Obama shares his views on partisanship, working with Congress and his own legacy

In a wide-ranging interview Wednesday, President Obama discussed partisanship, how he thinks his presidency will be viewed by history and whether he should have hosted more parties at the White House.

What follows is the official White House transcript of the interview, conducted by Christi Parsons. Obama was joined by former Illinois state Sen. Kirk Dillard, former Illinois state Sen. Denny Jacobs and former Illinois state Sen. Larry Walsh. It was conducted at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield, Ill., just after a speech where the president called for an end to the "poisonous political climate."

Q: You wanted to come to Springfield and talk about partisanship and bipartisanship, and you wanted these three guys to be part of the conversation.

THE PRESIDENT: I thought it would be interesting to have some other perspectives because these three guys I think are examples -- and they’re not alone -- of people who I think brought the right attitude the right tone to politics. It doesn’t mean that we agreed on everything.

Look, Kirk was in leadership in the Republican Party when I came in. And as I said in the speech, I was in the minority. And we couldn’t get a lot of stuff through the Republican majority, and conversely, when the Democrats took over, it was tough for Republicans to get their legislative priorities through.

But I do think that we had an environment in which we could get to know each other, make friendships, I think treated people with respect. And so what would happen would be every once in a while, there would be an opportunity or an opening. So with Kirk, we ended up working together on ethics reform, and then we did some additional work on some of the law enforcement issues that were important.

And the good thing about the Democratic caucus was we had people from the inner city, but you also had farmers like Larry, and you had folks like Denny who represented down-state districts. And so you have to negotiate even within your own party, because not everybody was on the same page on everything.

And so part of the point I wanted to make in the speech today was that that kind of politics doesn’t resolve every problem, but it does make people less cynical about politics, and it does allow for more progress on the issues that we care about. And my hope is, is that rather than places like Springfield importing all the dysfunction of Washington and adopting the same rigid ideological positions, that it retains and maybe influences Washington in taking a more pragmatic, practical and respectful approach to politics.

Q: Well, things are actually getting more polarized here.

Q: It is spilling over, Mr. President. Like when I ran in 2002, I think I spent $40,000. My son, Mike, in this last election, he spent $4.5 million.

THE PRESIDENT: On a U.S. Senate -- or a state Senate --

Q: Yes.

THE PRESIDENT: It’s unbelievable. That’s crazy money. I mean, when I was here -- because I came from a fairly wealthy district along the Lakefront, I was able to raise, say, $100,000. And that was considered a lot of money for a state Senate. I mean, I didn’t spend it all, but I had it.

But you’re telling me now that on some of these races, you’re talking that kind of money, millions of dollars.

Q: Oh, yeah. And it’s all hidden money. And that’s what makes it bad. If you know who you’re fighting, that’s one thing. But whenever you have to guess who you’re fighting, that’s another issue.

Q: But you know, one of the issues that I remember the most -- talking about bipartisanship and the respect of the office -- when Governor Ryan was having his difficulties, I’ll never forget when we -- he came in to give his State of the State message to governors message, and they’re talking about indictments and everything in the paper -- he got a standing ovation from the House and the Senate members when he walked into the room.

THE PRESIDENT: Because it represented the office.

Q: Absolutely.

THE PRESIDENT: Regardless of what the particulars were.

Q: So this was a -- this, for you, I think maybe represents a less polarized time and place in your political career. Before you came in, these three were talking about how they did not know you as a divisive figure. They knew you as a uniting figure, someone who was able to reach out across demographic lines, partisan lines, to get things done. It was a surprise I think to people in this room that you had the troubles that you had with Congress.

Q: We were talking before you came in the room, Mr. President, the presidency is an isolating position. You have the Secret Service and others who sort of keep you under wraps. When you were here, you could go out to dinner with us, you could play poker with these gentlemen. You could go to Dairy Queen in that old beater Jeep that you used to drive. And you were able to move around as a regular person. That clearly helped.

And you were not a polarizing figure when you were here. We could see the Barack Obama -- and you and I have something in common. I always tell people in politics, Christi, they should look for things in common -- he and I, when he came in and hugged me here -- we each have two young daughters, or now our daughters are --

THE PRESIDENT: Not so young anymore.

Q: Teenagers, right.

THE PRESIDENT: But they were at the time.

Q: But they were -- it was a common denominator. The President and I shared a tie to the University of Chicago. I represented Argonne Laboratory, run by the University of Chicago. And he was a very influential and very good member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and we worked together as lawyers, law professors. I learned a lot from him.

So I looked for common denominators with an African American, progressive Democrat from the city, with me being an obviously Caucasian suburban Republican. But it was those common denominators and threads that let us work together.

Q: Well, you were making the point earlier that it’s those personal interactions that help bridge those divides. And that made me wonder if, as you look back on it now, that was something you might have done differently in Washington.

THE PRESIDENT: This is interesting. What Kirk says is exactly true here in Springfield. The fact that we knew each other helped tremendously in terms of us being able to get things done. But what’s interesting, Kirk, is it’s not like I changed. I’m the same guy now that I was then.

Q: You’re funnier.

THE PRESIDENT: I’m a little funnier in public. (Laughter.) I perform probably better. But the people who know me now -- and that includes you, Christi -- I’m not appreciably different than I was then. I’m no more cynical. I’m no more ideological. My positions are surprisingly consistent. I mean, if you read my first position papers or my first speeches and you look at what I’m saying now, they’re pretty much the same.

And the challenge in Washington is not simply that we don’t have as much time to socialize -- although I’m sure that that has some impact. What’s changed is the nature of how you are perceived through the lens of talk radio, television -- the pressure that individual members are under from various not just advocacy groups but sort of those who are policing purity within the party. And so what you discovered was -- I would invite a number of Republican senators in my first couple of years to come over to the White House for movies or some other events, and increasingly, what you found was, is that it was hard for them to do it without getting in trouble.

Kirk was a victim of this. He said something nice about me and it and then it punished him politically, which I deeply regret. But at the time, the way our politics worked, it wasn’t like he endorsed me over a Republican candidate. This was like something in a Democratic primary. And although I’ve got huge differences with Chris Christie, the fact that I gave him a bro hug or something right after his state had gone through this enormous disaster and we were trying to work together to help them, those things suddenly became weapons to be used.

And so, increasingly, what would happen, Kirk, is, is people would draw back. It wasn’t so much that the bubble was enforcing this as it was people’s perceptions. I had a conversation with one of the Republican leaders one time when we were talking about an issue. He had come over to the office, but he didn’t want it publicized. And he said, look, I’m doing a favor just meeting with you. And it was an unusually blunt characterization, but I understood what he meant, which is politically it was hazardous.

And that’s part of what I was trying to get at in this speech, is that, yes, the interpersonal stuff makes a huge difference, but there are these structural barriers that are being set up -- the amount of money that can be spent on negative ads, the gerrymandering that means you don’t have many swing districts at all -- so you’re always worried about a tea party challenge if you’re Republican, or you’re worried about something catching fire on the Internet if you’re a Democrat because you’re not progressive enough on some particular vote, even though it’s appropriate for your district. But now, it’s a national -- suddenly you might have money raining in from all across the country for an opponent who says “you didn’t do this” or “you didn’t vote that way on the right way.” And that I think more than anything is what’s changed and made it more difficult.

Q: It’s a bit of a vicious cycle, too, though. What you’re suggesting is policy changes that would perhaps interrupt this cycle are hard for individual Republicans or Democrats to step out on. I don’t know that people in this room would want to see -- or the Democrats in this room would want to see Illinois lead the way on changing the way the politics would -- without knowing -- Dillard might be for it, but -- without knowing that Republicans were going to do the same thing.

Q: Or how do you do it? How do you select people that are going to select the --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the way they do it -- I mean, there are states like California that have gone to this, and it actually works perfectly well. You essentially have an independent commission of some sort, and they draw it based on how compact the district is, how natural it is relative to rivers. So you can do it.

But you’re right, I raised that as a broader point nationally because it’s true that it’s very hard. If Illinois does it, a predominantly Democratic state, but Texas or Florida don’t do it, then it’s a disadvantage. But I think it’s useful to start the conversation, because I think if we continue to have these situations where in 435 seats in Congress and maybe 30 of them or 35 of them are ever in play, well, then you’re never going to get the kind of ability to compromise on issues that are necessary to get things done.

Q: I think there’s a perception from those of us that knew you and know the system a little bit that when you go to Washington, you don’t know the person. Washington takes over. And it’s a feeling that we have -- I have -- I don’t know if you have it, Larry -- but how do I get ahold of Barack? How do I get ahold of my friend? He’s now the President.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, being the President is -- look, there’s no doubt it’s isolating.

Q: Yes, it is.

THE PRESIDENT: Although you guys -- if you call Anita, she’d get you in a second.

Q: She’s very good.

THE PRESIDENT: She is good.

Q: What’s her number? (Laughter.)

Q: You want her number? (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: But there’s no doubt that there’s some isolation. But what also happens is -- look, here’s, I think, what’s interesting. When I was a U.S. senator -- so I was a senator for four years. This was after I had been elected, and I’m a progressive Democrat in Illinois. But my approval ratings in the state were 70 percent. I think I had the highest approval ratings of any senator in the country, certainly any senator in a big state. There might have been, like, Susan Collins in Maine, or Kent Conrad in North Dakota. And the reason was that I was not subject to all the mischaracterizations, distortions, et cetera, that come with you being President.

And I think part of what prevents people from then knowing the person is that there are all these bugs on the windshield, essentially. There’s this huge filter through which you are seen. And the same is true on the Republican side. So I’ve gotten to know George W. Bush quite well. I disagree with him on all kinds of stuff, obviously, but he’s a good man. And the fact that there are a bunch of Democrats who, when he was President, would characterize him in some of the harshest terms was in part because all they could see was what they’re seeing on a TV screen or --

Q: I mean, you remember, Mr. President, he ran saying he was a uniter, not a divider. The governor of Texas -- I think he had lieutenant governor that was a Democrat. And he may have endorsed that.

THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right.

Q: Then you go over the Potomac, and then it gets more polarized.

Can I ask you --


Q: So, Congress, not to let you off the hook -- I want to stay on the bipartisan theme for the remainder of your presidency. And you harped that when you were here. But the Congress, I mean, they share some of that blame. And if I have one suggestion for you -- to your successor, whomever that may be, is that they need to talk to the leader of their own party and the other party and say, let me converse without fear with members of Congress. I mean, have them over to watch a movie or to socialize, or something.

THE PRESIDENT: I think it’s a good suggestion. I think that, as I said before -- I want to make sure I emphasize this. There are structural problems that are preventing some of this from happening. Keep in mind, when I was in the Senate, in the United States Senate, I had very good relationships and friendships with some of the same people now who can’t take a picture with me. It wasn’t like I changed. Even when I got to Washington. There’s a guy who’s now retired, named Tom Coburn, who was probably rated one of the five most conservative members in the U.S. Senate, and he and I were very good friends. And I still call him once in a while. He’s back in Oklahoma. Couldn’t have been a nicer man. And we worked on some issues together, much as I worked with you.

But what happens is that the biggest incentive of every member of Congress is to get reelected. It shouldn’t be the case, but that’s the overriding motivation that people have. And they’re operating, fearful that somehow lurking over the corner is something that’s going to lead them to lose. And if, within their respective parties, you reaching out across the aisle or doing bipartisan work is going to put them in a riskier situation, then they shy away from it. And over time, you start getting further and further separation.

The reason it didn’t used to be that way, in part, in Washington was because people more often lived in Washington, they knew their kids, went to the same schools and events. But a lot of what happened that changed was that the nature of the parties changed. And to some degree this is true in Illinois.

Look, Denny and Larry, we would disagree on a lot of issues because they came from more conservative districts. And my position on women’s reproductive issues, or on guns necessarily were going to be different from Larry or Denny, much less different from Kirk. And although by the time I arrived in Springfield, I think the Republican Party was starting to narrow a little bit. There were still some liberal Republicans like a Judy Biggert or folks from some of the -- Cathy Parker from some of the suburban areas in and around Chicago. And what’s happened is, is that those folks have all been winnowed out. There are no Southern Democrats anymore. There are very few Northern, more liberal Republicans -- or what used to be known as Rockefeller Republican. Jim Thompson, who Kirk trained under, or a Jim Edgar -- those guys couldn't win a Republican primary right now.

Q: The people that I worked for, because I was as staffer before I became a member -- had a great influence on me. I mean, they taught me to be bipartisan primarily because when you're a governor Republican you're going to get stuff done.

THE PRESIDENT: And they were practical guys. But what was also true was they had room within their own party for a diversity of views.

Q: I wanted to come back and ask you about the way forward (inaudible.) But I do want to ask -- you mentioned a couple of things that came up in several conversations with these two guys about how we got to this point, and how you got to this place of this polarizing, divisive figure, if you pardon the phrase. Kirk thinks that Obamacare is a lightning rod for partisan fury because of the way it was passed. And I wonder what you think of that.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, this will be a long history that will be told. And the good thing about being President is you get to write your own book. (Laughter.)

But I have to tell you, Kirk, and I'm sure that’s how it seemed from the outside. If you were on the inside, we spent eight, nine months negotiating with the Republicans. The Affordable Care Act -- or Obamacare -- was not my first choice of design. It was the result of our conversations with Republicans who would not abide by a single-payer plan. And so we said, well, you know what, let’s take this plan that has worked really well in Massachusetts, negotiated by a Republican governor named Mitt Romney, and let’s work with the Republicans to see if we can move this forward.

And what happened over the course of three, four, five months is that the dynamic I just described, the sense that those in the Republican Party who ideologically were opposed to expansion of any social welfare program started to characterize this as big government and an effort to undermine individual choice and individual freedom. They poisoned the well within Republican constituencies so much that it became increasingly difficult for Republicans who had originally wanted to work with us on this to do anything.

And I remember the last conversation I had with a Republican whose name I won't mention -- we had been talking for months, and we had taken every idea that he had suggested and we had said if this doesn’t work, is there another way you want to do it -- and he just finally turned to me -- I was sitting in the Oval Office -- and he said, you know what, Mr. President, I got to admit there’s no change that allows me to vote for this thing.

Q: Because it's true, the one thing that (inaudible) you were probably not well-served by Speaker Pelosi saying essentially you’ll know what’s in the bill after it's passed. And that's not your problem.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, no, no, no. Here’s what I'll say, Kirk -- and this is the challenge that I think, as President, I've had to address, is at a certain point, if and when you can't get a negotiating partner across the table who is going to agree to anything, then you have to make a decision, do I just drop it -- which there were folks in my party who said, politically, you know what, this is -- it's become too toxic, we're not going to do it -- or do you say, wow, I've got millions of people out there who don't have health insurance and I need to go forward. And, yes, at that point then, it was just a majority muscle move.
But if you look at all the issues in which the perception is I tried --I've just kind of jammed things down folks’ throats -- this starts with the Recovery Act. We were about to go into a Great Depression. I'd been advised by my economic advisors -- not just Democrats, by the way, but well-known people from previous administrations, Alan Greenspan, a whole bunch of folks -- that, you know what, this thing is tanking and we could have unemployment of 25 percent. The contraction when I came in was faster than what took place during the Great Depression.

So we had to move fast. And I said to Speaker Boehner -- or then Leader Boehner -- I said, I want to come up to your caucus and talk. And as I'm driving over, he puts out a press release saying, we're against it. (Laughter.) We hadn't talked to anybody yet. So then you have to make a decision, all right, if the notion is, is that there’s nothing to talk about -- in the meantime, I'm looking at the weekly unemployment numbers and we're losing 800,000 jobs a month, I just have to act.

And on the other hand, you got something like immigration reform, where we did actually do a -- I stayed out of it so that I would not be polarizing. You had Republicans over in the Senate working with Democrats to negotiate something -- Dick Durbin was involved with this; a young man named Marco Rubio was deeply involved in it -- they get a bipartisan bill, it passed by a bipartisan vote, but then this reaction from the base that had been stirred up kills it. And that’s when we start taking executive action.

So I guess what my point is, is that bipartisanship is not a virtue if we don’t do anything and we just leave problems unsolved. Bipartisanship is a virtue if we, both sides, are determined that, look, we have a problem, we may differ on how we solve it, but let’s sit down and negotiate. And there’s never been an issue in Washington that I haven’t been willing to take a half loaf or a quarter loaf. And sometimes I’ve gotten attacked by the left viciously for doing so, but I think that’s how you govern.

Q: Well, you touched on the idea that Senator Jacobs brought up, which is that you were going to put this brick wall -- whatever happened -- before you even started working on Obamacare or the stimulus package -- that there was going to be resistance to you no matter what. And I’m wondering if you think that’s true, if you believe that idea that Republicans at the outset were resolute to make you a one-termer and not to let you win any big ideological wins. Do you believe that to be true?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me say this. I think it’s important, first of all, to say that there’s no doubt that at every step of the way, every day that I’m in this office, I look back and I say, well, maybe I could have done that a little better, or, maybe I should have reached out to that person more effectively, or, maybe if I had framed the issue better that people would come together and find common ground.

So I want to make clear, if you’re President of the United States, then it’s your job to get stuff done. Whatever happens on your watch, typically you have some influence over. So I don’t want to in any way suggest that there aren’t areas where I couldn’t have done some things differently.

I do think that -- and this is not my opinion, this has been advertised by some of my colleagues on the other side -- that there was a concern that if we started building up a lot of steam early on, in light of how I had come in, that politically, it would be very difficult to recover majorities, and the job of a party leader in the Senate or in the House oftentimes is viewed as, how do we get the majority back?

And one of the better strategies of doing that was to just grind things to a halt, including on just simple stuff like nominations, where we’ve sort of had an unprecedented number of nominees blocked; or the use of the filibuster where I think it’s well-recorded that it was used in a way that we had never seen before.

And the problem is, is that the general public is not following the intricacies of the legislature and they’re not interested in who’s to blame, they just want to see stuff done. And the one guy they know is the President of the United States, so if things don’t get done, that can advantage the politics of the other party.

And I’m not suggesting the Democrats necessarily are blameless on that set of calculations either. But that’s part of the reason why trying to change some of these structural problems rather than just focusing on the day-to-day issues and tactics is probably the most productive in getting a better politics.

Q: I’ve been around, which you know -- my dad was a state rep, and I was there, my son is there -- was there. But I looked at it a little bit different, Mr. President. I think they were afraid of you, more so than anybody else. It’s one thing -- like with George Bush or anybody else, they may think, well, we might suffer through him for two years -- or two terms, but I think they were actually afraid of you. They were afraid of you for a couple of reasons. Number one, you were black. And I talk to my Republican friends -- and I’ve got a lot of them -- and that’s all they could ever talk about, was the race card, the race. You know, “he’s a nice guy,” he’s this, he’s that, but he’s black. Well, get over it.

THE PRESIDENT: I have. (Laughter.)

Q: I know you have. I hope you have.

Q: Do you think he’s right?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, I’ve always said this, that I have no doubt that there are people who voted against me because of race, or didn’t approve of my agenda because of race. I also suspect there were a bunch of people who were excited and voted for me, or I got political benefits because of the notion of the first African American President. So those things cut both ways.

I think that a lot of proof that we are a lot further along than we were is I got reelected. So it would be one thing if the first time that it was just an accident. The second time, I won again. And each time I got more votes in consecutive terms --

Q: And that’s what they were afraid of, Mr. President. They were afraid that --

THE PRESIDENT: Well, what I do think is true is, is that politically we came in in the strong position. And as I said, one of the things that -- it’s a little perverse, but if things are working in Washington, that’s good for the incumbent. If things are not working, it’s bad for the incumbent.

So although there’s no doubt that there are pockets of the country where some dog whistles blow and there’s underlying racial fears that may be exploited, overall, what’s more the case I think is just the straight, hardball politics of running against an incumbent and beating the heck out of them and softening them up. Because if a whole bunch of stuff gets done, he’s going to get the credit.

If we had passed health care on a bipartisan basis, wow, people would say that was really a tremendous thing. Now, I still think it’s pretty tremendous that we got 18 million people health insurance that didn’t have it before. But the fact that Republicans didn’t vote for it made it easier to characterize as, oh, this is just for poor people, or this is just for those folks over there, it’s going to hurt you, or this is another welfare program.

And that would have happened probably -- look, just remember, when Bill Clinton tried to pass health care and Hillary tried to pass health care, they got beat up just as good and they didn’t even get the thing done.

Overall, I tell you, the attitudes you talk about, Denny, they’re there, but they’re a lot less with young people. And each successive generation ends up having a different attitude. And, look, you’ve got a whole generation of kids who are growing up where the only President they’ve known -- or the first President they’ve known is an African American. And that means even if they’re hearing their parents say, “he’s terrible,” it kind of seeps in that it’s not a crazy thing. So that sometime later, if there’s a Hispanic, or a woman, or another African American, that won’t seem as exceptional. And these things happen -- change over time.

Q: Is it possible for you before the end of your term, the end of your presidency, to become that figure you were in 2004? Those ideas that you outlined about we’re not as divided as our politics suggest? Do you believe there are things that you can do to bring that about before the end of your presidency? Or do you think you’re more paving the way for the next President?

THE PRESIDENT: My hope is, is that I help create a tone for the next President. I suspect that when I’m done being President, suddenly people will start saying, oh, that guy, he wasn’t a bad guy. (Laughter.) Because you’re not subject to the daily pummeling that you are when you have the incredible privilege of being in office. And I think that’s okay.

That was the other point that I wanted to make in the speech at the Capitol was this is not new. You look at what they said about Lincoln, you look at what they said about Jefferson -- some of our most revered Presidents were hugely polarizing. And people cussed them and called them everything but a child of God --

Q: Or Truman.

THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, you look at Truman. It comes with the territory. So I’m less worried about me. I do want to make sure that it does not discourage people from voting. I want to make sure that it doesn’t make young people -- whether they’re Republican or Democrat -- cynical about the process.

I meant what I said that I want the system overall to be healthy -- noisy, full of arguments, but basically healthy, as opposed to cynical and people withdrawing from the process and not game to tackle the big challenges that are going to be coming up. Because those challenges aren’t going to go away.

Q: Can I ask you just one specific question about your idea about tackling the gerrymandering problem after the next census? Doesn’t that sort of have to be a national movement in order for it to really work?

THE PRESIDENT: I think so. And I started -- I’m hoping to start a national conversation about it.

Q: Are you talking about -- do you think an amendment to the Constitution is in order? Or is it more a --

THE PRESIDENT: I think we could -- if enough people around the country start thinking this is a good idea, it can potentially happen.

Q: A constitutional amendment?

THE PRESIDENT: No, not a constitutional amendment, but state by state. Neither party is going to unilaterally disarm. This is always the problem that we have. Larry, Denny, Kirk -- they all know, even if you think something is wrong, you putting your sidearm down while the other guy is still packing is tough.
And so there will have to be some concerted movement. But that’s typically been how change happens. Grassroots movements, the progressive era, Teddy Roosevelt, when he came in and tried to take stuff that had already been happening state by state and suddenly became a national movement, and people started saying, yeah, that makes sense to us. My hope is, is that this is a small example of a change that could make a real difference. It’s not going to solve everything, but it could make a difference. Same thing as with encouraging more people to vote.

Q: Your comments today on early voting and we passed a number of years ago -- and I think personally that the Republicans were somewhat hesitant in supporting it, but in my area, I believe that the Republicans basically have taken the advantage of the early voting now -- senior citizens. So it’s something that they grow into, and they say, by God, I like this. (Laughter.)

Q: Absolutely. Early voting, Larry, at least for my party, in the area that I represent -- representative in the suburbs -- if people, for the March primary in Illinois, are living or semi-retired in Naples, Florida, that's going to make it much easier for them to vote. And that clearly --


Q: I don't think it's a bipartisan problem. I mean, you just need to make sure there is no fraud.

Q: And the fraud is always mentioned, but it's miniscule. Miniscule.

THE PRESIDENT: There are ways of safe-guarding it. There are states that are doing it well. But we just have to remind ourselves that of all the major democracies, we have some of the lowest voting rates. And we take pride in our democracy. We consider ourselves exhibit A democracy, and rightfully so. We have the longest, continuous democracy in the world.

Well, we can't be discouraging people from participating in that process. And the point you made, Larry, is exactly right, which is you never know where you're going to stand at some point. These guys all remember, you guys were all here -- Kirk was in leadership, and because of a piece of paper pulled out of a hat, a few months later we were in control of the Senate -- Democrats were. And so, understanding that things can change fast, it's in everybody’s interest to set things up so they’re fair, so that the minority is protected, so that if you're not the one drawing the map that you're not suddenly getting fewer seats than you deserve. Because you don't know what your position is going to be somewhere down the road.

And that's hard for parties to do, because the imperative at any given moment for the leaders of those parties, or for the individual elected official is, I just got to win. And one of the luxuries, I suppose of not being on the ballot is -- and never being on the ballot again -- is to be able to step back from it and say, if we're going to design a system that works for everybody, not knowing what position you're in right now, what’s fair.

Q: You mentioned a concerted movement. Is that the kind of thing you see yourself doing after you're no longer in office?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the first thing I'm going to do is I'm probably going to take some time off, spend the summer maybe traveling around, visit Larry where he is, and going on to the Quads and the --

Q: Drive down the Mississippi.

THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. (Laughter.) Nothing like traveling around Illinois to get a sense of the country.

Q: Come out to see me -- I run a little combine and you can get up on one of the machines. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: I was on those machines. I never knew what the heck I was doing, but I didn’t break any of them. (Laughter.)

Q: As far as you know.

THE PRESIDENT: As far as I know. I was smart enough not to pull any levers. (Laughter.) I just put my seed hat on and I'd smile and wave, and then I'd get off. (Laughter.)

Q: I'll let you run it.

Q: But that was dangerous putting the seed hat on because whose hat was it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you did have to be careful about which hat you're wearing. (Laughter.)

Q: This sounds like you're moving back to Illinois.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'll certainly be spending time here. But I do want to say, just because I know we've got to wrap up, that the three gentlemen here, they took their job seriously, were good public servants, and always treated everybody with respect. And I have not only a real sense of friendship to them, but I think they are good examples of the responsibilities each of us have in this process.

It's hard. And the trend lines are different for folks I think who are running in office today, and certainly at the national level. But it's possible. And it requires a certain amount of courage to just say, you know what, I'm going to do things the way my mom and dad taught me to do things, and treat people the way I've learned in church I'm supposed to treat people. And if you do that, then you're usually going to turn out okay.

Q: I think you're absolutely correct, Mr. President. And I think that we looked at that when we're all together that this person worked just as hard to get an Illinois state senate seat as I worked to get a state senate seat. And I think that that respect of that is why we had the camaraderie and the will power to want to make us to succeed. And we wanted to have our terms down there be looked back at as being successful.

Q: Keep the elements of your great speech here in Springfield throughout the remainder of your presidency.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate that.

Now, the one thing -- last thing I should say is I especially want to thank Larry and Denny -- I can't thank Kirk for this, but these two contributed to the early college fund for Malia and Sasha. (Laughter.) Through our poker games. I saw Tommy Walsh, one of the Republicans that played, and Dave Luechtefeld and those guys contributed as well. But Malia and Sasha, they got a good seed fund for their college, because these guys, I took them for all they were worth. (Laughter.)

Q: I said to Denny in the motorcade over here, Mr. President, I said, do you think the President still carries cash. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Oh, absolutely. I mean, we can get a -- now, probably --

Q: I got a deck. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Part of the secret of beating these guys, though, is I would just nurse my beer, and these guys -- you know. So the longer the game went on, the looser their betting got. (Laughter.)

Q: Now, don't you go telling too many stories here, Mr. President. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: It's good to see you. I appreciate you.

Q: Thank you. It was an honor.

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