Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president in 2008 despite serving three Republican presidents, said today that Obama needs to change his approach in the White House because voters are feeling overwhelmed by sweeping new laws that expand the scope of government.”The president also has to … shift the way in which he has been doing things,” Powell said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The American people feel that too many programs have come down. There are so many rocks in our knapsack now that we’re having trouble carrying it.”
Powell, a retired Army general, who was national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush and who ran the State Department for President George W. Bush, said Obama must focus “like a razor blade” on employment, giving the same level of attention to creating jobs – and bringing down the 9.6 percent unemployment rate – as he did to passing bills overhauling health care and reforming education.
“I understand the importance of all of that,” Powell said, referring to Obama’s signature legislative accomplishments. “But as far as the American people are concerned, the main attack is employment.”
Powell’s critique is noteworthy, given his decision in the 2008 election to spurn Republican John McCain – a fellow Vietnam veteran and personal friend – to back Obama, whom he described as offering “generational change.” The president has continued to consult with Powell in the White House.
“He has lost some of the ability to connect that he had during the campaign,” Powell said. “And it is not just me picking on the president. It’s reflected in the polling. Some of the anxiety and anger that you see out there, I think, comes from a belief on the part of the American people – whether it’s correct or incorrect, and the White House would say it’s incorrect – that … his singular focus should be on employment.”
Powell declined to say whether he would endorse Obama and the Democratic ticket in 2012, adding that he will evaluate him and a Republican candidate as Election Day nears.
But Powell did praise the president, saying he still considers Obama a “transformational figure.”
“Some people don’t like what he has done in transformation,” Powell said. “And it’s caused him some difficulty. But the fact of the matter is, he did put together a health care reform. It’s not perfect. And I think it’ll have to be fixed over time. And a lot of people are not happy with that health care reform. But he did it.”
Nevertheless, Powell said, he still considers himself a Republican.
“Yes, why shouldn’t I?” Powell said Sunday, adding that he hasn’t thought about leaving the party.
“I still think that there is a need for a two-party system,” Powell said. “And that the Republican Party still has strength in it. It has strength with respect to its feelings about foreign policy and defense policy and our place in the world. And I’m not happy with the rightward switch, [the] shift that the party has taken. And I’ve said this on many occasions.
“And so, I’m not about to give up,” he said.
Powell also leveled some criticism at the GOP for embracing positions that are hostile to immigrants.
“They’ve got to take a hard look at some of the positions they’ve been taking,” Powell said. “We can’t be anti-immigration, for example. Because immigrants are fueling this country. Without immigrants [the U.S.] would be like Europe or Japan, with an aging population and no young people coming in to take care of it. We have to educate our immigrants.”
Powell, the son of immigrants who rose through the ranks of the Army, said that Congress should approve the DREAM Act, which would provide a pathway to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who attend college for two years or join the military.
“America is going to be a minority nation in one more generation,” Powell said. “Our minorities are not getting educated well enough now. Fifty percent of our minority kids are not finishing high school. We’ve got to invest in education. We should use the DREAM Act as one way to do it. Whether it should be part of the defense bill or not is something the Congress will decide.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will offer the DREAM Act this week as an amendment to the defense authorization bill. The chances of passage are uncertain, as Republicans who have supported the initiative in the past say it should not be tacked onto a spending bill.