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In Second Term, Obama Has New Opportunity


With his election victory behind him, President Obama now turns his focus to planning his second term. He again faces a divided Congress - a Republican-controlled House and a Senate led by Democrats. But a second term presents an opportunity for the president try to set a new agenda and maybe change his approach to governing.

We're joined now by John Podesta. He led President Obama's transition team four years ago. Before that, he was a chief of staff in the Clinton White House. He is now the chairman of the Center for American Progress, a liberal research group. He joins us from his office. Mr. Podesta, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: Does the first term give you any instruction for the second?

PODESTA: Well, you know, it always does, and I think that the president was able to accomplish a lot of legislative victory, some of which remains controversial. But that also gives him the opportunity to try to implement some of what was already passed, particularly the health care law, which he's going to have to work with governors around the country to ensure that it's implemented properly.

And I think it, you know, he learned some lessons in 2011 in trying to negotiate a budget deal with Speaker Boehner about what they would do. And I think he'll take that forward to try to put that fiscal deal together. But then he's got other issues that I think that he wants to accomplish. One that would rise to the top of the list is immigration reform.

SIMON: You were chief of staff in a second White House term. Do you, on the one hand maybe lose some leverage because you're not running for re-election, but on the other hand have some freedom in other direction?

PODESTA: Well, Scott, you know President Clinton. I don't feel like he thought he lost leverage until he kind of walked out the door of the place.

SIMON: I'm not sure he accepts that he has now.

PODESTA: But I think that, you know, particularly coming off a re-election, in that first year I think people are paying keen attention to what you're trying to do. In Clinton's case he was able, even after a very contentious round with the Republicans under Speaker Gingrich when they shut the government down, he was able to come back into office in 1997, put together a major budget deal with the Republicans.

And I'm hopeful that the Republicans will realize that Obama's there to stay for the next four years and that they'll be reasonable in trying to come up with a working pattern to move the country forward. I certainly hope so.

SIMON: Can you give you some idea of what cabinet positions the president will have to fill?

PODESTA: Well, we know a couple of big ones that he's going to have to fill right away, and that's Secretary of State where Secretary Clinton has stated her intension to move on. And then Secretary of the Treasury where Tim Geithner has announced that he wants to move on.

But, you know, I'm sure there'll be others. The White House has really begun planning for that. I'm sure that they've got some ideas, but I think the president's really just right now sitting down and making decisions about how to build a new team for the second term.

SIMON: If we could see you now, would you be sitting on top of a whole bunch of resumes that have come into the office?

PODESTA: If you could see the people in the White House, I'm sure they're sitting on a whole bunch of resumes. You know, look, I had the honor of working with the president in that experience, so I know that the way he goes about this is deliberatively, but with a very small group, very tight group of people. It's not an "American Idol" sort of experience.

One of things about the second term that I think is a little bit different than the first is that the first term always has an emphasis on trying to put these big building blocks of legislation in place. The second term ends up being a lot about having the ability to have tremendously great management in these agencies to make sure that the government is functioning well, is reforming itself, is producing for the American people. So I think he'll put an emphasis on that as well.

SIMON: John Podesta, chairman of the Center for American Progress speaking with us from his office in Washington, D.C. Thanks so much.

PODESTA: Great to be with you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.