipped, but before Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. So that's a fairly narrow window. So we're right at the number, and that presumes that there is uniformity within the Democratic caucus in the Senate -- which, Barbara, you've been around a while. You know that not every Democrat in the Democratic caucus agrees with me or agrees with each other in terms of complicated issues like health care.
So it is important for me, then, to work every angle I can to get as much done as I can. If we had a parliamentary system, then this critique would make sense to me because you do as much as you can to negotiate with the other side, but at a certain point you've got your platform and you move it forward and your party votes for it.
But that's not the system of government we have. We've got a different system. I will say that the damage that the filibuster I think has done to the workings of our democracy are at this point pretty profound. The rate at which it's used just to delay and obstruct is unprecedented. But that's the reality right now.
And then there's this, at least:
Q On that same issue, because a lot of progressives -- and you said you're not the king -- well, a lot of progressives feel that senators, especially in the minority they think -- we call them the House of Lords.
And can we get -- or are you for any of the bills that are out there to support -- to change this rule that is paralyzing the administration?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I've got to be careful about not looking like I'm big-footing Congress. We've got separate branches of government. The House and the Senate have their own rules. And they are very protective of those prerogatives.
I will say that as just an observer of our political process that if we do not fix how the filibuster is used in the Senate, then it is going to be very difficult for us over the long term to compete in a very fast moving global environment.
What keeps me up at night is China, Germany, India, Brazil -- they're moving. They make decisions, we're going to pursue clean energy, and the next thing you know they've cornered half the clean energy market; we're going to develop high-speed rail in the span of five years -- suddenly they've got high-speed rail lines going; we're going to promote exports, here's what we're going to do -- boom, they get going.
And if we can't sort of execute on key issues that will determine our competitiveness over the long term, we're going to fall behind -- we are going to fall behind.
And the filibuster is not part of the Constitution. The filibuster, if you look at the history of it, may have arisen purely by accident because somebody didn't properly apply Robert's Rules of Procedure and forgot to get a provision in there about what was required to close debate. And folks figured out very early, this could be a powerful tool. It was used as a limited tool throughout its history. Sadly, the primary way it was used was to prevent African Americans from achieving civil rights.
But setting aside that sordid aspect of its history, it was used in a very limited fashion. The big debates, the big changes that we had historically around everything from establishing public schools to the moon launch to Social Security, they weren't subject to the filibuster. And I'm sympathetic to why the minority wants to keep it. And in fairness, Democrats, when we were in the minority, used it on occasion to blunt actions that we didn't think were appropriate by the Bush administration.
Q On occasion.
THE PRESIDENT: And in fairness, there were a whole bunch of folks here who were already writing blogs at the time who were saying, filibuster, block them, do anything you can to stop them. And so if we're going to call for reform, it's got to be with open eyes and an understanding that that also means that if Republicans are in power, it's easier for them to move their agendas forward.
But my general view is, what that does at least is it opens it up to serious public debate. Things don't get bogged down in the kinds of procedural nonsense that makes it just hard for us to do business. I mean, during the financial crisis, half my Treasury slots weren't filled -- couldn't get them filled. And this is a time when we were worried that the entire financial system was melting down. So that's -- I believe it's something that we've got to take seriously.