Political Musings July 21, 2014: GOP highway fund bill takes away funding from unemployment benefits extension

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

GOP highway fund bill takes away funding from unemployment benefits extension

By Bonnie K. Goodman

When the House of Representatives passed the highway funding extension bill on Tuesday, July 15, 2014 they took away the payment method for the unemployment benefits extension bill that the bill’s co-authors Senators Jack Reed, D-RI…READ MORE

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: WH, 7-21-14 

East Room

10:39 A.M. EDT

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

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

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen.  (Applause.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Amen!

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

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

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

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

(The executive order is signed.)

END
10:47 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy and on the Malaysia Airlines Jet Shot Down Over Ukraine

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Economy — Wilmington, DE

Source: WH, 7-17-14 

Port of Wilmington
Wilmington, Delaware

2:10 P.M.
THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Please have a seat.  It is wonderful to be back in Delaware.

Before I begin, obviously the world is watching reports of a downed passenger jet near the Russia-Ukraine border.  And it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.  Right now, we’re working to determine whether there were American citizens onboard.  That is our first priority.  And I’ve directed my national security team to stay in close contact with the Ukrainian government.  The United States will offer any assistance we can to help determine what happened and why.  And as a country, our thoughts and prayers are with all the families of the passengers, wherever they call home.

I want to thank Jeremie for that introduction.  Give Jeremie a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  It is great to be in the state that gave us Joe Biden.  (Applause.)  We’ve got actually some better-looking Bidens with us here today.  (Laughter.)  We’ve got Beau and his wife, Hallie, are here.  Give them a big round of applause.  We love them.  (Applause.)  We’ve got Governor Jack Markell.  (Applause.)  Senator Chris Coons, Congressman John Carney, County Executive Tom Gordon, and the Mayor of Wilmington, Dennis Williams.  (Applause.)  We’ve also got two terrific members of my Cabinet — Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is here — (applause) — and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is here.  (Applause.)

Jack Lew’s signature is actually on your money.  (Laughter.) Although it’s kind of illegible.  We teased him when he first became Treasury Secretary that he was going to have to fix his signature a little bit because it looked just like a caterpillar running along the bottom.  (Laughter.)

Now, the bridge behind me used to carry 90,000 cars every day — 90,000.  Since last month, it’s been closed for repairs.  Once workers are done repairing it, this bridge will be safer, it will be more reliable for commuters and for commerce.  And thanks to a competitive grant program called TIGER — a program, by the way, that was part of the Recovery Act that we initiated when I first came into office and Joe Biden helped to manage — this port is rebuilding a wharf that will finally let Wilmington compete with other ports for the biggest cargo ships.  (Applause.)  For the biggest cargo ships.  So far, TIGER grants have given a boost to 270 infrastructure projects and thousands of jobs all across 50 states.

And that’s what I’m here to talk about today — and I’ve been talking about this all week — creating more good jobs rebuilding America, and the opportunity that we have to seize to rebuild the American middle class.

After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, in part because of the actions we took, primarily because of the strength and determination of the American people, our businesses have now added nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months.  (Applause.)  Construction and housing are rebounding.  The auto industry is booming — it was in a tailspin when we came in.  Manufacturing is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  The unemployment rate is at its lowest point since September of 2008 — which is one of the fastest one-year drops in nearly 30 years.  (Applause.)

And the decisions we made — not only to rescue our economy, but to start rebuilding it on a firmer foundation — those decisions are starting to pay off.  We are more energy independent.  For the first time in nearly 20 years, we produce more oil here in the United States than we buy from abroad.  First time in 20 years we’re doing that.  (Applause.)
At the same time, we’re actually reducing our carbon pollution, and we’re creating new jobs in clean and renewable energies — three times as much wind power; 10 times as much solar power.

In education, our high school graduation rate is at a record high.  More young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  401(k)s are growing.  Fewer homes are underwater.  Millions more now have the peace of mind of having quality, affordable health care if they need it.  And the deficit is coming down to boot, been cut more than half.  (Applause.)

So by almost every economic measure, we’re doing a whole lot better now than we were when I came into office.  And as I said, most of it is thanks to you, the resilience and the resolve of the American people.  Because of that we’ve recovered faster and come farther than almost any other advanced country on Earth.  And business leaders, for the first time in a decade, around the world are saying that China is not the best place to invest; the United States of America is the most promising place to invest.

So we’ve got this huge opportunity to keep this momentum going, to keep growing the economy, but also to make sure that growth is broadly shared.  We got to make sure we’re creating not just more jobs, but also raising middle-class wages and incomes, and making it easier for folks, if they’re working hard and doing the right thing, to raise a family.

We got to make sure that we’re not just graduating more kids, we’ve got to also train more workers and make college more affordable.  We got to make sure our economy works for every American.  That’s why I ran for President.  That’s what I’m focused on every day.  And this is more than just some fleeting political story or made-up scandal; this is the challenge of our times — making sure that if you work hard and you’re responsible, anybody can get ahead in this country.  That’s what America is about.  And we can achieve that if we just see a few changes in Washington’s priorities.

So, today, I’m here to talk about just one example: creating good jobs of the sort that Jeremie just talked about — good jobs rebuilding America.  We know that in the 21st century economy, businesses are going to set up shop wherever they find the best roads, the best bridges, the fastest Internet connection, the fastest rail lines, the smartest airports, the best power grid.  First-class infrastructure attracts investment and it creates first-class jobs.  Unfortunately, right now, our investment in transportation lags behind a lot of other countries.  China is doing more.  Germany is doing more.  They’re putting money back into building the infrastructure we need to grow over the long term.

And if Washington were working the way it was supposed to, Congress would be creating jobs right now, jobs just like Jeremie talked about — jobs like these guys in the hard hats are doing right now rebuilding bridges and roads and airports and ports all across the country.  (Applause.)  It helps us now and it helps up create jobs tomorrow.  That’s what we should be doing.

But instead of creating jobs rebuilding our infrastructure in a predictable, sustainable way, the debate in Washington lately has been about something called the Highway Trust Fund.  It’s how America is supposed to support states on transportation projects.  Congress has to keep it funded, otherwise states have to put projects on hold, put construction workers back on the unemployment line.

The good news is, Democrats and Republicans are about to pass a short-term fix that will keep funding going for about another nine or ten months.  And I support that.  I mean, the least we can do is just support the jobs that are already there, keep Americans on the job.  But if that’s all Congress does, then we’re going to have the same kind of funding crisis nine months from now.  And that’s not how normally you fund infrastructure, because you got to plan it and you got to think about how are we helping folks and how are we helping states and cities and municipalities create plans for the future and make sure that the funding streams are level.  We don’t need unhelpful and unnecessary deadlines that crunch a few months from now.  And we shouldn’t have been this close to the deadline in the first place.

As your governor has pointed, even smaller transportation projects can take years to design and plan and build.  A few months of funding doesn’t cut it.  And so Jack said, “To call this a Band-Aid is an insult to a Band-Aid.”  That’s a pretty good line.   (Laughter.)  I’m going to have to try that out.  (Applause.)

So Congress shouldn’t be too proud.  It shouldn’t pat itself on the back for kicking the can down the road every few months.  Instead of barely paying our bills in the present, we should be planning and investing in our future.  That’s how the economy grows for everybody.  The American people work hard every single day, and your efforts shouldn’t be threatened every few months by a manufactured crisis in Washington.  Everything doesn’t have to be done at the last minute every time.

So what I’ve done is earlier this year put forward a plan to rebuild our transportation infrastructure in a long-term responsible way, a plan that would support millions of jobs, would give cities and states and private investors the certainty they need to hire more workers faster.  It would help small businesses ship their goods faster.  It would help parents get home from their commute faster so they can see their kids.

And it wouldn’t add to what is already a rapidly shrinking deficit because we pay for it in part by closing loopholes for companies that are shipping profits overseas and are avoiding paying their fair share of taxes.  So that’s what we need, a broad-based plan.  We got $2 trillion worth of deferred maintenance in this country in roads and bridges and sewer systems and water mains.  And we could put a lot of people back to work right now getting that done.  And we’re going to have to do it eventually anyway.

But so far, Congress has refused to act on the idea — which is strange because infrastructure should not be a partisan issue.  If you think about it, it was a Republican, Dwight Eisenhower, who built the Interstate Highway System.  Lincoln built the Transcontinental Railroad.  Both parties historically have understood that investing in this country for the long run pays off.  When we invest in infrastructure we’re making sure that the economy is growing not just for the next five years, but for another century.  That’s what right now Republicans in Congress don’t seem to be focused on.  But until they do get focused on it, I’m going to do whatever I can to create jobs rebuilding America on my own.  (Applause.)

So today, we’re launching what we call the Build America Investment Initiative.  And as part of it, we’re creating a one-stop shop for cities and states looking to partner with the private sector to fund infrastructure projects.  There are lots of investors who want to back infrastructure projects because, when it’s done right, they then get a steady, long-term investment.  They get a steady return.

And lots of states and local governments would welcome more private investment, but they need a partner in the federal government to help do some matchmaking and work through some of the complexities of private financing of infrastructure.  So my administration is going to help states and cities apply for federal loans, get more public-private partnerships up and running, get more investment flowing into communities like Wilmington.

And this builds on other actions we’ve taken to speed up the permitting process for big projects, and attract new manufacturing jobs to America, and raise more workers’ wages, help women fight for fair pay, ease loan burdens for millions of students.  We’re taking steps on our own, still hoping that Congress at some point actually does something.  (Applause.)

I keep hearing from folks all across the country who tell me if members of Congress have the same priorities that most Americans do, if they felt the same sense of urgency that you feel in your own lives, we could help a lot of families right now.
Instead of playing politics, we should be creating jobs by investing in what makes our economy strong -– infrastructure and manufacturing and energy, and research and development, and education.  All these things lead to new industries.
We should be training our workers to fill new jobs.  We should be preparing our kids to face global competition.  We should be making sure that hard work pays off with a higher minimum wage.

We should be seizing these opportunities.  And there’s a simple principle behind it.  When the middle class does good, and when people have ladders into the middle class if they work hard, everybody does better.  You have more customers for businesses.  Folks at the very top do better.  America grows best from the middle out, not from the top down.  That’s when we succeed.

So I’m going to keep on looking for areas where Republicans and Democrats agree to move this country forward.  But I’m not going to stand by when politics and inaction are holding us back.  (Applause.)
Wherever and whenever I have a chance to help families like yours I’m going to do it.  When I have a chance to help communities like Wilmington, I’m going to do it.  That’s when my administration takes these executive actions, when Congress won’t act.

And so far, the only response we’ve gotten from the Republicans is a lawsuit.  (Laughter.)  They’re suing me for doing my job, instead of going ahead and doing their job.  That’s disappointing.  It’s a political stunt.  And, by the way, they’re using taxpayer money to do it.  It’s your money that they’re wasting on this, which no serious lawyers think makes any sense.  It’s just a political stunt.  We could be spending the time, energy, and effort and money to help your families.

And maybe the folks behind this think it will help them politically.  I guarantee you, it’s not helping you.  We could do so much more if we rally around a sense of patriotism that says we can disagree on issues once in a while, but come on, let’s focus on our country, let’s focus on our people — a sense of common purpose, the understanding we rise or fall as one nation and as one people.  That’s how we built this country together.  And that’s what Washington has to remember.
And the one thing I know for certain — if we work together, if we believe in one another, then we’re going to keep on rebuilding our middle class.  We’re going to restore the American Dream for the next generation.  We will continue to make sure that America is the place where no matter what you look like, or where you come from, or how you started, you can make it if you try.  You’ve shown it here in Delaware.  We can show it all across the country.  We just need a little more focus in Washington.  So keep the pressure on everybody.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  God bless you.  Let’s build some bridges.  Let’s build some roads.  God bless America.

END
2:26 P.M. EDT

Political Musings July 11, 2014: Reed wants unemployment extension added to Obama border crisis spending bill

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Reed wants unemployment extension added to Obama border crisis spending bill

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Although Sens. Jack Reed, D-RI and Dean Heller, R-NV just released their own new version of a bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits for over 3 million Americans, they have also been looking to ensure its passage…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency July 7, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks before Lunch with Teachers Introduces “Excellent Educators for All” for Better Teachers in Poor Schools

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President before Lunch with Teachers

Source: WH, 7-7-14

Blue Room

12:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, good afternoon, everybody.  I am here with some outstanding teachers as well as Secretary Arne Duncan.  And the reason we’re here is with the school year now over, it is a great time for us to focus on what we need to do to make sure that next year and the year after that and the year after continues to improve for students all across this country.

The one ingredient that we know makes an enormous difference is a great teacher, and we have four of the best teachers in the country here.  But what we also know is that there are outstanding teachers all across the country, and Arne, myself, I suspect many of you had wonderful teachers that made all the difference in your lives and allowed you to be excited about learning and set you on a path for an extraordinary career.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids around the country who are not getting the kind of teaching that they need — not because there aren’t a whole lot of great potential teachers out there, but because we’re not doing enough to put a lot of our teachers in a position to succeed.  They may not be getting the training they need, they may not be getting the professional development and support that they need in the classroom.  And part of our goal since we came into office, since Arne became Secretary of Education is how do we continue to improve how teachers can get better each and every year.

Of particular concern is the fact that typically the least experienced teachers, the ones with the least support, often end up in the poorest schools.  So we have a problem in which the kids who need the most skilled teachers are the least likely to get them.  And the most talented and skilled teachers oftentimes are teaching the kids who are already the best prepared and have the most resources outside of the school in order to succeed.

So what we’re trying to do today — and Arne is going to have more to say about this this afternoon because we’re hosting a bunch of other teachers who are here in town — is to highlight what we’re calling “Excellent Educators for All.”  It’s going to be a program in which we ask states to take a look at where they’re distributing great teachers, what are they doing in order to train and promote and place teachers in some of the toughest environments for children.  And what we’re also going to be doing is providing technical assistance, highlighting best practices, all with the intention of making sure that wherever a child is, anywhere in the country, they’ve got that opportunity to have somebody in front of the classroom or beside them guiding them, mentoring them, helping them learn.

And when I think about my own experience, the only reason I’m here in the White House is because I had some extraordinary teachers as well as a pretty extraordinary mom and grandparents.  I think everybody sitting around this table probably feels the same way — I suspect that’s part of what inspired some of these people to become teachers.  We want to make sure every child has that access to excellent teachers and we’re very confident that if we can lift up what works, that there are going to be a lot of states that want to adapt to it.

So, unfortunately right now, they don’t necessarily have the information and, as I said, if we do nothing, if we don’t highlight the problem, then inevitably the kids who probably need less help get the most, and the kids who need the most help are getting the least.  That’s something that we’re going to need to reverse not just because it’s good for these kids — we know that if they’ve got a great teacher, they’re more likely to graduate, they’re more likely to go to college, they’re more likely to succeed in their career — it’s also necessary for our economy, because we’ve got too many kids who are trapped in situations in which they’re not able to realize their full potential.

So I want to thank all these folks for being here, and I’m really looking forward to listening to them to find out what they think can be most helpful in promoting excellence in teaching.

Thank you, everybody.

END
12:16 P.M. EDT

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

Source: WH, 7-4-14

East Room

11:24 A.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Audience member applauds.)

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

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

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

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

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

END
11:31 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 1, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks Before Cabinet Meeting

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President Before Cabinet Meeting

Source: WH, 7-1-14

Cabinet Room

11:04 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  I thought I’d get the Cabinet together this morning because we all know that America will be busy this afternoon.  (Laughter.)  Go, Team USA.

About the halfway point through this year, we can look back and see some enormous progress that we’ve been able to make on the economy.  We continue to create jobs with over 9.4 million created over the last several years.  We’re continuing to see improvement in the housing market.  We’re continuing to see real progress in terms of the energy sectors.  But what we also know is, is that there’s so much more that’s possible.

And part of the reason that I wanted to bring the Cabinet together today is to underscore for them my belief I think shared by most Americans that we can’t wait for Congress to actually get going on issues that are vital to the middle class.

We’ve already seen the power of some of our executive actions in making a real difference for ordinary families — whether it’s on minimum wage for federal workers — or for workers who are with federal contractors; equal pay; and the terrific work that’s being done around climate change so we’re transitioning to a clean-energy economy.

But what I’m going to be urging all of you to do, and what I’m going to be continually pushing throughout this year and for the next couple of years is that if Congress can’t act on core issues that would actually make a difference in helping middle-class families get ahead, then we’re going to have to be creative about how we can make real progress.

Keep in mind that my preference is always going to be to work with Congress and to actually get legislation done.  That’s how we get some more of the permanent fixes.  And as I mentioned yesterday with respect to immigration, whatever we do administratively is not going to be sufficient to solve a broken immigration system.

The same is true when it comes to infrastructure.  We’ll be talking a little bit about how we need to renew the Highway Trust Fund.  But, more importantly, we could potentially put people to work all across the country, rebuilding roads and bridges, putting construction workers back to work.  That could boost our economy enormously.  And now is the time to do it, but that requires congressional action.

And so we’re always going to prefer working on a bipartisan basis to get things done.  That’s what folks expect out of Washington.  They’re not looking for excuses and they’re not looking for a lot of partisan sniping.  But if Congress is unable to do it, then all of our Cabinet members here — and the head of big agencies that touch people’s live in all sorts of ways — and I’m going to be continuing looking for ways in which we can show some real progress.

And the second topic that we’re going to be spending a lot of time talking about is how to do we continue to improve the functioning of government to make it more customer-friendly.  This is something that we’ve been working on since Sylvia was head of OMB.  This is something that Shaun will be prioritizing.  I expect every agency to look and see how can we get more bang for the buck in the agencies that we operate.  And I know that many of you can report some significant progress in reducing paperwork and bureaucracy and red tape for projects and initiatives around the country in education, in energy, in housing and in transportation.  But I think we can do even better.

So I’m looking forward to getting a report from you on the progress that has been made.  And hopefully we can share some ideas to see if we can make even more progress.

The bottom line is this:  I went to Minnesota — many of the press here accompanied me — and had a wonderful conversation with folks around the country who are doing their jobs every single day — raising families, working hard, contributing to their communities.  And their hopes and aspirations are my primary focus and should be the primary focus of this town.  They are extraordinarily cynical about Washington right now, and rightfully so.  They just don’t see any capacity by Congress to do anything.  We’ve seen a Congress that said no to increasing the minimum wage; said no to immigration reform; has said no to equal pay legislation.  The only thing they seem to say yes to, the Republican in the House at least, is more tax breaks for folks at the top.  And as a consequence, the people who sent us here, they just don’t feel as if anybody is fighting for them and working for them.

We’re not always going to be able to get things through Congress, at least this Congress, the way we want to.  But we sure as heck can make sure that the folks back home know that we’re pushing their agenda and that we’re working hard on their behalf and we’re doing every single thing we can do to make a difference in their lives.  So I want to make sure that we emphasize not what we can’t do, but what we can do in the coming months.
Thank you very much, everybody.

END
11:10 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 30, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Border Security and Immigration Reform

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Border Security and Immigration Reform

Source: WH, 6-30-14 

Rose Garden

3:04 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  One year ago this month, senators of both parties –- with support from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities –- came together to pass a commonsense immigration bill.

Independent experts said that bill would strengthen our borders, grow our economy, shrink our deficits.  As we speak, there are enough Republicans and Democrats in the House to pass an immigration bill today.  I would sign it into law today, and Washington would solve a problem in a bipartisan way.

But for more than a year, Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to allow an up-or-down vote on that Senate bill or any legislation to fix our broken immigration system.  And I held off on pressuring them for a long time to give Speaker Boehner the space he needed to get his fellow Republicans on board.

Meanwhile, here’s what a year of obstruction has meant.  It has meant fewer resources to strengthen our borders.  It’s meant more businesses free to game the system by hiring undocumented workers, which punishes businesses that play by the rules, and drives down wages for hardworking Americans.  It’s meant lost talent when the best and brightest from around the world come to study here but are forced to leave and then compete against our businesses and our workers.  It’s meant no chance for 11 million immigrants to come out of the shadows and earn their citizenship if they pay a penalty and pass a background check, pay their fair share of taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line.  It’s meant the heartbreak of separated families.

That’s what this obstruction has meant over the past year.  That’s what the Senate bill would fix if the House allowed it to go to a vote.

Our country and our economy would be stronger today if House Republicans had allowed a simple yes-or-no vote on this bill or, for that matter, any bill.  They’d be following the will of the majority of the American people who support reform.  Instead, they’ve proven again and again that they’re unwilling to stand up to the tea party in order to do what’s best for the country.  And the worst part about it is a bunch of them know better.

We now have an actual humanitarian crisis on the border that only underscores the need to drop the politics and fix our immigration system once and for all.  In recent weeks, we’ve seen a surge of unaccompanied children arrive at the border, brought here and to other countries by smugglers and traffickers.

The journey is unbelievably dangerous for these kids.  The children who are fortunate enough to survive it will be taken care of while they go through the legal process, but in most cases that process will lead to them being sent back home.  I’ve sent a clear message to parents in these countries not to put their kids through this.  I recently sent Vice President Biden to meet with Central American leaders and find ways to address the root causes of this crisis.  Secretary Kerry will also be meeting with those leaders again tomorrow.  With our international partners, we’re taking new steps to go after the dangerous smugglers who are putting thousands of children’s lives at risk.

Today, I sent a letter to congressional leaders asking that they work with me to address the urgent humanitarian challenge on the border, and support the immigration and Border Patrol agents who already apprehend and deport hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants every year.  And understand, by the way, for the most part, this is not a situation where these children are slipping through.  They’re being apprehended.  But the problem is, is that our system is so broken, so unclear that folks don’t know what the rules are.

Now, understand –- there are a number of Republicans who have been willing to work with us to pass real, commonsense immigration reform, and I want to thank them for their efforts.  There are a number of Republican leaders in the Senate who did excellent work and deserve our thanks.  And less visibly, there have been folks in the House who have been trying to work to get this done.  And quietly, because it doesn’t always help me to praise them, I’ve expressed to them how much I appreciate the efforts that they’ve made.

I believe Speaker Boehner when he says he wants to pass an immigration bill.  I think he genuinely wants to get something done.  But last week, he informed me that Republicans will continue to block a vote on immigration reform at least for the remainder of this year.  Some in the House Republican Caucus are using the situation with unaccompanied children as their newest excuse to do nothing.  Now, I want everybody to think about that.  Their argument seems to be that because the system is broken, we shouldn’t make an effort to fix it.  It makes no sense.  It’s not on the level.  It’s just politics, plain and simple.

Now, there are others in the Republican Caucus in the House who are arguing that they can’t act because they’re mad at me about using my executive authority too broadly.  This also makes no sense.  I don’t prefer taking administrative action.  I’d rather see permanent fixes to the issue we face.  Certainly that’s true on immigration.  I’ve made that clear multiple times.  I would love nothing more than bipartisan legislation to pass the House, the Senate, land on my desk so I can sign it.  That’s true about immigration, that’s true about the minimum wage, it’s true about equal pay.  There are a whole bunch of things where I would greatly prefer Congress actually do something.  I take executive action only when we have a serious problem, a serious issue, and Congress chooses to do nothing.  And in this situation, the failure of House Republicans to pass a darn bill is bad for our security, it’s bad for our economy, and it’s bad for our future.

So while I will continue to push House Republicans to drop the excuses and act –- and I hope their constituents will too -– America cannot wait forever for them to act.  And that’s why, today, I’m beginning a new effort to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, without Congress.  As a first step, I’m directing the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General to move available and appropriate resources from our interior to the border.  Protecting public safety and deporting dangerous criminals has been and will remain the top priority, but we are going to refocus our efforts where we can to make sure we do what it takes to keep our border secure.

I have also directed Secretary Johnson and Attorney General Holder to identify additional actions my administration can take on our own, within my existing legal authorities, to do what Congress refuses to do and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.  If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours.  I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.

Of course, even with aggressive steps on my part, administrative action alone will not adequately address the problem.  The reforms that will do the most to strengthen our businesses, our workers, and our entire economy will still require an act of Congress.  And I repeat:  These are reforms that already enjoy the wide support of the American people.  It’s very rare where you get labor, business, evangelicals, law enforcement all agreeing on what needs to be done.  And at some point, that should be enough.  Normally, that is enough.  The point of public service is to solve public problems.  And those of us who have the privilege to serve have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep Americans safe and to keep the doors of opportunity open.

And if we do, then one year from now, not only would our economy and our security be stronger, but maybe the best and the brightest from around the world who come study here would stay and create jobs here.  Maybe companies that play by the rules will no longer be undercut by companies that don’t.  Maybe more families who’ve been living here for years, whose children are often U.S. citizens, who are our neighbors and our friends, whose children are our kids’ friends and go to school with them, and play on ball teams with them, maybe those families would get to stay together.  But much of this only happens if Americans continue to push Congress to get this done.

So I’ve told Speaker Boehner that even as I take those steps that I can within my existing legal authorities to make the immigration system work better, I’m going to continue to reach out to House Republicans in the hope that they deliver a more permanent solution with a comprehensive bill.  Maybe it will be after the midterms, when they’re less worried about politics.  Maybe it will be next year.  Whenever it is, they will find me a willing partner.  I have been consistent in saying that I am prepared to work with them even on a bill that I don’t consider perfect.  And the Senate bill was a good example of the capacity to compromise and get this done.  The only thing I can’t do is stand by and do nothing while waiting for them to get their act together.

And I want to repeat what I said earlier.  If House Republicans are really concerned about me taking too many executive actions, the best solution to that is passing bills.  Pass a bill; solve a problem.  Don’t just say no on something that everybody agrees needs to be done.  Because if we pass a bill, that will supplant whatever I’ve done administratively.  We’ll have a structure there that works, and it will be permanent.  And people can make plans and businesses can make plans based on the law.  And there will be clarity both here inside this country and outside it.

Let me just close by saying Friday is the Fourth of July.  It’s the day we celebrate our independence and all the things that make this country so great.  And each year, Michelle and I host a few hundred servicemembers and wounded warriors and their families right here on the lawn for a barbecue and fireworks on the Mall.

And some of the servicemembers coming this year are unique because they signed up to serve, to sacrifice, potentially to give their lives for the security of this country even though they weren’t yet Americans.  That’s how much they love this country.  They were prepared to fight and die for an America they did not yet fully belong to.  I think they’ve earned their stripes in more ways than one.  And that’s why on Friday morning we’re going to naturalize them in a ceremony right here at the White House.  This Independence Day will be their first day as American citizens.

One of the things we celebrate on Friday –- one of the things that make this country great –- is that we are a nation of immigrants.  Our people come from every corner of the globe.  That’s what makes us special.  That’s what makes us unique.  And throughout our history, we’ve come here in wave after wave from everywhere understanding that there was something about this place where the whole was greater than the sum of its parts; that all the different cultures and ideas and energy would come together and create something new.

We won this country’s freedom together.  We built this country together.  We defended this country together.  It makes us special.  It makes us strong.  It makes us Americans.  That’s worth celebrating.  And that’s what I want not just House Republicans but all of us as Americans to remember.

Thanks very much.

END
3:21 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 28, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Focusing on the Economic Priorities for the Middle Class Nationwide

Source: WH, 6-28-14 

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President discussed his recent trip to Minneapolis where he met a working mother named Rebekah, who wrote the President to share the challenges her family and many middle class Americans are facing where they work hard and sacrifice yet still can’t seem to get ahead. But instead of focusing on growing the middle class and expanding opportunity for all, Republicans in Congress continue to block commonsense economic proposals such as raising the minimum wage, extending unemployment insurance and making college more affordable.  The President will keep fighting his economic priorities in the weeks and months ahead, because he knows the best way to expand opportunity for all hardworking Americans and continue to strengthen the economy is to grow it from the middle-out.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
June 28, 2014

Hi, everybody.  This week, I spent a couple days in Minneapolis, talking with people about their lives – their concerns, their successes, and their hopes for the future.

I went because of a letter I received from a working mother named Rebekah, who shared with me the hardships her young family has faced since the financial crisis.  She and her husband Ben were just newlyweds expecting their first child, Jack, when the housing crash dried up his contracting business.  He took what jobs he could, and Rebekah took out student loans and retrained for a new career.  They sacrificed – for their kids, and for each other.  And five years later, they’ve paid off debt, bought their first home, and had their second son, Henry.

In her letter to me, she wrote, “We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”  And in many ways, that’s America’s story these past five years.  We are a strong, tight-knit family that’s made it through some very tough times.

Today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs.  By measure after measure, our economy is doing better than it was five years ago.

But as Rebekah also wrote in her letter, there are still too many middle-class families like hers who do everything right – who work hard and who sacrifice – but can’t seem to get ahead.  It feels like the odds are stacked against them.  And with just a small change in our priorities, we could fix that.

The problem is, Republicans in Congress keep blocking or voting down almost every serious idea to strengthen the middle class.  This year alone, they’ve said no to raising the minimum wage, no to fair pay, no to student loan reform, no to extending unemployment insurance.  And rather than invest in education that helps working families get ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.

This obstruction keeps the system rigged for those at the top, and rigged against the middle class.  And as long as they insist on doing it, I’ll keep taking actions on my own – like the actions I’ve taken already to attract new jobs, lift workers’ wages, and help students pay off their loans.  I’ll do my job.  And if it makes Republicans in Congress mad that I’m trying to help people out, they can join me, and we’ll do it together.

The point is, we could do so much more as a country – as a strong, tight-knit family – if Republicans in Congress were less interested in stacking the deck for those at the top, and more interested in growing the economy for everybody.

So rather than more tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks to help working families pay for child care or college.  Rather than protect tax loopholes that let big corporations set up tax shelters overseas, let’s put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges right here in America.  Rather than stack the decks in favor of those who’ve already succeeded, let’s realize that we are stronger as a nation when we offer a fair shot to every American.

I’m going to spend some time talking about these very choices in the week ahead.  That’s because we know from our history that our economy doesn’t grow from the top-down, it grows from the middle-out.  We do better when the middle class does better.  That’s the American way.  That’s what I believe in.  And that’s what I’ll keep fighting for.

Have a great Fourth of July, everybody – and good luck to Team USA down in Brazil.

Thanks.

Full Text Obama Presidency June 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Economy in Minneapolis, MN — Attacking GOP for Not Passing Economic Agenda

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the Economy — Minneapolis, MN

Source: WH, 6-27-14 

Lake Harriet Band Shell
Minneapolis, Minnesota

10:15 A.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Minneapolis!  (Applause.)  How is everybody doing today?  You look good.  (Applause.)  It is good to see all of you.  I miss Minneapolis.  I missed you guys.  Go ahead and have a seat, I’m going to be talking for a while.  (Laughter.)

So we’ve got some wonderful folks here today.  I want to acknowledge a few of them.  First of all, your outstanding Governor, Mark Dayton.  (Applause.)  Your wonderful senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar.  (Applause.)  Congressman Keith Ellison.  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Betsy Hodges.  (Applause.)  And all of you are here, and that’s special.

I want to thank Rebekah for not just the introduction and for sharing her story, but for letting me hang out with her and her family for the last couple of days.  I really like her.  (Laughter.)  And her husband is like the husband of the year.  Generally, you don’t want your wife to meet Rebekah’s husband, because she’ll be like, well, why don’t you do that?  (Laughter.)  Why aren’t you like that?

I’ve been wanting to visit a place where all the women are strong and the men are good-looking, and the children above average.  (Applause.)  And this clearly is an example of what Minnesota produces.  So yesterday, Rebekah and I had lunch at Matt’s Bar, had a “Jucy Lucy” — (applause) — which was quite tasty.  We had a town hall at Minnehaha Park, although I did not take a kayak over the falls, which seemed dangerous.  (Laughter.)  We got ice cream at Grand Ole Creamery — very good, very tasty.

And then this morning, Al Franken and I and Secretary Tom Perez, our Secretary of Labor who’s here — Tom, stand up — (applause) — we stopped by a community organization that helps with a lot of job programs and job placement programs.  And this program in particular was focused on young moms.  It was really interesting talking to them, because there are teenage mothers, 16 to 18, and it was a great pleasure for me to be able to say to all of them that my mom was a teenage mom, and she was 18 when she had me — and to be able to say to all of them that here in this country, it is possible for the child of a teenage mom, a single mom, to end up being President of the United States.  (Applause.)  And I think that it maybe gave them something to think about.

So you guys have been great hosts, Minnesota.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you!

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re welcome.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Laughter and applause.)

So I want to give you a sense of how this visit came up.  As some of you know, every day we get tens of thousands of correspondence at the White House.  And we have a big correspondence office, and every night the folks who manage the correspondence office select 10 letters for me to read.

And the job of these letters is not to just puff me up — so it’s not like they only send me letters saying, Mr. President, you’re doing great.  (Laughter.)  Sometimes the letters say thank you for something I may have done.  Sometimes the letters say, you are an idiot and the worst President ever.  (Laughter.)  And most of the stories, though, are stories of hardship, or hard-won success, or hopes that haven’t been met yet.  Some appreciate a position that I may have taken; some disagree with what I’m doing.  Some consider policies like the Affordable Care Act to be socialism; some tell stories about the difference that same policy may have made in folks’ lives.

So I’m getting a good sample of what’s happening around the country.  And last month, three young girls wrote to me that boys aren’t fair because they don’t pass the ball in gym class.  (Laughter.)  So there’s a wide spectrum — and I’m going to prepare an executive order on that.

But the letter that Rebekah sent stood out — first of all, because she’s a good writer, and also because she’s a good person.  And the story that she told me reminded Michelle and I of some of our own experiences when we were Rebekah and her husband’s age.  And in many ways, her story for the past five years is our story, it’s the American story.

In early 2009, Rebekah and Ben, her husband, they were newly married, expecting their first son, Jack.  She was waiting tables, he was in construction.  Like millions of middle-class families who got hammered by the Great Recession — the worst recession since the Great Depression — life was about to get pretty hard.  “If only we had known,” she wrote, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.”

Ben’s business dried up.  But as a new husband and dad, he did what he had to, so he took whatever jobs he could, even if it forced him to be away from his family for days at a time.  Rebekah realized she needed to think about how her career would unfold, so she took out student loans and enrolled in St. Paul College, and retrained for a new career as an accountant.

And it’s been a long, hard road for them.  They had to pay off debt.  They had to sacrifice for their kids and for one another.  But then last year, they were able to buy their first home, and they’ve got a second son.  And they love where they work, and Ben’s new job lets him be home for dinner each night.  (Applause.)  And so what Rebekah wrote was, “It’s amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to.  We’re a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

And that describes the American people.  We, too, are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.  And today, over the past 51 months, our businesses have created 9.4 million new jobs.  Our housing market is rebounding.  Our auto industry is booming.  Our manufacturing sector is adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s.  We’ve made our tax code fairer.  We’ve cut our deficits by more than half.  More than 8 million Americans have signed up for private insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.)  So here in Minnesota, you can now say that the women are strong, the men are good-looking, the children are above average, and 95 percent of you are insured.  (Applause.)

And it’s thanks to the hard work of citizens like Rebekah and Ben and so many of you that we’ve come farther, we’ve recovered faster than just about any other advanced economy on Earth.  More and more companies are deciding that the world’s number-one place to create jobs and invest is once again the United States of America.  (Applause.)  That’s the good news.  And you don’t hear it very often.

By every economic measure, we are better off now than we were when I took office.  (Applause.)  You wouldn’t know it, but we are.  We’ve made some enormous strides.  But that’s not the end of the story.  We have more work to do.

It wasn’t the end of Rebekah’s story, because she went on to write in her letter, “We did everything right.  The truth is, in America, where two people have done everything they can to succeed and fight back from the brink of financial ruin -– through job loss and retraining, and kids, and credit card debts that are set up to keep you impoverished forever, and the discipline to stop spending any money on yourselves or take a vacation in five years — it’s virtually impossible to live a simple middle-class life.”  That’s what Rebekah wrote.  Because their income is eaten up by childcare for Jack and Henry that costs more each month than their mortgage.  And as I was telling Rebekah — Michelle and I, when we were their age, we had good jobs and we still had to deal with childcare issues and couldn’t figure out how to some months make ends meet.

They forego vacations so they can afford to pay off student loans and save for retirement.  “Our big splurge,” Rebekah wrote, “is cable TV, so we can follow our beloved Minnesota Wild, and watch Team USA in the Olympics!”  (Applause.)  They go out once a week for pizza or a burger.  But they’re not splurging.  And at the end of the month, things are tight.  And this is like this wonderful young couple, with these wonderful kids, who are really working hard.

And the point is, all across this country, there are people just like that, all in this audience.  You’re working hard, you’re doing everything right.  You believe in the American Dream.  You’re not trying to get fabulously wealthy.  You just want a chance to build a decent life for yourselves and your families, but sometimes it feels like the odds are rigged against you.

And I think sometimes what it takes for somebody like Rebekah to sit down and write one of these letters.  And I believe that even when it’s heartbreaking and it’s hard, every single one of those letters is by definition an act of hope.
Because it’s a hope that the system can listen, that somebody is going to hear you; that even when Washington sometimes seems tone deaf to what’s going on in people’s lives and around kitchen tables, that there’s going to be somebody who’s going to stand up for you and your family.

And that’s why I’m here — because I want to let Rebekah know, and I wanted to let all of you know that — because you don’t see it on TV sometimes.  It’s not what the press and the pundits talk about.  I’m here to tell you I’m listening, because you’re the reason I ran for President.  (Applause.)  Because those stories are stories I’ve lived.  The same way that when I saw those young teenage moms, I thought of my mother.  And when I see Rebekah and Ben, I think of our struggles when Malia and Sasha were young.  And they’re not distant from me and everything we do.

I ran for President because I believe this country is at its best when we’re all in it together and when everybody has a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share.  (Applause.)  And the reason I believe that is because that’s how I came here.  That’s how I got here.  That’s how Michelle and I were able to succeed.  (Applause.)  And I haven’t forgotten.

And so even though you may not read about it or see it on TV all the time, our agenda, what we’re fighting for every day, is designed not to solve every problem, but to help just a little bit.  To create more good jobs that pay good wages — jobs in manufacturing and construction; energy and innovation.  That’s why we’re fighting to train more workers to fill those jobs.  That’s why we’re fighting to guarantee every child a world-class education, including early childhood education and better childcare.  (Applause.)  That’s why we’re fighting to make sure hard work pays off with a wage you can live on and savings you can retire on, and making sure that women get paid the same as men for the same job, and folks have flexibility to look after a sick child or a sick parent.  (Applause.)

That’s what we’re fighting for.  We’re fighting so everybody has a chance.  We’re fighting to vindicate the idea that no matter who you are, or what you look like, or how you grew up, or who you love, or who your parents were, or what your last name is, it doesn’t matter — America is a place where if you’re doing the right thing, like Ben and Rebekah are, and you’re being responsible and you’re taking care of your family, that you can make it.

And the fact is, we can do that.  If we do some basic things, if we make some basic changes, we can create more jobs and lift more incomes and strengthen the middle class.  And that’s what we should be doing.  And I know it drives you nuts that Washington isn’t doing it.  And it drives me nuts.  (Applause.)  And the reason it’s not getting done is, today, even basic commonsense ideas can’t get through this Congress.

And sometimes I’m supposed to be politic about how I say things — (laughter) — but I’m finding lately that I just want to say what’s on my mind.  (Applause.)  So let me just be clear — I want you think about this — so far this year, Republicans in Congress have blocked or voted down every single serious idea to strengthen the middle class.  You may think I’m exaggerating, but let me go through the list.  They’ve said no to raising the minimum wage.  They’ve said no to fair pay.  Some of them have denied that there’s even a problem, despite the fact that women are getting paid 77 cents for every dollar a man is getting paid.

They’ve said no to extending unemployment insurance for more than three million Americans who are out there looking every single day for a new job, despite the fact that we know it would be good not just for those families who are working hard to try to get back on their feet, but for the economy as a whole.  Rather than invest in working families getting ahead, they actually voted to give another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.

AUDIENCE:  Booo –

THE PRESIDENT:  Don’t boo, by the way.  I want you to vote.  (Laughter and applause.)  I mean, over and over again, they show that they’ll do anything to keep in place systems that really help folks at the top but don’t help you.  And they don’t seem to mind.  And their obstruction is keeping a system that is rigged against families like Ben’s and Rebekah’s.

Now, I’m not saying these are all bad people; they’re not.  When I’m sitting there just talking to them about family, we get along just fine.  Many of them will acknowledge when I talk to them — yes, I know, I wish we could do something more, but I can’t — but they can’t be too friendly towards me because they’d be run out of town by the tea party.  (Laughter.)

But sometimes I get a sense they just don’t know what most folks are going through.  They keep on offering a theory of the economy that time and again failed for the middle class.  They think we should give more tax breaks to those at the top.  They think we should invest less in things like education.  They think we should let big banks, and credit card companies, and polluters, and insurers do only whatever is best for their bottom line without any responsibility to anybody else.  They want to drastically reduce or get rid of the safety net for people trying to work their way into the middle class.
And if we did all these things, they think the economy will thrive and jobs will prosper, and everything will trickle down.

And just because they believe it, it doesn’t mean the rest of us should be believing it — because we’ve tried what they’re peddling, and it doesn’t work.  We know from our history that our economy does not grow from the top down, it grows from the middle out.  We do better when the middle class does better.  We do better when workers are getting a decent salary.  We do better when they’ve got decent benefits.  (Applause.)  We do better when a young family knows that they can get ahead.  And we do better when people who are working hard know that they can count on decent childcare at an affordable cost, and that if they get sick they’re not going to lose their homes.

We do better when if somebody is stuck in a job that is not paying well enough, they know they can go get retrained without taking on huge mountains of debt.  That’s when things hum.  And with just a few changes in priorities, we could get a lot of that done right now if Congress would actually just think about you and not about getting reelected, not about the next election, not about some media sound bite, but just focus on you.  (Applause.)

So that’s why I’ve said, look, I want to work with Democrats and Republicans.  My favorite President, by the way, was the first Republican President — a guy named Abraham Lincoln.  So this is not a statement about partisanship.  This is a statement about America and what we’re fighting for.  And I’m not going to let gridlock and inaction and willful indifference and greed threaten the hard work of families like yours.   And so we can’t afford to wait for Congress right now.  And that’s why I’m going ahead and moving ahead without them wherever I can.  (Applause.)

That’s why I acted to raise more workers’ wages by requiring federal contractors to pay their employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.  (Applause.)  That’s why I acted to help nearly five million Americans make student loan payments cap those payments at 10 percent of their income.  That’s why I made sure more women have the protections they need to fight for fair pay in the workplace.  (Applause.)  That’s why we went ahead and launched new hubs to attract more high-tech manufacturing jobs to America.

And, now, some of you may have read — so we take these actions and then now Republicans are mad at me for taking these actions.  They’re not doing anything, and then they’re mad that I’m doing something.  I’m not sure which of the things I’ve done they find most offensive, but they’ve decided they’re going to sue me for doing my job.  I mean, I might have said in the heat of the moment during one of these debates, “I want to raise the minimum wage, so sue me when I do.”  (Laughter.)  But I didn’t think they were going to take it literally.

But giving more working Americans a fair shot is not about simply what I can do — it’s about what we can do together.  So when Congress doesn’t act, not only have I acted, I’ve also tried to rally others to help.  I told CEOs, and governors, and mayors, and state legislatures, for example, they don’t have to wait for Congress to raise the minimum wage.  Go ahead and raise your workers’ wages right now.  And since I first asked Congress to raise the minimum wage, 13 states and D.C. have raised theirs, including Minnesota, where more than 450,000 of your neighbors are poised to get a raise.  (Applause.)

When Gap raised wages for its employees, job applications went up through the roof.  It was good for business.  I even got a letter from a proud mom right here in Minneapolis who just wanted me to know that her son starts his employees at $15 an hour, at Aaron’s Green Cleaning here in town.  (Applause.)  There they are!  (Applause.)  So the letter said, “We are very proud of his people-centered business philosophy!  Three cheers for a decent living wage!”

So we don’t have to wait for Congress to do some good stuff.  On Monday, we held the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families, and we heard from a lot of other families like Ben and Rebekah.  They count on policies like paid leave and workplace flexibility to juggle everything.  We had business owners who came and told me they became more profitable when they made family life easier for their employees.

So more companies are deciding that higher wages and workplace flexibility is good for business — it reduces turnover, more productive workers, more loyal workers.  More cities and states are deciding this is good policy for families.  So the only holdout standing in the way of change for tens of millions of Americans are some Republicans in Congress.

Because I just want to be real blunt:  If you watch the news, you just see, okay, Washington is a mess, and the basic attitude is everybody is just crazy up there.  But if you actually read the fine print, it turns out that the things you care about right now Democrats are promoting.  (Applause.)  And we’re just not getting enough help.

And my message to Republicans is:  Join us.  Get on board.  If you’re mad at me for helping people on my own, then why don’t you join me and we’ll do it together?  (Applause.)  We’ll do it together.  I’m happy to share the credit.  You’re mad at me for doing some things to raise the minimum wage, let’s pass a law — Republicans and Democrats giving America a raise.

If you’re mad at me for taking executive action to make it easier for women to find out if they’re not getting treated fairly in the workplace, let’s do it together.  You can share the credit.  (Applause.)  You’re worried about me trying to fix a broken immigration system, let’s hold hands and go ahead and make sure that this country continues to be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  I want to work with you, but you’ve got to give me something.  You’ve got to try to deliver something — anything.  (Applause.)

They don’t do anything — (laughter) — except block me.  And call me names.  It can’t be that much fun.  (Laughter.)  It’d be so much more fun if they said, you know what, let’s do something together.  If they were more interested in growing the economy for you, and the issues that you’re talking about, instead of trying to mess with me — (laughter) — then we’d be doing a lot better.  That’s what makes this country great, is when we’re all working together.  That’s the American way.

Now more than ever, with the 4th of July next week, Team USA moving on down in Brazil — (applause) — we should try to rally around some economic patriotism that says we rise or fall as one nation and one people.  Let’s rally around the idea that instead of giving tax breaks for millionaires, let’s give more tax breaks for working families to help pay for childcare or college.  (Applause.)

Instead of protecting companies that are shifting profits overseas to avoid paying their fair share, let’s put people to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges and our airports.  (Applause.)  Let’s invest in manufacturing startups so that we’re creating good jobs making products here in America, here in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Rather than stack the deck in favor of those who have already got an awful lot, let’s help folks who have huge talent and potential and ingenuity but just need a little bit of a hand up so that we can tap the potential of every American.

I mean, this isn’t rocket science.  There are some things that are complicated — this isn’t one of them.  Let’s make sure every 4-year-old in America has access to high school — high-quality preschool — (applause) — so that moms like Rebekah and dads like Ben know their kids are getting the best quality care and getting a head start on life.  Let’s redesign our high schools to make sure that our kids are better prepared for the 21st century economy.  Let’s follow the lead of Senator Franken and Secretary Perez and give more apprenticeships that connect young people to rewarding careers.  (Applause.)

Let’s tell every American if they’ve lost their job because it was shipped overseas, we’re going to train you for an even better one.  (Applause.)  Let’s rally around the patriotism that says our country is stronger when every American can count on affordable health insurance and Medicare and Social Security, and women earn pay equal to their efforts, and family can make ends meet if their kid get sick, and when nobody who works full-time is living in poverty.  We can do all these things.

And so let me just — let me wrap up by saying this.  I know sometimes things get kind of discouraging.  And I know that our politics looks profoundly broken, and Washington looks like it’s never going to deliver for you.  It seems like they’re focused on everything but your concerns.  And I know that when I was elected in 2008 and then reelected in 2012, so many of you were hoping that we could get Washington to work differently, and sometimes when I get stymied you’d think, oh, maybe not; maybe it’s just too tough, maybe things won’t change.  And I get that frustration.  And the critics and the cynics in Washington, they’ve written me off more times than I can count.

But I’m here to tell you, don’t get cynical.  Despite all of the frustrations, America is making progress.  Despite the unyielding opposition, there are families who have health insurance now who didn’t have it before.  And there are students in college who couldn’t afford it before.  And there are workers on the job who didn’t have jobs before.  And there are troops home with their families after serving tour after tour.  (Applause.)  Don’t think that we’re not making progress.

So, yes, it’s easy to be cynical; in fact, these days it’s kind of trendy.  Cynicism passes off for wisdom.  But cynicism doesn’t liberate a continent.  Cynicism doesn’t build a transcontinental railroad.  Cynicism doesn’t send a man to the moon.  Cynicism doesn’t invent the Internet.  Cynicism doesn’t give women the right to vote.  Cynicism doesn’t make sure that people are treated equally regardless of race.

Cynicism is a choice, and hope is a better choice.  And every day I’m lucky to receive thousands of acts of hope — every time somebody sits down and picks up a pen, and writes to me and shares their story, just like Rebekah did.  And Rebekah said in her letter — she ended it, she said, “I’m pretty sure this is a silly thing to do to write a letter to the President, but on some level I know that staying silent about what you see and what needs changing, it never makes any difference.  So I’m writing to you to let you know what it’s like for us out here in the middle of the country, and I hope you will listen.”

And I’m here because Rebekah wrote to me and I want her to know I’m listening.  I’m here as President, because I want you all to know that I’m listening.  (Applause.)  I ran for office to make sure that anybody who is working hard to meet their dreams has somebody in Washington that is listening.  And I’m always going to keep listening.  And I’m always going to keep fighting.  (Applause.)

And your cares and your concerns are my own, and your hopes for your kids and your grandkids are my own.  And I’m always going to be working to restore the American Dream for everybody who’s willing to work for it.  (Applause.)  And I am not going to get cynical; I’m staying hopeful, and I hope you do too.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
10:50 A.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Town Hall on the Economy Minneapolis, Minnesota

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Town Hall

Source: WH, 6-26-14 

Minnehaha Park
Minneapolis, Minnesota

2:24 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Minneapolis!  (Applause.)  Good to see you.  Good to see you.  Everybody have a seat.  It is good to be back in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Last time I was here it was colder.  (Laughter.)  Here’s just a tip for folks who are not from Minnesota — if you come here and the Minnesotans are complaining about how cold it is it’s really cold.  (Laughter.) Because these are some pretty tough folks.  They don’t get phased with cold.  But it was cold, so it’s nice to be back when it’s a little warmer.

And I have to begin by congratulating our U.S. soccer team, Team USA — (applause) — for advancing to the next round of the World Cup.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

THE PRESIDENT:  USA!

AUDIENCE:  USA!  USA!  USA!

THE PRESIDENT:  Absolutely.  We were in what’s called the “Group of Death.”  (Laughter.)  And even though we didn’t win today, we were in the toughest grouping and we got through.  And so we’ve still got a chance to win the World Cup.  (Applause.)  And we could not be prouder of them.  They are defying the odds and earned a lot of believers in the process.  And I want everybody on the team to know that all of us back home are really proud of them.

Let me tell you something.  I’ve been really looking forward to getting out of D.C.  (Laughter.)  But I’ve also been looking forward to spending a couple days here in the Twin Cities.  Our agenda is still a little loose.  I might pop in for some ice cream, visit a small business.  I don’t know.  I’m just going to make it up as I go along.  The Secret Service — I always tease them.  I’m like a caged bear, and every once in a while I break loose.  And I’m feeling super loose today.  (Applause.)  So you don’t know what I might do.  You don’t know what I might do.  Who knows?  (Applause.)

But the main reason I wanted to be here is I just wanted to have a chance to talk to folks about their lives and their hopes and their dreams and what they’re going through.  I want to spend some time listening and answering your questions and just having a conversation about what’s going well in your lives and in your neighborhoods and communities right now, but also what kinds of struggles folks are going through, and what things are helping and what things aren’t.

Now, before I do I just want to mention our Governor, Mark Dayton, is here.  (Applause.)  And Mark gave me an update on the flooding that’s been going on all across the state and I know some folks here are probably affected by it as well.  We made sure that FEMA is already on the ground here.  The Army Corps of Engineers is helping to build up a levee up in Warroad.  I told the Governor that we will be there as we get some clarity about the damage and what needs to be done, and you should feel confident that you’re going to have a strong partner in FEMA and the federal government in the process of cleaning up. (Applause.)

And you can also feel confident because if we didn’t help out, then I’d have Mayor Coleman and Mayor Hodges and Congressman Keith Ellison giving me a hard time.  So they’re going to hold me to it.  They do a great job on behalf of their constituents every day.  (Applause.)

I also wanted to mention that up the road there’s a memorial service for a person that many of you knew and loved, and that’s Jim Oberstar, who served so long in Congress.  I had a chance to know Jim; we overlapped before he came back home.  He was a good man.  He was a good public servant.  He was somebody who never forgot the folks in the Iron Range that he was fighting for.  And in a lot of ways, what he represented was a time when folks went to Washington, but they understood that they were working on behalf of hardworking middle-class families and people who were trying to get into the middle class.

And that fight continues.  We’ve made progress.  And the one thing that I always remind people of is by just about every economic measure, we are significantly better off than we were when I came into office.   (Applause.)  Unemployment is down; the deficits have been cut in half; the housing market has improved; 401(k)s have gotten more solid.  The number of people who are uninsured are down.  Our exports are up, our energy production is up.  So, in the aggregate, when you look at the country as a whole, by pretty much every measure, the economy is doing better than it was when I came into office — and in most cases significantly better.

We’ve created now 9.4 million new jobs over the last 51 months.  (Applause.)  The unemployment rate here in Minnesota is the lowest it’s been since 2007.  (Applause.)  But here’s the thing — and I’m not telling you anything that you don’t know.  There are still a lot of folks struggling out there.

We’ve got an economy that, even when it grows and corporate profits are high and the stock market is doing well, we’re still having trouble producing increases in salary and increases in wages for ordinary folks.  So we’ve seen wages and incomes sort of flat-line, even though the costs of food and housing and other things have gone up.  And so there are a lot of people who work really hard, do the right thing, are responsible, but still find at the end of the month that they’re not getting ahead.  And that is the central challenge that drives me every single day when I think about what kinds of policies would help.

So I’ve put forward an opportunity agenda that is a continuation of things I’ve been talking about since I came into the United States Senate and served with Mark and things that I’ve been working on since I became President — making sure that hard work pays off; making sure that if you work hard your kid can go to a good school and end up going to college without a huge amount of debt; that you’re not going to go broke if you get sick; that you’re able to have a home of your own; and that you’re able to retire with some dignity and some respect, maybe a vacation once in a while.  That’s what people are looking for.  And that means that we’ve got to reverse this mindset that somehow if everybody at the top does really well then somehow benefits all automatically trickle down — because that’s not what’s been happening for the last 20, 30 years.

We had — on Monday we had what we called a White House Working Families Summit.  And we just talked about bread-and-butter issues that everybody talks about around the kitchen table but, unfortunately, don’t make it on the nightly news a lot.  So we talked about childcare and the fact that it’s prohibitive for too many young families.  (Applause.)  We talked about paid family leave, so that if a child was sick or a parent was sick, that you could actually go help and take care of them — which is, by the way, what every other developed country does.  We’re the only one that doesn’t have it.

We talked about workplace flexibility, so that if you wanted to go to a parent-teacher conference with your family — or for your kid, or a school play, that you could balance that.  And in fact, those companies we discovered at the summit who provide that kind of flexibility usually have more productive workers, harder-working workers, more loyal workers, lower turnover, and the companies end up being more profitable.

We talked about increasing the minimum wage, which would benefit millions of people all across the country.  (Applause.)  We talked about equal pay for equal work, because I want my daughters getting paid the same as men do.  (Applause.)

All of these things are achievable, but we’ve got to make Washington work for you — not for special interests, not for lobbyists.  We don’t need a politics that’s planned to some — the most fringe elements of politics.  We just need folks who are having a common-sense conversation about what’s happening in your lives and how can we help, and then try to take some concrete actions that makes a difference.

So that’s what I want to talk about.  And I’m hoping that some people in Washington are going to be listening.  Some of them will be and they’ll probably be saying I’m crazy or a socialist or something — (laughter) — but hopefully hearing from you, some of this stuff will sink in.  All right?
So with that, I’m just going to take some questions.  I’ve got my little hot tea here to make sure I don’t lose my voice.  And I think we’ve got microphones in the audience and I’m just going to call on folks.  The only rule I’ve got is when I call on you, you’ve got to wait for the microphone, introduce yourself.  If you keep your question relatively short I’ll try to keep my answers relatively short.  And I’m going to go boy, girl, boy, girl to make sure it’s fair, all right?  (Laughter.)

All right.  Let’s start it off.  All right, who wants to go first?  This young lady right here.  Tell me your name.

Q    Hello, I’m Cheryl Hill.

THE PRESIDENT:  Hey, Cheryl.

Q    And I admire you so much and your office for the support we’ve received.  I’m the founder of ClearCause.  I work to protect our students abroad.  I support hundreds of students who worked their way up through college — our best and our brightest — are not well-protected by any surveillance or laws. They are robbed, raped, starved, abandoned and killed.  I’m here because of my son, Tyler Hill.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, so this is like an exchange programs?

Q    Study abroad.

THE PRESIDENT:  Study abroad program.  Generally, study abroad programs are coordinated by the universities and colleges that sponsor them.  There should be interaction between those educational institutions and the State Department.  There are obviously some countries that are particularly dangerous, and in those cases, I think making sure that everybody has good information going in is important.

Tragedies happen when folks travel overseas.  Unfortunately, tragedies happen here as well.  But what I’d like to do is — let me find out more about the nature of the coordination that happens between the State Department and study abroad programs and see if there are some things that we can do to tighten them up.  And it sounds like you’ve been thinking about it, so you may have some ideas.  Excellent.

Gentleman in the cool sunglasses there.

Q    Good morning, Mr. President — or afternoon, Mr. President.  My name is Dan Morette (ph).  And my question is — you spoke about tragedies at home — how we can reduce gun violence in this nation and what we can do to team up together and really make a difference.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, on my way over here I was talking to a mom that I had lunch with — who’s wonderful, by the way, and she’s here but I’m not going to embarrass her.  And she’s got a couple of young sons.  And we talked about a whole bunch of issues — the cost of childcare, the fact that wages don’t go up to meet the cost of living.  But one thing she talked about was Newtown.  And I described how the day that Sandy Hook happened was probably the worst day of my presidency, and meeting those families just a couple of days after they lost these beautiful six-year-olds — 20 of them — and then some of the parents — or some of the teachers and administrators who had been affected as well.

I was sure after that happened, there’s no way that Congress isn’t going to do some common-sense stuff.  I thought that the issue of gun safety and common-sense legislation has been controversial for some time, but I thought that was going to be a breakthrough moment.  The fact that it wasn’t was probably the most disappointing moment that I’ve had with Congress.

What we’ve done is we’ve developed 24 executive actions, things that were in our power, to really try to tighten tracking where guns go, making sure that we’re sifting through and separating out responsible gun owners from folks who really shouldn’t be having a weapon.

So we’ve probably made some progress.  We’ve probably saved a few lives.  But I will tell you this is the only advanced country that tolerates something like this.  We have what’s basically a mass shooting, it seems like, happening once every couple weeks — kids on college campuses, kids at home.  And we’re not going to eliminate all of that violence, and there’s a strong tradition of gun ownership and there are wonderful folks who are sportsman and hunters, and I respect all of that.  But we should be able to take some basic common-sense steps that are, by the way, supported by most responsible gun owners — like having background checks so you can’t just walk into a store and buy a semiautomatic — (applause.)

Something I’m going to keep on talking about that I was asked about this a few weeks ago, and I said, honestly, this is not going to change unless the people who want to prevent these kinds of mass shootings from taking place feel at least as passionate and are at least as mobilized and well-funded and organized as the NRS and the gun manufacturers are.  Because the politics in Congress are such where even members of Congress who know better are fearful that if they vote their conscience and support common-sense gun legislation like background checks, they’re worried that they’re going to lose their seat.  And frankly, there’s a number who have because the other side is very well organized.

So I will keep on talking about it.  We’re going to continue to work with law enforcement and community groups and others to try to take steps locally and at the state level.  But if we’re going to do something nationally, then we’re going to have to mobilize ordinary folks — moms, dads, families, responsible gun owners, law enforcement — and they’re going to have to get organized and be able to counter the pressure that’s coming from the other side in a sustained way — not in a one-week or two-week or one-month situation right after a tragedy occurs; it’s going to have to just keep on going for several years before we’re able to make progress.  (Applause.)

All right.  Young lady right there.  The one in the orange — got a mic right next to you.

Q    I’m an educator in a public school, and I have a son in college who’s struggling through college with student loans.  I’ve been an educator for 27-plus years.  (Applause.)  And I know you’re into sports and I hear they generate a lot of money.  We generate a lot of minds.  And it really bothers me that I can’t pay for his education.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m just curious what your son’s circumstances are.  Is he going to a state school?  Is he going to a private school?

Q    He’s going to a community college.

THE PRESIDENT:  He’s going to a community college.

Q    And wants to go to college in New York, in fashion design.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  But he’s in community college here in Minnesota right now?

Q    Correct.

THE PRESIDENT:  And is he eligible for the federal student loans programs?  Or is he finding that because of your income or your family’s income that it’s hard to get some of the lower-interest loans?

Q    Both.  He’s kind of both.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Well, look, this is something we’ve been spending a lot of time on.  There are a couple components to the problem.  And, by the way, this is something near and dear to my heart because I was not born into a wealthy family.  I’m only here because of my education, but the reason I was able to get that education was because grants, loans, work during the summer — all of those things allowed me to pay the bills.

But college costs were lower then when I was going to school.  I know you can’t tell from my gray hair, but I’m getting a little older now.  (Laughter.)  And so I started college in 1979, and when I graduated — I was able to get a four-year college education — I had some debt, but I could pay it off after one year.  Now, the average student that does have debt is seeing $30,000 worth of debt.  And even if they’re able to take out loans, that’s a burden that they’re carrying with them in their first job; it may prevent them from buying their first home; if they’ve got a business idea, that’s money that is going to take them a while before they’re able to start a business, and, as a consequence, it effects the whole economy.

Now, it is really important just to remind everybody a college education is still a great investment as long as you graduate.  (Applause.)  As long as you graduate.  So when you go into college, you’ve got to be determined, “I’m going to graduate.”  It’s a great investment, but it’s not a great investment if you take out $20,0000 worth of debt and you don’t graduate, you don’t get the degree, which is why we’re spending a lot of time talking to colleges about what are you doing to retain students.

But the things that we need to do are, number one, try to keep costs of student loans down.  We’ve been working with colleges and universities, telling them if the federal government is going to help subsidize your universities essentially with the student loan program, you need to show us that you’re informing students ahead of time how much they’re going to owe; that you are describing for them what their repayment plans would be; that you are keeping tuition low and that you’re graduating folks at a high rate.

So we’ve got to work with the colleges and universities to lower costs.  We’ve got to keep the interest rates on student loans low.  Right now, there’s legislation that was presented in the Senate — Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren sponsored it — and what it does is it just allows student loans that you already have to be consolidated, and you can refinance them at a lower rate just like you could your mortgage if the rates go down.  Republicans all voted against it — I don’t know why.  You will have to ask them.  But that’s an example of a tool we can use.

We’ve also put in place — this is something that I passed a while back and now I’ve expanded — a program whereby you never have to pay more than 10 percent of your current income to pay back your student loans, so that if you decide you want to go into teaching or you want to go into social work — something that may not be a high-paying profession but a satisfying profession — that the fact that you’ve had some student debt is not going to preclude you from taking that position.

So there are a number of different steps that we’re taking.I will tell you, though, in addition to what we do at the federal level, you’re going to need to talk to your state legislators.  Part of the reason that tuition has gone up is because state legislatures across the country have consistently lowered the support that they provide public universities and community colleges, and then the community colleges and the public universities feel obliged to increase tuition rates.  And that obviously adds the burden to students.

The bottom line is your son is doing the right thing.  The fact that he’s starting at a community college will save him money.  Even if he wants to graduate from a four-year institution eventually, it will still be a good investment.  So he should shop around, get the right information.  We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that we keep it as affordable as possible.  And I’m sure he’s going to do wonderfully, and then he’s going to look after his mom.  (Applause.)

Okay, it’s a guy’s turn.  This gentleman right here.

Q    Mr. President, like you, I’m the father of two beautiful, intelligent girls.

THE PRESIDENT:  Can’t beat daughters.  No offense, sons.  (Laughter.)

Q    And they’re both in STEM careers.  I’m wondering what we can do to promote and encourage more girls to go into STEM careers.

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, this is a great question.  (Applause.)  First of all, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

America became an economic superpower in large part because we were the most innovative economy.  We are a nation of inventors and tinkerers, and we expand the boundaries of what’s possible through science.  And that continues to be the case.  We still have the most cutting-edge technology, the most patents.  But if we’re not careful, we’ll lose our lead.  And if things aren’t being invented here, then they’re not being produced here. And if they’re not being produced here, that means the jobs aren’t being created here.  And over time, other countries catch up.

So what do we have to do?  Number one, we’ve got to make sure that we’re investing in basic science.  Sometimes people say, I don’t know what the federal government spends the money on; they’re all just wasting it.  You know, one of the things that the federal government does is it invests in basic research that companies won’t invest in.  And if it wasn’t for the investment in basic research, then things like the Internet, things like GPS that everybody uses every day, things that result in cures for diseases that have touched probably every family that’s represented here in some fashion — that stuff never happens.

You do the basic research and then you move on to commercialize it, and that’s oftentimes when the private sector gets involved.  But they’re not willing or able a lot of times to finance basic research.  So that’s number one.

Number two, we’ve got to make sure that we’re investing in working with companies who are doing, let’s say, advanced manufacturing, the next phases of manufacturing, linking them up with universities so that once we have a good idea, a good invention — whether it’s clean energy or a new way to build a car — that the next phase of production and innovation is done here in the United States.  And we’ve opened up four what we call advanced manufacturing hubs around the country — I actually want 15 — where we link private sector and universities so that they become centers of innovation and jobs get created here in the United States.

But the third thing we need is we need more folks in engineering, math, science, technology, computer science.  (Applause.)  And that means we’ve got to have a school system generally that encourages those subjects.  And, by the way, I was a political science and English major, and you need to know how to communicate, and I loved the liberal arts, so this is no offense, but we’ve got enough lawyers like me.  We need more engineers.  (Applause.)  We need more scientists.

Generally speaking, we’re not doing good enough educating kids and encouraging them into these kinds of careers.  We’re particularly bad when it comes to girls.  And my whole thing is
— somebody said I was a sports fan.  I am.  And one rule of sports is you don’t play as well if you’ve only got half the team.  We don’t have everybody on the field right now if our young women are not being encouraged the same way to get into these fields.  So this starts at an early age.

What we’ve done is I’ve used my Office of Science and Technology to partner with elementary schools to, first of all, train teachers better in STEM,’ then to really focus on populations that are under-represented in STEM — not only young women but also African Americans, Latinos, others — getting them interested early.  In some cases, for example, we know that young girls — I know as a father — they oftentimes do better if they’re in a team and social environment, so making sure that the structure of science classes, for example, have collaboration involved and there’s actual experience doing stuff, as opposed to just it being a classroom exercise.  There are certain things that can end up making it a better experience for them, boosting their confidence, and encouraging them to get into the fields.

So we’re going to continue to really spend a lot of time on this.  I’ll just close by saying every year now I have a science fair at the White House, because my attitude is if I’m bringing the top football and basketball teams to the White House, I should also bring the top scientists.  I want them to feel — (applause) — that they get the spotlight just like athletes do. And these kids are amazing — except they make you feel really stupid.  (Laughter.)

The first student who I met — she’s now — she just graduated.  When she was 12, she was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer.  Fortunately, she had health insurance.  They caught it early enough, she responded to treatment.  Lovely young lady — it didn’t come back.  But by the time she got into high school and she was taking biology and chemistry, she became interested in why was it that I got this thing at 12 years old?

So she talks to her teachers, and she designs a study where she goes to the surgeon who took out the cancer from her liver, takes samples, identifies the genetic profile and the chromosomes that might have led to this particular kind of cancer, writes up the research in Science Magazine, and now has a scholarship to Harvard to pursue her interest in bio-medicine.  And as you might imagine, her parents are pretty proud of her.  (Laughter.)  I was really proud of her.

But it gives you a sense of the possibilities for young people and young women if somebody is sparking that interest in them, and telling them this is something that they can do and they should pursue their interests.  (Applause.)

Young lady right here in the yellow.

Q    Hi, my name is Joelle Stangle.  I’m the University of Minnesota student body president.  And so I have a question about higher education.  And I also have a softball question after this hardball question.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, I love the softball questions.

Q    My first question is, the House Republicans recently released their recommendations for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, and so I want to know where you think that Republicans and Democrats can work together and what the top priorities should be for reauthorization.  And my softball question is how do you get a President to be your commencement speaker?  Kids want to know.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, you have to invite me.  (Laughter.)  So that’s always a good start.  I just did my last commencement at UC Irvine.  I have to say, they had a campus-wide letter-writing campaign; I think we ended up getting, like, 10,000 letters, was it, from — something like that.  They also have a very cute mascot.  It’s an anteater.  I guess that’s their sign; that’s supposed to be the anteater.

PARTICIPANT:  We’ve got a gopher.

THE PRESIDENT:  Gophers are cool.  (Laughter.)  Gophers are cool.

But the invitation is a good place to start, and then we’ll work from there.

In terms of the higher education reauthorization act, that’s a big bill, there’s a lot of complexities to it.  I will just focus on an area that I think should be the focus — and we’ve already talked about — and that is student loan costs, and how we can hold schools more accountable for informing young people as they’re starting their education what exactly it’s going to mean for them.

Now, we’ve already started this.  I mentioned a few things. One thing I didn’t mention is the Consumer Finance Protection Board that we set up that, in response to what had happened during the Great Recession, when people were taking out mortgages they couldn’t afford and predatory lenders were getting folks in a whole lot of trouble.  And we said, the same way that you should be protected from a faulty appliance or a faulty car, you should be protected from a faulty financial instrument, make sure it doesn’t explode in your face.  (Applause.)

And one of the goals of CFPB, is what it’s called, was to tackle the student loan issue.  And what we’ve done is created what we call a Know What You Owe program, which pushes colleges and universities not to do the financial counseling on the exit interview where suddenly they hand you a packet and says, here, this is what you’re going to owe — hand it to folks at the beginning, break it down for them.  And that will allow young people I think to make better decisions, and their parents to work with them to make better decisions about what college expenses are going to be.

But as I said before — this is true for education generally — the federal government can help, but states and local governments have to do their part as well.  In public education, the federal government accounts for about 7 percent of total costs.  The rest of it comes from state and local taxes.  And what we’ve tried to do is leverage the little bit of money that the federal government gives to this to modify how — to incentivize reform, and to get folks to experiment with new ways of learning.

For example, can we use online classes more effectively to help keep college costs down?  Can we get more high school students to get transferable college credits while they’re in high school so that they can maybe graduate in three years instead of two?  We’re trying to encourage folks to experiment in those ways.

All of that we hope can get embodied in the higher education act.  I will tell you, sometimes if I’m for it, then the other side is against it even if originally it was their idea.  So I can’t guarantee you that we’ll get bipartisan support for these ideas, but there’s nothing that should prevent us from doing it because this is just about making a college education a better value for families.  And that’s something that should transcend party; it shouldn’t be a Democrat or a Republican issue.

All right.  Gentleman right here in the uniform.

Q    All right, my name is — well, good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.

Q    My name is John Martinez.  I’m a recent EMT graduate from the Freedom House EMS Academy in St. Paul.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, there you go.

Q    Currently I’m teaching at the Academy, and I just got hired at Allina — I applied for St. Paul Fire.  My question is have you considered starting any other organizations such as the Freedom House for law enforcement or fire or other establishments that could get programs like that going for low-income or minorities?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I’ll confess to you I don’t know enough about Freedom House — so I’m considering it right now.  (Laughter.)  But you’ve got to tell me more about it.  Since you’re an instructor there and a graduate from there, why don’t you tell me how it works?

Q    You go through an interviewing process and the leaders — there’s fire chiefs that interview the candidates.  You get paid, but it is an interviewing process.  You wear a unifor;, it’s a strict program.  And it’s a 14-week or a 10-week program, depending on what time of the year.  It’s intensive.  Everything is compacted, all the information that we learn.  And you learn skills — all the skills that you need to be an EMT.  You meet, you network, you meet fire chiefs, police.  I know people that are going into med school.  It started in 1967 in Philadelphia.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it sounds like a great program.

Q    Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  And who’s eligible for it?  Is it young people who have already graduated from high school but haven’t yet gone to college?  If I’m 30 years old and I’m thinking let me try a new career — who is it that can participate?

Q    Anyone from the ages of 17 to 30 is eligible.  You have to meet the income requirements.  And it’s open to anyone who wants to get into EMS or fire.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s a great idea.  See, you just gave me a good idea.  (Laughter.)  So now I’m considering expanding it.  (Applause.)

It’s a good example, though, of a broader issues, which is not everybody is going to go to a four-year university, but everybody is going to need some advanced training.  And so the question is how do we set up systems — whether it’s apprenticeships, whether it’s programs like Freedom House that you just described, whether it’s through the community colleges
— where whatever stage in your life, if you feel as if you’re stuck in your existing occupation, you want to do better, or you lose your job and you’ve got to transition to a new industry, that you are able to get training that fits you.  Understanding that for a lot of folks they may be working at the same time as they are looking after their kids, and so there’s got to be some flexibility.  The programs have to be more compact.  Most importantly, they have to be job-training programs or technical programs that actually produce the skills you need to get jobs that are there.

And so what we’ve been trying to do is to — which seems like common sense but, unfortunately, for a long time wasn’t done — going to the businesses first that are hiring and asking them, well, what exactly are you looking for, and why don’t you work with the community college, or why don’t you work with the nonprofit to help design the actual training program so that you’ll have the benefit of knowing if somebody has gone through the program, they’re prepared for the job.  Conversely, the person who’s gone through the training program, they know if they complete it, that there’s a job at the other end.  And that’s how we’re actually trying to redesign a lot of the job training programs that are out there.

But as I said before, you’ve also got to make sure that you structure it so that a working mom who can’t afford to just quit her job and go to school — maybe she’s a waitress right now — she’s interested in being a nurse’s assistant that has slightly better pay and benefits, and then wants to become a nurse, that she has the opportunity to work around her schedule, make sure that we’ve got the ability to take classes at night, or on weekends, or online.

That’s how — in the future, we’re going to have to redesign a lot of this stuff, getting away from thinking that all the training that’s going to take place is just for 18 and 19-year-olds who’ve got all day and are supported by their parents, because that’s not the model that our economy is going to be in for the foreseeable future.

Young lady.  Yes, in the stripes.

Q    Hi, my name is Erin.  I just left a corporation in Minnesota, a Fortune 500 corporation, where I had my four-year degree, my male counterpart did not, and he was making $3 more an hour than I was.  My question for you is what are we going to do about it so as I grow up and other women grow up we are not experiencing the wage gap anymore?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ve got all kinds of opinions on this.  (Laughter.)

First of all — I told this story at the Working Families Summit — my mom was a single mom.  She worked, went to school, raised two kids with the help of my grandparents.  And I remember what it was like for her — coming home, she’s dead tired, she’s trying to fix a healthy meal for me and my sister, which meant there were only really like five things in the rotation because she didn’t have time to be practicing with a whole bunch of stuff.  And sometimes, because you’re a kid, you’re stupid, so you’re all like, I don’t want to eat that again.  (Laughter.)  And she’s like, really?  (Laughter.)  What did you make?  Eat your food.  (Laughter.)

But I remember the struggles that she would go through when she did finally get her advanced degree, got a job, and she’d experience on-the-job discrimination because of her gender.

My grandmother, she was Rosie the Riveter.  When my grandfather went to fight in World War II, part of Patton’s Army, she stayed home because — my mom was born in Kansas, at Fort Leavenworth, and my grandmother worked at a bomber assembly line. And she was whip smart.  I mean, in another era, she would have ended up running a company.  But at the time, she didn’t even get her college degree — worked as a secretary.  She was smart enough that she worked her way up to be a vice president at the local bank where we lived — which is why sometimes when I watch Mad Men, there’s Peggy and Joan, the two women there, I’m always rooting for them because I imagine them — that’s what it was like for my grandmother, kind of working her way up.

But as smart as she was, she got to a certain point and then she stopped advancing.  And then she would train guys how to do the job and they would end up being her boss.  And it happened three or four times.

So this is something that I care a lot about not just because of my past, but also because of my future.  I’ve got two daughters.  The idea that they would not be paid the same or not have the same opportunities as somebody’s sons is infuriating.  And even if you’re not a dad, those of you who have partners, spouses — men — this is not a women’s issue.  Because if they’re not getting paid, that means they’re not bringing home as much money, which means your family budget is tighter.  (Applause.)  So this is a family issue and not a gender issue.

So what can we do?  First bill I signed was called the Lily Ledbetter Act, that allowed folks to sue if they found out that they had been discriminated against, like you found out.  Back then, Lilly Ledbetter, this wonderful woman, she had been paid less than her male counterparts for the same job for over a decade.  When she finally finds out, she sues, and the Supreme Court says, well, the statute of limitations has run out; you can’t sue for all of that back pay.  She says, well, I just found out — well, that doesn’t matter.  So we reversed that law, allowing people to sue based on when you find out.

Most recently what I did was we made it against the law, at least for federal contractors, to retaliate against employees for sharing job — or salary information.  Because part of the problem — part of the reason that it’s hard to enforce equal pay for equal work is most employers don’t let you talk, or discourage talk about what everybody else is getting paid.  And what we’ve said is women have a right to know what the guy sitting next to them who’s doing the exact same job is getting paid.  So that’s something we were able to do.

But ultimately, we’re going to need Congress to act.  There have been repeated efforts by us to get what we call the Paycheck Fairness Act through Congress and Republicans have blocked it.  Some have denied that it’s a problem.  What they’ve said is, you know what, women make different choices.  That explains the wage gap.  That’s the reason that women on average make 77 cents to every dollar that a man earns — is because they’re making different choices.

Well, first of all, that’s not true in your case because you were doing the same job.  You didn’t make a different choice; you just were getting paid less.  But let’s even unpack this whole idea of making different choices.  What they’re really saying is, because women have to bear children, and a company doesn’t give them enough maternity leave or doesn’t give them enough flexibility, that they should be punished.

And our whole point is that this is a family issue and that if we structure the workplace to actually be family-friendly, which everybody always talks about but we don’t always actually practice, then women won’t have to make different choices.  Then if they’re pregnant and have a child, it’s expected that they’re going to have some time off.  By the way, the dads should, too.  They should have some flexibility in the workplace.  (Applause.) They should be able to take care of a sick kid without getting docked for pay.

And there are some wonderful companies who are doing this.  And as I said before, it turns out that when companies adopt family-friendly policies their productivity goes up, they have lower turnover — which makes sense.  Look, if you have a family emergency, and you go to your boss and you say, can I have a week off, I’ve got to take care of a sick child or a dad — or can I leave early this afternoon because my kid is in a school play and I really think this is important, and they say, of course, nothing is more important than family — how hard are you going to work for that person when you get back on the job?  You’re going to feel invested in them.  You’re going to say to yourself, man, these folks care about me, which means I care about you.  And if I have to take some extra time on a weekend, or I’ve got to do some work late at night when I’m not under an emergency situation, I’m going to do that.

So this makes good business sense.  But the problem is, is that we haven’t done enough to encourage these new models.  And this is part of the reason why we did this Family Summit — we wanted to lift this stuff up, show companies that are doing the right thing, encourage others to adopt the same practices, and maybe get some legislation that incentivizes better policies.

In the meantime, though, if you’re doing the same job you should make the same pay — period; full stop.  (Applause.)  That should be a basic rule.  That shouldn’t be subject to confusion. (Applause.)

Let’s see — this young man back here, right there.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  What’s your name?

Q    My name is Quinn Graham.  I’m an intern with Right Track.

THE PRESIDENT:  What’s Right Track?  Tell me about it.

Q    It’s a youth jobs program through the city of St. Paul.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s great.  Now, what grade are you going into next year?

Q    I’m going to be a senior next year.

THE PRESIDENT:  Fantastic.  How did junior year go?

Q    What?

THE PRESIDENT:  How did junior year go?

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  It was okay?  What do you mean, yeah?  No, how did junior year go?

Q    Oh, it went well.

THE PRESIDENT:  It went well?

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  I just wanted — because Malia is going into her junior year and I hear it’s pretty busy your junior year.

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah?  Well, you look like you survived it.

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  You wanted to get to your question.  Please go ahead.  (Laughter.)

Q    I was wondering how you would propose to address the growing issue of climate change.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, as it just so happens — now, this young man was not a plant.  (Laughter.)  But as it just so happens, last year yesterday, I announced my Climate Action Plan. And let me just set the stage by saying that the science here is settled — (applause) — carbon dioxide is released by a whole bunch of manmade activities.

When you release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it traps heat.  We are seeing the highest levels of carbon dioxide, and as a consequence, some of the warmest temperatures that we’ve seen in hundreds of thousands of years.  They’re going up.  And this is not just a problem of polar bears — although I really like polar bears — and the ice caps melting.  What happens is, is that when temperatures on average go up it throws weather patterns into a whole bunch of different directions.

So it may mean that snowcaps on mountains diminish.  And out West, entire states get their water from snowcaps.  If you’re not getting the same amount of water you now have the potential for more severe drought.  Agriculture is impacted, which means your food bills go up.  California is going through the worst drought it’s gone through in a very, very long time.  That raises the price of all the fruits and vegetables that are grown in California, so it hits you in your pocketbook.

Wildfires may increase.  And in fact, we’ve seen record wildfires.  We’re having to spend more money fighting fires now than we ever have.  It makes hurricanes potentially more frequent and potentially more powerful.  So Hurricane Sandy may not be as unusual as it used to be.  You see higher incidents of flooding. Coastal states like Florida, there are neighborhoods where now every time there’s a high tide there’s a flood in these neighborhoods.

And the problem is it’s getting worse.  Because as folks in China and India and other places decide they want to have cars, too, and they want to have electricity and the things that we’ve got, they start building more power plants and they start driving more — all of that adds to more carbon dioxide and it starts compounding.

So this is something we have to deal with.  Now, the good news is there are things we can do.  So we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars.  By the middle of the next decade, cars and trucks are going to go twice as far on a gallon of gas. That’s going to save you money in your pocketbook, but it’s also taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.  (Applause.)

We’ve invested in clean energy.  Since I came into office we’re producing three times as much energy through wind power and we’re producing about 10 times as much energy through solar power, and we’re creating jobs here in the United States — folks installing wind turbines and solar panels.  So it’s good economics and it’s also good for the environment.

Most recently, what I’ve done is I’ve said — about 40 percent of the carbon that we emit comes from power plants.  So what we’ve said is, through the Environmental Protection Agency, we’re going to set standards.  We set standards for the amount of mercury and arsenic and sulfur that’s pumped out by factories and power plants into our air and our water.  Right now we don’t have a cap on the amount of carbon pollution.  So we said we’re going to cap it.

And we’re going to let states work with their private sector and local governments to come up with what’s going to be best for them.  Not every state is going to do the same thing.  Nevada might emphasize solar power.  South Dakota might emphasize wind power.  Whatever it is that you’re going to do you’ve got to start bringing down your carbon pollution.

Now, this has some controversy.  Oil companies, not wild about it; coal companies, not crazy about it.  These traditional sources of fuel — fossil fuels — we’re going to use for a while, but we can’t just keep on using them forever.  We’ve got to develop new ways of producing energy so that your generation isn’t seeing a planet that is starting to break down, with all the costs associated with it.

Last point I’ll make — one of the benefits of asking power plants to produce energy that’s cleaner is that when they control their carbon dioxide they’re also putting less soot in the air.  They’re also putting less particulates in the air.  And what that means is your child is less likely to get asthma and those with respiratory diseases are less likely to be impacted.  So it has a public health effect that is good as well.

We can have an environment that is cleaner, that is healthy for us, and at the same time, develop entire new industries in clean energy.  But we’re going to have to get started now.  And that’s why, despite some of the pushback from some of the special interests out there, we’re going to just keep on going at this, because we don’t have a choice.  This is something that we’re going to have to tackle during this generation to make sure we’re giving a good future for the next generation.  (Applause.)  Great question.

Last question — last question.  This young lady in the pink, go ahead.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.

Q    My name is Katie Peterson.  And my coworker here and friend, we’ve been working for the federal government for almost 29 years.  And we feel really privileged that we’ve been able to serve that way.

THE PRESIDENT:  Where do you work?

Q    For Defense Contract Management Agency.

THE PRESIDENT:  Excellent.

Q    But it’s been a great career, we love it, but lately, as you know, there’s been a few rough patches with three years of pay freeze and sequestration and furloughs.  And we’re just kind of wondering what you foresee for the next fiscal year for government workers.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me make a couple of points.  First of all, folks in the federal government, the overwhelming majority, they work really hard doing really important stuff.  And I don’t know why it is that — (applause) — I don’t know when it was that somehow working for government — whether the state or local or federal level — somehow became not a real job. When you listen to some of the Republican rhetoric sometimes you think, well, this is really important work that we depend on.

We’ve got floods right here right now.  The federal government is coming in and it’s going to be working with local communities that are overwhelmed to try to make sure that people get help rebuilding.  Those are federal workers.  If they weren’t around after a tornado or a hurricane, communities would be in a world of hurt.

When you check the weather, even on your smartphone, that information didn’t just come from some Silicon Valley office.  That came from the National Weather Service.  We put out the data developed by the federal government to our satellites that are paid for, and then it’s commercialized.  And people use it to set up things like the Weather Channel and Weather.com and websites.

The folks who help our men and women in uniform make sure that they’ve got proper equipment, those are federal workers.  Fighting fires — a lot of times those are federal workers in the Forest Service.

So it frustrates me when I hear people acting as if somebody who’s working for the federal government somehow is less than somebody working on the private sector — if they’re doing a good job and carrying on an important function, we should praise them. (Applause.)

The same is true, by the way, at the local level.  The same is true at the local level.  I don’t know a job more important than teaching.  Those are all government workers.  In fact, one of the biggest problems we had in coming out of this recession, in addition to it being the worst recession since the Great Depression, was that states and local governments were cutting back on their hiring at an unprecedented rate.  We still haven’t seen state and local government hiring get back to where it was back in 2007-2008.  If we had, if we hadn’t lost so many teachers and teachers’ aides in a lot of communities, the unemployment rate would be much lower and the economy would be much stronger.

So I say all this just to make a general point, which is, historically, it’s been the private sector that drove the economy, but it was also a whole bunch of really great work done by agricultural extension workers and engineers at NASA and researchers at our labs that helped to create the platform and the wealth that we enjoy.  And so this whole idea that somehow government is the enemy or the problem is just not true.

Now, are there programs that the government does that are a waste of money or aren’t working as well as they should be?  Of course.  But I tell you, if you work in any company in America, big company, you’ll find some things that they’re doing that aren’t all that efficient either.  Are there some federal workers who do bone-headed things?  Absolutely.  I remember the first week I was on the job I talked to my Defense Secretary, Bob Gates, who’s older and had been there a long time.  I said, do you have advice for me, Bob?  He says, one thing you should know, Mr. President, is that at any given moment, on any given day, somebody in the federal government is screwing up.  (Laughter.)  Which is true, because there are 2 million employees.  Somebody out there — if 99 percent of the folks are doing the right thing and only 1 percent aren’t, that’s still a lot of people.

So my job as President, working with Congress, is to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and efficiently.  We shouldn’t be wasting a dime.  And where we see waste, where we see things not working the way they should — like recently, these long waits for folks trying to get in the VA health care program — we’ve got to crack down and we’ve got to reform it.  But we can’t paint in a broad brush and just say somehow stuff is not working — because even in the VA health care system, once people get in, the quality of care, the satisfaction rates for customers are actually better than in private sector health care. (Applause.)  So we can’t generalize like this.

Now, the last point I’ll make — going to your question — federal workers generally have not gotten raises.  And you remember during the government shutdown, they were getting pressed having to pay bills like everybody else, but not having a paycheck coming in.  It’s very disruptive for them.  And what’s called sequestration and furloughs meant that they might only be able to come to work three days a week instead of the full five. And this all put a strain on their budgets.

We’ve been able to stabilize it, but when we go into the budget talks with Republicans next year, we may go through some of the same problems, in part because the other side has said they want to cut funding for education; they’ve said that they want to cut support for vulnerable families; they want to cut Medicaid, which would have an impact on the elderly and families that have folks with disabilities.  And I’ve said no.

I’ve said why would I — by the way, the deficit has come down by more than half since I came into office.  (Applause.)  It hasn’t gone up.  Federal spending has not gone up.  The deficit has gone down.  And if we want to do more to reduce the deficit further, why am I going to take it out on the most vulnerable in our society and programs we need to grow when we’ve got a tax system where you’ve got corporations taking advantage of loopholes — in some cases, they’re paying no taxes, when a teacher or a secretary are paying taxes themselves?  Why wouldn’t I close those loopholes first to generate additional revenues before I started cutting education spending or spending on basic research?  (Applause.)

It will be a tough negotiation just because everything is a tough negotiation in Washington right now — which I guess brings me just to my last point.  I don’t watch TV news generally, or cable shows, but I suspect if you’re out here and going to work, and picking up your kids and taking them to soccer, or at night sitting there paying the bills, and you just turn on the TV, sometimes it must feel kind of discouraging because it doesn’t feel like what’s being talked about in Washington has anything to do with what’s going on in your lives day to day.  And it must feel as if sometimes you’re just forgotten.

And sometimes the news that’s being reported on is really important.  I mean, what’s happening in Iraq is relevant.  We’ve got to pay attention to the threats that are emanating from the chaos in the Middle East.  Although I want to be very clear we’re not sending combat troops into Iraq, because that’s — (applause) — we’ve done that and we’ve given them an opportunity.  And they’re going to have to contribute to solving their own problems here, although we’ll protect our people and we’ll make sure that we’re going after terrorists who could do us harm.

But sometimes the news that’s coming off is just — these are just Washington fights.  They’re fabricated issues.  They’re phony scandals that are generated.  It’s all geared towards the next election or ginning up a base.  It’s not on the level.  And that must feel frustrating, and it makes people cynical and it makes people turned off from the idea that anything can get done.
And if I’ve got one message today, it’s the same message that I gave to that young mom that I mentioned who I had lunch with before I came here, who wrote me a letter just talking about how she had done everything right, her and her husband, and she’s working hard and raising two beautiful kids and she has a great life, but it’s a struggle and wondering if anybody in Washington knows it.  What I told her is the same thing I want to tell all of you, which is:  I know it.  You’re the reason I ran for office.  You’re — (applause) — no, no, I’m not looking for applause.  I want to make this point.  I grew up not in tough circumstances, but I was you guys.  Somebody out here is going through what my mom went through.  Somebody out here is growing through what my grandma went through.  Somebody out here is going through what Michelle and I went through when we were first married and our kids were first born.  It’s not like I forget.

That was just 20 years ago that we were trying to figure out how to buy our first home.  This is 10 years ago when we finished off paying our student loans.

You guys are the reason I ran.  You’re who I’m thinking about every single day.  And just because it’s not reported in the news, I don’t want you to think that I’m not fighting for you.  And I’m not always going to get it done as fast as I want, because right now we’ve got a Congress that’s dysfunctional.  And I’ll be honest with you — you’ve got a party on the other side whose only rationale — motivation seems to be opposing me.

But despite all that, we’re making progress.  Despite all that, some folks have health care that didn’t have it before.  (Applause.)  Despite all that, some students are able to afford their education better.  Despite all that, some folks have jobs that didn’t have it.  Despite all that, the Green Line got built here in Minnesota.  (Applause.)  Despite all that, we can make life a little better for American families who are doing their best, working hard, meeting their responsibilities.

And I don’t want you to ever forget that.  And I don’t want you to be cynical.  Cynicism is popular these days, but hope is better.

Thanks, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

END
3:36 P.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 23, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the White House Summit on Working Families

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama at the White House Summit on Working Families | June 23, 2014

Source: WH, 6-23-14 

Omni Shoreham Hotel
Washington, D.C.

1:51 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  This crowd looks fired up.  (Applause.)  Already, everybody have a seat.  Have a seat.  You look like you’ve been busy.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Yes!

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We’re just waiting on you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I know that’s right.  (Applause.)  I know that’s right.  (Laughter.)  Good afternoon, everybody.  Have a seat, have a seat.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  I love you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  (Applause.)  I do.  Well, welcome to the White House Summit on Working Families.  (Applause.)  And thanks to all of you for joining us.  I know that for most of you, you are taking time off of work or family, or both, to be here.  And I know that’s a sacrifice.  And I know just juggling schedules can be tough.  And in fact, that’s one of the reasons that we are here today.

I want to thank our co-hosts, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez — give him a big round of applause — as well as Neera Tanden and everyone at the Center for American Progress for the great work that they did.  (Applause.)  Thanks as well to all the members of Congress who are participating, especially Nancy Pelosi and the members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group.  (Applause.)  And a long-time friend and champion of families and women and veterans, Connie Milstein — we could not have pulled this off without Connie’s great assistance, so we want to thank Connie.  (Applause.)

So I just walked over to Chipotle for lunch.  (Laughter.)  I caused a lot of havoc, as you might expect.  (Laughter.)  It had been a while since I had the burrito bowl, and it was good.  (Laughter.)  And I went there with four new buddies of mine.  One of them is a father of a four year old and a two month old who has worked with his wife to come up with a flexible plan where he works three or four days a week.  She works three or four days a week.  And the reason is because, as Roger put it, he thinks it’s important that he is able to bond with this kids just as much as his wife is.

Lisa you just heard from, who had twins who were prematurely born.  And because her company was supportive, she was able to not just thrive and watch her kids grow up, but she’s also been able to be promoted and continue to succeed in her company without being on a slower track while maintaining that life-family balance, which is terrific — worth applauding.

Shirley Young from New York works at a nursing home, and she’s got older children.  And she was most interested in talking about the fact that when her son — it was discovered had curvature of the spine, that she had health care that she could count on.  Otherwise, there was no way that she could deal with it.  And her benefits on the job were good enough that she could use her vacation time when he had to go to the doctor.

And then Shelby from Denver — (applause) — Shelby has got a little fan club here.  Shelby talked about the fact that on her job it’s been a little more challenging.  Her kids are older and she’s going back to school.  And it is wonderful that she is actually now taking some classes with her children and they’re helping explain math to her.  (Laughter.)  On the other hand, she’s also got an aging parent.  And when he had to go to the doctor, they don’t have a policy of paid family leave.  And since it’s hard making ends meet in the first place, her dad had to end up getting on a bus for eye surgery and come back on his own, because she couldn’t afford to take the time off.

Now, each of these folks come from different parts of the country.  They have different occupations, different income levels.  And yet, what bound all of us together was a recognition that work gives us a sense of place and dignity, as well as income.  And it is critically important, but family is also the bedrock of our lives and we don’t want a society in which folks are having to make a choice between those two things.  And there are better decisions that we can make and there are not-so-good decisions that we can make as a society to support this balance between work and family.

Most of our days consist of work, family, and not much else.   And those two spheres are constantly interacting with each other.  When we’re with our family, sometimes we’re thinking about work, and when we’re at work, we’re thinking about family.  That’s a pretty universal experience.  It’s true when you are President of the United States.  (Laughter.)

Now, I am lucky that my daughters were a bit older by the time I became President, so I never had to meet a world leader with Cheerios stuck to my pants.  (Laughter.)  That has not happened.  And I’m also lucky, because we live above the store, so to speak.  (Laughter.)  I have a very short commute.  (Laughter.)  And as a consequence, we’ve been able to organize ourselves to have dinner with Michelle and the girls almost every night.  And that’s pretty much the first time we’ve been able to do that in our lives.  (Applause.)

But before I moved into the White House, I was away a lot sometimes with work, sometimes with campaigning.  Michelle was working full-time and was at home with the responsibility all too often of dealing with everything that the girls needed.  And so, I understand how lucky we are now, because there was a big chunk of time when we were doing what so many of you have to deal with every day, and that is figuring out how do we make this whole thing work.

A lot of Americans are not as lucky as we have been.  It is hard sometimes just to get by.  Our businesses have created jobs for 51 consecutive months — 9.4 [million] new jobs in all.  (Applause.)  But we all know somebody out there who is still looking for work.  And there are a whole lot of people who are working harder than ever, but can’t seem to get ahead and pay all the bills at the end of the month.  Despite the fact that our economy has grown and those of us at the very top have done very well, the average wage, the average income hasn’t gone up in 15 years in any meaningful way.  And that means that relative to 15 years ago, a lot of families just aren’t that much better off.  And the sacrifices they make for their families go beyond just missing family dinner.

You look at something like workplace flexibility.  This was so important to our family when I was away, because if Malia or Sasha got sick, or the babysitter did not show up, it was Michelle who got the call.  And, fortunately, she had an employer who understood if she needed to leave work in the middle of the day or change her schedule suddenly.  In fact, actually when she applied for the job, she brought Sasha, who was then about six months, in her car seat into the interview — (applause) — just to kind of explain this is what you will be dealing with if you hire me.  (Laughter.)

And so, they signed up for that.  And that flexibility made all the difference to our families.  But a lot of working moms and dads can’t do that.  They don’t have the leverage.  They’re not being recruited necessarily where they can dictate terms of employment.  And as a consequence, if they need to bring their mom to the doctor or take an afternoon off to see their kid’s school play, it would mean them losing income that they can’t afford to lose.  And even when working from home from time to time is doable, it’s often not an option — even though studies show that flexibility makes workers happier and helps companies lower turnover and raise productivity.

The same goes with paid family leave.  A lot of jobs do not offer it.  So when a new baby arrives or an aging parent gets sick, workers have to make painful decisions about whether they can afford to be there when their families need them the most.  Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth.  Now, that’s a pretty low bar.  (Laughter.)  You would think — that we should be able to take care of.  (Laughter and applause.)

For many hourly workers, taking just a few days off can mean losing their job.  And even though unpaid family leave is available, if you can’t pay the bills already the idea of taking a couple days off unpaid may mean you can’t make the mortgage payment or the rent payment at the end of the month.

Or look at childcare.  In most countries, it costs — in most parts of the country, it costs thousands of dollars a year.  In fact, in 31 states, decent childcare costs more than in-state college tuition — in 31 states, in more than half the states.  I recently got a letter from a woman in Minnesota whose kids’ preschool is so expensive, it costs more than her monthly mortgage payment.  Now, she’s made a determination to make that sacrifice for her kids, but a lot of working families can’t make that sacrifice.  And, by the way, there are other countries that know how to do childcare well.  I mean, this isn’t rocket science.

Or look at the minimum wage.  Low-wage occupations disproportionately represented by women.  Nearly 28 million Americans would benefit if we raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.  (Applause.)  And we’re not just talking about young people on their first job.  The average worker who would benefit from an increase in the minimum wage is 35 years old.  Many have kids, a majority are women.  And right now, many full-time minimum wage workers are not making enough to keep their children out of poverty.

So these are just a few of the challenges that working parents face.  And every day, I hear from parents all across the country.  They are doing everything right — they are working hard, they are living responsibly, they are taking care of their children, they’re participating in their community — and these letters can be heartbreaking, because at the end of the day it doesn’t feel like they’re getting ahead.  And all too often, it feels like they’re slipping behind.  And a lot of the time, they end up blaming themselves thinking, if I just work a little harder — if I plan a little better, if I sleep a little bit less, if I stretch every dollar a little bit farther — maybe I can do it.  And that thought may have crossed the minds of some of the folks here from time to time.

Part of the purpose of this summit is to make clear you’re not alone.  Because here’s the thing:  These problems are not typically the result of poor planning or too little diligence on the parts of moms or dads, and they cannot just be fixed by working harder or being an even better parent.  (Applause.)  All too often, they are the results of outdated policies and old ways of thinking.  Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs.  They shouldn’t be bonuses.  They should be part of our bottom line as a society.  That’s what we’re striving for.  (Applause.)

Parents who work full-time should earn enough to pay the bills, and they should be able to head off to work every day knowing that their children are in good hands.  Workers who give their all should know that if they need a little flexibility, they can have it — because their employers understand that it’s hard to be productive if you’ve got a sick kid at home or a childcare crisis.

Talented, hard-working people should be able to say yes to a promotion or a great new opportunity without worrying about the price that their family will pay.  There was a new poll by Nielsen’s that found that nearly half of all working parents say they have turned down a job not because they didn’t want it, but because it would put too much of a burden on their families.  When that many members of our workforce are forced to choose between a job and their family, something’s wrong.

And here is a critical point:  All too often, these issues are thought of as women’s issues, which I guess means you can kind of scoot them aside a little bit.  At a time when women are nearly half of our workforce, among our most skilled workers, are the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before, anything that makes life harder for women makes life harder for families and makes life harder for children.  (Applause.)  When women succeed, America succeeds, so there’s no such thing as a women’s issue.  (Applause.)  There’s no such thing as a women’s issue.  This is a family issue and an American issue — these are commonsense issues.  (Applause.)

This is about you too, men.  (Laughter.)  Men care about having high-quality childcare.  Dad’s rearrange their schedules to make it to teacher meetings and school plays, just like moms.  Although somebody pointed out to me — this is a useful insight — that when dads say, yes, I’ve got to leave early to go to the parent-teacher conference, everybody in the office says, oh, isn’t that nice.  (Laughter.)  And then, when women do it, everybody is all like, is she really committed to the job?  So there can be a double standard there.  (Applause.)  But sons help care for aging parents.  A whole lot of fathers would love to be home for their new baby’s first weeks in the world.

People ask me what do I love most about being President, and it’s true Air Force One is on the list.  (Laughter.)  The Truman Balcony has a really nice view.  (Laughter.)  But one of the — I was telling folks the other day that one of the best perks about being President is anybody will hand you their baby — here.  (Laughter.)

So I get this baby fix like two or three times a week.  (Laughter.)  But the reason it’s so powerful is because I remember taking the night shift when Malia was born and when Sasha was born, and being up at two in the morning changing diapers and burping them, and singing to them and reading them stories, and watching Sports Center once in a while, which I thought was good for their development.  (Laughter.)  It was.  We want them to be well-rounded.  (Laughter.)

But the point is, I was lucky enough to be able to take some time off so that I was there for the 2:00 a.m. feeding and the soothing, and just getting to know them and making sure they knew me.  And that bond is irreplaceable.  And I want every father and every child to have that opportunity.  But that requires a society that makes it easier for us to give folks that opportunity.  (Applause.)

So the bottom line is 21st-century families deserve 21st-century workplaces.  (Applause.)  And our economy demands them, because it’s going to help us compete.  It’s going to help us lead.  And that means paid family leave, especially paid parental leave.  (Applause.)  There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us.  And that is not the list you want to be on by your lonesome.  It’s time to change that, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for their families.  (Applause.)

It means high-quality early education.  We know that the investment we make in those early years pays off over a child’s entire lifetime.  And these programs give parents a great place to know that their kids are thriving while they’re at work.  Other countries know how to do this.  If France can figure this out, we can figure it out.  (Laughter and applause.)  All our kids need to benefit from that early enrichment.

It means treating pregnant workers fairly, because too many are forced to choose between their health and their job.  (Applause.)  Right now, if you’re pregnant you could potentially get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks — clearly from a boss who has never been pregnant — or forced unpaid leave.  That makes no sense.  Congress should pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act without delay.  (Applause.)

Speaking of Congress, by the way — (laughter) –

AUDIENCE MEMBERS:  Booo –

THE PRESIDENT:  No, don’t boo, vote.  (Applause.)  As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we’re going to need you to raise your voices.  We need you to tell Congress don’t talk about how you support families, actually support families.  Don’t talk the talk.  We want you to walk the walk.

In the meantime, if Congress will not act, we’re going to need mayors to act.  We’ll need governors and state legislators to act.  We need CEOs to act.  And I will promise you, you will have a President who will take action to support working families.  (Applause.)

The good news is you don’t have to do it alone and I don’t have to do it alone.  Now that’s part of the purpose of this summit is to recognize that there’s all kinds of exciting stuff going on around the country.  We just have to make sure that we lift up conversations that are taking place at the kitchen table every single day.  Some businesses are already taking the lead, knowing that family-friendly policies are good business practices.  It’s how you keep talented employees.  That’s how you build loyalty and inspire your workers to go the extra mile for your company.

Some of those businesses are represented here today.  So JetBlue, for example, has a flexible, work-from-home plan in place for its customer service representatives.  They found it led to happier and more productive employees, and it lowered their costs, which translated into higher profits and lower ticket prices for their customers.  It was good business.

In 2007, Google realized that women were leaving the company at twice the rate that men left — and one of the reasons was that the maternity leave policy wasn’t competitive enough.  So they increased paid leave for new parents — moms and dads — to five months.  And that helped to cut the rate of women leaving the company in half.  Good business sense.

Cisco estimates that by letting their employees telecommute, they save more than $275 million each year.  They say it’s the main reason why they’re rated one of the best places to work in America.

So it’s easy to see how policies like this make for better places to work.  There’s also a larger economic case for it.  The strength of our economy rests on whether we’re getting the most out of our nation’s talent, whether we’re making it possible for every citizen to contribute to our growth and prosperity.  We do better when we field an entire team, not just part of a team.

And the key to staying competitive in the global economy is your workforce, is your talent.  Right now, too many folks are on the sidelines who have the desire and the capacity to work, but they’re held back by one obstacle or another.  So it’s our job to remove those obstacles — help working parents, improve job training, improve early childhood education, invest in better infrastructure so people are getting to work safely.  Just about everything I do as President is to make sure that we’re not leaving any of our nation’s talent behind.  That’s what this summit is all about.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Working families love you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, thank you.  (Applause.)  So we’re seeing businesses set a good examples.  We’ve got states who are setting a good example.  California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey all gave workers paid family leave.  Connecticut offers paid sick days and so does New York City.  (Applause.)  Since I asked Congress to raise the minimum wage last year — they’ve been a little slow, shockingly, but 13 states have taken steps to raise it on their own.  (Applause.)  In my State of the Union address this year, I asked mayors and governors and CEOs — do what you can to raise your workers’ wages, and a lot of them are.  A lot of them are doing it.

Because even if Republicans in Congress refuse to budge on this issue this year, everybody knows America deserves a raise, including Republican voters out there.  There are a lot of them who support it.  And I’ve said I will work with anybody — Democrat or Republican — to increase opportunities for American workers.  And Nancy Pelosi is ready to work.  (Applause.)

Now, many of these issues, they’re not partisan until they get to Washington.  Back home, to folks sitting around the kitchen table, this isn’t partisan.  Nobody says, I don’t know, I’m not sure whether the Republican platform agrees with paid family leave.  They’re thinking, I could really use a couple of paid days off to take care of dad, regardless of what their party affiliation is.

So even as we’re waiting for Congress, whenever I can act on my own, I’m going to.  That’s why we raised the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors.  (Applause.)  Nobody who cooks our troops’ meals or washes their dishes should have to live in poverty.  That’s a disgrace.  That’s why I ordered Tom Perez, our Secretary of Labor, to review overtime protections for millions of workers to make sure they’re getting the pay that they deserve.  (Applause.)

That’s why I signed an executive order preventing retaliation against federally contracted workers who share their salary information or raise issues of unequal compensation –because I think if you do the same work, you should get the same pay and you should be able to enforce it, which is why Congress should pass the Paycheck Fairness Act today for all workers and not just federally-contracted workers.  (Applause.)

And yes, that’s why I fought to pass the Affordable Care Act, to give every American access to high-quality affordable care no matter where they work.  (Applause.)  So far, over 8 million people have enrolled in plans through the ACA.  Millions with preexisting conditions have been prevented or have been confident that their insurance companies have not been able to block them from getting health insurance.  And by the way, women are no longer charged more for being women.

They’re getting the basic care they need, including reproductive care.  And millions are now free to take the best job for their families without worrying about losing their health care.  Today, I’m going to sign a presidential memorandum directing every agency in the federal government to expand access to flexible work schedules, and giving employees the right to request those flexible work schedules.  (Applause.)

Because whether it’s the public sector or the private sector, if there’s a way to make our employees more productive and happier, every employer should want to find it.  And to help parents trying to get ahead, I’m going to direct my Secretary of Labor, Tom Perez, to invest $25 million in helping people who want to enroll in jobs programs, but don’t currently have access to the childcare that they need to enroll in those job training programs.  (Applause.)  We’re going to make it easier for parents to get the training they need to get a good job.  (Applause.)

So we’re going to do everything we can to create more jobs and more opportunity for Americans.  And then, let me just close by saying that I was interviewed in the run up to this on Friday.  Somebody asked, well, it’s well-known that women are more likely to vote for Democrats — to which I said, women are smarter.  This is true.  (Applause.)

But they said, so isn’t this Working Families Summit political?  And I said, no, I take this personally.  I was raised by strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me.  (Applause.)  I saw what it was like for a single mom who was trying to go to school and work at the same time.  And I remember her coming home and having to try to fix us dinner, and me saying, are we eating that again?  (Laughter.)  And she saying, you know what, buddy, I really don’t want to hear anything out of you right now, because I’ve got to go do some homework after this.

And I remember times where my mom had to take some food stamps to make sure that we had enough nutritious food in the house, and I know what she went through.  I know what my grandmother went through, working her way up from a secretary to the vice president of a bank.  But she should have run the bank, except she hit a glass ceiling and was training people who would leapfrog ahead of her year after year.  I know what that’s like.  I’ve seen it.

I take this personally, because I’m the husband of a brilliant woman who struggled to balance work and raising our girls when I was away.  And I remember the stresses that were on Michelle, which I’m sure she’ll be happy to share with you later today.  (Laughter.)  And most of all, I take it personally, because I am the father of two unbelievable young ladies.  (Applause.)  And I want them to be able to have families.  And I want them to be able to have careers.  And I want them to go as far as their dreams will take them.  And I want a society that supports that.

And I take this personally as the President of the country that built the greatest middle class the world has ever known and inspired people to reach new heights and invent, and innovate, and drew immigrants from every corner of the world because they understood that no matter what you look like or where you come from, here in America you can make it.  That’s the promise of America.  That’s what we’re going to keep on fighting for.  That’s what you’re fighting for.  That’s what this summit is all about.

Let’s go out there and get to work.  Thank you, guys.  I love you.  God bless you.  God bless America.

END
2:21 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 21, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Bringing our Workplace Policies into the 21st Century

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Bringing our Workplace Policies into the 21st Century

Source: WH, 6-21-14 

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President previewed Monday’s first-ever White House Summit on Working Families where he will bring together businesses leaders and workers to discuss the challenges that working parents face every day and lift up solutions that are good for these families and American businesses. Many working families can’t afford basic needs like childcare or receive simple benefits such as paid family leave that are common in most countries around the world.  When hardworking Americans are forced to choose between work and family, America lags behind in a global economy.  To stay competitive and economically successful, America needs to bring our workplace policies into the 21st century.

In addition to the address, the White House is also releasing a new report by the Council of Economic Advisers that examines economic benefits that paid family leave policies can have for workers and employers. A copy of that report, which is also embargoed until 6:00 am EDT Saturday June 21st, can be found here.

Remarks of President Barack Obama

Weekly Address

The White House

June 21, 2014

Hi, everybody.  As President, my top priority is rebuilding an economy where everybody who works hard has the chance to get ahead.

That’s what I’ll spend some time talking about on Monday, at the White House Summit on Working Families. We’re bringing together business leaders and workers to talk about the challenges that working parents face every day, and how we can address them together.

Take paid family leave. Many jobs don’t offer adequate leave to care for a new baby or an ailing parent, so workers can’t afford to be there when their family needs them the most. That’s wrong. And it puts us way behind the times. Only three countries in the world report that they don’t offer paid maternity leave. Three. And the United States is one of them. It’s time to change that. A few states have acted on their own to give workers paid family leave, but this should be available to everyone, because all Americans should be able to afford to care for a family member in need.

Childcare is another challenge. Most working families I know can’t afford thousands a year for childcare, but often that’s what it costs. That leaves parents scrambling just to make sure their kids are safe while they’re at work – forget about giving them the high-quality early childhood education that helps kids succeed in life.

Then there’s the issue of flexibility – the ability to take a few hours off for a parent-teacher conference or to work from home when your kid is sick. Most workers want it, but not enough of them have it. What’s more, it not only makes workers happier – studies show that flexibility can make workers more productive and reduce worker turnover and absenteeism. That’s good for business.

At a time when women make up about half of America’s workforce, outdated workplace policies that make it harder for mothers to work hold our entire economy back. But these aren’t just problems for women.  Men also care about who’s watching their kids.  They’re rearranging their schedules to make it to soccer games and school plays.  Lots of sons help care for aging parents.  And plenty of fathers would love to be home for their new baby’s first weeks in the world.

In fact, in a new study, nearly half of all parents – women and men – report that they’ve said no to a job, not because they didn’t want it, but because it would be too hard on their families.  When that many talented, hard-working people are forced to choose between work and family, something’s wrong.  Other countries are making it easier for people to have both.  We should too, if we want American businesses to compete and win in the global economy.

Family leave. Childcare. Flexibility. These aren’t frills – they’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses – they should be the bottom line.

The good news is, some businesses are embracing family-friendly policies, because they know it’s key to attracting and retaining talented employees. And I’m going to keep highlighting the businesses that do. Because I take this personally. I take it personally as the son and grandson of some strong women who worked hard to support my sister and me. As the husband of a brilliant woman who struggled to balance work and raising our young ladies when my job often kept me away. And as the father of two beautiful girls, whom I want to be there for as much as I possibly can – and whom I hope will be able to have families and careers of their own one day.

We know from our history that our economy grows best from the middle-out; that our country does better when everybody participates; when everyone’s talents are put to use; when we all have a fair shot. That’s the America I believe in. That’s the America I’ll keep fighting for every day. Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Full Text Obama Presidency June 13, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration and Economic and Education Initiatives for Tribal Communities

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Cannon Ball Flag Day Celebration

Source: WH, 6-13-14 

Standing Rock Indian Reservation Cannon Ball, North Dakota

4:58 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello Dakota Nation!  (Applause.)  Hello Lakota Nation!  Chairman Archambault, tribal leaders, people of Standing Rock, people of Indian Country — Michelle and I are honored to be in this sacred and beautiful place.  It’s easy to see why it’s called God’s country.  (Applause.)  And because I’m among friends, I’m going to try something in Lakota.  But I can’t guarantee it’s going to come out perfect.  Háu, mitákuyepi!  (Applause.)  I’m going to practice.  I’m going to be even better next time.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back!  (Applause.)  I want to thank Governor Jack Dalrymple and the members of Congress who are here today:  Senator Heidi Heitkamp, Senator John Hoeven, Congressman Kevin Cramer.  We’re so grateful that you took the time to be here.

And I know that your annual Flag Day powwow officially begins this evening.  So we’re a little early.  But thank you for giving us a sneak peek of the celebration.  And we are grateful for the chance to pay tribute to all the veterans of America’s armed forces who have joined us here today, as well as those who have walked on, and whose flags are proudly displayed here today.  Thank you and to your families for your extraordinary service.  We are very, very grateful.  (Applause.)  I want to acknowledge our outstanding Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel, who’s here.  (Applause.)

This visit holds special meaning for me.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love Michelle, too!

THE PRESIDENT:  Of course you love Michelle.  Who doesn’t love Michelle?  (Laughter and applause.)

When I was first running for President, I had the honor of visiting the Crow Nation in Montana.  And today I’m proud to be making my first trip to Indian Country as President of the United States.  (Applause.)

I know that throughout history, the United States often didn’t give the nation-to-nation relationship the respect that it deserved.  So I promised when I ran to be a President who’d change that — a President who honors our sacred trust, and who respects your sovereignty, and upholds treaty obligations, and who works with you in a spirit of true partnership, in mutual respect, to give our children the future that they deserve.

And today, I’m proud that the government-to-government relationship between Washington and tribal nations is stronger than ever.  Sally Jewell has been doing great work.  Her predecessor, Ken Salazar, did great work to make sure that we were listening to you.  And as head of our new Council on Native American Affairs, she makes sure that the federal government and tribal governments are coordinating with each other at all times.  And Kevin Washburn, my Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs and a member of the Chickasaw Nation, is here as well.

You see, my administration is determined to partner with tribes, and it’s not something that just happens once in a while.  It takes place every day, on just about every issue that touches your lives.  And that’s what real nation-to-nation partnerships look like.

We’ve responded and resolved longstanding disputes.  George Keepseagle is here today.  (Applause.)  A few years ago, my administration reached a historic settlement with George and other American Indian farmers and ranchers.  And I signed into law the historic Cobell settlement, leading to the Land Buy-Back Program, a $1.9 billion fund to consolidate individual Indian lands and restore them to tribal trust lands.  (Applause.)

We’ve made major investments to help grow tribal economies — investments in job training and tribal colleges; roads and high-speed Internet; energy, including renewable energy.  And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Native Americans — like all Americans — finally have access to quality, affordable health care.  (Applause.)

But I realize that a powwow isn’t just about celebrating the past.  It’s also about looking to the future.  It’s about keeping sacred traditions alive for the next generation, for these beautiful children.  So here today, I want to focus on the work that lies ahead.  And I think we can follow the lead of Standing Rock’s most famous resident, Chief Sitting Bull.  (Applause.)  He said, “Let’s put our minds together to see what we can build for our children.”  (Applause.)

So let’s put our minds together to build more economic opportunity in Indian Country — because every American, including every Native American, deserves the chance to work hard and get ahead, everybody.  (Applause.)  That means creating more jobs and supporting small businesses in places like Standing Rock — because young people should be able to live and work and raise a family right here in the land of your fathers and mothers.  (Applause.)  Let’s put our minds together to advance justice — because like every American, you deserve to be safe in your communities and treated equally under the law.  (Applause.)

My administration has gone further than any in history to strengthen the sovereignty of tribal courts, particularly when it comes to criminal sentencing and prosecuting people who commit violence against women.  And Standing Rock has done a terrific job at building a court system that is open and efficient, and delivers justice to your people.  (Applause.)  So we want to support more tribes as they follow your lead and strengthen justice in our communities.  And that includes protecting important rights like the right to vote, because every Native American deserves a voice in our democracy.  (Applause.)

Let’s put our minds together to improve our schools — because our children deserve a world-class education, too, that prepares them for college and careers.  (Applause.)  And that means returning control of Indian education to tribal nations with additional resources and support so that you can direct your children’s education and reform schools here in Indian Country.  And even as they prepare for a global economy, we want children, like these wonderful young children here, learning about their language and learning about their culture, just like the boys and girls do at Lakota Language Nest here at Standing Rock.  We want to make sure that continues and we build on that success.  (Applause.)

Before we came here, Michelle and I sat with an amazing group of young people.  I love these young people.  I only spent an hour with them.  They feel like my own.  And you should be proud of them — because they’ve overcome a lot, but they’re strong and they’re still standing, and they’re moving forward.  (Applause.)  And they’re proud of their culture.  But they talked about the challenges of living in two worlds and being both “Native” and “American.”  And some bright young people like the ones we met today might look around and sometimes wonder if the United States really is thinking about them and caring about them, and has a place for them, too.

And when we were talking, I said, you know, Michelle and I know what it feels like sometimes to go through tough times.  We grew up at times feeling like we were on the outside looking in.  But thanks to family and friends, and teachers and coaches and neighbors that didn’t give up on us, we didn’t give up on ourselves.  Just like these young people are not giving up on themselves.  And we want every young person in America to have the same chance that we had — and that includes the boys and girls here in Indian Country.  (Applause.)

There’s no denying that for some Americans the deck has been stacked against them, sometimes for generations.  And that’s been the case for many Native Americans.  But if we’re working together, we can make things better.  We’ve got a long way to go.  But if we do our part, I believe that we can turn the corner.  We can break old cycles.  We can give our children a better future.  I know because I’ve talked to these young people.  I know they can succeed.  I know they’ll be leaders not just in Indian Country, but across America.  And we’ve got to invest in them and believe in them and love them, and that starts from the White House all the way down here.  (Applause.)

I understand that the Lakota word for “children” — “wakanyeja” — comes from the word “wakan” — “sacred.”  That’s what young people are — they’re sacred.  They’re sacred to your families and they’re sacred to your tribe, and they’re sacred to this nation.  And every day that I have the honor of serving as your President, I will do everything I can to make sure that you see that our country has a place for everyone, including every single young person here — and all across the Dakotas and all across America, and that you’re getting the support and encouragement you need to go as far as your hard work and your talent will take you.  That is my commitment to you — to every single young person here.  (Applause.)

This community has made extraordinary contributions to the United States.  Just look at all these flags.  So many Native Americans have served our country with honor and with courage.  And now it’s up to us to keep strong what they have built — to keep America the place where no matter who you are and what you look like, or where you come from, you can make it.  And that you don’t have to give up your culture to also be part of the American family.  That’s what I believe.  And coming here today makes me believe it that much more.

Hechetu welo.  Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

                                       END                 5:10 P.M. CDT

RELATED LINKS

Full Text Obama Presidency June 11, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Worcester Technical High School Commencement Ceremony

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Worcester Technical High School Commencement Ceremony

Source: WH, 6-11-14 

Worcester Technical High School

Worcester, Massachusetts

4:44 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Please, everybody, be seated.  Good afternoon.  (Applause.)  It is great to be back in Massachusetts, and it is great to be here at Worcester Tech.  (Applause.)

I want to thank Reggie for that outstanding introduction.  (Applause.)  I want to thank Naomi for those inspiring words.  (Applause.)  I want to thank your outstanding, fabulous principal, Sheila Harrity, who has done so much to make this school a success.  (Applause.)  Let me just say, when you’re the National High School Principal of the Year, you’re doing something right.  There are a lot of principals out there, and we could not be prouder of what she’s doing.

I want to thank your Mayor, Joseph Petty; your outstanding Governor and a great friend of mine, Deval Patrick; wonderful Congressman, Jim McGovern.  (Applause.)  And most of all, I want to thank the class of 2014.  (Applause.)  Thank you for allowing me to be part of your special day.  And you all look great.  And I want to thank all the parents and all the grandparents, and the family and the friends — this is your day, too.  Part of the reason I’m here is because I’ve got to practice, because Malia is graduating in two years.  So I’m trying to get used to not choking up and crying and embarrassing her.  So this is sort of my trial run here.

I have to say, I do not remember my high school graduation speaker.  I have no idea who it was.  (Laughter.)  I’m sure I was thinking about the party after graduation.  (Applause.)  I don’t remember the party either.  (Laughter.)  I’m just telling the truth here.  You will remember the speaker at this graduation because there’s a lot of Secret Service around, not because of anything that I say that’s so inspiring.

But I know this day has been a long time coming.  Together, you made it through freshman initiation.  You survived Mr. O’Connor’s English class, which I understand is pretty tough.  (Applause.)  Everybody has got to have, like, a Mr. O’Connor in their life just to kind of straighten you out.  And now it’s the big day — although I notice that none of you are wearing your IDs.  Rumor has it some of you haven’t been wearing them for years.  (Laughter.)  Today I’m exercising my power as President and granting an official pardon for all of you who did not follow the rules there.  Consider it my graduation gift to you.

I know a lot of folks watching at home today will see all of you in your caps and your gowns and they’ll think, well, maybe this is just another class of graduates at another American high school.  But I’m here today because there is nothing ordinary about Worcester Tech or the Class of 2014.  (Applause.)  You have set yourselves apart.  This high school has set itself apart.

Over the past four years, some of you have learned how to take apart an engine and put it back together again.  Some of you have learned how to run a restaurant, or build a house, or fix a computer.  And all of you are graduating today not just with a great education, but with the skills that will let you start your careers and skills that will make America stronger.

Together, you’re an example of what’s possible when we stop just talking about giving young people opportunity, when we don’t just give lip service to helping you compete in the global economy and we actually start doing it.  That’s what’s happening right here in Worcester.  And that’s why I’m here today.  I mean, I like all of you, and I’m glad to be with you, but the thing I really want to do is make sure that what we’ve learned here at this high school we can lift up for the entire nation.  I want the nation to learn from Worcester Tech.  (Applause.)

Of course, your journey is just beginning.  Take a look around at all the smiles from the parents and the grandparents and all the family members.  Everything your families have done has been so that you could pursue your dreams, so that you could fulfill your potential.  Everybody here has a story of some sacrifice that’s been made on your behalf.  And whether you’re heading to college, or the military, or starting your career, you’re not going to be able to take them with you now.  Some of your moms and dads probably wish they could hang onto you a little bit longer.  Some of you, maybe they’re ready to get rid of you.  (Laughter.)  Regardless, though, you are now entering into a stage where it’s up to you.  And what you can do is remember some of the lessons that you’ve learned here and carry them with you, wherever you’re going.

And I want to talk about three of those lessons, a couple of which have already been mentioned by the previous speakers.

First of all, I want you to remember that each of us is only here because somebody somewhere invested in our success.  (Applause.)  Somebody invested in us.  I know that’s true for me.  I was raised by a single mom with the help of my grandparents.  We didn’t have a lot of money growing up.  At times, we struggled.  When my mom was going to school at the same time as she was raising my sister and me, we had to scrape to get by.

But we had a family who loved me and my sister.  And I had teachers who cared about me.  And ultimately, with the help of a community and a country that supported me, I was able to get a good education.  And I was able to get grants and student loans, and opportunities opened up.  And all of this happened because people saw something in me that I didn’t always see in myself.  And that’s not just true for me, that’s true for Michelle, who grew up the daughter of a blue-collar worker and a mom who stayed at home and then became a secretary — never went to college themselves.

That’s true for Duval, who grew up initially on the South Side of Chicago and didn’t have a lot, and somebody reached out and gave him a hand up.

It’s true of this city.  This is a town that’s always been home to smart people with big ideas.  The Mayor mentioned Robert Goddard, the father of the modern rocket.  He was born here, performed some of the earliest tests on rocketry.

But Worcester has also prepared its workers for the jobs that those big ideas would bring.  And that’s why they opened a technical school here more than a century ago — with a class of 29 ironworkers and 23 woodworkers.  And that school became Worcester Tech.

Along the way, the economy changed.  Innovation made it possible for businesses to do more with less.  The Internet meant they could do it anywhere.  Schools like this were finding it harder to prepare students with the skills that businesses were looking for.

And then a guy named Ted Coghlin came along.  (Applause.)  And Ted is known as the “godfather” of Worcester Tech, because about 10 years ago he set out to make this school what he knew it could be — a place where businesses train new workers, and young people get the keys to a brighter future.

And he put his heart and soul into it.  And eventually, that’s what happened.  Ted helped raise money for a new building — and the state and federal government chipped in, as well.  And businesses helped create everything from an auto service center to a bank right inside the school.  And top-notch teachers got on board — led by Principal Harrity and the assistant principals here, and an outstanding superintendent.  And before long, Worcester Tech was on its way to becoming one of the best schools in this city.

And today, so many students want to come to Worcester Tech that there’s a waiting list more than 400 names long.  (Applause.)  The number of students scoring “proficient” or “advanced” in math has gone up 100 percent; in English more than 200 percent.  (Applause.)  Ninety-five percent of students now graduate in four years.

And just as impressive, many of you are leaving here with more than a diploma.  You’re already certified as nursing assistants and EMTs and home health aides and preparing to become IT associates.  (Applause.)  And with the credits that you’ve earned, some of you are already on your way to a college diploma.  And as Ted said, “Our students deserve the best so we can help them become the best — for their future and ours.”

The point is, a lot of people made an investment in you.  I can’t imagine a better investment.  But as you experience your success and as you experience setbacks, you need to remember everything that’s been put into making sure that you had opportunity.  Which brings me to the second thing I hope you remember when you leave here:  You’re going to also have to give back.  (Applause.)  This community invested in you.  You’ve got to make sure that you use those gifts.

When my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, came to Worcester Tech earlier this year, he said he had never seen a school more open.  If you live near the school, you can come in and get your car detailed for a fraction of what it would cost someplace else.  So I’m giving a little free advertising to the detailing operation here.  (Laughter.)  You can eat a meal cooked by students in the culinary arts program.  (Applause.)  One teacher called the hair salon the “city’s best kept secret.”  (Applause.)  Your veterinary clinic cares for about 250 pets a month, so I could have brought Bo and Sunny here.  (Laughter.)  You guys would have taken care of them.

So Worcester Tech isn’t separate from the broader community.  You’re a vital part of the community.  So part of what you’ve learned here is that we are at our best, we are strongest when we are working together and when we’re looking out for one another and we have responsibilities towards each other, and all of us have contributions to make.  You’re giving back to folks who gave you so much.  And whatever you do next, I hope you keep giving back.  That may mean staying in Worcester and working for one of the companies that helped train you.  If it means going to college or the military, or using your skills to help more students get the same opportunities that you’ve had here, no matter what it is that you do, no matter what path you take, I want to make sure that you understand the incredible leadership that we now expect from you.

I understand that every year at exam time, you hear from a motivational speaker.  And one of them this year was Colin Powell, because when you’re getting ready to take a test it never hurts to get a pep talk from a general.  (Laughter.)  But the best part is that you decide to do the same thing for younger kids.  So this class — those of you in the National Honor Society — rolled out the red carpet for students at nearby Chandler Elementary.  And so those younger kids left here feeling fired up, inspired by your example — looking up to you, imagining that they could do what you did.  And they’re going to keep on looking up to you.

And there are going to be people across the country who are watching you.  And when they see you succeed, when they see you working hard, when they see you overcoming setbacks — that’s going to inspire them as well.

And that brings me to my final point, which is I hope you leave here today believing that if you can make it, then there shouldn’t be any kid out here who can’t make it.  (Applause.)  Every child in America, no matter what they look like, or where they grow up, what their last name is — there’s so much talent out there.  And every single child — as Ted understood when he helped transform this school — every single child should have the opportunity like you have had to go as far as your talents and hard work will take you.  I’ve seen you do it, so we know it’s possible.

Now, it’s a challenging time.  I think sometimes I worry that your generation has grown up in a cynical time — in the aftermath of a Great Recession, in the aftermath of two wars.  We live in a culture that so often focuses on conflict and controversy and looks at the glass half empty instead of half full.  And you’re graduating at a time when you’ll no longer be competing just with people across town for good jobs, you’re going to be competing with the rest of the world.

But when I meet young people like you I am absolutely certain we are not just going to out-compete the rest of the world, we are going to win because of you.  Because we are Americans, that’s what we do.  We don’t settle.  We outwork.  We out-innovate.  We out-hustle the competition.  (Applause.)   And when we do, nobody can beat us.

And that’s what you’ve shown at this school — not just helping a few kids go as far as their hard work will take them.  I want all of you to be part of the process of helping all our young people achieve their God-given potential.  And as President, my job is to make sure every child in America gets that chance.  And Deval Patrick’s job is to make sure that everybody in the Commonwealth gets that chance.  And the Mayor, his focus is making sure everybody in this town gets that chance.  Every community is different.  But if Worcester can bring teachers and business and entire communities together for the sake of our young people, then other places can, too.

And that’s why I’ve challenged high schools all across the country to do what you’re doing here — better prepare students for the demands of the global economy.  We’re getting started this year with a competition that pairs schools and employers and colleges to combine quality education with real-world skills.

As part of that initiative, I launched something called ConnectED, working with the private sector to connect America’s students to high-speed broadband and advanced technology, just like you’ve got here at Worcester Tech.  Already, companies have committed to donate $2 billion to this effort.  And starting later this week, schools and teachers and students will be able to go to WhiteHouse.gov and access resources in time for the new school year — because I want to encourage more schools to do what you’re doing.  You’ve set a standard.  You’ve set a bar.  More schools can do it across the country.  (Applause.)

If you’re going to college, I also want to make sure that when you graduate you don’t have a mountain of debt.   (Applause.)  So we’re not only working to make college more affordable, we’re working to help more students pay back their loans that they take out when they go to college.  It is not fair to students who do everything right to get saddled with debt that they have to pay off not just for years, but in some cases decades.   We can do better than that.  (Applause.)

And even though they had votes and they couldn’t make it, I want to give a plug to a couple people.  Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congressman John Tierney, both from Massachusetts, who introduced bills that would make it easier for students to repay their student loans.  (Applause.)

It’s the same idea we used to make it easier for your parents to pay off their mortgages.  Now today, that idea was defeated by Republicans in Congress, which was frustrating, especially –

AUDIENCE:  Booo –

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, don’t boo.  Just remember to vote.   (Laughter and applause.)  So I know that it’s frustrating for parents.  It’s frustrating for students who are working hard and doing everything right.  There are too many politicians in Washington who don’t have the right priorities.  We need to straighten them out.  And maybe they forgot where they came from and who invested in them along the way.  (Applause.)  And when a bill to help you pay off your college doesn’t pass, it’s a disservice not only to your generation but to our history as a nation that strives to put quality education within the reach of every American.  So we’re going to have to keep on putting pressure on Congress.

But in the meantime, where Congress won’t act, I’m going to do whatever I can on my own.  (Applause.)  So on Monday, I announced executive actions that are going to help students like you find the right options — and give millions of Americans who are already making their loan payments a chance to cap those repayments at 10 percent of their income.  Because a quality education shouldn’t be something that other kids get — it should be something that every kid gets.  And that has to be a priority for this country.  (Applause.)

I tell you all this not just because you stand to benefit from changes in laws, but because you’re going to have to be a part of helping to shape the law.  You’re going to have to shape public opinion.  You’re going to have remember everybody who invested in you.  You’re going to have to remember the experience of being part of this incredible community.  And then, when you go out into the world, whether you are a businessperson, or you are in the military, or you are an academic, or a doctor, or whatever it is that you’re doing, you’re also going to be a citizen.  You’re also going to be somebody who has a voice in how this country operates.  And you’ve got to push so that others get the same chance you did.

And making sure that every young person has the same opportunities you’ve had — it won’t be easy.  Progress takes commitment.  It takes hard work.  We have to fight through the cynicism.  It’s going to take work from parents and from teachers, and members of the community and from students, but I know we can do it — and I know it because of you.

If Melinda Blanchard can get so good at welding that a bunch of college kids ask her help building a solar-paneled house for a competition in China, I know that we can get more young people excited about learning.  (Applause.)

If Greg Carlson can help the robotics team at Worcester Tech win the world championship — (applause) — and still find time to mentor a robotics team at the middle school where he started out, then I know we can help guarantee every child in America a quality education.

If Derek Murphy can start his own web development company — (applause) — and graduate with 18 college credits, I know we can help more students earn the skills that businesses are looking for.

You’re already doing it.  You’re already blazing a trail.  You’re already leading.  You’re already giving back.  You don’t need to remember what I said today, because you’re already doing it.

And if it can happen in Worcester, it can happen anyplace.  (Applause.)  And if it does — if more communities invest in young people like you, if you give back, if we all keep fighting to put opportunity within the reach of everybody who is willing to work for it — America will be stronger, your future will be brighter.  There is no limit to what we can do together.

So congratulations, Class of 2014.  You’re going to do big things.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END
5:10 P.M. EDT

 

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