Weill: ‘I Hope Obama Moves to the Middle’

Former Citigroup (C) Chairman and CEO Sandy Weill spoke exclusively today with FBN’s Liz Claman about the economy, his philanthropic endeavors and his perception of President Obama saying “I hope that Obama moves to the middle” after the elections. Weill also discussed Citigroup saying “it’s beginning to do better” and that it has the “best position as any American financial institution in the emerging market around the world.”

Here are the key highlights from the interview, courtesy of FOX Business Network:

On whether President Obama needs to move toward the middle politically:
“I think what we need is some certainty. Right now there’s a lot of uncertainty in the economy nobody knows what taxes are going to be. Nobody knows what the government policy is going to be…I hope that Obama moves to the middle. I think what we first have to do is how to get our economy really moving again.”

On Obama’s message that he will be a President to all the people:
“I wish he would stop saying he is the President of the middle class because America is everything.”

On whether he is still a supporter of Obama:
“We’ll see. I would love to see him move the way Clinton did in ’94 when the government changed and people didn’t like the direction it was going in. I’d like to see him move more to the middle and understand that working with business is a good thing we all want to help.”

On the expiration of the Bush tax cuts:
“I think this is not the time to raise taxes on anybody. I think it’s going to send a bad message to companies about investing their money for the long term. They want to know that this is going to be a friendly environment for corporate taxes and there will be a time when we got to get spending under control and get our deficits down because they can’t go on forever. But I think right now the issue is really how do we get our economy moving again.”

On the aftermath of the elections:
“I think that once the election is out of the way, I hope that that we get the republicans and the democrats to think that it’s important that we all do well and that Obama understands that message and that we will work together to make this country the kind of country and leader it should be.”

On Citigroup’s shares trading at $4 a share:
“It’s better than 1 [dollar per share].”

On what Citigroup could have done differently:
“I don’t want to talk about what I would have done different than what I did. The company did not do well in a period of time, I think it’s beginning to do better. They are beginning to hire people again. The company is beginning to have momentum it has the best position as any American financial institution in the emerging market around the world.”

On the need for the US to have financial leaders as we leave the recession:
“I think it’s very important for the us that we still have several financial companies that will be leaders in moving the financial industry around the world to what it really should be in creating jobs for people and growing the middle class.”

On the possibility of the Federal Reserve breaking down Citigroup into smaller companies:
“I don’t think Ben Bernanke would say that so I think he’s a very good leader of the Fed. I think we are very lucky to have someone of his caliber. A student of the depression he knew what didn’t work.”

On calling for the repeal of Glass-Steagall:
“I think Glass-Steagall should have been repealed. I think it was an arcane law that didn’t really fit the times. But the combination of commercial banking and investment banking had happened in practice and allowed by the Fed way before Glass-Steagall was shattered.”

On the repeal of Glass-Steagall having nothing to do with the recession:
“The only thing it changed was that it allowed banks and insurance underwriting to be under one roof. That was the real change because the others had happened before that. It had nothing to do with investment banking and banking and it had nothing to do with the problems that happened.”

On whether the expiration of the Bush tax cuts would hurt philanthropy:
“If the deductibility goes down to the level some people are talking about, like 28 percent. I think it would hurt somewhat but I think Americans are really giving people. It’s very important we continue to give no matter what the tax rate is. Personally I’d rather see the top tax rate go up one percent and keep the deductibility for philanthropy where it was.”

On whether the Obama Administration knows his view on taxes:
“They know I think it’s a good idea.”

On the Buffet-Gates pledge to donate half his personal fortune:
“Warren Buffet called me and he said ‘for you it won’t be hard, you’ve been doing this for decades.’ My wife told me that shrouds don’t have pockets and I don’t think we want to control things from the grave. We look at philanthropy as being much more than just money. We want to do this while we still have the energy.”

On the impact of the financial crisis on his personal wealth:
“I never believed I could lose as much money as I lost in the crash and our stock would go down as much as it did. Therefore, when you are giving something so many years in advance, maybe you’re not going to have it to give. I knew I had it now, I knew the school needed it now. It wasn’t just me. My wife and I have been partners for 57 years.”

On the newest phase of the Weill Cornell Medical Center:
“It will really allow us to more than double the research base. We are able to do it cheaper because we are doing it during a recession in building.”

On his Carnegie Hall philanthropy adding jobs to the economy:
“It would employ at least 500 people during the construction phase but more than the people it will employ it would help us deliver our music education to several hundred thousand people a year.”

On capitalism proving to be the best system:
“Everybody is copying the American model of capitalism and capital markets. Even the communist countries, look at China and look at Russia they’ve become great examples of capitalism. Capitalism is a terrific thing that has proven to be over a long period of time than any other system yet.”

On the US moving away from capitalism:
“I hope not. It’s what built this country and it is what has the ability to continue to build this country. We need partnerships we don’t want class warfare.”

On the US economy:
“I think we are in a place where our country is in a position to rebuild our financial industry and rebuild our GDP.”

On QE2:
“I think that if you take out food inflation and energy inflation and just talk about the rest of inflation … it basically is led by employee costs. And with the employment level, employees don’t have the bargaining power to create an inflation in employee wages. And from that part of it we don’t have a problem right now.”

On Oliver Stone calling him “the mother of all evil:”
“I don’t pay much attention to him. Oliver Stone should practice what he said about me to others. His son worked for me. But that was ok. And his son doing business, but that was ok.”

On his legacy:
“I think that really my life’s work is really going to be hopefully what we do in the philanthropy and in education.”

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