Nightline interview: "I don't put people on food stamps," President says...Video
President Obama on Thursday pushed back against what he called Republicans' "rhetorical flourishes" on the campaign trail, including presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich's oft-repeated accusation that he is the "food stamp president." Telling ABC's Diane Sawyer that he wants a second term "badly," the President said he will fight with "every fiber of my being" for a second term. He debunked Gingrich's food stamp claims point by point. (Above: A White House photo of the President and Sawyer)
The "exclusive" interview with Sawyer followed a speech on energy and the economy at the UPS South Las Vegas Hub.
"First of all, I don't put people on food stamps," President Obama said. "People become eligible for food stamps. Second of all, the initial expansion of food-stamp eligibility happened under my Republican predecessor, not under me. No. 3, when you have a disastrous economic crash that results in 8 million people losing their jobs, more people are going to need more support from government."
"The larger point is this: that there's going to be a debate over the next eight, nine, 10 months about how to move the country forward," he said. "They've got an argument. They will make it forcefully. I think it's an argument that is wrong."
Asked by Sawyer whether he believes there's an undercurrent of race baiting in the "food stamp president" criticism, Mr. Obama wouldn't comment. But he said the rhetoric from conservatives, including Gingrich, is an attempt by Republicans to engage in the kind of divisiveness that they profess to decry.
"The American people are going to make a judgment about who's trying to bring the country together and who's dividing it, who reflects the core values that helped create this country … and who is tapping into some of our worst instincts," President Obama said.
Press Secretary Jay Carney recently dubbed Gingrich's assertions about President Obama and food stamps "crazy." More than 46.3 million people received a total of $75.3 billion in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as Food Stamps, in fiscal year 2011, the highest levels in US history, according to the USDA. That's about 1 in 7 Americans using Food Stamps. There were 31.9 million Americans on Food Stamps when President Obama was sworn into office in January of 2009, and the number of Americans using SNAP benefits has risen each month but one since December of 2008.
The President also discussed the Somali rescue operation, saying he thought of daughters Malia and Sasha, the ringtone of him singing Al Green, released by his campaign, and the Super Bowl. He billed the upcoming battle as "too close to call."
"I can't call it," he said. "When the Bears are not involved, I can't make predictions, I get in trouble."
The President had one fun food adventure in Las Vegas: He ordered a dozen take-out pizzas and 20 cannolis from Dom DeMarco's Pizzeria & Bar.
*Photo by Pete Souza/White House