Political Musings December 15, 2013: Obama honors Newtown victims a year later, renews gun control push

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama honors Newtown victims a year later, renews gun control push

By Bonnie K. Goodman

On the one year anniversary of the mass school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 President Barack Obama and the nation remembered the 26 victims of the second worse mass school shooting….READ MORE

Political Headlines June 3, 2013: President Barack Obama Highlights Mental Health Care Six Months After Newtown Shooting

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Highlights Mental Health Care Six Months After Newtown

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-3-13

Win McNamee/Getty Image

Six months after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama is hosting a conference at the White House to bring mental health issues “out of the shadows.”

“The main goal of this conference is not to start a conversation. So many of you have spent decades waging long and lonely battles to be heard. Instead, it’s about elevating that conversation to a national level and bringing mental illness out of the shadows,” Obama said. “We want to let people living with mental health challenges know that they are not alone.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency June 3, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the National Conference on Mental Health

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

The National Conference on Mental Health

Source: WH, 6-3-13

Watch the full video

Remarks by the President at National Conference on Mental Health

President Obama Speaks at the National Conference on Mental Health

President Obama Speaks at the National Conference on Mental Health

Source: WH, 6-3-13 

East Room

10:00 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Welcome to the White House.  And thank you, Janelle, for that introduction and sharing your story, and making such a difference through your organization.  We’re really proud to have you here.

I want to thank Secretary Sebelius, Secretary Arne Duncan, Secretary Ric Shinseki for their leadership and helping to organize this event.  And I also want to acknowledge some outstanding members of Congress who are here and who care deeply about this issue.

And finally, I want to thank all of you for participating in this national conference on mental health.  We wanted to bring together folks who’ve suffered from mental illness and families who’ve supported them.  We wanted to bring together advocates and educators, faith leaders, veterans, local officials.

All of you have shown an extraordinary commitment to what is a critical goal, and that is to make sure that people aren’t suffering in silence and that we have the capacity to pull together all the resources and support and love that’s out there to go after an extraordinary challenge in our society.

The main goal of this conference is not to start a conversation — so many of you have spent decades waging long and lonely battles to be heard.  Instead, it’s about elevating that conversation to a national level and bringing mental illness out of the shadows.

We want to let people living with mental health challenges know that they are not alone, and we’ve got to be making sure that we’re committed to support those fellow Americans, because struggling with a mental illness or caring for someone who does can be isolating.  And I think everybody here who’s experienced the issue in one way or another understands that.  It begins to feel as if not only are you alone, but that you shouldn’t burden others with the challenge and the darkness, day in, day out — what some call a cloud that you just can’t seem to escape — begins to close in.

The truth is, in any given year, one in five adults experience a mental illness — one in five.  Forty-five million Americans suffer from things like depression or anxiety, schizophrenia or PTSD.  Young people are affected at a similar rate.  So we all know somebody — a family member, a friend, a neighbor — who has struggled or will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives.  Michelle and I have both known people who have battled severe depression over the years, people we love.  And oftentimes, those who seek treatment go on to lead happy, healthy, productive lives.

So we know that recovery is possible, we know help is available, and yet, as a society, we often think about mental health differently than other forms of health.  You see commercials on TV about a whole array of physical health issues, some of them very personal.  (Laughter.)  And yet, we whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions.

The brain is a body part too; we just know less about it.  And there should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love.  We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment; we’ve got to get rid of that stigma.  Too many Americans who struggle with mental health illnesses are still suffering in silence rather than seeking help, and we need to see it that men and women who would never hesitate to go see a doctor if they had a broken arm or came down with the flu, that they have that same attitude when it comes to their mental health.

We see it in veterans who come home from the battlefield with the invisible wounds of war, but who feel somehow that seeking treatment is a sign of weakness when in fact it’s a sign of strength.  We see it in parents who would do anything for their kids, but who often fight their mental health battle alone -– afraid that reaching out would somehow reflect badly on them.

We see it in the tragedies that we have the power to prevent.  And I want to be absolutely clear:  The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses are not violent.  They will never pose a threat to themselves or others.  And there are a whole lot of violent people with no diagnosable mental health issues.  But we also know that most suicides each year involve someone with a mental health or substance abuse disorder.  And in some cases, when a condition goes untreated, it can lead to tragedy on a larger scale.

We can do something about stories like these.  In many cases, treatment is available and effective.  We can help people who suffer from a mental illness continue to be great colleagues, great friends, the people we love.  We can take out some pain and give them a new sense of hope.  But it requires all of us to act.  And there are a few ways we can do our part.

First, we’ve got to do a better job recognizing mental health issues in our children, and making it easier for Americans of all ages to seek help.  Today, less than 40 percent of people with mental illness receive treatment — less than 40 percent.  Even though three-quarters of mental illnesses emerge by the end of — by the age of 24, only about half of children with mental health problems receive treatment.  Now think about it:  We wouldn’t accept it if only 40 percent of Americans with cancers got treatment.  We wouldn’t accept it if only half of young people with diabetes got help.  Why should we accept it when it comes to mental health?  It doesn’t make any sense.

The good news is, there are plenty of groups that are stepping up to change that.  So a former colleague of mine, Gordon Smith, a former Republican Senator, lost his son to suicide 10 years ago.  And I remember him speaking so eloquently about it.  Gordon is now the head of the National Association of Broadcasters, and today, the National Association of Broadcasters is announcing a new campaign designed to change attitudes about mental illness through TV ads and social media,   because Gordon doesn’t want other parents to go through the agonizing loss that he’s endured.  So we thank you, Gordon, for that great work.  (Applause.)

You’ve got secondary school principals who are holding assemblies on mental health.  You’ve got organizations like the YMCA who are volunteering to train staff to recognize the signs of depression and other mental illnesses in our young people.  You got leaders from different faith communities who are getting their congregations involved.  And dozens of other organizations have today made similar commitments, so we’ve very thankful to all of you.

There are other people who are leading by example.  My great friend, Patrick Kennedy, when he was running for reelection back in 2006, he could have avoided talking about his struggles with bipolar disorder and addiction.  Let’s face it, he’s a Kennedy.  (Laughter.)   He was — his seat was pretty safe.  Everybody loved him.  And yet, Patrick used his experience as a way to connect and to lift up these issues, not hide from them.

And one day, a woman came up to Patrick at a senior center and told him she was afraid to tell her friends she was taking medication for a mental illness because she was worried they might treat her differently.  She told Patrick, “You’re the only one who knows aside from my son.”  And so Patrick started realizing how much power there could be for people to speak out on these issues.  And Patrick carried these stories back with him to Washington, where he worked with a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including his dad, to make sure the mental health services you get through your insurance plan at work are covered the same way that physical health services are — a huge victory.  (Applause.)

So because of Patrick’s efforts and the colleagues who worked with him, it’s easier for millions of people to join him on the road to recovery, which brings me to a second point.  It’s not enough to help more Americans seek treatment -– we also have to make sure that the treatment is there when they’re ready to seek it.

For years now, our mental health system has struggled to serve people who depend on it.  That’s why, under the Affordable Care Act, we’re expanding mental health and substance abuse benefits for more than 60 million Americans.  (Applause.)  New health insurance plans are required to cover things like depression screenings for adults and behavioral assessments for children.  And beginning next year, insurance companies will no longer be able to deny anybody coverage because of a pre-existing mental health condition.  (Applause.)

We’re also investing in science and basic research to make it easier to diagnose and treat disease early.  And earlier this year, I announced an ambitious initiative to develop tools for mapping the human brain, which could help scientists and researchers unlock the answers to conditions that affect mental health.

We’re also doing more to support our troops and our veterans who are suffering from things like traumatic brain disorder — or traumatic brain injury or PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Today, we lose 22 veterans a day to suicide — 22.  We’ve got to do a better job than that of preventing these all too often silent tragedies.  That’s why we’ve poured an enormous amount of resources into high-quality care and better treatment for our troops.

And today, under Ric Shinseki’s leadership, the VA is going even further.  They’re partnering with 24 communities in nine states to help reduce wait times for veterans seeking mental health care.  And they’re — they’ve met their goal of hiring 1,600 new mental health providers, which means this summer they’re going to hold more than 150 summits like this one in communities all across the country so that every one of our servicemembers and veterans understand — just like you take care of yourself and each other on the battlefield, you’ve got to do the same thing off the battlefield.  That’s part of being strong.

For many people who suffer from a mental illness, recovery can be challenging.  But what helps more than anything, what gives so many of our friends and loved ones strength, is the knowledge that you are not alone.  You’re not alone.  You’re surrounded by people who care about you and who will support you on the journey to get well.  We’re here for you.

And that’s what this conference is about.  That’s why these issues are so important.  So if there’s anybody out there who’s listening, if you’re struggling, seek help.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re welcome.  (Applause.)  If you know somebody who is struggling, help them reach out.  Remember the family members who shoulder their own burdens and need our support as well.  And more than anything, let people who are suffering in silence know that recovery is possible.  They’re not alone.  There’s hope.  There’s possibility.  And that’s what all of you represent with the extraordinary advocacy and work that you’ve already done.

So thank you all for being here.  Let’s do everything we can to help our fellow Americans heal and thrive.  And now I’d like to turn it over to Secretary Sebelius who will be leading our opening panel.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
10:15 A.M. EDT

Political Headlines April 18, 2013: How much grief can we and President Obama take?

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

How much grief can we and Obama take?

Source: Washington Post (blog), 4-18-13

How many times has President Obama had to do this? How many times has he had to console a grieving community and a shocked nation?…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency March 28, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Gun Violence & Safety & Protecting Our Children from Gun Violence — ‘Shame on Us If We’ve Forgotten’ Newtown

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

President Obama: We Have Not Forgotten What Happened in Newtown

Source: WH, 3-28-13

Today, President Obama promised the American people that he had not forgotten the 20 innocent chidlren and six brave educators who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary more than 100 days ago. Standing with parents and teachers of gun violence victims, he urged Congress to take action that will protect other children and families from the pain and grief these families have experienced….READ MORE

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks on gun safetyPresident Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks on gun safety in the East Room of the White House, March 28, 2013. Mothers who have lost children to gun violence join them on stage. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Remarks by the President on Gun Safety

President Obama Speaks on Protecting Our Children from Gun Violence

President Obama Speaks on Protecting Our Children from Gun Violence

Source: WH, 3-28-13 

East Room

11:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you, Katerina, for sharing your story.  Reema was lucky to have you as a teacher, and all of us are fortunate to have you here today.  And I’m glad we had a chance to remember her.

Katerina, as you just heard, lost one of her most promising students in Virginia Tech, the shootings there that took place six years ago.  And she and dozens of other moms and dads, all victims of gun violence, have come here today from across the country — united not only in grief and loss, but also in resolve, and in courage, and in a deep determination to do whatever they can, as parents and as citizens to protect other kids and spare other families from the awful pain that they have endured.

As any of the families and friends who are here today can tell you, the grief doesn’t ever go away.  That loss, that pain sticks with you.  It lingers on in places like Blacksburg and Tucson and Aurora.  That anguish is still fresh in Newtown.  It’s been barely 100 days since 20 innocent children and six brave educators were taken from us by gun violence — including Grace McDonnell and Lauren Rousseau and Jesse Lewis, whose families are here today.

That agony burns deep in the families of thousands — thousands of Americans who have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun over these last 100 days — including Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed on her way to school less than two months ago, and whose mom is also here today.  Everything they lived for and hoped for, taken away in an instant.  We have moms on this stage whose children were killed as recently as 35 days ago.

I don’t think any of us who are parents can hear their stories and not think about our own daughters and our own sons and our own grandchildren.  We all feel that it is our first impulse, as parents, to do everything we can to protect our children from harm; to make any sacrifice to keep them safe; to do what we have to do to give them a future where they can grow up and learn and explore, and become the amazing people they’re destined to be.

That’s why, in January, Joe Biden, leading a task force, came up with, and I put forward, a series of common-sense proposals to reduce the epidemic of gun violence and keep our kids safe.  In my State of the Union address, I called on Congress to give these proposals a vote.  And in just a couple of weeks, they will.

Earlier this month, the Senate advanced some of the most important reforms designed to reduce gun violence.  All of them are consistent with the Second Amendment.  None of them will infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners.  What they will do is keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people who put others at risk.  And this is our best chance in more than a decade to take common-sense steps that will save lives.

As I said when I visited Newtown just over three months ago, if there is a step we can take that will save just one child, just one parent, just another town from experiencing the same grief that some of the moms and dads who are here have endured, then we should be doing it.  We have an obligation to try.

Now, in the coming weeks, members of Congress will vote on whether we should require universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun so that criminals or people with severe mental illnesses can’t get their hands on one.  They’ll vote on tough new penalties for anyone who buys guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals.  They’ll vote on a measure that would keep weapons of war and high-capacity ammunition magazines that facilitate these mass killings off our streets.  They’ll get to vote on legislation that would help schools become safer and help people struggling with mental health problems to get the treatment that they need.

None of these ideas should be controversial.  Why wouldn’t we want to make it more difficult for a dangerous person to get his or her hand on a gun?  Why wouldn’t we want to close the loophole that allows as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases to take place without a background check?  Why wouldn’t we do that?

And if you ask most Americans outside of Washington — including many gun owners — some of these ideas, they don’t consider them controversial.  Right now, 90 percent of Americans — 90 percent — support background checks that will keep criminals and people who have been found to be a danger to themselves or others from buying a gun.  More than 80 percent of Republicans agree.  More than 80 percent of gun owners agree.  Think about that.  How often do 90 percent of Americans agree on anything?  (Laughter.)  It never happens.

Many other reforms are supported by clear majorities of Americans.  And I ask every American to find out where your member of Congress stands on these ideas.  If they’re not part of that 90 percent who agree that we should make it harder for a criminal or somebody with a severe mental illness to buy a gun, then you should ask them, why not?  Why are you part of the 10 percent?

There’s absolutely no reason why we can’t get this done.  But the reason we’re talking about here today is because it’s not done until it’s done.  And there are some powerful voices on the other side that are interested in running out the clock or changing the subject or drowning out the majority of the American people to prevent any of these reforms from happening at all.  They’re doing everything they can to make all our progress collapse under the weight of fear and frustration, or their assumption is that people will just forget about it.

I read an article in the news just the other day wondering is Washington — has Washington missed its opportunity, because as time goes on after Newtown, somehow people start moving on and forgetting.  Let me tell you, the people here, they don’t forget.  Grace’s dad is not forgetting.  Hadiya’s mom hasn’t forgotten.  The notion that two months or three months after something as horrific as what happened in Newtown happens and we’ve moved on to other things, that’s not who we are.  That’s not who we are.

And I want to make sure every American is listening today.  Less than 100 days ago that happened, and the entire country was shocked.  And the entire country pledged we would do something about it and that this time would be different.  Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.  I haven’t forgotten those kids.  Shame on us if we’ve forgotten.

If there’s one thing I’ve said consistently since I first ran for this office:  Nothing is more powerful than millions of voices calling for change.  And that’s why it’s so important that all these moms and dads are here today.  But that’s also why it’s important that we’ve got grassroots groups out there that got started and are out there mobilizing and organizing and keeping up the fight.  That’s what it’s going to take to make this country safer.  It’s going to take moms and dads, and hunters and sportsmen, and clergy and local officials like the mayors who are here today standing up and saying, this time really is different — that we’re not just going to sit back and wait until the next Newtown or the next Blacksburg or the next innocent, beautiful child who is gunned down in a playground in Chicago or Philadelphia or Los Angeles before we summon the will to act.

Right now, members of Congress are back home in their districts, and many of them are holding events where they can hear from their constituents.  So I want everybody who is listening to make yourself heard right now.

If you think that checking someone’s criminal record before he can check out a gun show is common sense, you’ve got to make yourself heard.  If you’re a responsible, law-abiding gun owner who wants to keep irresponsible, law-breaking individuals from abusing the right to bear arms by inflicting harm on a massive scale, speak up.  We need your voices in this debate.  If you’re a mom like Katerina who wants to make this country safer, a stronger place for our children to learn and grow up, get together with other moms like the ones here today and raise your voices and make yourselves unmistakably heard.

We need everybody to remember how we felt 100 days ago and make sure that what we said at that time wasn’t just a bunch of platitudes — that we meant it.

The desire to make a difference is what brought Corey Thornblad here today.  Corey grew up in Oklahoma, where her dad sold firearms at gun shows.  And today, she’s a mom and a teacher.  And Corey said that after Newtown, she cried for days — for the students who could have been her students; for the parents she could have known; for the teachers like her who go to work every single day and love their kids and want them to succeed.  And Corey says, “My heart was broken.  And I decided now was the time to act, to march, the time to petition, the time to make phone calls, because tears were no longer enough.”  And that’s my attitude.

Tears aren’t enough.  Expressions of sympathy aren’t enough.  Speeches aren’t enough.  We’ve cried enough.  We’ve known enough heartbreak.  What we’re proposing is not radical, it’s not taking away anybody’s gun rights.  It’s something that if we are serious, we will do.

Now is the time to turn that heartbreak into something real.  It won’t solve every problem.  There will still be gun deaths.  There will still be tragedies.  There will still be violence.  There will still be evil.  But we can make a difference if not just the activists here on this stage but the general public — including responsible gun owners — say, you know what, we can do better than this.  We can do better to make sure that fewer parents have to endure the pain of losing a child to an act of violence.

That’s what this is about.  And if enough people like Katerina and Corey and the rest of the parents who are here today get involved, and if enough members of Congress take a stand for cooperation and common sense, and lead, and don’t get squishy because time has passed and maybe it’s not on the news every single day — if that’s who we are, if that’s our character that we’re willing to follow through on commitments that we say are important — commitments to each other and to our kids — then I’m confident we can make this country a safer place for all of them.

So thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

END
12:13 P.M. EDT

Political Headlines February 15, 2013: President Barack Obama honors six educators killed in Newtown massacre with Presidential Citizens Medal

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama honors six educators killed in Newtown massacre

Source: Reuters, 2-15-13

President Barack Obama marked a poignant moment in his push to curb gun violence as he awarded presidential medals posthumously on Friday to six educators killed in the Newtown school massacre, saying they gave their lives to protect “the most innocent and helpless among us.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency February 15, 2013: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Presentation of 2012 Presidential Citizens Medals Honoring Sandy Hook Elementary Educators Killed in Massacre

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Presentation of 2012 Presidential Citizens Medals

Source: WH, 2-15-13 

East Room

11:30 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much, everybody.  Please, please have a seat.  Well, it is a pleasure to welcome some of our nation’s finest citizens here to the people’s house.  And let me be the first to congratulate each of you and your family members for the receipt of the highest honor a civilian can receive –- the Citizens Medal.

We host a lot of events at the White House but I have to admit this is one of my favorites, because it’s a moment when, as a people, we get to recognize some extraordinary men and women who have gone above and beyond for their country and for their fellow citizens — often without fanfare; often with not a lot of attention; very rarely for any profit.  You do it because it’s the right thing to do, because you want to give back.  And today, we honor you.  We celebrate you.  And, most of all, we have a chance to say thank you.  Because all of us are what the rest of us aspire to be.

In America, we have the benefit of living in this big and diverse nation.  We’re home to 315 million people who come from every background, who worship every faith, who hold every single point of view.  But what binds us together, what unites us is a single sacred word:  citizen.

It’s a word that, as I said in my State of the Union Address, doesn’t just describe our nationality or our legal status, the fact that we hold a passport.  It defines our way our life.  It captures our belief in something bigger than ourselves — our willingness to accept certain obligations to one another, and to embrace the idea that we’re all in this together; that out of many, we are one.  It’s the thing that Tocqueville noticed about America when he first came to visit — these folks participate, they get involved, they have a point of view; they don’t just wait for somebody else to do something, they go out there and do it, and they join and they become part of groups and they mobilize and they organize.

That’s who we are, that’s in our DNA.  That’s what it means to be a citizen of the United States of America.  We’ve all got busy lives.  We’ve got bills to pay.  We’ve got kids to carpool, errands to get done.  And in the midst of all the running around, it would be easy — and even understandable — for folks to just focus on themselves, to worry about our own lives, to look down the street and see a neighbor in need and say, “I’d like to help but I’ve got problems of my own.”  To look across town at a community that’s in despair and say, “That’s just too big a challenge for us to be able to take on.”

That’s not who we are.  That’s not what we do.  That’s not what built this country.  In this country, we look out for one another.  We get each other’s backs, especially in times of hardship or challenge.  It’s part of the reason why applications to AmeriCorps are at an all-time high.  That’s why volunteering in America is at the highest level it’s been in years.  And I know that makes Harris proud to hear.

Harris Wofford has devoted his entire life to creating opportunities for Americans to serve.  And the reason it’s such a privilege for me to share the stage with him and all the others who are participating here today, is because you’ve taken commitment to a whole new level.  Every day, you’re out there righting wrongs.  Healing hurts.  Changing lives.

And when Janice Jackson was hit by a car at the age of 24, she was told by her doctors that the only thing she would ever move again were her shoulders.  After suffering an injury like that, nobody would have faulted Janice for just focusing on herself.  But as she recovered, and she regained her strength, she resolved to give some of that strength to others in need.  Janice said that “from a wheelchair, I decided to devote my life to women with disabilities…to tell them that even though you have limitations, you also have abilities.”  And every day through her mentorship and through her advocacy, that’s exactly what she’s doing.

When Adam Burke returned from Iraq, he had more than earned the right to just focus on himself.  He had served our nation with honor; a recipient of the Purple Heart for wounds he received while rescuing a comrade from enemy fire.  Because of that attack –- because of the shrapnel that tore through his head and his legs –- when Adam came home, he came home a wounded warrior, suffering from a traumatic brain injury, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  But a few years later, Adam found himself back on the family farm, and he noticed that working the land was therapeutic.  His coordination improved.  He was able to put aside his cane.  So he decided to use farming to help other veterans with similar injuries see similar benefits.  And by starting Veterans Farm, he’s doing that every day.

When Jeanne Manford learned that her son Morty had been badly beaten up at a gay rights demonstration, nobody would have faulted her for bringing him home, holding him close, just focusing on her child.  This was back in 1972.  There was a lot of hate, a lot of vitriol towards gays and lesbians and anyone who supported them.  But instead, she wrote to the local newspaper and took to the streets with a simple message:  No matter who her son was — no matter who he loved –- she loved him, and wouldn’t put up with this kind of nonsense.  And in that simple act, she inspired a movement and gave rise to a national organization that has given so much support to parents and families and friends, and helped to change this country.  We lost Jeanne last month, but her legacy carries on, every day, in the countless lives that she touched.

And then when Dawn Hochsprung, and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel D’Avino, Anne Marie Murphy — when they showed up for work at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14th of last year, they expected a day like any other — doing what was right for their kids; spent a chilly morning readying classrooms and welcoming young students — they had no idea that evil was about to strike.  And when it did, they could have taken shelter by themselves.  They could have focused on their own safety, on their own wellbeing.  But they didn’t.  They gave their lives to protect the precious children in their care.  They gave all they had for the most innocent and helpless among us.

And that’s what we honor today — the courageous heart, the selfless spirit, the inspiring actions of extraordinary Americans, extraordinary citizens.

We are a nation of 315 million people.  Out of all these folks, around 6,000 were nominated for this medal.  And today, you’re the ones receiving it not just for what you do, but for what you represent — for the shining example that you set every single day and the inspiration that you give each of us as fellow citizens, including your President.

So congratulations to the recipients.  And now, I would like our military aide to read the citations.

MILITARY AIDE:  The Presidential Citizens Medal recipients:

Dr. T. Berry Brazelton.  (Applause.)  As one of America’s most respected voices on child development, Dr. Brazelton has dedicated his life to transforming pediatric care.  His pioneering work has given generations of parents the chance to take control of their children’s health from day one.  Alongside his duties as a researcher and educator, he fought to secure some of the 20th century’s essential safeguards for families, including guaranteed maternal leave.  For his tireless advocacy on behalf of families everywhere, the United States honors Dr. T. Berry Brazelton.  (Applause.)

Adam D. Burke.  (Applause.)  During his ninth year of service in the Army, Adam Burke was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder after saving a comrade from a mortar blast in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle.  He received a Purple Heart for his heroism.  Unwilling to stop serving his country, he turned his family farm into Veterans Farm, a space for wounded warriors to heal by working the land and finding stability on friendly soil.  The United States honors Adam D. Burke for his extraordinary service to his country and fellow members of the 9/11 Generation.  (Applause.)

Mary Jo Copeland.  (Applause.)  Driven by her faith and a fierce commitment to her community, Mary Jo Copeland has spent more than a quarter-century lifting up the underserved.  Alongside her husband, she grew Sharing and Caring Hands from a small storefront operation in downtown Minneapolis into a charity that provides thousands of men, women and children the chance to live in health and dignity.  Her unyielding vision for stronger neighborhoods has inspired people nationwide, and her compassion for the poor and the marginalized speaks to the depth of the human spirit.  The United States honors Mary Jo Copeland for sparking hope in those who need it most.  (Applause.)

Michael Dorman.  (Applause.)  When Michael Dorman saw disabled veterans struggling to secure the opportunities they had given so much to preserve, he knew he had to act.  A 20-year veteran of the Coast Guard, he founded Military Missions in Action to help veterans with disabilities live independently and support those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.  His organization has completed more than 100 home improvement projects across the state of North Carolina and shipped thousands of care packages to service members in the line of duty.  The United States honors Michael Dorman for his exceptional service to our Armed Forces and our Nation.  (Applause.)

Maria Gomez.  (Applause.)  Born in Colombia and brought up in Washington, D.C., Maria Gomez has dedicated her life to providing high-quality health care to the community that raised her.  Guided by her vision, Mary’s Center for Maternal and Child Care has delivered exceptional outcomes to disadvantaged populations for more than two decades.  Her organization’s integrated approach to medicine, education and social services extends a lifeline to tens of thousands every year, giving families across the D.C. region a chance at a brighter future.  The United States honors Maria Gomez for sharing her strength with the underserved.  (Applause.)

Pamela Green-Jackson.  (Applause.)  As Pamela Green-Jackson mourned the loss of her only brother to obesity-related illness, she vowed to honor his memory by saving others from the same fate.  The result, Youth Becoming Healthy, has equipped young men and women in Georgia schools with the knowledge and opportunity they need to get a strong start in life.  Pamela’s dedication to combating childhood obesity reaffirms our belief that as a nation, we have no higher calling than caring for our children.  For putting our sons and daughters on the path to better health, the United States honors Pamela Green-Jackson.  (Applause.)

Janice Yvette Jackson.  (Applause.)  After Janice Jackson was struck by an oncoming car when she was 24 years old, doctors told her she would never be able to move her limbs again.  Battling against the odds, she regained control of her left arm and reached for the promise of the years ahead.  As a mentor, a counselor and the founder of Women Embracing Abilities Now, she has drawn from the depth of her experience to empower women with disabilities and advocate passionately on their behalf.  The United States honors Janice Yvette Jackson for turning personal adversity into a powerful force for change.  (Applause.)

Patience A. Lehrman.  (Applause.)  A first-generation immigrant from Cameroon, Patience Lehrman embodies what it means to be an American citizen.  Recognizing that immigrants have always made our country stronger, she has worked to make America a land of greater opportunity for all who call it home.  Under her leadership, Project SHINE has helped thousands of aging immigrants and refugees build deeper ties to their communities by connecting them with college students nationwide.  The United States honors Patience A. Lehrman for reaffirming the truth inscribed on our nation’s seal:  that out of many, we are one.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Jeanne Manford, her daughter Suzanne Swan.  (Applause.)  In an era when peaceful protests were met with violence and coming out was a radical act, Jeanne Manford knew she had to stand by her son, Morty.  Side-by-side, they marched proudly down the streets of New York on Stonewall’s anniversary, calling upon other parents of gay and lesbian Americans to show their children the same love and acceptance.  Jeanne’s courage lives on in progress she fought for and in PFLAG, the organization she founded, which today claims more than 200,000 members and supporters in over 350 chapters.  For insisting that equality knows no bounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, the United States honors Jeanne Manford.  (Applause.)

Billy Mills.  (Applause.)  As a boy growing up on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Billy Mills rose above adversity by dedicating himself to a dream.  He realized the height of his ambition at the 1964 Tokyo Games, where he ran what was then the fastest 10,000 meters in Olympic history.  Since then, Billy has spent 26 years lifting other young men and women toward their aspirations through Running Strong for American Indian Youth.  His organization has championed wellness and unlocked opportunity in Native American communities across our country.  The United States honors Billy Mills for inspiring young people to find the best in themselves.  (Applause.)

Terry T. Shima.  (Applause.)  During World War II, Terry Shima served in the Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most decorated unit of its size in American history.  Responsible for securing the 442nd’s legacy, Terry ensured that returning heroes received a welcome befitting their service and sacrifice.  As the Executive Director of the Japanese American Veterans Association, he committed himself to preserving the stories of servicemembers who fought and bled overseas, even while many of their families were relocated to internment camps at home.  For strengthening the sacred trust between America and its veterans, the United States honors Terry T. Shima.  (Applause.)

Harris Wofford.  (Applause.)  Harris Wofford has spent more than 50 years empowering ordinary citizens to make extraordinary change.  A friend to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and an advisor to President John F. Kennedy, Harris fought alongside civil rights leaders to end segregation and advance the march of justice.  During his time at the White House, with the Peace Corps, as a Senator, and leading the Corporation for National and Community Service, he gave generations of Americans the chance to serve their country.  The United States honors Harris Wofford for upholding national service as one of our Nation’s highest causes.  (Applause.)

The Presidential Citizens Medal is awarded to Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto for dedicating themselves to their students and to the community of Newtown, Connecticut.  Some had been at Sandy Hook Elementary School for only weeks; others were preparing to retire after decades of service.  All worked long past the school bell to give the children in their care a future worth their talents.  On December 14, 2012, unthinkable tragedy swept through Newtown, etching the names of these six courageous women into the heart of our nation forever.  The United States honors Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto for their extraordinary commitment to the students of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Accepting on behalf of Rachel D’Avino — her mother, Mary D’Avino and sister, Sarah D’Avino.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Dawn Hochsprung — her daughter, Erica Lafferty, and mother, Cheryl Lafferty.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Anne Marie Murphy — her husband, Michael Murphy, and daughters, Paige and Colleen Murphy.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Lauren Rousseau — her parents, Terry and Gilles Rousseau.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Mary Sherlach — her husband, Bill Sherlach, and daughters, Katy Sherlach and Maura Schwartz.  (Applause.)

Accepting on behalf of Victoria Soto — her parents, Donna and Carlos Soto.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me close by just saying a few words of thanks — first of all, to Wendy and all the people at the Corporation for National and Community Service, thank you for all that you do to make our communities and our country stronger.  We’re very grateful.

To those who nominated these outstanding individuals — thank you for taking the time to share their stories.  The competition was stiff.  And your words gave life to their work.

To all the family and friends who are here celebrating with the winners, thank you for the love and support that you provide to them every single day, because they couldn’t do what they do unless somebody had that love and support for them.  I know the awardees would agree that this honor belongs not just to themselves but to everybody who supports them.

And finally, to the winners of this year’s Citizens Medal, we want to congratulate you once again.  A special note just to the families who are here from Sandy Hook — we are so blessed to be with you.  I’ve gotten to know many of you during the course of some very difficult weeks.  And your courage and love for each other and your communities shines through every single day.  And we could not be more blessed and grateful for your loved ones who gave everything they had on behalf of our kids.

On behalf of a grateful nation, thanks to all of you for showing us what it means to be a citizen of this country that we love.  Hopefully, we will all draw inspiration from this and remember why it is that we’re lucky to be living in the greatest nation on Earth.  Thank you all for coming and enjoy the reception.  (Applause.)

END
12:02 P.M. EST

Political Headlines January 4, 2013: PHOTO: President Barack Obama Hears of Sandy Hook Shooting

POLITICAL HEADLINES

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

PHOTO: Obama Hears of Sandy Hook Shooting

Source: ABC News Radio, 1-6-13

Pete Souza/White House

A new collection of White House photos includes an image of the moment on Dec. 14 when President Obama heard about details of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

A grim-looking Obama leans on a couch as his Homeland Security adviser tells him of the shooting.

“The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.,” according to the caption provided by White House photographer Pete Souza.  “The President later said during a TV interview that this was the worst day of his Presidency.”…READ MORE

Political Headlines December 30, 2012: President Barack Obama on NBC’s Meet the Press Newtown School Shooting ‘Worst Day’ of Presidency

POLITICAL HEADLINES

http://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama: Newtown Shooting ‘Worst Day’ of Presidency

Source: ABC News Radio, 12-30-12

The White House

President Obama said the Newton, Conn., shootings on December 14 were the “worst day” of his time in office.

Recollecting the tragic shooting deaths of 20 first graders and six adults at a Newtown, Conn. elementary school on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the president had been asked how his administration planned to move forward on gun control measures he had suggested in recent weeks. Ultimately, the president said, any coming legislation would be dependent on public approval.

“The question then becomes whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away,” he said. “It certainly won’t feel like that to me. This is something that – you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it’s not something that I want to see repeated.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 30, 2012: President Barack Obama’s NBC Meet the Press Interview: Full Transcript, Quotes, Video

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Obama Meet the Press Interview: Full Transcript, Quotes, Video

Source: PolicyMic, 12-30-12
obama, meet, the, press, interview, full, transcript,, quotes,, video,

Obama Meet the Press Interview Full Transcript Quotes Video

President Barack Obama had a sit-down interview with Meet the Press host David Gregory on Saturday afternoon in the White House, an interview which aired Sunday morning on NBC.

In the interview, Obama spoke at length on the fiscal cliff — outlining both his strategy in this debate (tax the rich, help the middle class keep running as the engine of the economy) and his economic principles. He also spoke on gun control — giving hints at how Democrats would tackle the issue in the post-Newtown environment — as well as his cabinet fluctuations, the on-going Benghazi situation, and gave insights on how he wants to drive his second term.

[Read the full analysis here]

Here are key quotes from the exchange.

DAVID GREGORY: “If you go over the cliff, what’s the impact in the markets?” …

OBAMA: “[O]bviously I think business and investors are going to feel more negative about the economy next year. If you look at projections of 2013, people generally felt that the economy would continue to grow, unemployment would continue to tick down, housing would continue to improve. But what’s been holding us back is the dysfunction here in Washington. And if people start seeing that on January 1st this problem still hasn’t been solved, that we haven’t seen the kind of deficit reduction that we could have had had the Republicans been willing to take the deal that I gave them, if they say that people’s taxes have gone up, which means consumer spending is going to be depressed, then obviously that’s going to have an adverse reaction in the markets.” …

GREGORY: “How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can’t get anything done and that we are at this deadline again? … You’ve had a tough go with Congress.”

OBAMA : “[A]t a certain point, if folks can’t say ‘yes’ to good offers, then I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on seniors who are relying on Medicare. … The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me. … I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs … They [Republicans] say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way. But the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme. …

“Democrats and Republicans both say they don’t want taxes to go up on middle class families. … If we can get that done, that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. It avoids the worst outcomes. And we’re then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy, create jobs.” …

GREGORY: “Would you commit to that first year of your second term getting significant [entitlement] reform done?” …

OBAMA: “David, I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth. That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach. To make sure that there’s shared sacrifice. … And it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, ‘You are going to have to do with less but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.’” …

GREGORY: “So what is your single priority of the second term? What is the equivalent to health care?”

OBAMA : “I’ve said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done. … The second thing that we’ve got to do is to stabilize the economy and make sure it’s growing. Part of that is deficit reduction. Part of it is also making sure that we’re investing, for example, in rebuilding our infrastructure, which is broken. And if we are putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, in part paying for it by some of these broader long-term deficit reduction measures that need to take place that will grow the economy at the same time as we’re also setting our path for long-term fiscal stability.

“Number three: We’ve got a huge opportunity around energy. We are producing more energy and America can become an energy exporter. How do we do that in a way that also deals with some of the environmental challenges that we have at the same time? So that’s going to be a third thing. But the most immediate thing I’ve got to do starting on January 1st, if Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year, is make sure that taxes are not going up on middle class families. Because it is going to be very hard for the economy to sustain its current growth trends, if suddenly we have a huge bite taken out of the average American’s paycheck.”

GREGORY: “Those are four huge things and you didn’t mention … new gun regulations. … Do you have the stomach for the political fight for new gun control laws?”

OBAMA: “David, I think anybody who was up in Newtown … understands that something fundamental in America has to change. And all of us have to do some soul searching, including me as president, that we allow a situation in which 20 precious small children are getting gunned down in a classroom. And I’ve been very clear that an assault rifle ban, banning these high capacity clips, background checks — that there are a set of issues that I have historically supported and will continue to support. …

“[S]o the question is: are we going to be able to have a national conversation and move something through Congress? I’d like to get it done in the first year. I will put forward a very specific proposal based on the recommendations that Joe Biden’s task force is putting together as we speak. And so this is not something that I will be putting off. … And, yes, it’s going to be hard.”

GREGORY: “Do we have an armed guard at every school in the country?”

OBAMA: “I am not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools.”

GREGORY: “do you feel like you let your friend Susan Rice hang out there to dry a little bit?”

OBAMA: “No. … Why she was targeted individually, for the kind of attacks that she was subjected to, … was puzzling to me.” …

GREGORY: “Former Senator Chuck Hagel has come under criticism for some comments he’s made including about a former ambassador nominee during the Clinton years that being gay was an inhibiting factor to being gay to do an effective job. Is there anything about Chuck Hagel’s record or statements that’s disqualifying to you, should you nominate him to run the Defense Department?” …

OBAMA: “Not that I see. I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate. Somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who’s currently serving on my intelligence advisory board and doing an outstanding job.

“So I haven’t made a decision on this. With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it. And I think it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about gays and lesbians serving our country. And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led.” …

OBAMA, on a cliff deal: “I remain optimistic, I’m just a congenital optimist, that eventually people kind of see the light. Winston Churchill used to say that we Americans, we try every other option before we finally do the right thing. … And I think that that’s true for Congress as well. And I think it’s also important for Americans to remember that politics has always been messy. People have been asking me a lot about the film ‘Lincoln’ and — “

GREGORY: “Is this your Lincoln moment?”

OBAMA : “Well, no. Look, A, I never compare myself to Lincoln and, B, obviously the magnitude of the issues are quite different from the Civil War and slavery. The point, though, is democracy’s always been messy. And we’re a big, diverse country that is constantly sort of arguing about all kinds of stuff. But eventually we do the right thing. … So one way or another, we’ll get through this. Do I wish that things were more orderly in Washington and rational and people listened to the best arguments and compromised and operated in a more thoughtful and organized fashion? Absolutely. But when you look at history, that’s been the exception rather than the norm.”

December 30: President Barack Obama, Tom Brokaw, Jon Meacham, Doris Kearns Goodwin, David Brooks, and Chuck Todd

Source: NBC, 12-30-12

MR. DAVID GREGORY: And, good Sunday morning. Time is nearly up before we go over the so-called fiscal cliff. Senate leaders spent the weekend working on a last-ditch deal and the House comes back today for a rare Sunday night session. Yesterday afternoon, in an exclusive interview, President Obama sat down with me in the blue room of the White House to discuss the way forward and his priorities for his second term.

(Videotape)

DAVID GREGORY: Mister President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s great to be here. Thank you.

GREGORY: So the obvious question: Are we going over the fiscal cliff?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think we’re going to find out in the next 48 hours what Congress decides to do, but I think it’s important for the American people to understand exactly what this fiscal cliff is, because it– it’s actually not that complicated. The tax cuts that were introduced in 2001, 2003, 2010, those were extended and they’re all about to expire at the end of the year. So on midnight December 31st, if Congress doesn’t act then everybody’s taxes go up. And for the average family that could mean a loss of 2,000 dollars in income.

For the entire economy that means consumers have a lot less money to make purchases, which means businesses are going to have a lot less customers, which means that they’re less likely to hire and the whole economy could slow down at a time when the economy is actually starting to pick up and we’re seeing signs of recovery in housing and in employment numbers improving.

And, so what Congress needs to do, first and fore– foremost, is to prevent taxes from going up for the vast majority of Americans. And this was a major topic of discussion throughout the campaign. What I said was is that we should keep taxes where they are for 98 percent of Americans, 97 percent of small businesses. But if we’re serious about deficit reduction we should make sure that the wealthier are paying a little bit more and combine that with spending cuts to reduce our deficit and put our economy on a long-term trajectory of growth.

You know, we have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers. Yesterday, I had another meeting with the leadership and I suggested to them if they can’t do a comprehensive package of– of smart deficit reductions, let’s at minimum make sure that people’s taxes don’t go up and that two million people don’t lose their unemployment insurance.

And, you know, I was modestly optimistic yesterday, but we don’t yet see an agreement. And now the pressure’s on Congress to produce. If they don’t, what I’ve said is that in the Senate we should go ahead and introduce legislation that would make sure middle class taxes stay where they are and there should be an up or down vote. Everybody should have a right to vote on that. You know, if– if Republicans don’t like it, they can vote no. But I actually think that there’s a majority support for making sure that middle class families are held harmless.

GREGORY: If you go over the cliff…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Mm-Hm.

GREGORY: …what’s the impact in the markets, which have been pretty confident up until now that a deal would get done?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, you know, it’s– it’s hard to speculate on the markets, but obviously I think business and investors are going to feel more negative about the economy next year. If you look at projections of 2013, people generally felt that the economy would continue to grow, unemployment would continue to tick down, housing would continue to improve.

But what’s been holding us back is the dysfunction here in Washington. And if, you know, people start seeing that on January 1st this problem still hasn’t been solved, that we haven’t seen the kind of deficit reduction that we could have had had the Republicans been willing to take the deal that I gave them, if they say that people’s taxes have gone up, which means consumer spending is going to be depressed, then obviously that’s going to have an adverse reaction in the markets.

GREGORY: What about automatic spending cuts? Those take effect January 1st as well. Do they have to be part of this deal? You’ve got half of those cuts in defense alone.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, the– the other part of the fiscal cliff is Congress agreed that they would cut an additional 1.2 trillion dollars in spending. They put a committee together to try to come up with those numbers. They didn’t figure out how to do it. And so what we now have is a situation where these automatic spending cuts go into place.

Now if– if we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off what’s called the sequester–these automatic spending cuts, and that also would have a better outcome for our economy in long-term.

But, you know, so far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because Democrats in Congress don’t want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it’s been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit– as part of an overall deficit reduction package.

GREGORY: Well, you talk about dysfunction in Washington. You signed this legislation setting up the fiscal cliff 17 months ago. How accountable are you for the fact that Washington can’t get anything done and that we are at this deadline again?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I– I have to tell you, David, if– if you look at my track record over the last two years, I cut spending by over a trillion dollars in 2011. I campaigned on the promise of being willing to reduce the deficit in a serious way, in a balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy while keeping middle class taxes low.

I put forward a very specific proposal to do that. I negotiated with Speaker Boehner in good faith and moved more than halfway in order to achieve a grand bargain. I offered over a trillion dollars in additional spending cuts so that we would have two dollars of spending cuts for every one dollar of increased revenue. I think anybody objectively who’s looked at this would say that, you know, we have put forward not only a sensible deal but one that has the support of the majority of the American people, including close to half of Republicans.

GREGORY: But when they say…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And it’s…

GREGORY: …leadership falls on you, Mister President, you don’t have a role here in…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well…

GREGORY: …breaking this impasse? You’ve had a tough go with Congress.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: David, you know, at a certain point if folks can’t say yes to good offers, then I also have an obligation to the American people to make sure that the entire burden of deficit reduction doesn’t fall on, you know, seniors who are relying on Medicare. I also have an obligation to make sure that families who rely on Medicaid to take care of a disabled child aren’t carrying this burden entirely. I also have an obligation to middle class families to make sure that they’re not paying higher taxes when millionaires and billionaires are not having to pay higher taxes.

There is a basic fairness that is at stake in this whole thing that the American people understand and they listened to an entire year’s debate about it. They made a clear decision about the– the approach they prefer, which is a balanced, responsible package.

They rejected the notion that the economy grows best from the top down. They believe that the economy grows best from the middle class out. And at a certain point, you know, it is very important for Republicans in Congress to be willing to say, “We understand we’re not going to get 100 percent. We are willing to compromise in a serious way in order to solve problems,” as opposed to be worrying about the next election.

GREGORY: You said that Republicans have a hard time saying yes. Particularly to you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah.

GREGORY: What is it about you, Mister President, that you think is so hard to say yes to?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, that’s something you’re probably going to have to ask them, because, you know, David, you– you follow this stuff pretty carefully. The offers that I’ve made to them have been so fair that a lot of Democrats get mad at me. I mean I offered to make some significant changes to our entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit.

I offered not only a trillion dollars in– over a trillion dollars in spending cuts over the next 10 years, but these changes would result in even more savings in the next 10 years. And would solve our deficit problem for a decade. They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme.

And– and at some point I think what’s going to be important is that they listen to the American people. Now, you know, the– I think that over the next 48 hours, my hope is that people recognize that, regardless of partisan differences, our top priority has to be to make sure that taxes on middle class families do not go up that would hurt our economy badly.

We can get that done. Democrats and Republicans both say they don’t want taxes to go up on middle class families. That’s something we all agree on. If we can get that done that takes a big bite out of the fiscal cliff. It avoids the worst outcomes. And we’re then going to have some tough negotiations in terms of how we continue to reduce the deficit, grow the economy and create jobs.

GREGORY: If this fight comes back– and I want to ask you specifically about entitlements: Medicare and Social Security.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right.

GREGORY: Are you prepared in the first year of your second term to significantly reform those two programs? To go beyond the cuts you’ve suggested to benefits in Medicare, which your own debt commission suggested you’d have to do if you were really going to shore up Medicare at least. Are you prepared to do that in your first year of the second term?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I’ve said is I am prepared to do everything I can to make sure that Medicare and Social Security are there, not just for this generation but for future generations.

GREGORY: You’ve got to talk tough to seniors…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But…

GREGORY: …don’t you about this? And say, something’s got to give?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: …but I already have, David, as you know, one of the proposals we made was something called Chain CPI, which sounds real technical but basically makes an adjustment in terms of how inflation is calculated on Social Security. Highly unpopular among Democrats. Not something supported by AARP. But in pursuit of strengthening Social Security for the long-term I’m willing to make those decisions. What I’m not willing to do is to have the entire burden of deficit reduction rest on the shoulders of seniors, making students pay higher student loan rates, ruining our capacity to invest in things like basic research that help our economy grow. Those are the things that I’m not willing to do. And so…

GREGORY: Would you commit to that first year of your second term getting significant reform done? Telling Congress, “We’ve got to do it in…“

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, no, no…

GREGORY: …”the first year?”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: …but, David, I want to be very clear. You are not only going to cut your way to prosperity. One of the fallacies I think that has been promoted is this notion that deficit reduction is only a matter of cutting programs that are really important to seniors, students and so forth.

That has to be part of the mix, but what I ran on and what the American people elected me to do was to put forward a balanced approach. To make sure that there’s shared sacrifice. That everybody is doing a little bit more. And it is very difficult for me to say to a senior citizen or a student or a mom with a disabled kid, “You are going to have to do with less but we’re not going to ask millionaires and billionaires to do more.” That’s not something that we’re…

GREGORY: Can I ask you about…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: That’s not an approach that the American people think is right. And, by the way, historically that’s not how we grow an economy. We grow an economy when folks in the middle, folks who are striving to get in the middle class, when they do well.

GREGORY: But I’m asking you about timeframe because, as you well know, as a second term president now, about to begin to your second term, your political capital, even having just won reelection, is limited. So what is your single priority of the second term? What is the equivalent to healthcare?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, there are a couple of things that we need to get done. I’ve said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done. I think we have talked about it long enough. We know how we can fix it. We can do it in a comprehensive way that the American people support. That’s something we should get done.

The second thing that we’ve got to do is to stabilize the economy and make sure it’s growing. Part of that is deficit reduction. Part of it is also making sure that we’re investing, for example, in rebuilding our infrastructure, which is broken. And, you know, if we are putting people back to work rebuilding our roads, our bridges, our schools, in part paying for it by some of these broader long-term deficit reduction measures that need to take place that will grow the economy at the same time as we’re also setting our path for long-term fiscal stability.

Number three. You know, we’ve got a huge opportunity around energy. We are producing more energy and America can become an energy exporter. How do we do that in a way that also deals with some of the environmental challenges that we have at the same time? So that’s going to be a third thing.

But the most immediate thing I’ve got to do starting on January 1st, if Congress doesn’t act before the end of the year, is make sure that taxes are not going up on middle class families. And because it is going to be very hard for the economy to sustain its current growth trends if suddenly we have a huge bite taken out of the average…

GREGORY: Those are…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: …American’s paycheck.

GREGORY: Those are four huge things and you didn’t mention after Newtown, although I know you’re thinking about it, new gun regulations.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yes.

GREGORY: Mayor Bloomberg of New– New York told me a couple weeks ago on this program that ought to be your number one agenda item. You know how hard this is. Do you have the stomach for the political fight for new gun control laws?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, David, I think anybody who was up in Newtown, who talked to the parents, who talked to the families, understands that, you know, something fundamental in America has to change. And all of us have to do some soul searching, including me as president that we allow a situation in which 20 precious small children are getting gunned down in a classroom. And I’ve been very clear that, you know, an assault rifle ban, you know, banning these high capacity clips, background checks, that there are a set of issues that I have historically supported and one will continue to support.

GREGORY: But can you get it done? I mean the politics…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And…

GREGORY: …is the question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: …so the question is are we going to be able to have a national conversation and move something through Congress. I’d like to get it done in the first year. I will put forward a very specific proposal based on the recommendations that Joe Biden’s task force is putting together as we speak. And so this is not something that I will be putting off. But…

GREGORY: The NRA says it’s just not going to work.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well…

GREGORY: It didn’t work before. It’s not going to work now.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, my response is something has to work. And it is not enough for us to say, “This is too hard so we’re not going to try.” So what I intend to do is I will call all the stakeholders together. I will meet with Republicans. I will meet with Democrats. I will talk to anybody. I think there are a vast majority of responsible gun owners out there who recognize that we can’t have a situation in which somebody with, you know, severe psychological problems is able to get the kind of high capacity weapons that– that this individual in Newtown obtained and– and gunned down our kids. And, yes, it’s going to be hard.

GREGORY: Do we have an armed guard…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: But…

GREGORY: …at every school in the country? That’s what the NRA believes. They told me last week that could work.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I am not going to prejudge the recommendations that are given to me. I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools. And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem. And, look, here’s– here’s the bottom line. We’re not going to get this done unless the American people decide it’s important.

And so this is not going to be simply a matter of me spending political capital. One of the things that you learn, having now been in this office for four years, is the old adage of Abraham Lincoln’s. That with public opinion there’s nothing you can’t do and without public opinion there’s very little you can get done in this town. So I’m going to be putting forward a package and I’m going to be putting my full weight behind it. And I’m going to be making an argument to the American people about why this is important and why we have to do everything we can to make sure that something like what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary does not happen again.

But ultimately the way this is going to happen is because the American people say, “That’s right. We are willing to make different choices for the country and we support those in Congress who are willing to take those actions.” And will there be resistance? Absolutely there will be resistance.

And the question then becomes, you know, whether we are actually shook up enough by what happened here that it does not just become another one of these routine episodes where it gets a lot of attention for a couple of weeks and then it drifts away. It certainly won’t feel like that to me. This is something that, you know, that was the worst day of my presidency. And it’s not something that I want to see repeated.

GREGORY: It hit close to home.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Absolutely.

GREGORY: Let me ask you about a couple of foreign policy notes. After the attack in Benghazi, is there a need for more accountability so that this doesn’t happen again? And do you know who was behind the attack at this point?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Two points. Number one, I think that Tom Pickering and Mike Mullen who headed up the– the review board did a very thorough job in identifying what were some severe problems in diplomatic security. And they provided us with a series of recommendations. Many of them were already starting to be implemented. Secretary Clinton has indicated that she is going to implement all of them.

What I’ve– my message to the State Department has been very simple. And that is we’re going to solve this. We’re not going to be defensive about it. We’re not going to pretend that this was not a problem. This was a huge problem. And we’re going to implement every single recommendation that’s been put forward.

Some individuals have been held accountable inside of the State Department and what I’ve said is that we are going to fix this to make sure that this does not happen again, because these are folks that I send into the field. We understand that there are dangers involved but, you know, when you read the report and it confirms what we had already seen, you know, based on some of our internal reviews; there was just some sloppiness, not intentional, in terms of how we secure embassies in areas where you essentially don’t have governments that have a lot of capacity to protect those embassies. So we’re doing a thorough-going review. Not only will we implement all the recommendations that were made, but we’ll try to do more than that. You know, with respect to who carried it out, that’s an ongoing investigation. The FBI has sent individuals to Libya repeatedly. We have some very good leads, but this is not something that, you know, I’m going to be at liberty to talk about right now.

GREGORY: In the politics, in the back and forth in this, do you feel like you let your friend Susan Rice hang out there to dry a little bit?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No. First of all, I think I was very clear throughout that Susan has been an outstanding U.N. ambassador for the United States. She appeared on a number of television shows reporting what she and we understood to be the best information at the time. This was a politically motivated attack on her. I mean of all the people in my national security team she probably had the least to do with anything that happened in Benghazi. Why she was targeted individually for the kind of attacks that she was subjected to is– is– was puzzling to me. And I was very clear in the days after those attacks that they weren’t acceptable. So, you know, the good thing is– is that I think she will continue to serve at the U.N. and do an outstanding job. And I think that most Americans recognize that these were largely politically motivated attacked– attacks as opposed to being justified.

GREGORY: You have another series of cabinet choices to make. Former Senator Chuck Hagel has come under criticism for some comments he’s made including about a former ambassador nominee during the Clinton years that being gay was an inhibiting factor to being gay to do an effective job. Is there anything about Chuck Hagel’s record or statements that’s disqualifying to you should you nominate him to run the Defense Department?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, first of all, I haven’t made a decision about who to nominate. And my number one criteria will be who’s going to do the best job in helping to secure America.

GREGORY: Anything disqualify…

PRESIDENT OBAMA: And…

GREGORY: …him?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Not that I see. I’ve served with Chuck Hagel. I know him. He is a patriot. He is somebody who has done extraordinary work both in the United States Senate. Somebody who served this country with valor in Vietnam. And is somebody who’s currently serving on my Intelligence Advisory Board and doing an outstanding job. So I haven’t made a decision on this. With respect to the particular comment that you quoted, he apologized for it. And I think it’s– it’s a testimony to what has been a positive change over the last decade in terms of people’s attitudes about, you know, gays and lesbians serving our country. And that’s something that I’m very proud to have led. And I think that anybody who serves in my administration understands my attitude and position on those issues.

GREGORY: Mister President, as you look forward to a second term, you think about your legacy, you think about your goals, how frustrated are you at how hard it appears to be to get some of these things done? Very difficult relationship with Congress. People come up to me all the time and say, “Don’t they realize, all of them, the president, Republicans and Democrats, how frustrated we all are?”

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think we’re all frustrated. You know, the only thing I would– I would caution against, David, is I think this notion of, “Well, both sides are just kind of unwilling to cooperate.” And that’s just not true. I mean if you look at the facts, what you have is a situation here where the Democratic Party, warts and all, and certainly me, warts and all, have consistently done our best to try to put country first. And to try to work with everybody involved to make sure that we’ve got an economy that grows, make sure that it works for everybody, make sure that we’re keeping the country safe. And, you know, the– the– does the Democratic Party still have some knee jerk ideological positions and are there some folks in the Democratic Party who sometimes aren’t reasonable? Of course. That– that’s true of every political party.

But generally if you look at how I’ve tried to govern over the last four years and how I’ll continue to try to govern, I’m not driven by some ideological agenda. I’m a pretty practical guy and I just want to make sure that things work. And– and one of the nice things about never having another election again, I will never campaign again, is, you know, I think you can rest assure that all I care about is making sure that I leave behind an America that is stronger, more prosperous, you know, more stable, more secure than it was when I– I came into office and– and that’s going to continue to drive me. And I– I think that the issue that we’re dealing with right now in the fiscal cliff is a prime example of it. What I’m arguing for are maintaining tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. I don’t think anybody would consider that some liberal left wing agenda. That’s some– that– that used to be considered a pretty mainstream Republican agenda.

And it’s something that we can accomplish today if we simply allow for a vote in the Senate and in the House to get it done. The fact that it’s not happening is an indication of, you know, how far certain factions inside the Republican Party have gone where they– they can’t even accept what used to be considered centrist, mainstream positions on these issues.

Now I re– I remain optimistic, I’m just a congenital optimist, that eventually people kind of see the light. You know, Winston Churchill used to say that we Americans, you know, we– we try every other option before we finally do the right thing. After everything else is exhausted we eventually do the right thing and I– I think that that’s true for Congress as well. And– and I think it’s also important for Americans to remember that politics has always been messy. People have been asking me a lot about the– the film Lincoln and, you know…

GREGORY: Is this your Lincoln moment?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, no. Look, A, I never compare myself to Lincoln and, B, obviously the magnitude of the issues are quite different from the Civil War and slavery. The point, though is, is democracy’s always been messy. And, you know, we’re a big, diverse country that is– is constantly sort of arguing about all kinds of stuff but eventually we do the right thing.

And in this situation I’m confident that one or two things are going to happen when it comes to the fiscal cliff. Number one, we’re going to see an agreement in the next 48 hours, in which case middle class taxes will not go up. If that doesn’t happen, then Democrats in the Senate will put a bill on the floor of the Senate and Republicans will have to decide if they’re going to block it, which will mean that middle class taxes do go up. I don’t think they would want to do that politically but they may end up doing it.

And if all else fails, if Republicans do in fact decide to block it, so that taxes on middle class families do in fact go up on January 1st, then we’ll come back with a new Congress on January 4th and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle class families. And, you know, I– I don’t think the average person’s going to say, “Gosh, you know, that’s a– that’s a really partisan agenda on the part of either the president or Democrats in Congress.” I think people will say, “That makes sense, because that’s what the economy needs right now.”

So if– one way or another, we’ll get through this. Do I wish that things were more orderly in Washington and rational and people listened to the best arguments and compromised and operated in a– in– in a more thoughtful and organized fashion? Absolutely. But when you look at history that’s– that’s been the exception rather than the norm.

(End videotape)

GREGORY: My interview with President Obama. Coming up, reaction to the interview and what it tells us about what his second term will look like. Joining me, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, executive editor at Random House Jon Meacham, David Brooks of the New York Times and our political director and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd. All coming up, next.

(Announcements)

GREGORY: Coming up, reaction from our roundtable this morning. You’ve just heard the president lay out his big agenda items for the second term–immigration, the economy, energy and middle class tax cuts, not to mention gun control. But can he realistically get any of them done given Washington’s track record of dysfunction? (Unintelligible) roundtable is here to break it all down after this brief commercial break.

(Announcements)

(Videotape)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m confident that one or two things are going to happen when it comes to the fiscal cliff. Number one, we’re going to see an agreement in the next 48 hours, in which case middle class taxes will not go up. If that doesn’t happen, then Democrats in the Senate will put a bill on the floor of the Senate and Republicans will have to decide if they’re going to block it, which will mean that middle class taxes do go up. I don’t think they would want to do that politically but they may end up doing it.

(End videotape)

Full Text Obama Presidency December 19, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Press Conference on Gun Control & Fiscal Cliff — Transcript

POLITICAL BUZZ

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

President Obama: “Words Need to Lead to Action” on Gun Violence

Source: WH, 12-19-12

President Obama, with Vice President Biden, delivers a statement about the Administration’s gun policy process, Dec. 19, 2012.  President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers a statement and takes questions about the Administration’s gun policy process in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Dec. 19, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Five days after the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama said that he is committed to reducing the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day.

At a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, the President announced that Vice President Joe Biden will lead a new initiative that has been tasked with identifying concrete proposals for real reform by January. The Vice President, who wrote the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime and included the assault weapons ban, will work with members of the Cabinet and outside organizations on this effort, and President Obama urged the new Congress to hold votes on the proposals early next year:

The good news is there’s already a growing consensus for us to build from.  A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons.  A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips.  A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.

The President made clear that this is a complex issue, and that solutions must be wide-ranging and include everything from access to mental health services to confronting a culture that at times glorifies violence. But he also made clear that the price of doing nothing is much too high for our country to bear:

Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother.  Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka.  A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino.  Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital.  A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri, and taken off life support just yesterday. Each one of these Americans was a victim of the everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year — violence that we cannot accept as routine.

So I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.  We won’t prevent them all — but that can’t be an excuse not to try.  It won’t be easy — but that can’t be an excuse not to try.

You can read the President’s full remarks or watch the press conference on video.

Remarks by the President in a Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-12

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:02 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. It’s now been five days since the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut; three days since we gathered as a nation to pray for the victims. And today, a few more of the 20 small children and six educators who were taken from us will be laid to rest.

We may never know all the reasons why this tragedy happened. We do know that every day since, more Americans have died of gun violence. We know such violence has terrible consequences for our society. And if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation — all of us — to try.

Over these past five days, a discussion has reemerged as to what we might do not only to deter mass shootings in the future, but to reduce the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country every single day. And it’s encouraging that people of all different backgrounds and beliefs and political persuasions have been willing to challenge some old assumptions and change longstanding positions.

That conversation has to continue. But this time, the words need to lead to action.

We know this is a complex issue that stirs deeply held passions and political divides. And as I said on Sunday night, there’s no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun. We’re going to need to look more closely at a culture that all too often glorifies guns and violence. And any actions we must take must begin inside the home and inside our hearts.

But the fact that this problem is complex can no longer be an excuse for doing nothing. The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence doesn’t mean we can’t steadily reduce the violence, and prevent the very worst violence.

That’s why I’ve asked the Vice President to lead an effort that includes members of my Cabinet and outside organizations to come up with a set of concrete proposals no later than January — proposals that I then intend to push without delay. This is not some Washington commission. This is not something where folks are going to be studying the issue for six months and publishing a report that gets read and then pushed aside. This is a team that has a very specific task, to pull together real reforms right now. I asked Joe to lead this effort in part because he wrote the 1994 Crime Bill that helped law enforcement bring down the rate of violent crime in this country. That plan — that bill also included the assault weapons ban that was publicly supported at the time by former Presidents including Ronald Reagan.

The good news is there’s already a growing consensus for us to build from. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of military-style assault weapons. A majority of Americans support banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips. A majority of Americans support laws requiring background checks before all gun purchases, so that criminals can’t take advantage of legal loopholes to buy a gun from somebody who won’t take the responsibility of doing a background check at all.

I urge the new Congress to hold votes on these measures next year in a timely manner. And considering Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in six years — the agency that works most closely with state and local law enforcement to keep illegal guns out of the hands of criminals — I’d suggest that they make this a priority early in the year.

Look, like the majority of Americans, I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. This country has a strong tradition of gun ownership that’s been handed down from generation to generation. Obviously across the country there are regional differences. There are differences between how people feel in urban areas and rural areas. And the fact is the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible — they buy their guns legally and they use them safely, whether for hunting or sport shooting, collection or protection.

But you know what, I am also betting that the majority — the vast majority — of responsible, law-abiding gun owners would be some of the first to say that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few from buying a weapon of war. I’m willing to bet that they don’t think that using a gun and using common sense are incompatible ideas — that an unbalanced man shouldn’t be able to get his hands on a military-style assault rifle so easily; that in this age of technology, we should be able to check someone’s criminal records before he or she can check out at a gun show; that if we work harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one in Newtown — or any of the lesser-known tragedies that visit small towns and big cities all across America every day.

Since Friday morning, a police officer was gunned down in Memphis, leaving four children without their mother. Two officers were killed outside a grocery store in Topeka. A woman was shot and killed inside a Las Vegas casino. Three people were shot inside an Alabama hospital. A four-year-old was caught in a drive-by in Missouri, and taken off life support just yesterday. Each one of these Americans was a victim of the everyday gun violence that takes the lives of more than 10,000 Americans every year — violence that we cannot accept as routine.

So I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. We won’t prevent them all — but that can’t be an excuse not to try. It won’t be easy — but that can’t be an excuse not to try.

And I’m not going to be able to do it by myself. Ultimately if this effort is to succeed it’s going to require the help of the American people — it’s going to require all of you. If we’re going to change things, it’s going to take a wave of Americans — mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, pastors, law enforcement, mental health professionals — and, yes, gun owners — standing up and saying “enough” on behalf of our kids.

It will take commitment and compromise, and most of all, it will take courage. But if those of us who were sent here to serve the public trust can summon even one tiny iota of the courage those teachers, that principal in Newtown summoned on Friday — if cooperation and common sense prevail — then I’m convinced we can make a sensible, intelligent way to make the United States of America a safer, stronger place for our children to learn and to grow.

Thank you. And now I’m going to let the Vice President go and I’m going to take a few questions. And I will start with Ben Feller.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to ask you about the other serious issue consuming this town right now, the fiscal cliff.

THE PRESIDENT: Right.

Q Haven’t you betrayed some of the voters who supported you in the election by changing your positions on who should get a tax increase and by including Social Security benefits now in this mix? And more broadly, there seems to be a deepening sense that negotiations aren’t going very well right now. Can you give us a candid update? Are we likely to go over the cliff?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, there’s no reason why we should. Remember what I said during the campaign. I thought that it was important for us to reduce our deficit in a balanced and responsible way. I said it was important for us to make sure that millionaires and billionaires paid their fair share. I said that we were going to have to make some tough cuts, some tough decisions on the spending side, but what I wouldn’t do was hurt vulnerable families only to pay for a tax cut for somebody like me. And what I said was that the ultimate package would involve a balance of spending cuts and tax increases.

That’s exactly what I’ve put forward. What I’ve said is, is that in order to arrive at a compromise, I am prepared to do some very tough things — some things that some Democrats don’t want to see and probably there are a few Republicans who don’t want to see either. But the only way that we’re going to be able to stabilize the economy, make sure we’ve got a platform for long-term economic growth, that we get our deficits under control and we make sure that middle-class families are protected is if we come up with something that members of both parties in Congress can support.

And that’s the plan that I’ve put forward. I have gone at least halfway in meeting some of the Republicans’ concerns, recognizing that even though we campaigned on these issues, even though the majority of Americans agree with me that we should be raising taxes on the wealthiest few as a means of reducing the deficit, I have also said that I’m willing to identify some spending cuts that make sense.

And, frankly, up until about a couple of days ago, if you looked at it, the Republicans in the House and Speaker Boehner I think were in a position to say, we’ve gotten a fair deal. The fact that they haven’t taken it yet is puzzling and I think a question that you’re going to have to address to them.

I remain optimistic, though, because if you look at what the Speaker has proposed, he’s conceded that income tax rates should go up — except right now he only wants to have them go up for millionaires. If you’re making $900,000, somehow he thinks that you can’t afford to pay a little more in taxes. But the principle that rates are going to need to go up he’s conceded.

I’ve said I’m willing to make some cuts. What separates us is probably a few hundred billion dollars. The idea that we would put our economy at risk because you can’t bridge that gap doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So I’m going to continue to talk to the Speaker and the other leaders up in Congress. But, ultimately, they’ve got to do their job. Right now their job is to make sure that middle-class taxes do not go up and that we have a balanced, responsible package of deficit reduction.

It is there for all to see. It is a deal that can get done. But it is not going to be — it cannot be done if every side wants 100 percent. And part of what voters were looking for is some compromise up here. That’s what folks want. They understand that they’re not going to get 100 percent of what they want. And for some reason, that message has not yet taken up on Capitol Hill.

And when you think about what we’ve gone through over the last couple of months — a devastating hurricane, and now one of the worst tragedies in our memory — the country deserves folks to be willing to compromise on behalf of the greater good, and not tangle themselves up in a whole bunch of ideological positions that don’t make much sense.

So I remain not only open to conversations, but I remain eager to get something done. I’d like to get it done before Christmas. There’s been a lot of posturing up on Capitol Hill, instead of just going ahead and getting stuff done. And we’ve been wasting a lot of time. It is the right thing to do. I’m prepared to get it done. But they’re going to have to go ahead and make some adjustments.

And I’ll just give you one other example. The Speaker now is proposing what he calls plan B. So he says, well, this would raise taxes only on folks making a million dollars or more. What that means is an average of a $50,000 tax break for every millionaire out there, at the same time as we’re not providing unemployment insurance for 2 million people who are still out there looking for work. It actually means a tax increase for millions of working families across the country at the same time as folks like me would be getting a tax break. That violates the core principles that were debated during the course of this election and that the American people determined was the wrong way to go.

And so my hope is, is that the Speaker and his caucus, in conjunction with the other legislative leaders up there, can find a way to make sure that middle-class families don’t see their taxes go up on January 1st; that we make sure that those things that middle-class families count on like tax credits for college, or making sure that they’re getting some help when it comes to raising their kids through things like the child tax credit, that that gets done; and that we have a balanced package for deficit reduction, which is exactly what I’ve put forward.

Q Will you give more ground if you need to, or are you done?

THE PRESIDENT: If you look at the package that I put forward, it is a balanced package by any definition. We have put forward real cuts in spending that are hard to do, in every category. And by any measure, by any traditional calculation, by the measures that Republicans themselves have used in the past, this would be as large a piece of deficit reduction as we’ve seen in the last 20 years. And if you combine that with the increased revenue from the wealthy paying a little bit more, then you actually have something that would stabilize our deficit and debt for a decade — for 10 years.

Now, the notion that we would not do that, but instead the Speaker would run a play that keeps tax cuts for folks making $500,000 or $700,000 or $800,000 or $900,000 a year, and gives more tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, and raises taxes on middle-class families, and then has no cuts in it — which is what he says he wants — doesn’t make much sense.

I mean, let’s just think about the logic for a second. They’re thinking about voting for raising taxes at least on folks over a million, which they say they don’t want to do, but they’re going to reject spending cuts that they say they do want to do. That defies logic. There’s no explanation for that.

I think that any objective person out there looking would say that we’ve put forward a very balanced plan and it’s time for us to go ahead and get it done. That’s what the country needs right now. Because I think folks have been through some wrenching times, we’re still recovering from a very tough recession, and what they’re hoping for is a sense of stability, focus, compromise, common sense over the next couple of years. And I think we can provide it. But this is a good test for them.

Carol Lee.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Just to follow on Ben’s question, what is your next move? Are we in a position now where you’re just waiting for the Speaker to make a move?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m going to reach out to all the leaders involved over the next couple of days and find out what is it that’s holding this thing up. What is holding it up? If the argument from Republicans is we haven’t done enough spending cuts, that argument is not going to fly because we’ve got close to a trillion dollars of spending cuts. And when you add interest, then it’s more than a trillion dollars in spending cuts.

If the argument is that they can’t do — they can’t increase tax rates on folks making $700,000 or $800,000 a year, that’s not a persuasive argument to me and it’s certainly not a persuasive argument to the American people.

It may be that members of their caucus haven’t looked at exactly what we’ve proposed. It may be that if we provide more information or there’s greater specificity or we work through some of their concerns, that we can get some movement then.

But the fact of the matter is, is that what would violate my commitment to voters is if I ended up agreeing to a plan that put more of the burden on middle-class families and less of a burden on the wealthy in an effort to reduce our deficit. That’s not something I’m going to do. What would violate my commitment to voters would be to put forward a plan that makes it harder for young people to go to college, that makes it harder for a family with a disabled kid to care for that kid.

And there’s a threshold that you reach where the balance tips, even in making compromises that are required to get something done in this town, where you are hurting people in order to give another advantage to folks who don’t need help. And we had an extensive debate about this for a year. And not only does the majority of the American people agree with me, about half of Republican voters agree with me on this.

So at some point, there’s got to be I think a recognition on the part of my Republican friends that — take the deal. They will be able to claim that they have worked with me over the last two years to reduce the deficit more than any other deficit reduction package; that we will have stabilized it for 10 years. That is a significant achievement for them. They should be proud of it. But they keep on finding ways to say no, as opposed to finding ways to say yes.

And I don’t know how much of that just has to do with — it is very hard for them to say yes to me. But at some point, they’ve got to take me out of it and think about their voters, and think about what’s best for the country. And if they do that — if they’re not worried about who’s winning and who’s losing, did they score a point on the President, did they extract that last little concession, did they force him to do something he really doesn’t want to do just for the heck of it, and they focus on actually what’s good for the country, I actually think we can get this done.

Q You mentioned the $700,000 and $800,000. Are you willing to move on income level and are there specific things that you would do –

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to get into specific negotiations here. My point is simple, Carol, that if you look at Speaker Boehner’s proposal and you look at my proposal, they’re actually pretty close. They keep on saying that somehow we haven’t put forward real spending cuts. Actually, there was I think a graph in The New York Times today that showed — they’re the same categories, right? There’s a little bit of tweaks here and there; there are a few differences, but we’re right there.

And on the revenue side, there’s a difference in terms of them wanting to preserve tax breaks for folks between $250,000 and a million that we just can’t afford. I mean, keep in mind I’m in that income category; I’d love to not pay as much in taxes. But I also think it’s the right thing to do for us to make sure that people who have less — people who are working, people who are striving, people who are hoping for their kids — that they have opportunity. That’s what we campaigned about. That’s what we talked about.

And this is not a situation where I’m unwilling to compromise. This is not a situation where I’m trying to rub their face in anything. I think anybody who looks at this objectively would say that coming off my election, I have met them at least halfway in order to get something done for the country.

And so I noticed that there were a couple of headlines out there saying, oh, we’re now in the land of political posturing, and it’s the usual he said-he said atmosphere. But look at the facts. Look at where we started; look at where they started. My proposal is right there in the middle.

We should be able to get this done. Let’s get it done. We don’t have a lot of time.

Carrie. Where’s — there you are.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes.

Q What is your level of confidence that if you are able to reach a comprehensive deal with the Speaker, that he will be able to bring his members onboard and get it passed? Essentially, do you still trust Speaker Boehner in this process?

THE PRESIDENT: There is no doubt that the Speaker has challenges in his caucus, and I recognize that. I’m often reminded when I speak to the Republican leadership that the majority of their caucus’s membership come from districts that I lost. And so sometimes they may not see an incentive in cooperating with me, in part because they’re more concerned about challenges from a tea party candidate, or challenges from the right, and cooperating with me may make them vulnerable. I recognize that.

But, goodness, if this past week has done anything, it should just give us some perspective. If there’s one thing we should have after this week, it should be a sense of perspective about what’s important. And I would like to think that members of that caucus would say to themselves: You know what, we disagree with the President on a whole bunch of things. We wish the other guy had won. We’re going to fight him on a whole range of issues over the next four years. We think his philosophy is all screwed up. But right now, what the country needs is for us to compromise, get a deficit reduction deal in place; make sure middle class taxes don’t go up; make sure that we’re laying the foundations for growth; give certainty to businesses large and small; not put ourselves through some sort of self-inflicted crisis every six months; allow ourselves time to focus on things like preventing the tragedy in Newtown from happening again; focus on issues like energy and immigration reform and all the things that will really make a determination as to whether our country grows over the next four years, 10 years, 40 years.

And if you just pull back from the immediate political battles, if you kind of peel off the partisan war paint, then we should be able to get something done.

And I think the Speaker would like to get that done. I think an environment needs to be created within not just the House Republican caucus, but also among Senate Republicans that say, the campaign is over and let’s see if we can do what’s right for the country — at least for the next month. And then we can reengage in all the other battles that they’ll want to fight.

Q If you don’t get it done, Republicans have said they’ll try to use the debt limit as a next pressure point. Would you negotiate with them in that context?

THE PRESIDENT: No. And I’ve been very clear about this. This is the United States of America, the greatest country on Earth, the world’s economic superpower. And the idea that we lurch from crisis to crisis, and every six months, or every nine months, that we threaten not to pay our bills on stuff we’ve already bought, and default, and ruin the full faith and credit of the United States of America — that’s not how you run a great country.

So I’ve put forward a very clear principle: I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. We’re not going to play the same game that we saw happen in 2011 — which was hugely destructive; hurt our economy; provided more uncertainty to the business community than anything else that happened.

And I’m not alone in this. If you go to Wall Street, including talking to a whole bunch of folks who spent a lot of money trying to beat me, they would say it would be disastrous for us to use the debt ceiling as a cudgel to try to win political points on Capitol Hill.

So we’re not going to do that — which is why I think that part of what I hope over the next couple of days we see is a recognition that there is a way to go ahead and get what it is that you’ve been fighting for. These guys have been fighting for spending cuts. They can get some very meaningful spending cuts. This would amount to $2 trillion — $2 trillion — in spending cuts over the last couple of years. And in exchange, they’re getting a little over a trillion dollars in revenue. And that meets the pledge that I made during the campaign, which was $2 to $2.50 of spending cuts for every revenue increase. And that’s an approach that I think most Americans think is appropriate.

But I will not negotiate around the debt ceiling. We’re not going to do that again.

Q Sir, may I ask a question about Newtown, please?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I’ve got David Jackson.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Getting back to the gun issue, you alluded to the fact that Washington commissions don’t have the greatest reputation in the world. What makes you think this one is going to be different given the passage of time and the political power of gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, this is not going to be a commission. Joe is going to gather up some key Cabinet members who have an interest in this issue. We’re going to reach out to a bunch of stakeholders. We’re going to be reaching out to members of Congress who have an interest in this issue. It’s not as if we have to start from scratch. There are a whole bunch of proposals that have been thought about, debated, but hopefully also some new ideas in terms of how we deal with this issue.

Their task is going to be to sift through every good idea that’s out there, and even take a look at some bad ideas before disposing of them, and come up with a concrete set of recommendations in about a month. And I would hope that our memories aren’t so short that what we saw in Newtown isn’t lingering with us, that we don’t remain passionate about it only a month later.

And as soon as we get those recommendations, I will be putting forward very specific proposals. I will be talking about them in my State of The Union and we will be working with interested members of Congress to try to get some of them done.

And the idea that we would say this is terrible, this is a tragedy, never again, and we don’t have the sustained attention span to be able to get this done over the next several months doesn’t make sense. I have more confidence in the American people than that. I have more confidence in the parents, the mothers and fathers that I’ve been meeting over the last several days all across the country from all political persuasions, including a lot of gun owners, who say, you know what, this time we’ve got to do things differently.

Q What about the NRA?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, the NRA is an organization that has members who are mothers and fathers. And I would expect that they’ve been impacted by this as well. And hopefully they’ll do some self-reflection.

And here’s what we know — that any single gun law can’t solve all these problems. We’re going to have to look at mental health issues. We’re going to have to look at schools. There are going to be a whole range of things that Joe’s group looks at. We know that issues of gun safety will be an element of it. And what we’ve seen over the last 20 years, 15 years, is the sense that anything related to guns is somehow an encroachment on the Second Amendment. What we’re looking for here is a thoughtful approach that says we can preserve our Second Amendment, we can make sure that responsible gun owners are able to carry out their activities, but that we’re going to actually be serious about the safety side of this; that we’re going to be serious about making sure that something like Newtown or Aurora doesn’t happen again.

And there is a big chunk of space between what the Second Amendment means and having no rules at all. And that space is what Joe is going to be working on to try to identify where we can find some common ground.

So I’ve got — I’m going to take one last question.

Go ahead, Jake.

Q It seems to a lot of observers that you made the political calculation in 2008 in your first term and in 2012 not to talk about gun violence. You had your position on renewing the ban on semiautomatic rifles that then-Senator Biden put into place, but you didn’t do much about it. This is not the first issue — the first incident of horrific gun violence of your four years. Where have you been?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, here’s where I’ve been, Jake. I’ve been President of the United States dealing with the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, an auto industry on the verge of collapse, two wars. I don’t think I’ve been on vacation.

And so I think all of us have to do some reflection on how we prioritize what we do here in Washington. And as I said on Sunday, this should be a wake-up call for all of us to say that if we are not getting right the need to keep our children safe, then nothing else matters. And it’s my commitment to make sure that we do everything we can to keep our children safe.

A lot of things go in — are involved in that, Jake. So making sure they’ve got decent health care and making sure they’ve got a good education, making sure that their parents have jobs — those are all relevant as well. Those aren’t just sort of side issues. But there’s no doubt that this has to be a central issue. And that’s exactly why I’m confident that Joe is going to take this so seriously over the next couple months.

All right. Thank you, everybody.
END
12:47 P.M. EST

Political Headlines December 18, 2012: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on the Gun Control Measures President Barack Obama Might Back

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Jay Carney on the Gun Control Measures Obama Might Back

Source: ABC News Radio, 12-18-12

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

The White House on Tuesday indicated President Obama would support legislation that would reinstate the ban on certain types of semi-automatic rifles — known as “the assault weapons ban” — and may support other efforts, such as a proposal to ban high-capacity magazines, in the wake of the deadly massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“He is actively supportive of, for example, Senator Feinstein’s stated intent to revive a piece of legislation that would reinstate the assault weapons ban,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters, publicly backing for the first time legislation Feinstein plans to introduce. The White House had previously been reluctant to publicly named any specific action it might support in an effort to prevent future massacres….READ MORE

Political Headlines December 17, 2012: Pro-Gun Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin Suggests New Gun Laws

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Pro-Gun Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin Suggests New Gun Laws

Source: ABC News Radio, 12-17-12

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has been as pro-gun, pro-NRA as anybody in Congress.  During his 2010 re-election campaign, he famously demonstrated his opposition to the cap-and-trade bill by shooting the bill (literally) with a rifle.

Now, in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, Manchin says it is time to re-think gun control.  As he said Monday on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting…”

On Twitter, Manchin endorsed a proposal by Sen. Joe Lieberman to create a national commission on gun violence.  But he said there must be action as an end result….READ MORE

Featured Historians December 17, 2012 Beverly Gage: Things Can Change on the Sandy Hook School Shooting

FEATURED HISTORIANS

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HISTORY OP-EDS

Things Can Change

A century ago, there were forms of brutal violence considered so thoroughly American that they could never be banished. Today, they no longer exist.

Source: Beverly Gage, Slate, 12-17-12 

Beverly Gage, a Yale history professor, is the author of The Day Wall Street Exploded.

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People gather at a memorial for victims near the school on the first Sunday following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 16, 2012 in Newtown, Conn.Photograph by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

Read the rest of Slate’s coverage of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

In 1985, when I was 13 years old, a woman suffering from schizophrenia brought a semiautomatic rifle to our local mall and began shooting. This was the mall where I picked out clothes from the Gap, where I sat for photos with Santa Claus as a toddler, where kids my age were just starting to hang out and flaunt their independence. The woman, 25-year-old Sylvia Seegrist, killed three people, including a 2-year-old child, and shot several others before being subdued by a man who thought she was shooting blanks. When asked why she had done it, Seegrist said, bizarrely, that “my family makes me nervous.” In other words, there was no reason at all.

As a middle-schooler, I registered the event only in the haziest terms: I knew something terrible had happened, I was glad it hadn’t happened to me, and I figured the adults would take care of the rest. Now, as an adult, what seems shocking is just how little was done. There were calls for keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, for better treatment and commitment laws, for more restrictive gun control, for greater community vigilance to identify people prone to violence. But none of it, apparently, mattered quite enough. Fourteen years after the Springfield Mall shooting came Columbine, then Virginia Tech, and now Sandy Hook Elementary.

Like millions of other heartsick people, I am inclined to despair at this list, to think that though all of this must change, it never will. But as a historian I am reminded that change often comes slowly, and with great pain and effort. A century ago, there were forms of graphic, brutal violence considered so thoroughly American that they could never be banished from the national landscape. Today they no longer exist. In the story of how these changes happened, there may be a model—or a least a bit of hope—for the present….READ MORE

Political Headlines December 17, 2012: President Barack Obama in Speech at Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil: Nation Faces ‘Hard Questions’ After Connecticut Shooting

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama: Nation Faces ‘Hard Questions’ After Connecticut Shooting

Source: ABC News Radio, 12-16-12

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama said at an interfaith prayer service in the grieving community of Newtown, Conn., Sunday evening that the country is “left with some hard questions” if it is to curb a rising trend in gun violence, such as the shooting spree last Friday at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After consoling victims’ families in classrooms at Newtown High School, the president said he would do everything in his power to “engage” a dialogue with Americans, including law enforcement and mental health professionals, because “we can’t tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end.  And to end them we must change.”…READ MORE

 

Remarks by the President at Sandy Hook Interfaith Prayer Vigil

Newtown High School

Newtown, Connecticut

8:37 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Governor.  To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests — Scripture tells us:  “…do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults.  They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.  I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.  I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight.  And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it.  Newtown — you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice.  We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate.  Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy — they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances — with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”; “show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came.  The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, “I know karate.  So it’s okay.  I’ll lead the way out.”  (Laughter.)

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown.  In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another.  This is how Newtown will be remembered.  And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions.  Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around.  With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice.  And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm.  And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them.  They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments.  And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.

And we know we can’t do this by ourselves.  It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself.  That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation.  And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.

This is our first task — caring for our children.  It’s our first job.  If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.  That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?  Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm?  Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return?  Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no.  We’re not doing enough.  And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting.  The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors.  The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.  And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore.  These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.  We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true.  No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.  Surely, we can do better than this.  If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this.  Because what choice do we have?  We can’t accept events like this as routine.  Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?  Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

All the world’s religions — so many of them represented here today — start with a simple question:  Why are we here?  What gives our life meaning?  What gives our acts purpose?  We know our time on this Earth is fleeting.  We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame, or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped.  We know that no matter how good our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way.  We will make mistakes, we will experience hardships.  And even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our children, for our families, for each other.  The warmth of a small child’s embrace — that is true.  The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger — we know that’s what matters.  We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness.  We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of.  And that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us.  That’s how you’ve inspired us.  You remind us what matters.  And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them — for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte.  Daniel.  Olivia.  Josephine.  Ana.  Dylan.  Madeleine.  Catherine.  Chase.  Jesse.  James.  Grace.  Emilie.  Jack.  Noah.  Caroline.  Jessica.  Benjamin.  Avielle.  Allison.

God has called them all home.  For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place.  May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort.  And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America.  (Applause.)

END                 8:55 P.M. EST

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