Fusion’s Jorge Ramos held a wide-ranging interview with President Obama in Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday, during which the two discussed everything from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s controversial detention and interrogation techniques to Obama’s recent executive action on immigration that could shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Ramos started off the interview by asking Obama about what has been dubbed the “torture report,” which provided some horrific revelations into the enhanced-interrogation programs the CIA employed during the administration of President George W. Bush.
Obama said there was no question some “terrible mistakes were made” and that the CIA had engaged in some “brutal activity” after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“Unfortunately, the Senate report shows we engaged in some brutal activity after 9/11,” Obama told Ramos. “This is an accounting of some of the problems that the CIA program engaged in. I recognize that there’s controversy in terms of the details, but what’s not controversial is the fact that we did some things that violated who we are as a people.”
Ramos then asked Obama about the pair of grand-jury decisions in cases involving white police officers killing unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
Obama urged patience in racial attitudes in America, emphasizing both that there has been progress over the past 20 years on the issue and that there still needs to be more progress.
“Each successive generation in America, what we’ve seen is improvement,” Obama said. “And I’m confident that if we are focused on it and are willing to talk about these honestly, 10 years from now, things will be better. And 20 years from now, even better than that.”
From there, the conversation moved to immigration, a topic on which Obama and Ramos sparred. Ramos challenged Obama for what he characterized as a flip-flop on his policy toward deportations.
“But you could’ve stopped deportation,” Ramos said.
“That is not true,” Obama fired back. “Listen, here’s the fact of the matter. Jorge, here’s the fact of the matter. As president of the United States, I’m always responsible for problems that aren’t solved right away. I regret millions of people who didn’t get health insurance before I passed health insurance, and before I implemented it. I regret the fact that there are kids who should’ve been going to college during my presidency, but because we didn’t get to them fast enough, they gave up on college.
“The question is: Are we doing the right thing, and have we consistently tried to move this country in a better direction? And those — like you, sometimes, Jorge — who just suggest that there are simple, quick answers to these problems … when you present it in that way, it does a disservice, because it makes the assumption that the political process is one that can easily be moved around depending on the will of one person. And that’s not how things work.”
Ramos also asked Obama about the status of Alan Gross, the government contractor who was arrested in Cuba five years ago this December.
Obama told Ramos the U.S. continues to be in conversations with a “variety of channels” about securing Gross’ release.
“We continue to be concerned about him. We think that he shouldn’t have been held in the first place,” Obama said, adding that he didn’t have “any announcements.”
Finally, Ramos asked Obama about the rape allegations involving comedian Bill Cosby. While Obama declined to comment specifically on Cosby, he said it’s important to sharpen focus on the broad problem of sexual assault in the U.S.
“I think that it’s important to not focus on one case, but to focus on the broader concerns that I have about how women — and, sometimes, men — are subjected to sexual assaults,” Obama told Ramos.
“That’s been true in our military. That’s true in our colleges, our universities. We’re focused at the White House on making sure that we raise awareness. Part of it is passing laws, but part of it is also changing the minds and culture — not only to make it safe for those who’ve been assaulted to come forward, but also to change the mindset of men, particularly our young men who are coming up, so they understand that no means no, that respect for women and individuals is what makes you strong.”