Full Text Political Transcripts August 15, 2017: President Donald Trump’s Press Conference on Infrastructure & Chalottesville, Virginia

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

President Donald Trump’s Press Conference on Infrastructure & Chalottesville, Virginia

Source: Politico, 8-15-17

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hello, everybody. Great to be back in New York with all of our friends, and some great friends outside the building, I must tell you.

I want to thank all of our distinguished guests who are with us today, including members of our cabinet, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney, and of course our Transportation Secretary, who’s doing a fabulous job, Elaine Chao.
Thank you all for doing a — a really incredible and creative job on what we’re going to be discussing today, which is infrastructure.
We just had a great set of briefings upstairs on our infrastructure agenda. My administration is working every day to deliver the world-class infrastructure that our people deserve, and frankly, that our country deserves. That’s why I just signed a new executive order to dramatically reform the nation’s badly broken infrastructure permitting process.
TRUMP: Just blocks away is the Empire State Building. It took 11 months to build the Empire State Building. But today, it can take as long as a decade and much more than that. Many, many stories where it takes 20 and 25 years just to get approvals to start construction of a fairly routine highway. Highway builders must get up to 16 different approvals involving 9 different federal agencies governed by 29 different statutes. One agency alone can stall a project for many, many years and even decades.
Not only does this cost our economy billions of dollars but it also denies our citizens the safe and modern infrastructure they deserve. This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self- inflicted wound on our country. It’s disgraceful. Denying our people much-needed investments in their community and I just want to show you this because it was just shown me and I think I’m going to show it to the media.
Both real and fake media, by the way. This is what it takes to get something approved today.
Elaine, you see that?
So this is what it takes. Permitting process flow chart, that’s a flow chart. So that can go out to 20 years, this shows about 10. But that can go out to about 20 years to get something approved. This is for a highway. I’ve seen a highway recently in a certain state, I won’t mention its name, it’s 17 years.
I could have built it for $4 million or $5 million without the permitting process. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars but it took 17 years to get it approved and many, many — many, many pages of environmental impact studies. This is what we will bring it down to. This is less than two years. This is going to happen quickly, that’s what I’m signing today.
This will be less than two years for a highway. So it’s going to be quick, it’s going to be a very streamlined process. And by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it. Very simple. We’re not going to approve it. So this is — maybe this one, we’ll say “let’s throw the other one away.” Would anybody like it from the media? Would anybody like that long, beautiful chart? You can have it.
So my executive order also requires agencies to work together efficiently by requiring one lead agency for each major infrastructure project. It also holds agencies accountable if they fail to streamline their review process. So each agency is accountable. We’re going to get infrastructure built quickly; inexpensively, relatively speaking; and the permitting process will go very, very quickly.
No longer will we tolerate one job-killing delay after another. No longer will we accept a broken system that benefits consultants and lobbyists at the expense of hardworking Americans. Now, I knew the process very well, probably better than anybody. I had to get permits for this building and many of the buildings I built — all of the buildings I built in Manhattan and many other places.
And I will tell you that the consultants are rich people. They go around making it very difficult, they lobby Congress, they lobby state governments, city governments to make it very difficult so that you have to hire consultants and that you have to take years and pay them a fortune. So we’re streamlining the process and we won’t be having so much of that any more.
No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay. While protecting the environment, we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways. We will rebuild our country with American workers, American iron, American aluminum, American steel. We will create millions of new jobs and make millions of American dreams come true.
Our infrastructure will again be the best in the world. We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world. And today we’re like a third world country. We’re literally like a third world country. Our infrastructure will again be the best and we will restore the pride in our communities, our nation and all over the United States, we’ll be proud again.
So I want to thank everybody for being here. God bless you, God bless the United States. And if you have any questions, we have — Mick, you could come up here, please. Come on up. Mick Mulvaney. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.
QUESTION: Why do you think that CEOs are leaving your manufacturing council?
TRUMP: Because they’re not taking their job seriously as it pertains to this country. We want jobs, manufacturing in this country. If you look at some of those people that you’re talking about, they’re outside of the country. They’re having a lot of their product made outside. If you look at Merck, as an example, take a look where — excuse me — excuse me — take a look at where their product is made. It’s made outside of our country. We want products made in the country.
Now, I have to tell you, some of the folks that will leave, they’re leaving out of embarrassment because they make they’re products outside. And I’ve been lecturing them, including the gentleman that you’re referring to, about you have to bring it back to this country. You can’t do it necessarily in Ireland and all of these other places. You have to bring this work back to this country.
That’s what I want. I want manufacturing to be back into the United States so that American workers can benefit.
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: … wait so long (inaudible)?
TRUMP: I didn’t wait long. I didn’t wait long.
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: I didn’t wait long. I wanted to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct, not make a quick statement. The statement I made on Saturday, the first statement, was a fine statement. But you don’t make statements that direct unless you know the facts. It takes a little while to get the facts. You still don’t know the facts. And it’s a very, very important process to me. And it’s a very important statement.
So, I don’t want to go quickly and just make a statement for the sake of making a political statement. I want to know the facts. If you go back to my…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: I brought it. I brought it. I brought it.
QUESTION: What did you (inaudible)?
TRUMP: As I said on — remember this — Saturday, we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence. It has no place in America. And when I went on from there.
Now, here’s the thing. As to — excuse me — excuse me — take it nice and easy.
Here’s the thing. When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts. This event just happened. In fact, a lot of the event didn’t even happen yet, as we were speaking. This event just happened. Before I make a statement, I need the facts.
So I don’t want to rush into a statement. So making the statement when I made it was excellent. In fact, the young woman who I hear is a fantastic young women, and it was on NBC, her mother wrote me and said through, I guess, Twitter, social media, the nicest things and I very much appreciate that.
I hear she was a fine, a really — actually, an incredible young woman. But her mother on Twitter thanked me for what I said. And honestly, if the press were not fake and if it was honest, the press would have said what I said was very nice. But unlike you and unlike — excuse me — unlike you and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts.
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: They don’t. They don’t.
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: How about a couple of…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: How about a couple of infrastructure questions?
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: Mr. Trump, was it terrorism, that event? Was that terrorism?
TRUMP: Say, what?
QUESTION: The CEO of Walmart said you missed a (inaudible) opportunity to help bring the country together. Did you?
TRUMP: Not at all. I think the country — look, you take a look. I’ve created over a million jobs since I’m president. The country is booming. The stock market is setting records. We have the highest employment numbers we’ve ever had in the history of our country.
We’re doing record business. We have the highest levels of enthusiasm. So the head of Walmart, who I know is a very nice guy, was making a political statement. I mean…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: … it the same way. And you know why? Because I want to make sure when I make a statement that the statement is correct. And there was no way — there was no way of making a correct statement that early.
I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters — unlike a lot of reporters…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: I didn’t know David Duke was there. I wanted to see the facts. And the facts as they started coming out were very well stated. In fact, everybody said his statement was beautiful; if he would have made it sooner, that would have been good. I couldn’t have made it sooner because I didn’t know all of the facts.
Frankly, people still don’t know all of the facts. It was very important that — excuse me, excuse me — it was very important to me to get the facts out and correctly. Because if I would have made a fast statement, and the first statement was made without knowing much other than what we were seeing.
The second statement was made after — with knowledge, with great knowledge. There are still things — excuse me — there are still things that people don’t know.
TRUMP: I want to make a statement with knowledge. I wanted to know the facts.
OK…
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: Was it — two questions. Was it terrorism? And can you tell us what you’re feeling about your…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Well, I think the driver of the car is a disgrace to himself, his family and his country. And that is — you can call it terrorism. You can call it murder. You can call it whatever you want. I would just call it as the fastest one to come up with a good verdict. That’s what I’d call it. Because there is a question. Is it murder? Is it terrorism? And then you get into legal semantics.
The driver of the car is a murderer. And what he did was a horrible, horrible, inexcusable thing.
QUESTION: Can you tell us how you’re feeling about your chief strategist, Mr. Bannon? Can you talk about that?
TRUMP: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I would echo Maggie’s (ph) question. Steve Bannon…
TRUMP: I never spoke to Mr. Bannon about it.
QUESTION: But can you tell us broadly what you’re — do you still have confidence in Steve (ph)?
TRUMP: Well, we see (ph) — and look, look. I like Mr. Bannon. He’s a friend of mine. But Mr. Bannon came on very late, you know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him. He’s a good man. He is not a racist, I can tell you that. He’s a good person. He actually gets a very unfair press in that regard.
But we’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon, but he’s a good person, and I think the press treats him, frankly, very unfairly.
QUESTION: Do you have confidence in him? Because he has called on you to defend your national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, against…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: I’ve already done it. I did it the last time.
QUESTION: And he called on it again (ph) linking this (ph)…
TRUMP: Senator McCain?
QUESTION: …the alt-right and…
TRUMP: Senator McCain, you mean the one who voted against Obamacare? Who is — you mean Senator McCain who voted against us getting good healthcare?
QUESTION: Senator McCain said that the alt-right is behind these attacks, and he linked that same group to those who perpetrated the attack in Charlottesville.
TRUMP: Well, I don’t know — I can’t tell you. I’m sure Senator McCain must know what he’s talking about. But when you say the “alt- right,” define “alt-right” to me. You define it, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I think that (ph)…
TRUMP: No, define it for me, come on. Let’s go. Define it for me.
QUESTION: Senator McCain defined them as the same group…
TRUMP: OK, what about the alt-left that came charging them (ph)? Excuse me. What about the alt-left that came charging at the — as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?
QUESTION: Mr. Trump…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Let me ask you this. What about the fact they came charging — that they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs? Do they have any problem? I think they do.
QUESTION: Sir…
TRUMP: As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day.
Wait a minute, I’m not finished.
(CROSSTALK)
I’m not finished, fake news. That was a horrible day…
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)
TRUMP: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it. And you have — you had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group — you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent.
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you think that the — what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?
TRUMP: Those people — all of those people — excuse me. I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were White Supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee.
So — excuse me. And you take a look at some of the groups and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not, but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson’s coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after?
You know, you all — you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop? But they were there to protest — excuse me. You take a look, the night before, they were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
Infrastructure question, go ahead.
QUESTION: Should the statue of Robert E. Lee stay up?
TRUMP: I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located.
QUESTION: Are you against the Confederacy?
QUESTION: How concerned are you about race relations in America? And do you think things have gotten worse or better since you took office?
TRUMP: I think they’ve gotten better or the same — look, they’ve been frayed for a long time. And you can ask President Obama about that, because he’d make speeches about it.
But I believe that the fact that I brought in — it will be soon, millions of jobs, you see where companies are moving back into our country, I think that’s going to have a tremendous positive impact on race relations. We have companies coming back into our country. We have two car companies that just announced. We have Foxconn in Wisconsin just announce. We have many companies I say pouring back into the country.
I think that’s going to have a huge, positive impact on race relations. You know why? It’s jobs. What people want now, they want jobs. They want great jobs with good pay. And when they have that, you watch how race relations will be.
And I’ll tell you, we’re spending a lot of money on the inner cities. We’re going to fix — we’re fixing the inner cities. We’re doing far more than anybody’s done with respect to the inner cities. It’s a priority for me. And it’s very important.
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you putting what you’re calling the alt-left and white supremacists on the same moral plane?
TRUMP: I’m not putting anybody on a moral plane. What I’m saying is this. You had a group on one side and you had a group on the other, and they came at each other with clubs and it was vicious and it was horrible. And it was a horrible thing to watch.
But there is another side. There was a group on this side, you can call them the left. You’ve just called them the left — that came violently attacking the other group. So you can say what you want, but that’s the way it is.
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: … on both sides, sir?
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: You said there was hatred, there was violence on both sides. Are…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Well, I do think there’s blame — yes, I think there’s blame on both sides. You look at — you look at both sides. I think there’s blame on both sides. And I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it either.
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: And — and — and if you reported it accurately, you would say (inaudible).
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: (inaudible) started this (inaudible) Charlottesville. They showed up in Charlottesville to protest…
(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. (inaudible) themselves (inaudible) and you have some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. You had people in that group — excuse me, excuse me — I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: George Washington and Robert E. Lee are not the same (inaudible)…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: George Washington was a slave-owner. Was George Washington a slave-owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down — excuse me — are we going to take down — are we going to take down statues to George Washington?
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him?
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: OK. Good. Are we going to take down the statue? Because he was a major slave-owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history. You’re changing culture. And you had people, and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally. But you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
OK? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also, you had some fine people, but you also had troublemakers and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You’ve got — you had a lot of bad — you had a lot of bad people in the other group…
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: … treated unfairly (inaudible) you were saying. You were saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? (inaudible) understand what you’re saying.
TRUMP: No, no. There were people in that rally, and I looked the night before. If you look, they were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day, it looked like they had some rough, bad people — neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them.
But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest, because you know — I don’t know if you know, they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit.
So, I only tell you this, there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country (sic).
Does anybody have a final — doesn’t anybody have a — you have an infrastructure…
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: What makes you think you can get an infrastructure bill? You didn’t get health care. You…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: Well, you know, I’ll tell you. We came very close with health care. Unfortunately, John McCain decided to vote against it at the last minute. You’ll have to ask John McCain why he did that. But we came very close to health care. We will end up getting health care, but we’ll get the infrastructure. And actually, infrastructure is something that I think we’ll have bipartisan support on. I actually think — I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.
(CROSSTALK)
QUESTION: Mr. President, have you spoken to the family — have you spoken to the family of the victim of the car…
(CROSSTALK)
TRUMP: … I’ll be reaching out. I’ll be reaching out.
QUESTION: When will you be reaching out?
TRUMP: I was very — I thought that the statement put out — the mother’s statement I thought was a beautiful statement. I must tell you, I was — it was something that I really appreciated. I thought it was terrific. And really, under the — under the kind of stress that she’s under and the heartache that she’s under, I thought putting out that statement to me was really something I won’t forget.
Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you.
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Full Text Political Transcripts August 10, 2017: President Donald Trump Press Conference on North Korea

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

President Trump Press Conference 

Source: White House, 8-10-17

 

 

Full Text Political Transcripts April 5, 2017: President Donald Trump and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan Remarks at Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan in Joint Press Conference

Rose Garden

1:10 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you very much.  Your Majesty, thank you for being with us today.  Very much appreciate it.  This is our second meeting since my inauguration, but our first at the White House.  A very special place, I can tell you that.  I’ve gotten to know it well.  Long hours.  Very special.

It’s really an honor to welcome you here today. But before we begin, let me say a few words about recent events.

Yesterday, a chemical attack — a chemical attack that was so horrific, in Syria, against innocent people, including women, small children, and even beautiful little babies.  Their deaths was an affront to humanity.  These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerate.

The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this horrific attack and all other horrific attacks, for that matter.

Your Majesty, Jordanians are known for their legendary hospitality, and we will do our very best to be equally gracious hosts.  They’re also known, however — I have to say this — for their fighting ability.  And you are a great warrior, and we appreciate it.  Thank you.

The historical ties and close friendship between our two countries dates back three-quarters of a century.  In that time, the Middle East has faced many periods of crisis and unrest, perhaps never like it is today, however.  Through them all, America has looked to Jordan as a valued partner, an advocate for the values of civilization, and a source of stability and hope.

I am deeply committed to preserving our strong relationship — which I will — and to strengthening America’s longstanding support for Jordan.  And you do have tremendous support within our country, I can tell you that.

As we know, the Middle East — and the entire world — is faced with one of its gravest threats in many, many years.  Since the earliest days of the campaign against ISIS, Jordan has been a staunch ally and partner, and we thank you for that.  Jordanian servicemembers have made tremendous sacrifices in this battle against the enemies of civilization, and I want to thank all of them for their, really, just incredible courage.  So many have been lost, and we pay homage.  So many.

In King Abdullah, America is blessed with a thoughtful and determined partner.  He is a man who has spent years commanding his country’s special forces.  He really knows what being a soldier is, that I can tell you.  And he knows how to fight. The King has been a leader in calling for a plan to defeat ISIS once and for all.  And I’m with you on that.  We’re both leaders on that, believe me.  That’s what we speak about today, and that is what we are going to do.  And it will be a shorter fight than a lot of people are thinking about, believe me.  We’ve made tremendous strides as we discussed.

As you know, we had a very, very fine delegation come over from Egypt and also from Iraq, and they said more has been done in the last six weeks than has been done in years with the previous administration.  And believe me, we’re going to keep it that way.

We will destroy ISIS and we will protect civilization.  We have no choice — we will protect civilization.  King Abdullah and I also discussed measures to combat the evil ideology that inspires ISIS and plagues our planet.  In addition, we also acknowledge the vital role that Jordan has played in hosting refugees from the conflict in Syria.  We have just announced that the United States will contribute additional funds to Jordan for humanitarian assistance.  This aid will help countries like Jordan host refugees until it is safe for them to return home.  The refugees want to return home.  I know that from so many other instances.  They want to return back to their home.  And that’s a goal of any responsible refugee policy.

Finally, we discussed to advance the cause of peace in the Middle East, including peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.  And I’m working very, very hard on trying to finally create peace between the Palestinians and Israel, and I think we’ll be successful.  I hope to be successful, I can tell you that.

The King has been a really tireless advocate for a solution, and he’s going to help me with that and help me at the highest level.  And we will be consulting with him closely in the days ahead.

King Abdullah, I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your partnership.  Working together, the United States and Jordan can help bring peace and stability to the Middle East and, in fact, the entire world.  And we will do that.

Thank you very, very much for being with us.  (Applause.)

KING ABDULLAH:  Thank you.  Mr. President, thank you for such a kind and warm welcome to the White House.  I fondly remember the meetings we’ve had many years ago and, more recently, several months ago.  You’ve always been a generous host and have always looked after us.  We are very delighted with the way the discussions have gone so far, and we’re delighted to be here in such a wonderful setting on such a beautiful day, which I think is a tremendous mark of how we are going to move into the future.

We’ve had a very good round of talks today, and I’m looking forward to continuing these discussions later on in our meetings after the press conference.  What I do want to say is how much we deeply appreciate the close relations we have with the United States, with you, Mr. President, and with the American people.  This is a strategic partnership that we keep very close to our hearts, and it is a partnership on so many levels that we will continue, I think, with the frank discussions that we had today to improve on as we face the challenges of the future.  And I am very delighted for your vision, your holistic approach to all the challenges in our region, and to the dedication of your team in being able to translate your policies into action successfully, hopefully, as we move forward.

The challenges we face today are many and are not exclusive to my region, as I’ve just mentioned.  They are global, and particularly the threats to global security.  Terrorism has no borders, no nationality, no religion, and, therefore, joint action with a holistic approach, as I had just mentioned, Mr. President, is crucial.  I am very delighted that you have the vision to be able to move in that direction, and I think that the world will be in a very good place as we move with all these challenges ahead.

No doubt, with all the challenges that we face in the world, the role of the U.S. is key to all the issues that we have around the world, but it’s not just the fact that we should expect the United States to do all the heavy lifting.  The heavy lifting has to be done by all of us in the international community to support the United States in being able to translate that vision into the right direction.  So there’s a lot of responsibility for all of us in the international community to support the President, the administration, and the American people to bring brighter days to all of us.

We are very encouraged with the President’s determination to support Arab and Muslim states in their fight against terrorism.  But it is not only the fight of terrorism inside of our societies, but we, as Arab-Muslim states standing behind the international community in being able to defeat this international scourge.

In Syria, we need a political solution that ends the conflict in the country and preserve its unity and territorial integrity.

As the President mentioned, the issue we discussed was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is essentially the core conflict in our region.  And the President’s early engagement as beginning in bringing the Palestinians and Israelis together has been a very encouraging sign for all of us.  And I think, sir, it was that initiative that allowed us at the Arab Summit last week to extend through the Arab Peace Initiative the message of peace to Israel, which we all hopefully will work together to make that come about.

All Arab countries — we launched the Arab Peace Initiative, as I said, last week.  It offers a historic reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as all member states of the Arab League.  It is the most comprehensive framework for lasting peace and it ensures statehood for the Palestinians, but also security, acceptance and normal ties for Israel with all Arab countries and hopefully all Islamic countries.

So we appreciate your commitment in all these issues where others have failed.  You will find a strong ally in Jordan in supporting you in all your policies.  And if I may just say, as you have, on Syria and the gas attack — unfortunately, as you and I both agree, this is another testament to the failure of the international diplomacy to find the solutions to this crisis.  But I believe under your leadership we will be able to unravel this very complicated situation.

This has been ongoing for seven years now, has descended into proxy wars from different parties with dubious agendas.  But at the end of the day, as you pointed out, Mr. President, it is the civilians — women and children — that are paying the heaviest price.  This is happening on our watch, on our conscience, as well as the global community.  And I know the passion and the emotion that the President has expressed and how this should not be tolerated whatsoever.  And this threshold of inhumanity and savagery that are being crossed every day is something that I know the President will not allow to happen, wherever it may be.  And I fully support and endorse the President in this issue.

So I want to thank you, sir, because you have the outlook of looking not just at the Syrian challenges but that of Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Libya, and everything that is in our region.  So I think your message to all of us is a message of hope, and that’s what I take away from this conference.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you very much.

KING ABDULLAH:  And I thank you for all that you have done so far and all that you will do, sir.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  We’ll take a few questions.  Julie Pace.

Q    Thank you, sir.  I have questions on Syria for both leaders.  But if I could start with you, Mr. President.  You’ve condemned the chemical attacks in Syria, but you also appeared in your statement yesterday to pin some of the blame on the Obama administration.  You are the President now.  Do you feel like you bear responsibility for responding to the chemical attack?  And does the chemical attack cross a red line for you?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Well, I think the Obama administration had a great opportunity to solve this crisis a long time ago when he said the red line in the sand.  And when he didn’t cross that line after making the threat, I think that set us back a long ways, not only in Syria, but in many other parts of the world, because it was a blank threat.  I think it was something that was not one of our better days as a country.

So I do feel that, Julie.  I feel it very strongly.

Q    So you feel like you now have the responsibility to respond to the chemical attack?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly, I will tell you that.  It is now my responsibility.  It was a great opportunity missed.  As you know, I’ll be meeting with the President of China very soon, in Florida, and that’s another responsibility we have — and that’s called the country of North Korea.  We have a big problem.  We have somebody that is not doing the right thing.  And that’s going to be my responsibility.  But I’ll tell you, that responsibility could have been made a lot easier if it was handled years ago.

Q    Before I move on to the King, could I just quickly ask you if the chemical attack crosses a red line for you?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  It crossed a lot of lines for me.  When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.  Many, many lines.

Thank you very much.

Q    And, Your Majesty, if I could ask about refugees.  Your country has really borne the brunt of the refugee crisis in Syria.  The President has signed travel bans that would block Syrians from coming to the U.S.  If that goes into effect, what would the impact on your country and across the region be?

KING ABDULLAH:  Well, I think as the President pointed out, most, if not all, Syrian refugees actually want to go back to Syria.  And what we’re working with the United States and the international community is to be able to stabilize the refugees in our country, give them the tools so that, as we’re working with the solutions in Syria, we have the ability to be able to send them back as a positive influence into their economies.

And again, the President and the Europeans are being very forward-leaning in being able look after our host community — tremendous burden on our country, but again, tremendous appreciation to the United States and the Western countries for being able to help us deliver that.

Q    Your Majesty, how does the outcome of the recent Arab Summit help the U.S. in its policy to advance Palestinian-Israeli negotiations?

KING ABDULLAH:  Well, as I said, our peace initiative came out with a resounding resolution to offer peace to the Israelis, to make them feel that they’re accepted into the neighborhood, and to be able to support the President as he brings both parties together.

And again, I have to remind people that very early on there was an early engagement by the President and his team to the Israelis and the Palestinians to be able to see what he can do to bring them together.  It is the core conflict for a lot of us in the region.  The President knows this.  He has his instincts in the right place.  And working with his team, our job, as I said, is to do the heavy lifting.  The Arabs are prepared to do whatever they can to bring Israelis and Palestinians together under the leadership of the President.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you.  John Yang (ph).

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’d like to follow up on Julie’s question and press you a little more on Syria.  How will you distinguish your policy and your actions on Syria from the inaction that you criticized of the previous administration?  You say it’s now your responsibility.  What should we see or what should we look for that will be different?

And, Your Majesty, I’d like to ask you, what gives you — this is now your second meeting with the President — what gives you the optimism that Mr. Trump will succeed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where so many others have failed before him to be a broker for peace?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I like to think of myself as a very flexible person.  I don’t have to have one specific way, and if the world changes, I go the same way, I don’t change.  Well, I do change and I am flexible, and I’m proud of that flexibility.  And I will tell you, that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact.  That was a horrible, horrible thing.  And I’ve been watching it and seeing it, and it doesn’t get any worse than that.

And I have that flexibility, and it’s very, very possible — and I will tell you, it’s already happened that my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.  And if you look back over the last few weeks, there were other attacks using gas.  You’re now talking about a whole different level.

And so, as you know, I would love to have never been in the Middle East.  I would love to have never seen that whole big situation start.  But once it started, we got out the wrong way, and ISIS formed in the vacuum, and lots of bad things happened.  I will tell you, what happened yesterday is unacceptable to me.

Q    Can I follow up, sir?  Last year, you seemed to be reluctant to get involved — or to intervene in Syria directly.  Is that one thing that’s changed after yesterday?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Well, one of the things I think you’ve noticed about me is, militarily, I don’t like to say where I’m going and what I doing.  And I watched past administrations say, we will attack at such and such a day at such and such an hour.  And you, being a warrior — you would say, why are they saying that?  And I’m sure you sat back in Jordan, and you said, why are they saying that?

I watched Mosul, where the past administration was saying, we will be attacking in four months.  And I said, why are they doing that?  Then a month goes by, and they say, we will be attacking in three months, and then two months, and then we will be attacking next week.  And I’m saying, why are they doing that?  And as you know, Mosul turned out to be a much harder fight than anyone thought, and a lot of people have been lost in that fight.

I’m not saying I’m doing anything one way or the other, but I’m certainly not going to be telling you, as much as I respect you, John.  Thank you.

KING ABDULLAH:  Sir, I think, on behalf of the President, what I saw was an early engagement by the President and his team, with all of us in the region, about the challenges between the Israelis and Palestinians.  I had the honor of seeing the President and his team again in January where this was discussed.  The President understands the nuances and the challenges.  I think he has the courage and the dedication to be able to do this.  Like I said before, all of us have a responsibility to help the President push us over the finish line.

And so, his team had been in the region, they’ve been talking to all the partners, and it is our job to facilitate the atmospherics between Israelis and Palestinians to move together, and give the support to the President to be able to smooth the edges over between Israelis and Palestinians to achieve this.  And the President understands that if we don’t solve this problem, how are we going to win the global fight against terrorism, which is his number-one priority?  So this is a core issue that he understands, and I think he has the commitment and he has my full support for this, as he does from many, many countries in our region.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  And I have to just say that the world is a mess.  I inherited a mess.  Whether it’s the Middle East, whether it’s North Korea, whether it’s so many other things, whether it’s in our country — horrible trade deals — I inherited a mess.  We’re going to fix it.  We’re going to fix it.

Okay.

Q    Thank you, Your Majesty.  You touch upon the subject now, but if I ask you to look forward, how do you see the future of fighting terrorism post-Raqqa and Mosul, especially the role that Jordan will play in the eastern part of Iraq?  And do you believe the real battle will start then?

And if I may, Mr. President, you know very well that the Iranian militias and Hezbollah has been propping the Syrian regime for a while — over a few years now.  Will you go after them?  What message will you give them today?  And will you work with the Russians to ground the Syrian air force and to establish safe zones?  Thank you.

KING ABDULLAH:  Well, the first part is that we are seeing, very recently, tremendous gains on the ground in Raqqa and Mosul.  Again, I think, as the President alluded to, it’s very difficult to put timelines on this issue because the battle space is always very fluid.  But I think that the war is being won on the ground.

Having said that, terrorists are on the move.  They’ll be on the move inside of Iraq and inside of Syria, so that we have to make sure that we adapt our plans accordingly.  And they move beyond borders, beyond our region and elsewhere.  So as we and the administration have discussed, it’s this holistic approach:   How do we fight them wherever they are?  And I think that is the understanding.

Terrorists have no respect for borders and religions and people.  So it’s the seriousness of how we do this holistic approach that I’ve mentioned several times.  And what I am really delighted is that the understanding by the President and the administration in how to deal with this globally.

And I think you’re seeing a move in the right direction because the policy now is being charted out, and my discussions with the Defense Secretary and the Foreign Secretary allows us to be then able to decide how we adapt ourselves in the region to be able to come in line with international diplomacy.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  The Iran deal made by the previous administration is one of the worst deals I have ever witnessed — and I’ve witnessed some beauties.  It’s one of the worst deals I’ve ever witnessed.  It should never have been made.  It was totally one-sided against the United States, and, frankly, against much of the Middle East.

I will do whatever I have to do.  They have a deal.  It was, some people say, not done properly even in the form of its finalization.  There was no vote from Congress.  There was no real ratification.  But I will do what I have to do with respect to the Iran deal.  As far as ISIS is concerned, the United States will work with whoever it’s appropriate to work with to totally eradicate ISIS and other terrorists.  And, by the way, ISIS is one group, but others have formed.  Frankly, they’re all over the place.  We will do what we have to do to eradicate terrorism.

Q    But, sir, I’m talking about the Iranian militias in Syria supporting the Syrian regime separate of the nuclear deal.  What message do you have for them today?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  You will see.  They will have a message.  You will see what the message will be.  Okay?  Thank you.

Thank you all very much.  Thank you.  Thank you.

END
1:35 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts February 21, 2017: President Donald Trump’s Remarks at Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump in Press Conference

Source: WH, 2-16-17

East Room

12:55 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  I just wanted to begin by mentioning that the nominee for Secretary of the Department of Labor will be Mr. Alex Acosta.  He has a law degree from Harvard Law School, was a great student.  Former clerk for Justice Samuel Alito.  And he has had a tremendous career.  He’s a member, and has been a member, of the National Labor Relations Board, and has been through Senate confirmation three times, confirmed — did very, very well.  And so Alex, I’ve wished him the best.  We just spoke.  And he’s going to be — I think he’ll be a tremendous Secretary of Labor.

And also, as you probably heard just a little while ago, Mick Mulvaney, former congressman, has just been approved — weeks late, I have to say that.  Weeks, weeks late.  Office of Management and Budget.  And he will be, I think, a fantastic addition.  Paul Singer has just left.  As you know, Paul was very much involved with the anti-Trump, or, as they say, “Never Trump.”  And Paul just left and he’s given us his total support.  And it’s all about unification.  We’re unifying the party, and hopefully we’re going to be able to unify the country.  It’s very important to me.  I’ve been talking about that for a long time, but it’s very, very important to me.  So I want to thank Paul Singer for being here and for coming up to the office.  He was a very strong opponent, and now he’s a very strong ally.  And I appreciate that.

I think I’ll say a few words, and then we’ll take some questions.  And I had this time — we’ve been negotiating a lot of different transactions to save money on contracts that were terrible, including airplane contracts that were out of control and late and terrible.  Just absolutely catastrophic in terms of what was happening.  And we’ve done some really good work.  We’re very proud of that.

And then right after that, you prepare yourselves and we’ll do some questions — unless you have no questions.  That’s always a possibility.

I’m here today to update the American people on the incredible progress that has been made in the last four weeks since my inauguration.  We have made incredible progress.  I don’t think there’s ever been a President elected who, in this short period of time, has done what we’ve done.

A new Rasmussen poll, in fact — because the people get it; much of the media doesn’t get it.  They actually get it, but they don’t write it — let’s put it that way.  But a new Rasmussen poll just came out just a very short while ago, and it has our approval rating at 55 percent and going up.  The stock market has hit record numbers, as you know.  And there has been a tremendous surge of optimism in the business world, which is — to me means something much different than it used to.  It used to mean, oh, that’s good.  Now it means that’s good for jobs.  Very different.  Plants and factories are already starting to move back into the United States and big league — Ford, General Motors, so many of them.

I’m making this presentation directly to the American people with the media present, which is an honor to have you this morning, because many of our nation’s reporters and folks will not tell you the truth and will not treat the wonderful people of our country with the respect that they deserve.  And I hope going forward we can be a little bit different, and maybe get along a little bit better, if that’s possible.  Maybe it’s not, and that’s okay too.

Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, D.C., along with New York, Los Angeles, in particular, speaks not for the people but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system.  The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people — tremendous disservice.  We have to talk about it to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control.  The level of dishonesty is out of control.

I ran for President to represent the citizens of our country.  I am here to change the broken system so it serves their families and their communities well.  I am talking, and really talking, on this very entrenched power structure, and what we’re doing is we’re talking about the power structure, we’re talking about its entrenchment.  As a result, the media is going through what they have to go through to oftentimes distort — not all the time — and some of the media is fantastic, I have to say; they’re honest and fantastic.  But much of it is not — the distortion.  And we’ll talk about it, and you’ll be able to ask me questions about it.

But we’re not going to let it happen, because I’m here again to take my message straight to the people.  As you know, our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy.  To be honest, I inherited a mess — it’s a mess — at home and abroad.  A mess.  Jobs are pouring out of the country.  You see what’s going on with all of the companies leaving our country, going to Mexico and other places — low-pay, low-wages.  Mass instability overseas, no matter where you look.  The Middle East, a disaster.  North Korea — we’ll take care of it, folks.  We’re going to take care of it all.  I just want to let you know I inherited a mess.

Beginning on day one, our administration went to work to tackle these challenges.  On foreign affairs, we’ve already begun enormously productive talks with many foreign leaders — much of it you’ve covered — to move forward toward stability, security, and peace in the most troubled regions of the world, which there are many.

We’ve had great conversations with the United Kingdom — and meetings — Israel, Mexico, Japan, China, and Canada.  Really, really productive conversations.  I would say far more productive than you would understand.  We’ve even developed a new council with Canada to promote women’s business leaders and entrepreneurs.  It’s very important to me, very important to my daughter Ivanka.

I have directed our defense community, headed by our great general, now Secretary Mattis — he’s over there now, working very hard — to submit a plan for the defeat of ISIS, a group that celebrates the murder and torture of innocent people in large sections of the world.  It used to be a small group, and now it’s in large sections of the world.  They’ve spread like cancer.  ISIS has spread like cancer.  Another mess I inherited.

And we have imposed new sanctions on the nation of Iran, who’s totally taken advantage of our previous administration.  And they’re the world’s top sponsor of terrorism.  And we’re not going to stop until that problem is properly solved.  And it’s not properly solved now.  It’s one of the worst agreements I’ve ever seen drawn by anybody.

I’ve ordered plans to begin for the massive rebuilding of the United States military.  I’ve had great support from the Senate.  I’ve had great support from Congress generally.  We’ve pursued this rebuilding in the hopes that we will never have to use this military.  And I will tell you that is my — I would be so happy if we never had to use it.  But our country will never have had a military like the military we’re about to build and rebuild.  We have the greatest people on Earth in our military, but they don’t have the right equipment.  And their equipment is old.  I used it, I talked about it at every stop.  Depleted — it’s depleted.  It won’t be depleted for long.

And I think one of the reasons I’m standing here instead of other people is that, frankly, I talked about we have to have a strong military.  We have to have strong law enforcement also.  So we do not go abroad in the search of war.  We really are searching for peace, but it’s peace through strength.

At home, we have begun the monumental task of returning the government back to the people on a scale not seen in many, many years.  In each of these actions, I’m keeping my promises to the American people.  These are campaign promises.  Some people are so surprised that we’re having strong borders.  Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about for a year and a half — strong borders.  They’re so surprised — “oh, you’re having strong borders.”  Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about to the press and to everybody else.

One promise after another after years of politicians lying to you to get elected.  They lie to the American people in order to get elected.  Some of the things I’m doing probably aren’t popular, but they’re necessary for security and for other reasons.  And then coming to Washington and pursuing their own interests, which is more important to many politicians.

I’m here following through on what I pledged to do.  That’s all I’m doing.  I put it out before the American people.  Got 306 Electoral College votes.  I wasn’t supposed to get 222.  They said there’s no way to get 222; 230 is impossible.  Two hundred and seventy, which you need, that was laughable.  We got 306 because people came out and voted like they’ve never seen before.  So that’s the way it goes.  I guess it was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan.

In other words, the media is trying to attack our administration because they know we are following through on pledges that we made, and they’re not happy about it for whatever reason.  But a lot of people are happy about it.  In fact, I’ll be in Melbourne, Florida, five o’clock on Saturday, and I heard — just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there.

I turn on the TV, open the newspapers, and I see stories of chaos.  Chaos!  Yet, it is the exact opposite.  This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved, and they’re outstanding people.  Like Senator Dan Coates whose there — one of the most respected men of the Senate — he can’t get approved.  How do you not approve him?  He’s been a colleague, highly respected — brilliant guy, great guy, everybody knows it — but waiting for approval.

So we have a wonderful group of people that’s working very hard, that’s being very much misrepresented about, and we can’t let that happen.  So if the Democrats, who have — all you have to do is look at where they are right now — the only thing they can do is delay, because they’ve screwed things up royally, believe me.

Let me list to you some of the things that we’ve done in just a short period of time.  I just got here.  I got here with no Cabinet.  Again, each of these actions is a promise I made to the American people.  So we’ll go over just some of them, and we have a lot happening next week and in the weeks coming.  We’ve withdrawn from the job-killing disaster known as Trans-Pacific Partnership.  We’re going to make trade deals, but we’re going to have one-on-one deals — bilateral.  We’re going to have one-on-one deals.

We’ve directed the elimination of regulations that undermine manufacturing, and called for expedited approval of the permits needed for America and American infrastructure, and that means plants, equipment, roads, bridges, factories.  People take 10, 15, 20 years to get disapproved for a factory.  They go in for a permit — it’s many, many years.  And then at the end of the process — they spend tens of millions of dollars on nonsense — and at the end of the process, they get rejected.  Now, they may be rejected with me, but it’s going to be a quick rejection.  It’s not going to take years.  But mostly, it’s going to be an acceptance.  We want plants built, and we want factories built, and we want the jobs.  We don’t want the jobs going to other countries.

We’ve imposed a hiring freeze on nonessential federal workers.  We’ve imposed a temporary moratorium on new federal regulations.  We’ve issued a game-changing new rule that says for each one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated.  Makes sense.  Nobody has ever seen regulations like we have.  If you go to other countries and you look at industries they have, and you say, let me see your regulations, and they’re a fraction, just a tiny fraction of what we have.  And I want regulations because I want safety, I want all environmental situations to be taken properly care of.  It’s very important to me.  But you don’t need four or five or six regulations to take care of the same thing.

We’ve stood up for the men and women of law enforcement, directing federal agencies to ensure they are protected from crimes of violence.  We’ve directed the creation of a task force for reducing violent crime in America, including the horrendous situation — take a look at Chicago and others — taking place right now in our inner cities.  Horrible.  We’ve ordered the Department of Homeland Security and Justice to coordinate on a plan to destroy criminal cartels coming into the United States with drugs.  We’re becoming a drug-infested nation.  Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars, and we’re not going to let it happen any longer.

We’ve undertaken the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe, and are now in the process of beginning to build a promised wall on the southern border.  Met with General, now Secretary, Kelly yesterday and we’re starting that process.  And the wall is going to be a great wall, and it’s going to be a wall negotiated by me.  The price is going to come down, just like it has on everything else I’ve negotiated for the government.  And we’re going to have a wall that works.  We’re not going to have a wall like they have now, which is either nonexistent or a joke.

We’ve ordered a crackdown on sanctuary cities that refuse to comply with federal law and that harbor criminal aliens, and we’ve ordered an end to the policy of catch and release on the border.  No more release, no matter who you are — release.  We’ve begun a nationwide effort to remove criminal aliens, gang members, drug dealers, and others who pose a threat to public safety.  We are saving American lives every single day.  The court system has not made it easy for us.  And we’ve even created a new office in Homeland Security dedicated to the forgotten American victims of illegal immigrant violence, of which there are many.

We’ve taken decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists out of our country.  Though parts of our necessary and constitutional actions were blocked by a judge’s, in my opinion, incorrect and unsafe ruling, our administration is working night and day to keep you safe — including reporters safe — and is vigorously defending this lawful order.  I will not back down from defending our country.  I got elected on defense of our country.  And I keep my campaign promises.  And our citizens will be very happy when they see the result.  They already are.  I can tell you that.

Extreme vetting will be put in place, and it already is in place in many places.  In fact, we had to go quicker than we thought because of the bad decision we received from a circuit that has been overturned at a record number.  I’ve heard 80 percent — I find that hard to believe; that’s just a number I heard — that they’re overturned 80 percent of the time.  I think that circuit is in chaos and that circuit is, frankly, in turmoil.  But we are appealing that and we are going further.

We’re issuing a new executive action next week that will comprehensively protect our country, so we’ll be going along the one path and hopefully winning that.  At the same time, we will be issuing a new and very comprehensive order to protect our people, and that will be done some time next week, toward the beginning or middle at the latest part.

We’ve also taken steps to begin construction of the Keystone Pipeline and Dakota Access Pipelines — thousands and thousands of jobs — and put new “Buy American” measures in place to require American steel for American pipelines.  In other words, they build a pipeline in this country and we use the powers of government to make that pipeline happen.  We want them to use American steel.  And they’re willing to do that, but nobody ever asked before I came along.  Even this order was drawn and they didn’t say that.  And I’m reading the order, I’m saying, why aren’t we using American steel?  And they said, that’s a good idea.  We put it in.

To drain the swamp of corruption in Washington, D.C. I’ve started by imposing a five-year lobbying ban on White House officials and a lifetime ban on lobbying for a foreign government.  We’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare.  Obamacare is a disaster, folks.  It’s a disaster.  You can say, oh, Obamacare — I mean, they fill up our alleys with people that you wonder how they get there, but they’re not the Republican people that our representatives are representing.  So we’ve begun preparing to repeal and replace Obamacare and are deep in the midst of negotiations on a very historic tax reform to bring our jobs back.  We’re bringing our jobs back to this country big league.  It’s already happening, but big league.

I’ve also worked to install a Cabinet over the delays and obstruction of Senate Democrats.  You’ve seen what they’ve done over the last long number of years.  That will be one of the great Cabinets ever assembled in American history.  You look at Rex Tillerson — he’s out there negotiating right now.  General Mattis I mentioned before, General Kelly.  We have great, great people.  Mick is with us now.  We have great people.

Among their responsibilities will be ending the bleeding of jobs from our country and negotiating fair trade deals for our citizens.  Now, look, fair trade — not free — fair.  If a country is taking advantage of us, we’re not going to let that happen anymore.  Every country takes advantage of us, almost.  I may be able to find a couple that don’t.  But for the most part, that would be a very tough job for me to do.

Jobs have already started to surge.  Since my election, Ford announced it will abandon its plans to build a new factory in Mexico and will instead invest $700 million in Michigan, creating many, many jobs.  Fiat-Chrysler announced it will invest $1 billion in Ohio and Michigan, creating 2,000 new American jobs.  They were with me a week ago.  You know — you were here.  General Motors, likewise, committed to invest billions of dollars in its American manufacturing operation, keeping many jobs here that were going to leave.  And if I didn’t get elected, believe me, they would have left.  And these jobs and these things that I’m announcing would never have come here.

Intel just announced that it will move ahead with a new plant in Arizona that probably was never going to move ahead with.  And that will result in at least 10,000 American jobs.  Walmart announced it will create 10,000 jobs in the United States just this year because of our various plans and initiatives.  There will be many, many more.  Many more.  These are a few that we’re naming.

Other countries have been taking advantage of us for decades — decades and decades and decades, folks.  And we’re not going to let that happen anymore.  Not going to let it happen.

And one more thing.  I have kept my promise to the American people by nominating a justice of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, who is from my list of 20, and who will be a true defender of our laws and our Constitution — highly respected, should get the votes from the Democrats — you may not see that, but he’ll get there one way or the other.  But he should get there the old-fashioned way, and he should get those votes.

This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country.  Again, I say it — there has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.  And we haven’t even started the big work that starts early next week.  Some very big things are going to be announced next week.

So we’re just getting started.  We will be giving a speech, as I said, in Melbourne, Florida, at 5:00 p.m.  I hope to see you there.  And with that, I’d just say, God bless America, and let’s take some questions.

Mara.  Mara, go ahead.  You were cut off pretty violently at our last news conference.

Q    Did you fire Mike Flynn?

THE PRESIDENT:  Mike Flynn is a fine person, and I asked for his resignation.  He respectfully gave it.  He is a man who — there was a certain amount of information given to Vice President Pence, who is with us today.  And I was not happy with the way that information was given.

He didn’t have to do that, because what he did wasn’t wrong, what he did in terms of the information he saw.  What was wrong was the way that other people, including yourselves in this room, were given that information, because that was classified information that was given illegally.  That’s the real problem.  And you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all a fake news, fabricated deal to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats, and the press plays right into it.  In fact, I saw a couple of the people that were supposedly involved with all of this — they know nothing about it.  They weren’t in Russia, they never made a phone call to Russia, they never received a phone call.  It’s all fake news.  It’s all fake news.

The nice thing is I see it starting to turn, where people are now looking at the illegal, Mara — and I think it’s very important — the illegal giving out classified information.  And let me just tell you, it was given out, like, so much.  I’ll give you an example.  I called, as you know, Mexico.  It was a very confidential, classified call, but I called Mexico.  And in calling Mexico, I figured, oh, well, that’s — I spoke to the President of Mexico, had a good call.  All of a sudden it’s out for the world to see.  It’s supposed to be secret.  It’s supposed to be either confidential or classified in that case.  Same thing with Australia.  All of a sudden people are finding out exactly what took place.

The same thing happened with respect to General Flynn.  Everybody saw this, and I’m saying — the first thing I thought of when I heard about it is, how does the press get this information that’s classified?  How do they do it?  You know why?  Because it’s an illegal process, and the press should be ashamed of themselves.  But, more importantly, the people that gave out the information to the press should be ashamed of themselves.  Really ashamed.

Yes, go ahead.

Q    Why did you keep your Vice President in the dark for almost two weeks?

THE PRESIDENT:  Because when I looked at the information, I said, I don’t think he did anything wrong.  If anything, he did something right.  He was coming into office, he looked at the information.  He said, huh, that’s fine, that’s what they’re supposed to do.  They’re supposed to be — and he didn’t just call Russia.  He called and spoke to, both ways — I think there were 30-some-odd countries.  He’s doing the job.

You know, he was just doing his job.  The thing is he didn’t tell our Vice President properly, and then he said he didn’t remember.  So either way, it wasn’t very satisfactory to me.  And I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position, and that also helps, I think, in the making of my decision.

But he didn’t tell the Vice President of the United States the facts, and then he didn’t remember.  And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.

Yes.

Q    President Trump, since you brought up Russia, I’m looking for some clarification here.  During the campaign, did anyone from your team communicate with members of the Russian government or Russian intelligence?  And if so, what was the nature of those conversations?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the failing New York Times wrote a big, long front-page story yesterday.  And it was very much discredited, as you know.  It was — it’s a joke.  And the people mentioned in the story — I notice they were on television today saying they never even spoke to Russia.  They weren’t even a part, really — I mean, they were such a minor part — I hadn’t spoken to them.  I think the one person, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him.  I don’t think I’ve ever met him.  And he actually said he was a very low-level member of, I think, a committee for a short period of time.  I don’t think I ever met him.  Now, it’s possible that I walked into a room and he was sitting there, but I don’t think I ever met him.  I didn’t talk to him, ever.  And he thought it was a joke.

The other person said he never spoke to Russia, never received a call.  Look at his phone records, et cetera, et cetera.  And the other person, people knew that he’d represented various countries, but I don’t think he represented Russia — but knew that he represented various countries.  That’s what he does.  I mean, people know that.  That’s Mr. Manafort, who’s, by the way — who’s, by the way, a respected man.  He’s a respected man.  But I think he represented the Ukraine, or Ukraine government, or somebody.  But everybody — people knew that.  Everybody knew that.  So these people — and he said that he has absolutely nothing to do and never has with Russia.  And he said that very forcefully.  I saw his statement.  He said it very forcefully.  Most of the papers don’t print it because that’s not good for their stories.

So the three people that they talked about all totally deny it.  And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia.  I have no loans in Russia.  I don’t have any deals in Russia.  President Putin called me up very nicely to congratulate me on the win of the election.  He then called me up extremely nicely to congratulate me on the inauguration, which was terrific.  But so did many other leaders — almost all other leaders from almost all other countries.  So that’s the extent.

Russia is fake news.  Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.  The real news is the fact that people, probably from the Obama administration because they’re there — because we have our new people going in place right now.  As you know, Mike Pompeo is now taking control of the CIA.  James Comey at FBI.  Dan Coats is waiting to be approved.  I mean, he is a senator, and a highly respected one.  And he’s still waiting to be approved.  But our new people are going in.

And just while you’re at, because you mentioned this, Wall Street Journal did a story today that was almost as disgraceful as the failing New Times’s story yesterday.  And it talked about — you saw it, front page.  So, Director of National Intelligence just put out — acting — a statement:  “Any suggestion that the United States intelligence community” — this was just given to us — “is withholding information and not providing the best possible intelligence to the President and his national security team is not true.”

So they took this front-page story out of The Wall Street Journal — top — and they just wrote the story is not true.  And I’ll tell you something, I’ll be honest — because I sort of enjoy this back and forth, and I guess I have all my life, but I’ve never seen more dishonest media than, frankly, the political media.  I thought the financial media was much better, much more honest.  But I will say that I never get phone calls from the media.  How do they write a story like that in The Wall Street Journal without asking me?  Or how do they write a story in The New York Times, put it on front page?  That was like that story they wrote about the women and me — front page.  Big massive story.  And it was nasty.

And then they called.  They said, “We never said that.  We like Mr. Trump.”  They called up my office — we like Mr. Trump; we never said that.  And it was totally — they totally misrepresented those very wonderful women, I have to tell you — totally misrepresented.  I said, give us a retraction.  They never gave us a retraction.  And, frankly, I then went on to other things.

Go ahead.

Q    Mr. President —

THE PRESIDENT:  You okay?

Q    I am.  Just wanted to get untangled.  Very simply, you said today that you had the biggest electoral margins since Ronald Reagan with 304 or 306 electoral votes.  In fact, President Obama got 365 in 2008.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m talking about Republican.  Yes.

Q    President Obama, 332.  George H.W. Bush, 426 when he won as President.  So why should Americans trust —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, no, I was told — I was given that information.  I don’t know.  I was just given.  We had a very, very big margin.

Q    I guess my question is, why should Americans trust you when you have accused the information they receive of being fake when you’re providing information that’s fake?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t know.  I was given that information.  I was given — actually, I’ve seen that information around.  But it was a very substantial victory.  Do you agree with that?

Q    You’re the President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, thank you.  That’s a good answer.  Yes.

Q    Mr. President, thank you so much.  Can you tell us in determining that Lieutenant General Flynn — there was no wrongdoing in your mind, what evidence was weighed?  Did you have the transcripts of these telephone intercepts with Russian officials, particularly Ambassador Kislyak, who he was communicating with?  What evidence did you weigh to determine there was no wrong doing?

And further than that, sir, you’ve said on a couple of occasions this morning that you were going to aggressively pursue the sources of these leaks.

THE PRESIDENT:  We are.

Q    Can we ask what you’re doing to do?  And also, we’ve heard about a review of the intelligence community headed by Stephen Feinberg.  What can you tell us about that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, about that, we now have Dan Coats, hopefully soon Mike Pompeo and James Comey, and they’re in position.  So I hope that we’ll be able to straighten that out without using anybody else.  The gentleman you mentioned is a very talented man, very successful man.  And he has offered his services, and it’s something we may take advantage of.  But I don’t think we’ll need that at all because of the fact that I think that we’re going to be able to straighten it out very easily on its own.

As far as the general is concerned, when I first heard about it, I said, huh, that doesn’t sound wrong.  My counsel came — Don McGahn, White House Counsel — and he told me, and I asked him, and he can speak very well for himself.  He said he doesn’t think anything is wrong.  He really didn’t think — it was really what happened after that, but he didn’t think anything was done wrong.  I didn’t either, because I waited a period of time and I started to think about it.  I said, well, I don’t see — to me, he was doing the job.

The information was provided by — who I don’t know — Sally Yates — and I was a little surprised because I said, doesn’t sound like he did anything wrong there.  But he did something wrong with respect to the Vice President, and I thought that was not acceptable.  As far as the actual making the call — in fact, I’ve watched various programs and I’ve read various articles where he was just doing his job.  That was very normal.  At first, everybody got excited because they thought he did something wrong.  After they thought about it, it turned out he was just doing his job.

So — and I do — and, by the way, with all of that being said, I do think he’s a fine man.

Yes, Jon.

Q    On the leaks, sir —

THE PRESIDENT:  Go ahead, finish off, then I’ll get you, Jon.

Q    Sorry, what will you do on the leaks?  You have said twice today —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, we’re looking at it very, very seriously.  I’ve gone to all of the folks in charge of the various agencies, and we’re — I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks.  Those are criminal leaks.  They’re put out by people either in agencies.  I think you’ll see it stopping because now we have our people in.  You know, again, we don’t have our people in because we can’t get them approved by the Senate.  We just had Jeff Sessions approved in Justice, as an example.  So we are looking into that very seriously.  It’s a criminal act.

You know what I say — when I was called out on Mexico, I was shocked.  Because all this equipment, all this incredible phone equipment.  When I was called out on Mexico, I was — honestly, I was really, really surprised.  But I said, you know, it doesn’t make sense, that won’t happen.  But that wasn’t that important to call, it was fine.  I could show it to the world and he could show it to the world — the President who is a very fine man, by the way.  Same thing with Australia.  I said, that’s terrible that it was leaked but it wasn’t that important.  But then I said, what happens when I’m dealing with the problem of North Korea?  What happens when I’m dealing with the problems in the Middle East?  Are you folks going to be reporting all of that very, very confidential information — very important, very — I mean, at the highest level, are you going to be reporting about that too?

So I don’t want classified information getting out to the public.  And in a way, that was almost a test.  So I’m dealing with Mexico.  I’m dealing with Argentina.  We were dealing on this case with Mike Flynn.  All this information gets put into the Washington Post and gets put into the New York Times.  And I’m saying, what’s going to happen when I’m dealing on the Middle East?  What’s going to happen when I’m dealing with really, really important subjects like North Korea?  We’ve got to stop it.  That’s why it’s a criminal penalty.

Yes, Jon.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I just want to get you to clarify just a very important point.  Can you say definitively that nobody on your campaign had any contacts with the Russians during the campaign?  And, on the leaks, is it fake news or are these real leaks?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the leaks are real.  You’re the one that wrote about them and reported them.  I mean, the leaks are real.  You know what they said — you saw it.  And the leaks are absolutely real.  The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.

So one thing that I felt it was very important to do — and I hope we can correct it, because there is nobody I have more respect for — well, maybe a little bit — than reporters, than good reporters.  It’s very important to me, and especially in this position.  It’s very important.  I don’t mind bad stories.  I can handle a bad story better than anybody as long as it’s true.  And over a course of time, I’ll make mistakes and you’ll write badly and I’m okay with that.  But I’m not okay when it is fake.  I mean, I watch CNN — it’s so much anger and hatred and just the hatred.  I don’t watch it anymore because it’s very good — he’s saying no.  It’s okay, Jim.  It’s okay, Jim.  You’ll have your chance.  But I watch others too.  You’re not the only one, so don’t feel badly.

But I think it should be straight.  I think it should be — I think it would be, frankly, more interesting.  I know how good everybody’s ratings are right now, but I think that actually would be — I think that it would actually be better.

People — I mean, you have a lower approval rate than Congress.  I think that’s right.  I don’t know, Peter, is that one right?  Because you know, I think they have lower — I heard, lower than Congress.

But honestly, the public would appreciate it.  I’d appreciate it.  Again, I don’t mind bad stories when it’s true.  But we have an administration where the Democrats are making it very difficult.  I think we’re setting a record, or close to a record in the time of approval of a Cabinet.  I mean, the numbers are crazy.  When I’m looking — some of them had them approved immediately.  I’m going forever, and I still have a lot of people that we’re waiting for.

And that’s all they’re doing, is delaying.  And you look at Schumer and the mess that he’s got over there, and they have nothing going.  The only thing they can do is delay.  And you know, I think they’d be better served by approving and making sure that they’re happy and everybody is good.  And sometimes, I mean — I know President Obama lost three or four, and you lose them on the way.  And that’s okay.  That’s fine.

But I think they would be much better served, Jon, if they just went through the process quickly.  This is pure delay tactics.  And they say it, and everybody understands it.

Yeah, go ahead, Jim.

Q    The first part of my question on contacts.  Do you definitively say that nobody —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I had nothing to do with it.  I have nothing to do with Russia.  I told you, I have no deals there.  I have no anything.

Now, when WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give — they’re not giving classified information.  They’re giving stuff — what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates — which, by the way, nobody mentions.  Nobody mentions that Hillary received the questions to the debates.

Can you imagine — seriously, can you imagine if I received the questions?  It would be the electric chair, okay?  “He should be put in the electric chair.”  You would even call for the reinstitution of the death penalty, okay?  Maybe not you, Jon.

Yes, we’ll do you next, Jim.  I’ll do you next.  Yes?

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I just want to clarify one other thing.

THE PRESIDENT:  Sure.

Q    Did you direct Mike Flynn to discuss the sanctions with the Russian ambassador?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn’t.  No, I didn’t.

Q    (Inaudible.)  (Off mic.)

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn’t.

Q    Did you fire him because (inaudible) —

THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me — no, I fired him because of what he said to Mike Pence, very simple.  Mike was doing his job.  He was calling countries and his counterparts.  So it certainly would have been okay with me if he did it.  I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it.  I didn’t direct him but I would have directed him because that’s his job.

And it came out that way — and, in all fairness, I watched Dr. Charles Krauthammer the other night say he was doing his job.  And I agreed with him.  And since then I’ve watched many other people say that.

No, I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn’t do it, okay?

Jim.

Q    Mr. President, thank you very much.  And just for the record, we don’t hate you, I don’t hate you.  If you could pass that along.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Well, ask Jeff Zucker how he got his job, okay?

Q    If I may follow up on some of the questions that have taken place so far, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, not too many.  We do have other people.  You do have other people, and your ratings aren’t as good as some of the other people that are waiting.

Q    They’re pretty good right now, actually.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Go ahead, Jim.

Q    If I may ask, sir, you said earlier that WikiLeaks was revealing information about the Hillary Clinton campaign during the election cycle.  You welcomed that at one point.

THE PRESIDENT:  I was okay with it.

Q    You said you loved WikiLeaks.  At another campaign press conference you called on the Russians to find the missing 30,000 emails.  I’m wondering, sir, if you —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, she was actually missing 33,000, and then that got extended with a whole pile after that, but that’s okay.

Q    Maybe my numbers are off a little bit too.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, but I did say 30,000, but it was actually higher than that.

Q    If I may ask you, sir, it sounds as though you do not have much credibility here when it comes to leaking if that is something that you encouraged in the campaign.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, fair question.  Ready?

Q    So if I may ask you that — if I may ask a follow-up —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, but are you — let me do one at a time.  Do you mind?

Q    Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So in one case you’re talking about highly classified information.  In the other case you’re talking about John Podesta saying bad things about the boss.  I will say this:  If John Podesta said that about me and he was working for me, I would have fired him so fast your head would have spun.  He said terrible things about her.  But it wasn’t classified information.

But in one case you’re talking about classified.  Regardless, if you look at the RNC, we had a very strong — at my suggestion — and I give Reince great credit for this — at my suggestion, because I know something about this world, I said I want a very strong defensive mechanism.  I don’t want to be hacked.  And we did that, and you have seen that they tried to hack us and they failed.

The DNC did not do that.  And if they did it, they could not have been hacked.  But they were hacked, and terrible things came.  And the only thing that I do think is unfair is some of the things were so — they were — when I heard some of those things, I said — I picked up the papers the next morning, I said, oh, this is going to front page.  It wasn’t even in the papers.

Again, if I had that happen to me, it would be the biggest story in the history of publishing or the head of newspapers.  I would have been the headline in every newspaper.

I mean, think of it.  They gave her the questions for the debate, and she should have reported herself.  Why didn’t Hillary Clinton announce that, “I’m sorry, but I have been given the questions to a debate or a town hall, and I feel that it’s inappropriate, and I want to turn in CNN for not doing a good job”?

Q    And if I may follow up on that, just something that Jonathan Karl was asking you about — you said that the leaks are real, but the news is fake.  I guess I don’t understand.  It seems that there is a disconnect there.  If the information coming from those leaks is real, then how can the stories be fake?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, the reporting is fake.  Look, look —

Q    And if I may ask — I just want to ask one other question.

THE PRESIDENT:  Jim, you know what it is?  Here’s the thing.  The public isn’t — they read newspapers, they see television, they watch.  They don’t know if it’s true or false because they’re not involved.  I’m involved.  I’ve been involved with this stuff all my life.  But I’m involved.  So I know when you’re telling the truth or when you’re not.

I just see many, many untruthful things.  And I tell you what else I see.  I see tone.  You know the word “tone.”  The tone is such hatred.  I’m really not a bad person, by the way.  No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that.  The tone is such hatred.

I watched this morning a couple of the networks, and I have to say “Fox & Friends” in the morning, they’re very honorable people.  They’re very — not because they’re good, because they hit me also when I do something wrong.  But they have the most honest morning show.  That’s all I can say.  It’s the most honest.  But the tone, Jim.  If you look — the hatred.  I mean, sometimes — sometimes somebody gets —

Q    (Off mic.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you look at your show that goes on at 10 o’clock in the evening.  You just take a look at that show.  That is a constant hit.  The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump.  The good news is he doesn’t have good ratings.  But the panel is almost exclusive anti-Trump.  And the hatred and venom coming from his mouth, the hatred coming from other people on your network.

Now, I will say this.  I watch it.  I see it.  I’m amazed by it.  And I just think you’d be a lot better off — I honestly do.  The public gets it, you know.  Look, when I go to rallies, they turn around, they start screaming at CNN.  They want to throw their placards at CNN.

I think you would do much better by being different.  But you just take a look.  Take a look at some of your shows in the morning and the evening.  If a guest comes out and says something positive about me, it’s brutal.

Now, they’ll take this news conference.  I’m actually having a very good time, okay?  But they’ll take this news conference — don’t forget that’s the way I won.  Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day.

Q    (Off mic.)

THE PRESIDENT:  No, that’s how I won.  I won with news conferences and probably speeches.  I certainly didn’t win by people listening to you people, that’s for sure.

But I am having a good time.  Tomorrow they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.  I’m not ranting and raving.  I’m just telling you, you’re dishonest people.  But — but I’m not ranting and raving.  I love this.  I’m having a good time doing it.  But tomorrow the headlines are going to be:  Donald Trump Rants and Raves.  I’m not ranting and raving.

Q    If I may just —

THE PRESIDENT:  Go ahead.

Q    One more follow-up because —

THE PRESIDENT:  Should I let him have a little bit more?  What do you think, Peter?

Q    Just because of this —

THE PRESIDENT:  Peter, should I have let him have a little bit more?  Sit down.  Sit down.

Q    Just because of the attack —

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ll get it.

Q    Just because of the attack of fake news and attacking our network, I just want to ask you, sir —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m changing it from fake news, though.

Q    Doesn’t that undermine —

THE PRESIDENT:  Very fake news now.  (Laughter.)

Q    But aren’t you —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, go ahead.

Q    Real news, Mr. President.  Real news.

THE PRESIDENT:  And you’re not related to our new —

Q    I am not related, sir, no.  (Laughter.)  I do like the sound of Secretary Acosta, I must say.

THE PRESIDENT:  I looked — you know, I looked at that name.  I said, wait a minute, is there any relation there?  Alex Acosta.

Q    I’m sure you checked that out, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I checked it.  I said — they said, no, sir.  I said, do me a favor, go back and check the family tree.

Q    But aren’t you concerned, sir, that you are undermining the people’s faith in the First Amendment freedom of the press, the press in this country when you call stories you don’t like “fake news”?  Why not just say it’s a story I don’t like?

THE PRESIDENT:  I do that.

Q    When you call it fake news, you’re undermining confidence —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I do that.  No, no, I do that.

Q    — in our news media.

THE PRESIDENT:  Here’s the thing.

Q    Isn’t that important?

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, I understand — and you’re right about that except this.  See, I know when I should get good and when I should get bad.  And sometimes I’ll say, wow, that’s going to be a great story, and I’ll get killed.  I know what’s good and bad.  I’d be a pretty good reporter — not as good as you.  But I know what’s good.  I know what’s bad.

And when they change it and make it really bad — something that should be positive.  Sometimes something that should be very positive, they’ll make okay.  They’ll even make it negative.  So I understand it because I’m there.  I know what was said.  I know who is saying it.  I’m there.  So it’s very important to me.

Look, I want to see an honest press.  When I started off today by saying that it’s so important to the public to get an honest press.  The press — the public doesn’t believe you people anymore.  Now, maybe I had something to do with that, I don’t know.  But they don’t believe you.

If you were straight and really told it like it is, as Howard Cosell used to say, right?  Of course, he had some questions also.  But if you were straight, I would be your biggest booster, I would be your biggest fan in the world — including bad stories about me.  But if you go — as an example, you’re CNN — I mean, it’s story after story after story is bad.  I won.  I won.  And the other thing:  Chaos.  There’s zero chaos.  We are running — this is a fine-tuned machine.  And Reince happens to be doing a good job.  But half of his job is putting out lies by the press.

I said to him yesterday, this whole Russia scam that you guys are building so that you don’t talk about the real subject, which is illegal leaks.  But I watched him yesterday working so hard to try and get that story proper.  And I’m saying, here’s my Chief of Staff, a really good guy, did a phenomenal job at RNC.  I mean, we won the election, right?  We won the presidency.  We got some senators.  We got some — all over the country, you take a look, he’s done a great job.

And I said to myself, you know — and I said to somebody that was in the room — I said, you take a look at Reince, he’s working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires.  They’re fake.  They’re not true.  And isn’t that a shame, because he’d rather be working on health care.  He’d rather be working on tax reform, Jim.  I mean that.  I would be your biggest fan in the world if you treated me right.  I sort of understand there’s a certain bias, maybe by Jeff or somebody — for whatever reason.  And I understand that.  But you’ve got to be at least a little bit fair.  And that’s why the public sees it — they see it.  They see it’s not fair.  You take a look at some of your shows and you see the bias and the hatred.  And the public is smart.  They understand it.

Okay, yeah, go ahead.

Q    We have no doubt that your latest story is (inaudible).  But for those who believe that there is something to it, is there anything that you have learned over these last few weeks that you might be able to reveal that might ease their concerns that this isn’t fake news?  And secondly —

THE PRESIDENT:  I think they don’t believe it.  I don’t think the public would.  That’s why the Rasmussen poll just has me through the roof.  I don’t think they believe it.  Well, I guess one of the reasons I’m here today is to tell you the whole Russian thing — that’s a ruse.  That’s a ruse.  And, by the way, it would be great if we could get along with Russia, just so you understand that.  Now, tomorrow you’ll say, Donald Trump wants to get along with Russia, this is terrible.  It’s not terrible — it’s good.

We had Hillary Clinton try and do a reset.  We had Hillary Clinton give Russia 20 percent of the uranium in our country.  You know what uranium is, right?  It’s this thing called nuclear weapons and other things.  Like, lots of things are done with uranium, including some bad things.  Nobody talks about that.  I didn’t do anything for Russia.  I’ve done nothing for Russia.  Hillary Clinton gave them 20 percent of our uranium.  Hillary Clinton did a reset, remember, with the stupid plastic button that made us all look like a bunch of jerks?  Here, take a look.  He looked at her like, what the hell is she doing with that cheap plastic button?  Hillary Clinton — that was a reset.  Remember?  It said “reset.”

Now, if I do that, oh, I’m a bad guy.  If we could get along with Russia, that’s a positive thing.  We have a very talented man, Rex Tillerson, who is going to be meeting with them shortly.  And I told him, I said, I know politically it’s probably not good for me.  Hey, the greatest thing I could do is shoot that ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water.  Everyone in this country is going to say, oh, it’s so great.  That’s not great.  That’s not great.  I would love to be able to get along with Russia.

Now, you’ve had a lot of Presidents that haven’t taken that tact.  Look where we are now.  Look where we are now.  So, if I can — now, I love to negotiate things.  I do it really well and all that stuff, but it’s possible I won’t be able to get along with Putin.  Maybe it is.  But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people — the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia.  And probably Putin said, you know — he’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying, you know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely; it’s got to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.  Okay?  And that’s a shame.  Because if we could get along with Russia — and, by the way, China and Japan and everyone — if we could get along, it would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.

Q    Tax reform —

Q    Mr. President, since you —

THE PRESIDENT:  Tax reform is going to happen fairly quickly.  We’re doing Obamacare — we’re in final stages.  We should be submitting the initial plan in March, early March, I would say.  And we have to, as you know, statutorily and for reasons of budget, we have to go first.  It’s not like — frankly, the tax would be easier, in my opinion, but for statutory reasons and for budgetary reasons, we have to submit the health care sooner.  So we’ll be submitting health care sometime in early March, mid-March.  And after that, we’re going to come up — and we’re doing very well on tax reform.

Yes.

Q    Mr. President, you mentioned Russia.  Let’s talk about some serious issues that have come up in the last week that you have had to deal with as President of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.

Q    You mentioned the vessel, the spy vessel, off the coast of the United States.

THE PRESIDENT:  Not good.

Q    There was a ballistic missile test that many interpreted as a violation —

THE PRESIDENT:  Not good.

Q    — of the agreement between the two countries.  And a Russian plane buzzed a U.S. destroyer.

THE PRESIDENT:  Not good.

Q    I listened to you during the campaign —

THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me, excuse me, when did it happen?  It happened when — if you were Putin right now, you would say, hey, we’re back to the old games with the United States.  There’s no way Trump can ever do a deal with us because the — you have to understand, if I was just brutal on Russia right now, just brutal, people would say, you would say, oh, isn’t that wonderful.  But I know you well enough.  Then you would say, oh, he was too tough, he shouldn’t have done that.  Look, of all —

Q    I’m just trying to find out your orientation to those —

THE PRESIDENT:  Wait a minute.  Wait, wait.  Excuse me just one second.

Q    I’m just trying to find out what you’re doing to do about them, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  All of those things that you mentioned are very recent, because probably Putin assumes that he’s not going to be able to make a deal with me because it’s politically not popular for me to make a deal.  So Hillary Clinton tries to reset, it failed.  They all tried.  But I’m different than those people.

Go ahead.

Q    How are you interpreting those moves?  And what do you intend to do about them?

THE PRESIDENT:  Just the way I said it.

Q    Have you given Rex Tillerson any advice or counsel on how to deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have.  I have.  And I’m so beautifully represented.  I’m so honored that the Senate approved him.  He’s going to be fantastic.

Yes, I think that I’ve already —

Q    Is Putin testing you, do you believe, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I don’t think so.  I think Putin probably assumes that he can’t make a deal with me anymore because politically it would be unpopular for a politician to make a deal.  I can’t believe I’m saying I’m a politician, but I guess that’s what I am now.  Because, look, it would be much easier for me to be tough on Russia, but then we’re not going to make a deal.

Now, I don’t know that we’re going to make a deal.  I don’t know.  We might, we might not.  But it would be much easier for me to be so tough — the tougher I am on Russia, the better.  But you know what, I want to do the right thing for the American people.  And to be honest, secondarily, I want to do the right thing for the world.

If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along — and don’t forget, we’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they.  There’s no upside.  We’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are they.  I’ve been briefed.  And I can tell you, one thing about a briefing that we’re allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it:  Nuclear holocaust would be like no other.  They’re a very powerful nuclear country and so are we.

If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Q    So when you say they’re not good, do you mean that they are —

THE PRESIDENT:  Who did I say is not good?

Q    No, when I read off the three things that have recently happened and each one of them you said they’re not good.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, it’s not good, but they happened.

Q    But do they damage the relationship?  Do they undermine this country’s ability to work with Russia?

THE PRESIDENT:  They all happened recently, and I understand what they’re doing, because they’re doing the same thing.  Now, again, maybe I’m not going to be able to do a deal with Russia, but at least I will have tried.  And if I don’t, does anybody really think that Hillary Clinton would be tougher on Russia than Donald Trump?  Does anybody in this room really believe that?  Okay.

But I tell you one thing:  She tried to make a deal.  She had the reset.  She gave all the valuable uranium away.  She did other things.  You know, they say I’m close to Russia.  Hillary Clinton gave away 20 percent of the uranium in the United States.  She’s close to Russia.  I gave — you know what I gave to Russia?  You know what I gave?  Nothing.

Q    Can we conclude there will be no response to these particular provocations?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not going to tell you anything about what response I do.  I don’t talk about military response.  I don’t say I’m going into Mosul in four months.  “We are going to attack Mosul in four months.”  Then three months later:  “We are going to attack Mosul in one month.”  “Next week, we are going to attack Mosul.”  In the meantime, Mosul is very, very difficult.  Do you know why?  Because I don’t talk about military, and I don’t talk about certain other things.  You’re going to be surprised to hear that.  And, by the way, my whole campaign, I’d say that.  So I don’t have to tell you —

Q    There will be a response?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t want to be one of these guys that say, “Yes, here’s what we’re going to do.”  I don’t have to do that.

Q    There will be a — in other words, there will be a response, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea.  Wait a minute.  I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do in North Korea.  And I don’t have to tell you what I’m going to do with Iran.  You know why?  Because they shouldn’t know.  And eventually you guys are going to get tired of asking that question.  So when you ask me, what am I going to do with the ship — the Russian ship, as an example — I’m not going to tell you.  But hopefully, I won’t have to do anything.  But I’m not going to tell you.  Okay.

Q    Thanks.

Q    Can I just ask you — thank you very much, Mr. President — the Trump —

THE PRESIDENT:  Where are you from?

Q    BBC.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Here’s another beauty.

Q    That’s a good line.  Impartial, free, and fair.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, sure.

Q    Mr. President —

THE PRESIDENT:  Just like CNN, right?

Q    Mr. President, on the travel ban — we could banter back and forth.  On the travel ban, would you accept that that was a good example of the smooth running of government, that fine-tuned —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yeah, I do.  I do.   And let me tell you about the travel —

Q    Were there any mistakes in that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Wait, wait, wait.  I know who you are.  Just wait.  Let me tell you about the travel ban.  We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban, but we had a bad court.  We got a bad decision.  We had a court that’s been overturned — again, maybe wrong, but I think it’s 80 percent of the time.  A lot.  We had a bad decision.  We’re going to keep going with that decision.  We’re going to put in a new executive order next week sometime.  But we had a bad decision.  That’s the only thing that was wrong with the travel ban.

You had Delta with a massive problem with their computer system at the airports.  You had some people that were put out there, brought by very nice buses, and they were put out at various locations.  Despite that, the only problem that we had is we had a bad court.  We had a court that gave us what I consider to be, with great respect, a very bad decision.  Very bad for the safety and security of our country.  The rollout was perfect.

Now, what I wanted to do was do the exact same executive order but said one thing — and I said this to my people:  Give them a one-month period of time.  But General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, said, if you do that, all these people will come in, in the month — the bad ones.  You do agree, there are bad people out there, right?  They’re not everybody that’s like you.  You have some bad people out there.

So Kelly said, you can’t do that.  And he was right.  As soon as he said it, I said, wow, never thought of it.  I said, how about one week?  He said, no good.  You got to do it immediately, because if you do it immediately, they don’t have time to come in.  Now, nobody ever reports that, but that’s why we did it quickly.

Now, if would have done it a month, everything would have been perfect.  The problems is we would have wasted a lot of time, and maybe a lot of lives, because a lot of bad people would have come into our country.

Now, in the meantime, we’ve vetting very, very strongly.  Very, very strongly.  But we need help, and we need help by getting that executive order passed.

Q    Just a brief follow-up.  And if it’s so urgent, why not introduce —

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  I just was hoping that we could get a yes- or-no answer on one of these questions involving Russia.  Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I told you, General Flynn obviously was dealing.  So that’s one person.  But he was dealing — as he should have been —

Q    During the election?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, nobody that I know of.

Q    So you’re not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?

THE PRESIDENT:  Look, look, how many times do I have to answer this question?

Q    Can you just say yes or no on it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Russia is a ruse.  Yeah, I know you have to get up and ask a question, so important.  Russia is a ruse.  I have nothing to do with Russia, haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years.  Don’t speak to people from Russia.  Not that I wouldn’t, I just have nobody to speak to.  I spoke to Putin twice.  He called me on the election — I told you this — and he called me on the inauguration, and a few days ago.  We had a very good talk, especially the second one — lasted for a pretty long period of time.  I’m sure you probably get it because it was classified, so I’m sure everybody in this room perhaps has it.  But we had a very, very good talk.  I have nothing to do with Russia.  To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

Now, Manafort has totally denied it.  He denied it.  Now, people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia.  I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine, or people that — whoever.  But people knew that.  Everybody knew that.

Q    But in his capacity as your campaign manager, was he in touch with Russian officials during the election?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have — you know what, he said no.  I can only tell you what he — now, he was replaced long before the election.  You know that, right?  He was replaced long before the election.  When all of this stuff started coming out, it came out during the election.  But Paul Manafort, who’s a good man also, by the way — Paul Manafort was replaced long before the election took place.  He was only there for a short period of time.

How much longer should we stay here, folks?  Five more minutes, is that okay?  Five?

Q    Mr. President, on national security —

THE PRESIDENT:  Wait, let’s see, who’s — I want to find a friendly reporter.  Are you a friendly reporter?  Watch how friendly he is.  Wait, wait — watch how friendly he is.  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    So, first of all, my name is (inaudible) from (inaudible) Magazine.  And (inaudible).  I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or any of the — anyone on your staff of being anti-Semitic.  We have an understanding of (inaudible).

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    However, what we are concerned about, and what we haven’t really heard be addressed is an uptick in anti-Semitism and how the government is planning to take care of it.  There have been reports out that 48 bomb threats have been made against Jewish centers all across the country in the last couple of weeks.  There are people who are committing anti-Semitic acts or threatening to —

THE PRESIDENT:  You see, he said he was going to ask a very simple, easy question.  And it’s not.  It’s not.  Not a simple question, not a fair question.  Okay, sit down.  I understand the rest of your question.

So here’s the story, folks.  Number one, I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.  Number two, racism — the least racist person.  In fact, we did very well relative to other people running as a Republican.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Quiet, quiet, quiet.  See, he lied about — he was going to get up and ask a very straight, simple question.  So you know, welcome to the world of the media.  But let me just tell you something — that I hate the charge.  I find it repulsive.  I hate even the question because people that know me — and you heard the Prime Minister, you heard Netanyahu yesterday — did you hear him, Bibi?  He said, I’ve known Donald Trump for a long time, and then he said, forget it.

So you should take that, instead of having to get up and ask a very insulting question like that.

Yeah, go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  I’m Lisa from the PBS —

THE PRESIDENT:  See, it just shows you about the press, but that’s the way the press is.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Lisa Desjardins from the PBS Newshour.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.

Q    On national security and immigration, can you give us more details on the executive order you planned for next week, even its broad outlines?  Will it be focused on specific countries?

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s a very fair question.

Q    And in addition, on the DACA program for immigration, what is your plan?  Do you plan to continue that program or to end it?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re going to show great heart.  DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me, I will tell you.  To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have, because you have these incredible kids, in many cases — not in all cases.  In some of the cases they’re having DACA and they’re gang members and they’re drug dealers too.  But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly — they were brought here in such a way — it’s a very, very tough subject.

We are going to deal with DACA with heart.  I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget, and I have to convince them that what I’m saying is right.  And I appreciate your understanding on that.

But the DACA situation is a very, very — it’s a very difficult thing for me.  Because, you know, I love these kids.  I love kids.  I have kids and grandkids.  And I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do.  And you know, the law is rough.  I’m not talking about new laws.  I’m talking the existing law is very rough.  It’s very, very rough.

As far as the new order, the new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision, but we can tailor the order to that decision and get just about everything, in some ways more.  But we’re tailoring it now to the decision.  We have some of the best lawyers in the country working on it.  And the new executive order is being tailored to the decision we got down from the court.  Okay?

Q    Mr. President, Melania Trump announced the reopening of the White House Visitors Office.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    And she does a lot of great work for the country as well.  Can you tell us a little bit about what First Lady Melania Trump does for the country?  And there is a unique level of interest in your administration, so by opening the White House Visitors Office, what does that mean to you?

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, that’s what I call a nice question.  That is very nice.  Who are you with?

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.  I’m going to start watching.  Thank you very much.

Melania is terrific.  She was here last night.  We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who is, by the way, lovely.  And we had a really good discussion about Cuba because we have very similar views on Cuba.  And Cuba was very good to me in the Florida election as you know, the Cuban people, Americans.  And I think that Melania is going to be outstanding.  That’s right, she just opened up the Visitors Center — in other words, touring of the White House.

She, like others that she’s working with, feels very, very strongly about women’s issues, women’s difficulties, very, very strongly.  And she’s a very, very strong advocate.  I think she’s a great representative for this country.  And a funny thing happens because she gets so unfairly maligned.  The things they say — I’ve known her for a long time.  She was a very successful person.  She was a very successful model.  She did really well.  She would go home at night and didn’t even want to go out with people.  She was a very private person.  She was always the highest quality that you’ll ever find.  And the things they say — and I’ve known her for a long time — the things they say are so unfair.  And actually, she’s been apologized to, as you know, by various media because they said things that were lies.

I’d just tell you this:  I think she’s going to be a fantastic First Lady.  She’s going to be a tremendous representative of women and of the people.  And helping her and working with her will be Ivanka, who is a fabulous person and a fabulous, fabulous woman.  And they’re not doing this for money.  They’re not doing this for pay.  They’re doing this because they feel it, both of them.  And Melania goes back and forth, and after Barron finishes school — because it’s hard to take a child out of school with a few months left — she and Barron will be moving over to the White House.  Thank you.  That’s a very nice question.

Go ahead.

Q    Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.  Oh, this is going to be a bad question but that’s okay.

Q    No, it’s not going to be a bad question.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good, because I enjoy watching you on television.

Q    Well, thank you so much.  Mr. President, I need to find out from you — you said something as it relates to inner cities.  That was one of your platforms during your campaign.

THE PRESIDENT:  Fix the inner cities, yes.

Q    Fixing the inner cities.  What will be that fix and your urban agenda, as well as your HBCU executive order that’s coming out this afternoon?  See, it wasn’t bad, was it?

THE PRESIDENT:  That was very professional and very good.

Q    I’m very professional.

THE PRESIDENT:  We’ll be announcing the order in a little while, and I’d rather let the order speak for itself.  But it will be something I think that will be very good for everybody concerned.  But we’ll talk to you about that after we do the announcement.

As far as the inner cities, as you know, I was very strong on the inner cities during the campaign.  I think it’s probably what got me a much higher percentage of the African American vote than a lot of people thought I was going to get.  We did much higher than people thought I was going to get and I was honored by that, including the Hispanic vote, which was also much higher.  And, by the way, if I might add, including the women’s vote, which was much higher than people thought I was going to get.

So we are going to be working very hard on the inner cities having to do with education, having to do with crime.  We’re going to try and fix as quickly as possible — you know it takes a long time.  It’s taken 100 years or more for some of these places to evolve, and they evolved many of them very badly.

But we’re going to be working very hard on health and health care; very, very hard on education.  And also, we’re going to working in a stringent way, and a very good way, on crime.  You go to some of these inner city places, and it’s so sad when you look at the crime.  You have people — and I’ve seen this, and I’ve sort of witnessed it.  In fact, in two cases, I have actually witnessed it.  They lock themselves into apartments, petrified to even leave, in the middle of the day.  They’re living in hell.  We can’t let that happen.  So we’re going to be very, very strong.

It’s a great question, and it’s a very difficult situation, because it’s been many, many years.  It’s been festering for many, many years.  But we have places in this country that we have to fix.  We have to help African American people that, for the most part are stuck there — Hispanic American people.  We have Hispanic American people that are in the inner cities, and they’re living in hell.

I mean, you look at the numbers in Chicago.  There are two Chicagos, as you know.  There’s one Chicago that’s incredible, luxurious and all, and safe.  There’s another Chicago that’s worse than almost any of the places in the Middle East that we talk about, and that you talk about every night on the newscasts.  So we’re going to do a lot of work on the inner cities.  I have great people lined up to help with the inner cities.

Q    Well, when you say — when you say the inner cities, are you going to include the CBC, Mr. President, in your conversations with your urban agenda, your inner city agenda, as well as your —

THE PRESIDENT:  Am I going include who?

Q    Are you going to include the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as well as —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I would.  I tell you what, do you want to set up the meeting?  Do you want to set up the meeting?

Q    No, no, no.

THE PRESIDENT:  Are they friends of yours?

Q    I’m just a reporter.

THE PRESIDENT:  No, go ahead, set up the meeting.

Q    I know some of them, but I’m sure they’re watching right now.

THE PRESIDENT:  Let’s go set up a meeting.  I would love to meet with the Black Caucus.  I think it’s great — the Congressional Black Caucus.  I think it’s great.  I actually thought I had a meeting with Congressman Cummings, and he was all excited, and then he said, oh, I can’t move, it might be bad for me politically, I can’t have that meeting.  I was all set to have the meeting.  You know, we called him and called him, and he was all set.  I spoke to him on the phone.  Very nice guy.

Q    I hear he wanted that meeting with you as well.

THE PRESIDENT:  He wanted it.  But we called, called, called, called — they can’t make a meeting with him.  Every day, I walked in, I said, I would like to meet with him.  Because I do want to solve the problem.  But he probably was told by Schumer or somebody like that — some other lightweight — he was probably told — he was probably told, don’t meet with Trump, it’s bad politics.  And that’s part of the problem of this country.

Okay, one more.  Go ahead.

Q    Yes, Mr. President, two questions —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no.  One question.  Two, we can’t handle.  This room can’t handle two.  Go ahead, give me the better of your two.

Q    (Inaudible) it’s not about your personality or your beliefs.  We’re talking about (inaudible) around the country, some of it by supporters in your name.  What do you —

THE PRESIDENT:  And some of it — and can I be honest with you?  And this has to do with racism and horrible things that are put up.  Some of it written by our opponents.  You do know that.  Do you understand that?  You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that.  Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or like Donald Trump, they’re put up by the other side, and you think it’s like playing it straight.  No.  But you have some of those signs, and some of that anger is caused by the other side.  They’ll do signs and they’ll do drawings that are inappropriate.  It won’t be my people.  It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.  Okay.

Go ahead.

Q    You are the President now.  What are you going to do about it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Who is that?  Where is that?  Oh, stand up.  You can —

Q    What are you going to do about the tensions that have been discussed?

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, I’m working on it.  No, I’m working on it very hard.

Q    Are you going to give a speech?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no, look.  Hey, just so you understand, we had a totally divided country for eight years, and long before that, in all fairness to President Obama.  Long before President Obama, we have had a very divided.  I didn’t come along and divide this country.  This country was seriously divided before I got here.

We’re going to work on it very hard.  One of the questions that was asked — I thought it was a very good question — was about the inner cities.  I mean, that’s part of it.  But we’re going to work on education.  We’re going to work on lack — you know, we’re going to stop — we’re going to try and stop the crime.  We have great law enforcement officials.  We’re going to try and stop crime.  We’re not going to try and stop, we’re going to stop crime.

But it’s very important to me.  But this isn’t Donald Trump that divided a nation.  We went eight years with President Obama, and we went many years before President Obama.  We lived in a divided nation.  And I am going to try — I will do everything within my power to fix that.

I want to thank everybody very much.  It’s a great honor to be with you.  Thank you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
2:13 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts February 15, 2017: President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 2-15-17

[As prepared by White House stenographer in real time]

East Room

12:15 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Today I have the honor of welcoming my friend, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to the White House.  With this visit, the United States again reaffirms our unbreakable bond with our cherished ally, Israel.  The partnership between our two countries built on our shared values has advanced the cause of human freedom, dignity and peace.  These are the building blocks of democracy.

The state of Israel is a symbol to the world of resilience in the face of oppression — I can think of no other state that’s gone through what they’ve gone — and of survival in the face of genocide.  We will never forget what the Jewish people have endured.

Your perseverance in the face of hostility, your open democracy in the face of violence, and your success in the face of tall odds is truly inspirational.  The security challenges faced by Israel are enormous, including the threat of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which I’ve talked a lot about.  One of the worst deals I’ve ever seen is the Iran deal.  My administration has already imposed new sanctions on Iran, and I will do more to prevent Iran from ever developing — I mean ever — a nuclear weapon.

Our security assistance to Israel is currently at an all-time high, ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats of which there are unfortunately many.  Both of our countries will continue and grow.  We have a long history of cooperation in the fight against terrorism and the fight against those who do not value human life.  America and Israel are two nations that cherish the value of all human life.

This is one more reason why I reject unfair and one-sided actions against Israel at the United Nations — just treated Israel, in my opinion, very, very unfairly — or other international forums, as well as boycotts that target Israel.  Our administration is committed to working with Israel and our common allies in the region towards greater security and stability.  That includes working toward a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.  The United States will encourage a peace and, really, a great peace deal.  We’ll be working on it very, very diligently.  Very important to me also — something we want to do.  But it is the parties themselves who must directly negotiate such an agreement.  We’ll be beside them; we’ll be working with them.

As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises.  You know that, right?  (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Both sides.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I want the Israeli people to know that the United States stands with Israel in the struggle against terrorism.  As you know, Mr. Prime Minister, our two nations will always condemn terrorist acts.  Peace requires nations to uphold the dignity of human life and to be a voice for all of those who are endangered and forgotten.

Those are the ideals to which we all, and will always, aspire and commit.  This will be the first of many productive meetings.  And I, again, Mr. Prime Minister, thank you very much for being with us today.

Mr. Prime Minister, thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  President Trump, thank you for the truly warm hospitality you and Melania have shown me, my wife Sara, our entire delegation.  I deeply value your friendship.  To me, to the state of Israel, it was so clearly evident in the words you just spoke — Israel has no better ally than the United States.  And I want to assure you, the United States has no better ally than Israel.

Our alliance has been remarkably strong, but under your leadership I’m confident it will get even stronger.  I look forward to working with you to dramatically upgrade our alliance in every field — in security, in technology, in cyber and trade, and so many others.  And I certainly welcome your forthright call to ensure that Israel is treated fairly in international forums, and that the slander and boycotts of Israel are resisted mightily by the power and moral position of the United States of America.

As you have said, our alliance is based on a deep bond of common values and common interests.  And, increasingly, those values and interests are under attack by one malevolent force:  radical Islamic terror.  Mr. President, you’ve shown great clarity and courage in confronting this challenge head-on.  You call for confronting Iran’s terrorist regime, preventing Iran from realizing this terrible deal into a nuclear arsenal.  And you have said that the United States is committed to preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons.  You call for the defeat of ISIS.  Under your leadership, I believe we can reverse the rising tide of radical Islam.  And in this great task, as in so many others, Israel stands with you and I stand with you.

Mr. President, in rolling back militant Islam, we can seize an historic opportunity — because, for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally.  And I believe that under your leadership, this change in our region creates an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen security and advance peace.

Let us seize this moment together.  Let us bolster security.  Let us seek new avenues of peace.  And let us bring the remarkable alliance between Israel and the United States to even greater heights.

Thank you.  Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you.  Again, thank you.

We’ll take a couple of questions.  David Brody, Christian Broadcasting.  David.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister.  Both of you have criticized the Iran nuclear deal, and at times even called for its repeal.  I’m wondering if you’re concerned at all as it relates to not just the National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, who is recently no longer here, but also some of those events that have been going on with communication in Russia — if that is going to hamper this deal at all, and whether or not it would keep Iran from becoming a nuclear state.

And secondly, on the settlement issue, are you both on the same page?  How do you exactly term that as it relates to the settlement issue?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man.  I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media — as I call it, the fake media, in many cases.  And I think it’s really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.  I think, in addition to that, from intelligence — papers are being leaked, things are being leaked.  It’s criminal actions, criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time — before me.  But now it’s really going on, and people are trying to cover up for a terrible loss that the Democrats had under Hillary Clinton.

I think it’s very, very unfair what’s happened to General Flynn, the way he was treated, and the documents and papers that were illegally — I stress that — illegally leaked.  Very, very unfair.

As far as settlements, I’d like to see you hold back on settlements for a little bit.  We’ll work something out.  But I would like to see a deal be made.  I think a deal will be made.  I know that every President would like to.  Most of them have not started until late because they never thought it was possible.  And it wasn’t possible because they didn’t do it.

But Bibi and I have known each other a long time — a smart man, great negotiator.  And I think we’re going to make a deal.  It might be a bigger and better deal than people in this room even understand.  That’s a possibility.  So let’s see what we do.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Let’s try it.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Doesn’t sound too optimistic, but — (laughter) — he’s a good negotiator.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  That’s the “art of the deal.”  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I also want to thank — I also want to thank — Sara, could you please stand up?  You’re so lovely and you’ve been so nice to Melania.  I appreciate it very much.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

Your turn.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Yes, please.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you very much.  Mr. President, in your vision for the new Middle East peace, are you ready to give up the notion of two-state solution that was adopted by previous administration?  And will you be willing to hear different ideas from the Prime Minister, as some of his partners are asking him to do, for example, annexation of parts of the West Bank and unrestricted settlement constructions?  And one more question:  Are you going to fulfill your promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem?  And if so, when?

And, Mr. Prime Minister, did you come here tonight to tell the President that you’re backing off the two-state solution?

Thank you.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  So I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like.  (Laughter.)  I’m very happy with the one that both parties like.  I can live with either one.

I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two.  But honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.

As far as the embassy moving to Jerusalem, I’d love to see that happen.  We’re looking at it very, very strongly.  We’re looking at it with great care — great care, believe me.  And we’ll see what happens.  Okay?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Thank you.  I read yesterday that an American official said that if you ask five people what two states would look like, you’d get eight different answers.  Mr. President, if you ask five Israelis, you’d get 12 different answers.  (Laughter.)

But rather than deal with labels, I want to deal with substance.  It’s something I’ve hoped to do for years in a world that’s absolutely fixated on labels and not on substance.  So here’s the substance:  There are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out two years — several years ago, and they haven’t changed.

First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state.  They have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction.  They have to stop educating their people for Israel’s destruction.

Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River.  Because if we don’t, we know what will happen — because otherwise we’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.

Now, unfortunately, the Palestinians vehemently reject both prerequisites for peace.  First, they continue to call for Israel’s destruction — inside their schools, inside their mosques, inside the textbooks.  You have to read it to believe it.

They even deny, Mr. President, our historical connection to our homeland.  And I suppose you have to ask yourself:  Why do – – why are Jews called Jews?  Well, the Chinese are called Chinese because they come from China.  The Japanese are called Japanese because they come from Japan.  Well, Jews are called Jews because they come from Judea.  This is our ancestral homeland.  Jews are not foreign colonialists in Judea.

So, unfortunately, the Palestinians not only deny the past, they also poison the present.  They name public squares in honor of mass murderers who murdered Israelis, and I have to say also murdered Americans.  They fund — they pay monthly salaries to the families of murderers, like the family of the terrorist who killed Taylor Force, a wonderful young American, a West Point graduate, who was stabbed to death while visiting Israel.

So this is the source of the conflict — the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary; this persistent rejection.  That’s the reason we don’t have peace.  Now, that has to change.  I want it to change.  Not only have I not abandoned these two prerequisites of peace; they’ve become even more important because of the rising tide of fanaticism that has swept the Middle East and has also, unfortunately, infected Palestinian society.

So I want this to change.  I want those two prerequisites of peace — substance, not labels — I want them reinstated.  But if anyone believes that I, as Prime Minister of Israel, responsible for the security of my country, would blindly walk into a Palestinian terrorist state that seeks the destruction of my country, they’re gravely mistaken.

The two prerequisites of peace — recognition of the Jewish state, and Israel’s security needs west of the Jordan — they remain pertinent.  We have to look for new ways, new ideas on how to reinstate them and how to move peace forward.  And I believe that the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach from involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace and peace with the Palestinians.

And I greatly look forward to discussing this in detail with you, Mr. President, because I think that if we work together, we have a shot.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  And we have been discussing that, and it is something that is very different, hasn’t been discussed before.  And it’s actually a much bigger deal, a much more important deal, in a sense.  It would take in many, many countries and it would cover a very large territory.  So I didn’t know you were going to be mentioning that, but that’s — now that you did, I think it’s a terrific thing and I think we have some pretty good cooperation from people that in the past would never, ever have even thought about doing this.  So we’ll see how that works out.

Katie from Townhall.  Where’s Katie?  Right there.  Katie.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You said in your earlier remarks that both sides will have to make compromises when it comes to a peace deal.  You’ve mentioned a halt on settlements.  Can you lay out a few more specific compromises that you have in mind, both for the Israelis and for the Palestinians?

And, Mr. Prime Minister, what expectations do you have from the new administration about how to either amend the Iran nuclear agreement or how to dismantle it altogether, and how to overall work with the new administration to combat Iran’s increased aggression, not only in the last couple of months but the past couple of years as well?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  It’s actually an interesting question.  I think that the Israelis are going to have to show some flexibility, which is hard, it’s hard to do.  They’re going to have to show the fact that they really want to make a deal.  I think our new concept that we’ve been discussing actually for a while is something that allows them to show more flexibility than they have in the past because you have a lot bigger canvas to play with.  And I think they’ll do that.

I think they very much would like to make a deal or I wouldn’t be happy and I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be as optimistic as I am.  I really think they — I can tell you from the standpoint of Bibi and from the standpoint of Israel, I really believe they want to make a deal and they’d like to see the big deal.

I think the Palestinians have to get rid of some of that hate that they’re taught from a very young age.  They’re taught tremendous hate.  I’ve seen what they’re taught.  And you can talk about flexibility there too, but it starts at a very young age and it starts in the school room.  And they have to acknowledge Israel — they’re going to have to do that.  There’s no way a deal can be made if they’re not ready to acknowledge a very, very great and important country.  And I think they’re going to be willing to do that also.  But now I also believe we’re going to have, Katie, other players at a very high level, and I think it might make it easier on both the Palestinians and Israel to get something done.

Okay?  Thank you.  Very interesting question.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  You asked about Iran.  One thing is preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons — something that President Trump and I think are deeply committed to do.  And we are obviously going to discuss that.

I think, beyond that, President Trump has led a very important effort in the past few weeks, just coming into the presidency.  He pointed out there are violations, Iranian violations on ballistic missile tests.  By the way, these ballistic missiles are inscribed in Hebrew, “Israel must be destroyed.”  The Palestinian — rather the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said, well, our ballistic missiles are not intended against any country.  No.  They write on the missile in Hebrew, “Israel must be destroyed.”

So challenging Iran on its violations of ballistic missiles, imposing sanctions on Hezbollah, preventing them, making them pay for the terrorism that they foment throughout the Middle East and beyond, well beyond — I think that’s a change that is clearly evident since President Trump took office.  I welcome that.  I think it’s — let me say this very openly:  I think it’s long overdue, and I think that if we work together — and not just the United States and Israel, but so many others in the region who see eye to eye on the great magnitude and danger of the Iranian threat, then I think we can roll back Iran’s aggression and danger.  And that’s something that is important for Israel, the Arab states, but I think it’s vitally important for America.  These guys are developing ICBMs.  They’re developing — they want to get to a nuclear arsenal, not a bomb, a hundred bombs.  And they want to have the ability to launch them everywhere on Earth, and including, and especially, eventually, the United States.

So this is something that is important for all of us.  I welcome the change, and I intend to work with President Trump very closely so that we can thwart this danger.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Great.  Do you have somebody?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Moav (ph)?

Q    Mr. President, since your election campaign and even after your victory, we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States.  And I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the States, and in Israel, and maybe around the world who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.

And, Mr. Prime Minister, do you agree to what the President just said about the need for Israel to restrain or to stop settlement activity in the West Bank?  And a quick follow-up on my friend’s questions — simple question:  Do you back off from your vision to the end of the conflict of two-state solution as you laid out in Bar-Ilan speech, or you still support it?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 Electoral College votes.  We were not supposed to crack 220.  You know that, right?  There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270.  And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.

I will say that we are going to have peace in this country.  We are going to stop crime in this country.  We are going to do everything within our power to stop long-simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on, because lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time.

I think one of the reasons I won the election is we have a very, very divided nation.  Very divided.  And, hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that.  And, you know, it was something that was very important to me.

As far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.  I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years.  I think a lot of good things are happening, and you’re going to see a lot of love.  You’re going to see a lot of love.  Okay?  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  I believe that the issue of the settlements is not the core of the conflict, nor does it really drive the conflict.  I think it’s an issue, it has to be resolved in the context of peace negotiations.  And I think we also are going to speak about it, President Trump and I, so we can arrive at an understanding so we don’t keep on bumping into each other all the time on this issue.  And we’re going to discuss this.

On the question you said, you just came back with your question to the problem that I said.  It’s the label.  What does Abu Mazen mean by two states, okay?  What does he mean?  A state that doesn’t recognize the Jewish state?  A state that basically is open for attack against Israel?  What are we talking about?  Are we talking about Costa Rica, or are we talking about another Iran?

So obviously it means different things.  I told you what are the conditions that I believe are necessary for an agreement:  It’s the recognition of the Jewish state and it’s Israel’s — Israel’s — security control of the entire area.  Otherwise we’re just fantasizing.  Otherwise we’ll get another failed state, another terrorist Islamist dictatorship that will not work for peace but work to destroy us but also destroy any hope — any hope — for a peaceful future for our people.

So I’ve been very clear about those conditions, and they haven’t changed.  I haven’t changed.  If you read what I said eight years ago, it’s exactly that.  And I repeated that again, and again, and again.  If you want to deal with labels, deal with labels.  I’ll deal with substance.

And finally, if I can respond to something that I know from personal experience.  I’ve known President Trump for many years, and to allude to him, or to his people — his team, some of whom I’ve known for many years, too.  Can I reveal, Jared, how long we’ve known you?  (Laughter.)  Well, he was never small.  He was always big.  He was always tall.

But I’ve known the President and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump.  I think we should put that to rest.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Thank you very much.  Very nice.  I appreciate that very much.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Thank you.

END
12:42 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts February 13, 2017: President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 2-13-17

East Room

2:16 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Prime Minister Trudeau, on behalf of all Americans, I thank you for being with us today.  It is my honor to host such a great friend, neighbor, and ally at the White House, a very special place.  This year, Canada celebrates the 150th year of Confederation.  For Americans, this is one of the many milestones in our friendship, and we look forward — very much forward, I must say — to many more to come.

Our two nations share much more than a border.  We share the same values.  We share the love, and a truly great love, of freedom.  And we share a collective defense.  American and Canadian troops have gone to battle together, fought wars together, and forged the special bonds that come when two nations have shed their blood together — which we have.

In these dangerous times, it is more important than ever that we continue to strengthen our vital alliance.  The United States is deeply grateful for Canada’s contribution to the counter-ISIS effort.  Thank you.  And we continue to work in common, and in common cause, against terrorism, and work in common cooperation toward reciprocal trade and shared growth.

We understand that both of our countries are stronger when we join forces in matters of international commerce.  Having more jobs and trade right here in North America is better for both the United States and is also much better for Canada.  We should coordinate closely — and we will coordinate closely — to protect jobs in our hemisphere and keep wealth on our continent, and to keep everyone safe.

Prime Minister, I pledge to work with you in pursuit of our many shared interests.  This includes a stronger trading relationship between the United States and Canada.  It includes safe, efficient, and responsible cross-border travel and migration.  And it includes close partnership on domestic and international security.

America is deeply fortunate to have a neighbor like Canada.  We have before us the opportunity to build even more bridges, and bridges of cooperation and bridges of commerce.  Both of us are committed to bringing greater prosperity and opportunity to our people.

We just had a very productive meeting with women business leaders from the United States and Canada, where we discussed how to secure everything that we know the full power of women can do better than anybody else.  We know that.  I just want to say, Mr. Prime Minister, that I’m focused and you’re focused on the important role women play in our economies.  We must work to address the barriers faced by women and women entrepreneurs, including access to capital, access to markets, and, very importantly, access to networks.

In our discussion today we will focus on improving the ways our government and our governments together can benefit citizens of both the United States and Canada, and, in so doing, advance the greater peace and stability of the world.

Mr. Prime Minister, I look forward to working closely with you to build upon our very historic friendship.  There are incredible possibilities for us to pursue, Canada and the United States together.

Again, thank you for joining us, and I know our discussions will be very, very productive for the future of both countries.

Mr. Prime Minister.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you very much for joining us.

I’d first like to start by extending my sincere thanks to President Trump for inviting me down to Washington.  Any day I get to visit our southern neighbors is a good day in my book, particularly when it’s so nice and warm compared to what it is back home.  We are suffering under a significant winter storm that’s hitting our Atlantic provinces particularly harsh, so I just want to send everyone back at home my thoughts as they shovel out, and impress on everyone to stay safe.

(As interpreted from French.)  The President and myself have had a very productive first meeting today.  We had the opportunity to get to know one another better, and, more importantly, we had the opportunity to talk about the unique relationship between Canada and the United States.

(In English.)  Ends on both sides of the 49th parallel have understood that the bond between our nations is a special one.  No other neighbors in the entire world are as fundamentally linked as we are.  We’ve fought in conflict zones together, negotiated environmental treaties together, including 1991’s historic Air Quality Agreement.  And we’ve entered into groundbreaking economic partnerships that have created good jobs for both of our peoples.

Canadians and Americans alike share a common history as well as people-to-people ties that make us completely and totally integrated.  Our workers are connected by trade, transportation and cross-border commerce.  Our communities rely on each other for security, stability and economic prosperity.  Our families have long lived together and worked together.  We know that, more often than not, our victories are shared.  And just as we celebrate together, so too do we suffer loss and heartbreak together.

Through it all, the foundational pillar upon which our relationship is built is one of mutual respect.  And that’s a good thing, because as we know, relationships between neighbors are pretty complex and we won’t always agree on everything.  But because of our deep, abiding respect for one another, we’re able to successfully navigate those complexities and still remain the closest of allies and friends.  Make no mistake — at the end of the day, Canada and the U.S. will always remain each other’s most essential partner.

And today’s conversations have served to reinforce how important that is for both Canadians and Americans.  As we know, 35 U.S. states list Canada as their largest export market, and our economies benefit from the over $2 billion in two-way trade that takes place every single day.  Millions of good, middle-class jobs on both sides of the border depend on this crucial partnership.  Maintaining strong economic ties is vital to our mutual success, and we’re going to continue to work closely together over the coming years so that Canadian and American families can get ahead.

(As interpreted from French.)  As we know, 35 U.S. states list Canada as their largest export market and our economies benefit from the over $2 billion in two-way trade that takes place every single day.  Millions of good, middle-class jobs on both sides of the border depend on this crucial partnership.  Maintaining strong economic ties is vital to our mutual success, and we’re going to continue to work closely together over the coming years so that Canadian and American families can get ahead.

(In English.)  I’d like to highlight just a few of the specifics that President Trump and I discussed today.  At the end of the day, the President and I share a common goal.  We both want to make sure that hardworking folks can go to work at a good job, put food on the table for their families, and save up to take a vacation every once in a while.  That’s what we’re trying to do here.

Today, we reiterated that our nations are committed to collaborating on energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs while respecting the environment.  And, as we know, investing in infrastructure is a great way to create the kind of economic growth that our countries so desperately need.

In that same vein, we know that ensuring equal opportunities for women in the workforce is essential for growing the economy and maintaining American and Canadian competitiveness on the world stage.  As such, the President and I have agreed to the creation of the Canada-United States Council for Advancement of Women Entrepreneurs and Business Leaders.  This initiative is more than just about dollars and cents.  This is about ensuring that women have access to the same opportunities as men, and prioritizing the support and empowerment of women who are senior business leaders and entrepreneurs.  In doing so, we’ll grow the Canadian and American economies, and help our businesses prosper.

(As interpreted from French.)  Finally, President Trump and myself have agreed to work together to fight against the traffic of opioids across our border.  The rise of illegal use of opioids in our society is nothing less than a tragedy.  We will do everything we can to ensure the safety of Canadians and Americans.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Trump:  I know that if our countries continue to work together, our people will greatly benefit from this cooperation.

(In English.)  History has demonstrated time and again that in order to tackle our most pressing issues, both foreign and domestic, we must work with our closest allies, learn from each other, and stand in solidarity as a united voice.

With a level of economic and social integration that is unmatched on the world stage, Canada and the United States will forever be a model example of how to be good neighbors.  Winston Churchill once said, “That long Canadian frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, guarded only by neighborly respect and honorable obligations, is an example to every country, and a pattern for the future of the world.”  That, my friends, is the very essence of the Canada-U.S. relationship.

I look forward to working with President Trump over the coming years to nurture and build upon this historic partnership.  Once again, it’s a tremendous pleasure to be here in Washington.  Merci beaucoup.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Okay, we’ll take a couple of questions.  Scott Thuman.  Scott.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You just spoke about the desire to build bridges, although there are some notable and philosophical differences between yourself and Prime Minister Trudeau.  I’m curious, as you move forward on issues from trade to terrorism, how do you see this relationship playing out?  And are there any specific areas with which during your conversations today you each decided to perhaps alter or amend your stances already on those sensitive issues like terrorism and immigration?

And, Prime Minister Trudeau, while only in its infancy so far, how do you see this relationship compared to that under the Obama administration?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Well, we just began discussions.  We are going to have a great relationship with Canada, maybe as good or better, hopefully, than ever before.  We have some wonderful ideas on immigration.  We have some, I think, very strong, very tough ideas on the tremendous problem that we have with terrorism.  And I think when we put them all together, which will be very, very quickly — we have a group of very talented people — we will see some very, very obvious results.  We’re also doing some cross-border things that will make it a lot easier for trade and a lot better and a lot faster for trade.

We have — through technology, we have some really great ideas, and they’ll be implemented fairly quickly.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  One of the things we spoke about was the fact that security and immigration need to work very well together.  And certainly Canada has emphasized security as we look towards improving our immigration system and remaining true to the values that we have.  And we had a very strong and fruitful discussion on exactly that.

There’s plenty that we can draw on each other from in terms of how we move forward with a very similar goal, which is to create free, open societies that keep our citizens safe.  And that’s certainly something that we’re very much in agreement on.

Tonda MacCharles.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President and Mr. Prime Minister.  And, Mr. Prime Minister, could you answer in English and French for us, please?

A little bit of a follow-on on my American colleague’s question.  President Trump, you seem to suggest that Syrian refugees are a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, while the Prime Minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms.  So I’d like to know, are you confident the northern border is secure?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  You can never be totally confident.  But through the incredible efforts — already I see it happening — of formerly General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, we have really done a great job.  We’re actually taking people that are criminals — very, very hardened criminals in some cases, with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems — and we’re getting them out.  And that’s what I said I would do.  I’m just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large Electoral College vote.

And I knew that was going to happen.  I knew this is what people were wanting.  And that wasn’t the only reason, that wasn’t my only thing that we did so well on.  But that was something was very important.  And I said we will get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members.  We’re getting them out.

General Kelly, who is sitting right here, is doing a fantastic job.  And I said at the beginning we are going to get the bad ones — the really bad ones, we’re getting them out.  And that’s exactly what we’re doing.

I think that in the end everyone is going to be extremely happy.  And I will tell you right now, a lot of people are very, very happy right now.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Canada has always understood that keeping Canadians safe is one of the fundamental responsibilities of any government.  And that’s certainly something that we’re very much focused on.

At the same time, we continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration, refugees, without compromising security.  And part of the reason we have been successful in doing that over the past year — welcoming close to 40,000 Syrian refugees — is because we have been coordinating with our allies, the United States and around the world, to demonstrate that security comes very seriously to us.  And that’s something that we continue to deal with.

(As interpreted from French.)  It is clear that if you want to have a healthy and secure society or safe society, you have to make sure that you maintain — that you focus on security.  And we have welcomed refugees from Syria.  We have been very successful, but we have always taken our responsibility toward security very seriously.  And our allies, including the United States, understand this focus very well.  And they have done so since the very beginning.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:   Caitlin Collins (ph), please.

Q    Thank you.  President Trump, now that you’ve been in office and received intelligence briefings for nearly one month, what do you see as the most important national security matters facing us?

And, Prime Minister Trudeau, you’ve made very clear that Canada has an open-door policy for Syrian refugees.  Do you believe that President Trump’s moratorium on immigration has merit on national security grounds?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  Okay.  Thank you.  Many, many problems.  When I was campaigning, I said it’s not a good situation.  Now that I see it — including with our intelligence briefings — we have problems that a lot of people have no idea how bad they are, how serious they are, not only internationally, but when you come right here.

Obviously, North Korea is a big, big problem, and we will deal with that very strongly.  We have problems all over the Middle East.  We have problems just about every corner of the globe, no matter where you look.  I had a great meeting this weekend with Prime Minister Abe of Japan and got to know each other very, very well — extended weekend, really.  We were with each other for long periods of time, and our staffs and representatives.

But on the home front, we have to create borders.  We have to let people that can love our country in, and I want to do that.  We want to have a big, beautiful, open door, and we want people to come in and come in our country.  But we cannot let the wrong people in, and I will not allow that to happen during this administration.  And people — citizens of our country want that, and that’s their attitude, too.

I will tell you, we are getting such praise for our stance, and it’s a stance of common sense — maybe a certain toughness, but it’s really more than toughness, it’s a stance of common sense — and we are going to pursue it vigorously.  And we don’t want to have our country have the kinds of problems that you’re witnessing taking place not only here but all over the world.  We won’t stand for it.  We won’t put up with it.  We’re just not going to let it happen.  We’re going to give ourselves every bit of chance so that things go well for the United States.  And they will go well.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Canada and the United States have been neighbors a long time, and Canadians and Americans have stood together, worked together at home and around the world.  We’ve fought and died together in battlefields in World War I and World War II, in Korea, in Afghanistan.  But there have been times where we have differed in our approaches, and that’s always been done firmly and respectfully.

The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves.  My role and our responsibility is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world.

Richard Latendresse.

Q    Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.  I’ll ask my question in French first and then, for you, I’ll — again in English.

(As interpreted from French.)  Mr. Prime Minister, if I heard you correctly, you said that Canadian businesses, Canadian workers are concerned for their businesses and for their work and jobs concerning the renegotiation of NAFTA.  So what guarantees did you get from this government that we will keep our jobs and our businesses in the renegotiation of NAFTA?

(In English.)  Mr. President, again, during the last three months, you have denounced NAFTA.  You have talked over and over about the Mexican portion of the agreement, very little about the Canadian one.  My question is in two short part is, is Canada a fair trader?  And when you talk about changes to NAFTA concerning Canada, are you talking about big changes or small changes?  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  (As interpreted.)  First of all, Richard, thank you for your question.  It is a real concern for many Canadians because we know that our economy is very dependent on our bonds, our relationship with the United States.  Goods and services do cross the border each way every single day, and this means a lot of millions of jobs for Canadians, and good jobs for Canadians.  So we are always focusing on these jobs, but there are also good jobs, millions of jobs, in the United States that depend on those relationships between our two countries.

So when we sit down as we did today, and as our teams will be doing in the weeks and months to come, we will be talking about how we can continue to create good jobs for our citizens on both sides of the border.  And during this exercise, we continue to understand that we have to allow this free flow of goods and services, and we have to be aware of the integration of our economies, which is extremely positive for both our countries.  And this is the focus that we will have in the coming weeks and months to come.

(In English.)  Canadians are rightly aware of the fact that much of our economy depends on good working relationships with the United States, a good integration with the American economy.  And the fact is, millions of good jobs on both sides of the border depend on the smooth and easy flow of goods and services and people back and forth across our border.

And both President Trump and I got elected on commitments to support the middle class, to work hard for people who need a real shot at success.  And we know that by working together, by ensuring the continued effective integration of our two economies, we are going to be creating greater opportunities for middle-class Canadians and Americans now and well into the future.

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  I agree with that 100 percent.  We have a very outstanding trade relationship with Canada.  We’ll be tweaking it.  We’ll be doing certain things that are going to benefit both of our countries.  It’s a much less severe situation than what’s taking place on the southern border.  On the southern border, for many, many years, the transaction was not fair to the United States.  It was an extremely unfair transaction.  We’re going to work with Mexico, we’re going to make it a fair deal for both parties.  I think that we’re going to get along very well with Mexico; they understand and we understand.

You probably have noticed that Ford is making billions of dollars of new investments in this country.  You saw Intel the other day announce that because of what I’ve been doing and what I’m doing in terms of regulation — lowering taxes, et cetera — they’re coming in with billions and billions of dollars of investment, and thousands of thousands of jobs.  General Motors, likewise, is expanding plants and going to build new plants.  Fiat Chrysler was at a meeting where they’re doing the same.  Jack Ma — we have so many people that want to come into the United States.  It’s actually very exciting.

I think it’s going to be a very exciting period of time for the United States and for the workers of the United States, because they have been truly the forgotten man and forgotten women.  It’s not going to be forgotten anymore, believe me.

So our relationship with Canada is outstanding, and we’re going to work together to make it even better.  And as far as the southern border is concerned, we’re going to get that worked out.  We’re going to make it fair, but we are going to make it so that everybody is happy.  It’s very important to me.

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
2:42 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 27, 2017: President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

President Donald Trump and UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Joint Press Conference

President Trump and Prime Minister May’s Opening Remarks

Source: WH, 1-27-17

President Donald J. Trump: “Thank you very much.  I am honored to have Prime Minister Theresa May here for our first official visit from a foreign leader.  This is our first visit, so — great honor.

The special relationship between our two countries has been one of the great forces in history for justice and for peace.  And, by the way, my mother was born in Scotland — Stornoway — which is serious Scotland.

Today, the United States renews our deep bond with Britain — military, financial, cultural, and political.  We have one of the great bonds.  We pledge our lasting support to this most special relationship.  Together, America and the United Kingdom are a beacon for prosperity and the rule of law.  That is why the United States respects the sovereignty of the British people and their right of self-determination.  A free and independent Britain is a blessing to the world, and our relationship has never been stronger.

Both America and Britain understand that governments must be responsive to everyday working people, that governments must represent their own citizens.

Madam Prime Minister, we look forward to working closely with you as we strengthen our mutual ties in commerce, business and foreign affairs.  Great days lie ahead for our two peoples and our two countries.

On behalf of our nation, I thank you for joining us here today.  It’s a really great honor.  Thank you very much.”

Prime Minister Theresa May: “Well, thank you very much, Mr. President.  And can I start by saying that I’m so pleased that I’ve been able to be here today.  And thank you for inviting me so soon after your inauguration.  And I’m delighted to be able to congratulate you on what was a stunning election victory.

And, as you say, the invitation is an indication of the strength and importance of the special relationship that exists between our two countries — a relationship based on the bonds of history, of family, kinship and common interest.  And in a further sign of the importance of that relationship, I have today been able to convey Her Majesty The Queen’s hope that President Trump and the First Lady would pay a state visit to the United Kingdom later this year.  And I’m delighted that the President has accepted that invitation.

Now, today, we’re discussing a number of topics, and there’s much on which we agree.  The President has mentioned foreign policy.  We’re discussing how we can work even more closely together in order to take on and defeat Daesh and the ideology of Islamist extremism wherever it’s found.

Our two nations are already leading efforts to face up to this challenge, and we’re making progress with Daesh losing territory and fighters, but we need to redouble our efforts.  And today, we are discussing how we can do this by deepening intelligence and security cooperation and, critically, by stepping up our efforts to counter Daesh in cyberspace.  Because we know we will not eradicate this threat until we defeat the idea — the ideology that lies behind it.

Our talks will be continuing later.  I’m sure we’ll discuss other topics — Syria and Russia.

On defense and security cooperation, we are united in our recognition of NATO as the bulwark of our collective defense.  And today, we’ve reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to this alliance.  Mr. President, I think you said — you confirmed that you’re 100 percent behind NATO.  But we’re also discussing the importance of NATO continuing to ensure it is as equipped to fight terrorism and cyber warfare as it is to fight more conventional forms of war.

And I’ve agreed to continue my efforts to encourage my fellow European leaders to deliver on their commitments to spend 2 percent of their GDP on defense so that the burden is more fairly shared.  It’s only by investing properly in our defense that we can ensure we’re properly equipped to face our shared challenges together.

And finally, the President and I have mentioned future economic cooperation and trade.  Trade between our two countries is already worth over $150 billion pounds a year.  The U.S. is the single-biggest source of inward investment to the UK, and together we’ve around $1 trillion invested in each other’s economies.  And the UK-U.S. defense relationship is the broadest, deepest, and most advanced of any two countries sharing military hardware and expertise.  And I think the President and I are ambitious to build on this relationship in order to grow our respective economies, provide the high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future for working people across America and across the UK.

And so we are discussing how we can establish a trade negotiation agreement, take forward immediate, high-level talks, lay the groundwork for a UK-U.S. trade agreement, and identify the practical steps we can take now in order to enable companies in both countries to trade and do business with one another more easily.

And I’m convinced that a trade deal between the U.S. and the UK is in the national interest of both countries and will cement the crucial relationship that exists between us, particularly as the UK leaves the European Union and reaches out to the world.

Today’s talks I think are a significant moment for President Trump and I to build our relationship.  And I look forward to continuing to work with you as we deliver on the promises of freedom and prosperity for all the people of our respective countries.”

Full Text Political Transcripts January 18, 2017: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at his Final Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Final Press Conference

Source: WH, 1-18-17

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:24 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Let me start out by saying that I was sorely tempted to wear a tan suit today — (laughter) — for my last press conference.  But Michelle, whose fashion sense is a little better than mine, tells me that’s not appropriate in January.

I covered a lot of the ground that I would want to cover in my farewell address last week.  So I’m just going to say a couple of quick things before I start taking questions.

First, we have been in touch with the Bush family today, after hearing about President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush being admitted to the hospital this morning.  They have not only dedicated their lives to this country, they have been a constant source of friendship and support and good counsel for Michelle and me over the years.  They are as fine a couple as we know.  And so we want to send our prayers and our love to them.  Really good people.

Second thing I want to do is to thank all of you.  Some of you have been covering me for a long time — folks like Christi and Win.  Some of you I’ve just gotten to know.  We have traveled the world together.  We’ve hit a few singles, a few doubles together.  I’ve offered advice that I thought was pretty sound, like “don’t do stupid…stuff.”  (Laughter.)  And even when you complained about my long answers, I just want you to know that the only reason they were long was because you asked six-part questions.  (Laughter.)

But I have enjoyed working with all of you.  That does not, of course, mean that I’ve enjoyed every story that you have filed.  But that’s the point of this relationship.  You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics.  You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.  You’re not supposed to be complimentary, but you’re supposed to cast a critical eye on folks who hold enormous power and make sure that we are accountable to the people who sent us here.

And you have done that.  And you’ve done it, for the most part, in ways that I could appreciate for fairness even if I didn’t always agree with your conclusions.  And having you in this building has made this place work better.  It keeps us honest.  It makes us work harder.  It made us think about how we are doing what we do and whether or not we’re able to deliver on what’s been requested by our constituents.

And for example, every time you’ve asked “why haven’t you cured Ebola yet,” or “why is that still that hole in the Gulf,” it has given me the ability to go back to my team and say, “will you get this solved before the next press conference?”  (Laughter.)

I spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy.  It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press.  That is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment in self-government has to work.  It doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry.  And you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power.

So America needs you, and our democracy needs you.  We need you to establish a baseline of facts and evidence that we can use as a starting point for the kind of reasoned and informed debates that ultimately lead to progress.  And so my hope is, is that you will continue with the same tenacity that you showed us to do the hard work of getting to the bottom of stories and getting them right, and to push those of us in power to be the best version of ourselves.  And to push this country to be the best version of itself.

I have no doubt that you will do so.  I’m looking forward to being an active consumer of your work rather than always the subject of it.  I want to thank you all for your extraordinary service to our democracy.

And with that, I will take some questions.  And I will start with Jeff Mason — whose term apparently is not up.  I thought we’d be going out together, brother, but you got to hang around for a while.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’m staying put.

THE PRESIDENT:  Jeff Mason, Reuters.

Q    Thank you, sir.  Are you concerned, Mr. President, that commuting Chelsea Manning’s sentence will send a message that leaking classified material will not generate a tough sentence to groups like WikiLeaks?  How do you reconcile that in light of WikiLeaks’ connection to Russia’s hacking in last year’s election?  And related to that, Julian Assange has now offered to come to the United States.  Are you seeking that?  And would he be charged or arrested if he came here?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, let’s be clear, Chelsea Manning has served a tough prison sentence.  So the notion that the average person who was thinking about disclosing vital, classified information would think that it goes unpunished I don’t think would get that impression from the sentence that Chelsea Manning has served.

It has been my view that given she went to trial, that due process was carried out, that she took responsibility for her crime, that the sentence that she received was very disproportional — disproportionate relative to what other leakers had received, and that she had served a significant amount of time, that it made it sense to commute — and not pardon — her sentence.

And I feel very comfortable that justice has been served and that a message has still been sent that when it comes to our national security, that wherever possible, we need folks who may have legitimate concerns about the actions of government or their superiors or the agencies in which they work — that they try to work through the established channels and avail themselves of the whistleblower protections that had been put in place.

I recognize that there’s some folks who think they’re not enough, and I think all of us, when we’re working in big institutions, may find ourselves at times at odds with policies that are set.  But when it comes to national security, we’re often dealing with people in the field whose lives may be put at risk, or the safety and security and the ability of our military or our intelligence teams or embassies to function effectively.  And that has to be kept in mind.

So with respect to WikiLeaks, I don’t see a contradiction.  First of all, I haven’t commented on WikiLeaks, generally.  The conclusions of the intelligence community with respect to the Russian hacking were not conclusive as to whether WikiLeaks was witting or not in being the conduit through which we heard about the DNC emails that were leaked.

I don’t pay a lot of attention to Mr. Assange’s tweets, so that wasn’t a consideration in this instance.  And I’d refer you to the Justice Department for any criminal investigations, indictments, extradition issues that may come up with him.

What I can say broadly is that, in this new cyber age, we’re going to have to make sure that we continually work to find the right balance of accountability and openness and transparency that is the hallmark of our democracy, but also recognize that there are adversaries and bad actors out there who want to use that same openness in ways that hurt us — whether that’s in trying to commit financial crimes, or trying to commit acts of terrorism, or folks who want to interfere with our elections.

And we’re going to have to continually build the kind of architecture that makes sure the best of our democracy is preserved; that our national security and intelligence agencies have the ability to carry out policy without advertising to our adversaries what it is that we’re doing, but do so in a way that still keeps citizens up to speed on what their government is doing on their behalf.

But with respect to Chelsea Manning, I looked at the particulars of this case the same way I have for the other commutations and pardons that I’ve done, and I felt that in light of all the circumstances that commuting her sentence was entirely appropriate.

Margaret Brennan.

Q    Mr. President, thank you.  The President-elect has said that he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if they substantially reduced their nuclear stockpile.  Given your own efforts at arms control, do you think that’s an effective strategy?  Knowing this office and Mr. Trump, how would you advise his advisors to help him be effective when he deals with Vladimir Putin?  And given your actions recently on Russia, do you think those sanctions should be viewed as leverage?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, a couple of things.  Number one, I think it is in America’s interest and the world’s interest that we have a constructive relationship with Russia.  That’s been my approach throughout my presidency.  Where our interests have overlapped, we’ve worked together.  At the beginning of my term, I did what I could to encourage Russia to be a constructive member of the international community, and tried to work with the President and the government of Russia in helping them diversify their economy, improve their economy, use the incredible talents of the Russian people in more constructive ways.

I think it’s fair to say that after President Putin came back into the presidency that an escalating anti-American rhetoric and an approach to global affairs that seemed to be premised on the idea that whatever America is trying to do must be bad for Russia and so we want to try and counteract whatever they do — that return to an adversarial spirit that I think existed during the Cold War has made the relationship more difficult.  And it was hammered home when Russia went into Crimea and portions of Ukraine.

The reason we imposed the sanctions, recall, was not because of nuclear weapons issues.  It was because the independence and sovereignty of a country, Ukraine, had been encroached upon, by force, by Russia.  That wasn’t our judgment; that was the judgment of the entire international community.  And Russia continues to occupy Ukrainian territory and meddle in Ukrainian affairs and support military surrogates who have violated basic international law and international norms.

What I’ve said to the Russians is, as soon as you’ve stop doing that the sanctions will be removed.  And I think it would probably best serve not only American interest but also the interest of preserving international norms if we made sure that we don’t confuse why these sanctions have been imposed with a whole set of other issues.

On nuclear issues, in my first term we negotiated the START II treaty. and that has substantially reduced our nuclear stockpiles, both Russia and the United States.  I was prepared to go further.  I told President Putin I was prepared to go further.  They have been unwilling to negotiate.  If President-elect Trump is able to restart those talks in a serious way, I think there remains a lot of room for our two countries to reduce our stockpiles.  And part of the reason we’ve been successful on our nonproliferation agenda and on our nuclear security agenda is because we were leading by example.

I hope that continues.  But I think it’s important just to remember that the reason sanctions have been put in place against Russia has to do with their actions in Ukraine.  And it is important for the United States to stand up for the basic principle that big countries don’t go around and invade and bully smaller countries.  I’ve said before, I expect Russia and Ukraine to have a strong relationship.  They are, historically, bound together in all sorts of cultural and social ways.  But Ukraine is an independent country.

And this is a good example of the vital role that America has to continue to play around the world in preserving basic norms and values, whether it’s advocating on behalf of human rights, advocating on behalf of women’s rights, advocating on behalf of freedom of the press.

The United States has not always been perfect in this regard.  There are times where we, by necessity, are dealing with allies or friends or partners who, themselves, are not meeting the standards that we would like to see met when it comes to international rules and norms.  But I can tell you that in every multilateral setting — in the United Nations, in the G20, in the G7 — the United States typically has been on the right side of these issues.  And it is important for us to continue to be on the right side of these issues, because if we, the largest, strongest country and democracy in the world, are not willing to stand up on behalf of these values, then certainly China, Russia, and others will not.

Kevin Corke.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You have been a strong supporter of the idea of a peaceful transfer of power, demonstrated not terribly far from the Rose Garden.  And yet, even as you and I speak, there are more than five dozen Democrats that are going to boycott the inauguration of the incoming President.  Do you support that?  And what message would you send to Democrats to better demonstrate the peaceful transfer of power?

And if I could follow, I wanted to ask you about your conversations with the President-elect previously.  And without getting into too much of the personal side of it, I’m just curious, were you able to use that opportunity to convince him to take a fresh look at some of the important ideas that you will leave this office with — maintaining some semblance of the Affordable Care Act, some idea of keeping DREAMers here in the country without fear of deportation.  Were you able to use personal stories to try to convince him?  And how successful were you?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I won’t go into details of my conversations with President-elect Trump.  As I’ve said before, they are cordial.  At times they’ve been fairly lengthy and they’ve been substantive.  I can’t tell you how convincing I’ve been.  I think you’d had to ask him whether I’ve been convincing or not.

I have offered my best advice, counsel about certain issues both foreign and domestic.  And my working assumption is, is that having won an election opposed to a number of my initiatives and certain aspects of my vision for where the country needs to go, it is appropriate for him to go forward with his vision and his values.  And I don’t expect that there’s going to be enormous overlap.

It may be that on certain issues, once he comes into office and he looks at the complexities of how to, in fact, provide health care for everybody — something he says he wants to do — or wants to make sure that he is encouraging job creation and wage growth in this country, that that may lead him to some of the same conclusions that I arrived at once I got here.

But I don’t think we’ll know until he has an actual chance to get sworn in and sit behind that desk.  And I think a lot of his views are going to be shaped by his advisors, the people around him — which is why it’s important to pay attention to these confirmation hearings.

I can tell you that — and this is something I have told him — that this is a job of such magnitude that you can’t do it by yourself.  You are enormously reliant on a team.  Your Cabinet, your senior White House staff, all the way to fairly junior folks in their 20s and 30s, but who are executing on significant responsibilities.

And so how you put a team together to make sure that they’re getting you the best information and they are teeing up the options from which you will ultimately make decisions, that’s probably the most useful advice, the most constructive advice that I’ve been able to give him.  That if you find yourself isolated because the process breaks down, or if you’re only hearing from people who agree with you on everything, or if you haven’t created a process that is fact-checking and probing and asking hard questions about policies or promises that you’ve made, that’s when you start making mistakes.  And as I indicated in some of my previous remarks, reality has a way of biting back if you’re not paying attention to it.

With respect to the inauguration, I’m not going to comment on those issues.  All I know is I’m going to be there.  So is Michelle.  And I have been checking the weather, and I’m heartened by the fact that it won’t be as cold as my first inauguration — (laughter) — because that was cold.

Jen Rodriguez.

Q    Right here, Mr. President.  Thank you very much.  You have said that you would come back to fight for the DREAMers.  You said that a couple of weeks ago.  Are you fearful for the status of those DREAMers, the future of the young immigrants and all immigrants in this country with the new administration?  And what did you mean when you said you would come back?  Would you lobby Congress?  Maybe explore the political arena again?  And if I may ask you a second question — why did you take action on “dry foot, wet foot” a week ago?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let me be absolutely clear.  I did not mean that I was going to be running for anything anytime soon.  (Laughter.)  What I meant is that it’s important for me to take some time to process this amazing experience that we’ve gone through; to make sure that my wife, with whom I will be celebrating a 25th anniversary this year, is willing to re-up and put up with me for a little bit longer.  I want to do some writing.  I want to be quiet a little bit and not hear myself talk so darn much.  I want to spend precious time with my girls.

So those are my priorities this year.  But as I said before, I’m still a citizen.  And I think it is important for Democrats or progressives who feel that they came out on the wrong side of this election to be able to distinguish between the normal back-and-forth, ebb and flow of policy — are we going to raise taxes or are we going to lower taxes; are we going to expand this program or eliminate this program; how concerned are we about air pollution or climate change.  Those are all normal parts of the debate.  And as I’ve said before, in a democracy, sometimes you’re going to win on those issues and sometimes you’re going to lose.

I’m confident about the rightness of my positions on a lot of these points, but we got a new President and a Congress that are going to make their same determinations.  And there will be a back-and-forth in Congress around those issues, and you guys will report on all that.

But there’s difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake.  I put in that category, if I saw systematic discrimination being ratified in some fashion.  I’d put in that category, explicit or functional obstacles to people being able to vote, to exercise their franchise.  I’d put in that category, institutional efforts to silence dissent or the press.

And for me, at least, I would put in that category, efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids and send them someplace else when they love this country; they are our kids’ friends and their classmates, and are now entering into community colleges or, in some cases, serving in our military.  The notion that we would just arbitrarily, or because of politics, punish those kids when they didn’t do anything wrong themselves I think would be something that would merit me speaking out.  It doesn’t mean that I would get on the ballot anywhere.

With respect to “wet foot, dry foot,” we underwent a monumental shift in our policy towards Cuba.  My view was, after 50 years of a policy not working, it made sense for us to try to reopen diplomatic relations, to engage a Cuban government, to be honest with them about the strong disagreements we have around political repression and treatment of dissenters and freedom of press and freedom of religion, but that to make progress for the Cuban people, our best shot was to suddenly have the Cuban people interacting with Americans, and seeing the incredible success of the Cuban American community, and engaging in commerce and business and trade, and that it was through that process of opening up these bilateral relations that you would see over time serious and significant improvement.

Given that shift in the relationship, the policy that we had in place was “wet foot, dry foot,” which treated Cuban emigres completely different from folks from El Salvador, or Guatemala, or Nicaragua, or any other part of the world, one that made a distinction between whether you got here by land or by foot — that was a carryover of a old way of thinking that didn’t make sense in this day and age, particularly as we’re opening up travel between the two countries.

And so we had very lengthy consultations with the Department of Homeland Security.  We had some tough negotiations with the Cuban government.  But we arrived at a policy which we think is both fair and appropriate to the changing nature of the relationship between the two countries.

Nadia Bilbassy.

Q    Thank you, sir.  I appreciate the opportunity, and I want you and your family best of luck in the future.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    Mr. President, you have been criticized and even personally attacked for the U.N. Security Council resolution that considered the Israeli settlements illegal and an obstacle to peace.  Mr. Trump promised to move the embassy to Jerusalem.  He appointed an ambassador that doesn’t believe in the two-state solution.  How worried are you about the U.S. leadership in the Arab world and beyond as an honest broker?  Will this ignite a third intifada?  Will this even protect Israel?  And in retrospect, do you think that you should have held Israel more accountable, like President Bush, Senior, did with the loan guarantees?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I continue to be significantly worried about the Israeli-Palestinian issue.  And I’m worried about it both because I think the status quo is unsustainable, that it is dangerous for Israel, that it is bad for Palestinians, it is bad for the region, and it is bad for America’s national security.

And I came into this office wanting to do everything I could to encourage serious peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.  And we invested a lot of energy, a lot of time, a lot of effort, first year, second year, all the way until last year.  Ultimately, what has always been clear is that we cannot force the parties to arrive at peace.  What we can do is facilitate, provide a platform, encourage.  But we can’t force them to do it.

But in light of shifts in Israeli politics and Palestinian politics; a rightward drift in Israeli politics; a weakening of President Abbas’s ability to move and take risks on behalf of peace in the Palestinian Territories; in light of all the dangers that have emerged in the region and the understandable fears that Israelis may have about the chaos and rise of groups like ISIL and the deterioration of Syria — in light of all those things, what we at least wanted to do, understanding that the two parties wouldn’t actually arrive at a final status agreement, is to preserve the possibility of a two-state solution.  Because we do not see an alternative to it.

And I’ve said this directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu.  I’ve said it inside of Israel.  I’ve said it to Palestinians, as well.  I don’t see how this issues gets resolved in a way that maintains Israel as both Jewish and a democracy, because if you do not have two states, then in some form or fashion you are extending an occupation, functionally you end up having one state in which millions of people are disenfranchised and operate as second-class occupant — residents.  You can’t even call them citizens, necessarily.

And so the goal of the resolution was to simply say that the settlements — the growth of the settlements are creating a reality on the ground that increasingly will make a two-state solution impossible.  And we believed, consistent with the position that had been taken with previous U.S. administrations for decades now, that it was important for us to send a signal, a wake-up call, that this moment may be passing, and Israeli voters and Palestinians need to understand that this moment may be passing.  And hopefully that, then, creates a debate inside both Israeli and Palestinian communities that won’t result immediately in peace, but at least will lead to a more sober assessment of what the alternatives are.

So the President-elect will have his own policy.  The ambassador — or the candidate for the ambassadorship obviously has very different views than I do.  That is their prerogative. That’s part of what happens after elections.  And I think my views are clear.  We’ll see how their approach plays itself out.

I don’t want to project today what could end up happening, but obviously it’s a volatile environment.  What we’ve seen in the past is, when sudden, unilateral moves are made that speak to some of the core issues and sensitivities of either side, that can be explosive.  And what we’ve tried to do in the transition is just to provide the context in which the President-elect may want to make some of these decisions.

Q    Are you worried that this (inaudible) —

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s part of what we’ve tried to indicate to the incoming team in our transition process, is pay attention to this, because this is volatile stuff.  People feel deeply and passionately about this.  And as I’ve said I think many times, the actions that we take have enormous consequences and ramifications.

We’re the biggest kid on the block.  And I think it is right and appropriate for a new President to test old assumptions and reexamine the old ways of doing things.  But if you’re going to make big shifts in policy, just make sure you’ve thought it through, and understand that there are going to be consequences, and actions typically create reactions, and so you want to be intentional about it.  You don’t want to do things off the cuff when it comes to an issue this volatile.

Chris Johnson.

Q    On LGBT rights —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, where is Chris?

Q    I’m right here in the back.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, didn’t see you.

Q    On LGBT rights, we’ve seen a lot of achievements over the past eight years, including signing hate crimes protection legislation, “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, marriage equality nationwide, and ensuring transgender people feel visible and accepted.  How do you think LGBT rights will rank in terms of your accomplishments and your legacy?  And how confident are you that progress will endure or continue under the President-elect?

THE PRESIDENT:  I could not be prouder of the transformation that’s taken place in our society just in the last decade.  And I’ve said before, I think we made some useful contributions to it, but the primary heroes in this stage of our growth as a democracy and a society are all the individual activists, and sons and daughters and couples who courageously said, this is who I am and I’m proud of it.

And that opened people’s minds and opened their hearts.  And, eventually, laws caught up.  But I don’t think any of that would have happened without the activism — in some cases, loud and noisy, but in some cases, just quiet and very personal.

And I think that what we did as an administration was to help the society to move in a better direction, but to do so in a way that didn’t create an enormous backlash, and was systematic and respectful of the fact that, in some cases, these issues were controversial.

I think the way we handled, for example, “don’t ask, don’t tell” — being methodical about it, working with the Joint Chiefs, making sure that we showed this would not have an impact on the effectiveness of the greatest military on Earth — and then to have Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Chairman Mike Mullen and a Joint Chiefs who were open to evidence and ultimately worked with me to do the right thing — I am proud of that.  But, again, none of that would have happened without this incredible transformation that was happening in society out there.

You know, when I gave Ellen the Presidential Medal of Freedom, I meant what I said.  I think somebody that kind and likeable projecting into living rooms around the country — that changed attitudes.  And that wasn’t easy to do for her.  And that’s just one small example of what was happening in countless communities all across the country.

So I’m proud that in certain places we maybe provided a good block downfield to help the movement advance.

I don’t think it is something that will be reversible because American society has changed; the attitudes of young people, in particular, have changed.  That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be some fights that are important — legal issues, issues surrounding transgender persons — there are still going to be some battles that need to take place.

But if you talk to young people of Malia, Sasha’s generation, even if they’re Republicans, even if they’re conservative, many of them would tell you, I don’t understand how you would discriminate against somebody because of sexual orientation.  That’s just sort of burned into them in pretty powerful ways.

April Ryan.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Long before today you’ve been considered a rights President.  Under your watch, people have said that you have expanded the rubber band of inclusion.  And with the election and the incoming administration, people are saying that rubber band has recoiled and maybe is even broken.  And I’m taking you back to a time on Air Force One going to Selma, Alabama, when you said your job was to close the gaps that remain.  And with that, what gaps still remain when it comes to rights issues on the table?  And also what part will you play in fixing those gaps after — in your new life?

And lastly, you are the first black President.  Do you expect this country to see this again?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’ll answer the last question first.  I think we’re going to see people of merit rise up from every race, faith, corner of this country, because that’s America’s strength.  When we have everybody getting a chance and everybody is on the field, we end up being better.

I think I’ve used this analogy before.  We killed it in the Olympics in Brazil.  And Michelle and I, we always have our — the Olympic team here.  And it’s a lot of fun, first of all, just because anytime you’re meeting somebody who is the best at anything, it’s impressive.  And these mostly very young people are all just so healthy-looking, and they just beam and exude fitness and health.  And so we have a great time talking to them.

But they are of all shapes, sizes, colors — the genetic diversity that is on display is remarkable.  And if you look at a Simone Biles, and then you look at a Michael Phelps, they’re completely different.  And it’s precisely because of those differences that we’ve got people here who can excel at any sport.

And, by the way, more than half of our medals came from women.  And the reason is, is because we had the foresight several decades ago, with something called Title 9, to make sure that women got opportunities in sports, which is why our women compete better — because they have more opportunities than folks in other countries.

So I use that as a metaphor.  And if, in fact, we continue to keep opportunity open to everybody, then, yes, we’re going to have a woman President, we’re going to have a Latino President, and we’ll have a Jewish President, a Hindu President.  Who knows who we’re going to have?  I suspect we’ll have a whole bunch of mixed-up Presidents at some point that nobody really knows what to call them.  (Laughter.)  And that’s fine.

But what do I worry about?  I obviously spent a lot of time on this, April, at my farewell address on Tuesday, so I won’t go through the whole list.  I worry about inequality, because I think that if we are not investing in making sure everybody plays a role in this economy, the economy will not grow as fast, and I think it will also lead to further and further separation between us as Americans — not just along racial lines.  There are a whole bunch of folks who voted for the President-elect because they feel forgotten and disenfranchised.  They feel as if they’re being looked down on.  They feel as if their kids aren’t going to have the same opportunities as they did.

And you don’t want to have an America in which a very small sliver of people are doing really well and everybody else is fighting for scraps, as I said last week.  Because that’s oftentimes when racial divisions get magnified, because people think, well, the only way I’m going to get ahead is if I make sure somebody else gets less, somebody who doesn’t look like me or doesn’t worship at the same place I do.  That’s not a good recipe for our democracy.

I worry about, as I said in response to a previous question, making sure that the basic machinery of our democracy works better.  We are the only country in the advanced world that makes it harder to vote rather than easier.  And that dates back — there’s an ugly history to that that we should not be shy about talking about.

Q    Voting rights?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, I’m talking about voting rights.  The reason that we are the only country among advanced democracies that makes it harder to vote is it traces directly back to Jim Crow and the legacy of slavery.  And it became sort of acceptable to restrict the franchise.  And that’s not who we are.  That shouldn’t be who we are.  That’s not when America works best.

So I hope that people pay a lot of attention to making sure that everybody has a chance to vote.  Make it easier, not harder.  This whole notion of election — of voting fraud, this is something that has constantly been disproved.  This is fake news — the notion that there are a whole bunch of people out there who are going out there and are not eligible to vote and want to vote.  We have the opposite problem.  We have a whole bunch of people who are eligible to vote who don’t vote.  And so the idea that we’d put in place a whole bunch of barriers to people voting doesn’t make sense.

And then, as I’ve said before, political gerrymandering that makes your vote matter less because politicians have decided you live in a district where everybody votes the same way you do so that these aren’t competitive races, and we get 90 percent Democratic districts, 90 percent Republican districts — that’s bad for our democracy, too.  I worry about that.

I think it is very important for us to make sure that our criminal justice system is fair and just.  But I also think it’s also very important to make sure that it is not politicized, that it maintains an integrity that is outside of partisan politics at every level.

I think at some point we’re going to have to spend — and this will require some action by the Supreme Court — we have to reexamine just the flood of endless money that goes into our politics, which I think is very unhealthy.

So there are a whole bunch of things I worry about there. And as I said in my speech on Tuesday, we got more work to do on race.  It is not — it is simply not true that things have gotten worse.  They haven’t.  Things are getting better.  And I have more confidence on racial issues in the next generation than I do in our generation or the previous generation.  I think kids are smarter about it.  They’re more tolerant.  They are more inclusive by instinct than we are.  And hopefully my presidency maybe helped that along a little bit.

But, you know, we — when we feel stress, when we feel pressure, when we’re just fed information that encourages some of our worst instincts, we tend to fall back into some of the old racial fears and racial divisions and racial stereotypes. And it’s very hard for us to break out of those, and to listen, and to think about people as people, and to imagine being in that person’s shoes.

And by the way, it’s no longer a black and white issue alone.  You got Hispanic folks, and you got Asian folks, and this is not just the same old battles.  We’ve got this stew that’s bubbling up of people from everywhere.  And we’re going to have to make sure that we, in our own lives, in our own families and workplaces, do a better job of treating everybody with basic respect.  And understanding that not everybody starts off in the same situation, and imagining what would it be like if you were born in an inner city and had no job prospects anywhere within a 20-mile radius, or how does it feel being born in some rural county where there’s no job opportunities in a 20-mile radius — and seeing those two things as connected as opposed to separate.

So we got work to do.  But, overall, I think on this front, the trend lines ultimately, I think, will be good.

Christi Parsons.  And Christi, you are going to get the last question.

Q    Oh, no.  (Laughter and groans.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Christi is — I’ve been knowing her since Springfield, Illinois.  When I was a state senator, she listened to what I had to say.  (Laughter.)  So the least I can do is give her the last question as President of the United States.

Go on.

Q    217 numbers still work.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go.  Go ahead.

Q    Well, thank you, Mr. President.  It has been an honor.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    And I have a personal question for you, because I know how much you like this.  The First Lady puts the stakes of the 2016 election in very personal terms in a speech that resonated across the country, and she really spoke the concerns of a lot of women, LGBT folks, people of color, many others.  And so I wonder now how you and the First Lady are talking to your daughters about the meaning of this election and how you interpret it for yourself and for them.

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, every parent brags on their daughters or their sons.  If your mom and dad don’t brag on you, you know you got problems.  (Laughter.)  But, man, my daughters are something, and they just surprise and enchant and impress me more and more every single day as they grow up.  And so these days, when we talk, we talk as parent to child, but also we learn from them.

And I think it was really interesting to see how Malia and Sasha reacted.  They were disappointed.  They paid attention to what their mom said during the campaign and believed it because it’s consistent with what we’ve tried to teach them in our household, and what I’ve tried to model as a father with their mom, and what we’ve asked them to expect from future boyfriends or spouses.

But what we’ve also tried to teach them is resilience, and we’ve tried to teach them hope, and that the only thing that is the end of the world is the end of the world.  And so you get knocked down, you get up, brush yourself off, and you get back to work.  And that tended to be their attitude.

I think neither of them intend to pursue a future of politics — and, in that, too, I think their mother’s influence shows.  (Laughter.)  But both of them have grown up in an environment where I think they could not help but be patriotic, to love this country deeply, to see that it’s flawed but see that they have responsibilities to fix it.  And that they need to be active citizens, and they have to be in a position to talk to their friends and their teachers and their future coworkers in ways that try to shed some light as opposed to just generate a lot of sound and fury.

And I expect that’s what they’re going to do.  They do not — they don’t mope.  And what I really am proud of them — what makes me proudest about them is that they also don’t get cynical about it.  They have not assumed because their side didn’t win, or because some of the values that they care about don’t seem as if they were vindicated, that automatically America has somehow rejected them or rejected their values.  I don’t think they feel that way.

I think that they have, in part through osmosis, in part through dinnertime conversations, appreciated the fact that this is a big, complicated country, and democracy is messy and it doesn’t always work exactly the way you might want, it doesn’t guarantee certain outcomes.  But if you’re engaged and you’re involved, then there are a lot more good people than bad in this country, and there’s a core decency to this country, and that they got to be a part of lifting that up.

And I expect they will be.  And in that sense, they are representative of this generation that makes me really optimistic.

I’ve been asked — I’ve had some off-the-record conversations with some journalists where they said, okay, you seem like you’re okay, but really, really, what are you thinking?  (Laughter.)  And I’ve said, no, what I’m saying really is what I think.  I believe in this country.  I believe in the American people.  I believe that people are more good than bad.  I believe tragic things happen, I think there’s evil in the world, but I think that at the end of the day, if we work hard, and if we’re true to those things in us that feel true and feel right, that the world gets a little better each time.

That’s what this presidency has tried to be about.  And I see that in the young people I’ve worked with.  I couldn’t be prouder of them.  And so this is not just a matter of “No Drama Obama” — this is what I really believe.  It is true that behind closed doors I curse more than I do publicly.  (Laughter.)  And sometimes I get mad and frustrated, like everybody else does.   But at my core, I think we’re going to be okay.  We just have to fight for it.  We have to work for it, and not take it for granted.  And I know that you will help us do that.

Thank you very much, press corps.  Good luck.

END
3:23 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts January 11, 2017: President-elect Donald Trump’s First Press Conference after Election

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION:

President-elect Donald Trump’s First Press Conference after Election

Source: Time, 1-11-17

SPICER: Morning. Thanks for being here (ph). (inaudible) days away from the inauguration of the next president and vice president of the United States. It’s an opportunity to be here today to allow the president-elect to take your questions.

After the president-elect makes some remarks, he will introduce Ms. Sheri Dillon, a prominent attorney in Washington, D.C. with the prestigious firm of Morgan Lewis who will — who structured the agreements pursuant to the president’s business arrangements and she will give brief remarks.

Before we start, I want to bring your attention to a few points on the report that was published in BuzzFeed last night. It’s frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible for a left-wing blog that was openly hostile to the president-elect’s campaign to drop highly salacious and flat out false information on the internet just days before he takes the oath of office.

According to BuzzFeed’s own editor, there are some serious reasons to doubt the allegations in the report. The executive editor of the New York Times also dismissed the report by saying it was, quote, “Totally unsubstantiated, echoing the concerns that many other reporters expressed on the internet.”

SPICER: The fact that BuzzFeed and CNN made the decision to run with this unsubstantiated claim is a sad and pathetic attempt to get clicks. The report is not an intelligence report, plain and simple. One issue that the report talked about was the relationship of three individuals associated with the campaign. These three individuals; Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Carter Page.

Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign. Paul Manafort has adamantly denied any of this involvement and Michael Cohen, who is said to have visited Prague in August and September did not leave or enter the United States during this time. We asked him to produce his passport to confirm his whereabouts on the dates in question and there was no doubt that he was not in Prague.

In fact, Mr. Cohen has never been in Prague. A new report actually suggests that Michael Cohen was at — at the University of Southern California with his son at a baseball game. One report now suggested apparently it’s another Michael Cohen. For all the talk lately about fake news, this political witch hunt by some in the media is based on some of the most flimsy reporting and is frankly shameful and disgraceful.

With that, it is my honor to introduce the next vice president of the United States, Mike Pence.

(APPLAUSE)

PENCE: We are nine days away from the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

I am profoundly honored and humbled that I will take the oath of office to serve as vice president of the United States nine days from today, but I’m even more honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with a new president who will make America great again.

(APPLAUSE)

Now, the president-elect’s leadership and his energy during the campaign was impressive. But as the Chairman of the transition effort, I can assure the American people that his energy and his vision during the course of this transition has been even more inspiring. To see the way he has brought together men and women of extraordinary capability at a historic pace in this cabinet.

Nineteen of the 21 Cabinet officials have been announced, nine committee hearings already scheduled, seven more soon to go on the books in the next several days and it is a — it is a compilation of men and women with an unprecedented caliber of leadership and background to help this administration move our nation forward. Perhaps that’s why there’s been such a concerted effort by some in the mainstream media to delegitimize this election and to demean our incoming administration.

You know, I have long been a supporter of a free and independent press and I always will be. But with freedom comes responsibility. And the irresponsible decision of a few news organizations to run with a false and unsubstantiated report, when most news organizations resisted the temptation to propagate this fake news, can only be attributed to media bias and attempt to demean the president-elect and our incoming administration and the American people are sick and tired of it.

(APPLAUSE)

But today, we’ll get back to real news, to real facts and the real progress our incoming president has already made in reviving the American economy and assembling a team that will make America great again. And we’ll hear from the president-elect about issues that are of paramount importance to the American people today.

So, it is my honor to introduce to all of you, my friend and the president-elect of the United States of America, Donald Trump.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

It’s very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on a almost daily basis. I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences and it’s good to be with you.

TRUMP: We stopped giving them because we were getting quite a bit of inaccurate news, but I do have to say that — and I must say that I want to thank a lot of the news organizations here today because they looked at that nonsense that was released by maybe the intelligence agencies? Who knows, but maybe the intelligence agencies which would be a tremendous blot on their record if they in fact did that. A tremendous blot, because a thing like that should have never been written, it should never have been had and it should certainly never been released.

But I want to thank a lot of the news organizations for some of whom have not treated me very well over the years — a couple in particular — and they came out so strongly against that fake news and the fact that it was written about by primarily one group and one television station.

So, I just want to compliment many of the people in the room. I have great respect for the news and great respect for freedom of the press and all of that. But I will tell you, there were some news organizations with all that was just said that were so professional — so incredibly professional, that I’ve just gone up a notch as to what I think of you. OK?

All right. We’ve had some great news over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been quite active, I guess you could say, in an economic way for the country. A lot of car companies are going to be moving in, we have other companies — big news is going to be announced over the next couple of weeks about companies that are getting building in the Midwest.

You saw yesterday Fiat Chrysler; big, big factory going to be built in this country as opposed to another country. Ford just announced that they stopped plans for a billion dollar plant in Mexico and they’re going to be moving into Michigan and expanding, very substantially, an existing plant.

I appreciate that from Ford. I appreciate it very much from Fiat Chrysler. I hope that General Motors will be following and I think they will be. I think a lot of people will be following. I think a lot of industries are going to be coming back.

We’ve got to get our drug industry back. Our drug industry has been disastrous. They’re leaving left and right. They supply our drugs, but they don’t make them here, to a large extent. And the other thing we have to do is create new bidding procedures for the drug industry because they’re getting away with murder.

Pharma, pharma has a lot of lobbies and a lot of lobbyists and a lot of power and there’s very little bidding on drugs. We’re the largest buyer of drugs in the world and yet we don’t bid properly and we’re going to start bidding and we’re going to save billions of dollars over a period of time.

And we’re going to do that with a lot of other industries. I’m very much involved with the generals and admirals on the airplane, the F-35, you’ve been reading about it. And it’s way, way behind schedule and many, many billions of dollars over budget. I don’t like that. And the admirals have been fantastic, the generals have been fantastic. I’ve really gotten to know them well. And we’re going to do some big things on the F-35 program, and perhaps the F-18 program. And we’re going to get those costs way down and we’re going to get the plane to be even better. And we’re going to have some competition and it’s going to be a beautiful thing.

So, we’ve been very, very much involved, and other things. We had Jack Ma, we had so many incredible people coming here. There are no — they’re going to do tremendous things — tremendous things in this country. And they’re very excited.

And I will say, if the election didn’t turn out the way it turned out, they would not be here. They would not be in my office. They would not be in anybody else’s office. They’d be building and doing things in other countries. So, there’s a great spirit going on right now. A spirit that many people have told me they’ve never seen before, ever.

We’re going to create jobs. I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created. And I mean that, I really — I’m going to work very hard on that. We need certain amounts of other things, including a little bit of luck, but I think we’re going to do a real job. And I’m very proud of what we’ve done.

And we haven’t even gotten there yet. I look very much forward to the inauguration. It’s going to be a beautiful event. We have great talent, tremendous talent. And we have the — all of the bands — or most of the bands are from the different — from the different segments of the military. And I’ve heard some of these bands over the years, they’re incredible.

We’re going to have a very, very elegant day. The 20th is going to be something that will be very, very special; very beautiful. And I think we’re going to have massive crowds because we have a movement.

TRUMP: It’s a movement like the world has never seen before. It’s a movement that a lot of people didn’t expect. And even the polls — although some of them did get it right, but many of them didn’t. And that was a beautiful scene on November 8th as those states started to pour in.

And we focused very hard in those states and they really reciprocated. And those states are gonna have a lot of jobs and they’re gonna have a lot of security. They’re going to have a lot of good news for their veterans.

And by the way, speaking of veterans, I appointed today the head secretary of the Veterans Administration, David Shulkin. And we’ll do a news release in a little while. Tell you about David, he’s fantastic — he’s fantastic. He will do a truly great job.

One of the commitments I made is that we’re gonna straighten out the whole situation for our veterans. Our veterans have been treated horribly. They’re waiting in line for 15, 16, 17 days, cases where they go in and they have a minor early-stage form of cancer and they can’t see a doctor. By the time they get to the doctor, they’re terminal. Not gonna happen, it’s not gonna happen.

So, David is going to do a fantastic job. We’re going to be talking to a few people also to help David. And we have some of the great hospitals of the world going to align themselves with us on the Veterans Administration, like the Cleveland Clinic, like the Mayo Clinic, a few more than we have. And we’re gonna set up a — a group.

These are hospitals that have been the top of the line, the absolute top of the line. And they’re going to get together with their great doctors — Dr. Toby Cosgrove, as you know from the Cleveland Clinic, has been very involved.

Ike Perlmutter has been very, very involved, one of the great men of business. And we’re gonna straighten out the V.A. for our veterans. I’ve been promising that for a long time and it’s something I feel very, very strongly.

So, you’ll get the information on David. And I think you’ll be very impressed with the job he does. We looked long and hard. We interviewed at least 100 people, some good, some not so good. But we had a lot of talent. And we think this election will be something that will, with time — with time, straighten it out and straighten it out for good ’cause our veterans have been treated very unfairly.

OK, questions? Yes, John (ph)?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) so much.

TRUMP: Thank you.

QUESTION: Appreciate it.

A couple of aspects of the intelligence briefing that you received on Friday that we’re looking for further clarification on.

TRUMP: Sure.

QUESTION: First of all, did the heads of the intelligence agencies provide you with the two-page summary of these unsubstantiated allegations? And secondly to that, on the broader picture, do you accept their opinion that Vladimir Putin ordered the hack of the DNC and the attempted hack of the RNC?

And if you do, how will that color your attempts to build a relationship with a leader who has been accused of committing an act of espionage against the United States?

TRUMP: OK, first of all, these readings as you know are confidential, classified. So, I’m not allowed to talk about what went on in a meeting.

And — but we had many witnesses in that meeting, many of them with us. And I will say, again, I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out.

I saw the information; I read the information outside of that meeting. It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours, as you know, because you reported it and so did many of the other people. It was a group of opponents that got together — sick people — and they put that crap together.

So, I will tell you that not within the meeting, but outside of the meeting, somebody released it. It should have never been — number one, shouldn’t have even entered paper. But it should have never have been released. But I read what was released and I think it’s a disgrace. I think it’s an absolute disgrace.

As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. And I — I can say that you know when — when we lost 22 million names and everything else that was hacked recently, they didn’t make a big deal out of that. That was something that was extraordinary. That was probably China.

We had — we had much hacking going on. And one of the things we’re gonna do, we have some of the greatest computer minds anywhere in the world that we’ve assembled. You saw just a sample of it two weeks ago up here where we had the six top people in the world — they were never in the same room together as a group. And we’re gonna put those minds together and we’re going to form a defense.

TRUMP: And I have to say this also, the Democratic National Committee was totally open to be hacked. They did a very poor job. They could’ve had hacking defense, which we had.

And I will give Reince Priebus credit, because when Reince saw what was happening in the world and with this country, he went out and went to various firms and ordered a very, very strong hacking defense.

And they tried to hack the Republican National Committee and they were unable to break through.

We have to do that for our country. It’s very important.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … just to the last part of that question (inaudible) how could all of this potentially color your attempts to build a better relationship with President Putin?

TRUMP: Well, you know, President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news. They said it totally never happened.

Now, somebody would say, “Oh, of course he’s gonna say that.”

I respected the fact that he said that.

And I — I’ll be honest, I think if he did have something, they would’ve released it; they would’ve been glad to release it.

I think, frankly, had they broken into the Republican National Committee, I think they would’ve released it just like they did about Hillary and all of the horrible things that her people, like Mr. Podesta, said about her. I mean what he said about her was horrible.

If somebody said about me, what Podesta said about Hillary, I was the boss, I would’ve fired him immediately or that person. Because what he said about her was horrible.

But remember this: We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.

That Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing. That’s a horrible thing.

Can you imagine that if Donald Trump got the questions to the debate — it would’ve been the biggest story in the history of stories. And they would’ve said immediately, “You have to get out of the race.” Nobody even talked about it. It’s a very terrible thing.

Yeah?

QUESTION: Can I ask you a question, sir?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect.

On that intelligence report, the second part of their conclusion was that Vladimir Putin ordered it because he aspired to help you in the election.

Do you accept that part of the finding? And will you undo what President Obama did to punish the Russians for this or will you keep it in place?

TRUMP: Well, if — if Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia. Russia can help us fight ISIS, which, by the way, is, number one, tricky. I mean if you look, this administration created ISIS by leaving at the wrong time. The void was created, ISIS was formed.

If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability.

Now, I don’t know that I’m gonna get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t. And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.

OK?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … President Obama…

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … make clear whether during your visits to either Moscow or St. Petersburg, you engaged in conduct that you now regret and that a reasonable…

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Would a reasonable observer say that you are potentially vulnerable to blackmail by Russia or by its intelligence agencies?

TRUMP: Lemme just tell you what I do.

When I leave our country, I’m a very high-profile person, would you say?

I am extremely careful. I’m surrounded by bodyguards. I’m surrounded by people.

And I always tell them — anywhere, but I always tell them if I’m leaving this country, “Be very careful, because in your hotel rooms and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras.” I’m not referring just to Russia, but I would certainly put them in that category.

And number one, “I hope you’re gonna be good anyway. But in those rooms, you have cameras in the strangest places. Cameras that are so small with modern technology, you can’t see them and you won’t know. You better be careful, or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television.”

I tell this to people all the time.

I was in Russia years ago, with the Miss Universe contest, which did very well — Moscow, the Moscow area did very, very well.

And I told many people, “Be careful, because you don’t wanna see yourself on television. Cameras all over the place.”

And again, not just Russia, all over.

Does anyone really believe that story?

I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me. (LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … how you plan to disentangle yourself from your business. But first, I have to follow-up on some of these Russian remarks.

Based on your comments here today, do you believe the hacking was justified? Does Russia have any leverage over you, financial or otherwise? And if not, will you release your tax returns to prove it?

TRUMP: So I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia.

As a real estate developer, I have very, very little debt. I have assets that are — and now people have found out how big the company is, I have very little debt — I have very low debt. But I have no loans with Russia at all.

And I thought that was important to put out. I certified that. So I have no deals, I have no loans and I have no dealings. We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don’t want to because I think that would be a conflict. So I have no loans, no dealings, and no current pending deals.

Now, I have to say one other thing. Over the weekend, I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai with a very, very, very amazing man, a great, great developer from the Middle East, Hussein Damack, a friend of mine, great guy. And I was offered $2 billion to do a deal in Dubai — a number of deals and I turned it down.

I didn’t have to turn it down, because as you know, I have a no-conflict situation because I’m president, which is — I didn’t know about that until about three months ago, but it’s a nice thing to have. But I don’t want to take advantage of something. I have something that others don’t have, Vice President Pence also has it. I don’t think he’ll need it, I have a feeling he’s not going to need it.

But I have a no conflict of interest provision as president. It was many, many years old, this is for presidents. Because they don’t want presidents getting — I understand they don’t want presidents getting tangled up in minutia; they want a president to run the country. So I could actually run my business, I could actually run my business and run government at the same time.

I don’t like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that if I wanted to. I would be the only one to be able to do that. You can’t do that in any other capacity. But as president, I could run the Trump organization, great, great company, and I could run the company — the country. I’d do a very good job, but I don’t want to do that.

Now, all of these papers that you see here — yes, go ahead.

QUESTION: (inaudible) do you believe the hacking was justified? And will you release your tax returns to prove what you’re saying about no deals in Russia?

TRUMP: I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know, they’re under audit.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … since the ’70’s has had a required audit from the IRS, the last place to release them, but as president sir…

TRUMP: You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK? They’re the only who ask.

QUESTION: You don’t think the American public is concerned about it?

TRUMP: No I don’t think so. I won, when I became president. No, I don’t think they care at all. I don’t think they care at all.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: I think you care — I think you care. First of all, you learn very little to a tax return. What you should go down to federal elections and take a look at the numbers. And actually, people have learned a lot about my company and now they realize, my company is much bigger, much more powerful than they ever thought. We’re in many, many countries, and I’m very proud of it.

And what I’m going to be doing is my two sons, who are right here, Don and Eric, are going to be running the company. They are going to be running it in a very professional manner. They’re not going to discuss it with me. Again, I don’t have to do this. They’re not going to discuss it with me. And with that, I’m going to bring up Sheri Dillon, and she’s going to go — these papers are just some of the many documents that I’ve signed turning over complete and total control to my sons.

(CROSSTALK)

DILLON: Good morning. It’s my honor and privilege to be here today at President-elect Trump’s request.

He’s asked me, as you just heard, to speak about the conflicts of interest and the steps he’s taking. As you know, the business empire built by President-elect Trump over the years is massive, not dissimilar to the fortunes of Nelson Rockefeller when he became vice president. But at that time, no one was so concerned.

President-elect Trump wants the American public to rest assured that all of his efforts are directed to pursuing the people’s business and not his own. To that end, as he explained a few moments ago, he directed me and my colleagues at the law firm Morgan Lewis and Bockius to design a structure for his business empire that will completely isolate him from the management of the company.

He further instructed that we build in protections that will assure the American people the decisions he makes and the actions that he takes as president are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests.

DILLON: As he said, he’s voluntarily taking this on. The conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the president or the vice president and they are not required to separate themselves from their financial assets. The primary conflicts of interest statutes and some have questioned it, is Section 18 USC 208 and it’s simply inapplicable by its terms. And this is not just our interpretation. It’s Congress itself who have made this clear in 1989 when it amended Section 18 USC 202 to state that, except as otherwise provided, the terms office and employee in section 208 shall not include the president.

Even so, President-elect Trump wants there to be no doubt in the minds of the American public that he is completely isolating himself from his business interests. He instructed us to take all steps realistically possible to make it clear that he is not exploiting the office of the presidency for his personal benefit. He also sought the guidance of individuals who are familiar with and have worked extensively in the fields of government ethics and constitutional law.

Critical to the Morgan Lewis team is Fred Fielding, standing here to our side and with us today and many of you have known him. He has served several presidents over the years including serving as counsel to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush as well as serving on President George H.W. Bush’s Commission on Federal Ethics Law Reform and he also held the position of vice chair of the Ethics Resource Center.

Mr. Fielding has been extensively involved with and approved this plan. He’s here today to support the plan and he will continue to provide guidance as the plan is implemented and as Eric, Don, along with others, take over management of the Trump organization.

I’m gonna detail some of the extraordinary steps now that the president-elect is taking. First, President-elect Trump’s investments and business assets commonly known as the — as the Trump Organization, comprising hundreds of entities which, again, if you all go and take a look at his financial disclosure statement, the pages and pages and pages of entities have all been or will be conveyed to a trust prior to January 20th. Here is just some of the paperwork that’s taking care of those actions.

Second, through the trust agreement, he has relinquished leadership and management of the Trump Organization to his sons Don and Eric and a longtime Trump executive, Allen Weisselberg. Together, Don, Eric and Allen will have the authority to manage the Trump Organization and will make decisions for the duration of the presidency without any involvement whatsoever by President-elect Trump.

Further, at the president-elect’s direction, the trust agreement provides — that to ensure the Trump Organization continues to operate in accordance with the highest and legal ethics standards, an ethics adviser will be appointed to the management team. The written approval of the ethics adviser will be required for new deals, actions, and transactions that could potentially raise ethics or conflicts of interest concerns.

President-elect Trump as well as Don, Eric and Allen are committed to ensuring that the activities of the Trump organization are beyond reproach and cannot be perceived to be exploitive of the office of the presidency. President-elect Trump will resign from all officer and other positions he holds with the Trump Organization entities.

Further, in addition, his daughter Ivanka will have no further involvement with or management authority whatsoever with the Trump Organization. As she and Jared move their family to D.C., Ivanka will focused on settling her children into their new homes and their new schools.

The president-elect has also already disposed of all of his investments in publicly traded or easily liquidated investments. As a result, the trust will have two types of assets; first, it will hold liquid assets. Cash, cash equivalents and treasuries and perhaps some positions in a government approved diversified portfolio, one that is consistent with the regulations from the Office of Government Ethics.

Second, the trust is going to hold his preexisting illiquid, but very valuable business assets, the ones that everyone here is familiar with. Trump owned, operated and branded golf clubs, commercial rental property, resorts, hotels, rights to royalties from preexisting licenses of Trump-Marks Productions and Goods. Things like Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, all of his other business assets, 40 Wall Street will all be in the trust.

Through instructions in the trust agreement, President-elect trust — President-elect Trump first ordered that all pending deals be terminated. This impacted more than 30 deals, many of which were set to close by the end of 2016. As you can well imagine, that caused an immediate financial loss of millions of dollars, not just for President-elect Trump, but also for Don, Ivanka and Eric.

DILLON: The trust agreement as directed by President Trump imposes severe restrictions on new deals. No new foreign deals will be made whatsoever during the duration of President Trump’s presidency. New domestic deals will be allowed, but they will go through a vigorous vetting process.

The president-elect will have no role in deciding whether the Trump Organization engages in any new deal and he will only know of a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees it on TV. Because any new deal could — and I emphasize could — be perceived as causing a conflict or as exploiting the office of the presidency, new deals must be vetted with the ethics adviser, whose role will be to analyze any potential transactions for conflicts and ethics issues.

The ethics adviser will be a recognized expert in the field of government experts. Again, his role will be to scrutinize the new deals and the actions, and any new deal must receive written approval.

To further reinforce the wall that we are building between President-elect Trump and the Trump Organization, President-elect Trump has ordered, through his trust agreement, to sharply limit his information rights. Reports will only be available and reflect profit and loss on the company as a whole. There will be no separate business by business accounting.

Another step that President-elect Trump has taken is he created a new position at the Trump Organization; the position of chief compliance counsel, whose responsibility will be to ensure that the Trump businesses, again, are operating at the highest levels of integrity and not taking any actions that could be perceived as exploiting the office of the presidency. He has also directed that no communications of the Trump Organization, including social media accounts, will reference or be tied to President-elect Trump’s role as president of the United States or the office of the presidency.

In sum, all of these actions — complete relinquishment of management, no foreign deals, ethics adviser approval of deals, sharply limited information rights — will sever President-elect Trump’s presidency from the Trump Organization.

Some have asked questions. Why not divest? Why not just sell everything? Form of blind trust. And I’d like to turn to addressing some of those questions now.

Selling, first and foremost, would not eliminate possibilities of conflicts of interest. In fact, it would exacerbate them. The Trump brand is key to the value of the Trump Organization’s assets. If President-elect Trump sold his brand, he would be entitled to royalties for the use of it, and this would result in the trust retaining an interest in the brand without the ability to assure that it does not exploit the office of the presidency.

Further, whatever price was paid would be subject to criticism and scrutiny. Was it too high, is there pay for play, was it too much pay to curry favor with the president-elect. And selling his assets without the rights to the brand would greatly diminish the value of the assets and create a fire sale.

President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built. This plan offers a suitable alternative to address the concerns of the American people, and selling the entire Trump Organization isn’t even feasible.

Some people have suggested that the president-elect sell the business to his adult children. This would require massive third-party debt sourced with multiple lenders, whose motives and willingness to participate would be questioned and undoubtedly investigated. And if the president-elect were to finance the sale himself, he would retain the financial interests in the assets that he owns now.

Some people have suggested that the Trump — that President-elect Trump could bundle the assets and turn the Trump Organization into a public company. Anyone who has ever gone through this extraordinarily cumbersome and complicated process knows that it is a non-starter. It is not realistic and it would be inappropriate for the Trump Organization.

Some people have suggested a blind trust, but you cannot have a totally blind trust with operating businesses. President Trump can’t unknow he owns Trump Tower and the press will make sure that any new developments at the Trump Organization are well publicized.

DILLON: Further, it would be impossible to find an institutional trustee that would be competent to run the Trump Organization. The approach that he is taking allows Don and Eric to preserve this great company and its iconic assets. And this approach is best from a conflicts and ethics perspective. It creates a complete separation from President-elect Trump — it separates him and prevents him from participating in the business and poses strict limits on what the trustees can do and requires the assent of any ethics adviser to a new deal.

I’m going to turn to one last topic today that has been of interest lately called emoluments. That’s a word I think we’ve all become familiar with and perhaps had not heard before.

And we’re gonna describe some other actions that President-elect Trump is taking to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.

Emoluments comes from the Constitution. The Constitution says “officials may not accept gifts, titles of nobility, or emoluments from foreign governments with respect to their office, and that no benefit should be derived by holding in office.”

The so-called Emoluments Clause has never been interpreted, however, to apply to fair value exchanges that have absolutely nothing to do with an office holder.

No one would have thought when the Constitution was written that paying your hotel bill was an emolument. Instead, it would have been thought of as a value-for-value exchange; not a gift, not a title, and not an emolument.

But since President-elect Trump has been elected, some people want to define emoluments to cover routine business transactions like paying for hotel rooms. They suggest that the Constitution prohibits the businesses from even arm’s-length transactions that the president-elect has absolutely nothing to do with and isn’t even aware of.

These people are wrong. This is not what the Constitution says. Paying for a hotel room is not a gift or a present and it has nothing to do with an office. It’s not an emolument.

The Constitution does not require President-elect Trump to do anything here. But, just like with conflicts of interests, he wants to do more than what the Constitution requires.

So, President-elect Trump has decided, and we are announcing today, that he is going to voluntarily donate all profits from foreign government payments made to his hotel to the United States Treasury. This way, it is the American people who will profit.

In sum, I and president-elect’s (sic) other advisers at Morgan Lewis have determined the approach we’ve outlined today will avoid potential conflicts of interests or concerns regarding exploitation of the office of the presidency without imposing unnecessary and unreasonable loses on the president-elect and his family.

We believe this structure and these steps will serve to accomplish the president-elect’s desire to be isolated from his business interests and give the American people confidence that his sole business and interest is in making America great again, bringing back jobs to this country, securing our borders and rebuilding our infrastructure.

The American people were well — well aware of President-elect Trump’s business empire and financial interests when they voted. Many people voted for him precisely because of his business success.

President-elect Trump wants to bring this success to all Americans. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

DILLON: You’re welcome. My pleasure. Yes (ph). Don’t want to lose your note. Thank you.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Here you go, you (ph).

DILLON: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Trump? Thank you. Mr. Trump, (inaudible) from America News.

What is your response to your critics that say not only you, but also your Cabinet is filled with conflicts of interest?

And do you plan to set an example in the future to make sure that your — your Cabinet and everyone throughout your administration…

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I — I really think that when you watch what’s going on with what’s happening in — I was just watching, as an example, Rex Tillerson. I think it’s brilliant what he’s doing and what he’s saying.

I watched yesterday, as you know, our great senator, who is going to be a great attorney general. And he was brilliant. And what people don’t know is that he was a great prosecutor and attorney general in Alabama. And he was brilliant yesterday.

So, I really think that they are — I think we have one of the great Cabinets ever put together. And we’ve been hearing that from so many people. People are so happy.

You know, in the case of Rex, he ran incredibly Exxon Mobil. When there was a find, he would get it. When they needed something, he would be there.

A friend of mine who’s very, very substantial in the oil business, Harold Hamm — big supporter — he said there’s nobody in the business like Rex Tillerson.

And that’s what we want. That’s what I want to bring to government.

I want to bring the greatest people into government, because we’re way behind. We don’t make good deals any more. I say it all the time in speeches. We don’t make good deals anymore; we make bad deals. Our trade deals are a disaster.

TRUMP: We have hundreds of billions of dollars of losses on a yearly basis — hundreds of billions with China on trade and trade imbalance, with Japan, with Mexico, with just about everybody. We don’t make good deals anymore.

So we need people that are smart, we need people that are successful and they got successful because generally speaking, they’re smart. And that’s what I’d put, I’m very proud of the Cabinet, I think they’re doing very well.

It’s very interesting how it’s going, but it’s — I think they’re doing very, very well.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … a quick follow-up on — on Russia, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect. I wanted to ask a few questions on Obamacare?

TRUMP: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you be specific on what guidance you’re giving congressional Republicans on the timeline for repeal and replace, whether it needs to be simultaneous or…

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Finally, Obamacare, I thought it was never gonna be asked.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) though if you have outlined a plan for what you want the replace package to look like, would it guarantee coverage for those who have gotten health insurance through the current Obamacare law?

TRUMP: You’re gonna be very, very proud, as not only the media and reporters, you’re gonna be very proud of what we put forth having to do with health care. Obamacare is a complete and total disaster.

They can say what they want, they can guide you anyway they wanna guide you. In some cases, they guide you incorrectly. In most cases, you realize what’s happened, it’s imploding as we sit.

Some states have over a hundred percent increase and ’17 and I said this two years ago, ’17 is going to be the bad year. It’s going to be catastrophic. Frankly, we could sit back and it was a thought from a political standpoint, but it wouldn’t be fair to the people.

We could sit back and wait and watch and criticize and we could be a Chuck Schumer and sit back and criticize it and people would come, they would come, begging to us please, we have to do something about Obamacare. We don’t wanna own it, we don’t wanna own it politically. They own it right now.

So the easiest thing would be to let it implode in ’17 and believe me, we’d get pretty much whatever we wanted, but it would take a long time. We’re going to be submitting, as soon as our secretary’s approved, almost simultaneously, shortly thereafter, a plan.

It’ll be repeal and replace. It will be essentially, simultaneously. It will be various segments, you understand, but will most likely be on the same day or the same week, but probably, the same day, could be the same hour.

So we’re gonna do repeal and replace, very complicated stuff. And we’re gonna get a health bill passed, we’re gonna get health care taken care of in this country. You have deductibles that are so high, that after people go broke paying their premiums which are going through the roof, the health care can’t even be used by them because their deductibles bills are so high.

Obamacare is the Democrats problem. We are gonna take the problem off the shelves for them. We’re doing them a tremendous service by doing it. We could sit back and let them hang with it. We are doing the Democrats a great service.

So as soon as our secretary is approved and gets into the office, we’ll be filing a plan. And it was actually, pretty accurately reported today, The New York Times. And the plan will be repeal and replace Obamacare.

We’re going to have a health care that is far less expensive and far better. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: President-elect, can we just ask you — sir, sir…

QUESTION: President-elect Trump…

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President — which one?

TRUMP: I was going right here.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: President-elect Trump, Jon Steinberg (ph) from Cheddar. When you look at all the meetings that you’ve had with Carrier, SoftBank and Alibaba, do you conceive of making this a program, maybe sitting inside of commerce?

And then my follow-up question to that, is how soon will we see the program on capital repatriation and corporate tax cuts?

TRUMP: Well, if I can save jobs, for instance I was doing individual companies and people said well, that’s only one company, like we did a good job with Carrier. And I wanna thank United Technologies which owns Carrier, but we saved close to a thousand jobs.

And they were gone and Mike Pence and his staff really helped us, a lot. But those were — that was a tough one because they announced a year and a half before that they were leaving so it’s always tough when they’re building a plan, just a little tougher than before they start or before they make an announcement.

TRUMP: So I wanna thank United Technologies. But we’ve been meeting with a lot of companies. But what really is happening, is the word is now out, that when you want to move your plant to Mexico or some other place, and you want to fire all of your workers from Michigan and Ohio and all these places that I won, for good reason, it’s not going to happen that way anymore.

You want to move your plant and you think, as an example, you’re going to build that plant in Mexico and you’re going to make your air conditioners or your cars or whatever you’re making, and you’re going to sell it through what will be a very, very strong border — not a weak border like it is — we don’t even have a border. It’s an open sieve.

But you’re going to sell through a very strong border — not going to happen. You’re going to pay a very large border tax. So if you want to move to another country and if you want to fire all of our great American workers that got you there in the first place, you can move from Michigan to Tennessee and to North Carolina and South Carolina. You can move from South Carolina back to Michigan.

You can do anywhere — you’ve got a lot of states at play; a lot of competition. So it’s not like, oh, gee, I’m taking the competition away. You’ve got a lot of places you can move. And I don’t care, as along as it’s within the United States, the borders of the United States.

There will be a major border tax on these companies that are leaving and getting away with murder. And if our politicians had what it takes, they would have done this years ago. And you’d have millions more workers right now in the United States that are — 96 million really wanting a job and they can’t get. You know that story. The real number — that’s the real number.

So, that’s the way it is. OK. Go ahead.

QUESTION: President-elect, I have a question about the Supreme Court and border security. But I also wanted to ask you about something you said on Twitter this morning. Are we living in Nazi Germany? What were you driving at there? Do you have a problem with the intelligence community?

And on the Supreme Court, what’s your timeline? You said a while ago you were down to four. Have you conducted those interviews yet? What’s your timeline for nominating?

And on the border fence, it now appears clear U.S. taxpayers will have to pay for it up front. What is your plan to…

TRUMP: That’s not clear at all. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: … to get Mexico to pay for it?

TRUMP: I’ve got it. Do you have any more?

(LAUGHTER)

On the fence — it’s not a fence. It’s a wall. You just misreported it. We’re going to build a wall. I could wait about a year-and-a-half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which will start immediately after we get to office, but I don’t want to wait. Mike Pence is leading an effort to get final approvals through various agencies and through Congress for the wall to begin.

I don’t feel like waiting a year or a year-and-a-half. We’re going to start building. Mexico in some form, and there are many different forms, will reimburse us and they will reimburse us for the cost of the wall. That will happen, whether it’s a tax or whether it’s a payment — probably less likely that it’s a payment. But it will happen.

So, remember this, OK? I would say we are going to build a wall and people would go crazy. I would then say, who is going to pay for the wall? And people would all scream out — 25,000, 30,000 people, because nobody has ever had crowds like Trump has had. You know that. You don’t like to report that, but that’s OK.

OK, now he agrees. Finally, he agrees.

But I say who is going to pay for the wall? And they will scream out, “Mexico.”

Now, reports went out last week — oh, Mexico is not going to pay for the wall because of a reimbursement. What’s the difference? I want to get the wall started. I don’t want to wait a year-and-a-half until I make my deal with Mexico. And we probably will have a deal sooner than that.

And by the way, Mexico has been so nice, so nice. I respect the government of Mexico. I respect the people of Mexico. I love the people of Mexico. I have many people from Mexico working for me. They’re phenomenal people.

The government of Mexico is terrific. I don’t blame them for what’s happened. I don’t blame them for taking advantage of the United States. I wish our politicians were so smart. Mexico has taken advantage of the United States. I don’t blame the representatives and various presidents, et cetera, of Mexico. What I say is we shouldn’t have allowed that to happen. It’s not going to happen anymore.

So, in order to get the wall started, Mexico will pay for the wall, but it will be reimbursed. OK?

Supreme Court judge. So, as you know, I have a list of 20. I’ve gone through them. We’ve met with numerous candidates. They’re outstanding in every case. They were largely recommended and highly recommended by Federalist Society. Jim DeMint was also very much involved, and his group, which is fantastic, and he’s a fantastic guy.

TRUMP: So between Leo and Jim DeMint and some senators and some congresspeople, we have a great group of people. I’ll be making the decision on who we will put up for justice of the United States Supreme Court, a replacement for the great, great Justice Scalia. That will be probably within two weeks of the 20th. So within about two weeks, probably the second week. I consider the first day because we’ll also be doing some — some pretty good signings and I think what we’ll do is we’ll wait until Monday.

That will be our really first business day as opposed to doing it on Friday, because on Friday, people are going to have a very good time at the inauguration, and then Saturday, as you know, we’re having a big church service and lots of good things are happening. So our first day — and you’ll all be invited to the signings, but we’ll be doing some pretty good signings on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday, and then also the next week. And you’re all invited.

But on the Supreme Court, I’ll be making that decision, and it will be a decision which I very strongly believe in. I think it’s one of the reasons I got elected. I think the people of this country did not want to see what was happening with the Supreme Court, so I think it was a very, very big decision as to why I was elected.

QUESTION: The tweet that you had this morning about are we living in Nazi Germany, what were you driving at there? What are you trying to tell the American public?

TRUMP: I think it was disgraceful — disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that — and I say that, and that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do. I think it’s a disgrace that information that was false and fake and never happened got released to the public.

As far as Buzzfeed, which is a failing pile of garbage, writing it, I think they’re going to suffer the consequences. They already are. And as far as CNN going out of their way to build it up — and by the way, we just found out I was coming down. Michael Cohen — I was being — Michael Cohen is a very talented lawyer. He’s a good lawyer in my firm. It was just reported that it wasn’t this Michael Cohen they we’re talking about. So all night long it’s Michael Cohen.

I said, “I want to see your passport.” He brings his passport to my office. I say, hey, wait a minute. He didn’t leave the country. He wasn’t out of the country. They had Michael Cohen of the Trump Organization was in Prague. It turned out to be a different Michael Cohen. It’s a disgrace what took place. It’s a disgrace and I think they ought to apologize to start with Michael Cohen.

QUESTION: Since you’re attacking us, can you give us a question? Mr. President-elect —

TRUMP: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, since you are attacking our news organization…

TRUMP: Not you.

QUESTION: Can you give us a chance?

TRUMP: Your organization is terrible.

QUESTION: You are attacking our news organization, can you give us a chance to ask a question, sir? Sir, can you…

TRUMP: Quiet.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, can you say…

TRUMP: He’s asking a question, don’t be rude. Don’t be rude.

QUESTION: Can you give us a question since you’re attacking us? Can you give us a question?

TRUMP: Don’t be rude. No, I’m not going to give you a question. I’m not going to give you a question.

QUESTION: Can you state…

TRUMP: You are fake news. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sir, can you state categorically that nobody — no, Mr. President-elect, that’s not appropriate.

TRUMP: Go ahead.

(APPLAUSE)

QUESTION: Do you think President Obama went too far with the sanctions he put on Russia after the hacking?

TRUMP: I don’t think he went too far. No.

QUESTION: Will you roll them back? What do you think of Lindsey Graham’s plan to send you a bill for…

TRUMP: Plans to send me a bill for what?

QUESTION: Tougher sanctions.

TRUMP: I hadn’t heard Lindsey Graham was going to do that. Lindsey Graham. I’ve been competing with him for a long time. He is going to crack that one percent barrier one day. I didn’t realize Lindsey Graham still had it. That’s all right. I think Lindsey Graham is a nice guy. I’ve heard that he is a nice guy and I’ve been hearing it.

Go ahead. Go ahead. You’ve been waiting.

QUESTION: As far as we understand, the intelligence community…

TRUMP: Stand up.

QUESTION: From BBC news. Ian Pannell from BBC news.

TRUMP: BBC news. That’s another beauty.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.

As far as we understand it, the intelligence community are still looking at these allegations, this false news, as you describe it. If they come back with any kind of conclusion that any of it stands up, that any of it is true, will you consider your position…

TRUMP: There’s nothing they could come back with.

QUESTION: Can you…

TRUMP: Go ahead.

QUESTION: (inaudible) published fake news and all the problems that we’ve seen throughout the media over the course of the election, what reforms do you recommend for this industry here?

TRUMP: Well, I don’t recommend reforms. I recommend people that are — that have some moral compass.

You know, I’ve been hearing more and more about a thing called fake news and they’re talking about people that go and say all sorts of things. But I will tell you, some of the media outlets that I deal with are fake news more so than anybody. I could name them, but I won’t bother, but you have a few sitting right in front of us. They’re very, very dishonest people, but I think it’s just something we’re going to have to live with.

TRUMP: I guess the advantage I have is that I can speak back. When it happens to somebody that doesn’t have this — doesn’t have that kind of a megaphone, they can’t speak back. It’s a very sad thing. I’ve seen people destroyed. I’ve seen people absolutely destroyed. And I think it’s very unfair. So, all I can ask for is honest reporters.

Yes?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the questions about the U.S. intelligence community. And be very clear about what you’re saying. Do you trust your U.S. intelligence officials? And what do you say to foreign policy experts who say you’re actually weakening national security by waging this war of words against that community?

TRUMP: Intelligence agencies are vital and very, very important. We are going to be putting in, as you know, Mr. Pompeo and others, you know the Senator Dan Coats. We’re going to be putting in some outstanding people. Within 90 days, they’re going to be coming back to me with a major report on hacking.

I want them to cover this situation. I also want them, however, to cover, maybe most importantly — because we’re hacked by everybody — you know, the United States, our government out of a list of 17 in terms of industries is the worst, it’s number 17, in terms of protection.

If you look at the retail industry, if you look at the banking industry, various industries, out of 17 industries — they put this in the category of an industry — the United States is last in terms of protecting, let’s say, hacking defense. Like we had a great hacking defense at the Republican National Committee.

That’s why we weren’t hacked. By the way, we were told that they were trying to hack us, but they weren’t able to hack. And I think I get some credit because I told Reince, and Reince did a phenomenal job, but I said I want strong hacking defense.

The Democratic National Committee didn’t do that. Maybe that’s why the country runs so badly that way. But I will tell you — wait — wait — wait, let me finish. Within 90 days, we will be coming up with a major report on hacking defense, how do we stop this new phenomena — fairly new phenomena because the United States is hacked by everybody.

That includes Russia and China and everybody — everybody. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Go ahead — go ahead.

QUESTION: Mr. President-elect, you said, just now, that you believe Russia indeed was responsible for the hacking of the DNC and Jon Podesta’s e-mails, et cetera.

TRUMP: All right, but you know what, it could have been others also.

QUESTION: But why did you spend weeks undermining U.S. intelligence community before simply getting the facts and then making a public statement?

TRUMP: Well, I think it’s pretty sad when intelligence reports get leaked out to the press. I think it’s pretty sad. First of all, it’s illegal. You know, these are — these are classified and certified meetings and reports.

I’ll tell you what does happen. I have many meetings with intelligence. And every time I meet, people are reading about it. Somebody’s leaking it out. So, there’s — maybe it’s my office. Maybe in my office because I have a lot of people, a lot of great people. Maybe it’s them. And what I did is I said I won’t tell anybody. I’m going to have a meeting and I won’t tell anybody about my meeting with intelligence.

And what happened is I had my meeting. Nobody knew, not even Rhona, my executive assistant for years, she didn’t know — I didn’t tell her. Nobody knew. The meeting was had, the meeting was over, they left. And immediately the word got out that I had a meeting.

So, I don’t want that — I don’t want that. It’s very unfair to the country. It’s very unfair to our country; what’s happened. That report should have never — first of all, it shouldn’t have been printed because it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. And I thank the New York Times for saying that.

I thank a lot of different people for saying that. But, I will tell you, that should never, ever happen. OK.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign. And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?

TRUMP: He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe that he will be doing it more now.

We have to work something out, but it’s not just Russia. Take a look at what’s happened. You don’t report it the same way; 22 million accounts were hacked in this country by China. And that’s because we have no defense. That’s because we’re run by people that don’t know what they’re doing.

TRUMP: Russia will have far greater respect for our country when I’m leading it and I believe and I hope — maybe it won’t happen, it’s possible. But I won’t be giving (ph) a little reset button like Hillary. Here, press this piece of plastic. A guy looked at her like what is she doing? There’s no reset button. We’re either going to get along or we’re not. I hope we get along, but if we don’t, that’s possible too.

But Russia and other countries — and other countries, including China, which has taken total advantage of us economically, totally advantage of us in the South China Sea by building their massive fortress, total. Russia, China, Japan, Mexico, all countries will respect us far more, far more than they do under past administrations.

I want to thank everybody. So this is all — just so you understand, these papers — because I’m not sure that was explained properly. But these papers are all just a piece of the many, many companies that are being put into trust to be run by my two sons that I hope at the end of eight years, I’ll come back and say, oh, you did a good job. Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I’ll say, “You’re fired.”

Good-bye, everybody. Good-bye.

Full Text Political Transcripts December 16, 2016: President Barack Obama’s last end-of-year press conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

President Barack Obama’s last end-of-year news conference

Source: WaPo, 12-16-16

OBAMA: All right, everybody. Good afternoon. This is the most wonderful press conference of the year. I have got a list of who has been naughty and nice to call on. But let me first make a couple of quick points and then I will take your questions.

Typically I use this year-end press conference to review how far we have come over the course of the year. Today, understandably, I’m going to talk a little bit about how far we have come over the past eight years.

As I was preparing to take office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 percent. Today it is at 4.6 percent, the lowest in nearly a decade. We’ve seen the longest streak of job growth on record, and wages have grown faster over the past few years than at any time in the past 40.

When I came into office, 44 million people were uninsured. Today we have covered more than 20 million of them. For the first time in our history, more than 90 percent of Americans are insured.

In fact, yesterday was the biggest day ever for health care.gov, more than 670,000 Americans signed up to get covered, and more are signing up by the day.

We’ve cut our dependence on foreign oil by more than half, doubled production of renewable energy, enacted the most sweeping reforms since FDR to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from punishing main street ever again.

None of these actions stifled growth as critics are predicted. Instead, the stock market has nearly tripled.

Since I signed Obamacare into law, our businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs, and the economy undoubtedly more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money.

Add it all up, and last year the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost 50 years, while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. In fact, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top.

And we have done all this while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds, and protecting vital investments that grow the middle class.

In foreign policy, when I came into office we were in the midst of two wars. Now nearly 180,000 troops are down to 15,000. Bin Laden, rather than being at large, has been taken off the battlefield, along with thousands of other terrorists.

Over the past eight years no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed an attack on our homeland that was directed from overseas. Through diplomacy, we have ensured Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon without going to war with Iran.

We opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba. And we have brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could very well save this planet for our kids.

And almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago. In other words, by so many measures our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started. It is a situation that I’m proud to leave for my successor. And it’s thanks to the American people, to the hard work that you have put in, the sacrifices you have made for your families and your communities, the businesses that you started or invested in, and the way you looked out for one another. And I could not be prouder to be your president.

Of course, to tout this progress does not mean that we are not mindful of how much more there is to do. In this season in particular, we are reminded that there are people who are still hungry, people who are still homeless, people who still have trouble paying the bills or finding work after being laid off.

There are communities that are still mourning those who have been stolen from us by senseless gun violence, and parents who still are wondering how to protect their kids.

OBAMA: And after I leave office I intend to continue to work with organizations and citizens doing good across the country on these and other pressing issues to build on the progress that we have made.

Around the world as well, there are hotspots where disputes have been intractable, conflicts have flared up, and people, innocent people are suffering as result, and nowhere is this more terribly true than in the city of Aleppo. For years, we’ve worked to stop the civil war in Syria and alleviate human suffering. It has been one of the hardest issues that I’ve faced as president.

The world as we speak is united in horror at the savage assaults by the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies on the city of Aleppo. We have seen a deliberate strategy of surrounding, besieging and starving innocent civilians. We’ve seen relentless targeting of humanitarian workers and medical personnel, entire and neighbors reduced to rubble and dust. There are continuing reports of civilians being executed. These are all horrific violations of international law.

Responsibility for this brutality lies in one place alone, with the Assad regime and its allies, Russia and Iran, and this blood and these atrocities are on their hands. We all know what needs to happen. There needs to be an impartial international observer force in Aleppo that can help coordinate an orderly evacuation through say corridors. There has to be full access for humanitarian aid, even as the United States continues to be the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people. And beyond that, there needs to be a broader cease-fire that can serve as the basis for a political rather than a military solution.

That’s what the United States is gonna continue to push for, both with our partners and through multilateral institutions like the U.N.

Regretfully, but unsurprisingly, Russia has repeatedly blocked the Security Council from taking action on these issues, so we’re gonna keep pressing the Security Council to help improve the delivery of humanitarian aid to those who are in such desperate need and ensure accountability, including continuing to monitor any potential use of chemical weapons in Syria.

And we’re gonna work in the U.N. General Assembly as well, both on accountability and to advance a political settlement because it should be clear that although you may achieve tactical victories, over the long-term, the Assad regime cannot slaughter its way to legitimacy. That’s why we’ll continue to press for a transition to a more representative government, and that’s why the world must not avert our eyes to the terrible events that are unfolding.

The Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies are trying to obfuscate the truth. The world should not be fooled and the world will not forget.

So even in a season where the incredible blessings that we know as Americans are all around us, even as we enjoy family and friends and are reminded of how lucky we are, we should also be reminded that to be an American involves bearing burdens and meeting obligations to others. American values and American ideals are what will lead the way to a safer and more prosperous 2017, both here and abroad. And by the way, you (ph) embody those values and ideals like our brave men and women in uniform and their families.

So I just want to close by wishing all of them a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.

With that, I will take some questions, and I’m gonna start with Josh Lederman of A.P.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

There’s a perception that you’re letting President Putin get away with interfering in the U.S. election and that a response that nobody knows about (inaudible) don’t cut it. Are you prepared to call out President Putin by name for ordering (inaudible)? And do you agree with Hillary Clinton now says, that the hacking was actually partially responsible for her loss?

And is your administration open to correlate with Trump and his team on this issues, tarnishing (ph) the smooth transition of power that you have promised?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, with respect to the transition, I think they would be the first to acknowledge that we have done everything we can to make sure that they are successful, as I promised, and that will continue. And it’s just been a few days since I last talked to the president-elect about a whole range of transition issues. That cooperation’s gonna continue.

OBAMA: There hasn’t been a lot of squabbling. What we’ve simply said is the facts, which are that based on uniform intelligence assessments, the Russians were responsible for hacking the DNC and that as a consequence, it is important for us to review all elements of that and make sure that we are preventing that kind of interference through cyber attacks in the future. That should be a bipartisan issue, that shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

And my hope is that the president-elect is going to similarly be concerned with making sure that we don’t have a potential foreign influence in our election process. I don’t think any American wants that. And that shouldn’t be a source of an argument.

I think that part of the challenge is that it gets caught up in the carryover from election season. And I think it is very important for us to distinguish between the politics of the election and the need for us as a country, both from a national security perspective but also in terms of the integrity of our election system and our democracy to make sure that we don’t create a political football here.

Now, with respect to how this thing unfolded last year, let’s just go through the facts pretty quickly. At the beginning of the summer, were alerted to the possibility that the DNC has been hacked. And I made (ph) an order, law enforcement, as well as our intelligence teams to find out everything about it, investigate it thoroughly to brief the potential victims of this hacking, to brief on a bipartisan basis the leaders of both the House and the Senate and the relevant intelligence committees.

And once we had clarity and certainty around what in fact had happened, we publicly announced that in fact Russia had hacked into the DNC. And at that time, we did not attribute motives or you know any interpretations of why they had done so.

We didn’t discuss what the effects of it might be. We simply let people know — the public know just as we had let members of Congress know that this had happened.

And as a consequence, all of you wrote a lot of stories about both what had happened and then you interpreted why that might have happened and what effect it was going to have on the election outcomes. We did not — and the reason we did not was because in this hyper-partisan atmosphere, at a time when my primary concern was making sure that the integrity of the election process was not in any way damaged, at a time when anything that was said by me or anybody in the White House would immediately be seen through a partisan lens. I wanted to make sure that everybody understood we were playing this thing straight, that we weren’t trying to advantage one side or another. But what we were trying to do was let people know that this had taken place.

And so if you started seeing effects on the election, if you were trying to measure why this was happening and how you should consume the information that was being leaked, that you might want to take this into account. And that’s exactly how we should have handled it.

Imagine if we had done the opposite, it would become immediately just one more political scrum. And part of the goal here was to make sure that we did not do the work of the leakers for them by raising more and more questions about the integrity of the election right before the election was taking place — at a time, by the way, when the president-elect himself was raising questions about the integrity of the election.

And finally, I think it’s worth pointing out, that the information was already out. It was in the hands of Wikileaks, so that was going to come out no matter what.

What I was concerned about in particular was making sure that that wasn’t compounded by potential hacking that could hamper vote counting, affect the actual election process itself.

And so in early September when I saw President Putin in China, I felt that the most effective way to ensure that that did not happen was to talk to him directly and tell him to cut it out, there were going to be some serious consequences if he did not.

And in fact, we did not see further tampering of the election process. But the leaks through Wikileaks had already occurred.

So when I look back in terms of how we handled it, I think we handled it the way it should have been handled. We allowed law enforcement and the intelligence community to do its job without political influence.

We briefed all relevant parties involved in terms of what was taking place. When we had a consensus around what had happened, we announced it, not through the White House, not through me, but rather through the intelligence communities that had actually carried out these investigations.

And then we allowed you and the American public to make an assessment as to how to weigh that going into the election.

And the truth is, is that there was nobody here who did not have some sense of what kind of effect it might have. I am finding it a little curious that everybody is suddenly acting surprised that this looked like it was disadvantaging Hillary Clinton, because you guys wrote about it every day, every single leak about every little juicy tidbit of political gossip, including John Podesta’s risotto recipe.

This was an obsession that dominated the news coverage. So I do think it is worth us reflecting how it is that a presidential election of such importance, of such moment, with so many big issues at stake and such a contrast between the candidates came to be dominated by a bunch of these leaks.

What is it about our political system that made us vulnerable to these kinds of potential manipulations which, as I’ve said publicly before, were not particularly sophisticated. This was not some elaborate, complicated espionage scheme.

They hacked into some Democratic Party e-mails that contained pretty routine stuff, some of it embarrassing or uncomfortable because I suspect that if any of us got our emails hacked into there might be some things that we would not want suddenly appearing on the front page of a newspaper or a telecast, even if there was not anything particularly illegal or controversial about it.

And then it just took off. And that concerns me, and it should concern all of us. But the truth of the matter is, is that everybody had the information. It was out there, and we handled it the way we should have.

Now, moving forward, I think there are a couple of issues that this raises. Number one is just the constant challenge that we are going to have with cyber security throughout our economy and throughout our society.

We are a digitalized culture. And there’s hacking going on every single day. There is not a company, there is not a major organization, there is not a financial institution, there is not a branch of our government were somebody is not going to be fishing for something or trying to penetrate or put in a virus or malware.

And this is why for the last eight years I have been obsessed with how do we continually upgrade our cyber security systems. And this particular concern around Russian hacking is part of a broader set of concerns about how do we deal with cyber issues being used in ways that can affect our infrastructure, affect the stability of our financial systems, and affect the integrity of our institutions like our election process.

I just received, a couple of weeks back, it wasn’t widely reported on, a report from our cyber-security commission that outlines a whole range of strategies to do a better job on this. But it’s difficult because it’s not all housed — the target of cyberattacks is not one entity, but it’s widely dispersed and a lot of it is private, like the DNC. You know, it’s not a branch of government. We can’t tell people what to do.

What we can do is inform them, get best practices. What we can also do is to on a bilateral basis warn other countries against these kinds of attacks, and we’ve done that in the past. So just as I told Russia to stop it and indicated there will be consequences when they do it, the Chinese have in the past engaged in cyberattacks directed at our companies to steal trade secrets and proprietary technology, and I had to have the same conversation with President Xi. And what we’ve seen is some evidence that they have reduced but not completely eliminated these activities, partly because they can use cutouts. One of the problems with the internet and cyber issues is there’s not always a return address, and by the time you catch up to it, you know, attributing what happened to a particular government can be difficult, not always provable in court, even tough our intelligence communities can make an assessment.

What we’ve also tried to do is to start creating some international norms about this to prevent some sort of cyber arms race because we obviously have offensive capabilities as well as defensive capabilities, and my approach is not a situation which everybody’s worse off because folks are constantly attacking each other back and forth, but putting some guardrails around behavior of nation states, including our adversaries, just so that they understand that whatever they do to us, we can potentially do to them.

We do have some special challenges because oftentimes, our economy is more digitalized. It is more vulnerable partly because we’re a wealthier nation and we’re more wired than some of these other countries and we have a more open society and engage in less control and censorship over what happens over the internet, which is also part of what makes us special.

Last point, and the reason I’m going on here is because I know that you guys have a lot of questions about this and I addressed all of you directly about this. With respect to response, my principal goal leading up to the election was making sure that the election itself went off without a hitch, that it was not tarnished and that it did not feed any sense in the public that somehow, tampering had taken place with the actual process of voting and we accomplished that. That does not mean that we are not going to respond, it simply meant that we had a set of priorities leading up to the election that were of the utmost importance.

Our goal continues to be to send a clear message to Russia or others not to do this to us because we can do stuff to you, but it is also important for us to do that in a thoughtful, methodical way. Some of it, we do publicly. Some of it, we will do in a way that they know but not everybody will. And I know that there have been folks out there who suggests somehow that if we went out there and made big announcements and thumped our chests about a bunch of stuff, that somehow that would potentially spook the Russians.

But keep in mind that we already have enormous numbers of sanctions against the Russians. The relationship between us and Russia has deteriorated, sadly, significantly over the last several years. And so how we approach an appropriate response that increases costs for them for behavior like this in the future but does not create problems for us is something that’s worth taking the time to think through and figure out. And that’s exactly what we’ve done.

So, at a point in time where we’ve taken certain actions that we can divulge publicly, we will do so. There are times where the message will be directly received by the Russians and not publicized. And I should point out by the way, part of why the Russians have been effective on this is because they don’t go around announcing what they’re doing. It’s not like Putin’s gone around the world publicly saying, look what we did. Wasn’t that clever? He denies it.

So the idea that somehow public shaming is gonna be effective, I think doesn’t read the — the thought process in Russia very well. OK.

QUESTION: Did Clinton lose because of the hacking?

OBAMA: I’m gonna let all the political pundits in this town have a long discussion about what happened in the election. It was a fascinating election. So, you know, I’m sure there are gonna be a lot of books written about it. I’ve said what I think is important for the Democratic Party going forward, rather than try to parse every aspect of the election.

And I — I’ve said before, I couldn’t be prouder of Secretary Clinton, her outstanding service and she’s worked tirelessly on behalf of the American people and I don’t think she was treated fairly during the election. I think the coverage of her and the issues was troubling, but having said that, what I’ve been most focused on — appropriate for the fact I am not going to be a politician in about — what is it, 32 days, 31, 34?

(LAUGHTER)

What I’ve said is that I can maybe give some counsel advice to the Democratic Party. And I think the — the — the thing we have to spend the most time on — because it’s the thing we have most control over — is, how do we make sure that we’re showing up in places where I think Democratic policies are needed, where they are helping, where they are making a difference, but where people feel as if they’re not being heard?

And where Democrats are characterized as coastal, liberal, latte- sipping, you know, politically correct, out-of-touch folks, we have to be in those communities. And I’ve seen that, when we are in those communities, it makes a difference. That’s how I became president. I became a U.S. Senator not just because I had a strong base in Chicago, but because I was driving downstate Illinois and going to fish fries and sitting in V.F.W. Halls and talking to farmers.

And I didn’t win every one of their votes, but they got a sense of what I was talking about, what I cared about, that I was for working people, that I was for the middle class, that the reason I was interested in strengthening unions and raising the minimum wage and rebuilding our infrastructure and making sure that parents had decent childcare and family leave, was because my own family’s history wasn’t that different from theirs even if I looked a little bit different. Same thing in Iowa.

And so the question is, how do we rebuild that party as a whole, so that there’s not a county in any state — I don’t care how red — where we don’t have a presence and we’re not making the argument, because I think we have a better argument. But that requires a lot of work. You know, it’s been something that I’ve been able to do successfully in my own campaigns.

OBAMA: It is not something I’ve been able to transfer to candidates in mid-terms and sort of build a sustaining organization around. That’s something I would have liked to have done more of, but it’s kind of hard to do when you’re also dealing with a whole bunch of issues here in the White House. And that doesn’t mean, though, that it can’t be done, and I think there are gonna be a lot of talented folks out there, a lot of progressives who share my values, who are gonna be leading the charge in the years to come.

Michelle Kosinski (ph) of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you.

This week we heard Hillary Clinton talk about how she thinks that the FBI director’s most recent announcement made a difference in the outcome of the election. And we also just heard in an op-ed her campaign chairman talk about something being deeply broken within the FBI.

He talked about thinking that the investigation early on was lackadaisical, in his words. So what do you think about those comments? Do you think there’s any truth to them? Do you think there’s a danger there that they’re calling into question the integrity of institutions in a similar way that Donald Trump’s team has done?

And the second part to that is that Donald Trump’s team repeatedly — I guess, given the indication that the investigation of the Russian hack as well as retaliation might not be such a priority once he’s in office.

So what do you think the risk is there? And are you going to talk to him directly about some of those comments he made?

OBAMA: Well, on the latter point, as I said before, the transition from election season to governance season is not always smooth. You know, it’s bumpy. There are still feelings that are raw out there. There are people who are still thinking how things unfolded. And I get all that.

But when Donald Trump takes the oath of office and is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, then he has got a different set of responsibilities and considerations.

And I’ve said this before. I think there is a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office. And, you know, I haven’t shared previously private conversations I’ve had with the president-elect. I will say that they have been cordial and in some cases have involved me making some pretty specific suggestions about how to ensure that regardless of our obvious deep disagreements about policy, maybe I can transmit some thoughts about maintaining the effectiveness, integrity, cohesion of the office, our various democratic institutions, and he has listened.

I can’t say that he will end up implementing, but the conversations themselves have been cordial as opposed to defensive in any way. And I will always make myself available to him just as previous presidents have made themselves available to me as issues come up.

With respect to the FBI, I will tell you, I’ve had a chance to know a lot of FBI agents. I know Director Comey. They take their job seriously. They work really hard. They help keep us safe and save a lot of lives.

And it is always a challenge for law enforcement when there’s an intersection between the work that they are doing and the political system. It’s one of the difficulties of democracy generally.

We have a system where we want our law enforcement investigators and our prosecutors to be free from politics, to be independent, to play it straight. But sometimes that involves investigations that touch on politics and particularly in this hyper-partisan environment that we’ve been in, everything is suspect, everything you do one way or the other.

One thing that I have done is to be pretty scrupulous about not wading into investigation decisions or prosecution decisions or decisions not to prosecute. I have tried to be really strict in my own behavior about preserving the independence of law enforcement, free from my own judgments and political assessments, in some cases. And I don’t know why it would stop now.

Mike Dorney (ph) of Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

On Aleppo, your views of (ph) what happens there, the responsibility of the Russian government, the Iranian government, the Assad regime (inaudible), but do you, as president of the United States, leader of the free world, feel any personal moral responsibility now at the end of your presidency for the carnage we’re all watching in Aleppo, which I’m sure disturbs you (inaudible)?

Secondly, also on Aleppo, you’ve again made clear your practical disagreements with (inaudible) and President-elect Trump has throughout his campaign, and he said again last night, that he wants to create safe zones in Syria. Do you feel like in this transition, you need to help him toward implementing that or is that not something you need to be doing?

OBAMA: Mike, I always feel responsible. I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers. I felt responsible when millions of people had been displaced. I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taken place in South Sudan that’s not being reported on, partly because there’s not as much social media being generated from there.

There are places around the world where horrible things are happening and because of my office, because I’m president of the United States, I feel responsible. I ask myself every single day, is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer. So that’s a starting point. There’s not a moment during the course of this presidency where I haven’t felt some responsibility.

That’s true, by the way, for our own country. When I came into office and people were losing their jobs and losing their homes and losing their pensions, I felt responsible and I would go home at night and I would ask myself, was there something better that I could do or smarter that I could be that would make a difference in their lives, that would relieve their suffering and relieve their hardship.

So with respect to Syria, what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States. And throughout this process, based on hours of meetings — if you tallied it up, days and weeks of meetings — where we went through every option in painful detail with maps and we had our military and we had our aid agencies and we had our diplomatic teams, and sometimes, we’d bring in outsiders who were critics of ours.

OBAMA: Whenever we went through it, the challenge was that short of putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground uninvited, without any international law mandate, without sufficient support from Congress, at a time when we still had troops in Afghanistan and we still had troops in Iraq and we had just gone through over a decade of war and spent trillions of dollars and when the opposition on the ground was not cohesive enough to necessarily govern a country and you had a military superpower in Russia prepared to do whatever it took to keep its (inaudible) involved and you had a regional military power in Iran that saw their own vital strategic interests at stake and were willing to maintain that territory in the absence of consent from the Syrian government and now the Russians or the Iranians.

So it may be that with Aleppo’s tragic situation unfolding that in the short term, if we can get more of the tens of thousands who are still trapped there out , that so long as the world’s eyes are on them and they are feeling pressure, the regime in Russia concludes that they are willing to find some arrangement, perhaps in coordination with Turkey, whereby those people can be safe.

Even that will probably be temporary, but at least it solves a short-term issue that’s going to arise.

Unfortunately we are not there yet because right now we have Russians and Assad claiming that basically all the innocent civilians who were trapped in Aleppo are out when international organizations, humanitarian organizations who know better and who are on the ground, have said unequivocally that there are still tens of thousands who are trapped and prepared to leave under pretty much any conditions.

And so right now our biggest priority is to continue to put pressure wherever we can to try to get them out.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: Mike, I can’t have too much…

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but do you see, responsibility notwithstanding, moving in that direction or help President-elect Trump move in that direction?

OBAMA: I will help President Trump — President-elect Trump with any advice, counsel, information that we can provide so that he, once he’s sworn in, can make a decision.

Between now and then, these are decisions that I have to make based on the consultations that I have with our military and the people who have been working this every single day.

Peter Alexander (ph).

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you very much.

Can you, given all the intelligence that we have now heard, assure the public this was once and for all a free and fair election? And specifically on Russia, do you feel any obligation now as they have been insisting that this isn’t the case to show the proof, as it were? They say, put your money where your mouth is and declassify some of the intelligence and the evidence that exists.

And more broadly, as it relates to Donald Trump on this very topic, are you concerned about his relationship with Vladimir Putin, especially given some of the recent cabinet picks, including his selection for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who toasted Putin with champagne over oil deals together? Thank you.

OBAMA: I may be getting older because these multipart questions, I start losing track.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I can assure the public that there was not the kind of tampering with the voting process that was our concern and will continue to be of concern going forward, that the votes that were cast were counted, they were counted appropriately.

We have not seen evidence of machines being tampered with, so that assurance I can provide.

That doesn’t mean that we find every single, you know, potential probe of every single voting machine all across the country, but we paid a lot of attention to it. We worked with state officials, et cetera, and we feel confident that that didn’t occur and that the votes were cast and they were counted.

And so that’s on that point. What was the second one?

QUESTION: Say more about declassification.

OBAMA: Declassification. Look, we will provide evidence that we can safely provide, that doesn’t mean, though, that it can’t be done, and I think there are going to be a lot of talented folks out there, a lot of progressives who share my values who are going to be leading the charge in the years to come.

Michelle Kosinski (ph) of CNN.

QUESTION: Thank you.

This week we heard Hillary Clinton talk about how she thinks that the FBI director’s most recent announcement made a difference in the outcome of the election. And we also just heard in an op-ed her campaign chairman talk about something being deeply broken within the FBI.

He talked about thinking that the investigation early on was lackadaisical, in his words. So what do you think about those comments? Do you think there’s any truth to them? Do you think there’s a danger there that they’re calling into question the integrity of institutions in a similar way that Donald Trump’s team has done?

And the second part to that is that Donald Trump’s team repeatedly — I guess, given the indication that the investigation of the Russian hack as well as retaliation might not be such a priority once he’s in office.

So what do you think the risk is there? And are you going to talk to him directly about some of those comments he made?

OBAMA: Well, on the latter point, as I said before, the transition from election season to governance season is not always smooth. You know, it’s bumpy. There are still feelings that are raw out there. There are people who are still thinking how things unfolded. And I get all that.

But when Donald Trump takes the oath of office and is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, then he has got a different set of responsibilities and considerations.

And I’ve said this before. I think there is a sobering process when you walk into the Oval Office. And, you know, I haven’t shared previously private conversations I’ve had with the president-elect. I will say that they have been cordial and in some cases have involved me making some pretty specific suggestions about how to ensure that regardless of our obvious deep disagreements about policy, maybe I can transmit some thoughts about maintaining the effectiveness, integrity, cohesion of the office, our various democratic institutions, and he has listened.

I can’t say that he will end up implementing, but the conversations themselves have been cordial as opposed to defensive in any way. And I will always make myself available to him just as previous presidents have made themselves available to me as issues come up.

With respect to the FBI, I will tell you, I’ve had a chance to know a lot of FBI agents. I know Director Comey. They take their job seriously. They work really hard. They help keep us safe and save a lot of lives.

And it is always a challenge for law enforcement when there’s an intersection between the work that they are doing and the political system. It’s one of the difficulties of democracy generally.

We have a system where we want our law enforcement investigators and our prosecutors to be free from politics, to be independent, to play it straight. But sometimes that involves investigations that touch on politics and particularly in this hyper-partisan environment that we’ve been in, everything is suspect, everything you do one way or the other.

One thing that I have done is to be pretty scrupulous about not wading into investigation decisions or prosecution decisions or decisions not to prosecute. I have tried to be really strict in my own behavior about preserving the independence of law enforcement, free from my own judgments and political assessments, in some cases. And I don’t know why it would stop now.

Mike Dorney (ph) of Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

On Aleppo, your views of (ph) what happens there, the responsibility of the Russian government, the Iranian government, the Assad regime (inaudible), but do you, as president of the United States, leader of the free world, feel any personal moral responsibility now at the end of your presidency for the carnage we’re all watching in Aleppo, which I’m sure disturbs you (inaudible)?

Secondly, also on Aleppo, you’ve again made clear your practical disagreements with (inaudible) and President-elect Trump has throughout his campaign, and he said again last night, that he wants to create safe zones in Syria. Do you feel like in this transition, you need to help him toward implementing that or is that not something you need to be doing?

OBAMA: Mike, I always feel responsible. I felt responsible when kids were being shot by snipers. I felt responsible when millions of people had been displaced. I feel responsible for murder and slaughter that’s taken place in South Sudan that’s not being reported on, partly because there’s not as much social media being generated from there.

There are places around the world where horrible things are happening and because of my office, because I’m president of the United States, I feel responsible. I ask myself every single day, is there something I could do that would save lives and make a difference and spare some child who doesn’t deserve to suffer. So that’s a starting point. There’s not a moment during the course of this presidency where I haven’t felt some responsibility.

That’s true, by the way, for our own country. When I came into office and people were losing their jobs and losing their homes and losing their pensions, I felt responsible and I would go home at night and I would ask myself, was there something better that I could do or smarter that I could be that would make a difference in their lives, that would relieve their suffering and relieve their hardship.

So with respect to Syria, what I have consistently done is taken the best course that I can to try to end the civil war while having also to take into account the long-term national security interests of the United States. And throughout this process, based on hours of meetings — if you tallied it up, days and weeks of meetings — where we went through every option in painful detail with maps and we had our military and we had our aid agencies and we had our diplomatic teams, and sometimes, we’d bring in outsiders who were critics of ours.

OBAMA: Whenever we went through it, the challenge was that short of putting large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground uninvited, without any international law mandate, without sufficient support from Congress, at a time when we still had troops in Afghanistan and we still had troops in Iraq and we had just gone through over a decade of war and spent trillions of dollars and when the opposition on the ground was not cohesive enough to necessarily govern a country and you had a military superpower in Russia prepared to do whatever it took to keep its (inaudible) involved and you had a regional military power in Iran that saw their own vital strategic interests at stake and were willing to send in as many of their people or proxies to support the regime.

And in that circumstance, unless we were all in and willing to take over Syria, we were going to have problems. And everything else was tempting because we wanted to do something and it sounded like the right thing to do but it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap. And in that circumstance, I have to make decision as president of the United States as to what is best — I’m sorry.

What’s going on? Somebody’s not feeling good. All right. Why don’t we have — we got — we can get our doctors back there to help out. Somebody want to go to my doctor’s office and just send them — all right. Where was I? So we couldn’t do it on the cheap. Now, it may be —

QUESTION: Can we get a doctor in here? Can that be arranged?

OBAMA: Can somebody help out, please, and get Doc Jackson in here? Somebody grabbing our doctor?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

OBAMA: Of course. In the meantime, just give her a little room. Doctor will be here in a second. You guys know where the doctor’s office is? So just go through the palm doors. Its right — its right next to the map room. There he is. All right. There’s Doc Jackson. He’s all right. OK. The doctor — the doctor’s in the house.

So — And I don’t mean that — I mean that with all sincerity. I understand the impulse to want to do something, but ultimately what I’ve had to do is to think about, what can we sustain, what is realistic? And my first priority has to be, what’s the right thing to do for America? And it has been our view that the best thing to do has been to provide some support to the moderate opposition so that they could sustain themselves. And that you wouldn’t see anti-Assad regime sentiments just pouring into Al- Nusra and Al-Qaeda or ISIL that we engaged our international partners in order to put pressure on all the parties involved. And to try to resolve this through diplomatic and political means. I cannot claim that we’ve been successful. And so that’s something that, as is true with a lot of issues and problems around the world, I have to go to bed with every night.

But I continue to believe that it was the right approach given what realistically we could get done. Absent a decision, as I said, to go into much more significant way. And that, I think would not have been a sustainable or good for the American people because we had a whole host of other obligations that we also had to meet, wars we had already started and that were not yet finished.

With respect to the issue of safe zones , it is a continued problem, a continued challenge with safe zones is if you are setting up those zones on Syrian territory, then that requires some force that is willing to maintain that territory in the absence of consent from the Syrian government and now the Russians or the Iranians.

So it may be that with Aleppo’s tragic situation unfolding that in the short term, if we can get more of the tens of thousands who are still trapped there out , that so long as the world’s eyes are on them and they are feeling pressure, the regime in Russia concludes that they are willing to find some arrangement, perhaps in coordination with Turkey, whereby those people can be safe.

Even that will probably be temporary, but at least it solves a short-term issue that’s going to arise.

Unfortunately we are not there yet because right now we have Russians and Assad claiming that basically all the innocent civilians who were trapped in Aleppo are out when international organizations, humanitarian organizations who know better and who are on the ground, have said unequivocally that there are still tens of thousands who are trapped and prepared to leave under pretty much any conditions.

And so right now our biggest priority is to continue to put pressure wherever we can to try to get them out.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: Mike, I can’t have too much…

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but do you see, responsibility notwithstanding, moving in that direction or help President-elect Trump move in that direction?

OBAMA: I will help President Trump — President-elect Trump with any advice, counsel, information that we can provide so that he, once he’s sworn in, can make a decision.

Between now and then, these are decisions that I have to make based on the consultations that I have with our military and the people who have been working this every single day. Peter Alexander (ph).

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you very much.

Can you, given all the intelligence that we have now heard, assure the public this was once and for all a free and fair election? And specifically on Russia, do you feel any obligation now as they have been insisting that this isn’t the case to show the proof, as it were? They say, put your money where your mouth is and declassify some of the intelligence and the evidence that exists.

And more broadly, as it relates to Donald Trump on this very topic, are you concerned about his relationship with Vladimir Putin, especially given some of the recent cabinet picks, including his selection for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who toasted Putin with champagne over oil deals together? Thank you.

OBAMA: I may be getting older because these multipart questions, I start losing track.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I can assure the public that there was not the kind of tampering with the voting process that was our concern and will continue to be of concern going forward, that the votes that were cast were counted, they were counted appropriately.

We have not seen evidence of machines being tampered with, so that assurance I can provide.

That doesn’t mean that we find every single, you know, potential probe of every single voting machine all across the country, but we paid a lot of attention to it. We worked with state officials, et cetera, and we feel confident that that didn’t occur and that the votes were cast and they were counted.

And so that’s on that point. What was the second one?

QUESTION: Say more about declassification.

OBAMA: Declassification. Look, we will provide evidence that we can safely provide, that does not compromise sources and methods. But I’ll be honest with you, when you are talking about cybersecurity, a lot of it is classified and we’re not going to provide it, because the way we catch folks is by knowing certain things about them that they may not want us to know and if we’re gonna monitor this stuff effectively going forward, we don’t want them to know that we know.

So, this is one of those situations where, unless the American people genuinely think that the professionals in the CIA, the FBI, our entire intelligence infrastructure, many of whom — by the way, served in previous administrations and who are Republicans — are less trustworthy than the Russians. Then people should pay attention to what our intelligence agencies say.

This is part of what I meant when I said we’ve got to think what is happening to happening to our political culture here. The Russians can’t change us or significantly weaken us. They are a smaller country, they are a weaker country, their economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy except oil and gas and arms. They don’t innovate.

But they can impact us if we lose track of who we are. They can impact us if we abandon our values. Mr. Putin can weaken us just like he’s trying to weaken Europe if we start buying into notions that it’s OK to intimidate the press, or lock up dissidents, or discriminate against people because of their faith or what they look like.

And what I worry about — more than anything — is the degree to which because of the fierceness because of the partisan battle, you start to see certain folks in the Republican Party and Republican voters suddenly finding a government and individuals who stand contrary to everything that we stand for as being OK, because that’s how much we dislike Democrats.

I mean, think about it. Some of the people who historically have been very critical of me for engaging with the Russians and having conversations with them, also endorsed the president-elect, even as he was saying that we should stop sanctioning Russia and being tough on them and work together with them against our common enemies.

It was very complimentary of Mr. Putin personally. Now that — that wasn’t news. The president-elect during the campaign said so. And some folks who had made a career out of being anti-Russian, didn’t say anything about it. And then after the election, suddenly they’re asking, oh, why didn’t you tell us that maybe the Russians were trying to help our candidate? Well, come on.

There was a survey some of you saw where — not this just one poll, but pretty credible source, 37 percent of Republican voters approve of Putin. Over a third of Republican voters approve of Vladimir Putin, the former head of the KGB. Ronald Reagan would roll over in his grave. And how did that happen? It happened in part because for too long, everything that happens in this town, everything that’s said is seen through the lens of does this help or hurt us relative to Democrats or relative to President Obama. And unless that changes, we’re going to continue to be vulnerable to foreign influence because we’ve lost track of what it is that we’re about and what we stand for.

With respect to the president-elect’s appointments, it is his prerogative, as I have always said, for him to appoint who he thinks can best carry out his foreign policy or his domestic policy. It is up to the Senate to advise and consent. There will be plenty of time for members of the Senate to go through the record of all his appointees and determine whether or not they’re appropriate for the job.

Martha (inaudible).

QUESTION: Mr. President, I want to talk about Vladimir Putin again. Just to be clear, do you believe Vladimir Putin himself authorized the hack? And do you believe he authorized that to help Donald Trump?

And on the intelligence, one of the things Donald Trump cites is Saddam Hussein and the weapons of mass destruction and that they were never found. Can you say unequivocally that this was not China, that this was not a 400-pound guy sitting on his bed as Donald Trump says? And do these types of tweets and kinds of statements from Donald Trump embolden the Russians?

OBAMA: When the report comes out before I leave office, that will have drawn together all the threads, and so I don’t want to step on their work ahead of time. What I can tell you is that the intelligence that I’ve seen gives me great confidence in their assessment that the Russians carried out this hack.

QUESTION: Which hack?

OBAMA: The hack of the DNC and the hack of John Podesta.

Now, the — but again, I think this is exactly why I want the report out, so that everybody can review it. And this has been briefed and the evidence in closed session has been provided on a bipartisan basis, not just to me, it’s been provided to the leaders of the House and the Senate and the chairmen and ranking members of the relevant committees. And I think that what you’ve already seen is, at least some of the folks who’ve seen the evidence don’t dispute I think the basic assessment that the Russians carried this out.

QUESTION: But specifically, could (ph) you not say that…

OBAMA: Well, Martha, I think what I want to make sure of is that I give the intelligence community a chance to gather all the information.

But I’d make a larger point, which is, not much happens in Russia without Vladimir Putin. This is a pretty hierarchical operation. Last I checked, there’s not a lot of debate and democratic deliberation, particularly when it comes to policies directed at the United States. We have said and I will confirm that this happened at the highest levels of the Russian government and I will let you make that determination as to whether there are high-level Russian officials who go off rogue and decide to tamper with the U.S. election process without Vladimir Putin knowing about it.

QUESTION: So I wouldn’t be wrong in saying the president thinks Vladimir Putin authorized the hack?

OBAMA: Martha, I’ve given you what I’ve — what I’m gonna give you.

What was your second question?

QUESTION: Do the tweets and do the statements by — by Donald Trump embolden Russia?

OBAMA: As I said before, I think that the president-elect, you know, is still in transition mode from campaign to governance. I think he hasn’t gotten his whole team together yet. He still has campaign spokespersons sort of filling in and appearing on cable shows. And there is just a whole different attitude and vibe when you’re not in power as when you are in power.

So rather than me sort of characterize the appropriateness or inappropriateness of what he is doing at the moment, I think what we have to see is how will the president-elect operate and how will his team operate when they’ve been fully briefed on all these issues. They have their hands on all the levers of government. And they have got to start making decisions.

One way I do believe that the president-elect can approach this that would be unifying is to say that we welcome a bipartisan independent process that gives the American people an assurance not only that votes are counted properly, that the elections are fair and free, but that we have learned lessons about how internet propaganda from foreign countries can be released into the political bloodstream and that we have got strategies to deal with it for the future.

The more this can be non-partisan, the better served the American people are going to be, which is why I made the point earlier and I’m going to keep on repeating this point, our vulnerability to Russia or any other foreign power is directly related to how divided, partisan, dysfunctional our political process is. That’s the thing that makes us vulnerable.

If fake news that’s being released by some foreign government is almost identical to reports that are being issued through partisan news venues, then it’s not surprising that that foreign propaganda will have a greater effect. It doesn’t seem that far-fetched compared to some of the other stuff that folks are hearing from domestic propagandists.

To the extent that our political dialogue is such where everything is under suspicion, and everybody is corrupt, and everybody is doing things for partisan reasons, and all of our institutions are, you know, full of malevolent actors, if that’s the story line that is being put out there by whatever party is out of power, then when a foreign government introduces that same argument, with facts that are made up, voters who have been listening to that stuff for years, who have been getting that stuff every day from talk radio or other venues, they’re going to believe it.

So if we want to really reduce foreign influence on our elections, then we had better think about how to make sure that our political process, our political dialogue is stronger than it has been.

Mark Langley (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

I wonder whether I could move you from Russia to China for a moment.

OBAMA: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Your successor spoke by phone with the president of Taiwan the other day, and declared subsequently that he wasn’t sure why the United States needed to be bound by the One China Policy.

He suggested it could be used as a bargaining chip perhaps to get better terms on a trade deal or more cooperation on North Korea. There’s already evidence that tensions between the two sides have increased a bit, and just today, the Chinese have seized an underwater drone in the South China Sea.

Do you agree, as some do, that our China policy could use a fresh set of eyes and what’s the big deal about having a short phone call with the president of Taiwan? Or do you worry that these types of unorthodox approaches are setting us on a collision course with perhaps our biggest geopolitical adversary?

OBAMA: That’s a great question.

I’m somewhere in between. I think all of our foreign policy should be subject to fresh eyes. I think one of the — I’ve said this before, I am very proud of the work I’ve done. I think I’m a better president now than when I started. But you know, if you’re here for eight years in the bubble, you start seeing things a certain way and you benefit from — the democracy benefits, America benefits from some new perspectives.

And I think it should be not just the prerogative, but the obligation of a new president to examine everything that’s been done and see what makes sense and what doesn’t. That’s what I have done when I came in and I’m assuming any new president’s gonna undertake those same exercises.

And given the importance of the relationship between United States and China, given how much is at stake in terms of the world economy, national security, our presence in the Asia-Pacific, China’s increasing role in international affairs, there’s probably no bilateral relationship that carries more significance and where there’s also the potential if that relationship breaks down or goes into full conflict mode that everybody is worse off. So I think it’s fine for him to take a look at it. What I have advised the president-elect is that across the board on foreign policy, you want to make sure that you’re doing it in a systematic, deliberate, intentional way.

And since there’s only one president at a time, my advice to him has been that before he starts having a lot of interactions with foreign governments other than the usual courtesy calls, that he should want to have his full team in place, that he should want his team to be fully briefed on what’s gone on in the past and where the potential pitfalls may be, where the opportunities are, what we’ve learned from eight years of experience so that as he’s then maybe taking foreign policy in a new direction, he’s got all the information to make good decisions, and by the way, that all of government is moving at the same time and singing from the same hymnal.

And with respect to China — and let’s just take the example of Taiwan, there has been a longstanding agreement essentially between China and the United States, and to some agree the Taiwanese, which is to not change the status quo. Taiwan operates differently than mainland China does. China views Taiwan as part of China, but recognizes that it has to approach Taiwan as an entity that has its own ways of doing things.

OBAMA: The Taiwanese have agreed that as long as they’re able to continue to function with some agree of autonomy, that they won’t charge forward and declare independence. And that status quo, although not completely satisfactory to any of the parties involved, has kept the peace and allowed the Taiwanese to be a pretty successful economy and — of people who have a high agree of self-determination. What I understand for China, the issue of Taiwan is as important as anything on their docket.

The idea of One China is at the heart of their conception as a nation. And so if you are going to upend this understanding, you have to have thought through what the consequences because the Chinese will not treat that the way they’ll treat some other issues. They won’t even treat it the way they issues around the South China Sea, where we’ve had a lot of tensions. This goes to the core of how they see themselves.

And their reaction on this issue could end up being very significant. That doesn’t mean that you have to adhere to everything that’s been done in the past, but you have to think it through and have planned for potential reactions that they may engage in. All right. Isaac Dovere, Politico.

QUESTION: Thank you Mr. President. Two questions on where this all leaves us.

OBAMA: What leaves us? Where my presidency leaves us? It leaves us in a really good spot.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: If we make some good decisions going forward.

QUESTION: What do you say to the electors who are going to meet on Monday and are thinking of changing their votes? Do you think they should be given an intelligence briefing about the Russian activity or should they bear in mind everything you have said and have said already (ph)? Should they — should votes be bound by the state votes as they’ve gone? And long-term, do you think that there is need for Electoral College reform that was tied to the popular vote?

OBAMA: Sounded like two but really was one.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: I love how these start. I’ve got two questions, but each one has four parts.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: On the Democratic Party, your labor secretary is running for — to be the chair of the Democratic National Committee. Is the vision that you’ve seen him putting forward what you think the party needs to be focused on? And what do you think about the complaint that say that the future democratic committee shouldn’t be a continuation of some of your political approach? Part of that is complaints that decisions that you have made as president and leader of the party has structurally weakened the DNC and the Democratic Party and they think that that has led to or has help lead to some of the losses in elections around the country. Do you regret any of those decisions?

OBAMA: I’ll take the second one first and say that Tom Perez has been, I believe one of the best secretaries of labor in our history. He is tireless. He is wicked smart. He has been able to work across the spectrum of you know, labor, business, activists. He has produced. I mean, if you look at his body of work on behalf of working people, what he’s pushed for in terms of making sure that workers get a fair deal, decent wages, better benefits, that their safety is protected on the job. He has been extraordinary.

Now others who have declared are also my friends and fine people as well. And the great thing is, I don’t have a vote in this. So – so – so we’ll let the process unfold, I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. I described to you earlier what I think needs to happen, which is that the democratic party, whether that’s entirely through the DNC or through rebuilding of state parties, or some other arrangement, has to work at the grassroots level, has to be present in all 50 states, has to have a presence in counties.

Has to think about in that extension (ph) how are we speaking directly to voters.

I will say this, and I’m not going to engage in too much punditry. But that I could not be prouder of the coalition that I put together in my — each of my campaigns. Because it was inclusive and it drew in people who normally weren’t interested in politics and didn’t participate.

But I’d like to think — I think I can show that in those elections, I always cast a broad net. I always said first and foremost we’re Americans, that we have a common creed, that there’s more that we share than divides us. And I want to talk to everybody and get a chance to get everybody’s vote.

I still believe what I said in 2004 which is this red state-blue thing is a construct. Now it is a construct that has gotten more and more powerful for a whole lot of reasons from gerrymandering, to big money, to a way that the media is splintered.

And so people are just watching what reinforces their existing biases as opposed to having to listen to different points of view. So there are all kinds of reasons for it. But outside the realm of electoral politics, I still see people the way I saw them when I made that speech, full of contradictions and some regional differences but basically, folks care about their families.

They care about having meaningful work. They care about making sure their kids have more opportunity than they did. They want to be safe. They want to feel like things are fair.

And whoever leads the DNC and any candidate with the Democratic brand going forward, I want them to feel as if they can reach out and find that common ground and speak to all of America. And that requires some organization.

And you’re right that — and I said this in my earlier remarks, that what I was able to do during my campaigns, I wasn’t able to do during midterms. It’s not that we didn’t put in time and effort into it. I spent time and effort into it. But the coalition I put together didn’t always turn out to be transferable.

And the challenge is that — you know, some of that just has to do with the fact that when you are in the party in power and people are going through hard times like they were in 2010, they are going to punish to some degree the president’s party regardless of what organizational work is done.

Some of it has to do with just some deep standing traditional challenges for Democrats like during off-year elections the electorate is older and we do better with the younger electorate. But we know those things are true.

And I didn’t crack the code on that. And if other people have ideas about how to do that even better, I’m all for it.

So with respect to the electors, I’m not going to wade into that issue. Because, again, it’s the American people’s job and now electors’ job to decide my successor. It is not my job to decide my successor.

And I have provided people with a lot of information about what happened during the course of the election, but more importantly, the candidates themselves I think talked about their beliefs and their vision for America.

The president-elect I think has been very explicit what he cares about and what he believes in. And so it’s not in my hands now, it’s up to them.

QUESTION: what about long term about the Electoral College?

OBAMA: Long term with respect to the Electoral College, the Electoral College is a vestige, it’s a carry-over from an earlier vision of how our federal government was going to work that put a lot of premium on states, and it used to be that the Senate was not elected directly, it was through state legislatures. And it’s the same type of thinking that gives Wyoming two senators and — with about half a million people and California with 33 million get the same two.

So there’s — there are some structures in our political system as envisioned by the founders that sometimes are going to disadvantage Democrats, but the truth of the matter is is that if we have a strong message, if we’re speaking to what the American people care about, typically, the popular vote and the electoral college vote will align.

And I guess — I guess part of my overall message here as I leave for the holidays is that if we look for one explanation or one silver bullet or one easy fix for our politics, then we’re probably going to be disappointed. There are just a lot of factors in what’s happened, not just over the last few months, but over the last decade that has made both politics and governance more challenging. And I think everybody’s raised legitimate questions and legitimate concerns.

I do hope that we all just take some time, take a breath, that’s certainly what I’m going to advise Democrats, to just reflect a little bit more about how can we — how can we get to a place where people are focused on working together based on at least some common set of facts? How can we have a conversation about policy that doesn’t demonize each another? How can we channel what I think is the basic decency and goodness of the American people so it reflects itself in our politics, as opposed to it being so polarized and so nasty that in some cases, you have voters and unelected officials who have more confidence and faith in a foreign adversary than they have in their neighbors?

And those go to some bigger issues. How is it that we have some voters or some elected officials who think that Michelle Obama’s healthy eating initiative and school nutrition program is a greater threat to democracy than, you know, our government going after the press if they’re issuing a story they don’t like? I mean, that’s — that’s an issue that I think, you know, we’ve got to — we’ve got to wrestle with. And we will.

People have asked me how you feel after the election and so forth and I say well, look, this is a clarifying moment. It’s a useful reminder that voting counts, politics counts. What the president- elect is going to be doing is gonna be very different than what I was doing and I think people will be able to compare and contrast and make judgments about what worked for the American people. And I hope that building off the progress we’ve made, that what the president-elect is proposing works.

What I can say with confidence is that what we’ve done works. That I can prove. I can show you where we were in 2008 and I can show you where we are now. And you can’t argue that we are not better off, we are.

And for that, I thank the American people and then more importantly I thank — well, not importantly, as importantly — I was going to say Josh Earnest…

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: … for doing such a great job. For that, I thank the American people, I thank the men and women in uniform who serve. I haven’t gotten to the point yet where I’ve been overly sentimental. I will tell you that when I was doing my last Christmas party photo — I know many of you have participated in these, they’re pretty long.

Right at the end of the line, the President’s Marine Corps Band comes in, those who have been performing. And I take a picture with them. And that was the last time that I was going to take a picture with my Marine Corps Band after an event. And I got a little choked up.

Now I was in front of marines so I had to like tamp it down. But it was just one small example of all of the people who have contributed to our success. I am responsible for where we’ve screwed up, the successes are widely shared with all of the amazing people who have been part of this administration.

OK? Thank you, everybody. Mele Kalikimaka!

 

Full Text Political Transcripts November 14, 2016: President Barack Obama’s first press conference since Donald Trump won election

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & 114TH CONGRESS:

President Obama’s first press conference of the Trump era

Source: WaPo, 11-14-16

OBAMA: Hello, everybody. In a couple hours, I’ll be departing on my final foreign trip as president and while we’re abroad I’ll have a chance to take a few of your questions but I figured why wait? I know there’s a lot of domestic issues that people are thinking about so I wanted to see if I could clear out some of the underbrush so that when we’re overseas and people are asking about foreign policy questions, people don’t feel obliged to tack on three other questions to them. Let me – I know you still will, yes.

(LAUGHTER)

That I’m aware, but I’m trying something out here. First of all, let me mention three brief topics. First of all, as I discussed with the president-elect on Thursday, my team stands ready to accelerate in the next steps that are required to ensure a smooth transition and we are going to be staying in touch as we travel. I remember what it was like when I came in eight years ago. It is a big challenge. This office is bigger than any one person and that’s why ensuring a smooth transition is so important. It’s not something that the constitution explicitly requires but it is one of those norms that are vital to a functioning democracy, similar to norms of civility and tolerance and a commitment to reason and facts and analysis.

It’s part of what makes this country work and as long as I’m president, we are going to uphold those norms and cherish and uphold those ideals. As I told my staff, we should be very proud that their work has already ensured that when we turn over the keys, the car’s in pretty good shape. We are indisputably in a stronger position today than we were when I came in eight years ago. Jobs have been growing for 73 straight months, incomes are rising, poverty is falling, the uninsured rate is at the lowest level on record, carbon emissions have come down without impinging on our growth, and so my instructions to my team are that we run through the tape, we make sure that we finish what we started, that we don’t let up in these last couple of months because my goal is on January 21, America’s in the strongest position possible and hopefully there’s an opportunity for the next president to build on that.

Number two, our work has also helped to stabilize the global economy and because there is one president at a time, I’ll spend this week reinforcing America’s support for the approaches that we’ve taken to promote economic growth and global security on a range of issues. I look forward to my first visit in Greece and then in Germany I’ll visit with Chancellor Merkel who’s probably been my closest international partner these past eight years. I’ll also signal our solidarity with our closest allies and express our support for a strong, integrated, and united Europe.

It is essential to our national security and it’s essential to global stability and that’s why the trans-atlantic alliance and the NATO alliance have endured for decades under Democratic and Republican administrations. Finally, in Peru, I’ll meet with leaders of countries that have been the focus of our foreign policy through our rebalance in the Asia-Pacific. This is a time of great change in the world but America’s always been a pillar of strength and a beacon of hope to peoples around the globe and that’s what it must continue to be.

Finally, on a personal note, Michelle and I want to offer our deepest condolences to Gwen Ifill’s family and all of you, her colleagues, on her passing. Gwen was a friend of ours, she was an extraordinary journalist, she always kept faith with the fundamental responsibilities of her profession, asking tough questions, holding people in power accountable, and defending a strong and free press that makes our democracy work. I always appreciated Gwen’s reporting even when I was at the receiving end of one of her tough and thorough interviews.

OBAMA: Whether she reported from a convention floor or from the field, whether she sat at the debate moderator’s table or at the anchor’s desk, she not only informed today’s citizens but she also inspired tomorrow’s journalists. She was an especially powerful role model for young women and girls who admired her integrity, her tenacity and her intellect. And for whom she blazed a trail, as one half of the first all-female anchor team on network news. So Gwen did her country a great service. Michelle and I join her family and her colleagues and everybody else who loved her in remembering her fondly today.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions, and because Josh Earnest has some pull around here, he just happens to put at the top of the list, Colleen Nelson, of the Wall Street Journal, my understanding is, Colleen, that this is wrapping up your stint here and you are going to Kansas City. Josh just happens to be from Kansas City.

(LAUGHTER)

SO I didn’t know if there was any coincidence there, but we wish you the very best of luck in your new endeavor.

QUESTION: As it turns out it’s a really great place (inaudible).

OBAMA: There you go.

QUESTION: You’re about to embark on a foreign trip. What will you say to other world leaders about your successor? They may press opinions(?) assuming you have about Donald Trump. Should they be worried about the future of U.S. foreign policy. And separately, as Democrats scramble to regroup after a pretty shocking upset, what is your advice about where the party goes now and who should lead you party?

OBAMA: One of the great things about the United States is that when it comes to world affairs, the president obviously is the leader of the Executive Branch, the Commander-in-Chief, the spokesperson for the nation, but the influence and the work that we have is the result not just of the president, it is the result of countless interactions and arrangements and relationships between our military and other militaries, and our diplomats and other diplomats, the intelligence officers and development workers. And there is enormous continuity beneath the day-to-day news that makes us that indispensable nation when it comes to maintaining order and promoting prosperity around the world. That will continue. In my conversation with the president-elect he expressed a great interest in maintaining our core strategic relationships, and so one of the messages I will be able to deliver is his commitment to NATO and the Trans Atlantic Alliance. I think that’s one of the most important functions I can serve at this stage during this trip is to let them know that there is no weakening of resolve when it comes to America’s commitment to maintaining a strong and robust NATO relationship and a recognition that those alliances aren’t just good for Europe. They are good for the United States and they are vital for the world.

With respect to the Democratic Party. As I said in the Rose Garden right after the election, “When your team loses, everybody gets deflated. And it’s hard, and it’s challenging. And I think it’s a healthy thing for the Democratic Party to go through some reflection. I think it’s important for me not to be big-footing that conversation. I think we want to see new voices and new ideas emerge – that’s part of the reason why term limits are a really useful thing.

The Democrats should not waiver on our core beliefs and principles. The belief that we should have an economy that works for everybody, not just a few. The belief that America at its best is inclusive and not exclusive. That we insist on the dignity and God- given potential and work of every child, regardless of race or gender or sexual orientation or what zip code they were born in. That we are committed to a world in which we keep America safe, but we recognize that our power doesn’t just flow from our extraordinary military but also flows from the strength in our ideals and our principles and our values.

So there are gonna be a core set of values that shouldn’t be up for debate. Should be our north star. But how we organize politically, I think is something that we should spend some time thinking about.

I believe that we have better ideas. But I also believe that good ideas don’t matter if people don’t hear them. And one of the issues the Democrats have to be clear on is the given population distribution across the country. We have to compete everywhere. We have to show up everywhere. We have to work at a grassroots level, something that’s been a running thread in my career.

I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa. It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and BFW Hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points. There’s some counties maybe I won, that people didn’t expect, because people had a chance to see you and listen to you and get a sense of who you stood for and who you were fighting for.

And the challenge for a national party is how do you dig in there and create those kinds of structures so that people have a sense of what it is that you stand for. And that increasingly is difficult to do just through a national press strategy. It’s increasingly difficult to do because of the splintering of the press (ph). And so I think the discussions that have been taking place about, how do you build more grassroots organizing, how do you build state parties and local parties and school board elections you’re paying attention to, state rep races and city council races, that all, I think, will contribute to stronger outcomes in the future. And I’m optimistic that will happen.

For Democrats who are feeling completely discouraged, I’ve been trying to remind them, everybody remembers my Boston speech in 2004. They may not remember me showing up here in 2005 when John Kerry had lost a close election, Tom Daschle, the leader of the Senate, had been beaten in an upset. Ken Salazar and I were the only two Democrats that won nationally. Republicans controlled the Senate and the House, and two years later, Democrats were winning back Congress, and four years later I was President of the United States.

Things change pretty rapidly. But they don’t change inevitably. They change because you work for it. Nobody said Democracy’s supposed to be easy. It’s hard. And in a big country like this, it probably should be hard.

Mark Knoller (ph) —

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

OBAMA: Good to see you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Good to see you. Mr. President, what can you tell us about the learning curve on becoming president? Can you tell us how long it took you before you were fully at ease in the job, if that ever happened? And did you discuss this matter with the president elect, Trump?

OBAMA: About a week ago, I started feeling pretty good.

(LAUGHTER)

But no. Look, the — I think the learning curve always continues. This is a remarkable job. It is like no other job on earth. And it is a constant flow of information and challenges and issues. That is truer now than it has ever been, partly because of the nature of information and the interconnection between regions of the world. If you were president 50 years ago, the tragedy in Syria might not even penetrate what the American people were thinking about on a day to day basis. Today, they’re seeing vivid images of a child in the aftermath of a bombing.

There was a time when if you had a financial crisis in Southeast Asia somewhere, it had no impact on our markets. Today it does.

So the amount of information, the amount of incoming that any administration has to deal with today and respond to much more rapidly than ever before, that makes it different.

I was watching a documentary that during the Bay of Pigs crisis JFK had about two weeks before anybody reported on it. Imagine that. I think it’s fair to say that if something like that happens under a current president, they’ve got to figure out in about an hour what their response is.

So these are the kinds of points that I shared with the president-elect. It was a free-flowing and I think useful conversation. I hope it was. I tried to be as honest as I could about the things I think any president coming in needs to think about.

And probably the most important point that I made was that how you staff, particularly the chief of staff, the national security adviser, your White House counsel, how you set up a process in the system to surface information and generate options for a president, understanding that ultimately the president is going to be the final decision-maker. That that’s something that has to be attended to right away.

I have been blessed by having, and I admittedly am biased, some of the smartest, hardest-working, and good people in my administration that I think any president has ever had.

And as a consequence of that team, I have been able to make good decisions. And if you don’t have that around you, then you will get swamped. So I hope that he appreciated that advice.

What I also discussed was the fact that I had been encouraged by his statements on election night about the need for unity and his interest in being the president for all people. And that how he staffs, the first steps he takes, the first impressions he makes, the reset that can happen after an election, all those things are important and should be thought about.

And I think it’s important to give him the room and the space to do that. It takes time to put that together. But I emphasized to him that, look, in an election like this that was so hotly contest and so divided, gestures matter.

And how he reaches out to groups that may not have supported him, how he signals his interest in their issues or concerns, I think those are the kinds of things that can set a tone that will help move things forward once he has actually taken office.

QUESTION: How long did it take before you were at ease in the job?

OBAMA: Well, I didn’t really have time to worry about being at ease because, you will recall, we were losing about 800,000 jobs a month. So the good news is that in some ways my experience is atypical. It’s hard to find an analogous situation.

By the time FDR came into office, the Depression had been going on for a couple of years. We were in the midst of a free fall, financial system was locking up, the auto industry was about to go belly up, the housing market had entirely collapsed.

So one of the advantages that I had is that that I was too busy to worry about how acclimated I was feeling in the job. We just had to make a bunch of decisions.

In this situation, we are turning over a country that has challenges, has problems, and obviously there are people out there who are feeling deeply disaffected, otherwise we wouldn’t have had the results that we had in the election.

On the other hand, if you look at the basic indicators of where the country is right now, the unemployment rate is low as it has been in eight-nine years, incomes and wages have both gone up over the last year faster than they have in a decade or two. We’ve got historically low uninsured rates. The financial systems are stable. The stock market is hovering around its all-time high and 401(k)s have been restored. The housing market has recovered.

We have challenges internationally but our most immediate challenge with respect to ISIL, we are seeing significant progress in Iraq. And Mosul is now increasingly being retaken by Iraqi security forces, supported by us.

Our alliances are in strong shape. Our — the progress we’ve made with respect to carbon emissions has been greater than any country on Earth. And gas is 2 bucks a gallon.

So he will have time and space, I think, to make judicious decisions. The incoming administration doesn’t have to put out a huge number of fires. They may want to take the country in a significantly different direction. But they have got time to consider what exactly they want to achieve.

And that’s a testament to the tremendous work that my team has done over the last eight years. I am very proud of them for it.

Athena Jones.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You said more than once that you did not believe that Donald trump would ever be elected president and that you thought he was unfit for the office.

Now that you’ve spent time with him (INAUDIBLE) for an hour and a half in the Oval Office, do you now think that President-Elect Trump is qualified to be president?

And if I can do a compound question, the other one, as you mentioned, staffing and tone.

What do you say to those Americans who may not doubt that there will be a peaceful transition but that are concerned about some of the policies and sentiments either expressed by President-Elect Trump himself or (INAUDIBLE) that may seem hostile to minorities and others?

Specifically I’m talking about the announcement that Steve Bannon, who is a proponent of the so-called alt-right movement, what many call the white nationalist movement, is going to have a prominent role in the White House under a President Trump as his key strategist and senior adviser.

What message does that send to the country and to the world?

OBAMA: Athena, without copping out, I think it’s fair to say that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on every appointment that the president-elect starts making if I want to be consistent with the notion that we are going to try to facilitate a smooth transition.

But the people have spoken. Donald Trump will be the next president, the 45th President of the United States. And it will be up to him to set up a team that he thinks will serve him well and reflect his policies. And those who didn’t vote for him have to recognize that that’s how democracy works. That’s how this system operates.

When I won — and there were a number of people who didn’t like me and didn’t like what I stood for. And, you know, I think that whenever you have got an incoming president of the other side, particularly in a bitter election like this, it takes a while for people to reconcile themselves with that new reality.

Hopefully, it’s a reminder that elections matter and voting counts. And so, you know, I don’t know how many times we have to relearn this lesson because we ended up having 43 percent of the country not voting who were eligible to vote. But it makes a difference.

OBAMA: So given that President-Elect Trump is now trying to balance what he said in the campaign and the commitments he made to his supporters with working with those who disagreed with him and members of Congress and reaching out to constituencies that didn’t vote for him, I think it’s important for us to let him make his decisions.

And I think the American people will judge, over the course of the next couple of years, whether they like what they see and whether these are the kinds of policies and this is the direction that they want to see the country going. And my role is to make sure that when I hand off this White House that it is in the best possible shape and that I’ve been as helpful as I can to him in going forward and building on the progress that we’ve made.

And my advice, as I said to the president-elect when we had our discussions, was that campaigning is different from governing. I think he recognizes that. I think he’s sincere in wanting to be a successful president and moving this country forward and I don’t think any president ever comes in saying to himself “I want to figure out how to make people angry or alienate half the country.” I think he’s going to try as best he can to make sure that he delivers not only to the people who voted for him but for the people at large and the good thing is that there are going to be elections coming up so there’s a built-in incentive for him to try to do that.

But, you know, it’s only been six days and I think it’ll be important for him to have the room to staff up to figure out what his priorities are, to be able to distinguish between what he was campaigning on and what is practical, what he can actually achieve. You know, there are certain things that make for good sound bites but don’t always translate into good policy. And that’s something that he and his team I think will wrestle with in the same way that every president wrestles with. I did say to him, as I’ve said publicly, that because of the nature of the campaigns and the bitterness and ferocity of the campaigns that it’s really important to try to send some signals of unity and to reach out to minority groups or women or others that were concerned about the tenor of the campaign.

And I think that’s something that he will – he will want to do but this is all happening real fast. He’s got commitments to supporters that helped to get him here and he’s going to have to balance those over the coming weeks and months and years. My hope is that those impulses ultimately win out but it’s a little too early to start making judgments on that.

QUESTION: You’d like qualifications (ph), has that changed after meeting with him?

OBAMA: You know, I think that he successfully mobilized a big chunk of the country to vote for him and he’s going to win. He has won. He’s going to be the next president and regardless of what experience or assumptions he brought to the office, this office has a way of waking you up and those – those aspects of his positions or predispositions that don’t match up with reality, he will find shaken up pretty quick because reality has a way of asserting itself. And some of his gifts that obviously allowed him to execute one of the biggest political upsets in history, those are ones that hopefully he will put to good use on behalf of all the American people.

QUESTION: You’re off to Europe which is facing some of the same populist pressures we’ve seen work in this country. When you spoke at the U.N., you talked about the choices being made (ph) between immigration and building walls. What choice do you think the American people made last week and is there still a chance for what you called a course correction before Europeans make some of their choices?

OBAMA: I think the American people recognize that the world has shrunk. That it’s interconnected. That you’re not going to put that genie back in the bottle. The American people recognize that their careers or their kids’ careers are going to have to be more dynamic. That they might not be working at a single plant for 30 years. That they might have to change careers. They might have to get more education. They might have to retool or retrain. And I think the American people are game for that.

They want to make sure that the rules of the game are fair. And what that means is that if you look at surveys around Americans’ attitudes on trade, the majority of the American people still support trade. But they’re concerned about whether or not trade is fair, and whether we get the same access to other countries’ markets that they have with us. Is there just a race to the bottom when it comes to wages, and so forth.

Now, I made an argument, thus far unsuccessfully, that the trade deal we had organized, TPP, did exactly that. That it strengthened worker’s rights and environmental rights, leveled the playing field, and as a consequence, would be good for American workers and American businesses. But that’s a complex argument to make when people remember plants closing and jobs being offshore. So part of what I think this election reflected was people wanting that course correction that you described, and the message around stopping surges of immigration, not creating new trade deals that may be unfair. I think those were themes that played a prominent role in the campaign.

As we now shift to government, my argument is that we do need to make sure that we have an orderly, lawful immigration process, but that if it is orderly and lawful, immigration is good for our economy. It keeps this country young, it keeps it dynamic, we have entrepreneurs and strivers (ph) who come here and are willing to take risks, and that’s part of the reason why America historically has been successful. It’s part of the reason why our economy is stronger and better positioned than most of our other competitors, is because we’ve got a younger population that’s more dynamic when it comes to trade. I think when you’re governing, it will become increasingly apparent that if you were to just eliminate trade deals with Mexico, for example, well, you’ve got a global supply chain. The parts that are allowing auto plants that were about to shut down to now employ double shifts is because they’re bringing in some of those parts to assemble out of Mexico. And so it’s not as simple as it might have seemed.

OBAMA: And the key for us — when I say us, I mean Americans, but I think particularly for progressives, is to say, your concerns are real, your anxieties are real. Here’s how we fix it. Higher minimum wage. Stronger worker protection so workers have more leverage to get a bigger piece of the pie. Stronger financial regulations, not weaker ones. Yes to trade, but trade that ensures that these other countries that trade with us aren’t engaging in child labor, for example. Being attentive to inequality and not tone deaf to it. But offering prescriptions that are actually going to help folks in communities that feel forgotten. That’s going to be our most important strategy. And I think we can successfully do that.

People will still be looking to the United States. Our example will still carry great weight. And it continues to be my strong belief that the way we are going to make sure that everybody feels a part of this global economy is not by shutting ourselves off from each other, even if we could, but rather by working together more effectively than we have in the past.

Martha Raddatz.

QUESTION: Thanks, Mr. President. (INAUDIBLE) some of the harsh words you had about Mr. Trump, calling him temperamentally unfit to be commander in chief, did anything surprise you about President-Elect Trump when you met with him in your office?

And also I want to know, does anything concern you about a Trump presidency?

OBAMA: Well, we had a very cordial conversation and that didn’t surprise me, to some degree because I think that he is obviously a gregarious person. He’s somebody who I think likes to mix it up and to have a vigorous debate.

And you know, what’s clear is that he was able to tap into, yes, the anxieties but also the enthusiasm of his voters in a way that was impressive. And I said so to him because I think that to the extent that there were a lot of folks who missed the Trump phenomenon, I think that connection that he was able to make with his supporters, that was impervious to events that might have sunk another candidate. That’s powerful stuff.

I also think that he is coming to this office with fewer set hard-and-fast policy prescriptions than a lot of other presidents might be arriving with. I don’t think he is ideological. I think ultimately is, he is pragmatic in that way. And that can serve him well as long as he has got good people around him and he has a clear sense of direction.

Do I have concerns?

Absolutely. Of course I have got concerns. You know, he and I differ on a whole bunch of issues. But you know, the federal government and our democracy is not a speedboat. It’s an oceanliner, as I discovered when I came into office. It took a lot of really hard work for us to make significant policy changes, even in our first two years, when we had larger majorities than Mr. Trump will enjoy when he comes into office.

And you know, one of the things I advised him to do was to make sure that, before he commits to certain courses of action, he has really dug in and thought through how various issues play themselves out.

I will use a obvious example, where we have a difference but it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming year. And that’s the Affordable Care Act. You know, obviously this has been the Holy Grail for Republicans over the last 6-7 years, was we got to kill ObamaCare.

Now that has been taken as an article of faith, that this is terrible, it doesn’t work and we have to undo it.

OBAMA: But now that Republicans are in charge, they got to take a look and say, let’s see. We got 20 million people who have health insurance who didn’t have it before. Health care costs generally have gone up at a significantly slower rate since ObamaCare was passed than they did before, which has saved the federal Treasury hundreds of billions of dollars.

People who have health insurance are benefiting in all sorts of ways that they may not be aware of, everything from no longer having lifetime limits on the claims that they can make to seniors getting prescription drug discounts under Medicare to free mammograms.

Now it’s one thing to characterize this thing as not working when it’s just an abstraction. Now suddenly you are in charge and you are going to repeal it. OK, well, what happens to those 20 million people who have health insurance? Are you going to just kick them off and suddenly they don’t have health insurance?

In what ways are their lives better because of that? Are you going to repeal the provision that ensures that if you do have health insurance on your job and you lose your job or you change jobs or you start a small business that you are not discriminated against because you have got a preexisting condition? That’s really popular.

How are you going to replace it? Are you going to change the policy that kids can stay on their parents’ health insurance plan until they are 26? How are you going to approach all these issues?

Now, my view is that if they can come up with something better that actually works and a year or two after they have replaced the Affordable Care Act with their own plan that 25 million people have health insurance and it’s cheaper and better and running smoothly, I will be the first one to say that’s great. Congratulations.

If, on the other hand, whatever they are proposing results in millions of people losing coverage and results in people who already have health insurance losing protections that were contained in the legislation, then we are going to have a problem.

And I think that’s not going to be unique to me. I think the American people will respond that way. So I think on a lot of issues what you’re going to see is now comes the hard part. Now is governance.

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We are going to be able to present to the incoming administration a country that is stronger. A federal government that is working better and more efficiently. A national security apparatus that is both more effective and truer to our values. Energy policies that are resulting in not just less pollution, but also more jobs.

And I think the president-elect rightly would expect that he is judged on whether we improve from that baseline and on those metrics or things get worse. And if things get worse, then the American people will figure that out pretty quick. And if things get better, then more power to him. And I will be the first to congratulate him.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you had talked specifically about his temperament. Do you still have any concern about his temperament?

OBAMA: As I said, because Athena (ph) asked the question, whatever you bring to this office, this office has a habit of magnifying and pointing out and hopefully then you correct for.

This may seem like a silly example, but I know myself well enough to know I can’t keep track of paper. I am not well-organized in that way. And so pretty quickly after I’m getting stacks of briefing books coming in every night, I say to myself, I have got to figure out a system because I have bad filing, sorting, and organizing habits.

Full Text Political Transcripts November 10, 2016: President-Elect Donald Trump, VP-Elect Mike Pence meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION:

President-Elect Donald Trump, VP-Elect Mike Pence meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan Press Conference

Full Text Political Transcripts November 10, 2016: President Obama and President-elect Trump press conference after White House meeting

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION:

Remarks by President Obama and President-elect Trump After Meeting

Source: WH, 11-10-16

Oval Office

12:36 P.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I just had the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with President-elect Trump.  It was wide-ranging.  We talked about some of the organizational issues in setting up the White House.  We talked about foreign policy.  We talked about domestic policy.  And as I said last night, my number-one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a transition that ensures our President-elect is successful.

And I have been very encouraged by the, I think, interest in President-elect Trump’s wanting to work with my team around many of the issues that this great country faces.  And I believe that it is important for all of us, regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face.

And in the meantime, Michelle has had a chance to greet the incoming First Lady.  And we had an excellent conversation with her as well, and we want to make sure that they feel welcome as they prepare to make this transition.

Most of all, I want to emphasize to you, Mr. President-elect, that we now are going to want to do everything we can to help you succeed — because if you succeed, then the country succeeds.

Please.

PRESIDENT-ELECT TRUMP:  Well, thank you very much, President Obama.  This was a meeting that was going to last for maybe 10 or 15 minutes, and we were just going to get to know each other.  We had never met each other.  I have great respect.  The meeting lasted for almost an hour and a half.  And it could have — as far as I’m concerned, it could have gone on for a lot longer.

We really — we discussed a lot of different situations, some wonderful and some difficulties.  I very much look forward to dealing with the President in the future, including counsel.  He explained some of the difficulties, some of the high-flying assets and some of the really great things that have been achieved.

So, Mr. President, it was a great honor being with you, and I look forward to being with you many, many more times in the future.

END
12:40 P.M. EDT

Full Text Campaign Buzz 2016 November 9, 2016: House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Post-Election Press Conference on Donald Trump’s Victory

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

2016 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN:

House Speaker Paul Ryan’s Post-Election Press Conference

Full Text Political Transcripts March 10, 2016: President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Remarks at Joint Press Conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada in Joint Press Conference

Source: WH, 3-10-16

 

 

Rose Garden

11:11 A.M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat. Well, once again, I want to welcome Prime Minister Trudeau to the White House.  We just completed a very productive meeting.  Although I regret to inform you that we still have not reached agreement on hockey.  But it is not interfering with the rest of our bilateral relationship.  (Laughter.)

As I said earlier, this visit reflects something we Americans don’t always say enough, and that is how much we value our great alliance and partnership with our friends up north.  We’re woven together so deeply — as societies, as economies — that it’s sometimes easy to forget how truly remarkable our relationship is.  A shared border — more than 5,000 miles — that is the longest between any two nations in the world.  Every day, we do some $2 billion in trade and investment — and that’s the largest bilateral economic relationship in the world.  Every day, more than 400,000 Americans and Canadians cross the border  — workers, businesspeople, students, tourists, neighbors.  And, of course, every time we have a presidential election, our friends to the north have to brace for an exodus of Americans who swear they’ll move to Canada if the guy from the other party wins.  (Laughter.)  But, typically, it turns out fine.  (Laughter.)

This is now my second meeting with Justin.  I’m grateful that I have him as a partner.  We’ve got a common outlook on what our nations can achieve together.  He campaigned on a message of hope and of change.  His positive and optimistic vision is inspiring young people.  At home, he’s governing with a commitment to inclusivity and equality.  On the world stage, his country is leading on climate change and he cares deeply about development.  So, from my perspective, what’s not to like?

Of course, no two nations agree on everything.  Our countries are no different.  But in terms of our interests, our values, how we approach the world, few countries match up the way the United States and Canada do.  And given our work together today, I can say — and I believe the Prime Minister would agree — that when it comes to the central challenges that we face, our two nations are more closely aligned than ever.

We want to make it easier to trade and invest with one another.  America is already the top destination for Canadian exports, and Canada is the top market for U.S. exports, which support about 1.7 million good-paying American jobs.  When so many of our products, like autos, are built on both sides of the border in an integrated supply chain, this co-production makes us more competitive in the global economy as a whole.  And we want to keep it that way.

So we’ve instructed our teams to stay focused on making it even easier for goods and people to move back and forth across the borders — including reducing bottlenecks and streamlining regulations.  We discussed how to move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and today we also reaffirmed our determination to move ahead with an agreement to pre-clear travelers through immigration and customs, making it even easier for Canadians and Americans to travel and visit and do business together.

As NATO allies, we’re united against the threat of terrorism.  Canada is an extraordinarily valued member of the global coalition fighting ISIL — tripling its personnel to help train and advise forces in Iraq, stepping up its intelligence efforts in the region, and providing critical humanitarian support.  We’re working closely together to prevent the flow of foreign fighters, and today, we agreed to share more information — including with respect to our no-fly lists and full implementation of our entry/exit system — even as we uphold the privacy and civil liberties of our respective citizens.

In Syria, the cessation of hostilities has led to a measurable drop in violence in the civil war, and the United States and Canada continue to be leaders in getting humanitarian aid to Syrians who are in desperate need.  Meanwhile, our two countries continue to safely welcome refugees from that conflict. And I want to commend Justin and the Canadian people once again for their compassionate leadership on this front.

I’m especially pleased to say the United States and Canada are fully united in combating climate change.  As the first U.S. President to visit the Arctic, I saw how both of our nations are threatened by rising seas, melting permafrost, disappearing glaciers and sea ice.  And so we are focusing on making sure the Paris agreement is fully implemented, and we’re working to double our investments in clean energy research and development.

Today, we’re also announcing some new steps.  Canada is joining us in our aggressive goal to bring down methane emissions in the oil and gas sectors in both of our countries, and together we’re going to move swiftly to establish comprehensive standards to meet that goal.  We’re also going to work together to phase down HFCs and to limit carbon emissions from international aviation.  We’re announcing a new climate and science partnership to protect the Arctic and its people.  And later this year, I’ll welcome our partners, including Canada, to our White House Science Ministerial on the Arctic to deepen our cooperation in this vital region.

We’re also grateful for Canada’s partnership as we renew America’s leadership across the hemisphere.  Mr. Prime Minister, I want to thank you for Canada’s continuing support for our new chapter of engagement with the Cuban people, which I will continue with my upcoming visit to Cuba next week.  We’re going to work to help Colombia achieve peace and remove the deadly legacy of landmines there.  And our scientists and public health professionals will work with partners across the hemisphere to prevent the spread of the Zika virus and work together actively for diagnostic and vaccines that can make a real difference.

And finally, our shared values — our commitment to human development and the dignity of all people — continue to guide our work as global partners.  Through the Global Health Security Agenda, we’re stepping up our efforts to prevent outbreaks of diseases from becoming epidemics.  We are urgently working to help Ethiopia deal with the worst drought in half a century.  Today, our spouses, Michelle and Sophie, are reaffirming our commitment to the health and education of young women and girls around the world.  And Canada will be joining our Power Africa initiative to bring electricity — including renewable energy — to homes and businesses across the continent and help lift people out of poverty.  And those are our values at work.

So, again, Justin, I want to thank you for your partnership. I believe we’ve laid a foundation for even greater cooperation for our countries for years to come.  And I’d like to think that it is only the beginning.  I look forward to welcoming you back for the Nuclear Security Summit in a few weeks.  I’m pleased that we were able to announce that the next North American Leaders Summit that will be in Canada this summer.  The Prime Minister has invited me to address the Canadian parliament, and that’s a great honor.  I look forward to the opportunity to speak directly to the Canadian people about the extraordinary future that we can build together.

Prime Minister Trudeau.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Thank you, Mr. President.

Good morning, everyone.  It’s an honor to be here.  As I’ve reflected on the storied relationship between our two great countries, I constantly return to President Kennedy’s wise words on our friendship that, “what unites us is far greater than what divides us.”  And as President Obama mentioned earlier, if geography made us neighbors, then shared values made us kindred spirits, and it is our choices, individually and collectively, that make us friends.

That friendship, matched by much hard work, has allowed us to do great things throughout our history — from the beaches of Normandy to the free trade agreement, and now, today, on climate change.  The President and I share a common goal:  We want a clean-growth economy that continues to provide good jobs and great opportunities for all of our citizens.  And I’m confident that, by working together, we’ll get there sooner than we think.

Let’s take the Paris agreement, for example.  That agreement is both a symbolic declaration of global cooperation on climate change, as well as a practical guide for growing our economies in a responsible and sustainable way.  Canada and the U.S. have committed to signing the agreement as soon as possible.  We know that our international partners expect and, indeed, need leadership from us on this issue.

The President and I have announced today that we’ll take ambitious action to reduce methane emissions nearly by half from the oil and gas sector, reduce use and emissions of hydrofluorocarbons, and implement aligned greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles, amongst other plans to fight climate change.

(As interpreted from French.)  We also announced a new partnership aiming to develop a sustainable economy in the Arctic.  This partnership foresees new standards based on scientific data, from fishing in the high seas of the Arctic, as well as set new standards to ensure maritime transport with less emissions.  The partnership will also promote sustainable development in the region, in addition to putting the bar higher in terms of preserving the biodiversity in the Arctic.

We have also decided to make our borders both more open and more safe by agreeing of pre-clearing at the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto and the Jean Lesage Airport in Quebec, as well as the railroad stations in Montreal and Vancouver.  Moreover, we’re creating a U.S.-Canada working group in the next 60 days on the recourses to assess how we will resolve errors of identity on the no-fly list.

(Speaks English.)  The President and I acknowledge the fundamental and wholly unique economic relationship between Canada and the United States.  We have, historically, been each other’s largest trading partners.  Each and every day, over $2.4 billion worth of goods and services cross the border.  Today, we reaffirmed our commitment to streamlining trade between our countries.

Overall, the President and I agree on many things, including, of paramount importance, the direction we want to take our countries in to ensure a clean and prosperous future.  We’ve made tremendous progress on many issues.  Unfortunately, I will leave town with my beloved Expos still here in Washington.  You can’t have everything.  (Laughter.)

I’d like to conclude by extending my deepest thanks to Barack for his leadership on the climate change file to date.  I want to assure the American people that they have a real partner in Canada.  Canada and the U.S. will stand side by side to confront the pressing needs that face not only our two countries, but the entire planet.

I’m very much looking forward to the remainder of my time here in Washington.  So thank you again for your leadership and your friendship.  I know that our two countries can achieve great things by working together as allies and as friends, as we have done so many times before.

Merci beaucoup, Barack.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  All right, we’re going to take a few questions.  We’ll start with Julie Davis.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to ask you about the Supreme Court.  You’ve already said you’re looking for a highly qualified nominee with impeccable credentials.  Can you give us a sense of what other factors you’re considering in making your final choice?  How much of this comes down to a gut feeling for you?  And does it affect your decision to know that your nominee is very likely to hang out in the public eye without hearings or a vote for a long time, or maybe ever?  And, frankly, shouldn’t that be driving your decision if you’re asking someone to put themselves forward for this position as this point?

For Prime Minister Trudeau, I wanted to ask you — we know you’ve been following our presidential campaign here in the U.S. As the President alluded to, you’ve even made a joke about welcoming Americans who might be frightened of a Donald Trump presidency to your country.  What do you think the stakes are for you and for the relationship between Canada and the United States if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz were to win the presidency and to succeed President Obama?  You obviously see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of issues.  What do you think — how would it affect the relationship if one of them were to succeed President Obama?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Even though it wasn’t directed to me, let me just — (laughter) — I do want to point out I am absolutely certain that, in 2012, when there was the possibility that I might be reelected there were folks who were threatening to go to Canada, as well.  And one of the great things about a relationship like Canada’s and the United States’ is it transcends party and it’s bipartisan in terms of the interest that we share.

With respect to the Supreme Court, I’ve told you, Julie, what I’m looking for.  I want somebody who is an outstanding jurist, who has impeccable legal credentials, who, by historical standards, would not even be questioned as qualified for the Court.

Obviously, it’s somebody who I want to make sure follows the Constitution; cares about things like stare decisis and precedent; understands the necessary humility of a judge at any level in looking at statute, looking at what the elected branches are doing; is not viewing themselves as making law or, in some ways, standing above elected representatives, but also recognizes the critical role that that branch plays in protecting minorities to ensuring that the political system doesn’t skew in ways that systematically leave people out, that are mindful of the traditions that are embedded in our cherished documents like the Bill of Rights.

So in terms of who I select, I’m going to do my job.  And then my expectation is going to be that the Senate do its job as outlined in the Constitution.  I’ve said this before — I find it ironic that people who are constantly citing the Constitution would suddenly read into the Constitution requirements, norms, procedures that are nowhere to be found there.  That’s precisely the kinds of interpretive approach that they have vehemently rejected and that they accused liberals of engaging in all the time.  Well, you can’t abandon your principles — if, in fact, these are your principles — simply for the sake of political expedience.

So we’ll see how they operate once a nomination has been made.  I’m confident that whoever I select, among fair-minded people will be viewed as an eminently qualified person.  And it will then be up to Senate Republicans to decide whether they want to follow the Constitution and abide by the rules of fair play that ultimately undergird our democracy and that ensure that the Supreme Court does not just become one more extension of our polarized politics.

If and when that happens, our system is not going to work.  It’s not that the Supreme Court or any of our courts can be hermetically sealed from the rest of our society.  These are human beings.  They read the newspapers; they’ve got opinions; they’ve got values.  But our goal is to have them be objective and be able to execute their duties in a way that gives everybody — both the winning party and the losing party in any given case — a sense that they were treated fairly.  That depends on a process of selecting and confirming judges that is perceived as fair.  And my hope is, is that cooler heads will prevail and people will reflect on what’s at stake here once a nomination is made.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  One of the things that is abundantly clear whenever a President and Prime Minister sit down to engage on important issues of relevance to our peoples is that the relationship, the friendship between our two countries goes far beyond any two individuals or any ideologies.

I have tremendous confidence in the American people, and look forward to working with whomever they choose to send to this White House later this year.

Alex.

Q    Good morning.  This meeting is happening at a unique point in the Canada-U.S. relationship.  President Obama, you have very little time left here.  Prime Minister Trudeau, you have several years to think about and work on Canada’s most important relationship.  So I’d like to ask you a longer-term question, maybe to lay down some markers about big ideas, big things that you think the two countries could achieve in the coming years, beyond the next few months, and whether those things might include something like a common market that would allow goods and services and workers to flow more freely across our border.

And on a more personal note, you’ve had a chance to observe each other’s election campaigns and now you’ve had a chance to work together a little bit.  I’d like to ask you for your impressions — to ask about your impression of President Obama and his potential legacy, and about Prime Minister Trudeau’s potential.  And if you could answer that in French, bonus points to either of you — (laughter) — but we’d be especially keen to hear Prime Minister Trudeau do so.  Thank you.

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Thank you, Alex.  First of all, we very much did engage on big issues throughout our conversations and throughout our hard work this morning, and over the months leading up to this meeting today — issues that are of import not just to all of our citizens but to the entire world.

Whether it’s how we ensure that there is no contradiction between a strong economy and a protected environment; understand how we need to work together as individual countries but, indeed, as a planet to address the challenges of climate change; how we continue to seek to ensure security for our citizens here at home, but also create stability and opportunity and health security for people around the world facing pandemics and violence and issues — these are big issues that Canada and the U.S. have always been engaged on in various ways over the past decades and centuries, and, indeed, will continue to.

One of the things that we highlight is the fact that we have different scales, different perspectives on similar issues and on shared values is actually a benefit in that we can complement each other in our engagement with the world and our approach to important issues.

So I look forward to many, many, many more years — it will certainly outlive the both of us — of a tremendous and responsible and effective friendship and collaboration between our two countries.

(As interpreted from French.)  The topic of our discussions this morning has been what is at stake — climate change, security in the world, our commitments towards the most vulnerable populations.  Canada and the United States are the lucky countries in many ways — they will always have a lot to do in order to be together in the world.  And this is what we are going to keep on doing in the years and the decades to come, and we hope in the centuries to come.

About President Obama, I’ve learned a lot from him.  He is somebody who is a deep thinker.  He is somebody with a big heart but also a big brain.  And for me to be able to count on him as a friend who has lived through many of the things that I’m about to encounter on a political stage, on the international stage, it’s a great comfort to me.  And it is always great to have people that you can trust, people that you can count on personally, especially when you are facing very big challenges such as what we are doing right now in the United States and Canada.

(Speaks English.)  — always pleased to hear from President Obama how he has engaged with difficult issues of the past, because he is a man of both tremendous heart and tremendous intellect.  And being able to draw on his experience and his wisdom as I face the very real challenges that our countries and, indeed, our world will be facing in the coming years is something I appreciate deeply about my friend, Barack.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, Alex, was it?

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Alex.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me just note, first of all, that the tenor of your question seems to imply that I’m old and creaky.  (Laughter.)

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  Not the tenor of my answer, I hope. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  No, you managed it well.  (Laughter.)  But don’t think I didn’t catch that.  It is true — I think I’ve said before that in my congratulatory call, I indicated to him that if, in fact, you plan to keep your dark hair, then you have to start dyeing it early.  (Laughter.)  You hit a certain point and it’s too late — you’ll be caught.

But look, I think Justin and his delegation — because one of the things we learn very rapidly in these jobs is, is that this is a team effort and not a solo act — they’re bringing the right values, enormous energy, enormous passion and commitment to their work, and perhaps most importantly, it’s clear that they are keenly interested in engaging Canadian citizens in the process of solving problems.

And I think that’s how democracies are supposed to work.  And their instincts are sound.  And that’s reflected in the positive response to the work that they’ve done so far, and I think that will carry them very far.  And Justin’s talent and concern for the Canadian people and his appreciation of the vital role that Canada can play in the larger world is self-apparent.  He is, I think, going to do a great job.  And we’re looking forward to partnering with him and we’re glad to have him and his team as a partner.

And with respect to big ideas, look, to some degree, you don’t fix what’s not broken.  And the relationship is extraordinary and doesn’t, I don’t think, need some set of revolutionary concepts.  What it does require is not taking the relationship for granted.  It does require steady effort.  And perhaps most importantly, it requires, because we have so much in common, that we recognize on the big, looming issues on the horizon, it is vital for us to work together because the more aligned we are, the more we can shape the international agenda to meet these challenges.

Climate change is such an example.  This is going to be a big problem for everybody.  There are countries that are going to be hit worse by it; in some ways, Canada and the United States, as wealthier countries, can probably adapt and manage better.  On the other hand, we’re also those responsible for a lot of the carbon pollution that is causing climate change.  If we don’t agree, if we’re not aggressive, if we’re not far-sighted, if we don’t pool our resources around the research and development and clean energy agenda that’s required to solve this problem, then other countries won’t step up and it won’t get solved.  That’s a big idea.  That’s a really important effort.

With respect to the economy, one of the things that Canada and the United States share is a commitment to a free market.  I believe, and I know Justin does as well, that a market-based economy not only has proven to be the greatest engine for prosperity the world has ever known, but also underwrites our individual freedoms in many ways.  And we value our business sector, and we value entrepreneurship.  But what we’re seeing across the developed world — and this will have manifestations in the developing world — is the need for more inclusion in growth, making sure that it’s broad-based, making sure that people are not left behind in a globalized economy.  And that’s a big idea for the United States and Canada to work together on, along with our other partners.

If we don’t get this right, if we do not make sure that the average Canadian or the average American has confidence that the fruits of their labor, the opportunities for their children are going to continue to expand over time, if they see societies in which a very few are doing better and better and the middle class and working people are falling further and further behind, that destabilizes the economy; it makes it less efficient; it makes it less rapid in its growth.  But it also starts destabilizing our politics and our democracies.

And so, working together to find effective ways — not to close off borders, not to pretend that somehow we can shut off trade, not to forget that we are, ourselves, nations of immigrants and that diversity is our strength — but rather to say, yes, the world is big and we are going to help shape it, and we’re going to value our openness and our diversity, and the fact that we are leaders in a global supply chain but we’re going to do so in ways that make sure everybody benefits — that’s important work that we’re going to have to do together.  And I know Justin shares that commitment just as I do.

Margaret Brennan.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Some of your critics have pointed to the incredibly polarized political climate under your administration as contributing to the rise of someone as provocative as Donald Trump.  Do you feel responsibility for that, or even some of the protectionist rhetoric from some Democratic candidates?  Do you have a timeline for when you might make a presidential endorsement?  And to follow on my colleague’s question here, do you feel political heat is constraining your pool of viable Supreme Court nominees?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  It’s a three-fer.  I think it’s important for me to nominate a Supreme Court nominee quickly because I think it’s important for the Supreme Court to have its full complement of justices.  I don’t feel constrained in terms of the pool to draw from or that I’m having to take shortcuts in terms of the selection and vetting process.

With respect to your first question, I’ve actually heard this argument a number of times.  I have been blamed by Republicans for a lot of things, but being blamed for their primaries and who they’re selecting for their party is novel.  (Laughter.)

Look, I’ve said — I said it at the State of the Union that one of my regrets is the degree to which polarization and the nasty tone of our politics has accelerated rather than waned over the course of the last seven and a half years.  And I do all kinds of soul-searching in terms of are there things I can do better to make sure that we’re unifying the country.  But I also have to say, Margaret, that, objectively, it’s fair to say that the Republican political elites and many of the information outlets — social media, news outlets, talk radio, television stations — have been feeding the Republican base for the last seven years a notion that everything I do is to be opposed; that cooperation or compromise somehow is a betrayal; that maximalist, absolutist positions on issues are politically advantageous; that there is a “them” out there and an “us,” and “them” are the folks who are causing whatever problems you’re experiencing.

And the tone of that politics — which I certainly have not contributed to — I don’t think that I was the one to prompt questions about my birth certificate, for example.  I don’t remember saying, hey, why don’t you ask me about that.  (Laughter.)  Or why don’t you question whether I’m American, or whether I’m loyal, or whether I have America’s best interests at heart — those aren’t things that were prompted by any actions of mine.

And so what you’re seeing within the Republican Party is, to some degree, all those efforts over a course of time creating an environment where somebody like a Donald Trump can thrive.  He’s just doing more of what has been done for the last seven and a half years.

And, in fact, in terms of his positions on a whole range of issues, they’re not very different from any of the other candidates.  It’s not as if there’s a massive difference between Mr. Trump’s position on immigration and Mr. Cruz’s position on immigration.  Mr. Trump might just be more provocative in terms of how he says it, but the actual positions aren’t that different.  For that matter, they’re not that different from Mr. Rubio’s positions on immigration — despite the fact that both Mr. Cruz and Mr. Rubio, their own families are the products of immigration and the openness of our society.

So I am more than happy to own the responsibility as President, as the only office holder who was elected by all the American people, to continue to make efforts to bridge divides and help us find common ground.  As I’ve said before, I think that common ground exists all across the country.  You see it every day in how people work together and live together and play together and raise their kids together.  But what I’m not going to do is to validate some notion that the Republican crack-up that’s been taking place is a consequence of actions that I’ve taken.

And what’s interesting — I’ll just say one last thing about this — there are thoughtful conservatives who are troubled by this, who are troubled by the direction of their party.  I think it is very important for them to reflect on what it is about the politics they’ve engaged in that allows the circus we’ve been seeing to transpire, and to do some introspection.

Because, ultimately, I want an effective Republican Party.  I think this country has to have responsible parties that can govern, and that are prepared to lead and govern whether they’re in the minority or in the majority, whether they occupy the White House or they do not.  And I’ve often said I want a serious, effective Republican Party — in part to challenge some of the blind spots and dogmas in the Democratic Party.  I think that’s useful.

You mentioned trade, for example.  I believe that there have been bad trade deals on occasion in the past that oftentimes they have served the interests of global corporations but not necessarily served the interests of workers.  But I’m absolutely persuaded that we cannot put up walls around a global economy, and that to sell a bill of goods to the American people and workers that if you just shut down trade somehow your problems will go away prevents us from actually solving some of these big problems about inequality and the decline of our manufacturing base and so on.

And that’s an area where some traditional conservatives and economists have had some important insights.  But they can’t be presented effectively if it’s combined with no interest in helping workers, and busting up unions, and providing tax breaks to the wealthy rather than providing help to folks who are working hard and trying to pay the bills.  And it certainly is not going to be heard if it’s coupled with vehement, anti-immigrant sentiment that betrays our values.

Okay?

Q    And an endorsement, sir?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think that the Democratic voters are doing just fine working this out.  I think it’s useful that we’ve had a vigorous debate among two good people who care deeply about our country and who have fought hard on behalf of working people in this country for a long time.  I think it’s been a good conversation.  And my most important role will be to make sure that after primaries is done I’m bringing everybody together so that we focus on winning the general election.

Q    Mr. President, I’ll be asking the Prime Minister my question in French, but I will repeat for you in English afterwards.

(As interpreted.)  Mr. Trudeau, you have not talked about softwood lumber, and it’s a major problem for the bilateral relations.  Have you thought about solutions to avoid — the conflict reopens in October.  And you signed several agreements  — trade, environment — but what can you do so that the implementations survive the November election and that all of this has to be restarted a year from now?

(Asks in English.) — softwood lumber, which is looming over the bilateral relation?  And has any avenue been explored into avoiding a new conflict in October?  And to what extent is the fear of losing seats for the Democrats due to this issue kind of hampering progress on this?  And that being said, you and Prime Minister Trudeau have signed a number of agreements on a number of issues.  What can be done for this progress not to be lost with the arrival of a new administration and have everything have to be started all over again?

PRIME MINISTER TRUDEAU:  (As interpreted.)  For months and months, we have been preparing the meeting.  And this morning, we worked very hard and we made a lot of progress, and we have showed what is at stake.  A lot is at stake.  And we hope that this is going to be solved shortly to help enormously not only Canadian workers and Canadian economy, but also the economy of both our countries.

And among these discussions, of course, we raised the question of softwood lumber.  We keep on working on that.  And I’m totally confident that we are on the right track towards a solution in the next weeks and months to come.

Now, in terms of the decisions that we have taken and the work we have done today, I’m extremely confident that what we have managed to achieve, the agreements that we have taken and the solutions that we have found for the problems that we face together, I’m confident that all this is going to become a reality.  Because at every stage, not only are we talking about what is good for one side or the other side, but we’re talking about what is good for both countries.  Our economies are so interwoven, our populations are so interconnected, that we are going to have agreement, for instance, that will facilitate crossing of borders while increasing security of our citizens.  This is good for both sides.  And it is where we worked so hard together.  There was a lot of progress and a lot of success today.

(Speaks in English.)  — on many different issues over the course of an extremely productive meeting this morning — issues that have been worked on intensely by our respective friends, colleagues and delegations over the past weeks and months.  And certainly softwood lumber came up.  And I’m confident that we are on a track towards resolving this irritant in the coming weeks and months.

But in general, the issues that we made tremendous progress on I’m extremely confident will move forward in a rapid and appropriate fashion because we found such broad agreement on issues that aren’t just good for one of our two countries, but indeed both of our countries.  Canadians and Americans, for their jobs, for our kids and their futures, for workers, businesses, as we tackle challenges on the economy, challenges on the environment, and understand that working together in constructive, productive ways is exactly what this relationship and, indeed, this friendship is all about.

So I’m feeling extremely good about the hard work that was done this morning, and indeed, about the work remaining to do over the coming weeks and months on the issues we brought forward today.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  This issue of softwood lumber will get resolved in some fashion.  Our teams are already making progress on it.  It’s been a longstanding bilateral irritant, but hardly defines the nature of the U.S.-Canadian relationship.  And we have some very smart people, and they’ll find a way to resolve it — undoubtedly, to the dissatisfaction of all parties concerned, because that’s the nature of these kinds of things, right?  Each side will want 100 percent, and we’ll find a way for each side to get 60 percent or so of what they need, and people will complain and grumble, but it will be fine.  (Laughter.)

And in terms of continuity — one thing I will say — this is an area where I’ll play the elder statesman, as Alex described me.  (Laughter.)  And as somebody who came in after an administration that, politically, obviously saw things very differently than I did, what you discover is that for all the differences you may have in your political parties, when you’re actually in charge, then you have to be practical, and you do what is needed to be done and what’s in front of you.  And one of the things that is important for the United States, or for Canada, or for any leading power in the world, is to live up to its commitments and to provide continuing momentum on efforts, even if they didn’t start under your administration.

So there were a whole host of initiatives that began under the Bush administration — some that I was very enthusiastic about, like PEPFAR, that has saved millions of lives and prevented HIV/AIDS, or provided vital drugs to those already infected with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa and other parts of the world — something that President Bush deserves enormous credit for.  We continued that.

But there are also some areas where, when I was outside the government, I questioned how they were approaching it.  I might have tweaked it.  To the extent that it involved foreign policy, I might say to my foreign policy partners, look, we have a problem of doing it this way, but here is a suggestion for how we can do the same thing, or meet your interests in a slightly different way.

But you’re always concerned about making sure that the credibility of the United States is sustained, or the credibility of Canada is sustained — which is why when there’s turnover in governments, the work that’s been done continues.  And particularly when you have a close friendship and relationship with a partner like Canada, it’s not as if the work we’re doing on the Arctic or on entry and exit visas vanishes when the next President comes in.  Of course, I intend to make sure that the next President who comes in agrees with me on everything.  (Laughter.) But just in case that doesn’t happen, the U.S.-Canadian relationship will be fine.

All right?  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END
12:03 P.M. EST

Full Text Political Transcripts December 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s end-of-year news conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Transcript: President Obama’s end-of-year news conference

Source: WaPo, 12-18-15

President Obama held his final news conference of the year before leaving for two weeks of vacation in his home state of Hawaii on Friday, fielding questions on terrorism and national security as he sought to highlight some of his domestic and foreign policy achievements over the past year.

Here is the full text of his remarks.

OBAMA: Good afternoon, everybody. Clearly, this is not the most important event that’s taking place in the White House today. There is a screening of Star Wars for Gold Star families and children coming up. So I’ll try to be relatively succinct. Let me say a few words about the year behind us and the year ahead and then I’ll take a few questions. As I look back on this year, the one thing I see is that so much of our steady persistent work over the years is paying off for the American people in big, tangible ways. Our early actions to rescue the economy set the stage for the longest streak of private sector job growth on record, with 13.7 million new jobs in that time. The unemployment rate has been cut in half, down to 5 percent. And most importantly, wages grew faster than at any time since the recovery began.

OBAMA: So over the course of this year, a lot of the decisions that we made early on have paid off. Years of steady implementation of the Affordable Care Act helped to drive the rate of the uninsured in America below 10 percent for 10 percent for the first time since records were kept on that. Health care prices have grown at their lowest level in five decades. Seventeen million more Americans have gained coverage, and we now know that 6 million people have signed up through healthcare.gov for coverage beginning on January, 1st — 600,000 on Tuesday alone.

New customers are up one-third over last year, and the more who sign up, the stronger the system becomes. And that’s good news for every American who no longer has to worry about being just one illness or accident away from financial hardship.

On climate, our early investment in clean energy ignited a clean energy industry boom. Our actions to help reduce our carbon emissions brought China to the table and last week in Paris nearly 200 nations forged a historic agreement that was only possible because of American leadership. Around the world, from reaching the deal to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, to re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, to concluding a landmark trade agreement that will make sure that American workers and American businesses are operating on a level playing field and that we, rather than China or other countries, are setting the rules for global trade. We have shone what is possible when America leads.

And after decades of dedicated advocacy, marriage equality became a reality in all 50 states.

So I just want to point out I said at the beginning of this year that interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter, and we are only halfway through.

I do want to thank Congress for ending the year on a high note. I got to sign an education bill that is going to fix some of the challenges that we had with No Child Left Behind, and promises to invest more in high-quality early childhood education.

OBAMA: We signed a transportation bill that, although not as robust as I think we need, still allows states and local governments to plan and actually get moving putting people back to work rebuilding our roads and our bridges. We got Ex-Im Bank back to work supporting American exports.

And today they passed a bipartisan budget deal. I’m not wild about everything in it. I’m sure that’s true for everybody. But it is a budget that, as I insisted, invests in our military and our middle class without ideological provisions that would have weakened Wall Street reform or rules on big polluters. It’s part of an agreement that will permanently extend tax credits to 24 million working families. It includes some long-sought wins like strengthening America’s leadership at the IMF.
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And because it eliminates the possibility of a shutdown for the first nine months of next year, Congress and I have a long way to get important things done on behalf of the American people.

Now there’s still a lot of work to do. For example, there’s still a lot more that Congress can do to promote job growth and increase wages in this country. I still want to work with Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, to reform our criminal justice system.

And earlier today I commuted the sentences of 95 men and women who had served their debt to society, and another step forward in upholding our ideals of justice and fairness.

And of course, our most important job is to keep Americans safe. I’ve had a lot to say about that this week, but let me reiterate. The United States continues to lead a global coalition in our mission to destroy ISIL. ISIL’s already lost about 40 percent of the populated areas it once controlled in Iraq, and it’s losing territory in Syria.

As we keep up the pressure, our air campaign will continue to hit ISIL harder than ever, taking out their leaders, their commanders and their forces. We’re stepping up our support for partners on the ground as they push ISIL back. Our men and women in uniform are carrying out their mission with a trademark professionalism and courage. And this holiday season all of us are united in our gratitude for their service, and we are thankful to their families as well because they serve alongside those who are actually deployed.

Squeezing ISIL’s heart at its core in Syria and Iraq will make it harder for them to pump their terror and propaganda to the rest of the world. At the same time, as we know from San Bernardino, where I’ll visit with families later today, we have to remain vigilant here at home. Our counter-terrorism, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement communities are working 24/7 to protect our homeland. And all of us can do our part by staying vigilant, by saying something if we see something that is suspicious, by refusing to be terrorized, and staying united as one American family.

In short for all the very real progress America’s made over the past seven years, we still have some unfinished business. And I plan on doing everything I can with every minute of every day that I have left as president to deliver on behalf of the American people.

Since taking this office, I have never been more optimistic about a year ahead than I am right now. And in 2016 I’m going to leave it out all on the field.

So with that, let me take some questions.

I’ll start with Roberta Ranton (ph) on Reuters.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you’re going to California today. And as you said earlier this week, you told the nation that there’s no specific or credible threat of a similar attack, but how is it really possible to know? I mean, aren’t similar plots going to be just as hard to detect beforehand? And some lawmakers are saying that your government should review the social media of all people applying for visas to come to this country. What do you think of that idea? Should that be mandatory?

OBAMA: Well, Roberta, you’re absolutely right that it is very difficult for us to detect lone wolf plots or plots involving a husband and wife, in this case, because despite the incredible vigilance of all of our law enforcement, homeland security, et cetera, it’s not that different from us trying to detect the next mass shooter. You don’t always see it. They’re not always communicating publicly, and if you’re not catching what they say publicly, then it becomes a challenge.

We are continuing to work at every level, to make sure that there’s no slip between information-sharing among agencies.

OBAMA: We’re continuing to strengthen our information sharing with foreign countries, and because in part of the tragedy in Paris, I think you’re seeing much greater cooperation from our European partners on these issues.

But this is a different kind of challenge than the sort that we had with an organization like Al Qaida, that involved highly trained operatives who were working as cells or as a network.

Here, essentially, you have ISIL trying to encourage or induce somebody who may be prey to this kind of propaganda, and it becomes more difficult to — to see.

It does mean that they are less likely to be able to carry out large, complex attacks, but as we saw in San Bernardino, obviously, you can still do enormous damage.

The issue of reviewing social media for those who are obtaining visas, I think, may have gotten garbled a little bit, because there may be — it’s important to distinguish between posts that are public — social media on a Facebook page — versus private communications through various social media or apps.

And our law enforcement and intelligence professionals are constantly monitoring public posts, and that is part of the visa review process, that — that people are investigating what individuals have said publicly, and questioned about any statements that they maybe made.

But if you have a private communication between two individuals, that’s harder to discern, by definition. And one of the things we’ll be doing is engaging with the high-tech community to find out how we can, in an appropriate way, do a better job, if we have a lead, to be able to track a suspected terrorist.

But we’re gonna have to recognize that no government is gonna have the capacity to read every single person’s texts or e-mails or social media. If — if it’s not posted publicly, then there are gonna be feasibility issues that are — that are probably insurmountable at some level.

And, you know, it raises questions about our values. I mean, keep in mind it was only a couple years ago where we were having a major debate about whether the government was becoming too much like Big Brother. And, overall, I think we have struck the right balance in protecting civil liberties and making sure that U.S. citizens’ privacy is preserved, that we are making sure that there’s oversight to what our intelligence agencies do.

But, you know, we’re going to have to continue to balance our needs for security with people’s legitimate concerns about privacy. And because the Internet is global and communications systems are global, you know, the values that we apply here often times are ones that folks who are trying to come into the country are also benefiting from, because they’re using the same technologies.

But this is precisely why we’re working very hard to bring law enforcement, intelligence and high-tech companies together, because we’re gonna have to really review what we can do, both technically as well as consistent with our laws and values, in order to try to discern more rapidly some of the potential threats that may be out there.

OK. David Jackson.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a Gitmo question. Congress has made it pretty clear that they are just (ph) not gonna let you transfer prisoners to the United States for trial. But some people think you already have the executive authority to transfer those prisoners and — and close Gitmo itself next year.

My question is, do you believe you have that authority, and are you willing to exercise it to close that (inaudible)?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, we have been working systematically, another example of persistence, in reducing the population. We have a review process for those who are eligible for transfer. We locate (ph), in countries that have accepted some of these detainees, they monitor them, and it’s been determined that they can be transferred.

And my expectation is, by the early (ph) — by early next year, we should have reduced that population below 100. And we will continue — continue to steadily chip away at the numbers in Guantanamo.

There’s gonna come to a point where we have an irreducible population — people who pose a significant threat, but for various reasons, it’s difficult for us to try them in an Article III court.

Some of those folks are going through the military commission process. But there’s going to be a challenge there. Now, at that stage, I’m presenting a plan to Congress about how we can close Guantanamo.

I’m not going to automatically assume that Congress says no. I’m not being coy, David. I think it’s fair to say that there’s gonna be significant resistance from some quarters, to that.

But I think we can make a very strong argument that it doesn’t make sense for us to be spending an extra $100 million, $200 million, $300 million, $500 million, $1 billion, to have a — a secure setting for 50, 60, 70 people.

And we will wait until Congress has said definitively no to a well thought out plan with numbers attached to it, before we say anything definitive about my executive authority here. I think it’s far preferable if I can get stuff done with Congress.

QUESTION: It’s an election year. You know they’re not gonna do it (ph). (inaudible) on your own?

OBAMA: David, as — as I said — you know, and I think you’ve seen me, on a whole bunch of issues, like immigration, I’m not gonna — I’m not gonna be forward-leaning on what I can do without Congress before I’ve tested what I can do with Congress.

And every once in a while, they’ll surprise you, and — and this may be one of those places, because we can make a really strong argument Guantanamo continues to be one of the key magnets for Jihadi recruitment. You know, to Roberta’s (ph) question earlier about how do they propagandize and convince somebody here in the United States, who may not have a criminal record or a history of terrorist activity, to start shooting, this is part of what they feed. This notion of a gross injustice, that America’s not living up to its professed ideals.

We know that. We see the — the Internet traffic. We see how Guantanamo has been used to create this mythology that America is at war with Islam. And — you know, for us to close it is part of our counterterrorism strategy that is supported by our military, our diplomatic and our intelligence teams.

So when you combine that with the fact that it’s really expensive, and that we are — you know, essentially, at this point, detaining a handful of people, and each person is costing several million dollars to detain, when there are more efficient ways of doing it, you know, I think we can make a strong argument.

I — I — I’m — but I’ll take — you know, I’ll take your point, that it’ll be an uphill battle. Every battle I’ve had with Congress over the last five years have been — has been uphill, and — but we keep on surprising you by actually getting some stuff done.

QUESTION: (inaudible) on an immigration bill (ph)?

OBAMA: Sometimes — sometimes that may prove necessary, but — you know, we try not to get out ahead of ourselves on that.

Julie Pace.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Wanted to ask you about the broader challenges in the Middle East.

OBAMA: Yeah.

QUESTION: Who (ph) of the Republicans who are running for president have argued that the Mid-East and the United States would be safer if you hadn’t (ph) had regime changes, places (ph) like Iraq, Libya, and Egypt.

And having gone through the experience of the Arab Spring and the aftermath, I wonder what you now see of (ph) the U.S. role in the Middle East in terms of trying to push dictators out of power.

Would you advise future presidents to call for authoritarian leaders to step down, as you did? And just specifically on Syria, at this point, is it your expectation that Bashar Assad’s presidency will outlast yours?

OBAMA: You know, there’s been a lot of revisionist history, sometimes by the same people, making different arguments depending on the situation. So maybe it’s useful just for us to go back over some of these issues.

We did not depose Hosni Mubarak. Millions of Egyptians did because of their dissatisfaction with the corruption and authoritarianism of the regime. We had a working relationship with Mubarak. We didn’t trigger the Arab Spring, and the notion that somehow the U.S. was in a position to pull the strings on a country that is the largest in the Arab world, I think is — is mistaken.

What is true is that at the point at which the choice becomes mowing down millions of people or trying to find some transition, we believed and I would still argue that it was more sensible for us to find a peaceful transition to the Egyptian situation.

With respect to Libya, Libya is sort of an alternative version of Syria in some ways, because by the time the international coalition interceded in Syria, chaos had already broken out. You already had the makings of a civil war. You had a dictator who was threatening and was in a position to carry out the wholesale slaughter of large numbers of people. And we worked under U.N. mandate with a coalition of folks in order to try to avert a big humanitarian catastrophe that would not have good for us.

Those who now argue in retrospect, we should have left Gadhafi in there, seem to forget that he had already lost legitimacy and control of his country and we could have — instead of what we have in Libya now, we could have had another Syria in Libya now. The — the problem with Libya was the fact that there was a failure on the part of the entire international community, and I think that the United States has some accountability for not moving swiftly enough and underestimating the need to rebuild government there quickly, and as a consequence, you now have a very bad situation.

As far as Syria goes, I think it is entirely right and proper for the United States of America to speak out on behalf of its (ph) values. And when you have an authoritarian leader that is killing hundreds of thousands of his own people, the notion that we would just stand by and say nothing is contrary to who we are, and that does not serve our interests, because at that point, us being in collusion with that kind of governance would make us even more of a target for terrorist activity, would…

QUESTION: Do you think that government (ph) can help try to stop (inaudible)?

OBAMA: But — but the reason that Assad has been a problem in Syria is because that is a majority Sunni country and he had lost the space that he had early on to execute an inclusive transition — peaceful transition. He chose instead to slaughter people and once that happened, the idea that a minority population there could somehow crush tens of millions of people who oppose him is not feasible. It’s not plausible. Even if you were being cold-eyed and hard-heartened about the human toll there, it just wouldn’t happen.

OBAMA: And as a consequence, our view has been that you cannot bring peace to Syria, you cannot get an end to the civil war unless you have a government that has — it is recognized as legitimate by a majority of that country. It will not happen, and this is the argument that I have had repeatedly with Mr. Putin. Dating five years ago, at which time his suggestion, as I gather some Republicans are now suggesting, was, “You know, Assad’s not so bad, let him just be as brutal and repressive as he can, but at least he’ll keep order.” I said, “Look. The problem is that the history of trying to keep order when a large majority of the country has turned against you is not good.”

And five years later, I was right. So we now have an opportunity — and John Kerry is meeting as we speak with Syria and Turkey and Iran and the Gulf countries and other parties who are interested, we now have an opportunity not to turn back the clock, it’s going to be difficult to completely overcome the devastation that’s happened in Syria already, but to find a political transition that maintains the Syrian state, that recognizes a bunch of stakeholders inside of Syria and hopefully to initiate a cease-fire that won’t be perfect, but allows all the parties to turn on what should be our number one focus, and that is destroying Daesh and its allies in the region.

And that is going to be a difficult process, it’s going to be a pain staking process, but there is no shortcut to that. And that’s not based on some idealism on my part, that’s our hard-headed calculation about what’s going to be required to get the job done.

QUESTION: Do you think that Assad, though, could remain in power a year from now?

OBAMA: I think that Assad is going to have to leave in order for the country to stop the bloodletting and for all the parties involved to be able to move forward in a nonsectarian way. He has lost legitimacy in the eyes of a large majority of the country.

Now, is there a way of us constructing a bridge creating a political transition that allows those who are aligned with Assad right now, allows the Russians, allows the Iranians to ensure that their equities are respected and minorities, that minorities like the Alawites (ph) are not crushed or retribution is not the order of the day, I think that’s going to be very important as well.

And that’s what make this so difficult. You know, sadly, had Assad made a decision earlier that he was not more important personally than his entire country, that kind of political transition would have been much easier. It’s a lot harder now.

But John Kerry has been doing excellent work in moving that process forward and I do think that you’ve seen from the Russians a recognition that after a couple months, they’re not really moving the needle that much in this fight of sizable deployment inside of Syria. And of course, that’s what I suggested would happen, because there’s only so much bombing you can do when an entire country is outraged and believes that its ruler doesn’t represent them.

Sheryl (ph) Bowl (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. I’d like to ask about the surprise (ph) in Congress. Specifically, what are your top legislative priorities for next year? And how has the new speaker, Paul Ryan, changed the dynamic with you and Capitol Hill? And can you be more ambitious next year doing things like maybe completing the Transatlantic Trade Partnership or even getting tax reform?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, it’s important to give some credit where credit is due. John Boehner did a favor to all of us, including now Speaker Ryan, by working with us to agree on a top line budget framework. That was the basis for subsequent negotiations. He was able to do that because he was going out the door, and was then given, I think, a little more room to maneuver than he previously had.

Having said that, I also want to give Speaker Ryan credit. I called both him and Mitch McConnell, as well as Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid for the orderly way in which they actually negotiated a budget, the way Congress is historically and typically supposed to work. I think (ph) we’ve gotten kind of used to last-minute crises and shutdown threats and so forth. And this — this is a messy process that doesn’t satisfy everybody completely, but it’s more typical of American democracy, and I think that Speaker Ryan deserves a role in that.

I will say that, in his interactions with me, he has been professional, he has reached out to tell me what he can do and what he cannot do. I think it’s a good working relationship.

We recognize that we disagree on a whole bunch of other stuff, and have fundamentally different visions for where we want to move the country, but, perhaps because even before he was elected he had worked on Capitol Hill, I think he is respectful of the process and respectful of how legislation works.

So kudos to him, as well as all the leaders and appropriators who were involved in this process. Now, just want to repeat, because sometimes we take for granted what’s happened.

I said early on in this process that I wasn’t going to sign a budget that — that did not relieve sequester, this artificial austerity that was making it difficult to invest in things like education and our military. And I said I would not accept a lot of ideological riders that were attached to a big budget deal.

And we met our goals. And because of some terrific negotiations by the Democrats up on Capitol Hill, and I think some pretty good work by our legislative staffs here, we’re gonna be able to fund environmental protection, we’re gonna be able to make sure that we’re investing in things like early childhood education and making college more affordable.

We’re going to be able to implement the clean power plant rule. We’re going to be able to continue to invest in clean energy that spurs on innovation. We’re going to be able to make sure that our military gets the equipment and the training that it needs to be effective in fighting ISIL and other threats around the world.

So it was a — it was a good win. And there are some things in there that I don’t like, but that’s the nature of legislation and — and compromise. And I think the system worked. That gives me some optimism that, next year, on a narrow set of issues, we can get some more work done.

As David said, it’s an election year, and obviously, a lot of the legislative process is going to be skewed by people looking over their shoulders, worrying about primaries, trying to position themselves relative to the presidential candidates. So that makes it harder.

But I think there are going to be a handful of areas where we can make real progress. One of them, you already mentioned, Trans-Pacific Partnership, which now has been out, Congress has had a chance to review, and it meets the bar that I set.

It is consistent with what I promised, which is the most pro- labor, pro-environment, progressive trade deal in history, that eliminates just about every tariff on American manufacturing goods in countries that up until this point have charged a tax, essentially, on anything that American workers and American businesses sell in these areas.

It brings those taxes down to zero on basically all of American manufactured products. A huge win for agriculture, because now — you know, the people of Japan are going to be in a better position to enjoy American beef and American pork, which, up until this point, even though we’re much more efficient producers, has have been tagged with a tax that makes — you know, our products uncompetitive in Japanese markets.

So this is a big deal, and I think Speaker Ryan would like to try to get it done. And there are both proponents and opponents of this in both Democratic and Republican parties, and so it’s gonna be an interesting situation where we’re going to have to stitch together the same kind of bipartisan effort, in order for us to get it done.

A second area that I think is possible is criminal justice reform. There has been sincere, serious negotiations and efforts by Democrats and Republicans to create a criminal justice system that is more fair, more even handed, more proportionate and is smarter about how we reduce crime. And I have really been impressed by the dedication of a core group of Democrats and Republicans. Some of them the most liberal Democrats and the most conservative Republicans coming together saying this is the right thing to do. We’ve got a good bill in the Senate that passed with bipartisan support out of committee. My hope is that that gets to the floor. And that we can pair it up with a good bill out of the House. And then this is an area where potentially can see us save money, reduce recidivism, you know, make sure people who make a mistake on nonviolent crimes have to pay the price. Have to serve time, but are released in a — in a reasonable fashion. That they have more support so they’re less likely to go back into the criminal system, subsequently.

And that’s an area where we may be able to make a big difference. So those are just two examples. We’ll keep on looking for a number of examples like that. And — and wherever there’s an opportunity, I’m going to take it.

Phillip Grub (ph). Phillip Grub (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned climate change already. And at the time of the signing of the deal in Paris you said it was potentially a turning point for the the world. But this was a deal that was — that is not a legally binding document and you bypassed Congress pretty much completely.

Are you worried at this point that a Republican president who might take over for you in the White House could stop the deal in its tracks entirely, and considering that possibility, are you more interested in campaigning for a Democrat nominee considering that danger?

OBAMA: I think it’s fair I was going to be campaigning for a Democratic nominee even without that danger. And I am very confident that we’re going to have a terrific Democratic nominee and — whose phone is that, guys? Come on, now. Somebody. You recognize your ring, don’t be embarrassed. Just turn it off. There you go. OK. Can I still here it?

All right, I think it’s off now.

I think we will have a strong Democratic nominee. I think that nominee will win. I think I will have a Democratic successor and I will campaign very hard to make that happy for a whole variety of reasons because they’re far more likely to share my fundamental vision about where America should go.

But having said that, what I think people should also feel good about is that the agreement struck in Paris, although not legally binding when it comes to the targets that had been set does create this architecture in which all around the world countries are saying this is where we’re going.

We’re going to be chasing after this clean energy future. This is how we’re going to meet our goals. We’re going to double down on solar power. We’re going to double down on wind power. We’re going to invest more heavily in biofuels. We’re going to figure out battery technologies.

And what you saw in this budget, which I think was really significant, was an extension of the solar tax credits and wind tax credits that we had helped to really boost early on in my administration and that it resulted in wind power increasing threefold, solar power increasing by twentyfold. Those tax credits are now going to be extended for five to seven years and as a consequence, that combination of market signals means that the private sector is going to start investing much more heavily. They know this is coming. And it’s not just coming here. It’s coming around the world.

You now have a global marketplace for clean energy that is stable and accelerating over the course of the next decade. That then creates a different dynamic that is independent of what Congress does, but also helps to shape what Congress does. Because the more people that are now getting jobs in solar installation and production, the more that you have companies who are seeing how American innovation can sell products in clean energy all across the Asia Pacific and in Europe and in Africa. Suddenly, there’s a big monetary incentive to getting this right.

And that’s been the history of environmental progress in this country and now we’ve exported it around the world. Every time we have made a decision, you know what, we’re going to have clean air. The predictions were, everything would fall apart. And low and behold, turns out that American innovation makes getting clean air a lot less expensive than people expected and it happens a lot faster than expected.

When we made a decision that we were going to double fuel efficiency standards on cars, everybody said, I’m just going to ruin the American auto industry. The American auto industry has been booming over the last couple years.

Acid rain. When George H.W. Bush instituted a system to charge for the emissions that were causing acid rain, everybody said, well you can’t do that, that’s going to ruin business and it turned out that it was smoother, faster, quicker, better.

And acid rain — folks who were born, I don’t know — some of you reporters are getting younger or I’m getting older, you may not remember it but that was a big deal and now most folks don’t even remember it anymore because it got solved. And there’s no reason why the same won’t happen here.

Now, do I think there’s going to be a lot of noise and campaigning next year about how we’re going to stop Paris in its tracks? There will probably be a lot of noise about that. Do I actually think two years from now, three years from now, even Republican members of Congress are going to look at it and say that’s a smart thing to do? I don’t think they will.

Keep in mind that right now the American Republican party is the only major party that I can think of in the advanced world that effectively denies climate change. I mean, it’s an outlier. Many of the key signatories to this deal, the architects of this deal, come from center-right governments. Even the far right parties in many of these countries. They may not like immigrants for example, but they admit, yes, the science tells us that we have to do something about climate change. So my sense is that this is something that may be an advantage in terms of short-term politics in the Republican primary. It’s not something that is going to be a winner for Republicans long- term.

QUESTION: You mentioned American leadership. But is it embarrassing to you that the other party denies climate change?

OBAMA: No, because first of all, I’m not a member of that party. Second of all, it didn’t stop us from being the key leader in getting this done. I mean, this is something that I have been working on now for five, six years. When I went to Copenhagen, I essentially engaged in 24 hours of diplomacy to salvage from a pretty chaotic process, the basic principle that all countries had to participate.

We couldn’t have a rigid division between developed countries and developing countries when it came to solving this problem. That was the initial foundation for us. Then working with other countries, culminating in the joint announcement with China, bringing in India, bringing in Brazil and the other big, emerging countries, working with the Europeans in getting this done.

This would not have happened without American leadership. And by the way, the same is true for the Iran nuclear deal. The same is true for the Trans-Pacific partnership. The same is true for stamping out Ebola, something you guys may recall from last year, which was the potential end of the world.

You know, at each juncture, what we have said is that American strength and American exceptionalism is not just a matter of us bombing somebody. More often, it’s a matter of us convening, setting the agenda, pointing other nations in a direction that’s good for everybody and good for U.S. interests.

Engaging in painstaking diplomacy, leading by example and sometimes, the results don’t come overnight, they don’t come the following day, but they come. And this year, what you really saw was that steady, persistent leadership on many initiatives that I began when I first came into office.

Alright.

QUESTION: Mr. President?

OBAMA: I’ve got April Ryan (ph)?

QUESTION: Mr. President, I want to ask you something about criminal justice — on that subject and also something on Secretary Kerry (ph). Your administration contends (ph) the United States is five percent of the world population, but 25 percent of the global jail population. What legislation are you supporting that significantly cuts mass incarceration in this country? And going back to the Assad (ph) issue, does Assad have to go to defeat ISIS? OBAMA: Well, we’re going to defeat ISIS, and we’re going to do so by systemically squeezing them, cutting off their supply lines, cutting off their financing, taking out their leadership, taking out their forces, taking out their infrastructure. We’re going to do so in partnership with forces on the ground that sometimes are spotty, sometimes need capacity building, need our assistance, need our training, but we’re seeing steadily progress in many of these areas. And so they’re going to be on the run.

Now, they are going to continue to be dangerous, so — so let me just be very clear, because whenever I say that we have made progress in squeezing the territory that they control or made real end roads against them, what people will say is, well, if something happens around the world, then obviously that must not be true.

But in any battle, in any fight, even as you make progress, there’s still dangers involved. And ISIL’s capacity both to infiltrate Western countries with people who have travel to Syria or travel to Iraq and the savviness of their social media, their ability to recruit disaffected individuals who may be French or British or even U.S. citizens, will continue to make them dangerous for some time. But — but — but we will systemically go after them.

Now, in order for us to stamp them out thoroughly, we have to eliminate lawless areas in which they cannot still roam. So we can — we can disable them, we can dismantle much of their infrastructure, greatly reduce the threat that they pose to the United States, our allies and our neighbors, but in the same way that Al Qaida is pinned down and has much more difficulty carrying out any significant attacks because of how we have systemically dismantled them, they still pose a threat.

There are still operatives who are interested in carrying out terrorist attacks because they still operate in areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan or more prominently right now in Yemen that are hard to reach. Our — our long-term goal has to be able to stabilize these areas so that they don’t have any safe haven, and in order for us to do that in Syria, there has to be an end to the civil war. There has to be an actual government that has a police capacity and a structure in these areas that currently aren’t governed.

And it is my firm belief and the belief of the experts in this administration that so long as Assad is there, we cannot achieve that kind of stability inside of Syria, and, you know, I — I think the history over the last several years indicates as much. So that’s going to continue to be a top priority for us, moving aggressively on the military track and not letting ISIL take a breath and pounding away at them with our special forces and our airstrikes and the training and advising of partners that can go after them. But we also have to keep very aggressive on this diplomatic track in order for us to bring countries together. All right?

Everybody? On criminal justice reform? I — I answered the question. I’m hopeful.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) OBAMA: Right. In April (ph), what I said was is that I strongly support the Senate legislation that’s already been put forward. I’m hopeful that the House can come up with legislation that follows the same principles, which is to make sure that we’re doing sentencing reform, but we’re also doing a better job in terms of reducing recidivism and providing support for ex-offenders. And if we can get those two bills together in a conference, then I’m somewhat optimistic that we’re gonna be able to make a difference.

Now keep in mind, April (ph), when you use the term mass incarceration, statistically the overwhelming majority of people who are incarcerated are in state prisons and state facilities for state crimes. We can only focus on federal law and federal crimes. And so there’s still going to be a large population of individuals who are incarcerated even for nonviolent drug crimes because this is a trend that started in the late ’80s and ’90s and accelerated at the state levels.

But if we can show at the federal level that we can be smart on crime, more cost effective, more just, more proportionate, then we can set a trend for other states to follow as well. And that’s our hope.

This is not going to be something that’s reversed overnight. So just to go back to my general principle, April (ph), it took 20 years for us to get to the point we are now. And only 20 years probably before we reverse — we reverse some of these major trends.

OK, everybody, I gotta get to Star Wars. Thank you. Thank you, guys.

Appreciate you. Thank you. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Full Text Political Transcripts November 16, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by President Obama — Antalya, Turkey

 

Source: WH, 11-16-15 

Kaya Palazzo Resort

Antalya, Turkey

4:42 P.M. EET

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking President Erdogan and the people of Antalya and Turkey for their outstanding work in hosting this G20 Summit. Antalya is beautiful. The hospitality of the Turkish people is legendary. To our Turkish friends — çok teşekkürler. (Laughter.) I’ve been practicing that.

At the G20, our focus was on how to get the global economy growing faster and creating more jobs for our people. And I’m pleased that we agreed that growth has to be inclusive to address the rising inequality around the world.

Given growing cyber threats, we committed to a set of norms — drafted by the United States — for how governments should conduct themselves in cyberspace, including a commitment not to engage in the cyber theft of intellectual property for commercial gain. And as we head into global climate talks, all G20 countries have submitted our targets, and we’ve pledged to work together for a successful outcome in Paris.

Of course, much of our attention has focused on the heinous attacks that took place in Paris. Across the world, in the United States, American flags are at half-staff in solidarity with our French allies. We’re working closely with our French partners as they pursue their investigations and track down suspects.

France is already a strong counterterrorism partner, and today we’re announcing a new agreement. We’re streamlining the process by which we share intelligence and operational military information with France. This will allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often — because we need to be doing everything we can to protect against more attacks and protect our citizens.

Tragically, Paris is not alone. We’ve seen outrageous attacks by ISIL in Beirut, last month in Ankara, routinely in Iraq. Here at the G20, our nations have sent an unmistakable message that we are united against this threat. ISIL is the face of evil. Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.

As I outlined this fall at the United Nations, we have a comprehensive strategy using all elements of our power — military, intelligence, economic, development, and the strength of our communities. With have always understood that this would be a long-term campaign. There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were a terrible and sickening setback. Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can’t lose sight that there has been progress being made.

On the military front, our coalition is intensifying our airstrikes — more than 8,000 to date. We’re taking out ISIL leaders, commanders, their killers. We’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can and is pushed back. So local forces in Iraq, backed by coalition airpower, recently liberated Sinjar. Iraqi forces are fighting to take back Ramadi. In Syria, ISIL has been pushed back from much of the border region with Turkey. We’ve stepped up our support of opposition forces who are working to cut off supply lines to ISIL’s strongholds in and around Raqqa. So, in short, both in Iraq and Syria, ISIL controls less territory than it did before.

I made the point to my fellow leaders that if we want this progress to be sustained, more nations need to step up with the resources that this fight demands.

Of course, the attacks in Paris remind us that it will not be enough to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq alone. Here in Antalya, our nations, therefore, committed to strengthening border controls, sharing more information, and stepping up our efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. As the United States just showed in Libya, ISIL leaders will have no safe haven anywhere. And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology.

On the humanitarian front, our nations agreed that we have to do even more, individually and collectively, to address the agony of the Syrian people. The United States is already the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people — some $4.5 billion in aid so far. As winter approaches, we’re donating additional supplies, including clothing and generators, through the United Nations. But the U.N. appeal for Syria still has less than half the funds needed. Today, I’m again calling on more nations to contribute the resources that this crisis demands.

In terms of refugees, it’s clear that countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — which are already bearing an extraordinary burden — cannot be expected to do so alone. At the same time, all of our countries have to ensure our security. And as President, my first priority is the safety of the American people. And that’s why, even as we accept more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.

We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.

Finally, we’ve begun to see some modest progress on the diplomatic front, which is critical because a political solution is the only way to end the war in Syria and unite the Syrian people and the world against ISIL. The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding. With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward — negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.

These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.

What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, as I said, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions. And I will begin with Jerome Cartillier of AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. One hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in Paris on Friday night. ISIL claimed responsibility for the massacre, sending the message that they could now target civilians all over the world. The equation has clearly changed. Isn’t it time for your strategy to change?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what we have been doing. We have a military strategy that is putting enormous pressure on ISIL through airstrikes; that has put assistance and training on the ground with Iraqi forces; we’re now working with Syrian forces as well to squeeze ISIL, cut off their supply lines. We’ve been coordinating internationally to reduce their financing capabilities, the oil that they’re trying to ship outside. We are taking strikes against high-value targets — including, most recently, against the individual who was on the video executing civilians who had already been captured, as well as the head of ISIL in Libya. So it’s not just in Iraq and Syria.

And so, on the military front, we are continuing to accelerate what we do. As we find additional partners on the ground that are effective, we work with them more closely. I’ve already authorized additional Special Forces on the ground who are going to be able to improve that coordination.

On the counterterrorism front, keep in mind that since I came into office, we have been worried about these kinds of attacks. The vigilance that the United States government maintains and the cooperation that we’re consistently expanding with our European and other partners in going after every single terrorist network is robust and constant. And every few weeks, I meet with my entire national security team and we go over every single threat stream that is presented, and where we have relevant information, we share it immediately with our counterparts around the world, including our European partners.

On aviation security, we have, over the last several years, been working so that at various airports sites — not just in the United States, but overseas — we are strengthening our mechanisms to screen and discover passengers who should not be boarding flights, and improving the matters in which we are screening luggage that is going onboard.

And on the diplomatic front, we’ve been consistently working to try to get all the parties together to recognize that there is a moderate opposition inside of Syria that can form the basis for a transition government, and to reach out not only to our friends but also to the Russians and the Iranians who are on the other side of this equation to explain to them that ultimately an organization like ISIL is the greatest danger to them, as well as to us.

So there will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work. But as I said from the start, it’s going to take time.

And what’s been interesting is, in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing. The one exception is that there have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.

And keep in mind that we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisors that that would be a mistake — not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface — unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.

And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?

So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained. And the strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.

And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those.

Margaret Brennan, CBS.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. A more than year-long bombing campaign in Iraq and in Syria has failed to contain the ambition and the ability of ISIS to launch attacks in the West. Have you underestimated their abilities? And will you widen the rules of engagement for U.S. forces to take more aggressive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, we haven’t underestimated our abilities. This is precisely why we’re in Iraq as we speak, and why we’re operating in Syria as we speak. And it’s precisely why we have mobilized 65 countries to go after ISIL, and why I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters, and why we’ve been putting pressure on those countries that have not been as robust as they need to in tracking the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq.

And so there has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.

But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.

Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris.

And that’s what we did with al Qaeda. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that al Qaeda no longer possess the capabilities of potentially striking the West. Al Qaeda in the Peninsula that operates primarily in Yemen we know has consistently tried to target the West. And we are consistently working to disrupt those acts. But despite the fact that they have not gotten as much attention as ISIL, they still pose a danger, as well.

And so our goals here consistently have to be to be aggressive, and to leave no stone unturned, but also recognize this is not conventional warfare. We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.

These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.

Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.

Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the days and weeks before the Paris attacks, did you receive warning in your daily intelligence briefing that an attack was imminent? If not, does that not call into question the current assessment that there is no immediate, specific, credible threat to the United States today?

And secondly, if I could ask you to address your critics who say that your reluctance to enter another Middle East war, and your preference of diplomacy over using the military makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, every day we have threat streams coming through the intelligence transit. And as I said, every several weeks we sit down with all my national security, intelligence, and military teams to discuss various threat streams that may be generated. And the concerns about potential ISIL attacks in the West have been there for over a year now, and they come through periodically. There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need — that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves.

But typically the way the intelligence works is there will be a threat stream that is from one source, how reliable is that source; perhaps some signal intelligence gets picked up, it’s evaluated. Some of it is extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and there’s no clear timetable. Some of it may be more specific, and then folks chase down that threat to see what happens.

I am not aware of anything that was specific in the sense — that would have given a premonition about a particular action in Paris that would allow for law enforcement or military actions to disrupt it.

With respect to the broader issue of my critics, to some degree I answered the question earlier. I think that when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.

Now, there are a few exceptions. And as I said, the primary exception is those who would deploy U.S. troops on a large scale to retake territory either in Iraq or now in Syria. And at least they have the honesty to go ahead and say that’s what they would do. I just addressed why I think they’re wrong. There have been some who are well-meaning, and I don’t doubt their sincerity when it comes to the issue of the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, who, for example, call for a no-fly zone or a safe zone of some sort.

And this is an example of the kind of issue where I will sit down with our top military and intelligence advisors, and we will painstakingly go through what does something like that look like. And typically, after we’ve gone through a lot of planning and a lot of discussion, and really working it through, it is determined that it would be counterproductive to take those steps — in part because ISIL does not have planes, so the attacks are on the ground. A true safe zone requires us to set up ground operations. And the bulk of the deaths that have occurred in Syria, for example, have come about not because of regime bombing, but because of on-the-ground casualties. Who would come in, who could come out of that safe zone; how would it work; would it become a magnet for further terrorist attacks; and how many personnel would be required, and how would it end — there’s a whole set of questions that have to be answered there.

I guess my point is this, Jim: My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. And if there’s a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it. I don’t think I’ve shown hesitation to act — whether it’s with respect to bin Laden or with respect to sending additional troops in Afghanistan, or keeping them there — if it is determined that it’s actually going to work.

But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.

We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.

Jim Acosta.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wanted to go back to something that you said to Margaret earlier when you said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world. How is that not underestimating their capabilities? And how is that contained, quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is — and if you’ll forgive the language — is why can’t we take out these bastards?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add. I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason, as I said, Jim, is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.

Ron Allen.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I think a lot of people around the world and in America are concerned because given the strategy that you’re pursuing — and it’s been more than a year now — ISIS’s capabilities seem to be expanding. Were you aware that they had the capability of pulling off the kind of attack that they did in Paris? Are you concerned? And do you think they have that same capability to strike in the United States?

And do you think that given all you’ve learned about ISIS over the past year or so, and given all the criticism about your underestimating them, do you think you really understand this enemy well enough to defeat them and to protect the homeland?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, so this is another variation on the same question. And I guess — let me try it one last time.

We have been fully aware of the potential capabilities of them carrying out a terrorist attack. That’s precisely why we have been mounting a very aggressive strategy to go after them. As I said before, when you’re talking about the ability of a handful of people with not wildly sophisticated military equipment, weapons, who are willing to die, they can kill a lot of people. And preventing them from doing so is challenging for every country. And if there was a swift and quick solution to this, I assure you that not just the United States, but France and Turkey, and others who have been subject to these terrorist attacks would have implemented those strategies.

There are certain advantages that the United States has in preventing these kinds of attacks. Obviously, after 9/11, we hardened the homeland, set up a whole series of additional steps to protect aviation, to apply lessons learned. We’ve seen much better cooperation between the FBI, state governments, local governments. There is some advantages to geography with respect to the United States.

But, having said that, we’ve seen the possibility of terrorist attacks on our soil. There was the Boston Marathon bombers. Obviously, it did not result in the scale of death that we saw in Paris, but that was a serious attempt at killing a lot of people by two brothers and a crockpot. And it gives you some sense of, I think, the kinds of challenges that are going to be involved in this going forward.

So again, ISIL has serious capabilities. Its capabilities are not unique. They are capabilities that other terrorist organizations that we track and are paying attention to possess, as well. We are going after all of them.

What is unique about ISIL is the degree to which it has been able to control territory that then allows them to attract additional recruits, and the greater effectiveness that they have on social media and their ability to use that to not only attract recruits to fight in Syria, but also potentially to carry out attacks in the homeland and in Europe and in other parts of the world.

And so our ability to shrink the space in which they can operate, combined with a resolution to the Syria situation — which will reduce the freedom with which they feel that they can operate, and getting local forces who are able to hold and keep them out over the long term, that ultimately is going to be what’s going to make a difference. And it’s going to take some time, but it’s not something that at any stage in this process have we not been aware needs to be done.

Q (Off-mic) — Mr. President?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, go ahead.

Q Should I wait for the microphone?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I can hear you.

Q Okay, thank you so much. (Inaudible.) I want to ask a question (inaudible). These terrorist attacks we’ve seen allegedly have been attacks under the name of Islam. But this really takes — or upsets the peaceful people like countries like Turkey. So how can we give off that (inaudible) this is not really representative of Muslims?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is something that we spoke a lot about at the G20. The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism over the last several years, and certainly the overwhelming majority of victims of ISIL, are themselves Muslims. ISIL does not represent Islam. It is not representative in any way of the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. This is something that’s been emphasized by Muslim leaders — whether it’s President Erdogan or the President of Indonesia or the President of Malaysia — countries that are majority Muslim, but have shown themselves to be tolerant and to work to be inclusive in their political process.

And so to the degree that anyone would equate the terrible actions that took place in Paris with the views of Islam, those kinds of stereotypes are counterproductive. They’re wrong. They will lead, I think, to greater recruitment into terrorist organizations over time if this becomes somehow defined as a Muslim problem as opposed to a terrorist problem.

Now, what is also true is, is that the most vicious terrorist organizations at the moment are ones that claim to be speaking on behalf of true Muslims. And I do think that Muslims around the world — religious leaders, political leaders, ordinary people — have to ask very serious questions about how did these extremist ideologies take root, even if it’s only affecting a very small fraction of the population. It is real and it is dangerous. And it has built up over time, and with social media it has now accelerated.

And so I think, on the one hand, non-Muslims cannot stereotype, but I also think the Muslim community has to think about how we make sure that children are not being infected with this twisted notion that somehow they can kill innocent people and that that is justified by religion. And to some degree, that is something that has to come from within the Muslim community itself. And I think there have been times where there has not been enough pushback against extremism. There’s been pushback — there are some who say, well, we don’t believe in violence, but are not as willing to challenge some of the extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel oppressed. And I think those ideas have to be challenged.

Let me make one last point about this, and then unfortunately I have to take a flight to Manila. I’m looking forward to seeing Manila, but I hope I can come back to Turkey when I’m not so busy.

One of the places that you’re seeing this debate play itself out is on the refugee issue both in Europe, and I gather it started popping up while I was gone back in the United States. The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans. And it is very important — and I was glad to see that this was affirmed again and again by the G20 — that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.

In Europe, I think people like Chancellor Merkel have taken a very courageous stance in saying it is our moral obligation, as fellow human beings, to help people who are in such vulnerable situations. And I know that it is putting enormous strains on the resources of the people of Europe. Nobody has been carrying a bigger burden than the people here in Turkey, with 2.5 million refugees, and the people of Jordan and Lebanon, who are also admitting refugees. The fact that they’ve kept their borders open to these refugees is a signal of their belief in a common humanity.

And so we have to, each of us, do our part. And the United States has to step up and do its part. And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

When Pope Francis came to visit the United States, and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted. He didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit to those who were of the same religious faith. He said, protect people who are vulnerable.

And so I think it is very important for us right now — particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard — not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.

I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. And whether you are European or American, the values that we are defending — the values that we’re fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them. And we don’t feed that kind of notion that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war.

And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 5:43 P.M. EET

Full Text Political Transcripts November 16, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference at the G-20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey about Paris Terror Attacks Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by President Obama — Antalya, Turkey

Source: WH, 11-16-15

Kaya Palazzo Resort
Antalya, Turkey

4:42 P.M. EET

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Good afternoon. Let me begin by thanking President Erdogan and the people of Antalya and Turkey for their outstanding work in hosting this G20 Summit. Antalya is beautiful. The hospitality of the Turkish people is legendary. To our Turkish friends — çok teşekkürler. (Laughter.) I’ve been practicing that.

At the G20, our focus was on how to get the global economy growing faster and creating more jobs for our people. And I’m pleased that we agreed that growth has to be inclusive to address the rising inequality around the world.

Given growing cyber threats, we committed to a set of norms — drafted by the United States — for how governments should conduct themselves in cyberspace, including a commitment not to engage in the cyber theft of intellectual property for commercial gain. And as we head into global climate talks, all G20 countries have submitted our targets, and we’ve pledged to work together for a successful outcome in Paris.

Of course, much of our attention has focused on the heinous attacks that took place in Paris. Across the world, in the United States, American flags are at half-staff in solidarity with our French allies. We’re working closely with our French partners as they pursue their investigations and track down suspects.

France is already a strong counterterrorism partner, and today we’re announcing a new agreement. We’re streamlining the process by which we share intelligence and operational military information with France. This will allow our personnel to pass threat information, including on ISIL, to our French partners even more quickly and more often — because we need to be doing everything we can to protect against more attacks and protect our citizens.

Tragically, Paris is not alone. We’ve seen outrageous attacks by ISIL in Beirut, last month in Ankara, routinely in Iraq. Here at the G20, our nations have sent an unmistakable message that we are united against this threat. ISIL is the face of evil. Our goal, as I’ve said many times, is to degrade and ultimately destroy this barbaric terrorist organization.

As I outlined this fall at the United Nations, we have a comprehensive strategy using all elements of our power — military, intelligence, economic, development, and the strength of our communities. With have always understood that this would be a long-term campaign. There will be setbacks and there will be successes. The terrible events in Paris were a terrible and sickening setback. Even as we grieve with our French friends, however, we can’t lose sight that there has been progress being made.

On the military front, our coalition is intensifying our airstrikes — more than 8,000 to date. We’re taking out ISIL leaders, commanders, their killers. We’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can and is pushed back. So local forces in Iraq, backed by coalition airpower, recently liberated Sinjar. Iraqi forces are fighting to take back Ramadi. In Syria, ISIL has been pushed back from much of the border region with Turkey. We’ve stepped up our support of opposition forces who are working to cut off supply lines to ISIL’s strongholds in and around Raqqa. So, in short, both in Iraq and Syria, ISIL controls less territory than it did before.

I made the point to my fellow leaders that if we want this progress to be sustained, more nations need to step up with the resources that this fight demands.

Of course, the attacks in Paris remind us that it will not be enough to defeat ISIL in Syria and Iraq alone. Here in Antalya, our nations, therefore, committed to strengthening border controls, sharing more information, and stepping up our efforts to prevent the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq. As the United States just showed in Libya, ISIL leaders will have no safe haven anywhere. And we’ll continue to stand with leaders in Muslim communities, including faith leaders, who are the best voices to discredit ISIL’s warped ideology.

On the humanitarian front, our nations agreed that we have to do even more, individually and collectively, to address the agony of the Syrian people. The United States is already the largest donor of humanitarian aid to the Syrian people — some $4.5 billion in aid so far. As winter approaches, we’re donating additional supplies, including clothing and generators, through the United Nations. But the U.N. appeal for Syria still has less than half the funds needed. Today, I’m again calling on more nations to contribute the resources that this crisis demands.

In terms of refugees, it’s clear that countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan — which are already bearing an extraordinary burden — cannot be expected to do so alone. At the same time, all of our countries have to ensure our security. And as President, my first priority is the safety of the American people. And that’s why, even as we accept more refugees — including Syrians — we do so only after subjecting them to rigorous screening and security checks.

We also have to remember that many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves — that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values. Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.

Finally, we’ve begun to see some modest progress on the diplomatic front, which is critical because a political solution is the only way to end the war in Syria and unite the Syrian people and the world against ISIL. The Vienna talks mark the first time that all the key countries have come together — as a result, I would add, of American leadership — and reached a common understanding. With this weekend’s talks, there’s a path forward — negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the Syrian regime under the auspices of the United Nations; a transition toward a more inclusive, representative government; a new constitution, followed by free elections; and, alongside this political process, a ceasefire in the civil war, even as we continue to fight against ISIL.

These are obviously ambitious goals. Hopes for diplomacy in Syria have been dashed before. There are any number of ways that this latest diplomatic push could falter. And there are still disagreements between the parties, including, most critically, over the fate of Bashar Assad, who we do not believe has a role in Syria’s future because of his brutal rule. His war against the Syrian people is the primary root cause of this crisis.

What is different this time, and what gives us some degree of hope, is that, as I said, for the first time, all the major countries on all sides of the Syrian conflict agree on a process that is needed to end this war. And so while we are very clear-eyed about the very, very difficult road still head, the United States, in partnership with our coalition, is going to remain relentless on all fronts — military, humanitarian and diplomatic. We have the right strategy, and we’re going to see it through.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions. And I will begin with Jerome Cartillier of AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. One hundred and twenty-nine people were killed in Paris on Friday night. ISIL claimed responsibility for the massacre, sending the message that they could now target civilians all over the world. The equation has clearly changed. Isn’t it time for your strategy to change?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, keep in mind what we have been doing. We have a military strategy that is putting enormous pressure on ISIL through airstrikes; that has put assistance and training on the ground with Iraqi forces; we’re now working with Syrian forces as well to squeeze ISIL, cut off their supply lines. We’ve been coordinating internationally to reduce their financing capabilities, the oil that they’re trying to ship outside. We are taking strikes against high-value targets — including, most recently, against the individual who was on the video executing civilians who had already been captured, as well as the head of ISIL in Libya. So it’s not just in Iraq and Syria.

And so, on the military front, we are continuing to accelerate what we do. As we find additional partners on the ground that are effective, we work with them more closely. I’ve already authorized additional Special Forces on the ground who are going to be able to improve that coordination.

On the counterterrorism front, keep in mind that since I came into office, we have been worried about these kinds of attacks. The vigilance that the United States government maintains and the cooperation that we’re consistently expanding with our European and other partners in going after every single terrorist network is robust and constant. And every few weeks, I meet with my entire national security team and we go over every single threat stream that is presented, and where we have relevant information, we share it immediately with our counterparts around the world, including our European partners.

On aviation security, we have, over the last several years, been working so that at various airports sites — not just in the United States, but overseas — we are strengthening our mechanisms to screen and discover passengers who should not be boarding flights, and improving the matters in which we are screening luggage that is going onboard.

And on the diplomatic front, we’ve been consistently working to try to get all the parties together to recognize that there is a moderate opposition inside of Syria that can form the basis for a transition government, and to reach out not only to our friends but also to the Russians and the Iranians who are on the other side of this equation to explain to them that ultimately an organization like ISIL is the greatest danger to them, as well as to us.

So there will be an intensification of the strategy that we put forward, but the strategy that we are putting forward is the strategy that ultimately is going to work. But as I said from the start, it’s going to take time.

And what’s been interesting is, in the aftermath of Paris, as I listen to those who suggest something else needs to be done, typically the things they suggest need to be done are things we are already doing. The one exception is that there have been a few who suggested that we should put large numbers of U.S. troops on the ground.

And keep in mind that we have the finest military in the world and we have the finest military minds in the world, and I’ve been meeting with them intensively for years now, discussing these various options, and it is not just my view but the view of my closest military and civilian advisors that that would be a mistake — not because our military could not march into Mosul or Raqqa or Ramadi and temporarily clear out ISIL, but because we would see a repetition of what we’ve seen before, which is, if you do not have local populations that are committed to inclusive governance and who are pushing back against ideological extremes, that they resurface — unless we’re prepared to have a permanent occupation of these countries.

And let’s assume that we were to send 50,000 troops into Syria. What happens when there’s a terrorist attack generated from Yemen? Do we then send more troops into there? Or Libya, perhaps? Or if there’s a terrorist network that’s operating anywhere else — in North Africa, or in Southeast Asia?

So a strategy has to be one that can be sustained. And the strategy that we’re pursuing, which focuses on going after targets, limiting wherever possible the capabilities of ISIL on the ground — systematically going after their leadership, their infrastructure, strengthening Shia — or strengthening Syrian and Iraqi forces and Kurdish forces that are prepared to fight them, cutting off their borders and squeezing the space in which they can operate until ultimately we’re able to defeat them — that’s the strategy we’re going to have to pursue.

And we will continue to generate more partners for that strategy. And there are going to be some things that we try that don’t work; there will be some strategies we try that do work. And when we find strategies that work, we will double down on those.

Margaret Brennan, CBS.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. A more than year-long bombing campaign in Iraq and in Syria has failed to contain the ambition and the ability of ISIS to launch attacks in the West. Have you underestimated their abilities? And will you widen the rules of engagement for U.S. forces to take more aggressive action?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, we haven’t underestimated our abilities. This is precisely why we’re in Iraq as we speak, and why we’re operating in Syria as we speak. And it’s precisely why we have mobilized 65 countries to go after ISIL, and why I hosted at the United Nations an entire discussion of counterterrorism strategies and curbing the flow of foreign fighters, and why we’ve been putting pressure on those countries that have not been as robust as they need to in tracking the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq.

And so there has been an acute awareness on the part of my administration from the start that it is possible for an organization like ISIL that has such a twisted ideology, and has shown such extraordinary brutality and complete disregard for innocent lives, that they would have the capabilities to potentially strike in the West. And because thousands of fighters have flowed from the West and are European citizens — a few hundred from the United States, but far more from Europe — that when those foreign fighters returned, it posed a significant danger. And we have consistently worked with our European partners, disrupting plots in some cases. Sadly, this one was not disrupted in time.

But understand that one of the challenges we have in this situation is, is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying, they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weapon that they possess, but it is the ideology that they carry with them and their willingness to die. And in those circumstances, tracking each individual, making sure that we are disrupting and preventing these attacks is a constant effort at vigilance, and requires extraordinary coordination.

Now, part of the reason that it is important what we do in Iraq and Syria is that the narrative that ISIL developed of creating this caliphate makes it more attractive to potential recruits. So when I said that we are containing their spread in Iraq and Syria, in fact, they control less territory than they did last year. And the more we shrink that territory, the less they can pretend that they are somehow a functioning state, and the more it becomes apparent that they are simply a network of killers who are brutalizing local populations. That allows us to reduce the flow of foreign fighters, which then, over time, will lessen the numbers of terrorists who can potentially carry out terrible acts like they did in Paris.

And that’s what we did with al Qaeda. That doesn’t mean, by the way, that al Qaeda no longer possess the capabilities of potentially striking the West. Al Qaeda in the Peninsula that operates primarily in Yemen we know has consistently tried to target the West. And we are consistently working to disrupt those acts. But despite the fact that they have not gotten as much attention as ISIL, they still pose a danger, as well.

And so our goals here consistently have to be to be aggressive, and to leave no stone unturned, but also recognize this is not conventional warfare. We play into the ISIL narrative when we act as if they’re a state, and we use routine military tactics that are designed to fight a state that is attacking another state. That’s not what’s going on here.

These are killers with fantasies of glory who are very savvy when it comes to social media, and are able to infiltrate the minds of not just Iraqis or Syrians, but disaffected individuals around the world. And when they activate those individuals, those individuals can do a lot of damage. And so we have to take the approach of being rigorous on our counterterrorism efforts, and consistently improve and figure out how we can get more information, how we can infiltrate these networks, how we can reduce their operational space, even as we also try to shrink the amount of territory they control to defeat their narrative.

Ultimately, to reclaim territory from them is going to require, however, an ending of the Syrian civil war, which is why the diplomatic efforts are so important. And it’s going to require an effective Iraqi effort that bridges Shia and Sunni differences, which is why our diplomatic efforts inside of Iraq are so important, as well.

Jim Avila.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. In the days and weeks before the Paris attacks, did you receive warning in your daily intelligence briefing that an attack was imminent? If not, does that not call into question the current assessment that there is no immediate, specific, credible threat to the United States today?

And secondly, if I could ask you to address your critics who say that your reluctance to enter another Middle East war, and your preference of diplomacy over using the military makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Jim, every day we have threat streams coming through the intelligence transit. And as I said, every several weeks we sit down with all my national security, intelligence, and military teams to discuss various threat streams that may be generated. And the concerns about potential ISIL attacks in the West have been there for over a year now, and they come through periodically. There were no specific mentions of this particular attack that would give us a sense of something that we need — that we could provide French authorities, for example, or act on ourselves.

But typically the way the intelligence works is there will be a threat stream that is from one source, how reliable is that source; perhaps some signal intelligence gets picked up, it’s evaluated. Some of it is extraordinarily vague and unspecific, and there’s no clear timetable. Some of it may be more specific, and then folks chase down that threat to see what happens.

I am not aware of anything that was specific in the sense — that would have given a premonition about a particular action in Paris that would allow for law enforcement or military actions to disrupt it.

With respect to the broader issue of my critics, to some degree I answered the question earlier. I think that when you listen to what they actually have to say, what they’re proposing, most of the time, when pressed, they describe things that we’re already doing. Maybe they’re not aware that we’re already doing them. Some of them seem to think that if I were just more bellicose in expressing what we’re doing, that that would make a difference — because that seems to be the only thing that they’re doing, is talking as if they’re tough. But I haven’t seen particular strategies that they would suggest that would make a real difference.

Now, there are a few exceptions. And as I said, the primary exception is those who would deploy U.S. troops on a large scale to retake territory either in Iraq or now in Syria. And at least they have the honesty to go ahead and say that’s what they would do. I just addressed why I think they’re wrong. There have been some who are well-meaning, and I don’t doubt their sincerity when it comes to the issue of the dire humanitarian situation in Syria, who, for example, call for a no-fly zone or a safe zone of some sort.

And this is an example of the kind of issue where I will sit down with our top military and intelligence advisors, and we will painstakingly go through what does something like that look like. And typically, after we’ve gone through a lot of planning and a lot of discussion, and really working it through, it is determined that it would be counterproductive to take those steps — in part because ISIL does not have planes, so the attacks are on the ground. A true safe zone requires us to set up ground operations. And the bulk of the deaths that have occurred in Syria, for example, have come about not because of regime bombing, but because of on-the-ground casualties. Who would come in, who could come out of that safe zone; how would it work; would it become a magnet for further terrorist attacks; and how many personnel would be required, and how would it end — there’s a whole set of questions that have to be answered there.

I guess my point is this, Jim: My only interest is to end suffering and to keep the American people safe. And if there’s a good idea out there, then we’re going to do it. I don’t think I’ve shown hesitation to act — whether it’s with respect to bin Laden or with respect to sending additional troops in Afghanistan, or keeping them there — if it is determined that it’s actually going to work.

But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough. And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.

We’ll do what’s required to keep the American people safe. And I think it’s entirely appropriate in a democracy to have a serious debate about these issues. If folks want to pop off and have opinions about what they think they would do, present a specific plan. If they think that somehow their advisors are better than the Chairman of my Joint Chiefs of Staff and the folks who are actually on the ground, I want to meet them. And we can have that debate. But what I’m not interested in doing is posing or pursuing some notion of American leadership or America winning, or whatever other slogans they come up with that has no relationship to what is actually going to work to protect the American people, and to protect people in the region who are getting killed, and to protect our allies and people like France. I’m too busy for that.

Jim Acosta.

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. I wanted to go back to something that you said to Margaret earlier when you said that you have not underestimated ISIS’s abilities. This is an organization that you once described as a JV team that evolved into a force that has now occupied territory in Iraq and Syria and is now able to use that safe haven to launch attacks in other parts of the world. How is that not underestimating their capabilities? And how is that contained, quite frankly? And I think a lot of Americans have this frustration that they see that the United States has the greatest military in the world, it has the backing of nearly every other country in the world when it comes to taking on ISIS. I guess the question is — and if you’ll forgive the language — is why can’t we take out these bastards?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, Jim, I just spent the last three questions answering that very question, so I don’t know what more you want me to add. I think I’ve described very specifically what our strategy is, and I’ve described very specifically why we do not pursue some of the other strategies that have been suggested.

This is not, as I said, a traditional military opponent. We can retake territory. And as long as we leave our troops there, we can hold it, but that does not solve the underlying problem of eliminating the dynamics that are producing these kinds of violent extremist groups.

And so we are going to continue to pursue the strategy that has the best chance of working, even though it does not offer the satisfaction, I guess, of a neat headline or an immediate resolution. And part of the reason, as I said, Jim, is because there are costs to the other side. I just want to remind people, this is not an abstraction. When we send troops in, those troops get injured, they get killed; they’re away from their families; our country spends hundreds of billions of dollars. And so given the fact that there are enormous sacrifices involved in any military action, it’s best that we don’t shoot first and aim later. It’s important for us to get the strategy right. And the strategy that we are pursuing is the right one.

Ron Allen.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I think a lot of people around the world and in America are concerned because given the strategy that you’re pursuing — and it’s been more than a year now — ISIS’s capabilities seem to be expanding. Were you aware that they had the capability of pulling off the kind of attack that they did in Paris? Are you concerned? And do you think they have that same capability to strike in the United States?

And do you think that given all you’ve learned about ISIS over the past year or so, and given all the criticism about your underestimating them, do you think you really understand this enemy well enough to defeat them and to protect the homeland?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: All right, so this is another variation on the same question. And I guess — let me try it one last time.

We have been fully aware of the potential capabilities of them carrying out a terrorist attack. That’s precisely why we have been mounting a very aggressive strategy to go after them. As I said before, when you’re talking about the ability of a handful of people with not wildly sophisticated military equipment, weapons, who are willing to die, they can kill a lot of people. And preventing them from doing so is challenging for every country. And if there was a swift and quick solution to this, I assure you that not just the United States, but France and Turkey, and others who have been subject to these terrorist attacks would have implemented those strategies.

There are certain advantages that the United States has in preventing these kinds of attacks. Obviously, after 9/11, we hardened the homeland, set up a whole series of additional steps to protect aviation, to apply lessons learned. We’ve seen much better cooperation between the FBI, state governments, local governments. There is some advantages to geography with respect to the United States.

But, having said that, we’ve seen the possibility of terrorist attacks on our soil. There was the Boston Marathon bombers. Obviously, it did not result in the scale of death that we saw in Paris, but that was a serious attempt at killing a lot of people by two brothers and a crockpot. And it gives you some sense of, I think, the kinds of challenges that are going to be involved in this going forward.

So again, ISIL has serious capabilities. Its capabilities are not unique. They are capabilities that other terrorist organizations that we track and are paying attention to possess, as well. We are going after all of them.

What is unique about ISIL is the degree to which it has been able to control territory that then allows them to attract additional recruits, and the greater effectiveness that they have on social media and their ability to use that to not only attract recruits to fight in Syria, but also potentially to carry out attacks in the homeland and in Europe and in other parts of the world.

And so our ability to shrink the space in which they can operate, combined with a resolution to the Syria situation — which will reduce the freedom with which they feel that they can operate, and getting local forces who are able to hold and keep them out over the long term, that ultimately is going to be what’s going to make a difference. And it’s going to take some time, but it’s not something that at any stage in this process have we not been aware needs to be done.

Q (Off-mic) — Mr. President?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, go ahead.

Q Should I wait for the microphone?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: No, I can hear you.

Q Okay, thank you so much. (Inaudible.) I want to ask a question (inaudible). These terrorist attacks we’ve seen allegedly have been attacks under the name of Islam. But this really takes — or upsets the peaceful people like countries like Turkey. So how can we give off that (inaudible) this is not really representative of Muslims?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, this is something that we spoke a lot about at the G20. The overwhelming majority of victims of terrorism over the last several years, and certainly the overwhelming majority of victims of ISIL, are themselves Muslims. ISIL does not represent Islam. It is not representative in any way of the attitudes of the overwhelming majority of Muslims. This is something that’s been emphasized by Muslim leaders — whether it’s President Erdogan or the President of Indonesia or the President of Malaysia — countries that are majority Muslim, but have shown themselves to be tolerant and to work to be inclusive in their political process.

And so to the degree that anyone would equate the terrible actions that took place in Paris with the views of Islam, those kinds of stereotypes are counterproductive. They’re wrong. They will lead, I think, to greater recruitment into terrorist organizations over time if this becomes somehow defined as a Muslim problem as opposed to a terrorist problem.

Now, what is also true is, is that the most vicious terrorist organizations at the moment are ones that claim to be speaking on behalf of true Muslims. And I do think that Muslims around the world — religious leaders, political leaders, ordinary people — have to ask very serious questions about how did these extremist ideologies take root, even if it’s only affecting a very small fraction of the population. It is real and it is dangerous. And it has built up over time, and with social media it has now accelerated.

And so I think, on the one hand, non-Muslims cannot stereotype, but I also think the Muslim community has to think about how we make sure that children are not being infected with this twisted notion that somehow they can kill innocent people and that that is justified by religion. And to some degree, that is something that has to come from within the Muslim community itself. And I think there have been times where there has not been enough pushback against extremism. There’s been pushback — there are some who say, well, we don’t believe in violence, but are not as willing to challenge some of the extremist thoughts or rationales for why Muslims feel oppressed. And I think those ideas have to be challenged.

Let me make one last point about this, and then unfortunately I have to take a flight to Manila. I’m looking forward to seeing Manila, but I hope I can come back to Turkey when I’m not so busy.

One of the places that you’re seeing this debate play itself out is on the refugee issue both in Europe, and I gather it started popping up while I was gone back in the United States. The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism, they are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents, they are children, they are orphans. And it is very important — and I was glad to see that this was affirmed again and again by the G20 — that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.

In Europe, I think people like Chancellor Merkel have taken a very courageous stance in saying it is our moral obligation, as fellow human beings, to help people who are in such vulnerable situations. And I know that it is putting enormous strains on the resources of the people of Europe. Nobody has been carrying a bigger burden than the people here in Turkey, with 2.5 million refugees, and the people of Jordan and Lebanon, who are also admitting refugees. The fact that they’ve kept their borders open to these refugees is a signal of their belief in a common humanity.

And so we have to, each of us, do our part. And the United States has to step up and do its part. And when I hear folks say that, well, maybe we should just admit the Christians but not the Muslims; when I hear political leaders suggesting that there would be a religious test for which a person who’s fleeing from a war-torn country is admitted, when some of those folks themselves come from families who benefitted from protection when they were fleeing political persecution — that’s shameful. That’s not American. That’s not who we are. We don’t have religious tests to our compassion.

When Pope Francis came to visit the United States, and gave a speech before Congress, he didn’t just speak about Christians who were being persecuted. He didn’t call on Catholic parishes just to admit to those who were of the same religious faith. He said, protect people who are vulnerable.

And so I think it is very important for us right now — particularly those who are in leadership, particularly those who have a platform and can be heard — not to fall into that trap, not to feed that dark impulse inside of us.

I had a lot of disagreements with George W. Bush on policy, but I was very proud after 9/11 when he was adamant and clear about the fact that this is not a war on Islam. And the notion that some of those who have taken on leadership in his party would ignore all of that, that’s not who we are. On this, they should follow his example. It was the right one. It was the right impulse. It’s our better impulse. And whether you are European or American, the values that we are defending — the values that we’re fighting against ISIL for are precisely that we don’t discriminate against people because of their faith. We don’t kill people because they’re different than us. That’s what separates us from them. And we don’t feed that kind of notion that somehow Christians and Muslims are at war.

And if we want to be successful at defeating ISIL, that’s a good place to start — by not promoting that kind of ideology, that kind of attitude. In the same way that the Muslim community has an obligation not to in any way excuse anti-Western or anti-Christian sentiment, we have the same obligation as Christians. And we are — it is good to remember that the United States does not have a religious test, and we are a nation of many peoples of different faiths, which means that we show compassion to everybody. Those are the universal values we stand for. And that’s what my administration intends to stand for.

Thank you very much, everybody.

END 5:43 P.M. EET

Full Text Obama Presidency October 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Press Conference by the President

Source: WH, 10-2-15

State Dining Room

3:55 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m going to take a couple of questions from the press.  But first, a few additional pieces of business.

First of all, we learned today that our businesses created another 118,000 new jobs in September, which means that we now have had 67 straight months of job creation; 13.2 million new jobs in all — and an unemployment rate that has fallen from a high of 10 percent down to 5.1 percent.  These long-term trends are obviously good news, particularly for every American waking up each morning and heading off to a new job.

But we would be doing even better if we didn’t have to keep on dealing with unnecessary crises in Congress every few months. And this is especially important right now, because although the American economy has been chugging along at a steady pace, much of the global economy is softening.  We’ve seen an impact on our exports, which was a major driver of growth for us particularly at the beginning of the recovery.  And so our own growth could slow if Congress does not do away with some of the counterproductive austerity measures that they have put in place, and if Congress does not avoid the kind of manufactured crises that shatter consumer confidence and could disrupt an already skittish global economy.

On Wednesday, more than half of Republicans voted to shut down the government for the second time in two years.  The good news is that there were enough votes in both parties to pass a last-minute bill to keep the government open and operating for another 10 weeks before we can get a more long-term solution.  But keep in mind that gimmick only sets up another potential manufactured crisis just two weeks before Christmas.

And I’ve said this before, I want to repeat it — this is not the way the United States should be operating.

Oftentimes I hear from folks up on Capitol Hill, “the need for American leadership,” “the need for America to be number one.”  Well, you know what, around the globe, part of what makes us a leader is when we govern effectively and we keep our own house in order, and we pass budgets, and we can engage in long-term planning, and we can invest in the things that are important for the future.  That’s U.S. leadership.

When we fail to do that, we diminish U.S. leadership.  It’s not how we are supposed to operate.  And we can’t just keep on kicking down the road without solving any problems or doing any long-term planning for the future.  That’s true for our military; that’s true for our domestic programs.  The American people, American families deserve better.  And we can grow faster and the economy can improve if Congress acts with dispatch.  It will get worse if they don’t.

That’s why I want to be very clear:  I will not sign another shortsighted spending bill like the one Congress sent me this week.  We purchased ourselves 10 additional weeks; we need to use them effectively.

Keep in mind that a few years ago, both parties put in place harmful automatic cuts that make no distinction between spending we don’t need and spending we do.  We can revisit the history of how that happened — I have some rather grim memories of it.  But the notion was that even as we were bringing down the deficit, we would come up with a sustainable, smart, long-term approach to investing in the things that we need.  That didn’t happen.  And so now these cuts that have been maintained have been keeping our economy from growing faster.  It’s time to undo them.  If we don’t, then we will have to fund our economic and national security priorities in 2016 at the same levels that we did in 2006.

Now, understand, during that decade, between 2006 and 2016, our economy has grown by 12 percent.  Our population has grown by 8 percent.  New threats have emerged; new opportunities have appeared.  We can’t fund our country the way we did 10 years ago because we have greater demands — with an aging population, with kids who need schools, with roads that need to be fixed, with a military on which we are placing extraordinary demands.

And we can’t cut our way to prosperity.  Other countries have tried it and it has not worked.  We’ve grown faster than they have because we did not pursue these blind, unthinking cuts to necessary investments for our growth.  And by the way, because we’ve grown faster than them, we’ve brought our deficits down faster than they have.

I want to repeat this because the public apparently never believes it.  Since I took office, we’ve cut our deficits by two-thirds.  The deficit has not been going up; it has been coming down — precipitously.  We’ve cut our deficits by two-thirds.  They’re below the average deficits over the past 40 years.

So the bottom line is, Congress has to do its job.  It can’t flirt with another shutdown.  It should pass a serious budget.  And if they do, and get rid of some of these mindless cuts, even as we’re still prudent about maintaining the spending that we need but not spending we don’t need and is not working, their own non-partisan budget office estimates we’re going to add an extra half-million jobs to our economy next year alone.  We can immediately put half a million more people back to work if we just have a more sensible budget.

And in these negotiations, nobody is going to get everything they want.  We have to work together, though, even if we disagree, in order to do the people’s business.  At some point we have to want to govern, and not just play politics or play to various political bases.  At some point, we need to pass bills so that we can rebuild our roads, and keep our kids learning, and our military strong, and help people prepare for and recover from disasters.  That is Congress’s most basic job.  That’s what our government is supposed to do — serve the American people.

So with that, let me take some questions.  And I’ll start with Julie Pace of AP.

Hang in there, kids.  (Laughter.)

Q    It will be over soon.  Thank you, Mr. President.  There have been several developments in Syria that I wanted to ask you about, starting with Russia’s involvement.  You met with President Putin earlier this week, and I wonder if you think he was honest with you about his intentions in Syria.  If Russia is targeting groups beyond the Islamic State, including U.S.-aligned groups, does the U.S. military have an obligation to protect them?  And on the situation in Syria more broadly, there have obviously been failures in the U.S. train-and-equip program.  Do you believe that that program can be fixed or do you have to look at other options?  Would you, in particular, be willing to reconsider a no-fly zone, which several presidential candidates, including your former Secretary of State, are now calling for?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first and foremost, let’s understand what’s happening in Syria and how we got here.  What started off as peaceful protests against Assad, the president, evolved into a civil war because Assad met those protests with unimaginable brutality.  And so this is not a conflict between the United States and any party in Syria; this is a conflict between the Syrian people and a brutal, ruthless dictator.

Point number two is that the reason Assad is still in power is because Russia and Iran have supported him throughout this process.  And in that sense, what Russia is doing now is not particularly different from what they had been doing in the past — they’re just more overt about it.  They’ve been propping up a regime that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of the Syrian population because they’ve seen that he has been willing to drop barrel bombs on children and on villages indiscriminately, and has been more concerned about clinging to power than the state of his country.

So in my discussions with President Putin, I was very clear that the only way to solve the problem in Syria is to have a political transition that is inclusive — that keeps the state intact, that keeps the military intact, that maintains cohesion, but that is inclusive — and the only way to accomplish that is for Mr. Assad to transition, because you cannot rehabilitate him in the eyes of Syrians.  This is not a judgment I’m making; it is a judgment that the overwhelming majority of Syrians make.

And I said to Mr. Putin that I’d be prepared to work with him if he is willing to broker with his partners, Mr. Assad and Iran, a political transition — we can bring the rest of the world community to a brokered solution — but that a military solution alone, an attempt by Russia and Iran to prop up Assad and try to pacify the population is just going to get them stuck in a quagmire.  And it won’t work.  And they will be there for a while if they don’t take a different course.

I also said to him that it is true that the United States and Russia and the entire world have a common interest in destroying ISIL.  But what was very clear — and regardless of what Mr. Putin said — was that he doesn’t distinguish between ISIL and a moderate Sunni opposition that wants to see Mr. Assad go.  From their perspective, they’re all terrorists.  And that’s a recipe for disaster, and it’s one that I reject.

So where we are now is that we are having technical conversations about de-confliction so that we’re not seeing U.S. and American firefights in the air.  But beyond that, we’re very clear in sticking to our belief and our policy that the problem here is Assad and the brutality that he has inflicted on the Syrian people, and that it has to stop.  And in order for it to stop, we’re prepared to work with all the parties concerned.  But we are not going to cooperate with a Russian campaign to simply try to destroy anybody who is disgusted and fed up with Mr. Assad’s behavior.

Keep in mind also, from a practical perspective, the moderate opposition in Syria is one that if we’re ever going to have to have a political transition, we need.  And the Russian policy is driving those folks underground or creating a situation in which they are de-capacitated, and it’s only strengthening ISIL.  And that’s not good for anybody.

In terms of our support of opposition groups inside of Syria, I made very clear early on that the United States couldn’t impose a military solution on Syria either, but that it was in our interest to make sure that we were engaged with moderate opposition inside of Syria because eventually Syria will fall, the Assad regime will fall, and we have to have somebody who we’re working with that we can help pick up the pieces and stitch back together a cohesive, coherent country.  And so we will continue to support them.

The training-and-equip program was a specific initiative by the Defense Department to see if we could get some of that moderate opposition to focus attention on ISIL in the eastern portion of the country.  And I’m the first one to acknowledge it has not worked the way it was supposed to, Julie.  And I think that the Department of Defense would say the same thing.  And part of the reason, frankly, is because when we tried to get them to just focus on ISIL, the response we’d get back is, how can we focus on ISIL when every single day we’re having barrel bombs and attacks from the regime?  And so it’s been hard to get them to reprioritize, looking east, when they’ve got bombs coming at them from the west.

So what we’re doing with the train-and-equip is looking at where we have had success — for example, working with some of the Kurdish community in the east that pushed ISIL out — seeing if we can build on that.  But what we’re also going to continue to do is to have contacts with and work with opposition that, rightly, believes that in the absence of some change of government inside of Syria we’re going to continue to see civil war, and that is going to turbocharge ISIL recruitment and jihadist recruitment, and we’re going to continue to have problems.

Now, last point I just want to make about this — because sometimes the conversation here in the Beltway differs from the conversation internationally.  Mr. Putin had to go into Syria not out of strength but out of weakness, because his client, Mr. Assad, was crumbling.  And it was insufficient for him simply to send them arms and money; now he’s got to put in his own planes and his own pilots.  And the notion that he put forward a plan and that somehow the international community sees that as viable because there is a vacuum there — I didn’t see, after he made that speech in the United Nations, suddenly the 60-nation coalition that we have start lining up behind him.

Iran and Assad make up Mr. Putin’s coalition at the moment. The rest of the world makes up ours.  So I don’t think people are fooled by the current strategy.  It does not mean that we could not see Mr. Putin begin to recognize that it is in their interest to broker a political settlement.  And as I said in New York, we’re prepared to work with the Russians and the Iranians, as well as our partners who are part of the anti-ISIL coalition to come up with that political transition.  And nobody pretends that it’s going to be easy, but I think it is still possible.  And so we will maintain lines of communication.

But we are not going to be able to get those negotiations going if there is not a recognition that there’s got to be a change in government.  We’re not going to go back to the status quo ante.  And the kinds of airstrikes against moderate opposition that Russia is engaging in is going to be counterproductive.  It’s going to move us farther away rather than towards the ultimate solution that we’re all — that we all should be looking for.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Julie, throughout this process, I think people have constantly looked for an easy, low-cost answer — whether it’s we should have sent more rifles in early and somehow then everything would have been okay; or if I had taken that shot even after Assad offered to give up his chemical weapons, then immediately things would have folded, or the Assad regime would have folded, and we would have suddenly seen a peaceful Syria.

This is a hugely, difficult, complex problem.  And I would have hoped that we would have learned that from Afghanistan and Iraq, where we have devoted enormous time and effort and resources with the very best people and have given the Afghan people and the Iraqi people an opportunity for democracy.  But it’s still hard, as we saw this week in Afghanistan.  That’s not by virtue of a lack of effort on our part, or a lack of commitment.  We’ve still got 10,000 folks in Afghanistan.  We’re still spending billions of dollar supporting that government, and it’s still tough.

So when I make a decision about the level of military involvement that we’re prepared to engage in, in Syria, I have to make a judgment based on, once we start something we’ve got to finish it, and we’ve got to do it well.  And do we, in fact, have the resources and the capacity to make a serious impact — understanding that we’ve still got to go after ISIL in Iraq; we still have to support the training of an Iraqi military that is weaker than any of us perceived; that we still have business to do in Afghanistan.  And so I push — and have consistently over the last four, five years sought out a wide range of opinions about steps that we can take potentially to move Syria in a better direction.

I am under no illusions about what an incredible humanitarian catastrophe this is, and the hardships that we’re seeing, and the refugees that are traveling in very dangerous circumstances and now creating real political problems among our allies in Europe, and the heartbreaking images of children drowned trying to escape war, and the potential impact of such a destabilized country on our allies in the region.  But what we have learned over the last 10, 12, 13 years is that unless we can get the parties on the ground to agree to live together in some fashion, then no amount of U.S. military engagement will solve the problem.  And we will find ourselves either doing just a little bit and not making a difference, and losing credibility that way, or finding ourselves drawn in deeper and deeper into a situation that we can’t sustain.

And when I hear people offering up half-baked ideas as if they are solutions, or trying to downplay the challenges involved in this situation — what I’d like to see people ask is, specifically, precisely, what exactly would you do, and how would you fund it, and how would you sustain it?  And typically, what you get is a bunch of mumbo jumbo.

So these are hard challenges.  They are ones that we are going to continue to pursue.  The topline message that I want everybody to understand is we are going to continue to go after ISIL.  We are going to continue to reach out to a moderate opposition.  We reject Russia’s theory that everybody opposed to Assad is a terrorist.  We think that is self-defeating.  It will get them into a quagmire.  It will be used as a further recruitment tool for foreign fighters.

We will work with the international community and our coalition to relieve the humanitarian pressure.  On refugees, we are working with the Turks and others to see what we can do along the border to make things safer for people.  But ultimately, we’re going to have to find a way for a political transition if we’re going to solve Syria.

Jon Karl.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    Back in July you said that the gun issue has been the most frustrating of your presidency, and we certainly heard that frustration from you last night.

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes.

Q    So in the last 15 months of your presidency, do you intend to do anything differently to get Congress to act or to do something about this gun violence problem?

And I have to get you to respond to something that Jeb Bush just said, and to be fair to Governor Bush I want to read it directly.  Asked about the drive to take action in light of what happened in Oregon, he said, “Look, stuff happens.  There’s always a crisis.  And the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not always the right thing to do.”  How would you react to Governor Bush?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t even think I have to react to that one.  (Laughter.)  I think the American people should hear that and make their own judgments, based on the fact that every couple of months, we have a mass shooting, and in terms of — and they can decide whether they consider that “stuff happening”.

In terms of what I can do, I’ve asked my team — as I have in the past — to scrub what kinds of authorities do we have to enforce the laws that we have in place more effectively to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  Are there additional actions that we can take that might prevent even a handful of these tragic deaths from taking place?  But as I said last night, this will not change until the politics change and the behavior of elected officials changes.

And so the main thing I’m going to do is I’m going to talk about this on a regular basis, and I will politicize it because our inaction is a political decision that we are making.

The reason that Congress does not support even the modest gun safety laws that we proposed after Sandy Hook is not because the majority of the American people don’t support it.  I mean, normally, politicians are responsive to the views of the electorate.  Here you’ve got the majority of the American people think it’s the right thing to do.  Background checks, other common-sense steps that would maybe save some lives couldn’t even get a full vote.  And why is that?  It’s because of politics.  It’s because interest groups fund campaigns, feed people fear. And in fairness, it’s not just in the Republican Party — although the Republican Party is just uniformly opposed to all gun safety laws.  And unless we change that political dynamic, we’re not going to be able to make a big dent in this problem.

For example, you’ll hear people talk about the problem is not guns, it’s mental illness.  Well, if you talk to people who study this problem, it is true that the majority of these mass shooters are angry young men, but there are hundreds of millions of angry young men around the world — tens of millions of angry young men.  Most of them don’t shoot.  It doesn’t help us just to identify — and the majority of people who have mental illnesses are not shooters.  So we can’t sort through and identify ahead of time who might take actions like this.  The only thing we can do is make sure that they can’t have an entire arsenal when something snaps in them.

And if we’re going to do something about that, the politics has to change.  The politics has to change.  And the people who are troubled by this have to be as intense and as organized and as adamant about this issue as folks on the other side who are absolutists and think that any gun safety measures are somehow an assault on freedom, or communistic — or a plot by me to takeover and stay in power forever or something.  (Laughter.)  I mean, there are all kinds of crackpot conspiracy theories that float around there — some of which, by the way, are ratified by elected officials in the other party on occasion.

So we’ve got to change the politics of this.  And that requires people to feel — not just feel deeply — because I get a lot of letters after this happens — “do something!”  Well, okay, here’s what you need to do.  You have to make sure that anybody who you are voting for is on the right side of this issue.  And if they’re not, even if they’re great on other stuff, for a couple of election cycles you’ve got to vote against them, and let them know precisely why you’re voting against them.  And you just have to, for a while, be a single-issue voter because that’s what is happening on the other side.

And that’s going to take some time.  I mean, the NRA has had a good start.  They’ve been at this a long time, they’ve perfected what they do.  You’ve got to give them credit — they’re very effective, because they don’t represent the majority of the American people but they know how to stir up fear; they know how to stir up their base; they know how to raise money; they know how to scare politicians; they know how to organize campaigns.  And the American people are going to have to match them in their sense of urgency if we’re actually going to stop this.

Which isn’t to say stopping all violence.  We’re not going to stop all violence.  Violence exists around the world, sadly.  Part of original sin.  But our homicide rates are just a lot higher than other places — that, by the way, have the same levels of violence.  It’s just you can’t kill as many people when you don’t have easy access to these kinds of weapons.

And I’m deeply saddened about what happened yesterday.  But Arne is going back to Chicago — let’s not forget, this is happening every single day in forgotten neighborhoods around the country.  Every single day.  Kids are just running for their lives, trying to get to school.  Broderick, when we were down in New Orleans, sitting down with a group of young men, when we were talking about Katrina, and I’ve got two young men next to me, both of them had been shot multiple times.  They were barely 20.

So we got to make a decision.  If we think that’s normal, then we have to own it.  I don’t think it’s normal.  I think it’s abnormal.  I think we should change it.  But I can’t do it by myself.

So the main thing I’m going to do, Jon, is talk about it.  And hope that over time I’m changing enough minds — along with other leaders around the country — that we start finally seeing some action.  I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight.

Cheryl Bolen.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  To go back to your opening remarks, you said that you won’t sign another short-term CR.  But as you know, yesterday Secretary Lew announced that the government’s borrowing authority would run out around November 5th.  Would you recommend negotiating an increase in the debt ceiling as part of these budget negotiations on spending caps?  And also does the Speaker’s race complicate these negotiations?

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sure the Speaker’s race complicates these negotiations.  (Laughter.)  That was a rhetorical question. (Laughter.)  It will complicate the negotiations.  But when it comes to the debt ceiling, we’re not going back there.

Maybe it’s been a while, so let me just refresh everybody’s memory.  Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize us to spend more, it simply authorizes us to pay the bills that we have already incurred.  It is the way for the United States to maintain its good credit rating — the full faith and credit of the United States.

Historically, we do not mess with it.  If it gets messed with, it would have profound implications for the global economy and could put our financial system in the kind of tailspin that we saw back in 2007-2008.  It’s just a bad thing to do.  So we’re not going to negotiate on that.  It has to get done in the next five weeks.  So even though the continuing resolution to keep the government open lasts for 10 weeks, we have to get the debt ceiling raised in five.  You’ve got a shorter timetable to get that done.

But here’s the bottom line:  Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, myself, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid — we’ve all spoken and talked about trying to negotiate a budget agreement.  And, yes, Speaker Boehner’s decision to step down complicates it.  But I do think that there is still a path for us to come up with a reasonable agreement that raises the spending caps above sequester to make sure that we can properly finance both our defense and nondefense needs, that maintains a prudent control of our deficits, and that we can do that in short order.  It’s not that complicated.  The math is the math.

And what I’ve encouraged is that we get started on that work immediately, and we push through over the next several weeks — and try to leave out extraneous issues that may prevent us from getting a budget agreement.

I know, for example, that there are many Republicans who are exercised about Planned Parenthood.  And I deeply disagree with them on that issue, and I think that it’s mischaracterized what Planned Parenthood does.  But I understand that they feel strongly about it, and I respect that.  But you can’t have an issue like that potentially wreck the entire U.S. economy — any more than I should hold the entire budget hostage to my desire to do something about gun violence.  I feel just as strongly about that and I think I’ve got better evidence for it.  But the notion that I would threaten the Republicans that unless they passed gun safety measures that would stop mass shootings I’m going to shut down the government and not sign an increase in the debt ceiling would be irresponsible of me.  And the American people, rightly, would reject that.

Well, same is true for them.  There are some fights that we fight individually.  They want to defund Planned Parenthood, there’s a way to do it.  Pass a law, override my veto.  That’s true across a whole bunch of issues that they disagree with me on, and that’s how democracy works.  I got no problem with that.

But you have to govern.  And I’m hoping that the next Speaker understands that the problem Speaker Boehner had or Mitch McConnell had in not dismantling Obamacare, or not eliminating the Department of Education, or not deporting every immigrant in this country was not because Speaker Boehner or Mitch McConnell didn’t care about conservative principles.  It had to do with the fact that they can’t do it in our system of government, which requires compromise.  Just like I can’t do everything I want in passing an immigration bill, or passing a gun safety bill.  And that doesn’t mean, then, I throw a tantrum and try to wreck the economy, and put hardworking Americans who are just now able to dig themselves out of a massive recession, put them in harm’s way.  Wrong thing to do.

Peter Alexander.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You addressed — I want to follow up on Jon’s questions about the issue that’s obviously deeply personal and moving to you — that is the gun issue.  Apart from Congress’s inaction, apart from the desire for new laws and, beyond that, apart from the gun lobby, as you noted, the pattern is that these perpetrators are angry, aggrieved, oftentimes mentally ill young men.  Is there something that you can do with the bully pulpit, with your moral authority, with your remaining time in office to help reach these individuals who believe that gun violence is the way out?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  I think I can continue to speak to the American people as a whole and hopefully model for them basic social norms about rejecting violence, and cooperation and caring for other people.  But there are a lot of young men out there.  And having been one myself once, I can tell you that us being able to identify or pinpoint who might have problems is extraordinarily difficult.

So I think we, as a culture, should continuously think about how we can nurture our kids, protect our kids, talk to them about conflict resolution, discourage violence.  And I think there are poor communities where, rather than mass shootings, you’re seeing just normal interactions that used to be settled by a fistfight settled with guns where maybe intervention programs and mentorship and things like that can work.  That’s the kind of thing that we’re trying to encourage through My Brother’s Keeper.

But when it comes to reaching every disaffected young man, 99 percent of — or 99.9 percent of whom will hopefully grow out of it — I don’t think that there’s a silver bullet there.  The way we are going to solve this problem is that when they act out, when they are disturbed, when that particular individual has a problem, that they can’t easily access weapons that can perpetrate mass violence on a lot of people.

Because that’s what other countries do.  Again, I want to emphasize this.  There’s no showing that somehow we are inherently more violent than any other advanced nation, or that young men are inherently more violent in our nation than they are in other nations.  I will say young men inherently are more violent than the rest of the population, but there’s no sense that somehow this is — it’s something in the American character that is creating this.  Levels of violence are on par between the United States and other advanced countries.  What is different is homicide rates and gun violence rates and mass shooting rates.  So it’s not that the behavior or the impulses are necessarily different as much as it is that they have access to more powerful weapons.

Julia Edwards.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You just said that you reject President Putin’s approach to Syria and his attacks on moderate opposition forces.  You said it was a recipe for disaster.  But what are you willing to do to stop President Putin and protect moderate opposition fighters?  Would you consider imposing sanctions against Russia?  Would you go so far as to equip moderate rebels with anti-aircraft weapons to protect them from Russian air attacks?  And how do you respond to critics who say Putin is outsmarting you, that he took a measure of you in Ukraine and he felt he could get away with it?

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, I’ve heard it all before.  (Laughter.) I’ve got to say I’m always struck by the degree to which not just critics but I think people buy this narrative.

Let’s think about this.  So when I came into office seven and a half years ago, America had precipitated the worst financial crisis in history, dragged the entire world into a massive recession.  We were involved in two wars with almost no coalition support.  U.S. — world opinion about the United States was at a nadir — we were just barely above Russia at that time, and I think potentially slightly below China’s.  And we were shedding 800,000 jobs a month, and so on and so forth.

And today, we’re the strongest large advanced economy in the world — probably one of the few bright spots in the world economy.  Our approval ratings have gone up.  We are more active on more international issues and forge international responses to everything from Ebola to countering ISIL.

Meanwhile, Mr. Putin comes into office at a time when the economy had been growing and they were trying to pivot to a more diversified economy, and as a consequence of these brilliant moves, their economy is contracting 4 percent this year.  They are isolated in the world community, subject to sanctions that are not just applied by us but by what used to be some of their closest trading partners.  Their main allies in the Middle East were Libya and Syria — Mr. Gaddafi and Mr. Assad — and those countries are falling apart.  And he’s now just had to send in troops and aircraft in order to prop up this regime, at the risk of alienating the entire Sunni world.

So what was the question again?  (Laughter.)

No, but I think it’s really interesting to understand.  Russia is not stronger as a consequence of what they’ve been doing.  They get attention.  The sanctions against Ukraine are still in place.  And what I’ve consistently offered — from a position of strength, because the United States is not subject to sanctions and we’re not contracting 4 percent a year — what I’ve offered is a pathway whereby they can get back onto a path of growth and do right by their people.

So Mr. Putin’s actions have been successful only insofar as it’s boosted his poll ratings inside of Russia — which may be why the beltway is so impressed, because that tends to be the measure of success.  Of course, it’s easier to do when you’ve got a state-controlled media.

But this is not a smart, strategic move on Russia’s part.  And what Russia has now done is not only committed its own troops into a situation in which the overwhelming majority of the Syrian population sees it now as an enemy, but the Sunni population throughout the Middle East is going to see it as a supporter, an endorser, of those barrel bombs landing on kids — at a time when Russia has a significant Muslim population inside of its own borders that it needs to worry about.

So I want Russia to be successful.  This is not a contest between the United States and Russia.  It is in our interest for Russia to be a responsible, effective actor on the international stage that can share burdens with us, along with China, along with Europe, along with Japan, along with other countries — because the problems we have are big.  So I’m hopeful that Mr. Putin, having made this doubling-down of the support he has provided to Mr. Assad, recognizes that this is not going to be a good long-term strategy and that he works instead to bring about a political settlement.

Just as I hope that they can resolve the issues with Ukraine in a way that recognizes Russian equities but upholds the basic principle of sovereignty and independence that the Ukrainian people should enjoy like everybody else.  But until that time, we’re going to continue to have tensions and we’re going to continue to have differences.

But we’re not going to make Syria into a proxy war between the United States and Russia.  That would be bad strategy on our part.  This is a battle between Russia, Iran, and Assad against the overwhelming majority of the Syrian people.  Our battle is with ISIL, and our battle is with the entire international community to resolve the conflict in a way that can end the bloodshed and end the refugee crisis, and allow people to be at home, work, grow food, shelter their children, send those kids to school.  That’s the side we’re on.

This is not some superpower chessboard contest.  And anybody who frames it in that way isn’t paying very close attention to what’s been happening on the chessboard.

All right, last question.  Major Garrett.

Q    Mr. President, good to see you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good to see you.

Q    And for the children there, I promise I won’t take too long.  So you’ve been very patient.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ve been boring them to death, I guarantee it.  (Laughter.)  But there have been times where I’ve snagged rebounds for Ryan when he is shooting three-pointers so he has got to put up with this.  (Laughter.)

Q    Understood.  Mr. President, I wonder if you could tell the country to what degree you were changed or moved by what you discussed in private with Pope Francis?  What do you think his visit might have meant for the country long term?  And for Democrats who might already be wondering, is it too late for Joe Biden to decide whether or not to run for President?  And lastly, just to clarify, to what degree did Hillary Clinton’s endorsement just yesterday of a no-fly zone put her in a category of embracing a half-baked answer on Syria that borders on mumbo jumbo?

THE PRESIDENT:  On the latter issue, on the last question that you asked, Hillary Clinton is not half-baked in terms of her approach to these problems.  She was obviously my Secretary of State.  But I also think that there’s a difference between running for President and being President, and the decisions that are being made and the discussions that I’m having with the Joint Chiefs become much more specific and require, I think, a different kind of judgment.  And that’s what I’ll continue to apply as long as I’m here.  And if and when she’s President, then she’ll make those judgments.  And she’s been there enough that she knows that these are tough calls but that —

Q    — that she should know better?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, that’s not what I said.  That’s perhaps what you said.  What I’m saying is, is that we all want to try to relieve the suffering in Syria, but my job is to make sure that whatever we do we are doing in a way that serves the national security interests of the American people; that doesn’t lead to us getting into things that we can’t get out of or that we cannot do effectively; and as much as possible, that we’re working with international partners.

And we’re going to continue to explore things that we can do to protect people and to deal with the humanitarian situation there, and to provide a space in which we can bring about the kind of political transition that’s going to be required to solve the problem.  And I think Hillary Clinton would be the first to say that when you’re sitting in the seat that I’m sitting in, in the Situation Room, things look a little bit different — because she’s been right there next to me.

I love Joe Biden, and he’s got his own decisions to make, and I’ll leave it at that.  And in the meantime, he’s doing a great job as Vice President and has been really helpful on a whole bunch of issues.

Pope Francis I love.  He is a good man with a warm heart and a big moral imagination.  And I think he had such an impact in his visit here — as he has had around the world — because he cares so deeply about the least of these, and in that sensea expresses what I consider to be, as a Christian, the essence of Christianity.  And he’s got a good sense of humor.  (Laughter.)  Well, I can’t share all his jokes.  They were all clean.  (Laughter.)

And as I said in the introduction in the South Lawn when he appeared here at the White House, I think it’s really useful that he makes us uncomfortable in his gentle way; that he’s constantly prodding people’s consciences and asking everybody all across the political spectrum what more you can do to be kind, and to be helpful, and to love, and to sacrifice, and to serve.  And in that sense, I don’t think he’s somebody where we should be applying the typical American political measures — liberal and conservative, and left and right — I think he is speaking to all of our consciences, and we all have to then search ourselves to see if there are ways that we can do better.

Q    (Inaudible.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It did.  I think that when I spend time with somebody like the Pontiff — and there are other individuals, some of whom are famous, some of whom are not, but who are good people and deeply moral — then it makes me want to be better, makes me want to do better.  And those people are great gifts to the world.  And sometimes they’re just a teacher in a classroom. And sometimes they’re your neighbor.  And sometimes they’re your mom, or your wife.  Sometimes they’re your kids.  But they can encourage you to be better.  That’s what we’re all trying to do.

And that’s part of the wonderful thing about Pope Francis, is the humility that he brings to do this.  His rejection of the absolutism that says I’m 100 percent right and you’re 100 percent wrong; but rather, we are all sinners and we are all children of God.  That’s a pretty good starting point for being better.

All right.  Thank you, guys, for your patience.  You can now go home.  (Laughter.)

Thanks.

END

4:53 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts September 25, 2015: Speaker John Boehner’s Press Conference Announcing Resignation Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Speaker Boehner: “It’s Been An Honor To Serve”

Source: Speaker Boehner’s Press Office, 9-25-15

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today held a news conference to discuss his decision to resign from the Speakership and his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.  You can watch the entire news conference here.  Following are Boehner’s opening remarks:

“My mission every day is to fight for a smaller, less costly and more accountable government.  Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children.  We’re now on track to cut government spending by $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years.    We’ve made the first real entitlement reform in nearly two decades.   And we’ve protected 99 percent of Americans from permanent tax increases.

“We’ve done all this with a Democrat in the White House.  So I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.

“But more than anything, my first job as Speaker is to protect the institution.  A lot of you now know that my plan was to step down at the end of last year.  I decided in November of 2010 when I was elected Speaker that serving two terms would have been plenty.  But in June of last year, when it became clear that the majority leader lost his election, I frankly didn’t believe it was right to leave at the end of last year.  So my goal was to leave at the end of this year.  So I planned, actually on my birthday, November 17th, to announce that I was leaving at the end of the year. 

“But it’s become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.   So this morning, I informed my colleagues that I would resign from the Speakership and resign from Congress at the end of October. 

“Now, as you’ve often heard me say, this isn’t about me.   It’s about the people, it’s about the institution.  Just yesterday, we witnessed the awesome sight of Pope Francis addressing the greatest legislative body in the world.  And I hope that we will all heed his call to live by the Golden Rule.  But last night, I had started to think about all this. Then this morning, I woke up, said my prayers, as I always do.  And I decided, you know, today’s the day I’m going to do this, as simple as that.

“That’s the code I’ve always lived by: if you do the right things for the right reasons, the right things will happen.  And I know good things lie ahead for this House and this country.  I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, and I’m especially proud of my team.  This is my 25th year here, and I’ve succeeded in putting a staff together and a team together, many of which have been  with me for a long time.  Without a great staff, you can’t be a great member, and you certainly can’t be a great Speaker.

“I want to thank my family for putting up with this all these years. My poor girls, who are now 37 and 35. Their first campaign photo was in July of 1981, and so, they’ve had to endure all this.  It’s one thing for me to have to endure it. I’ve got thick skin. But, you know, the girls and my wife, they had to put up with a lot over the years.

“Let me express my gratitude to my constituents, who’ve sent me here 13 times over the last 25 years. You can’t get here without getting votes. But — I say this often. People ask me, what’s the greatest thing about being speaker, or about being an elected official? And I said, well, it’s the people you get to meet.  You know, I have met tens of thousands of people in my own congressional district that I would have not met, other than the fact I decided to ran for Congress.  Over the years, as I traveled on behalf of my colleagues and the party, I’ve met tens of thousands of additional people all over the country. And you meet rich people, you meet poor people, you meet interesting people. Probably a few boring ones along the way.

“But I can tell you that 99.9 percent of the people I meet on the road, anywhere, could not be — could not be nicer than they’ve been. It’s been — really, it’s been wonderful.

“It’s been an honor to serve in this institution.”

– See more at: http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-it-s-been-honor-serve#sthash.ylte48wm.dpuf

Full Text Political Transcripts July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama scolds CBS News’ Major Garrett on Iran hostages question at press conference

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Obama scolds CBS News’ Major Garrett on Iran hostages question at press conference

Source: CBS News, 7-15-15

Transcription of exchange between CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett and President Obama over Iranian hostages.

Major Garrett: As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran – three held on trumped up charges according to your administration, one, whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all of the fanfare around this [nuclear] deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for, in relation to these four Americans?

And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It was perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations, making the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry. Could you comment?

President Obama: I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content, as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails – Major, that’s nonsense. And you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody’s content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals – makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal. And by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing just as hard to get these folks out. That’s why those issues are not connected, but we are working every single day to try to get them out and won’t stop until they’re out and rejoined with their families.

With respect to the Chairman’s testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol. We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles. As I just explained, not only do we keep in place for five years the arms embargo this particular new UN resolution, not only do we maintain the eight years on the ballistic missiles under this particular UN resolution, but we have a host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities – whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now.

So, we have not lost those legal authorities, and in fact part of my pitch to the GCC countries, as well as to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is we should do a better job making sure that Iran’s not engaged in sending arms to organizations like Hezbollah, and as I just indicated, that means improving our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity with our partners.

Full Text Obama Presidency July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama’s press conference on the Iran nuclear deal Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Full text: Obama’s news conference on the Iran nuclear deal

Source: WH, 7-15-15

Press Conference by the President

East Room

1:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Yesterday was a historic day.  The comprehensive, long-term deal that we achieved with our allies and partners to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon represents a powerful display of American leadership and diplomacy.  It shows what we can accomplish when we lead from a position of strength and a position of principle, when we unite the international community around a shared vision, and we resolve to solve problems peacefully.

As I said yesterday, it’s important for the American people and Congress to get a full opportunity to review this deal.  That process is now underway.  I’ve already reached out to leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle.  My national security team has begun offering extensive briefings.  I expect the debate to be robust — and that’s how it should be.  This is an important issue.  Our national security policies are stronger and more effective when they are subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands.

And as I said yesterday, the details of this deal matter very much.  That’s why our team worked so hard for so long to get the details right.  At the same time, as this debate unfolds, I hope we don’t lose sight of the larger picture — the opportunity that this agreement represents.  As we go forward, it’s important for everybody to remember the alternative and the fundamental choice that this moment represents.

With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program — a nuclear weapons program, and Iran’s nuclear program will be under severe limits for many years.  Without a deal, those pathways remain open; there would be no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb.

With this deal, we gain unprecedented, around-the-clock monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities and the most comprehensive and intrusive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated.  Without a deal, those inspections go away, and we lose the ability to closely monitor Iran’s program and detect any covert nuclear weapons program.

With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences.  Nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place.  Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel, with little ability to re-impose them.

With this deal, we have the possibility of peacefully resolving a major threat to regional and international security.  Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East, and other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world.

As I said yesterday, even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran — its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East.  Therefore, the multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain in place for an additional five years, and restrictions on ballistic missile technology will remain for eight years.  In addition, the United States will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.  And we’ll continue our unprecedented security cooperation with Israel and continue to deepen our partnerships with the Gulf States.

But the bottom line is this:  This nuclear deal meets the national security interests of the United States and our allies.  It prevents the most serious threat — Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would only make the other problems that Iran may cause even worse.  That’s why this deal makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.  It’s why the alternative — no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, no inspections, an Iran that’s closer to a nuclear weapon, the risk of a regional nuclear arms race and a greater risk of war — all that would endanger our security.  That’s the choice that we face.  If we don’t choose wisely, I believe future generations will judge us harshly for letting this moment slip away.

And no one suggests that this deal resolves all the threats that Iran poses to its neighbors or the world.  Moreover, realizing the promise of this deal will require many years of implementation and hard work.  It will require vigilance and execution.  But this deal is our best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.  And, from the start, that has been my number-one priority, our number-one priority.  We’ve got a historic chance to pursue a safer and more secure world — an opportunity that may not come again in our lifetimes.  As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I am determined to seize that opportunity.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions.  And let me see who I’m starting off with.  Here you go.  I got it.  (Laughter.)

Andrew Beatty, AFP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday, you said the deal offered a chance at a new direction in relations with Iran.  What steps will you take to enable a more moderate Iran?  And does this deal allow you to more forcefully counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region quite aside from the nuclear question?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Andrew, if you don’t mind, just because I suspect that there’s going to be a common set of questions that are touched on — I promise I will get to your question, but I want to start off just by stepping back and reminding folks of what is at stake here.  And I already did in my opening statement, but I just want to reiterate it because I’ve heard already some of the objections to the deal.

The starting premise of our strategy with respect to Iran has been that it would be a grave threat to the United States and to our allies if they obtained a nuclear weapon.  And so everything that we’ve done over the last six and a half years has been designed to make sure that we address that number-one priority.  That’s what the sanctions regime was all about.  That’s how we were able to mobilize the international community, including some folks that we are not particularly close to, to abide by these sanctions.  That’s how these crippling sanctions came about, was because we were able to gain global consensus that Iran having a nuclear weapon would be a problem for everybody.

That’s the reason that Iran’s accounts got frozen and they were not able to get money for the oil sales that they’ve made.  That’s the reason that they had problems operating with respect to international commerce — because we built that international consensus around this very specific, narrow, but profound issue — the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

And, by the way, that was not simply my priority.  If you look back at all the debates that have taken place over the last five, six years, this has been a Democratic priority, this has been a Republican priority, this has been Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priority.  It’s been our Gulf allies’ priority — is making sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

The deal negotiated by John Kerry, Wendy Sherman, Ernie Moniz, our allies, our partners, the P5+1 achieves that goal.  It achieves our top priority — making sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.  But we have always recognized that even if Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, Iran still poses challenges to our interests and our values, both in the region and around the world.

So when this deal gets implemented, we know that we will have dismantled the immediate concerns around Iran’s nuclear program.  We will have brought their stockpiles down to 98 percent.  We will have significantly reduced the number of centrifuges that they operate.  We will have installed an unprecedented inspections regime, and that will remain in place not just for 10 years but, for example, on the stockpiles, will continue to 15 years.

Iran will have pledged to the international community that it will not develop a nuclear weapon and now will be subject to an Additional Protocol, a more vigorous inspection and monitoring regime that lasts in perpetuity.  We will have disabled a facility like Arak, the Arak facility, from allowing Iran to develop plutonium that could be used for a bomb.  We will have greatly reduced the stockpile of uranium that’s enriched.  And we will have put in place inspections along the entire supply chain so that if uranium was diverted into a covert program we would catch it.

So I can say with confidence but, more importantly, nuclear experts can say with confidence that Iran will not be in a position to develop a nuclear bomb.  We will have met our number-one priority.

Now, we’ll still have problems with Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism; its funding of proxies like Hezbollah that threaten Israel and threaten the region; the destabilizing activities that they’re engaging in, including in places like Yemen.  And my hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave.  But we’re not counting on it.  So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.  It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy.

It solves one particular problem, which is making sure they don’t have a bomb.  And the point I’ve repeatedly made — and is, I believe, hard to dispute — is that it will be a lot easier for us to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests, if they don’t have a bomb.

And so will they change their behavior?  Will we seek to gain more cooperation from them in resolving issues like Syria, or what’s happening in Iraq, to stop encouraging Houthis in Yemen?  We’ll continue to engage with them.  Although, keep in mind that unlike the Cuba situation, we’re not normalizing diplomatic relations here.  So the contacts will continue to be limited.  But will we try to encourage them to take a more constructive path?  Of course.  But we’re not betting on it.

And in fact, having resolved the nuclear issue, we will be in a stronger position to work with Israel, work with the Gulf countries, work with our other partners, work with the Europeans to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran around those issues that remain of concern.

But the argument that I’ve been already hearing — and this was foreshadowed even before the deal was announced — that because this deal does not solve all those other problems, that that’s an argument for rejecting this deal, defies logic.  It makes no sense.  And it loses sight of what was our original number-one priority, which is making sure that they don’t have a bomb.

Jon Karl.

Q    Mr. President, does it give you any pause to see this deal praised by Syrian dictator Assad as a “great victory for Iran,” or praised by those in Tehran who still shout “death to America,” and yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it “a mistake of historic proportions”?  And here in Congress, it looks like a large majority will vote to reject this deal.  I know you can veto that rejection, but do you have any concerns about seeing a majority of the people’s representatives in Congress saying that this is a bad deal?

And if I can just ask you quick political question, a very quick one.

THE PRESIDENT:  Jon, I think —

Q    Donald —

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me answer the question that you asked.  It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear.  That’s what politicians do.  And that’s been the case throughout.  I mean, you’ll recall that during the course of these negotiations over the last couple of months every time the Supreme Leader or somebody tweeted something out, for some reason we all bought into the notion, well, the Obama administration must be giving this or capitulating to that.  Well, now we have a document so you can see what the deal is.

We don’t have to speculate, we don’t have to engage in spin, you can just read what it says and what is required.  And nobody has disputed that as a consequence of this agreement Iran has to drastically reduce its stockpiles of uranium, is cut off from plutonium; the Fordow facility that is underground is converted; that we have an unprecedented inspections regime; that we have snap-back provisions if they cheat.  The facts are the facts.  And I’m not concerned about what others say about it.

Now, with respect to Congress, my hope — I won’t prejudge this — my hope is, is that everyone in Congress also evaluates this agreement based on the facts — not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring to Congress as opposed to a Republican President, not based on lobbying, but based on what’s in the national interest of the United States of America.

And I think that if Congress does that, then, in fact, based on the facts, the majority of Congress should approve of this deal.  But we live in Washington and politics do intrude.  And as I said in an interview yesterday, I am not betting on the Republican Party rallying behind this agreement.  I do expect the debate to be based on facts and not speculation or misinformation.  And that I welcome — in part because, look, there are legitimate real concerns here.  We’ve already talked about it.  We have huge differences with Iran.  Israel has legitimate concerns about its security relative to Iran.  You have a large country with a significant military that has proclaimed that Israel shouldn’t exist, that has denied the Holocaust, that has financed Hezbollah, and as a consequence there are missiles that are pointed towards Tel Aviv.

And so I think there are very good reasons why Israelis are nervous about Iran’s position in the world generally.  And I’ve said this to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I’ve said it directly to the Israeli people.  But what I’ve also said is that all those threats are compounded if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.  And for all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu, or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative.

I’m hearing a lot of talking points being repeated about “this is a bad deal” — “this is a historically bad deal,” “this will threaten Israel and threaten the world and threaten the United States.”  I mean, there’s been a lot of that.

What I haven’t heard is, what is your preferred alternative?  If 99 percent of the world community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say, this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and you are arguing either that it does not, or that even if it does it’s temporary, or that because they’re going to get a windfall of their accounts being unfrozen that they’ll cause more problems, then you should have some alternative to present.  And I haven’t heard that.  And the reason is because there really are only two alternatives here:  Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.  Those are the options.

Now, you’ll hear some critics say, well, we could have negotiated a better deal.  Okay.  What does that mean?  I think the suggestion among a lot of the critics has been that a better deal, an acceptable deal would be one in which Iran has no nuclear capacity at all, peaceful or otherwise.  The problem with that position is that there is nobody who thinks that Iran would or could ever accept that, and the international community does not take the view that Iran can’t have a peaceful nuclear program.  They agree with us that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.

And so we don’t have diplomatic leverage to eliminate every vestige of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran.  What we do have the leverage to do is to make sure they don’t have a weapon.  That’s exactly what we’ve done.

So to go back to Congress, I challenge those who are objecting to this agreement, number one, to read the agreement before they comment on it; number two, to explain specifically where it is that they think this agreement does not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and why they’re right and people like Ernie Moniz, who is an MIT nuclear physicist and an expert in these issues, is wrong, why the rest of the world is wrong, and then present an alternative.

And if the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so.  And that will be an honest debate.

All right.

Q    Mr. President, if I can —

THE PRESIDENT:  No, no —

Q    Prime Minister Netanyahu said that you have a situation where Iran can delay 24 days before giving access to military facilities —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m happy to — that’s a good example.  So let’s take the issue of 24 days.  This has been I think swirling today, the notion that this is insufficient in terms of inspections.

Now, keep in mind, first of all, that we’ll have 24/7 inspections of declared nuclear facilities — Fordow, Natanz, Arak, their uranium mines; facilities that are known to produce centrifuges, parts.  That entire infrastructure that we know about we will have sophisticated, 24/7 monitoring of those facilities.

So then the issue is, what if they try to develop a covert program?  Now, one of the advantages of having inspections across the entire production chain is that it makes it very difficult to set up a covert program.  There are only so many uranium mines in Iran.  And if, in fact, we’re counting the amount of uranium that’s being mined and suddenly some is missing on the back end, they got some explaining to do.

So we’re able to track what’s happening along the existing facilities to make sure that there is not diversion into a covert program.  But let’s say that Iran is so determined that it now wants to operate covertly.  The IAEA, the international organization charged with implementing the non-proliferation treaty and monitoring nuclear activities in countries around the world — the IAEA will have the ability to say, that undeclared site we’re concerned about, we see something suspicious.  And they will be able to say to Iran, we want to go inspect that.

Now, if Iran objects, we can override it.  In the agreement, we’ve set it up so we can override Iran’s objection.  And we don’t need Russia or China in order for us to get that override.  And if they continue to object, we’re in a position to snap back sanctions and declare that Iran is in violation and is cheating.

As for the fact that it may take 24 days to finally get access to the site, the nature of nuclear programs and facilities is such, this is not something you hide in a closet.  This is not something you put on a dolly and kind of wheel off somewhere.  And, by the way, if we identify an undeclared site that we’re suspicious about, we’re going to be keeping eyes on it.  So we’re going to be monitoring what the activity is, and that’s going to be something that will be evidence if we think that some funny business was going on there that we can then present to the international community.

So we’ll be monitoring that that entire time.  And, by the way, if there is nuclear material on that site, high school physics will remind us that that leaves a trace.  And so we’ll know that, in fact, there was a violation of the agreement.

So the point is, Jonathan, that this is the most vigorous inspection and verification regime by far that has ever been negotiated.  Is it possible that Iran decides to try to cheat despite having this entire inspection verification mechanism?  It’s possible.  But if it does, first of all, we’ve built in a one-year breakout time, which gives us a year to respond forcefully.  And we’ve built in a snap-back provision so we don’t have to go through lengthy negotiations at the U.N. to put the sanctions right back in place.

And so really the only argument you can make against the verification and inspection mechanism that we’ve put forward is that Iran is so intent on obtaining a nuclear weapon that no inspection regime and no verification mechanism would be sufficient because they’d find some way to get around it because they’re untrustworthy.

And if that’s your view, then we go back to the choice that you have to make earlier.  That means, presumably, that you can’t negotiate.  And what you’re really saying is, is that you’ve got to apply military force to guarantee that they don’t have a nuclear program.  And if somebody wants to make that debate — whether it’s the Republican leadership, or Prime Minister Netanyahu, or the Israeli Ambassador or others, they’re free to make it.  But it’s not persuasive.

Carol Lee.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to ask you about the arms and ballistic missile embargo.  Why did you decide — agree to lift those even with the five- and eight-year durations?  It’s obviously emerging as a sticking point on the Hill.  And are you concerned that arms to Iran will go to Hezbollah or Hamas?  And is there anything that you or a future President can do to stop that?

And if you don’t mind, I wanted to see if you could step back a little bit, and when you look at this Iran deal and all the other issues and unrest that’s happening in the Middle East, what kind of Middle East do you want to leave when you leave the White House in a year and a half?

THE PRESIDENT:  So the issue of the arms embargo and ballistic missiles is of real concern to us — has been of real concern to us.  And it is in the national security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from sending weapons to Hezbollah, for example, or sending weapons to the Houthis in Yemen that accelerate a civil war there.

We have a number of mechanisms under international law that give us authority to interdict arms shipments by Iran.  One of those mechanisms is the U.N. security resolution related to Iran’s nuclear program.  Essentially, Iran was sanctioned because of what had happened at Fordow, its unwillingness to comply with previous U.N. security resolutions about their nuclear program.  And as part of the package of sanctions that was slapped on them, the issue of arms and ballistic missiles were included.

Now, under the terms of the original U.N. resolution, the fact is that once an agreement was arrived at that gave the international community assurance Iran didn’t have a nuclear weapon, you could argue just looking at the text that those arms and ballistic missile prohibitions should immediately go away.

But what I said to our negotiators was given that Iran has breached trust, and the uncertainty of our allies in the region about Iran’s activities, let’s press for a longer extension of the arms embargo and the ballistic missile prohibitions.  And we got that.  We got five years in which, under this new agreement, arms coming in and out of Iran are prohibited.  And we got eight years with respect to ballistic missiles.

But part of the reason why we were willing to extend it only for five, let’s say, as opposed to a longer period of time, is because we have other U.N. resolutions that prohibit arms sales by Iran to organizations like Hezbollah.  We have other U.N. resolutions and multilateral agreements that give us authority to interdict arms shipments from Iran throughout the region.  And so we’ve had belts and suspenders and buttons, a whole bunch of different legal authorities.  These legal authorities under the nuclear program may lapse after five or eight years, but we’ll still be in possession of other legal authorities that allow us to interdict those arms.

And truthfully, these prohibitions are not self-enforcing.  It’s not like the U.N. has the capacity to police what Iran is doing.

What it does is it gives us authority under international law to prevent arms shipments from happening in concert with our allies and our partners.  And the real problem, if you look at how, for example, Hezbollah got a lot of missiles that are a grave threat to Israel and many of our friends in the region, it’s not because they were legal.  It’s not because somehow that was authorized under international law.  It was because there was insufficient intelligence, or capacity, to stop those shipments.

So the bottom line is, Carol, I share the concerns of Israel, Saudis, Gulf partners about Iran shipping arms and causing conflict and chaos in the region.  And that’s why I’ve said to them, let’s double down and partner much more effectively to improve our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity so that fewer of those arms shipments are getting through the net.

But the legal authorities, we’ll still possess.  And obviously, we’ve got our own unilateral prohibitions and sanctions in place around non-nuclear issues, like support for Hezbollah.  And those remain in place.

Now, in terms of the larger issues of the Middle East, obviously that’s a longer discussion.  I think my key goal when I turn over the keys to the President — the next President — is that we are on track to defeat ISIL; that they are much more contained and we’re moving in the right direction there.  That we have jumpstarted a process to resolve the civil war in Syria, which is like an open sore in the region and is giving refuge to terrorist organizations who are taking advantage of that chaos.  To make sure that in Iraq not only have we pushed back ISIL, but we’ve also created an environment in which Sunni, Shia and Kurd are starting to operate and function more effectively together.  And to be in a conversation with all our partners in the region about how we have strengthened our security partnerships so that they feel they can address any potential threats that may come, including threats from Iran.  And that includes providing additional security assurances and cooperation to Israel, building on the unprecedented cooperation that we have already put in place and support that we’ve already put in place.  It includes the work that we’ve done with the GCC up at Camp David, making sure that we execute that.

If we’ve done those things, then the problems in the Middle East will not be solved.  And ultimately, it’s not the job of the President of the United States to solve every problem in the Middle East.  The people of the Middle East are going to have to solve some of these problems themselves.  But I think we can provide that next President at least a foundation for continued progress in these various areas.

The last thing I would say — and this is a longer-term issue — is we have to address the youth in the region with jobs and opportunity and a better vision for the future so that they are not tempted by the nihilistic, violent dead-end that organizations like ISIL offer.  Again, we can’t do that entirely by ourselves, but we can partner with well-intentioned organizations, states, NGOs, religious leaders in the region.  We have to do a better job of that than we’ve been doing so far.

Michael Crowley.

Q    Thank you.  You alluded earlier to Iran’s role in Syria, just to focus on that for a moment.  Many analysts and some former members of your administration believe that the kind of negotiated political settlement that you say is necessary in Syria will require working directly with Iran and giving Iran an important role.  Do you agree?  And is that a dialogue you’ll be actively seeking?

And what about the fight against ISIS?  What would it take for there to be explicit cooperation between the U.S. and Iran?

THE PRESIDENT:  I do agree that we’re not going to solve the problems in Syria unless there’s buy-in from the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, our Gulf partners.  It’s too chaotic.  There are too many factions.  There’s too much money and too many arms flooding into the zone.  It’s gotten caught up in both sectarian conflict and geopolitical jockeying.  And in order for us to resolve it, there’s going to have to be agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield.  So Iran is one of those players, and I think that it’s important for them to be part of that conversation.

I want to repeat what I said earlier.  We have not — and I don’t anticipate any time in the near future — restored normal diplomatic relations with Iran.  And so I do not foresee a formal set of agreements with Iran in terms of how we’re conducting our counter-ISIL campaign.

But clearly, Iran has influence in Iraq.  Iraq has a majority Shia population.  They have relationships to Iran.  Some are natural.  We expect somebody like Prime Minister Abadi to meet with and negotiate and work with Iran as its neighbor.  Some are less legitimate, where you see Iran financing Shia militias that in the past have killed American soldiers and in the future may carry out atrocities when they move into Sunni areas.

And so we’re working with our diplomats on the ground, as well as our military teams on the ground to asses where can we appropriately at least de-conflict, and where can we work with Prime Minister Abadi around an overall strategy for Iraq to regain its sovereignty, and where do we tell Abadi, you know what, what Iran is doing there is a problem, and we can’t cooperate in that area, for example, unless you get those folks out of there because we’re not going to have our troops, even in an advisory or training role, looking over their shoulders because they’re not sure of what might happen to them.  And those conversations have been ongoing.  I think they will continue.

The one thing you can count on is that any work that the U.S. government does, or the U.S. military does in Iraq with other partners on the ground is premised on the idea that they are reporting to — under the chain of command of the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces.  If we don’t have confidence that ultimately Abadi is directing those soldiers, then it’s tough for us to have any kind of direct relationship.

Major Garrett.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran — three held on trumped-up charges, according to your administration; one, whereabouts unknown.  Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?

And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons.  It is perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations.  Many in the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry.  Could you comment?

THE PRESIDENT:  I got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions.  The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.

I’ve met with the families of some of those folks.  Nobody is content.  And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates.  Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.  It makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal.  And, by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out.  That’s why those issues are not connected.  But we are working every single day to try to get them out, and won’t stop until they’re out and rejoined with their families.

With respect to the Chairman’s testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol.  We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles.  As I just explained, not only do we keep in place for five years the arms embargo under this particular new U.N. resolution, not only do we maintain the eight years on the ballistic missiles under this particular U.N. resolution, but we have a host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now.

So we have not lost those legal authorities.  And in fact, part of my pitch to the GCC countries, as well as to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is we should do a better job making sure that Iran is not engaged in sending arms to organizations like Hezbollah.  And as I just indicated, that means improving our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity with our partners.

April Ryan.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to change the subject a bit.  Earlier this year, on the flight to Selma, you said, on matters of race, as President your job is to close the remaining gaps that are left in state and federal government.  Now, how does criminal justice reform fit into that equation?  And what gaps remain for you towards the end of your presidency?  And also, what does it mean to travel to Kenya, your father’s homeland, in the next couple of weeks as President to the United States?  And lastly, would you revoke the Medal of Freedom from Bill Cosby?

THE PRESIDENT:  You stuffed a lot in there, April.  (Laughter.)

Q    I learned from my colleagues.

THE PRESIDENT:  Say, who did you learn from?  Jonathan Karl?  Is that what you said?  (Laughter.)

Q    On criminal justice reform, obviously I gave a lengthy speech yesterday, but this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot; been working first with Eric Holder, now with Loretta Lynch about — we’ve been working on along with other prosecutors of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  It’s an outgrowth of the task force that we put together, post-Ferguson and the Garner case in New York.

And I don’t think that the criminal justice system is obviously the sole source of racial tension in this country, or the key institution to resolving the opportunity gap.  But I think it is a part of the broader set of challenges that we face in creating a more perfect union.

And the good news is, is that this is one of those rare issues where we’ve got some Republican and Democratic interest, as well as federal, state, and local interest in solving the problem.  I think people recognize that there are violent criminals out there and they’ve got to be locked up.  We’ve got to have tough prosecutors, we have to support our law enforcement officials.  Police are in a tough job and they are helping to keep us safe, and we are grateful and thankful to them.

But what we also know is this huge spike in incarcerations is also driven by non-violent drug offenses where the sentencing is completely out of proportion with the crime.  And that costs taxpayers enormous amounts of money.  It is debilitating communities who are seeing huge proportions of the young men in their communities finding themselves with a criminal record, rendering them oftentimes unemployable.  So it compounds problems that these communities already have.

And so I am very appreciative of folks like Dick Durbin and Cory Booker, alongside Mike Lee and Rand Paul and other folks in the House who are working together to see if we can both reduce some of these mandatory minimums around non-violent drug offenses.  Because again, I tend not to have a lot of sympathy when it comes to violent crime.  But when it comes to non-violent drug offenses, is there work that we can do to reduce mandatory minimums, create more diversion programs like drug courts?  Then, can we do a better job on the rehabilitation side inside of prisons so that we are preparing these folks who are eventually going to be released to reenter the workforce?  On the back end, are we doing more to link them up with reentry programs that are effective?

And this may be an area where we could have some really significant bipartisan legislation that doesn’t eliminate all the other challenges we’ve got.  Because the most important goal is keeping folks from getting in the criminal justice system in the first place, which means early childhood education and good jobs, and making sure that we’re not segregating folks in impoverished communities that have no contact with opportunity.

But this can make a difference.  I met these four ex-offenders, as I said, yesterday, and what was remarkable was how they had turned their lives around.  And these were some folks who had been some pretty tough criminals.  One of them had served 10 years; another was a repeat offender that had served a lot of time.  And in each instance, somebody intervened at some point in their lives — once they had already been in the criminal justice system, once they had already gotten in trouble — and said, you know what, I think you can live a different way, and I’m willing to help you.

And that one person, an art teacher, or a GED teacher, or somebody who was willing to offer a guy a job — I want to give a shout-out to Five Guys, because one of the guys there was an ex-felon, and Five Guys gave him a job.  And he ended up becoming a manager at the store and was able to completely turn his life around.  But the point was, somebody reached out to that person and gave him a chance.

And so part of our question should be, how about somebody reaching out to these guys when they’re 10, or 11, or 12, or eight, as opposed to waiting until they’ve already gone through a criminal justice program.  That’s part of why we’re doing My Brother’s Keeper.  But this is an area where I feel modestly optimistic.

I think in the meantime we’ve got to stay on top of keeping the crime rate down, because part of the reason I think there’s a conversation taking place is violent crime has significantly dropped.  Last year, we saw both incarcerations and the crime rate drop, and this can always turn if we start seeing renewed problems in terms of violent crime.  And there’s parts of the country where violent crime is still a real problem, including my hometown of Chicago, and in Baltimore.

And part of what I’ve asked Attorney General Lynch to do is to figure out how can we refocus attention.  If we’re going to do a package of criminal justice reforms, part of it would be actually having a greater police presence and more law enforcement in the communities that are really getting hit hard and haven’t seen some of the drops in violent crime that we’ve seen in places like Manhattan, for example.

With respect to the visit to Kenya, it’s obviously something I’m looking forward to.  I’ll be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as President because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center.  And just the logistics of visiting a place are always tough as President, but it’s obviously symbolically important.  And my hope is, is that we can deliver a message that the U.S. is a strong partner not just for Kenya, but for Sub-Saharan Africa generally; build on the progress that’s been made around issues of health and education; focus on counterterrorism issues that are important in East Africa because of al-Shabaab and some of the tragedies that have happened inside of Kenya; and continue to encourage democracy and the reduction of corruption inside that country that sometimes has held back this incredibly gifted and blessed country.

And with respect to the Medal of Freedom, there’s no precedent for revoking a medal.  We don’t have that mechanism.  And as you know, I tend to make it a policy not to comment on the specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, then civil issues involved.

I’ll say this:  If you give a woman — or a man, for that matter — without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape.  And I think this country — any civilized country — should have no tolerance for rape.

All right.  Have we exhausted Iran questions here?  I think there’s a helicopter that’s coming.  But I really am enjoying this Iran debate.  Topics that may not have been touched upon, criticisms that you’ve heard that I did not answer?  Go ahead.  I know Josh is getting a little stressed here — (laughter) — but I just want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stones unturned here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  I’ll be brief.  The argument has been made that Iran now has a cash windfall, billions to spend.  Your people seem confident they’re going to spend it at home.  Why are you confident they’re not going to spend it on arming Hezbollah, arming Bashar al-Assad, et cetera?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think that’s a great question and I’m glad you brought it up.  I think it is a mistake to characterize our belief that they will just spend it on daycare centers, and roads, and paying down debt.  We think that they have to do some of that, because Rouhani was elected specifically on the premise of improving the economic situation inside of Iran.  That economy has tanked since we imposed sanctions.

So the notion that they’re just immediately going to turn over $100 billion to the IRGC or the Quds Force I think runs contrary to all the intelligence that we’ve seen and the commitments that the Iranian government has made.

Do we think that with the sanctions coming down, that Iran will have some additional resources for its military and for some of the activities in the region that are a threat to us and a threat to our allies?  I think that is a likelihood that they’ve got some additional resources.  Do I think it’s a game-changer for them?  No.

They are currently supporting Hezbollah, and there is a ceiling — a pace at which they could support Hezbollah even more, particularly in the chaos that’s taking place in Syria.  So can they potentially try to get more assistance there?  Yes.  Should we put more resources into blocking them from getting that assistance to Hezbollah?  Yes.  Is the incremental additional money that they’ve got to try to destabilize the region or send to their proxies, is that more important than preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?  No.  So I think — again, this is a matter of us making a determination of what is our priority.

The other problem with the argument that folks have been making about, oh, this is a windfall and suddenly Iran is flushed with cash, and they’re going to take over the world.  And I say that not tongue-in-cheek, because if you look at some of the statements by some of our critics, you would think that Iran is, in fact, going to take over the world as a consequence of this deal — which I think would be news to the Iranians.

That argument is also premised on the notion that if there is no deal, if Congress votes down this deal, that we’re able to keep sanctions in place with the same vigor and effectiveness as we have right now.  And that, I can promise you, is not true.  That is absolutely not true.  I want to repeat:  We’re not writing Iran a check.  This is Iran’s money that we were able to block from them having access to.  That required the cooperation of countries all around the world, many of whom really want to purchase oil from Iran.  The imposition of sanctions — their cooperation with us — has cost them billions of dollars, made it harder for them.  They’ve been willing to do that because they’ve believed we were sincere about trying to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, and they considered that a priority — a high enough priority that they were willing to cooperate with us on sanctions.

If they saw us walking away, or more specifically, if they saw the U.S. Congress effectively vetoing the judgment of 99 percent of the world community that this is a deal that resolves the Iranian weapons program — nuclear weapons program in an equitable way, the sanctions system unravels.  And so we could still maintain some of our unilateral sanctions, but it would be far less effective — as it was before we were able to put together these multilateral sanctions.

So maybe they don’t get $100 billion; maybe they get $60 billion or $70 billion instead.  The price for that that we’ve paid is that now Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon.  We have no inspectors on the ground.  We don’t know what’s going on.  They’re still getting some cash windfall.  We’ve lost credibility in the eyes of the world.  We will have effectively united Iran and divided ourselves from our allies.  A terrible position to be in.

I’m just going to look — I made some notes about any of the arguments — the other arguments that I’ve heard here.

Q    What about — (off-mic) — the end of the deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, yes, that’s a good one.  The notion —

Q    At the end of the deal they could go back —

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.  Well, so let’s address this issue of — because that’s the other big argument that’s been made.  All right, let’s assume that the deal holds for 10 years, Iran doesn’t cheat.  Now, at the end of 10 years, some of the restrictions have been lifted — although, remember, others stay in place for 15 years.  So for example, they’ve still got to keep their stockpiles at a minimal level for 15 years.  The inspections don’t go away; those are still in place 15, 20 years from now.  Their commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not go away; that’s still in place.  The additional protocol that they have to sign up for under this deal, which requires a more extensive inspection and verification mechanism — that stays in place.

So there’s no scenario in which a U.S. President is not in a stronger position 12, 13, 15 years from now if, in fact, Iran decided at that point they still wanted to get a nuclear weapon.  Keep in mind, we will have maintained a one-year breakout time, we will have rolled back their program, frozen their facilities, kept them under severe restrictions, had observers.  They will have made international commitments supported by countries around the world.

And — hold on a second — and if at that point they finally decided, you know what, we’re going to cheat, or not even cheat — at that point, they decide openly we’re now pursuing a nuclear weapon — they’re still in violation of this deal and the commitments they’ve made internationally.

And so we are still in a position to mobilize the world community to say, no, you can’t have a nuclear weapon.  And they’re not in a stronger position to get a nuclear weapon at that point; they’re in a weaker position than they are today.  And, by the way, we haven’t given away any of our military capabilities.  We’re not in a weaker position to respond.

So even if everything the critics were saying was true — that at the end of 10 years, or 12 years, or 15 years, Iran now is in a position to decide it wants a nuclear weapon, that they’re at a breakout point — they won’t be at a breakout point that is more dangerous than the breakout point they’re in right now.  They won’t be at a breakout point that is shorter than the one that exists today.  And so why wouldn’t we at least make sure that for the next 10, 15, years they are not getting a nuclear weapon and we can verify it; and afterwards, if they decide if they’ve changed their mind, we are then much more knowledgeable about what their capabilities are, much more knowledgeable about what their program is, and still in a position to take whatever actions we would take today?

Q    So none of this is holding out hope that they’ll change their behavior?

THE PRESIDENT:  No.

Q    Nothing different —

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  Look, I’m always hopeful that behavior may change for the sake of the Iranian people as well as people in the region.  There are young people there who are not getting the opportunities they deserve because of conflict, because of sectarianism, because of poor governance, because of repression, because of terrorism.  And I remain eternally hopeful that we can do something about that, and it should be part of U.S. foreign policy to do something about that.  But I’m not banking on that to say that this deal is the right thing to do.

Again, it is incumbent on the critics of this deal to explain how an American President is in a worse position 12, 13, 14, 15 years from now if, in fact, at that point Iran says we’re going to pull out of the NPT, kick out inspectors and go for a nuclear bomb.  If that happens, that President will be in a better position than what happened if Iran, as a consequence of Congress rejecting this deal, decides that’s it, we’re done negotiating, we’re going after a bomb right now.

The choices would be tougher today than they would be for that President 15 years from now.  And I have not yet heard logic that refutes that.

All right.  I really have to go now.  I think we’ve hit the big themes.  But I promise you, I will address this again.  All right?  I suspect this is not the last that we’ve heard of this debate.

END
2:33 P.M. EDT

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 t