This is an edited transcript of an interview Tuesday in Chicago with President-elect Barack Obama:
Q: Have you ever spoken to Gov. [Rod] Blagojevich about the Senate seat?
Illinois and fight for them. And beyond that, I was focused on the transition."
Q: And that was before and after the election?
Q: Are you aware of any conversations between Blagojevich or [his Chief of Staff] John Harris and any of your top aides, including Rahm [Emanuel]?
"John, let me stop you there because, as I said it out there, it's an ongoing investigation. I think it would be inappropriate for me to, you know, remark on the situation beyond the facts that I know. And that's the fact that I didn't discuss this issue with the governor at all."
Q: Could you talk to the point of whether an appointment by Gov. Blagojevich would taint whoever your successor would be, given what we know?
"I think what the people of Illinois deserve is somebody they can trust, somebody that's going to fight for them and, you know, I think we've got to make sure that whatever process emerges gives them that assurance. I haven't examined all the options that are out there at this point."
Q: Given the state of the economy, has that forced any changes in your priorities and could you talk about what you would like to roll out in terms of sequencing of the things you would like to accomplish?
"You've got an interesting convergence between the circumstances that we find ourselves in and the agenda that I have set. Because we need to jump start the economy, all the proposals that I put forward earlier are ones that are directly designed to put people to work and get the economy moving: a tax cut for 95 percent of working families I think that's needed more than ever a serious investment in infrastructure that lays the foundation for a green energy economy, that's a job creator and makes our economy more competitive. Investing in technologies that can reduce health care costs and error, that is needed more than ever. So, what you're seeing is, essentially, an effort on the part of my transition team to develop an economic recovery package that is good for the short-term, gets people back to work, gets money to the states and local communities, gets people working again. But is also laying the foundation for the kind of competitive economy that we need over the long-term and, you know, there may be issues of sequencing and the need to get certain projects more quickly out the door than we would have expected, in order for a stimulus package to work more effectively. Now, I also think that the economic crisis is going to make the issue of our long-term fiscal problems more severe. You know there are some estimates that I'm already going to be inheriting a trillion dollar deficit, even before we get started on any of this stuff. And if you look at the glide path that we are on with respect to health care spending and a whole host of other areas, we've got some big problems. So, I think that it is critical that whatever we do this year, or the next, to deal with economic recovery, anticipate the fact that we are going to have to rationalize and reform the federal government, we're going to have to cut spending that doesn't work, we're going to have to reform how the budget operates ..."
Q: On card-check protection, we've heard that there might be a delay on that, or it might not be an immediate priority? Also, on NAFTA, we've heard that you might support maybe a study and then a report, instead of a wholesale reworking of the agreement right away?
"Well look, my economic team is reviewing these issues. You know, I've consistently said on trade issues that I want environmental and labor provisions that are enforceable in those trade agreements. But I also have said that I believe in free trade and don't think that we can draw a moat around the American economy. I think that would be a mistake. When it comes to unions, I have consistently said that I want to strengthen the union movement in this country and put an end to the kinds of barriers and roadblocks that are in the way of workers legitimately coming together in order to form a union and bargain collectively. My economic team is going to put together a package on trade and on worker issues that will be presented to me. I don't want to anticipate right now what sequences will be on these issues."
Q: Many industries are suffering these days. Where do you draw the line on who gets a bailout and who doesn't, and isn't it fair for people to ask why the automotive industry might get one and their company won't?
"No, I think it is absolutely fair. I do think that it's going to be critical for our economic team to present a framework of how we're going to move this economy forward that doesn't involve the federal government spending the next several years picking winners and losers. But, right now, I think that what we're all facing are some significant, systemic risks that could lead to millions of more Americans losing their jobs. And, so, as messy as it may be, I think there's a sense of 'let's stabilize the patient.' That's certainly true in the financial system. I think all of us wish that we had done a better job of regulating the financial system over the last decade, so that the country didn't find itself in this situation. On the other hand, I don't think anybody wants to see a meltdown of the financial system that would result in cascading bankruptcies across industries in a way that we haven't see in 75 years. The auto industry is the backbone of American manufacturing in many states, certainly across the Midwest. You've got millions of people who are reliant on those industries
and what's unique about this time is because you have a convergence of lost demand as well as a financial crisis where nobody can get credit, even sound companies, you've got a unique circumstances where if GM, for example, went bankrupt, it's not clear that it could engage in the same kind of chapter 11 bankruptcy that the airlines went through, for example, restructuring, but still operating. You have issues of would consumers still buy a car if they can't have an assurance that their warranties are going to be respected. And so, there are a range of particular circumstances that we have to address right now because you have sort of a perfect storm. But, what I absolutely believe in is that as soon as we can stabilize the economy, that we've got to step back and say how do we create an economic and regulatory framework that avoids these risks in the first place, doesn't put taxpayer money at risk, that ensures the dynamism of the free market is operating, and innovation is operating, and that there are going to be successes and failures, and we're not in the business of picking winners and losers. And that's what's always made the American economy dynamic and that's the vision that I intend to continue."
Q: Do you have a spiritual adviser now? Many presidents have had them.
"You know, one of the wonderful things that we did during the campaign was to set up, sort of a prayer circle, across the country of pastors who, from all denominations all religious faiths, who would every morning, a few of them would get on the phone and pray for me. Sometimes I'd get on the phone. And, you know, they're made up of people as diverse as, you know, T.D. Jakes, Rick Warren, Joseph Lowery, just a wonderful collection of people, and by the way, across the political spectrum. I'm not even sure that all of them voted for me. But they were willing to pray for me. And that's something that was wonderful. Michelle and I have not found a home church since we left Trinity [United Church of Christ]. And it didn't make sense for us to join one now, right before we're about to move. So, I'm reliant on the pastors who are friends of mine and who I talk to for support and my own prayer life at home."
Q: And have you found a home church in the Washington area yet and what sort of things will you look for?
"You know, we will definitely find a church to attend in D.C., and we frankly haven't thought about it yet because right now we're just trying to make sure that we don't lose anything in the move, including our children."
Barack Obama interview