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Obama Speaks Candidly On Gun Control, Race In Podcast Appearance

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

On Friday, President Obama will travel to Charleston. He'll deliver the eulogy for one of the shooting victims, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Charleston was on the president's mind when he gave an interview to comedian Marc Maron. It was posted online today, and in it, the president talks about gun control and race relations in America. And in talking about race, he used a term many consider offensive. And a warning - you're going to hear that word in our report now. NPR's Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: We'll get to that word in a minute. But first, the context. This wasn't a conventional interview. Marc Maron's podcast is called "WTF." It stands for what you think it stands for. And he tapes it in his garage.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WTF WITH MARC MARON")

MARC MARON: Oh, my gosh.

BARACK OBAMA: This is pretty cool.

MARON: This is the place. This is where it happens.

OBAMA: I like this, Man.

MARON: You do?

KEITH: President Obama sat down in the garage in an LA suburb Friday morning for a wide-ranging conversation. Maron is known for digging deep into the psyches of his guests. They first talked about the mass shooting in Charleston.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WTF WITH MARC MARON")

OBAMA: It's not enough just to feel bad. There are actions that could be taken to make events like this less likely.

KEITH: Actions, Obama says, like passing gun-control legislation. The Senate tried and failed to expand background checks following the Newtown massacre. The president insists he isn't resigned but also says he doesn't expect Congress to pass anything like that now.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WTF WITH MARC MARON")

OBAMA: And I don't foresee any real action being taken until the American public feels a sufficient sense of urgency and they say to themselves, this is not normal; this is something that we can change, and we're going to change it.

KEITH: When pressed about what actions the president may take, White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, simply said Obama would keep talking about it. Adam Winkler is the author of the book "Gunfight: The Battle Over The Right To Bear Arms In America."

ADAM WINKLER: If American voters were willing to put their votes behind candidates who promised gun control, then more of those candidates would win office. Instead, what we're seeing is that the only voters that base their votes solely on the gun issue tend to be pro-gun voters.

KEITH: And in recent decades, despite overwhelming support for measures like background checks, more broadly, the American public has tilted toward gun rights over gun control. Winkler says when it comes to guns, there are two Americas.

WINKLER: There are those who believe that more gun control will save lives and those who believe that more guns will save lives. So when you see a tragedy and a loss of life, you have two very different reactions.

KEITH: Elsewhere in Maron's conversation with Obama, the issue of race came up, another point of division brought to the surface by the mass shooting in Charleston. Obama started as he often does, by saying race relations have improved dramatically in his lifetime. But he said there is a legacy of slavery and discrimination that casts a long shadow. And in discussing it, he used a word many Americans feel very uncomfortable uttering.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WTF WITH MARC MARON")

OBAMA: We're not cured of it.

MARON: Racism.

OBAMA: Racism - we are not cured of it.

MARON: Clearly.

OBAMA: And it's not just a matter of it not being polite to say nigger in public. That's not the measure of whether racism still exists or not.

KEITH: The President's argument - more work still needs to be done. But the reaction so far has largely focused on Obama's use of the N-word, something his spokesman, Josh Earnest, says the president didn't plan in advance.

JOSH EARNEST: It is understandably notable that the president chose to use this word, but the argument that the president is making is one that is familiar to those who have been listening.

KEITH: And, he said, President Obama doesn't regret using that word because now more people are listening. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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