Full Text Obama Presidency July 21, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Signing of Executive Order on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Signing of Executive Order on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

Source: WH, 7-21-14 

East Room

10:39 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House, everybody.  I know I’m a little late.  But that’s okay because we’ve got some big business to do here.

Many of you have worked for a long time to see this day coming.  You organized, you spoke up, you signed petitions, you sent letters — I know because I got a lot of them.  (Laughter.) And now, thanks to your passionate advocacy and the irrefutable rightness of your cause, our government — government of the people, by the people, and for the people — will become just a little bit fairer.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America, millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do, but because of who they are –  lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender.  And that’s wrong.  We’re here to do what we can to make it right — to bend that arc of justice just a little bit in a better direction.

In a few moments, I will sign an executive order that does two things.  First, the federal government already prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  Once I sign this order, the same will be explicitly true for gender identity.  (Applause.)

And second, we’re going to prohibit all companies that receive a contract from the federal government from discriminating against their LGBT employees.  (Applause.)    America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.

Now, this executive order is part of a long bipartisan tradition.  President Roosevelt signed an order prohibiting racial discrimination in the national defense industry.  President Eisenhower strengthened it.  President Johnson expanded it.  Today, I’m going to expand it again.

Currently, 18 states have already banned workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  And over 200 cities and localities have done the same.  Governor Terry McAuliffe is here; his first act as governor was to prohibit discrimination against LGBT employees of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  (Applause.)  Where did Terry go?  Right back here.

I’ve appointed a record number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender public servants to positions across my administration.  They are ambassadors and federal judges, special assistants, senior advisors from the Pentagon to the Labor Department.  Every day, their talent is put to work on behalf of the American people.

Equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, it turns out to be good business.  That’s why a majority of Fortune 500 companies already have nondiscrimination policies in place.  It is not just about doing the right thing — it’s also about attracting and retaining the best talent.  And there are several business leaders who are here today who will attest to that.

And yet, despite all that, in too many states and in too many workplaces, simply being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender can still be a fireable offense.  There are people here today who’ve lost their jobs for that reason.  This is not speculative, this is not a matter of political correctness — people lose their jobs as a consequence of this.  Their livelihoods are threatened, their families are threatened.  In fact, more states now allow same-sex marriage than prohibit discrimination against LGBT workers.  So I firmly believe that it’s time to address this injustice for every American.

Now, Congress has spent 40 years — four decades — considering legislation that would help solve the problem.  That’s a long time.  And yet they still haven’t gotten it done.  Senators Terry [Tammy] Baldwin and Jeff Merkley are here.  They have been champions of this issue for a long, long time.  We are very proud of them.  I know they will not stop fighting until fair treatment for all workers is the federal law of the land.  Everyone thanks them for that.  (Applause.)

But I’m going to do what I can, with the authority I have, to act.  The rest of you, of course, need to keep putting pressure on Congress to pass federal legislation that resolves this problem once and for all.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen!

THE PRESIDENT:  Amen.  Amen.  (Applause.)  Got the “amen” corner here.  (Laughter.)  Well — (sings) — (laughter.)  You don’t want to get me preaching, now.  (Laughter.)

For more than two centuries, we have strived, often at great cost, to form “a more perfect union” — to make sure that “we, the people” applies to all the people.  Many of us are only here because others fought to secure rights and opportunities for us. And we’ve got a responsibility to do the same for future generations.  We’ve got an obligation to make sure that the country we love remains a place where no matter who you are, or what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started out, or what your last name is, or who you love — no matter what, you can make it in this country.

That’s the story of America.  That’s the story of this movement.  I want to thank all of you for doing your part.  We’ve got a long way to go, but I hope as everybody looks around this room, you are reminded of the extraordinary progress that we have made not just in our lifetimes, but in the last five years.  In the last two years.  (Applause.)  In the last one year.  (Applause.)  We’re on the right side of history.

I’m going to sign this executive order.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

(The executive order is signed.)

END
10:47 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 9, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Executive Order Signing Easing Student Loan Debt

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Opportunity for All: Making College More Affordable

Source: WH, 6-9-14

1:51 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Everybody have a seat.  Welcome to the White House.  And I want to thank Andy for the terrific introduction.  And this is commencement season, and it’s always a hopeful and exciting time, and I’ll bet we might have some folks who just graduated here today.  Raise your hands.  Let’s see — yes, we’ve got a couple of folks who are feeling pretty good.  (Laughter.)

Of course, once the glow wears off, this can be a stressful time for millions of students.  And they’re asking themselves, how on Earth am I going to pay off all these student loans?  And that’s what we’re here to talk about.  And Andy I think gave a vivid example of what’s going through the minds of so many young people who have the drive and the energy and have succeeded in everything that they do but because of family circumstances have found themselves in a situation where they’ve got significant debt.

Now, we know, all of you know, that in a 21st century economy, a higher education is the single best investment that you can make in yourselves and your future, and we’ve got to make sure that investment pays off.

And here’s why:  For 51 months in a row, our businesses have created new jobs — 9.4 million new jobs in total.  And over the last year, we’ve averaged around 200,000 new jobs every month.  That’s the good news.  But while those at the top are doing better than ever, average wages have barely budged.  And there are too many Americans out there that are working harder and harder just to get by.

Everything I do is aimed towards reversing those trends that put a greater burden on the middle class and are diminishing the number of ladders to get into the middle class, because the central tenet of my presidency, partly because of the story of my life and Michelle’s life, is this is a country where opportunity should be available for anybody — the idea that no matter who you are, what you look like, where you come from, how you were raised, who you love, if you’re willing to work hard, if you’re willing to live up to your responsibilities, you can make it here in America.

And in America, higher education opens the doors of opportunity for all.  And it doesn’t have to be a four-year college education.  We’ve got community colleges, we’ve got technical schools, but we know that some higher education, some additional skills is going to be your surest path to the middle class.  The typical American with a bachelor’s degree or higher earns over $28,000 more per year than somebody with just a high school education — 28 grand a year.  And right now, the unemployment rate for workers with a bachelor’s degree is about half of what it is for folks with just a high school education.

So you know that this is a smart investment.  Your parents know this is a smart investment.  That’s why so many of them made such big sacrifices to make sure that you could get into college, and nagged you throughout your high school years.  (Laughter.)

Here’s the problem:  At a time when higher education has never been more important, it’s also never been more expensive.  Over the last three decades, the average tuition at a public university has more than tripled.  At the same time, the typical family’s income has gone up just 16 percent.

Michelle and I both went to college because of loans and grants and the work that we did.   But I’ll be honest with you — now, I’m old, I’ve got to admit — (laughter) — but when I got out of school, it took me about a year to pay off my entire undergraduate education.  That was it.  And I went to a private school; I didn’t even go to a public school.  So as recently as the ‘70s, the ‘80s, when you made a commitment to college, you weren’t anticipating that you’d have this massive debt on the back end.

Now, when I went to law school it was a different story.  But that made sense because the idea was if you got a professional degree like a law degree, you would probably be able to pay it off.  And so I didn’t feel sorry for myself or any lawyers who took on law school debt.

But compare that experience just half a generation, a generation ago to what kids are going through now.  These rising costs have left middle-class families feeling trapped.  Let’s be honest:  Families at the top, they can easily save more than enough money to pay for school out of pocket.  Families at the bottom face a lot of obstacles, but they can turn to federal programs designed to help them handle costs.  But you’ve got a lot of middle-class families who can’t build up enough savings, don’t qualify for support, feel like nobody is looking out for them.  And as Andy just described vividly, heaven forbid that the equity in their home gets used up for some other family emergency, or, as we saw in 2008, suddenly home values sink, and then people feel like they’re left in the lurch.

So I’m only here because this country gave me a chance through education.  We are here today because we believe that in America, no hardworking young person should be priced out of a higher education.

This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of young people willing to work for it.  I mentioned my generation, but think about my grandfather’s generation.  I just came back from Normandy, where we celebrated D-Day.  When that generation of young people came back from World War II, at least the men, my grandfather was able to go to college on the GI Bill.  And that helped build the greatest middle class the world has ever known.

Grants helped my mother raise two kids by herself while she got through school.  And she didn’t have $75,000 worth of debt, and she was raising two kids at the same time.  Neither Michelle or I came from a lot of money, but with hard work, and help from scholarships and student loans, we got to go to great schools.  We did not have this kind of burden that we’re seeing, at least at the undergraduate stages.  As I said, because of law school, we only finished paying off our own student loans just 10 years ago.  So we know what many of you are going through or look forward — or don’t look forward to.  (Laughter.)  And we were doing it at the same time — we already had to start saving for Malia and Sasha’s education.

But this is why I feel so strongly about this.  This is why I’m passionate about it.  That’s why we took on a student loan system that basically gave away tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to big banks.  We said, let’s cut out the middle man.  Banks should be making a profit on what they do, but not off the backs of students.  We reformed it; more money went directly to students.  We expanded grants for low-income students through the Pell grant program.  We created a new tuition tax credit for middle-class families.  We offered millions of young people the chance to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income — that’s what Andy was referring to.  Michelle right now is working with students to help them “Reach Higher,” and overcome the obstacles that stand between them and graduation.  This is something we are deeply invested in.

But as long as college costs keep soaring, we can’t just keep throwing money at the problem.  We’re going to have to initiate reforms from the colleges themselves.  States have to invest more in higher education.  Historically, the reason we had such a great public education system, public higher education system was states understood we will benefit if we invest in higher education.  And somewhere along the line, they started thinking, we’ve got to invest more in prisons than we do in higher education.  And part of the reason that tuition has been jacked up year after year after year is state legislators are not prioritizing this.  They’re passing the costs onto taxpayers.  It’s not sustainable.

So that’s why I laid out a plan to shake up our higher education system and encourage colleges to finally bring down college costs.  And I proposed new rules to make sure for-profit colleges keep their promises and train students with the skills for today’s jobs without saddling them with debt.  Too many of these for-profit colleges — some do a fine job, but many of them recruit kids in, the kids don’t graduate, but they’re left with the debt.  And if they do graduate, too often they don’t have the marketable skills they need to get the job that allows them to service the debt.

None of these fights have been easy.  All of them have been worth it.  You’ve got some outstanding members of Congress right here who have been fighting right alongside us to make sure that we are giving you a fair shake.  And the good news is, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  And that’s something we should be proud of, and that’s something we should celebrate.

But more of them are graduating with debt.  Despite everything we’re doing, we’re still seeing too big a debt load on too many young people.  A large majority of today’s college seniors have taken out loans to pay for school.  The average borrower at a four-year college owes nearly $30,000 by graduation day.  Americans now owe more on student loans than they do on credit cards.  And the outrage here is that they’re just doing what they’ve been told they’re supposed to do.  I can’t tell you how many letters I get from people who say I did everything I was supposed to and now I’m finding myself in a situation where I’ve got debts I can’t pay off, and I want to pay them off, and I’m working really hard, but I just can’t make ends meet.

If somebody plays by the rules, they shouldn’t be punished for it.  A young woman named Ashley, in Santa Fe, wrote me a letter a few months ago.  And Ashley wanted me to know that she’s young, she’s ambitious, she’s proud of the degree she earned.  And she said, “I am the future” — she put “am” in capital letters so that I’d know she means business.  (Laughter.)  And she told me that because of her student loan debt, she’s worried she’ll never be able to buy a car or a house.  She wrote, “I’m not even 30, and I’ve given up on my future because I can’t afford to have one.”  I wrote her back and said it’s a little early in your 20s to give up.  (Laughter.)  So I’m sure Ashley was trying to make a point, but it’s a point that all of us need to pay attention to.  In America, no young person who works hard and plays by the rules should feel that way.

Now, I’ve made it clear that I want to work with Congress on this issue.  Unfortunately, a generation of young people can’t afford to wait for Congress to get going.  The members of Congress who are here are working very hard and putting forward legislation to try to make this stuff happen, but they have not gotten some of the support that they need.  In this year of action, wherever I’ve seen ways I can act on my own to expand opportunity to more Americans, I have.  And today, I’m going to take three actions to help more young people pay off their student loan debt.

Number one, I’m directing our Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, to give more Americans who are already making their loan payments a chance to cap those payments at 10 percent of their income.  We call it “Pay As You Earn.”  We know it works, because we’ve already offered it to millions of young people.  It’s saving folks like Andy hundreds of dollars potentially every month. It’s giving graduates the opportunity to pursue the dreams that inspired them to go to school in the first place, and that’s good for everybody.  And we want more young people to start their own businesses.  We want more young people becoming teachers and nurses and social workers.  We want young people to be in a position to pursue their dreams.  And we want more young people who act responsibly to be able to manage their debt over time.  So we’re announcing steps that will open up “Pay As You Earn” to nearly 5 million more Americans.  That’s the first action we’re taking today.

The second action is to renegotiate contracts with private companies like Sallie Mae that service our student loans.  And we’re going to make it clear that these companies are in the business of helping students, not just collecting payments, and they owe young people the customer service, and support, and financial flexibility that they deserve.  That’s number two.

Number three — we’re doing more to help every borrower know all the options that are out there, so that they can pick the one that’s right for them.  So we’re going to work with the teachers’ associations, and the nurses’ associations, with business groups; with the YMCA, and non-profits and companies like TurboTax and H&R Block.  And tomorrow, I’m going to do a student loan Q&A with Tumblr to help spread the word — you’re laughing because you think, what does he know about Tumblr?  (Laughter.)  But you will recall that I have two teenage daughters so that I am hip to all these things.  (Laughter.)  Plus I have all these twenty-somethings who are working for me all the time.  (Laughter.)

But to give even more student borrowers the chance to save money requires action from Congress.  I’m going to be signing this executive order.  It’s going to make progress, but not enough.  We need more.  We’ve got to have Congress to make some progress.  Now, the good news is, as I said, there are some folks in Congress who want to do it.  There are folks here like Jim Clyburn, John Tierney, who are helping lead this fight in the House.  We’ve got Elizabeth Warren, who’s leading this fight in the Senate.  Elizabeth has written a bill that would let students refinance their loans at today’s lower interest rates, just like their parents can refinance a mortgage.  It pays for itself by closing loopholes that allow some millionaires to pay a lower tax rate than middle-class families.

I don’t know, by the way, why folks aren’t more outraged about this.  I’m going to take a pause out of my prepared text.  You would think that if somebody like me has done really well in part because the country has invested in them, that they wouldn’t mind at least paying the same rate as a teacher or a nurse.  There’s not a good economic argument for it, that they should pay a lower rate.  It’s just clout, that’s all.  So it’s bad enough that that’s already happening.  It would be scandalous if we allowed those kinds of tax loopholes for the very, very fortunate to survive while students are having trouble just getting started in their lives.

So you’ve got a pretty straightforward bill here.  And this week, Congress will vote on that bill.  And I want Americans to pay attention to see where their lawmakers’ priorities lie here:  lower tax bills for millionaires, or lower student loan bills for the middle class.

This should be a no-brainer.  You’ve got a group of far-right Republicans in Congress who push this trickle-down economic plan, telling hard-working students and families, “You’re on your own.”  Two years ago, Republicans in Congress nearly let student loan interest rates double for 7 million young people.  Last year, they tried to strip protections from lower-income students.  This year, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to slash Pell grants and make it harder for thousands of families to afford college.  If you’re a big oil company, they’ll go to bat for you.  If you’re a student, good luck.

Some of these Republicans in Congress seem to believe that it’s just because — that just because some of the young people behind me need some help, that they’re not trying hard enough.  They don’t get it.  Maybe they need to talk to Andy.  These students worked hard to get where they are today.

Shanelle Roberson — where is Shanelle?  Shanelle is the first in her family to graduate from a four-year college.  (Applause.)  Shanelle is not asking for a handout, none of these folks are.  They’re working hard.  They’re working while they’re going to school.  They’re doing exactly what we told them they should do.  But they want a chance.  If they do exactly what they’re told they should do, that they’re not suddenly loaded up where they’ve got so much debt that they can’t buy a house, they can’t think about starting a family, they can’t imagine starting a business on their own.

I’ve been in politics long enough to hear plenty of people, from both parties, pay lip service to the next generation, and then they abandon them when it counts.  And we, the voters, let it happen.  This is something that should be really straightforward, just like the minimum wage should be straightforward, just like equal pay for equal work should be straightforward.  And one of the things I want all the voters out there to consider, particularly parents who are struggling trying to figure out how am I going to pay my kid’s college education, take a look and see who is that’s fighting for you and your kids, and who is it that’s not.  Because if there are no consequences, then this kind of irresponsible behavior continues on the part of members of Congress.

So I ran for this office to help more young people go to college, graduate, and pay off their debt.  And we’ve made some really good progress despite the best efforts of some in Congress to block that progress.  Think about how much more we could do if they were not standing in the way.

This week, they have a chance to help millions of young people.  I hope they do.  You should let them know you are watching and paying attention to what they do.  If they do not look out for you, and then throw up a whole bunch of arguments that are meant to obfuscate — meaning confuse, rather than to clarify and illuminate — (laughter) — then you should call them to account.  And in the meantime, I’m going to take these actions today on behalf of all these young people here, and every striving young American who shares my belief that this is a place where you can still make it if you try.

Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.

END
2:12 P.M. EDT

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Full Text Obama Presidency January 17, 2014: President Barack Obama Speech at Appropriations, 2014 Spending Bill Signing

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Appropriations Bill Signing

Source: WH, 1-17-13 

New Executive Office Building
Washington, D.C.

5:05 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Have a seat, have a seat.  Now, this is not usually where I do bill signings.  (Laughter.)  But in addition to the opportunity to take a walk — and whenever I get a chance to take a walk I seize it — we wanted to make sure that we did this bill signing here because it represents the extraordinary work of so many of you.

Obviously, over the last several years, we’ve been dealing with the need to recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.  And that involved making sure we were investing in, first and foremost, the American people; that we were helping businesses stay open; that we were helping to make sure the financial system was back on track — that we reformed it so that we wouldn’t see the kind of crisis that we saw again; and most importantly, that we did everything we can to lay the foundation so that we have a middle class in this country that is thriving and growing, and we’ve got ladders of opportunity for everybody who wants to work hard and get ahead.

And we’ve made remarkable progress over the last five years, but we have not made enough.  Part of the reason we hadn’t made as much progress as we needed to was we had a series of self-inflicted wounds in this town in which a mindless sequester impeded growth, in which we were governing by crisis and brinksmanship.  And not only did that slow our ability to generate a full recovery, and not only did that hamper economic growth, but it also had an enormous impact on all of you.  And I know the Office of Management and Budget was one of the hardest hit during the sequester and a lot of you were furloughed.  A lot of you who remained during some of these furloughs had to carry extraordinary burdens, and so it took a personal toll on you and it took a personal toll on your family.

And yet, in part because of your dedication and your strength and your devotion to doing your jobs well, in part because of the strong leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congressman Rogers — Chairman Rogers, we now have a bill that will fund our government, all our vital services, make sure that we are able to provide the needs for our veterans; to make sure that we are doing everything we need to do to advance our research agenda in this country and innovate; to make sure that we’re investing in the job training that young people desperately need in order to get the skills to find that good-paying job.

Across the board, our government is going to be operating without hopefully too many glitches over the next year.  And not only is that good for all of you and all the dedicated public servants in the federal government, but most importantly, it’s good for the American people because it means that we can focus our attention where we need to — on growing this economy and making sure that everybody gets a fair shot as long as they try.

We would not be here and we would not be able to sign this legislation if it hadn’t been for your work and your dedication.  And so this is my way of saying thank you.  I want to say thank you to Sylvia and Brian and the whole team here, and everybody represented because, goodness gracious, that is a big piece of business.  (Laughter.)  That is a big bill.  (Laughter.)  And I’m always interested and I’m like, where do they have the boxes for the really big ones?  (Laughter.)  Somebody makes them.

But what that represents is just hours and hours and weekends and nights where people are really paying attention and sweating the details.  And that’s what you do.  So these aren’t numbers; these are homeless folks who are getting housing.  These are a laid-off worker who suddenly is enrolling in that community college and finding that job that allows them to save a home and get back on track.  That’s some young scientist who is maybe going to find a cure for cancer or Alzheimer’s.  That’s what those numbers represent.  And that’s because of you.

So thank you for your good work.  And without further delay, so you guys can start your weekends — (laughter) — and I’ve got to get back because somebody is having a birthday today.  (Laughter.)  I’ve got to make sure I pay them some attention.  I’m going to go ahead and sit down and sign the bill.  (Applause.)

END
5:10 P.M. EST

Political Headlines November 18, 2013: Senate Republicans block Obama’s third Appeals Court nomination

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Source: NYT, 11-18-13

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Full Text Obama Presidency August 9, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Student Loans Bill Signing Ceremony in the Oval Office

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Student Loans Bill Signing

Source: WH, 8-9-13

President Barack Obama signs H.R. 1911, the "Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013" President Barack Obama signs H.R. 1911, the “Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013,” during a ceremony in the Oval Office, Aug. 9, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

President Obama signs the “Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013

Oval Office
2:21 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, before I sign this, I just want to say thank you to this extraordinary coalition that helped make this signing possible.  I want to thank Chairman Kline, all the members of both House and Senate from both parties that came together to design a sensible, common-sense approach to keeping student interest rates at a reasonable level so that young people have a better opportunity to go to college, get the education that they need not only to better their own lives but also to strengthen the country’s economy.
And I want to thank the advocates, including some of the young people I suspect will be benefiting from lower student loans — or lower student loan interest rates — because without their voice, without their participation, we probably would not have gotten this bill done.
Last point I’ll make, and I suspect the Senators and Congressmen behind me will agree with this, even though we’ve been able to stabilize the interest rates on student loans, our job is not done, because the cost of college remains extraordinarily high.  It’s out of reach for a lot of folks, and for those who do end up attending college, the amount of debt that young people are coming out of school with is a huge burden on them; it’s a burden on their families.  It makes it more difficult for them to buy a home.  It makes it more difficult for them if they want to start a business.  It has a depressive effect on the economy overall.  And we’ve got to do something about it.
So I’m going to be looking forward to engaging this same coalition to see if we can continue to take additional steps to reform our higher education system, and I’ll have some more things to say about that in the weeks to come.
But for now, I want to celebrate what we accomplished here, and again, thank everybody here for their leadership in getting it done.
(The bill is signed.)
Those of you who haven’t seen me do this before — (laughter) — it is a real art form.  (Laughter.)
SENATOR DURBIN:  Thank you, Mr. President — I remember the 90-minute seminar in this office.  (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT:  It was very interesting.  (Laughter.)
It feels good signing bills — I haven’t done this in a while.  (Laughter.)  Hint, hint.  Hint, hint.  (Laughter.)
SENATOR DURBIN:  How about a budget, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT:  There you go.  That’s what I’m talking about.  (Laughter.)
All right, thank you, everybody.
END
2:25 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines July 24, 2013: House of Representatives Defeats Effort to Limit NSA Data Gathering in a Vote of 217-205

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

House Defeats Effort to Rein In N.S.A. Data Gathering

Source: NYT, 7-24-13

The 217-205 vote was far closer than expected and displayed the shifting allegiances and fierce lobbying on both sides of the issue….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 19, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Trayvon Martin Verdict

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Trayvon Martin

Source: WH, 7- 19-13

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:33 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  I wanted to come out here, first of all, to tell you that Jay is prepared for all your questions and is very much looking forward to the session.  The second thing is I want to let you know that over the next couple of weeks, there’s going to obviously be a whole range of issues — immigration, economics, et cetera — we’ll try to arrange a fuller press conference to address your questions.

The reason I actually wanted to come out today is not to take questions, but to speak to an issue that obviously has gotten a lot of attention over the course of the last week — the issue of the Trayvon Martin ruling.  I gave a preliminary statement right after the ruling on Sunday.  But watching the debate over the course of the last week, I thought it might be useful for me to expand on my thoughts a little bit.

First of all, I want to make sure that, once again, I send my thoughts and prayers, as well as Michelle’s, to the family of Trayvon Martin, and to remark on the incredible grace and dignity with which they’ve dealt with the entire situation.  I can only imagine what they’re going through, and it’s remarkable how they’ve handled it.

The second thing I want to say is to reiterate what I said on Sunday, which is there’s going to be a lot of arguments about the legal issues in the case — I’ll let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those issues.  The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner.  The prosecution and the defense made their arguments.  The juries were properly instructed that in a case such as this reasonable doubt was relevant, and they rendered a verdict.  And once the jury has spoken, that’s how our system works.  But I did want to just talk a little bit about context and how people have responded to it and how people are feeling.

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven’t had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven’t had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me — at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven’t had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.

And I don’t want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn’t to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that’s unacknowledged adds to the frustration.  And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

I think the African American community is also not naïve in understanding that, statistically, somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.  So folks understand the challenges that exist for African American boys.  But they get frustrated, I think, if they feel that there’s no context for it and that context is being denied. And that all contributes I think to a sense that if a white male teen was involved in the same kind of scenario, that, from top to bottom, both the outcome and the aftermath might have been different.

Now, the question for me at least, and I think for a lot of folks, is where do we take this?  How do we learn some lessons from this and move in a positive direction?  I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent.  If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.  But beyond protests or vigils, the question is, are there some concrete things that we might be able to do.

I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it’s important for people to have some clear expectations here.  Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government, the criminal code.  And law enforcement is traditionally done at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels.

That doesn’t mean, though, that as a nation we can’t do some things that I think would be productive.  So let me just give a couple of specifics that I’m still bouncing around with my staff, so we’re not rolling out some five-point plan, but some areas where I think all of us could potentially focus.

Number one, precisely because law enforcement is often determined at the state and local level, I think it would be productive for the Justice Department, governors, mayors to work with law enforcement about training at the state and local levels in order to reduce the kind of mistrust in the system that sometimes currently exists.

When I was in Illinois, I passed racial profiling legislation, and it actually did just two simple things.  One, it collected data on traffic stops and the race of the person who was stopped.  But the other thing was it resourced us training police departments across the state on how to think about potential racial bias and ways to further professionalize what they were doing.

And initially, the police departments across the state were resistant, but actually they came to recognize that if it was done in a fair, straightforward way that it would allow them to do their jobs better and communities would have more confidence in them and, in turn, be more helpful in applying the law.  And obviously, law enforcement has got a very tough job.

So that’s one area where I think there are a lot of resources and best practices that could be brought to bear if state and local governments are receptive.  And I think a lot of them would be.  And let’s figure out are there ways for us to push out that kind of training.

Along the same lines, I think it would be useful for us to examine some state and local laws to see if it — if they are designed in such a way that they may encourage the kinds of altercations and confrontations and tragedies that we saw in the Florida case, rather than diffuse potential altercations.

I know that there’s been commentary about the fact that the “stand your ground” laws in Florida were not used as a defense in the case.  On the other hand, if we’re sending a message as a society in our communities that someone who is armed potentially has the right to use those firearms even if there’s a way for them to exit from a situation, is that really going to be contributing to the kind of peace and security and order that we’d like to see?

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these “stand your ground” laws, I’d just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk?  And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?  And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.

Number three — and this is a long-term project — we need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys.  And this is something that Michelle and I talk a lot about.  There are a lot of kids out there who need help who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement.  And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?

I’m not naïve about the prospects of some grand, new federal program.  I’m not sure that that’s what we’re talking about here. But I do recognize that as President, I’ve got some convening power, and there are a lot of good programs that are being done across the country on this front.  And for us to be able to gather together business leaders and local elected officials and clergy and celebrities and athletes, and figure out how are we doing a better job helping young African American men feel that they’re a full part of this society and that they’ve got pathways and avenues to succeed — I think that would be a pretty good outcome from what was obviously a tragic situation.  And we’re going to spend some time working on that and thinking about that.

And then, finally, I think it’s going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching.  There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race.  I haven’t seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations.  They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have.  On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there’s the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can?  Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?  That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don’t want us to lose sight that things are getting better.  Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race.  It doesn’t mean we’re in a post-racial society.  It doesn’t mean that racism is eliminated.  But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they’re better than we are — they’re better than we were — on these issues.  And that’s true in every community that I’ve visited all across the country.

And so we have to be vigilant and we have to work on these issues.  And those of us in authority should be doing everything we can to encourage the better angels of our nature, as opposed to using these episodes to heighten divisions.  But we should also have confidence that kids these days, I think, have more sense than we did back then, and certainly more than our parents did or our grandparents did; and that along this long, difficult journey, we’re becoming a more perfect union — not a perfect union, but a more perfect union.

Thank you, guys.

END
1:52 P.M. EDT

Political Musings July 12, 2013: House passes farm spending bill without food stamps, White House promises veto

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

House passes farm spending bill without food stamps, White House promises veto

By Bonnie K. Goodman

On Thursday, July 11, 2013, the House of Representatives passed the farm spending bill, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 by a vote 216-208. The new bill however, has quickly become a contentious issue since…READ MORE

Political Headlines July 12, 2013: House Immigration Reform Bill ‘Includes a Pathway to Citizenship’

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Becerra: House Immigration Reform Bill ‘Includes a Pathway to Citizenship’

Source: ABC News Radio, 7-12-13

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

A bipartisan immigration bill being drafted in the House will contain a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, one of the authors said on Friday.

Lawmakers working on the bill, known as the Gang of Seven, have refused to say when they plan to unveil it. But this is the first time one of the drafters has said the product will allow undocumented immigrants to earn full citizenship, and not just legal status….READ MORE

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