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Behind the scenes of Marketplace's interview with Obama

President Obama, in exclusive Marketplace interview, defended U.S. investment in alternative energy and called for more investment in the nation's infrastructure. Above, host Kai Ryssdal checks his notes during interview at the Copper Mountain solar plant in Nevada desert.

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) tours the Copper Mountain Solar Project, the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the country, March 21, 2012 in Boulder City, Nev.

In this election year, it is all about the economy. We've heard about many of the economic policies of the various Republican presidential candidates. We figured it was just about time to hear from President Obama himself.

Yesterday, Marketplace host Kai Ryssdal headed to the Copper Mountain solar plant in Nevada desert to settle down by some solar panels and get into the nitty-gritty details of the economy with Mr. Obama.

Their topics of conversation ranged from the long-term growth of the economy, to the future of energy, to the way people are reacting to the president's changes in health care law.

But as we listened to the interview, we couldn't help but think: What was going on in Kai's mind as he sat across from the leader of the country?

In today's Mid-day Extra, we got the inside scoop on what the talented Mr. Ryssdal was really thinking during yesterday's interview.

Stacey Vanek Smith: We just heard part of Kai Ryssdal's interview with the president. Now for the inside scoop on that conversation, we have Kai here to talk with us. Hi Kai.

Kai Ryssdal: Hey Stacey.

Smith: So Kai, you sat down with the president in kind of an unusual spot -- set the scene for us, if you will.

Ryssdal: The president, as you know, is on a renewable energy tour. And yesterday we went to the Copper Mountain solar facility. We're about 30, 36 miles south, southeast of Las Vegas, which means we were all out in the Nevada desert surrounded by a million square feet of solar panels. So we were way out there.

Smith: Why the focus on energy, as opposed to other big economic issues like jobs, or housing?

Ryssdal: Because gas is $3.85 a gallon, that's why. And his Republican opponents are beating up on him about it; about him not being able to do more; about the fact that his energy policy has, in their words, "failed." And he realizes that for all you can say about the war in Afghanistan, for all you can say about international policy, this election will still hinge largely on economics. And the thing that's hitting people right now is paying $55 to fill up a tank of gas.

And what that actually does, Stacey, is that takes the payroll tax cut -- the tax cut that the president and the Republicans agreed on last year, that $40 a paycheck tax cut -- it takes it out of their pockets again. And the president sees that that's a bad thing for him politically, and so he wants to change perceptions.

Smith: And Kai, as strange as this may sound, I just have to ask: What's he like?

Ryssdal: He's taller than you think; he's about an inch taller than I am, which I don't think I expected... But you know, you don't get to have that job unless you are really good at talking and connecting to people. And you get that sense from the moment he starts shaking your hand. The man's the president of the United States, and it's an interesting moment when he's focusing his attention on you.

Smith: There you go. Words of wisdom from our own Kai Ryssdal. Kai, thanks very much.

Ryssdal: You bet.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

U.S. President Barack Obama (C) tours the Copper Mountain Solar Project, the largest photovoltaic plant operating in the country, March 21, 2012 in Boulder City, Nev.

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