Full Text Obama Presidency November 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the End of the G20 Summit in Brisbane Australia — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at G20 Press Conference | November 16, 2014

Source: WH, 11-16-14 

Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Center
Brisbane, Australia

4:19 P.M. AEST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Thank you, everybody.Please have a seat.Good afternoon.I want to begin by thanking Prime Minister Abbott, the people of Brisbane, and the people of Australia for being such extraordinary hosts for the G20.All the arrangements were terrific and, as always, the people of Australia could not have been friendlier and better organized.So I very much appreciate everything that you have done.

We had a lot of good discussions during the course of the G20, but as our Australian friends say, this wasn’t just a “good old chinwag.”I really love that expression.(Laughter.)It was a productive summit.And so I want to thank Tony for his leadership, and the people of Brizzy truly did shine throughout this process with their hospitality.

This is the final day of a trip that has taken me across the Asia Pacific — a visit that comes against the backdrop of America’s renewed economic strength.The United States is in the longest stretch of uninterrupted private sector job growth in its history.Over the last few years, we’ve put more people back to work than all the other advanced economies combined.And this growing economic strength at home set the stage for the progress that we have made on this trip.It’s been a good week for American leadership and for American workers.

We made important progress in our efforts to open markets to U.S. goods and to boost the exports that support American jobs.We continue to make progress toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership.Our agreement with China to extend visas for business people, tourists and students is going to boost tourism, grow our two economies and create jobs for Americans and Chinese alike.We also agreed with China to pursue a bilateral investment treaty, as well as agreeing on an approach to the Information Technology Agreement that is estimated would support some 60,000 American jobs.And here at the G20, China committed to greater transparency on its economic data, including its foreign exchange reserves.And this is a step toward the market-driven exchange rate that we’ve been pushing for because it would promote a level playing field for American businesses and American workers.

Here in Brisbane, all the G20 countries announced strategies to increase growth and put people back to work, including a new initiative to support jobs by building infrastructure.Our nations made commitments that could bring another 100 million women into our collective workforce.We took new steps toward strengthening our banks, closing tax loopholes for multinational companies, and stopping tax evaders and criminals from hiding behind shell companies.And these were all very specific provisions.These were not just goals that were set without any substance behind them.We have made very concrete progress during the course of the last several G20 sessions in preventing companies from avoiding the taxes that they owe in their home countries, including the United States, and making sure that we’ve got a financial system that’s more stable and that can allow a bank to fail without taxpayers having to bail them out.

Meanwhile, the breakthrough the United States achieved with India this week allows for a resumption of talks on a global trade deal that would mean more growth and prosperity for all of us.

This week, we also took historic steps in the fight against climate change.The ambitious new goal that I announced in Beijing will double the pace at which America reduces its carbon pollution while growing our economy and creating jobs, strengthening our energy security, and putting us on the path to a low carbon future.Combined with China’s commitment — China for the first time committed to slowing and then peaking and then reversing the course of its emissions — we’re showing that there’s no excuse for other nations to come together, both developed and developing, to achieve a strong global climate agreement next year.

The $3 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund that I announced yesterday will help developing nations deal with climate change, reduce their carbon pollution and invest in clean energy.I want to commend, by the way, Prime Minister Abe and Japan for their $1.5 billion pledge to the Fund.And following the steps we’ve taken in the United States, many of the G20 countries agreed to work to improve the efficiency of heavy-duty vehicles, which would be another major step in reducing emissions.

And finally, I’m pleased that more nations are stepping up and joining the United States in the effort to end the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.Coming on the heels of our Global Health Security Agenda in the United States, the G20 countries committed to helping nations like those in West Africa to build their capacity to prevent, detect and respond to future outbreaks before they become epidemics.

So from trade to climate change to the fight against Ebola, this was a strong week for American leadership.And the results will be more jobs for the American people; historic steps towards a cleaner and healthier planet; and progress towards saving lives not just in West Africa, but eventually in other places.If you ask me, I’d say that’s a pretty good week.The American people can be proud of the progress that we’ve made.I intend to build on that momentum when I return home tomorrow.

And with that, I am going to take a few questions.I’ve got my cheat-sheet here.And we’re going to start with Matt Spetalnick of Reuters.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.Some of your fellow G20 leaders took an in-your-face approach with President Putin.You had conversations –

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I’m sorry, with President –

Q With President Putin.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Oh, I see.

Q Took a kind of confrontational approach to him.You had brief discussions with him at APEC.How confrontational or not were those encounters?Did you have any further exchanges with him here?What, if any, progress did you make with him on the Ukraine issue?And, of course, you’ve now just met with EU leaders.Did you agree on further sanctions?

One other question, sir, on a domestic subject.Are you prepared to state unequivocally that if Congress does pass a Keystone pipeline bill, that you would veto it if it comes to your desk?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I had naturally several interactions with President Putin during the course of the APEC Summit and then here at G20.I would characterize them as typical of our interactions, which are businesslike and blunt.And my communications to him was no different than what I’ve said publicly as well as what I’ve said to him privately over the course of this crisis in Ukraine, and that is Russia has the opportunity to take a different path, to resolve the issue of Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and is consistent with international law.That is our preference, and if it does so then I will be the first to suggest that we roll back the sanctions that are, frankly, having a devastating effect on the Russian economy.

If he continues down the path that he is on — violating international law; providing heavy arms to the separatists in Ukraine; violating an agreement that he agreed to just a few weeks ago, the Minsk Agreement, that would have lowered the temperature and the killing in the disputed areas and make providing us a pathway for a diplomatic resolution — then the isolation that Russia is currently experiencing will continue.

And in my meeting with European leaders, they confirmed their view that so far Russia has not abided by either the spirit or the letter of the agreement that Mr. Putin signed — or agreed to, and that as a consequence we are going to continue to maintain the economic isolation while maintaining the possibility of a diplomatic solution.

It is not our preference to see Russia isolated the way it is.We would prefer a Russia that is fully integrated with the global economy; that is thriving on behalf of its people; that can once again engage with us in cooperative efforts around global challenges.But we’re also very firm on the need to uphold core international principles.And one of those principles is, is that you don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country that has mechanisms for democratic elections.

Q Did you discuss or agree with them on further sanctions?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:At this point, the sanctions that we have in place are biting plenty good.We retain the capabilities, and we have our teams constantly looking at mechanisms in which to turn up additional pressure as necessary.

With respect to Keystone, I’ve said consistently — and I think I repeated in Burma, but I guess I’ve got to answer it one more — we’re going to let the process play itself out.And the determination will be made in the first instance by the Secretary of State.But I won’t hide my opinion about this, which is that one major determinant of whether we should approve a pipeline shipping Canadian oil to world markets, not to the United States, is does it contribute to the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change.

Q What were your comments on the pipeline –

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Matt, I got to move on, man.Everybody wants to go home.All right?Other people have questions.Jim Acosta, CNN.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.I wanted to ask you about the climate deal that you agreed to with Chinese President Xi, and on that front but also adding in your expected executive action on immigration, that you’re taking executive actions on a multitude of fronts.And I wanted to ask you, sir, what is stopping a future Republican President, or even a Democratic President, from reversing your executive orders?And are you expanding the powers of the presidency in ways that could potentially backfire on your agenda down the road?

And on the battle against ISIS — your Joint Chiefs Chairman, Martin Dempsey, is in Iraq right now, but at a congressional hearing last week he said he could envision a scenario in which ground forces could be engaged in combat in Iraq alongside Iraqi security forces.I know you’ve ruled out the possibility of having ground forces — U.S. ground forces engaged in combat going house to house and so forth.Has your thinking on that changed somewhat, and might General Dempsey be able to convince you otherwise?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Okay.With respect to the climate agreement, the goal that we’ve set — a 26 to 28 percent reduction by 2025 — we shaped that target based on existing authorities rather than the need for additional congressional action.

And I want to be clear here, Jim, that that’s based not on particular executive actions that I’m taking, but based on the authority that’s been upheld repeatedly by this Supreme Court for the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, to be able to shape rules to regulate the emission of greenhouse gases.

Obviously it’s supplemented by a bunch of stuff that we’re doing that nobody suggests isn’t within our authority.For example, the doubling of fuel-efficiency standards on cars is something that we negotiated with the car companies and with labor groups, and is working really well and we’re selling a lot of American cars domestically as well as internationally.And they are more fuel-efficient cars and, as a consequence, more popular cars.

With respect to executive actions generally, the record will show that I have actually taken fewer executive actions than my predecessors.Nobody disputes that.What I think has changed is the reaction of some of my friends in Congress to exercising what are normal and, frankly, fairly typical exercises of presidential authority.

You are absolutely right that the very nature of an executive action means that a future President could reverse those actions.But that’s always been true.That was true when I came into office; if President Bush had a bunch of executive actions that he had signed, it was part of my authority to reverse them.That’s why, for example, on immigration reform it continues to be my great preference to see Congress pass comprehensive legislation, because that is not reversed by a future President, it would have to be reversed by a future Congress.That’s part of the reason why I’ve argued consistently that we’re better off if we can get a comprehensive deal through Congress.That’s why I showed extraordinary patience with Congress in trying to work a bipartisan deal. That’s why I was so encouraged when the Senate produced a bipartisan immigration deal and why I waited for over a year for Speaker Boehner to call that bipartisan bill in the House.

But as I’ve said before, I can’t wait in perpetuity when I have authorities that, at least for the next two years, can improve the system, can allow us to shift more resources to the border rather than separating families; improve the legal immigration system.I would be derelict in my duties if I did not try to improve the system that everybody acknowledges is broken.

With respect to Syria, Chairman Dempsey I think has consistently said in all his testimony, and I would expect him to always do this, to give me his best military advice and to not be constrained by politics.And he has not advised me that I should be sending U.S. troops to fight.What he said in testimony, and what I suspect he’ll always say, is that, yes, there are circumstances in which he could envision the deployment of U.S. troops.That’s true everywhere, by the way.That’s his job, is to think about various contingencies.And, yes, there are always circumstances in which the United States might need to deploy U.S. ground troops.

If we discovered that ISIL had gotten possession of a nuclear weapon, and we had to run an operation to get it out of their hands, then, yes, you can anticipate that not only would Chairman Dempsey recommend me sending U.S. ground troops to get that weapon out of their hands, but I would order it.So the question just ends up being, what are those circumstances.I’m not going speculate on those.Right now we’re moving forward in conjunction with outstanding allies like Australia in training Iraqi security forces to do their job on the ground.

Q — your thinking on that has not changed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:My thinking has not changed currently.

Ed Henry of Fox.

Q Thank you.One question, I promise.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:That’s great.(Laughter.)

Q At your Burma town hall a couple days ago you tried to inspire young leaders by saying governments need to be held accountable and be responsive to the people.I wonder how you square that with your former advisor, Jonathan Gruber, claiming you were not transparent about the health law?Because in his words, the American people, the voters are stupid.Did you mislead Americans about the taxes, about keeping your plan, in order to get the bill passed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No, I did not.I just heard about this.I get well briefed before I come out here.The fact that some advisor who never worked on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters, is no reflection on the actual process that was run.

We had a year-long debate, Ed.I mean, go back and look at your stories.The one thing we can’t say is that we did not have a lengthy debate about health care in the United States of America, or that it was not adequately covered.I mean, I would just advise all of — every press outlet here:Go back and pull up every clip, every story, and I think it’s fair to say that there was not a provision in the health care law that was not extensively debated and was fully transparent.

Now, there were folks who disagreed with some of these various positions.It was a tough debate.But the good news is — and I know this wasn’t part of your question — but since some folks back home who don’t have health insurance may be watching, open enrollment just started, which means that those who did not take advantage of the marketplaces the first time around, they’ve got another chance to sign up for affordable health care; they may be eligible for a tax credit.

So far, there were over half a million successful logins on the first day.Healthcare.gov works really well now — 1.2 million people using the window-shopping function since Sunday.There were 23,000 applications completed in just the first eight hours, and tens of thousands more throughout the day.

Health care is working.More than 10 million people have already gotten health insurance; millions more are eligible.And contrary to some of the predictions of the naysayers, not only is the program working, but we’ve actually seen health care inflation lower than it’s been in 50 years, which is contributing to us reducing the deficit, and has the effect of making premiums for families lower that they otherwise would have been if they have health insurance.

All right?Kristen Welker.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.I’d like to ask you again about Syria.When you were recently asked about the U.S. campaign against ISIS, you said, “It’s too early to say whether we are winning.”You went on to say, “This is going to be a long-term plan.”There are now reports that you have ordered a review of your entire Syria policy.So I’d like to put the question to you today:Are you currently recalibrating your policy in Syria?And does that include plans to remove President Bashar al-Assad?And was it a miscalculation not to focus on the removal of Assad initially?Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:We have a weekly meeting with my CENTCOM Commander, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, with all our diplomatic personnel related to the region, as well as my national security team, and Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, intelligence teams, to assess what kind of progress are we making both in Iraq and in Syria with respect to ISIL.And I will be having weekly meetings as long as this campaign lasts, because I think it’s very important for us to get it right.

We have not had a comprehensive review of Syria.We’ve had a comprehensive review of what are we doing each and every week — what’s working, what’s not.Some of it is very detailed at the tactical level.Some of it is conceptual.We continue to learn about ISIL — where its weaknesses are; how we can more effectively put pressure on them.And so nothing extraordinary, nothing formal of the sort that you describe has taken place.

Certainly no changes have taken place with respect to our attitude towards Bashar al-Assad.And I’ve said this before, but let me reiterate:Assad has ruthlessly murdered hundreds of thousands of his citizens, and as a consequence has completely lost legitimacy with the majority of the country.For us to then make common cause with him against ISIL would only turn more Sunnis in Syria in the direction of supporting ISIL, and would weaken our coalition that sends a message around the region this is not a fight against Sunni Islam, this is a fight against extremists of any stripe who are willing to behead innocent people or kill children, or mow down political prisoners with the kind of wanton cruelty that I think we’ve very rarely seen in the modern age.

And so we have communicated to the Syrian regime that when we operate going after ISIL in their air space, that they would be well-advised not to take us on.But beyond that, there’s no expectation that we are going to in some ways enter an alliance with Assad.He is not credible in that country.
Now, we are looking for a political solution eventually within Syria that is inclusive of all the groups who live there — the Alawite, the Sunni, Christians.And at some point, the people of Syria and the various players involved, as well as the regional players — Turkey, Iran, Assad’s patrons like Russia — are going to have to engage in a political conversation.

And it’s the nature of diplomacy in any time, certainly in this situation, where you end up having diplomatic conversations potentially with people that you don’t like and regimes that you don’t like.But we’re not even close to being at that stage yet.

Q But just to put a fine point on it — are you actively discussing ways to remove him as a part of that political transition?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No.

Major Garrett.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.As you well know, the continuing resolution expires on December 11th.Many things you’ve talked about on this trip are related to that:funding for coalition operations in Iraq and Syria, the Ebola outbreak, not to mention day-to-day government operations.What are the odds the country will see itself in a shutdown scenario?How much do you fear the government will shut down?And to what degree does your anxiety about this or your team’s anxiety about this influence the timing of your decision on immigration and executive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:I take Mitch McConnell at his word when he says that the government is not going to shut down.There is no reason for it to shut down.We traveled down that path before.It was bad for the country, it was bad for every elected official in Washington.And at the end of the day, it was resolved in the same way that it would have been resolved if we hadn’t shut the government down.So that’s not going to be productive, and I think that Leader McConnell and Speaker Boehner understand that.

But this goes to a broader point that I’ve made previously and I’ll just reiterate:It is in the nature of democracy that the parties are going to disagree on certain issues.And in our system, because we don’t have a parliamentary system, it means that you can have a Congress of one party and a President of another, and they disagree on some really fundamental issues.And the question then is, how do you deal with that?Well, the sensible way to deal with it is to say here are the issues we don’t agree on, and we’ll fight like heck for our position and then we’ll work together on the issues that we do agree on.And that’s how it’s always been; that’s how it was with Ronald Reagan when he was dealing with a Democratic Congress.There was no — at no point did the Democrats say, well, because we don’t agree with Ronald Reagan on X,Y,Z issue, then we can’t work with him on Social Security reform or tax reform or other issues.He said, okay, we’ll fight on that, we’ll join together on that, and as a consequence the co
ntry will make progress.

And I would expect that same attitude in this instance.I understand that there are members of the Republican Party who deeply disagree with me and law enforcement and the evangelical community and a number of their own Republican colleagues about the need for immigration reform, I get that.And they’ve made their views clear and there’s nothing wrong with them arguing their position and opposing legislation.But why they would then decide we’re going to shut down the government makes about as much sense as my decision to shut down the government if they decide to take a vote to repeal health care reform for the — is it 53rd or 55th time?I mean, I understand that there’s a difference there, but let’s keep on doing the people’s business.

Q Does the shutdown anxiety in any way affect your timing at all on immigration action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No, I think the main concern I have is making sure that we get it right, and that’s what we’re focused on at this point, because any executive action that I take is going to require some adjustments to how DHS, the Department of Homeland Security, operates where it’s deploying resources, et cetera; how are folks processed; what priorities are set up.And so I want to make sure that we’ve crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s — that that’s my main priority.

And we are going to close with Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.Following up on immigration — in 2010, when asked by immigration reform advocates to stop deportations and act alone on providing legal status for the undocumented, you said, “I’m President, I’m not king.I can’t do these things just by myself.”In 2013, you said, “I’m not the emperor of the United States.My job is to execute laws that are passed.”Mr. President, what has changed since then?And since you’ve now had a chance to talk since July with your legal advisors, what do you now believe are your limits so that you can continue to act as President and not as emperor or king?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Well, actually, my position hasn’t changed.When I was talking to the advocates, their interest was in me, through executive action, duplicating the legislation that was stalled in Congress.And getting a comprehensive deal of the sort that is in the Senate legislation, for example, does extend beyond my legal authorities.There are certain things I cannot do.There are certain limits to what falls within the realm of prosecutorial discretion in terms of how we apply existing immigration laws.

And what we’ve continued to do is to talk to Office of Legal Counsel that’s responsible for telling us what the rules are, what the scope of our operations are, and determining where it is appropriate for us to say we’re not going to deport 11 million people.On the other hand, we’ve got severe resource constraints right now at the border not in apprehending people, but in processing and having enough immigration judges and so forth.And so what’s within our authority to do in reallocating resources and reprioritizing since we can’t do everything.And it’s on that basis that I’ll be making a decision about any executive actions that I might take.

I will repeat what I have said before:There is a very simple solution to this perception that somehow I’m exercising too much executive authority.Pass a bill I can sign on this issue.If Congress passes a law that solves our border problems, improves our legal immigration system, and provides a pathway for the 11 million people who are here working in our kitchens, working in farms, making beds in hotels, everybody knows they’re there, we’re not going to deport all of them.We’d like to see them being able, out in the open, to pay their taxes, pay a penalty, get right with the law.Give me a bill that addresses those issues — I’ll be the first one to sign it and, metaphorically, I’ll crumple up whatever executive actions that we take and we’ll toss them in the wastebasket, because we will now have a law that addresses these issues.

Q But in those five months, sir, since you said you were going to act, have you received the legal advice from the Attorney General about what limits you have -–

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Yes.

Q — and what you can do?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:Yes.

Q And would you tell us what those are?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:No.(Laughter.)I will tell them when I make the announcement.But it’s a good try, though.That was a good angle.(Laughter.)Jim and I go way back, although he was famous, I was not.He used to be a broadcaster in Chicago, so I used to watch him on TV.You’ve aged a little better than I have.(Laughter.)

All right.The people of Australia, thank you again for your wonderful hospitality.(Applause.)

END
4:51 P.M. AEST

Full Text Obama Presidency September 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the NATO Summit

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at NATO Summit Press Conference

Source: WH, 9-5-14

Celtic Manor Resort
Newport, Wales

4:50 P.M. BST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon.  Let me begin by thanking my great friend, Prime Minister Cameron — and his entire team — for hosting this NATO Summit and making it such a success.  And I want to thank the people of Newport and Cardiff and the people of Wales for welcoming me and my delegation so warmly.  It’s a great honor to be the first sitting U.S. President to visit Wales.

We’ve met at a time of transition and a time of testing.  After more than a decade, NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end.  Russia’s aggression against Ukraine threatens our vision of a Europe that is whole, free and at peace.  In the Middle East, the terrorist threat from ISIL poses a growing danger.  Here at this summit, our Alliance has summoned the will, the resources and the capabilities to meet all of these challenges.

First and foremost, we have reaffirmed the central mission of the Alliance.  Article 5 enshrines our solemn duty to each other — “an armed attack against one…shall be considered an attack against them all.”  This is a binding, treaty obligation.  It is non-negotiable.  And here in Wales, we’ve left absolutely no doubt — we will defend every Ally.

Second, we agreed to be resolute in reassuring our Allies in Eastern Europe.  Increased NATO air patrols over the Baltics will continue.  Rotations of additional forces throughout Eastern Europe for training and exercises will continue.  Naval patrols in the Black Sea will continue.  And all 28 NATO nations agreed to contribute to all of these measures — for as long as necessary.

Third, to ensure that NATO remains prepared for any contingency, we agreed to a new Readiness Action Plan.  The Alliance will update its defense planning.  We will create a new highly ready Rapid Response Force that can be deployed on very short notice.  We’ll increase NATO’s presence in Central and Eastern Europe with additional equipment, training, exercises and troop rotations.  And the $1 billion initiative that I announced in Warsaw will be a strong and ongoing U.S. contribution to this plan.

Fourth, all 28 NATO nations have pledged to increase their investments in defense and to move toward investing 2 percent of their GDP in our collective security.  These resources will help NATO invest in critical capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and missile defense.  And this commitment makes clear that NATO will not be complacent.  Our Alliance will reverse the decline in defense spending and rise to meet the challenges that we face in the 21st century.

Fifth, our Alliance is fully united in support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity and its right to defend itself.  To back up this commitment, all 28 NATO Allies will now provide security assistance to Ukraine.  This includes non-lethal support to the Ukrainian military — like body armor, fuel and medical care for wounded Ukrainian troops — as well as assistance to help modernize Ukrainian forces, including logistics and command and control.

Here in Wales, we also sent a strong message to Russia that actions have consequences.  Today, the United States and Europe are finalizing measures to deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors.  At the same time, we strongly support President Poroshenko’s efforts to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict in his country.  The cease-fire announced today can advance that goal, but only if there is follow-through on the ground.  Pro-Russian separatists must keep their commitments and Russia must stop its violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Beyond Europe, we pay tribute to all those from our ISAF mission, including more than 2,200 Americans, who have given their lives for our security in Afghanistan.  NATO’s combat mission ends in three months, and we are prepared to transition to a new mission focused on training, advising and assisting Afghan security forces.  Both presidential candidates have pledged to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement that would be the foundation of our continued cooperation.  But, as we all know, the outcome of the recent election must be resolved.  And so we continue to urge the two presidential candidates to make the compromises that are necessary so Afghans can move forward together and form a sovereign, united and democratic nation.

Finally, we reaffirmed that the door to NATO membership remains open to nations that can meet our high standards.  We agreed to expand the partnership that makes NATO the hub of global security.  We’re launching a new effort with our closest partners — including many that have served with us in Afghanistan — to make sure our forces continue to operate together.  And we’ll create a new initiative to help countries build their defense capabilities — starting with Georgia, Moldova, Jordan and Libya.

I also leave here confident that NATO Allies and partners are prepared to join in a broad, international effort to combat the threat posed by ISIL.  Already, Allies have joined us in Iraq, where we have stopped ISIL’s advances; we’ve equipped our Iraqi partners, and helped them go on offense.  NATO has agreed to play a role in providing security and humanitarian assistance to those who are on the front lines.  Key NATO Allies stand ready to confront this terrorist threat through military, intelligence and law enforcement, as well as diplomatic efforts.  And Secretary Kerry will now travel to the region to continue building the broad-based coalition that will enable us to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.

So, taken together, I think the progress we’ve achieved in Wales makes it clear that our Alliance will continue to do whatever is necessary to ensure our collective defense and to protect our citizens.

So with that, let me take a few questions.  I’ll start with Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to go back to the situation in Ukraine.  If this cease-fire does take effect and appears to be holding, would you and your European counterparts back away from these sanctions that you say you’ve prepared?  Or do you feel that it’s important to levy these sanctions regardless of this cease-fire agreement?  And if I could go back to the Rapid Response Force, can you say specifically what U.S. contributions will be in terms of troop numbers and equipment?  Is it beyond the agreement that you announced — or the proposal you announced in Warsaw?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to the cease-fire agreement, obviously we are hopeful, but based on past experience also skeptical that, in fact, the separatists will follow through and the Russians will stop violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  So it has to be tested.

And I know that the Europeans are discussing at this point the final shape of their sanctions measures.  It’s my view that if you look at President Poroshenko’s plan, it is going to take some time to implement.  And as a consequence, for us to move forward based on what is currently happening on the ground with sanctions — while acknowledging that if, in fact, the elements of the plan that has been signed are implemented — then those sanctions could be lifted is a more likely way for us to ensure that there’s follow-through. But that’s something that obviously we’ll consult closely with our European partners to determine.

I do want to point out, though, that the only reason that we’re seeing this cease-fire at this moment is because of both the sanctions that have already been applied and the threat of further sanctions, which are having a real impact on the Russian economy and have isolated Russia in a way that we have not seen in a very long time.

The path for Russia to rejoin the community of nations that respects international law is still there, and we encourage President Putin to take it.  But the unity and the firmness that we’ve seen in the Transatlantic Alliance in supporting Ukraine and applying sanctions has been I think a testimony to how seriously people take the basic principle that big countries can just stomp on little countries, or force them to change their policies and give up their sovereignty.

So I’m very pleased with the kind of work that’s been done throughout this crisis in Ukraine, and I think U.S. leadership has been critical throughout that process.

With respect to the Rapid Response Force and the Readiness Action Plan that we’ve put forward, in Warsaw I announced $1 billion in our initiative.  A sizeable portion of that will be devoted to implementing various aspects of this Readiness Action Plan.

We’ve already increased obviously rotations of personnel in the Baltic states, for example.  We have the air policing.  We have the activities that are taking place in the Baltic and the Black Sea.  But this allows us to supplement it.  It allows us to coordinate it and integrate it further with additional contributions from other partners.  And what it signifies is NATO’s recognition that, in light of recent Russian actions as well as rhetoric, we want to make it crystal clear:  We mean what we say when we’re talking about our Article 5 commitments.  And an increased presence serves as the most effective deterrent to any additional Russian aggression that we might see.

Angela Keane, Bloomberg.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  What are your specific expectations for what regional actors like Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan can legitimately provide to a coalition against Islamic State?  Is there a role there for Iran, as well?  As you know, Secretary Kerry today said that he expects the Allied countries to coalesce around a specific plan by the end of September.  Do you agree with the timeline that he set out?  And what concrete commitments, if any, are you leaving this summit with from the other nations that were here?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me start with a general point.  There was unanimity over the last two days that ISIL poses a significant threat to NATO members.  And there was a recognition that we have to take action.  I did not get any resistance or pushback to the basic notion that we have a critical role to play in rolling back this savage organization that is causing so much chaos in the region and is harming so many people, and poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of NATO members.  So there’s great conviction that we have to act as part of the international community to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And that was extremely encouraging.

Beyond that, what we have already seen is significant support from a variety of member states for specific actions that we’ve been taking in Iraq.  Keep in mind, we’ve taken already 100 strikes in Iraq that have had a significant impact on degrading their capabilities, and making sure that we’re protecting U.S. citizens, critical infrastructure, providing the space for the Iraqi government to form.  Our hope is that the Iraqi government is actually formed and finalized next week.  That, then, allows us to work with them on a broader strategy.

And some of the assistance has been in the form of airlift or humanitarian assistance.  Much of it has been providing additional arms to the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Security Forces.  There’s been logistical support, intelligence and surveillance and reconnaissance support.  And so a variety of folks with different capabilities have already made a contribution.  I’m confident that we’re going to be able to build on that strong foundation and the clear commitment, and have the kind of coalition that will be required for the sustained effort we need to push ISIL back.

Now, John Kerry is going to be traveling to the region to have further consultations with the regional actors and the regional players.  And I think it is absolutely critical that we have Arab states, and specifically Sunni majority states, that are rejecting the kind of extremist nihilism that we’re seeing out of ISIL that say that is not what Islam is about, and are prepared to join us actively in the fight.  And my expectation is, is that we will see friends and allies and partners of ours in the region prepared to take action, as well, as part of a coalition.

One of our tasks, though, is also going to be to build capability.  What we’ve learned in Iraq is, yes, ISIL has significant capabilities, and they combine terrorist tactics with traditional military tactics to significant effect, but part of the problem also is, is that we haven’t seen as effective a fighting force on the part of the Iraqi Security Forces as we need.  And we’re going to have to focus on the capable units that are already there, bolster them, bolster the work that the Peshmerga has done.  We can support them from the air, but ultimately we’re going to need a strong ground game, and we’re also going to need the Sunni tribes in many of these areas to recognize that their future is not with the kind of fanaticism that ISIL represents so that they start taking the fight to ISIL, as well.  And that’s going to require the sort of regional partnerships that we’re talking about.

In terms of timetable, we are working deliberately.  If you look at what we’ve done over the last several months, we’ve taken this in stages.  The first stage is to make sure that we were encouraging Iraqi government formation.  Second stage was making sure that, building on the intelligence assessments that we have done, that we were in a position to conduct limited airstrikes to protect our personnel, critical infrastructure and engage in humanitarian activities.

The third phase will allow us to take the fight to ISIL, broaden the effort.  And our goal is to act with urgency, but also to make sure that we’re doing it right — that we have the right targets; that there’s support on the ground if we take an airstrike; that we have a strong political coalition, diplomatic effort that is matching it; a strong strategic communications effort so that we are discouraging people from thinking somehow that ISIL represents a state, much less a caliphate.  So all those things are going to have to be combined.

And as I said, it’s not going to happen overnight, but we are steadily moving in the right direction.  And we are going to achieve our goal.  We are going to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL, the same way that we have gone after al Qaeda, and the same way that we have gone after the al Qaeda affiliate in Somalia where we released today the fact that we had killed the leader of al-Shabaab in Somalia, and have consistently worked to degrade their operations.

We have been very systematic and methodical in going after these kinds of organizations that may threaten U.S. personnel and the homeland.  And that deliberation allows us to do it right.  But have no doubt, we will continue and I will continue to do what is necessary to protect the American people.  And ISIL poses a real threat, and I’m encouraged by the fact that our friends and allies recognize that same threat.

Julie Davis.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to follow up on what you were saying about ISIL and ask, if you think that the objective here is to destroy and degrade them, are those the same thing in your mind?  Is the goal to ultimately — Secretary Kerry said that there’s no containing them, so is the goal to ultimately annihilate them?  And also, you talked about the importance of expertise on the ground and building up capacity on the ground.  Do you think since airstrikes are not going to do it here, if ultimately action is needed in Syria, can you realistically expect the Free Syrian Army to do what’s needed on the ground to really destroy, not just push back, ISIL?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  You can’t contain an organization that is running roughshod through that much territory, causing that much havoc, displacing that many people, killing that many innocents, enslaving that many women.  The goal has to be to dismantle them.

And if you look at what happened with al Qaeda in the FATA, where their primary base was, you initially push them back.  You systematically degrade their capabilities.  You narrow their scope of action.  You slowly shrink the space, the territory that they may control.  You take out their leadership.  And over time, they are not able to conduct the same kinds of terrorist attacks as they once could.

As I said I think in my last press conference, given the nature of these organizations, are there potentially remnants of an organization that are still running around and hiding and still potentially plotting?  Absolutely.  And we will continue to hunt them down the same way we’re doing with remnants of al Qaeda in the FATA or elements of al-Shabaab in Somalia, or terrorists who operate anywhere around the world.

But what we can accomplish is to dismantle this network, this force that has claimed to control this much territory, so that they can’t do us harm.  And that’s going to be our objective.  And as I said before, I’m pleased to see that there’s unanimity among our friends and allies that that is a worthy goal and they are prepared to work with us in accomplishing that goal.

With respect to the situation on the ground in Syria, we will not be placing U.S. ground troops to try to control the areas that are part of the conflict inside of Syria.  I don’t think that’s necessary for us to accomplish our goal.  We are going to have to find effective partners on the ground to push back against ISIL.  And the moderate coalition there is one that we can work with.  We have experience working with many of them.  They have been, to some degree, outgunned and outmanned, and that’s why it’s important for us to work with our friends and allies to support them more effectively.

But keep in mind that when you have U.S. forces, other advanced nations going after ISIL and putting them on the defensive and putting them on the run, it’s pretty remarkable what then ground forces can do, even if initially they were on the defensive against ISIL.

So that is a developing strategy that we are going to be consulting with our friends, our allies, our regional partners.  But the bottom line is, we will do what is necessary in order to make sure that ISIL does not threaten the United States or our friends and partners.

One last question.  Colleen Nelson, Wall Street Journal.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Some say that Democrats who are facing tough races in November have asked you to delay action on immigration.  How have the concerns of other Democrats influenced your thinking?  And do you see any downside at this point to delaying until after the election?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have to tell you that this week I’ve been pretty busy, focused on Ukraine and focused on ISIL and focused on making sure that NATO is boosting its commitments, and following through on what’s necessary to meet 21st century challenges.

Jeh Johnson and Eric Holder have begun to provide me some of their proposals and recommendations.  I’ll be reviewing them.  And my expectation is that fairly soon I’ll be considering what the next steps are.

What I’m unequivocal about is that we need immigration reform; that my overriding preference is to see Congress act.  We had bipartisan action in the Senate.  The House Republicans have sat on it for over a year.  That has damaged the economy, it has held America back.  It is a mistake.  And in the absence of congressional action, I intend to take action to make sure that we’re putting more resources on the border, that we’re upgrading how we process these cases, and that we find a way to encourage legal immigration and give people some path so that they can start paying taxes and pay a fine and learn English and be able to not look over their shoulder but be legal, since they’ve been living here for quite some time.

So I suspect that on my flight back this will be part of my reading, taking a look at some of the specifics that we’ve looked at.  And I’ll be making an announcement soon.

But I want to be very clear:  My intention is, in the absence of action by Congress, I’m going to do what I can do within the legal constraints of my office — because it’s the right thing to do for the country.

Thank you very much, people of Wales.  I had a wonderful time.

END
5:15 P.M. BST

Full Text Obama Presidency August 18, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on the Unrest in Ferguson, Missouri over Michael Brown’s Shooting and Update on Iraq Airtrikes and Recapture of Mosul Dam — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-18-14 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:27 P.M. PDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Earlier today I received an update from my team on two separate issues that I’ve been following closely — our ongoing operation in Iraq and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.

With respect to Iraq, we continue to see important progress across different parts of our strategy to support the Iraqi government and combat the threat from the terrorist group, ISIL. First, our military operations are effectively protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq.  Over the last 11 days, American airstrikes have stopped the ISIL advance around the city of Erbil and pushed back the terrorists.  Meanwhile, we have urgently provided additional arms and assistance to Iraqi forces, including Kurdish and Iraqi security forces who are fighting on the front lines.

Today, with our support, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took a major step forward by recapturing the largest dam in Iraq near the city of Mosul.  The Mosul Dam fell under terrorist control earlier this month and is directly tied to our objective of protecting Americans in Iraq.  If that dam was breached, it could have proven catastrophic, with floods that would have threatened the lives of thousands of civilians and endangered our embassy compound in Baghdad.  Iraqi and Kurdish forces took the lead on the ground and performed with courage and determination.  So this operation demonstrates that Iraqi and Kurdish forces are capable of working together in taking the fight to ISIL.  If they continue to do so, they will have the strong support of the United States of America.

Second, we’re building an international coalition to address the humanitarian crisis in northern Iraq.  Even as we’ve worked to help many thousands of Yazidis escape the siege of Mount Sinjar, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been displaced by ISIL’s violence and many more are still at risk.  Going forward, the United States will work with the Iraqi government, as well as partners like the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Italy and Australia, to get food and water to people in need and to bring long-term relief to people who have been driven from their homes.

Third, we will continue to pursue a long-term strategy to turn the tide against ISIL by supporting the new Iraqi government and working with key partners in the region and beyond.  Over the last week, we saw historic progress as Iraqis named a new Prime Minister-Designate Haider al-Abadi, and Iraq’s outgoing Prime Minister Maliki agreed to step down.  This peaceful transition of power will mark a major milestone in Iraq’s political development, but as I think we’re all aware, the work is not yet done.

Over the next few weeks, Dr. Abadi needs to complete the work of forming a new, broad-based, inclusive Iraqi government, one that develops a national program to address the interests of all Iraqis.  Without that progress, extremists like ISIL can continue to prey upon Iraq’s divisions.  With that new government in place, Iraqis will be able to unite the country against the threat from ISIL, and they will be able to look forward to increased support not just from the United States but from other countries in the region and around the world.

Let’s remember ISIL poses a threat to all Iraqis and to the entire region.  They claim to represent Sunni grievances, but they slaughter Sunni men, women and children.  They claim to oppose foreign forces, but they actively recruit foreign fighters to advance their hateful ideology.

So the Iraqi people need to reject them and unite to begin to push them out of the lands that they’ve occupied, as we’re seeing at Mosul Dam.  And this is going to take time.  There are going to be many challenges ahead.  But meanwhile, there should be no doubt that the United States military will continue to carry out the limited missions that I’ve authorized — protecting our personnel and facilities in Iraq in both Erbil and Baghdad, and providing humanitarian support, as we did on Mount Sinjar.

My administration has consulted closely with Congress about our strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to do so in the weeks to come, because when it comes to the security of our people and our efforts against a terror group like ISIL, we need to be united in our resolve.

I also want to address the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Governor Nixon, as well as Senators Roy Blunt and Claire McCaskill.  I also met with Attorney General Eric Holder.  The Justice Department has opened an independent federal civil rights investigation into the death of Michael Brown.  They are on the ground and, along with the FBI, they are devoting substantial resources to that investigation.  The Attorney General himself will be traveling to Ferguson on Wednesday to meet with the FBI agents and DOJ personnel conducting the federal criminal investigation, and he will receive an update from them on their progress.  He will also be meeting with other leaders in the community whose support is so critical to bringing about peace and calm in Ferguson.

Ronald Davis, the Director of the DOJ’s Office of Community-Oriented Policing Services — or COPS — is also traveling to Ferguson tomorrow to work with police officials on the ground.  We’ve also had experts from the DOJ’s Community Relations Service working in Ferguson since the days after the shooting to foster conversations among local stakeholders and reduce tensions among the community.

So let me close just saying a few words about the tensions there.  We have all seen images of protestors and law enforcement in the streets.  It’s clear that the vast majority of people are peacefully protesting.  What’s also clear is that a small minority of individuals are not.  While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos.  It undermines rather than advancing justice.

Let me also be clear that our constitutional rights to speak freely, to assemble, and to report in the press must be vigilantly safeguarded, especially in moments like these.  There’s no excuse for excessive force by police or any action that denies people the right to protest peacefully.  Ours is a nation of laws for the citizens who live under them and for the citizens who enforce them.

So to a community in Ferguson that is rightly hurting and looking for answers, let me call once again for us to seek some understanding rather than simply holler at each other.  Let’s seek to heal rather than to wound each other.  As Americans, we’ve got to use this moment to seek out our shared humanity that’s been laid bare by this moment — the potential of a young man and the sorrows of parents, the frustrations of a community, the ideals that we hold as one united American family.

I’ve said this before — in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.  In too many communities, too many young men of color are left behind and seen only as objects of fear.  Through initiatives like My Brother’s Keeper, I’m personally committed to changing both perception and reality.  And already we’re making some significant progress as people of goodwill of all races are ready to chip in.  But that requires that we build and not tear down.  And that requires we listen and not just shout.  That’s how we’re going to move forward together, by trying to unite each other and understand each other, and not simply divide ourselves from one another.  We’re going to have to hold tight to those values in the days ahead.  That’s how we bring about justice, and that’s how we bring about peace.

So with that, I’ve got a few questions I’m going to take.  I’m going to start with Jim Kuhnhenn of AP.

Q    Right here, Mr. President.  The incident in Ferguson has led to a discussion about whether it’s proper to militarize the nation’s city police forces, and I’m wondering whether you wonder or do you think that — you see that as a factor regarding the police response in Ferguson.  And also, do you agree with the decision by the Governor to send in the National Guard?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think one of the great things about the United States has been our ability to maintain a distinction between our military and domestic law enforcement.  That helps preserve our civil liberties.  That helps ensure that the military is accountable to civilian direction.  And that has to be preserved.

After 9/11, I think understandably, a lot of folks saw local communities that were ill-equipped for a potential catastrophic terrorist attack, and I think people in Congress, people of goodwill decided we’ve got to make sure that they get proper equipment to deal with threats that historically wouldn’t arise in local communities.  And some of that has been useful.  I mean, some law enforcement didn’t have radios that they could operate effectively in the midst of a disaster.  Some communities needed to be prepared if, in fact, there was a chemical attack and they didn’t have HAZMAT suits.

Having said that, I think it’s probably useful for us to review how the funding has gone, how local law enforcement has used grant dollars, to make sure that what they’re purchasing is stuff that they actually need, because there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don’t want those lines blurred.  That would be contrary to our traditions.  And I think that there will be some bipartisan interest in reexamining some of those programs.

With respect to the National Guard, I think it’s important just to remember this was a state activated National Guard and so it’s under the charge of the Governor.  This is not something that we initiated at the federal level.  I spoke to Jay Nixon about this, expressed an interest in making sure that if, in fact, a National Guard is used it is used in a limited and appropriate way.  He described the support role that they’re going to be providing to local law enforcement, and I’ll be watching over the next several days to assess whether, in fact, it’s helping rather than hindering progress in Ferguson.

Steve Holland, Reuters.

Q    Thank you.  How do you avoid mission creep in Iraq?  And how long do you think it will take to contain ISIL?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I have been firm from the start that we are not reintroducing thousands of U.S. troops back on the ground to engage in combat.  We’re not the Iraqi military.  We’re not even the Iraqi air force.  I am the Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces, and Iraq is going to have to ultimately provide for its own security.

On the other hand, we’ve got a national security interest in making sure our people are protected and in making sure that a savage group that seems willing to slaughter people for no rhyme or reason other than they have not kowtowed to them — that a group like that is contained, because ultimately they can pose a threat to us.

So my goal is, number one, to make sure we’ve got a viable partner.  And that’s why we have so consistently emphasized the need for a government formation process that is inclusive, that is credible, that is legitimate, and that can appeal to Sunnis as well as Shias and Kurds.  We’ve made significant progress on that front, but we’re not there yet.  And I told my national security team today and I will say publicly that we want to continue to communicate to politicians of all stripes in Iraq, don’t think that because we have engaged in airstrikes to protect our people that now is the time to let the foot off the gas and return to the same kind of dysfunction that has so weakened the country generally.

Dr. Abadi has said the right things.  I was impressed in my conversation with him about his vision for an inclusive government.  But they’ve got to get this done, because the wolf is at the door and in order for them to be credible with the Iraqi people they’re going to have to put behind some of the old practices and actually create a credible, united government.

When we see a credible Iraqi government, we are then in a position to engage when planning not just with the Iraqi government but also with regional actors and folks beyond the Middle East so that we can craft the kind of joint strategy — joint counterterrorism strategy that I discussed at West Point and I discussed several years ago to the National Defense College University**.  Our goal is to have effective partners on the ground.  And if we have effective partners on the ground, mission creep is much less likely.

Typically what happens with mission creep is when we start deciding that we’re the ones who have to do it all ourselves.  And because of the excellence of our military, that can work for a time — we learned that in Iraq — but it’s not sustainable.  It’s not lasting.  And so I’ve been very firm about this precisely because our goal here has to be to be able to build up a structure not just in Iraq, but regionally, that can be maintained, and that is not involving us effectively trying to govern or impose our military will on a country that is hostile to us.

Q    How long to contain ISIL then?  It sounds like a long-term project.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think, Steve, at this point I’m prepared to provide a blanket answer to that.  A lot of it depends on how effectively the Iraqi government comes together.  I think that you will see if, in fact, that government formation process moves rapidly and credibly that there will be a lot of actors in the region and around the world that are prepared to help and to step up assistance — many of whom may have been reticent over the last several years because the perception was, at least, that Baghdad was not being inclusive and that it was going to be self-defeating to put more resources into it.

I think you’ll see a lot of folks step up; suddenly now Iraq will have a variety of partners.  And with more folks unified around the effort, I think it’s something that can be accomplished.  It also means that there’s the prospect of Sunni tribes who are the primary residents of areas that ISIL now controls saying, we’ve got a viable option and we would rather work with a central government that appears to understand our grievances and is prepared to meet them rather than to deal with individuals who don’t seem to have any values beyond death and destruction.

I’m going to take the last question from somebody, who after 41 years, I understand has decided to retire — Ann Compton, everybody here knows is not only the consummate professional but is also just a pleasure to get to know.  I was proud to be able to hug her grandbaby recently.  And I suspect that may have something to do with her decision.  But I just want to say publicly, Ann, we’re going to miss you, and we’re very, very proud of the extraordinary career and work that you’ve done, and we hope you’re not a stranger around here.  (Applause.)

Q    Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ann Compton.  I suspect you may get some cake at some point.  (Laughter.)

Q    Let me ask you, this is an interesting time in your presidency.  And one of the things that you have so emphasized in the last few months, the last year or so, is this reach out to brothers — My Brother’s Keeper and to a generation that doesn’t feel that it has much chance.  Sending the Attorney General to Ferguson is a step.  Has anyone there — have you considered going yourself?  Is there more that you personally could do not just for Ferguson but for communities that might also feel that kind of tension and see it erupt in the way it has in Ferguson?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Ann, obviously, we’ve seen events in which there’s a big gulf between community perceptions and law enforcement perceptions around the country.  This is not something new.  It’s always tragic when it involves the death of someone so young.

I have to be very careful about not prejudging these events before investigations are completed because, although these are issues of local jurisdiction, the DOJ works for me and when they’re conducting an investigation I’ve got to make sure that I don’t look like I’m putting my thumb on the scales one way or the other.  So it’s hard for me to address a specific case beyond making sure that it’s conducted in a way that is transparent, where there’s accountability, where people can trust the process, hoping that as a consequence of a fair and just process, you end up with a fair and just outcome.

But as I think I’ve said in some past occasions, part of the ongoing challenge of perfecting our union has involved dealing with communities that feel left behind, who, as a consequence of tragic histories, often find themselves isolated, often find themselves without hope, without economic prospects.  You have young men of color in many communities who are more likely to end up in jail or in the criminal justice system than they are in a good job or in college.  And part of my job that I can do I think without any potential conflicts is to get at those root causes.

Now, that’s a big project.  It’s one that we’ve been trying to carry out now for a couple of centuries.  And we’ve made extraordinary progress, but we have not made enough progress.  And so the idea behind something like My Brother’s Keeper is can we work with cities and communities and clergy and parents and young people themselves all across the country, school superintendents, businesses, corporations, and can we find models that work that move these young men on a better track?

Now, part of that process is also looking at our criminal justice system to make sure that it is upholding the basic principle of everybody is equal before the law.

And one of the things that we’ve looked at during the course of where we can — during the course of investigating where we can make a difference is that there are patterns that start early.  Young African American and Hispanic boys tend to get suspended from school at much higher rates than other kids, even when they’re in elementary school.  They tend to have much more frequent interactions with the criminal justice system at an earlier age.  Sentencing may be different.  How trials are conducted may be different.  And so one of the things that we’ve done is to include the Department of Justice in this conversation under the banner of My Brother’s Keeper to see where can we start working with local communities to inculcate more trust, more confidence in the criminal justice system.

And I want to be clear about this, because sometimes I think there’s confusion around these issues and this dates back for decades.  There are young black men that commit crime.  And we can argue about why that happened — because of the poverty they were born into and the lack of opportunity, or the schools systems that failed them, or what have you.  But if they commit a crime, then they need to be prosecuted because every community has an interest in public safety.  And if you go into the African American community or the Latino community, some of the folks who are most intent on making sure that criminals are dealt with are people who have been preyed upon by them.

So this is not an argument that there isn’t real crime out there, and that law enforcement doesn’t have a difficult job and that they have to be honored and respected for the danger and difficulty of law enforcement.  But what is also true is that given the history of this country, where we can make progress in building up more confidence, more trust, making sure that our criminal justice system is acutely aware of the possibilities of disparities in treatment, there are safeguards in place to avoid those disparities, where training and assistance is provided to local law enforcement who may just need more information in order to avoid potential disparity — all those things can make a difference.

One of the things I was most proud of when I was in the state legislature, way back when I had no gray hair and none of you could pronounce my name, was I passed legislation requiring videotaping of interrogations and confessions and I passed legislation dealing with racial profiling in Illinois.  And in both cases, we worked with local law enforcement.  And the argument was that you can do a better job as a law enforcement official if you have built up credibility and trust.  And there are some basic things that can be done to promote that kind of trust.  And in some cases, there’s just a lack of information, and we want to make sure that we get that information to law enforcement.

So there are things that can be done to improve the situation.  But short term, obviously, right now what we have to do is to make sure that the cause of justice and fair administration of the law is being brought to bear in Ferguson.  In order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that we are able to distinguish between peaceful protesters who may have some legitimate grievances and maybe longstanding grievances, and those who are using this tragic death as an excuse to engage in criminal behavior — and tossing Molotov cocktails, or looting stores.  And that is a small minority of folks and may not even be residents of Ferguson, but they are damaging the cause; they’re not advancing it.

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
4:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 1, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Pre-August Recess Press Conference on the Domestic & Foreign Policy, Slams Republicans

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by the President

Source: WH, 8-1-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:45 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Happy Friday.  I thought I’d take some questions, but first, let me say a few words about the economy.

This morning, we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July.  That’s on top of about 300,000 new jobs in June.  So we are now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month.  That’s the first time that has happened since 1997.  Over the past year, we’ve added more jobs than any year since 2006.  And all told, our businesses have created 9.9 million new jobs over the past 53 months.  That’s the longest streak of private sector job creation in our history.

And as we saw on Wednesday, the economy grew at a strong pace in the spring.  Companies are investing.  Consumers are spending.  American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos — all are booming.  And thanks to the decisions that we’ve made, and the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve recovered faster and come farther from the recession than almost any other advanced country on Earth.

So the good news is the economy clearly is getting stronger. Things are getting better.  Our engines are revving a little bit louder.  And the decisions that we make right now can sustain and keep that growth and momentum going.

Unfortunately, there are a series of steps that we could be taking to maintain momentum, and perhaps even accelerate it; there are steps that we could be taking that would result in more job growth, higher wages, higher incomes, more relief for middle-class families.  And so far, at least, in Congress, we have not seen them willing or able to take those steps.

I’ve been pushing for common-sense ideas like rebuilding our infrastructure in ways that are sustained over many years and support millions of good jobs and help businesses compete.  I’ve been advocating on behalf of raising the minimum wage, making it easier for working folks to pay off their student loans; fair pay, paid leave.  All these policies have two things in common:  All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure, and all of them so far have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress.  That’s why my administration keeps taking whatever actions we can take on our own to help working families.

Now, it’s good that Congress was able to pass legislation to strengthen the VA.  And I want to thank the chairmen and ranking members who were involved in that.  It’s good that Congress was able to at least fund transportation projects for a few more months before leaving town — although it falls far short of the kind of infrastructure effort that we need that would actually accelerate the economy.  But for the most part, the big-ticket items, the things that would really make a difference in the lives of middle-class families, those things just are not getting done.

Let’s just take a recent example:  Immigration.  We all agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved in a portion of our southern border.  And we even agree on most of the solutions.  But instead of working together — instead of focusing on the 80 percent where there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans, between the administration and Congress — House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate and that if it were to pass the Senate I would veto.  They know it.

They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem.  This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today — just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month.  And this is on an issue that they all insisted had to be a top priority.

Now, our efforts administratively so far have helped to slow the tide of child migrants trying to come to our country.  But without additional resources and help from Congress, we’re just not going to have the resources we need to fully solve the problem.  That means while they’re out on vacation I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge — with or without Congress.

And yesterday, even though they’ve been sitting on a bipartisan immigration bill for over a year, House Republicans suggested that since they don’t expect to actually pass a bill that I can sign, that I actually should go ahead and act on my own to solve the problem.  Keep in mind that just a few days earlier, they voted to sue me for acting on my own.  And then when they couldn’t pass a bill yesterday, they put out a statement suggesting I should act on my own because they couldn’t pass a bill.

So immigration has not gotten done.  A student loan bill that would help folks who have student loan debt consolidate and refinance at lower rates — that didn’t pass.  The transportation bill that they did pass just gets us through the spring, when we should actually be planning years in advance.  States and businesses are raising the minimum wage for their workers because this Congress is failing to do so.

Even basic things like approving career diplomats for critical ambassadorial posts aren’t getting done.  Last night, for purely political reasons, Senate Republicans, for a certain period of time, blocked our new ambassador to Russia.  It raised such an uproar that finally they went ahead and let our Russian ambassador pass — at a time when we are dealing every day with the crisis in Ukraine.

They’re still blocking our ambassador to Sierra Leone, where there’s currently an Ebola outbreak.  They’re blocking our ambassador to Guatemala, even as they demand that we do more to stop the flow of unaccompanied children from Guatemala.  There are a lot of things that we could be arguing about on policy — that’s what we should be doing as a democracy — but we shouldn’t be having an argument about placing career diplomats with bipartisan support in countries around the world where we have to have a presence.

So the bottom line is this:  We have come a long way over the last five and a half years.  Our challenges are nowhere near as daunting as they were when I first came into office.  But the American people demand and deserve a strong and focused effort on the part of all of us to keep moving the country forward and to focus on their concerns.  And the fact is we could be much further along and we could be doing even better, and the economy could be even stronger, and more jobs could be created if Congress would do the job that the people sent them here to do.

And I will not stop trying to work with both parties to get things moving faster for middle-class families and those trying to get into the middle class.  When Congress returns next month, my hope is, is that instead of simply trying to pass partisan message bills on party lines that don’t actually solve problems, they’re going to be willing to come together to at least focus on some key areas where there’s broad agreement.  After all that we’ve had to overcome, our Congress should stop standing in the way of our country’s success.

So with that, let me take a couple of questions.  And I will start with Roberta Rampton of Reuters.

Q    Thanks.  I want to ask about the situation in the Middle East.  And why do you think Israel should embrace a cease-fire in Gaza when one of its soldiers appears to have been abducted and when Hamas continues to use its network of tunnels to launch attacks?  And also, have you seen Israel act at all on your call to do more to protect civilians?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think it’s important to note that we have — and I have — unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third almost minutes after a cease-fire had been announced.  And the U.N. has condemned them as well.

And I want to make sure that they are listening:  If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible.

I have been very clear throughout this crisis that Israel has a right to defend itself.  No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities and people having to rush to bomb shelters every 20 minutes or half hour.  No country can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.

And so, not only have we been supportive of Israel in its right to defend itself, but in very concrete terms — for example, in support for the Iron Dome program that has intercepted rockets that are firing down on Israeli cities — we’ve been trying to cooperate as much as we can to make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens.

Now, at the same time, we’ve also been clear that innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them.  A cease-fire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and to try to resolve some of the underlying issues that have been building up over quite some time.  Israel committed to that 72-hour cease-fire, and it was violated.  And trying to put that back together is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts.

And let me take this opportunity, by the way, to give Secretary John Kerry credit.  He has been persistent.  He has worked very hard.  He has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism simply to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed.

We’re going to keep working towards that.  It’s going to take some time.  I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.

And it’s not particularly relevant whether a particular leader in Hamas ordered this abduction.  The point is, is that when they sign onto a cease-fire they’re claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions.  And if they don’t have control of them, and just moments after a cease-fire is signed you have Israeli soldiers being killed and captured, then it’s hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a cease-fire can actually be honored.

I’m in constant consultation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Our national security team is in constant communication with the Israel military.  I want to see everything possible done to make sure that Palestinian civilians are not being killed.  And it is heartbreaking to see what’s happening there, and I think many of us recognize the dilemma we have.  On the one hand, Israel has a right to defend itself and it’s got to be able to get at those rockets and those tunnel networks.  On the other hand, because of the incredibly irresponsible actions on the part of Hamas to oftentimes house these rocket launchers right in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, we end up seeing people who had nothing to do with these rockets ending up being hurt.

Part of the reason why we’ve been pushing so hard for a cease-fire is precisely because it’s hard to reconcile Israel’s legitimate need to defend itself with our concern with those civilians.  And if we can pause the fighting, then it’s possible that we may be able to arrive at a formula that spares lives and also ensures Israel’s security.  But it’s difficult.  And I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.

Bill Plante.

Q    Mr. President, like that cease-fire, you’ve called for diplomatic solutions not only in Israel and Gaza but also in Ukraine, in Iraq, to very little effect so far.  Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world?  Have you lost yours?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, this is a common theme that folks bring up.  Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on Earth, still does not control everything around the world.  And so our diplomatic efforts often take time. They often will see progress and then a step backwards.  That’s been true in the Middle East.  That’s been true in Europe.  That’s been true in Asia.  That’s the nature of world affairs.  It’s not neat, and it’s not smooth.

But if you look at, for example, Ukraine, we have made progress in delivering on what we said we would do.  We can’t control how Mr. Putin thinks.  But what we can do is say to Mr. Putin, if you continue on the path of arming separatists with heavy armaments that the evidence suggests may have resulted in 300 innocent people on a jet dying, and that violates international law and undermines the integrity — territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, then you’re going to face consequences that will hurt your country.

And there was a lot of skepticism about our ability to coordinate with Europeans for a strong series of sanctions.  And each time we have done what we said we would do, including this week, when we put in place sanctions that have an impact on key sectors of the Russian economy — their energy, their defense, their financial systems.

It hasn’t resolved the problem yet.  I spoke to Mr. Putin this morning, and I indicated to him, just as we will do what we say we do in terms of sanctions, we’ll also do what we say we do in terms of wanting to resolve this issue diplomatically if he takes a different position.  If he respects and honors the right of Ukrainians to determine their own destiny, then it’s possible to make sure that Russian interests are addressed that are legitimate, and that Ukrainians are able to make their own decisions, and we can resolve this conflict and end some of the bloodshed.

But the point is, though, Bill, that if you look at the 20th century and the early part of this century, there are a lot of conflicts that America doesn’t resolve.  That’s always been true.  That doesn’t mean we stop trying.  And it’s not a measure of American influence on any given day or at any given moment that there are conflicts around the world that are difficult.  The conflict in Northern Ireland raged for a very, very long time until finally something broke, where the parties decided that it wasn’t worth killing each other.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on even longer than you’ve been reporting.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t think at any point was there a suggestion somehow that America didn’t have influence just because we weren’t able to finalize an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

You will recall that situations like Kosovo and Bosnia raged on for quite some time, and there was a lot more death and bloodshed than there has been so far in the Ukrainian situation before it ultimately did get resolved.

And so I recognize with so many different issues popping up around the world, sometimes it may seem as if this is an aberration or it’s unusual.  But the truth of the matter is, is that there’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there and there are going to be conflicts.  And our job is to just make sure that we continue to project what’s right, what’s just, and that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests but also the interests of the world as a whole.

Q    Do you think you could have done more?

THE PRESIDENT:  On which one?

Q    On any of them?  Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well look, I think, Bill, that the nature of being President is that you’re always asking yourself what more can you do.  But with respect to, let’s say, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, this administration invested an enormous amount to try to bring the parties together around a framework for peace and a two-state solution.  John Kerry invested an enormous amount of time.  In the end, it’s up to the two parties to make a decision.  We can lead them to resolve some of the technical issues and to show them a path, but they’ve got to want it.

With respect to Ukraine, I think that we have done everything that we can to support the Ukrainian government and to deter Russia from moving further into Ukraine.  But short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be their long-term interests.

Right now, what we’ve done is impose sufficient costs on Russia that, objectively speaking, they should — President Putin should want to resolve this diplomatically, get these sanctions lifted, get their economy growing again, and have good relations with Ukraine.  But sometimes people don’t always act rationally, and they don’t always act based on their medium- or long-term interests.  That can’t deter us, though.  We’ve just got to stay at it.

Wendell.

Q    Mr. President, Republicans point to some of your executive orders as reason, they say, that they can’t trust you to implement legislation that they pass.  Even if you don’t buy that argument, do you hold yourself totally blameless in the inability it appears to reach agreement with the Republican-led House?

THE PRESIDENT:  Wendell, let’s just take the recent example of immigration.  A bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate, co-sponsored by not just Democrats but some very conservative Republicans who recognize that the system currently is broken and if, in fact we put more resources on the border, provide a path in which those undocumented workers who’ve been living here for a long time and may have ties here are coming out of the shadows, paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English — if we fix the legal immigration system so it’s more efficient, if we are attracting young people who may have studied here to stay here and create jobs here, that that all is going to be good for the economy, it’s going to reduce the deficit, it might have forestalled some of the problems that we’re seeing now in the Rio Grande Valley with these unaccompanied children.

And so we have a bipartisan bill, Wendell, bipartisan agreement supported by everybody from labor to the evangelical community to law enforcement.  So the argument isn’t between me and the House Republicans.  It’s between the House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and House Republicans and the business community, and House Republicans and the evangelical community.  I’m just one of the people they seem to disagree with on this issue.

So that’s on the comprehensive bill.  So now we have a short-term crisis with respect to the Rio Grande Valley.  They say we need more resources, we need tougher border security in this area where these unaccompanied children are showing up.  We agree.  So we put forward a supplemental to give us the additional resources and funding to do exactly what they say we should be doing, and they can’t pass the bill.  They can’t even pass their own version of the bill.  So that’s not a disagreement between me and the House Republicans; that’s a disagreement between the House Republicans and the House Republicans.

The point is that on a range of these issues, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s reducing the deficit, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure, we have consistently put forward proposals that in previous years and previous administrations would not have been considered radical or left wing; they would have been considered pretty sensible, mainstream approaches to solving problems.

I include under that, by the way, the Affordable Care Act.  That’s a whole other conversation.

And in circumstances where even basic, common-sense, plain, vanilla legislation can’t pass because House Republicans consider it somehow a compromise of their principles, or giving Obama a victory, then we’ve got to take action.  Otherwise, we’re not going to be making progress on the things that the American people care about.

Q    On the border supplemental — can you act alone?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m going to have to act alone because we don’t have enough resources.  We’ve already been very clear — we’ve run out of money.  And we are going to have to reallocate resources in order to just make sure that some of the basic functions that have to take place down there — whether it’s making sure that these children are properly housed, or making sure we’ve got enough immigration judges to process their cases  — that those things get done.  We’re going to have to reallocate some resources.

But the broader point, Wendell, is that if, in fact, House Republicans are concerned about me acting independently of Congress — despite the fact that I’ve taken fewer executive actions than my Republican predecessor or my Democratic predecessor before that, or the Republican predecessor before that — then the easiest way to solve it is passing legislation. Get things done.

On the supplemental, we agreed on 80 percent of the issues. There were 20 percent of the issues that perhaps there were disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.  As I said to one Republican colleague who was down here that I was briefing about some national security issues, why wouldn’t we just go ahead and pass the 80 percent that we agree on and we’ll try to work to resolve the differences on the other 20 percent?  Why wouldn’t we do that?  And he didn’t really have a good answer for it.

So there’s no doubt that I can always do better on everything, including making additional calls to Speaker Boehner, and having more conversations with some of the House Republican leadership.  But in the end, the challenge I have right now is that they are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are, and they’re not able to work and compromise even with Senate Republicans on certain issues.  And they consider what have been traditionally Republican-supported initiatives, they consider those as somehow a betrayal of the cause.

Take the example of the Export-Import Bank.  This is an interesting thing that’s happened.  This is a program in which we help to provide financing to sell American goods and products around the world.  Every country does this.  It’s traditionally been championed by Republicans.  For some reason, right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this — which means that when American companies go overseas and they’re trying to close a sale on selling Boeing planes, for example, or a GE turbine, or some other American product, that has all kinds of subcontractors behind it and is creating all kinds of jobs, and all sorts of small businesses depend on that sale, and that American company is going up against a German company or a Chinese company, and the Chinese and the German company are providing financing and the American company isn’t, we may lose that sale.

When did that become something that Republicans opposed?  It would be like me having a car dealership for Ford, and the Toyota dealership offers somebody financing and I don’t.  We will lose business and we’ll lose jobs if we don’t pass it.

So there’s some big issues where I understand why we have differences.  On taxes, Republicans want to maintain some corporate loopholes I think need to be closed because I think that we should be giving tax breaks to families that are struggling with child care or trying to save for a college education.  On health care, obviously their view is, is that we should not be helping folks get health care, even though it’s through the private marketplace.  My view is, is that in a country as wealthy as ours, we can afford to make sure that everybody has access to affordable care.

Those are legitimate policy arguments.  But getting our ambassadors confirmed?  These are career diplomats, not political types.  Making sure that we pass legislation to strengthen our borders and put more folks down there?  Those shouldn’t be controversial.  And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of where I wouldn’t welcome some reasonable efforts to actually get a bill passed out of Congress that I could sign.

Last question, Michelle Kosinski.

Q    You made the point that in certain difficult conflicts in the past, both sides had to reach a point where they were tired of the bloodshed.  Do you think that we are actually far from that point right now?  And is it realistic to try to broker a cease-fire right now when there are still tunnel operations allowed to continue?  Is that going to cause a change of approach from this point forward?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind that the cease-fire that had been agreed to would have given Israel the capability to continue to dismantle these tunnel networks, but the Israelis can dismantle these tunnel networks without going into major population centers in Gaza.  So I think the Israelis are entirely right that these tunnel networks need to be dismantled.  There is a way of doing that while still reducing the bloodshed.

You are right that in past conflicts, sometimes people have to feel deeply the costs.  Anybody who has been watching some of these images I’d like to think should recognize the costs.  You have children who are getting killed.  You have women, defenseless, who are getting killed.  You have Israelis whose lives are disrupted constantly and living in fear.  And those are costs that are avoidable if we’re able to get a cease-fire that preserves Israel’s ability to defend itself and gives it the capacity to have an assurance that they’re not going to be constantly threatened by rocket fire in the future, and, conversely, an agreement that recognizes the Palestinian need to be able to make a living and the average Palestinian’s capacity to live a decent life.

But it’s hard.  It’s going to be hard to get there.  I think that there’s a lot of anger and there’s a lot of despair, and that’s a volatile mix.  But we have to keep trying.

And it is — Bill asked earlier about American leadership.  Part of the reason why America remains indispensable, part of the essential ingredient in American leadership is that we’re willing to plunge in and try, where other countries don’t bother trying.  I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that in all these crises that have been mentioned, there may be some tangential risks to the United States.  In some cases, as in Iraq and ISIS, those are dangers that have to be addressed right now, and we have to take them very seriously.  But for the most part, these are not — the rockets aren’t being fired into the United States.  The reason we are concerned is because we recognize we’ve got some special responsibilities.

We have to have some humility about what we can and can’t accomplish.  We have to recognize that our resources are finite, and we’re coming out of a decade of war and our military has been stretched very hard, as has our budget.  Nevertheless, we try.  We go in there and we make an effort.

And when I see John Kerry going out there and trying to broker a cease-fire, we should all be supporting him.  There shouldn’t be a bunch of complaints and second-guessing about, well, it hasn’t happened yet, or nitpicking before he’s had a chance to complete his efforts.  Because, I tell you what, there isn’t any other country that’s going in there and making those efforts.

And more often than not, as a consequence of our involvement, we get better outcomes — not perfect outcomes, not immediate outcomes, but we get better outcomes.  And that’s going to be true with respect to the Middle East.  That’s going to be true with respect to Ukraine.  That’s going to be certainly true with respect to Iraq.

And I think it’s useful for me to end by just reminding folks that, in my first term, if I had a press conference like this, typically, everybody would want to ask about the economy and how come jobs weren’t being created, and how come the housing market is still bad, and why isn’t it working.  Well, you know what, what we did worked.  And the economy is better.  And when I say that we’ve just had six months of more than 200,000 jobs that hasn’t happened in 17 years that shows you the power of persistence.  It shows you that if you stay at it, eventually we make some progress.  All right?

Q    What about John Brennan?

Q    The Africa summit — Ebola?

THE PRESIDENT:  I thought that you guys were going to ask me how I was going to spend my birthday.  What happened to the happy birthday thing?

Q    Happy birthday.

Q    What about John Brennan?

Q    Africa summit?

THE PRESIDENT:  I will address two points.  I’ll address –

Q    And Flight 17?

THE PRESIDENT:  Hold on, guys.  Come on.  There’s just –

Q    And Africa.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re not that pent up.  I’ve been giving you questions lately.

On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.

I have full confidence in John Brennan.  I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff.  And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled.  Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.

With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.  We did some things that were contrary to our values.

I understand why it happened.  I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.  And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.  And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.  And that’s what that report reflects.  And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.  And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line.  And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted.  And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

Q    Mr. President –

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, I gave you a question.

Q    All right.

Q    The summit — the U.S.-Africa –

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got a U.S.-Africa Summit coming up next week.  It is going to be an unprecedented gathering of African leaders.  The importance of this for America needs to be understood.  Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents in the world.  You’ve got six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in Africa.  You have all sorts of other countries like China and Brazil and India deeply interested in working with Africa — not to extract natural resources alone, which traditionally has been the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world — but now because Africa is growing and you’ve got thriving markets and you’ve got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there.

And Africa also happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular and people feel a real affinity for our way of life.  And we’ve made enormous progress over the last several years in not just providing traditional aid to Africa, helping countries that are suffering from malnutrition or helping countries that are suffering from AIDS, but rather partnering and thinking about how can we trade more and how can we do business together.  And that’s the kind of relationship that Africa is looking for.

And I’ve had conversations over the last several months with U.S. businesses — some of the biggest U.S. businesses in the world — and they say, Africa, that’s one of our top priorities; we want to do business with those folks, and we think that we can create U.S. jobs and send U.S. exports to Africa.  But we’ve got to be engaged, and so this gives us a chance to do that.  It also gives us a chance to talk to Africa about security issues — because, as we’ve seen, terrorist networks try to find places where governance is weak and security structures are weak.  And if we want to keep ourselves safe over the long term, then one of the things that we can do is make sure that we are partnering with some countries that really have pretty effective security forces and have been deploying themselves in peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts in Africa.  And that, ultimately, can save us and our troops and our military a lot of money if we’ve got strong partners who are able to deal with conflicts in these regions.

So it’s going to be a terrific conference.  I won’t lie to you, traffic will be bad here in Washington.  (Laughter.)  I know that everybody has been warned about that, but we are really looking forward to this and I think it’s going to be a great success.

Now, the last thing I’m going to say about this, because I know that it’s been on people’s minds, is the issue of Ebola.  This is something that we take very seriously.  As soon as there’s an outbreak anywhere in the world of any disease that could have significant effects, the CDC is in communication with the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies to try to make sure that we’ve got an appropriate response.

This has been a more aggressive Ebola outbreak than we’ve seen in the past.  But keep in mind that it is still affecting parts of three countries, and we’ve got some 50 countries represented at this summit.  We are doing two things with respect to the summit itself.  We’re taking the appropriate precautions.  Folks who are coming from these countries that have even a marginal risk or an infinitesimal risk of having been exposed in some fashion, we’re making sure we’re doing screening on that end — as they leave the country.  We’ll do additional screening when they’re here.  We feel confident that the procedures that we’ve put in place are appropriate.

More broadly, the CDC and our various health agencies are going to be working very intently with the World Health Organization and some of our partner countries to make sure that we can surge some resources down there and organization to these countries that are pretty poor and don’t have a strong public health infrastructure so that we can start containing the problem.

Keep in mind that Ebola is not something that is easily transmitted.  That’s why, generally, outbreaks dissipate.  But the key is identifying, quarantining, isolating those who contract it and making sure that practices are in place that avoid transmission.  And it can be done, but it’s got to be done in an organized, systematic way, and that means that we’re going to have to help these countries accomplish that.

All right?  Okay.

Q    Happy Birthday, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go, April.  (Laughter.)  That’s what I was talking about — somebody finally wished me happy birthday — although it isn’t until Monday, you’re right.

Thank you so much.

END                3:34 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts June 11, 2014: Eric Cantor’s news conference on primary loss and resignation as House Majority Leader

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Transcript: Eric Cantor’s news conference on primary loss

Source: WaPo, 6-11-14

Transcript: Eric Cantor’s news conference on primary loss

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spoke about his political future…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency April 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on Reaching 8 Million Obamacare Enrollees and the Crisis in Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by the President, 4/17/14

Source: WH, 4-17-14

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT PRESS CONFERENCE

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

**Please see below for a correction marked with asterisks.

3:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  Before I begin I just want to express on behalf of the American people our deepest condolences to the Republic of Korea and the families of all those who’ve seen their loved ones lost when a ferry sank within the last couple of days.

Obviously, information is still coming in.  We know that many of the victims of this terrible tragedy were students.  And American Navy personnel and Marines have already been on the scene helping the search and rescue.  As one of our closest allies, our commitment to South Korea is unwavering in good times and in bad, and that’s something I’ll underscore during my visit to Seoul next week.

Before I take questions I’d also like to say a few words about how the Affordable Care Act is now covering more people at less cost than most would have predicted just a few months ago.

The first open enrollment period under this law ended a little over two weeks ago.  And as more data comes in, we now know that the number of Americans who’ve signed up for private insurance in the marketplaces has grown to 8 million people — 8 million people.  Thirty-five percent of people who enrolled through the federal marketplace are under the age of 35.  All told, independent experts now estimate that millions of Americans who were uninsured have gained coverage this year — with millions more to come next year and the year after.

We’ve also seen signs that the Affordable Care Act is bringing economic security to more Americans.  Before this law added new transparency and competition to the individual market, folks who bought insurance on their own regularly saw double-digit increases in their premiums.  That was the norm.  And while we suspect that premiums will keep rising, as they have for decades, we also know that since the law took effect health care spending has risen more slowly than at any time in the past 50 years.

In the decade before the Affordable Care Act, employer-based insurance rose almost 8 percent a year.  Last year, it grew at half that rate.  Under this law, real Medicare costs per person have nearly stopped growing.  The life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by 10 years.  And the independent Congressional Budget Office now expects premiums for plans on the marketplace to be 15 percent lower than originally predicted.

So those savings add up to more money that families can spend at businesses, more money that businesses can spend hiring new workers.  And the CBO now says that the Affordable Care Act will be cheaper than recently projected.  Lower costs from  coverage provisions will shrink our deficits by an extra $100 billion.

So the bottom line is, under the Affordable Care Act, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs is down.  Hundreds of millions of Americans who already have insurance now have new benefits and protections from free preventive care to freedom from lifetime caps on your care.  No American with a preexisting condition like asthma or cancer can be denied coverage.  No woman can be charged more just for being a woman.  Those days are over.  And this thing is working.

I’ve said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our health care system.  We know we’ve got more work to do.  But we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more — which is why, as I’ve said before, I find it strange that the Republican position on this law is still stuck in the same place that it has always been.

They still can’t bring themselves to admit that the Affordable Care Act is working.  They said nobody would sign up; they were wrong about that.  They said it would be unaffordable for the country; they were wrong about that.  They were wrong to keep trying to repeal a law that is working when they have no alternative answer for millions of Americans with preexisting conditions who would be denied coverage again, or every woman who would be charged more for just being a woman again.

I know every American isn’t going to agree with this law.  But I think we can agree that it’s well past time to move on as a country and refocus our energy on the issues that the American people are most concerned about — and that continues to be the economy.  Because these endless, fruitless repeal efforts come at a cost.  The 50 or so votes Republicans have taken to repeal this law could have been 50 votes to create jobs by investing in things like infrastructure or innovation.  Or 50 votes to make it easier for middle-class families to send their kids to college.  Or 50 votes to raise the minimum wage, or restore unemployment insurance that they let expire for folks working hard to find a new job.

The point is the repeal debate is and should be over.  The Affordable Care Act is working.  And I know the American people don’t want us spending the next two and a half years refighting the settled political battles of the last five years.  They sent us here to repair our economy, to rebuild our middle class, and to restore our founding promise of opportunity — not just for a few, but for all.  And as President, that’s exactly what I intend to keep doing as long as I’m in this office.

With that, I’ll take some questions.  Let’s see who we got.  Kathleen Hennessey of the LA Times.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  It sounds like there’s been some development in the Ukraine talks in Geneva.  I’m just wondering if you could describe your level of confidence in what this agreement is and how you can be sure that Russia will follow through, given some of the remarks from President Putin this morning.

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think we can be sure of anything at this point.  I think there is the possibility, the prospect that diplomacy may deescalate the situation and we may be able to move towards what has always been our goal, which is let the Ukrainians make their own decisions about their own lives.

There was a meeting in Geneva — representatives of the Ukrainian government, the Russian government, the EU, as well as the United States.  It was a lengthy, vigorous conversation.  My understanding is, is that the Ukrainian Prime Foreign** Minister gave a detailed and thorough presentation about the reforms that they intend to introduce, including reforms that provide assurances for Ukrainians who live in eastern and southern Ukraine that they will be fully represented, that their rights will be protected, that Russian speakers and Russian natives in Ukraine will have the full protection of the law.  And my understanding, based on what I’ve heard, is that there was an acknowledgement within the meeting that the Ukrainian government in Kyiv had gone out of its way to address a range of the concerns that may have existed in southern and eastern Ukraine.

There was a promising public statement that indicated the need to disarm all irregular forces and militias and groups that have been occupying buildings.  There was an offer of amnesty to those who would willingly lay down their arms, evacuate those buildings, so that law and order could be restored in eastern and southern Ukraine.

The Russians signed on to that statement.  And the question now becomes will, in fact, they use the influence that they’ve exerted in a disruptive way to restore some order so that Ukrainians can carry out an election, move forward with the decentralization reforms that they’ve proposed, stabilize their economy, and start getting back on the path of growth and democracy and that their sovereignty will be respected.

We’re not going to know whether, in fact, there’s follow-through on these statements for several days.  And so today I spoke with Chancellor Merkel; later on in the day I’m going to be speaking to David Cameron.  We’re going to be consulting with our European allies.  Over the last week, we have put in place additional consequences that we can impose on the Russians if we do not see actual improvement of the situation on the ground.  And we are coordinating now with our European allies.

My hope is that we actually do see follow-through over the next several days.  But I don’t think given past performance that we can count on that, and we have to be prepared to potentially respond to what continue to be efforts of interference by the Russians in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

If, in fact, we do see improvements, then that will obviously be a positive.  In the meantime, we’re going to make sure that we continue to help the Ukrainian government — working with the IMF, the Europeans and others — to stabilize their economy and to start reforming it.  We’re going to continue to work with our NATO allies to make sure that they are assured that we’re going to meet our Article 5 obligations and that they are secure.

And as I’ve said before — I think I had an interview with Major yesterday in which I mentioned this whole exercise by the Russians is not good for Russia either.  There are, I think, a number of articles today indicating the degree to which an economy that was already stuck in the mud is further deteriorating because of these actions.

And in my conversations with President Putin, I’ve emphasized the same thing, that we have no desire to see further deterioration of the Russian economy.  On the other hand, we are going to continue to uphold the basic principle of sovereignty and territorial integrity for all countries; and that there’s a way for Ukraine to be independent, to be sovereign, and to have positive relationships with both the West and the East, with both its European neighbors and its Russian neighbors.  And that’s our primary concern.

Maria Peña, La Opinión.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ve got a hot spot for you here in the U.S.  House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said — or claimed that you haven’t learned how to work with them.  And he’s angry that you’re attacking the GOP on the lack of movement on immigration reform.  So I was wondering how you respond to that.

And the second part to that, right now you have hunger strikers across the street demanding relief for undocumented immigrants.  And I was wondering if you can dispel the rumors or if there’s a leak from the White House that you will make some sort of announcement in the coming weeks to expand that relief for the undocumented.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I actually had a very pleasant conversation with Mr. Cantor yesterday.

Q    Really?

THE PRESIDENT:  I did.  (Laughter.)  You’re always kind of surprised by the mismatch between press releases and the conversation.  I wished him happy Passover.  And what I said to him privately is something that I would share with him — that I’ve said publicly, which is there is bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform.  It would strengthen our economy, it would help with our security, and it would provide relief to families who — many of whom have lived here for years and who have children and family members who are U.S. citizens; and that Congress should act; and that right now what’s holding us back is House Republican leadership not willing to go ahead and let the process move forward.

So it was a pretty friendly conversation.  I think in his press release, I gather he was referring to the observation that we’d made a day earlier that it had now been a year since the Senate had passed a strong bipartisan bill, and that although we had heard a lot of talk about the House Republicans being interested in doing something, nothing had happened yet, and suggesting that we need some urgency here.  I still feel the same way.

I know there are Republicans in the House, as there are Republicans in the Senate, who know this is the right thing to do.  I also know it’s hard politics for Republicans because there are some in their base that are very opposed to this.  But what I also know is that there are families all across the country who are experiencing great hardship and pain because this is not getting resolved.  I also know that there are businesses around the country that could be growing even faster, that our deficits could be coming down faster, that we would have more customers in our shops, if we get this thing resolved.

We know what the right thing to do is.  It’s a matter of political will.  It’s not any longer a matter of policy.  And I’m going to continue to encourage them to get this done.

As far as our actions, Jeh Johnson, our new head of the  Department of Homeland Security, has been talking to everybody  — law enforcement, immigrant rights groups — to do a thorough-going review of our approach towards enforcement.  And we’re doing that in consultation with Democrats and Republicans and with any interested party.

I do think that the system we have right now is broken.  I’m not alone in that opinion.  The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action.  We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could.  We’re going to review it one more time to see if there’s more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn’t be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding.

And so let me –

Q    Do you have a time?

THE PRESIDENT:  I won’t get into timing right now because Mr. Johnson is going to go ahead and do that review.

Tamara Keith.

Q    So you — regarding the Affordable Care Act, I think you –

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, let’s talk about that.  (Laughter.)

Q    Since you brought it up.  (Laughter.)  I think everyone agrees that it has flaws.  But Democrats have been sort of reluctant in Congress to reopen the conversation, and Republicans have been more than happy to reopen the conversation but in a different way.  Now that, as you say, it’s here to stay, there are so many people that signed up, in this environment is it possible to do the kind of corrections that the business community and many others would like to see — sort of small, technical corrections?

THE PRESIDENT:  It is absolutely possible, but it will require a change in attitude on the part of the Republicans.

I have always said from the outset that on any large piece of legislation like this, there are going to be things that need to be improved, need to be tweaked.  I said that I think the day I signed the bill.  And I don’t think there’s been any hesitation on our part to consider ideas that would actually improve the legislation.  The challenge we have is, is that if you have certain members in the Republican Party whose view is making it work better is a concession to me, then it’s hard in that environment to actually get it done.

And I recognize that their party is going through the stages of grief — anger and denial and all that stuff — and we’re not at acceptance yet.  But at some point, my assumption is, is that there will be an interest to figure out how do we make this work in the best way possible.

We have 8 million people signed up through the exchanges.  That doesn’t include the 3 million young people who are able to stay on their parents’ plan.  It doesn’t include the 3 million people who benefited from expansions to Medicaid.  So if my math is correct, that’s 14 million right there.  You’ve got another 5 million people who signed up outside of the marketplaces but are part of the same insurance pool.  So we’ve got a sizable part of the U.S. population now in the first — for the first time in many cases, in a position to enjoy the financial security of health insurance.

And I’m meeting them as I’m on the road.  I saw a woman yesterday — young woman, maybe 34, with her mom and her dad, and she’s got two small kids and self-employed husband, and was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And this isn’t an abstraction to her.  She is saving her home.  She is saving her business.  She is saving her parents’ home, potentially, because she’s got health insurance, which she just could not afford.

And the question now becomes if, in fact, this is working for a lot of people but there are still improvements to make, why are we still having a conversation about repealing the whole thing, and why are we having folks say that any efforts to improve it are somehow handing Obama a victory?  This isn’t about me.  And my hope is, is that we start moving beyond that.  My suspicion is that probably will not happen until after November because it seems as if this is the primary agenda item in the Republican political platform.

But here’s what I know:  The American people would much rather see us talk about jobs, would much rather see us talk about high college costs, would much rather see us discussing how we can rebuild our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure and put people back to work.  They’d much rather see us talk about how we’d boost wages and boost incomes and improve their individual family bottom lines.

And if the Republicans want to spend the entire next six months or year talking about repealing a bill that provides millions of people health insurance without providing any meaningful alternative, instead of wanting to talk about jobs and the economic situation of families all across the country, that’s their prerogative.  At some point I think they’ll make the transition.  That’s my hope, anyway.  If not, we’re just going to keep on doing what we’re doing, which is making it work for people all across the country.

I’m sorry, I’m going to say one last thing about this, just because this does frustrate me:  States that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite.  You’ve got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now at no cost to these states — zero cost to these states — other than ideological reasons.  They have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.  That’s wrong.  It should stop.  Those folks should be able to get health insurance like everybody else.

Isaac, from Politico.  Where are you, Isaac?  There you are.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Given all that you were just saying about the Affordable Care Act, do you think it’s time for Democrats to start campaigning loudly and positively on the benefits of Obamacare?  Will you lead that charge?

And on Ukraine, you’ve said in other situations — Iran, for example — that the military option remains on the table even as talks go on.  Is the military option on the table with Russia?  And if so, would that be through NATO forces, through lethal aid to Ukraine?

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, keep in mind I think I’ve been very clear that military options are not on the table in Ukraine because this is not a situation that would be amenable to a clear military solution.  What we have to do is to create an environment in which irregular forces disarm, that the seizing of buildings cease, that a national dialogue by Ukrainians — not by Russians, not by Americans or anybody else, but by Ukrainians — takes place.  They move forward with reforms that meet the interests of the various groups within Ukraine, they move forward with elections, and they start getting their economic house in order.  That’s what’s going to solve the problem.

And so obviously, Russia right now still has its forces amassed along the Ukrainian-Russian border as a gesture of intimidation.  And it is our belief — and not ours alone — but I think broad portions of the international community believe that Russia’s hand is in the disruptions and chaos that we’ve been seeing in southern and eastern Ukraine.  But there is an opportunity for Russia to take a different approach.  We are encouraging them to do so.

In the meantime, we’re going to prepare additional responses should Russia fail to take a different course.  We’ve already had an impact on their economy that is well documented.  It could get significantly worse.  But we don’t have an interest in hurting ordinary Russians just for the sake of it.  Our strong preference would be for Mr. Putin to follow through on what is a glimmer of hope coming out of these Geneva talks.  But we’re not going to count on it until we see it.  And in the meantime, we’re going to prepare what our other options are.

With respect to the Affordable Care Act, my point is that we’ve been having a political fight about this for five years.  We need to move on to something else.  That’s what the American people are interested in.  I think that Democrats should forcefully defend and be proud of the fact that millions of people like the woman I just described who I saw in Pennsylvania yesterday we’re helping because of something we did.  I don’t think we should apologize for it, and I don’t think we should be defensive about it.  I think there is a strong, good, right story to tell.

I think what the other side is doing and what the other side is offering would strip away protections from those families and from hundreds of millions of people who already had health insurance before the law passed, but never knew if the insurance company could drop them when they actually needed it, or women who were getting charged more just because they were a woman.  I’m still puzzled why they’ve made this their sole agenda item when it comes to our politics.  It’s curious.

But what I intend to talk about is what the American people are interested in hearing:  Our plans for putting people back to work; our plans for making sure our economy continues to innovate; our plans to make sure that, as I discussed yesterday, we’re training people for the jobs that are out there right now and making better use of our community colleges and linking them up with businesses; and how we’re going to continue to bring manufacturing back the way we have over the last several years; and how we’re going to put more money in the pockets of ordinary people.

So if they want to — if Republicans want to spend all their time talking about repealing a law that’s working, that’s their business.  I think what Democrats should do is not be defensive, but we need to move on and focus on other things that are really important to the American people right now.

David Jackson.

Q    Yes, sir.  Thank you.  One reason the Republicans talk about it is there are people who object to the law who said they’ve had problems with the law, and there are a significant number of opponents of the law.  I guess my question is, what makes you think a significant majority of the American people, of voters, will accept this law?  Or are we destined to see health care as a 50/50, red state/blue state argument for years to come?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think you’re mixing up two things here, David.  You said there are people who have seen problems with the law.  That’s not 50 percent of the American people.  There may have been folks who have been affected in ways that they weren’t happy about — by the law.  That is a far smaller number than the millions of people who’ve been signed up.  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about it.  That’s an area where, as I said to Tamara, we should be open to other ways that we can make it even better.  So that’s objective facts and real problems out there.

The other side of it is just polling, right, what’s the general opinion of the law — which is attached to general opinions about me or about Democrats and partisanship in the country generally.

My view is that the longer we see the law benefiting millions of people, the more we see accusations that the law is hurting millions of people being completely debunked — as some of you in the press have done — and the more the average American who already has health insurance sees that it’s actually not affecting them in an adverse way, then it becomes less of a political football — which is where I want it to be.  This shouldn’t be a political football.  This should be something that we take for granted, that in this country you should be able to get affordable health care regardless of how wealthy you are.

Now, the larger issue about whether we can move past the polarization and sort of the bitter political debates between Democrats and Republicans, of which Obamacare is just one small part, that’s going to take more time.  But it’s not for lack of trying on my part.  And I think that I speak for all Democrats in saying we would much prefer a constructive conversation with the Republicans about how do we get some stuff done, and let’s focus on some areas that the American people really care about.

On jobs, we know that infrastructure would put people back to work right now and it would improve our economy for the long term.  It didn’t used to be a partisan issue.  Why aren’t we coming up with a way to make sure that we’re rebuilding our roads and our bridges, and improving our air traffic control system?  There’s no reason that has to be political.  There really isn’t any ideological disagreement on that.  And I guarantee you after this winter, if you look at the potholes that are the size of canyons all across big chunks of the United States, that people would like to see an infrastructure bill.  Let’s get it done.

Q    How long before health care ceases to become a political football, do you think?  Are we talking years?  Months?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it’s hard to say.  It’s interesting, I spoke at the LBJ Library the other day, and most of us weren’t around to pay real close attention to those debates, or they’re pretty distant now in the past.  Apparently it took several years before people realized, hey, Medicare actually works and it’s lifting a lot of seniors out of despair and poverty.

So we’ve been through this cycle before.  It happens each and every time we make some strides in terms of strengthening our commitments to each other and we expand some of these social insurance programs.

There’s a lot of fear-mongering and a lot of political argument and debate, and a lot of accusations are flung back and forth about socialized medicine and the end of freedom.  And then it turns out that, you know what, it’s working for a lot of folks, and we still live in a free-market society and the Constitution is intact.  And then we move on.  And I don’t know how long it’s going to take.  But in the meantime, how about us focusing on some things that the American people really care about?

Thank you, everybody.

END
4:13 P.M. EDT

 

Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2014: President Obama, President Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper’s Press Conference at Three Amigos Summit

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by President Obama, President Peña Nieto, and Prime Minister Harper

Source: WH, 2-19-14

President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside of President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper during the North American Business, Civil Society and Education leaders during the North American Leaders Summit in Toluca, Mexico.President Barack Obama delivers remarks alongside President Enrique Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Stephen Harper to North American business, civil society, and education leaders during the North American Leaders’ Summit in Toluca, Mexico, Feb. 19, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Patio Central
Palacio de Gobierno
Toluca, Mexico

7:25 P.M. CST

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  Members of the media.  Your Excellency, President of the United States of America Barack Obama; Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper.  Once again, I would like to welcome you to our country.

It is a great honor to have hosted you for the North American Leaders Summit here in the State of Mexico, and Toluca, its capital city — a state that I had the great honor of being the governor of before I took office with the greatest honor in the world of politics, and that is to lead the course of my country.

That is why I am very glad that we have had the opportunity of having this meeting.  And I’d like to congratulate myself for creating a space where we have had dialogues, where we have outreach to our countries, and where we have strengthened our friendship.  I can be certain that the warm space where we have met is very different from what the teams of men and women representing Mexico in Sochi are having in Russia.  They are in very cold weather and fighting hard to win a medal.  So be welcome to this very warm weather.

I would like to summarize for the media and for your delegations the scope of our meetings.  I would like to share with you that we have two highlights in our meetings.  First we had a bilateral with President Barack Obama and with his delegation and their counterparts from Mexico to address the following, and I would like to share this with you.

First of all, we assessed the breakthroughs related to the agreements made during President Obama’s past visit in May to our country, and now during his fifth visit — and I must note that Mexico ranks top of the list of the most visited countries by President Obama during his term.  And we were able to identify the level of progress of the agreements made back then; how much we have advanced the exchange between high level officials to precisely boost the trade and commercial relationship that Mexico and the U.S. have.

We have also analyzed the possibility of setting forward new mechanisms to build and fund strategic projects.  We have agreed to work on a proposal that would help us find different mechanisms to fund projects so that we can give a new life to our infrastructure, to have more agile and have safer commercial transactions between our countries.

Specifically, we talked about education.  We have set the task to have more academic exchanges so that more Mexican students can study in the United States and, reciprocally, students from the United States come to Mexico to study.  The number of students so far is somehow low, considering the potential that we have.  And out of the 14,000 students from Mexico that go to the United States to study, we have set a goal and that is to increase year by year this figure and reach 100,000 students a year that visit the United States, and 50,000 students from the U.S. coming to Mexico to study.

We have revised our security agenda and we have agreed to maintain a strategic dialogue, to coordinate efforts so we can face a common issue — security in both of our countries and, specifically, security at the border.

On the other hand, I would like to refer to the outcome of the North American Leaders Summit.  Therefore, I would like to share with you highlights in terms of the agreements reached in this framework.  We have worked on four main topics.  The first one is to foster shared and inclusive prosperity.  We have agreed to work on a plan to boost competitiveness.  We also have agreed to work on a North America transport plan which would give us better infrastructure in our three countries to make the commerce that happens between our three nations thrive.

We also agreed to standardize and expedite all the procedures that take place in our customhouses.  We have also agreed to enable the movement of individuals, and by this have Trusted Travelers Programs.  We have, each one, a program of this nature with a purpose in mind that all the travelers that are part of the Trusted Travelers registers in our countries are considered as a vetted traveler in North America.

Additionally, in terms of the second topic, we have addressed areas of opportunity.  And I must insist, in terms of our binational agenda with the United States, we have added up Canada to work on a program to train professionals by increasing our academic exchanges and ensuring mobility of students between our three countries.

We have also agreed to foster sustainable development, working towards the mitigation of the effects of climate change. And in the area of sustainability, we have also agreed to work on the preservation of the Monarch butterfly.  It is a landmark species in North America.  This is a species present in our three countries, and we have agreed to work a taskforce with a presentation from our three countries to preserve the Monarch butterfly.

Then, another topic is citizen security and regional topics. We have agreed to give privilege to the exchange of information, and we have also privilege to coordinate efforts between law enforcement authorities.  We will reinforce the measures aimed to fight money laundering and illicit financial flows.  And for that purpose we need to integrate our financial systems further.

We have also restated our commitment to support and cooperate with the Central America region as well as the Caribbean because they are partners in this hemisphere.  We have committed to foster development, economic growth and citizen security as well.

Basically, I have summarized the commitments made during the summit.  And fourthly, we have committed, the three of us, to give follow-up to all the agreements made.  Besides making agreements, we have committed to give follow-up to each one of those agreements and we have committed to make them happen.

Finally, I would like to share with you that in order to reach our goals we need to identify that North America is quite valuable.  The Free Trade Agreement executed 20 years ago and the intense dialogue that we have between our three countries in the North American region is very valuable and every exchange is based on trust.  And we share a very good relationship between all of us who lead our countries.

This North America Leaders Summit has been a very good opportunity to specify what our commitments will be and what are the tasks for the future.  And it has also served as a space to restate our friendship, the good relationship that we have and the respect that we pay to each other.  And we have committed to work hard to make a significant contribution, to make North America a more competitive region — I would dare to say the most competitive region in the world.  And this is a region that has a true call for prosperity.  And we will work to provide better well-being to the citizens of our countries.

We have made great strides.  We create plenty of jobs due to the economic relationship that we have managed to achieve, but we want more.  We want more development.  We are aware of the potential that we find in North America.  And I make a pledge so that the seventh summit of leaders of North America serves its purpose.

Once again, we welcome, and I would like to say that I hope you have had a very pleasant stay in Toluca and I hope that this visit has been very fruitful.  And I hope that we have been able to build an even stronger relationship.

Thank you.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Buenas noches to President Peña Nieto.  To the people of Toluca and the people of Mexico, thank you so much for your extraordinary hospitality.  Thank you again, Enrique, for welcoming us to your hometown and home state, which — like the beautiful surroundings tonight — reflects Mexico’s proud history as well as the economic dynamism of today’s Mexico.

I want to thank President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper for their partnership in deepening the extraordinary ties between our countries — especially the trade that supports good jobs for our people.  For the United States, Canada and Mexico are two of our largest trading partners with trade that supports millions of American jobs.  Thanks in part to our efforts to boost U.S. exports, American exports to Canada and Mexico continue to grow faster than our exports to the rest of the world.

Together, our countries have strengths that give North America a tremendous competitive advantage — the skills of our workers, manufacturing that’s growing, and new sources of energy. So we have to take advantage of these competitive advantages, and we need to do it together.  All of this positions us to be a powerhouse in the global economy.  And that’s why we’re here, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to be more competitive and create more jobs in Canada, in Mexico, and in the United States.

First, we’re focused on making it easier to trade.  Earlier today, I signed a new executive order to make it easier for companies that want to export and import.  Instead of dealing with dozens of different federal agencies and long paper forms, we’re going to create a one-stop shop online, so companies can submit all their information in one place and save themselves time and money.  We’re going to keep investing in infrastructure — like roads, bridges, border crossings — so our goods are getting to market faster.  We’ve agreed to keep working to make it easier for our businesspeople and tourists to trade and travel.  And we’re going to step up our efforts to streamline and eliminate regulations or the red tape that can sometimes stifle trade and job creation.

We’ve agreed to keep working to complete negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, including strong protections for our workers and the environment, so that we can compete in the fast-growing markets of the Asia Pacific.  And because it will grow the U.S. economy and make the United States more attractive to investment — and because we have to do right by our families and our values — I’ve reiterated that immigration reform remains one of my highest priorities.

I’m also very pleased that we’ve agreed to keep expanding educational partnerships, as Enrique mentioned, so our young people develop the skills they need to succeed in the global economy.  And this builds on my initiative that we call 100,000 Strong in the Americas.  We want more students from the United States studying throughout the hemisphere, and we want more students from places like Mexico and Canada studying in the United States — so that they’re developing familiarity and partnerships and friendships that will serve them and serve our countries well for decades to come.

Second, we continue to deepen our clean-energy partnerships, which create jobs and combat climate change.  Yesterday, I announced that the United States will develop new fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks — standards that reduce carbon pollution.  And today, all three of our nations have agreed to work together to meet high fuel standards for these heavy-duty trucks.

And more broadly, we agreed to join with our Central American and Caribbean partners on a regional energy strategy.   And this builds on the commitment I made in Central America last year to help our partners across the region reduce their energy costs and become more competitive.  On a global level, we agreed to keep standing together as we push for an international agreement to phase down the production and consumption of dangerous hydrofluorocarbons.

Number three, we know that realizing our full potential as individual countries and as a region means confronting the criminals and narcotraffickers who unleashed so much violence on our citizens.  Here in Mexico, the security forces and the Mexican people continue to make enormous sacrifices in that fight, and our three nations are united against this threat.  In the United States, we continue to be committed to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and we’ll continue our unprecedented efforts to combat the southbound flow of illegal guns and cash.

And, finally, given our shared commitment to democratic values and human rights, I want to take this opportunity to address the situation in Venezuela and Ukraine, and the unacceptable violence in those two countries, which the United States strongly condemns.

In Venezuela, rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States, the government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people.  So, along with the Organization of American States, we call on the Venezuelan government to release protestors that it’s detained and engage in real dialogue.  And all parties have an obligation to work together to restrain violence and restore calm.

With regard to Ukraine, along with our European partners, we will continue to engage all sides.  And we continue to stress to President Yanukovych and the Ukrainian government that they have the primary responsibility to prevent the kind of terrible violence that we’ve seen, to withdraw riot police, to work with the opposition to restore security and human dignity and move the country forward.  And this includes progress towards a multiparty technical government that can work with the international community on a support package and adopt reforms necessary for free and fair elections next year.

Ukrainians are a proud and resilient people who’ve overcome extraordinary challenges in their history, and that’s a pride and strength that I hope they draw on now.  Meanwhile, I’ve urged the military in Ukraine to show restraint and to let civilians pursue the dialogue necessary for progress.  We’ve obviously seen reports of a truce between the government and the opposition.  If the truce is implemented, it could provide space for the sides to resolve their disagreements peacefully.

And going forward, we’ll continue to do whatever we can to support Ukrainians as they seek a peaceful resolution and respond to the aspirations of the Ukrainian people for a strong, unified democracy that’s fully integrated into the international community.

So, again, I want to thank Enrique and the people of Mexico, and the people of Toluca, for their wonderful hospitality.  If we stay focused on our shared vision — a North America that’s more integrated and more competitive — then progress in each of our countries will mean more prosperity and opportunity for everyone.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  (As interpreted.)  Allow me to start out by thanking President Peña Nieto for his generous hospitality.  We have had a wonderful stay in this wonderful country, in Mexico, and we are eager to come back soon.

Today, I had fruitful meetings and dialogues with my commercial partners from Mexico in regard to services, information, and also shared and fundamental values and, of course, a democratic and peaceful world.

Today, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of NAFTA.  As time can tell us, this treaty was successful, and it started guaranteeing prosperity from one extreme to the other of the hemisphere.  The volume of exchanges is fourfold now, and is over $30 billion.  And we have now seen exponential growth and can hope for exponential growth in years to go.

We are in agreement to say that we can still grow the success of NAFTA, to implement new ways, for instance, in regard to the Trans-Pacific alliance.  And so these negotiations should be for the best.  We need to create employment.  This is the key to revitalize the economy and to foster prosperity not only for the Canadian populations, but for our populations at large.

That’s why our government will keep on working and expanding the free trade and commerce with our main partners in North America, as well as with Asia Pacific region and worldwide, since we want to have access on the other side of the Atlantic, since we have subscribed to the free exchange agreement with Europe.

Today, President Obama, President Peña Nieto and myself have discussed and have delved into many topics, especially the state of the world economy at a local, regional level, and competiveness — North American competitiveness.  We are truly enthusiastic to collaborate, with this idea of collaborating together.  We shall keep on working together with my homologues [counterparts] and to take a profit of all the occasions for the well-being of our populations.  And we will host the forthcoming population of the summit in Canada.

And I would like to add a word in regard to the situation in Ukraine.  There’s been a truce, but it is essential that we take action.  And at the end of the day, the Ukrainian government has to be held responsible for settling this situation.  The Ukrainian government took actions — actions that were not only unpopular, but actions that put at risk nature and the aspirations of becoming an independent nation.

(In English.)  My sincere thanks to President Peña Nieto and the Mexican people for their generous hospitality.  We’ve had a wonderful time here in beautiful Mexico, and I look forward to returning again soon.

Today we had productive meetings with Canada’s closest friends and trading partners — partners with whom we share goods, services and information, and also fundamental values and a vision for a democratic and peaceful world.

This year we mark the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  And as only time can reveal, the agreement — statistics alone — has been overwhelmingly successful and is responsible for creating prosperity from the bottom to the top of the continent.  There has been a fourfold growth in trilateral trade over the last 20 years that now exceeds a trillion dollars. And it is estimated that the NAFTA marketplace will continue to expand exponentially in the decades to come.

We all agree that there is enormous potential to build on the success of NAFTA in new ways, for example, most notably through the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We’re therefore focused on bringing those negotiations to a successful conclusion.

Developing trade is one of the keys to job creation.  It is a key to economic vitality, and it is a key to long-term prosperity not just for the Canadian people, but for all of our peoples.  That’s why our government will continue to work to expand trade with our two core trading partners in North America, in the Asia Pacific region more generally, and around the world  — just as we did last year, when we expanded our access across the Atlantic through the conclusion of the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

In our meetings today, Presidents Peña Nieto, Obama and I discussed a range of topics as have already been detailed by my colleagues, including the state of the global economy, international regional security, and North American competitiveness.  We share a genuine enthusiasm for closer collaboration.

The Presidents and I will continue to work together to address the challenges of the 21st century and to seize the many promising opportunities that the future holds for our peoples.  And I do look forward to hosting the next North American Leaders Summit in Canada.

And I’d also just like to conclude with a word on the situation in Ukraine.  We obviously are encouraged to hear the news of a truce.  While this is good news, this kind of news, these kinds of words are only meaningful if they are put into action.  And ultimately, it is the regime that is responsible for resolving the current situation.  It is the regime that created this situation — not by taking decisions that were merely unpopular, but by undertaking decisions that went against the very nature and aspirations of Ukraine as an independent state.  And for that reason, we hold the government responsible and urge them to take all the steps necessary to resolve the situation and to put Ukraine back on the democratic and Euro-Atlantic path that the Ukrainian people desire.  (Applause.)

MODERATOR:  (As interpreted.)  We will have a round of questions.  Jason McDonald will introduce the Canadian journalist asking the question.

MR. MCDONALD:  Omar Sachedina from CTV News.

Q    Mr. President, good evening to you.  Canada has offered to work with the United States on joint rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the oil and gas sector.  You’ve said the Keystone XL pipeline won’t be approved if it significantly worsens climate change.  The State Department report has concluded that Keystone will not have a significant effect on climate change.  So my question to you is, what more needs to be done on both sides of the border for this project to go ahead?

And, Prime Minister, I’d love for you to be able to weigh on this as well.  Et en français aussi, s’il vous plaît.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as I’ve stated previously, there is a process that has been gone through, and I know it’s been extensive, and at times I’m sure Stephen feels a little too laborious.  But these are how we make these decisions about something that could potentially have a significant impact on America’s national economy and our national interests.

So the State Department has gone through its review.  There is now a comment period in which other agencies weigh in.  That will be evaluated by Secretary of State Kerry, and we’ll make a decision at that point.

In the meantime, Stephen and I, during a break after lunch, discussed a shared interest in working together around dealing with greenhouse gas emissions.  And this is something that we have to deal with.  I said previously that how Keystone impacted greenhouse gas emissions would affect our decision, but, frankly, it has to affect all of our decisions at this stage, because the science is irrefutable.  We’re already seeing severe weather patterns increase.  That has consequences for our businesses, for our jobs, for our families, for safety and security.  It has the potential of displacing people in ways that we cannot currently fully anticipate, and will be extraordinarily costly.

So I welcome the work that we can do together with Canada.  One of the wonderful things about North America is we have this amazing bounty of traditional fossil fuels, and we also have extraordinary businesses that are able to extract them in very efficient ways.  And that’s something that we should welcome because it helps to promote economic growth.  But we only have one planet, and so I believe that ultimately we can both promote economic development and growth, recognizing that we’re not going to immediately transition off of fossil fuels, but that we do have to point to the future and show leadership so that other countries who will be the main emitters fairly soon — China, India, other emerging markets — so that they can look at what we’re doing and we have leverage over them in terms of them improving their practices as well.

So this will be a joint effort.  I’m very eager to consult with Stephen around those issues.  And Keystone will proceed along the path that’s already been set forth.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  Let me just say a couple of things. First of all, obviously, President Obama and I had an exchange on this.  My views in favor of the project are very well known.  His views on the process are also equally well known.  And we had that discussion and will continue on that discussion.

I would just say two things about the process.  First, on the issue of climate change, which is a shared concern, Canada and the United States have similar targets at the international level.  We already cooperate in several sectors in terms of emissions reductions.  But in terms of climate change, I think the State Department report already was pretty definitive on that particular issue.

The other thing I’d just draw attention to, just because I think it’s useful to point out the benefits to Canada, is the reform that we had done of environmental review and assessments of projects in Canada.  As you know, a couple years ago we moved to reform our system so that we have a single review wherever possible — a single review, a multi-dimensional review that happens over a fixed timeline.  And I think that is a process that is tremendously useful in giving investors greater certainty in terms of the kind of plans they may have in the Canadian economy.

(As interpreted.)  And now I shall repeat my comments in French.  (Speaks in French.)

MODERATOR:  From the traveling U.S. press, goes to Jim Kuhnhenn of the Associated Press.

Q    Señor Presidente, muchas gracias.  Ha sido un placer.  Prime Minister — do you worry that longstanding opposition to trade deals in the U.S. from both the President’s party and some Republicans pose a threat to the Trans-Pacific Partnership?  And do you — in your mind, is it essential that Congress approve it, or at least give the President fast track authority this year, or can it wait until after the U.S. elections in November?

Mr. President, if you’d like to chime in on that as well — you mentioned parochial interest today; I’d be interested in how you intend to bring your Democrats along.  But I had a question for you on something else that you raised.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  How many questions do you got, Jim?

Q    Just one, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay.  (Laughter.)  Because you know I’ve got to answer that one, too, right?  That was a pretty slick move.  (Laughter.)

Q    The common denominator in the strife in Ukraine and Syria is the support that those two governments get from Russia, and I’m wondering, sir, if you believe that President Putin bears some responsibility for the intransigence of those two regimes.  And to some degree, has this gone beyond just those two countries, and has it become a tug of war between two world powers?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me answer very briefly on the trade issue.  It’s not accurate, Jim, to say that my party opposes this trade deal.  There are elements of my party that oppose this trade deal, there are elements of my party that oppose the South Korea free trade agreement, the Colombia free trade agreement and the Panama free trade agreement — all of which we passed with Democratic votes.

So what I’ve said to President Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Harper is we’ll get this passed if it’s a good agreement.  And the key at this point is to make sure that our countries, which hold ourselves up as champions of free trade, resolve our legitimate national interests in these negotiations so that we can present a united front against a number of the other participants in the TPP negotiations who don’t have as much of a tradition of free trade.  And that is to our advantage, precisely because North America has this amazing competitive advantage, and we are already relatively open markets.

And part of our goal here is to make sure that the Asia Pacific region — which is growing faster than anyplace else in the world, has a larger population than anyplace else in the world — that they have a model of trade that is free and fair and open and allows our businesses to compete and allows our workers to make goods and deliver services that those markets are purchasing.  And we can only do that if we raise the bar in terms of what our trade models look like.

And I’ve said this to some of my own constituents who are opposed to trade:  Those who are concerned about losing jobs or outsourcing need to understand some of the old agreements put us at a disadvantage.  That’s exactly why we’ve got to have stronger agreements that protect our intellectual property, that open up markets to our agricultural products; that make sure that when it comes to government procurement or sovereign wealth funds in these other countries, that they’re not taking advantage of our businesses and preventing us from competing there.  That’s exactly why we’ve got to get this done.  And I’m very appreciative of the shared vision and commitment that Prime Minister Harper and President Enrique Peña Nieto have on this issue.

Now, with respect to Syria and the Ukraine, I do think it is worth noting that you have in this situation one country that has clearly been a client state of Russia, another whose government is currently — been supported by Russia; where the people obviously have a very different view and vision for their country.  And we’ve now seen a great deal of turmoil there that arose organically from within those countries.

I don’t think there’s a competition between the United States and Russia.  I think this is an expression of the hopes and aspirations of people inside of Syria and people inside of the Ukraine who recognize that basic freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, fair and free elections, the ability to run a business without paying a bribe, to not be discriminated against because of your religion or your beliefs — that those are fundamental rights that everybody wants to enjoy.

Now, Mr. Putin has a different view on many of those issues, and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that.  And our approach as the United States is not to see these as some Cold War chessboard in which we’re in competition with Russia.  Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future, that the people of Syria are able to make decisions without having bombs going off and killing women and children, or chemical weapons, or towns being starved because a despot wants to cling to power.

Those express our values and our national interests, and we will continue to express those national interests.  There are times, I hope, where Russia will recognize that over the long term they should be on board with those values and interests as well.  Right now, there are times where we have strong disagreements.  And when I speak to Mr. Putin, I’m very candid about those disagreements, even as we will continue to pursue cooperation with Russia on areas where we had shared concerns.

But I want to emphasize this:  The situation that happened in Ukraine has to do with whether or not the people of Ukraine can determine their own destiny.  And my government and Vice President Biden, and I personally, have expressed to President Yanukovych the need for him to recognize the spirit of the Ukrainian people and work with that, as opposed to trying to repress it.  And so we’ll continue to stand on the side of the people.

My hope is, at this point, that a truce may hold, but Stephen is exactly right — ultimately, the government is responsible for making sure that we shift towards some sort of unity government, even if it’s temporary, that allows us to move to fair and free elections so that the will of the Ukrainian people can be rightly expressed without the kinds of chaos we’ve seen on the streets and without the bloodshed that all of us I think strongly condemn.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  On the issue of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as I said, we are wanting to see and committed to seeing a good, comprehensive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.  I think it’s in all of our interest for the reasons that have already been laid out.  That said, the government of Canada’s position is always clear in these matters that we will only come to an agreement when we are convinced the agreement is in the best interest of Canada.  And we will stay at the table as long as it takes to get to that particular situation.

And I think we have the track record to prove it.  Our government, the current government of Canada, has signed more trade agreements than all previous Canadian governments combined. What I would say is this — I’m not going to comment on the process in Congress.  What I would say is this — the reason I said what I said about working until we get an agreement that is in the interest of Canada is we will have to have an agreement that can be sold to the Canadian Parliament and ultimately to the Canadian people.  And that’s what we’re aiming for.

(The Prime Minister repeats his remarks in French.)

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  The Mexican stand has been very clear, and specifically our take on the TPP have always stated it, it is of the interest of Mexico.  We have been part of the negotiation rounds to eventually reach an agreement of this important opportunity that the TPP offers.  We can expand the potential of North America into the Asia Pacific region.  Mexico would do its best for the sake of Mexico to be on the side of the solution.  We will overcome disagreements and eventual roadblocks that the negotiation rounds present.  And we hope that it is this spirit that we reach the agreement.

Mexico has made a commitment and has shown political will to be part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We hope that the deal happens.  That is the Mexican stand, and we will work to the best of our ability to reach this goal.

Now, on behalf of Mexico, Miguel Reyes Razo, from the Mexican Editorial Organization, will ask a question.

Q    (As interpreted.)  Good evening, everyone.  By virtue of the fact that we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the efforts made by Mexico, the United States and Canada, we have NAFTA for 20 years.  I would like to ask Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of my country, what is the outlook of the northern part of this continent in terms of development?  And at the same time, Mr. President Peña Nieto, I would like to know, what are the challenges for the development that we have hoped for, that we are expecting?

And I would like to ask the President of the United States of America, Mr. Obama, and Mr. Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada — what is the engagement that we should expect from you? What is your actual commitment to make this region, North America, thrive in economical terms?  Now, we have 13 months and a half of your administration, Mr. Enrique Peña Nieto.  And you, Canada and the United States, partners and neighbors of this country, what is your take?  What is your take on this 13 months and a half of the Mexican President?  Thank you very much for your reply.

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Mr. Miguel, I believe that we have been very candid in terms of the huge strength that we see in North America after 20 years of the free trade agreement.  Our trade has been able to thrive.  We have more commercial exchanges.  We have more investment in the region.

And today we have integrated added value chains between our three countries.  That means that we are adding value to products that are offered in this great market.  We are fully aware of the economic growth since, so far, we are fully aware of the creation of jobs in North America.  That is why we have committed in this summit to take on actions that would help us strengthen our economic ties even further.  We have committed to enable trade, to have better infrastructure, to have safer exchanges, and to make our trade be easier.  So these are the agreements that we have made today.

And we have also acknowledged the enormous potential.  And the future that we see in the horizon would be based on the strengths that we have built upon over the course of the last 20 years.  And let us acknowledge that we are three countries that we are like-minded in terms of our values.  We are three democratic countries.  We are three countries who believe in free trade.  And our countries have found in this instrument a space to create jobs and to have more development in our nations.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, as we’ve said I think throughout our meetings today, America’s success, Mexico’s success, Canadian success are all bound together.  I think that if you just look at the facts, Mexico has made enormous strides over the last several decades.  And, in part, that is because we’ve seen a greater integration of Mexico in the world economy.  I think the United States and Canada have played constructive roles in that.  Our ability to trade and engage in commerce with Mexico obviously has created jobs and opportunities in our country, as well.  And so it has been a mutually beneficial partnership — based on self-interest, but also as Enrique said, based on common values.

We’ve seen a consolidation of democracy here in Mexico, and I think the kinds of reforms that Enrique has initiated over the last 13 months are ones that will put Mexico in an even stronger competitive footing in the world economy in the years to come.

And I recognize there are still implementation issues that will be involved, and there will be a healthy debate here in Mexico, but I’m confident, given the talent of the Mexican people, given the resources of the Mexican people, given the growing capacity of Mexican businesses, and given the fact that we, as a North American entity, constitutes a huge trading bloc and economic powerhouse around the world, that we should anticipate Mexico’s growth to continue, standards of living to continue, jobs and opportunities to continue.  And that’s what we hope for all our countries.

I’m confident that the partnership that we’ve developed is good for the United States, creates jobs in the United States, helps businesses in the United States.  And if we continue to cooperate and try to reduce some of the barriers that have in the past slowed down our commercial exchanges, as well as educational exchanges and scientific exchanges, then we’re going to be successful.

PRIME MINISTER HARPER:  (As interpreted.)  Allow me, this is our perspective.  While Canada has seen great success, but the development of Mexico throughout this time period that is 20 years has been unbelievable, socially, economically, politically. And Mexico is becoming a world of power.  And we see this accelerating process with the support of President Peña Nieto.

You have made comments on the challenges to meet.  I think that the greatest one is the need to keep on increasing the flow of goods and services and information across our borders at a time where risks and threats to security are also increased across the borders.  And that will be the greatest challenge to meet.

(In English.)  Look, I think the NAFTA relationship, as I’ve said before, has been tremendously successful for all of us. But I think, looking back 20 years, the development of Mexico on all levels — economic, social, political — over the period has been incredible.  It’s a process that is accelerating under President Peña Nieto’s very bold vision for the future, and Mexico is increasingly becoming a global economic player.

You asked about challenges.  I think the biggest single challenge is in an era where we are seeing and need to see even greater movement of goods, services, people, investments, information flows across our borders, that at the same time, the risks and the threats to security across those borders continue to rise.  So the big challenge will be how we continue to grow that human and trade flow, while at the same time minimizing the risks.

MODERATOR:  (As interpreted) President Peña Nieto, would you like to take the floor so you can officially close this meeting?

PRESIDENT PEÑA NIETO:  (As interpreted.)  Yes, I will.  Thank you very much.

Once again, I would like to congratulate myself for this summit.  We have built a climate that is based on trust, respect, and we have worked towards a relationship that it’s very clear in terms of the responsibilities of each one of the heads of state. And I am certain that this relationship will result in a greater integration, a stronger friendship, and whatever we do for the sake of North America will benefit our peoples.

I would like to bear testimony of how grateful I am towards the authorities of the state, the Governor of the State of Mexico, Eruviel Ávila.  I’d like to thank you for enabling the summit to take place here.  I would like to thank the Chief Justice of the State of Mexico.  They provided us with their facilities.

And I would like to thank the inhabitants of the capital city of the State of Mexico, Toluca, for their hospitality.  I thank them.  And I’d like to thank all of them for the inconveniences and all the preparation work and all the security operations needed for the summit.  I’m very grateful towards them.  And I’m very grateful for the hospitality given to the President of the United States, Barack Obama; and the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper.

Thank you very much and have a safe trip home.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
8:20 P.M. CST

Political Musings December 22, 2013: Obama in denial and on the offensive in 2013 year-end press conference

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

After a difficult year that held little accomplishments to boast about, with more “missteps” than any president would be willing to acknowledge, President Barack Obama held his year-end press conference on Friday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2013 at….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 20, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Year-End Press Conference Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Running transcript: President Obama’s December 20 news conference

Source: Washington Post, 12-20-13

Video: President Obama said during his end-of-the-year news conference Friday that the NSA surveillance program would likely see changes in the year ahead.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I know you are all eager to skip town and spend some time with your families. Not surprisingly, I am too. But you know what they say, it’s the most wonderful press conference of the year — (laughter) — right now. I am eager to take your questions.
But first I just want to say a few words about our economy. In 2013 our businesses created another 2 million jobs, adding up to more than 8 million in just over the past 45 months. This morning we learned that over the summer our economy grew at its strongest pace in nearly two years. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen to its lowest point in five years.Our tax code is fairer and our fiscal situation is firmer, with deficits that are now less than half of what they were when I took office.

For the first time in nearly two decades, we now produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world, and our all-of- the-above strategy for new American energy means lower energy costs. The Affordable Care Act has helped keep health care costs growing at their slowest rate in 50 years. Combined, that means bigger paychecks for middle class families and bigger savings for businesses looking to invest and hire here in America.

And, for all the challenges we’ve had and all the challenges that we’ve been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and the website these past couple months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone. In California, for example, a state operating its own marketplace, more than 15,000 Americans are enrolling every single day. And in the federal website, tens of thousands are enrolling every single day. Since October 1st, more than 1 million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces, so all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems with the website, are now poised to be covered by quality affordable health insurance come New Year’s Day.

Now, this holiday season there are mothers and fathers and entrepreneurs and workers who have something new to celebrate: the security of knowing that when the unexpected or misfortune strikes, hardship no longer has to.

And you add that all up and what it means is: We head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than it was when we started the year, more Americans. More Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck.

Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America.

But as I outlined in detail earlier this month, we all know there’s a lot more than we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action.

It’s a good start that earlier this week, for the first time in years, both parties in both houses of Congress came together to pass a budget. That unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that created headwinds for our economy. It clears the path for businesses and for investments that we need to strengthen our middle class, like education and scientific research. And it means that the American people won’t be exposed to the threat of another reckless shutdown every few months. So that’s a good thing. It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship, but it’s also fair to say that we’re not condemned to endless gridlock. There are areas where we can work together.

I believe that work should begin with something that Republicans in Congress should have done before leaving town this week, and that’s restoring the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet when they are looking for a job. Because Congress didn’t act, more than 1 million of their constituents will lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job seekers without any source of income at all. I think we’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon each other when times are tough.

Keep in mind unemployment insurance only goes to folks who are actively looking for work, a mom who needs help feeding her kids when she sends out her resumes or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working part-time and still earning the skills he needs for that new job.

So when Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be making this right. I know a bipartisan group is working on a three-month extension of this insurance. They should pass it, and I’ll sign it right away.

Let me repeat: I think 2014 needs to be a year of action. We’ve got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security.

We still have the task of finishing the fix on our broken immigration system. We’ve got to build on the process we’ve painstakingly made over these last five years with respect to our economy and offer the middle class and all those who are looking to join the middle class a better opportunity. And that’s going to be where I focus all of my efforts in the year ahead.

And let me conclude by saying just as we’re strengthening our position here at home, we’re also standing up for our interests around the world. This year we’ve demonstrated that with clear-eyed, principled diplomacy, we can pursue new paths to a world that’s more secure, a future where Iran does not build a nuclear weapon, a future where Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed.

By the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over, just as we’ve ended our war in Iraq, and we’ll continue to bring our troops home. And as always, we will remain vigilant to protect our homeland and our personnel overseas from terrorist attacks. Of course, a lot of our men and women in uniform are still overseas, and a lot of them are still spending their Christmas far away from their family and their friends. In some cases, it’s still in harm’s way.

So I want to close by saying to them and their families back home, we want to thank you.

Your country stands united in supporting you and being grateful for your service and your sacrifice. We will keep you in our thoughts and in our prayers during this season of hope.

So before I wish a merry Christmas to all and to all a good night, I will take some questions. Jay prepared a list of who’s naughty and nice — (laughter) — so we’ll see — we’ll see who made it.

Julie must be nice.

Q: (Chuckles.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Julie Pace of AP.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Despite all of the data points that you cited in your opening statement, when you look back at this year, very little of the domestic agenda that you outlined in your inaugural address, in your State of the Union has been achieved. Health care rollout obviously had huge problems, and your ratings from the public are near historic lows for you. When you take this all together, has this been the worst year of your presidency?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) I — I got to tell you, Julie, that’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years, close to five years, was running for president for two years before that, and for those who’ve covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences.

And what I’ve been focused on each and every day is, are we moving the ball in helping the American people, families, have more opportunity, have a little more security, to feel as if, if they work hard, they can get ahead.

And if — if I look at this past year, there are areas where there obviously have been some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively. You know, not passing background checks in the wake of Newtown is something that I continue to believe was a mistake.

But then I also look at, because of the debate that occurred, all the work that’s been done at the state levels, to increase gun safety and to make sure that we don’t see tragedies like that happen again.

There’s a lot of focus on legislative activity at the congressional level. But even when Congress doesn’t move on things they should move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re still doing. So we don’t always get attention for it, but the ConnectED program that we announced, where we’re going to be initiating wireless capacity in every classroom in America, will make a huge difference for kids all across this country and for teachers; a manufacturing hub that we set up in Youngstown, something that I talked about during the State of the Union, is going to create innovation and connect universities, manufacturers, job training, to help create a renaissance — build on the renaissance that we’re seeing in manufacturing.

When it comes to energy, this year is going to be the first year in a very long time where we’re producing more oil and natural gas here in this country than we’re importing. That’s a big deal.

So I understand the point that you’re getting at, Julie, which is that a lot of our legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward as rapidly as I’d like. I completely understand that, which means that I’m going to keep at it. And if you look at, for example, immigration reform, probably the biggest thing that I wanted to get done this year, we saw progress. It passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote.

There are indications in the House that even though it did not get completed this year, that there is a commitment on the part of this speaker to try to move forward legislation early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I’d prefer is obviously frustrating, but it’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about.

Q: But sir, it’s not just your legislative agenda. When you look at — (off mic) — you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence in you, trust in you. Your credibility have taken a hit. Obviously, the health care law was a big part of that. So do you understand that those — that the public has changed, in some way, their view of you over this year?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But Julie, I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career. I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for president. I was polling at 70 percent was — when I was in the U.S. Senate. I took this job to deliver for the American people, and I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it.

You’re right. The health care website problems were a source of great frustration. I think in the last press conference I adequately discussed my frustrations on those. On the other hand, since that time I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office. And as long as I’ve got an opportunity every single day to make sure that in ways large and small I’m creating greater opportunity for people, more kids are able to go to school, get the education they need, more families are able to stabilize their finances, you know, the housing market is continuing to improve, people feel like their wages maybe are inching up a little bit — if those things are happening, I’ll take it.

And you know, I’ve said before, I’ve run my last political race. So at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back and say we’re delivering something, not everything, because this is a long haul.

All right, Mark Felsenthal.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. One of the most significant events of this year was the revelation of the surveillance by the National Security Agency. As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge says that, for example, the government has failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that data is useful to national security to continue as it is?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me talk more broadly, and then I’ll talk specifically about the program you’re referring to.

As you know, the independent panel that I put together came back with a series of recommendations, 46 in total. I had an extensive meeting with them down in the Situation Room to review all the recommendations that they’ve made. I want to thank them publicly because I think they did an excellent job and took my charge very seriously, which is I told them, I want you to look from top to bottom at what we’re doing and evaluate whether or not the current structures that we have and the current programs that we have are properly addressing both our continuing need to keep ourselves secure and to prevent terrorist attacks or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or other threats to the homeland, and are we also making sure that we’re taking seriously rule of law and our concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

So what we’re doing now is evaluating all the recommendations that have been made. Over the next several weeks I’m going to assess, based on conversations not just with the intelligence community but others in government and outside of government, how we might apply and incorporate their recommendations. And I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January, where I’ll be able to say, here are the recommendations that we think make sense, here are ones that we think as promising but still need to be refined further, here’s how it relates to the work we’re doing not just — not just internally but also in partnership with other countries.

And so I’m — I’m taking this very seriously, because I think, as I’ve said before, this is debate that needed to be had.

One specific program, the 215 program, is the metadata, the bulk collection of phone numbers and exchanges that have taken place. That has probably gotten the most attention, at least with respect to domestic audiences. And what I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track, if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats.

And I think it’s important to note that in all the reviews of this program that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data. But what is also clear is from the public debate, people are concerned about the prospect, the possibility of abuse. And I think that’s what the judge in the district court suggested. And although his opinion obviously differs from rulings on the FISA Court, we’re taking those into account.

The question we’re going to have to ask is can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give the public more confidence that in fact the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but I also recognize that as technologies change and people can start running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that we’re downloading on a daily basis into our telephones and our computers that we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. And I’m going to be working very hard on doing that.

And we’ve got to provide more confidence to the international community. In some ways, what has been more challenging is the fact that we do have a lot of laws and checks and balances and safeguards and audits when it comes to making sure that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are not spying on Americans. We’ve had less legal constraint in terms of what we’re doing internationally.

But I think part of what’s been interesting about this whole exercise is recognizing that in a virtual world, some of these boundaries don’t matter anymore. And just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should, and the values that we’ve got as Americans are ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders, I think, perhaps more systematically than we’ve done in the past.

OK, Ed Henry.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

I want to follow up on that because — and merry Christmas, by the way.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Merry Christmas, Ed.

Q: When Edward Snowden first started leaking the information, you made a statement on June 7th in California. And you claimed to the American people that you had already reformed many of these surveillance programs, that you came to office, quote, “my team evaluated them; we scrubbed them thoroughly; we actually expanded some of the oversight.” And you did expand some of the things.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes.

Q: You also said, we may have to rebalance some, there may be changes. But you concluded with, quote, “you can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok, but when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.”

That was only six months ago. Now, there’s judges are saying no; your own panel is saying no; even you’re saying no, we haven’t really struck the right balance, perhaps, that changes have to be made.

My question is, were you wrong then because you were not fully read in, not just on these programs, but on other programs, outside of the ones you just talked about, where we were potentially listening in on the German leaders, the Brazilian leaders and others, that suggest there were abuses, number one?

And number two, if you — if you were fully read in on these programs, is it another example of what Judy was — Julie was getting at, with this question of credibility with the American people, that just like on health care, you like your plan; you can keep it? On surveillance, you looked the American people in the eye six months ago and said, we’ve got the right balance. And six months later, you’re saying, maybe not.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, hold on a second, I — I think it’s important to note that, when it comes to the right balance on surveillance, these are a series of judgment calls that we’re making every single day because we’ve got a whole bunch of folks whose job it is to make sure that the American people are protected.

And that’s a hard job because if something slips, then the question that’s coming from you the next day at a press conference is, Mr. President, why didn’t you catch that; why did the intelligence people allow that to slip; isn’t there a way that we could have found out that in fact this terrorist attack took place.

Q: (Inaudible) — why did you say that you struck the right balance.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So the — so the point is, Ed, not that my assessment of the 215 program has changed in terms of technically how it works. What is absolutely clear to me is that given the public debate that’s taken place and the disclosures that have taken place over the last several months that this is only going to work if the American people have confidence and trust.

Now, part of the challenge is, is that because of the manner in which these disclosures took place, in dribs and drabs, oftentimes shaded in a particular way, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had in terms of declassifying information and getting it out there, that that trust in how many safeguards exist and how these programs are run has been diminished. So what’s going to be important is to build that back up. And I take that into account in weighing how we structure these programs.

So let me just be very specific on the 215 program. It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer and to create some mechanism where they can be accessed in an effective fashion.

That might cost more. There might need to be different checks on how those requests are made. There may be technological solutions that have to be found to do that.

And the question that we’re asking ourselves now is, does that make sense not only because of the fact that there are concerns about potential abuse down the road with the metadata that’s being kept by a government, rather than private companies, but also does it make sense to do because people right now are concerned that maybe their phone calls are being listened to, even if they’re not, and we’ve got to factor that in.

So I — I — my point is — is that the environment has changed in ways that I think require us to take that into account. But the analysis that I’ve been doing throughout has always been, you know, periodically looking at what we’re doing and asking ourselves, are we doing this in the right way; are we making sure that we’re keeping the American can people safe, number one; are we also being true to our civil liberties and our privacy and our values?

Q: Well, I understand it’s a tough job.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

Q: And God forbid there’s another terror attack. Every one of us is going to be second-guessing you, and that is extremely difficult, to be in the Oval Office.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s OK. I volunteered.

Q: But as you said, you took that on.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.

Q: You put it on your back. And so my question is, do you have any personal regrets? You’re not addressing the fact the public statements you’ve made to reassure the public — your director of national intelligence, James Clapper, months ago went up, got a question from a Democrat, not a Republican, about whether some of this was going on, and he denied it.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But does — but Ed –

Q: Doesn’t that undermine the public trust?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: – Ed, you’re conflating, first of all, me and — and Mr. Clapper –

Q: He’s director of national — and he’s still on the job.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I understand. I understand. But what I’m — what I’m saying is this: that yes, these are tough problems that I am glad to have the privilege of tackling.

Your initial question was whether the statements that I made six months ago are ones that I don’t stand by. And what I’m saying is that the statements I made then are entirely consistent with the statements that I make now, which is that we believed that we had scrubbed these programs and struck an appropriate balance, and there had not been evidence, and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used and that it was a useful tool, working with other tools the intelligence community has, to ensure that if we have a thread on a potential terrorist threat, that that can be followed effectively.

What I have also said, though, is that in light of the disclosures that have taken place, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular program may have may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse. And if that’s the case, there may be another way of skinning the cat.

So we just keep on going at this stuff and saying, can we do this better? Can we do this more effectively? I think that the panels’ recommendations are consistent with that. So if you — if you had a chance to read the overall recommendations, what they were very clear about is, we need this intelligence. We can’t unilaterally disarm.

There are ways we can do it, potentially, that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances — that there’s sufficient oversight and sufficient transparency. Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse, and that’s exactly what we should be doing, is to evaluate all these things in a very clear, specific way and moving forward on changes.

And that’s what I intend to do.

Q: (Off mic) — you have no regrets?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s what I intend to do.

Jon Karl.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. It’s been a tough year. You may not want to call it the worst year of your presidency, but it’s clearly been a tough year. The polls have gone up and down, but they are at a low point right now. So what I’m asking you — you’ve acknowledged the difficulties with the health care rollout. But when you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you did, what you didn’t do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: With respect to health care specifically or just generally?

Q: The whole thing, look back at this tough year.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there’s no doubt that — that when it — when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need and knowing what the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously, we screwed it up.

Part of it, as I’ve said before, had to do with how IT procurement generally is done, and it almost predates this year. Part of it obviously had to do with the fact that there were not clear enough lines of authority in terms of who was in charge of the technology and cracking the whip on a whole bunch of contractors. So there are a whole bunch of things that we’ve been taking a look at.

And I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who have been signing up.

But, you know, having said all that, the bottom line also is that we’ve got — several million people are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self- reflection here. I promise you, I probably beat myself up, you know, even worse that you or Ed Henry does — (laughter) — on any given day. But I’ve also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day and that we keep moving forward.

And when I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is: We’re poised to do really good things. The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits from that and not just a few folks. And there’s still too many people who haven’t seen a raise and are still feeling financially insecure. We can get immigration reform done. We’ve got a concept that has bipartisan support. Let’s see if we can break through the politics on this.

You know, I think that hopefully folks have learned their lesson in terms of brinksmanship coming out of the — coming out of the government shutdown. You know there have been times where I’ve thought about, were there other ways that I could have prevented that — those three, four weeks that hampered the economy and hurt individuals families who were not getting a paycheck during that time? Absolutely, but I also think that in some ways, given the pattern that we have been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what the American people think is acceptable.

They want us to try to solve problems and be practical, even if we can’t get everything done.

So, you know, the end of the year is always a good time to reflect and see what can you do better next year. That’s how I intend to approach it. I am sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun.

Brianna.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. On the debt ceiling, your Treasury secretary has estimated that the U.S. government will lose its ability to pay its bills come late February or early March. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has said that Republicans are going to decide what it is they can accomplish out of this debt limit fight — his words. Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, Brianna, you know the answer to his question. No, we’re not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.

Here’s the good news. And I want to — I want to emphasize the positive as we enter into this holiday season. I think Congressman Ryan and Senator Murray did a good job in trying to narrow the differences and actually pass a budget that I can sign. It’s not everything that I would like, obviously. It buys back part of these across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester, but not all of it. So we’re still underfunding research. We’re still underfunding education. We’re still underfunding transportation and other initiatives that would create jobs right now.

But you know, it was an honest conversation. They operated in good faith.

And given how far apart the parties have been on fiscal issues, they should take pride in what they did. And I actually called them after they struck the deal, and I said, congratulations. And I hope that creates a good pattern for next year, where work on, at least, the things we agreed to, even if we agree to disagree on some of the other big-ticket items.

I think immigration potentially falls in that categories, where, let’s — here’s an area where we’ve got bipartisan agreement. There are a few differences here and there, but the truth of the matter is that the Senate bill has the main components of comprehensive immigration reform that would boost our economy, give us an opportunity to attract more investment and high-skilled workers who are doing great things in places like Silicon Valley and around the country. So let’s go ahead and get that done.

Now, I can’t imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress, that folks are thinking, actually, about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years.

To repeat, the debt ceiling is raised simply to pay bills that we have already accrued; it is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s the responsibility of Congress; it’s part of doing their job. I expect them to do their job, although I’m happy to talk to them about any of the issues that they actually want to get done. So if Congressman Ryan is interested in tax reform, let’s go.

I’ve got some proposals on it. If he’s interested in any issue out there, I’m willing to have a constructive conversation of the sort that we just had in resolving the budget issues. But I’ve — I’ve got to assume folks aren’t crazy enough to start that thing all over again.

Q: If I may, just quickly on a more personal note, what is your New Year’s resolution?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: My New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to the White House press corps. (Laughter.) You know? Absolutely.

Q: All right.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Major Garrett.

Q: That’s quite a lead-in, Mr. President. Thank you.

Rick Leggett, who is the head of the NSA task force on Edward Snowden, told “60 Minutes” that it was, quote, “worth having a conversation about granting Edward Snowden amnesty.” To what degree, sir, were you pleased that he floated this trial balloon? And under what circumstances would you consider either a plea agreement or amnesty for Edward Snowden?

And what do you say to Americans, sir, who after possibly being alerted to Judge Leon’s decision earlier this week, reading the panel recommendations, believe Edward Snowden set in motion something that is proper and just in this country about the scope of surveillance, and should not be considered by the government a criminal?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’ve got to be careful here, Major, because Mr. Snowden is under indictment. He has been charged with — with crimes, and that’s the province of the attorney general and ultimately, a judge and a jury. So I — I can’t weigh in specifically on this case at this point. I’ll — I’ll make — I’ll try to see if I can get at the — the spirit of the question, even if I can’t talk about the specifics.

I have said before and I believe that this is an important conversation that we needed to have. I have also said before that the way in which these disclosures happened have been — have been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities.

And I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage.

I’ll give you just one specific example.

The — the fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides by rule of law, that cares deeply about privacy, that cares about civil liberties, that cares about our Constitution. And as a consequence of these disclosures, we’ve got countries who actually do the things that Mr. Snowden says he’s worried about, very explicitly — engaging in surveillance of their own citizens, targeting political dissidents, targeting and suppressing the press, who somehow are able to sit on the sidelines and act as if it’s the United States that has problems when it comes to surveillance and intelligence operations. And that’s a pretty distorted view of what’s going on out there.

So I think that, as important and as necessary as this debate has been, it is also important to keep in mind that this has done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy. But I will leave it up to the courts and the attorney general to weigh in publicly on the specifics of Mr. Snowden’s case.

Q: But sir, if I could follow up, Mr. Leggett is setting this in motion, at least raising this as a topic of conversation. You, sir, would, I’m certain, be consulted if there was ever going to be a conversation about amnesty or a plea bargain for Edward Snowden.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I said — I think that’s true, Major. And I guess what I’m saying is there’s –

Q: Would you rule it out forever, that you would never consider it?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’m saying is, is that there’s a difference between Mr. Leggett saying something and the president of the United States saying something.

Q: That’s why I’m trying to get you (to say it ?).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s exactly right. (Laughter.)

Chuck Todd.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And merry Christmas, and happy new year. You’ve talked about the issues with health care and the website rollout, but there have been other issues, the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing it? This one here, this new waiver last night — could argue you might as well have just delayed the mandate.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no, that’s not true because what we’re talking about is a very specific population that received cancelation notices from insurance companies. The majority of them are either keeping their old plan because the grandfather clause has been extended further or they’re finding a better deal in the marketplace with better insurance or cheaper costs. But there may still be a subset, a significantly smaller subset than some of the numbers that have been advertised, that are still looking for options, are still concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year. And we just wanted to make sure that the hardship provision that was already existing in the law would also potentially apply to somebody who had problems during this transition period. So that’s the specifics of this latest change.

You’re making a broader point that — that I think is fair.

And that is that in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking — is this working the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them.

But they don’t go to the core of the law. First of all, the core of the law is, is that for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better consumer protections, the ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan till they’re 26, thousand-dollar or $500 discounts on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law.

And by the way, if it were to be repealed, you would be taking away all those benefits from — from folks who already are enjoying them.

You have this subportion of the population, 15 percent, who either don’t have health insurance or are buying it on the individual market. And that’s still millions of people. And what we’re doing is creating a marketplace where they can buy insurance, and we can provide them some tax credits to help them afford it.

The basic structure of that law is working, despite all the problems. Despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems, despite all that, it’s working. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months, despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine.

And yet, you’ve still got 2 million people who signed up — or more. And so, what that means, then, is that the demand is there, and as I said before, the product is good.

Now, in putting something like this together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a common-sense way, and we’re going to continue to try to do that. But that doesn’t negate the fact that, you know, a year from now or two years from now, when we look back, we’re going to be able to say that even more people have health insurance who didn’t have it before.

And that’s not a bad thing; that’s a good thing. That is part of the reason why I pushed so hard to get this law done in the first place. And — you know, I’ve said before that this is a messy process. And I think, sometimes, when I say that, people say, well, A, yeah, it’s real messy, and B, you know, isn’t — isn’t the fact that it’s been so messy some indication that there are more fundamental problems with the law?

And I guess what I’d say to that, Chuck, is, when you try to do something this big affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard. And every instance — whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug plan under President Bush — there hasn’t been an instance where you’ve tried to really have an impact on the American peoples’ lives and well-being, particularly in the health care arena where you don’t end up having some of these challenges.

The question is going to be, ultimately, do we make good decisions trying to help as many people as possible in as efficient a way as possible? And I think that’s what we’re doing.

Q: But with 72 hours to go, you make this change where people are buying the junk — frankly, a junk-type policy that you weren’t — you were trying to get people away from.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, do keep in mind, Chuck, first of all, that the majority of folks are going to have different options. This is essentially an additional net in case folks might have slipped through the cracks. We don’t have precision on those numbers, but we expect it’s going to be a relatively small number because these are folks who want insurance, and the vast majority of them have good options. And in a state like North Carolina, for example, the overwhelming majority of them have just kept their own plans, so — the ones that they had previously.

But we thought and continue to think that it makes sense that as we are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are higher, people don’t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had insurance until they hit a limit, and next thing you know they still owe a hundred thousand or 200(,000 dollars) or $300,000 for a hospital visit, that as we transition to higher standards, better insurance, that we also address folks who get caught in that transition and their unintended consequences.

And I’ll — that was the original intent of the grandfather clause that was in the law. Obviously, the problem was it didn’t catch enough people. And you know, we learned from that, and we’re trying not to repeat those mistakes.

Q: But the mandate will be enforced — (off mic) –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely, yeah.

Let’s see, Phil Mattingly.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. What was the message you were trying to send with not only your decision not to attend the Sochi games, but also with the people you named to the delegation to represent the United States at those games?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I haven’t attended Olympics in the past and I suspect that, you know — you know, me attending Olympics, particularly at a time when we’ve got all the other stuff that people have been talking about, is going to be tough, although I would love to do it. I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post- presidency. (Laughter.)

I think the delegation speaks for itself. You’ve got outstanding Americans, outstanding athletes, people who will represent us extraordinarily well. And, you know, the fact that we’ve got folks like Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth, that when it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance we don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court, on the field and off the field. And that’s a value that I think is at the heart of not just America but American sports.

I’m going to just roll down these last few real quickly: Ari Shapiro, last day at the White House. He deserves a question. (Laughter.)

Q: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Senator Max Baucus was widely seen as the best hope for a large-scale deal to overhaul the tax code. What does your decision to nominate him as ambassador to China say about your hopes for a major tax bill in your second term?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: It says that Max Baucus is going to be an outstanding ambassador to China, and I’d like a swift confirmation.

And my expectation and hope is — is that if both Senate Democrats — or if Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate are serious about tax reform, then it’s not going to depend on one guy; it’s going to depend on all of us working together. And my office is ready, willing and eager to engage both parties in having a conversation about how we can simplify the tax code, make it fairer, make it work to create more jobs and do right by middle-class Americans.

Jackie Calmes.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. And how do you say it in Hawaii? “Mele Kalikimaka.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: “Mele Kalikimaka.” (Laughter.)

Q: Since we’ve been looking back at the year, I’d like to ask you what your reaction was to the nonpartisan truth-telling group PolitiFact when it said that the Lie of the Year was your statement that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.

And related to the health care problems that we’ve seen over the past year, the fallout from that seems to be making Democrats, particularly in the Senate, a little rambunctious and independent of you, which is evidenced most clearly in the debate over the Iran sanctions. It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expedited consideration of an Iran sanctions bill for January, even as your administration and you have been trying to get them to lay off sanctions while you’re –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jackie, I got to say, you’re — you’re stringing a bunch of things along here. Let’s — let’s –

Q: Well –

PRESIDENT OBAMA: – let’s see if we can hone in on a question. I mean, I — I –

Q: Two questions.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well — (chuckles) –

Q: That’s a lot less than Ed Henry had. (Laughter, groans.)

Q: Wow! I thought we were trying to get along — (inaudible).

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right. (Inaudible.) Now I can see who’s –

Q: (Inaudible) — you — (inaudible) — each other.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: (Chuckles.) The — how about I separate out the Iran question separate out the Iran question from the health care question?

On the health care question — look, I think I’ve answered it several times — this is a new iteration of it — but bottom line is that, you know, we are going to continue to work every single day to make sure that implementation of the health care law and the website and all elements of it, including the grandfather clause, work better every single day.

And as I’ve said in previous press conferences — you know, we’re going to make mistakes and we’re going to have problems, but my intentions have been clear throughout, which is, I just want to help as many people as possible feel secure and make sure that they don’t go broke when they get sick. And we’re just going to keep on doing that.

On Iran, there is the possibility of a resolution to a problem that has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade now. And that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon. Already, even with the interim deal that we struck in Geneva, we have the first halt, and in some cases, some rollback of Iran’s nuclear capabilities — the first time that we’ve seen that in almost decade.

And we now have a structure in which we can have a very serious conversation to see, is it possible for Iran to get right with the international community in a verifiable fashion to give us all confidence that any peaceful nuclear program that they have is not going to be weaponized in a way that threatens us or our allies in the region, including Israel.

And as I’ve said before and I will repeat, it is very important for us to test whether that’s possible, not because it’s guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem, with all kinds of unintended consequences.

Now, I’ve been very clear from the start, I mean what I say. It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I sure would rather to it diplomatically. I’m keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that’s how we should do it, and I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill, because that sure is the preference of the American people.

And we lose nothing during this negotiation period, precisely because there are verification provisions in place. We will have more insight into Iran’s nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously; we’ll know if they are violating the terms of the agreement; they’re not allowed to accelerate their stockpile of enriched uranium; in fact, they have to reduce their stockpile of highly enriched uranium. Ironically, if we did not have this six- month period in which we’re testing whether we can get a comprehensive solution to this problem, they would be advancing even further on their nuclear program.

And in light of all that, what I’ve said to members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, is there is no need for new sanctions legislation, not yet.

Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.

And so I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions. I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in office. But as president of the United States right now who’s been responsible over the last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table to negotiate, what I’m saying to them, what I’ve said to the international community and what I’ve said to the American people is let’s test it. Now’s the time to try to see if we can get this thing done.

And — and I’ve heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we’re — we’re supportive of — of the negotiations, but we think it’s really useful to have this club hanging over Iran’s head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales.

We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied, even as the negotiations are taking place. It’s not as if we’re letting up on that.

So I’ve heard arguments, well, but you know, this way we can assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a — in a day, on a dime.

But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran in willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. and we don’t — we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of — this kind of action.

All right? OK, everybody. I think I’m going to take one more question, Colleen McCain Nelson, and that is it.

Q: Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: There you go.

Q: Some of your long-time advisers and new folks are coming in. Others are taking on new roles in the west wing. As you reshape your team a bit, how does that change the dynamic here and how does it impact what you think you can accomplish going forward?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I just had lunch with Pete Rouse, who’s — who’s leaving me. And that’s tough.

Q: He says so?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: He says so, not right now, at least. No, I — you know, I — I love that guy. And — and that will be a significant loss, although he’ll still be in town and hopefully I’ll be able to consult with him on an ongoing basis.

I think the fact that John Podesta’s coming in will be terrific. He may deny it, but I’ve been trying to get him in here for quite some time. He ran my transition office. I asked him when he was running the transition office if he would be willing to join us, and at that time, I think he was still feeling that he wanted to develop CAP and other organizations.

But you know, John’s a great strategist, he is as good as anybody on domestic policy, and I think he’ll be a — a huge boost to us and give us more bandwidth to deal with more issues.

I suspect that we may have additional announcements in the new year. You know, there’s — there’s a natural turnover that takes place. People get tired; people get worn out. Sometimes, you need fresh legs. But what I can tell you is the — the team I have now is tireless and shares my values, and believes the thing that I think I have repeated probably four or five times in this press conference, which is we get this incredible privilege for a pretty short period of time to do as much as we can for as many people as we can to help them live better lives.

And that’s what drives them and that’s the sacrifice they make, being away from families and soccer games and birthdays, and some of them will end up working over Christmas on issues like Iran. And the fact that they make those kinds of sacrifices, I am always grateful for.

And if they then say to me after making those sacrifices for three, four, five years, you know, I need a break, you know, then — then I completely understand.

All right, have a great holiday, everybody. Appreciate you.

Q: Merry Christmas.

Q: Merry Christmas.

Q: Happy new year.

Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service. 

Political Headlines December 20, 2013: Live Coverage of President Obama’s Year-End Press Conference

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Live Coverage of Obama’s News Conference

Source: NYT, 12-20-13

Play video

Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LIVE VIDEO  President Obama is answering reporters’ questions during his year-end news conference.

President Obama spoke about the N.S.A., health law signups and the ambitions of his second term….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 8, 2013: President Barack Obama’s press conference on the shutdown and debt limit — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

TRANSCRIPT: President Obama’s Oct. 8 news conference on the shutdown and debt limit

Source: WaPo, 10-8-13

Video: President Obama addressed the nation Tuesday regarding the government shutdown, telling Congress to take a vote on a continuing resolution to end the government shutdown.

President Obama delivered a statement and took questions from reporters on the partial government shutdown and the looming fight over raising the federal debt ceiling on Oct. 8 at the White House.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. I am eager to take your questions, so I’ll try to be brief at the top.This morning I had a chance to speak with Speaker Boehner. And I told him what I’ve been saying publicly, that I am happy to talk with him and other Republicans about anything — not just issues I think are important but also issues that they think are important. But I also told him that having such a conversation, talks, negotiations shouldn’t require hanging the threats of a government shutdown or economic chaos over the heads of the American people.

Think about it this way, the American people do not get to demand a ransom for doing their jobs. You don’t get a chance to call your bank and say I’m not going to pay my mortgage this month unless you throw in a new car and an Xbox. If you’re in negotiations around buying somebody’s house, you don’t get to say, well, let’s talk about the price I’m going to pay, and if you don’t give the price then I’m going to burn down your house. That’s not how negotiations work. That’s not how it happens in business. That’s not how it happens in private life.

In the same way, members of Congress, and the House Republicans in particular, don’t get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs. And two of their very basic jobs are passing a budget and making sure that America’s paying its bills. They don’t also get to say, you know, unless you give me what the voters rejected in the last election, I’m going to cause a recession.

That’s not how it works. No American president would deal with a foreign leader like this. Most of you would not deal with either co- workers or business associates in this fashion. And we shouldn’t be dealing this way here in Washington.

And you know, I’ve heard Republicans suggest that, well, no, this is reasonable, that this is entirely appropriate. But as I’ve said before, imagine if a Democratic Congress threatened to crash the global economy unless a Republican president agreed to gun background checks or immigration reform. I think it’s fair to say that Republicans would not think that was appropriate.

So let’s lift these threats from our families and our businesses, and let’s get down to work. It’s not like this is a new position that I’m taking here. I had Speaker Boehner and the other leaders in just last week. Either my chief of staff or I have had serious conversations on the budget with Republicans more than 20 times since March.

So we’ve been talking all kinds of business. What we haven’t been able to get are serious positions from the Republicans that would allow us to actually resolve some core differences. And they have decided to run out the clock until there’s a government shutdown or the possibility of default, thinking that it would give them more leverage. That’s not my characterization. They’ve said it themselves. That was their strategy from the start. And that is not how our government is supposed to run.

Full Text Obama Presidency September 6, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks in a Press Conference at the G20 Summit about Syria Military Response

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama in a Press Conference at the G20

Source: WH, 9-6-13

90813_Obama_G20_Press_Conference_Video

Getty Images

G20 Summit Site
St. Petersburg, Russia

5:55 P.M. MSK

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good evening.  Let me begin by thanking President Putin and the people of St. Petersburg and the people of Russia for hosting this G20.  This city has a long and storied history, including its heroic resistance and extraordinary sacrifices during the Second World War.  So I want to take this opportunity to salute the people of St. Petersburg and express our gratitude for their outstanding hospitality.

This summit marks another milestone in the world’s recovery from the financial crisis that erupted five years ago this month.  Instead of the looming threat of another financial meltdown, we’re focused for the first time in many years on building upon the gains that we’ve made.  For the first time in three years, instead of an urgent discussion to address the European financial crisis, we see a Europe that has emerged from recession.

Moreover, the United States is a source of strength in the global economy.  Our manufacturing sector is rebounding.  New rules have strengthened our banks and reduced the chance of another crisis.  We’re reducing our addiction to foreign oil and producing more clean energy.  And as we learned today, over the past three and a half years, our businesses have created seven and a half million new jobs — a pace of more than 2 million jobs each year.  We’ve put more people back to work, but we’ve also cleared away the rubble of crisis and laid the foundation for stronger and more durable economic growth.

We’re also making progress in putting our fiscal house in order.  Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years.  And as Congress takes up important decisions in the coming months, I’m going to keep making the case for the smart investments and fiscal responsibility that keep our economy growing, creates jobs and keeps the U.S. competitive.  That includes making sure we don’t risk a U.S. default over paying bills we’ve already racked up.  I’m determined that the world has confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States.

As the world’s largest economy, our recovery is helping to drive global growth.  And in the emerging markets in particular, there’s a recognition that a strong U.S. economy is good for their economies, too.

Yet we came to St. Petersburg mindful of the challenges that remain.  As it emerges from recession, Europe has an opportunity to focus on boosting demand and reducing unemployment, as well as making some of the structural changes that can increase long-term growth.  Growth in emerging economies has slowed, so we need to make sure that we are working with them in managing this process. And I’m pleased that over the past two days we reached a consensus on how to proceed.

We agreed that our focus needs to be on creating jobs and growth that put people back to work.  We agreed on ways to encourage the investments in infrastructure that keep economies competitive.  Nations agreed to continue pursuing financial reforms and to address tax evasion and tax avoidance, which undermines budgets and unfairly shifts the tax burden to other taxpayers.

We’re moving ahead with our development agenda, with a focus on issues like food security and combating corruption.  And I’m very pleased that the G20 nations agreed to make faster progress on phasing down certain greenhouse gases a priority.  That’s an important step in our fight against climate change.

During my trip, we also continued our efforts to advance two key trade initiatives:  the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  And I believe that if we continue to move forward on all the fronts that I’ve described, we can keep the global economy growing and keep creating jobs for our people.

Of course, even as we’ve focused on our shared prosperity, and although the primary task of the G20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy, we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security and that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.  And what I’ve been emphasizing and will continue to stress is that the Assad regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy.  It’s a threat to global peace and security.

Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors — Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel.  It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East.  It increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But, more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.

Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes, and terrorist organizations that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence.  And that’s not the world that we want to live in.

This is why nations around the world have condemned Syria for this attack and called for action.  I’ve been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week; there is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by.  Here in St. Petersburg, leaders from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm against the use of chemical weapons must be upheld, and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people, and that, as a consequence, there needs to be a strong response.

The Arab League foreign ministers have said the Assad regime is responsible and called for “deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime.”  The Organization of Islamic Cooperation — its general secretariat has called the attack a “blatant affront to all religious and moral values and a deliberate disregard of international laws and norms, which requires a decisive action.”

So, in the coming days, I’ll continue to consult with my fellow leaders around the world, and I will continue to consult with Congress.  And I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action.  And I intend to address the American people from the White House on Tuesday.

The kind of world we live in and our ability to deter this kind of outrageous behavior is going to depend on the decisions that we make in the days ahead.  And I’m confident that if we deliberate carefully and we choose wisely, and embrace our responsibilities, we can meet the challenges of this moment as well as those in the days ahead.

So with that, let me take some questions.  I’ve got my handy list.  And I will start with Julie Pace from AP.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  You mentioned the number of countries that have condemned the use of chemical weapons, but your advisors also say you’re leaving this summit with a strong number of countries backing your call for military action.  President Putin just a short time ago indicated it may only be a handful of countries, including France, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Can you tell us publicly what countries are backing your call for military action?  And did you change any minds here?  President Putin also mentioned your meeting with him earlier today.  Can you tell us how that came about, and did you discuss both Syria and Edward Snowden?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I believe that there will be a statement issued later this evening — although hopefully in time for you guys to file back home — that indicates some of the additional countries that are making public statements.

Last night we had a good discussion.  And I want to give President Putin credit that he facilitated I think a full airing of views on the issue.  And here’s how I would describe it — without giving the details or betraying the confidence of those who were speaking within the confines of the dinner.  It was unanimous that chemical weapons were used — a unanimous conclusion that chemical weapons were used in Syria.  There was a unanimous view that the norm against using chemical weapons has to be maintained, that these weapons were banned for a reason and that the international community has to take those norms seriously.

I would say that the majority of the room is comfortable with our conclusion that Assad — the Assad government was responsible for their use.  Obviously this is disputed by President Putin.  But if you polled the leaders last night, I am confident that you’d get a majority who said it is most likely, we are pretty confident that the Assad regime used them.

Where there is a division has to do with the United Nations.  There are a number of countries that, just as a matter of principle, believe that if military action is to be taken it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council.  There are others — and I put myself in this camp, as somebody who’s a strong supporter of the United Nations, who very much appreciates the courage of the investigators who had gone in and looks forward to seeing the U.N. report, because I think we should try to get more information, not less in this situation — it is my view and a view that was shared by a number of people in the room that given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required and that will not come through Security Council action.

And that’s where I think the division comes from.  And I respect those who are concerned about setting precedence of action outside of a U.N. Security Council resolution.  I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.  But ultimately, what I believe in even more deeply, because I think that the security of the world and — my particular task — looking out for the national security of the United States, requires that when there’s a breech this brazen of a norm this important, and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn’t act, then that norm begins to unravel.

And if that norm unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling.  And that makes for a more dangerous world.  And that, then, requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future.

Over 1,400 people were gassed.  Over 400 of them were children.  This is not something we’ve fabricated.  This is not something that we are using as an excuse for military action.  As I said last night, I was elected to end wars, not start them.  I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.  But what I also know is, is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re going to stand up for the things that we care about.  And I believe that this is one of those times.

And if we end up using the U.N. Security Council not as a means of enforcing international norms and international law, but rather as a barrier to acting on behalf of international norms and international law, then I think people, rightly, are going to be pretty skeptical about the system and whether it can work to protect those children that we saw in those videos.

And sometimes the further we get from the horrors of that, the easier it is to rationalize not making tough choices.  And I understand that.  This is not convenient.  This is not something that I think a lot of folks around the world find an appetizing set of choices.  But the question is, do these norms mean something?  And if we’re not acting, what does that say?

If we’re just issuing another statement of condemnation, or passing resolutions saying “wasn’t that terrible,” if people who decry international inaction in Rwanda and say how terrible it is that there are these human rights violations that take place around the world and why aren’t we doing something about it — and they always look to the United States — why isn’t the United States doing something about this, the most powerful nation on Earth?  Why are you allowing these terrible things to happen?  And then, if the international community turns around when we’re saying it’s time to take some responsibility and says, well, hold on a second, we’re not sure — that erodes our ability to maintain the kind of norms that we’re looking at.

Now, I know that was a lengthy answer and you had a second part to your question.

The conversation I had with President Putin was on the margins of the plenary session and it was a candid and constructive conversation, which characterizes my relationship with him.  I know, as I’ve said before, everybody is always trying to look for body language and all that.  But the truth of the matter is that my interactions with him tend to be very straightforward.  We discussed Syria, and that was primarily the topic of conversation.  Mr. Snowden did not come up beyond me saying that — reemphasizing that where we have common interests I think it’s important for the two of us to work together.

And on Syria, I said — listen, I don’t expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use, although it is possible that after the U.N. inspectors’ report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.  But what I did say is that we both agree that the underlying conflict can only be resolved through a political transition as envisioned by the Geneva I and Geneva II process.  And so we need to move forward together.  Even if the U.S. and Russia and other countries disagree on this specific issue of how to respond to chemical weapons use, it remains important for us to work together to try to urge all parties in the conflict to try to resolve it.

Because we’ve got 4 million people internally displaced.  We’ve got millions of people in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon who are desperate, and the situation is only getting worse.  And that’s not in anybody’s interest.  It’s not in America’s interest.  It’s not in Russia’s interest.  It’s not in the interest of the people in the region, and obviously it’s not in the interest of Syrians who’ve seen their lives completely disrupted and their country shattered.

So that is going to continue to be a project of ours.  And that does speak to an issue that has been raised back home around this whole issue.  You’ve heard some people say, well, we think if you’re going to do something, you got to do something big, and maybe this isn’t big enough or maybe it’s too late — or other responses like that.  And what I’ve tried to explain is we may not solve the whole problem, but this particular problem of using chemical weapons on children, this one we might have an impact on, and that’s worth acting on.  That’s important to us.

And what I’ve also said is, is that as far as the underlying conflict is concerned, unless the international community is willing to put massive numbers of troops on the ground — and I know nobody is signing up for that — we’re not going to get a long-term military solution for the country.  And that is something that can only come about I think if — as different as our perspectives may be — myself, Mr. Putin and others are willing to set aside those differences and put some pressure on the parties on the ground.

Brianna.

Q:  On the resolution to authorize the use of force, one of the big challenges right now isn’t just Republicans, but it’s from some of your loyal Democrats.  It seems that the more they hear from classified briefings that the less likely they are to support you.  If the full Congress doesn’t pass this, will you go ahead with the strike?  And also, Senator Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans who breaks through her party to give you support at times — she says, “What if we execute the strike and then Assad decides to use chemical weapons again?  Do we strike again?”  And many Democrats are asking that as well.  How do you answer the question?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, in terms of the votes and the process in Congress, I knew this was going to be a heavy lift.  I said that on Saturday when I said we’re going to take it to Congress.  Our polling operations are pretty good — I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is.  And for the American people, who have been through over a decade of war now, with enormous sacrifice in blood and treasure, any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion.  And that suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican Party, since a lot of the people who supported me remember that I opposed the war in Iraq.

And what’s also true is, is that that experience with the war in Iraq colors how people view this situation not just back home in America, but also here in Europe and around the world.  That’s the prism through which a lot of people are analyzing the situation.

So I understand the skepticism.  I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through systematically making the case to every senator and every member of Congress.  And that’s what we’re doing.

I dispute a little bit, Brianna, the notion that people come out of classified briefings and they’re less in favor of it.  I think that when they go through the classified briefings, they feel pretty confident that, in fact, chemical weapons were used and that the Assad regime used them.

Where you will see resistance is people being worried about a slippery slope and how effective a limited action might be.  And our response, based on my discussions with our military, is that we can have a response that is limited, that is proportional — that when I say “limited,” it’s both in time and in scope — but that is meaningful and that degrades Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons not just this time, but also in the future, and serves as a strong deterrent.

Now, is it possible that Assad doubles down in the face of our action and uses chemical weapons more widely?  I suppose anything is possible, but it wouldn’t be wise.  I think at that point, mobilizing the international community would be easier, not harder.  I think it would be pretty hard for the U.N. Security Council at that point to continue to resist the requirement for action, and we would gladly join with an international coalition to make sure that it stops.

So one of the biggest concerns of the American people — certain members of Congress may have different concerns; there may be certain members of Congress who say we’ve got to do even more, or claim to have previously criticized me for not hitting Assad and now are saying they’re going to vote no, and you’ll have to ask them exactly how they square that circle.  But for the American people at least, the concern really has to do with understanding that what we’re describing here would be limited and proportional and designed to address this problem of chemical weapons use and upholding a norm that helps keep all of us safe.

And that is going to be the case that I try to make not just to Congress, but to the American people over the coming days.

Q:  Just a follow-up — must you have full cooperation from Congress?  What if the Senate votes yes and the House votes no — it’s go ahead with the strike?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Brianna, I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate, because right now I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.  But I’ll repeat something that I said in Sweden when I was asked a similar question.  I did not put this before Congress just as a political ploy or as symbolism.  I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed a imminent, direct threat to the United States.  In that situation, obviously, I don’t worry about Congress.  We do what we have to do to keep the American people safe.  I could not say that it was immediately, directly going to have an impact on our allies.  Again, in those situations I would act right away.  This wasn’t even a situation like Libya, where you’ve got troops rolling towards Benghazi and you have a concern about time in terms of saving somebody right away.

This was an event that happened.  My military assured me that we could act today, tomorrow, a month from now; that we could do so proportionately, but meaningfully.  And in that situation, I think it is important for us to have a serious debate in the United States about these issues.

Because these are going to be the kinds of national security threats that are most likely to occur over the next five, 10 years.  They’re very few countries who are going to go at us directly.  We have to be vigilant, but our military is unmatched. Those countries that are large and powerful like Russia or China, we have the kind of relationship with them where we’re not getting in conflicts of that sort.  At least over the last several decades, there’s been a recognition that neither country benefits from that kind of great power conflict.

So the kinds of national security threats that we’re going to conflict — they’re terrorist threats; they’re failed states; they are the proliferation of deadly weapons.  And in those circumstances, a President is going to have to make a series of decisions about which one of these threats over the long term starts making us less and less safe.  And where we can work internationally, we should.

There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons.  And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, what are you going to do about it?

And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy.  There was a leader of a smaller country who I’ve spoken to over the last several days who said, I know don’t envy you because I’m a small country and nobody expects me to do anything about chemical weapons around the world.  They know I have no capacity to do something.

And it’s tough because people do look to the United States. And the question for the American people is, is that a responsibility that we’re willing to bear.  And I believe that when you a limited, proportional strike like this — not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground; not some long, drawn-out affair; not without any risks, but with manageable risks — that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.

Chuck Todd.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Good morning — or good evening.  I think it’s still “good morning” back home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  By tonight it will be tonight when we get back home.  (Laughter.)

Q:  I think we’re all relieved.  I want to follow up on Brianna’s question, because it seems these members of Congress are simply responding to their constituents and you’re seeing a lot these town halls, and it seems as if the more you pressure your case, the more John Kerry presses the case on your behalf, the more the opposition grows.  And maybe it’s just — or the more the opposition becomes vocal.  Why do you think you’ve struggled with that?  And you keep talking about a limited mission.  We have a report that indicates you’ve actually asked for an expanded list of targets in Syria, and one military official told NBC News — he characterized it as “mission creep.” Can you respond to that report?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  That report is inaccurate.  I’m not going to comment on operational issues that are sourced by some military official.  One thing I’ve got a pretty clear idea about is what I talked with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about, and what we have consistently talked about is something limited and proportional that would degrade Mr. Assad’s capabilities.

In terms of opposition, Chuck, I expected this.  This is hard, and I was under no illusions when I embarked on this path. But I think it’s the right thing to do.  I think it’s good for our democracy.  We will be more effective if we are unified going forward.

And part of what we knew would be there would be some politics and injecting themselves –

Q:  You believe it’s all politics?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  No, I said “some.”  But what I have also said is, is that the American people have gone through a lot when it comes to the military over the last decade or so.  And so I understand that.  And when you starting talking about chemical weapons and their proliferation, those images of those bodies could sometimes be forgotten pretty quickly — the news cycle moves on.

Frankly, if we weren’t talking about the need for an international response right now, this wouldn’t be what everybody would be asking about.  There would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and the usual hocus-pocus, but the world and the country would have moved on.

So trying to impart a sense of urgency about this — why we can’t have an environment in which over time people start thinking we can get away with chemical weapons use — it’s a hard sell, but it’s something I believe in.  And as I explained to Brianna, in this context, me making sure that the American people understand it I think is important before I take action.

Jon Karl.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  One of your closest allies in the House said yesterday, “When you’ve got 97 percent of your constituents saying no, it’s kind of hard to say yes.”  Why should members of Congress go against the will of their constituents and support your decision on this?  And I still haven’t heard a direct response to Brianna’s question — if Congress fails to authorize this, will you go forward with an attack on Syria?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Right, and you’re not getting a direct response.  Brianna asked the question very well.  Did you think that –

Q:  It’s a pretty basic question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  — I was going to give you a different answer?  No.  (Laughter.)  What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I put this before Congress for a reason.  I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action.  I’m not going to engage in parlor games now, Jonathan, about whether or not it’s going to pass when I’m talking substantively to Congress about why this is important, and talking to the American people about why this is important.

Now, with respect to Congress and how they should respond to constituents and concerns, I do consider it part of my job to help make the case and to explain to the American people exactly why I think this is the right thing to do.  And it’s conceivable that at the end of the day I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do.  And then, each member of Congress is going to have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security and the world’s national security, then how do I vote?  And that’s what you’re supposed to do as a member of Congress.  Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America.

And that’s the same for me as President of the United States.  There are a whole bunch of decisions that I make that are unpopular, as you well know.  But I do so because I think they’re the right thing to do.  And I trust my constituents want me to offer my best judgment.  That’s why they elected me.  That’s why they reelected me even after there were some decisions I made that they disagreed with.  And I would hope that members of Congress would end up feeling the same way.

The last point I would make:  These kinds of interventions, these kinds of actions are always unpopular because they seem distant and removed.  And I want to make sure I’m being clear.  I’m not drawing a analogy to World War II other than to say when London was getting bombed it was profoundly unpopular both in Congress and around the country to help the British.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do.  Just means people are struggling with jobs and bills to pay, and they don’t want their sons or daughters put in harm’s way, and these entanglements far away are dangerous and different.

To bring the analogy closer to home, the intervention in Kosovo — very unpopular; but ultimately I think it was the right thing to do.  And the international community should be glad that it came together to do it.

When people say that it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, well, imagine if Rwanda was going on right now, and we asked should we intervene in Rwanda.  I think it’s fair to say that it probably wouldn’t poll real well.

So, typically, when any kind of military action is popular it’s because either there’s been a very clear, direct threat to us — 9/11 — or an administration uses various hooks to suggest that American interests were directly threatened — like in Panama or Grenada.  And sometimes, those hooks are more persuasive than others, but typically, they’re not put before Congress.  And again, we just went through something pretty tough with respect to Iraq.  So all that I guess provides some context for why you might expect people to be resistant.

Q:  But your Deputy National Security Advisor said that it is not your intention to attack if Congress doesn’t approve it.  Is he right?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I don’t think that’s exactly what he said.  But I think I’ve answered the question.

Major Garrett.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Those of us who remember covering your campaign remember you saying that militarily when the United States acts, it’s not just important what it does but how it goes about doing it, and that even when America sets its course, it’s important to engage the international community and listen to different ideas even as it’s pursuing that action.  I wonder if you leave here and return to Washington, seeing the skepticism there, hearing it here, with any different ideas that might delay military action.  For example, some in Congress have suggested giving the Syrian regime 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, get rid of its chemical stockpiles — do something that would enhance international sense of accountability for Syria but delay military action.  Are you, Mr. President, looking at any of these ideas?  Or are we on a fast track to military action as soon as Congress renders its judgment one way or the other?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I am listening to all these ideas.  And some of them are constructive.  And I’m listening to ideas in Congress, and I’m listening to ideas here.  But I want to repeat here:  My goal is to maintain the international norm on banning chemical weapons.  I want that enforcement to be real.  I want it to be serious.  I want people to understand that gassing innocent people, delivering chemical weapons against children is not something we do.  It’s prohibited in active wars between countries.  We certainly don’t do it against kids.  And we’ve got to stand up for that principle.

If there are tools that we can use to ensure that, obviously my preference would be, again, to act internationally in a serious way and to make sure that Mr. Assad gets the message.

I’m not itching for military action.  Recall, Major, that I have been criticized for the last couple of years by some of the folks who are now saying they would oppose these strikes for not striking.  And I think that I have a well-deserved reputation for taking very seriously and soberly the idea of military engagement.

So we will look at these ideas.  So far, at least, I have not seen ideas presented that as a practical matter I think would do the job.  But this is a situation where part of the reason I wanted to foster debate was to make sure that everybody thought about both the ramifications of action and inaction.

Q:  So currently, the only way to enforce this international norm is militarily, and even giving the Assad regime extra time would not achieve your goals?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I’m saying, Major, is that so far what we’ve seen is a escalation by the Assad regime of chemical weapons use.

You’ll recall that several months ago I said we now say with some confidence that at a small level Assad has used chemical weapons.  We not only sent warnings to Assad, but we demarched — meaning we sent a strong message through countries that have relationships with Assad — that he should not be doing this.  And rather than hold the line, we ended up with what we saw on August 21st.  So this is not as if we haven’t tested the proposition that the guy, or at least generals under his charge, can show restraint when it comes to this stuff.  And they’ve got one of the largest stockpiles in the world.

But I want to emphasize that we continue to consult with our international partners.  I’m listening to Congress.  I’m not just doing the talking.  And if there are good ideas that are worth pursuing then I’m going to be open to it.

I will take the last question.  Tangi — AFP.

Q:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday night you had two unscheduled bilateral meetings with your Brazilian and Mexican counterparts after they voiced very strong concerns about being allegedly targeted by the NSA.  What was your message to them?  And do the revelations — the constant stream of revelations over this summer make it harder for you to build confidence with your partners in international forums such as this one?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I did meet with President Rousseff as well as President Peña Nieto, of Brazil and Mexico, respectively, to discuss these allegations that were made in the press about the NSA.  I won’t share with you all the details of the conversation, but what I said to them is consistent with what I’ve said publicly.  The United States has an intelligence agency, and our intelligence agency’s job is to gather information that’s not available through public sources.  If they were available through public sources then they wouldn’t be an intelligence agency.  In that sense, what we do is similar to what countries around the world do with their intelligence services.

But what is true is that we are bigger, we have greater capabilities.  The difference between our capabilities and other countries probably tracks the differences in military capabilities between countries.  And what I’ve said is that because technology is changing so rapidly, because these capabilities are growing, it is important for us to step back and review what it is that we’re doing, because just because we can get information doesn’t necessarily always mean that we should.

There may be costs and benefits to doing certain things, and we’ve got to weigh those.  And I think that, traditionally, what’s happened over decades is the general assumption was, well, you just — whatever you can get you just kind of pull in, and then you kind of sift through later and try to figure out what’s useful.  The nature of technology and the legitimate concerns around privacy and civil liberties means that it’s important for us on the front end to say, all right, are we actually going to get useful information here?  And, if not — or how useful is it? If it’s not that important, should we be more constrained in how we use certain technical capabilities.

Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico.  I said that I would look into the allegations.  I mean, part of the problem here is we get these through the press and then I’ve got to go back and find out what’s going on with respect to these particular allegations — I don’t subscribe to all these newspapers, although I think the NSA does — now at least.  (Laughter.)

And then, what I assured President Rousseff and President Peña Nieto is, is that they should take — that I take these allegations very seriously.  I understand their concerns; I understand the concerns of the Mexican and Brazilian people, and that we will work with their teams to resolve what is a source of tension.

Now, the last thing I’d say about this, though, is just because there are tensions doesn’t mean that it overrides all the incredibly wide-ranging interests that we share with so many of these countries.  And there’s a reason why I went to Brazil.  There’s a reason why I invited President Rousseff to come to the United States.  Brazil is an incredibly important country.  It is a amazing success story in terms of a transition from authoritarianism to democracy.  It is one of the most dynamic economies in the world.  And, obviously, for the two largest nations in the hemisphere to have a strong relationship, that can only be good for the people of our two countries, as well as the region.

The same is true of Mexico, one of our closest friends, allies, and neighbors.

And so we will work through this particular issue.  It does not detract from the larger concerns that we have and the opportunities that we both want to take advantage of.

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you, St. Petersburg.

END
6:42 P.M. MSK

Political Headlines August 9, 2013: Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference on NSA Surveillance & Patriot Act Reforms

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Live Blog: President Barack Obama’s Pre-Vacation Press Conference

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LIVE VIDEO  President Obama holds a news conference.

President Obama plans to announce efforts to “restore public trust” in surveillance programs that have sparked deep concern after leaks by Edward J. Snowden, the former intelligence contractor, a senior official said Friday….READ MORE

Live Updates: Obama Addresses Surveillance in News Conference

Source: NYT, 8-9-13

Highlights and analysis as President Obama takes questions from the news media on Friday afternoon….READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency June 19, 2013: President Barack Obama & German Chancellor Angela Merkel Remarks at a Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and German Chancellor Merkel in Joint Press Conference

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in BerlinPresident Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Germany, June 19, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

 President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Hold a Press Conference

President Obama and Chancellor Merkel Hold a Press Conference

Source: WH, 6-19-13

German Chancellery
Berlin, Germany

12:46 P.M. CEST

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  (As interpreted.)  A very warm welcome to the President of the United States, Barack Obama.  A very warm welcome indeed to Berlin.  It’s his first visit to Berlin as President of the United States — certainly not his first visit to Germany.

We have had on numerous occasions the opportunity to talk.  We have established ties of friendship based on trust.  And I would like to thank you for this.  Our cooperation is based on ties of friendship that have lasted for many, many decades between the Federal Republic of Germany and the United States.  And this is such a very good relationship because it is based on shared values.  When the President addresses the crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate, it will be a President who can do this in front of a gate that is open.  The President had to remind us all of the wall needed to be torn down and the wall is down.  And this is what we owe to our American partners and friends.

But we also see that the world is changing and changing at a very rapid pace, so new challenges come to the fore.  And we want to tackle them with resolve and we want to tackle them together.

What looms most prominently on our agenda here in Germany, but also in Europe and, I trust, in the United States, and could be a very valued project to these two great economies of the world, the free trade agreement.  I’m very glad that we were able to conclude the negotiations leading up to the mandate.  We will throw our effort behind this fully and squarely because we think that economies on both sides of the Atlantic will very much benefit from it.  It’s going to be a win-win situation and it also is an eloquent testimony to this globalized world where we can work better together, both politically and economically.

So this is why I think this is a very, very important free trade agreement.  And I say this on behalf of the federal government as a whole.

We talked about questions of the Internet in the context of PRISM.  We talked at great length about the new possibilities and about also the new threats that the Internet opens up to all of us.  The Internet is new territory, uncharted territory to all of us.  And it also enables our enemies.  It enables enemies of a free, liberal order, to use it, to abuse it, to bring a threat to all of us, to threaten our way of life.  And this is why we value cooperation with the United States on questions of security.

I also outlined, however, that although we do see the need for gathering information, there needs to be due diligence also as regards the proportionality.  Free, liberal democracies live off people having a feeling of security.  And this is why an equitable balance needs to be struck; there needs to be proportionality.  And that is something that we agreed on, to have a free exchange of views on, between our staff but also the staff of the Home Secretary in the States and also the Minister of Interior here in Germany.  And this is going to be an ongoing battle.

We talked about a number of foreign policy issues.  We are, both of us, engaged in Afghanistan.  A new process has been initiated there of a transition of responsibility.  This is a process that we are going to tackle together, just as we tackled the greater military challenges of the past together — building up the security forces in Afghanistan together.  We will stand together with the United States and solve outstanding problems that are very difficult, indeed, still.

We also addressed Iran.  We addressed the Middle East situation as regards the peace process in the Middle East.  I think that the initiative of Secretary Kerry offers a very good opportunity to revive, revitalize peace talks.  The region needs peace.  The partners ought to take up the offer that is on the table, because it is urgently necessary to bring about negotiations.  And we will continue also to work on Iran, on the nuclear program of Iran.  That is also something that we agreed on.

We had very good talks.  We had, as usual, very open and candid talks.  So, yet again, a very warm welcome to you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, thank you very much.  Guten tag.  It is wonderful to be back in Berlin.  I’ve always appreciated the warmth with which I’ve been greeted by the German people, and it’s no different today, although I’m particularly impressed with the warmth of the weather here in Berlin.

And I’m also very grateful for Chancellor Merkel’s invitation, 50 years after the visit of President Kennedy.

The Chancellor and I are just back from the G8 summit, just one of the latest meetings that we’ve had together.  During my time in the White House, I’ve had the privilege of working with Angela on a whole host of issues.  The last time she was at the White House I had the privilege of presenting her with the Medal of Freedom, our highest civilian honor that a President can bestow.  And that speaks to the closeness of our relationship, the strength of our alliance.

I know that here in Germany, sometimes there’s been talk that the Transatlantic Alliance has been — is fading in importance; that the United States has turned its attention more towards Asia and the Pacific.  And in both conversations with Chancellor Merkel and earlier with your President, I reminded them that from our perspective, the relationship with Europe remains the cornerstone of our freedom and our security; that Europe is our partner in almost everything that we do; and that although the nature of the challenges we face have changed, the strength of our relationships, the enduring bonds based on common values and common ideals very much remains.

We began today talking about economic issues, following up on the discussions that we had at the G8 summit.  Overall, Germany is our largest trading partner in the EU, so we’ve got a profound stake in each other’s success.  We agreed that there’s more work to do.  Not only do we have to grow, but we also have to reform our economies structurally.

And when you look within Europe, obviously different countries are at different stages in that reform and restructuring process.  We’re going through our own need to reform, for example, our health care system, which is much more expensive than most of the developed world and largely accounts for our deficits and our debt.  The good news is, though, that we have gone through the worst recession in years and we are poised to come back stronger if we take advantage of these opportunities.

One of the opportunities that we spoke about, obviously, was the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or T-TIP.  The U.S.-EU relationship is already the largest in the world economically.  Thirteen million Americans and Europeans have jobs that are directly supported by mutual trade and investment.  And the Chancellor and I share the conviction that if we are successful in these negotiations, we can grow economies on both sides of the Atlantic, create jobs, improve efficiency, improve productivity and our competitiveness around the world.  And by doing so, we’re also raising standards for free trade around the world that will not just benefit us but benefit everyone.

When it comes to our security, the United States and Germany are more than just NATO allies.  More American personnel are stationed in Germany than any other country outside of the U.S.  We are extraordinarily grateful for the hospitality of the German people.  One of the last times I was in Germany I had a chance to visit our facility where everyone who’s injured in the battlefield comes through, and to see the dedication, but also the hospitality that Germans are providing for our young men and women when they’ve been grievously injured I think is a strong symbol of how much this means to us.

Our men and women have been serving side-by-side in Afghanistan.  Germany is the third-largest troop-contributing nation there.  We’re both grateful for the sacrifices that our servicemen and women and their families have made in this common effort.  And because of those efforts, Afghanistan now has the opportunity to secure itself and determine its own destiny.

We welcome President Karzai’s announcement yesterday that Afghan forces will soon take the lead for security across the country, which is an important milestone — one that we established in our NATO summit.  Even as we wind down the war responsibly and NATO’s combat mission in Afghanistan comes to an end, we’re going to have to continue to invest in the shared capabilities and interoperability painstakingly built by the tremendous sacrifices of our troops.  And I appreciate Germany’s interest in making sure that even after our troops are no longer involved in combat operations that we can continue to see progress in Afghanistan.

And many of you noted that yesterday there was an announcement about the Taliban opening an office for purpose of negotiations in Qatar.  I said yesterday, this is going to be a difficult process.  The parties there have been fighting for a very long time, even before 9/11, and we don’t expect that it will be easy, but we do think ultimately we’re going to need to see Afghans talking to Afghans about how they can move forward and end the cycle of violence there so that they can start actually building their country.

We also discussed the other challenges in the region, including Syria.  We are united to see a negotiated political settlement to that conflict.  We want to see a Syria that’s unified, democratic, and at peace.  Right now, we need to see an end to the bloodshed, and we have to make sure that chemical weapons are not used on the ground.  I thought we saw some progress at the G8 in reaffirming the need for a transitional governing process and a U.N. investigation of the potential use of chemical weapons there.

I thanked the Chancellor for Germany’s unwavering support of the search for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and I briefed her on my Secretary of State, John Kerry’s efforts to find common ground there.

And finally, I want to thank Chancellor Merkel’s not only generous invitation but also the humbling privilege that I’ll have to address the people of Berlin from Pariser Platz on the Eastern side of the Brandenburg Gate — the other side of the wall that once stood there, the wall that President Reagan insisted be torn down.  A quarter century since then has been one of extraordinary progress.  We can witness this in the incredible vibrancy and prosperity of Berlin.  But one of the things I’ll address today is the fact that given the extraordinary blessings that we enjoy as Americans and as Germans, we have an obligation to make sure that walls around the world are torn down.  And we can only accomplish that together.

So I’m grateful for our alliance.  I’m grateful for our friendship.  And I’m looking forward for an opportunity to answer some questions.

Am I starting off?

MR. CARNEY:  From the American press, Julie Pace of the Associated Press.

Q    Mr. President, I wanted to follow up on your comments about the Taliban talks.  When you announced those talks yesterday, you praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai as being courageous for being willing to take that step.  Yet, today, Karzai says that he is suspending talks with the U.S. in response to the Taliban negotiations.  How is it possible for you and President Karzai to be on such different pages about this key decision?  And is Karzai saying different things to you privately than he is publicly today?

And, Chancellor Merkel, you mentioned that PRISM came up in your discussions today with President Obama.  Are you more reassured now about the scope of those programs following the discussions?  And did President Obama give you any reassurances that the programs don’t violate German privacy rights?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We had extensive conversations with President Karzai both before and after the Taliban opened the office in Doha.  As I think has been reported, there were some concerns about the manner in which the Taliban opened it, some of the language that they used.

We had anticipated that at the outset, there were going to be some areas of friction, to put it mildly, in getting this thing off the ground.  That’s not surprising.  As I said, they’ve been fighting for a very long time.  There’s enormous mistrust.  Not only have the Taliban and the Afghan government been fighting for a long time, they’re fighting as we speak.  We’re in the middle of a war.  And Afghans are still being killed and, by the way, members of the international forces there are still being killed.  And that’s not abating as we speak.

But what we also believe is that alongside the process in which we are training, equipping a Afghan government that can be responsible for its own security — even as we go through some, frankly, difficult negotiations around what it would mean for the international community to have an ongoing training and advising presence after 2014, we still believe that you’ve got to have a parallel track to at least look at the prospect of some sort of political reconciliation.

Whether that bears fruit, whether it actually happens, or whether, post-2014, there’s going to continue to be fighting, as there was before ISAF forces got into Afghanistan, that’s a question that only the Afghans can answer.  But I think that President Karzai himself recognizes the need for political reconciliation.  The challenge is how do you get those things started while you’re also at war.  And my hope is, and expectation is, is that despite those challenges, the process will proceed.

Chancellor Merkel, if you don’t mind, even though the question was directed at you, I think it would appropriate for me to go ahead and talk about the NSA issue, which obviously caused controversy back home, but also here in Europe.  And then, obviously, Chancellor Merkel will have her own views on this.

What I explained to Chancellor Merkel is, is that I came into office committed to protecting the American people, but also committed to our values and our ideals.  And one of our highest ideals is civil liberties and privacy.  And I was a critic of the previous administration for those occasions in which I felt they had violated our values, and I came in with a healthy skepticism about how our various programs were structured.  But what I have been able to do is examine and scrub how our intelligence services are operating, and I’m confident that at this point, we have struck the appropriate balance.

Now, let me be very specific in terms of — and this is what I described to Chancellor Merkel — what these programs are that have caused so much controversy.

Essentially, one program allows us to take a phone number that has been discovered separately through some lead that is typical of what our intelligence services do — but we get a phone number.  And what we try to discover is, has anybody else been called from that phone.  And we have both data that allows us to just check on phone numbers and nothing else — no content; nobody is listening in on a conversation at that point.  It’s just determining whether or not if, for example, we found a phone number in Osama bin Laden’s compound after the raid, had he called anybody in New York or Berlin or anyplace else.

If, in fact, we discover that another call has been made, at that point, in order to listen to any phone call, we would have to then go to a judge and seek information through a process that is court-supervised.  And this entire thing has been set up under the supervision of a federal court judge.

When it comes to the Internet and email, as Chancellor Merkel said, we’re now in an Internet age and we have to make sure that our administrative rules and our protections catch up with this new cyber world.  What I can say to everybody in Germany and everybody around the world is this applies very narrowly to leads that we have obtained on issues related to terrorism or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

So there are a few narrow categories.  We get very specific leads.  And based on those leads, again, with court supervision and oversight, we are able then to access information.

This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else.  This is not a situation where we simply go into the Internet and start searching any way that we want.  This is a circumscribed, narrow system directed at us being able to protect our people.  And all of it is done under the oversight of the courts.

And as a consequence, we’ve saved lives.  We know of at least 50 threats that have been averted because of this information not just in the United States, but, in some cases, threats here in Germany.  So lives have been saved.  And the encroachment on privacy has been strictly limited by a court-approved process to relate to these particular categories.
Having said all that, what I’ve said in the United States is what I shared with Chancellor Merkel, and that is that we do have to strike a balance and we do have to be cautious about how our governments are operating when it comes to intelligence.  And so this is a debate that I welcome.

What we’re going to be doing when I get back home is trying to find ways to declassify further some of these programs without completely compromising their effectiveness, sharing that information with the public, and also our intelligence teams are directed to work very closely with our German intelligence counterparts so that they have clarity and assurance that they’re not being abused.

But I think one of the things that separates us from some other governments is that we welcome these debates.  That’s what a democracy is about.  And I’m confident that we can strike this right balance, keep our people safe, but also preserve our civil liberties even in this Internet age.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  For the German people, I can only say the following.  It’s important, it’s necessary for us to debate these issues.  People have concerns, precisely concerns that there may be some kind of blanket, across-the-board gathering of information.  We talked about this.  The questions that we have not yet perhaps satisfactorily addressed we will address later on.

But there needs to be a balance; there needs to be proportionality, obviously, between upholding security and safety of our people and our country — and there are quite a lot of instances where we were getting very important information from the United States, for example, the so-called Sauerland Group.  And at the same time, obviously people want to use those new, modern means of communication and technology and do so freely.  And as we learn to live and deal responsibly with other new means of technology, we have to learn and deal responsibly with this one.

And I think today was an important first step in the right direction, and I think it has brought us forward.

Q    Madam Chancellor, Mr. President.  First, a question addressed to you, Mr. President.  There were a number of hopes in the world that were in a way shattered as regards your legislative term — for example, closing down of Guantanamo, or scrapping the death penalty throughout the whole of the United States, in all of the States.  And now, as regards Asia, are you singling out Germany because there’s a big risk here?

And, Madam Chancellor, the Nobel Prize winner, Obama is waging a drone war also via Germany.  And is he allowed to do that, according to German law?

THE PRESIDENT: Let me see if I understood your question properly.  The first question was related to policies back home, related to Guantanamo or the death penalty.  And then you wanted to talk about drones, or did you just want to focus on the drone question?  I just want to make sure that I’m responsive to your question.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  I guess I ought to answer on the drones.   And Guantanamo, that was a question I believe addressed to you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay.  Well, it continues to be my policy that I want to close Guantanamo.  It has been more difficult than I had hoped, in part because there’s been significant resistance from Congress on this, and on some issues I need congressional authorization.

But about a month ago I gave a speech in which I said that I would redouble my efforts to do so.  Because 9/11 happened, and we now have been involved in one form or another in a war for over a decade.  One war, I think, in Afghanistan was necessary.  One war I disagreed with strongly.  But in either case there are dangers if we get on a perpetual war footing.

The threat of terrorism remains real, and we have to be vigilant and we have to take steps to protect ourselves, consistent with our values and consistent with international law. But we also have to guard against being so driven by fear that we are not changing the fabric of our society in ways that we don’t intend and do not want for the future.  I think closing Guantanamo is an example of us getting out of that perpetual war mentality.

Some of the people at Guantanamo are dangerous.  Some of them did bad things.  But we cannot have a permanent outpost in which they’re being held even as we’re ending a war in Afghanistan that triggered some of these — the capture of some of these detainees in the first place.

So I’m confident that we can continue to make progress on this front, although, you’re right, it has not been as fast as I would have liked.  One of the things you discover as a politician is that people don’t always do exactly what you want.  It’s shocking.  And then you have to keep on working at it.

One thing with respect to drone policy — in that speech that I gave I also addressed that issue of the lethal targeting of identified terrorists.  This also is a source of controversy. We have constrained it tightly, and as we defeat al Qaeda, we have to, I think, very carefully examine how these technologies are used.  I can say, though, that we do not use Germany as a launching point for unmanned drones to go after counter — as part of our counterterrorism activities.  And so I know that there have been some reports here in Germany that that might be the case.  That is not.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Let me complement by saying that the United States of America have bases here, they have soldiers here.  They fulfill a very important function, particularly in the fight against terrorism.  I think of Ramstein, for example — and also supplies to soldiers, but also caring for wounded soldiers.

We as allies, as members of NATO, stand shoulder-to-shoulder here.  And we provide bases for activities, and our work is based, also, on shared values.  As I said, we have exchanges on values.  And I think it’s good.  I think it’s the right thing to do for the United States of America to be present here with military bases in Germany.  It’s a normal thing within an alliance, and this is as it should be and as it will be, and continue to be.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. President, on Syria, for the purposes of transparency, can you be specific about what military arms the United States will be providing to Syrian rebels and about which groups will be receiving them?  And on the same subject, President Putin appeared resolute and isolated on Syria at the G8.  How can a political process succeed in bringing peace if Russia continues to support Assad, both militarily and politically?

Madam Chancellor, if I may in German, the federal government has always argued along the lines that weapons, exports and deliveries of supplies would always lead to an escalation because they could land in the hands of terrorists.  Don’t you think that the situation is going to be exacerbated if America supplies it? Perhaps you would also comment on Mr. Putin.  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, first of all, Jeff, I’m very impressed with your German.  (Laughter.)  And I don’t know if you had to practice, but you sounded great.  Chancellor Merkel said you were just okay.  (Laughter.)

I cannot and will not comment on specifics around our programs related to the Syrian opposition.  What I can say is that we have had a steady, consistent policy, which is, we want a Syria that is peaceful, non-sectarian, democratic, legitimate, tolerant.  And that is our overriding goal.  We want to end the bloodshed.  We want to make sure that chemical weapons are not used, and that chemical weapons do not fall into the hands of people who would be willing to use them.  And so we’ve had a consistent view in our desired outcome in Syria.

It’s also been our view that the best way to get there is through a political transition.  And we said that a year ago; we said that two years ago.  President Assad made a different decision and has brought chaos and bloodshed to his country and has been killing his own people.  And it is our view that it is not possible for him to regain legitimacy after over 100,000 people have been killed and millions have been displaced inside the country.

So the question now is just, as a practical matter — and this is what I said to President Putin — as a practical matter, if, in fact, Syria is to remain a unified country and the bloodshed is going to end, how do we do that?  The only way to do that is through some sort of political transition process.

And the good news out of the G8 meeting was — is that you saw all the countries, including Russia, reaffirming the communiqué coming out of the first Geneva talks that said we need to create a transitional governing body with full powers.

The second good thing that came out of the G8 discussions was that all of us, including Russia, said we have to investigate use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, and all the parties including the government of Bashar al-Assad have to cooperate with that investigation.

We’re confident that, in fact, the government has used chemical weapons.  The Russians are skeptical.  We said, fine, let’s have the United Nations get in there but do a serious investigation of it — because we don’t want anybody using chemical weapons.

Now, the issue for us is how can we continue to support a political opposition and a military opposition that becomes more capable, becomes more unified, that isolates extremists who have incorporated themselves into the opposition forces inside of Syria, so that if, in fact, and when we get a political transition, there’s somebody there who can take over and function in governing and lead to a better future for all Syrians.

That’s a difficult process.  It’s not one that’s happening overnight.  But all the assistance that we are providing both to the political and military opposition is designed for that purpose.

Some of the stories that have been out there publicly have, I think, gotten a little over-cranked in terms of the idea that somehow the United States is preparing to go all in and participate in another war.  What we want to do is end a war.  But the only way it’s going to end is if, in fact, we have the kind of transition that I described.

And although, you’re right, that at this point President Putin believes that what would replace Assad would be worse than Assad himself, what I think will become more and more apparent over the coming weeks and months is that without a different government you can’t bring peace and, in fact, you’re going to see sectarian divisions get worse and worse, and start spilling over into the other parts of the region, and that would be good for nobody.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  On the issue of arms supplies, Germany has very clear, strict rules on this, legal rules, according to which we are not allowed to supply arms into areas where there is civil strife.  And that is not specifically designed for the Syrian question; it is a general rule.

But that does not mean that we do not wish, and can play, a constructive role as regards the political processes — for example, as regards humanitarian assistance; as regards also the debate on which is the right way to go about this.  How can we strengthen the opposition, those forces that work in the best interest of the people in Syria, on the ground?  And the situation is somewhat vague as regards the members of the opposition and quite different.

It is our task also, as we see it, that those who wish for a good future for Syria who are not linked with terrorists get a chance to achieve full legitimacy — because Germany, too, is of the opinion that Assad has certainly lost that legitimacy.

The Russian President, as I understand him, says not so clearly what I said just now, that the Syrian President namely has lost his legitimacy.  But we have found common language in the sense that we wish to work for a transition government.  And the question also has to be asked, what is going to come after that? And that is a question we need to address, and we did so.  And in the language of the communiqué of the G8 it says, we, all of us, reject terrorist forces in Syria because they would, again, exacerbate the suffering of the people there.

Now we have to see to it that, step by step, all of these different strands are brought together because, unfortunately, as yet, there is no common U.N. position because Russia so far was not on the side of the others.  But we must leave no stone unturned in trying, as we did during the G8, to find a common basis on which we can also speak with Russia.

And there are certain areas where we obviously differ, but our political responsibility is to, time and again, seek to bring this matter forward in the right direction.  And since the situation — if we look to Jordan, if we look to other countries in the vicinity — becomes more and more unstable, what with the flow of refugees and all, I think it’s worth every effort to try, all of us to try to do something, based on the language of the communiqué of yesterday, to do something in the interest of the people in Syria.

Q    Mr. President, in the past, there were some different points of view about the best way out of the global financial crisis.  Chancellor Merkel stands for a policy of cutting back budgets to reach that of financial stability throughout the eurozone to win back trust of the markets.  Did you talk about this issue?  And what’s your position on that?

And, Madam Chancellor, same question addressed to you — has there been a discussion on the eurozone, and do you wish to abide by the policy, in view of the problems that the countries in the south have?

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Maybe I will just start with something because your question insinuates something that we don’t want.  We want prosperity.  We want competitiveness.  We want economic strength in order to bring about reduction of unemployment.

We talked about this at some length.  And I also said Germany in the long run will only be able to live well if Europe as a whole is doing well.  So it would be a very wrong tack for our policy to take if we were pursuing a kind of policy where we weaken those countries into which we, after all, wish to export our goods.  I think the world is changing, however, and Europe is not competitive enough in all areas.  And budget consolidation is one piece of the mosaic.  Structural reforms have to come into this.

And the Italian Prime Minister addressed this issue at some length during the G8.  What does this mean for young people?  What does it mean for jobs for young people?

But still the task is, if 90 percent of growth globally is generated outside of Europe, than we need to produce goods that are so competitive — as competitive for other markets to actually buy them.  And this is something that we need to undergo.  We need to draw down red tape, bureaucracy.  We need to be more open for research and development.  We need to have structural reforms.  We need to have, for example, affordable energy.  If I look at the energy price development in the United States, all of this needs to be done.  And part and parcel with that also is, particularly in a continent that is growing ever older, that we are able to reduce our budget deficits so that we don’t leave at the expense of future generations.

That is what this is all about.  This is what I am fervently asking for and working for.  Europe can only help that is strong. And so a future without Europe is something that I cannot envisage for Germany.  It’s two sides of one and the same coin.  On the one hand, Germany needs and wants to be competitive, and we also want others to be competitive and improve their competiveness.  And we all belong together.  This is why we showed solidarity time again, and this is, too, something that we addressed.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Well, as Angela said, all of us want the same thing.  We want to have an economy that is growing, where people, if they’re willing to work hard, are able to succeed, and can find jobs that pay a living wage, and can retire with some dignity, and can send their children to good schools, and have health care that is affordable.  And we have to do all those things in a way that’s fiscally prudent so that we’re not mortgaging our future or burdening our children and our grandchildren.

And I think all developing countries — or all more developed countries have been going through some of the same challenges.  And we just went through the worst recession in many years.

The good news is, is that we’ve seen some progress.  In the United States, we fixed our banks, which was the source initially, the trigger for some of these major problems.  So we have a much stronger banking system now, with much tighter supervision.  The housing market has begun to recover.  We’ve now grown for close to four years — three and a half years — and we’ve created 7 million new jobs.

But we still have some reforms that we have to do.  We’ve got to improve the skills of our workforce.  We’ve got to improve our infrastructure.  We have to continue to invest in research and development.  In all countries around the world, you’re seeing growing inequality, and so we have to find ways to make sure that ladders of opportunity exist for those at the bottom, and that profits and increased productivity all does not just benefit those at the top.

And so what’s true in the United States is also true in Europe.  Europe has different sets of problems.  Part of the challenge of the eurozone is that you have countries at different stages and levels of productivity and are further or less far along on this path of restructuring and reform.

So we’ve been discussing this — this has been a four-year conversation that we’ve been having, and I don’t think there’s a perfect recipe.  All of us have to make sure that our budgets are not out of control.  All of us have to undergo structural reforms to adapt to a new and highly competitive economy.  What’s true is, though, all of us also have to focus on growth, and we have to make sure that in pursuit of our longer-term policies, whether it’s fiscal consolidation or reforms of our overly rigid labor markets, or pension reforms, that we don’t lose sight of our main goal, which is to make lives of people better.

And if, for example, we start seeing youth unemployment go too high, then at some point we’ve got to modulate our approach to ensure that we don’t just lose a generation who may never recover in terms of their careers.  And that’s the struggle that I think all of us are going through.  That’s the discussion we had at the G8.  That’s a discussion that Angela and I had here today.

I’m confident that Germany will succeed in this process.  I’m confident that Chancellor Merkel cares about maintaining the eurozone and the European project.  And she, I think, is confident that the United States wants to do everything we can to get Europe through this difficult patch so that it can be a force for growth and prosperity well into the future.

Thank you very much, everybody.

CHANCELLOR MERKEL:  Danke schön.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Danke schön.

END
1:32 P.M. CEST

Full Text Obama Presidency May 16, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Rose Garden Press Conference Discussing the IRS & the Associated Press / Justice Department Scandals & Syria

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Joint Press Conference by President Obama and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey

Doug Mills/The New York Times
Political storm clouds gave way to a steady drizzle at a Rose Garden news conference Thursday.

Source: WH, 5-16-13

Rose Garden

12:48 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, before we get started let me just make sure that I’m a good host.  Mr. Prime Minister, do you want an umbrella?  (Laughter.)  Because we can arrange it if you need it.  You’re okay?  All right, this will be incentive for the press to ask concise questions and us to give concise answers.

I’m going to start with Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg.

Q    Unfortunately, we all forgot umbrellas.  Mr. President, I want to ask you about the IRS.  Can you assure the American people that nobody in the White House knew about the agency’s actions before your Counsel’s Office found out on April 22nd?  And when they did find out, do you think that you should have learned about it before you learned about it from news reports as you said last Friday?  And also, are you opposed to there being a special council appointed to lead the Justice Department investigation?….

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, with respect to the IRS, I spoke to this yesterday.  My main concern is fixing a problem, and we began that process yesterday by asking and accepting the resignation of the Acting Director there.  We will be putting in new leadership that will be able to make sure that — following up on the IG audit — that we gather up all the facts, that we hold accountable those who have taken these outrageous actions.  As I said last night, it is just simply unacceptable for there to even be a hint of partisanship or ideology when it comes to the application of our tax laws.

I am going to go ahead and ask folks — why don’t we get a couple of Marines, they’re going to look good next to us — (laughter) — just because I’ve got a change of suits — (laughter) — but I don’t know about our Prime Minister.  There we go.  That’s good.  You guys I’m sorry about.  (Laughter.)

But let me make sure that I answer your specific question.  I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG report before the IG report had been leaked through the press. Typically, the IG reports are not supposed to be widely distributed or shared.  They tend to be a process that everybody is trying to protect the integrity of.  But what I’m absolutely certain of is that the actions that were described in that IG report are unacceptable.

So in addition to making sure that we’ve got a new acting director there, we’re also going to make sure that we gather up the facts, and hold accountable and responsible anybody who was involved in this.  We’re going to make sure that we identify any structural or management issues to prevent something like this from happening again.  We’re going to make sure that we are accepting all of the recommendations that the IG has in the report.

And I’m looking forward to working with Congress to fully investigate what happened, make sure that it doesn’t happen again, and also look at some of the laws that create a bunch of ambiguity in which the IRS may not have enough guidance and not be clear about what exactly they need to be doing and doing it right, so that the American people have confidence that the tax laws are being applied fairly and evenly.

So in terms of the White House and reporting, I think that you’ve gotten that information from Mr. Carney and others.  I promise you this — that the minute I found out about it, then my main focus is making sure we get the thing fixed.  I think that it’s going to be sufficient for us to be working with Congress.  They’ve got a whole bunch of committees.  We’ve got IGs already there.

The IG has done an audit; it’s now my understanding they’re going to be recommending an investigation.  And Attorney General Holder also announced a criminal investigation of what happened. Between those investigations, I think we’re going to be able to figure out exactly what happened, who was involved, what went wrong, and we’re going to be able to implement steps to fix it.

And that, ultimately, is the main priority that I have, but also I think the American people have.  They understand that we’ve got an agency that has enormous potential power and is involved in everybody’s lives.  And that’s part of the reason why it’s been treated as a quasi-independent institution.  But that’s also why we’ve got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously and without even a hint of bias, or a hint that somehow they’re favoring one group over another.

And, as I said yesterday, I’m outraged by this in part because, look, I’m a public figure — if a future administration is starting to use the tax laws to favor one party over another or one political view over another, obviously we’re all vulnerable.  And that’s why, as I’ve said, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, you should be equally outraged at even the prospect that the IRS might not be acting with the kind of complete neutrality that we expect.

And I think we’re going to be able to fix it.  We’re going to be able to get it done, and we’ve already begun that progress and we’re going to keep on going until it’s finished.

Jeff Mason.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’d like to ask you about the Justice Department.  Do you believe that the seizure of phone records from Associated Press journalists this week — or before that was announced recently this week was an overreach?  And do you still have full confidence in your Attorney General?  Should we interpret yesterday’s renewed interest by the White House in a media shield law as a response to that?  And, more broadly, how do you feel about comparisons by some of your critics of this week’s scandals to those that happened under the Nixon administration?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I’ll let you guys engage in those comparisons and you can go ahead and read the history I think and draw your own conclusions.

My concern is making sure that if there’s a problem in the government that we fix it.  That’s my responsibility, and that’s what we’re going to do.  That’s true with respect to the IRS and making sure that they apply the laws the way they were intended. That’s true with respect to the security of our diplomats, which is why we’re going to need to work with Congress to make sure that there’s adequate funding for what’s necessary out there.

Now, with respect to the Department of Justice, I’m not going to comment on a specific and pending case.  But I can talk broadly about the balance that we have to strike.  Leaks related to national security can put people at risk.  They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk.

U.S. national security is dependent on those folks being able to operate with confidence that folks back home have their backs, so they’re not just left out there high and dry, and potentially put in even more danger than they may already be.  And so I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as Commander-in-Chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.

Now, the flip side of it is we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression, and the open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold our government accountable, and helps our democracy function.  And the whole reason I got involved in politics is because I believe so deeply in that democracy and that process.

So the whole goal of this media shield law — that was worked on and largely endorsed by folks like The Washington Post Editorial Page and by prosecutors — was finding a way to strike that balance appropriately.  And to the extent that this case, which we still don’t know all the details of — to the extent that this case has prompted renewed interest about how do we strike that balance properly, then I think now is the time for us to go ahead and revisit that legislation.  I think that’s a worthy conversation to have, and I think that’s important.

But I also think it’s important to recognize that when we express concern about leaks at a time when I’ve still got 60,000-plus troops in Afghanistan, and I’ve still got a whole bunch of intelligence officers around the world who are in risky situations — in outposts that, in some cases, are as dangerous as the outpost in Benghazi — that part of my job is to make sure that we’re protecting what they do, while still accommodating for the need for information — or the need for the public to be informed and be able to hold my office accountable.

Q    I asked about Holder as well.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Mr. Prime Minister, just excuse me — you’re right, I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as Attorney General.  He’s an outstanding Attorney General and does his job with integrity, and I expect he will continue to do so.

Q    Mr. President, my first question is to you.  You mentioned that Assad should go, and the question is how and when. Is there a rough timetable?  And shall we be talking about the Syrian tragedy next year at this time?  What’s the idea?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We would have preferred Assad go two years ago; last year; six months ago; two months ago.  And there has been consistency on the part of my administration that Assad lost legitimacy when he started firing on his own people and killing his own people, who initially were protesting peacefully for a greater voice in their country’s affairs.  And obviously that’s escalated during the course of time.  So the answer is the sooner the better.

Now, in terms of the question how, I think we’ve already discussed that.  There’s no magic formula for dealing with a extraordinarily violent and difficult situation like Syria’s.  If there was, I think the Prime Minister and I would have already acted on it and it would already be finished.

And instead, what we have to do is apply steady international pressure, strengthen the opposition.  I do think that the prospect of talks in Geneva involving the Russians and representatives about a serious political transition that all the parties can buy into may yield results.  But in the meantime, we’re going to continue to make sure that we’re helping the opposition, and obviously dealing with the humanitarian situation.  And we’ll do so in close consultation with Turkey, which obviously is deeply invested in this and with whom we’ve got an outstanding relationship with.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:   Thank you, everybody.  Thank you.  Thank you, guys.

END
1:26 P.M. EDT

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