Political Musings December 30, 2014: Convicted felon Michael Grimm resigns from House, Boehner applauds his decision

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Convicted felon Michael Grimm resigns from House, Boehner applauds his decision

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Rep. Michael Grimm, R-NY who pleaded guilty to felony tax evasion on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014 at a hearing announced on Monday evening, Dec. 29 that he would resign his seat effective Monday, Jan, 5, 2014, the day before the 114th…READ MORE

News Headlines December 30, 2014: Two-year-old accidentally kills mother with her own gun in Idaho Walmart

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THE HEADLINES….

Two-year-old accidentally kills mother with her own gun in Idaho Walmart

By Bonnie K. Goodman

A tragedy unfolded on Tuesday morning 10:20 a.m. MT, Dec. 30, 2014 on a shopping trip to an Idaho Walmart, when a two year old boy reached into his mother’s purse, and accidentally discharged the gun…READ MORE

Political Musings December 29, 2014: Majority Whip Scalise spoke to white supremacist group with Klu Klux Klan ties

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Majority Whip Scalise spoke to white supremacist group with Klu Klux Klan ties 

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The news media on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 picked up some old news that is bound to hurt the Republican Party just as the new session of Congress is about to begin, in 2002 the new Majority Whip Steve Scalise…READ MORE

Political Musings December 29, 2014: Obama, Hillary Clinton again top Gallup’s most admired men, women of the year

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama, Hillary Clinton again top Gallup’s most admired men, women of the year

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Gallup Poll released on Monday, Dec. 29, 2014 their list of most admired men and women for the year with predictable results. For the seventh straight year, President Barack Obama has topped the list of most admired men, while Hillary…READ MORE

Political Musings December 28, 2014: Obama receives improved job approval ratings in CNN Christmas poll miracle

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama receives improved job approval ratings in CNN Christmas poll miracle

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Christmas came early from President Barack Obama this year, a new CNN/ORC poll released two days before Christmas on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2014, showed a definite improvement in Obama’s approval rating. The poll found that the president…READ MORE

Political Musings December 28, 2014: Jeb Bush leads GOP 2016 presidential field in new CNN poll that excludes Romney

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Jeb Bush leads GOP 2016 presidential field in new CNN poll that excludes Romney

By Bonnie K. Goodman

According to a new CNN/ORC poll released on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014 a clear front runner emerges for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who leads the pack of potential candidates by 10 points. In…READ MORE

News Headlines December 28, 2014: AirAsia Flight QZ8501 missing, reports it crashed, 162 aboard all believed dead

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THE HEADLINES….

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 missing, reports it crashed, 162 aboard all believed dead

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Another airplane has gone missing in Southeast Asia, on Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014 at 7:24 a.m local time an AirAsia Airbus A320-200 with 162 aboard including passengers and crewmembers went missing after the pilots requested a change…READ MORE

News Headlines December 27, 2014: Three pit bull mixes attack three-year-old girl in Arkansas, she may not survive

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Three pit bull mixes attack three-year-old girl in Arkansas, she may not survive

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The holidays seemed to have brought a number of animal attacks, one of the latest was in Smackover Arkansas on Tuesday evening, Dec. 23, 2014 when three pit-bull mixes where accidentally released from a closed room and then they…READ MORE

Political Musings December 26, 2014: Obamas celebrate Christmas marking the end of the War in Afghanistan

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obamas celebrate Christmas marking the end of the War in Afghanistan

By Bonnie K. Goodman

There was a definite theme and message President Barack Obama was trying to get across this Christmas, Thursday, Dec. 25, 2014, that after 13 years the combat war in Afghanistan will officially be over on Dec. 31. The president and…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 25, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady Michelle Obama — Transcript

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Happy Holidays from the President and First Lady

Source: WH, 12-25-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 25, 2014

THE PRESIDENT: Merry Christmas everybody!  Now, we’re not going to take much of your time because today is about family and being together with the ones you love.  And luckily for me, that means I get a little help on the weekly address, too.

THE FIRST LADY:  The holidays at the White House are such a wonderful time of year.

We fill the halls with decorations, Christmas trees, and carolers – and this year, we invited more than 65,000 people to join us.

Our theme was “A Children’s Winter Wonderland” – and Americans young and old had a chance to come together and celebrate the season.

THE PRESIDENT: And today, our family will join millions across the country in celebrating the birth of Jesus – the birth not just of a baby in a manger, but of a message that has changed the world: to reach out to the sick; the hungry; the troubled; and above all else, to love one another as we would be loved ourselves.

THE FIRST LADY: We hope that this holiday season will be a chance for us to live out that message—to bridge our differences and lift up our families, friends, and neighbors… and to reconnect with the values that bind us together.

And as a country, that also means celebrating and honoring those who have served and sacrificed for all of us—our troops, veterans, and their families.

THE PRESIDENT: In just a few days, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Our longest war will come to a responsible end.  And that gives us an opportunity to step back and reflect upon all that these families have given us.  We’re able to gather with family and friends because our troops are willing to hug theirs goodbye and step forward to serve.  After a long day, we can come home because they’re willing to leave their families and deploy.  We can celebrate the holidays because they’re willing to miss their own.

THE FIRST LADY: And so, as our troops continue to transition back home—back to our businesses, our schools, our congregations, and our communities—it’s up to all of us to serve them as well as they have served us.

You can visit JoiningForces.gov to find out how you can honor and support the troops, veterans, and military families in your communities.

That’s something we can do not only during the holiday season, but all year round.

THE PRESIDENT: So Merry Christmas, everybody.  May God bless you all.  And we wish you and your family a happy and healthy 2015.

Political Musings December 24, 2014: Former President George H.W. Bush taken to hospital for shortness of breath

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Former President George H.W. Bush taken to hospital for shortness of breath

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Former President George H. W. Bush was taken to Houston Methodist Hospital on Tuesday evening, Dec. 23, 2014 after experiencing shortness of breath, and will remain there overnight under observation as a “precautionary measure.” President Barack Obama…READ MORE

Political Musings December 21, 2014: Clinton loses ground in new poll as Warren challenges her 2016 coronation

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Clinton loses ground in new poll as Warren challenges her 2016 coronation

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Hillary Clinton is always struggling against presidential candidate spoilers, in 2008 there was Barack Obama, now Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. A new poll from ABC News/Washington Post released Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014 shows the former first lady, New…READ MORE

 

Political Musings December 21, 2014: Obamas celebrating Christmas and New Year’s holidays with 16-day Hawaii vacation

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obamas celebrating Christmas and New Year’s holidays with 16-day Hawaii vacation

By Bonnie K. Goodman

This year as every year of his presidency President Barack Obama and the first family are spending their Christmas and New Year’s holiday in Kailua neighborhood of Oahu in Hawaii. The first family including the President, First Lady…READ MORE

Political Musings December 20, 2014: Boehner invites Obama to deliver 2015 State of the Union on January 20

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Boehner invites Obama to deliver 2015 State of the Union on January 20

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Just days before Congress and President Barack Obama officially go on vacation on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014 Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner, R-OH sent Obama an official invitation to deliver the 2015 State of the Union…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 20, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address America’s Resurgence Is Real

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: America’s Resurgence Is Real

Source: WH, 12-20-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 20, 2014

Hi, everybody.  As 2014 comes to an end, we can enter the New Year with new confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps we took nearly six years ago to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  Over the past 57 months, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth since the ‘90s.  America is now the number one producer of oil and gas, saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  The auto industry we rescued is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year alone.  And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China.  We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people.

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over, and our war there will come to a responsible end.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than at any time in over a decade.  Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend this Christmas in harm’s way.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I want our troops to know:  your country is united in our support and gratitude for you and your families.

The six years since the financial crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everyone’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve got to show for it.  More jobs.  More insured.  A growing economy.  Shrinking deficits.  Bustling industry.  Booming energy.

Pick any metric you want – America’s resurgence is real.  And we now have the chance to reverse the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.  We just have to invest in the things that we know will secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  We have to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not only for a few, but for all of us.  And I look forward to working together with the new Congress next year on these priorities.

Sure, we’ll disagree on some things.  We’ll have to compromise on others.  I’ll act on my own when it’s necessary.  But I will never stop trying to make life better for people like you.

Because thanks to your efforts, a new foundation is laid.  A new future is ready to be written.  We have set the stage for a new American moment, and I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure we seize it.

On behalf of the Obama family, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday season.

Political Musings December 20, 2014: Obama invokes Reagan in reflective and optimistic American resurgence declaration

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama invokes Reagan in reflective and optimistic American resurgence declaration

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In the last press conference of the year on Friday afternoon, Dec. 19, 2014 at the East Room of the White House President Barack Obama kept the topics lighter and optimistic in the 50-minute presser; the theme was definitely…READ MORE

Political Musings December 20, 2014: Obama takes questions only from female reporters at year-end press conference

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama takes questions only from female reporters at year-end press conference

By Bonnie K. Goodman

For his last press conference of the year held Friday afternoon, Dec. 19, 2014 President Barack Obama did a presidential first he only fielded questions from female reporters. Of all the important news items discussed at the press conference, the…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 19, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at his Year-End Press ConferenceFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody.  We’ve really got a full house today, huh?  Well, all I want for Christmas is to take your questions.  (Laughter.)  But first let me say a little bit about this year.

In last year’s final press conference, I said that 2014 would be a year of action and would be a breakthrough year for America.  And it has been.  Yes, there were crises that we had to tackle around the world, many that were unanticipated.  We have more work to do to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not just for the few, but for the many.  But there is no doubt that we can enter into the New Year with renewed confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps that we took early on to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  All told, over a 57-month streak, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  Almost all the job growth that we’ve seen have been in full-time positions.  Much of the recent pickup in job growth has been in higher-paying industries.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth also since the 1990s.  America is now the number-one producer of oil, the number-one producer of natural gas.  We’re saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  And effectively today, our rescue of the auto industry is officially over.  We’ve now repaid taxpayers every dime and more of what my administration committed, and the American auto industry is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  And we’ve created about half a million new jobs in the auto industry alone.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance just this past year.  Enrollment is beginning to pick up again during the open enrollment period.  The uninsured rate is at a near record low.  Since the law passed, the price of health care has risen at its slowest rate in about 50 years.  And we’ve cut our deficits by about two-thirds since I took office, bringing them to below their 40-year average.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL — a coalition that includes Arab partners.  We’re leading the international community to check Russian aggression in Ukraine. We are leading the global fight to combat Ebola in West Africa, and we are preventing an outbreak from taking place here at home. We’re leading efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China that’s already jumpstarting new progress in other countries.  We’re writing a new chapter in our leadership here in the Americas by turning a new page on our relationship with the Cuban people.

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than any time in over a decade. Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend Christmas in harm’s way.  And they should know that the country is united in support of you and grateful not only to you but also to your families.

The six years since the crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everybody’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve accomplished — more jobs; more people insured; a growing economy; shrinking deficits; bustling industry; booming energy.  Pick any metric that you want — America’s resurgence is real.  We are better off.

I’ve always said that recovering from the crisis of 2008 was our first order of business, and on that business, America has outperformed all of our other competitors.  Over the past four years, we’ve put more people back to work than all other advanced economies combined.  We’ve now come to a point where we have the chance to reverse an even deeper problem, the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes, and to make sure that the middle class is the engine that powers our prosperity for decades to come.

To do that, we’re going to have to make some smart choices; we’ve got to make the right choices.  We’re going to have to invest in the things that secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  And I’m being absolutely sincere when I say I want to work with this new Congress to get things done, to make those investments, to make sure the government is working better and smarter.  We’re going to disagree on some things, but there are going to be areas of agreement and we’ve got to be able to make that happen.  And that’s going to involve compromise every once in a while, and we saw during this lame duck period that perhaps that spirit of compromise may be coming to the fore.

In terms of my own job, I’m energized, I’m excited about the prospects for the next couple of years, and I’m certainly not going to be stopping for a minute in the effort to make life better for ordinary Americans.  Because, thanks to their efforts, we really do have a new foundation that’s been laid.  We are better positioned than we have been in a very long time.  A new future is ready to be written.  We’ve set the stage for this American moment.  And I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure that we seize it.

My presidency is entering the fourth quarter; interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter.  And I’m looking forward to it.  But going into the fourth quarter, you usually get a timeout.  I’m now looking forward to a quiet timeout — Christmas with my family.  So I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, a Happy New Year.  I hope that all of you get some time to spend with your families as well, because one thing that we share is that we’re away too much from them.

And now, Josh has given me the “who’s been naughty and who’s been nice” list — (laughter) — and I’m going to use it to take some questions.  And we’re going to start with Carrie Budoff Brown of Politico.  There you go, Carrie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’ll start on North Korea — that seems to be the biggest topic today.  What does a proportional response look like to the Sony hack?  And did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie?  Or does that set a dangerous precedent when faced with this kind of situation?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me address the second question first.  Sony is a corporation.  It suffered significant damage.  There were threats against its employees.  I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced.  Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

In this interconnected, digital world, there are going to be opportunities for hackers to engage in cyber assaults both in the private sector and the public sector.  Now, our first order of business is making sure that we do everything to harden sites and prevent those kinds of attacks from taking place.  When I came into office, I stood up a cybersecurity interagency team to look at everything that we could at the government level to prevent these kinds of attacks.  We’ve been coordinating with the private sector, but a lot more needs to be done.  We’re not even close to where we need to be.

And one of the things in the New Year that I hope Congress is prepared to work with us on is strong cybersecurity laws that allow for information-sharing across private sector platforms, as well as the public sector, so that we are incorporating best practices and preventing these attacks from happening in the first place.

But even as we get better, the hackers are going to get better, too.  Some of them are going to be state actors; some of them are going to be non-state actors.  All of them are going to be sophisticated and many of them can do some damage.

We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.  Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.  Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended.

So that’s not who we are.  That’s not what America is about.
Again, I’m sympathetic that Sony as a private company was worried about liabilities, and this and that and the other.  I wish they had spoken to me first.  I would have told them, do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.  Imagine if, instead of it being a cyber-threat, somebody had broken into their offices and destroyed a bunch of computers and stolen disks.  Is that what it takes for suddenly you to pull the plug on something?

So we’ll engage with not just the film industry, but the news industry and the private sector around these issues.  We already have.  We will continue to do so.  But I think all of us have to anticipate occasionally there are going to be breaches like this.  They’re going to be costly.  They’re going to be serious.  We take them with the utmost seriousness.  But we can’t start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there might be the possibility of a terrorist attack; any more than Boston didn’t run its marathon this year because of the possibility that somebody might try to cause harm.  So let’s not get into that way of doing business.

Q    Can you just say what the response would be to this attack?  Wwould you consider taking some sort of symbolic step like watching the movie yourself or doing some sort of screening here that —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve got a long list of movies I’m going to be watching.  (Laughter.)

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

But let’s talk of the specifics of what we now know.  The FBI announced today and we can confirm that North Korea engaged in this attack.  I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James Flacco [Franco].  (Laughter.)  I love Seth and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here.

They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond.  We will respond proportionally, and we’ll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose.  It’s not something that I will announce here today at a press conference.

More broadly, though, this points to the need for us to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the Internet and cyber operates.  Right now, it’s sort of the Wild West.  And part of the problem is, is you’ve got weak states that can engage in these kinds of attacks, you’ve got non-state actors that can do enormous damage.  That’s part of what makes this issue of cybersecurity so urgent.

Again, this is part of the reason why it’s going to be so important for Congress to work with us and get a actual bill passed that allows for the kind of information-sharing we need.  Because if we don’t put in place the kind of architecture that can prevent these attacks from taking place, this is not just going to be affecting movies, this is going to be affecting our entire economy in ways that are extraordinarily significant.

And, by the way, I hear you’re moving to Europe.  Where you going to be?

Q    Brussels.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

Q    It’s been a long road for the both of us.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there’s no doubt that what Belgium needs is a version of Politico.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

THE PRESIDENT:  The waffles are delicious there, by the way.
Cheryl Bolen.  You’ve been naughty.  (Laughter.)  Cheryl, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Looking ahead to your work with Congress next year, you’ve mentioned as an area of possible compromise tax reform.  And so I am wondering, do you see a Republican Congress as presenting a better opportunity for actually getting tax reform next year?  Will you be putting out a new proposal?  Are you willing to consider both individual and corporate side of the tax ledger there?  And also, are you still concerned about corporate inversions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think an all-Democratic Congress would have provided an even better opportunity for tax reform.  But I think, talking to Speaker Boehner and Leader McConnell that they are serious about wanting to get some things done.  The tax area is one area where we can get things done.  And I think in the coming weeks leading up to the State of Union, there will be some conversations at the staff levels about what principles each side are looking at.

I can tell you broadly what I’d like to see.  I’d like to see more simplicity in the system.  I’d like to see more fairness in the system.  With respect to the corporate tax reform issue, we know that there are companies that are paying the full freight — 35 percent — higher than just about any other company on Earth, if you’re paying 35 percent, and then there are other companies that are paying zero because they’ve got better accountants or lawyers.  That’s not fair.

There are companies that are parking money outside the country because of tax avoidance.  We think that it’s important that everybody pays something if, in fact, they are effectively headquartered in the United States.  In terms of corporate inversion, those are situations where companies really are headquartered here but, on paper, switch their headquarters to see if they can avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  I think that needs to be fixed.

So, fairness, everybody paying their fair share, everybody taking responsibility I think is going to be very important.

Some of those principles I’ve heard Republicans say they share.  How we do that — the devil is in the details.  And I’ll be interested in seeing what they want to move forward.  I’m going to make sure that we put forward some pretty specific proposals building on what we’ve already put forward.

One other element of this that I think is important is — and I’ve been on this hobby horse now for six years.  (Audience member sneezes.)  Bless you.  We’ve got a lot of infrastructure we’ve got to rebuild in this country if we’re going to be competitive — roads, bridges, ports, airports, electrical grids, water systems, sewage systems.  We are way behind.

And early on we indicated that there is a way of us potentially doing corporate tax reform, lowering rates, eliminating loopholes so everybody is paying their fair share, and during that transition also providing a mechanism where we can get some infrastructure built.  I’d like to see us work on that issue as well.  Historically, obviously, infrastructure has not been a Democratic or a Republican issue, and I’d like to see if we can return to that tradition.

Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to ask about Cuba. What would you say to dissidents or democracy advocates inside Cuba who fear that the policy changes you announced this week could give the Castro regime economic benefits without having to address human rights or their political system?  When your administration was lifting sanctions on Myanmar you sought commitments of reform.  Why not do the same with Cuba?

And if I could just follow up on North Korea.  Do you have any indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country, perhaps China?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ve got no indication that North Korea was acting in conjunction with another country.

With respect to Cuba, we are glad that the Cuban government have released slightly over 50 dissidents; that they are going to be allowing the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations human rights agencies to operate more freely inside of Cuba and monitor what is taking place.

I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people. And as I said when I made the announcement, I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing has changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.

And this gives us an opportunity for a different outcome, because suddenly Cuba is open to the world in ways that it has not been before.  It’s open to Americans traveling there in ways that it hasn’t been before.  It’s open to church groups visiting their fellow believers inside of Cuba in ways they haven’t been before.  It offers the prospect of telecommunications and the Internet being more widely available in Cuba in ways that it hasn’t been before.

And over time, that chips away at this hermetically sealed society, and I believe offers the best prospect then of leading to greater freedom, greater self-determination on the part of the Cuban people.

I think it will happen in fits and starts.  But through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change then we would have otherwise.

Q    Do you have a goal for where you see Cuba being at the end of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think it would be unrealistic for me to map out exactly where Cuba will be.  But change is going to come to Cuba.  It has to.  They’ve got an economy that doesn’t work.  They’ve been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela.  Those can’t be sustained.  And the more the Cuban people see what’s possible, the more interested they are going to be in change.

But how societies change is country-specific, it’s culturally specific.  It could happen fast; it could happen slower than I’d like; but it’s going to happen.  And I think this change in policy is going to advance that.

Lesley Clark.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I had a number of questions on Cuba as well.  Appreciate that.  I wanted to —

THE PRESIDENT:  Do I have to write all these down?  How many are there?  (Laughter.)  “A number” sounded intimidating.

Q    As quick as I can.  As quick as I can.  I wanted to see if you got an assurances from the Cuban government that it would not revert to the same sort of — sabotage the deal, as it has in the past when past Presidents had made similar overtures to the government.

THE PRESIDENT:  Meaning?  Be specific.  What do you mean?

Q    When the Clinton administration made some overtures, they shot down planes.  They sort of had this pattern of doing provocative — provocative events.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

Q    Provocative activities any time the U.S. has sort of reached out a hand to them.  I wanted to see what is your knowledge of whether Fidel Castro — did he have any role in the talks?  When you talked to President Raul Castro, did Fidel Castro’s name come up?  Or did you ask about him?  How he’s doing?  People haven’t seen him in a while.  Given the deep opposition from some Republicans in Congress to lifting the embargo, to an embassy, to any of the changes that you’re doing, are you going to personally get involved in terms of talking to them about efforts that they want to do to block money on a new embassy?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Lesley, I think I’m going to cut you off here.  (Laughter.)  This is taking up a lot of time.

Q    Okay, all right.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So, with respect to sabotage, I mean, my understanding of the history, for example, of the plane being shot down, it’s not clear that that was the Cuban government purposely trying to undermine overtures by the Clinton administration.  It was a tragic circumstance that ended up collapsing talks that had begun to take place.  I haven’t seen a historical record that suggests that they shot the plane down specifically in order to undermine overtures by the Clinton government.

I think it is not precedented for the President of the United States and the President of Cuba to make an announcement at the same time that they are moving towards normalizing relations.  So there hasn’t been anything like this in the past. That doesn’t meant that over the next two years we can anticipate them taking certain actions that we may end up finding deeply troubling either inside of Cuba or with respect to their foreign policy.  And that could put significant strains on the relationship.  But that’s true of a lot of countries out there where we have an embassy.  And the whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not.

So I would be surprised if the Cuban government purposely tries to undermine what is now effectively its own policy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they take at any given time actions that we think are a problem.  And we will be in a position to respond to whatever actions they take the same way we do with a whole range of countries around the world when they do things we think are wrong.  But the point is, is that we will be in a better position I think to actually have some influence, and there may be carrots as well as sticks that we can then apply.

The only way that Fidel’s name came up — I think I may have mentioned this in the Davie Muir article — interview that I did — was I delivered a fairly lengthy statement at the front end about how we’re looking forward to a new future in the relationship between our two countries, but that we are going to continue to press on issues of democracy and human rights, which we think are important.

My opening remarks probably took about 15 minutes, which on the phone is a pretty long time.  And at the end of that, he said, Mr. President, you’re still a young man.  Perhaps you have the — at the end of my remarks I apologized for taking such a long time, but I wanted to make sure that before we engaged in the conversation he was very clear about where I stood.  He said, oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. President, you’re still a young man and you have still the chance to break Fidel’s record — he once spoke seven hours straight.  (Laughter.)

And then, President Castro proceeded to deliver his own preliminary remarks that last at least twice as long as mine.  (Laughter.)  And then I was able to say, obviously it runs in the family.  But that was the only discussion of Fidel Castro that we had.

I sort of forgot all the other questions.  (Laughter.)

Q    I have a few more if you’re — how personally involved are you going to get in —

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Congress?  We cannot unilaterally bring down the embargo.  That’s codified in the Libertad Act.  And what I do think is going to happen, though, is there’s going to be a process where Congress digests it.  There are bipartisan supporters of our new approach, there are bipartisan detractors of this new approach.  People will see how the actions we take unfold.  And I think there’s going to be a healthy debate inside of Congress.

And I will certainly weigh in.  I think that ultimately we need to go ahead and pull down the embargo, which I think has been self-defeating in advancing the aims that we’re interested in.  But I don’t anticipate that that happens right away.  I think people are going to want to see how does this move forward before there’s any serious debate about whether or not we would make major shifts in the embargo.

Roberta Rampton.

Q    I want to follow on that by asking, under what conditions would you meet with President Castro in Havana?  Would you have certain preconditions that you would want to see met before doing that?  And on the hack, I know that you said that you’re not going to announce your response, but can you say whether you’re considering additional economic or financial sanctions on North Korea?  Can you rule out the use of military force or some kind of cyber hit of your own?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think I’m going to leave it where I left it, which is we just confirmed that it was North Korea; we have been working up a range of options.  They will be presented to me.  I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is proportional and appropriate to the nature of this crime.

With respect to Cuba, we’re not at a stage here where me visiting Cuba or President Castro coming to the United States is in the cards.  I don’t know how this relationship will develop over the next several years.  I’m a fairly young man so I imagine that at some point in my life I will have the opportunity to visit Cuba and enjoy interacting with the Cuban people.  But there’s nothing specific where we’re trying to target some sort of visit on my part.

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

Q    You spoke earlier about 2014 being a breakthrough year, and you ended the year with executive actions on Cuba and immigration and climate change.  But you didn’t make much progress this year on your legislative agenda.  And some Republican lawmakers have said they’re less inclined to work with you if you pursue executive actions so aggressively.  Are you going to continue to pursue executive actions if that creates more roadblocks for your legislative agenda?  Or have you concluded that it’s not possible to break the fever in Washington and the partisan gridlock here?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress.  As I said before, I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.  I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.  The question is going to be are we able to separate out those areas where we disagree and those areas where we agree.  I think there are going to be some tough fights on areas where we disagree.

If Republicans seek to take health care away from people who just got it, they will meet stiff resistance from me.  If they try to water down consumer protections that we put in place in the aftermath of the financial crisis, I will say no.  And I’m confident that I’ll be able to uphold vetoes of those types of provisions.  But on increasing American exports, on simplifying our tax system, on rebuilding our infrastructure, my hope is that we can get some things done.

I’ve never been persuaded by this argument that if it weren’t for the executive actions they would have been more productive.  There’s no evidence of that.  So I intend to continue to do what I’ve been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I’m going to do it.  And I will then, side-by-side, reach out to members of Congress, reach out to Republicans, and say, let’s work together; I’d rather do it with you.

Immigration is the classic example.  I was really happy when the Senate passed a bipartisan, comprehensive immigration bill.  And I did everything I could for a year and a half to provide Republicans the space to act, and showed not only great patience, but flexibility, saying to them, look, if there are specific changes you’d like to see, we’re willing to compromise, we’re willing to be patient, we’re willing to work with you.  Ultimately it wasn’t forthcoming.

And so the question is going to be I think if executive actions on areas like minimum wage, or equal pay, or having a more sensible immigration system are important to Republicans, if they care about those issues, and the executive actions are bothering them, there is a very simple solution, and that is:  Pass bills.  And work with me to make sure I’m willing to sign those bills.

Because both sides are going to have to compromise.  On most issues, in order for their initiatives to become law, I’m going to have sign off.  And that means they have to take into account the issues that I care about, just as I’m going to have to take into account the issues that they care about.

All right.  I think this is going to be our last question.  Juliet Eilperin.  There you go.

Q    Thanks so much.  So one of the first bills that Mitch McConnell said he will send to you is one that would authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  When you talked about this in the past, you’ve minimized the benefits and you highlighted some of the risks associated with that project.  I’m wondering if you could tell us both what you would do when faced with that bill, given the Republican majority that we’ll have in both chambers.  And also, what do you see as the benefits?  And given the precipitous drop we’ve seen in oil prices recently, does that change the calculus in terms of how it will contribute to climate change, and whether you think it makes sense to go ahead with that project?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t think I’ve minimized the benefits, I think I’ve described the benefits.  At issue in Keystone is not American oil.  It is Canadian oil that is drawn out of tar sands in Canada.  That oil currently is being shipped out through rail or trucks, and it would save Canadian oil companies and the Canadian oil industry an enormous amount of money if they could simply pipe it all the way through the United States down to the Gulf.  Once that oil gets to the Gulf, it is then entering into the world market, and it would be sold all around the world.

So there’s no — I won’t say “no” — there is very little impact, nominal impact, on U.S. gas prices — what the average American consumer cares about — by having this pipeline come through.  And sometimes the way this gets sold is, let’s get this oil and it’s going to come here.  And the implication is, is that’s going to lower gas prices here in the United States.  It’s not.  There’s a global oil market.  It’s very good for Canadian oil companies and it’s good for the Canadian oil industry, but it’s not going to be a huge benefit to U.S. consumers.  It’s not even going to be a nominal benefit to U.S. consumers.

Now, the construction of the pipeline itself will create probably a couple thousand jobs.  Those are temporary jobs until the construction actually happens.  There’s probably some additional jobs that can be created in the refining process down in the Gulf.  Those aren’t completely insignificant — it’s just like any other project.  But when you consider what we could be doing if we were rebuilding our roads and bridges around the country — something that Congress could authorize — we could probably create hundreds of thousands of jobs, or a million jobs. So if that’s the argument, there are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying Americans construction jobs.

And then, with respect to the cost, all I’ve said is that I want to make sure that if, in fact, this project goes forward, that it’s not adding to the problem of climate change, which I think is very serious and does impose serious costs on the American people — some of them long term, but significant costs nonetheless.  If we’ve got more flooding, more wildfires, more drought, there are direct economic impacts on that.

And as we’re now rebuilding after Sandy, for example, we’re having to consider how do we increase preparedness in how we structure infrastructure and housing, and so forth, along the Jersey Shore.  That’s an example of the kind of costs that are imposed, and you can put a dollar figure on it.

So, in terms of process, you’ve got a Nebraska judge that’s still determining whether or not the new path for this pipeline is appropriate.  Once that is resolved, then the State Department will have all the information it needs to make its decision.

But I’ve just tried to give this perspective, because I think that there’s been this tendency to really hype this thing as some magic formula to what ails the U.S. economy, and it’s hard to see on paper where exactly they’re getting that information from.

In terms of oil prices and how it impacts the decision, I think that it won’t have a significant impact except perhaps in the minds of folks — when gas prices are lower, maybe they’re less susceptible to the argument that this is the answer to lowering gas prices.  But it was never going to be the answer to lowering gas prices, because the oil that would be piped through the Keystone pipeline would go into the world market.  And that’s what determines oil prices, ultimately.

Q    And in terms of Congress forcing your hand on this, is this something where you clearly say you’re not going to let Congress force your hand on whether to approve or disapprove of this?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll see what they do.  We’ll take that up in the New Year.

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll ask — April, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Last question, I guess.  (Laughter.)  Six years ago this month, I asked you what was the state of black America in the Oval Office, and you said it was the “the best of times and the worst of times.”  You said it was the best of times in the sense that there was — has never been more opportunity for African Americans to receive a good education, and the worst of times for unemployment and the lack of opportunity.  We’re ending 2014.  What is the state of black America as we talk about those issues as well as racial issues in this country?

THE PRESIDENT:  Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office.  The jobs that have been created, the people who’ve gotten health insurance, the housing equity that’s been recovered, the 401 pensions that have been recovered — a lot of those folks are African American.  They’re better off than they were.

The gap between income and wealth of white and black America persists.  And we’ve got more work to do on that front.  I’ve been consistent in saying that this is a legacy of a troubled racial past of Jim Crow and slavery.  That’s not an excuse for black folks.  And I think the overwhelming majority of black people understand it’s not an excuse.  They’re working hard. They’re out there hustling and trying to get an education, trying to send their kids to college.  But they’re starting behind, oftentimes, in the race.

And what’s true for all Americans is we should be willing to provide people a hand up — not a handout, but help folks get that good early childhood education, help them graduate from high school, help them afford college.  If they do, they’re going to be able to succeed, and that’s going to be good for all of us.

And we’ve seen some progress.  The education reforms that we’ve initiated are showing measurable results.  We have the highest high school graduation that we’ve seen in a very long time.  We are seeing record numbers of young people attending college.  In many states that have initiated reforms, you’re seeing progress in math scores and reading scores for African American and Latino students as well as the broader population.  But we’ve still got more work to go.

Now, obviously, how we’re thinking about race relations right now has been colored by Ferguson, the Garner case in New York, a growing awareness in the broader population of what I think many communities of color have understood for some time, and that is that there are specific instances at least where law enforcement doesn’t feel as if it’s being applied in a colorblind fashion.

The task force that I formed is supposed to report back to me in 90 days — not with a bunch of abstract musings about race relations, but some really concrete, practical things that police departments and law enforcement agencies can begin implementing right now to rebuild trust between communities of color and the police department.

And my intention is to, as soon as I get those recommendations, to start implementing them.  Some of them we’ll be able to do through executive action.  Some of them will require congressional action.  Some of them will require action on the part of states and local jurisdictions.

But I actually think it’s been a healthy conversation that we’ve had.  These are not new phenomenon.  The fact that they’re now surfacing, in part because people are able to film what have just been, in the past, stories passed on around a kitchen table, allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations.  And you’re not going to solve a problem if it’s not being talked about.

In the meantime, we’ve been moving forward on criminal justice reform issues more broadly.  One of the things I didn’t talk about in my opening statement is the fact that last year was the first time in 40 years where we had the federal prison population go down and the crime rate go down at the same time, which indicates the degree to which it’s possible for us to think smarter about who we’re incarcerating, how long we’re incarcerating, how are we dealing with nonviolent offenders, how are we dealing with drug offenses, diversion programs, drug courts.  We can do a better job of — and save money in the process by initiating some of these reforms.  And I’ve been really pleased to see that we’ve had Republicans and Democrats in Congress who are interested in these issues as well.

The one thing I will say — and this is going to be the last thing I say — is that one of the great things about this job is you get to know the American people.  I mean, you meet folks from every walk of life and every region of the country, and every race and every faith.  And what I don’t think is always captured in our political debates is the vast majority of people are just trying to do the right thing, and people are basically good and have good intentions.  Sometimes our institutions and our systems don’t work as well as they should.  Sometimes you’ve got a police department that has gotten into bad habits over a period of time and hasn’t maybe surfaced some hidden biases that we all carry around.  But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems.  It’s not — this isn’t a situation where people feel good seeing somebody choked and dying.  I think that troubles everybody.  So there’s an opportunity of all of us to come together and to take a practical approach to these problems.

And I guess that’s my general theme for the end of the year — which is we’ve gone through difficult times.  It is your job, press corps, to report on all the mistakes that are made and all the bad things that happen and the crises that look like they’re popping.  And I understand that.  But through persistent effort and faith in the American people, things get better.  The economy has gotten better.  Our ability to generate clean energy has gotten better.  We know more about how to educate our kids.  We solved problems.  Ebola is a real crisis; you get a mistake in the first case because it’s not something that’s been seen before — we fix it.  You have some unaccompanied children who spike at a border, and it may not get fixed in the time frame of the news cycle, but it gets fixed.

And part of what I hope as we reflect on the New Year this should generate is some confidence.  America knows how to solve problems.  And when we work together, we can’t be stopped.

And now I’m going to go on vacation.  Mele Kalikimaka, everybody.  (Laughter.)  Mahalo.  Thank you, everybody.

END
2:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Afternoon and evening Hanukkah ReceptionsFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks By The President At Evening Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

State Floor

8:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!

AUDIENCE:  Hello!

THE PRESIDENT:  Happy Hanukkah!

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hanukkah!

THE PRESIDENT:  This is a particularly good-looking Hanukkah crowd.

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s good.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s very impressive.

Now, every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a small Hanukkah celebration.  (Laughter.)   Nothing fancy.  This is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we ended up having to have two Hanukkah parties.  (Applause.)   We had one earlier this afternoon.  I have to tell you, this is the better party.  (Applause.)  Don’t tell anybody because —

MRS. OBAMA:  He said that earlier.

THE PRESIDENT:  I said that earlier.  (Laughter.)  But I really mean it this time.  (Applause.)

We are blessed to have so many friends and dignitaries here. I want to welcome Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who’s here, and his wife, Rhoda –- (applause) — all our friends from the State of Israel, who remind us that the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable.  (Applause.)

We have leaders from across my administration, including our outstanding Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew.  (Applause.) Council of Economic Advisers Chair, Jason Furman.  Give Jason some more — Jason actually is the guy who gives me the jobs report every month.  Ever since he’s come on they’ve been really good.  So give Jason a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

National Economic Council Director Jeff Zients is here.  (Applause.)  We’ve got the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley. (Applause.)  We’ve got all kinds of members of Congress here, including our DNC Chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)  The president of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman.  (Applause.)  And a member of my team who’s leaving to become ADL’s next president, Jonathan Greenblatt.  (Applause.)

Now, I’m going to begin by saying what a glorious day this is — because, after five years, American Alan Gross is free.  (Applause.)  As all of you know, he was arrested five years ago by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans — including a small Jewish community in Cuba –- just for access information on the Internet.  Today, after 1,840 days, he is back where he belongs — with his wife Judy and his family.  And as you heard Alan say today, this is his best Hanukkah.

From his cell, Alan once wrote, “I refuse to accept that my country would leave me behind.”  And he is right.  We’re committed to the principle that no American ever gets left behind.  We do everything in our power to bring Americans home.  So we thank all those who helped to make sure that Alan was never forgotten.  And as now we’re moving forward, we know that the historic changes I announced today will mean greater opportunity and progress for both Americans and for Cubans, including the small but proud Jewish community in Cuba.  (Applause.)

So we are here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of —  what do we got playing there?  (Laughter.)  What you got on your phone?  I was trying to figure out the ringtone.  (Laughter.)

Where was I?  Small group of Maccabees — right!  Rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of   overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city, and the right to worship as they choose.

And after their victory, the Maccabees found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.  But they lit the oil that they had.  And miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight.  The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than even we could imagine — with a little bit of faith, and making sure that it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

The menorahs that we’re about to light remind us of our power to make miracles happen.  It was one of four that were brought here from Israel, and was built by children in Yemin Orde, a village in Israel founded in 1953 to provide a safe haven to orphans and young immigrants after the Holocaust.  More than 60 years later, Yemin Orde still gives children in Israel a shot at a brighter future.  And tonight, Atakalit Tesfaye, a graduate of Yemin Orde, will help us light the Hanukkah candles.  (Applause.)

He will be joined by Dr. Adam Levine.  Now, I just want to be clear, this is not — (laughter) — Adam Levine, People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive — (laughter) — although he’s a pretty sexy guy.  (Laughter.)  This is actually Dr. Adam Levine, Time’s Person of the Year.  (Applause.)  Along with his compatriots, Adam, who recently returned from Liberia, has been doing heroic work for Ebola patients, saving lives.  (Applause.)

Yemin Orde is just one village.  But the story of Hanukkah teaches us that there’s no such thing as a futile act of courage, or a small act of faith.  One doctor can save a life.  One school can help a child.  That life, that child may change a village.  One person can be the spark that changes the world.

So as we gather with family and friends, let’s give thanks to the miracles that we’ve been blessed with in our own lives — miracles large and small — same ringtone.  (Laughter.)  During this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making new miracles, and to sharing them with the world.

I’d now like to invite Rabbi Angela Buchdahl — from Manhattan — (applause) — to lead us in the blessing and candle-lighting.  (Applause.)

END
8:11 P.M. EST

 

Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

East Room

4:27 P.M. EST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Happy Hanukkah, Mr. President!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, Happy Hanukkah to you!  (Laughter.)  You stole my line.  (Laughter.)  Happy Hanukkah, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hannukah.

MRS. OBAMA:  Welcome to the White House.  I want to welcome the members of Congress who are here today.  We’ve got some Bronfman Fellows — (applause) — who are here from the State of Israel.  (Applause.)  Obviously, the bonds between our two countries are unbreakable, and with the help of young people, they’re only going to grow stronger in the years to come.

Every year, Michelle and I like to invite just a few friends over for a little Hanukkah celebration.  (Laughter.)  Nothing fancy.  Actually, this is the second year we’ve invited so many friends that we’re hosting two parties instead of one.  This is our first party — it is the best party.  (Laughter.)  Don’t tell the others, though.

I want to begin with today’s wonderful news.  I’m told that in the Jewish tradition, one of the great mitzvahs is pidyon shvuyim.  (Applause.)  My Hebrew is not perfect, but I get points for trying.  But it describes the redemption, the freeing, of captives.  And that’s what we’re celebrating today, because after being unjustly held in Cuba for more than five years, American Alan Gross is free.  (Applause.)

Alan has dedicated his life to others — to helping people around the world develop their communities and improve their lives, including Israelis and Palestinians.  He’s a man of deep faith who once worked for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.  Five years ago, he was arrested by Cuban authorities simply for helping ordinary Cubans, including Cuba’s small Jewish community, access information on the Internet.  And ever since, those who have loved and cared for Alan never stopped working to bring him home:  Judy, his wife of 44 years, and their daughters, including his oldest daughter who walked down the aisle without her dad on her wedding day.  His mother, who passed away this year without being able to see her son one last time.  His whole family, including his sister-in-law, Gwen Zuares, who joins us here today — where is Gwen?  (Applause.)  Hey, Gwen.  His rabbi, his friends at his congregation in Maryland, Am Kolel, who kept him in their prayers every Shabbat.  Jewish and other faith leaders across the country and around the world, including His Holiness Pope Francis.  And members of Congress and those of us in the United States government.

And Alan has fought back.  He spoke out from his cell, he went on a hunger strike.  With his health deteriorating, his family worried he might not be able to make it out alive.  But he never gave up, and we never gave up.

As I explained earlier, after our many months of discussion with the Cuban government, Alan was finally released this morning on humanitarian grounds.  I spoke to him on his flight.  He said he was willing to interrupt his corned beef sandwich to talk to me.  (Laughter.)  I told him he had mustard in his mustache; I couldn’t actually see it.  (Laughter.)  But needless to say, he was thrilled.  And he landed at Andrews in a plane marked “The United States of America.”  (Applause.)

He’s going to be getting the medical attention that he needs.  He’s back where he belongs — in America, with his family, home for Hanukkah.  And I can’t think of a better way to mark this holiday, with its message that freedom is possible, than with the historic changes that I announced today in our Cuba policy.  (Applause.)  These are changes that are rooted in America’s commitment to freedom and democracy for all the Cuban people, including its small but proud Jewish community.  And Alan’s remarks about the need for these changes was extremely powerful.

So what brings us together is not just lox and latkes — (laughter) — although I have heard the latkes here are outstanding.  (Applause.)  Am I wrong?  Not as good as your mom’s, but they’re good.  (Applause.)

We’re here to celebrate a story that took place more than 2,000 years ago, when a small group of Maccabees rose up to defeat their far more powerful oppressors.  In the face of overwhelming odds, they reclaimed their city and the right to worship as they chose.  And in their victory, they found there wasn’t enough oil to keep the flame in their temple alive.  But they lit the oil they had and, miraculously, the flame that was supposed to burn for just one night burned for eight.  The Hanukkah story teaches us that our light can shine brighter than we could ever imagine with faith, and it’s up to us to provide that first spark.

This is something that Inbar Vardi and Mouran Ibrahim know very well.  They are Israeli ninth-graders at Hand in Hand, which is a bilingual school in Jerusalem.  (Applause.)  For more than a decade, it’s brought Jewish and Arab children together.  So Inbar is Jewish; Mouran is Muslim.

Just two weeks ago, their school’s first-grade classroom was set on fire by arsonists.  In the weeks that followed, they and their classmates could have succumbed to anger or cynicism, but instead they built this menorah, one of four that we brought here from Israel this year.  Each of its branches are dedicated to one of the values their school is founded on — values like community and dignity and equality and peace.  Inbar and Mouran flew here from Israel along with Rebecca Bardach, the mother of a first-grader and second-grader at Hand in Hand, and in just a few minutes the three of them are going to join us in lighting the Hanukkah candles here at the White House.  (Applause.)

So Inbar and Mouran and their fellow students teach us a critical lesson for this time in our history:  The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate.  That’s what the Hanukkah story teaches us.  That’s what our young people can teach us — that one act of faith can make a miracle.  That love is stronger than hate.  That peace can triumph over conflict.  And during this Festival of Lights, let’s commit ourselves to making some small miracles ourselves and then sharing them with the world.

I now want to invite Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson to the podium who can lead us in the blessings for the candle lighting.  Rabbi.  (Applause.)

(The blessings are given.)

END                  4:38 P.M. EST

 

 

 

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Normalization of Diplomatic Relations with CubaFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes

Source: WH, 12-17-14

Cabinet Room

12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:   Good afternoon.  Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.  Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba.  I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism.  We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports.  Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind.  All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else.  And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy.  As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba.  These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values.  And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years.  Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship.  His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

Today, Alan returned home –- reunited with his family at long last.  Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds.  Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades.  This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States.  This man is now safely on our shores.

Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.  Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before.  It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it.  Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.  But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.  After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach.

Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  This review will be guided by the facts and the law.  Terrorism has changed in the last several decades.  At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.  This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.  With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island.  Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people.  So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans.  So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba.  U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions.  And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

I believe in the free flow of information.  Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.  So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba.  Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

These are the steps that I can take as President to change this policy.  The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation.  As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward.  I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens.  In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.  We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.  The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there.  While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests.  I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.  But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy.  The question is how we uphold that commitment.  I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.  Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.  We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.  In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.  Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom.  Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future.  José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.”  Today, I am being honest with you.  We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination.  Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts.  In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.  This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.  But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.  And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter.  Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.  A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles or so from Havana.  Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami — on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts.  Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America.  But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South.  Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.  But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

Thank you.  God bless you and God bless the United States of America.

END
12:16 P.M. EST

Political Musings December 15, 2014: Senate confirms anti-gun Vivek Murthy as surgeon general year after nomination

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Senate confirms anti-gun Vivek Murthy as surgeon general year after nomination

By Bonnie K. Goodman

More than a year President Barack Obama nominated Dr. Vivek Murthy for surgeon general, the Senate just barely confirmed with a vote of 51 to 43 on Monday, Dec. 15, 2014 the controversial nominee. Only one Republican voted in…READ MORE

Political Musings December 15, 2014: Bush visits 9/11 memorial museum after Senate CIA torture report release

POLITICAL MUSINGS

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2013/06/pol_musings.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Bush visits 9/11 memorial museum after Senate CIA torture report release

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Less than a week after the Senate CIA torture report was released Former President George W. Bush visited the September 11th Memorial and Museum on Sunday evening, Dec. 14, 2014. President Bush’s visit was without much fanfare, without…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at “Christmas in Washington”

Source: WH, 12-15-14

National Building Museum

7:32 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Give it up for Santa’s biggest, baddest elf — our host, The Rock. (Applause.) Dwayne is tough as nails on the outside, but as you heard earlier, he is a big softie on the inside. Even played me once on “Saturday Night Live.” (Laughter.) You can see the resemblance. (Laughter.) I have a little more hair.

I want to thank all the incredible performers for dazzling us with their talents tonight. Give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) And we want to thank all the people behind the scenes who help make this wonderful event possible every single year.

For 33 years, “Christmas in Washington” has benefited a remarkable institution — Children’s National Medical Center. That’s where dedicated medical professionals provide world-class care to our most precious resource — our children — every single day of the year. Of course, this holiday is all about the birth of a child more than 2,000 years ago. A young soon-to-be mother and her husband of modest means traveled to Bethlehem and sought shelter for the night. They found it in a manger. And in the lowliest of surroundings a Savior was born who would change the world.

Jesus Christ lived a life of peace, of love, and kindness and forgiveness. He administered to the poor and to the sick, to the stranger and the outcast on society’s margins. His life of service teaches us that our individual salvation is wrapped up in the salvation of others. And two millennia later, it lifts the hearts of billions around the world, Christians and non-Christians alike.

In the hustle and bustle of Christmas season, may we all do our best to follow his example, to reach out to someone whose Christmas isn’t so jolly; to turn our blessings into kindness and compassion; to treat one another the way we would like to be treated. That’s the real Christmas spirit.

To all our men and women in uniform serving far from home, and to the families who miss them, we thank you for your service and sacrifice, and we’re thinking of you this holiday season. And to every American, from the Obama family to yours, Merry Christmas. God bless you, and God bless America.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 7:36 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech to Military and Civilian Personnel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President to Military and Civilian Personnel at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst

Source: WH, 12-15-14

Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst
New Jersey

2:49 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst! (Applause.) Thank you, General Martin, for the introduction and for your great leadership of the Air Force Expeditionary Center. I want to thank all the outstanding leaders for coming to welcome me here today, including General Maggie Boor and Colonel James Hodges. I want to thank the folks who are the backbone of our military — give a big round of applause for your incredible senior NCOs. (Applause.)

This is one of our nation’s premier joint military bases. Everybody is here. We’ve got Army. (Hoo-ah!) We’ve got Navy. (Oo-rah!) We’ve got Air Force. (Hoo-ah!) We’ve got Marines. (Oo-rah!) And we’ve got some Coast Guard. (Oo-rah!) (Laughter.) Who’s that one Coast Guard — there you go, that was loud, right there. (Laughter.)

All of you come together as one great American team. And I know that we also have some spouses and families here today. Your wives, your husbands, your partners, your sons, your daughters — they serve, as well. They make their own sacrifices — especially when you’re deployed. So our military families are the heroes on the home front. Give it up for our remarkable military families. (Applause.)

We’ve got some outstanding elected officials who support the mission of this facility each and every day. I want to thank Governor Christie for joining us here today. (Applause.) We’ve got some outstanding members of Congress who are here — Bob Menendez, Cory Booker, Congressmen Jon Runyan, Congressman Donald Norcross, and incoming Congressman Tom MacArthur. (Applause.) And they were already lobbying me about the base on the way in, so they’re doing a good job. (Laughter.)

It is great to be back. I was here last year and visited with some of you on my way to the Jersey Shore. Christie and I went down to Asbury Park, spent some time on the boardwalk. We played a little Frog Bog. Chris’s kids taught me how to hit the hammer to get those little frogs into the buckets. It was hard. And then Christie beat me at football toss, which really aggravated me. (Laughter.) And he bragged about it afterwards, which is okay, but I will get a rematch at some point.

But we weren’t there just to have fun. We came because, after Hurricane Sandy, people across this state — including those of you here at this base — you had to pick yourselves up, pull together, rebuild, show that here in New Jersey, here in America, we are stronger than any storm. Like a friend of mine from New Jersey likes to say, “Wherever this flag is flown, we take care of our own.” That’s what we do here in New Jersey. That’s what we do all across America.

And this facility exemplifies that spirit. For nearly a century, our flag has flown right here. Millions of Americans passed through the old Fort Dix. This was where they shipped out. This was where they were welcomed home. One of them was Don Drysdale, Hall of Fame Dodgers pitcher. And he had the same thought as a lot of new recruits at basic training: “What the hell am I doing here?” (Laughter.) Another recruit remembered, “I cleaned a lot of latrines with toothbrushes.”

Among those who were demobilized here was a soldier from Tennessee, serial number 53310761, a guy named Sergeant Elvis Presley. He was all shook up. (Laughter.) His homecoming was a little different, though. Apparently the King drove off in a limo. (Laughter.) Now, if it were up to me, I’d give all you all limos when you come home.

Because part of the message I’m here to deliver on behalf of the American people is very simple: It’s just to say thank you. Thank you for your extraordinary service. I thank you as your President because you inspire me. And of all the privileges I have in serving in this office, nothing comes close to the honor of serving as your Commander-in Chief.

And I also thank you on behalf of more than 300 million Americans. We Americans may disagree and debate and argue sometimes — that is part of our democracy. It is messy sometimes. Sometimes it results in some gridlock in Washington. But whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, white, black, brown, rich, poor — no matter how we pray, no matter who we love, when it comes to our troops, when it comes to you and your families, as Americans we stand united. We are proud of you. We support you. And we can never thank you enough. (Applause.)

And that’s especially true now, during the holidays. We can gather with family and friends because you’re willing to hug yours goodbye and step forward to serve. After a long day, we can come home because you’re willing to leave your home and deploy. We get to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and holidays, go to soccer games and go to dance recitals because you’re willing to miss those in your family. We’re free and safe and secure over here because you’re willing to serve over there.

That’s the noble spirit of your sacrifice. That’s the selfless character of our military. Those are the precious gifts that you give America — not just this time of year, but all year, every year. You never stop serving. You never stop giving. You guys are like Santa in fatigues. (Laughter.) Although, I’ll bet one of those C-130s is a little more efficient than Santa’s sleigh. (Applause.) I figured I’d get something out of our guys on that. (Laughter.)

I also wanted to be here, though, because after more than a decade of war, our nation is marking an important milestone. Ever since our country was attacked that awful September morning, 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan. Many people here have deployed there, or to Iraq, and you’ve deployed multiple times in some cases. There are people here who’ve lost really good friends, patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice, including 54 fallen heroes from this base, who we will honor forever.

For more than a year, Afghan forces have been in the lead to secure their country, and that means more of our troops have been coming home, including right here to this joint base. So let me just say to all of you who’ve returned from Afghanistan in recent weeks, on behalf of a grateful nation, I want to say welcome home. You’re home for the holidays. And we’re glad to have you back.

Now, this month, in just two weeks, the transition that we’re making in Afghanistan will be complete. Afghans will take full responsibility for their security. This month, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. This month, America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.

Now, that doesn’t mean everything is great in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place. But I want you, and every American who has served in Afghanistan, to be proud of what you’ve accomplished there. Because your generation — the 9/11 Generation — has met every mission that’s been given to you. You helped decimate the core al Qaeda leadership and deliver justice to Osama bin Laden. He will not be attacking here anymore. You helped to prevent terrorist attacks against this country. You helped push back the Taliban. You helped train Afghan forces to take the lead. You helped make possible a historic election this year and the first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history. Despite all their challenges, Afghans are now looking to the future. And that’s all because of you. That’s makes us safer, and it gives them a chance for a better future.

Even as our combat mission ends, our commitment to Afghanistan endures. We’ll continue to have a limited military presence there because we’ve got to keep training and equipping Afghan forces, and we’ve got to conduct counterterrorism missions because there are still remnants of al Qaeda there. After all the sacrifices you’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you’ve made. We want a stable and secure Afghanistan. And we want to make sure that country is never again used to launch attacks against the United States of America.

Now, this year is also a reminder that even as our combat mission ends in Afghanistan, there are still challenges to our security around the globe. In times of crisis, people around the world look to one nation to lead, and that is the United States of America. Even our critics, when they get into trouble they’re calling us. And when the world calls on America, we call on you — our men and women in uniform — because nobody can do what you do.

One news article said it best: When our forces train here, folks who live nearby might “feel the ground shake” because no other military in the world is as good as you, as ready as you, as capable as you, able to go as far, able to go as fast as you do and perform your basic missions. Nobody. Nobody in history has been able to do what you’ve done.

Which means we’re leading the global coalition against the brutal terrorist group ISIL in Iraq and Syria. And you are doing your part, supporting the aerial refueling that keeps our aircraft in the skies and the airlift that moves our people and equipment into place. Some folks from this base are there right now doing incredible work. And to them, and to all our troops far from home and their families for the holidays, you are in our thoughts, our prayers, and we can’t wait till you come home, too.

Just look at the difference that you and the rest of our military have made — rescuing thousands of innocent Iraqi men, women and children that were trapped up on a mountain in danger of slaughter. You saved them. Air dropping food and water and medicine, saving countless lives. America led the way. That’s what we do.

Along with our coalition partners, we are hammering these terrorists, taking out their fighters, their commanders, hundreds of vehicles and tanks, nearly 200 oil and gas facilities, the infrastructure that funds their terror. More than a thousand fighting positions, checkpoints, buildings, barracks — we’re taking them out. That’s because of the work that you do. We’re cutting their command and control and supply lines, and making it harder for them to maneuver.

In Iraq, local forces have held the line in some places and pushed back ISIL in other places. In Syria, our airstrikes are inflicting heavy losses on ISIL fighters and leaders. Because of you, we have blunted their momentum and we have put them on the defensive. And these terrorists are learning the same thing that the leaders of al Qaeda have learned the hard way: They may think that they can chalk up some quick victories, but our reach is long. We do not give up. You threaten America, you will have no safe haven. We will find you. And like petty tyrants and terrorists before you, the world is going to leave you behind and keep moving on without you, because we will get you. That’s thanks to you.

Now, this campaign in Iraq will take time. But make no mistake, our coalition isn’t just going to degrade this barbaric terrorist organization, we’re going to destroy it. And because this isn’t just a military effort, we’re going to keep working with those in the Middle East who believe in tolerance and opportunity and peace, because that’s what the region needs. These terrorists only know how to destroy. And we know how to do something bigger — how to build the security and peace and justice that we can build with others. But none of that would be possible without you. That’s American leadership. That’s the difference you make.

In the same way that we’re leading the fight against ISIL, we’re leading the global fight against Ebola in West Africa. And you’ve been doing your part — deploying to Liberia and Senegal, improving airfields, setting up the logistics and command-and-control, building the infrastructure, manning that air bridge, airlifting food and equipment and personnel. You have been out front.

And if you doubt the impact that you’re having, take a look at what’s going on there. With your help, we’ve built new treatment centers. We’re training more health care workers. We’re delivering medicine and supplies. Other countries are now willing to come in because you laid the foundation. And this is still a terrible epidemic, and the world has to keep on stepping up, but in Liberia, where we focused our efforts, cases are starting to decline. Ultimately, we will have saved thousands of lives because of you.

As one of our American commanders said, “Everywhere I go, Liberians are waving; hope is what we’re providing.” Or as one West African put it, “We’ve always loved America and for them to come in and help at a time like this reinforces that.” That’s the difference you’re making. There are people who are alive today because of what you guys do. That’s American leadership.

So, stepping back for a moment, we’re at a turning point. When I took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this month, we’ll have fewer than 15,000 in those two countries. We’ve now brought home about 90 percent of our troops — 90 percent. The time of deploying large ground forces with big military footprints to engage in nation-building overseas, that’s coming to an end.

And going forward, our military will be leaner. But as your Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to make sure we keep you ready for the range of missions that we ask of you. We are going to keep you the best-trained, the best-led, the best-equipped military in the history of the world because the world will still be calling.

And that’s why it was so important that folks in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — came together and passed legislation that I’m going to sign to keep our government open and funded for the coming year. And that includes military operations — the support and commissaries that your families depend on, a pay raise for you, health care for our wounded warriors and our veterans. (Applause.) You’ve always been there for us; we’ve got to be there for you.

And let me make one other point. At this time of transition, I know some of you will be returning to civilian life. I was talking about this with the two generals that I rode over with. We want to make sure you can enjoy the American Dream that you helped to defend. So we’ll keep helping you with the transition assistance and the credentialing and the licensing to help find civilian jobs worthy of your incredible talents.

We’re going to keep funding the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and keep working with colleges and universities to help you and your families realize your dream of a higher education. And as many of you know, Michelle — the First Lady — Vice President’s wife, Jill Biden; everybody at Joining Forces, we’re all going to be saying to every company in America: If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a military spouse. Hire a veteran. That’s the difference you can make here at home. Because that’s also American leadership — the jobs and the opportunity, and the country that we can build together as one American team. (Applause.) You understand that. You’ve trained for it. And when you get in the job, that’s what you deliver every single time.

So I want to leave you with a story of somebody who has a special understanding of the American spirit. I just met them before I came out here, but before I came out, Yeoman Carrie Chavez and Staff Sergeant Ashley Montgomery, they did the Pledge of Allegiance and sang our National Anthem — and I had a chance to take a picture with them out back. And I asked them where they’re from, and they’re from Jersey, of course. (Laughter.) And, in fact, Ashley said that her dad had served at this facility 30 years earlier. So I asked her, had she ever left the base — (laughter) — and she said, yes, she had been deployed at four other bases. But that’s one example of American service — a generation passing the baton to the next generation; entire families who have served our country nobly, dating back in some cases over a century.

But then there’s another part of the American story. There’s another young man I met. His name is Nelson Rieu — and Nelson is here today. Wave, Nelson. There’s Nelson. (Applause.) Now, the reason I want to tell Nelson’s story is because, unlike Ashley, Nelson wasn’t born here on base, he wasn’t born in Jersey. He was born in the Republic of Congo. And when his country slipped into civil war, he and his mother became refugees. And that was a terrible civil war — over a million people died in that civil war. That was a hard life. When he was 20 years old, he and his mom got some incredible news — “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” he says. He had the chance to come to America.

So they land in Los Angeles, and Nelson said it was like being in a movie — all these glistening buildings and freeways. And they settled in Arizona. And Nelson barely spoke a word of English. So he took high school classes — English, American history; he earned his high school diploma. And then he signed up to serve a country that wasn’t even yet fully his own. He raised his hand, took the oath, joined the United States Air Force. And then, this past Fourth of July, he put on his uniform, he raised his hand again, and he took another oath to become a citizen of the United States. “The Fourth of July,” he says, “is my new American birthday.”

And today, Airman First Class Nelson Rieu is an engineering apprentice here on base, helping to keep his fellow airmen safe. And at 24 years old, he dreams of someday joining the Special Forces. And he says, “Freedom is the reason why I am in this country and [why I] wanted to be part of those who sustain that freedom. It’s a great feeling to know you’re the backbone of the greatest nation on Earth.”

So you think about that. You’ve got folks whose dads were born on — or who were born on base and who served going back generations. But then you’ve got new Americans with that same patriotism, that same sense of what we’re about as Americans, that same creed that we can all pledge allegiance to, regardless of what we look like or where we come from. We’re fighting on the same team for the same values and the same ideals.

So thank you for your patriotism, Nelson. (Applause.)

And that’s one of the things that makes America exceptional, and what makes our military the absolute best in the world. It’s not just your training, or your equipment, or your technology — although all that’s important. What makes us special, what makes us the best is all of you. It’s your character and your willingness to say, “Send me.” Your dedication to duty, and your courage, and your readiness to defend our values and our ideals of freedom and liberty — not just for us, but for people all around the world.

You are the backbone of the greatest nation on Earth — and you always will be that. And for that, America is eternally grateful, and I am incredibly proud to serve as your Commander-in-Chief.

So, happy holidays, everybody. (Applause.) God bless you. God bless your families. God bless our Armed Forces. God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)

END
3:13 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 13, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Giving Thanks for Our Troops — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Giving Thanks for Our Troops

Source: WH, 12-13-14

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 13, 2014

Hi, everybody. It’s the holidays—a season to give thanks for our many blessings. The love of family. The joy of good friends. The bonds of community. The freedom we cherish as Americans. The peace and justice we seek in the world.

As we go about our days, as we gather with loved ones and friends, it’s important to remember: our way of life—the freedom, prosperity and security that we enjoy as Americans—is not a gift that is simply handed to us. It has to be earned—by every generation. And no one sacrifices more to preserve our blessings than our extraordinary men and women in uniform.

That’s why, on Monday, I’ll be visiting our troops at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey—to salute them for their service and thank them for their sacrifices. Since our nation was attacked on 9/11, these men and women, like so many others in uniform, have met every mission we’ve asked of them. They deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. In more than a decade of war, this 9/11 Generation has worked with the Afghan people to help them reclaim their communities and prevent terrorist attacks against our own country.

Now, many of our troops are returning from Afghanistan, and on Monday, I’ll be proud to help welcome them home. That’s because, this month, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over. Our war in Afghanistan is coming to a responsible end.

Of course, the end of our combat mission in Afghanistan doesn’t mean the end of challenges to our security.We’ll continue to work with Afghans to make sure their country is stable and secure and is never again used to launch attacks against America. The troops I’ll visit on Monday have been part of our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL in Iraq and Syria. They’ve been supporting our efforts in West Africa to fight the Ebola epidemic and save lives. Because in times of crisis and challenge, the world turns to America for leadership. And when the world calls on America, we call on the brave men and women of our armed forces to do what no one else can.

So this holiday season, as we give thanks for the blessings in our own lives, let’s also give thanks to our men and women in uniform who make those blessings possible. Even as some are coming home for the holidays, many more will be far from their families, who sacrifice along with them.

There are so many ways we can express our gratitude to our troops, their families and our veterans—everyone can do something. To find out what you can do, just go to JoiningForces.gov. As a nation, as Americans, let’s always keep striving to serve them as well as they have always served us.

Thanks, have a great weekend, and God bless our troops and their families.

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