OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:
OP-EDS & ARTICLES
- September 7, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 7, 2014
Source: NBC News, 9-7-14
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 7, 2014
Source: WH, 9-6-14
WASHINGTON, DC —In this week’s address, the Vice President discusses our continued economic recovery, with 10 million private sector jobs created over the past 54 months. Yet even with this good news, too many Americans are still not seeing the effects of our recovery. As the Vice President explains, there’s more that can be done to continue to bolster our economy and ensure that middle class families benefit from the growth they helped create, including closing tax loopholes, expanding education opportunities, and raising the minimum wage.
Remarks of Vice President Joe Biden
The White House
September 6, 2014
Ladies and gentlemen, this is Joe Biden, I’m filling in for President Obama, while he addresses the NATO summit in Wales.
When the President and I took office in January of 2009, this nation was in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the great depression. Our economy had plummeted at a rate of 8% in a single quarter – part of the fastest economic decline any time in the last half century. Millions of families were falling underwater on their homes and threatened with foreclosure. The iconic American automobile industry was under siege.
But yesterday’s jobs report was another reminder of how far we’ve come. We’ve had 54 straight months of job creation. And that’s the longest streak of uninterrupted job growth in the United States’ history.
We’ve gone from losing 9 million jobs during the financial crisis to creating 10 million jobs. We’ve reduced the unemployment rate from 10% in October of 2009 to 6.1% today. And for the first time since the 1990s, American manufacturing is steadily adding jobs – over 700,000 since 2010. And surveys of both American and foreign business leaders confirm that America once again is viewed as the best place in the world to build and invest.
That’s all good news. But an awful lot of middle class Americans are still not feeling the effects of this recovery. Since the year 2000, Gross Domestic Product – our GDP – has risen by 25%. And productivity in America is up by 30%. But middle class wages during that same time period have gone up by only fourteen cents.
Folks, it’s long past time to cut the middle class back into the deal, so they can benefit from the economic growth they helped create. Folks, there used to be a bargain in this country supported by Democrats and Republicans, business and labor. The bargain was simple. If an employee contributed to the growth and profitability of the company, they got to share in the profits and the benefits as well. That’s what built the middle class. It’s time to restore the bargain, to deal the middle class back in. Because, folks, when the middle class does well, everybody does well – the wealthy get wealthier and the poor have a way up.
You know, the middle class is not a number. It’s a value set. It means being able to own your home; raise your children in a safe neighborhood; send them to a good school where if they do well they can qualify to go to college and if they get accepted you’d be able to find a way to be able to send them to college. And in the meantime, if your parents need help, being able to take care of them, and hope to put aside enough money so that your children will not have to take care of you.
That’s the American dream. That’s what this country was built on. And that’s what we’re determined to restore.
In order to do that, it’s time to have a fair tax structure, one that values paychecks as much as unearned income and inherited wealth, to take some of the burden off of the middle class. It’s time to close tax loopholes so we can reduce the deficit, and invest in rebuilding America – our bridges, our ports, our highways, rails, providing good jobs.
With corporate profits at near record highs, we should encourage corporations to invest more in research and development and the salaries of their employees. It’s time for us to invest in educational opportunity to guarantee that we have the most highly skilled workforce in the world, for 6 out of every 10 jobs in the near term is going to require some education beyond high school. Folks, it’s long past due to increase the minimum wage that will lift millions of hardworking families out of poverty and in the process produce a ripple effect that boosts wages for the middle class and spurs economic growth for the United States of America. Economists acknowledge that if we do these and other things, wages will go up and we’ll increase the Gross Domestic Product of the United States.
My fellow Americans, we know how to do this. We’ve done it before. It’s the way we used to do business and we can do it that way again. All the middle class in this country want is a chance. No guarantee, just a chance.
Americans want to work. And when given a fair shot, the American worker has never, ever, ever, let his country down. Folks, it’s never a good bet to bet against the American people.
Thanks for listening.
May God bless you, and may God protect our troops.
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 6, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 5, 2014
Posted by bonniekgoodman on September 3, 2014
Source: WH, 8-28-14
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
4:09 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to say a few words on a number of topics and take a few questions before the long Labor Day weekend.
First, beginning with the number one thing most Americans care about — the economy. This morning, we found out that our economy actually grew at a stronger clip in the 2nd quarter than we originally thought. Companies are investing. Consumers are spending. Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have now created nearly 10 million new jobs. So there are reasons to feel good about the direction we’re headed.
But as everybody knows, there’s a lot more that we should be doing to make sure that all Americans benefit from the progress that we’ve made. And I’m going to be pushing Congress hard on this when they return next week.
Second, in Iraq, our dedicated pilots and crews continue to carry out the targeted strikes that I authorized to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground.
As Commander-in-Chief, I will always do what is necessary to protect the American people and defend against evolving threats to our homeland. Because of our strikes, the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment. In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back.
And we continue to be proud and grateful to our extraordinary personnel serving in this mission.
Now, ISIL poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region. And that’s why our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL. And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress that they’ve made so far and forming an inclusive government that will unite their country and strengthen their security forces to confront ISIL.
Any successful strategy, though, also needs strong regional partners. I’m encouraged so far that countries in the region — countries that don’t always agree on many things — increasingly recognize the primacy of the threat that ISIL poses to all of them. And I’ve asked Secretary Kerry to travel to the region to continue to build the coalition that’s needed to meet this threat. As I’ve said, rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can — and we will — working closely with our allies and our partners.
For our part, I’ve directed Secretary Hagel and our Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare a range of options. I’ll be meeting with my National Security Council again this evening as we continue to develop that strategy. And I’ve been consulting with members of Congress and I’ll continue to do so in the days ahead.
Finally, I just spoke with Chancellor Merkel of Germany on the situation in Ukraine. We agree — if there was ever any doubt — that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia. They are armed by Russia. They are funded by Russia. Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. And the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see. This comes as Ukrainian forces are making progress against the separatists.
As a result of the actions Russia has already taken, and the major sanctions we’ve imposed with our European and international partners, Russia is already more isolated than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Capital is fleeing. Investors are increasingly staying out. Its economy is in decline. And this ongoing Russian incursion into Ukraine will only bring more costs and consequences for Russia.
Next week, I’ll be in Europe to coordinate with our closest allies and partners. In Estonia, I will reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the defense of our NATO allies.
At the NATO Summit in the United Kingdom, we’ll focus on the additional steps we can take to ensure the Alliance remains prepared for any challenge. Our meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission will be another opportunity for our alliance to continue our partnership with Ukraine. And I look forward to reaffirming the unwavering commitment of the United States to Ukraine and its people when I welcome President Poroshenko to the White House next month.
So with that, I’m going to take a few questions. And I’m going to start with somebody who I guess is now a big cheese — he’s moved on. But I understand this is going to be his last chance to ask me a question in the press room. So I want to congratulate Chuck Todd and give him first dibs.
Q I’m glad you said “in the press room.” Let me start with Syria. The decision that you have to make between — first of all, is it a “if” or “when” situation about going after ISIL in Syria? Can you defeat ISIL or ISIS without going after them in Syria? And then how do you prioritize? You have said that Assad has lost legitimacy to lead. Defeating ISIS could help Assad keep power. Talk about how you prioritize those two pieces of your foreign policy.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I want to make sure everybody is clear on what we’re doing now, because it is limited. Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq; to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected.
Where we see an opportunity that allows us with very modest risk to help the humanitarian situation there as we did in Sinjar Mountain, we will take those opportunities after having consulted with Congress. But our core priority right now is just to make sure that our folks are safe and to do an effective assessment of Iraqi and Kurdish capabilities.
As I said I think in the last press conference, in order for us to be successful, we’ve got to have an Iraqi government that is unified and inclusive. So we are continuing to push them to get that job done. As soon as we have an Iraqi government in place, the likelihood of the Iraqi security forces being more effective in taking the fight to ISIL significantly increases. And the options that I’m asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq.
What is true, though, is that the violence that’s been taking place in Syria has obviously given ISIL a safe haven there in ungoverned spaces. And in order for us to degrade ISIL over the long term, we’re going to have to build a regional strategy. Now, we’re not going to do that alone. We’re going to have to do that with other partners, and particularly Sunni partners, because part of the goal here is to make sure that Sunnis both in Syria and in Iraq feel as if they’ve got an investment in a government that actually functions, a government that can protect them, a government that makes sure that their families are safe from the barbaric acts that we’ve seen in ISIL. And right now, those structures are not in place.
And that’s why the issue with respect to Syria is not simply a military issue, it’s also a political issue. It’s also an issue that involves all the Sunni states in the region and Sunni leadership recognizing that this cancer that has developed is one that they have to be just as invested in defeating as we are.
And so to cut to the chase in terms of what may be your specific concerns, Chuck, my priority at this point is to make sure that the gains that ISIL made in Iraq are rolled back, and that Iraq has the opportunity to govern itself effectively and secure itself.
But when we look at a broader strategy that is consistent with what I said at West Point, that’s consistent with what I said at the National Defense College, clearly ISIL has come to represent the very worst elements in the region that we have to deal with collectively. And that’s going to be a long-term project. It’s going to require us to stabilize Syria in some fashion, and stabilizing Syria in some fashion means that we’ve got to get moderate Sunnis who are able to govern and offer a real alternative and competition to what ISIL has been doing in some of these spaces.
Now, the last point with respect to Assad, it’s not just my opinion — I think it would be international opinion — that Assad has lost legitimacy in terms of dropping barrel bombs on innocent families and killing tens of thousands of people. And right now, what we’re seeing is the areas that ISIL is occupying are not controlled by Assad anyway. And, frankly, Assad doesn’t seem to have the capability or reach to get into those areas. So I don’t think this is a situation where we have to choose between Assad or the kinds of people who carry on the incredible violence that we’ve been seeing there. We will continue to support a moderate opposition inside of Syria, in part because we have to give people inside of Syria a choice other than ISIL or Assad.
And I don’t see any scenario in which Assad somehow is able to bring peace and stability to a region that is majority Sunni and has not so far shown any willingness to share power with them or in any kind of significant way deal with the longstanding grievances that they have there.
Q Do you need Congress’s approval to go into Syria?
THE PRESIDENT: I have consulted with Congress throughout this process. I am confident that as Commander-in-Chief I have the authorities to engage in the acts that we are conducting currently. As our strategy develops, we will continue to consult with Congress. And I do think that it will be important for Congress to weigh in, or that our consultations with Congress continue to develop so that the American people are part of the debate.
But I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. We don’t have a strategy yet. I think what I’ve seen in some of the news reports suggests that folks are getting a little further ahead of where we’re at than we currently are. And I think that’s not just my assessment, but the assessment of our military as well. We need to make sure that we’ve got clear plans, that we’re developing them. At that point, I will consult with Congress and make sure that their voices are heard. But there’s no point in me asking for action on the part of Congress before I know exactly what it is that is going to be required for us to get the job done.
Colleen McCain Nelson.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Do you consider today’s escalation in Ukraine an invasion? And when you talk about additional costs to Russia, are you ready at this point to impose broader economic sanctions? Or are you considering other responses that go beyond sanctions?
THE PRESIDENT: I consider the actions that we’ve seen in the last week a continuation of what’s been taking place for months now. As I said in my opening statement, there is no doubt that this is not a homegrown, indigenous uprising in eastern Ukraine. The separatists are backed, trained, armed, financed by Russia. Throughout this process, we’ve seen deep Russian involvement in everything that they’ve done.
I think in part because of the progress that you had seen by the Ukrainians around Donetsk and Luhansk, Russia determined that it had to be a little more overt in what it had already been doing. But it’s not really a shift.
What we have seen, though, is that President Putin and Russia have repeatedly passed by potential off-ramps to resolve this diplomatically. And so in our consultations with our European allies and partners, my expectation is, is that we will take additional steps primarily because we have not seen any meaningful action on the part of Russia to actually try to resolve this in diplomatic fashion.
And I think that the sanctions that we’ve already applied have been effective. Our intelligence shows that the Russians know they’ve been effective, even though it may not appear on Russian television. And I think there are ways for us to deepen or expand the scope of some of that work.
But ultimately, I think what’s important to recognize is the degree to which Russian decision-making is isolating Russia. They’re doing this to themselves. And what I’ve been encouraged by is the degree to which our European partners recognize even though they are bearing a cost in implementing these sanctions, they understand that a broader principle is at stake. And so I look forward to the consultations that we’ll have when I see them next week.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Last year, you said that you believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. In response to Chuck’s question you said you don’t have a strategy yet, but you’ll reconsider that going forward. But why didn’t you go to Congress before this current round of strikes in Iraq? Do you not believe that that’s the case anymore, what you said last year? And throughout your career you’ve also said that — you raised concerns with the expansion of powers of the executive. Are you concerned that your recent actions, unilaterally, had maybe — have cut against that?
THE PRESIDENT: No. And here’s why: It is not just part of my responsibility, but it is a sacred duty for me as Commander-in-Chief to protect the American people. And that requires me to act fast, based on information I receive, if an embassy of ours or a consulate of ours is being threatened. The decisions I made were based on very concrete assessments about the possibility that Erbil might be overrun in the Kurdish region and that our consulate could be in danger. And I can’t afford to wait in order to make sure that those folks are protected.
But throughout this process, we’ve consulted closely with Congress, and the feedback I’ve gotten from Congress is, is that we’re doing the right thing. Now, as we go forward — as I’ve described to Chuck — and look at a broader regional strategy with an international coalition and partners to systematically degrade ISIL’s capacity to engage in the terrible violence and disruptions that they’ve been engaging in not just in Syria, not just in Iraq, but potentially elsewhere if we don’t nip this at the bud, then those consultations with Congress for something that is longer term I think become more relevant.
And it is my intention that Congress has to have some buy-in as representatives of the American people. And, by the way, the American people need to hear what that strategy is. But as I said to Chuck, I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. And in some of the media reports the suggestion seems to have been that we’re about to go full scale on an elaborate strategy for defeating ISIL, and the suggestion, I guess, has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress — still out of town — is going to be left in the dark. That’s not what’s going to happen.
We are going to continue to focus on protecting the American people. We’re going to continue, where we can, to engage in the sort of humanitarian acts that saved so many folks who were trapped on a mountain. We are going to work politically and diplomatically with folks in the region. And we’re going to cobble together the kind of coalition that we need for a long-term strategy as soon as we are able to fit together the military, political and economic components of that strategy. There will be a military aspect to that, and it’s going to be important for Congress to know what that is, in part because it may cost some money.
I’ll just take a couple more. Yes.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Do you regret not moving on ISIS earlier? There are some reports indicating that most of the weapons, the U.S. weapons that they have, they got it or they acquired it after the fall of Mosul. And also, the Iraqi President said today that the Iraqi forces are in no position to stand up to ISIS. What makes you think that forming a new government will change the situation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, once ISIL got into Mosul that posed a big problem, because there’s no doubt that they were able to capture some weapons and resources that they then used to finance additional operations.
And at that stage, we immediately contacted the Iraqi government. Keep in mind we had been in communications with the Iraqi government for more than a year indicating that we saw significant problems in the Sunni areas. Prime Minister Maliki was not as responsive perhaps as we would have liked to some of the underlying political grievances that existed at the time.
There is no doubt that in order for Iraq security forces to be successful, they’re going to need help. They’re going to need help from us. They’re going to need help from our international partners. They’re going to need additional training. They’re going to need additional equipment. And we are going to be prepared to offer that support.
There may be a role for an international coalition providing additional air support for their operations. But the reason it’s so important that an Iraqi government be in place is this is not simply a military problem. The problem we have had consistently is a Sunni population that feels alienated from Baghdad and does not feel invested in what’s happening, and does not feel as if anybody is looking out for them.
If we can get a government in place that provides Sunnis some hope that a national government serves their interest, if they can regain some confidence and trust that it will follow through on commitments that were made way back in 2006 and 2007 and 2008 and earlier about how you arrive at, for example, de-Baathification laws and give people opportunities so they’re not locked out of government positions — if those things are followed through on, and we are able to combine it with a sound military strategy, then I think we can be successful. If we can’t, then the idea that the United States or any outside power would perpetually defeat ISIS I think is unrealistic.
As I’ve said before — I think I said in the previous press conference — our military is the best in the world. We can route ISIS on the ground and keep a lid on things temporarily. But then as soon as we leave, the same problems come back again. So we’ve got to make sure that Iraqis understand in the end they’re going to be responsible for their own security. And part of that is going to be the capacity for them to make compromises.
It also means that states in the region stop being ambivalent about these extremist groups. The truth is that we’ve had state actors who at times have thought that the way to advance their interests is, well, financing some of these groups as proxies is not such a bad strategy. And part of our message to the entire region is this should be a wake-up call to Sunni,to Shia — to everybody — that a group like ISIS is beyond the pale; that they have no vision or ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people. And as a consequence, we’ve got to all join together — even if we have differences on a range of political issues — to make sure that they’re rooted out.
Q Mr. President, despite all of the actions the West has taken to get Russia to pull back from Ukraine, Russia seems intent on taking one step after another — convoys, transports of arms. At what point do sanctions no longer work? Would you envisage the possibility of a necessity of military action to get Russia to pull back from Ukraine?
THE PRESIDENT: We are not taking military action to solve the Ukrainian problem. What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia. But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming. Now, the fact that Russia has taken these actions in violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Ukrainians has resulted, I believe, in a weakening of Russia, not a strengthening of Russia. That may not be apparent immediately, but I think it will become increasingly apparent.
What it’s also done is isolated Russia from its trading partners, its commercial partners, international business in ways that I think are going to be very difficult to recover from. And we will continue to stand firm with our allies and partners that what is happening is wrong, that there is a solution that allows Ukraine and Russia to live peacefully. But it is not in the cards for us to see a military confrontation between Russia and the United States in this region.
Keep in mind, however, that I’m about to go to a NATO conference. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, but a number of those states that are close by are. And we take our Article 5 commitments to defend each other very seriously, and that includes the smallest NATO member, as well as the largest NATO member. And so part of the reason I think this NATO meeting is going to be so important is to refocus attention on the critical function that NATO plays to make sure that every country is contributing in order to deliver on the promise of our Article 5 assurances.
Part of the reason I’ll be going to Estonia is to let the Estonians know that we mean what we say with respect to our treaty obligations. We don’t have those treaty obligations with Ukraine. We do, however, stand shoulder to shoulder with them, and we’re doing not just a lot of work diplomatically but also financially in order to make sure that they have the best chance at dealing with what is admittedly a very difficult situation.
Thank you very much, everybody.
Q On immigration?
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, guys. Thank you.
Q Mr. President, how are external events and your executive decision-making going to impact your decision on immigration reform? Some people say you’re going to delay this.
THE PRESIDENT: Let me just say this: I’ve been very clear about the fact that our immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed. And my preference continues to be that Congress act. I don’t think anybody thinks that Congress is going to act in the short term, but hope springs eternal that after the midterm elections they may act.
In the meantime, what I’ve asked Jeh Johnson to do is to look at what kinds of executive authorities we have in order to make the system work better. And we’ve had a lot of stakeholder discussions; that set of proposals is being worked up.
And the one thing that I think has happened was the issue with unaccompanied children that got so much attention a couple of months back. And part of the reason that was important was not because that represented a huge unprecedented surge in overall immigration at the border, but I do think that it changed the perception of the American people about what’s happening at the borders.
And so one of the things we’ve had — have had to do is to work through systematically to make sure that that specific problem in a fairly defined area of the border, that we’re starting to deal with that in a serious way. And the good news is we’ve started to make some progress. I mean, what we’ve seen so far is that throughout the summer the number of apprehensions have been decreasing — maybe that’s counterintuitive, but that’s a good thing because that means that fewer folks are coming across. The number of apprehensions in August are down from July, and they’re actually lower than they were August of last year. Apprehensions in July were half of what they were in June. So we’re seeing a significant downward trend in terms of these unaccompanied children.
And what that I think allows us to do is to make sure that those kids are being taken care of properly, with due process. At the same time, it’s allowed us to then engage in a broader conversation about what we need to do to get more resources down at the border. It would have been helped along if Congress had voted for the supplemental that I asked for; they did not. That means we’ve got to make some administrative choices and executive choices about, for example, getting more immigration judges down there.
So that has kept us busy, but it has not stopped the process of looking more broadly about how do we get a smarter immigration system in place while we’re waiting for Congress to act. And it continues to be my belief that if I can’t see congressional action, that I need to do at least what I can in order to make the system work better.
But some of these things do affect timelines, and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done. But have no doubt, in the absence of congressional action, I’m going to do what I can to make sure the system works better.
Thank you, guys.
END 4:39 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 28, 2014
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Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 4, 2014
Source: WH, 8-1-14
2:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Friday. I thought I’d take some questions, but first, let me say a few words about the economy.
This morning, we learned that our economy created over 200,000 new jobs in July. That’s on top of about 300,000 new jobs in June. So we are now in a six-month streak with at least 200,000 new jobs each month. That’s the first time that has happened since 1997. Over the past year, we’ve added more jobs than any year since 2006. And all told, our businesses have created 9.9 million new jobs over the past 53 months. That’s the longest streak of private sector job creation in our history.
And as we saw on Wednesday, the economy grew at a strong pace in the spring. Companies are investing. Consumers are spending. American manufacturing, energy, technology, autos — all are booming. And thanks to the decisions that we’ve made, and the grit and resilience of the American people, we’ve recovered faster and come farther from the recession than almost any other advanced country on Earth.
So the good news is the economy clearly is getting stronger. Things are getting better. Our engines are revving a little bit louder. And the decisions that we make right now can sustain and keep that growth and momentum going.
Unfortunately, there are a series of steps that we could be taking to maintain momentum, and perhaps even accelerate it; there are steps that we could be taking that would result in more job growth, higher wages, higher incomes, more relief for middle-class families. And so far, at least, in Congress, we have not seen them willing or able to take those steps.
I’ve been pushing for common-sense ideas like rebuilding our infrastructure in ways that are sustained over many years and support millions of good jobs and help businesses compete. I’ve been advocating on behalf of raising the minimum wage, making it easier for working folks to pay off their student loans; fair pay, paid leave. All these policies have two things in common: All of them would help working families feel more stable and secure, and all of them so far have been blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress. That’s why my administration keeps taking whatever actions we can take on our own to help working families.
Now, it’s good that Congress was able to pass legislation to strengthen the VA. And I want to thank the chairmen and ranking members who were involved in that. It’s good that Congress was able to at least fund transportation projects for a few more months before leaving town — although it falls far short of the kind of infrastructure effort that we need that would actually accelerate the economy. But for the most part, the big-ticket items, the things that would really make a difference in the lives of middle-class families, those things just are not getting done.
Let’s just take a recent example: Immigration. We all agree that there’s a problem that needs to be solved in a portion of our southern border. And we even agree on most of the solutions. But instead of working together — instead of focusing on the 80 percent where there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans, between the administration and Congress — House Republicans, as we speak, are trying to pass the most extreme and unworkable versions of a bill that they already know is going nowhere, that can’t pass the Senate and that if it were to pass the Senate I would veto. They know it.
They’re not even trying to actually solve the problem. This is a message bill that they couldn’t quite pull off yesterday, so they made it a little more extreme so maybe they can pass it today — just so they can check a box before they’re leaving town for a month. And this is on an issue that they all insisted had to be a top priority.
Now, our efforts administratively so far have helped to slow the tide of child migrants trying to come to our country. But without additional resources and help from Congress, we’re just not going to have the resources we need to fully solve the problem. That means while they’re out on vacation I’m going to have to make some tough choices to meet the challenge — with or without Congress.
And yesterday, even though they’ve been sitting on a bipartisan immigration bill for over a year, House Republicans suggested that since they don’t expect to actually pass a bill that I can sign, that I actually should go ahead and act on my own to solve the problem. Keep in mind that just a few days earlier, they voted to sue me for acting on my own. And then when they couldn’t pass a bill yesterday, they put out a statement suggesting I should act on my own because they couldn’t pass a bill.
So immigration has not gotten done. A student loan bill that would help folks who have student loan debt consolidate and refinance at lower rates — that didn’t pass. The transportation bill that they did pass just gets us through the spring, when we should actually be planning years in advance. States and businesses are raising the minimum wage for their workers because this Congress is failing to do so.
Even basic things like approving career diplomats for critical ambassadorial posts aren’t getting done. Last night, for purely political reasons, Senate Republicans, for a certain period of time, blocked our new ambassador to Russia. It raised such an uproar that finally they went ahead and let our Russian ambassador pass — at a time when we are dealing every day with the crisis in Ukraine.
They’re still blocking our ambassador to Sierra Leone, where there’s currently an Ebola outbreak. They’re blocking our ambassador to Guatemala, even as they demand that we do more to stop the flow of unaccompanied children from Guatemala. There are a lot of things that we could be arguing about on policy — that’s what we should be doing as a democracy — but we shouldn’t be having an argument about placing career diplomats with bipartisan support in countries around the world where we have to have a presence.
So the bottom line is this: We have come a long way over the last five and a half years. Our challenges are nowhere near as daunting as they were when I first came into office. But the American people demand and deserve a strong and focused effort on the part of all of us to keep moving the country forward and to focus on their concerns. And the fact is we could be much further along and we could be doing even better, and the economy could be even stronger, and more jobs could be created if Congress would do the job that the people sent them here to do.
And I will not stop trying to work with both parties to get things moving faster for middle-class families and those trying to get into the middle class. When Congress returns next month, my hope is, is that instead of simply trying to pass partisan message bills on party lines that don’t actually solve problems, they’re going to be willing to come together to at least focus on some key areas where there’s broad agreement. After all that we’ve had to overcome, our Congress should stop standing in the way of our country’s success.
So with that, let me take a couple of questions. And I will start with Roberta Rampton of Reuters.
Q Thanks. I want to ask about the situation in the Middle East. And why do you think Israel should embrace a cease-fire in Gaza when one of its soldiers appears to have been abducted and when Hamas continues to use its network of tunnels to launch attacks? And also, have you seen Israel act at all on your call to do more to protect civilians?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to note that we have — and I have — unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third almost minutes after a cease-fire had been announced. And the U.N. has condemned them as well.
And I want to make sure that they are listening: If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible.
I have been very clear throughout this crisis that Israel has a right to defend itself. No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities and people having to rush to bomb shelters every 20 minutes or half hour. No country can or would tolerate tunnels being dug under their land that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.
And so, not only have we been supportive of Israel in its right to defend itself, but in very concrete terms — for example, in support for the Iron Dome program that has intercepted rockets that are firing down on Israeli cities — we’ve been trying to cooperate as much as we can to make sure that Israel is able to protect its citizens.
Now, at the same time, we’ve also been clear that innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them. A cease-fire was one way in which we could stop the killing, to step back and to try to resolve some of the underlying issues that have been building up over quite some time. Israel committed to that 72-hour cease-fire, and it was violated. And trying to put that back together is going to be challenging, but we will continue to make those efforts.
And let me take this opportunity, by the way, to give Secretary John Kerry credit. He has been persistent. He has worked very hard. He has endured on many occasions really unfair criticism simply to try to get to the point where the killing stops and the underlying issues about Israel’s security but also the concerns of Palestinians in Gaza can be addressed.
We’re going to keep working towards that. It’s going to take some time. I think it’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.
And it’s not particularly relevant whether a particular leader in Hamas ordered this abduction. The point is, is that when they sign onto a cease-fire they’re claiming to speak for all the Palestinian factions. And if they don’t have control of them, and just moments after a cease-fire is signed you have Israeli soldiers being killed and captured, then it’s hard for the Israelis to feel confident that a cease-fire can actually be honored.
I’m in constant consultation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Our national security team is in constant communication with the Israel military. I want to see everything possible done to make sure that Palestinian civilians are not being killed. And it is heartbreaking to see what’s happening there, and I think many of us recognize the dilemma we have. On the one hand, Israel has a right to defend itself and it’s got to be able to get at those rockets and those tunnel networks. On the other hand, because of the incredibly irresponsible actions on the part of Hamas to oftentimes house these rocket launchers right in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, we end up seeing people who had nothing to do with these rockets ending up being hurt.
Part of the reason why we’ve been pushing so hard for a cease-fire is precisely because it’s hard to reconcile Israel’s legitimate need to defend itself with our concern with those civilians. And if we can pause the fighting, then it’s possible that we may be able to arrive at a formula that spares lives and also ensures Israel’s security. But it’s difficult. And I don’t think we should pretend otherwise.
Q Mr. President, like that cease-fire, you’ve called for diplomatic solutions not only in Israel and Gaza but also in Ukraine, in Iraq, to very little effect so far. Has the United States of America lost its influence in the world? Have you lost yours?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, this is a common theme that folks bring up. Apparently people have forgotten that America, as the most powerful country on Earth, still does not control everything around the world. And so our diplomatic efforts often take time. They often will see progress and then a step backwards. That’s been true in the Middle East. That’s been true in Europe. That’s been true in Asia. That’s the nature of world affairs. It’s not neat, and it’s not smooth.
But if you look at, for example, Ukraine, we have made progress in delivering on what we said we would do. We can’t control how Mr. Putin thinks. But what we can do is say to Mr. Putin, if you continue on the path of arming separatists with heavy armaments that the evidence suggests may have resulted in 300 innocent people on a jet dying, and that violates international law and undermines the integrity — territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, then you’re going to face consequences that will hurt your country.
And there was a lot of skepticism about our ability to coordinate with Europeans for a strong series of sanctions. And each time we have done what we said we would do, including this week, when we put in place sanctions that have an impact on key sectors of the Russian economy — their energy, their defense, their financial systems.
It hasn’t resolved the problem yet. I spoke to Mr. Putin this morning, and I indicated to him, just as we will do what we say we do in terms of sanctions, we’ll also do what we say we do in terms of wanting to resolve this issue diplomatically if he takes a different position. If he respects and honors the right of Ukrainians to determine their own destiny, then it’s possible to make sure that Russian interests are addressed that are legitimate, and that Ukrainians are able to make their own decisions, and we can resolve this conflict and end some of the bloodshed.
But the point is, though, Bill, that if you look at the 20th century and the early part of this century, there are a lot of conflicts that America doesn’t resolve. That’s always been true. That doesn’t mean we stop trying. And it’s not a measure of American influence on any given day or at any given moment that there are conflicts around the world that are difficult. The conflict in Northern Ireland raged for a very, very long time until finally something broke, where the parties decided that it wasn’t worth killing each other.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been going on even longer than you’ve been reporting. (Laughter.) And I don’t think at any point was there a suggestion somehow that America didn’t have influence just because we weren’t able to finalize an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
You will recall that situations like Kosovo and Bosnia raged on for quite some time, and there was a lot more death and bloodshed than there has been so far in the Ukrainian situation before it ultimately did get resolved.
And so I recognize with so many different issues popping up around the world, sometimes it may seem as if this is an aberration or it’s unusual. But the truth of the matter is, is that there’s a big world out there, and that as indispensable as we are to try to lead it, there’s still going to be tragedies out there and there are going to be conflicts. And our job is to just make sure that we continue to project what’s right, what’s just, and that we’re building coalitions of like-minded countries and partners in order to advance not only our core security interests but also the interests of the world as a whole.
Q Do you think you could have done more?
THE PRESIDENT: On which one?
Q On any of them? Ukraine?
THE PRESIDENT: Well look, I think, Bill, that the nature of being President is that you’re always asking yourself what more can you do. But with respect to, let’s say, the Israeli-Palestinian issue, this administration invested an enormous amount to try to bring the parties together around a framework for peace and a two-state solution. John Kerry invested an enormous amount of time. In the end, it’s up to the two parties to make a decision. We can lead them to resolve some of the technical issues and to show them a path, but they’ve got to want it.
With respect to Ukraine, I think that we have done everything that we can to support the Ukrainian government and to deter Russia from moving further into Ukraine. But short of going to war, there are going to be some constraints in terms of what we can do if President Putin and Russia are ignoring what should be their long-term interests.
Right now, what we’ve done is impose sufficient costs on Russia that, objectively speaking, they should — President Putin should want to resolve this diplomatically, get these sanctions lifted, get their economy growing again, and have good relations with Ukraine. But sometimes people don’t always act rationally, and they don’t always act based on their medium- or long-term interests. That can’t deter us, though. We’ve just got to stay at it.
Q Mr. President, Republicans point to some of your executive orders as reason, they say, that they can’t trust you to implement legislation that they pass. Even if you don’t buy that argument, do you hold yourself totally blameless in the inability it appears to reach agreement with the Republican-led House?
THE PRESIDENT: Wendell, let’s just take the recent example of immigration. A bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate, co-sponsored by not just Democrats but some very conservative Republicans who recognize that the system currently is broken and if, in fact we put more resources on the border, provide a path in which those undocumented workers who’ve been living here for a long time and may have ties here are coming out of the shadows, paying their taxes, paying a fine, learning English — if we fix the legal immigration system so it’s more efficient, if we are attracting young people who may have studied here to stay here and create jobs here, that that all is going to be good for the economy, it’s going to reduce the deficit, it might have forestalled some of the problems that we’re seeing now in the Rio Grande Valley with these unaccompanied children.
And so we have a bipartisan bill, Wendell, bipartisan agreement supported by everybody from labor to the evangelical community to law enforcement. So the argument isn’t between me and the House Republicans. It’s between the House Republicans and Senate Republicans, and House Republicans and the business community, and House Republicans and the evangelical community. I’m just one of the people they seem to disagree with on this issue.
So that’s on the comprehensive bill. So now we have a short-term crisis with respect to the Rio Grande Valley. They say we need more resources, we need tougher border security in this area where these unaccompanied children are showing up. We agree. So we put forward a supplemental to give us the additional resources and funding to do exactly what they say we should be doing, and they can’t pass the bill. They can’t even pass their own version of the bill. So that’s not a disagreement between me and the House Republicans; that’s a disagreement between the House Republicans and the House Republicans.
The point is that on a range of these issues, whether it’s tax reform, whether it’s reducing the deficit, whether it’s rebuilding our infrastructure, we have consistently put forward proposals that in previous years and previous administrations would not have been considered radical or left wing; they would have been considered pretty sensible, mainstream approaches to solving problems.
I include under that, by the way, the Affordable Care Act. That’s a whole other conversation.
And in circumstances where even basic, common-sense, plain, vanilla legislation can’t pass because House Republicans consider it somehow a compromise of their principles, or giving Obama a victory, then we’ve got to take action. Otherwise, we’re not going to be making progress on the things that the American people care about.
Q On the border supplemental — can you act alone?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to have to act alone because we don’t have enough resources. We’ve already been very clear — we’ve run out of money. And we are going to have to reallocate resources in order to just make sure that some of the basic functions that have to take place down there — whether it’s making sure that these children are properly housed, or making sure we’ve got enough immigration judges to process their cases — that those things get done. We’re going to have to reallocate some resources.
But the broader point, Wendell, is that if, in fact, House Republicans are concerned about me acting independently of Congress — despite the fact that I’ve taken fewer executive actions than my Republican predecessor or my Democratic predecessor before that, or the Republican predecessor before that — then the easiest way to solve it is passing legislation. Get things done.
On the supplemental, we agreed on 80 percent of the issues. There were 20 percent of the issues that perhaps there were disagreements between Democrats and Republicans. As I said to one Republican colleague who was down here that I was briefing about some national security issues, why wouldn’t we just go ahead and pass the 80 percent that we agree on and we’ll try to work to resolve the differences on the other 20 percent? Why wouldn’t we do that? And he didn’t really have a good answer for it.
So there’s no doubt that I can always do better on everything, including making additional calls to Speaker Boehner, and having more conversations with some of the House Republican leadership. But in the end, the challenge I have right now is that they are not able to act even on what they say their priorities are, and they’re not able to work and compromise even with Senate Republicans on certain issues. And they consider what have been traditionally Republican-supported initiatives, they consider those as somehow a betrayal of the cause.
Take the example of the Export-Import Bank. This is an interesting thing that’s happened. This is a program in which we help to provide financing to sell American goods and products around the world. Every country does this. It’s traditionally been championed by Republicans. For some reason, right now the House Republicans have decided that we shouldn’t do this — which means that when American companies go overseas and they’re trying to close a sale on selling Boeing planes, for example, or a GE turbine, or some other American product, that has all kinds of subcontractors behind it and is creating all kinds of jobs, and all sorts of small businesses depend on that sale, and that American company is going up against a German company or a Chinese company, and the Chinese and the German company are providing financing and the American company isn’t, we may lose that sale.
When did that become something that Republicans opposed? It would be like me having a car dealership for Ford, and the Toyota dealership offers somebody financing and I don’t. We will lose business and we’ll lose jobs if we don’t pass it.
So there’s some big issues where I understand why we have differences. On taxes, Republicans want to maintain some corporate loopholes I think need to be closed because I think that we should be giving tax breaks to families that are struggling with child care or trying to save for a college education. On health care, obviously their view is, is that we should not be helping folks get health care, even though it’s through the private marketplace. My view is, is that in a country as wealthy as ours, we can afford to make sure that everybody has access to affordable care.
Those are legitimate policy arguments. But getting our ambassadors confirmed? These are career diplomats, not political types. Making sure that we pass legislation to strengthen our borders and put more folks down there? Those shouldn’t be controversial. And I think you’d be hard-pressed to find an example of where I wouldn’t welcome some reasonable efforts to actually get a bill passed out of Congress that I could sign.
Last question, Michelle Kosinski.
Q You made the point that in certain difficult conflicts in the past, both sides had to reach a point where they were tired of the bloodshed. Do you think that we are actually far from that point right now? And is it realistic to try to broker a cease-fire right now when there are still tunnel operations allowed to continue? Is that going to cause a change of approach from this point forward?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, keep in mind that the cease-fire that had been agreed to would have given Israel the capability to continue to dismantle these tunnel networks, but the Israelis can dismantle these tunnel networks without going into major population centers in Gaza. So I think the Israelis are entirely right that these tunnel networks need to be dismantled. There is a way of doing that while still reducing the bloodshed.
You are right that in past conflicts, sometimes people have to feel deeply the costs. Anybody who has been watching some of these images I’d like to think should recognize the costs. You have children who are getting killed. You have women, defenseless, who are getting killed. You have Israelis whose lives are disrupted constantly and living in fear. And those are costs that are avoidable if we’re able to get a cease-fire that preserves Israel’s ability to defend itself and gives it the capacity to have an assurance that they’re not going to be constantly threatened by rocket fire in the future, and, conversely, an agreement that recognizes the Palestinian need to be able to make a living and the average Palestinian’s capacity to live a decent life.
But it’s hard. It’s going to be hard to get there. I think that there’s a lot of anger and there’s a lot of despair, and that’s a volatile mix. But we have to keep trying.
And it is — Bill asked earlier about American leadership. Part of the reason why America remains indispensable, part of the essential ingredient in American leadership is that we’re willing to plunge in and try, where other countries don’t bother trying. I mean, the fact of the matter is, is that in all these crises that have been mentioned, there may be some tangential risks to the United States. In some cases, as in Iraq and ISIS, those are dangers that have to be addressed right now, and we have to take them very seriously. But for the most part, these are not — the rockets aren’t being fired into the United States. The reason we are concerned is because we recognize we’ve got some special responsibilities.
We have to have some humility about what we can and can’t accomplish. We have to recognize that our resources are finite, and we’re coming out of a decade of war and our military has been stretched very hard, as has our budget. Nevertheless, we try. We go in there and we make an effort.
And when I see John Kerry going out there and trying to broker a cease-fire, we should all be supporting him. There shouldn’t be a bunch of complaints and second-guessing about, well, it hasn’t happened yet, or nitpicking before he’s had a chance to complete his efforts. Because, I tell you what, there isn’t any other country that’s going in there and making those efforts.
And more often than not, as a consequence of our involvement, we get better outcomes — not perfect outcomes, not immediate outcomes, but we get better outcomes. And that’s going to be true with respect to the Middle East. That’s going to be true with respect to Ukraine. That’s going to be certainly true with respect to Iraq.
And I think it’s useful for me to end by just reminding folks that, in my first term, if I had a press conference like this, typically, everybody would want to ask about the economy and how come jobs weren’t being created, and how come the housing market is still bad, and why isn’t it working. Well, you know what, what we did worked. And the economy is better. And when I say that we’ve just had six months of more than 200,000 jobs that hasn’t happened in 17 years that shows you the power of persistence. It shows you that if you stay at it, eventually we make some progress. All right?
Q What about John Brennan?
Q The Africa summit — Ebola?
THE PRESIDENT: I thought that you guys were going to ask me how I was going to spend my birthday. What happened to the happy birthday thing?
Q Happy birthday.
Q What about John Brennan?
Q Africa summit?
THE PRESIDENT: I will address two points. I’ll address –
Q And Flight 17?
THE PRESIDENT: Hold on, guys. Come on. There’s just –
Q And Africa.
THE PRESIDENT: You’re not that pent up. I’ve been giving you questions lately.
On Brennan and the CIA, the RDI report has been transmitted, the declassified version that will be released at the pleasure of the Senate committee.
I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.
With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.
I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.
But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.
And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard. And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line. And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted. And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.
Q Mr. President –
THE PRESIDENT: Now, I gave you a question.
Q All right.
Q The summit — the U.S.-Africa –
THE PRESIDENT: We’ve got a U.S.-Africa Summit coming up next week. It is going to be an unprecedented gathering of African leaders. The importance of this for America needs to be understood. Africa is one of the fastest-growing continents in the world. You’ve got six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in Africa. You have all sorts of other countries like China and Brazil and India deeply interested in working with Africa — not to extract natural resources alone, which traditionally has been the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world — but now because Africa is growing and you’ve got thriving markets and you’ve got entrepreneurs and extraordinary talent among the people there.
And Africa also happens to be one of the continents where America is most popular and people feel a real affinity for our way of life. And we’ve made enormous progress over the last several years in not just providing traditional aid to Africa, helping countries that are suffering from malnutrition or helping countries that are suffering from AIDS, but rather partnering and thinking about how can we trade more and how can we do business together. And that’s the kind of relationship that Africa is looking for.
And I’ve had conversations over the last several months with U.S. businesses — some of the biggest U.S. businesses in the world — and they say, Africa, that’s one of our top priorities; we want to do business with those folks, and we think that we can create U.S. jobs and send U.S. exports to Africa. But we’ve got to be engaged, and so this gives us a chance to do that. It also gives us a chance to talk to Africa about security issues — because, as we’ve seen, terrorist networks try to find places where governance is weak and security structures are weak. And if we want to keep ourselves safe over the long term, then one of the things that we can do is make sure that we are partnering with some countries that really have pretty effective security forces and have been deploying themselves in peacekeeping and conflict resolution efforts in Africa. And that, ultimately, can save us and our troops and our military a lot of money if we’ve got strong partners who are able to deal with conflicts in these regions.
So it’s going to be a terrific conference. I won’t lie to you, traffic will be bad here in Washington. (Laughter.) I know that everybody has been warned about that, but we are really looking forward to this and I think it’s going to be a great success.
Now, the last thing I’m going to say about this, because I know that it’s been on people’s minds, is the issue of Ebola. This is something that we take very seriously. As soon as there’s an outbreak anywhere in the world of any disease that could have significant effects, the CDC is in communication with the World Health Organization and other multilateral agencies to try to make sure that we’ve got an appropriate response.
This has been a more aggressive Ebola outbreak than we’ve seen in the past. But keep in mind that it is still affecting parts of three countries, and we’ve got some 50 countries represented at this summit. We are doing two things with respect to the summit itself. We’re taking the appropriate precautions. Folks who are coming from these countries that have even a marginal risk or an infinitesimal risk of having been exposed in some fashion, we’re making sure we’re doing screening on that end — as they leave the country. We’ll do additional screening when they’re here. We feel confident that the procedures that we’ve put in place are appropriate.
More broadly, the CDC and our various health agencies are going to be working very intently with the World Health Organization and some of our partner countries to make sure that we can surge some resources down there and organization to these countries that are pretty poor and don’t have a strong public health infrastructure so that we can start containing the problem.
Keep in mind that Ebola is not something that is easily transmitted. That’s why, generally, outbreaks dissipate. But the key is identifying, quarantining, isolating those who contract it and making sure that practices are in place that avoid transmission. And it can be done, but it’s got to be done in an organized, systematic way, and that means that we’re going to have to help these countries accomplish that.
All right? Okay.
Q Happy Birthday, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: There you go, April. (Laughter.) That’s what I was talking about — somebody finally wished me happy birthday — although it isn’t until Monday, you’re right.
Thank you so much.
END 3:34 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on August 1, 2014
Source: WH, 7-31-14
South Court Auditorium
1:40 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody, hello! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Welcome to the White House.
The executive order I’ll sign in a few minutes is one that’s good for workers, it’s good for responsible employers, and it’s good for the middle class. That explains the folks who are standing up on stage with me, including Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, who’s done a great job on this. (Applause.)
Yesterday, we learned that the springtime was a strong time for economic growth. Companies are investing. Consumers are spending. Our energy, our technology, our auto industries are all booming, with workers making and selling goods all around the world. Our businesses have created nearly 10 million new jobs over the past 52 months, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since 2008. 401(k)s have recovered their value. Home prices are rising. Millions more families have the peace of mind that comes with having affordable, quality health care.
And because of the incredible hard work and resilience of the American people, we’ve recovered faster, we’ve come farther than any other advanced country since the onset of the Great Recession. (Applause.) Things are getting better. Steadily, things are getting better. But we all know there’s more work to do. And the decisions we make now are going to have an impact on whether or not this economy works for everybody or just folks at the top; whether we’ve got a growing economy that fuels rising incomes and creates a thriving middle class and ladders into the middle class.
That’s what’s at stake — making sure our economy works for every hardworking American, and if you work hard and you’re responsible, you can get ahead. That’s what we want. We want to make sure the young dad on the factory floor has a shot to make it into the corner suite — or at least see his daughter make it there some day.
That’s why I ran for office. That’s what has driven every policy that we’ve initiated this year and since the advent of my presidency. Policies that create more jobs rebuilding America. Policies to ease the student loan burden. Policies to raise wages for workers, and make sure that women are being paid fairly on the job, and creating opportunities for paid leave for working families, and support for child care.
These are all policies that have two things in common. Number one, they’d all help working families. And, frankly, number two, they’re being blocked or ignored by Republicans in Congress. So I’ve said to my team, look, any time Congress wants to do work with me to help working families, I’m right there. The door is always open. More than that, I’ll go to them; I’ll wash their car — (laughter) — walk their dog. (Laughter.) I mean, I’m ready to work with them any time that they want to pursue policies that help working families. But where they’re doing so little or nothing at all to help working families, then we’ve got to find ways, as an administration, to take action that’s going to help.
And so far this year, we’ve made sure that more women have the protection they need to fight for fair pay in the workplace — because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds. (Applause.) We’ve acted to give millions of Americans the chance to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their income. I don’t want young people to be so saddled with debt that they can’t get started in life. (Applause.)
We’ve acted on our own to make sure federal contractors can’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity — because you shouldn’t be fired because of who you love. (Applause.) If you’re doing the job, you should be treated fairly and judged on your own merits. (Applause.)
We acted to require federal contractors to pay their workers a fair wage of $10.10 an hour. (Applause.) And we’ve gone out and we’ve worked with states and cities and business owners to join us on our $10.10 campaign, and more and more are joining us — because folks agree that if you work full-time in this country, you shouldn’t be raising your family in poverty. That’s a pretty simple principle that we all believe in. (Applause.)
So the American people are doing their job. I’ve been traveling around the country meeting them. They’re working hard. They’re meeting their responsibilities. Here in the executive branch, we’re doing our job, trying to find ways in which we can help working families. Think about how much further along we’d be if Congress would do its job.
Instead, the big event last night — it wasn’t the vote on the minimum wage. (Laughter.) It wasn’t a vote on immigration reform, strengthening the borders. It wasn’t a vote on family leave. What did they have a vote on? (Laughter.) They got together in the House of Representatives, the Republicans, and voted to sue me for taking the actions that we are doing to help families. (Laughter.)
One of the main objections that’s the basis of this suit is us making a temporary modification to the health care law that they said needed to be modified. (Laughter.) So they criticized a provision; we modify it to make it easier for business to transition; and that’s the basis for their suit. Now, you could say that, all right, this is a harmless political stunt — except it wastes America’s time. You guys are all paying for it as taxpayers. It’s not very productive. But it’s not going to stop me from doing what I think needs to be done in order to help families all across this country. (Applause.)
So we’ve got too much work to do. (Applause.) And I said to Speaker Boehner, tell your caucus the best way to avoid me acting on my own is work with me to actually do something. Then you don’t have to worry about it. We’re not going to stop, and if they’re not going to lift a finger to help working Americans then I’m going to work twice as hard to help working Americans. (Applause.) They can join me if they want. I hope they do. But at least they should stop standing in the way of America’s success. We’ve got too much to do. (Applause.)
So, today, I’m taking another action, one that protects workers and taxpayers alike. Every year, our government signs contracts with private companies for everything from fighter jets to flapjacks, computers to pencils. And we expect our tax dollars to be spent wisely on these contracts; to get what we pay for on-time, on budget. And when companies that receive federal contracts employ about 28 million Americans –- about one in five workers in America work for a company that has a federal contract -– we also expect that our tax dollars are being used to ensure that these jobs are good jobs.
Our tax dollars shouldn’t go to companies that violate workplace laws. (Applause.) They shouldn’t go to companies that violate worker rights. (Applause.) If a company is going to receive taxpayer money, it should have safe workplaces. (Applause.) It should pay its workers the wages they’ve earned. It should provide the medical leave workers are entitled to. It should not discriminate against workers. (Applause.)
But one study found that more than one in four companies that have poor records on these areas also still get contracts from the federal government. And another study found that the worst violators are also the ones who end up missing performance or cost or schedule targets –- or even overbilled the government, ripping off the taxpayers altogether — which makes sense. I mean, if you think about it, if you got a company that isn’t treating its workers with integrity, isn’t taking safety measures seriously, isn’t taking overtime laws seriously, then they’re probably cutting corners in other areas, too.
And I want to be clear, the vast majority of the companies that contract with our government, they play by the rules. They live up to the right workplace standards. But some don’t. And I don’t want those who don’t to be getting a contract and getting a competitive advantage over the folks who are doing the right thing, right? That’s not fair. (Applause.)
Because the ones that don’t play by the rules, they’re not just failing their workers, they’re failing all of us. It’s a bad deal for taxpayers when we’ve got to pay for poor performance or sloppy work. Responsible companies that follow the law are likelier to have workers and workplaces that provide a better return for our tax dollar. They should not have to compete on an unfair playing field with companies that undercut them by breaking the law. In a race to the bottom, nobody wins. (Applause.)
So over the past few years, my administration has taken steps to make the contracting process smarter. But many of the people who award contracts don’t always have the information that they need to make sure contracts go to responsible companies. So the executive order I’m signing today is going to do a few things.
Number one, it will hold corporations accountable by requiring potential contractors to disclose labor law violations from the past three years before they can receive a contract. It’s going to crack down on the worst violators by giving agencies better tools to evaluate egregious or repeated offenses.
It will give workers better and clearer information on their paychecks, so they can be sure they’re getting paid what they’re owed. It will give more workers who may have been sexually assaulted or had their civil rights violated their day in court.
It will ease compliance burdens for business owners around the country by streamlining all types of reporting requirements across the federal government. So this is a first step in a series of actions to make it easier for companies, including small businesses, to do business with the government. So we’re going to protect responsible companies that play by the rules — make it easier for them, try to reduce the paperwork, the burdens that they have. They’ll basically check a box that says they don’t have these violations. We want to make it easier for good corporate citizens to do business with us. (Applause.)
And, by the way, for companies that have violations, our emphasis is not going to be on punishments. It is to give them a chance to follow good workplace practices and come into compliance with the law. If you want to do business with the United States of America, you’ve got to respect our workers, you’ve got to respect our taxpayers.
And we’ll spend a lot of time working with and listening to business owners, so we can implement this thoughtfully and make it manageable for everybody. But the goal here is to make sure this action raises standards across the economy; encourages contractors to adopt better practices for all their employees, not just those working on federal contracts; give responsible businesses that play by the rules a fairer shot to compete for business; streamline the process; improve wages and working conditions for folks who work hard every single day to provide for their families and contribute to our country.
And even though it is an executive action, I want to acknowledge and thank the members of Congress who support it and who always stand up for America’s workers. And most of them are stuck at Capitol Hill, but I just want to mention their names anyway — Tom Harkin; Rosa DeLauro; Keith Ellison is here; Raul Grijalva; Eleanor Holmes Norton. They’ve all been working on these issues, so I want to thank those members of Congress. (Applause.)
The executive order I sign today, like all the other actions I’ve taken, are not going to fix everything immediately. If I had the power to raise the federal minimum wage on my own, or enact fair pay and paid leave for every worker on my own, or make college more affordable on my own, I would have done so already. If I could do all that, I would have gotten everything done in like my first two years. (Laughter.) Because these policies make sense. But even though I can’t do all of it, that shouldn’t stop us from doing what we can. That’s what these policies will do.
And I’m going to keep on trying, not just working with Democrats, but also reach out to Republicans to get things moving faster for the middle class. We can do a lot more. We need a Congress that’s willing to get things done. We don’t have that right now. In the meantime, I’m going to do whatever I can, wherever I can, whenever I can, to keep this country’s promise alive for more and more of the American people.
So, thank you all. We’re going to just keep on at this thing, chipping away. And I’m confident that when we look back, we’ll see that these kinds of executive actions build some of the momentum and give people the confidence and the hope that ultimately leads to broad-based changes that we need to make sure that this economy works for everybody.
Thank you so much. I’m going to sign this executive order. (Applause.)
2:00 P.M. EDT
Posted by bonniekgoodman on July 31, 2014