Highlights of President Barack Obama's interview Friday with The Associated Press:
DEBT CEILING/SPENDING CUTS
Expressed confidence that Congress will vote to raise the limit on the nation's debt but acknowledged that he'll have to agree to additional spending cuts. Said that to "play chicken with this thing" and not raise the ceiling before the U.S. hits its $14.3 trillion limit on borrowing in mid-May could have dire consequences, including another global recession.
Acknowledged a military stalemate exists on the ground in Libya but defended the NATO operation, saying it isn't even a month old. Said it's unnecessary at this point for the U.S. to resume a lead role in enforcing the no-fly zone. Said Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is under increasing pressure to leave and is running out of money and supplies. Added that he's confident Gadhafi ultimately will be forced to step down.
AFGHANISTAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL
Said he's awaiting a recommendation from Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing the mission, before deciding how many U.S. troops to pull out of Afghanistan, beginning in July, depending on conditions on the ground. Said that the withdrawal will be significant and that people will see it as a "real process of transition" in Afghanistan and not as "just a token gesture."
HIS RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN
Said he thinks the economy will continue to improve and that by November 2012 voters will feel he deserves another term. SaId he'll argue that not only did he "yank" the economy out of a hole and get it back on track after taking office in 2009 but that policies he's pursued _ from rewriting Wall Street regulations to overhauling the health care system _ will make the country more competitive. Said he's the person best prepared to finish the job.
Said he described Republicans as having a "deeply pessimistic" vision for the country because, under their alternative budget, roads would go unrepaired, college financial aid for poor and middle-class students would be eliminated and funding for medical research would be squeezed. Said that under the GOP budget, America would no longer be able to do some of the "big things" that made it great.
Said the tea party has raised questions about who Americans are as a people, what the country can afford to spend its money on and what kind of government its people want. Said it's good for democracy whenever Americans are actively engaged and focused but that he disagrees with the movement's views.
Said he still believes the military prison in Cuba, opened under the Bush administration, should be closed but said it won't happen soon because of opposition in Congress. Added that many people are afraid to transfer any of the terrorism suspects being held there, including professed 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to the U.S. for trial in federal court. Acknowledged that he has failed to make the case that federal courts can handle such cases but said he won't stop trying.
HIS NATIONAL SECURITY TEAM
Declined to comment on possible replacements for Defense Secretary Robert Gates, including whether Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton could become a candidate for the Pentagon's top job. Gates is a Bush administration holdover who plans to leave office this year. Obama said Gates will go down as one of the finest defense secretaries in U.S. history. He described Clinton as an integral part of his foreign policy team and said he thinks she is happy in her job.