JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Channel 4 anchor Tom Wills at the White House on Monday, President Barack Obama discussed the port in Jacksonville and its economic impact, his economic plan for rural America, and high crime rates among young black males.
Obama said his administration is committed to funding dredging of the St. Johns River so Jacksonville can bring in large cargo ships and become home again to an aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport.
"Certainly on the port and the channels, that is something that's very important to the economic development of the region," Obama said. "We put it in our budget to make sure the Army Corps (of Engineers) had the resources to continue to look at the feasibility of deepening and expanding operations there. And my administration is fully committed to this, mainly because not only is it good for the Jacksonville region, but it's good for the entire country."
Obama also talked about his economic plan for rural America, which he laid out Monday.
"The main message I want to deliver for all of America is that there's enormous potential in rural America," he said, "that in some ways it's really leading the charge on our recovery, and we have to build on that success both by continuing to invest in things like clean energy development and biofuels in these regions, but also investing in the people in rural communities through community colleges and other institutions so that they can take advantage of additional opportunities."
The president addressed crime rates among young black males and possibly opening a national dialogue on the issue.
"All across the country, part of what we have to talk about is how are we making sure these kids early on are getting the kind of education they need, head start they need, the kind of support that they need in order to have a path toward success," Obama said. "One of the main reasons we've made such an emphasis on education reform is because if we can catch these kids early and give them some prospects for success, then many of the troubles that they end up getting into later on are avoided. And unfortunately we have models for what works, it's just that we haven't been able to spread them as much as we need to."
Prior to Tom's interview with the president, he was given a behind-the-scenes tour of the executive mansion.
Reporting live from the White House lawn at 7 a.m., Tom said that while Obama wanted the day's national agenda to be his initiatives to help the rural economy, the dominant issue Monday was U.S. Secretary of Commerce John Bryson's felony hit-and-run charges.
Tom was the only Florida reporter given access to the president Monday.
While the administration only gave him five minutes with Obama, that was the same amount of time the Mitt Romney campaign gave Tom to interview the Republican presidential candidate during his most recent visit to Jacksonville.
Wills also asked Obama a lighter question about the president's singing and standup comedy, saying, "I was just wondering if you would give any thought to being on 'American Idol' or 'America's Got Talent'? You'd be a big hit Mr. President."
"My wife and my daughters find me embarrassing enough when I start performing," Obama said with a smile. "They certainly don't want a large national audience seeing me in those kinds of situations. So I'm going to try to keep my singing to the shower most of the time."
After his one-on-one interview with the president, Tom and his crew attended the daily press briefing with Press Secretary Jay Carney and had some face-time with senior administration officials, Cabinet secretaries and others who make the White House tick.
Obama's answers and what Tom learned from the rest of his visit will be included in live reports at throughout Monday evening.
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