In April 2008, then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama sat down with Chris Matthews in a town hall style interview to discuss the most serious issues of the campaign. The frontrunner in a nail-biting race for the Democratic nomination was not yet in favor of same sex marriage. Hillary Clinton was a fierce opponent and the man who hoped to become the 44th president was eager to highlight positions on ending the Iraq war and making health care more afforable.
What a difference five years can make. The Iraq war has wound down, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act and Hillary Clinton served as President Obama’s Secretary of State. Last year, the president told the country that ”same-sex couples should be able to get married,” and in June, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.
On Thursday, Obama will sit down with Matthews once again at a forum at American University in Washington, D.C., to discuss voter suppression, health care, political gridlock, growing dissatisfaction with the government and more.
Here’s a look at the highlights from Matthews’ 2008 interview with Obama from West Chester University.
On Iraq: “We need to go in a new direction”
Obama told Matthews: “ I’m going to stick to my guns and try to persuade the American people that we need to go in a new direction and fundamentally break with the failed policies of the past seven-and-a-half years.” The commander-in-chief, of course, withdrew combat troops from Iraq when the war there officially ended in 2011. Violence in Iraq, however, is still prevalent.
On Clinton: She got “swept away” by Bush administration arguments
The Illinois senator took several jabs at his Democratic opponent, pointing out that “Senator Clinton voted for the war” in Iraq. He said it was important because “It points to judgment in the future. She got swept up in the arguments that were made by the Bush administration. And I think that what you want in the next president who has confidence and judgment to move in a different direction.”
Obama said it was a “mistake” and “mission creep” for Clinton to suggest she wants to leave troops in to blunt the influence of Iran in Iraq. Obama went on to win the nomination and the presidency. Despite the critics he chose her as his first Secretary of State.
On gay marriage: “I’m not in favor” of it
Asked about his stance on same-sex couples being able to tie the knot, Obama bluntly said: “I’m not in favor of gay marriage,” adding he is in favor a civil unions. Matthews asked: “Isn’t it discrimination when you say people can’t get married?” But Obama insisted: “I think that it is important for us to make sure that all the legal rights that are conferred in a marriage are also conferred in a civil union. “
On stem cell research: We’ll allow it
The Illinois senator was asked by a student with Type 1 diabetes what he would do to gain further support for stem cell research. Obama said: “We have enough support in the Senate and the House to pass this bill. George Bush has vetoed it. Here’s what we will do. We just need one more vote, and that’s the vote of the president. And since I will be the president, we will sign stem cell research.” In 2009, Obama signed an executive order repealing the Bush-era policy that limited federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research.
Obama gets grilled about Rev. Wright:
Obama’s ex-pastor threw his campaign into turmoil in 2008 when a video surfaced of Wright ripping American policies. Obama eventually cut ties with Wright and denounced his remarks. Wright was a hot-button issue at the Q&A with Matthews. A student asked how the political drama affected his “spiritual life.”
Obama said that he was a Christian who prays “every night,” adding “When you’re running for president, you pray even more.” He called the Wright controversy ”a difficult moment. You know, this is somebody who, on the one hand, is a good man, but said some things that I deeply disagree with.”
Matthews asked Obama why he contributed money to Wright’s church over the years. The heated exchange ensued:
OBAMA: I think that what has happened is we took a loop out of — and compressed the most offensive things that a pastor said over the course of 30 years, and just ran it over and over and over again. There is that other 30 years. I never heard him say those things that were in those clips.
MATTHEWS: But you did say you heard him say controversial things.
OBAMA: But I’ve heard you say controversial things.
MATTHEWS: You didn’t give me $27,000 dollars either.
OBAMA: The point is this is a church that is active in AIDS. It’s active on all kind of thing. And so this is a wonderful church. But as I said, look at the amount of time that’s been spent on this today, Chris. At a time when we haven’t talked about a whole host of issues.
Obama’s interview with Matthews at American University will air on Thursday evening’s Hardball at 7 p.m. ET. Want to ask POTUS a question? Here’s how you can join the conversation.