President Barack Obama recently took a break from pushing his new higher education plan to sit down with CNN's Chris Cuomo in Syracuse, N.Y.
The exclusive interview, which aired early Friday morning, touched on everything from the recent reports of a massive chemical weapons attack in Syria to a looming budget battle with Republicans. Here are some of the highlights of Obama's CNN interview:
1. On a potential government shutdown over ObamaCare
Several Republican lawmakers have threatened to vote against any spending bill that includes funding for the Affordable Care Act, raising fears that the country could be heading toward a government shutdown in October. Obama elaborated on what he thought was really motivating the GOP to take such a hard stance on the budget:
[N]ow what we've got is Republicans talking about the idea that they would shut down the government…because after having taken 40 votes to try to get rid of ObamaCare, [they] see this as their last gasp.
Nobody thinks that's good for the middle class. And I've made this argument to my Republican friends privately, and, by the way, sometimes they say to me privately, "I agree with you, but I'm worried about a primary from, you know, somebody in the Tea Party back in my district," or, "I'm worried about what Rush Limbaugh is going to say about me on the radio." [CNN]
2. On reforming federal student aid
Obama this week revealed a plan to rate America's colleges by "value" — determined by factors like tuition, average student loan debt, and graduation rates — and to tie federal student aid to those ratings in a bid to lower the skyrocketing cost of education. The president defended his idea by comparing it to traditional liberal and conservative approaches:
You know, the problem we've got right now is, is that on — when it comes to liberals, they've tended to say, "Let's just give more money to the system and increase student loans and grants and aid," and then, you know, you've got some on the right who've said, "Money doesn't matter, and young people should be able to figure it out on their own."
And what we're saying is, no, we should provide more help to young people. Government shouldn't be in the job of profiting from students who need to go to college. [CNN]
3. On Syria possibly crossing Obama's "red line"
This week, Syrian rebels and activists accused the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of launching a poisonous gas attack on a suburb of Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of people. Obama defended his decision thus far to refrain from intervening militarily, even though it appears Assad has crossed Obama's "red line" of using chemical weapons:
The notion that the U.S. can somehow solve what is a sectarian, complex problem inside of Syria sometimes is overstated.
You know, we're still spending tens of billions of dollars in Afghanistan. I will be ending that war by the end of 2014, but every time I go to Walter Reed and visit wounded troops, and every time I sign a letter for a casualty of that war, I'm reminded that there are costs and we have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted — somebody who's lost credibility — and to try to restore a sense of a democratic process and stability inside of Syria. [CNN]
4. On providing aid to Egypt's military
Controversy has erupted over whether the United States should stop sending $1.3 billion in annual aid to Egypt after its military-led government cracked down on supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi. Obama took a cautious approach in the interview; he noted that the relationship between the two countries has changed, but didn't take a firm stand on the subject of aid:
But there's no — there's no doubt that we can't return to business as usual, given what's happened. There was a space right after Mr. Morsi was removed in which we did a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of diplomatic work to try to encourage the military to move in a path of reconciliation. They did not take that opportunity. [CNN]
5. On reports that the NSA had inappropriately spied on Americans
On Wednesday, it was revealed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) had ruled that the National Security Agency (NSA) had overstepped its legal bounds in collecting tens of thousands of emails between American citizens. Obama claimed the ruling was an example of the system working:
This latest revelation that was made, what was learned was that NSA had inadvertently, accidentally pulled the e-mails of some Americans in violation of their own rules, because of technical problems that they didn't realize. They presented those problems to the court. The court said, "This isn't going to cut it. You're going to have to improve the safeguards, given these technical problems." That's exactly what happened. So the point is, is that all these safeguards, checks, audits, oversight worked. [CNN]
6. On Sunny, the first family's new dog
The Obama family got a new dog, Sunny, to accompany its other Portuguese water dog, Bo. The president elaborated on the pet:
Bo was getting lonely because [Sasha and Malia] are grown up. And they still have some responsibilities for him, but they're not always around between school, sports practice, all that stuff. And so Bo was getting a little down in the dumps inside the house.
Right now Michelle is in full parenting mode and really focused on getting Sunny to sit and catch. And, also there have been a couple accidents. [CNN]
Read and watch the entire interview with President Obama at CNN.