WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama says he believes the tea party is built around a "core group" of people who question whether he is a U.S. citizen and believe he is a socialist.
But beyond that, Obama tells NBC he recognizes the movement involves "folks who have legitimate concerns" about the national debt and whether the government is taking on too many difficult issues simultaneously.
Editor's Note: See a clip from NBC's Obama interview below
During an interview broadcast Tuesday on NBC's "Today" show, Obama said he feels "there's still going to be a group at their core that question my legitimacy." But he said he didn't want to paint tea party activists "in broad brushes" and he hopes to win over members who have "mainstream, legitimate concerns."
Obama told NBC’s Matt Lauer that "there's some folks who just weren't sure whether I was born in the United States, whether I was a socialist, right?
“There is a broader circle around that core group, of people who are legitimately concerned about the deficit, who are legitimately concerned that the federal government may be taking on too much."
Obama said he hopes to allay these fears as time moves on.
And those core tea partyers? "That group we're probably not going to convince," Obama said.
Today's political divisions, including death threats against Democrats who backed the healthcare bill, are part of a "pattern of polarization" that stretches back to the presidency of Bill Clinton and continued through the Bush administration, Obama said. He called it an environment fostered to some extent by the modern news media.
"Frankly, it gets spun up in part because of how the media covers politics, in the 24/7 news cycle, cable chatter, and talk radio, and the Internet, and the blogs, all of which try to feed the most extreme sides of any issue instead of trying to narrow differences and solve problems," Obama said.
The comments come as the debate over Obama’s healthcare overhaul continues to anger a sizable majority of the American public.
A new Rasmussen Reports poll reveals that the tea party movement is resonating with U.S. voters. This is despite attempts on the part of many mainstream and left-leaning media to label the tea party as a fringe group.
The poll specifically asked voters to express their opinions about the tea party compared with Congress. Among the findings:
- 47% reported that their own views are closer to the tea party than to Congress
- 26% said their views are aligned more closely with Congress
- 46% reported that the average tea partyer is more ethical than the average member of Congress
- 27% believe that members of Congress are more ethical
- 52% reported that the average tea partyer has a better understanding of the issues facing America than the average member of Congress
- 30% believe that members of Congress have a better understanding of the issues
The Tea Party Express tour is on a 44-city nationwide tour culminating in an event on April 15 in Washington, D.C. Many of those scheduled stops are in key battleground states where Democrats are fending off serious challengers in the midterm elections.
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