Full Text Obama Presidency February 19, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism | February 19, 2015

Source: WH, 2-19-15

State Department
Washington, D.C.

10:33 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, John.  Good morning, everyone.  I want to thank John Kerry, not only for his introduction, but for the outstanding leadership of American diplomacy.  John is tireless.  If he has not visited your country yet, he will soon.  And I want to thank you and everybody here at the State Department for organizing and hosting this ministerial today.

Mr. Secretary General, distinguished guests, we are joined by representatives from governments, because we all have a responsibility to ensure the security, the prosperity and the human rights of our citizens.  And we’re joined by leaders of civil society, including many faith leaders, because civil society — reflecting the views and the voices of citizens — is vital to the success of any country.  I thank all of you and I welcome all of you.

We come together from more than 60 countries from every continent.  We speak different languages, born of different races and ethnic groups, belong to different religions.  We are here today because we are united against the scourge of violent extremism and terrorism.

As we speak, ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq and engaging in unspeakable cruelty.  The wanton murder of children, the enslavement and rape of women, threatening religious minorities with genocide, beheading hostages.  ISIL-linked terrorists murdered Egyptians in the Sinai Peninsula, and their slaughter of Egyptian Christians in Libya has shocked the world.   Beyond the region, we’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

Elsewhere, Israelis have endured the tragedy of terrorism for decades.  Pakistan’s Taliban has mounted a long campaign of violence against the Pakistani people that now tragically includes the massacre of more than 100 schoolchildren and their teachers.  From Somalia, al-Shabaab terrorists have launched attacks across East Africa.  In Nigeria and neighboring countries, Boko Haram kills and kidnaps men, women and children.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate violent extremism.  And I challenged countries to come to the General Assembly this fall with concrete steps we can take together.  And I’m grateful for all of you for answering this call.

Yesterday at the White House, we welcomed community groups from the United States, and some from your countries, to focus on how we can empower communities to protect their families and friends and neighbors from violent ideologies and recruitment.  And over the coming months, many of your countries will host summits to build on the work here and to prepare for the General Assembly.  Today, I want to suggest some areas where I believe we can focus on as governments.

First, we must remain unwavering in our fight against terrorist organizations.  And in Afghanistan, our coalition is focused on training and assisting Afghan forces, and we’ll continue to conduct counterterrorism missions against the remnants of al Qaeda in the tribal regions.  When necessary, the United States will continue to take action against al Qaeda affiliates in places like Yemen and Somalia.  We will continue to work with partners to help them build up their security forces so that they can prevent ungoverned spaces where terrorists find safe haven, and so they can push back against groups like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram.

In Iraq and Syria, our coalition of some 60 nations, including Arab nations, will not relent in our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  And as a result of a separate ministerial here yesterday, many of our governments will be deepening our cooperation against foreign terrorist fighters by sharing more information and making it harder for fighters to travel to and from Syria and Iraq.

Related to this, and as I said at the United Nations last fall, nations need to break the cycles of conflict — especially sectarian conflict — that have become magnets for violent extremism.  In Syria, Assad’s war against his own people and deliberate stoking of sectarian tensions helped to fuel the rise of ISIL.  And in Iraq, with the failure of the previous government to govern in an inclusive manner, it helped to pave the way for ISIL’s gains there.

The Syrian civil war will only end when there is an inclusive political transition and a government that serves Syrians of all ethnicities and religions.  And across the region, the terror campaigns between Sunnis and Shia will only end when major powers address their differences through dialogue, and not through proxy wars.  So countering violent extremism begins with political, civic and religious leaders rejecting sectarian strife.

Second, we have to confront the warped ideologies espoused by terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL, especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.  I discussed this at length yesterday.  These terrorists are desperate for legitimacy.  And all of us have a responsibility to refute the notion that groups like ISIL somehow represent Islam, because that is a falsehood that embraces the terrorist narrative.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that groups like al Qaeda and ISIL are deliberately targeting their propaganda to Muslim communities, particularly Muslim youth.  And Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, therefore have a responsibility to push back, not just on twisted interpretations of Islam, but also on the lie that we are somehow engaged in a clash of civilizations; that America and the West are somehow at war with Islam or seek to suppress Muslims; or that we are the cause of every ill in the Middle East.

That narrative sometimes extends far beyond terrorist organizations.  That narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence.  And that hurts all of us, including Islam, and especially Muslims, who are the ones most likely to be killed.

Obviously, there is a complicated history between the Middle East, the West.  And none of us I think should be immune from criticism in terms of specific policies, but the notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie.  And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.

At the same time, former extremists have the opportunity to speak out, speak the truth about terrorist groups, and oftentimes they can be powerful messengers in debunking these terrorist ideologies.  One said, “This wasn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  Those voices have to be amplified.

And governments have a role to play.  At minimum, as a basic first step, countries have a responsibility to cut off funding that fuels hatred and corrupts young minds and endangers us all.  We need to do more to help lift up voices of tolerance and peace, especially online.

That’s why the United States is joining, for example, with the UAE to create a new digital communications hub to work with religious and civil society and community leaders to counter terrorist propaganda.  Within the U.S. government, our efforts will be led by our new coordinator of counterterrorism communications — and I’m grateful that my envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Rashad Hussain, has agreed to serve in this new role.  So the United States will do more to help counter hateful ideologies, and today I urge your nations to join us in this urgent work.

Third, we must address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  As I said yesterday, poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes someone to become a criminal.  There are millions, billions of people who are poor and are law-abiding and peaceful and tolerant, and are trying to advance their lives and the opportunities for their families.

But when people — especially young people — feel entirely trapped in impoverished communities, where there is no order and no path for advancement, where there are no educational opportunities, where there are no ways to support families, and no escape from injustice and the humiliations of corruption — that feeds instability and disorder, and makes those communities ripe for extremist recruitment.  And we have seen that across the Middle East and we’ve seen it across North Africa.  So if we’re serious about countering violent extremism, we have to get serious about confronting these economic grievances.

Here, at this summit, the United States will make new commitments to help young people, including in Muslim communities, to forge new collaborations in entrepreneurship and science and technology.  All our nations can reaffirm our commitment to broad-based development that creates growth and jobs, not just for the few at the top, but for the many.  We can step up our efforts against corruption, so a person can go about their day and an entrepreneur can start a business without having to pay a bribe.

And as we go forward, let’s commit to expanding education, including for girls.  Expanding opportunity, including for women.  Nations will not truly succeed without the contributions of their women.  This requires, by the way, wealthier countries to do more.  But it also requires countries that are emerging and developing to create structures of governance and transparency so that any assistance provided actually works and reaches people.  It’s a two-way street.

Fourth, we have to address the political grievances that terrorists exploit.  Again, there is not a single perfect causal link, but the link is undeniable.  When people are oppressed, and human rights are denied — particularly along sectarian lines or ethnic lines — when dissent is silenced, it feeds violent extremism.  It creates an environment that is ripe for terrorists to exploit.  When peaceful, democratic change is impossible, it feeds into the terrorist propaganda that violence is the only answer available.

And so we must recognize that lasting stability and real security require democracy.  That means free elections where people can choose their own future, and independent judiciaries that uphold the rule of law, and police and security forces that respect human rights, and free speech and freedom for civil society groups.  And it means freedom of religion — because when people are free to practice their faith as they choose, it helps hold diverse societies together.

And finally, we have to ensure that our diverse societies truly welcome and respect people of all faiths and backgrounds, and leaders set the tone on this issue.

Groups like al Qaeda and ISIL peddle the lie that some of our countries are hostile to Muslims.  Meanwhile, we’ve also seen, most recently in Europe, a rise in inexcusable acts of anti-Semitism, or in some cases, anti-Muslim sentiment or anti-immigrant sentiment.  When people spew hatred towards others — because of their faith or because they’re immigrants — it feeds into terrorist narratives.  If entire communities feel they can never become a full part of the society in which they reside, it feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey.  And we can’t allow cycles of suspicions to tear at the fabric of our countries.

So we all recognize the need for more dialogues across countries and cultures; those efforts are indeed important.  But what’s most needed today, perhaps, are more dialogues within countries — not just across faiths, but also within faiths.

Violent extremists and terrorists thrive when people of different religions or sects pull away from each other and are able to isolate each other and label them as “they” as opposed to “us;” something separate and apart.  So we need to build and bolster bridges of communication and trust.

Terrorists traffic in lies and stereotypes about others — other religions, other ethnic groups.  So let’s share the truth of our faiths with each other.  Terrorists prey upon young impressionable minds.  So let’s bring our youth together to promote understanding and cooperation.  That’s what the United States will do with our virtual exchange program — named after Ambassador Chris Stevens — to connect 1 million young people from America and the Middle East and North Africa for dialogue.  Young people are taught to hate.  It doesn’t come naturally to them.  We, adults, teach them.

I’d like to close by speaking very directly to a painful truth that’s part of the challenge that brings us here today.  In some of our countries, including the United States, Muslim communities are still small, relative to the entire population, and as a result, many people in our countries don’t always know personally of somebody who is Muslim.  So the image they get of Muslims or Islam is in the news.  And given the existing news cycle, that can give a very distorted impression.  A lot of the bad, like terrorists who claim to speak for Islam, that’s absorbed by the general population.  Not enough of the good — the more than 1 billion people around the world who do represent Islam, and are doctors and lawyers and teachers, and neighbors and friends.

So we have to remember these Muslim men and women — the young Palestinian working to build understanding and trust with Israelis, but also trying to give voice to her people’s aspirations.  The Muslim clerics working for peace with Christian pastors and priests in Nigeria and the Central African Republic to put an end to the cycle of hate.  Civil society leaders in Indonesia, one of the world’s largest democracies.  Parliamentarians in Tunisia working to build one of the world’s newest democracies.

Business leaders in India, with one of the world’s largest Muslim populations.  Entrepreneurs unleashing new innovations in places like Malaysia.  Health workers fighting to save lives from polio and from Ebola in West Africa.  And volunteers who go to disaster zones after a tsunami or after an earthquake to ease suffering and help families rebuild.  Muslims who have risked their lives as human shields to protect Coptic churches in Egypt and to protect Christians attending mass in Pakistan and who have tried to protect synagogues in Syria.

The world hears a lot about the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo in Paris, but the world has to also remember the Paris police officer, a Muslim, who died trying to stop them.  The world knows about the attack on the Jews at the kosher supermarket in Paris; we need to recall the worker at that market, a Muslim, who hid Jewish customers and saved their lives.  And when he was asked why he did it, he said, “We are brothers.  It’s not a question of Jews or Christians or Muslims.  We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help each other to get out of this crisis.”

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for being here today.  We come from different countries and different cultures and different faiths, but it is useful for us to take our wisdom from that humble worker who engaged in heroic acts under the most severe of circumstances.

We are all in the same boat.  We have to help each other.  In this work, you will have a strong partner in me and the United States of America.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
10:54 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Closing of the Summit on Countering Violent Extremism

Source: WH, 2-18-15 

South Court Auditorium

4:20 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat.

Well, thank you, Lisa, for the introduction.  Lisa is an example of the countless dedicated public servants across our government, a number of who are here today, who are working tirelessly every single day on behalf of the security and safety of the American people.  So we very much appreciate her.  And thanks to all of you for your attendance and participation in this important summit.

For more than 238 years, the United States of America has not just endured, but we have thrived and surmounted challenges that might have broken a lesser nation.  After a terrible civil war, we repaired our union.  We weathered a Great Depression, became the world’s most dynamic economy.  We fought fascism, liberated Europe.  We faced down communism — and won.  American communities have been destroyed by earthquakes and tornadoes and fires and floods — and each time we rebuild.

The bombing that killed 168 people could not break Oklahoma City.  On 9/11, terrorists tried to bring us to our knees; today a new tower soars above New York City, and America continues to lead throughout the world.  After Americans were killed at Fort Hood and the Boston Marathon, it didn’t divide us; we came together as one American family.

In the face of horrific acts of violence — at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, or at a Jewish community center outside Kansas City — we reaffirmed our commitment to pluralism and to freedom, repulsed by the notion that anyone should ever be targeted because of who they are, or what they look like, or how they worship.

Most recently, with the brutal murders in Chapel Hill of three young Muslim Americans, many Muslim Americans are worried and afraid.  And I want to be as clear as I can be:  As Americans, all faiths and backgrounds, we stand with you in your grief and we offer our love and we offer our support.

My point is this:  As Americans, we are strong and we are resilient.  And when tragedy strikes, when we take a hit, we pull together, and we draw on what’s best in our character — our optimism, our commitment to each other, our commitment to our values, our respect for one another.  We stand up, and we rebuild, and we recover, and we emerge stronger than before.  That’s who we are.  (Applause.)

And I say all this because we face genuine challenges to our security today, just as we have throughout our history.  Challenges to our security are not new.  They didn’t happen yesterday or a week ago or a year ago.  We’ve always faced challenges.  One of those challenges is the terrorist threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  But this isn’t our challenge alone.  It’s a challenge for the world.  ISIL is terrorizing the people of Syria and Iraq, beheads and burns human beings in unfathomable acts of cruelty.  We’ve seen deadly attacks in Ottawa and Sydney and, Paris, and now Copenhagen.

So, in the face of this challenge, we have marshalled the full force of the United States government, and we’re working with allies and partners to dismantle terrorist organizations and protect the American people.  Given the complexities of the challenge and the nature of the enemy — which is not a traditional army — this work takes time, and will require vigilance and resilience and perspective.  But I’m confident that, just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

And part of what gives me that confidence is the overwhelming response of the world community to the savagery of these terrorists — not just revulsion, but a concrete commitment to work together to vanquish these organizations.

At the United Nations in September, I called on the international community to come together and eradicate this scourge of violent extremism.  And I want to thank all of you — from across America and around the world — for answering this call.  Tomorrow at the State Department, governments and civil society groups from more than 60 countries will focus on the steps that we can take as governments.  And I’ll also speak about how our nations have to remain relentless in our fight — our counterterrorism efforts — against groups that are plotting against our counties.

But we are here today because of a very specific challenge  — and that’s countering violent extremism, something that is not just a matter of military affairs.  By “violent extremism,” we don’t just mean the terrorists who are killing innocent people.  We also mean the ideologies, the infrastructure of extremists –the propagandists, the recruiters, the funders who radicalize and recruit or incite people to violence.  We all know there is no one profile of a violent extremist or terrorist, so there’s no way to predict who will become radicalized.  Around the world, and here in the United States, inexcusable acts of violence have been committed against people of different faiths, by people of different faiths — which is, of course, a betrayal of all our faiths.  It’s not unique to one group, or to one geography, or one period of time.

But we are here at this summit because of the urgent threat from groups like al Qaeda and ISIL.  And this week we are focused on prevention — preventing these groups from radicalizing, recruiting or inspiring others to violence in the first place.  I’ve called upon governments to come to the United Nations this fall with concrete steps that we can take together.  And today, what I want to do is suggest several areas where I believe we can concentrate our efforts.

First, we have to confront squarely and honestly the twisted ideologies that these terrorist groups use to incite people to violence.  Leading up to this summit, there’s been a fair amount of debate in the press and among pundits about the words we use to describe and frame this challenge.  So I want to be very clear about how I see it.

Al Qaeda and ISIL and groups like it are desperate for legitimacy.  They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam.  That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the “Islamic State.”  And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.  That’s how they recruit.  That’s how they try to radicalize young people.  We must never accept the premise that they put forward, because it is a lie.  Nor should we grant these terrorists the religious legitimacy that they seek.  They are not religious leaders — they’re terrorists.  (Applause.)  And we are not at war with Islam.  We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.  (Applause.)

Now, just as those of us outside Muslim communities need to reject the terrorist narrative that the West and Islam are in conflict, or modern life and Islam are in conflict, I also believe that Muslim communities have a responsibility as well.  Al Qaeda and ISIL do draw, selectively, from the Islamic texts.  They do depend upon the misperception around the world that they speak in some fashion for people of the Muslim faith, that Islam is somehow inherently violent, that there is some sort of clash of civilizations.

Of course, the terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.  They no more represent Islam than any madman who kills innocents in the name of God represents Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism or Hinduism.  No religion is responsible for terrorism.  People are responsible for violence and terrorism.  (Applause.)

And to their credit, there are respected Muslim clerics and scholars not just here in the United States but around the world who push back on this twisted interpretation of their faith.  They want to make very clear what Islam stands for.  And we’re joined by some of these leaders today.  These religious leaders and scholars preach that Islam calls for peace and for justice, and tolerance toward others; that terrorism is prohibited; that the Koran says whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind.  Those are the voices that represent over a billion people around the world.

But if we are going to effectively isolate terrorists, if we’re going to address the challenge of their efforts to recruit our young people, if we’re going to lift up the voices of tolerance and pluralism within the Muslim community, then we’ve got to acknowledge that their job is made harder by a broader narrative that does exist in many Muslim communities around the world that suggests the West is at odds with Islam in some fashion.

The reality — which, again, many Muslim leaders have spoken to — is that there’s a strain of thought that doesn’t embrace ISIL’s tactics, doesn’t embrace violence, but does buy into the notion that the Muslim world has suffered historical grievances  — sometimes that’s accurate — does buy into the belief that so many of the ills in the Middle East flow from a history of colonialism or conspiracy; does buy into the idea that Islam is incompatible with modernity or tolerance, or that it’s been polluted by Western values.

So those beliefs exist.  In some communities around the world they are widespread.  And so it makes individuals — especially young people who already may be disaffected or alienated — more ripe for radicalization.  And so we’ve got to be able to talk honestly about those issues.  We’ve got to be much more clear about how we’re rejecting certain ideas.

So just as leaders like myself reject the notion that terrorists like ISIL genuinely represent Islam, Muslim leaders need to do more to discredit the notion that our nations are determined to suppress Islam, that there’s an inherent clash in civilizations.  Everybody has to speak up very clearly that no matter what the grievance, violence against innocents doesn’t defend Islam or Muslims, it damages Islam and Muslims.  (Applause.)

And when all of us, together, are doing our part to reject the narratives of violent extremists, when all of us are doing our part to be very clear about the fact that there are certain universal precepts and values that need to be respected in this interconnected world, that’s the beginnings of a partnership.

As we go forward, we need to find new ways to amplify the voices of peace and tolerance and inclusion — and we especially need to do it online.  We also need to lift up the voices of those who know the hypocrisy of groups like ISIL firsthand, including former extremists.  Their words speak to us today.  And I know in some of the discussions these voices have been raised: “I witnessed horrible crimes committed by ISIS.”  “It’s not a revolution or jihad…it’s a slaughter…I was shocked by what I did.”  “This isn’t what we came for, to kill other Muslims.”  “I’m 28 — is this the only future I’m able to imagine?”  That’s the voice of so many who were temporarily radicalized and then saw the truth.  And they’ve warned other young people not to make the same mistakes as they did.  “Do not run after illusions.”  “Do not be deceived.”  “Do not give up your life for nothing.”  We need to lift up those voices.

And in all this work, the greatest resource are communities themselves, especially like those young people who are here today.  We are joined by talented young men and women who are pioneering new innovations, and new social media tools, and new ways to reach young people.  We’re joined by leaders from the private sector, including high-tech companies, who want to support your efforts.  And I want to challenge all of us to build new partnerships that unleash the talents and creativity of young people — young Muslims — not just to expose the lies of extremists but to empower youth to service, and to lift up people’s lives here in America and around the world.  And that can be a calling for your generation.

So that’s the first challenge — we’ve got to discredit these ideologies.  We have to tackle them head on.  And we can’t shy away from these discussions.  And too often, folks are, understandably, sensitive about addressing some of these root issues, but we have to talk about them, honestly and clearly.  (Applause.)  And the reason I believe we have to do so is because I’m so confident that when the truth is out we’ll be successful.     Now, a second challenge is we do have to address the grievances that terrorists exploit, including economic grievances.  Poverty alone does not cause a person to become a terrorist, any more than poverty alone causes somebody to become a criminal.  There are millions of people — billions of people  — in the world who live in abject poverty and are focused on what they can do to build up their own lives, and never embrace violent ideologies.

Conversely, there are terrorists who’ve come from extraordinarily wealthy backgrounds, like Osama bin Laden.  What’s true, though, is that when millions of people — especially youth — are impoverished and have no hope for the future, when corruption inflicts daily humiliations on people, when there are no outlets by which people can express their concerns, resentments fester.  The risk of instability and extremism grow.  Where young people have no education, they are more vulnerable to conspiracy theories and radical ideas, because it’s not tested against anything else, they’ve got nothing to weigh.  And we’ve seen this across the Middle East and North Africa.

And terrorist groups are all too happy to step into a void. They offer salaries to their foot soldiers so they can support their families.  Sometimes they offer social services — schools, health clinics — to do what local governments cannot or will not do.  They try to justify their violence in the name of fighting the injustice of corruption that steals from the people — even while those terrorist groups end up committing even worse abuses, like kidnapping and human trafficking.

So if we’re going to prevent people from being susceptible to the false promises of extremism, then the international community has to offer something better.  And the United States intends to do its part.  We will keep promoting development and growth that is broadly shared, so more people can provide for their families.  We’ll keep leading a global effort against corruption, because the culture of the bribe has to be replaced by good governance that doesn’t favor certain groups over others.

Countries have to truly invest in the education and skills and job training that our extraordinary young people need.  And by the way, that’s boys and girls, and men and women, because countries will not be truly successful if half their populations — if their girls and their women are denied opportunity.  (Applause.)  And America will continue to forge new partnerships in entrepreneurship and innovation, and science and technology, so young people from Morocco to Malaysia can start new businesses and create more prosperity.

Just as we address economic grievances, we need to face a third challenge — and that’s addressing the political grievances that are exploited by terrorists.  When governments oppress their people, deny human rights, stifle dissent, or marginalize ethnic and religious groups, or favor certain religious groups over others, it sows the seeds of extremism and violence.  It makes those communities more vulnerable to recruitment.  Terrorist groups claim that change can only come through violence.  And if peaceful change is impossible, that plays into extremist propaganda.

So the essential ingredient to real and lasting stability and progress is not less democracy; it’s more democracy.  (Applause.)  It’s institutions that uphold the rule of law and apply justice equally.  It’s security forces and police that respect human rights and treat people with dignity.  It’s free speech and strong civil societies where people can organize and assemble and advocate for peaceful change.  It’s freedom of religion where all people can practice their faith without fear and intimidation.  (Applause.)  All of this is part of countering violent extremism.

Fourth, we have to recognize that our best partners in all these efforts, the best people to help protect individuals from falling victim to extremist ideologies are their own communities, their own family members.  We have to be honest with ourselves.  Terrorist groups like al Qaeda and ISIL deliberately target their propaganda in the hopes of reaching and brainwashing young Muslims, especially those who may be disillusioned or wrestling with their identity.  That’s the truth.  The high-quality videos, the online magazines, the use of social media, terrorist Twitter accounts — it’s all designed to target today’s young people online, in cyberspace.

And by the way, the older people here, as wise and respected as you may be, your stuff is often boring — (laughter) — compared to what they’re doing.  (Applause.)  You’re not connected.  And as a consequence, you are not connecting.

So these terrorists are a threat, first and foremost, to the communities that they target, which means communities have to take the lead in protecting themselves.  And that is true here in America, as it’s true anywhere else.  When someone starts getting radicalized, family and friends are often the first to see that something has changed in their personality.  Teachers may notice a student becoming withdrawn or struggling with his or her identity, and if they intervene at that moment and offer support, that may make a difference.

Faith leaders may notice that someone is beginning to espouse violent interpretations of religion, and that’s a moment for possible intervention that allows them to think about their actions and reflect on the meaning of their faith in a way that’s more consistent with peace and justice.  Families and friends, coworkers, neighbors, faith leaders — they want to reach out; they want to help save their loved ones and friends, and prevent them from taking a wrong turn.

But communities don’t always know the signs to look for, or have the tools to intervene, or know what works best.  And that’s where government can play a role — if government is serving as a trusted partner.  And that’s where we also need to be honest.  I know some Muslim Americans have concerns about working with government, particularly law enforcement.  And their reluctance is rooted in the objection to certain practices where Muslim Americans feel they’ve been unfairly targeted.

So, in our work, we have to make sure that abuses stop, are not repeated, that we do not stigmatize entire communities.  Nobody should be profiled or put under a cloud of suspicion simply because of their faith.  (Applause.)  Engagement with communities can’t be a cover for surveillance.  We can’t “securitize” our relationship with Muslim Americans — (applause) — dealing with them solely through the prism of law enforcement. Because when we do, that only reinforces suspicions, makes it harder for us to build the trust that we need to work together.

As part of this summit, we’re announcing that we’re going to increase our outreach to communities, including Muslim Americans. We’re going to step up our efforts to engage with partners and raise awareness so more communities understand how to protect their loved ones from becoming radicalized.  We’ve got to devote more resources to these efforts.  (Applause.)

And as government does more, communities are going to have to step up as well.  We need to build on the pilot programs that have been discussed at this summit already — in Los Angeles, in Minneapolis, in Boston.  These are partnerships that bring people together in a spirit of mutual respect and create more dialogue and more trust and more cooperation.  If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient.  (Applause.)

And finally, we need to do what extremists and terrorists hope we will not do, and that is stay true to the values that define us as free and diverse societies.  If extremists are peddling the notion that Western countries are hostile to Muslims, then we need to show that we welcome people of all faiths.

Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.  (Applause.)  Generations of Muslim immigrants came here and went to work as farmers and merchants and factory workers, helped to lay railroads and build up America.  The first Islamic center in New York City was founded in the 1890s.  America’s first mosque — this was an interesting fact — was in North Dakota.  (Laughter.)

Muslim Americans protect our communities as police officers and firefighters and first responders, and protect our nation by serving in uniform, and in our intelligence communities, and in homeland security.  And in cemeteries across our country, including at Arlington, Muslim American heroes rest in peace having given their lives in defense of all of us.  (Applause.)

And of course that’s the story extremists and terrorists don’t want the world to know — Muslims succeeding and thriving in America.  Because when that truth is known, it exposes their propaganda as the lie that it is.  It’s also a story that every American must never forget, because it reminds us all that hatred and bigotry and prejudice have no place in our country.  It’s not just counterproductive; it doesn’t just aid terrorists; it’s wrong.  It’s contrary to who we are.

I’m thinking of a little girl named Sabrina who last month sent me a Valentine’s Day card in the shape of a heart.  It was the first Valentine I got.  (Laughter.)  I got it from Sabrina before Malia and Sasha and Michelle gave me one.  (Laughter.)  So she’s 11 years old.  She’s in the 5th grade.  She’s a young Muslim American.  And she said in her Valentine, “I enjoy being an American.”  And when she grows up, she wants to be an engineer — or a basketball player.  (Laughter.)  Which are good choices. (Laughter.)  But she wrote, “I am worried about people hating Muslims…If some Muslims do bad things, that doesn’t mean all of them do.”  And she asked, “Please tell everyone that we are good people and we’re just like everyone else.”  (Applause.)  Now, those are the words — and the wisdom — of a little girl growing up here in America, just like my daughters are growing up here in America.  “We’re just like everybody else.”  And everybody needs to remember that during the course of this debate.

As we move forward with these challenges, we all have responsibilities, we all have hard work ahead of us on this issue.  We can’t paper over problems, and we’re not going to solve this if we’re always just trying to be politically correct. But we do have to remember that 11-year-old girl.  That’s our hope.  That’s our future.  That’s how we discredit violent ideologies, by making sure her voice is lifted up; making sure she’s nurtured; making sure that she’s supported — and then, recognizing there are little girls and boys like that all around the world, and us helping to address economic and political grievances that can be exploited by extremists, and empowering local communities, and us staying true to our values as a diverse and tolerant society even when we’re threatened — especially when we’re threatened.

There will be a military component to this.  There are savage cruelties going on out there that have to be stopped.  ISIL is killing Muslims at a rate that is many multiples the rate that they’re killing non-Muslims.  Everybody has a stake in stopping them, and there will be an element of us just stopping them in their tracks with force.  But to eliminate the soil out of which they grew, to make sure that we are giving a brighter future to everyone and a lasting sense of security, then we’re going to have to make it clear to all of our children — including that little girl in 5th grade — that you have a place. You have a place here in America.  You have a place in those countries where you live.  You have a future.

Ultimately, those are the antidotes to violent extremism.  And that’s work that we’re going to have to do together.  It will take time.  This is a generational challenge.  But after 238 years, it should be obvious — America has overcome much bigger challenges, and we’ll overcome the ones that we face today.  We will stay united and committed to the ideals that have shaped us for more than two centuries, including the opportunity and justice and dignity of every single human being.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
4:54 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 11, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Requesting to Congress for Authorization of Force Against ISIS

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on Request to Congress for Authorization of Force Against ISIL

Source: WH,  2-11-15

Roosevelt Room
3:37 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon.  Today, as part of an international coalition of some 60 nations — including Arab countries — our men and women in uniform continue the fight against ISIL in Iraq and in Syria.
More than 2,000 coalition airstrikes have pounded these terrorists.  We’re disrupting their command and control and supply lines, making it harder for them to move.  We’re destroying their fighting positions, their tanks, their vehicles, their barracks, their training camps, and the oil and gas facilities and infrastructure that fund their operations.  We’re taking out their commanders, their fighters, and their leaders.
In Iraq, local forces have largely held the line and in some places have pushed ISIL back.  In Syria, ISIL failed in its major push to take the town of Kobani, losing countless fighters in the process — fighters who will never again threaten innocent civilians.  And we’ve seen reports of sinking morale among ISIL fighters as they realize the futility of their cause.
Now, make no mistake — this is a difficult mission, and it will remain difficult for some time.  It’s going to take time to dislodge these terrorists, especially from urban areas.  But our coalition is on the offensive, ISIL is on the defensive, and ISIL is going to lose.  Its barbaric murders of so many people, including American hostages, are a desperate and revolting attempt to strike fear in the hearts of people it can never possibly win over by its ideas or its ideology — because it offers nothing but misery and death and destruction.  And with vile groups like this, there is only one option:  With our allies and partners, we are going to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.
And when I announced our strategy against ISIL in September, I said that we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.  Today, my administration submitted a draft resolution to Congress to authorize the use of force against ISIL.  I want to be very clear about what it does and what it does not do.
This resolution reflects our core objective to destroy ISIL.  It supports the comprehensive strategy that we have been pursuing with our allies and partners:  A systemic and sustained campaign of airstrikes against ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  Support and training for local forces on the ground, including the moderate Syrian opposition.  Preventing ISIL attacks, in the region and beyond, including by foreign terrorist fighters who try to threaten our countries.  Regional and international support for an inclusive Iraqi government that unites the Iraqi people and strengthens Iraqi forces against ISIL.  Humanitarian assistance for the innocent civilians of Iraq and Syria, who are suffering so terribly under ISIL’s reign of horror.
I want to thank Vice President Biden, Secretaries Kerry and Hagel, and General Marty Dempsey for their leadership in advancing our strategy.  Even as we meet this challenge in Iraq and Syria, we all agree that one of our weapons against terrorists like ISIL — a critical part of our strategy — is the values we live here at home.  One of the best antidotes to the hateful ideologies that try to recruit and radicalize people to violent extremism is our own example as diverse and tolerant societies that welcome the contributions of all people, including people of all faiths.
The resolution we’ve submitted today does not call for the deployment of U.S. ground combat forces to Iraq or Syria.  It is not the authorization of another ground war, like Afghanistan or Iraq.  The 2,600 American troops in Iraq today largely serve on bases — and, yes, they face the risks that come with service in any dangerous environment.  But they do not have a combat mission.  They are focused on training Iraqi forces, including Kurdish forces.
As I’ve said before, I’m convinced that the United States should not get dragged back into another prolonged ground war in the Middle East.  That’s not in our national security interest and it’s not necessary for us to defeat ISIL.  Local forces on the ground who know their countries best are best positioned to take the ground fight to ISIL — and that’s what they’re doing.
At the same time, this resolution strikes the necessary balance by giving us the flexibility we need for unforeseen circumstances.  For example, if we had actionable intelligence about a gathering of ISIL leaders, and our partners didn’t have the capacity to get them, I would be prepared to order our Special Forces to take action, because I will not allow these terrorists to have a safe haven.  So we need flexibility, but we also have to be careful and deliberate.  And there is no heavier decision than asking our men and women in uniform to risk their lives on our behalf.  As Commander in Chief, I will only send our troops into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary for our national security.
Finally, this resolution repeals the 2002 authorization of force for the invasion of Iraq and limits this new authorization to three years.  I do not believe America’s interests are served by endless war, or by remaining on a perpetual war footing.  As a nation, we need to ask the difficult and necessary questions about when, why and how we use military force.  After all, it is our troops who bear the costs of our decisions, and we owe them a clear strategy and the support they need to get the job done.  So this resolution will give our armed forces and our coalition the continuity we need for the next three years.
It is not a timetable.  It is not announcing that the mission is completed at any given period.  What it is saying is that Congress should revisit the issue at the beginning of the next President’s term.  It’s conceivable that the mission is completed earlier.  It’s conceivable that after deliberation, debate and evaluation, that there are additional tasks to be carried out in this area.  And the people’s representatives, with a new President, should be able to have that discussion.
In closing, I want to say that in crafting this resolution we have consulted with, and listened to, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  We have made a sincere effort to address difficult issues that we’ve discussed together.  In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll continue to work closely with leaders and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.  I believe this resolution can grow even stronger with the thoughtful and dignified debate that this moment demands.  I’m optimistic that it can win strong bipartisan support, and that we can show our troops and the world that Americans are united in this mission.
Today, our men and women in uniform continue the fight against ISIL, and we salute them for their courageous service.  We pray for their safety.  We stand with their families who miss them and who are sacrificing here at home.  But know this:  Our coalition is strong, our cause is just, and our mission will succeed.  And long after the terrorists we face today are destroyed and forgotten, America will continue to stand free and tall and strong.
May God bless our troops, and may God bless the United States of America.  Thank you very much, everybody.
END
3:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 5, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at National Prayer Breakfast

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast

Source: WH,  2-5-15

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:13 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Well, good morning.  Giving all praise and honor to God.  It is wonderful to be back with you here.  I want to thank our co-chairs, Bob and Roger.  These two don’t always agree in the Senate, but in coming together and uniting us all in prayer, they embody the spirit of our gathering today.

I also want to thank everybody who helped organize this breakfast.  It’s wonderful to see so many friends and faith leaders and dignitaries.  And Michelle and I are truly honored to be joining you here today.

I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama — who is a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion, who inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings.  (Applause.)  I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today.  (Applause.)

There aren’t that many occasions that bring His Holiness under the same roof as NASCAR.  (Laughter.)  This may be the first.  (Laughter.)  But God works in mysterious ways.  (Laughter.)   And so I want to thank Darrell for that wonderful presentation.  Darrell knows that when you’re going 200 miles an hour, a little prayer cannot hurt.  (Laughter.)  I suspect that more than once, Darrell has had the same thought as many of us have in our own lives — Jesus, take the wheel.  (Laughter.) Although I hope that you kept your hands on the wheel when you were thinking that.  (Laughter.)

He and I obviously share something in having married up.  And we are so grateful to Stevie for the incredible work that they’ve done together to build a ministry where the fastest drivers can slow down a little bit, and spend some time in prayer and reflection and thanks.  And we certainly want to wish Darrell a happy birthday.  (Applause.)  Happy birthday.

I will note, though, Darrell, when you were reading that list of things folks were saying about you, I was thinking, well, you’re a piker.  I mean, that — (laughter.)  I mean, if you really want a list, come talk to me.  (Laughter.)  Because that ain’t nothing.  (Laughter.)  That’s the best they can do in NASCAR?  (Laughter.)

Slowing down and pausing for fellowship and prayer — that’s what this breakfast is about.  I think it’s fair to say Washington moves a lot slower than NASCAR.  Certainly my agenda does sometimes.  (Laughter.)  But still, it’s easier to get caught up in the rush of our lives, and in the political back-and-forth that can take over this city.  We get sidetracked with distractions, large and small.  We can’t go 10 minutes without checking our smartphones — and for my staff, that’s every 10 seconds.  And so for 63 years, this prayer tradition has brought us together, giving us the opportunity to come together in humility before the Almighty and to be reminded of what it is that we share as children of God.

And certainly for me, this is always a chance to reflect on my own faith journey.  Many times as President, I’ve been reminded of a line of prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt was fond of. She said, “Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.”  Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength.  I’ve wondered at times if maybe God was answering that prayer a little too literally.  But no matter the challenge, He has been there for all of us.  He’s certainly strengthened me “with the power through his Spirit,” as I’ve sought His guidance not just in my own life but in the life of our nation.

Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges — certainly over the last six years.  But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.

As we speak, around the world, we see faith inspiring people to lift up one another — to feed the hungry and care for the poor, and comfort the afflicted and make peace where there is strife.  We heard the good work that Sister has done in Philadelphia, and the incredible work that Dr. Brantly and his colleagues have done.  We see faith driving us to do right.

But we also see faith being twisted and distorted, used as a wedge — or, worse, sometimes used as a weapon.  From a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris, we have seen violence and terror perpetrated by those who profess to stand up for faith, their faith, professed to stand up for Islam, but, in fact, are betraying it.  We see ISIL, a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism  — terrorizing religious minorities like the Yezidis, subjecting women to rape as a weapon of war, and claiming the mantle of religious authority for such actions.

We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.

So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities — the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?

Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history.  And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.  In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.  Michelle and I returned from India — an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity — but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs — acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.

So this is not unique to one group or one religion.  There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.  In today’s world, when hate groups have their own Twitter accounts and bigotry can fester in hidden places in cyberspace, it can be even harder to counteract such intolerance. But God compels us to try.  And in this mission, I believe there are a few principles that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe.

And, first, we should start with some basic humility.  I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt — not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments.  And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process.  And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty.  No God condones terror.  No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.

And so, as people of faith, we are summoned to push back against those who try to distort our religion — any religion — for their own nihilistic ends.  And here at home and around the world, we will constantly reaffirm that fundamental freedom — freedom of religion — the right to practice our faith how we choose, to change our faith if we choose, to practice no faith at all if we choose, and to do so free of persecution and fear and discrimination.

There’s wisdom in our founders writing in those documents that help found this nation the notion of freedom of religion, because they understood the need for humility.  They also understood the need to uphold freedom of speech, that there was a connection between freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  For to infringe on one right under the pretext of protecting another is a betrayal of both.

But part of humility is also recognizing in modern, complicated, diverse societies, the functioning of these rights, the concern for the protection of these rights calls for each of us to exercise civility and restraint and judgment.  And if, in fact, we defend the legal right of a person to insult another’s religion, we’re equally obligated to use our free speech to condemn such insults — (applause) — and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with religious communities, particularly religious minorities who are the targets of such attacks.  Just because you have the right to say something doesn’t mean the rest of us shouldn’t question those who would insult others in the name of free speech.  Because we know that our nations are stronger when people of all faiths feel that they are welcome, that they, too, are full and equal members of our countries.

So humility I think is needed.  And the second thing we need is to uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments.  Between church and between state.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in the world — far more religious than most Western developed countries.  And one of the reasons is that our founders wisely embraced the separation of church and state.  Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all.  And the result is a culture where people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly worship, without fear, or coercion — so that when you listen to Darrell talk about his faith journey you know it’s real.  You know he’s not saying it because it helps him advance, or because somebody told him to.  It’s from the heart.

That’s not the case in theocracies that restrict people’s choice of faith.  It’s not the case in authoritarian governments that elevate an individual leader or a political party above the people, or in some cases, above the concept of God Himself.  So the freedom of religion is a value we will continue to protect here at home and stand up for around the world, and is one that we guard vigilantly here in the United States.

Last year, we joined together to pray for the release of Christian missionary Kenneth Bae, held in North Korea for two years.  And today, we give thanks that Kenneth is finally back where he belongs — home, with his family.  (Applause.)

Last year, we prayed together for Pastor Saeed Abedini, detained in Iran since 2012.  And I was recently in Boise, Idaho, and had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Abedini’s beautiful wife and wonderful children and to convey to them that our country has not forgotten brother Saeed and that we’re doing everything we can to bring him home.  (Applause.)  And then, I received an extraordinary letter from Pastor Abedini.  And in it, he describes his captivity, and expressed his gratitude for my visit with his family, and thanked us all for standing in solidarity with him during his captivity.

And Pastor Abedini wrote, “Nothing is more valuable to the Body of Christ than to see how the Lord is in control, and moves ahead of countries and leadership through united prayer.”  And he closed his letter by describing himself as “prisoner for Christ, who is proud to be part of this great nation of the United States of America that cares for religious freedom around the world.”  (Applause.)

We’re going to keep up this work — for Pastor Abedini and all those around the world who are unjustly held or persecuted because of their faith.   And we’re grateful to our new Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, Rabbi David Saperstein — who has hit the ground running, and is heading to Iraq in a few days to help religious communities there address some of those challenges.  Where’s David?  I know he’s here somewhere.  Thank you, David, for the great work you’re doing.  (Applause.)

Humility; a suspicion of government getting between us and our faiths, or trying to dictate our faiths, or elevate one faith over another.  And, finally, let’s remember that if there is one law that we can all be most certain of that seems to bind people of all faiths, and people who are still finding their way towards faith but have a sense of ethics and morality in them — that one law, that Golden Rule that we should treat one another as we wish to be treated.  The Torah says “Love thy neighbor as yourself.”  In Islam, there is a Hadith that states: “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.”  The Holy Bible tells us to “put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Put on love.

Whatever our beliefs, whatever our traditions, we must seek to be instruments of peace, and bringing light where there is darkness, and sowing love where there is hatred.  And this is the loving message of His Holiness, Pope Francis.  And like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering, and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable; to walk with The Lord and ask “Who am I to judge?”  He challenges us to press on in what he calls our “march of living hope.”  And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.  (Applause.)

His Holiness expresses that basic law:  Treat thy neighbor as yourself.  The Dalai Lama — anybody who’s had an opportunity to be with him senses that same spirit.  Kent Brantly expresses that same spirit.  Kent was with Samaritan’s Purse, treating Ebola patients in Liberia, when he contracted the virus himself. And with world-class medical care and a deep reliance on faith — with God’s help, Kent survived.  (Applause.)

And then by donating his plasma, he helped others survive as well.  And he continues to advocate for a global response in West Africa, reminding us that “our efforts needs to be on loving the people there.”  And I could not have been prouder to welcome Kent and his wonderful wife Amber to the Oval Office.  We are blessed to have him here today — because he reminds us of what it means to really “love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Not just words, but deeds.

Each of us has a role in fulfilling our common, greater purpose — not merely to seek high position, but to plumb greater depths so that we may find the strength to love more fully.  And this is perhaps our greatest challenge — to see our own reflection in each other; to be our brother’s keepers and sister’s keepers, and to keep faith with one another.  As children of God, let’s make that our work, together.

As children of God, let’s work to end injustice — injustice of poverty and hunger.  No one should ever suffer from such want amidst such plenty.  As children of God, let’s work to eliminate the scourge of homelessness, because, as Sister Mary says, “None of us are home until all of us are home.”  None of us are home until all of us are home.

As children of God, let’s stand up for the dignity and value of every woman, and man, and child, because we are all equal in His eyes, and work to send the scourge and the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking, and “set the oppressed free.”  (Applause.)

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose.  We can never fully fathom His amazing grace.  “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love.  But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required:  To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will.  And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

May the Lord bless you and keep you, and may He bless this precious country that we love.

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

END
9:37 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 4, 2015: President Barack Obama Remarks in Meeting with DREAMers

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Meeting with DREAMers

Source: WH,  2-4-15

Oval Office

11:47 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ve just had a chance to meet with these six wonderful young people who represent the very best that this country has to offer.  And what sets them apart is that they all came here, were brought here by their parents, and up until recently have had a very difficult situation because of their immigration status.

The stories you hear from these young people are parents who aspired for a better life for their children; these folks coming here at the age of four months, or seven months, or 9-year-olds or 10-year-olds, oftentimes not realizing that their status was any different than their classmates and their friends and their neighbors.  In some cases, they didn’t discover until they were about to go to college that there was a difference that might prevent them from giving back to their community and their country.

And because of the executive actions that we took with respect to DREAM Act kids, and because of the executive actions that I announced late last year with respect to many of their parents, what I’ve heard is life is transformed.  Young people who didn’t think it would be possible for themselves to go to college suddenly are going to college.  Young people who didn’t think that it might be possible to start a business suddenly find themselves in a position to look at starting a business.  Young people who have memories of their mothers weeping because they couldn’t go to the funeral of their parent now have seen the prospect, the hope, that their lives can stabilize and normalize in some way.

I don’t think there’s anybody in America who’s had a chance to talk to these six young people who or the young DREAMers all across the country who wouldn’t find it in their heart to say these kids are Americans just like us and they belong here and we want to do right by them.

And so often in this immigration debate it’s an abstraction and we don’t really think about the human consequences of our positions.  And part of the reason that I wanted to hear from these young people today, and part of the reason why I’ve heard from young DREAMers in the past is because it’s a constant reminder to me of why this is important.

Now, the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would have these six young people deported.  I think that’s wrong.  And I think most Americans would think it was wrong if they had a chance to meet these young people.  And legislation is going to be going to the Senate that, again, tries to block these executive actions.  I want to be as clear as possible:  I will veto any legislation that got to my desk that took away the chance of these young people who grew up here and who are prepared to contribute to this country that would prevent them from doing so.  And I am confident that I can uphold that veto.

So as we move forward in this debate over the next several months, the next year, the next year and a half, I would call on members of Congress to think about all the talent that is already in this country, that is already working in many cases, is already making contributions — in some cases, are joining up in our military, or are already starting businesses, are already attending school — and let’s be true to our tradition as a nation of immigrants and as a nation of laws.

My strong preference is going to be to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  And I know that there are Republicans out there who want to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  In the Senate, they’ve shown that they are prepared to do the right thing.  And rather than continue trying to go back to a system that everybody acknowledges was broken, let’s move forward with the incredible promise that these young people represent.

The last point I’ll make:  There have been suggestions that we will not fund the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for patrolling our borders, as well as keeping our air travel safe, as well as patrolling our coasts — there’s been talk about not funding that department because of the disagreement around immigration reform.  There’s no logic to that position.  Particularly for Republicans who claim that they are interested in strong border security, why would you cut off your nose to spite your face by defunding the very operations that are involved in making sure that we’ve got strong border security, particularly at a time when we’ve got real concerns about countering terrorism?

So my strong suggestion would be that Congress go ahead, fund the Department of Homeland Security.  We’re doing a tremendous amount of work at the borders.  The concerns that people had about unaccompanied children tragically traveling from Central America, that spike has now diminished.  We are below the levels that we were two years ago.  We are working diligently with the Central American countries to make sure that young people there have hope and that their parents are getting a clear message of not sending them on this extraordinarily dangerous journey.

Let’s make sure the Department of Homeland Security is properly funded, we’re doing the right things at the borders, we’re doing the right things with respect to our airports.  And then let’s get back to first principles; and remind ourselves that each of these young people here are going to be doing incredible things on behalf of this country.

And to all the DREAMers who are out there and all those who qualify for my executive action moving forward, I want you to know that I am confident in my ability to implement this program over the next two years, and I’m confident that the next President and the next Congress and the American people will ultimately recognize why this is the right thing to do.  So I’m going to want all of you to get information so you can sign up if you qualify as well.  All right?

Thank you very much, everybody.  And thank you, guys, for sharing your incredible stories.

END
11:56 A.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency February 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s 2016 Budget – PDF

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s 2016 Budget

Source: WH, 2-2-15

Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2016 contains the Budget Message of the President, information on the President’s priorities, budget overviews organized by agency, and summary tables.

To download “Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2016″ as a single PDF click here (150 pages, 2.3 MB)

Document

Size

File Format

Descriptions of The Budget Documents and General Notes 75 K PDF
The Budget Message of the President 44 K PDF
Building on a Record of Economic Growth and Progress 110 K PDF
Investing in America’s Future 396 K PDF
A Government of the Future 130 K PDF
Cuts, Consolidations, and Savings 132 K PDF
Summary Tables 1366 K PDF

 

Full Text Obama Presidency February 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech Unveiling the FY2016 Budget

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President on the FY2016 Budget

Source: WH, 2-2-15

Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C.

11:27 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Please, have a seat.  Well, good morning, everybody.   It is good to be here at the Department of Homeland Security.  And let me thank Jeh Johnson not only for the outstanding job that’s he’s doing as Secretary of DHS, but also for a short introduction.  I like short introductions.  (Laughter.)  Give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

This is a great way to start the week, because I get to do something I enjoy doing, which is saying thank you.  Nobody works harder to keep America safe than the people who are gathered here today.  And you don’t get a lot of attention for it — that’s the nature of the job.  But I know how vital you are, and I want to make that sure more Americans know how vital you are.  Because against just about every threat that we face — from terrorist networks to microscopic viruses to cyber-attacks to weather disasters — you guys are there.  You protect us from threats at home and abroad, by air and land and sea.  You safeguard our ports, you patrol our borders.  You inspect our chemical plants, screen travelers for Ebola, shield our computer networks, and help hunt down criminals around the world.  You have a busy agenda, a full plate.  And here at home, you are ready to respond to any emergency at a moment’s notice.

It is simply extraordinary how much the Department of Homeland Security does every single day to keep our nation, our people safe.  It’s a critical job, and you get it done without a lot of fanfare.  And I want to make sure that you have what you need to keep getting the job done.  Every American has an interest in making sure that the Department of Homeland Security has what it needs to achieve its mission — because we are reliant on that mission every single day.

Now, today, I’m sending Congress a budget that will make sure you’ve got what you need to achieve your mission.  It gives you the resources you need to carry out your mission in a way that is smart and strategic, and makes the most of every dollar.  It’s also a broader blueprint for America’s success in this new global economy.  Because after a breakthrough year for America — at a time when our economy is growing and our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s, and wages are starting to rise again — we’ve got some fundamental choices to make about the kind of country we want to be.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?  Or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?

And that was the focus of my State of the Union Address a couple weeks ago — what I called middle-class economics.  The idea that this country does best when everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules.

The budget that Congress now has in its hands is built on those values.  It helps working families’ paychecks go farther by treating things like paid sick leave and childcare as the economic priorities that they are.  It gives Americans of every age the chance to upgrade their skills so they can earn higher wages, and it includes my plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students.  It lets us keep building the world’s most attractive economy for high-wage jobs, with new investments in research, and infrastructure and manufacturing, as well as expanded access to faster Internet and new markets for goods made in America.

It’s also a budget that recognizes that our economy flourishes when America is safe and secure.  So it invests in our IT networks, to protect them from malicious actors.  It supports our troops and strengthens our border security.  And it gives us the resources to confront global challenges, from ISIL to Russian aggression.

Now, since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.  I’m going to repeat that, as I always do when I mention this fact, because the public oftentimes, if you ask them, thinks that the deficit has shot up.  Since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.  That’s the fastest period of sustained deficit reduction since after the demobilization at the end of World War II.  So we can afford to make these investments while remaining fiscally responsible.  And, in fact, we cannot afford — we would be making a critical error if we avoided making these investments.  We can’t afford not to.  When the economy is doing well, we’re making investments when we’re growing.  That’s part of what keeps deficits low — because the economy is doing well.  So we’ve just got to be smarter about how we pay for our priorities, and that’s what my budget does.

At the end of 2013, I signed a bipartisan budget agreement that helped us end some of the arbitrary cuts known in Washington-speak as “sequestration.”  And folks here at DHS know a little too much about sequestration — (laughter) — because many of you have to deal with those cuts, and it made it a lot harder for you to do your jobs.

The 2013 agreement to reverse some of those cuts helped to boost our economic growth.  Part of the reason why we grew faster last year was we were no longer being burdened by mindless across-the-board cuts, and we were being more strategic about how we handled our federal budget.  And now we need to take the next step.  So my budget will end sequestration and fully reverse the cuts to domestic priorities in 2016.  And it will match the investments that were made domestically, dollar for dollar, with increases in our defense funding.

And just last week, top military officials told Congress that if Congress does nothing to stop sequestration, there could be serious consequences for our national security, at a time when our military is stretched on a whole range of issues.  And that’s why I want to work with Congress to replace mindless austerity with smart investments that strengthen America.  And we can do so in a way that is fiscally responsible.

I’m not going to accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward.  It would be bad for our security and bad for our growth.  I will not accept a budget that severs the vital link between our national security and our economic security.  I know there’s some on Capitol Hill who would say, well, we’d be willing to increase defense spending but we’re not going to increase investments in infrastructure, for example, or basic research.  Well, those two things go hand in hand.  If we don’t have a vital infrastructure, if we don’t have broadband lines across the country, if we don’t have a smart grid, all that makes us more vulnerable.  America can’t afford being shortsighted, and I’m not going to allow it.

The budget I’ve sent to Congress today is fully paid for, through a combination of smart spending cuts and tax reforms.  Let me give you an example.  Right now, our tax code is full of loopholes for special interests — like the trust fund loophole that allows the wealthiest Americans to avoid paying taxes on their unearned income.  I think we should fix that and use the savings to cut taxes for middle-class families.  That would be good for our economy.

Now, I know there are Republicans who disagree with my approach.  And I’ve said this before:  If they have other ideas for how we can keep America safe, grow our economy, while helping middle-class families feel some sense of economic security, I welcome their ideas.  But their numbers have to add up.  And what we can’t do is play politics with folks’ economic security, or with our national security.  You, better than anybody, know what the stakes are.  The work you do hangs in the balance.

In just a few weeks from now, funding for Homeland Security will run out.  That’s not because of anything this department did, it’s because the Republicans in Congress who funded everything in government through September, except for this department.  And they’re now threatening to let Homeland Security funding expire because of their disagreeing with my actions to make our immigration system smarter, fairer and safer.

Now let’s be clear, I think we can have a reasonable debate about immigration.  I’m confident that what we’re doing is the right thing and the lawful thing.  I understand they may have some disagreements with me on that, although I should note that a large majority — or a large percentage of Republicans agree that we need comprehensive immigration reform, and we’re prepared to act in the Senate and should have acted in the House.  But if they don’t agree with me, that’s fine, that’s how our democracy works.  You may have noticed they usually don’t agree with me.  But don’t jeopardize our national security over this disagreement.

As one Republican put it, if they let your funding run out, “it’s not the end of the world.”  That’s what they said.  Well, I guess literally that’s true; it may not be the end of the world.  But until they pass a funding bill, it is the end of a paycheck for tens of thousands of frontline workers who will continue to get — to have to work without getting paid.  Over 40,000 Border Patrol and Customs agents.  Over 50,000 airport screeners.  Over 13,000 immigration officers.  Over 40,000 men and women in the Coast Guard.  These Americans aren’t just working to keep us safe, they have to take care of their own families.  The notion that they would get caught up in a disagreement around policy that has nothing to do with them makes no sense.

And if Republicans let Homeland Security funding expire, it’s the end to any new initiatives in the event that a new threat emerges.  It’s the end of grants to states and cities that improve local law enforcement and keep our communities safe.  The men and women of America’s homeland security apparatus do important work to protect us, and Republicans and Democrats in Congress should not be playing politics with that.

We need to fund the department, pure and simple.  We’ve got to put politics aside, pass a budget that funds our national security priorities at home and abroad, and gives middle-class families the security they need to get ahead in the new economy.  This is one of our most basic and most important responsibilities as a government.  So I’m calling on Congress to get this done.

Every day, we count on people like you to keep America secure.  And you are counting on us as well to uphold our end of the bargain.  You’re counting on us to make sure that you’ve got the resources to do your jobs safely and efficiently, and that you’re able to look after your families while you are out there working really hard to keep us safe.

We ask a lot of you.  The least we can do is have your backs.  That’s what I’m going to keep on doing for as long as I have the honor of serving as your President.  I have your back.  And I’m going to keep on fighting to make sure that you get the resources you deserve.  I’m going to keep fighting to make sure that every American has the chance not just to share in America’s success but to contribute to America’s success.  That’s what this budget is about.

It reflects our values in making sure that we are making the investments we need to keep America safe, to keep America growing, and to make sure that everybody is participating no matter what they look like, where they come from, no matter how they started in life, they’ve got a chance to get ahead in this great country of ours.  That’s what I believe.  That’s what you believe.  (Applause.)  Let’s get it done.

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

END
11:43 A.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 30, 2015: Mitt Romney’s Statement Announcing He is Not Running for President in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

The Romney Statement: Not Running. “I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.”

Source: Hugh Hewitt, Jan. 30, 2015

Let me begin by letting you know who else is on this call, besides Ann and me. There are a large number of people who signed on to be leaders of our 2016 finance effort. In addition, state political leadership from several of the early primary states are on the line. And here in New York City, and on the phone, are people who have been helping me think through how to build a new team, as well as supporters from the past who have all been kind enough to volunteer their time during this deliberation stage. Welcome, and thank you. Your loyalty and friendship, and your desire to see the country with new, competent and conservative leadership warms my heart.

After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee.

Let me give you some of my thinking. First, I am convinced that with the help of the people on this call, we could win the nomination. Our finance calls made it clear that we would have enough funding to be more than competitive. With few exceptions, our field political leadership is ready and enthusiastic about a new race. And the reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening. I know that early poll numbers move up and down a great deal during a campaign, but we would have no doubt started in a strong position. One poll out just today shows me gaining support and leading the next closest contender by nearly two to one. I also am leading in all of the four early states. So I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight.

I also believe with the message of making the world safer, providing opportunity to every American regardless of the neighborhood they live in, and working to break the grip of poverty, I would have the best chance of beating the eventual Democrat nominee, but that is before the other contenders have had the opportunity to take their message to the voters.
I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee. In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.

I feel that it is critical that America elect a conservative leader to become our next president. You know that I have wanted to be that president. But I do not want to make it more difficult for someone else to emerge who may have a better chance of becoming that president. You can’t imagine how hard it is for Ann and me to step aside, especially knowing of your support and the support of so many people across the country. But we believe it is for the best of the Party and the nation.

I’ve been asked, and will certainly be asked again if there are any circumstances whatsoever that might develop that could change my mind. That seems unlikely. Accordingly, I’m not organizing a PAC or taking donations; I’m not hiring a campaign team.

I encourage all of you on this call to stay engaged in the critical process of selecting a Republican nominee for President. Please feel free to sign up on a campaign for a person who you believe may become our best nominee.

I believe a Republican winning back the White House is essential for our country, and I will do whatever I can to make that happen.

To all my supporters, friends and family who worked both tirelessly and loyally to support my campaigns in the past, I will always be deeply appreciative. What you have already done is a tribute to your patriotism. We are overwhelmed and humbled by your loyalty to us, by your generosity of spirit, and by your friendship. God bless you all.

Political Musings January 21, 2015: Obama defiant in least viewed State of the Union Address in recent history

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Obama defiant in least viewed State of the Union Address in recent history

By Bonnie K. Goodman

The state of the State of the Union Address is not good; President Obama delivered the address to the smallest audience of viewers in recent history. Only 31.7 million Americans viewed the address on television; the State of…READ MORE

Full Text Political Transcripts January 20, 2015: Iowa Senator Joni Ernst Delivers Official GOP Republican State of the Union Response

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

GOP Responds to Obama’s State of the Union Address: Full Text

“Good evening.

“I’m Joni Ernst. As a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa, I am proud to speak with you tonight.

“A few moments ago, we heard the President lay out his vision for the year to come. Even if we may not always agree, it’s important to hear different points of view in this great country. We appreciate the President sharing his.

“Tonight though, rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

“We heard the message you sent in November — loud and clear. And now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.

“The new Republican Congress also understands how difficult these past six years have been. For many of us, the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction weren’t things we had to read about. We felt them every day.

“We felt them in Red Oak — the little town in southwestern Iowa where I grew up, and am still proud to call home today.

“As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees.

“We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning.
“You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.

“But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.

“Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have.

“These days though, many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.

“Not just in Red Oak, but across the country.

“We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.

“That’s why the new Republican majority you elected started by reforming Congress to make it function again. And now, we’re working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve.

“One you’ve probably heard about is the Keystone jobs bill. President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it. The President’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.

“We worked with Democrats to pass this bill through the House. We’re doing the same now in the Senate.

“President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?

“There’s a lot we can achieve if we work together.

“Let’s tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific. Let’s sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages, and jobs right here, at home.

“Let’s simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code. Republicans think tax filing should be easier for you, not just the well-connected. So let’s iron out loopholes to lower rates — and create jobs, not pay for more government spending.

“The President has already expressed some support for these kinds of ideas. We’re calling on him now to cooperate to pass them.

“You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress.

“Some of it will occur where I stand tonight, in the Armed Services Committee room. This is where I’ll join committee colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — to discuss ways to support our exceptional military and its mission. This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them.

“We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We’ve been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.

“For two decades, I’ve proudly worn our nation’s uniform: today, as a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. While deployed overseas with some of America’s finest men and women, I’ve seen just how dangerous these kinds of threats can be.

“The forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent. We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them.

“We must also honor America’s veterans. These men and women have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms, and our way of life. They deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and a quality of care we can be all be proud of.

“These are important issues the new Congress plans to address.

“We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families.

“We’ll work to correct executive overreach.

“We’ll propose ideas that aim to cut wasteful spending and balance the budget — with meaningful reforms, not higher taxes like the President has proposed.

“We’ll advance solutions to prevent the kind of cyberattacks we’ve seen recently.

“We’ll work to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“And we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.

“Congress is back to work on your behalf, ready to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

“We know America faces big challenges. But history has shown there’s nothing our nation, and our people, can’t accomplish.

“Just look at my parents and grandparents.

“They had very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands. But they worked, they sacrificed, and they dreamed big dreams for their children and grandchildren.

“And because they did, an ordinary Iowan like me has had some truly extraordinary opportunities — because they showed me that you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.

“The new Republican Congress you elected is working to make Washington understand that too. And with a little cooperation from the President, we can get Washington working again.

“Thank you for allowing me to speak with you tonight.

“May God bless this great country of ours, the brave Americans serving in uniform on our behalf, and you, the hardworking men and women who make the United States of America the greatest nation the world has ever known.”

Read On ABC News Radio: http://abcnewsradioonline.com/politics-news/gop-responds-to-obamas-state-of-the-union-address-full-text-1.html#ixzz3PW3xtGoc

Full Text Obama Presidency January 20, 2015: President Barack Obama’s 2015 State of the Union Address — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery State of the Union Address

Source: WH, 1-20-15

The White House is making the full text of the State of the Union widely available on its Medium page. The text, as prepared for delivery, is now online HERE, along with tools that allow people to follow along with the speech as they watch in real time, to view charts and infographics on key areas, to tweet their favorite lines, and to leave notes to provide feedback.

The full text of the State of the Union Address, as prepared for delivery, is posted now on Medium and can be viewed here: http://go.wh.gov/SOTUMedium

There is a ritual on State of the Union night in Washington. A little before the address, the White House sends out an embargoed copy of the President’s speech to the press (embargoed means that the press can see the speech, but they can’t report on it until a designated time). The reporters then start sending it around town to folks on Capitol Hill to get their reaction, then those people send it to all their friends, and eventually everyone in Washington can read along, but the public remains in the dark.

This year we change that.

For the first time, the White House is making the full text of the speech available to citizens around the country online. On Medium, you can follow along with the speech as you watch in real time, view charts and infographics on key areas, tweet favorite lines, and leave notes. By making the text available to the public in advance, the White House is continuing efforts to reach a wide online audience and give people a range of ways to consume the speech.


Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans:

We are fifteen years into this new century.  Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.  It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.

But tonight, we turn the page.

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.  More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.

Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.  Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.  And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe.  We are humbled and grateful for your service.

America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:

The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.

At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.  It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.

Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?  Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?

Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?  Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to defeat new threats and protect our planet?

Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?

In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan.  And in the months ahead, I’ll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas.

So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.

It begins with our economy.

Seven years ago, Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis were newlyweds.  She waited tables.  He worked construction.  Their first child, Jack, was on the way.

They were young and in love in America, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

“If only we had known,” Rebekah wrote to me last spring, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.”

As the crisis worsened, Ben’s business dried up, so he took what jobs he could find, even if they kept him on the road for long stretches of time.  Rebekah took out student loans, enrolled in community college, and retrained for a new career.  They sacrificed for each other.  And slowly, it paid off.  They bought their first home.  They had a second son, Henry.  Rebekah got a better job, and then a raise.  Ben is back in construction – and home for dinner every night.

“It is amazing,” Rebekah wrote, “what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.

America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story.  They represent the millions who have worked hard, and scrimped, and sacrificed, and retooled.  You are the reason I ran for this office.  You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.  And it’s been your effort and resilience that has made it possible for our country to emerge stronger.

We believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing, and draw new jobs to our shores.  And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.

We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet.  And today, America is number one in oil and gas.  America is number one in wind power.  Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.  And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.

We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world.  And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record.  Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high.  And more Americans finish college than ever before.

We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis, shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition.  Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices.  And in the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.

At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits.  Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years.

So the verdict is clear.  Middle-class economics works.  Expanding opportunity works.  And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.  We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns.  We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix.  And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.

Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives.  Wages are finally starting to rise again.  We know that more small business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007.  But here’s the thing – those of us here tonight, we need to set our sights higher than just making sure government doesn’t halt the progress we’re making.  We need to do more than just do no harm.  Tonight, together, let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American.

Because families like Rebekah’s still need our help.  She and Ben are working as hard as ever, but have to forego vacations and a new car so they can pay off student loans and save for retirement.  Basic childcare for Jack and Henry costs more than their mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota.  Like millions of hardworking Americans, Rebekah isn’t asking for a handout, but she is asking that we look for more ways to help families get ahead.

In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot.  We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity.  We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them.

That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success – we want everyone to contribute to our success.

So what does middle-class economics require in our time?

First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.

Here’s one example.  During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare.  In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever.  It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.  It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.  And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America – by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year.

Here’s another example.  Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.  Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave.  Forty-three million.  Think about that.  And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.  So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.  And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington.  Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do.

Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages.  That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.  Really.  It’s 2015.  It’s time.  We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned.  And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this:  If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.  If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.

These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship.  That’s not the job of government.  To give working families a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest.  We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.  But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families.  That is a fact.  And that’s what all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – were sent here to do.

Second, to make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills.

America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world.  But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more.

By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education.  Two in three.  And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future.

That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.

Forty percent of our college students choose community college.  Some are young and starting out.  Some are older and looking for a better job.  Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market.  Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.  Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.  Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.  And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.

Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.  Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.

And as a new generation of veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend.  Already, we’ve made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care.  We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we’re making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs.  Joining Forces, the national campaign launched by Michelle and Jill Biden, has helped nearly 700,000 veterans and military spouses get new jobs.  So to every CEO in America, let me repeat:  If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran.

Finally, as we better train our workers, we need the new economy to keep churning out high-wage jobs for our workers to fill.

Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.  Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs.  Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming.  But there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago – jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.

So no one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future.  But we do know we want them here in America.  That’s why the third part of middle-class economics is about building the most competitive economy anywhere, the place where businesses want to locate and hire.

21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet.  Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this.  So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.  Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come.

21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.  Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.  But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region.  That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage.  Why would we let that happen?  We should write those rules.  We should level the playing field.  That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.

Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense.  But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.  More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China.  Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.

21st century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development.  I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine – one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.  In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable.  Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes – and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.

I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.

I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs – converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay.  Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.  In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space.  Good luck, Captain – and make sure to Instagram it.

Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.  Members of both parties have told me so.  Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments.  As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too.  But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight.  They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.

This year, we have an opportunity to change that.  Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America.  Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.  Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford.  And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.  We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college.  We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.

Helping hardworking families make ends meet. Giving them the tools they need for good-paying jobs in this new economy.  Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness.  This is where America needs to go.  I believe it’s where the American people want to go.  It will make our economy stronger a year from now, fifteen years from now, and deep into the century ahead.

Of course, if there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.

My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to defend the United States of America.  In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how.  When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world.  That’s what our enemies want us to do.

I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership.  We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.  That’s exactly what we’re doing right now – and around the globe, it is making a difference.

First, we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.  We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.

At the same time, we’ve learned some costly lessons over the last thirteen years.

Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition.  Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.  In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance.  Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.  We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.  This effort will take time.  It will require focus.  But we will succeed.  And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.

Second, we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy.  We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.  Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength.  Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.

That’s how America leads – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.

In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.  Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.  And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo.  As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.”  These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba.  And after years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs.  Welcome home, Alan.

Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.  Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.  But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense.  That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.  The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom.

Third, we’re looking beyond the issues that have consumed us in the past to shape the coming century.

No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.  We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism.  And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.  If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable.  If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.

In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.  I couldn’t be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts.  But the job is not yet done – and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.

In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief.  And no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.

I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.  Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.  The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it.

That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it.  That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history.  And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.  I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action.  In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.  And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.

There’s one last pillar to our leadership – and that’s the example of our values.

As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.  It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.  It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.  That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.

As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice – so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit.  Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half.  Now it’s time to finish the job.  And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down.  It’s not who we are.

As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties – and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks.  So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t.  As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.  And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.

Looking to the future instead of the past.  Making sure we match our power with diplomacy, and use force wisely.  Building coalitions to meet new challenges and opportunities.  Leading – always – with the example of our values.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  That’s what keeps us strong.  And that’s why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards – our own.

You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America – but a United States of America.  I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home – a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world’s great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values.

Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision.  How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever.  It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws – of which there are many – but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.

I know how tempting such cynicism may be.  But I still think the cynics are wrong.

I still believe that we are one people.  I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.  I believe this because over and over in my six years in office, I have seen America at its best.  I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California; and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, and New London.  I’ve mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown; in Boston, West, Texas, and West Virginia.  I’ve watched Americans beat back adversity from the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains; from Midwest assembly lines to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.  I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home.

So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper.  And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.

So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes.  I’ve served in Congress with many of you.  I know many of you well.  There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle.  And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.

Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns.  Imagine if we did something different.

Understand – a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.

A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.

A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.

A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.

If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.

We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.

Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.

We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.

We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.  Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.

That’s a better politics.  That’s how we start rebuilding trust.  That’s how we move this country forward.  That’s what the American people want.  That’s what they deserve.

I have no more campaigns to run.  My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America.  If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, join me in the work at hand.  If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree.  And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.

Because I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth – that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, and help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world.

I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood:  your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.

I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen – man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.

I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true:  that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America.

I want them to grow up in a country where a young mom like Rebekah can sit down and write a letter to her President with a story to sum up these past six years:

“It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”

My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family.  We, too, have made it through some hard times.  Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America.  We’ve laid a new foundation.  A brighter future is ours to write.  Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love.

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

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.

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

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

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 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.

Full Text Obama Presidency December 10, 2014: President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks At Toys for Tots Gift Sorting — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President and the First Lady At Toys for Tots Gift Sorting

Source: WH, 12-10-14

Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling

1:42 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Ho, ho, ho.  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  That’s a pretty serious, ho, ho, ho.

THE PRESIDENT:  Ho, ho, ho.

MRS. OBAMA:  How is everybody doing?

THE PRESIDENT:  She’s doing good.

MRS. OBAMA: Happy holidays, merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT:  Merry Christmas.

MRS. OBAMA: How are all the kids?  Yay.  Well, we’re happy to be back.  As you can see, I brought a little help this year.  Welcome to Toys for Tots.  Your first year.  We’re going to break you in slowly, okay?

But let me start — we’re not going to talk long because we’re here to actually do some work.  But I want to just thank everybody who has been involved in this effort.  Of course, Lieutenant General Osman, who has just been a tremendous partner for so many years.  His leadership is really at the heart of what makes this drive possible.

But also Lieutenant General Richard Mills, Lieutenant Colonel David Johnson, and First Sergeant Lowery, as well.  Let’s give them all a round of applause for their tremendous leadership.  (Applause.)

Thank you all for all the hours that you spend picking up the donations, sorting in warehouses all throughout the area.  This wouldn’t be possible without you and, of course, your wonderful families here who help to make this possible.

We have a couple of other folks here.  We’ve got White House Communications Agency folks and their families.  Let’s give you guys a round of applause.  Thank you all so much for your work.  (Applause.)

And of course, to all of the Marines from Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, plus their spouses and all of our military kids.  Yay, you guys.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yay!  (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  As General Osman said, this is the sixth year that I’ve been involved in Toys for Tots.  And every year it’s just a tremendous privilege to be able to be a part of making Christmas just a little brighter for a few kids across the country.

And we try to make it a big deal at the White House.  We create competitions.  I think this year the office that collected the most toys got a Bo and Sonny visit.  (Laughter.)  So we did a good job this year.  I think this year we’re bringing in about a thousand toys from the White House.  And so we’re proud of our team at the White House for participating.

But we still have a lot of time.  And one of the things that I just want to remind the public is that there’s still time to donate.  And we really want to urge folks out there do everything in their power to donate to Toys for Tots.

And if you need to find out where to go, all you have to go — do is go to the Toys for Tots website.  People can donate online.  They can go by one of the drop-off centers.  And each year, I kind of remind people that at times one of the challenges is making sure we have enough toys for the older kids.  It’s always fun to buy the Barbie Dolls and the coloring books, but we have to remember that there are teenagers out there too that need those gifts.  And we try to make it a point to make sure that we’re buying cool clothes for kids and electronic products and educational materials for teenagers, as well.

So if you haven’t already donated, don’t forget our teenagers.  They’re looking for a merry Christmas as well.

So with that, I’m going to turn it over to my new helper, who I brought along with me.  He doesn’t need any introductions.  I don’t know how good he’ll be with sorting — (laughter) — because he doesn’t usually deal in shopping in any kind of way.  But we’ll watch him closely to see if he can figure out which ones are girls, zero to two, or unisex.  It gets really complicated.  So watch him, because he could really make your work harder.

So with that, it’s my pleasure to introduce my husband, the President of the United States.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  I’m the big elf.  (Laughter.)  I’m like Will Farrell.  (Laughter.)  It is great to be here.  I’m not going to talk long.  I just want to say thanks to all of you for participating.  I want to say thank you to Toys for Tots.  Quick statistic:  Since it started in the 1940s, Toys for Tots has distributed more than 469 million toys to more than 216 million children.  That’s a lot of dollhouses, that’s a lot of Ninja Turtles.

But really what Toys for Tots is about is generosity and giving back.  All of us are so blessed.  Look at these beautiful kids here and wonderful families.  We are lucky.  We’re lucky first and foremost to live in the United States of America, and we’re lucky to be able to look after our kids and there are parents out there who love their kids just as much but are going through a tough time.  And for us to be able to make sure that that holiday spirit extends a little bit beyond just our family but to people all around the country, it is a wonderful contribution.

While I’m here, I just want to say thank you to our Marine Corps for their extraordinary work.  Our men and women in uniform and our military families don’t just work to keep us safe; they’re also strengthening our country here at home.  They’re volunteering at schools, congregations, our communities.  With our combat mission coming to a close in Afghanistan, it means more of our extraordinary military members are going to be home for the holidays, back where they belong.  And that is the most important blessing of all.

But what’s also great is that we’re now seeing our incredible military — some who may be leaving the military — able to provide that same dedication, that same sense of service to organizations throughout the country.  Sometimes in a volunteer capacity, sometimes in a professional capacity.  And we are very proud of that.  Lieutenant General Osman is just a great example of the ongoing spirit of duty and service that is instilled in armed forces.  So we are so grateful to all of you.

With that, I want to wish everybody a merry Christmas, a happy New Year, and let’s get sorting.  I am positive that girls, zero to two, that’s perfect for the “Call of Duty” video game.  (Laughter.)  Isn’t that right?

MRS. OBAMA:  What video game?

THE PRESIDENT:  See, she didn’t even get the joke.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  I wasn’t listening.

THE PRESIDENT:  She wasn’t listening to me.  (Laughter.)  Thank you, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

END
1:50 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 10, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks At Early Education Summit — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President At Early Education Summit

Source: WH,  12-10-14

South Court Auditorium

11:58 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Hey!  Give Alajah a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody have a seat.

Now, Alajah clearly knows where power is.  (Laughter.)  She knows who has clout and who does not.  You did a wonderful job.  I’m so proud of you.  Good job.

MS. LANE: Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re welcome.  (Laughter.)  In addition to Alajah, we have some important personages here.  I want to thank, first of all, America’s Secretary of Education — somebody who is so passionate about making sure every child gets a chance in this country — Arne Duncan.  Where’s Arne?  (Applause.)  We’ve got some of early education’s strongest supporters in Congress from both parties who are here.  We’ve got Bob Casey from the great state of Pennsylvania.  (Applause.)  We’ve got representatives Richard Richard Hanna.  Where’s Richard?  There he is.  (Applause.)  Jared Polis.  (Applause.)  Bobby Scott.  (Applause.)

I want to thank the business leaders and philanthropists and mayors, all who came here from across America to make big new commitments to our kids.  And I know we’ve got thousands of parents and teachers and alumni from Head Start and Early Head Start watching this live in New Orleans and Fort Lauderdale.  So please give them a shout out, as well.  Thank you, guys.  (Applause.)

Now, you may know that last week brought some good economic news, building on the momentum that we’ve seen over the past couple of years.  Over the first 11 months of 2014, our economy has created more jobs than in any full year since the 1990s.  So already — we’ve still got a month to go — we’ve already seen more jobs created this year than any time in over a decade.  Over the last four years, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and every other advanced economy combined.  Overall wages are rising again, which is a welcome sign for millions of families.  So for all the work we have left to do, America is outpacing most of the world.  And if we seize this moment, we have the chance to lead the next century just like we led the last one, and make sure that citizens in this country, our children, can have a better life than we did.

But in order to reach our full potential, kids like Alajah need a chance to reach their full potential.  Because what makes America exceptional isn’t just the size of our economy or our influence around the globe — that is a byproduct of a more fundamental fact about America.  The promise we make to our children; the idea that no matter who they are, what they look like, where they start, how much their parents earn, they can make it if they try.  It’s the essential promise of America -– that where you start should not and will not determine how far you can go.

And we’re here today because it’s never too early in a child’s life to begin delivering on that promise.  I’m preaching to the choir now, but I’m going to go ahead and preach.  Study after study shows that children who get a high-quality early education earn more over their lifetimes than peers who don’t.  They’re more likely to finish school.  They’re less likely to go to prison.  They’re more likely to hold a job.  They’re more likely to start a stable family of their own — which means that you have a generational transmission of the early starts that kids can get.  Early education is one of the best investments we can make not just in a child’s future, but in our country.  It’s one of the best investments we can make.

Today, my Council of Economic Advisers is putting out a report showing that for every dollar we invest now, we can save more than eight dollars later on, by boosting graduation rates, increasing earnings, reducing violent crime.  And the study also shows that access to high-quality, affordable childcare means more employment and higher incomes for working parents, especially working moms.  Not surprising there.  I mean, men, we’re getting better, but we’re not where we need to be.  And moms all too often are juggling between work and childcare.  When we have good, high-quality early childhood education, then suddenly we’re freeing up everybody to be on the field.

So early education is a win for everybody.  It saves taxpayer dollars.  It gives our children a better chance.  And some states are proving that it’s possible to give every child that chance.  For 16 years, every child in Oklahoma has been guaranteed a preschool education.  Georgia is building on their successful preschool program by launching something called “Talk With Me Baby” — which sounds like an Al Green song, but is actually — (laughter) — I’m not singing.  But it’s actually a program to make sure make sure language learning begins at the very first weeks of a child’s life.  Now, let’s face it — Oklahoma and Georgia are not places where I do particularly well politically.  They’re not known as wild-eyed liberal states.  But it just goes to show you that this is an issue that’s bigger than politics.  It’s not a red issue or a blue issue.  It’s about doing what’s best for our kids, for our country, and that’s an American issue.  And we’ve had some terrific Republican, as well as Democratic, governors and mayors who have really taken leadership on this issue because they recognize it’s a good investment.

And that’s why, in my 2013 State of the Union Address, I laid out a plan to make sure our children have every opportunity they deserve from the moment they are born.  And I asked Congress to work with me to make high-quality pre-K available to every four-year-old in America.  Congress hasn’t gotten that done yet, but Democrats and Republicans came together to take some steps in the right direction, with new grants that will expand preschool for children across the country.

And in the nearly two years since I called on Congress to take action, we’ve seen 34 states, along with cities and communities across our country, take action on their own.  All told, they’ve invested more than a billion dollars in our children.  In Michigan, a Republican governor signed the nation’s second-largest state budget increase for early education into law.  Last month, voters in Denver approved a ballot measure to renew and expand their preschool program through 2026.  In New York, Mayor de Blasio made pre-K for all a centerpiece of his campaign.  And this year, more than 50,000 children are enrolled in New York City preschools — more than twice as many as in 2013.  (Applause.)  There must be a New Yorker here.

So we’re making progress.  But here’s the thing:  For all the progress we’ve made, for all the children who are on a better path, today fewer than 3 in 10 four-year-olds are enrolled in high-quality preschool.  It’s not that working parents don’t want their kids to be in safe, high-quality learning environments every day.  It’s that they can’t afford the costs of private preschool.  And for poor children who need it most, the lack of access to a great preschool can affect their entire lives.  We’ve got kids in this country who are every bit as talented as Malia and Sasha, but they’re starting out the race a step behind.  And they deserve better.  And the whole country will do better if we fix that.  So that’s what this day is all about.

I’m pleased to announce that my administration will award $750 million of new investment in our youngest Americans.  Secretary Duncan is awarding $250 million in new Preschool Development Grants to 18 states.  We’re giving tens of thousands more children the opportunity to go to high-quality preschool: almost 3,000 preschool students in Nevada, for example, will be able to attend full-day preschool, instead of a half-day program.  Montana will create new high-quality preschool programs that will serve kids in 16 communities, including eight communities on Indian lands.

And in order to create a full pipeline of learning programs, from birth all the way to the beginning of Kindergarten, Secretary Burwell is announcing the winners of a $500 million competition that will bring early care and education to more than 30,000 infants and toddlers next year.  Our child care centers will partner with our Early Head Start Centers to help kids from virtually every state, from rural Virginia to my hometown of Chicago.

So we’re stepping up, but as all of you I’m sure have already heard, investing in our kids is not just the job of the federal government — it’s the job of all of us.  So in my State of the Union Address this year, I promised to pull together a coalition of elected officials, and business leaders, and philanthropists who are willing to help more kids access the high-quality preschool that they need.  And here you are.  (Laughter.)

Today, we are delivering on that promise with a new campaign called “Invest in Us.”  I want to highlight a few of commitments folks in this room because I think it shows how much interest there is in this issue, how much evidence there is behind making the kinds of investments for our kids that we’re talking about.

So first of all, you’re bringing entire communities together on behalf of children.  In Northeast Ohio, for example, Cuyahoga County, the city of Cleveland, local schools, businesses, foundations, and child welfare agencies have all embraced a single plan to ensure that all three- and four-year olds have access to high-quality education.  So today the Greater Cleveland Community is announcing $10.2 million in new investments in early childhood programs.  And that’s going to make a difference.  Susie Buffett is leading an effort that will invest $15 million in Omaha.  That’s making a difference, bringing folks together.

Second, as important as preschool is, you’re working to make sure a great education starts even earlier.  The George Kaiser Family Foundation reaches out to new parents in Tulsa with a hospital visit before the baby even goes home.  After that, they provide parenting classes and literacy programs all the way through a child’s third birthday, because they believe that every parent can be a teacher and every home can be a preschool.  And as a consequence, they’re committing $25 million, in additional dollars, to help achieve that goal.

Number three, you’re supporting early education programs that we already have.  So the Foundation for Child Development is working with the New York City Department of Education to help train early-learning teachers.  Disney is giving away $55 million worth of books and apps for young learners.  And judging by trick or treating here at the White House this year, if Disney wanted to throw in some of those princess costumes from “Frozen,” that will make a difference.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there were a lot of Elsas.  They just kept on coming, sort of nonstop.  (Laughter.)

And finally, you’re investing in new, innovative approaches that have the chance to transform the way we teach our children.  So thanks to neuroscientists and psychologists and child development experts, we know more about how young minds work than ever before.  So we’re got the Bezos Family Foundation announcing a $5 million commitment to turn these new insights into new tools for teachers and parents, so that our children get the most out of the time and money that we invest in them. And J.B. Pritzker and M.K. Pritzker, their family foundation is committing $25 million to build on cutting-edge research to help our most vulnerable children succeed.

So all told, in addition to what we’re going to be doing at the federal level, organizations here today are making more than $330 million in new commitments.  That’s worth applauding.  (Applause.)  And that’s pretty extraordinary, that’s real money, even in Washington, that’s real money.  (Laughter.)  But it’s also just the beginning.  So I’m calling on all Americans across our country to make their own commitments to our children.  And I’m asking our members of Congress for their commitment as well.  Outside Washington, giving our children a fair shot from the earliest age is a priority that crosses party lines.   So I hope that the new Congress next year will work with me to make pre-K available for all of our kids.  It will not just grow the economy for everybody –- it will change young lives forever.

Just ask Chuck Mills.  Where is Chuck?  Chuck is here.  There’s Chuck, right there.  Chuck was born in 1962, the youngest of six children, raised by a single mom.  A lot of the kids in the neighborhoods where Chuck grew up did not finish school, and a lot of those young people ended up in prison.  But in 1966, Chuck’s mom saw a flier at a church for a new program called “Project Head Start.”  Chuck became part of just the second class of Head Start students -– and two years later, he had learned so much that he skipped kindergarten and went straight to first grade.  And Chuck’s been overachieving ever since.  (Laughter.)  He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.  Captain Mills piloted Marine One for two different Presidents.  That is something that you want the best people for.  (Laughter.)  Today, Chuck is the founder and CEO of not one, but two companies in Northern Virginia.  “My life,” Chuck said, “can be summed up in the words, ‘Wasn’t supposed to.’”

“Wasn’t supposed to.”  Well, that’s not just Chuck’s story; that’s America’s story.  America is a nation that “wasn’t supposed to.”  Our entire story is improbable.  All of us are here because this country gave someone in our family a chance to beat the odds.  None of us were supposed to.  Those of us lucky enough to share in this country’s promise now have a responsibility to ensure that for all the young people coming behind us who aren’t supposed to, that they have those same opportunities.

There are a whole bunch of Chucks out there, all across the country.  We have to invest in them.  We have to invest in our communities.  We have to invest in us.  And if we do that, we give every child the same chance that we got, then America will remain the greatest nation on Earth.  And I thank all of you for the extraordinary efforts you are making in fulfilling that promise.

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

END
12:16 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 9, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Immigration Town Hall in Nashville, Tennessee — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Immigration Town Hall — Nashville, Tennessee

Source: WH, 12-9-14

Casa Azafran
Nashville, Tennessee

2:26 P.M. CST

THE PRESIDENT:Thank you, everybody.Thank you.(Applause.)Thank you so much.Everybody, please have a seat.Thank you very much.Everybody, please have a seat, have a seat.
Well, hello, Nashville.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:Hola.

THE PRESIDENT:Hola.Cómo estás?

AUDIENCE MEMBER:Bien, bien.

THE PRESIDENT:Bien.Thank you, Renata, for the wonderful introduction.I’ve brought some friends with me who I think you may know — your Congressmen, Jim Cooper — (applause) — as well as Congressman Steve Cohen from Memphis is here.(Applause.)And I want to thank — is your mayor still here?Where did he go?There he is right there, doing a great job.(Applause.)And his wonderful daughter — we’ve got to brag about her, she’s a junior at Barnard.I just embarrassed her.(Applause.)When you’re the father of daughters, your job is to embarrass them, and I’m trying to give an assist here.(Laughter.)

I want to thank Casa Azafran for hosting us, and for being home to so many organizations that do important work welcoming immigrants to the community.And that’s why I’ve come here today.I won’t make a long speech, because I want to have a dialogue, but I wanted to give some remarks at the top.

As Renata mentioned, some people might think Nashville was an odd place to talk immigration.It’s not what comes to mind when people think about gateways to America.But, as all of you know, Nashville’s got one of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in the country.“New Nashvillians” — they’re from Somalia, Nepal, Laos, Mexico, Bangladesh.And Nashville happens to be the home of the largest Kurdish community in the United States as well.

“They” are “us.”They work as teachers in our schools, doctors in our hospitals, police officers in our neighborhoods.They start small businesses at a faster rate than many native-born Americans.They create jobs making this city more prosperous, and a more innovative place.And of course, they make the food better.(Laughter.)I know that Tennessee barbeque is pretty popular, but Korean barbeque is pretty good too.(Laughter.)

And the point is, welcoming immigrants into your community benefits all of us.And I was talking to your Mayor, Karl Dean, on the way over here, and he understands this.He’s been a great partner when it comes to preparing immigrants to become citizens.

A couple of weeks ago, I create a Task Force on New Americans that’s going to help do this kind of work all across the country.But, as we all know, our immigration system has been broken for a long time.Families who come here the right way can get stuck in line for years.Business owners who treat their workers right sometimes are undercut by competition from folks who are not just hiring undocumented workers but then underpaying them or not paying them minimum wage, or not giving them the benefits that they have earned.Nobody likes the idea of somebody reaping the rewards of living in America without its responsibilities as well.And there are all kinds of folks who want to gladly embrace those responsibilities, but they have no way to come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

And a year and a half ago, a big majority of Democrats, Republicans, and independents in the Senate –- including both of your senators -– passed a bipartisan bill to fix our broken immigration system.The bill wasn’t perfect, but it was a common-sense compromise.It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents.It would have made the legal immigration system smarter and faster.It would have given millions of people a chance to earn their citizenship the right way.It was good for our economy — independent economists estimated that it would not only grow our economy faster but shrink our deficits faster.And if the House of Representatives had simply called for an up-or-down vote, it would have passed.It would be the law.We would be on the way to solve — solving this problem in a sensible way.But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House blocked this simple up-or-down vote.

I still believe that the best way to solve this — is by working together to pass the kind of common-sense law that was passed in the Senate.But until then, there are actions that I have the legal authority to take that will help make our immigration system smarter and fairer.And I took those actions last month.

We’re providing more resources at the border to help law enforcement personnel stop illegal crossings and send home those who cross over.We’re going to focus our enforcement resources on people who actually pose a threat to our communities — felons rather than families, and criminals rather than children.We’re going to bring more undocumented immigrants out of the shadows so they can play by the rules — they have to pass a criminal background check, pay taxes, contribute more fully to our economy.

So this isn’t amnesty, or legalization, or even a path to citizenship.That can only be done by Congress.It doesn’t apply to anybody who’s come to this country recently, or who might come illegally in the future.What it does is create a system of accountability, a common-sense, middle-ground approach.And what we’re saying is, until Congress fixes this problem legislatively, if you have deep ties to this country and you are willing to get right by the law and do what you need to do, then you shouldn’t have to worry about being deported or being separated from your kids.

These are the kind of lawful actions taken by every President, Republican and Democrat, for the past 50 years.So when members of Congress question whether I have the authority to do this, I have one answer:Yes, and pass a bill.(Laughter.)If you want Congress to be involved in this process, I welcome it, but you’ve got to pass a bill that addresses the various components of immigration reform in a common-sense way.

And I want to work with both parties to get this done.The day I sign this bill into law, then the executive actions I take are no longer necessary and some of the changes that I’ve instituted administratively become permanent.

Unfortunately, so far, the only response that we’ve had out of the House was a vote taken last week to force talented young people and workers to leave our country.Rather than deport students or separate families or make it harder for law enforcement to do its job, we just need Congress to work with us to pass a common-sense law to fix the broken immigration system.

And meanwhile, Washington shouldn’t let disagreements on this issue prevent action on every other issue.That’s not how our democracy works.Americans are tired of gridlock.We’re seeing the economy move forward.We need to build on that.And certainly my administration is ready to work for it on a whole range of issues.

I do recognize that there are controversies around immigration — there always have been, by the way.Even those who know we need to reform the system may be concerned about not having Congress get it done.Then there are some folks who worry about immigration changing the fabric of our society, or taking jobs from native-born Americans.And I understand those concerns, but, as I said, they’re not new.As a country, we have had these concerns since the Irish and Italians and Poles were coming to Boston and New York, and we have the same concerns when Chinese and Japanese Americans were traveling out West.

But what our history and the facts show is that generation after generation, immigrants have been a net-plus to our economy, and a net-plus to our society.And that’s what cities like Nashville prove is still the case.And this city proves that we can address these concerns together and make sure that immigration works for everybody — that it strengthens our economy, that it strengthens our communities, that we can talk about some of the tensions and concerns in a constructive way rather than yelling at each other.

And so let me close with a story of somebody who’s working to bring people together.David Lubell, who many of you know and who’s here today — where’s David?There he is.(Applause.)So David used to run the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.And he knew that some folks were skeptical about immigrants changing the face of Nashville.And he also knew, though, that these immigrants were good people.So he saw an opportunity for immigration to unite this city rather than divide it.And in 2005, he started “Welcoming Tennessee,” which connects long-term residents in the community with new immigrants.And you’d have dinners and church socials, and at Rotary clubs, and folks got to know each other and maybe feel some empathy, and see themselves in new arrivals.

And the conversations weren’t always easy, but it created a foundation of mutual understanding and respect.And today, David’s initiative is expanding across the country.I think we — you said, David, that we’ve got these kinds of efforts going on in 42 cities around the country.

This is what makes America exceptional.We welcome strivers.We welcome dreamers from all around the world.And it keeps us young, and it keeps us invigorated, and it keeps us striving and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.And then we all bind ourselves together around similar ideals, a similar creed.And one generation in, suddenly those kids are already Americans like everybody else, and we have the same dreams and hopes for them, the same aspirations.

And if we keep harnessing that potential, there’s no limit to what this country can achieve.So Nashville is helping to lead the way in getting this conversation right.We hope that if it happens around the country, that eventually it will drift into the House of Representatives — (laughter) — and we’re going to get the kind of comprehensive legislation that we need to actually solve this problem.

So with that, let me start taking some questions.Thank you very much, everybody.I appreciate it.(Applause.)

So I’ve got a microphone here.This is a nice, intimate group.And so there’s no rules really.I’d just ask everybody who wants to speak to raise their hand.I’ll call on you one at a time.We’ve got some microphones in the audience.And why don’t you, when you’re asking your questions, stand, introduce yourself, tell us a little about yourself, and then ask your question.Try to keep your question relatively brief so — and I’ll try to keep my answers relatively brief.(Laughter.)I don’t always succeed, but I’ll do my best.I’m going to take off my jacket because it’s warm in here.Is Marvin back there?Okay, we’ve got some — here we go.Thanks.

All right.Who wants to go first?Yes, right here in the front.

Q Hi, Mr. President.Thank you so much for coming to Nashville, and the Latin community loves you and welcome you to Nashville.My question is — and I think it’s a concern in the community that — what is going to happen if the next administration decide not to follow what you — the executive action?And I think many of the communities — afraid are they going to be first in line to deportation because they give their information.And that would be my question.

THE PRESIDENT:Well, I think it’s a good question.So let me just — let me go over the mechanics of what’s going to happen.

First of all, part of what we’re saying is that we can’t deport 11 million people and it would be foolish to try, as well as I think wrong for us to try.Congress only allocates a certain amount of money to the immigration system, so we have to prioritize.And my priority is not to separate families who have already been living here but to try to make sure that our borders are secure, to make sure that people come through the right way; to focus on criminals, focus — those who pose a real risk to our society.

And so what’s happened is, is the Department of Homeland Security, which is in charge of the immigration services, what it said is, is that we’re going to set up priorities in terms of who is subject to deportation.And at the top are criminals, people who pose a threat, and at the bottom are ordinary people who are otherwise law abiding.And what we’re saying essentially is, in that low-priority list, you won’t be a priority for deportation.You’re not going to be deported.We’re not going to keep on separating families.And that new priority list applies to everybody, all 11 million people who are here — I mean, not 11 million, let’s say, whatever the number is.So even if somebody didn’t sign up, they’re still much less likely to be subject to deportation.That’s because we’ve changed our enforcement priorities in a formal way.

What we’re also saying, though, is that for those who have American children or children who are legal permanent residents, that you can actually register and submit yourself to a criminal background check, pay any back taxes and commit to paying future taxes, and if you do that, you’ll actually get a piece of paper that gives you an assurance that you can work and live here without fear of deportation.That doesn’t apply to everybody, but it does apply to roughly five million — about half of what is estimated to be the number of undocumented workers here.

Now, that is temporary.Just like DACA, the program that we put in place for young people who are brought here who otherwise are good citizens, are studying, working, joining our military — we did that several years ago, where we said, it doesn’t make sense for us to subject these young people to a deportation risk; they’re Americans in their heart even if they don’t have the right piece of paper.That’s temporary as well, although it’s been subject to renewal.

And so it’s true that a future administration might try to reverse some of our policies.But I’ll be honest with you, I think that the American people basically have a good heart and want to treat people fairly.And every survey shows that if, in fact, somebody has come out, subjected themselves to a background check, registered, paid their taxes, that the American people support allowing them to stay.So I think any future administration that tried to punish people for doing the right thing I think would not have the support of the American people.

The real question is, how do we make sure that enough people register so that it’s not just a few people in a few pockets around the country.And that’s going to require a lot of work by local agencies, by municipalities, by churches, by community organizations.We’ve got to give people confidence that they can go ahead and register; also make sure that they understand they don’t have to hire a lawyer or go to the notary in order to pay for this.Because what we saw during DACA when the young people were given this opportunity, a lot of people signed up but sometimes you would see advertisements, come and give us $1,000 or $2,000 and we’ll help you — you don’t have to do that.And so we’ve just got to build an effective network around the country.And the Department of Homeland Security will be working with local organizations to make sure that people get the right information.

But I think the main response to people that we have to assure them of is that the American people actually are fair-minded and want to reward rather than punish people who do the right thing.And if you register, I’m confident that that’s going to be something that allows you to then get on a path to being here in this country with your children and watching them grow up and making a life for yourself, as you already have.

Last point.It still is important for us, though, because this is temporary to make sure that we keep pushing for comprehensive immigration reform.Without an actual law, an actual statute passed by Congress, it’s true that theoretically a future administration could do something that I think would be very damaging.It’s not likely, politically, that they’d reverse everything that we’ve done, but it could be that some people then end up being in a disadvantageous position.And nobody is going to have a path to actual citizenship until we get a law passed.

Now, the Senate law would call for people to go to the back of the line, so it would take 10, 13 years before they have citizenship, but at least there’s that pathway.That’s why we still need a law.

And then there are some areas like, for example, the business sector, a lot of high-tech businesses are still looking for young graduates from computer science programs or physics programs around the country.And instead of being able to recruit them and put them to work, those kids are all going home and starting new businesses and creating jobs someplace else.And that doesn’t make any sense.So that’s another area where we couldn’t do anything administratively about that.We were able to streamline some of the legal immigration system, but we’ve still got more work to do.

Okay?Good.I’m going to go boy, girl, boy, girl to make sure that it’s fair.(Laughter.)So, right here.

Q Thank you.Good afternoon, President.Thank you so much for doing what you did.I was undocumented for 10 years from 1996.I took advantage of the amnesty.I want to thank you.I’m a community organizer with the Center for Community Change in Washington, D.C., working with the immigrants from the Human Rights Coalition.And I really thank the people from Nashville, Tennessee for hosting future Chicagoans – of course, I’m from Chicago, too.(Laughter.)

And my question to you is, thank you for the 5 million, but what about the others.There are millions of people who are going to be in the limbo, at risk of being deported.And the second question is, since talking about confidence -– people are skeptical about this, because they are afraid to apply for this.So what is your administration going to do to get the confidence — and people to feel safe to apply for this program that you just passed?Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:Okay.Well, I sort of answered the question, but I’ll try to answer it one more time.The prioritization in terms of deportation — that applies to everybody, even if you don’t do anything.Now, this will take time to get ICE officers at the ground level to understand what these new priorities are and to apply them in a consistent way.And so there are still going to be stories around the country where some family is separated.

Over time, though, we’re really going to be pushing to retrain and refocus and reprioritize ICE officers to understand let’s focus on criminals, let’s focus on felons, let’s not focus on families.

In terms of setting up the system to sign people up to register so they can get an actual piece of paper that says they can work here, that’s probably going to take a couple of months. And so that gives us time then to communicate through our community organizations, through our churches, through our cities and towns to make sure that people have good information.

So the folks who, as you said, are in limbo, it’s true that they’re not going to qualify for the DACA-like registration process that I described.They’ll still be, if they’re law-abiding, otherwise, if they’re working, peaceful, then they’re much less likely to deportation now than they would have been in the past.And they don’t have to do anything for that.But the registration process, if you qualify, is powerful because you’re now able to go to work without being in the shadows, and you’re paying taxes, which is good for everybody, because we want people to be above board and to do things the right way.

And I think that those who register — my belief is, is that when we do get to passing a law, finally, I think those who have taken the time to register, pay taxes, gone through a criminal background check, they’ve got documentation and proof that they’ve done all that, they’re going to have an easier time then qualifying, I think, for a more permanent legal status because they will have already gone through the screening.And that’s one incentive for why people should want to sign up.

But building trust will take time.But that’s where you come in, so that’s your job.I’m going to work with you.I’ll work with Renata and I’ll work with other activists here to make sure it happens.But we’re going to have to do this together.

I will point out that you already had incredible courage among young people when we announced DACA.Now, we didn’t get 100 percent of young people who qualified signing up, but we got more than half of the people who were qualified signing up.And slowly then, each person who has the courage to sign up, that creates more confidence across the board.

All right, it’s a young woman’s turn now.Yes, go ahead.

Q Hi, Mr. President, and thank you so much for being here with us and giving us this opportunity to speak out our fears.I would like to ask you –- I’m with the Tennessee Immigrants and Refugee Rights Coalition.I’m part of the Migrant Women Committee.And I would like to ask you –- people like me that will probably benefit from this executive order, there is a lot of fear still for people that can have the path to a citizen but not immediately.But they apply for DAPA, the Deferred Action for Parents.Will they face a bar from being in this situation?

THE PRESIDENT:No, I think that those who are — look, I would encourage anybody who has another path for legalization to follow that path.But this does not short-circuit whatever other strategies you’re pursuing.If you are already trying to get legal permanent resident status or citizenship through some of the existing laws, then you should feel free to continue that.What this does do is it simply says that it gives you an opportunity to make sure that deportation is not going to happen during this period — which will extend for several years.

Can Big Marvin get me my cup of tea back there?Oh, here it is.All right.This isn’t Big Marvin, but he’s big.(Laughter.)

All right.Gentleman there in the back.

Q I’m a member of the Coalition for Education — Immigration.I’m an immigrant to Nashville.I grew up — Chicago, have lived here the last 12 years.

THE PRESIDENT:It’s warmer here.(Laughter.)

Q I do miss the White Sox.

THE PRESIDENT:Yes.

Q My question is about — one of the many things I appreciate so much about your leadership is the civil way in which you approach the most difficult of problems, in spite of hearing the rancor you do from those who disagree.(Inaudible)
-– community like this, trying to talk with reason only to be greeted by deep emotion and anger and rhetoric that is demeaning. It’s almost as if we need a civility platform for our nation, an office of civility — maybe for our U.S. Congress.Excuse me, Jim.But I’m serious about how do we teach young people to act in a civil way if we don’t role-model the civility?And how important is that for us to move forward, that we can engage in the kinds of conversations in the tone that you present problems?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, look, first of all, I don’t know anybody more civil than Jim Cooper.(Applause.)He is an extraordinary gentleman, and always has been, ever since I’ve had a chance to know him since I came to Washington.

Look, immigration, as I said before, has always elicited passion.And it’s ironic because unless you are a member of a Native American tribe, you came here from someplace else, or your people did.And I know that sometimes folks talk about, well, we came here the right way rather than the wrong way.And it’s true that previous generations came through Ellis Island or they came through Angel Island or other ways of arriving here.

But I think sometimes we overstate the degree to which that was some really elaborate bureaucratic process.There’s a reason, for example, that these days a lot of people named Smith used to be named Smithsowsky or Smitharea or whatever it is.What happened is when they came in somebody just said, what’s your name, and they stamped them and if they couldn’t pronounce it — you always hear stories about they Anglicized it.A lot of times people’s papers were not necessarily being checked because folks might not have had papers.And who came in and who didn’t varied depending on how big of a workforce — or how much industry was looking for new labor, and what the political climate was at that particular time.

And so what happens is, is that once folks are here we kind of forget that we used to be there.And what I try to do when I talk about these issues is just try to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and feel some empathy, and recognize that to some degree, if you’re American, somewhere back there, there was somebody who was a newcomer here too.And it wasn’t always neat and orderly the way the American population expanded across the West.And if we have that sense of empathy then maybe that creates civility.That’s why the kinds of efforts were seeing here in Nashville just conversations where people get to know newcomers is so important.

It’s interesting — I was telling Steve and Jim, I get about 40,000 correspondence every day, and some of them are just writing to say you’re doing a good job, keep going.Some of them are you are the worst President ever, you’re an idiot, a lot of them are just people asking for help.

But more than once, multiple times during the course of my presidency, I’ve gotten letters from people who say I don’t agree with you about anything, I am a Republican, I used to be really angry with you about your immigration posture and then I found out that my son Jim’s best friend, Jose, was undocumented and he wasn’t going to be able to apply to the local college because he was afraid about being deported, and this is a kid who has played in my back yard, helped me wash my car, and been on the ball team with my kid and I loved this kid and so I don’t think it’s right that this young person shouldn’t be treated the same way that I would want someone to treat my son.And I’ve gotten a lot of letters like that.And they say, even though I still don’t agree with you about anything — (laughter) — I do ask you — that you give Jose a chance.

And so that’s where civility comes from.It’s that interaction and personal experience as opposed to just being able to stereotype somebody one way or the other.Now, it’s important, by the way, though, that the civility runs both ways.And I do think — obviously I’ve been at the receiving end of people really angry at me about not just these executive actions, but have been ginned up by some of the conservative talk shows that think that I’m usurping my authority despite the fact that every previous President has exercised the same authority or they think I’m favoring immigrants over red-blooded Americans.And so that’s a lot of the criticism directed at me.

But what’s also true is sometimes advocates on behalf of immigrants have suggested that anybody who is concerned about the impact of immigration, or asks questions about comprehensive immigration reform, that they must be racist or they must be anti-immigrant or their ignorant.And, that’s not true either.

There are people who are good people who actually believe in immigration, but are concerned about rewarding somebody who broke American laws.There are good people who believe in immigration but are concerned, will new immigrants depress wages, particularly in the low-wage sectors of the economy.Those are legitimate questions, and we have to be just as civil in addressing those questions as we expect people to be when we are talking to them.Because I think the facts are on our side, I think the studies have shown that over time immigrants aren’t lowering wages but in fact improving the economy, and over time, boosting wages and jobs for everyone.

So I would rather just make the argument on the facts, but just because somebody thinks that instinctually doesn’t mean that they are bad people.So civility is good, but it doesn’t just run one way.And I think — the good book says, don’t throw stones in glass houses, or make sure we’re looking at the log in our eye before were pulling out the mote in other folks eyes.And I think that’s as true in politics as it is in life.

Okay.Let’s see if I’ve got any women who want to ask questions today.I’m going to make sure I’m fair.That young lady in the back right there.You.

Q Hi.I’m part of an organization that works with refugees and immigrants.And one question I have — was there a particular reason why the parents of the DACA — the DREAMers, the DACA recipients, were excluded in your new executive order?

THE PRESIDENT:Yes, there is.And it was — the actions I took were bound by the legal authority that the Office of Legal Counsel determined I had in this area.The office — I don’t want to get too technical here, but the Office of Legal Counsel is a special office in the Department of Justice that is mandated to give me independent judgment not subject to politics or pressure from me about what my legal authorities are.

And so we presented to them the various things that we’d like to do.They were very clear about my legal authority to prioritize and then provide this temporary protection for parents whose children were Americans, or — American citizens, or legal permanent residents.Because the argument they found compelling, and there was a lot of precedent for, was — essentially humanitarian argument — that if we’re prioritizing, why would we want to separate families.

The challenge we had in the minds of the Office of Legal Counsel was, if you’ve already exempted the young people through DACA, and then you bootstrap off of that the capacity to exempt their parents as well, you’re not rooted originally in somebody who is either a citizen or a legal permanent resident.So it was a legal constraint on our authority.It was not because we did not care about those parents.

And I know that there are a lot of DREAM Act kids who are concerned that their parents may not still qualify.A sizable number do because they have a sibling who ended up being born in the United States.But not all do.This is one more reason why we still need to pass comprehensive immigration reform.Because what we did was to do everything that I could within my legal authority, but not go beyond the legal authority that we possessed.

This young man right here.I think the mic is coming from behind you.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.We are delighted to have you here in Nashville and in Casa Azafran.I’m a member of the mayor’s New American Advisory Council, and also direct a nonprofit that’s housed here called AMAC, the American Muslim Advisory Council.And my question to you is that — in 2004, when you gave that speech about — at the Democratic convention, kind of alluded to this idea that we are one nation, there’s no black and blue — blue or red America.But when it comes to this issue of immigration, as someone that works in this community, our mantra here in Nashville is, Nashville for all of us, and Tennessee for all of us.

So to come around that idea for America for all of us, that we don’t keep having this conversation — as the President, you have been in this position the past six years.What would you say to other — Americans who are feeling now on that side even considering the newly elected Congress that are adamant on stopping these steps?Because I got the privilege of being the — welcoming Tennessee director, and being in those conversations — and inherently, Tennesseans are the nicest people.Those people are in charge of the — that we used to have those conversations with.But what would you say to the rest of the nation — who thinks that now new Americans or immigrants are getting this special treatment?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, I, I addressed the nation when I announced this action, and I made a couple of simple points.

First of all, America is a nation of immigrants, but it’s also a nation of laws.And there does need to be accountability if you came here in a way that was not in accordance with the law.The question then becomes, how do you make that person accountable?I mean, one way of doing it is randomly or sporadically separating families, but you don’t have uniform enforcement, you’re pushing people into the shadows.They may not be paying taxes.They may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers.You are using all those resources instead of strengthening borders.And that’s not a smart outcome.

The second approach would be to pass laws that say, let’s improve the legal system.Because sometimes people actually would be qualified to come here if the system was just a little smoother, but they end up with a situation where they’ve got to wait years to be reunited with a family member who’s legally here and the heartache just becomes too great.So we’re — in some cases, we’re pushing people into the illegal system because we’re not making the legal system smart enough.

We can get people out of the shadows.We can acknowledge they are our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers.And then we still have to be serious about border security.And there have been times — I want to be very frank — there have been times where I’ve had arguments with immigrant rights activists who say, effectively, you know, there shouldn’t be any rules, these are good people, why should we have any kind of enforcement like this.And my response is, in the eyes of God, everybody is equal.In the eyes of God, some child in Mexico, Guatemala, Libya, Nepal is the equal of my child.

I don’t make any claims that my child is superior to somebody else’s child.But I’m the President of the United States, and nation states have borders.And, frankly, because America is so much wealthier than most countries around the world, if we had no system of enforcing our borders and our laws, then I promise you, everybody would try to come here, or if not everybody — maybe you wouldn’t have that many Swedes or Singaporians try to come here, but a whole lot of folks would try to come.And that we couldn’t accommodate.And it wouldn’t be fair, because there’s — you have to have some sort of line.It can’t just be — it can’t be whoever is able to get in here first, and then — it’s sort of first one to win the race.Because sometimes it’s just an accident that one person lives in a country that has a border with the United States, and another person in Somalia, it’s a lot harder to get here.

So the idea is, then, that what we try to do is to have a system that resets; that acknowledges — and this is where I think most Americans are.They recognize, you know what, people who are already here — many times they’ve been here 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, they’ve got deep roots here, they’ve shown themselves to be good people, their kids are for all practical purposes Americans — let’s just acknowledge they’re part of our community, they’re part of our society.

But then the tradeoff is, let’s try to make the legal system fairer, and in some cases, that means, for example, doing more work at the borders — although, by the way, the real work at the borders is not simply to just — more fencing and more people every five minutes at the borders, because we’ve already got a whole lot of folks at the borders.We can do some other additional stuff, but a lot of it is helping Mexico or helping Central American countries strengthen their economies so people don’t feel desperate and compelled to come here.

But I guess the bottom line is, what I say to folks on the other side of this debate is, work with me to reflect the wisdom of the American people.And I think the American people’s wisdom is, people who are already here, let’s give them a shot, let’s get them out of the shadows, but let’s also set up a legal system that is more reliable, more certain, more fair, doesn’t have people jumping the line, is more honest and reflecting the fact that families, it’s very hard for them to stay separated for 10, 15 years and so you shouldn’t set up a legal system that requires that.You’ve got to figure out a way to have it more reflective of human nature.

Now, does that mean everybody is going to listen to me on the other side?Not necessarily.They’re pretty sure I’m an illegal immigrant.(Laughter.)That was a joke.(Laughter.)But I mean, there are going to be some who just disagree with you.

The good news is, is that over time, these issues work themselves out.Anybody who is of Irish extraction — and that includes me, because I’ve been to a little town in Ireland called Moneygall, where my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather came over here.It turns out he was a boot maker, and it turns out Biden’s guy, Biden’s great-great-great-great-great came from I think the adjoining county within like 20 years.So me and Biden are — really are cousins.(Laughter.)

But anybody of Irish extraction just has to — read your history and look at how people talked about Irish immigrants.I mean, it was just — everything that’s said today was said about them — they’re criminals, they’re shiftless, they are draining our resources, they’re irresponsible, they’re going to change our culture.

And so if you read those passages, then you have to understand that this is not a new phenomenon.But the good news is, it should also be a source of optimism, because over time, essentially, new people get absorbed.And it’s always messy.It’s always a messy piece of business.

But the one thing that I want to emphasize — because sometimes this doesn’t get emphasized enough, and it seems somewhat abstract — but any economist will tell you that economies with younger workforces grow faster than economies with older workforces.One of the biggest advantages America has over Europe, over Japan, over China is we have a younger population.And it’s almost a mathematical certainty that we will grow faster than they do, all things being equal — I mean, we’ve got to make good choices about investing in research and development and education and all that stuff — but all things being equal, we will grow significantly faster than those other countries because our population is younger.

The only reason our population is younger is because we have this tradition of immigrants.Otherwise — because native-born Americans, actually, our birth rates are as low as Europeans’ are.But we replenish ourselves, and that’s good.And, by the way, people who are about my age right now, and who are going to be looking to draw on Social Security, when you’re 70, the way Social Security works, it’s the current workforce that pays for the retired workforce.And so you have a stake in these folks working and paying taxes, these young people, to support your retirement.So this is — it’s good for the economy as well as for our society.

How much time do I have?I want to make sure I’m not — am I doing pretty good?I’ve got a priest here who’s got his hand up, but it’s a woman’s turn first so this is — I’m a little nervous about not calling on him right away but I’m trying to stick to the rules here.(Laughter.)So all right, young lady right in the front here.

Q Hello, Mr. President.I am a senior in high school.And my question to you would be, how can we as young people in our communities get involved to address issues such as immigration or the access to a post-secondary education?What are some things we can do?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, if you’re here, you must already be involved.(Laughter.)You know, getting young people involved in civic life and activism and voting is one of the most important things we can do as a society.Because there are exceptions and there are people who are young at heart and young at mind, but the truth is, you get older, you get stuck in your ways and you start looking backwards and really focused on what was instead of what could be.

And again, part of the reason America has done so well is because we constantly reimagine ourselves, and we have a youthful culture that says, well, let’s — in the words of Robert Kennedy, some people ask why, and we have a tendency to ask why not.And that’s good.

Now, young people are also busy with — I got a couple young people at home — they have other things that they’re interested.I won’t name all of them.Hopefully some if it is their books and doing their homework.(Laughter.)And one of the most concerning things I had about the midterm elections was young people — the voting rates among young people dropped off drastically.

Young people have tended to vote at very high level during my presidential campaigns, but in between, they lose interest.And part of what your peers have to do is to understand that politics and government and policy and all the decisions that are going to shape your lives are not just a matter of one election, but it has to be sustained over time.

And when you think about what’s at stake right now, immigration is obviously a major issue.Climate change — most of those of us who are 50 or over, by the time the problems of a warming climate really hit, we’ll be gone, but you’ll still be around and your kids will be here.And if it’s having a significant impact on weather patterns, and drought, and wildfires, and flooding, and food, and migration, it’s not going to be pretty.So you have to get involved now to do something about it.

When we look at higher education costs, historically, Congress and state legislatures are more attentive to the demands of seniors than they are the demands of young people for one simple reason:Seniors vote, young people don’t.If you want state legislatures to increase support for higher education that then can help reduce tuition, then young people have to vote at a higher percentage than just 12 percent of those who vote.

Look at what’s happening right now with respect to concerns about bias and law enforcement, and policing.I mean, I met with a group of young activists, including several from Ferguson, to talk to them, and I was very impressed with how they presented themselves, and they were very serious and thoughtful.And I told them, I said, listen, I want you to continue to be active, because that’s how change happens.You need to be respectful.You need to understand that you’re not going to get 100 percent of the change that is needed, because that’s never been how society works, but if you are steady and you sustain it and you push it and you don’t tired or disappointed when you get half a loaf instead of a whole loaf, over time, the country and the world is transformed.

And I’m confident that — I said in an interview recently — America is a more just place, and issues of racial discrimination are lessened today than they were 50 years ago or 20 years ago, but that didn’t just happen by accident, that happened because people — especially young people — helped to make it happen.And over time, change occurs and people adjust to a new reality, and they open their heart and mind to new possibilities.And young people are typically the triggers of that.

So I think when your leaders like — young leaders like you are talking to your friends, you’ve got to just remind them that you have responsibilities and obligations.And make sure that you serve pizza at the meetings — (laughter) — because free food always helps when getting young people involved in social causes.(Laughter.)

All right, Father.Thank you for your patience there, sir.You’ve got a microphone behind you.

Q Father Joseph Freen (ph), native Nashvillian.I think I speak on behalf of a good number of people, Mr. President, of both parties — some you know may not agree with some of your policies.But I think I can speak for so many who are so proud of you for giving such a great example of a husband, of a father, and doing your very best as a President.

So we are very proud of you, grateful you’ve come to Nashville.We wish for you — I’m sure on behalf of all of us — a joyful and a blessed Christmas to you.

THE PRESIDENT:Well, I appreciate that very much.That’s very nice.Thank you.(Applause.)

I appreciate that, Father.It’s worth considering the Good Book when you’re thinking about immigration.This Christmas season there’s a whole story about a young, soon-to-be-mother and her husband of modest means looking for a place to house themselves for the night, and there’s no room at the inn.

And as I said the day that I announced these executive actions, we were once strangers too.And part of what my faith teaches me is to look upon the stranger as part of myself.And during this Christmas season, that’s a good place to start.

So thank you for your generous comment.But if we’re serious about the Christmas season, now is a good time to reflect on those who are strangers in our midst, and remember what it was like to be a stranger.

Last question.That was a pretty good place to end, though.(Laughter.)I got to admit.I kind of want to — but I’m going to call on one more person.Gentlemen, you can all put your hands down.I’m going to call on this young lady right here.

Q Hi, Mr. President.I’m an immigration attorney.And I wonder, what are the things that you deem necessary for comprehensive immigration reform if Congress does act soon?

THE PRESIDENT:Well, the Senate bill is a pretty good place to start.I do think there’s more work we can do at the borders.As I said before, it’s not just a matter of pouring money down there.

I’ll give you one very simple example.You’ll recall that some of the politics of this shifted during the summer when these unaccompanied children were here.And there was two weeks of wall-to-wall coverage.And we were being invaded by 8-, and 12- and 13-year-olds.I mean it was just terrifying, apparently.But it reflected a serious problem.You had smugglers, coyotes, who were essentially taking money from family members here, shuttling these kids up — it wasn’t that they weren’t apprehended.It wasn’t like they snuck through the border.What happened was they basically presented themselves at the border.They’d come in.And because there are so few immigration judges down there, because we hadn’t done a very good job cooperating with Central America and Mexico to deal — go after these smugglers, you’d then have a situation which the kids would oftentimes simply be released to the family member, and then that was the end of the things.

And so one of the things that we’ve done is — well, several things we did.Number one, I met with the Central American leaders down there and said, listen, you can’t — you’ve got to do something to message to families down here:Do not send your children on a dangerous path like this because we don’t know how many of them might have gotten killed, gotten abducted, trafficked in some terrible way.We have no way of keeping track of that.You can’t have them take this dangerous journey.

And to their credit, those Central American countries worked with us.We said to Mexico, you’ve got to do something more about the southern border.They did that.We now have the number of unaccompanied children below the rate that it was two years ago.So this was a momentary spike.

But also what we need to do is make sure that we have enough immigration lawyers down there that you can process kids and immigration judges to process kids in a timely fashion, but with due process so that if they have legitimate refugee claims, those can be presented, and if not, then they can be returned home.

So that’s not a strict border issue.It’s not a fence issue.It’s “have you set up a sensible process” issue.So I think that’s one pillar.

Second pillar is improving the legal immigration system.I already mentioned this but I’ll just repeat a couple of examples.Somebody who potentially qualifies to be a resident here, forcing them to leave the country and then waiting for years before they come back when they’ve got family members here, that’s just not how the human heart works.It’s very hard to expect somebody to do that.

Let’s have a more sensible, streamlined system.Let’s reduce some of the backlogs that already exist for people who actually qualify, but it’s just they’re waiting in line so long that they get frustrated.Let’s do something for especially talented and skilled people who are graduating.We educate them.We should be stapling a green card to graduates of top schools in fields that we know we need.And by the way, we can charge fees that we then use to make sure that American kids are getting the kinds of scholarships and training they need for those same jobs in the future.

We need to do more work.We need to deal with the agricultural sector.I’m generally skeptical when you hear employers say, well, we just can’t find any Americans to do the job.A lot of times what they really mean is, it’s a lot cheaper if we potentially hire somebody who has just come here before they know better in terms of what they’re worth.

But in the agriculture sector, there’s truth.We enjoy a lot of cheap fruits and vegetables and food stuffs because of the back-breaking work of farm workers.And we should find a system that is fair, make sure that they are not subject to exploitation, and helps us run the economy.We should make sure that we’re cracking down on employers who are purposely hiring undocumented workers so that they can get around minimum wage laws or overtime laws, so forth.

And finally, as I’ve discussed this whole afternoon, we should get people out of the shadows.And the Senate bill I thought had a sensible approach, which said, if you’ve been here a certain amount of time, you’ve got a clean record, you’re willing to submit yourself to a background check, you’re willing to pay back-taxes, you’re willing to pay a fine, learn English, go to the back of the line, but if you do all that, you can stay here for now and we’re going to put you on a pathway where eventually you can earn your citizenship, although it will be many years into the future because we still have to clear out those folks who did it the right way.

This concept — what I just described, that package — has bipartisan support.It’s not that it doesn’t have bipartisan support.The challenge is, is that there’s a certain segment — primarily within the Republican Party, although in fairness, in the Democratic Party there are some people who are resistant as well, who just keep on believing this notion of, that’s amnesty, that’s amnesty.

And what amnesty implies I think in the minds of the American people is that you’re getting something for nothing; that you’re getting over.And when you describe for people that, in fact, you do have to get a background check, you do have to register, you do have to pay fines, you do have to pay back-taxes, then people feel differently.But that’s never advertised by opponents.And that’s one reason why, by the way, that I’ve said to immigrant rights groups, you have to describe the responsibility side of this and not just the rights side of this.Because I think sometimes — I appreciate the immigrant rights groups.They speak from the heart, and they know the people involved.And they love them, and they want to just do right by them.And I get that.

But this is where you need to look at the other side of the equation and what people feel like is, you know what, if you’re just coming here for nothing, and I don’t know that you’re paying your taxes and you broke the law, and now suddenly I’m paying for your kid’s school and your kid’s hospitalization, and if feels unfair — at a time when people are already feeling burdened by their own challenges, trying to afford their own kid’s college education, or feeling like they’re worried about their own retirement.

So the langue we use I think is important.You have to speak to the fact that — if somebody broke the law, even if they’re good people, they’ve got to be held accountable.And there are going to be responsibilities involved in it.Because if it’s just rights and no responsibilities, then people feel resentful.

That make sense?All right, guys, I enjoyed spending time with you.Thank you.(Applause.)

END
3:37 P.M. CST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: at Kennedy Center Honors Reception — Transcript

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Source: WH, 12-7-14

East Room

5:09 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good evening.

THE PRESIDENT:  Welcome to the White House.  Michelle and I love this event.  Everybody looks so nice.  (Laughter.)  This is one of our favorites.  And as Lily used to say — that’s the truth.  (Laughter.)   Now, as a President, I cannot stick out my tongue.  That might cause an international incident.

But I want to start the evening by thanking David Rubenstein and the Kennedy Center Trustees, and the Kennedy Center’s new president, Deborah Rutter.  Where’s Deborah?  (Applause.)  Yay!  I want to thank George and Michael Stevens, who produce this event every year.  (Applause.)  Lately, they’ve won an Emmy for it just about every year, as well.  So we are very proud to have them here.  In fact, Michelle and I call this the “Stevens season.”  (Laughter.)

President Kennedy once wrote, “The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is very close to the center of a nation’s purpose — and is a test of the quality of a nation’s civilization.”

I think Tom Hanks will agree that President Kennedy was probably envisioning “Joe Versus the Volcano” when he wrote that.  (Laughter.)  Although, I have to say, “Big” was on last night.  (Applause.)  And that — so things balance out.  (Laughter.)  But it’s clear that the group on stage with me tonight understands what President Kennedy understood: that our art is a reflection of us not just as people, but as a nation.  It binds us together.  Songs and dance and film express our triumphs and our faults, our strengths, our tenderness in ways that sometimes words simply cannot do.  And so we honor those who have dedicated their lives to this endeavor.  Those who have tapped into something previously unspoken, or unsung, or unexpressed.  Those who have shown us not simply who they are, but who we all are.  Those who are able to tap into those things we have in common, and not just those things that push us apart.

Now, I’m going to start with somebody who I know all of you think about whenever I sing, and that’s Reverend Al Green.  (Laughter.)  I’ve been keeping his traditions alive.  (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Do it again.  Do it again.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I’m not going to do it again.  I’m not going to do it.  (Laughter.)  No.  No.  That was like a one-time thing.  My voice didn’t crack.  It was a fluke.  I can sing a little, but I cannot sing like Al Green.  Nobody can sing like Al Green.  (Applause.)  Nobody can sing like Al Green.  That soul, that light falsetto.  His music can bring people together.  In fact, he says he can hardly go anywhere without a fan coming up to him, pulling out a picture of one of their kids, and telling him which of his songs helped that child enter the world.  (Laughter.)  I embarrassed the Reverend.  Look, at him, he’s all like — (laughter).

Al was born in Forrest City, Arkansas, one of 10 kids packed into a two-bedroom house.  In his early 20s, he signed with Hi Records and helped bring Memphis soul into the spotlight with songs like “Tired of Being Alone.”

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Mm-hmm.

THE PRESIDENT:  Mm-hmm.  “Let’s Stay Together,” “Take Me to the River.”

AUDIENCE:  Mmm.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  They’re thinking about all those songs and how it brought people together.  (Laughter.)  In the 1970s, he became a pastor at his church in Memphis, and later he started churning out a string of gospel hits that earned him eight Grammys.  And as the years passed, he’s woven together his gospel and soul careers, recently collaborating with the Roots, John Legend, and his Memphis neighbor, Justin Timberlake.  And of course, he’s still singing from the pulpit on Sunday.  As he says, “The greatest thing that ever happened to me…the little boy from Arkansas, was that amidst all the doubts…I found peace.”  For the peace he found and the soul he has shared with all of us, tonight we honor the Reverend, Al Green.  (Applause.)

On the night of Patricia McBride’s farewell performance at the New York City Ballet, the crowd showered her with 13,000 roses.  Thankfully, they cut the thorns off first.  (Laughter.)  And that is fitting, because when you hear about Patricia, you hear about somebody who is all rose and no thorn; legendary for her good cheer, her sweetness, her unabashed joyfulness.  And that personality translated to the stage, where her humor and grace was matched only by her power and stamina, and incredible athleticism.  She’s one of the most versatile dancers we’ve ever seen.

Patricia became the principal dancer at the New York City Ballet when she was just 18 years old, the youngest to ever hold that role, and she kept at it for 28 years — longer than anybody else in history.  By the time she was finished, some of our greatest choreographers had written dozens of pieces just for her — which is not bad for a shy young girl who grew up in the shadow of World War II, putting glue on the toes of her dance shoes to make them last longer.

She’s the daughter of a single mom who worked as a bank secretary in a day when most mothers didn’t work outside the home, who pinched pennies from that job and paid the 75 cents for each dance lesson.  Today, Patricia hasn’t forgotten where she came from.  She and her husband Jean-Pierre are in charge of the critically acclaimed Charlotte Ballet, which offers a program that gives dance scholarships to young people in need.  So for sharing her spirit and her smile in so many ways, tonight we honor Patricia McBride.  (Applause.)

In “Nine To Five,” Lily Tomlin plays an undervalued employee whose chauvinist boss steals her ideas and screams at her to get coffee.  Finally, she and two coworkers get so fed up, they kidnap him.  They get to work changing the office.  Working moms get treated better.  Productivity rises.  The top brass are thrilled.  It’s basically a live-action version of the working family policies I’ve been promoting for years.  (Laughter and applause.)  We’ve sent DVDs to all members of Congress to try to get them on the program.  (Laughter.)

That role has Lily written all over it.  It’s edgy, a little dark, but fundamentally optimistic.  She’s created countless characters — from Ernestine, the telephone operator; to “Lucille the rubber freak;” to Edith Ann, the five-and-a-half-year-old philosopher — all of them kind of oddballs, like Lily — (laughter) — all portrayed with incredible warmth and affection, like Lily.  She pushed boundaries, as well.  On her 1973 variety show, “Lily,” she and Richard Pryor performed a skit called “Juke and Opal,” about two black folks hanging out in a diner.  (Laughter.)  One reviewer called it “the most profound meditation on race and class that I have ever seen on a major network” — which says something both about Lily and the major networks.  (Laughter.)  That was ad-libbed, by the way.  (Laughter.)  In her one-woman show, “The Search of Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe,” written by her brilliant partner, Jane Wagner — (applause) — yay, Jane — Lily played a dozen characters, transforming instantly into men and women, young, old, crazy and sane.

And this versatility has led to a flood of awards — Emmys, Tonys, a Grammy, Oscar nomination.  She’s just inches away from an EGOT.  And now she’s a Kennedy Center honoree.  When asked what she hoped her tribute tonight would look like, she said, “What I’d like to see is a big stream of gay drag artists come out as Ernestine.”  (Laughter and applause.)  I haven’t talked to George Stevens.  I don’t know whether this has been arranged.  (Laughter.)  Although, I’d like to see it, too.  I think — (laughter.)  But I can promise that your contributions to American stage and screen will live on.  For her genius, her compassion, for just being funny, we honor tonight Lily Tomlin.  (Applause.)

About 40 years ago, a young singer-songwriter named Gordon Sumner was known to wear a yellow and black striped sweater. Ever since, he’s been known by one name: Sting.  Now, not everybody can pull off a name like Sting, but this guy can.  His wife, Trudie, calls him Sting.  Apparently his kids call him Sting.  (Laughter.)  “POTUS” is a pretty good nickname — (laughter) — but let’s face it, it’s not as cool as “Sting.”  (Laughter.)  I kind of wish I was called “Sting.”  I’m stuck with “POTUS.”  (Laughter.)

But everybody knows that Sting is more than just a name.  He is an all-around creative force.  There’s his singular voice on classics from The Police — “Roxanne,” “Every Breath You Take,” “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic.”   There’s his incredible solo career — the songwriting that shape-shifts between rock and jazz and reggae, and rhythms drawn from all around the world.  He’s acted in films.  He’s topped the classical charts.  He just opened a musical on Broadway.  The guy once turned down a chance to be a Bond villain.  Who does that?  (Laughter.)  Sting apparently.  I mean, look at him — he’s too cool, right?

Because just being a celebrity was never Sting’s goal.  This is a man who comes from humble roots.  He’s the son of a milkman and a hairdresser.  When he was a child, he was so tall that his classmates called him “Lurch.”  They regret that now.  (Laughter.)  That’s payback right there.  He’s here.  You, whoever you are — you’re out there.  (Laughter and applause.)  Before he had any success as a singer, he had worked as a teacher, a construction worker, and in a tax office.  And if a few things had gone differently, we could be living in a world with a really hip, cool tax clerk named Lurch.  (Laughter.)  Instead, we’ve got Sting — artist, truth-teller, a champion of human rights, a champion of our environment.  And for all those reasons, and the fact that his music is spectacular and beautiful — for all those reasons, tonight we honor Sting.  (Applause.)

One of four kids in his family in Concord, California, Tom Hanks once said his idea of a good time growing up was to take a bus to Sacramento.  (Laughter.)  In the years since, Tom has flown a rocket to outer space, he’s fallen in love with a mermaid, he’s faced down Somali pirates, mooned the President of the United States.  (Laughter.)  I’m glad he got that last one out of his system before this evening.  (Laughter.)

Tom’s career began just like so many Hollywood legends — dressing in drag for a show called “Bosom Buddies” — (laughter) — kung-fu fighting The Fonz on “Happy Days.”  But he first won our hearts in comedy, with big hits like “Big” and “Splash.”  I did watch “Big” last night.  That’s a great movie.  I love that movie.  Got kind of choked up at the end.  And as the years passed, he told us “there’s no crying in baseball,” “life is like a box of chocolates.”  He told “Houston, we have a problem.”  And as a cartoon cowboy, he showed us we can always keep our faith in a little boy.

But Tom isn’t known simply for his characters — he’s known for his character.  For his tremendous support of our veterans, he’s in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame.  For his support of the space program, he has an asteroid named after him.  Through Tom, we’ve seen our World War II heroes not simply in sepia-tones somewhere in the distance, but as they truly were: gritty, emotional, flawed, human.  Through Tom, we saw the courageous faces behind an AIDS epidemic often overshadowed by stigma and bigotry.  Through Tom, again and again, we’ve seen our passion and our resolve, and our love for each other.  As his friend Steven Spielberg once said, “If Norman Rockwell were alive today, he would paint a portrait of Tom.”

And people have said that Tom is Hollywood’s everyman; that he’s this generation’s Jimmy Stewart or Gary Cooper.  But he’s just Tom Hanks.  And that’s enough.  That’s more than enough.  And for that, we honor him tonight — Mr. Tom Hanks.  (Applause.)

So, Reverend Al Green; Patricia McBride; Lily Tomlin;  Sting; Tom Hanks — charm, soul, spirit spunk — they’ve helped us better understand ourselves and each other.  And, as President Kennedy expressed, they’ve helped us center our purpose as a nation, and together reflect the quality of our society.  For that, we cannot thank them enough.  We are so glad to be able to celebrate these extraordinary people.  Thank you for everything that you’ve given to us over the years and for what you’re going to give us in the future.

Congratulations.  God bless you all.  Please join me in saluting one last time our extraordinary Kennedy Center Honorees for this evening.  (Applause.)

END

5:28 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 4, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President at National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Source: WH, 12-4-14 

Ellipse

6:12 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Merry Christmas, everybody!  (Applause.)  We saw this party going on out back and we thought we’d join you.

I want to thank Secretary Jewell for not only the introduction but for all that you and everybody who is part of the Interior Department and the Park Service do to protect the magnificent outdoors for our children and for future generations.  And I want to thank Jonathan Jarvis, Dan Wenk, and everybody at the National Park Service and the National Park Foundation for putting on this special event each and every holiday season.

I want everybody to give it up for our charming Christmas hosts tonight, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson.  (Applause.)  We have so enjoyed the incredible performers, including the one and only Patti LaBelle.  (Applause.)  And, finally, thanks to all of you who are here and watching at home for joining us to celebrate this wonderful holiday tradition.

Back in 1923, school kids here in Washington wrote a letter to the White House asking if they could put a Christmas tree on the South Lawn.  And more than 90 years and a few different evergreens later — (laughter) — the National Christmas Tree still stands as a symbol of hope and holiday spirit, and we still gather as a country each year to light it.

We still have school kids involved, too.  But this year, they’ve given all the state and territory trees surrounding the National Christmas Tree their first digital upgrade.  Young women from all 50 states used their computers — using their coding skills to control the colors and patterns of the lights on the trees.  (Applause.)  So thanks to those wonderful students.  It is incredibly impressive.  It’s actually one of the few things that Tom Hanks cannot do.  (Laughter.)

But while lighting the tree has entered into the 21st century, the story that we remember this season dates back more than 2,000 years.  It’s the story of hope –- the birth of a singular child into the simplest of circumstances -– a child who would grow up to live a life of humility, and kindness, and compassion; who traveled with a message of empathy and understanding; who taught us to care for the poor, and the marginalized, and those who are different from ourselves.  And more than two millennia later, the way he lived still compels us to do our best to build a more just and tolerant and decent world.

It is a story dear to my family as Christians, but its meaning is one embraced by all peoples across our country and around the world, regardless of how they pray, or whether they pray at all.  And that’s to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To be one another’s keepers.  To have faith in one another, and in something better around the bend.  Not just at Christmastime, but all the time.

And, finally, this Christmas, we count our blessings and we give thanks to the men and women of our military who help make those blessings possible.  And as we hold our loved ones tight, let’s remember the military families whose loved ones are far from home.  They are our heroes, and they deserve our heartfelt gratitude and our wholehearted support.  (Applause.)

So on behalf of Michelle, Malia, Sasha, mom-in-law — (laughter) — and our reindeer Bo and Sunny — (laughter) — I want to wish all of them and I want to wish all of you a very, very merry Christmas, and a holiday filled with joy.

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

END
6:17 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency November 27, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: Happy Thanksgiving from the Obama Family — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: Happy Thanksgiving from the Obama Family

Source: WH, 11-27-14

Washington, DC — In this week’s address, the President wished everyone a happy Thanksgiving and reflected on the history of our country and its celebration of diversity. He gave thanks for the many Americans who sacrifice every day, from volunteer workers who serve their communities, to men and women in uniform who serve us all. On Thanksgiving, a holiday that is uniquely American, he reminded us to focus on what unites — our commitment to American ideals like justice and equality and our gratitude and love for our country.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
November 27, 2014

On behalf of the Obama family — Michelle, Malia, Sasha, Bo, and Sunny — I want to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. Like many of you, we’ll spend the day with family and friends, catching up, eating some good food and watching a little football. Before we lift a fork, we lend a hand by going out in the community to serve some of our neighbors in need. And we give thanks for each other, and for all of God’s blessings.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because, more than any other, it is uniquely American. Each of us brings our own traditions and cultures and recipes to the table — but we all share this day, united by the gratitude for the bounty of this nation. And we welcome the contributions of all people — no matter their origin or color or beliefs — who call America home, and who enrich the life of our nation. It is a creed as old as our founding: “E pluribus unum” — that our of many, we are one.

We are reminded that this creed, and America itself, was never an inevitability, but the result of ordinary people in every generation doing their part to uphold our founding ideals — by taking the blessings of freedom, and multiplying them for those who would follow. As President Kennedy once wrote, even as we give thanks for all that we’ve inherited from those who came before us — “the decency of purpose, steadfastness of resolve and strength of will, for the courage and the humility, which they posessed,” we must also remember that “the highest appreciation is not to utter words but to live by them.”

Today, we are grateful to all Americans who do their part to live by those ideals, including our brave men and women in uniform overseas and their families, who sacrifice so much to keep America safe. To our service members who are away from home, we say an extra prayer for you and your loved ones, and we renew our commitment to take care of you as well as you’ve taken care of us.

We are grateful to the countless Americans who serve their communities in soup kitchens and shelters, looking out for those who are less fortunate, and lifting up those who have fallen on hard times. This generosity, this compassion, this belief that we are each other’s keepers, is essential to who we are, not just on this day, but every day.

It’s easy to focus on what separates us. But as we gather with loved ones on this Thanksgiving, let’s remember and be grateful for what binds us together. Our love of country. Our commitment to justice and equality. Our belief that America’s best days are ahead, and that her destiny is ours to shape — and that our inherited ideals must be the birthright of all of our children.

That’s what today is all about: that out of many, we are one. Thank you, God bless you, and from my family to yours, Happy Thanksgiving.

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