SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
President BARACK OBAMA: As I've said many times, it took years to dig our way into the crisis we faced. It will take more than a few months to dig our way out. But make no mistake, that's exactly what we will do.
SIMON: President Obama in his weekly radio address talking about the economy. But the president conceded many Americans may not yet feel economic progress. We visited the White House yesterday to speak with the man who helps the president make policy and try to sell it to Congress and the American people -David Axelrod, the president's senior adviser.
Thank you so much, David Axelrod, for making time with us here at the White House.
Mr. DAVID AXELROD (Presidential Adviser): Great to be with you.
SIMON: I want to ask about Afghanistan. Twenty-two American troops have died there this week. It must sadly be noted, by the time we play this on Saturday morning, the number may even be greater. President Obama manifestly cherishes their sacrifice and the sacrifice of all young men and women in uniform. But when the commander of forces in Afghanistan says I need 40,000 more troops to do the job, to secure the mission, and there's this period of several months in which policy and mission is reassessed, does that put U.S. troops at greater risk?
Mr. AXELROD: No, and I think the reality is that even if the president ordered exactly what General McChrystal asked for today, those troops wouldn't arrive until next spring and summer. That's the nature of this. The president ordered 21,000 new troops in March and they're now just finally fully arriving. That's the nature of how these things work.
It is most important that we get it right. And the president, I think, every -having observed this process, every American ought to have some comfort in the knowledge that he's being very rigorous. Not just in dealing with the issue of troop levels but really evaluating the mission. And the mission, remember, is how do we protect our homeland, how do we protect the American people and protect our interests against al-Qaida. Al-Qaida was who attacked us. That's how we got to Afghanistan. They still represent a threat.
And what do we need to do to eliminate them as a threat? And that's the prism through which he's looking at this decision - Afghanistan, Pakistan, which is where, of course, al-Qaida is now, and what do we need to do to deal with that? And he has a different responsibility.
General McChrystal took what he understood to be the mission and he came up with a set of recommendations. But it's up to the president and the Joint Chiefs and Secretary Gates to think through this in terms of the entire theater.
SIMON: Is the administration willing to live with an Afghanistan that is partly controlled by the Taliban or would soon be controlled by the Taliban?
Mr. AXELROD: Well, I don't think that that's an area, is the one that we're looking at. I don't think that Afghanistan is facing imminent collapse to the Taliban. And the Taliban, as you know, is highly unpopular in Afghanistan. There is tremendous popular resistance to the Taliban and the major population centers are secure. So I don't think that's really the discussion.
SIMON: Talking to David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama. Democratic National Committee documents made public this week show that people who gave more than $30,000 personally, I believe, or bundled - at least $300,000 to Democratic candidates - were promised to access to people who work in this building. No promises about policies but the implication was they could talk to senior advisers, perhaps even yourself. There were other perks…
Mr. AXELROD: I haven't had the…
SIMON: You haven't had the pleasure.
Mr. AXELROD: I haven't had the pleasure.
SIMON: Okay. I think you know there were reports about other perks, including some donors using the White House bowling alley. Now, I want to be an adult about this. This kind of thing has gone on at administrations of both parties for some time. But does it square with an administration that said they would change the way business…
Mr. AXELROD: Well…
SIMON: …is done?
Mr. AXELROD: …you know, Scott, let me say a few things. First of all, there was one offering or one brochure or one communication from the Democratic National Committee in the beginning of the year and they had a line in there about access to senior policymakers. No one was more furious about that when he learned about that than the president himself, and he learned about it from a press clipping. And he's made it very clear to everyone that that's unacceptable to him.
SIMON: The president was furious when he read about this?
Mr. AXELROD: Yeah. This is not something that he embraces. And he, you know, he doesn't want his advisors being offered as part of a fundraising deal. And that was made clear. It was done once early in the year. It wasn't repeated. So someone else obviously thought it was inappropriate. But when he heard about, which was just when it was reported, he was very unhappy.
SIMON: On Friday the president talked about his frustration that H1N1 vaccine hasn't gotten out to more Americans. In August, the Centers for Disease Control said that 120 million doses would be available. They later scaled that back to 45 million. Twenty-five million doses reportedly are ready. Did the government overpromise?
Mr. AXELROD: Well, I think the manufacturers overpromised, and what was reported was the representations that were made to us. The fact is that this is a problem that's abating every day. And yes, we thought we would have 40,000 now, we have 26…
SIMON: Forty million…
Mr. AXELROD: …I'm sorry, 40 million now. We have 26 million. We believe that that is improving on a daily basis and we're going to have an ample supply in very short order. So yes, we probably did overpromise, and we overpromised on the basis of what was represented to us.
SIMON: Finally, another part of our show entirely this week. We have an interview with Tom Ricketts, the new guy who owns the Chicago Cubs.
Mr. AXELROD: Yes.
SIMON: You have an autographed baseball from Ernie Banks.
Mr. AXELROD: I do, Mr. Cub, yes.
SIMON: Can President Obama use his executive powers to delegate better pitching to the Cub, or, for that matter, the White Sox staff?
Mr. AXELROD: You know, we've explored this, and we don't know that we can do that by executive order. It would probably take an act of Congress.
SIMON: Oh, and nothing gets done there.
Mr. AXELROD: And there is a real conflict on the Hill about whether to help the Cubs. There are obviously a lot of interests from different cities who have a varied view, so it's probably up to Mr. Ricketts to take care of that.
SIMON: David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, thanks for having us over.
Mr. AXELROD: Okay, Scott. Good to be with you.