Full Text Obama Presidency August 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the American Legion National Convention about VA Reform Executive Actions and Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Remarks by the President to the American Legion National Convention

Source: WH, 8-26-14 

Charlotte Convention Center
Charlotte, North Carolina

12:07 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  Please, everybody, have a seat.  Hello, Legionnaires!

AUDIENCE:  Hello!

THE PRESIDENT:  I want to thank Commander Dellinger for the introduction, but more importantly, for your service in the Army.  And as you conclude your tenure as Commander, thank you for your tireless commitment to America’s veterans.

I want to thank the entire leadership team for welcoming me here today, including your National Adjutant, Dan Wheeler; your Executive Director in Washington, Peter Gaytan; Nancy Brown-Park, all the spouses, daughters — (applause) — hey! — sisters of the Auxiliary, and the Sons of the American Legion.  (Applause.)  And let me say that I join you in honoring the memory of a friend to many of you — an Army veteran and a great Legionnaire from North Carolina, Jerry Hedrick.  (Applause.)

To Senators Richard Burr and Kay Hagan, Mayor Dan Clodfelter — thank you for welcoming us to the great state of North Carolina and to Charlotte, and for your great support of our troops and our veterans.

And I do have to mention the President of Boys Nation –Matthew Ellow, from Lacey’s Spring, Alabama.  I welcomed Matthew and all the incredible young people of Boys and Girls Nation to the White House last month.  I was running a little bit late, so they just started singing, filling the White House with patriotic songs.  And then they sang Happy Birthday to me, so I was pretty moved.  And they’re a tribute to the Legion and to our country.

I’ve brought with me today our new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald.  (Applause.)  And for those of you who are not aware, Bob is one of America’s most accomplished business leaders.  He comes from a military family.  He excelled at West Point, served as an Army Airborne Ranger — so he’s got a reputation for jumping into tough situations.  (Laughter.)  And he’s hit the ground running, visiting hospitals and clinics across the country, hearing directly from veterans and helping us change the way the VA does business.  And by the way, Washington doesn’t agree on much these days, but he got confirmed 97 to 0.  (Applause.)  People understand he’s the right man for the job.  He has my full support.  And, Bob, I want to thank you for once again serving your country.  (Applause.)

It’s an honor to be back with the American Legion.  In the story of your service we see the spirit of America.  When your country needed you most, you stepped forward.  You raised your right hand, you swore a solemn oath.  You put on that uniform and earned the title you carry to this day — whether Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman.

Among you are proud veterans of World War II; of Korea; of Vietnam; of Desert Storm and the Balkans; and our newest veterans — from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Across the generations, you served with honor.  You made us proud.  And you carry the memory of friends who never came home — our fallen, our prisoners of war, those missing in action — heroes that our nation can never forget.

When you took off that uniform, you earned another title –the title of veteran.  And you never stopped serving.  As Legionnaires, you put on that cap, wore that emblem — “for God and country” — and took care of one another, making sure our veterans receive the care and the benefits that you’ve earned and deserve.

And just as you defended America over there, you helped build America here at home — as leaders and role models in your communities, as entrepreneurs and business owners, as champions for a strong national defense.  You helped the United States of America become what we are today — the greatest democratic, economic, and military force for freedom and human dignity that the world has ever known.

Now, these are challenging times.  I don’t have to tell you that.  Around the world as well as here at home.  You turn on the TV and we’re saturated with heartbreaking images of war and senseless violence and terrorism and tragedy.  And it can be easy to grow cynical or give in to the sense that the future we seek is somehow beyond our reach.  But as men and women who have been tested like few others, you should know better.  You know that cynicism is not the character of a great nation.  And so, even as we face, yes, the hard tasks of our time, we should never lose sight of our progress as a people or the strength of our leadership in the world.

Think about it — six years after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression — in some ways, the crisis had the potential of being worse than the Great Depression — thanks to the decisions we made to rescue our economy, thanks to the determination of the American people, we are stronger at home.  Over the past 53 months, our businesses have added nearly 10 million new jobs — the longest streak of private sector job creation in American history.  Construction and housing are rebounding.  Our auto industry and manufacturing are booming.  Our high school graduation rate is at a record high.  More young people are earning their college degrees than ever before.  Millions more Americans now have quality, affordable health care.  We’ve cut the deficit by more than half.  And now we have to sustain this momentum so more people share in this progress, so our economy works for every working American.

And just as we’re stronger at home, the United States is better positioned to lead in the 21st century than any nation on Earth.  It’s not even close.  We have the most powerful military in history — that’s certainly not close.  From Europe to Asia, our alliances are unrivaled.  Our economy is the most dynamic.  We’ve got the best workers.  We’ve got the best businesses.  We have the best universities and the best scientists.  With our domestic energy revolution, including more renewable energy, we’re more energy independent.  Our technologies connect the world.  Our freedoms and opportunities attract immigrants who “yearn to breathe free.”  Our founding ideals inspire the oppressed across the globe to reach for their own liberty.  That’s who we are.  That’s what America is.

And moreover, nobody else can do what we do.  No other nation does more to underwrite the security and prosperity on which the world depends.  In times of crisis, no other nation can rally such broad coalitions to stand up for international norms and peace.  In times of disaster, no other nation has the capabilities to deliver so much so quickly.  No nation does more to help citizens claim their rights and build their democracies.  No nation does more to help people in the far corners of the Earth escape poverty and hunger and disease, and realize their dignity.  Even countries that criticize us, when the chips are down and they need help, they know who to call — they call us.  That’s what American leadership looks like.  That’s why the United States is and will remain the one indispensable nation in the world.

Now, sustaining our leadership, keeping America strong and secure, means we have to use our power wisely.  History teaches us of the dangers of overreaching, and spreading ourselves too thin, and trying to go it alone without international support, or rushing into military adventures without thinking through the consequences.  And nobody knows this better than our veterans and our families — our veteran families, because you’re the ones who bear the wages of war.  You’re the ones who carry the scars.  You know that we should never send America’s sons and daughters into harm’s way unless it is absolutely necessary and we have a plan, and we are resourcing it and prepared to see it through.  (Applause.)  You know the United States has to lead with strength and confidence and wisdom.

And that’s why, after incredible sacrifice by so many of our men and women in uniform, we removed more than 140,000 troops from Iraq and welcomed those troops home.  It was the right thing to do.  It’s why we refocused our efforts in Afghanistan and went after al Qaeda’s leadership in the tribal regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan, driving the Taliban out of its strongholds, and training Afghan forces, which are now in the lead for their own security.  In just four months, we will complete our combat mission in Afghanistan and America’s longest war will come to a responsible end.  And we honor every American who served to make this progress possible — (applause) — every single one, especially the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to keep us safe.

And now, as Afghans continue to work towards the first democratic transfer of power in their history, Afghan leaders need to make the hard compromises that are necessary to give the Afghan people a future of security and progress.  And as we go forward, we’ll continue to partner with Afghans so their country can never again be used to launch attacks against the United States.  (Applause.)

Now, as I’ve always made clear, the blows we’ve struck against al Qaeda’s leadership don’t mean the end to the terrorist threat.  Al Qaeda affiliates still target our homeland — we’ve seen that in Yemen.  Other extremists threaten our citizens abroad, as we’ve seen most recently in Iraq and Syria.  As Commander-in-Chief, the security of the American people is my highest priority, and that’s why, with the brutal terrorist group ISIL advancing in Iraq, I have authorized targeted strikes to protect our diplomats and military advisors who are there.  (Applause.)

And let me say it again:  American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq.  I will not allow the United States to be dragged back into another ground war in Iraq.  Because ultimately, it is up to the Iraqis to bridge their differences and secure themselves.  (Applause.)  The limited strikes we’re conducting have been necessary to protect our people, and have helped Iraqi forces begin to push back these terrorists.  We’ve also been able to rescue thousands of men and women and children who were trapped on a mountain.  And our airdrops of food and water and medicine show American leadership at our best.  And we salute the brave pilots and crews who are making us proud in the skies of Iraq every single day.  (Applause.)

And more broadly, the crisis in Iraq underscores how we have to meet today’s evolving terrorist threat.  The answer is not to send in large-scale military deployments that overstretch our military, and lead for us occupying countries for a long period of time, and end up feeding extremism.  Rather, our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader strategy to protect our people and support our partners to take the fight to ISIL.

So we’re strengthening our partners — more military assistance to government and Kurdish forces in Iraq and moderate opposition in Syria.  We’re urging Iraqis to forge the kind of inclusive government that can deliver on national unity, and strong security forces and good governance that are ultimately going to be the antidote against terrorists.  And we’re urging countries in the region and building an international coalition, including our closest allies, to support Iraqis as they take the fight to these barbaric terrorists.

Today, our prayers are with the Foley family in New Hampshire as they continue to grieve the brutal murder of their son and brother Jim.  But our message to anyone who harms our people is simple:  America does not forget.  Our reach is long.  We are patient.  Justice will be done.  We have proved time and time again we will do what’s necessary to capture those who harm Americans — (applause) — to go after those who harm Americans.  (Applause.)

And we’ll continue to take direct action where needed to protect our people and to defend our homeland.  And rooting out a cancer like ISIL won’t be easy and it won’t be quick.  But tyrants and murderers before them should recognize that kind of hateful vision ultimately is no match for the strength and hopes of people who stand together for the security and dignity and freedom that is the birthright of every human being.

So even as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end, we will stay vigilant.  We will continue to make sure that our military has what it needs.  And as today’s generation of servicemembers keeps us safe, and as they come home, we also have to meet our responsibilities to them, just as they meet their responsibilities to America.  (Applause.)

When I was here at the Legion three years ago, I said that the bond between our forces and our citizens has to be a sacred trust, and that for me, for my administration, upholding our trust with our veterans is not just a matter of policy, it is a moral obligation.

And working together, we have made real progress.  Think about it.  Working with the Legion and other veterans service organizations, we’ve been able to accomplish historic increases to veterans funding.  We’ve protected veterans health care from Washington politics with advanced appropriations.  We’ve been able to make VA benefits available to more than 2 million veterans who didn’t have them before, including more Vietnam vets who were exposed to Agent Orange.  (Applause.)  We’ve dedicated major new resources for mental health care.  We’ve helped more than 1 million veterans and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

And moreover, as the Legion and other veterans groups have said, once veterans get in the door the care you receive from the VA is often very good.  The specialized care is among the best in the world.  And many of the hardworking folks at the VA are veterans themselves — veterans serving veterans.  And we can never thank them enough for their good work.

But what we’ve come to learn is that the misconduct we’ve seen at too many facilities — with long wait times, and veterans denied care, and folks cooking the books — is outrageous and inexcusable.  (Applause.)

As soon as it was disclosed, I got before the American people and I said we would not tolerate it.  And we will not.  And I know the Legion has been on the frontlines, fanning out across the country, helping veterans who’ve been affected.  And I know Bob is going to give you an update on the actions that we’re taking.  But what I want you to know, directly from me, is that we’re focused on this at the highest levels.  We are going to get to the bottom of these problems.  We’re going to fix what is wrong.  We’re going to do right by you, and we are going to do right by your families.  And that is a solemn pledge and commitment that I’m making to you here.  (Applause.)

Already we’re making sure that those responsible for manipulating or falsifying records are held accountable.  We’re reaching out to veterans — more than a quarter million so far  — to get them off wait lists and into clinics.  We’re moving ahead with reforms at the Veterans Health Administration.  And to help get that done, you supported, and Congress passed, and I signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which means more resources to help the VA hire more doctors and nurses and staff.  It means if you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or your VA doctors can’t see you fast enough, we’ll help you go to a doctor outside the VA.

And we’re instituting a new culture of accountability.  Bob doesn’t play.  Bob likes to recall a cadet prayer from West Point, which should be the ethos of all of us:  “Choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.”  And with the new legislation that I signed into law, Bob and the VA now have the authority to more quickly remove senior executives who don’t meet our high standards.  If you engage in unethical practices, or cover up a serious problem, you should be and will be fired.  (Applause.)

And by the way, if you blow the whistle on higher-ups because you’ve identified a legitimate problem, you shouldn’t be punished, you should be protected.  (Applause.)

So my bottom line is this:  Despite all the good work that the VA does every day, despite all the progress that we’ve made over the last several years, we are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there.  And those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans, and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first.  And I will not be satisfied until that happens.  (Applause.)

And we’re in the midst of a new wave of veterans — more than a million servicemembers returning to civilian life.  So we have to do more to uphold that sacred trust not just this year or next year, but for decades to come.  We’re going to have to stay focused on the five priorities that I outlined last year.  And I just want to reiterate them for you just so you know what it is that we’re committing to.

Number one, we need to make sure our veterans have the resources you deserve.  And the new funding we just helped — we just passed with the help of Senators Burr and Kay, that helps.  But as you know, it’s not enough.  Even in these tough fiscal times, I’ve, therefore, proposed another increase in veterans funding for next year.  And I’ll continue to resist any effort to exploit the recent problems at the VA to turn veterans health care into a voucher system.  We don’t need vouchers.  You need VA health care that you have earned and that you can depend on.  (Applause.)  We need to make the system work.

Second, we need to make sure veterans are actually getting the health care you need when you need it.  Reforming the VHA and more doctors and staff is a good step.  But with this new wave of veterans, we’ve got to deliver the care our newest veterans need most.  And that includes tailored care that treats our women veterans with respect and dignity.  (Applause.)  It means doing even more to help veterans from all wars who are struggling with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress.  And we have to end this tragedy of suicide among our troops and veterans.  (Applause.)  As a country, we can’t stand idly by on such tragedy.

So we’re doing even more — more than ever — more awareness, more outreach, more access to mental health care.  So long as any servicemember or veteran is suffering, or feels like they have nowhere to turn, or doesn’t get the support that they need, that means we haven’t done enough.  And we all know we need to do more.  Veterans called for it.  We heard you — which is why today I’m announcing 19 new executive actions to help improve mental health care for those American heroes and their families.  (Applause.)

So just one example:  We’re expanding suicide prevention training across the military and the VA, so colleagues and clinicians can spot the warning signs and encourage our troops and veterans to seek help.  We’ll improve access to care, with more peer support — veterans counseling veterans — at VA hospitals and clinics.  We’re calling on Congress to help us ensure that our troops get coverage for mental health care that’s on par with the coverage for other medical conditions.  And we’re going to make it easier for servicemembers being treated for mental health conditions to continue their care as they transition to the VA, so automatically connecting them with the support they need, making sure they don’t lose access to any medications they may be taking.

And maybe most of all, we’re going to keep saying loud and clear to anyone out there who’s hurting, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help; it is a sign of strength.  Talk to a friend.  Pick up the phone.  You are not alone.  We are here for you.  And every American needs to know if you see someone in uniform or a veteran who is struggling, reach out and help them to get help.  They were there for America.  We now need to be there for them.  (Applause.)

Our third priority:  We have to keep attacking the disability claims backlog.  Now, the good news is, since its peak last year, we’ve worked with you to slash the backlog by more than 50 percent.  There had been a surge in the backlog in part because of an influx of new veterans; in part because we opened it up for folks who had PTSD, folks with Agent Orange symptoms.  And now we’ve had to work that backlog back down.  The trend lines are good.  But we don’t just want those claims processed fast; we need to make sure they get processed right.

So we’re going to keep at this until we end this backlog once and for all.  And as we do, we’re going to keep working to liberate you from those mountains of paper.  We’ve got to move towards a paperless system — electronic health records that our troops and veterans can keep for life, and that could cut down on some of the bureaucratic red tape so that you’re getting the benefits that you’ve earned a little bit faster.  (Applause.)

Number four:  We need to uphold the dignity and rights of every veteran, and that includes ending the tragedy of homelessness among veterans.  (Applause.)  Again, we’ve got good news to report.  Today, I can announce that, working together over the last few years, we have been able to reduce the number of homeless veterans by one-third.  (Applause.)  And that means on any given night, there are 25,000 fewer veterans on the streets or in shelters.  But we’re not going to stop until every veteran who has defended America has a home in America.  That’s a basic commitment that we have to uphold.  (Applause.)

And finally, we need to make sure our troops and veterans have every opportunity to pursue the American Dream.  That includes a home of their own.  You know, under the law, our servicemembers are entitled to reduced mortgage rates, but the burden is on them to ask for it and prove they’re eligible, which means a lot of folks don’t get the low rates they deserve.

So, today, we’re turning that around.  We’re announcing a new partnership in which some of America’s biggest banks and financial institutions will simplify the process, proactively notify servicemembers who qualify for lower rates and make it easier to enroll.  In other words, we’re going to help more of our troops and military families own their own home without a crushing debt.  (Applause.)

We’re also going to keep helping our troops transition to civilian life.  Because of the work we’ve done together, if you already have a military truck driver’s license, every state now waives the skills test so it’s easier for you to get a commercial driver’s license.  (Applause.)  And we’re going to keep pushing more states to recognize the incredible skills and training of our veterans.  If you could do a job in a warzone, if you’re a medic in a warzone, you shouldn’t have to go take nursing 101 to work in a hospital here in the United States.  (Applause.)  If you can handle million-dollar pieces of equipment in a warzone, that should count for something in getting certified back here at home.  If you can do the kinds of jobs so many of you have done in the most extreme circumstances, I’m pretty confident you can do that job right here at home.  (Applause.)

To help our troops and veterans pursue their education, we worked with loan servicers to automatically cap interest rates on student loans to our servicemembers at 6 percent.  For veterans going back to school under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, we’ll keep standing up against dishonest recruiting and predatory practices that target and prey on you and your families.  So far, about 6,000 colleges and universities have pledged to adhere to our principles of excellence, promising to do right by our veterans.  And more than a thousand colleges and universities have adopted our “8 Keys” to make sure that they’re truly welcoming veterans and helping them succeed on campus.  And by the way, every school in America should join them.  You should be proud if you’re educating a veteran, and you should be doing right by them.  (Applause.)

And we’re going to keep helping our veterans find those private sector jobs worthy of your incredible talents.  Our new online Veterans Employment Center is a single one-stop shop connecting veterans and their spouses to more than 1.5 million jobs that are open right now.  And we’re joining with states and local leaders to identify nearly two dozen cities and regions with the most opportunities for veterans.  And with Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden leading the call, America’s businesses are joining forces to hire or train veterans and spouses — more than half a million so far, and growing.

So veterans’ unemployment is going down, and it’s now actually lower than the national average.  It was higher to begin with, and we have been driving it down.  But we’ve got more to go, especially for our post-9/11 veterans.  So we’re going to keep saying to every business in America, if you want somebody who knows how to get the job done, no matter the mission, hire a veteran.  Hire a vet.  (Applause.)

So fixing what’s broken at the VA; ensuring the resources you deserve; delivering the health care that you’ve earned; eliminating the backlog; standing up for your rights and dignity; helping you realize the American Dream that you so honorably defended — these are our commitments to you.  This is what we’re focused on.  This is what we can do together — especially as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end and we welcome home our newest veterans.

There are a lot of them here tonight.  We salute Captain Scott Miller of Indiana, a proud Hoosier and a proud Marine.  In Afghanistan, he went out on dangerous patrols, traveling to remote villages, meeting with tribal elders, building trust, forging partnerships to push back insurgents.  And here at the Legion, he continues to serve by encouraging businesses across America to give back to the veterans who defended our way of life and make our prosperity possible.  So thank you, Scott.  Where is Scott here today?  (Applause.)  We are proud of him.  There here is.

We salute Master Sergeant Carol Barker of Greensboro, North Carolina.  As a first sergeant of her medevac unit, she was responsible for more than a hundred troops, helped save the lives of our wounded warriors in those critical first hours when life so often hung in the balance.  And here at the Legion, she continues to serve, helping homeless veterans come in off the streets, and begin their lives anew with a roof over their heads.  Thank you, Carol.  Where’s Carol?  (Applause.)

We salute Sergeant Joe Grassi, who grew up just outside New York City.  After his hometown was attacked on 9/11, he left his civilian job, he joined the Army.  A squad leader in Afghanistan, he spent most of his time on the flight line, in the 120-degree heat, supplying our helicopter crews.  And here at the Legion, he continues to serve, helping veterans complete their disability claims, and raising his voice in Washington for a strong national defense, because, he says, “Some things are worth fighting for.  America is worth fighting for.”  Thank you, Joe.  We’re proud of you.  Thank you, sir.  (Applause.)

Scott, Carol, Joe — they’re among the patriots here today who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  And I would ask all our Post-9/11 Generation veterans to stand if you are able and accept the thanks of a grateful nation.  I ask these men and women to stand because the American people have to know that even as our war in Afghanistan comes to an end, our obligation to this generation of veterans has only just begun.  And this cannot just be the work of government and veterans groups alone.  I want every American to take this commitment seriously.  Please stand, Post-9/11 Generation, all of you who’ve served in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re grateful for you.  (Applause.)

This is not just a job of government.  It’s not just a job of the veterans’ organizations.  Every American needs to join us in taking care of those who’ve taken care of us.  Because only 1 percent of Americans may be fighting our wars, but 100 percent of Americans benefit from that 1 percent.  A hundred percent need to be supporting our troops.  A hundred percent need to be supporting our veterans.  A hundred percent need to be supporting our military families.  (Applause.)

And everybody can do something.  Every American.  Every business.  Every profession.  Every school.  Every community.  Every state.  All of us, as one American team.  That’s how we will truly honor our veterans.  That’s how we will truly say thank you.  That’s how we will uphold the sacred trust with all who’ve served in our name.

God bless you.  God bless our veterans.  God bless the United States of America.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
12:41 P.M. EDT

Political Musings August 24, 2014: Obama shifts from easing unemployment with benefits extension to job creation

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama shifts from easing unemployment with benefits extension to job creation

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The year 2014 started with the main issue revolving America’s unemployment and the expiration and renewal of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC) program and helped the long-term jobless, but now both Congress and President Barack Obama are…READ MORE

Political Musings August 22, 2014: Holder’s visit to Ferguson calms community after Michael Brown shooting, unrest

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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Holder’s visit to Ferguson calms community after Michael Brown shooting, unrest

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Attorney General Eric Holder was the first member of President Barack Obama’s administration to visit Ferguson, Missouri since unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown’s shooting death by a white police officer, Darren Wilson on Aug. 9…READ MORE

Political Musings August 20, 2014: Obama condemns Foley beheading, WH warned, Bush warned of rise of terrorist Iraq

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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Obama condemns Foley beheading, WH warned, Bush warned of rise of terrorist Iraq

By Bonnie K. Goodman

A day after a video posted online showed the beheading of freelance journalist James (Jim) Foley, 40 by the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the White House and National Security Council confirmed the video as authentic and…READ MORE

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-18-14 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:27 P.M. PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Holland, Reuters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Thank you very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.

END
4:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Everyone Should Be Able To Afford Higher Education

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Everyone Should Be Able To Afford Higher Education

Source: WH, 8-16-14

Video Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hi, everybody. Over the next couple weeks, schools all across the country will be opening their doors. Students will suit up for fall sports, marching band, and the school play; moms and dads will snap those first-day-of-school pictures — and that includes me and Michelle.

And so today, I want to talk directly with students and parents about one of the most important things any of you can do this year — and that’s to begin preparing yourself for an education beyond high school.

We know that in today’s economy, whether you go to a four-year college, a community college, or a professional training program, some higher education is the surest ticket to the middle class. The typical American with a bachelor’s degree or higher earns over $28,000 more per year than someone with just a high school diploma. And they’re also much more likely to have a job in the first place – the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree is less than one-third of the rate for those without a high school diploma.

But for too many families across the country, paying for higher education is a constant struggle. Earlier this year, a young woman named Elizabeth Cooper wrote to tell me how hard it is for middle-class families like hers to afford college. As she said, she feels “not significant enough to be addressed, not poor enough for people to worry [about], and not rich enough to be cared about.”

Michelle and I know the feeling – we only finished paying off our student loans ten years ago. And so as President, I’m working to make sure young people like Elizabeth can go to college without racking up mountains of debt. We reformed a student loan system so that more money goes to students instead of big banks. We expanded grants and college tax credits for students and families. We took action to offer millions of students a chance to cap their student loan payments at 10% of their income. And Congress should pass a bill to let students refinance their loans at today’s lower interest rates, just like their parents can refinance their mortgage.

But as long as college costs keep rising, we can’t just keep throwing money at the problem — colleges have to do their part to bring down costs as well. That’s why we proposed a plan to tie federal financial aid to a college’s performance, and create a new college scorecard so that students and parents can see which schools provide the biggest bang for your buck. We launched a new $75 million challenge to inspire colleges to reduce costs and raise graduation rates. And in January, more than 100 college presidents and nonprofit leaders came to the White House and made commitments to increase opportunities for underserved students.

Since then, we’ve met with even more leaders who want to create new community-based partnerships and support school counselors. And this week, my Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, announced a series of commitments to support students who need a little extra academic help getting through college.

This is a challenge I take personally. And to all you young people, now that you’re heading back to school, your education is something you have to take personally, also. It’s up to you to push yourself; to take hard classes and read challenging books. Science shows that when you struggle to solve a problem or make a new argument, you’re actually forming new connections in your brain. So when you’re thinking hard, you’re getting smarter. Which means this year, challenge yourself to reach higher. And set your sights on college in the years ahead. Your country is counting on you.

And don’t forget to have some fun along the way, too.

Thanks everybody. Good luck on the year ahead.

Political Musings August 15, 2014: Obama might consider executive action for the unemployment benefits extension

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama might consider executive action for the unemployment benefits extension

Since President Barack Obama announced his economic opportunity program during his State of the Union address in January 2014, and he has signed nearly 30 executive actions to help the economic plight of lower income and middle class Americans, but…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 14, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement Updating in the Situations in Iraq and Ferguson, Missouri

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-14-14

Edgartown, Massachusetts

12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody. This sound system is really powerful.  Today, I’d like to update the American people on two issues that I’ve been monitoring closely these last several days.

First of all, we continue to make progress in carrying out our targeted military operations in Iraq.  Last week, I authorized two limited missions:  protecting our people and facilities inside of Iraq, and a humanitarian operation to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians stranded on a mountain.

A week ago, we assessed that many thousands of Yezidi men, women and children had abandoned their possessions to take refuge on Mount Sinjar in a desperate attempt to avoid slaughter.  We also knew that ISIL terrorists were killing and enslaving Yezidi civilians in their custody, and laying siege to the mountain. Without food or water, they faced a terrible choice — starve on the mountain, or be slaughtered on the ground.  That’s when America came to help.

Over the last week, the U.S. military conducted humanitarian air drops every night –- delivering more than 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of fresh water.  We were joined in that effort by the United Kingdom, and other allies pledged support. Our military was able to successfully strike ISIL targets around the mountain, which improved conditions for civilians to evacuate the mountain safely.

Yesterday, a small team of Americans -– military and civilian -– completed their review of the conditions on the mountain.  They found that food and water have been reaching those in need, and that thousands of people have been evacuating safely each and every night.  The civilians who remain continue to leave, aided by Kurdish forces and Yezidis who are helping to facilitate the safe passage of their families.  So the bottom line is, is that the situation on the mountain has greatly improved and Americans should be very proud of our efforts.

Because of the skill and professionalism of our military –- and the generosity of our people –- we broke the ISIL siege of Mount Sinjar; we helped vulnerable people reach safety; and we helped save many innocent lives.  Because of these efforts, we do not expect there to be an additional operation to evacuate people off the mountain, and it’s unlikely that we’re going to need to continue humanitarian air drops on the mountain.  The majority of the military personnel who conducted the assessment will be leaving Iraq in the coming days.  And I just want to say that as Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder of the men and women of our military who carried out this humanitarian operation almost flawlessly.  I’m very grateful to them and I know that those who were trapped on that mountain are extraordinarily grateful as well.

Now, the situation remains dire for Iraqis subjected to ISIL’s terror throughout the country, and this includes minorities like Yezidis and Iraqi Christians; it also includes Sunnis, Shia and Kurds.  We’re going to be working with our international partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those who are suffering in northern Iraq wherever we have capabilities and we can carry out effective missions like the one we carried out on Mount Sinjar without committing combat troops on the ground.

We obviously feel a great urge to provide some humanitarian relief to the situation and I’ve been very encouraged by the interest of our international partners in helping on these kinds of efforts as well.  We will continue air strikes to protect our people and facilities in Iraq.  We have increased the delivery of military assistance to Iraqi and Kurdish forces fighting ISIL on the front lines.

And, perhaps most importantly, we are urging Iraqis to come together to turn the tide against ISIL –- above all, by seizing the enormous opportunity of forming a new, inclusive government under the leadership of Prime Minister-designate Abadi.  I had a chance to speak to Prime Minister-designate Abadi a few days ago, and he spoke about the need for the kind of inclusive government — a government that speaks to all the people of Iraq — that is needed right now.  He still has a challenging task in putting a government together, but we are modestly hopeful that the Iraqi government situation is moving in the right direction.

Now, second, I want to address something that’s been in the news over the last couple of days and that’s the situation in Ferguson, Missouri.  I know that many Americans have been deeply disturbed by the images we’ve seen in the heartland of our country, as police have clashed with people protesting.  Today, I’d like us all to take a step back and think about how we’re going to be moving forward.

This morning, I received a thorough update on the situation from Attorney General Eric Holder, who has been following it and been in communication with his team.  I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown, along with local officials on the ground.

The Department of Justice is also consulting with local authorities about ways that they can maintain public safety without restricting the right of peaceful protest and while avoiding unnecessary escalation.  I made clear to the Attorney General that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened, and to see that justice is done.

I also just spoke with Governor Jay Nixon of Missouri.  I expressed my concern over the violent turn that events have taken on the ground, and underscored that now is the time for all of us to reflect on what’s happened, and to find a way to come together going forward.  He is going to be traveling to Ferguson.  He is a good man and a fine governor, and I’m confident that, working together, he is going to be able to communicate his desire to make sure that justice is done and his desire to make sure that public safety is maintained in an appropriate way.

Of course, it’s important to remember how this started.  We lost a young man, Michael Brown, in heartbreaking and tragic circumstances.  He was 18 years old.  His family will never hold Michael in their arms again.  And when something like this happens, the local authorities –- including the police -– have a responsibility to be open and transparent about how they are investigating that death, and how they are protecting the people in their communities.

There is never an excuse for violence against police, or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting.  There’s also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests, or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully exercising their First Amendment rights.  And here, in the United States of America, police should not be bullying or arresting journalists who are just trying to do their jobs and report to the American people on what they see on the ground.  Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a high standard, particularly those of us in positions of authority.

I know that emotions are raw right now in Ferguson and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened.  There are going to be different accounts of how this tragedy occurred.  There are going to be differences in terms of what needs to happen going forward.  That’s part of our democracy.  But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family.  We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law; a basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest; a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us; and the need for accountability when it comes to our government.

So now is the time for healing.  Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson.  Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.  And I’ve asked that the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney on the scene continue to work with local officials to move that process forward.  They will be reporting to me in the coming days about what’s being done to make sure that happens.

Thanks very much, everybody.

END
12:58 P.M. EDT

White House Shareables

Political Musings August 12, 2014: Clinton attacks Obama on Syria in Atlantic then will hug it out in the Vineyard

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Clinton attacks Obama on Syria in Atlantic then will hug it out in the Vineyard

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In what promises to be an odd get together Hillary Clinton and Former President Bill Clinton will attend the same party on Wednesday, Aug. 14 as President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama in Martha’s Vineyard only…READ MORE

Political Musings August 10, 2014: Obama facing criticism left and right for 12-day vacation as world crises rage

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama facing criticism left and right for 12-day vacation as world crises rage

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama is facing criticism from conservatives and liberal supporters over his 12-day Martha’s Vineyard vacation in Chilmark, Massachusetts, which he started on Saturday, August 9, 2014 less than two days after announcing a new military…READ MORE

Political Musings August 9, 2014: Obama updates country on Iraq airstrikes leaves military timetable open

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

 

Obama updates country on Iraq airstrikes leaves military timetable open

 

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Two days after authorizing airstrikes and humanitarian aid in Iraq President Barack Obama updated the American public in both his weekly address released early Saturday morning Aug. 9, 2014 and then later in the morning delivering a live statement on…READ MORE

 

Full Text Obama Presidency August 9, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Statement and Update on the Iraq Airstrikes, Military and Humanitarian Intervention

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Iraq

Source: WH, 8-9-14

South Lawn

10:30 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. Over the past two days, American pilots and crews have served with courage and skill in the skies over Iraq.

First, American forces have conducted targeted airstrikes against terrorist forces outside the city of Erbil to prevent them from advancing on the city and to protect our American diplomats and military personnel. So far, these strikes have successfully destroyed arms and equipment that ISIL terrorists could have used against Erbil. Meanwhile, Kurdish forces on the ground continue to defend the city, and the United States and the Iraqi government have stepped up our military assistance to Kurdish forces as they wage their fight.

Second, our humanitarian effort continues to help the men, women and children stranded on Mount Sinjar. American forces have so far conducted two successful airdrops — delivering thousands of meals and gallons of water to these desperate men, women and children. And American aircraft are positioned to strike ISIL terrorists around the mountain to help forces in Iraq break the siege and rescue those who are trapped there.

Now, even as we deal with these immediate situations, we continue to pursue a broader strategy in Iraq. We will protect our American citizens in Iraq, whether they’re diplomats, civilians or military. If these terrorists threaten our facilities or our personnel, we will take action to protect our people.

We will continue to provide military assistance and advice to the Iraqi government and Kurdish forces as they battle these terrorists, so that the terrorists cannot establish a permanent safe haven.

We will continue to work with the international community to deal with the growing humanitarian crisis in Iraq. Even as our attention is focused on preventing an act of genocide and helping the men and women and children on the mountain, countless Iraqis have been driven or fled from their homes, including many Christians.

This morning, I spoke with Prime Minister Cameron of the United Kingdom and President Hollande of France. I’m pleased that both leaders expressed their strong support for our actions and have agreed to join us in providing humanitarian assistance to Iraqi civilians who are suffering so much. Once again, America is proud to act alongside our closest friends and allies.

More broadly, the United Nations in Iraq is working urgently to help respond to the needs of those Iraqis fleeing from areas under threat. The U.N. Security Council has called on the international community to do everything it can to provide food, water and shelter. And in my calls with allies and partners around the world, I’ll continue to urge them to join us in this humanitarian effort.

Finally, we continue to call on Iraqis to come together and form the inclusive government that Iraq needs right now. Vice President Biden has been speaking to Iraqi leaders, and our team in Baghdad is in close touch with the Iraqi government. All Iraqi communities are ultimately threatened by these barbaric terrorists and all Iraqi communities need to unite to defend their country.

Just as we are focused on the situation in the north affecting Kurds and Iraqi minorities, Sunnis and Shia in different parts of Iraq have suffered mightily at the hands of ISIL. Once an inclusive government is in place, I’m confident it will be easier to mobilize all Iraqis against ISIL, and to mobilize greater support from our friends and allies. Ultimately, only Iraqis can ensure the security and stability of Iraq. The United States can’t do it for them, but we can and will be partners in that effort.

One final thing — as we go forward, we’ll continue to consult with Congress and coordinate closely with our allies and partners. And as Americans, we will continue to show gratitude to our men and women in uniform who are conducting our operations there. When called, they were ready — as they always are. When given their mission, they’ve performed with distinction — as they always do. And when we see them serving with such honor and compassion, defending our fellow citizens and saving the lives of people they’ve never met, it makes us proud to be Americans — as we always will be.

So with that, let me take a couple questions.

Q Mr. President, for how long a period of time do you see these airstrikes continuing for? And is your goal there to contain ISIS or to destroy it?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to give a particular timetable, because as I’ve said from the start, wherever and whenever U.S. personnel and facilities are threatened, it’s my obligation, my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief, to make sure that they are protected. And we’re not moving our embassy anytime soon. We’re not moving our consulate anytime soon. And that means that, given the challenging security environment, we’re going to maintain vigilance and ensure that our people are safe.

Our initial goal is to not only make sure Americans are protected, but also to deal with this humanitarian situation in Sinjar. We feel confident that we can prevent ISIL from going up a mountain and slaughtering the people who are there. But the next step, which is going to be complicated logistically, is how do we give safe passage for people down from the mountain, and where can we ultimately relocate them so that they are safe. That’s the kind of coordination that we need to do internationally.

I was very pleased to get the cooperation of both Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande in addressing some of the immediate needs in terms of airdrops and some of the assets and logistical support that they’re providing. But there’s a broader set of questions that our experts now are engaged in with the United Nations and our allies and partners, and that is how do we potentially create a safe corridor or some other mechanism so that these people can move. That may take some time — because there are varying estimates of how many people are up there, but they’re in the thousands, and moving them is not simple in this kind of security environment.

Just to give people a sense, though, of a timetable — that the most important timetable that I’m focused on right now is the Iraqi government getting formed and finalized. Because in the absence of an Iraqi government, it is very hard to get a unified effort by Iraqis against ISIL. We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there’s not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There’s going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support. And that can’t happen effectively until you have a legitimate Iraqi government.

So right now we have a president, we have a speaker. What we don’t yet have is a prime minister and a cabinet that is formed that can go ahead and move forward, and then start reaching out to all the various groups and factions inside of Iraq, and can give confidence to populations in the Sunni areas that ISIL is not the only game in town. It also then allows us to take those Iraqi security forces that are able and functional, and they understand who they’re reporting to and what they’re fighting for, and what the chain of command is. And it provides a structure in which better cooperation is taking place between the Kurdish region and Baghdad.

So we’re going to be pushing very hard to encourage Iraqis to get their government together. Until we do that, it is going to be hard to get the unity of effort that allows us to not just play defense, but also engage in some offense.

Q Mr. President, the United States has fought long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with uncertain outcomes. How do you assure the American people that we’re not getting dragged into another war in Iraq? Have you underestimated the power of ISIS? And finally, you said that you involved international partners in humanitarian efforts. Is there any thought to talking to international partners as far as military actions to prevent the spread of ISIS?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, a couple of things I would say. Number one, I’ve been very clear that we’re not going to have U.S. combat troops in Iraq again. And we are going to maintain that, because we should have learned a lesson from our long and immensely costly incursion in Iraq. And that is that our military is so effective that we can keep a lid on problems wherever we are, if we put enough personnel and resources into it. But it can only last if the people in these countries themselves are able to arrive at the kinds of political accommodations and compromise that any civilized society requires.

And so it would be, I think, a big mistake for us to think that we can, on the cheap, simply go in, tamp everything down again, restart without some fundamental shift in attitudes among the various Iraqi factions. That’s why it is so important to have an Iraqi government on the ground that is taking responsibility that we can help, that we can partner with, that has the capacity to get alliances in the region. And once that’s in place, then I think we end up being one of many countries that can work together to deal with the broader crisis that ISIL poses.

What were your other questions? Did we underestimate ISIL? I think that there is no doubt that their advance, their movement over the last several months has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates and I think the expectations of policymakers both in and outside of Iraq. And part of that is I think not a full appreciation of the degree to which the Iraqi security forces, when they’re far away from Baghdad, did not have the incentive or the capacity to hold ground against an aggressive adversary. And so that’s one more reason why Iraqi government formation is so important — because there has to be a rebuilding and an understanding of who it is that the Iraqi security forces are reporting to, what they are fighting for. And there has to be some investment by Sunnis in pushing back against ISIL.

I think we’re already seeing — and we will see even further — the degree to which those territories under ISIL control alienated populations, because of the barbarity and brutality with which they operate. But in order to ensure that Sunni populations reject outright these kinds of incursions, they’ve got to feel like they’re invested in a broader national government. And right now, they don’t feel that.

So the upshot is that what we’ve seen over the last several months indicates the weaknesses in an Iraqi government. But what we’ve also seen I think is a wake-up call for a lot of Iraqis inside of Baghdad recognizing that we’re going to have to rethink how we do business if we’re going to hold our country together. And, hopefully, that change in attitude supplemented by improved security efforts in which we can assist and help, that can make a difference.

Q You just expressed confidence that the Iraqi government can eventually prevent a safe haven. But you’ve also just described the complications with the Iraqi government and the sophistication of ISIL. So is it possible that what you’ve described and your ambitions there could take years, not months?

THE PRESIDENT: I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks, if that’s what you mean. I think this is going to take some time. The Iraqi security forces, in order to mount an offensive and be able to operate effectively with the support of populations in Sunni areas, are going to have to revamp, get resupplied — have a clearer strategy. That’s all going to be dependent on a government that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi military have confidence in. We can help in all those efforts.

I think part of what we’re able to do right now is to preserve a space for them to do the hard work that’s necessary. If they do that, the one thing that I also think has changed is that many of the Sunni countries in the region who have been generally suspicious or wary of the Iraqi government are more likely to join in, in the fight against ISIS, and that can be extremely helpful. But this is going to be a long-term project.

Part of what we’ve seen is that a minority Sunni population in Iraq, as well as a majority Sunni population in Syria, has felt dissatisfied and detached and alienated from their respective governments. And that has been a ripe territory for these jihadists and extremists to operate. And rebuilding governance in those areas, and legitimacy for stable, moderate governing in those areas is going to take time.

Now, there are some immediate concerns that we have to worry about. We have to make sure that ISIL is not engaging in the actions that could cripple a country permanently. There’s key infrastructure inside of Iraq that we have to be concerned about. My team has been vigilant, even before ISIL went into Mosul, about foreign fighters and jihadists gathering in Syria, and now in Iraq, who might potentially launch attacks outside the region against Western targets and U.S. targets. So there’s going to be a counterterrorism element that we are already preparing for and have been working diligently on for a long time now.

There is going to be a military element in protecting our people, but the long-term campaign of changing that environment so that the millions of Sunnis who live in these areas feel connected to and well-served by a national government, that’s a long-term process. And that’s something that the United States cannot do, only the Iraqi people themselves can do. We can help, we can advise, but we can’t do it for them. And the U.S. military cannot do it for them.

And so this goes back to the earlier question about U.S. military involvement. The nature of this problem is not one that a U.S. military can solve. We can assist and our military obviously can play an extraordinarily important role in bolstering efforts of an Iraqi partner as they make the right steps to keep their country together, but we can’t do it for them.

Last question.

Q America has spent $800 billion in Iraq. Do you anticipate having to ask Congress for additional funds to support this mission?

THE PRESIDENT: Currently, we are operating within the budget constraints that we already have. And we’ll have to evaluate what happens over time. We already have a lot of assets in the region. We anticipate, when we make our preliminary budgets, that there may be things that come up requiring us to engage. And right now, at least, I think we are okay.

If and when we need additional dollars to make sure that American personnel and American facilities are protected, then we will certainly make that request. But right now, that’s not our primary concern.

Last question.

Q Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about pulling all ground troops out of Iraq? And does it give you pause as the U.S. — is it doing the same thing in Afghanistan?

THE PRESIDENT: What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system.

And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops. So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to and said, you know what, you’re democratic, you’re sovereign, except if I decide that it’s good for you to keep 10,000 or 15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don’t have a choice — which would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about turning over the country back to Iraqis, an argument not just made by me, but made by the previous administration.

So let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were — a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq.

Having said all that, if in fact the Iraqi government behaved the way it did over the last five, six years, where it failed to pass legislation that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership; if it had targeted certain Sunni leaders and jailed them; if it had alienated some of the Sunni tribes that we had brought back in during the so-called Awakening that helped us turn the tide in 2006 — if they had done all those things and we had had troops there, the country wouldn’t be holding together either. The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable. And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job. And probably, we would end up having to go up again in terms of the number of grounds troops to make sure that those forces were not vulnerable.

So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong. But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.

Going forward with respect to Afghanistan, we are leaving the follow-on force there. I think the lesson for Afghanistan is not the fact that we’ve got a follow-on force that will be capable of training and supporting Afghan security efforts. I think the real lesson in Afghanistan is that if factions in a country after a long period of civil war do not find a way to come up with a political accommodation; if they take maximalist positions and their attitude is, I want 100 percent of what I want and the other side gets nothing, then the center doesn’t hold.

And the good news is, is that in part thanks to the excellent work of John Kerry and others, we now are seeing the two candidates in the recent presidential election start coming together and agreeing not only to move forward on the audit to be able to finally certify a winner in the election, but also the kinds of political accommodations that are going to be required to keep democracy moving.

So that’s a real lesson I think for Afghanistan coming out of Iraq is, if you want this thing to work, then whether it’s different ethnicities, different religions, different regions, they’ve got to accommodate each other, otherwise you start tipping back into old patterns of violence. And it doesn’t matter how many U.S. troops are there — if that happens, you end up having a mess.

Thanks a lot, guys.

END 10:54 A.M. EDT

Political Musings August 8, 2014: Obama, Congress’ failing grades record approval rating lows in NBC News-WSJ poll

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

OP-EDS & ARTICLES

Obama, Congress’ failing grades record approval rating lows in NBC News-WSJ poll

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama received one belated birthday present he would liked to do without new approval rating lows in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday morning, August 6, 2014. The only news in the poll that might…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency August 7, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech Announcing Targeted Airstrikes and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-7-14 

State Dining Room

9:30 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening.  Today I authorized two operations in Iraq — targeted airstrikes to protect our American personnel, and a humanitarian effort to help save thousands of Iraqi civilians who are trapped on a mountain without food and water and facing almost certain death.  Let me explain the actions we’re taking and why.

First, I said in June — as the terrorist group ISIL began an advance across Iraq — that the United States would be prepared to take targeted military action in Iraq if and when we determined that the situation required it.  In recent days, these terrorists have continued to move across Iraq, and have neared the city of Erbil, where American diplomats and civilians serve at our consulate and American military personnel advise Iraqi forces.

To stop the advance on Erbil, I’ve directed our military to take targeted strikes against ISIL terrorist convoys should they move toward the city.  We intend to stay vigilant, and take action if these terrorist forces threaten our personnel or facilities anywhere in Iraq, including our consulate in Erbil and our embassy in Baghdad.  We’re also providing urgent assistance to Iraqi government and Kurdish forces so they can more effectively wage the fight against ISIL.

Second, at the request of the Iraqi government — we’ve begun operations to help save Iraqi civilians stranded on the mountain.  As ISIL has marched across Iraq, it has waged a ruthless campaign against innocent Iraqis.  And these terrorists have been especially barbaric towards religious minorities, including Christian and Yezidis, a small and ancient religious sect.  Countless Iraqis have been displaced.  And chilling reports describe ISIL militants rounding up families, conducting mass executions, and enslaving Yezidi women.

In recent days, Yezidi women, men and children from the area of Sinjar have fled for their lives.  And thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — are now hiding high up on the mountain, with little but the clothes on their backs.  They’re without food, they’re without water.  People are starving.  And children are dying of thirst.  Meanwhile, ISIL forces below have called for the systematic destruction of the entire Yezidi people, which would constitute genocide.  So these innocent families are faced with a horrible choice:  descend the mountain and be slaughtered, or stay and slowly die of thirst and hunger.

I’ve said before, the United States cannot and should not intervene every time there’s a crisis in the world.  So let me be clear about why we must act, and act now.  When we face a situation like we do on that mountain — with innocent people facing the prospect of violence on a horrific scale, when we have a mandate to help — in this case, a request from the Iraqi government — and when we have the unique capabilities to help avert a massacre, then I believe the United States of America cannot turn a blind eye.  We can act, carefully and responsibly, to prevent a potential act of genocide.  That’s what we’re doing on that mountain.

I’ve, therefore, authorized targeted airstrikes, if necessary, to help forces in Iraq as they fight to break the siege of Mount Sinjar and protect the civilians trapped there.  Already, American aircraft have begun conducting humanitarian airdrops of food and water to help these desperate men, women and children survive.  Earlier this week, one Iraqi in the area cried to the world, “There is no one coming to help.”  Well today, America is coming to help.  We’re also consulting with other countries — and the United Nations — who have called for action to address this humanitarian crisis.

I know that many of you are rightly concerned about any American military action in Iraq, even limited strikes like these.  I understand that.  I ran for this office in part to end our war in Iraq and welcome our troops home, and that’s what we’ve done.  As Commander-in-Chief, I will not allow the United States to be dragged into fighting another war in Iraq.  And so even as we support Iraqis as they take the fight to these terrorists, American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq.  The only lasting solution is reconciliation among Iraqi communities and stronger Iraqi security forces.

However, we can and should support moderate forces who can bring stability to Iraq.  So even as we carry out these two missions, we will continue to pursue a broader strategy that empowers Iraqis to confront this crisis.  Iraqi leaders need to come together and forge a new government that represents the legitimate interests of all Iraqis, and that can fight back against the threats like ISIL.  Iraqis have named a new President, a new Speaker of Parliament, and are seeking consensus on a new Prime Minister.  This is the progress that needs to continue in order to reverse the momentum of the terrorists who prey on Iraq’s divisions.

Once Iraq has a new government, the United States will work with it and other countries in the region to provide increased support to deal with this humanitarian crisis and counterterrorism challenge.  None of Iraq’s neighbors have an interest in this terrible suffering or instability.

And so we’ll continue to work with our friends and allies to help refugees get the shelter and food and water they so desperately need, and to help Iraqis push back against ISIL.  The several hundred American advisors that I ordered to Iraq will continue to assess what more we can do to help train, advise and support Iraqi forces going forward.  And just as I consulted Congress on the decisions I made today, we will continue to do so going forward.

My fellow Americans, the world is confronted by many challenges.  And while America has never been able to right every wrong, America has made the world a more secure and prosperous place.  And our leadership is necessary to underwrite the global security and prosperity that our children and our grandchildren will depend upon.  We do so by adhering to a set of core principles.  We do whatever is necessary to protect our people.  We support our allies when they’re in danger.  We lead coalitions of countries to uphold international norms.  And we strive to stay true to the fundamental values — the desire to live with basic freedom and dignity — that is common to human beings wherever they are.  That’s why people all over the world look to the United States of America to lead.  And that’s why we do it.

So let me close by assuring you that there is no decision that I take more seriously than the use of military force.  Over the last several years, we have brought the vast majority of our troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  And I’ve been careful to resist calls to turn time and again to our military, because America has other tools in our arsenal than our military.  We can also lead with the power of our diplomacy, our economy, and our ideals.

But when the lives of American citizens are at risk, we will take action.  That’s my responsibility as Commander-in-Chief.  And when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out, and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action.  That is our responsibility as Americans.  That’s a hallmark of American leadership.  That’s who we are.

So tonight, we give thanks to our men and women in uniform  -— especially our brave pilots and crews over Iraq who are protecting our fellow Americans and saving the lives of so many men, women and children that they will never meet.  They represent American leadership at its best.  As a nation, we should be proud of them, and of our country’s enduring commitment to uphold our own security and the dignity of our fellow human beings.

God bless our Armed Forces, and God bless the United States of America.

END

Full Text Obama Presidency August 7, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Signing of the VA Bill, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Signing of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act

Source:  WH, 8-7-14

Wallace Theater
Ft. Belvoir, Virginia

12:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Fort Belvoir!  (Applause.)  Everybody, have a seat.  I think I’m going to take Sergeant Major McGruder on the road.  (Laughter.)  I’m just going to have him introduce me wherever I go.  (Laughter.)  He got me excited, and I’m being — I get introduced all the time.  So thank you, James, for your incredible service to our country.  Give James a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

I also want to say a big thanks to America’s new Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, who is here.  Stand up, Bob.  (Applause.)  As some of you may know, Bob headed up one of the biggest, most successful companies in the world.  But he also was a West Point grad, also a Ranger who served valiantly on behalf of his country.  And this a labor of love for him, and he has hit the ground running.  He’s heading out to VA hospitals and clinics around the country, starting with Phoenix tomorrow.  So thank you, Bob, for accepting this charge and this challenge, and making sure that we’re doing right by our veterans.  I know you’re going to do a great job.  Really proud of him.  (Applause.)

I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here today, and I especially want to thank those who led the fight to give Bob and the VA more of the resources and flexibility that they need to make sure every veteran has access to the care and benefits that they have earned.  Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Richard Burr, Representative Mike Michaud, Representative Jeff Miller — give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  That’s for the good work.  (Applause.)

And we are all grateful to our outstanding veterans service organizations for all the work that they do on behalf of our veterans and their families.  So thank you very much to all the veterans service organizations.  Most of all, I want to thank General Buchanan and Sergeant Major Turnbull, and all of you who serve here at Fort Belvoir.

For nearly a century, this base has helped keep America strong and secure.  Seventy years ago, troops from here –- the 29th Infantry Division, the Blue and Gray -– were some of the first to storm Omaha Beach.  And in recent years, many of you have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.  And you’ve risked your lives on multiple tours to defend our nation.  And as a country, we have a sacred obligation to serve you as well as you’ve served us -– an obligation that doesn’t end with your tour of duty.

Every day, hundreds of thousands of dedicated public servants at the VA help us honor that commitment.  At VA hospitals across America, you’ve got doctors and nurses who are delivering world-class care to America’s veterans.  You’ve got millions of veterans and their families who are profoundly grateful for the good work that is done at the VA.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I’m grateful, too.

But over the last few months, we’ve discovered some inexcusable misconduct at some VA health care facilities — stories of our veterans denied the care they needed, long wait times being covered up, cooking the books.  This is wrong.  It was outrageous.  And working together, we set out to fix it and do right by our veterans across the board, no matter how long it took.

And we’ve already taken the first steps to change the way the VA does business.  We’ve held people accountable for misconduct.  Some have already been relieved of their duties, and investigations are ongoing.  We’ve reached out to more than 215,000 veterans so far to make sure that we’re getting them off wait lists and into clinics both inside and outside the VA system.

We’re moving ahead with urgent reforms, including stronger management and leadership and oversight.  And we’re instituting a critical culture of accountability — rebuilding our leadership team, starting at the top with Secretary McDonald.  And one of his first acts is that he’s directed all VA health care facilities to hold town halls to hear directly from the veterans that they serve to make sure that we’re hearing honest assessments about what’s going on.

Now, in a few minutes, we’ll take another step forward when I sign into law the VA reform bill that was passed overwhelmingly, with bipartisan majorities — and that doesn’t happen often in Congress.  It’s a good deal.  (Laughter and applause.)

This bill covers a lot of ground — from expanding survivor benefits and educational opportunities, to improving care for veterans struggling with traumatic brain injury and for victims of sexual assault.  But today, I want to focus on the ways this bill will help us ensure that veterans have access to the care that they’ve earned.

First of all, this will give the VA more of the resources that it needs.  It will help the VA hire more doctors and more nurses and staff more clinics.  As a new generation of veterans returns home from war and transitions into civilian life, we have to make sure the VA system can keep pace with that new demand.  Keep in mind that I have increased funding for the VA since I came into office by extraordinary amounts.  But we also have extraordinary numbers of veterans coming home.  And so the demand, even though we’ve increased the VA budget, is still higher than the resources that we’ve got.  This bill helps to address that.

Second, for veterans who can’t get timely care through the VA, this bill will help them get the care they need someplace else.  And this is particularly important for veterans who are in more remote areas, in rural areas.  If you live more than 40 miles from a VA facility, or if VA doctors can’t see you within a reasonable amount of time, you’ll have the chance to see a doctor outside the VA system.

Now finally, we’re giving the VA Secretary more authority to hold people accountable.  We’ve got to give Bob the authority so that he can move quickly to remove senior executives who fail to meet the standards of conduct and competence that the American people demand.  If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired.  Period.  It shouldn’t be that difficult.  (Applause.)  And if you blow the whistle on an unethical practice, or bring a problem to the attention of higher-ups, you should be thanked.  You should be protected for doing the right thing.  (Applause.)  You shouldn’t be ignored, and you certainly shouldn’t be punished.

“To care for him [or her] who shall have borne the battle.”  That’s the heart of the VA’s motto.  That’s what the bill I’m about to sign will help us achieve.  But I want to be clear about something:  This will not and cannot be the end of our effort.  Implementing this law will take time.  It’s going to require focus on the part of all of us.  And even as we focus on the urgent reforms we need at the VA right now, particularly around wait lists and the health care system, we can’t lose sight of our long-term goals for our servicemembers and our veterans.

The good news is, we’ve cut the disability claims backlog by more than half.  But let’s now eliminate the backlog.  Let’s get rid of it.  (Applause.)  The good news is, we’ve poured major resources into improving mental health care.  But now, let’s make sure our veterans actually get the care they need when they need it.  The good news is, we’ve helped to get thousands of homeless veterans off the street, made an unprecedented effort to end veterans’ homelessness.  We should have zero tolerance for that.  But we’ve got to — still more work to do in cities and towns across America to get more veterans into the homes they deserve.

We’ve helped more than a million veterans and their spouses and children go to college through the post-9/11 GI bill.  (Applause.)  But now, we’ve got to help even more of them earn their educations, and make sure that they’re getting a good bargain in the schools they enroll in.

We’ve rallied companies to hire hundreds of thousands of veterans and their spouses.  That’s the good news.  With the help of Jill Biden and Michelle Obama — two pretty capable women.  (Laughter.)  They know what they’re doing, and nobody says no to them, including me.  (Laughter.)  But now, we’ve got to help more of our highly skilled veterans find careers in this new economy.

So America has to do right by all who serve under our proud flag.  And Congress needs to do more, also.  I urge the Senate, once again, to finally confirm my nominee for Assistant Secretary for Policy at the VA, Linda Schwartz; my nominee to lead the Board of Veterans Appeals, Constance Tobias; my nominee for CFO, Helen Tierney.  Each of them have been waiting for months for a yes-or-no vote — in Constance’s case for more than a year.

They’re ready to serve.  They’re ready to get to work.  It’s not that hard.  It didn’t used to be this hard to just go ahead and get somebody confirmed who is well qualified.  Nobody says they’re not.  It’s just the Senate doesn’t seem to move very fast.  As soon as the Senate gets back in September, they should act to put these outstanding public servants in place.  Our veterans don’t have time for politics.  They need these public servants on the job right now.  (Applause.)

So let me wrap up by saying two months ago, I had the chance to spend some time with some of America’s oldest veterans at Omaha Beach.  Some of you may have seen on television the celebration, the commemoration of those incredible days, the 70th anniversary of D-Day.  And this is my second visit to democracy’s beachhead.  It’s the second time I’ve gone as President.  And it’s a place where it’s impossible not to be moved by the courage and the sacrifice of free men and women who volunteer to lay down their lives for people they’ve never met, ideals that they can’t live without.  That’s why they’re willing to do these things.

And some of these folks that you met, they were 18 at the time.  Some of them were lying about their age.  They were 16, landing either at the beach or sometimes behind the lines.  The casualty rates were unbelievable.  Being there brought back memories of my own grandfather, who marched in Patton’s Army, and then came home.  And like so many veterans of his generation, they went to school and got married and raised families.  And he eventually helped to raise me.

And on that visit to Normandy, I brought some of today’s servicemembers with me because I wanted to introduce them to the veterans of D-Day and to show the veterans of D-Day that their legacy is in good hands, that there’s a direct line between the sacrifices then and the sacrifices that folks have made in remote places today.  Because in more than a decade of war, today’s men and women in uniform — all of you — you’ve met every mission we’ve asked of you.

Today, our troops continue to serve and risk their lives in Afghanistan.  It continues to be a difficult and dangerous mission, as we were tragically reminded again this week in the attack that injured a number of our coalition troops and took the life of a dedicated American soldier, Major General Harold Greene.  Our prayers are with the Greene family, as they are with all the Gold Star families and those who have sacrificed so much for our nation.

Four months from now, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be complete.  Our longest war will come to an honorable end.  In the years to come, many from this generation will step out of uniform, and their legacy will be secure.  But whether or not this country properly repays their heroism, properly repays their patriotism, their service and their sacrifice, that’s in our hands.

I’m committed to seeing that we fulfill that commitment.  Because the men and women of this generation, this 9/11 Generation of servicemembers, are the leaders we need for our time — as community leaders and business leaders, I hope maybe some leaders in our politics, as well.

From the Greatest Generation to the 9/11 Generation, America’s heroes have answered the call to serve.  I have no greater honor than serving as your President and Commander-in-Chief.  And I have no greater privilege than the chance to help make sure that our country keeps the promises that we’ve made to everybody who signs up to serve.  And as long as I hold this office, we’re going to spend each and every day working to do right by you and your families.  I’m grateful to you.

God bless you.  God bless America.  With that, I am going to sign this bill.  Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

(The bill is signed.)  (Applause.)

END
12:18 P.M. EDT

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