Obama makes historic appearance on ‘Daily Show’

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Upshot

Click to see more photos of President Obama

In an effort to boost voter enthusiasm ahead of a crucial midterm election, President Obama made an historic appearance Wednesday night on Comedy Central's "Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

The event marked the first time a sitting president appeared on the program and the first time just one guest had been scheduled for a single episode of the comedy show.

But it wasn't all laughs.

[Related: For Obama, election politics no laughing matter]

Stewart, who is filming his show in Washington this week in anticipation of his "Rally to Restore Sanity" event on Saturday, played a liberal Devil's Advocate Wednesday, channeling criticisms of the president often heard from disillusioned Obama supporters.

Stewart contrasted the tone of the 2008 campaign-- when Democrats were riding high on the president's message of "hope" and "change"-- to today, when the majority of Democrats say they are frustrated by the economy and show lagging interest in supporting Democrats at the polls next week.

"Are you disappointed in how it's gone?" Stewart asked.

Obama replied that the situation is no surprise given the country's high unemployment, underwater mortgages, and an overall poor economy. "Folks are going to be frustrated, and that's going to reflect on the political environment," Obama said. Obama said that in context, he's "feeling great about where the American people are, considering what we've gone through."

"We've gone through the two toughest years since The Great Depression."

[Related: Unemployment claims drop sharply]

Watch highlights from the interview:

Obama repeatedly expressed his frustration with Washington during the segment, railing against Republican obstruction and the culture of Congress.

[Party crashers: Behind the new Republican revival]

He even endorsed the idea of changing Senate rules that require 60 Senators to vote to end a filibuster and approve legislation. "I would love not to have a 60 vote requirement," Obama said. He later added that he considers the D.C. culture "not always real healthy."

Stewart later wondered whether the "Yes We Can" slogan of 2008 still rings true today.

"Yes we can," Obama said, and then he paused. "But…"

"It's not going to happen overnight," the president finished over audience laughter.

But the most tense moment in Wednesday night's exchange centered on health care and devolved into harsh words and finger-pointing.

Stewart suggested the White House had been "timid" on health care by not making its position clearer and pressuring Congress to go further.

"I love your show, but this is something where I have a profound disagreement with you," Obama told Stewart.

[Photos: Obama gets grayer through the years]

"This notion that health care was timid?" Obama asked rhetorically. He said 30 million people are "going to get health care as a consequence" of the bill, insurers can no longer drop people, and kids can now remain on their parents' plans.

"I think most people would say this is the most significant piece of legislation in this country's history," Obama said, which drew applause from the audience.

Many Democrats have distanced themselves from the president and Democratic leadership this election year, but the president noted that not all electorally vulnerable Democrats have been running away from him.

"There are a bunch of folks who took really tough votes that they knew were bad politics because they knew it was the right thing to do," Obama said. He called out Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello, Ohio Rep. John Boccieri, and Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey by name. "I hope they are rewarded for their tough votes."

All three incumbents look likely to lose in their conservative districts. But the president has even scheduled a last-minute appearance with Perriello this Friday -- the president's first appearance for just a single House candidate.

Though there was laughter interspersed throughout Wednesday's show, the big jokes typically seen on the Daily Show were few and far between.

Stewart's questioning did lead to a lighter moment on the Comedy Central show, though. Asked why former Clinton Treasury Secretary Larry Summers was appointed one of Obama's chief economists in what was billed as a "change" administration, Obama was defensive.

"Larry Summers did a heck of a job," the president said in a very serious tone.

But the audience quickly began to laugh, clearly remembering George W. Bush's famous, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," line to former FEMA chief Michael Brown during the Hurricane Katrina crisis.

Stewart interjected: "You don't want to use that phrase, dude."

Obama smiled and added, "pun intended."

Watch the entire show below:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

(Photo: Getty Images/Roger L. Wollenberg)

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