Obama Talks Up Obamacare, the NSA and Pope Francis on MSNBC’s Hardball

Appearing in front of a live audience at American University, the president also urged the students gathered there to be active participants in government

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In an hour-long interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews held at American University in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama defended the improved Healthcare.gov site, played down concerns about NSA surveillance, and lavished praise on Pope Francis, Joe Biden and his former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Obama acknowledged that the Healthcare.gov rollout had been less than stellar, but encouraged students to give enrollment another try. “I understand why people would be resistant to a website that’s not working right,” he said. But now that his team has worked on vastly improving the site, he wants everyone to “check it out for yourself.” He added, “for most people under 30, it’ll cost less than your cell phone bill.” Besides, getting health insurance isn’t just for you, it’s for the good of the country. “If you don’t have health insurance, and you get into an accident, the rest of us have to pay for it,” he said.

He also addressed the National Security Agency leaks, which were another major embarrassment this year. “The Edward Snowden disclosures have exposed some areas of legitimate concern,” he said, but noted, “some of it has been oversensationalized … The NSA does a very good job of not engaging in domestic surveillance. They’re not interested in reading your emails, they’re not interested in your text messages.”

Regarding the Congressional stalemate, Obama acknowledged that “the majority of the American people think the system’s broken.” However, he blamed Republicans for much of the problem. “You’ve got a faction of the Republican party that sees ‘compromise’ as a dirty word,” he said. “My argument is, let’s go ahead and have big arguments on the things we disagree about, but let’s go ahead and work on the things we do agree about, like immigration reform.”

His own approval ratings have dropped, he says, in part because, “When we do things right, they don’t get a lot of attention … If we do something that is perceived as a screw up, it’ll be on the Nightly News for a week.”

While much of the conversation focused on Obama and his leadership, the President didn’t just talk about himself. On Pope Francis, he said, “I think Pope Francis is showing himself to be a very thoughtful and soulful messenger of peace and justice.” He also gave shoutouts to Vice President Joe Biden and former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Both, he said, would go down in history, as among the best ever in their roles.

Although the president did not answer any questions from the audience, he nonetheless appealed to the students gathered in the auditorium to participate in the government process.  “We still have 40% of eligible voters who opt out,” he lamented. He reminded viewers that, “Government is us. Government is not somebody else. we have the capacity to change it.”

When asked what makes a good president, Obama said “I would say that the most important qualities of any president I think has to do with a sense of connection with the American people. That’s what allows you then to have the second most important quality, which is persistence.”

Knowing that he made a difference in people’s lives is his greatest satisfaction in his job, he added: “The satisfaction you get when you’ve passed a law and somebody comes up to you and says, ‘you know what, my kid’s alive because you passed that healthcare bill.’ It’s pretty hard to get greater satisfaction than that.”