On passing health care reform
Health care was going to be hard in any environment with any Congress. There's a reason why seven Presidents and seven Congresses have failed to do it. It is a massive undertaking. It involves every special interest imaginable. The American people know that the status quo isn't working, and yet sometimes the devil you know is better than the devil you don't. So it is very easy to caricature any efforts at reform as negative.
On bringing change to Washington
When I promised change, I didn't promise that somehow members of Congress weren't going to be looking to try to get a project in their district or help a hospital in their neighborhood. What I promised was that this White House was going to constantly be pursuing the people's interests ...
There's a culture in this town, which is an insider culture. That's what I think people outside of Washington legitimately can't stand ... From the outside, if you're just watching TV and all you're hearing about is the reports, people may get the false impression that somehow [the insiders] are the folks we're spending more time listening to ...
My hope had been that health care wouldn't take this long and that we would've teed up both energy and financial reform before the end of the first year. If there's one thing I have learned ... it always takes longer than you think.
On financial reform
You are already seeing the big banks and some of these other interests lining up in opposition to basic core reforms like making sure that consumers know what the fine print is when it comes to their credit cards or their debit cards or their mortgages. You're already seeing them resisting the idea that they should have a regulatory regime that isn't full of loopholes. And my attitude is that this is a fight that is entirely consistent with what we've done last year, it's entirely consistent with who I am and how I campaigned, and it's a fight that I welcome.
This Administration has taken out more al-Qaeda high-level operatives, has been more aggressive in pinning them down ... than a lot of what's taken place previously. Having said that, our intelligence failures in picking up [Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk] Abdulmutallab show how much more has to be done. I think everybody understands that this is an area where we have to be relentless, regardless of what else is on our plate.
On the Middle East
I think the Israelis and Palestinians have found that the ... divisions within their societies were such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation ... What we did this year didn't produce the kind of breakthrough that we wanted, and if we had anticipated some of these political problems on both sides earlier, we might not have raised expectations as high.
The First Word
To read the full transcript and listen to a podcast of Joe Klein's interview with the President, go to time.com/obama_interview