Black Enterprise Exclusive: Interview with President Barack Obama

Black Enterprise Exclusive: Interview with President Barack Obama

On a chilly winter night, I received a call on my BlackBerry that most journalists wait for their entire career. “I’m just calling to let you know that Black Enterprise will be the first black publication to get an interview with the president,” the White House representative told me. I would later find out that be would be the first magazine to gain an exclusive with Barack Obama since he took oath on Jan. 20. “It’ll be a phoner. You’ll get 15 minutes. It’s an interview the president really wants to do.”

As I heard those words, my lips curled into a smile. Initially, I thought the call was in response to my efforts to be selected as one of 300 or so attendees of President Obama’s first White House press conference (BE managed to gain access to that event as well). But this news exceeded my expectations. Since the inauguration, I had become part of the White House press corps–albeit newly minted–taking three-hour commutes via train from our New York headquarters to Washington, D.C. to cover the administration’s press briefings and executive order ceremonies, including Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes’ review of the administration’s economic agenda with black media; and the introduction of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board, comprising business and economic leaders that will make policy recommendations. Our extensive coverage, constant inquiries, interview requests–which began the day after the election–and our patience paid off.

But this would not be a vanity interview. My intent was to answer the overriding question that came from our steady stream of reader e-mails: Just how was the Obama administration going to tame the turbulent economy and help millions regain their financial footing? As I prepared for the interview, the president was in the midst of battling for his mammoth American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, legislation that aims to employ and retain nearly 4 million workers through the creation of “shovel-ready” infrastructure jobs and public works projects; provide displaced workers with relief through the extension of unemployment and health insurance benefits; and promote consumer spending through a series of tax breaks. His ambitious program was initially stalled by political wrangling in the House and Senate after a number of personal overtures to GOP legislators were rebuffed. The Republican leadership, for the most part, derided the package as a “wasteful” exercise in big government and stressed the inclusion of more tax cuts (which the final bill included). Although only three Republicans voted in favor of the act, the nation’s chief executive produced his first presidential milestone: In less than a month in office, he signed the $787 billion economic recovery package, purportedly the largest overhaul of the U.S. economy in history.

The action, the president asserts, represents only “one leg of the stool” in his mission to revamp the economic and financial system. At press time, the Treasury Department unveiled a bank rescue plan including provisions to create “stress tests” to ensure the financial stability of banks with more than $100 billion in assets as