Full Text Obama Presidency August 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Press Conference After U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Press Conference After U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Source: WH, 8-6-14 

State Department
Washington, D.C.

6:14 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  As I think everyone knows by now, this first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit has been the largest gathering we’ve ever hosted with African heads of state and government — and that includes about 50 motorcades.  So I want to begin by thanking the people of Washington, D.C. for helping us host this historic event — and especially for their patience with the traffic.

As I’ve said, this summit reflects the reality that even as Africa continues to face great challenges we’re also seeing the emergence of a new, more prosperous Africa.  Africa’s progress is being led by Africans, including leaders here today.  I want to take this opportunity again to thank my fellow leaders for being here.  Rather than a lot of prepared speeches, our sessions today were genuine discussions — a chance to truly listen and to try to come together around some pragmatic steps that we can take together.  And that’s what we’ve done this week.

First, we made important progress in expanding our trade.  The $33 billion in new trade and investments that I announced yesterday will help spur African development and support tens of thousands of American jobs.  With major new commitments to our Power Africa initiative, we’ve tripled our goal and now aim to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses.  And today I reiterated that we’ll continue to work with Congress to achieve a seamless and long-term renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

We agreed that Africa’s growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa, by Africans.  The leaders here pledged to step up efforts to pursue reforms that attract investment, reduce barriers that stifle trade — especially between African countries — and to promote regional integration. And as I announced yesterday, the United States will increase our support to help build Africa’s capacity to trade with itself and with the world.

Ultimately, Africa’s prosperity depends on Africa’s greatest resource — its people.  And I’ve been very encouraged by the desire of leaders here to partner with us in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through our Young African Leaders Initiative.  I think there’s an increasing recognition that if countries are going to reach their full economic potential, then they have to invest in women — their education, their skills, and protect them from gender-based violence.  And that was a topic of conversation this afternoon.  And this week the United States announced a range of initiatives to help empower women across Africa.

Our New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition continues to grow, aiming to lift 50 million Africans from poverty.  In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we’ll work with 10 African countries to help them double the number of their children on lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs.  And even as the United States is deploying some of our medical first responders to West Africa to help control the Ebola outbreak, we’re also working to strengthen public health systems, including joining with the African Union to pursue the creation of an African Centers for Disease Control.

I also want to note that the American people are renewing their commitment to Africa.  Today, InterAction — the leading alliance of American NGOs — is announcing that over the next three years its members will invest $4 billion to promote maternal health, children’s health, and the delivery of vaccines and drugs.  So this is not just a government effort, it is also an effort that’s spurred on by the private sector.  Combined with the investments we announced yesterday — and the commitments made today at the symposium hosted by our spouses — that means this summit has helped to mobilize some $37 billion for Africa’s progress on top of, obviously, the substantial efforts that have been made in the past.

Second, we addressed good governance, which is a foundation of economic growth and free societies.  Some African nations are making impressive progress.  But we see troubling restrictions on universal rights.  So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies, and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities.  And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.

In particular, we agreed to step up our collective efforts against the corruption that costs African economies tens of billions of dollars every year — money that ought to be invested in the people of Africa.  Several leaders raised the idea of a new partnership to combat illicit finance, and there was widespread agreement.  So we decided to convene our experts and develop an action plan to promote the transparency that is essential to economic growth.

Third, we’re deepening our security cooperation to meet common threats, from terrorism to human trafficking.  We’re launching a new Security Governance Initiative to help our African countries continue to build strong, professional security forces to provide for their own security.  And we’re starting with Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Tunisia.

During our discussions, our West African partners made it clear that they want to increase their capacity to respond to crises.  So the United States will launch a new effort to bolster the regions early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises.

We also agreed to make significant new investments in African peacekeeping.  The United States will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic.  We will support the African Union’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions.  And most importantly, we’re launching a new African peacekeeping rapid response partnership with the goal of quickly deploying African peacekeepers in support of U.N. or AU missions.  And we’ll join with six countries that in recent years have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers — Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda.  And we’re going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa.

In closing, I just want to say that this has been an extraordinary event, an extraordinary summit.  Given the success that we’ve had this week, we agreed that summits like this can be a critical part of our work together going forward, a forcing mechanism for decisions and action.  So we agreed that the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will be a recurring event to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and to sustain our momentum.  And I’ll strongly encourage my successor to carry on this work, because Africa must know that they will always have a strong and reliable partner in the United States of America.

So with that, I’m going to take a couple of questions.  I’m going to start with Julie Pace of Associated Press.  Where’s Julie?  There she is.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding this summit about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  And there’s an untested and unapproved drug in the U.S. that appears to be helping some of the Americans who are infected.  Is your administration considering at all sending supplies of this drug if it becomes available to some of these countries in West Africa?  And could you discuss a bit the ethics of either providing an untested drug to a foreign country, or providing it only to Americans and not to other countries that are harder hit if it could possibly save lives?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think we’ve got to let the science guide us.  And I don’t think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful.  What we do know is that the Ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place.

And the countries that have been affected are the first to admit that what’s happened here is, is that their public health systems have been overwhelmed.  They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough.  You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and public health workers.  As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that have occurred previously.

But despite obviously the extraordinary pain and hardship of the families and persons who’ve been affected, and despite the fact that we have to take this very seriously, it is important to remind ourselves this is not an airborne disease; this is one that can be controlled and contained very effectively if we use the right protocols.

So what we’ve done is to make sure that we’re surging not just U.S. resources, but we’ve reached out to European partners and partners from other countries, working with the WHO.  Let’s get all the health workers that we need on the ground.  Let’s help to bolster the systems that they already have in place. Let’s nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease.  And then during the course of that process, I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease.

So we’re going to — we’re focusing on the public health approach right now because we know how to do that.  But I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning with respect to these drugs going forward.

Q    If this drug proves to be effective, would you support fast-tracking its approval in the United States?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think it’s premature for me to say that because I don’t have enough information.  I don’t have enough data right now to offer an opinion on that.

Jon Karl, ABC News.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  When you were running for President, you said, “The biggest problems we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all.  And that’s what I intend to reverse.”  So my question to you — has Congress’s inability to do anything significant given you a green light to push the limits of executive power, even a duty to do so?  Or put another way — does it bother you more to be accused of being an imperial President, pushing those limits, or to be accused of being a do-nothing President who couldn’t get anything done because he faced a dysfunctional Congress?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I think that I never have a green light.  I’m bound by the Constitution; I’m bound by separation of powers.  There are some things we can’t do.

Congress has the power of the purse, for example.  I would love to fund a large infrastructure proposal right now that would put millions of people to work and boost our GDP.  We know we’ve got roads and bridges and airports and electrical grids that need to be rebuilt.  But without the cooperation of Congress, what I can do is speed up the permitting process, for example.  I can make sure that we’re working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much-needed projects.  But ultimately, Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don’t have a green light.

What I am consistently going to do is, wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress on behalf of middle-class Americans and folks working to get into the middle class, whether it’s by making sure that federal contractors are paying a fair wage to their workers, making sure that women have the opportunity to make sure that they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job, where I have the capacity to expand some of the student loan programs that we’ve already put in place so that repayments are a little more affordable for college graduates — I’m going to seize those opportunities.  And that’s what I think the American people expect me to do.

My preference in all these instances is to work with Congress, because not only can Congress do more, but it’s going to be longer-lasting.  And when you look at, for example, congressional inaction, and in particular, the inaction on the part of House Republicans, when it comes to immigration reform, here’s an area where, as I’ve said before, not only the American people want to see action, not only is there 80 percent overlap between what Republicans say they want and Democrats say they want, we actually passed a bill out of the Senate that was bipartisan.

And in those circumstances, what the American people expect is that, despite the differences between the parties, there should at least be the capacity to move forward on things we agree on.  And that’s not what we’re seeing right now.  So in the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is scour our authorities to try to make progress.

And we’re going to make sure that every time we take one of these steps that we are working within the confines of my executive power.  But I promise you the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done.  Even as we take these executive actions, I’m going to continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans — to the Speaker, to the leadership on both sides and in both chambers — to try to come up with formulas where we can make progress, even if it’s incremental.

Q    Do you believe you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally, as some of your supporters have suggested?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I certainly recognize with respect to immigration reform — and I’ve said this in the past — is that we have a broken system; it’s under-resourced; and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources.

So if I’m going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that’s coming from someplace else, and we’re going to have to prioritize.  That’s well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion.

My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law.  And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems.  Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choice.  That’s what I was elected to do.

Margaret Talev, Bloomberg.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Along the lines of executive authority, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has previously said that the executive branch of government doesn’t have the authority to slow or stop corporate inversions, the practice that you have called distasteful, unpatriotic, et cetera.  But now he is reviewing options to do so.  And this is an issue that a lot of business, probably including some of the ones who were paying a lot of attention to this summit, are interested in.  So what I wanted to ask you was, what prompted this apparent reversal?  What actions are now under consideration?  Will you consider an executive order that would limit or ban such companies from getting federal contracts?  And how soon would you like to see Treasury act, given Congress’s schedule?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Just to review why we’re concerned here. You have accountants going to some big corporations — multinational corporations but that are clearly U.S.-based and have the bulk of their operations in the United States — and these accountants are saying, you know what, we found a great loophole — if you just flip your citizenship to another country, even though it’s just a paper transaction, we think we can get you out of paying a whole bunch of taxes.

Well, it’s not fair.  It’s not right.  The lost revenue to Treasury means it’s got to be made up somewhere, and that typically is going to be a bunch of hardworking Americans who either pay through higher taxes themselves or through reduced services.  And in the meantime, the company is still using all the services and all the benefits of effectively being a U.S. corporation; they just decided that they’d go through this paper exercise.

So there is legislation working its way through Congress that would eliminate some of these tax loopholes entirely.  And it’s true what Treasury Secretary Lew previously said, that we can’t solve the entire problem administratively.  But what we are doing is examining are there elements to how existing statutes are interpreted by rule or by regulation or tradition or practice that can at least discourage some of the folks who may be trying to take advantage of this loophole.

And I think it’s something that would really bother the average American, the idea that somebody renounces their citizenship but continues to entirely benefit from operating in the United States of America just to avoid paying a whole bunch of taxes.

We’re reviewing all of our options.  As usual, and related to the answer I gave Jonathan about executive actions, my preference would always be for us to go ahead and get something done in Congress.  And keep in mind it’s still a small number of companies that are resorting to this, because I think most American companies are proud to be American, recognize the benefits of being American, and are responsible actors and willing to pay their fair share of taxes to support all the benefits that they receive from being here.

But we don’t want to see this trend grow.  We don’t want companies who have up until now been playing by the rules suddenly looking over their shoulder and saying, you know what, some of our competitors are gaming the system and we need to do it, too.  That kind of herd mentality I think is something we want to avoid.  So we want to move quickly — as quickly as possible.

Q    Just to clarify, the federal contracting seems like an area that you’ve liked.  It’s worked well for you on issues like promoting gay rights, or contraception policy.  Is it fair to assume that that would — attaching this to federal contractors would be the first thing you would think of?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Margaret, I’m not going to announce specifics in dribs and drabs.  When we’ve done a thorough evaluation and we understand what our authorities are, I’ll let you know.

Chris Jansing, NBC News.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Russia said today that it is going to ban food and agricultural product imports.  That was about $1.3 billion last year.  At the same time, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the massing of troops along the border of Ukraine increases the likelihood of an invasion.  Are sanctions not working?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, we don’t know yet whether sanctions are working.  Sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy.  That’s not my estimation; if you look at the markets and you look at estimates in terms of capital flight, if you look at projections for Russian growth, what you’re seeing is that the economy has ground to a halt.  Somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion of capital flight has taken place.  You’re not seeing a lot of investors coming in new to start businesses inside of Russia.

And it has presented the choice to President Putin as to whether he is going to try to resolve the issues in eastern Ukraine through diplomacy and peaceful means, recognizing that Ukraine is a sovereign country, and that it is up ultimately to the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives; or, alternatively, continue on the course that he’s on, in which case he’s going to be hurting his economy, and hurting his own people over the long term.

And in that sense, we are doing exactly what we should be doing.  And we’re very pleased that our European allies and partners joined us in this process, as well as a number of countries around the world.

Having said all that, the issue is not resolved yet.  You still have fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Civilians are still dying.  We’ve already seen some of the consequences of this conflict in the loss of the Malaysian Airlines airliner — or jetliner.

And the sooner that we can get back on a track in which there are serious discussions taking place to ensure that all Ukrainians are heard, that they can work through the political process, that they’re represented, that the reforms that have already been offered by the government in Kyiv are implemented to protect Russian speakers, to assure decentralization of power — the sooner that we move on those, and the sooner that President Putin recognizes that Ukraine is an independent country, it’s only at that point where we can say that the problem has truly been solved.  But in the meantime, sanctions are working the way they’re supposed to.

Q    The troops that are massing on the border are more highly trained.  They seem to have more sophisticated weaponry, according to intelligence.  Does that make you reconsider — as a few Democrats have suggested — providing lethal aid to Ukraine, given those troop movements?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, keep in mind that the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army.  So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry.  At least up until this point, they’ve been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence but who can’t match the Ukrainian army.

Now, if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions.  We’re not there yet.  What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.

But the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track.

David Ohito, The Standard.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You have been hosting African kings, prime ministers and presidents for the last three days.  But back home in Africa, media freedom is under threat.  The work of journalists is becoming increasingly difficult.  In Egypt, our Al Jazeera colleagues are in jail.  In Ethiopia, dozens of journalists are in prison.  In Kenya, they have passed very bad laws targeting the media.  What can the international community do to ensure that we have a strong media in Africa and, more importantly, to secure the release of the journalists who are behind bars?

And, two, so many countries in Africa are facing threats of terror.  I’m glad you’ve mentioned a few measures you’re going to take.  But what can the international community do also to neutralize terror threats in Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya?  Could that be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, what was the last part of the question?

Q    Could the terror threats be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  Well, first of all, with respect to journalists in the media, the last session that we had on good governance emphasized that good governance means everybody has a voice, that government is transparent and, thereby, accountable.  And even though leaders don’t always like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursuing.

And so we have been very consistent in pushing governments not just in Africa, but around the world, to respect the right of journalists to practice their trade as a critical part of civil society and a critical part of any democratic norm.  The specific issue of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, we’ve been clear both publicly and privately that they should be released.  And we have been troubled by some of the laws that have been passed around the world that seem to restrict the ability of journalists to pursue stories or write stories.  We’ve also been disturbed by efforts to control the Internet.  Part of what’s happened over the last decade or two is that new media, new technology allow people to get information that previously would have never been accessible, or only to a few specialists.  And now people can punch something up on the Internet and pull up information that’s relevant to their own lives and their own societies and communities.  So we’re going to continue to push back against these efforts.

As is true on a whole range of issues — and I’ve said this in the past — many times we will work with countries even though they’re not perfect on every issue.  And we find that in some cases engaging a country that generally is a good partner but is not performing optimally when it comes to all of the various categories of human rights, that we can be effective by working with them on certain areas, and criticizing them and trying to elicit improvements in other areas.  And even among countries that generally have strong human rights records, there are areas where there are problems.  That’s true of the United States, by the way.

And so the good news — and we heard this in the summit — is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that’s not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it’s going to have an effect on economic development and growth.  Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term.  I believe that.

Now, with respect to terrorism, I think there’s uniform concern of terrorist infiltration in many countries throughout Africa.  Obviously, this is a concern that we have globally.  A lot of the initiatives that we put forward were designed to partner so that countries, first and foremost, can deal with these problems within their own borders or regionally.  And the United States doesn’t have a desire to expand and create a big footprint inside of Africa.  What we do want to make sure we can do is partner with the African Union, with ECOWAS, with individual countries to build up their capacity.

And one of the encouraging things in the sessions was a recognition that fighting terrorism also requires security forces that are professional, that are disciplined, that themselves are not engaging in human rights violations; that part of the lesson that we’ve all learned about terrorism is that it is possible in reaction to terrorism to actually accelerate the disease if the response is one that alienates populations or particular ethnic groups or particular religions.  And so the work that we’re doing, including the security initiatives that I announced today, I think can make a big difference in that direction.

It’s not just a matter of us providing better equipment or better training.  That’s a part of it, but part of it is also making sure that these security forces and the intelligence operations are coordinated and professional, and they’re not alienating populations.  The more we do that, the more effective we can be.

Last point I’ll make is, on good governance, one of the best inoculators against terrorist infiltration is a society in which everybody feels as if they have a stake in the existing order, and they feel that their grievances can be resolved through political means rather than through violence.  And so that’s just one more reason why good governance has to be part of the recipe that we use for a strong, stable and prosperous Africa.

Last question, Jérôme Cartillier.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Earlier today, the Israeli Prime Minister described the Gaza operation as “justified and proportionate.”  Do you agree with these two words?  And Israel and Hamas seems to be at odds over prolonging the cease-fire.  Are you hopeful the cease-fire — a true cease-fire can be achieved?  And what exact role can the U.S. play in the current talks going on in Cairo?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities.  And as a consequence, I have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do to prevent rockets from landing on population centers and, more recently, as we learned, preventing tunnels from being dug under their territory that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.  I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately siting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy.

Now, having said all that, I’ve also expressed my distress at what’s happened to innocent civilians, including women and children, during the course of this process.  And I’m very glad that we have at least temporarily achieved a cease-fire.  The question is now how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way.

We intend to support the process that’s taking place in Egypt.  I think the short-term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, that the work that the Israeli government did in closing off these tunnels has been completed, and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild a Gaza that’s been really badly damaged as a consequence of this conflict.  Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity — jobs, economic growth — for the population that lives there, particularly given how dense that population is, how young that population is.

We’re going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza.  I have no sympathy for Hamas.  I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.  And the question then becomes, can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks, perhaps more dangerous attacks as technology develops into their country.  But at the same time, ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off and incapable of pursuing basic prosperity.

I think there are formulas that are available, but they’re going to require risks on the part of political leaders.  They’re going to require a slow rebuilding of trust, which is obviously very difficult in the aftermath of the kind of violence that we’ve seen.  So I don’t think we get there right away, but the U.S. goal right now would be to make sure that the cease-fire holds, that Gaza can begin the process of rebuilding, and that some measures are taken so that the people of Gaza feel some sense of hope, and the people of Israel feel confident that they’re not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen over the last several weeks.

And Secretary Kerry has been in consistent contact with all the parties involved.  We expect we will continue to be trying to work as diligently as we can to move the process forward.

It is also going to need to involve the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.  I have no sympathy for Hamas.  I have great sympathy for some of the work that has been done in cooperation with Israel and the international community by the Palestinian Authority.  And they’ve shown themselves to be responsible. They have recognized Israel.  They are prepared to move forward to arrive at a two-state solution.

I think Abu Mazen is sincere in his desire for peace.  But they have also been weakened, I think, during this process.  The populations in the West Bank may have also lost confidence or lost a sense of hope in terms of how to move forward.  We have to rebuild that, as well.  And they are the delegation that’s leading the Palestinian negotiators.  And my hope is, is that we’ll be engaging with them to try to move what has been a very tragic situation over the last several weeks into a more constructive path.

Thank you very much, everybody.  And thank you all who participated in the Africa Summit.  It was an outstanding piece of work.  And I want to remind folks, in case they’ve forgotten, of the incredible young people who participated in our fellows program.  We’re very proud of you, and we’re looking forward to seeing all the great things that you do when you go back home.

Thank you.

END
6:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum

Source: WH, 8-5-14

Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Washington, D.C.

3:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:   Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Please be seated.  Well, good afternoon, everybody.  To Mayor Bloomberg, thank you — not only for the kind introduction, but to Bloomberg Philanthropies as our co-host, and for the great work that you’re doing across Africa to help create jobs, and promote public health, encourage entrepreneurship, especially women.  So thank you very much, Michael, for your leadership.  I want to thank our other co-host — my great friend and tireless Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker.  (Applause.)

I want to welcome all of our partners who are joining us from across Africa — heads of state and government, and let me welcome the delegations from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with whom we are working so urgently to control the Ebola outbreak and whose citizens are in our thoughts and prayers today.  I also want to welcome Madame Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma of the African Union Commission; President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka; as well as the President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim.  Please give them all a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And I want to acknowledge members of Congress who are here and who are such great champions of Africa’s engagement with — America’s engagement with Africa.  In a city that does not always agree on much these days, there is broad bipartisan agreement that a secure, prosperous and self-reliant Africa is in the national interest of the United States.

And most of all, I want to thank all of you — the business leaders, the entrepreneurs both from the United States and from across Africa who are creating jobs and opportunity for our people every day.  And I want to acknowledge leaders from across my administration who, like Penny, are your partners, including our U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman; USAID Administrator Raj Shah; and our new head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Dana Hyde; President of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg; Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Lee Zak; and our President and CEO of OPIC, Elizabeth Littlefield.

So we are here, of course, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit — the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government.  And this summit reflects a perspective that has guided my approach to Africa as President.  Even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.

We all know what makes Africa such an extraordinary opportunity.  Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.  A growing middle class.  Expanding sectors like manufacturing and retail.  One of the fastest-growing telecommunications markets in the world.  More governments are reforming, attracting a record level of foreign investment.  It is the youngest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition.

Last year in South Africa, in Soweto, I held a town hall with young men and women from across the continent, including some who joined us by video from Uganda.  And one young Ugandan woman spoke for many Africans when she said to me, “We are looking to the world for equal business partners and commitments, and not necessarily aid.  We want to do [business] at home and be the ones to own our own markets.”  That’s a sentiment we hear over and over again.  When I was traveling throughout Africa last year, what I heard was the desire of Africans not just for aid, but for trade and development that actually helps nations grow and empowers Africans for the long term.

As President, I’ve made it clear that the United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success — a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term.  (Applause.)  We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources; we recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential.  (Applause.)  We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth; we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.  That’s the kind of partnership America offers.

And since I took office, we’ve stepped up our efforts across the board.  More investments in Africa; more trade missions, like the one Penny led this year; and more support for U.S. exports.  And I’m proud — I’m proud that American exports to Africa have grown to record levels, supporting jobs in Africa and the United States, including a quarter of a million good American jobs.

But here’s the thing:  Our entire trade with all of Africa is still only about equal to our trade with Brazil — one country.  Of all the goods we export to the world, only about one percent goes to Sub-Saharan Africa.  So we’ve got a lot of work to do.  We have to do better — much better.  I want Africans buying more American products.  I want Americans buying more African products.  I know you do, too.  And that’s what you’re doing today.  (Applause.)

So I’m pleased that in conjunction with this forum, American companies are announcing major new deals in Africa.  Blackstone will invest in African energy projects.  Coca-Cola will partner with Africa to bring clean water to its communities.  GE will help build African infrastructure.  Marriott will build more hotels.  All told, American companies — many with our trade assistance — are announcing new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14 billion, spurring development across Africa and selling more goods stamped with that proud label, “Made in America.”

And I don’t want to just sustain this momentum, I want to up it.  I want to up our game.  So today I’m announcing a series of steps to take our trade with Africa to the next level.

First, we’re going to keep working to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act — and enhance it.  (Applause.)  We still do the vast majority of our trade with just three countries — South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.  It’s still heavily weighted towards the energy sector.  We need more Africans, including women and small- and medium-sized businesses, getting their goods to market.  And leaders in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have said they want to move forward.  So I’m optimistic we can work with Congress to renew and modernize AGOA before it expires, renew it for the long term.  We need to get that done.  (Applause.)

Second, as part of our “Doing Business in Africa” campaign, we’re going to do even more to help American companies compete.  We’ll put even more of our teams on the ground, advocating on behalf of your companies.  We’re going to send even more trade missions.  Today, we’re announcing $7 billion in new financing to promote American exports to Africa.  Earlier today, I signed an executive order to create a new President’s advisory council of business leaders to help make sure we’re doing everything we can to help you do business in Africa.  (Applause.)

And I would be remiss if I did not add that House Republicans can help by reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.  That is the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  I was trying to explain to somebody that if I’ve got a Ford dealership and the Toyota dealership is providing financing to anybody who walks in the dealership and I’m not, I’m going to lose business.  It’s pretty straightforward.  We need to get that reauthorized.  (Applause.)  And you business leaders can help make clear that it is critical to U.S. business.

Number three, we want to partner with Africa to build the infrastructure that economies need to flourish.  And that starts with electricity, which most Africans still lack.  That’s why last year while traveling throughout the continent, I announced a bold initiative, Power Africa, to double access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and help bring electricity to more than 20 million African homes and businesses.

Now, we’ve joined with African governments, the African Development Bank, and the private sector — and I will tell you, the response has exceeded our projections.  It has been overwhelming.  Already, projects and negotiations are underway that, when completed, will put us nearly 80 percent of the way toward our goal.  On top of the significant resources we’ve already committed, I’m announcing that the United States will increase our pledge to $300 million a year for this effort.

And as of today — including an additional $12 billion in new commitments being announced this week by our private sector partners and the World Bank and the government of Sweden — we’ve now mobilized a total of more than $26 billion to Power Africa just since we announced it — $26 billion.  (Applause.)  So today we’re raising the bar.  We decided we’re meeting our goal too easily, Zuma, so we’ve got to go up.  So we’re tripling our goal, aiming to bring electricity to more than 60 million African homes and businesses that can spark growth for decades to come.  (Applause.)

Fourth, we’ll do more to help Africans trade with each other, because the markets with the greatest potential are often the countries right next door.  And it should not be harder to export your goods to your neighbor than it is to export those goods to Los Angeles or to Amsterdam.  (Applause.)  So through our Trade Africa initiative, we’ll increase our investments to help our African partners build their own capacity to trade, to strengthen regional markets, make borders more efficient, modernize the customs system.  We want to get African goods moving faster within Africa, as well as outside of Africa.

And finally, we’re doing more to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs and business leaders — it’s young men and women, like our extraordinary Mandela Washington Fellows that I met with last week.  And I have to say to the heads of state and government, you would have been extraordinarily proud to meet these young people who exhibit so much talent and so much energy and so much drive.

With new Regional Leadership Centers and online courses, we’re going to offer training and networking for tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs across Africa. New grants will help them access the capital they need to grow.  Our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit this year will be held in Morocco.  Next year, it will be held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa — because we want to make sure that all that talent is tapped and they have access to the capital and the networks and the markets that they need to succeed.  Because if they succeed, then the countries in which they live will succeed.  They’ll create jobs.  They’ll create growth.  They’ll create opportunity.

So the bottom line is the United States is making a major and long-term investment in Africa’s progress.  And taken together, the new commitments I’ve described today — across our government and by our many partners — total some $33 billion.  And that will support development across Africa and jobs here in the United States.  Up to tens of thousands of American jobs are supported every time we expand trade with Africa.

As critical as all these investments are, the key to unlocking the next era of African growth is not going to be here in the United States, it’s going to be in Africa.  And so, during this week’s summit, we’ll be discussing a whole range of areas where we’re going to have to work together — areas that are important in their own right, but which are also essential to Africa’s growth.

Capital is one thing.  Development programs and projects are one thing.  But rule of law, regulatory reform, good governance — those things matter even more, because people should be able to start a business and ship their goods without having to pay a bribe or hire somebody’s cousin.

Agricultural development is critical because it’s the best way to boost incomes for the majority of Africans who are farmers, especially as they deal with the impacts of climate change.

Rebuilding a strong health infrastructure, especially for mothers and children, is critical because no country can prosper unless its citizens are healthy and strong, and children are starting off with the advantages they need to grow to their full potential.

And we’re going to have to talk about security and peace, because the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.  And it’s very hard to attract business investment, and it’s very hard to build infrastructure, and it’s very hard to sustain entrepreneurship in the midst of conflict.

So I just want to close with one example of what trade can help us build together.  Kusum Kavia was born in Kenya; her family was originally from India.  Eventually, she emigrated to the United States and along with her husband started a small business in California.  It started off as a small engineering firm.  Then it started manufacturing small power generators.  With the help of the Export-Import Bank — including seminars and a line of credit and risk insurance — they started exporting power generators to West Africa.  In Benin, they helped build a new electric power plant.

And it’s ended up being a win-win for everybody.  It’s been a win for their company, Combustion Associates, because exports to Africa have boosted their sales, which means they’ve been able to hire more workers here in the United States.  They partner with GE; GE is doing well.  Most of their revenues are from exports to Africa.  It’s been a win for their suppliers in Texas and Ohio and New York.  It’s been a win for Benin and its people, because more electricity for families and businesses, jobs for Africans at the power plant because the company hires locally and trains those workers.  And they hope to keep expanding as part of our Power Africa initiative.

So this is an example of just one small business.  Imagine if we can replicate that success across our countries.

Kusum says, “When our customers see the label, ‘Made in America,’ when they see our flag, it puts us above all the competition.”  And her vision for their company is the same vision that brings us all here today.  She says, “We really want to have a long-term partnership with Africa.”  So Kusum is here.  I had a chance to meet her backstage.  Where is she?  Right there.  Stand up, Kusum.  So she’s doing great work.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

But she’s an example of what’s possible — a long-term partnership with Africa.  And that’s what America offers.  That’s what we’re building.  That’s the difference we can make when Africans and Americans work together.  So let’s follow Kusum’s lead.  Let’s do even more business together.  Let’s tear down barriers that slow us down and get in the way of trade.  Let’s build up the infrastructure — the roads, the bridges, the ports, the electricity — that connect our countries.  Let’s create more and sell more and buy more from each other.  I’m confident that we can.  And when we do, we won’t just propel the next era of African growth, we’ll create more jobs and opportunity for everybody — for people here in the United States and for people around the world.

So thank you very much, everybody, for what so far has been an outstanding session.  And I’ve got the opportunity to speak to this young man.  (Applause.)

Q    So thank you very much, Mr. President for this opportunity.  I’ll start by wishing you a belated Happy Birthday.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    Thank you very much.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Have you introduced yourself to everybody?

Q    I wanted to really jump into the issues.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, go ahead and introduce yourself.

Q    All right.  I’m Takunda Chingonzo.  I’m a young entrepreneur.  I’m 21.  I’m from Zimbabwe.  And I’m working in the wireless technology space.  We’re essentially liberating the Internet for Zimbabweans.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  And let me just — this is an example of our young African leaders; in fact, the youngest young African leader.  But one thing I will say, though, if you’re going to promote your business, you’ve got to make sure to let people know who you are.  (Laughter.)

Q    Definitely, definitely.

THE PRESIDENT:  Just a little tip.

Q    Definitely.

THE PRESIDENT:  You can’t be shy, man.  (Laughter.)  Please, go ahead.

Q    That’s correct, Mr. President.  So I was really going to start by delving into a personal experience.  I was going to get to my business and how I got to where we are.

So as I was saying, we’re working in the technology space.  I’m working on my third startup — it’s called Saisai.  We’re creating Zimbabwe’s first free Internet-access network, hence liberating the Internet.  So in our working, we came to a point in time where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States, and so we were engaging in conversation with these U.S.-based businesses.  And the response that we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe.  And I was shocked — this doesn’t make sense.

And so this is the exact same experience that other entrepreneurs that are in Zimbabwe have gone through, even through the meetings that I’ve had here.  You know, you sit down with potential investors, you talk about the project, the outlook, the opportunity, the growth and all that — and they’re excited, you can see.  All systems are firing, right?  And then I say I’m from Zimbabwe and they look at me and they say, young man, this is a good project, very good, very good, but unfortunately we cannot engage in business with you.

And I understand that the sanctions that we have — that are imposed on entities in Zimbabwe, these are targeted sanctions, right?  But then we have come to a point in time where we as young Africans are failing to properly engage in business with U.S.-based entities because there hasn’t been that clarity.  These entities believe that Zimbabwe is under sanctions.  So what really can we do to do try and clarify this to make sure that we as the young entrepreneurs can effectively develop Africa and engage in business?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, obviously, the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat unique.  The challenge for us in the United States has been how do we balance our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what has, frankly, been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe.

And we think it is very important to send clear signals about how we expect elections to be conducted, governments to be conducted — because if we don’t, then all too often, with impunity, the people of those countries can suffer.  But you’re absolutely right that it also has to be balanced with making sure that whatever structures that we put in place with respect to sanctions don’t end up punishing the very people inside those countries.

My immediate suggestion — and this is a broader point to all the African businesses who are here, as well as the U.S. businesses — is to make sure that we’re using the Department of Commerce and the other U.S. agencies where we can gather groups of entrepreneurs and find out exactly what can be done, what can’t be done, what resources are available.  It may be that you and a group of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe are able to meet with us and propose certain projects that allow us to say this is something that will advance as opposed to retard the progress for the Zimbabwean people.

So what I’d suggest would be that we set up a meeting and we find out what kinds of things that the young entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe want to do, and see if there are ways that we can work with you consistent with the strong message that we send about good governance in Zimbabwe.

Q    I see.  Because really — the point of emphasis really is that as young Africans we want to converse with other business entities here in the U.S., and if these sanctions are really targeted, then in honest truth, they aren’t supposed to hamper the business that we’re trying to engage in, the development that we’re talking about.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s see if we can refine them further based on some of the things you’re talking about.

Q    That’s all right.  Now, there have been a good number of investments that have been announced here — multibillion-dollar investments in Africa — and we’re really excited.  And there’s been a lot of talk about how the public and private partnerships are the vehicle through which this investment will come into Africa, but I really want to bring it to a point of clarity.  I believe that the private sector is stratified in itself.  We have the existing indigenous businesses in these countries that you’re hoping to invest in, and this is where usually the funding comes through — the partnerships and all that.  That is well and fine.

But then, underneath that, we have these young, upcoming entrepreneurs — the innovators, those that come up with products and services that disrupt the industry.  And this is the innovation that we want in Africa, to build products by Africans for Africans.  But in most cases, in what we have seen over the past years, is that, indeed, this investment comes through but it never cascades down to these young entrepreneurs, the emerging businesses.  And so the existing businesses then form a sort of ceiling which we cannot break through.

When it comes to investment, when you’re talking about solving unemployment, I believe that it’s more realistic to assume and understand that the probability of 10 startups employing 10 people in a given time period, it’s more realistic than one indigenous company employing 100 people.

So what really has been — or rather, has there been any consideration in these deals that have been structured in the investments that you announced to cater for the young entrepreneur who is trying to innovate to solve the problems in society?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think for the business leaders who are here, both African and U.S., it’s hard being a startup everywhere.

Q    That’s true.

THE PRESIDENT:  Part of what you’re describing is typical of business around the world:  Folks who are already in, they don’t necessarily want to share.  They don’t want to be disrupted.  If there’s a good opportunity, they’d rather do it themselves.  If they see a small up-and-coming hotshot who might disrupt their business, they may initially try to block you or they may try to buy you out.  And getting financing for a startup is always going to be difficult.  You hear that from entrepreneurs here in the U.S. as well.

Having said that, what is absolutely true is that as we think about the billions of dollars that we’re mobilizing, we want to make sure that small businesses, medium-size businesses, women-owned businesses — that they have opportunity.  And so my instructions to all of our agencies and hopefully the work that we’re doing with all of our partners is how can we identify, target financing for the startup; how can we identify and link up U.S. companies with small and medium-size businesses and not just the large businesses?  And I think you are absolutely right that by us trying to spread investment, not narrowly through one or two companies but more broadly, that the opportunities for success in those countries are higher, and it also creates a healthy competition.

And that’s true also in terms of how we’re designing – for example, our Feed the Future program, which is working with almost 2 million small farmers inside of Africa.  When I was in Senegal, I met with a woman, maybe in her 30s; she had a small plot of land initially.  Through the Feed the Future program, she had been able to mechanize, double her productivity.  By doubling her productivity and, through a smartphone, getting better prices to the market, she was able to increase her profits.  Then she bought a tractor.  Then she doubled her productivity again.  And suddenly what had started off as just a program to increase her income had become capital for a growing business where she was now hiring people in her area and doing some of the process of the grain that she grew herself, so that she could move up the value chain.

There are entrepreneurs like that all across Africa.  Sometimes the capital they need is not very large.  Sometimes it’s a fairly modest amount.  And so what I want to do is to make sure that we are constantly looking out for opportunities to disburse this capital not just narrowly, but broadly.  And one of the things that I hope happens with U.S. companies is that they’re constantly looking for opportunities to partner with young entrepreneurs, startups, and not just always going to the same well-established businesses.

Now, there are going to be some large-capital projects where you’ve got a good, solid, established company.  Hopefully they, themselves, have policies with respect to their suppliers that allow them to start encouraging and growing small businesses as well.

Q    Exactly.  And on that note, I’m glad that you acknowledged that and I hope that even in these deals, in the investments that you’re talking about, that one of the conditions be that those large organizations that are getting investment have policies that cascade down to people at the grassroots.

You spoke about this lady who was using a smartphone to — it is one key issue that is really propelling business and development in Africa, the ability to leverage technology.  And really it is all about the Internet of things.  And that is why I’m personally working in liberating the Internet to get more people connected.

Now, this is a huge opportunity in Africa as well.  Now, there is this troubling issue that has been brought to our attention with entities and organizations that have come up and have said we want to control the Internet, we want to see who gets what traffic and from whom.  And policies and activities like that become challenges for startups that are trying to leverage the Internet, for this lady farmer that you talked about who is trying to leverage and get information from the Internet.

So I want to understand what is your stance on net neutrality and its effects on the global development in Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is an important issue for all the heads of state and government not just in Africa but around the world.  The reason the Internet is so powerful is because it’s open.  My daughters, 16 and 13, they can access information from anyplace in the world.  They can learn about a particular discipline instantaneously, in ways that when I was their age — first of all, I wasn’t as motivated as they are.  I was lazier than them.  (Laughter.)  They do much better in school than I did.  But the world is at their fingertips.

And what facilitates that, and what has facilitated the incredible value that’s been built by companies like Google and Facebook and so many others, all the applications that you find on your smartphone, is that there are not restrictions, there are not barriers to entry for new companies who have a good idea to use this platform that is open to create value.  And it is very important I think that we maintain that.

Now, I know that there’s a tension in some countries — their attitude is we don’t necessarily want all this information flowing because it can end up also being used as a tool for political organizing, it can be used as a tool to criticize the government, and so maybe we’d prefer a system that is more closed.  I think that is a self-defeating attitude.  Over the long term, because of technology, information, knowledge, transparency is inevitable.  And that’s true here in the United States; it’s true everywhere.

And so what we should be doing is trying to maintain an open Internet, trying to keep a process whereby any talented person who has an idea can suddenly use the Internet to disperse information.  There are going to be occasional tensions involved in terms of us monitoring the use of the Internet for terrorist networks or criminal enterprises or human trafficking.  But we can do that in ways that are compatible with maintaining an open Internet.

And this raises the broader question that I mentioned earlier, which is Africa needs capital; in some cases, Africa needs technical assistance; Africa certainly needs access to markets.  But perhaps the biggest thing that Africa is going to need to unleash even more the potential that’s already there and the growth that’s already taking place is laws and regulations and structures that empower individuals and are not simply designed to control or empower those at the very top.

And the Internet is one example.  You’ve got to have a system and sets of laws that encourage entrepreneurship, but that’s also true when it comes to a whole host of issues.  It’s true when it comes to how hard is it to get a business permit when a new startup like yours wants to establish itself.

When it comes to Power Africa, there are billions of dollars floating around the world that are interested in investing in power generation in Africa.  And the countries that are going to attract that investment are the ones where the investor knows that if a power plant is built, that there are rules in place that are transparent that ensure that they’re going to get a decent return, and that some of the revenue isn’t siphoned off in certain ways so that the investor has political risks or risks with respect to corruption.

The more that governments set up the right rules, understanding that in the 21st century the power that drives growth and development and the marketplace involves knowledge and that can’t be controlled, the more successful countries are going to be.

Q    I see.  So just to clarify on the issue of net neutrality, you are advocating for an open and fair Internet –

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    — which would — then it has structure to ensure that the platform itself isn’t abused.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there are two issues — net neutrality — in the United States, one of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers.  That’s the big controversy here.  You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you.

And I personally — the position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users.  You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.

There’s another problem, though — there are other countries — and I think this is what you were alluding to — that feel comfortable with the idea of controlling and censoring Internet content in their home countries, and setting up rules and laws about what can or cannot be on the Internet.  And I think that that not only is going to inhibit entrepreneurs who are creating value on the Internet; I think it’s also going to inhibit the growth of the country generally, because closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind.  Eventually, they miss out on the future because they’re so locked into trying to maintain the past.

Q    I see.  Thank you for the clarity.  I think we’re out of a bit of time.  I’ll ask my final question.  When we began this conversation, we were alluding to the fact that — the need to separate the political function and economic function.  In other words, politics should not get in the way of business.  And I’ve gone to quite a good number of — I know it’s difficult — so I’ve gone to a good number of conferences where the end deliverable of the entire summit, or whatever it is, is that we need to lobby government to create policies that are conducive, and this and that.  And that’s usually what you get — either you’re trying to lobby somebody to do something, right?  And, in turn, governments come up and say, yes, we promise to come up with this and that, and this and that.  And that’s a whole political sphere of things.  My question is, apart from that, what can we as business leaders, as the private sector, what can we do sort of independently to — what can we do to create this economic environment that fosters for the growth and development of Africa as a continent?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, although this isn’t always a popular position here in Washington these days, the truth is, is that government really can help set the conditions and the framework for markets to function effectively — in part because governments are able to initiate projects like roads and bridges and airports that any individual business would find cost prohibitive.  It wouldn’t make sense to invest in what is a collective good; it’s not going to help your bottom line if everybody else is using it.  So that’s part of the function of government.

Part of the function of government is to educate a population so that you got a well-trained workforce.  It’s hard for companies to invest in doing that by themselves.  There are certain common goods, like maintaining clean air and clean water, and making sure that if you have capital markets, that they’re well-regulated so that they’re trust-worthy, and small investors and large investors know that if they invest in a stock that they’re not being cheated.

So there are a whole host of functions that government has to play.  But in the end, what drives innovation typically is not what happens in government, it’s what’s happening in companies.  And what we found in the United States is, is that companies, once they’ve got the basic rules and they’ve got the basic platform, they are able to create value and innovation and cultures that encourage growth.  And I think that African entrepreneurs are going to be the trendsetters for determining how societies think about themselves and, ultimately, how governments think about these issues.

The truth of the matter is, is that if you have big, successful companies or you’ve got widespread entrepreneurship, and you have a growing middle class and practices have been established in terms of fair dealing, and treating your workers properly, and extending opportunity to smaller contractors, and promoting women and making sure women are paid like men — suddenly, what happens is businesses create new norms and new sensibilities.  And governments oftentimes will respond.

And so I think in Africa what I’d like to see more and more of is partnerships between American businesses, between African businesses.  Some of the incredible cultures of some of our U.S. businesses that do a really good job promoting people and maintaining a meritocracy, and treating women equally, and treating people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally, and making sure that there are typical norms of how you deal with people in contracts and respect legal constraints — all those things I think can then take root in a country like Zimbabwe or any other country.  Hopefully, governments are encouraging that, not inhibiting that.  They recognize that that’s how the world as a whole is increasingly moving in that direction.  And over time, you will see an Africa that is driven by individual entrepreneurs and private organizations, and governments will be responsive to their demands.

So I think the one thing I want to make sure people understand, though, is it’s not an either/or issue.  Government has a critical role to play.  The marketplace has a critical role to play.  Nonprofit organizations have a critical role to play.  But the goal and the orientation constantly should be how do we empower individuals to work together.  And if we are empowering young people like you all across Africa, if we’ve got a 21-year-old who has already started three businesses, we’ve got to figure out how to invest in him, how to make it easier for him to succeed.  If you succeed, you’re going to then be hiring a whole bunch of people, and they, in turn, will succeed.  And that’s been the recipe for growth in the 20th century and the 21st century.

And I’m confident that Africa is well on its way.  America just wants to make sure that we’re helpful in that process.  And I know that all the U.S. companies who are here, that’s their goal as well.  We are interested in Africa, because we know that if Africa thrives and succeeds, and if you’ve got a bunch of entrepreneurs, they’re going to need supplies from us maybe, or they may supply us with outstanding products; they’re going to have a growing middle class that wants to buy iPhones or applications from us.  In turn, they may provide us new services and we can be the distributor for something that’s invented in Africa, and all of us grow at the same time.

That’s our goal, and I’m confident that we can make it happen.  And this summit has been a great start.  So I want to thank you for doing a great job moderating.  I want to thank all the leaders here not only of government, but also business for participating.  There’s been great energy, great enthusiasm.  I know a lot of business has gotten done.  If any of you are interested in investing in this young man, let him know.  (Laughter.)

All right, thank you, guys.

END
4:05 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 4, 2014: Happy 53rd Birthday, President Obama!

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Happy 53rd Birthday, President Obama!

Today, President Obama is celebrating his 53rd birthday. In honor of the occasion, we put together our top 10 photos from the past year — because we thought that means more than our “top 53.”

Check out some of our favorites from the past year below:

1. Just hanging out.

Bo was just hanging out in the Outer Oval Office“Bo was just hanging out in the Outer Oval Office when the President walked in to begin his day. Each morning, the President always enters through this door rather than the direct outside door to the Oval Office.” November 6, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 

 

Full Text Obama Presidency July 31, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Special Olympics Dinner Celebration

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Special Olympics Dinner Celebration

Source: WH, 7-31-14 

East Room

8:02 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.  (Applause.)  Good evening, everybody, and welcome to the White House.  Everybody looks wonderful.

This is a truly special evening.  And we are delighted to celebrate it with so many people from so many different walks of life.  It is not often that you get Dikembe Mutombo, Steve Case, Stevie Wonder all in the same room.  (Laughter.)  In fact, that may be the first time that they were ever in the same sentence.  (Applause.)

We have just one of my favorite people performing tonight — Katy Perry.  We are so grateful to her.  (Applause.)  I love Katy Perry.  She is just a wonderful person.  I’ve just met her mom and now I know why she is such a wonderful person, but I just want everybody to know she is on tour right now and so for her to take time out to do this is really special and so we really want to say thank you to her for doing this.  (Applause.)

The fact that so many accomplished, wonderful people are here is a testament to the impact that the Special Olympics has had on our nation and has had on our world.  This organization has touched so many lives.  And tonight, Michelle and I are thrilled that we get a chance to say thank you to everyone who’s been a part of it.

When Eunice Kennedy Shriver began what would become the Special Olympics in her backyard over 50 years ago, it’s not clear whether she could imagine how far and how fast it would end up going.  Of course, knowing her, she probably did have a sense of where it was going to go — that’s the kind of visionary that she was.  I want to recognize all the members of the Shriver family who are here tonight and who continue to carry on the family’s incredible tradition of service.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Today, in more than 170 countries, Special Olympians are athletes of all kinds — skiers and speed skaters, sailors, cyclists, equestrians and judo masters.  They make extraordinary contributions to their communities.  And I’m proud to highlight a few of them here tonight.

Loretta Claiborne didn’t just finish with the top 100 women runners in the Boston Marathon twice –- she was also the first Special Olympian to speak to world leaders during the United Nations General Assembly.  So we’re very proud of Loretta.  Where’s Loretta — right here.  There she is.  Yay, Loretta.  (Applause.)  And by the way, during the receiving line, Loretta and Michelle compared arms.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Hers were better.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, they were.  (Laughter.)

Tim Harris is a Special Olympian in basketball, poly hockey, volleyball, golf, and track and field.  So he has all four seasons covered.  (Laughter.)  Now he has a restaurant in Albuquerque called Tim’s Place.  The most popular item is the hug Tim gives his customers –- and so far, more than 42,000 have been served.  Where’s Tim?  There he is right there.  Yay, Tim.  (Applause.)  Tim is fired up.  (Applause.)  Tim is fired up, although, Tim, I didn’t get a hug.  (Laughter.)  Come on, man.  Oh, here we go.  All right, come on — come on, man.  (Applause.)

(Mr. Harris and the President hug.)

MR. HARRIS:  I love you, Obama.

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)

You know, Presidents need some encouragement once in a while, too.  (Laughter.)  That felt really good.  That was nice.  Thank you, Tim.  (Laughter.)

Brina Kei Maxino represented the Asia-Pacific region at the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit when she was 16 years old.  She was the first Filipina and the first teenager with Down syndrome to do that so let’s give Brina a big round of applause.  Yay, Brina.  (Applause.)

And Deon Namiseb was a captain of Namibia’s soccer team when they won silver in the 2007 World Games.  Now he’s a coach, he mentors orphans, he advocates for the rights of Namibians with intellectual disabilities.  We are very proud of Deon.  Here he is, right here — Deon.  (Applause.)

Dustin Plunkett competed at the 2007 World Games, too.  He shared the stage with Yao Ming.  He says, “Special Olympics saved my life.”  And now he’s recruiting coaches so that the Special Olympics can keep growing.  Dustin, where are you?  (Applause.)  There he is.  Thank you, Dustin.  Proud of you.  (Applause.)

And Ricardo Thornton, Sr., is here with his wife, Donna.  He is an international ambassador for Special Olympics, a long-time employee of the Martin Luther King Memorial Library here in Washington, a proud father, a proud grandfather.  I recently appointed him to the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities.  A wonderful man, please give Ricardo a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

And Frank Stephens is a Special Olympian from Virginia.  And he is proud to be a Global Messenger — once spoke before a crowd of 10,000, writes eloquently about the pain and exclusion that comes when others don’t accept you or treat you with the respect every human being deserves.

“I am very lucky,” Frank has written.  “Even though I was born with this intellectual disability, I do pretty well and have a good life. I live and work in the community. I count as friends the people I went to school with and the people I met in my job.  Every day I get closer to living a life like yours.”

“Being compared to people like me,” he once wrote, “should be considered a badge of honor.  No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.”  Give Frank a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

So what Frank wrote, what all these people represent, is what the Special Olympics is all about — overcoming obstacles with love, and kindness, and generosity, and healthy competition.  It’s about pride, and it’s about teamwork, and it’s about friendship.  And it’s about treating everybody with dignity, and giving everybody a chance.

So those values are values that everybody could use.  Those are values that the Special Olympics can teach all of us.  And so it makes a lot of sense that the Special Olympics began here in America –- a nation founded on the principle of human equality, on the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for everybody, not just for some.  A few organizations exemplify that principle and that promise better than this one so I want to thank all of you for being a part of the Special Olympics.  We are getting excited for the World Games in L.A. next year, and we hope you have a wonderful evening tonight.

Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you.  Eat up!

END
8:02 P.M. EDT

White House Shareables

Full Text Obama Presidency July 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Presentation of the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Presentation of the 2013 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal

Source: WH, 7-28-14 

East Room

3:18 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  (Applause.)  Hello!  Hey!  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.

Well, welcome to the White House.  It has been 200 years since Dolley Madison saved the portrait of George Washington that hangs in this room from an advancing British army.  So I guess you could say that the White House has always supported the arts.  (Laughter.)  I’m glad to say that Michelle has never had to save any paintings that I know of from Bo or otherwise.  (Laughter.)  But we do believe in celebrating extraordinarily talented Americans and their achievements in the arts and in the humanities.

So I want to thank Jane Chu and Bro Adams, the chairs of the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities, for their outstanding work.  And I want to thank members of Congress, including a great champion of the arts, Nancy Pelosi, for joining us this afternoon.  (Applause.)

The late, great Maya Angelou once said, “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.”  Each of the men and women that we honor today has a song -– literally, in some cases.  For others, it’s a talent, or a drive, or a passion that they just had to share with the world.

To our honorees:  Like most creative and brainy people, you did not cultivate your song for accolades or applause.  If there were no medal for your work, I expect you’d still be out there designing buildings and making movies and digging through archives and asking tough questions in interviews.

But we do honor you today — because your accomplishments have enriched our lives and reveal something about ourselves and about our country.  And we can never take for granted the flash of insight that comes from watching a great documentary or reading a great memoir or novel, or seeing an extraordinary piece of architecture.  We can’t forget the wonder we feel when we stand before an incredible work of art, or the world of memories we find unlocked with a simple movement or a single note.

The moments you help create -– moments of understanding or awe or joy or sorrow -– they add texture to our lives.  They are not incidental to the American experience; they are central to it — they are essential to it.  So we not only congratulate you this afternoon, we thank you for an extraordinary lifetime of achievement.

I’ll just close by telling a tale of something that took place in this house, back in 1862.  President Lincoln called together a meeting of his Cabinet to present them with the Emancipation Proclamation.  But that was not the first item on his agenda.  This is a little-known story.  Instead, he began reading out loud from a story from the humorist, Artemus Ward.  It was a story called, “High-Handed Outrage at Utica.”  According to one often-repeated account, after he finished a chapter, Lincoln laughed and laughed.  His Cabinet did not.  (Laughter.)  So Lincoln read them another chapter.  (Laughter.)  And they still sat there in stony silence.  Finally, he put the book down, and said, “Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh?  You need this medicine as much as I do.”

To be clear, I probably will not be trying this in my Cabinet meetings.  (Laughter.)  Certainly not if I’m presenting something like the Emancipation Proclamation.  (Laughter.)  But what Lincoln understood is that the arts and the humanities aren’t just there to be consumed and enjoyed whenever we have a free moment in our lives.  We rely on them constantly.  We need them.  Like medicine, they help us live.

So, once again, I want to thank tonight’s honorees for creating work that I’m sure would have met President Lincoln’s high standards.  In this complicated world, and in these challenging times, you’ve shared a song with us and enhanced the character of our country, and for that we are extraordinarily grateful.

It is now my privilege to present these medals to each of the recipients after their citation is read.

So, our outstanding military aides, please.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The National Medal of Arts recipients:

Julia Alvarez.  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Julia Alvarez — (applause) — for her extraordinary storytelling.  In poetry and in prose, Ms. Alvarez explores themes of identity, family and cultural divides.  She illustrates the complexity of navigating two worlds and reveals the human capacity for strength in the face of oppression.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Brooklyn Academy of Music, Karen Brooks Hopkins.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Brooklyn Academy of Music for innovative contributions to the performing and visual arts.  For over 150 years, BAM has showcased the works of both established visionaries and emerging artists who take risks and push boundaries.  (Applause.)

Joan Harris.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Joan Harris for supporting creative expression in Chicago and across our country.  Her decades of leadership and generosity have enriched our cultural life and helped countless artists, dancers, singers and musicians bring their talents to center stage.  (Applause.)

Bill T. Jones.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Bill T. Jones for his contributions as a dancer and choreographer.  Renowned for provocative performances that blend an eclectic mix of modern and traditional dance, Mr. Jones creates works that challenge us to confront tough subjects and inspire us to greater heights.  (Applause.)

John Kander.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to John Kander for his contributions as a composer.  For more than half a century, Mr. Kander has enlivened Broadway, television and film through songs that evoke romanticism and wonder, and capture moral dilemmas that persist across generations.  (Applause.)

Jeffrey Katzenberg.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Jeffrey Katzenberg for lighting up our screens and opening our hearts through animation and cinema.  Mr. Katzenberg has embraced new technology to develop the art of storytelling and transform the way we experience film.  (Applause.)

Maxine Hong Kingston.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Maxine Hong Kingston for her contributions as a writer.  Her novels and non-fiction have examined how the past influences our present, and her voice has strengthened our understanding of Asian American identity, helping shape our national conversation about culture, gender and race.  (Applause.)

Albert Maysles.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Albert Maysles for rethinking and remaking documentary film in America.  One of the pioneers of direct cinema, he has offered authentic depictions of people and communities across the globe for nearly 60 years.  By capturing raw emotions and representations, his work reflects the unfiltered truths of our shared humanity.  (Applause.)

Linda Ronstadt.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Linda Ronstadt for her one-of-a-kind voice and her decades of remarkable music.  Drawing from a broad range of influences, Ms. Ronstadt defied expectations to conquer American radio waves and help pave the way for generations of women artists.  (Applause.)

Billie Tsien and Tod Williams.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to Billie Tsien and Tod Williams for their contributions to architecture and arts education.  Whether public or private, their deliberate and inspired designs have a profound effect on the lives of those who interact with them, and their teaching and spirit of service have inspired young people to pursue their passions.  (Applause.)

James Turrell.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Medal of Arts to James Turrell for his groundbreaking visual art.  Capturing the powers of light and space, Mr. Turrell builds experiences that force us to question reality, challenging our perceptions not only of art, but also of the world around us.  (Applause.)

National Humanities Medal Recipients:

M. H. Abrams.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to M. H. Abrams for broadening the study of literature.  As a scholar, writer and critic, Dr. Abrams has expanded our perception of the romantic tradition and explored the modern concept of artistic self-expression in Western culture, influencing and inspiring generations of students.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of American Antiquarian Society, Ellen Dunlap.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to American Antiquarian Society for safeguarding the American story. For more than two centuries, the Society has amassed an unparalleled collection of historic American documents, served as a research center for scholars and students alike, and connected generations of Americans to their cultural heritage.  (Applause.)

David Brion Davis.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to David Brion Davis for reshaping our understanding of history.  Dr. Davis has shed light on the contradiction of a Union founded on liberty, yet existing half-slave and half-free.  And his examinations of slavery and abolitionism drive us to keep making moral progress in our time.  (Applause.)

William Theodore de Bary.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to William Theodore De Bary for enlightening our view of the world.  As a scholar of East Asian Studies, Dr. de Bary has fostered a global conversation based on the common values and experiences shared by all cultures, helping to bridge differences and build trust.  (Applause.)

Darlene Clark Hine.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to Darlene Clark Hine for enriching our understanding of the African American experience.  Through prolific scholarship and leadership, Dr. Hine has examined race, class and gender, and has shown how the struggles and successes of African American women have shaped the nation we are today.  (Applause.)

John Paul Jones.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to John Paul Jones for honoring nature and indigenous traditions in architecture.  As the creative mind behind diverse and cherished institutions around the world, Mr. Jones has designed spaces worthy of the cultures they reflect, the communities they serve, and the environments they inhabit.  (Applause.)

Stanley Nelson.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to Stanley Nelson for documenting the stories of African Americans through film.  By using his camera to tell both well-known and lesser-known narratives, Mr. Nelson has exposed injustices and highlighted triumphs, revealing new depths of our nation’s history.  (Applause.)

Diane Rehm.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to Diane Rehm for illuminating the people and stories behind the headlines.  In probing interviews with everyone from pundits to poets to Presidents, Ms. Rehm’s keen insights and boundless curiosity have deepened our understanding of our culture and ourselves.  (Applause.)

Anne Firor Scott.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to Anne Firor Scott for pioneering the study of women in the American South.  Dr. Scott’s exploration of the previously unexamined lives of Southern women of different races, classes and political ideologies has established women’s history as vital to our conception of Southern history.  (Applause.)

Krista Tippett.  (Applause.)  The 2013 National Humanities Medal to Krista Tippett for thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence.  On the air and in print, Ms. Tippett avoids easy answers, embracing complexity and inviting people of every background to join her conversation about faith, ethics and moral wisdom.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I think now is a good time for everybody to stand up and give these outstanding winners — or recipients a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

So congratulations to all of you.  We could not be more appreciative of everything you’ve done.  I was mentioning, as people were coming up, I’ve been personally touched by all sorts of these folks.  I was mentioning to Maxine that when I was first writing my first book and trying to teach myself how to write, “The Woman Warrior” was one of the books I read.  After the book was done, Diane was one of the few interviews that was granted.  (Laughter.)  I told Linda Ronstadt I had a little crush on her back in the day.  (Laughter.)  And I know all of you have been touched similarly by these amazing people.

So we are very grateful to you.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, as we’re taking pictures with the recipients and their families, please continue to enjoy the reception here.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
3:43 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in a Town Hall with the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Town Hall with the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders

Source: WH, 7-28-14

Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, D.C.

11:10 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Hello, everybody.  Thank you.  (Applause.) Thank you so much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.  We’re just getting started here.  Well, hello, everybody.  (Applause.)  Welcome to Washington.  I know most of you are visiting our country for the first time.  So on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America.  (Applause.)  We are thrilled to have you here.  And to everybody who’s watching online across Africa, or at watch parties, or following through social media — you are a part of this, too, and we’re very glad that you’re with us.

And can everybody please give Faith a big round of applause for the great introduction.  (Applause.)  I have to say Faith didn’t seem very intimidated by the — (applause) — she seemed not lacking in confidence.  (Laughter.)  And she’s doing great work in South Africa to empower young people and young entrepreneurs, especially women.

Now, I’m not here to give a big speech.  The whole idea of a town hall is for me to be able to hear from you.  But first, I want to speak briefly about why I believe so strongly in all of you being here today.

Next week, I’ll host a truly historic event — the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, where nearly 50 Presidents and Prime Ministers attend from just about all of your countries.  It will be the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government.  And the summit reflects a principle that has guided my approach to Africa ever since I became President — that the security and prosperity and justice that we seek in the world cannot be achieved without a strong and prosperous and self-reliant Africa.

And even as we deal with crises and challenges in other parts of the world that often dominate our headlines, even as we acknowledge the real hardships that so many Africans face every day, we have to make sure that we’re seizing the extraordinary potential of today’s Africa, which is the youngest and fastest-growing of the continents.

So next week’s summit will focus on how we can continue to build a new model of partnership between America and Africa — a partnership of equals that focuses on your capacity to expand opportunity and strengthen democracy and promote security and peace.  But this can’t be achieved by government alone.  It demands the active engagement of citizens, especially young people.

And so that’s why, four years ago, I launched the Young African Leaders Initiative to make sure that we’re tapping into the incredible talent and creativity of young Africans like you. (Applause.)  Since then, we’ve partnered with thousands of young people across the continent — empowering them with the skills and the training and technology they need to start new businesses, to spark change in their communities, to promote education and health care and good governance.

And last year in South Africa, at a town hall like this in Soweto — some of you were there -— I announced the next step, which was the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  The objective was to give young Africans the opportunity to come to the United States and develop their skills as the next generation of leaders in civil society and business and government.

And the response was overwhelming.  Across the continent, young men and women set out on a journey.  In remote villages with no phones and Internet, they navigated the back roads, and they traveled by bus and train to reach larger towns and cities
-— just to get an online application for the program.  One young woman from rural Zimbabwe took a five-hour bus ride, then another six-hour bus ride, then another seven-hour bus ride — a two-day journey -— just to get her interview.

And ultimately, some 50,000 extraordinary young Africans applied.  And today they’re at the heart of what we’re calling our YALI Network, the online community across Africa that’s sharing their ideas and forging new collaborations to realize the change that they seek.  And I want everybody out there in the YALI Network to know that you’re the foundation of our partnership with Africa’s youth.

So today, we’re thrilled to welcome you, our Washington Fellows, to an exchange program unlike any other that America has ever had with Africa.  And among your ranks is that young woman from Zimbabwe who endured all those bus rides.  So we want to welcome Abbigal Muleya.  (Applause.)  Where’s Abbigal?  Where’s Abbigal?  Where is she?  There’s Abbigal.  (Applause.)  That’s a lot of bus rides.  (Laughter.)

Now, I do have a first item of business.  As I said, I launched this fellowship in Soweto, not far from the original home of Nelson Mandela.  And the spirit of this program reflects Madiba’s optimism, his idealism, his belief in what he called “the endless heroism of youth.”  And so today, with the blessing of the Mandela family, to whom we’re so grateful, we are proud to announce that the new name of this program is the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders.  (Applause.)  So you’re the first class of Mandela Washington Fellows.  (Applause.)

Now, I know all of you have been busy — all of you have been busy at some of America’s top colleges and universities.  You’ve been learning how to build a grassroots organization, and how to run a business, and how to manage an institution.  As one of you said, “My brain has been bubbling with all sorts of ideas.”  And I know you’ve also been developing your own ideas for meeting the challenges that we’ll address at next week’s summit.  And I wanted you to know I’ve read some of the recommendations that were produced at each university and college, and I thought they were outstanding pieces of work.  And that’s what I want you to hear today -— your ideas, your vision for Africa.

Here at this summit, you’re going to engage with some of our nation’s leading voices, including someone who I know you can’t wait to see, which is Michelle Obama, because — (applause.)   But many members of Congress, who are strong supporters of this program, are also here.  Where are the members of Congress?  I know that we’ve got a few.  There you are.  (Applause.)  So some outstanding members of Congress are here.  You’ll get a chance to meet some of them.  And I know some of you are headed off to internships in some of our nation’s leading companies and organizations.  One of you said, “I will take what I’ve learned here and put it into practice back home.”  And that’s the whole idea.

And I want to say, by the way — I took some pictures with some of the university officials who had hosted all of you, and uniformly they said they could not have been more impressed with all of you, and what a great job you did in engaging and taking advantage of the program.  So, thank you.  (Applause.)

I know you’ve also been experiencing America as well, the places that make us who we are, including my hometown of Chicago. (Applause.)  You’ve experienced some of our traditions, like a block party.  (Laughter.)  You’ve experienced some of our food — Faith said she ate a lot of Texas barbeque when she was in Austin.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Wooo!

THE PRESIDENT:  You really liked that barbeque, huh?  (Laughter.)  So you got the whole Longhorn thing going on and all that?  (Laughter.)

And Americans have been learning from you as well, because every interaction is a chance for Americans to see the Africa that so often is overlooked in the media — the Africa that is innovative and growing and dynamic.  And a new generation, all of you, on Facebook and Twitter, and creating new ways to connect — like Yookos and MXit.  I see some of you tweeting this town hall — (laughter) — although mostly I see these guys shifting into the seat over and over again so everybody can get a picture.  (Laughter.)  Don’t think I didn’t notice.  (Laughter.)  You all just — you need to stay in your chairs.  (Laughter.)  Everybody thinks they’re slick.  (Applause.)

So the point is, our young leaders — our Young African Leaders initiative is a long-term investment in all of you and in Africa and the future that we can build together.  And today, I want to announce some next steps that I think are important.

First, given the extraordinary demand for this fellows program, we’re going to double it so that in two years, we’ll welcome a thousand Mandela Washington fellows to the United States every year.  (Applause.)  So that’s good news.

Second, we’ll do even more to support young entrepreneurs with new grants to help you start a business or a nonprofit, and training thousands of aspiring entrepreneurs in smaller towns and rural areas.  And given the success for our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit, I can announce that next year’s summit will be hosted for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa, which I think is going to be terrific.  (Applause.)

Third, we’re launching a whole new set of tools to empower young African through our YALI network — new online courses and mentoring, new ways to meet up and network across Africa and around the world, new training sessions and meetings with experts on how to launch startups.  And it all begins today.  And to get started, all you have to do is to go to Yali.state.gov — Yali.state.gov — and that will give you information about how you can access all these resources going forward.

And finally, we’re creating new regional leadership centers across Africa.  So we’re joining with American universities, African institutions, and private sector partners like Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation — we want to thank the two of them; they’re really helping to finance this.  So give Microsoft and MasterCard Foundation a round of applause.  (Applause.)  Starting next year, young Africans can come to these centers to network and access the latest technology, and get training in management and entrepreneurship.  And we’re starting in Senegal, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya.  (Applause.)  And we aim to help tens of thousands of young Africans access the skills and resources they need to put their ideas into action.

So the point of all of this is we believe in you.  I believe in you.  I believe in every one of you who are doing just extraordinary things — like Adepeuju Jaiyeoba.  (Applause.)  In Nigeria — there’s Adepeuju.  In Nigeria, she saw a close friend die during childbirth.  She now helps train birth attendants, and delivers kits with sterile supplies, and helping to save the lives of countless mothers and their babies.  So we want to thank Adepeuju.  (Applause.)  We want her to save even more lives.

Or, to give you another example, Robert Nkwangu from Uganda. (Applause.)  There’s Robert.  So Robert is deaf, but even though he can’t hear, he can see that the stigma and discrimination against people with disabilities must end.  (Applause.)  He’s been their champion.  He’s standing up for the rights in schools and on the job.  (Applause.)  So thank you, Robert.  We want to be your partner in standing up for the universal rights of all people.

I believe in Mame Bousso Ndiaye.  (Applause.)  So in Senegal, she’s taking a stand against the human trafficking that condemns too many women and girls to forced labor and sexual slavery.  She runs an academy that gives them education and skills to find a job and start new lives.  And so, we are so proud of you.  Thank you for the good work that you’re doing.  (Applause.)  We want to help you help these young women and girls to the kind of future of dignity that we want for every woman all across the continent and all around the world.

And I believe in Hastings Mkandawire.  Where’s Hastings?  (Applause.)  In rural Malawi, he saw towns in darkness, without electricity.  So now he gathers scrap metal, builds generators on his porch, takes them down to the stream for power, delivers electricity so farmers can irrigate their crops and children can study at night.  Hastings, thank you.  (Applause.)  We want to help you power Africa.  (Applause.)

And everybody here has a story, and we believe in all of you.  We see what’s possible.  And we see the vision that all of you have — not because of what you’ve seen here in America, but because what you’ve already done back home, what you see in each other and what you see in yourself.

Sobel Ngom, from Senegal.  (Applause.)  Sobel has a wonderful quote.  He has a wonderful quote.  He said, “Here, I have met Africa, the [Africa] I have always believed in.  She’s beautiful.  She’s young.  She’s full of talent and motivation and ambition.”  And that’s a good description.  (Applause.)  And being here with all of you, and learning together and working together and dreaming together has only strengthened his determination, he says, to realize “my aspirations for my country and my continent.”

So to Sobel and to all of you, and to everyone across Africa who joins our Young Leaders Initiative, I want to thank you for inspiring us with your talent and your motivation and your ambition.  You’ve got great aspirations for your countries and your continent.  And as you build that brighter future that you imagine, I want to make sure that the United States of America is going to be your friend and partner every step of the way.

So thank you very much, everybody.  Let’s get a few questions and comments in this town hall.  (Applause.)

So, okay, I know this is kind of a rowdy crowd.  (Laughter.) First of all, I want everybody to sit down.  Sit down.  Now, I’m not going to be able to call on everybody, so just a couple of rules.  Number one, don’t start standing up and waving or shouting.  Just raise your hand and I will try to select from the audience, and I’ll try to take as many questions as possible.  So let’s keep the questions — or comments relatively brief, and I will try to give a brief answer — although if you ask me what are we going to do about ending war, then that may require a longer answer.  So we’ll see how it goes.  So that’s rule number one.

Rule number two, we should have microphones in the audience, and so wait — when I call on you, wait until the microphone comes.  The attendant will hold it in front of you.  You can answer.  Please introduce yourself, tell us what country you’re from, and ask your question or make your remark.  Number two, just to make sure it’s fair, we’re going to go boy, girl, boy, girl.  (Laughter.)  In fact, you know what — in fact, we’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy.  (Laughter.)  That’s what we’re going to do.  Because one of the things we want to teach about Africa is how strong the women are and how we’ve got to empower women.  (Applause.)

All right?  So let’s see who we’re going to call on first.  This young lady right here.  Right here.  So wait until the mic is there.  Here, there’s somebody right behind you who’s got the microphone.  Introduce yourself and — welcome.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m from South Africa.  And my question is, previously Nelson Mandela had inspired the foundation of the South Africa Fund for Enterprises.  It has run for two decades, and it has since been stopped.  Is there any chance to develop another fund for enterprises in Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it’s a great question.  One of the things that’s been interesting in not only some of the platforms that you developed at your universities, but also during my trips to Africa is the degree to which young Africans are less interested in aid and more interested in how can they create opportunity through business and entrepreneurship and trade.  Not to say that we do not need to deal with very serious challenges in terms of poverty.  We need to make sure that we are continuing to work on behalf of the least of these.  But what I think everybody recognizes is that if you want sustained development and sustained opportunity and sustained self-determination, then the key is to own what is produced, and to be able to create jobs and opportunity organically and indigenously, and then be able to meet the world on equal terms.

So part of the challenge in entrepreneurship is financing.  And for so many individuals across the continent, it’s just very difficult to get that initial startup money.  And the truth is, is that in many communities around Africa it’s not that you need so much, but you need something, that little seed capital.

And so what we’d like to do is to work with programs that are already existing, to find out where are the gaps in terms of financing, and then to make sure that we are utilizing the resources that we have in the most intelligent way possible to target young entrepreneurs to create small- and medium-sized businesses all across the continent that hopefully grow into large businesses.  And if we’re supplementing that kind of financing with the training and networking that may be available through YALI, then we could see the blossoming of all kinds of entrepreneurial activities all across the continent that eventually grow into larger businesses.

And so we are very interested in this.  This will be a primary focus of the summit that we have with the African leaders next week — how do we make sure that financing is available, and, by the way, how do we make sure that the financing does not just go to those who are already at the top; how do we make sure that it filters down.  You shouldn’t have to be the son of somebody or the daughter of somebody — (applause) — you should be able to get — if you’ve got a good idea, you should be able to test that idea and be judged on your own merits.

And that’s where I think we can help bypass what oftentimes is in, sadly, too many countries a system in which you have to know somebody in order to be able to finance your ideas.

One thing I do want to say, though — keep in mind, even in the United States, if you’re starting a business, it’s always hard getting financing.  So there are a lot of U.S. entrepreneurs and small business people, when they’re starting off, they’re borrowing from their brothers and their sisters, and begging and scratching and taking credit cards and they’re running up debt.  Inherently, there is risk involved.  And so I don’t want to give you anybody the illusion who is out there starting a business or wanting to launch a business that it’s going to be easy.  It will not be.

But there are ways where we can make a difference.  And oftentimes, particularly in rural areas of Africa, you don’t need a lot of capital to get started, right?  So you may be able — if you buy one piece of equipment that can increase yields for a whole bunch of farmers in that community, and then the additional profits that they make now allows you to buy two pieces of equipment, and then four, and then eight, you can grow fairly rapidly because the baseline of capital in that community may be relatively low.  So you don’t necessarily have huge barriers of entry.  You just have to make sure that you have that initial capital.

But of course, in communities like that, even a small amount of capital can be hard to come by.  And that’s why making sure that this is a top priority of our efforts is something that we’ll really emphasize.  Okay?

All right, let’s see — it’s a gentleman’s turn.  I’m going to call on this guy just because he’s so tall.  (Laughter.)  I always like — I like height.  (Laughter.)  There you go.  All right, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’m from Senegal.  President Obama is the first President of the United States of Africa.  (Applause.)  I would like to know can you share the two important issues you will discuss as the first President of the United Nation of Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, I’m the first African American President of the United States.  I wasn’t sure of — heads of state?  What are the top two issues that I’m going to be discussing when we’re in the summit tomorrow?

Q    If Africa becomes the United States of Africa –

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I see.

Q    — and you get the chance to meet the first president.

THE PRESIDENT:  I see, okay.  All right, so this is sort of like a — it’s kind of an intellectual exercise.  If I were to discuss — no, no, now I understand your question.

Q    It’s clear?

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s an interesting question.  The idea is if somehow Africa unified into a United States of Africa, what would be something that I would say to him or her –

Q    Yes.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I think the thing that I would emphasize first and foremost is the issue of governance.  Now, sometimes this is an issue that raises some sensitivities because I think people feel like who’s the United States to tell us how to govern.  We have different systems.  We have different traditions.  What may work for the United States may not work for us.  Oh, and by the way, the United States, we don’t see that Congress is always cooperating so well and your system is not perfect.

I understand all that.  So let’s acknowledge all that.  What I will say is this, that regardless of the resources a country possesses, regardless of how talented the people are, if you do not have a basic system of rule of law, of respect for civil rights and human rights, if you do not give people a credible, legitimate way to work through the political process to express their aspirations, if you don’t respect basic freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, if there are not laws in place in which everybody is equal under the law so that there’s not one set of rules for the well-connected and another set of rules for ordinary people, if you do not have an economic system that is transparent and accountable so that people trust that if they work hard they will be rewarded for their work and corruption is rooted out — if you don’t have those basic mechanisms, it is very rare for a country to succeed.

I will go further than that:  That country will not succeed over the long term.  It may succeed over the short term because it may have natural resources that it can extract, and it can generate enough money to then distribute and create patronage networks.  But over time, that country will decline.

And if you look at examples around the world, you’ll have a country like Singapore which has nothing — it’s a small, tiny, city-state with not a lot of — it has no real natural resources, and yet it’s taken off.  And you have other countries, which I won’t mention — (laughter) — that have incredible resources, but because there’s not a basic system of rule of law that people have confidence in, it never takes off and businesses never take root.

And so what I would emphasize is governance as a starting point.  It’s not alone sufficient.  You then also have to have over time infrastructure.  And you also have to have an education system that’s in place.  And there are all kinds of other elements that are necessary.  But if you don’t have the basic premise that ordinary citizens can succeed based on their individual efforts, that they don’t have to pay a bribe in order to start a business or even get a telephone, that they won’t be shaken down when they’re driving down the street because the police officers aren’t getting paid enough, and this is the accepted way to supplement their income — if you don’t have those things in place, then over time there’s no trust in the society.  People don’t have confidence that things are working the way that they should.  And so then everybody starts trying to figure out, okay, what’s my angle?  How am I going to get my thing?  And it creates a culture in which you can’t really take off.

Look, you’re never going to eliminate 100 percent of corruption.  Here in the United States, occasionally we have to throw people in jail for taking money for contracts or having done favors for politicians.  All that’s true.  But the difference here in the United States — and it’s true in many of the more developed, industrialized countries — is that’s more the aberration rather than the norm.

I mean, the truth is here in the United States, if you want to start a business, you go ahead and you file papers, you can incorporate.  You might have to pay a fee of $50 or $100 or whatever it ends up being, and that’s it.  You’ve got your business.  Now, the business might not be making any money at that point, you still got to do a whole bunch of stuff to succeed — but the point is, is that basically rule of law is observed.  That’s the norm.  That’s what happens 95 percent of the time.

And that’s I think where you have to start.  And that’s where young people I think have to have high expectations for their leadership.  And don’t be fooled by this notion that, well, we have a different way, an African way.  Well, no.  (Laughter.) The African way is not that you suddenly have a — you’ve been in office and then, suddenly, you have a Swiss bank account of $2 billion.  That’s not the African way.  (Applause.)

And part of rule of law, by the way, is also that leaders eventually give up power over time.  It doesn’t have to be the same way all the time.  But if you have entrenched leadership forever, then what happens over time is it just — you don’t get new ideas and new blood.  And it is inevitable I think sometimes that rule of law becomes less and less observed because people start being more concerned, about keeping their positions than doing the right thing.

Okay, great question, even though it took me a while to understand it.  (Laughter.)

So it’s a young lady’s turn.  Let me make sure that I’m not restricting myself to — how about that young lady right there.  Yes, you.  (Laughter.)  Hold on a second, the microphone is coming.

Q    Good morning, Mr. President.  I’m from Botswana.  I just wanted to find out how committed is the U.S. to assisting Africa in closing gender inequalities, which are contributing to gender-based violence, which it threatens the achievement of many Millennium Development goals, such as access to universal education, eradicating HIV and AIDS.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, listen, you will not find anybody more committed than I am to this issue, and let me tell you why.

First of all, I was mentioning earlier, if you look comparatively at countries around the world, what societies succeed, which ones don’t, one of the single-best measures of whether a country succeeds or not is how it treats its women.  (Applause.)  And if you think about it, it makes sense, because, first of all, women are half your population.  So if you have a team — we just finished the World Cup, right — if you have a soccer team — what you all call a football team — and you go out and the other side has a full team and you send out half your team, how are you going to do?  You will not do as well.

If you are not empowering half of your population that means you have half as few possible scientists, half as few possible engineers.  You are crippling your own development unnecessarily. So that’s point number one.

Point number two is if you educate and empower and respect a mother, then you are educating the children, right?  So with a man, you educate him, yeah, it’s okay.  (Laughter.)  A woman, you educate her, and suddenly you’ve got an entire village, an entire region, an entire country suddenly is becoming educated.

So this is an absolute priority for us.  And we’ll be discussing this with the heads of state and government that we see next week.  And we’ve seen some progress on some fronts, but this is where sometimes traditions can get in the way.

And as many of you know, my father was from Kenya, and — (applause) — that’s the Kenyan contingent.  (Laughter.)  But I think what applies to Kenya is true and applies to many of the countries in Africa — and this is not unique to Africa, we see this in other parts of the world — some of the old ways of gender relations might have made sense in a particular setting.  So in Kenya, for example, in the Luo tribe, polygamy existed.  It was based on the idea that women had their own compounds, they had their own land, and so they were empowered in that area to be self-sufficient.  And then urbanization happened; suddenly the men may be traveling to the city and suddenly there is another family in the city and the women who were left back in the villages may not be empowered in the same way.  So what worked then might not work today — in fact, does not work today.  And if you seek to — if you try to duplicate traditions that were based on an entirely different economy and an entirely different society and entirely different expectations, well, that’s going to break down.  It’s not going to work.

So as a continent, you have to update and create new traditions.  And that’s where young people come in.  You don’t have to accept what’s the old ways of doing things.  You can respect the past and respect traditions while while recognizing they have to be adapted to a new age.

Now, I have to say there are some traditions that just have to be gotten rid of and there’s no excuse for them.  Female genital mutilation — I’m sorry, I don’t consider that a tradition worth hanging on to.  (Applause.)  I think that’s a tradition that is barbaric and should be eliminated.  Violence towards women — I don’t care for that tradition.  I’m not interested in it.  It needs to be eliminated.  (Applause.)

So part of the task is to find what traditions are worth hanging on to and what traditions you got to get rid of.  I mean, there was a tradition in medicine that if you were sick, they would bleed you.  That’s a bad tradition.  And we discovered, let’s try other things — like medicine.  (Laughter.)  So we don’t have to cling on to things that just don’t work.  And subjugating women does not work, and the society will fail as a consequence.  (Applause.)

So everything we do, every program that we have — any education program that we have, any health program that we have, any small business or economic development program that we have, we will write into it a gender equality component to it.  This is not just going to be some side note.  This will be part of everything that we do.

And the last point I’m going to make — in order for this to be successful, all the men here have to be just as committed to empowering women as the women are.  (Applause.)  That’s important.  So don’t think that this is just a job for women, to worry about women’s issues.  The men have to worry about it.  And if you’re a strong man, you should not feel threatened by strong women.  (Applause.)

All right.  So we’ve got gentleman’s turn.  This gentleman in this bright tie right here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Your Excellency.  I’m coming from Kenya.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, habari?

Q    Mzuri sana.  (Applause.)  Asante sana (Swahili) opportunity.

Africa is losing her people to starvation and diseases, which are otherwise curable.  And this is largely because our governments are establishing very huge debts to the G8 countries. As a global leader in the family of nations, when will the U.S. lead the other G8 countries in forgiving Africa these debts so that our governments can be in a position to deliver and provide essential services, like social, health care, and the infrastructural development services to our people?  (Applause.) Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, let me make a couple of points on this.  First of all, I think it’s important to recognize on issues of health the significant progress that has been made — because I think sometimes we are so properly focused on the challenges that we forget to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. And when you know how far you’ve come, it gives you confidence about how much further you can go.

So over the last 20 years, HIV occurrence has been cut in half in Africa — half.  Tuberculosis and malaria deaths have been reduced by 40 percent and 30 percent respectively; 50 percent fewer women die giving birth; 50 million children’s lives have been spared.  And most importantly, now what we’re doing is not just providing assistance through programs like PEPFAR, but we’re also empowering governments themselves to begin to set up public health infrastructure and networks, and training nurses and clinicians and specialists so that it becomes self-sufficient.  So we’re making progress.

Now, I think there is a legitimate discussion to be had around debt forgiveness.  And in meetings with what now is the G7, I just want to let you know — (laughter) — but that’s a whole other topic that — (laughter) — we don’t want to get too far afield — I think there’s genuine openness to how can we help make sure that countries are not saddled with debts that may have been squandered by past leaders, but now hamstrung countries — are making countries unable to get out from under the yoke of those debts.

The only thing I will do, though, is I will challenge the notion that the primary reason that there’s been a failure of service delivery is because of onerous debt imposed by the West. Let me say something that may be somewhat controversial.  And I’m older than all of you — that I know.  (Laughter.)  By definition, if you’re my age you’re not supposed to be in this program.  (Laughter.)  You lied about your age.  (Laughter.)  When I was a college student, issues of dependency and terms of trade and the legacy of colonialism, those were all topics of great, fervent discussion.  And there is no doubt that, dating back to the colonial era, you can trace many of the problems that have plagued the continent — whether it’s how lines were drawn without regard to natural boundaries and tribal and ethnic relationships; whether you look at all the resources that were extracted and the wealth that was extracted without any real return to the nature of trade as it developed in the ‘60s and the ‘70s, so that value was never actually produced in country, but was sent somewhere else.  There are all kinds of legitimate arguments you can look at in terms of history that impeded African development.

But at some point, we have to stop looking somewhere else for solutions, and you have to start looking for solutions, internally.  And as powerful as history is and you need to know that history, at some point, you have to look to the future and say, okay, we didn’t get a good deal then, but let’s make sure that we’re not making excuses for not going forward.

And the truth is, is that there’s not a single country in Africa — and by the way, this is true for the United States as well — that with the resources it had could not be doing better. So there are a lot of countries that are generating a lot of wealth.  I’m not going to name any, but you can guess.  This is a well-educated crowd.  There are a lot of countries that are generating a lot of income, have a lot of natural resources, but aren’t putting that money back into villages to educate children. There are a lot of countries where the leaders have a lot of resources, but the money is not going back to provide health clinics for young mothers.

So, yes, I think it’s important for Western countries and advanced countries to look at past practices — if loans have been made to countries that weren’t put into productive enterprises by those leaders at that time, those leaders may be long gone but countries are still unable to dig themselves out from under those debts — can we strategically in pin-point fashion find ways to assist and provide some relief.  That’s a legitimate discussion.  But do not think that that is the main impediment at this point to why we have not seen greater progress in many countries, because there’s enough resources there in-country, even if debts are being serviced, to do better than we’re doing in many cases.

Okay, so it’s a young lady’s turn.  I haven’t gotten anybody way back in the back there.  So how about that young lady right there with the glasses.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  My name is Zu (ph).

THE PRESIDENT:  Zu? (ph).  I like that name.

Q    Yes, from Madagascar.

THE PRESIDENT:  From?

Q    Madagascar.

THE PRESIDENT:  Madagascar.

Q    It’s a great honor for me, Mr. President, to thank you on behalf of the Malagasy people to reintegrate Madagascar last month in the AGOA.  And my question is, at it will end on 2015, we want to have your confirmation right here what will happen after 2015.  We all know that the AGOA was a great way to decrease youth unemployment in our country, so what will happen after this, the end?  Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  So AGOA, for those of you — I think everybody here is probably aware — this is one of the primary tools we have to promote trade between the United States and many African countries.  It’s set to expire.  There’s a negotiation process taking place as we speak.  More progress will be made next week.  I think that we’ve learned some lessons about what works and what doesn’t through the first stage of AGOA.  In some cases, what we’ve discovered is, is that many countries can’t — even if they have no tariff barriers that they’re experiencing, they still have problems in terms of getting their goods to market.  And so part of what we’re trying to do is to find ways in which we can lower some of the other barriers to export for African countries — not just the tariffs issue, but how can we make sure that there is greater transportation networks; how can we make sure that trade financing is in place; what are the other mechanisms that may inhibit exports from African countries.  So that’s the first thing.

On a separate track, part of what we’re also trying to figure out is how can we promote inter-African trade.  Because so often — and this does relate to a legacy of the past and colonialism — you have strong infrastructure to send flowers from Kenya to Paris, but it’s very hard to send tea from Kenya down to Tanzania — much closer, but the infrastructure is not built.  And so part of what we have to do is to try to find ways to integrate Africa.

Much of that is a question of infrastructure.  Some of it has to do with coordinating regulatory systems between countries. We’re embarking on some experiments starting in East Africa to see if we can get Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania — see, you guys know all of them.  (Laughter.)  We’re starting to work with these countries to see can we get some blocks of effective trading taking place.

Because, look, obviously there’s going to be a certain market for certain goods — I mentioned flowers from Kenya.  The market — that’s primarily going to be in some of the wealthier countries.  But there are going to be some goods that it’s going to be much easier to sell.  If I’m a Kenyan businessman, it’s going to be easier for me to sell my goods to a Tanzanian or a Ugandan than it is for me to try to compete with Nike or Apple in the United States.  Right?

And historically, when you look at how trade develops — if you look at Asia, for example, which obviously has grown extraordinarily fast — a huge volume of that trade is within the region first, and then over time that becomes a launching pad from which to trade globally.

So this is an area where I think we can also provide some assistance and help.  But just to answer directly your question, we are very strongly committed to making sure that AGOA is reauthorized.  And obviously, we’ve got a bunch of members of Congress here who care about this deeply, as well.

How much time do we have, by the way?  I just want to make sure — he said, one hour.  (Laughter.)  Okay, I think we’ve got time for two more questions.

AUDIENCE:  Awww –

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m sorry, but — (laughter.)  So it’s a gentleman’s turn.  Let me see — this gentleman in the white right here.  That guy right there.  Hold on one second, let’s get a microphone on him.

Q    Hi, I’m from Liberia.  It is a pleasure meeting you, Mr. President.  My question has to do with the issue of antitrust law.  You will be meeting our leaders next week.  Will you discuss the issue of antitrust law that will protect young entrepreneurs in Africa?  If not, are you willing to include it on your agenda, please, to solve our problems back home?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, obviously, each country is different, and I’ll be honest with you, I’m not familiar with the antitrust laws in every country.  But what I would certainly commit to do is to talk about antitrust in the broader context of what I said at the beginning after maybe the first question, and that is the issue of rule of law and how it interacts with the economy.

If you have monopolies or collusion between a few companies that create artificial barriers to new entrants, then economic theory will tell you that invariably that is inefficient.  It means consumers are going to pay more for worse products.  It means those companies can concentrate more and more wealth without actually improving what they produce.  And over time, the economy stagnates.

And here in the United States we had a history of huge, big, corporations controlling huge sectors of the economy.  And over time, we put in laws to break up those monopolies and to create laws to guard against artificial monopolies that prevented competition.

So antitrust is one element of a broader set of laws and principles that every country should be adopting with the basic notion that, look, if you’re successful — if you are a company like Apple that innovated, or a company like Microsoft that came up with a new concept — you should be able to get big and you should be able to be successful, and those who founded it, like Bill Gates, should be wealthy.  But what you also want to make sure of is the next generation — the Googles or the Facebooks — that they can be successful, too, in that space.  And that means that you have to make sure that those who got there first aren’t closing the door behind them, which all too often I think happens in many countries, not just in African countries.

So you make an excellent point, and we’ll make sure that that’s incorporated into the broader discussion.

Okay, this young lady right here.  Yes, because she looks so nice.  (Laughter.)

Q    Thank you very much.  I’m from Kenyan.

THE PRESIDENT:  We got a Maasai sister right here.  (Laughter.)  That’s it.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you for this great initiative for the young people, and thank you for believing in the young people.

The upcoming summit of the Presidents, I know you’re going to ask them on engagement of the young people back in our countries.  And my concern will be, how will you be able to engage them to commit to their promises?  Because I know they’re going to promise you that.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, don’t get carried away here.  (Laughter.)  Well, look, part of what we’ve done here by building this YALI network that we’re going to be doubling over the next couple of years is we’re going directly to the young people and creating these networks and these opportunities.  And what we’re already seeing, I think, is many countries are excited by this.  They’re saying, you know what, this is something that can be an empowering tool for us, so let’s take advantage of it.

There are going to be some that may feel somewhat threatened by it — there’s no doubt about that.  But the good thing is we will be creating this network — there are a whole bunch of people who are following this online, who are following it on social media.  We’ll have these regional centers.  You will help to make sure that some of these promises are observed, because the whole continent of young people is going to be paying attention, and we’ll be able to see which countries are really embracing this opportunity to get new young people involved, and which ones are ignoring its promise.

And so I will say to every one of these leaders, you need to take advantage of the most important resource you have, and that’s the amazing youth in these countries.  (Applause.)  But you’re going to have to also help to hold them accountable collectively across countries, and that’s part of why this network can be so important.

So I know this is sad, but I have to go.

AUDIENCE:  Awww –

THE PRESIDENT:  I have other work to do.  (Laughter.)  The good news is you’ve got all these really amazing people who are still going to be meeting with you and talking with you.  And, most importantly, what an amazing opportunity it is for all of you to get to know each other, and to talk and to compare ideas and share concepts going forward.

The main message I want to leave you with is that, in the same way I’m inspired by you, you should be inspired by each other; that Africa has enormous challenges — the world has enormous challenges, but I tell the young people that intern in the White House — and I usually meet with them at the end of their internship after six months — I always tell them, despite all the bad news that you read about or you see on television, despite all the terrible things that happen in places around the world, if you had to choose a time in world history in which to be born, and you didn’t know who you were or what your status or position would be, you’d choose today.  Because for all the difficulties, the world has made progress and Africa is making progress.  And it’s growing.  And there are fewer conflicts and there’s less war.  And there’s more opportunity, and there’s greater democracy, and there’s greater observance of human rights.

And progress sometimes can be slow, and it can be frustrating.  And sometimes, you take two steps forward, and then you take one step back.  But the great thing about being young is you are not bound by the past, and you can shape the future.  And if all of you work hard and work together, and remain confident in your possibilities, and aren’t deterred when you suffer a setback, but you get back up, and you dust yourself off, and you go back at it, I have no doubt that you’re going to leave behind for the next generation and the generation after that an Africa that is strong and vibrant and prosperous, and is ascendant on the world stage.

So I can’t wait to see what all of you do.  Good luck.  (Applause.)

END
12:14 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 22, 2014: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden’s Remarks at the Bill Signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President and Vice President at Bill Signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Source: WH,  7-22-14

12:18 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everyone.  It’s great to be here.  (Applause.)  Please, thank you very much.  Thank you, distinguished members of Congress and members of labor and business, and the community.  Today, as the President signs the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, we’re using this occasion also to present to the President a roadmap he asked — requested in the State of the Union message, how to keep and maintain the highest-skilled workforce in the world.  And this is a perfect build-on as to what the bipartisan consensus that Congress recently reached.

I had the best partners in preparing this report that I could ask for — Tom Perez at Labor, Penny Pritzker at Commerce and Arne Duncan at the Department of Education.  I talked to governors, mayors, industry leaders, presidents of community colleges and colleges, and unions, and a lot of members of Congress, many of whom are here.  And I have to acknowledge at the out front — at the outset, my wife, Jill, has been an incredible advocate for community colleges and the role they play in training the workforce.

But most importantly, I spoke with an awful lot of Americans who are — as all of you have, particularly members of Congress, who were hit exceedingly hard by the Great Recession, but are doing everything they possibly can to find a job — willing to learn new skills in order to have a decent, middle-class job.  One thing I hope that’s been put to rest — and I know we all share this view — Americans want to work.  They want to work.  They’re willing to do anything that they need to do to get a good and decent job.

And they show us that our single greatest resource is not — and it’s not hyperbole — remains the American people.  They’re the most highly-skilled workers in the world and the most capable people in the world.  And they’re in the best position to learn the new skills of the 21st century that the workforce requires.  There’s that phrase — all has changed, changed utterly.  Well, all has changed.  It’s a different world in which people are competing in order to get the kind of jobs they need, whether it’s in advanced manufacturing or clean energy or information technology or health care — all areas that are booming, all areas where America is back.

So the core question that we set out to answer — and I’m sure my colleagues did as well — was how do you connect?  How do you connect these workers who desperately want a job, who will do all they need to do to qualify, how do you connect them with jobs?  How do Americans know what skills employers need?  It sounds like a silly question, but how do they know?  And how do they get these skills once they know what skills are needed for the job?  And where, where do they go to get those jobs?

This report is designed to help answer those extremely practical questions.  It includes 50 actions that the federal government and our outside partners are taking now to help fill this skills gap.  There is this new strategy that we think will lead directly to more middle-class jobs.  These actions are going to help promote partnerships between educational institutions and workforce institutions.  They’re going to increase apprenticeships, which will allow folks to learn — and earn while they learn.  And it will empower job seekers and employers with better data on what jobs are available and what skills are needed to fill those jobs.

Let me tell you a story why all this matters.  And I’ve been all over the country and invited by many of you into your districts and states in order to look at programs you have that are similar to what we’re proposing today.  But I was recently — and I could talk about many of them, but I was recently in Detroit just last week.  And I met with an incredible group of women at a local community college.  Now, all of these women came from hardscrabble neighborhoods in Detroit.  They happened to be all women, it was coincidence, but they all made it through high school.  They ranged in age I’m guessing somewhere from 25 to their mid-50s.  But they all got a high school education, and they were absolutely determined to do more to be able to provide for themselves and their family.

Through word of mouth, Tom, they heard about a coding boot camp, computer coding — a coding boot camp.  And it’s called [Step] IT Up America.  And it was a partnership between Wayne County Community College and a company called UST Global.  Now, it’s an intensive, four-month — just four months, but intensive eight-hour day — I think it’s almost the whole day — don’t hold me to the exact number of hours, but intensive training program where these women happen to be, as I said, there were about a dozen and a half women learn IT skills needed to fill jobs at UST Global.

UST Global represents a lot of other IT companies as well.  Knowing vacancies exist — they estimate over a thousand vacancies just in the greater Detroit area.  And upon completion of this program, UST Global hires the students, and the lowest starting job is at $45,000 a year and the highest is $70,000 a year.  These are coders, computer programmers.  But there’s a key point:  UST Global doesn’t train these women out of some altruistic sense of charity.  They do it because it’s a very, very smart business decision.

There’s an overwhelming need for more computer coders -— as does not just UST Global, but the entire industry.  By 2020, our research shows there will be 1.4 million new IT jobs all across this country.  And the pay is in the $70,000 range.

I was so proud of these women.  As I said, my wife teaches in a community college.  Her average class age of people in her class is 28 to 30 years old.  Just think of yourself, what courage it takes.  You’re out of high school.  You’re graduated.  You’ve been bumping along in a job trying to make it.  You’ve been out, two, five, 10, 15 years.  And someone says, there’s this opportunity to take this program to learn Java, to learn a new language, to learn how to operate a computer in a way that you can code it.  It takes a lot of courage to step up.

It takes a willingness to be ready to fail.  These women were remarkable, but not just these women.  They write code, so they look — they weren’t out there.  They were — they knew someone who had gotten a job because of the program, and they thought they could do it.  So they learned an entire new language, and they displayed an initiative that was remarkable to see.  They showed up.  They worked hard because they want a good-paying job.  They want to make a decent living.  They want to take care of themselves and their families.

Folks, that’s what — as I know all of my colleagues believe — that’s what this is all about.  It’s not just information technology.  Manufacturing — 100,000 high-tech manufacturing jobs available today in the United States because the employers cannot find workers with the right skills.  That number of highly skilled manufacturing jobs is going to grow to 875,000 by 2020.

And, folks, I was recently up in Michigan.  And Dow Kokam has a plant there that’s — they couldn’t find anybody with photovoltaic technology, didn’t know how to run the machines.  So the community college and the business, they roll the machines right into the community college because of the help you all have provided in Congress, the funding.  And it’s like an assembly line.  These are good-paying jobs.

And in energy:  26 percent more jobs for petroleum engineers, average salary 130,000 bucks a year; 25 percent more jobs for solar panel installers, $38,000 a year; 20 percent more jobs needed — more electricians are needed, earning $50,000 a year -— all now and in the near term.  These are real jobs.  These are real jobs.

Health care:  There are 20 percent more jobs -— or 526,000 more that are needed in the health care industry -— registered nurses, jobs that pay 65,000 bucks a year.  There’s training programs in all of your states and districts, where you go out there, and while you’re a practical nurse, you can still be working and be essentially apprentice, while you are learning how to become — and taking courses to be a registered nurse.

Physician assistants — badly needed as the call for health care increases.  What’s the number, Tom, 130,000 a year roughly?  These are jobs all within the grasp of the American people if we give them the shot, if we show them the way, let them know how they can possibly pay for it while they are raising a family, and they’ll do the rest.

To maintain our place in the world we need to keep the world’s most skilled workforce right here in America, and to give a whole lot more hardworking Americans a chance at a good, middle-class job they can raise a family on.

But we also know the actions in this report are only a beginning, and as is the legislation.  The fact of the matter is that so many people over the last two decades have fallen out of the middle class, and so many in the upcoming generation need to find a path back.  Well, there is a path back if we all do our jobs — from industry, to education, to union leaders, to governors, to Congress, to the federal government.

And the mission is very simple.  It goes back to the central economic vision that has guided most of us — I can speak for the President and I — from the first day we got here.

The mission is to widen the aperture to be able to get into the middle class by expanding opportunity.  No guarantees, just expanding opportunity to American men and women who represent the backbone of the most dynamic, thriving economy in the world.  That’s a fact.  We are the most dynamic, thriving economy in the world.

But in order to thrive, their education and training has to be as just as dynamic and adaptable as our economy is.  So, folks, America is back.  We’re better positioned today than we ever have been.  According to A.T. Kearney, we are the most attractive place in the world for foreign investments by a long shot, of every other country in the world.  Since this survey has been kept, the gap between number one and number two is wider than it ever has been.  Manufacturing is back, folks.  They’re coming home.  Instead of hearing — my kids, instead of hearing about outsourcing, what are you hearing now?  You’re hearing about insourcing.  Companies are coming back.

We’re in the midst of — we take no direct credit for it — we’re in the midst of an energy boom.  North America will be the epicenter of energy in the 21st century — the United States of America, Mexico, and Canada.  We remain the leader in innovation.  We have the greatest research universities in the world.  We have the most adaptive financing systems in the world, to go out and take chances on new startups.  And American workers are the most productive in the world.  They want to work.

But to seize this moment, we need to keep the world’s most skilled workforce here in America.  And I think today in this bipartisan group — we’re ready.  The American people are ready.  And I know the man I’m about to introduce is ready.  He wakes up every morning trying to figure out how do we give ordinary Americans an opportunity.  This is just about opportunity, man.  Simple opportunity — how do we give them — because they — an opportunity because they are so exceptional.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I think everyone in this room shares that goal — providing for opportunity.  And the man I’m about to introduce, that’s all he talks about, it seems to me when he talks to me.

Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, please be seated.  Thank you.  Well, welcome to the White House, everybody.  And I want to thank Joe for the generous introduction, but more importantly, for everything he does, day in, day out, on behalf of American workers.  And I want to thank the members of Congress who are here from both parties who led the effort to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act.

When President Clinton signed the original Workforce Investment Act back in 1998, he said it was, “a big step forward in making sure that every adult can keep on learning for a lifetime.”  And he was right — the law became a pillar of American job training programs.  It’s helped millions of Americans earn the skills they need to find a new job or get a better-paying job.

But even back then, even in 1998, our economy was changing.  The notion that a high school education could get you a good job and that you’d keep that job until retirement wasn’t a reality for the majority of people.  Advances in technology made some jobs obsolete.  Global competition sent other jobs overseas.  And then, as we were coming into office, the Great Recession pulled the rug out from under millions of hardworking families.

Now, the good news is, today, nearly six years after the financial crisis, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.  Manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008 -– by the way, the fastest one-year drop in nearly 30 years.  There are now more job openings than at any time since 2007, pre-recession.  For the first time in a decade, as Joe mentioned, business leaders around the world have declared that the number-one place to do business, the number-one place to invest isn’t China, it’s the United States of America.

So thanks to the hard work of the American people and some decent policies, our economy has recovered faster and it has gone farther than most other advanced nations.  As Joe said, we are well-positioned.  We’ve got the best cards.  So we have the opportunity right now to extend the lead we already have -– to encourage more companies to join the trend and bring jobs home; to make sure that the gains aren’t just for folks at the very top, but that the economy works for every single American.  If you’re working hard, you should be able to get a job, that job should pay well, and you should be able to move forward, look after your family.

Opportunity for all.  And that means that even as we’re creating new jobs in this new economy, we have to make sure that every American has the skills to fill those jobs.  And keep in mind, not every job that’s a good job out there needs a four-year degree, but the ones that don’t need a college degree generally need some sort of specialized training.

Last month, I met just a wonderful young woman named Rebekah in Minnesota.  A few years ago, she was waiting tables.  Her husband lost his job, he was a carpenter doing construction work.  He had to figure out how to scramble and get a new job that paid less.  She chose to take out student loans, she enrolled in a community college, she retrained for a new career.  Today, not only has her husband been able to get back into construction but she loves her job as an accountant — started a whole new career.  And the question then is how do we give more workers that chance to adapt, to revamp, retool, so that they can move forward in this new economy.

In 2011, I called on Congress to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act, update it for the 21st century.  And I want to thank every single lawmaker who is here — lawmakers from both parties — who answered that call.  It took some compromising, but, you know what, it turns out compromise sometimes is okay.  Folks in Congress got past their differences and they got a bill to my desk.  So this is not a win for Democrats or Republicans.  It is a win for American workers.  It’s a win for the middle class.  And it’s a win for everybody who is fighting to earn their way into the middle class.

So the bill I’m about to sign will give communities more certainty to invest in job-training programs for the long run.  It will help us bring those programs into the 21st century by building on what we know works based on evidence, based on tracking what actually delivers on behalf of folks who enroll in these programs -– more partnerships with employers, more tools to measure performance, more flexibilities for states and cities to innovate and to run their workforce programs in ways that are best suited for their particular demographic and their particular industries.  And as we approach the 24th anniversary of the ADA, this bill takes new steps to support Americans with disabilities who want to live and work independently.  So there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

Of course, as Joe said, there is still more that we can do.  And that’s why we’ve rallied employers to give long-term unemployed a fair shot.  It’s why we’re using $600 million in federal grants to encourage companies to offer apprenticeships and work directly with community colleges.  It’s why, in my State of Union address this year, I asked Joe to lead an across-the-board review of America’s training programs to make sure that they have one mission:  Train Americans with the skills employers actually need, then match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now.

So today, I’m directing my Cabinet — even as we’re signing the bill — to implement some of Joe’s recommendations.  First, we’re going to use the funds and programs we already have in a smarter way.  Federal agencies will award grants that move away from what our Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, who has been working very hard on this, what he calls a “train and pray” approach, and I’ll bet a lot of you who have dealt with folks who are unemployed know what that means.  They enroll, they get trained for something, they’re not even sure whether the job is out there, and if the job isn’t out there, all they’re doing is saddling themselves with debt, oftentimes putting themselves in a worse position.  What we want to do is make sure where you train your workers first based on what employers are telling you they’re hiring for.  Help business design the training programs so that we’re creating a pipeline into jobs that are actually out there.

Number two, training programs that use federal money will be required to make public how many of its graduates find jobs and how much they earn.  And that means workers, as they’re shopping around for what’s available, they’ll know in advance if they can expect a good return on their investment.  Every job seeker should have all the tools they need to take their career into their own hands, and we’re going to help make sure they can do that.

And finally, we’re going to keep investing in new strategies and innovations that help keep pace with a rapidly changing economy — from testing new, faster ways of teaching skills like coding and cybersecurity and welding, to giving at-risk youth the chance to learn on the job, we will keep making sure that Americans have the chance to build their careers throughout a lifetime of hard work.

So the bill I’m signing today and the actions I’m taking today will connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.  Of course, there is so much more that we can still do.  And I’m looking forward to engaging all the members of Congress and all the businesses and not-for-profits who worked on this issue.  I’m really interested in engaging them, see what else we can get going.

I’ll give you a couple of examples.  Our high school graduation rate is the highest on record.  More young people are earning their college degrees than ever before.  But we still have work to do to make college more affordable and lift the burden of student loan debt.  I acted to give nearly five million Americans the opportunity to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income — particularly important for those who were choosing careers that aren’t as lucrative.  But Congress could help millions more, and I’d like to work with you on that.

Minimum wage.  This week marks five years since the last increase in the minimum wage.  More and more states and business owners are raising their workers’ wages.  I did the same thing for federal contractors.  I’d like to work with Congress to see if we can do the same for about 28 million Americans — give Americans a raise right now.

Fair pay.  Let’s make sure the next generation of women are getting a fair deal.  Let’s make sure the next generation of good manufacturing jobs are made in America.  Let’s make it easier, not harder, for companies to bring those jobs back home.  Tomorrow, senators will get to vote on the Bring Jobs Home Act.  Instead of rewarding companies for shipping jobs overseas or rewarding companies that are moving profits offshore, let’s create jobs right here in America and let’s encourage those companies.

So let’s build on what both parties have already done on many of these issues.  Let’s see if we can come together and, while we’re at it, let’s fix an immigration system that is currently broken in a way that strengthens our borders and that we know will be good for business, we know will increase our GDP, we know will drive down our deficit.

So I want to thank all the Democrats and Republicans here today for getting this bill done.  This is a big piece of work.  You can see, it’s a big bill.  (Laughter.)  But I’m also inviting you back.  Let’s do this more often.  It’s so much fun.  (Laughter and applause.)  Let’s pass more bills to help create more good jobs, strengthen the middle class.  Look at everybody — everybody is smiling, everybody feels good.  (Laughter.)  We could be doing this all the time.  (Laughter.)

Our work can make a real difference in the lives of real Americans.  That’s why we’re here.  We’ll have more job satisfaction.  (Laughter.)  The American people, our customers, they’ll feel better about the product we produce.

And back in 1998, when President Clinton signed the original Workforce Investment Act into law, he was introduced by a man named Jim Antosy from Reading, Pennsylvania.  And Jim spoke about how he had been laid off in 1995 at age 49, two kids, no college degree.  With the help of job training programs, he earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science, found a new job in his field.

Today, Jim and his wife, Barb, still live in Reading.  Over the past 16 years, he’s been steadily employed as a programmer, working his way up from contractor to full-time employee.  In just a few months, Jim now is planning to retire after a lifetime of hard work.  A job training program made a difference in his life.  And one thing he’s thinking about doing in his retirement is teaching computer science at the local community college, so he can help a new generation of Americans earn skills that lead directly to a job, just like he had the opportunity to do.

Well, I ran for President because I believe even in a changing economy, even in a changing world, stories like Jim aren’t just possible, they should be the norm.  Joe believes the same thing.  Many of you believe the same thing.  I believe America is — I don’t just believe, I know America is full of men and women who work very hard and live up to their responsibilities, and all they want in return is to see their hard work pay off, that responsibility rewarded.

They’re not greedy.  They’re not looking for the moon.  They just want to be able to know that if they work hard, they can find a job, they can look after their families, they can retire with dignity, they’re not going to go bankrupt when they get sick, maybe take a vacation once in a while — nothing fancy.  That’s what they’re looking for, because they know that ultimately what’s important is family and community and relationships.  And that’s possible.  That’s what America is supposed to be about.  That’s what I’m fighting for every single day as President.

This bill will help move us along that path.  We need to do it more.  Let’s get together, work together, restore opportunity for every single American.  So with that, I’d like to invite up some of the outstanding folks who are sitting in the audience who helped make this happen.  And I’m going to sign this bill with all those pens.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
12:48 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 4, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at White House Fourth of July Celebration

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Fourth of July Celebration

Source: WH, 7-4-14

South Lawn

5:56 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Happy Fourth of July!  Welcome to the White House!

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you!

MRS. OBAMA:  You’re welcome!

THE PRESIDENT:  No, thank you.  (Laughter.)

Now, this little party is something we’ve been doing every year, because there’s no group that we’d rather spend time with on this most American of holidays than with you — the extraordinary men and women of America’s military.  And because of you, we’re safe, we’re free.  We depend on you for our way of life, and the sacrifices you make are extraordinary.

Now, in the house we’ve got Army.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Navy.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Air Force.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Marines.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Coast Guard.  (Applause.)  And, most important, we’ve got the incredible spouses and children —  give it up for our outstanding military families.  (Applause.)

To help us celebrate, we’ve got our outstanding Marine Band.  (Applause.)  Later on, we’re going to bring out Pitbull and his band.  (Applause.)  So we want to see if you like to party.  (Laughter.)  And, of course, this is always a special day for us because this is Malia’s birthday.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  She can get her license!

MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, she’s going to get her license.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  She is.  She’s getting her license, but she has to practice a little bit before that happens.  (Laughter.)

Now, this is a gorgeous day.  We want you to enjoy yourselves, so I’m going to keep my remarks brief.  But it is important to remember why we’re here.

Two hundred and thirty-eight years ago, our founders came together and declared a new nation and a revolutionary idea –the belief that we are all created equal; that we’re free to govern ourselves; that each of us is entitled to life and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

And in the generations that have followed — through war and peace, through depression and prosperity — these truths have guided us as we have built the greatest democratic, economic, and military force the world has ever known.

So today, immigrants from around the world dream of coming to our shores.  Young people aspire to study at our universities.  Other nations look to us for support and leadership in times of disaster, and conflict, and uncertainty.  And when the world looks to America, so often they look to all of you –- the men and women of our Armed Forces.  Every day, at home and abroad, you’re working to uphold those ideals first declared in that Philadelphia hall more than two centuries ago.  Every day, you give meaning to that basic notion that as Americans we take care of each other.  And so today, we honor all of you.

And we salute some of the folks who are here with us on this balcony.  We salute our soldiers — like Chief Warrant Officer Tom Oroho, who has served this nation in uniform for 27 years, including deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Two summers ago, Tom was at the beach, saw a young girl and her father who had been swept out to sea, and jumped into dangerous riptide and pulled them back to safety.  That’s the kind of service we expect from our outstanding soldiers.  Please give it up for Tom.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

We salute our sailors — like Seaman Reverlie Thomas, who came to America 21 years ago from Trinidad.  She served a tour in the Persian Gulf for the Navy.  Just a few hours ago here at the White House, I was proud to welcome Seaman Thomas and 24 other servicemembers and military spouses as our newest American citizens.  Thank you Reverlie, and congratulations.  (Applause.)

We salute our airmen — like Technical Sergeant Cheryl Uylaki, who manages the Fisher House at Dover Air Force Base, ensuring the families of our fallen are always provided comfort and care worthy of their profound sacrifice.  We’re so grateful to you, Cheryl, for your great work.  (Applause.)

We salute our Marines — like Sergeant Isaac Gallegos, who was severely wounded after an IED explosion in Iraq eight years ago.  He suffered burns on almost every inch of his face.  He was pronounced dead three separate times.  Undergone 161 surgeries.  But he is here standing with us today, pursuing a Master’s degree, working full-time for the Navy.  That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about Marines.  Give it up for Isaac.  (Applause.)

We salute our Coasties — like Lieutenant Commander Sean Plankey, who helped lead a cyber team in Afghanistan that supported our troops during firefights and helped prevent the detonation of remote-controlled IEDs, saving countless lives.  So thank you, Sean.  (Applause.)

And we salute our military families — the spouses who put their careers on hold for their loved ones; the children who pick up extra chores while Mom or Dad is deployed; the siblings and parents and extended family members who serve the country every single day.  You’re the reason Michelle and Jill Biden started the Joining Forces initiative — to make sure America is supporting you, too.  And today we honor your service here today.  (Applause.)

So as we pause on this Fourth of July to celebrate what makes us American, we salute all of you whose service and sacrifice renews that promise of America every single day.  On behalf of the entire country, Michelle and I simply want to say thank you to all of you for your courage and your strength, and your unending service to this nation.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody.  Have a great party.  Have a hotdog.  Have a hamburger.  We want to see you dancing.  God bless you all, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

END
6:05 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 4, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Naturalization Ceremony for Servicemembers and Military Spouses about Immigration Reform

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Naturalization Ceremony for Servicemembers and Military Spouses

Source: WH, 7-4-14

East Room

11:24 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Please be seated.  Good morning and welcome to the White House.  And Happy Fourth of July!  (Applause.)

Deputy Secretary Mayorkas, thank you for taking care of the important part of this morning, which is administering the oath — that’s the thing that we want to make sure we got right.  (Laughter.)  To Acting Deputy Director Jones, to family, friends, distinguished guests — thank you all for being here.  And finally, to these 25 men and women, servicemembers and spouses, it is an honor to join everyone here, for the first time, in calling you “our fellow Americans.”

Now, this is one of my favorite events to do — and not just because we get to have a barbeque and watch fireworks later.  (Laughter.)  It’s because each of you has traveled a long journey to this moment — journeys that began in places like Jamaica and Germany, China and Guatemala.  And yet somehow — either because your parents brought you here as children, or because you made the choice yourselves as adults — you ended up here, in America.

And then many of you did something extraordinary:  You signed up to serve in the United States military.  You answered the call –- to fight and potentially to give your life for a country that you didn’t fully belong to yet.  You understood what makes us American is not just circumstances of birth, or the names in our family tree.  It’s that timeless belief that from many we are one; that we are bound together by adherence to a set of beliefs and unalienable rights; that we have certain obligations to each other, to look after each other, and to serve one another.  And over the years, that’s exactly what you’ve done.

Rodrigo Laquian came to the United States from the Philippines.  He joined the Navy because, he said, he “wanted to be a part of something big and important.  To be a part of a great cause.”  Today, Petty Officer Second Class Laquian is still part of that great cause — and today he’s also an American citizen.

Stephanie Van Ausdall moved here from Canada with her mom when she was 18 years old.  And today she’s 26 and a Sergeant in the Army.  Stephanie says she joined the military “to give my children someone to look up to and someone they can be proud of.”  Stephanie, I know that you’ve made your children and all of us very proud.

Oscar Gonzalez was born in Guatemala, and became a Marine last year.  Becoming a citizen, he says, means becoming part of a “society that strives and stands for good all around the world — just being a part of that makes me complete.”  Well, Oscar, welcoming you as an American citizen makes our country a little more complete, so thank you.

And then there are those of you who married an American servicemember, and as a military spouse, you’ve been serving our country as well.  Diana Baker is originally from Kenya and met her husband Kowaine in Germany.  Today she’s a nurse at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland, and she and her husband have four beautiful children.  In Diana’s words, “Becoming a citizen of the United States is like joining a club of the best of the best.”  (Laughter.)  And I agree.  Congratulations, Diana, on joining the club.

Together, all of you remind us that America is and always has been a nation of immigrants.  Throughout our history, immigrants have come to our shores in wave after wave, from every corner of the globe.  Every one of us –- unless we’re Native American –- has an ancestor who was born somewhere else.

And even though we haven’t always looked the same or spoken the same language, as Americans, we’ve done big things together.  We’ve won this country’s freedom together.  We’ve built our greatest cities together.  We’ve defended our way of life together.  We’ve continued to perfect our union together.

And that’s what makes America special.  That’s what makes us strong.  The basic idea of welcoming immigrants to our shores is central to our way of life, it is in our DNA.  We believe our diversity, our differences, when joined together by a common set of ideals, makes us stronger, makes us more creative, makes us different.  From all these different strands, we make something new here in America.  And that’s why, if we want to keep attracting the best and brightest from beyond our borders, we’re going to have to fix our immigration system, which is broken, and pass commonsense immigration reform.

We shouldn’t be making it harder for the best and the brightest to come here, and create jobs here, and grow our economy here.  We should be making it easier.  And that’s why I’m going to keep doing –

(Audience member applauds.)

THE PRESIDENT:  He agrees with me.  (Laughter and applause.)  So I’m going to keep doing everything I can do to keep making our immigration system smarter and more efficient so hardworking men and women like all of you have the opportunity to join the American family and to serve our great nation.  So we can be stronger and more prosperous and more whole –- together.

I’ll close with a quick story.  George Mardikian was an immigrant from Armenia who became a famous chef.  And George had a quote that I think will ring true for most immigrants.  He said, “You who have been born in America, I wish I could make you understand what it is like not to be an American -– not to have been an American all your life -– and then, suddenly to be one, for that moment, and forever after.”

Today, on this Fourth of July, all across the country –- from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello to the Alamodome in Texas — immigrants from around the world are taking the oath of citizenship.  And many of them have worked and sacrificed for years to get to this moment.  All of them have done it for something none of us should ever take for granted:  the right to be called an American, from this moment, and forever after.

And that fact should give us hope and should make us confident about the future of our country.  Because as long as there are men and women like all of you who are willing to give so much for the right to call yourselves Americans, and as long as we do our part to keep the door open to those who are willing to earn their citizenship, then we’re going to keep on growing our economy, we’ll continue to journey forward, and we’ll remind the world of why the United States of America is and always will be the greatest nation on Earth.  We’re very proud of you.  Congratulations.

God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  And now I’d like to turn it over to Deputy Secretary Mayorkas.  Congratulations.  (Applause.)

END
11:31 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 3, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 100th Annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Source: WH, 5-3-14

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

10:21 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much, everybody.  Have a seat, have a seat.  Before I get started, can we get the new presidential setup out here?

(Aides bring out two ferns.)

It was worked before.  (Laughter and applause.)  That’s more like it.

It is great to be back.  What a year, huh?  I usually start these dinners with a few self-deprecating jokes.  After my stellar 2013, what could I possibly talk about?  (Laughter.)

I admit it — last year was rough.  Sheesh.  (Laughter.)  At one point things got so bad, the 47 percent called Mitt Romney to apologize.  (Laughter.)

Of course, we rolled out healthcare.gov.  That could have gone better.  (Laughter.)  In 2008 my slogan was, “Yes We Can.”  In 2013 my slogan was, “Control-Alt-Delete.”  (Laughter.)  On the plus side, they did turn the launch of healthcare.gov into one of the year’s biggest movies.  (Laughter.)

But rather than dwell on the past, I would like to pivot to this dinner.  Let’s welcome our headliner this evening, Joel McHale.  (Applause.)  On “Community,” Joel plays a preening, self-obsessed narcissist.  So this dinner must be a real change of pace for you.  (Laughter.)

I want to thank the White House Correspondents Association for hosting us here tonight.  I am happy to be here, even though I am a little jet-lagged from my trip to Malaysia.  The lengths we have to go to get CNN coverage these days.  (Laughter and applause.)  I think they’re still searching for their table.  (Laughter and applause.)

MSNBC is here.  They’re a little overwhelmed.  (Laughter.)  They’ve never seen an audience this big before.  (Laughter.)

But, look, everybody is trying to keep up with this incredibly fast-changing media landscape.  For example, I got a lot of grief on cable news for promoting Obamacare to young people on Between Two Ferns.  But that’s what young people like to watch.  And to be fair, I am not the first person on television between two potted plants.  (Laughter and applause.)

Sometimes I do feel disrespected by you reporters.  But that’s okay.  Seattle Seahawk cornerback Richard Sherman is here tonight.  (Applause.)  And he gave me some great tips on how to handle it.  Jake Tapper, don’t you ever talk about me like that!  (Laughter.)  I’m the best President in the game!  (Laughter.)

What do you think, Richard?  Was that good?  A little more feeling next time?

While we’re talking sports, just last month, a wonderful story — an American won the Boston Marathon for first time in 30 years.  (Applause.)  Which was inspiring and only fair, since a Kenyan has been president for the last six.  (Laughter and applause.)  Had to even things out.  (Laughter.)

We have some other athletes here tonight, including Olympic snowboarding gold medalist Jamie Anderson is here.  We’re proud of her.  (Applause.)  Incredibly talented young lady.  Michelle and I watched the Olympics — we cannot believe what these folks do — death-defying feats — haven’t seen somebody pull a “180” that fast since Rand Paul disinvited that Nevada rancher from this dinner.  (Laughter.)  As a general rule, things don’t like end well if the sentence starts, “Let me tell you something I know about the negro.”  (Laughter.)  You don’t really need to hear the rest of it.  (Laughter and applause.)  Just a tip for you — don’t start your sentence that way.  (Laughter.)

Speaking of Rand Paul — (laughter) — Colorado legalized marijuana this year, an interesting social experiment.  I do hope it doesn’t lead to a whole lot of paranoid people who think that the federal government is out to get them and listening to their phone calls.  (Laughter.)  That would be a problem.  (Laughter.)

And speaking of conservative heroes, the Koch brothers bought a table here tonight.  But as usual, they used a shadowy right-wing organization as a front.  Hello, Fox News.  (Laughter and applause.)

I’m just kidding.  Let’s face it, Fox, you’ll miss me when I’m gone.  (Laughter.)  It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.  (Laughter and applause.)

A lot of us really are concerned about the way big money is influencing our politics.  I remember when a Super PAC was just me buying Marlboro 100s instead of regulars.  (Laughter.)

Of course, now that it’s 2014, Washington is obsessed on the midterms.  Folks are saying that with my sagging poll numbers, my fellow Democrats don’t really want me campaigning with them.  And I don’t think that’s true — although I did notice the other day that Sasha needed a speaker at career day, and she invited Bill Clinton.  (Laughter.)  I was a little hurt by that.  (Laughter.)

Both sides are doing whatever it takes to win the ruthless game.  Republicans — this is a true story — Republicans actually brought in a group of consultants to teach their candidates how to speak to women.  This is true.  And I don’t know if it will work with women, but I understand that America’s teenage boys are signing up to run for the Senate in droves.  (Laughter.)

Anyway, while you guys focus on the horserace, I’m going to do what I do — I’m going to be focused on everyday Americans.  Just yesterday, I read a heartbreaking letter — you know I get letters from folks from around the country; every day I get 10 that I read — this one got to me.  A Virginia man who’s been stuck in the same part-time job for years; no respect from his boss; no chance to get ahead.  I really wish Eric Cantor would stop writing me.  (Laughter.)  You can just pick up the phone, Eric.  (Laughter.)

And I’m feeling sorry — believe it or not — for the Speaker of the House, as well.  These days, the House Republicans actually give John Boehner a harder time than they give me, which means orange really is the new black.  (Laughter and applause.)

But I have not given up the idea of working with Congress. In fact, two weeks ago, Senator Ted Cruz and I, we got a bill done together.  And I have to say, the signing ceremony was something special.  We’ve got a picture of it I think.  (Laughter.)

Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever.  Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder:  What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?  (Laughter and applause.)

One issue, for example, we haven’t been able to agree on is unemployment insurance.  Republicans continue to refuse to extend it.  And you know what, I am beginning to think they’ve got a point.  If you want to get paid while not working, you should have to run for Congress just like everybody else.  (Laughter and applause.)

Of course, there is one thing that keeps Republicans busy.  They have tried more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare.  Despite that, 8 million people signed up for health care in the first open enrollment.  (Applause.)  Which does lead one to ask, how well does Obamacare have to work before you don’t want to repeal it?  What if everybody’s cholesterol drops to 120?  (Laughter.)  What if your yearly checkup came with tickets to a Clippers game?  (Laughter.)  Not the old, Donald Sterling Clippers — the new Oprah Clippers.  Would that be good enough?  (Laughter.)  What if they gave Mitch McConnell a pulse?  (Laughter.)  What is it going to take?  (Laughter.)

Anyway, this year, I’ve promised to use more executive actions to get things done without Congress.  My critics call this the “imperial presidency.”  The truth is, I just show up every day in my office and do my job.  I’ve got a picture of this I think.  (Laughter and applause.)  You would think they’d appreciate a more assertive approach, considering that the new conservative darling is none other than Vladimir Putin.  (Laughter.)  Last year, Pat Buchanan said Putin is “headed straight for the Nobel Peace Prize.”  He said this.  Now I know it sounds crazy but to be fair, they give those to just about anybody these days.  (Laughter.)  So it could happen.

But it’s not just Pat — Rudy Giuliani said Putin is “what you call a leader.”  Mike Huckabee and Sean Hannity keep talking about his bare chest, which is kind of weird.  (Laughter.)  Look it up — they talk about it a lot.  (Laughter.)

It is strange to think that I have just two and a half years left in this office.  Everywhere I look, there are reminders that I only hold this job temporarily.  (Laughter.)

But it’s a long time between now and 2016, and anything can happen.  You may have heard the other day, Hillary had to dodge a flying shoe at a press conference.  (Laughter and applause.)  I love that picture.  (Laughter.)

Regardless of what happens, I’ve run my last campaign and I’m beginning to think about my legacy.  Some of you know — Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced he is naming a high school in Chicago after me, which is extremely humbling.  I was even more flattered to hear Rick Perry, who is here tonigh, is doing the same thing in Texas.  Take a look.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, Rick.  It means a lot to me.  (Laughter and applause.)

And I intend to enjoy all the free time that I will have.  George W. Bush took up painting after he left office, which inspired me to take up my own artistic side.  (Laughter.)  I’m sure we’ve got a shot of this.  (Laughter.)  Maybe not.  The joke doesn’t work without the slide.  (Laughter.)  Oh well.  Assume that it was funny.  (Laughter.)  Does this happen to you, Joel?  It does?  Okay.

On a more serious note, tonight reminds us that we really are lucky to live in a country where reporters get to give a head of state a hard time on a daily basis — and then, once a year, give him or her the chance, at least, to try to return the favor.

But we also know that not every journalist, or photographer, or crewmember is so fortunate, because even as we celebrate the free press tonight, our thoughts are with those in places around the globe like Ukraine, and Afghanistan, and Syria, and Egypt, who risk everything — in some cases, even give their lives — to report the news.

And what tonight also reminds us is that the fight for full and fair access goes beyond the chance to ask a question.  As Steve mentioned, decades ago, an African American who wanted to cover his or her President might be barred from journalism school, burdened by Jim Crow, and, once in Washington, banned from press conferences.  But after years of effort, black editors and publishers began meeting with FDR’s press secretary, Steve Early.  And then they met with the President himself, who declared that a black reporter would get a credential.  And even when Harry McAlpin made history as the first African American to attend a presidential news conference, he wasn’t always welcomed by the other reporters.  But he was welcomed by the President, who told him, I’m glad to see you, McAlpin, and I’m very happy to have you here.

Now, that sentiment might have worn off once Harry asked him a question or two — (laughter) — and Harry’s battles continued.  But he made history.  And we’re s proud of Sherman and his family for being here tonight, and the White House Correspondents Association for creating a scholarship in Harry’s name.  (Applause.)

For over 100 years, even as the White House Correspondents Association has told the story of America’s progress, you’ve lived it, too — gradually allowing equal access to women, and minorities, and gays, and Americans with disabilities.  And, yes, radio, and television, and Internet reporters, as well.  And through it all, you’ve helped make sure that even as societies change, our fundamental commitment to the interaction between those who govern and those who ask questions doesn’t change.  And as Jay will attest, it’s a legacy you carry on enthusiastically  every single day.

And because this is the 100th anniversary of the Correspondents’ Association, I actually recorded an additional brief video thanking all of you for your hard work.  Can we run the video?

(Video fails to play.)

THE PRESIDENT:  What’s going on?  (Laughter.)  I was told this would work.  Does anybody know how to fix this?  (Laughter.)

(Secretary Sebelius enters from backstage.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, thank you.  (Laughter and applause.)  You got it?

SECRETARY SEBELIUS:  I got this — I see it all the time.  There, that should work.

(Video plays.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  And God bless America, and thank you, Kathleen Sebelius.  (Applause.)

END
10:40 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency April 21, 2014: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks at the 2014 White House Easter Egg Roll

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

The 2014 White House Easter Egg Roll

Remarks by the President and the First Lady at the Easter Egg Roll

Source:  WH, 4-21-14

Watch the Video

South Lawn

10:34 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, hello everybody.  Is everybody having fun?  (Applause.)  Happy Easter.  This is the biggest event that we have at the White House all year long and it is our most fun event, because we have a chance to see families from all across the country coming through here.  My main and only job, other than officiating over the roll at some point, is to introduce, alongside the Easter Bunny, the person who makes this all possible — we love her dearly — my wife, the First Lady, Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, honey. Hey, everybody.  Happy Easter Egg Roll Day.  Isn’t this exciting?  It is so wonderful to have so many of you here today.  We are celebrating the 136th Easter Egg Roll.  The theme of this year’s roll is “Hop Into Health, Swing Into Shape.”  Yes, I love it.

And it’s going to be a great day.  We have beautiful weather, because the Easter Egg Roll is blessed.  And we’re going to have fun stuff going on.  We’ve got the Egg Roll.  We’ve got some storytelling.  We’ve got entertainment.  We’ve got wonderful athletes and performers like Cam and so many others.  We’ve got obstacle courses and yoga and face painting and egg hunts.  It’s just going to be terrific.  As Barack said, we love this event.  This is the largest event that we do here on the South Lawn.  We’re going to have more than 30,000 people on the lawn today.

And we’re just thrilled that this theme is focusing on one issue that is near and dear to my heart, and it’s making sure that our young people are active and healthy.  So while you’re here, parents, look around.  You’re going to learn how to make healthy snacks that the kids will actually eat.  I’m going to be over there on the chef’s stage doing some demonstrations.

And I want to make sure that kids know that healthy eating and being active can be fun, because what today is about is having a whole lot of fun.  And I hope you all do that, because we want our kids to be the healthiest and the strongest they can be, so they can do well in school and live up to all of their God-given potential.  Isn’t that right, parents?  That’s what we want for you all.  (Applause.)

And we want to thank the Easter Bunny, as always, for being here.  And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the hundreds of volunteers who make today possible.  (Applause.)  Thank you to our volunteers who have been out here setting up the South Lawn, who are going to make sure you guys get through these activities and have a great time.

So you all just enjoy.  That’s all you have to do from this point on, is have fun.  And we’ll be down there to participate in the Egg Roll.  The President is going to read.  I’m going to read a little bit.  So we’ll meet you down on the South Lawn, okay?

All right.  Have a great time.  Bye-bye.  (Applause.)

END
10:39 A.M.

Political Musings April 8, 2014: Obama signs executive orders aimed at granting women equal pay for equal work

POLITICAL MUSINGS

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=500&h=80?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

 

Obama signs executive orders aimed at granting women equal pay for equal work

 

By Bonnie K. Goodman

To honor National Equal Pay Day on April 8, 2014, President Barack Obama signed two executive orders to help curb the pay disparity for women by federal contractors in a White House ceremony, where he announced that…Continue
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Full Text Obama Presidency April 3, 2014: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks at Team USA’s Visit – 2014 Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Athletes

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President and the First Lady at Visit of the 2014 Sochi Olympic and Paralympic Athletes

Source: WH, 4-3-14 

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during an event to welcome United States teams and delegations from the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi to the East Room of the White House, April 3, 2014.President Barack Obama delivers remarks during an event to welcome United States teams and delegations from the 2014 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi to the East Room of the White House, April 3, 2014. First Lady Michelle Obama, Jon Lujan, Paralympic Alpine skier and Marine veteran, and Julie Chu, Olympic ice hockey player, share the stage with the President. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Watch the Video

East Room

2:55 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Hey, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Welcome to the White House!  (Applause.)  I know you guys have been standing for a while, but you’re athletes, you can handle it.  (Laughter.)

We are so excited to have Team USA here with us today.  But before we begin, I just want to take a moment to acknowledge the Fort Hood community that, as many of you know, has experienced yet another devastating tragedy.  And we just want to make sure that folks there know that our thoughts and prayers are with all of those who lost loved ones and friends, as well as those that were injured.

Because I know that many of the athletes here today are veterans themselves, and when something like this happens, it touches all of us.  I know that the President and I are just torn apart when things like this happen.  So today, as we celebrate the Olympic spirit, we remember that the same spirit — the spirit of hard work and team work — is shared by our military men and women, and we stand with them today and every day.

So, now, let’s get into the you-guys thing.  (Laughter.)  After watching you guys all over TV all these couple of months, I have to say that I am truly amazed.  I shared some of this with you guys in the receiving line.  You all are so talented.  You’re dedicated, and honestly, sometimes I don’t know how you do it.  I really don’t.

I’ve watched you guys do some of the craziest stuff.  That’s the thing with the Winter Olympics.  You guys do crazy things — careening down the face of mountains — craziness.  (Laughter.)  Throwing each other up in the air, it’s like — the mixed-pair skaters, the women, they’re teeny.  The big guys take them and throw them, just throw them across the ice.  I’m like, are you kidding me?  (Laughter.)  You threw her so hard and she lands on one foot on a blade.  And those of you jumping on those cookie sheet things and just sliding down a mountain — (laughter) — 80 miles an hour — I mean, who thinks of that?  (Laughter.)

So I am really in awe of everything you do, as so many people here in America and across the globe are.  Again and again, you all showed us that being an Olympian is about heart; it’s about guts; and it’s about giving it your all no matter what stands in your way.  And that’s a message that I try to convey to young people all the time — the idea that if you work hard and commit yourselves to a goal, and then pick yourself up when you fall, that there is nothing that you can’t achieve.

And as Olympic and Paralympic athletes, you also know that a big part of reaching your full potential is making sure that you’re putting the right fuel in your body.  You all know that better than anyone in this country, that what you eat absolutely makes a difference in how you perform.

And that’s another message that I try to spread to our young people, the importance of healthy eating and staying active.  So I want to thank all of you who taped a video for our Let’s Move campaign earlier today.  Thank you so much for making that happen.  And I want to give a special thank you to the USOC for their work to give over 2 million young people opportunities to get active in their communities.  We are so grateful for that, work, and we’re grateful for the example you all set for our young people.

In so many different ways, you all are inspiring folks across the country not just every four years but every single day.  And nowhere have I seen that more clearly than in the story of someone that I met here at the White House four years ago under far different circumstances.

Lt. Commander Dan Cnossen was seated next to me at a dinner with leaders of our military.  And I just got to see Dan, and we were remarking — because we were in the Dip Room, the same room we had dinner in together, but just a few months earlier, Dan had been in Afghanistan.  He was leading a platoon of Navy SEALs when he stepped on an IED.  Dan lost both of his legs in the explosion, but he never lost that fighting spirit.

I will always remember Dan, because just four months after that explosion, he finished a half marathon in a wheelchair — four months after the explosion.  On the one-year anniversary of his injury, he ran a mile on his prosthetics.  Over the next few years, Dan stayed on active duty while in the Navy, earning medals in swimming and running events at the Warrior Games, and completing the New York City Marathon.

And today, four and a half years after his injury, Dan is proud to wear another one of our nation’s uniforms, and that is of Team USA.  (Applause.)  There’s Dan.

THE PRESIDENT:  Dan is in the back there.

MRS. OBAMA:  Dan is in the back.

THE PRESIDENT:  Wave again, Dan.  There’s Dan.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  And I also got to meet Dan’s sister, who stayed by his side every single minute of his recovery and she was an important part of that recovery.  And she’s a terrific woman, a nurse herself.  And I’m glad to hear she’s doing well.

In Sochi, Dan inspired us all again by competing in the 15K biathlon and the 1 kilometer sitting cross-country spring.  So Dan has come a long way in the four years that we met, and I know that his story and the stories of all our Olympians and Paralympians are nowhere near finished.

So keep it up.  This is only the beginning.  Many of you were here four years ago, and you told us you’d be back — and you’re back.  So I know you’re already getting ready for that next four years.  But in the meantime, we look forward to all that you’re going to do in this country and around the world to keep inspiring particularly young people to just live a little more like you all live and to show them that spirit of persistence.

So thank you all, again, for everything that you do.  And I can’t wait to hear about everything that you will do in the years to come.

And with that, I’m going to turn it over to this guy next to me — (laughter) — who happens to be my husband, but, more importantly, is the President of the United States, Barack Obama. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Let’s, first of all, be clear:  It is more important that I’m Michelle’s husband than that I’m President of the United States.  (Laughter and applause.)  I just want you to — I don’t want anybody to be confused.  Many of you young people out there aren’t married yet, so I just want you to know — giving you some tips in terms of how to prioritize.  (Laughter.)

Obviously, as Michelle mentioned, our thoughts right now in many ways are with the families at Fort Hood.  These are folks who make such extraordinary sacrifices for us each and every day for our freedom.  During the course of a decade of war, many of them have been on multiple tours of duty.  To see unspeakable, senseless violence happen in a place where they’re supposed to feel safe, home base, is tragic.  And obviously this is the second time that the Fort Hood community has been affected this way.

So we join that entire community in honoring those who lost their lives.  Every single one of them was an American patriot.  We stand with their families and their loved ones as they grieve. We are thinking about those who are wounded.  We’re there to support them.

And as we learn more about what happened and why, we’re going to make sure that we’re doing everything in our power to keep our troops safe and to keep our troops strong, not just on the battlefield but also when they come home.  They’ve done their duty, and they’re an inspiration.  They’ve made us proud.  They put on the uniform and then they take care of us, and we’ve got to make sure that when they come home we take care of them.

And that spirit of unity is what brings us here today — because we could not be prouder of Team USA.  (Applause.)  Team USA.  I hope all of you made yourself at home.  We double-checked to make sure that all the bathroom locks were working in case Johnny Quinn — (laughter) — tried to bust down one of these antique doors.  We didn’t want that to happen.  (Laughter.)

I want to recognize the members of Congress we have here with us, as well as Scott Blackmun and Larry Probst from the USOC, our fantastic delegations that represent the diversity and the values of our country so well.  But most of all, we’re here just to celebrate all of you — our Olympians and Paralympians who brought home a total of 46 medals for the Red, White and Blue.  (Applause.)

I understand that freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy also brought home a few stray dogs that he adopted.  (Laughter.)  That doesn’t count in the medal standings, but it tells you something about the freestyle skiers.  (Applause.)

Over the past couple of months, we saw some dominating performances by Team USA.  American women won more medals in the Olympics than women of any other nation.  (Applause.)  Way to go, women!  (Applause.)  Good job.  The men swept the podium in slopestyle skiing and Paralympic snowboarding.  (Applause.)  There you go.  Our women’s hockey team brought home the silver.  (Applause.)  Our men’s hockey team played a game for the ages with an epic shootout victory over the Russians.  (Applause.)

I would personally like to thank all of our snowboarders and freestyle skiers for making newscasters across America say things like “air to fakie,” and the “back-to-back double cork 1260.”  (Laughter.)  I don’t know what that means, really, but I just wanted to say it.  (Laughter.)  I’m pretty sure I’m the first President to ever say that.  (Applause.)  I’m pretty sure that’s true.  The back-to-back double cork 1260.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  It feels good.

THE PRESIDENT:  Does it feel good?  (Laughter.)

In Sochi, these athletes made plenty of history.  You had 16-year-old Declan Farmer scoring three goals to help our sled hockey team become the first nation ever to win back-to-back gold medals.  (Applause.)  Hey!  There he is.  There he is.  Hey!  (Applause.)

Our men’s bobsled team became the first Americans in 62 years to medal in both the two-man and the four-man competition. (Applause.)  Bobsledders — those are some tough guys, those bobsledders.  Don’t mess with them.  (Laughter.)

And then, Mikaela Shiffrin became the youngest Olympian ever to win gold in the slalom, at just 18 years old.  (Applause.)  Where’s Mikaela?  She’s back here somewhere.  Wave a little bit. (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  She’s a little — she’s down low.

THE PRESIDENT:  She’s down low.  There she is.  I knew she was here.  I saw her.  (Laughter.)  Afterwards, she said she wants to win five gold in 2018.  I do have to say, though, Mikaela, as somebody who was once told “you’re young but you should set your sights high,” I just got three words of advice:  Go for it.  (Applause.)  We are confident you are going to be bringing back some more gold.

Thanks to years of lobbying from Team USA, women’s ski jumping was added as an Olympic sport, and they did outstanding. (Applause.)  So women can fly just like men.  Jessica Jerome said, “We have arrived.  We are good at what we do.  And we are a lot prettier than the boy jumpers.”  (Laughter.)  Which I can attest to — I’ve seen them.  (Laughter.)  She wasn’t lying.

So from our ski jumpers who fought for equality to the athletes and coaches who have served our country in uniform, like Dan, who we’re so proud of, these athletes all send a message that resonates far beyond the Olympic Village.  And that’s always been the power of the Olympics — in going for the gold and pushing yourselves to be the best, you inspire the rest of us to try to, if not be the best, at least be a little better.

MRS. OBAMA:  Get off the couch.

THE PRESIDENT:  Just get off the couch.  (Laughter.)  That’s what Michelle said.

All of you remind us, just like the Olympic creed states, the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight.  And I want to take the example of somebody who couldn’t be here today, but her story I think is typical of so many of yours.  And this is Noelle Pikus-Pace.  Noelle was hoping to be here, but she’s been on the road a lot, wanted to get back to her husband and her kids — and they may be watching us now.

But almost a decade ago, Noelle was on top of the world after winning the women’s skeleton World Cup.  She was injured in a freak accident that cost her chances in 2006.  In 2010, she missed the podium by one-tenth of a second.  And after all of those Olympics, she retired to spend more time with her family.  But then two years, ago her husband convinced her to go back on that sled, because raising a family and racing down the track don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

So since then, Noelle, her husband, her two young children traveled from competition to competition, living out of suitcases, seeing the world together.  And in Sochi, it all paid off, and she took home the silver in the skeleton — jumping over the wall to celebrate with her family on the final run.  And here’s what Noelle said afterwards:  “Life is never going to go as planned.  You have to decide, when you’re bumped off course, if it’s going to hold you back or move you forward.”

That’s the spirit we celebrate today.  That’s something Dan understands.  That’s something that all of you at some stages in your life have understood or will understand.  Things aren’t always going to go perfect — and Michelle and I always remark, watching our Olympians, that you work hard for four years and then just a little something can happen.  And you’re just that close, and the courage and the stick-to-itness, and the confidence, and the joy in competition that keeps you moving — that’s going to help you throughout life.  It helps our country. It’s what America is all about.  It’s why we are so proud to have you all here today.

And four years from now, I won’t be here to greet you but some President is going to.  And I suspect that a lot of you may come back even four years after that.  You guys have done a great job, and what an extraordinary achievement it is for all of you to have represented the United States of America at our Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Congratulations.  Good job.  (Applause.)

END
3:15 P.M. EDT

Political Musings March 20, 2014: Obama screens Cesar Chavez at White House pushes economic opportunity program

POLITICAL MUSINGS

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=500&h=80?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama screens Cesar Chavez at White House pushes economic opportunity program

By Bonnie K. Goodman

After sitting a for a series of interview, President Barack Obama capped the day off on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 hosting an advanced screening of the new movie “Cesar Chavez,” the biopic about the founder of the United…READ MORE

Political Musings March 14, 2014: Obama signs presidential memorandum to expand overtime pay eligibility

POLITICAL MUSINGS

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=500&h=80?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

President Barack Obama expanded his economic opportunity program on Thursday, March 13, 2014 by signing a presidential memorandum at the White House East Room aimed at changing the regulations to expand the minimum eligibility for overtime pay under the….READ MORE
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