Transcript: Face to Face with Bill Burton

John Dickerson: Welcome to Face to Face, I'm John Dickerson and I'm here with Bill Burton, senior strategist of Priorities USA, and supporter of the president's. Bill let's talk first about the general election which seems to have started even though Republicans still have some of their primary left, it's pretty much started hasn't it?

Bill Burton: I think we're just about that point Rick Santorum is starting to look a little more like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense every single day. It would take a pretty major, I think, to upend Romney at this point but, you know, anything can happen. Romney has run a pretty week campaign so far, and the fact that a guy without even a campaign office has been able to make a real run for it has been pretty interesting to watch.

John Dickerson: But, one of the reasons we think the general election has started because yesterday the president went after Mitt Romney, talked about him, mentioned him and now the president's campaign has an ad in which they mention Romney's name. the presidency is a high office, is he punching down a little going after Romney, I mean, why engage him now?

Bill Burton: Well it's worth noting we're in the season when often the general election does begin. In 2004, the first week in March, President Bush starting running ads against John Kerry, back in 1996 Bill Clinton was already up on the air against Bob Dole tying him to Newt Gingrich of all people. So I think that we're sort of in that period where the American people are starting to engage more, and so it's up to the folks who are the leaders at the party to start to find what are the terms of this choice that the American people are going to have in the fall. I think that's what you're starting to see more than anything else.

John Dickerson: And obviously the president wants this as you and others have said, wants this to be a choice not a referendum on his stewardship.

Bill Burton: All elections are choices. And it's impossible to make an election just about a referendum. People don't know much about Mitt Romney quite yet. You know we poll, we do focus groups around the country, and for a large segment of the population, people don't have any sense of who Mitt Romney is, or maybe could even recognize him if he walked into a room.

John Dickerson: So the president and you wanted to find Mitt Romney before people have a chance to learn about him from Mitt Romney.

Bill Burton: Mitt Romney's gonna have probably upwards of $1.5 billion at his disposal between his campaign and associated groups. They're going to do what they can to gloss over the ugly parts of his record. We're going to do what we can to make sure people know the truth about what he's done and what his vision is for this country.

John Dickerson: Let's talk about what you do.

Bill Burton: Okay.

John Dickerson: Tell what Priorities USA does for those who might not know.

Bill Burton:: We're a SuperPAC. Priorities USA is a Super PAC in support of the president's reelection, and what we've been doing is gearing up for this moment. For the general election to make sure that as the choice develops, as the nominee emerges, that we do everything we can and to make sure that people know the facts about where the Republican nominee wants to take our country, and what the consequences would be to the American people.

John Dickerson: Do you think SuperPAC has become, like lobbyist, a word that just basically has only negative connotations? People see all these ads on the air, whether they're Republican or Democrat, people when you talk to them out in the country they're just sick of all the ads on the air

Bill Burton:-right

John Dickerson: -do you feel like you're the dark knight in this-

Bill Burton: And it's just April. You know, it's, there's a sort of situational irony to the fact that I'm a part of an organization that I think in a perfect system would not exist. But the truth is it's an imperfect system. We didn't choose the rules, but we're gonna play by the rules as they are, or else Carl Rove, the Koch brothers, the folks on the right who have enormous outside independent expenditure organizations are just going to wash over the president with their hundreds of millions of dollars. And so I don't think that Super PACs are particularly popular, but I didn't get engaged in this because I wanted to be in a popular organization. I did it because I saw what the threat was on the right and wanted to be a part of the response.

John Dickerson: The president used to be, used to knock superPACs, say they were a threat to democracy. He changed his position, said we can't unilaterally disarm, when my opponents are going to have Super PACs I need to have them too.

Bill Burton: More importantly the Supreme Court changed the rules, when, during the Obama presidency. And as a result there's this huge infusion of money from corporations, from individuals, both disclosed and not disclosed. And so the rule change, and the reality is that Democrats needed to catch up and make sure that the things that were important to us weren't just outspent by a billion dollars but instead we're defended.

John Dickerson: The president, do you think the president has a tougher, that he's in a tougher position because people who don't engage in politics as you and I do don't' know about Supreme Court rulings don't know about the other side are doing a version of the same thing. What they remember is a president who, a senator who ran in 2008 talking about cleaning up the system, who was a breath of fresh air, and now they see this president he's got a Super PAC, he's saying some pretty tough things as a president about an opponent who really isn't an opponent yet....seems like a very different guy

Bill Burton: Let me separate out those two things. Because on the one hand you have a president who's committed to reform, who supports campaign finance reform legislation, supported it long ago, has continued to, but those efforts have been blocked in the Senate by Republicans who are against it, and in the House by a Republican majority who likes the system as it is. And so what you see here is a president who is doing what he can to make sure that people have a clear sense and that there's an equality on the playing field. Now that said, I don't know that a lot of voters look at the president and think first and foremost, well where does this candidate stand on campaign finance reform and that's how I'm going to make the decision on who is better to lead the country. The president is committed to it and if they're making their decision on that then president Obama's the right guy for it. But I don't think it's that highest part of their list. Now in the other piece of your question, on the president getting engaged in the political fight, politics breaks out in Washington all the time, this is the kind of town that it is. And this is the sort of time in this race when people should start to learn the truth about what the real difference is between the candidates is.

John Dickerson: Sure but he made such a strong impression on so many people, you know in 2008, because he was different, and because he was just kind of speaking to them about a system that was kind of broken and politics was constantly breaking and he was offering a holiday from that. And I know, you know, there are a lot of reasons and explanations but I just wonder at a kind of gut level when people who don't turn into politics all the time, see this and the thing they're really comparing it to is the guy who ran in '08, doesn't contribute to this feeling that some people have which is, hey this isn't what I signed up for when I voted for him.

Bill Burton: well keep in mind, president Obama didn't become president by just putting up hope and change posters when he was beating then-Senator Clinton and Senator McCain. Those were hard, tough fights, and the president was very tough in those fights, in laying out factually what the differences were between him and his Democratic primary opponents, and then between him and Senator McCain in the general election. Those things help people make their decisions. Even though it's not always going to be, the president isn't always going to have something glowing to say about his opponent, there are important facts and important distinctions that people need to know in order to inform their decision on who they're going to chose when they walk into the voting booth in November.

John Dickerson: Last question to you is about one of these hot button issues, gas prices. And Priorities USA is running an ad, there are a lot of other ads kind of floating out there, the ad you're running is making a connection between Mitt Romney and oil companies. And you say that oil company money is going into the Romney campaign, it's not really going into the Romney campaign...

Bill Burton: It is actually going into the Romney campaign. More importantly there is an effort from the people who benefit the most from high gas prices to help Mitt Romney become president.

John Dickerson: -But it's no more coordinated with Romney than yours is with the White House?

Bill Burton: You know, there are groups that are coordinating to help Mitt Romney. There are people from oil companies who are giving to Mitt Romney including David Coke who is one the big oil billionaires in this country. So yes there are people directly connected with the oil industry who are directly helping the Romney campaign. But there is a much bigger effort outside of his campaign that is also to help it. And the question to the people is how can you trust a guy like Mitt Romney to bring down the price of gas when he benefits politically from high gas prices, and the people supporting him benefit financially from high gas prices.

John Dickerson: And the president gets money from oil and gas interest too...

Bill Burton: He gets money from people who may work in that industry. But there is no doubt that the difference between Mitt Romney and President Obama on gas price, on the oil industry, is that, if Mitt Romney is elected president he will protect the 4 billion dollars in tax breaks that oil companies get. He'll deregulate the energy industry, he'll make sure that people like the Koch brothers make a whole lot more money. President Obama is not on that page. President Obama says you know, we need protections for people who are breathing the air and drinking the water, and we need a fair playing field for oil companies like there are for all other companies and we shouldn't have special tax breaks for oil companies, they're doing fine on their own.

John Dickerson: Alright Bill Burton, thanks so much, be sure to tune in on Sunday for Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer. I'm John Dickerson.