Full Text Obama Presidency September 20, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner Transcript



Remarks by the President at the Congressional Black Caucus 45th Annual Phoenix Awards Dinner

Source: WH, 9-20-15

Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

9:40 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, CBC!  (Applause.)  I guess I get the fancier lectern here.  Everybody please have a seat.  Have a seat.  I know it’s late.  You’re ready for the after parties.  I should have ditched the speech and brought my playlist.  (Laughter.)  Everybody looks beautiful, handsome, wonderful.  Thank you, Don, for that introduction.  Thank you to the CBC Foundation.  And thank you to the members of the CBC.  (Applause.)

On the challenges of our times, from giving workers a raise to getting families health coverage; on the threats of our time, from climate change to nuclear proliferation — members of the CBC have been leaders moving America forward.  With your help, our businesses have created over 13 million new jobs.  (Applause.)  With your help, we’ve covered more than 16 million Americans with health insurance — many for the first time.  (Applause.)  Three years ago, Republicans said they’d get the unemployment rate down to 6 percent by 2017.  It’s down to 5.1 right now.  (Applause.)  You didn’t hear much about that at the debate on Monday — on Wednesday night.

The point is, though, none of this progress would have been possible without the CBC taking tough votes when it mattered most.  Whatever I’ve accomplished, the CBC has been there.  (Applause.)  I was proud to be a CBC member when I was in the Senate, and I’m proud to be your partner today.  But we’re not here just to celebrate — we’re here to keep going.  Because with the unemployment rate for African Americans still more than double than whites, with millions of families still working hard and still waiting to feel the recovery in their own lives, we know that the promise of this nation — where every single American, regardless of the circumstances in which they were born, regardless of what they look like, where they come from, has the chance to succeed — that promise is not yet fulfilled.

The good thing about America — the great project of America is that perfecting our union is never finished.  We’ve always got more work to do.  And tonight’s honorees remind us of that.  They remind us of the courage and sacrifices, the work that they’ve done — and not just at the national level, but in local communities all across the country.  We couldn’t be prouder of them.  The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement whom we lost last month remind us of the work that remains to be done.  American heroes like Louis Stokes, and Julian Bond, and Amelia Boynton Robinson.  (Applause.)

Ms. Robinson — as some of you know, earlier this year, my family and I joined many in Selma for the 50th anniversary of that march.  And as we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, I held Ms. Amelia’s hand.  And I thought about her and all the extraordinary women like her who were really the life force of the movement.  (Applause.)  Women were the foot soldiers.  Women strategized boycotts.  Women organized marches.  Even if they weren’t allowed to run the civil rights organizations on paper, behind the scenes they were the thinkers and the doers making things happen each and every day — (applause) — doing the work that nobody else wanted to do.  They couldn’t prophesize from the pulpits, but they led the charge from the pews.  They were no strangers to violence.  They were on the front lines.  So often they were subject to abuse, dehumanized, but kept on going, holding families together.  Mothers were beaten and gassed on Bloody Sunday.  Four little girls were murdered in a Birmingham church.  Women made the movement happen.

Of course, black women have been a part of every great movement in American history — (applause) — even if they weren’t always given a voice.  They helped plan the March on Washington, but were almost entirely absent from the program.  And when pressed, male organizers added a tribute highlighting six women — none of them who were asked to make a speech.  Daisy Bates introduced her fellow honorees in just 142 words, written by a man.  Of course, Marian Anderson and Mahalia Jackson sang.  But in a three-hour program, the men gave women just 142 words.  That may sound familiar to some of the women in the room here tonight.  The organizers even insisted on two separate parades — male leaders marching along the main route on Pennsylvania Avenue, and leaders like Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks relegated to Independence Avenue.  America’s most important march against segregation had its own version of separation.

Black women were central in the fight for women’s rights, from suffrage to the feminist movement — (applause) — and yet despite their leadership, too often they were also marginalized.  But they didn’t give up, they didn’t let up.  They were too fierce for that.  Black women have always understood the words of Pauli Murray — that “Hope is a song in a weary throat.”

It’s thanks to black women that we’ve come a long way since the days when a girl like Ruby Bridges couldn’t go to school.  When a woman like Amelia couldn’t cast her vote.  When we didn’t have a Congressional Black Caucus — and its 20 women members.  (Applause.)

So I’m focusing on women tonight because I want them to know how much we appreciate them, how much we admire them, how much we love them.  (Applause.)  And I want to talk about what more we have to do to provide full opportunity and equality for our black women and girls in America today.  (Applause.)

Because all of us are beneficiaries of a long line of strong black women who helped carry this country forward.  Their work to expand civil rights opened the doors of opportunity, not just for African Americans but for all women, for all of us — black and white, Latino and Asian, LGBT and straight, for our First Americans and our newest Americans.  And their contributions in every field — as scientists and entrepreneurs, educators, explorers — all made us stronger.  Of course, they’re also a majority of my household.  (Laughter and applause.)  So I care deeply about how they’re doing.

The good news is, despite structural barriers of race and gender, women and girls of color have made real progress in recent years.  The number of black women-owned businesses has skyrocketed.  (Applause.)  Black women have ascended the ranks of every industry.  Teen pregnancy rates among girls of color are down, while high school and four-year college graduation rates are up.  (Applause.)  That’s good news.

But there’s no denying that black women and girls still face real and persistent challenges.  The unemployment rate is over 8 percent for black women.  And they’re overrepresented in low-paying jobs; underrepresented in management.  They often lack access to economic necessities like paid leave and quality, affordable child care.  They often don’t get the same quality health care that they need, and have higher rates of certain chronic diseases — although that’s starting to change with Obamacare.  (Applause.)  It’s working, by the way, people.  Just in case — (laughter) — just in case you needed to know.

And then there are some of the challenges that are harder to see and harder to talk about — although Michelle, our outstanding, beautiful First Lady talks about these struggles.  (Applause.)  Michelle will tell stories about when she was younger, people telling her she shouldn’t aspire to go to the very best universities.  And she found herself thinking sometimes, “Well, maybe they’re right.”  Even after she earned two degrees from some of the best universities in America, she still faced the doubts that were rooted in deep social prejudice and stereotypes, worrying whether she was being too assertive, or too angry, or too tall.  (Applause.)  I like tall women.  (Laughter and applause.)

And those stereotypes and social pressures, they still affect our girls.  So we all have to be louder than the voices that are telling our girls they’re not good enough — (applause) — that they’ve got to look a certain way, or they’ve got to act a certain way, or set their goals at a certain level.  We’ve got to affirm their sense of self-worth, and make them feel visible and beautiful, and understood and loved.  (Applause.)  And I say this as a father who strives to do this at home, but I also say this as a citizen.  This is not just about my family or yours; it’s about who we are as a people, who we want to be, and how we can make sure that America is fulfilling its promise — because everybody is getting a chance, and everybody is told they’re important, and everybody is given opportunity.  And we got to do more than just say we care, or say we put a woman on ten-dollar bill, although that’s a good idea.  We’ve got to make sure they’re getting some ten-dollar bills; that they’re getting paid properly.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to let our actions do the talking.

It is an affront to the very idea of America when certain segments of our population don’t have access to the same opportunities as everybody else.  It makes a mockery of our economy when black women make 30 fewer cents for every dollar a white man earns.  (Applause.)  That adds up to thousands of dollars in missed income that determines whether a family can pay for a home, or pay for college for their kids, or save for retirement, or give their kids a better life.  And that’s not just a woman’s issue, that’s everybody’s issue.  I want Michelle getting paid at some point.  (Laughter and applause.)  We’ve got an outstanding former Secretary of State here who is also former First Lady, and I know she can relate to Michelle when she says, how come you get paid and I don’t?  (Laughter and applause.)  How did that work?  (Laughter.)

When women of color aren’t given the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential, we all lose out on their talents; we’re not as good a country as we can be.  We might miss out on the next Mae Jemison or Ursula Burns or Serena Williams or Michelle Obama.  (Applause.)  We want everybody to be on the field.  We can’t afford to leave some folks off the field.

So we’re going to have to close those economic gaps so that hardworking women of all races, and black women in particular can support families, and strengthen communities, and contribute to our country’s success.  So that’s why my administration is investing in job training and apprenticeships, to help everybody, but particularly help more women earn better-paying jobs, and particularly in non-traditional careers.  It’s why we’re investing in getting more girls, and particularly girls of color interested in STEM fields — math and science and engineering — (applause) — and help more of them stay on track in school.

It’s why we’re going to continue to fight to eliminate the pay gap.  (Applause.)  Equal pay for equal work.  It’s an all-American idea.  It’s very simple.  And that’s why we’re going to keep working to raise the minimum wage — because women disproportionately are the ones who are not getting paid what they’re worth.  That’s why we’re fighting to expand tax credits that help working parents make ends meet, closing tax loopholes for folks who don’t need tax loopholes to pay for.  It’s why we’re expanding paid leave to employees of federal contractors.  And that’s why Congress needs to expand paid leave for more hardworking Americans.  It’s good for our economy.  It’s the right thing to do.  No family should have to choose between taking care of a sick child or losing their job.  (Applause.)

And just as an aside, what’s not the right thing to do, what makes no sense at all, is Congress threatening to shut down the entire federal government if they can’t shut down women’s access to Planned Parenthood.  (Applause.)  That’s not a good idea.  Congress should be working on investing things that grow our economy and expand opportunity, and not get distracted and inflict the kind of self-inflicted wounds that we’ve seen before on our economy.  So that’s some of the things we need to do to help improve the economic standing of all women; to help all families feel more secure in a changing economy.

And before I go tonight, I also want to say something about a topic that’s been on my mind for a while, another profound barrier to opportunity in too many communities — and that is our criminal justice system.  (Applause.)

I spoke about this at length earlier this year at the NAACP, and I explained the long history of inequity in our criminal justice system.  We all know the statistics.  And this summer, because I wanted to highlight that there were human beings behind these statistics, I visited a prison in Oklahoma — the first President to ever visit a federal prison.  (Applause.)  And I sat down with the inmates, and I listened to their stories.  And one of the things that struck me was the crushing burden their incarceration has placed not just on their prospects for the future, but also for their families, the women in their lives, children being raised without a father in the home; the crushing regret these men felt over the children that they left behind.

Mass incarceration rips apart families.  It hollows out neighborhoods.  It perpetuates poverty.  We understand that in many of our communities, they’re under-policed.  The problem is not that we don’t want active, effective police work.  We want, and admire, and appreciate law enforcement.  We want them in our communities.  Crime hurts the African American community more than anybody.  But we want to make sure that it’s done well and it’s done right, and it’s done fairly and it’s done smart.  (Applause.)  And that’s why, in the coming months, I’m going to be working with many in Congress and many in the CBC to try to make progress on reform legislation that addresses unjust sentencing laws, and encourages diversion and prevention programs, catches our young people early and tries to put them on a better path, and then helps ex-offenders, after they’ve done their time, get on the right track.  It’s the right thing to do for America.  (Applause.)

And although in these discussions a lot of my focus has been on African American men and the work we’re doing with My Brother’s Keeper, we can’t forget the impact that the system has on women, as well.  The incarceration rate for black women is twice as high as the rate for white women.  Many women in prison, you come to discover, have been victims of homelessness and domestic violence, and in some cases human trafficking.  They’ve got high rates of mental illness and substance abuse.  And many have been sexually assaulted, both before they got to prison and then after they go to prison.  And we don’t often talk about how society treats black women and girls before they end up in prison.  They’re suspended at higher rates than white boys and all other girls.  And while boys face the school-to-prison pipeline, a lot of girls are facing a more sinister sexual abuse-to-prison pipeline.  (Applause.)  Victims of early sexual abuse are more likely to fail in school, which can lead to sexual exploitation, which can lead to prison.  So we’re focusing on boys, but we’re also investing in ways to change the odds for at-risk girls — to make sure that they are loved and valued, to give them a chance.

And that’s why we have to make a collective effort to address violence and abuse against women in all of our communities.  In every community, on every campus, we’ve got to be very clear:  Women who have been victims of rape or domestic abuse, who need help, should know that they can count on society and on law enforcement to treat them with love and care and sensitivity, and not skepticism.  (Applause.)

I want to repeat — because somehow this never shows up on Fox News.  (Laughter.)  I want to repeat — because I’ve said it a lot, unwaveringly, all the time:  Our law enforcement officers do outstanding work in an incredibly difficult and dangerous job.  They put their lives on the line for our safety.  (Applause.)  We appreciate them and we love them.  That’s why my Task Force on 21st Century Policing made a set of recommendations that I want to see implemented to improve their safety, as well as to make sure that our criminal justice system is being applied fairly.  Officers show uncommon bravery in our communities every single day.  They deserve our respect.  That includes women in law enforcement.  We need more of you, by the way.  We’ve got an outstanding chief law enforcement officer in our Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.  (Applause.)  We want all our young ladies to see what a great role model she is.

So I just want to repeat, because somehow this never gets on the TV:  There is no contradiction between us caring about our law enforcement officers and also making sure that our laws are applied fairly.  Do not make this as an either/or proposition.  This is a both/and proposition.  (Applause.)  We want to protect our police officers.  We’ll do a better job doing it if our communities can feel confident that they are being treated fairly.  I hope I’m making that clear.  (Applause.)  I hope I’m making that clear.

We need to make sure the laws are applied evenly.  This is not a new problem.  It’s just that in recent months, in recent years, suddenly folks have videos and body cameras, and social media, and so it’s opened our eyes to these incidents.  And many of these incidents are subject to ongoing investigation, so I can’t comment on every specific one.  But we can’t avoid these tough conversations altogether.  That’s not going to help our police officers, the vast majority who do the right thing every day, by just pretending that these things aren’t happening.  That’s not going to help build trust between them and the communities in which they serve.

So these are hard issues, but I’m confident we’re going to move forward together for a system that is fairer and more just.  We’ve got good people on both sides of the aisle that are working with law enforcement and local communities to find a better way forward.  And as always, change will not happen overnight.  It won’t be easy.  But if our history has taught us anything, it’s taught us that when we come together, when we’re working with a sense of purpose, when we are listening to one another, when we assume the best in each other rather than the worst, then change happens.

Like every parent, I can’t help to see the world increasingly through my daughters’ eyes.  And on that day, when we were celebrating that incredible march in Selma, I had Ms. Amelia’s hand in one of my hands, but Michelle had Sasha’s hand, and my mother-in-law had Malia’s hand — and it was a chain across generations.  And I thought about all those women who came before us, who risked everything for life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, so often without notice, so often without fanfare.  Their names never made the history books.  All those women who cleaned somebody else’s house, or looked after somebody else’s children, did somebody else’s laundry, and then got home and did it again, and then went to church and cooked — and then they were marching.  (Applause.)

And because of them, Michelle could cross that bridge.  And because of them, they brought them along, and Malia and Sasha can cross that bridge.  And that tells me that if we follow their example, we’re going to cross more bridges in the future.  If we keep moving forward, hand in hand, God willing, my daughters’ children will be able to cross that bridge in an America that’s more free, and more just, and more prosperous than the one that we inherited.  Your children will, too.

Thank you CBC.  God bless you.  God bless this country we love.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

10:06 P.M. EDT

Full Text Transcripts Obama Presidency June 26, 2015: President Barack Obama Delivers Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney Sings Amazing Grace



Remarks by the President in Eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney

Source: WH, 6-26-15

President Obama delivers remarks in Charleston, SC

College of Charleston
Charleston, South Carolina

2:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Giving all praise and honor to God.  (Applause.)

The Bible calls us to hope.  To persevere, and have faith in things not seen.

“They were still living by faith when they died,” Scripture tells us. “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on Earth.”

We are here today to remember a man of God who lived by faith.  A man who believed in things not seen.  A man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance.  A man of service who persevered, knowing full well he would not receive all those things he was promised, because he believed his efforts would deliver a better life for those who followed.

To Jennifer, his beloved wife; to Eliana and Malana, his beautiful, wonderful daughters; to the Mother Emanuel family and the people of Charleston, the people of South Carolina.

I cannot claim to have the good fortune to know Reverend Pinckney well.  But I did have the pleasure of knowing him and meeting him here in South Carolina, back when we were both a little bit younger.  (Laughter.)  Back when I didn’t have visible grey hair.  (Laughter.)  The first thing I noticed was his graciousness, his smile, his reassuring baritone, his deceptive sense of humor — all qualities that helped him wear so effortlessly a heavy burden of expectation.

Friends of his remarked this week that when Clementa Pinckney entered a room, it was like the future arrived; that even from a young age, folks knew he was special.  Anointed.  He was the progeny of a long line of the faithful — a family of preachers who spread God’s word, a family of protesters who sowed change to expand voting rights and desegregate the South.  Clem heard their instruction, and he did not forsake their teaching.

He was in the pulpit by 13, pastor by 18, public servant by 23.  He did not exhibit any of the cockiness of youth, nor youth’s insecurities; instead, he set an example worthy of his position, wise beyond his years, in his speech, in his conduct, in his love, faith, and purity.

As a senator, he represented a sprawling swath of the Lowcountry, a place that has long been one of the most neglected in America.  A place still wracked by poverty and inadequate schools; a place where children can still go hungry and the sick can go without treatment.  A place that needed somebody like Clem.  (Applause.)

His position in the minority party meant the odds of winning more resources for his constituents were often long.  His calls for greater equity were too often unheeded, the votes he cast were sometimes lonely.  But he never gave up.  He stayed true to his convictions.  He would not grow discouraged.  After a full day at the capitol, he’d climb into his car and head to the church to draw sustenance from his family, from his ministry, from the community that loved and needed him.  There he would fortify his faith, and imagine what might be.

Reverend Pinckney embodied a politics that was neither mean, nor small.  He conducted himself quietly, and kindly, and diligently.  He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas alone, but by seeking out your ideas, partnering with you to make things happen.  He was full of empathy and fellow feeling, able to walk in somebody else’s shoes and see through their eyes.  No wonder one of his senate colleagues remembered Senator Pinckney as “the most gentle of the 46 of us — the best of the 46 of us.”

Clem was often asked why he chose to be a pastor and a public servant.  But the person who asked probably didn’t know the history of the AME church.  (Applause.)  As our brothers and sisters in the AME church know, we don’t make those distinctions. “Our calling,” Clem once said, “is not just within the walls of the congregation, but…the life and community in which our congregation resides.”  (Applause.)

He embodied the idea that our Christian faith demands deeds and not just words; that the “sweet hour of prayer” actually lasts the whole week long — (applause) — that to put our faith in action is more than individual salvation, it’s about our collective salvation; that to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless is not just a call for isolated charity but the imperative of a just society.

What a good man.  Sometimes I think that’s the best thing to hope for when you’re eulogized — after all the words and recitations and resumes are read, to just say someone was a good man.  (Applause.)

You don’t have to be of high station to be a good man.  Preacher by 13.  Pastor by 18.  Public servant by 23.  What a life Clementa Pinckney lived.  What an example he set.  What a model for his faith.  And then to lose him at 41 — slain in his sanctuary with eight wonderful members of his flock, each at different stages in life but bound together by a common commitment to God.

Cynthia Hurd.  Susie Jackson.  Ethel Lance.  DePayne Middleton-Doctor.  Tywanza Sanders.  Daniel L. Simmons.  Sharonda Coleman-Singleton.  Myra Thompson.  Good people.  Decent people. God-fearing people.  (Applause.)  People so full of life and so full of kindness.  People who ran the race, who persevered.  People of great faith.

To the families of the fallen, the nation shares in your grief.  Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church.  The church is and always has been the center of African-American life — (applause) — a place to call our own in a too often hostile world, a sanctuary from so many hardships.

Over the course of centuries, black churches served as “hush harbors” where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah — (applause) — rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement.  They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart — (applause) — and taught that they matter.  (Applause.)  That’s what happens in church.

That’s what the black church means.  Our beating heart.  The place where our dignity as a people is inviolate.  When there’s no better example of this tradition than Mother Emanuel — (applause) — a church built by blacks seeking liberty, burned to the ground because its founder sought to end slavery, only to rise up again, a Phoenix from these ashes.  (Applause.)

When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, services happened here anyway, in defiance of unjust laws.  When there was a righteous movement to dismantle Jim Crow, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached from its pulpit, and marches began from its steps.  A sacred place, this church.  Not just for blacks, not just for Christians, but for every American who cares about the steady expansion — (applause) — of human rights and human dignity in this country; a foundation stone for liberty and justice for all.  That’s what the church meant.  (Applause.)

We do not know whether the killer of Reverend Pinckney and eight others knew all of this history.  But he surely sensed the meaning of his violent act.  It was an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress.  (Applause.)  An act that he imagined would incite fear and recrimination; violence and suspicion.  An act that he presumed would deepen divisions that trace back to our nation’s original sin.

Oh, but God works in mysterious ways.  (Applause.)  God has different ideas.  (Applause.)

He didn’t know he was being used by God.  (Applause.)  Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group — the light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle.  The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court — in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness.  He couldn’t imagine that.  (Applause.)

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston, under the good and wise leadership of Mayor Riley — (applause) — how the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace.  (Applause.)

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace. (Applause.)  The grace of the families who lost loved ones.  The grace that Reverend Pinckney would preach about in his sermons.  The grace described in one of my favorite hymnals — the one we all know:  Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.  (Applause.)  I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned.  Grace is not merited.  It’s not something we deserve.  Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God — (applause) — as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings.  Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.  (Applause.)  He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves.  (Applause.)  We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same.  He gave it to us anyway.  He’s once more given us grace.  But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

For too long, we were blind to the pain that the Confederate flag stirred in too many of our citizens.  (Applause.)  It’s true, a flag did not cause these murders.  But as people from all walks of life, Republicans and Democrats, now acknowledge — including Governor Haley, whose recent eloquence on the subject is worthy of praise — (applause) — as we all have to acknowledge, the flag has always represented more than just ancestral pride.  (Applause.)  For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation.  We see that now.

Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers.  It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong — (applause) — the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.  (Applause.) It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds.  It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union.  By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

But I don’t think God wants us to stop there.  (Applause.)  For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present.  Perhaps we see that now.  Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career.  (Applause.)

Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate.  (Applause.)  Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system — (applause) — and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.  (Applause.)

Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal.  (Applause.)  So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote.  (Applause.)  By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

For too long —

AUDIENCE:  For too long!

THE PRESIDENT:  For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.  (Applause.) Sporadically, our eyes are open:  When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school.  But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.

The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this.  We see that now.  (Applause.)  And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.  (Applause.)

We don’t earn grace.  We’re all sinners.  We don’t deserve it.  (Applause.)  But God gives it to us anyway.  (Applause.)  And we choose how to receive it.  It’s our decision how to honor it.

None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight.  Every time something like this happens, somebody says we have to have a conversation about race.  We talk a lot about race.  There’s no shortcut.  And we don’t need more talk.  (Applause.)  None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy.  It will not.  People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies, as our democracy requires — this is a big, raucous place, America is.  And there are good people on both sides of these debates.  Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete.

But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.  (Applause.)  Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual — that’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.  (Applause.)  To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change — that’s how we lose our way again.

It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits, whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.

Reverend Pinckney once said, “Across the South, we have a deep appreciation of history — we haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.”  (Applause.)  What is true in the South is true for America.  Clem understood that justice grows out of recognition of ourselves in each other.  That my liberty depends on you being free, too.  (Applause.)  That history can’t be a sword to justify injustice, or a shield against progress, but must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past — how to break the cycle.  A roadway toward a better world.  He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind — but, more importantly, an open heart.

That’s what I’ve felt this week — an open heart.  That, more than any particular policy or analysis, is what’s called upon right now, I think — what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls “that reservoir of goodness, beyond, and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.”

That reservoir of goodness.  If we can find that grace, anything is possible.  (Applause.)  If we can tap that grace, everything can change.  (Applause.)

Amazing grace.  Amazing grace.

(Begins to sing) — Amazing grace — (applause) — how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me; I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind but now I see.  (Applause.)

Clementa Pinckney found that grace.

Cynthia Hurd found that grace.

Susie Jackson found that grace.

Ethel Lance found that grace.

DePayne Middleton-Doctor found that grace.

Tywanza Sanders found that grace.

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. found that grace.

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton found that grace.

Myra Thompson found that grace.

Through the example of their lives, they’ve now passed it on to us.  May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure.  May grace now lead them home.  May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.  (Applause.)

3:28 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Charleston Church Shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina Transcript



Statement by the President on the Shooting in Charleston, South Carolina

Source: WH, 6-18-15

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  This morning, I spoke with, and Vice President Biden spoke with, Mayor Joe Riley and other leaders of Charleston to express our deep sorrow over the senseless murders that took place last night.

Michelle and I know several members of Emanuel AME Church.  We knew their pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who, along with eight others, gathered in prayer and fellowship and was murdered last night.  And to say our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families, and their community doesn’t say enough to convey the heartache and the sadness and the anger that we feel.

Any death of this sort is a tragedy.  Any shooting involving multiple victims is a tragedy.  There is something particularly heartbreaking about the death happening in a place in which we seek solace and we seek peace, in a place of worship.

Mother Emanuel is, in fact, more than a church.  This is a place of worship that was founded by African Americans seeking liberty.  This is a church that was burned to the ground because its worshipers worked to end slavery.  When there were laws banning all-black church gatherings, they conducted services in secret.  When there was a nonviolent movement to bring our country closer in line with our highest ideals, some of our brightest leaders spoke and led marches from this church’s steps.  This is a sacred place in the history of Charleston and in the history of America.

The FBI is now on the scene with local police, and more of the Bureau’s best are on the way to join them.  The Attorney General has announced plans for the FBI to open a hate crime investigation.  We understand that the suspect is in custody.  And I’ll let the best of law enforcement do its work to make sure that justice is served.

Until the investigation is complete, I’m necessarily constrained in terms of talking about the details of the case.  But I don’t need to be constrained about the emotions that tragedies like this raise.  I’ve had to make statements like this too many times.  Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times.  We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that, once again, innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.  Now is the time for mourning and for healing.

But let’s be clear:  At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.  It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.  And it is in our power to do something about it.  I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now.  But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it.  And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it, and for us to be able to shift how we think about the issue of gun violence collectively.

The fact that this took place in a black church obviously also raises questions about a dark part of our history.  This is not the first time that black churches have been attacked.  And we know that hatred across races and faiths pose a particular threat to our democracy and our ideals.

The good news is I am confident that the outpouring of unity and strength and fellowship and love across Charleston today, from all races, from all faiths, from all places of worship indicates the degree to which those old vestiges of hatred can be overcome.  That, certainly, was Dr. King’s hope just over 50 years ago, after four little girls were killed in a bombing in a black church in Birmingham, Alabama.

He said they lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly.  “They say to each of us,” Dr. King said, “black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution.  They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with [about] who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.  Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.

“And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.”

Reverend Pinckney and his congregation understood that spirit.  Their Christian faith compelled them to reach out not just to members of their congregation, or to members of their own communities, but to all in need.  They opened their doors to strangers who might enter a church in search of healing or redemption.

Mother Emanuel church and its congregation have risen before –- from flames, from an earthquake, from other dark times -– to give hope to generations of Charlestonians.  And with our prayers and our love, and the buoyancy of hope, it will rise again now as a place of peace.

Thank you.

12:28 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 22, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Jewish American Heritage Month Adas Israel Synagogue



Remarks by the President on Jewish American Heritage Month

Source: WH, 5-22-15

Adas Israel Congregation
Washington, D.C.

10:57 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Well, good morning, everybody!

AUDIENCE: Good morning!

THE PRESIDENT:  A slightly early Shabbat Shalom.  (Laughter.)  I want to thank Rabbi Steinlauf for the very kind introduction.  And to all the members of the congregation, thank you so much for such an extraordinary and warm welcome.

I want to thank a couple of outstanding members of Congress who are here.  Senator Michael Bennet — where did Michael Bennet go?  There he is.  (Applause.)  And Representative Sandy Levin, who is here.  (Applause.)  I want to thank our special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Ira Forman, for his important work.  There he is.  (Applause)  But as I said, most of all I want to thank the entire congregation of Adas Israel for having me here today.

Earlier this week, I was actually interviewed by one of your members, Jeff Goldberg.  (Applause.)  And Jeff reminded me that he once called me “the first Jewish President.”  (Laughter.)  Now, since some people still seem to be wondering about my faith — (laughter) — I should make clear this was an honorary title.  (Laughter.)  But I was flattered.

And as an honorary member of the tribe, not to mention somebody who’s hosted seven White House Seders and been advised by — (applause) — and been advised by two Jewish chiefs of staff, I can also proudly say that I’m getting a little bit of the hang of the lingo.  (Laughter.)  But I will not use any of the Yiddish-isms that Rahm Emanuel taught me because — (laughter) — I want to be invited back.  (Laughter.)  Let’s just say he had some creative new synonyms for “Shalom.”  (Laughter.)

Now, I wanted to come here to celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month because this congregation, like so many around the country, helps us to tell the American story.  And back in 1876, when President Grant helped dedicate Adas Israel, he became the first sitting President in history to attend a synagogue service.  And at the time, it was an extraordinarily symbolic gesture — not just for America, but for the world.

And think about the landscape of Jewish history.  Tomorrow night, the holiday of Shavuot marks the moment that Moses received the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first link in a chain of tradition that stretches back thousands of years, and a foundation stone for our civilization.  Yet for most of those years, Jews were persecuted — not embraced — by those in power.  Many of your ancestors came here fleeing that persecution.
The United States could have been merely another destination in that ongoing diaspora.  But those who came here found that America was more than just a country.  America was an idea.  America stood for something.  As George Washington wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island:  The United States “gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

It’s important for us to acknowledge that too often in our history we fell short of those lofty ideals — in the legal subjugation of African Americans, through slavery and Jim Crow; the treatment of Native Americans.  And far too often, American Jews faced the scourge of anti-Semitism here at home.  But our founding documents gave us a North Star, our Bill of Rights; our system of government gave us a capacity for change.  And where other nations actively and legally might persecute or discriminate against those of different faiths, this nation was called upon to see all of us as equal before the eyes of the law.  When other countries treated their own citizens as “wretched refuse,” we lifted up our lamp beside the golden door and welcomed them in.  Our country is immeasurably stronger because we did.  (Applause.)

From Einstein to Brandeis, from Jonas Salk to Betty Friedan, American Jews have made contributions to this country that have shaped it in every aspect.  And as a community, American Jews have helped make our union more perfect.  The story of Exodus inspired oppressed people around the world in their own struggles for civil rights.  From the founding members of the NAACP to a freedom summer in Mississippi, from women’s rights to gay rights to workers’ rights, Jews took the heart of Biblical edict that we must not oppress a stranger, having been strangers once ourselves.

Earlier this year, when we marked the 50th anniversary of the march in Selma, we remembered the iconic images of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Dr. King, praying with his feet.  To some, it must have seemed strange that a rabbi from Warsaw would take such great risks to stand with a Baptist preacher from Atlanta.  But Heschel explained that their cause was one and the same.  In his essay, “No Religion is an Island,” he wrote, “We must choose between interfaith and inter-nihilism.”  Between a shared hope that says together we can shape a brighter future, or a shared cynicism that says our world is simply beyond repair.

So the heritage we celebrate this month is a testament to the power of hope.  Me standing here before you, all of you in this incredible congregation is a testament to the power of hope.  (Applause.)  It’s a rebuke to cynicism.  It’s a rebuke to nihilism.  And it inspires us to have faith that our future, like our past, will be shaped by the values that we share.  At home, those values compel us to work to keep alive the American Dream of opportunity for all.  It means that we care about issues that affect all children, not just our own; that we’re prepared to invest in early childhood education; that we are concerned about making college affordable; that we want to create communities where if you’re willing to work hard, you can get ahead the way so many who fled and arrived on these shores were able to get ahead.  Around the world, those values compel us to redouble our efforts to protect our planet and to protect the human rights of all who share this planet.

It’s particularly important to remember now, given the tumult that is taking place in so many corners of the globe, in one of the world’s most dangerous neighborhoods, those shared values compel us to reaffirm that our enduring friendship with the people of Israel and our unbreakable bonds with the state of Israel — that those bonds, that friendship cannot be broken.  (Applause.)  Those values compel us to say that our commitment to Israel’s security — and my commitment to Israel’s security — is and always will be unshakeable.  (Applause.)

And I’ve said this before:  It would be a moral failing on the part of the U.S. government and the American people, it would be a moral failing on my part if we did not stand up firmly, steadfastly not just on behalf of Israel’s right to exist, but its right to thrive and prosper.  (Applause.)  Because it would ignore the history that brought the state of Israel about.  It would ignore the struggle that’s taken place through millennia to try to affirm the kinds of values that say everybody has a place, everybody has rights, everybody is a child of God.  (Applause.)

As many of you know, I’ve visited the houses hit by rocket fire in Sderot.  I’ve been to Yad Vashem and made that solemn vow:  “Never forget.  Never again.”  When someone threatens Israel’s citizens or its very right to exist, Israelis necessarily that seriously.  And so do I.  Today, the military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries is stronger than ever.  Our support of the Iron Dome’s rocket system has saved Israeli lives.  And I can say that no U.S. President, no administration has done more to ensure that Israel can protect itself than this one.  (Applause.)

As part of that commitment, there’s something else that the United States and Israel agrees on:  Iran must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.  (Applause.)  Now, there’s a debate about how to achieve that — and that’s a healthy debate.  I’m not going to use my remaining time to go too deep into policy — although for those of you who are interested — (laughter) — we have a lot of material out there.  (Laughter.)  But I do want everybody to just remember a few key things.

The deal that we already reached with Iran has already halted or rolled back parts of Iran’s nuclear program.  Now we’re seeking a comprehensive solution.  I will not accept a bad deal.  As I pointed out in my most recent article with Jeff Goldberg, this deal will have my name on it, so nobody has a bigger personal stake in making sure that it delivers on its promise.  (Applause.)  I want a good deal.

I’m interested in a deal that blocks every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon — every single path.  A deal that imposes unprecedented inspections on all elements of Iran’s nuclear program, so that they can’t cheat; and if they try to cheat, we will immediately know about it and sanctions snap back on.  A deal that endures beyond a decade; that addresses this challenge for the long term.  In other words, a deal that makes the world and the region — including Israel — more secure.  That’s how I define a good deal.

I can’t stand here today and guarantee an agreement will be reached.  We’re hopeful.  We’re working hard.  But nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.  And I’ve made clear that when it comes to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, all options are and will remain on the table.

Moreover, even if we do get a good deal, there remains the broader issue of Iran’s support for terrorism and regional destabilization, and ugly threats against Israel.  And that’s why our strategic partnership with Israel will remain, no matter what happens in the days and years ahead.  And that’s why the people of Israel must always know America has its back, and America will always have its back.  (Applause.)

Now, that does not mean that there will not be, or should not be, periodic disagreements between our two governments.  There will be disagreements on tactics when it comes to how to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and that is entirely appropriate and should be fully aired.  Because the stakes are sufficiently high that anything that’s proposed has to be subjected to scrutiny — and I welcome that scrutiny.

But there are also going to be some disagreements rooted in shared history that go beyond tactics, that are rooted in how we might remain true to our shared values.  I came to know Israel as a young man through these incredible images of kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and Israel overcoming incredible odds in the ’67 war.  The notion of pioneers who set out not only to safeguard a nation, but to remake the world.  Not only to make the desert bloom, but to allow their values to flourish; to ensure that the best of Judaism would thrive.  And those values in many ways came to be my own values.  They believed the story of their people gave them a unique perspective among the nations of the world, a unique moral authority and responsibility that comes from having once been a stranger yourself.

And to a young man like me, grappling with his own identity, recognizing the scars of race here in this nation, inspired by the civil rights struggle, the idea that you could be grounded in your history, as Israel was, but not be trapped by it, to be able to repair the world — that idea was liberating.  The example of Israel and its values was inspiring.

So when I hear some people say that disagreements over policy belie a general lack of support of Israel, I must object, and I object forcefully.  (Applause.)  For us to paper over difficult questions, particularly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or about settlement policy, that’s not a true measure of friendship.

Before I came out here, the Rabbi showed me the room that’s been built to promote scholarship and dialogue, and to be able to find how we make our shared values live.  And the reason you have that room is because applying those values to our lives is often hard, and it involves difficult choices.  That’s why we study.  That’s why it’s not just a formula.  And that’s what we have to do as nations as well as individuals.  We have to grapple and struggle with how do we apply the values that we care about to this very challenging and dangerous world.

And it is precisely because I care so deeply about the state of Israel — it’s precisely because, yes, I have high expectations for Israel the same way I have high expectations for the United States of America — that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I think will lead to long-term security and to the preservation of a true democracy in the Jewish homeland.  (Applause.)  And I believe that’s two states for two peoples, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.  (Applause.)  Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people on their land, as well.  (Applause.)

Now, I want to emphasize — that’s not easy.  The Palestinians are not the easiest of partners.  (Laughter.)  The neighborhood is dangerous.  And we cannot expect Israel to take existential risks with their security so that any deal that takes place has to take into account the genuine dangers of terrorism and hostility.

But it is worthwhile for us to keep up the prospect, the possibility of bridging divides and being just, and looking squarely at what’s possible but also necessary in order for Israel to be the type of nation that it was intended to be in its earliest founding.  (Applause.)

And that same sense of shared values also compel me to speak out — compel all of us to speak out — against the scourge of anti-Semitism wherever it exists.  (Applause.)  I want to be clear that, to me, all these things are connected.  The rights I insist upon and now fight for, for all people here in the United States compels me then to stand up for Israel and look out for the rights of the Jewish people.  And the rights of the Jewish people then compel me to think about a Palestinian child in Ramallah that feels trapped without opportunity.  That’s what Jewish values teach me.  That’s what the Judeo-Christian tradition teaches me.  These things are connected.  (Applause.)

And in recent years, we’ve seen a deeply disturbing rise in anti-Semitism in parts of the world where it would have seemed unthinkable just a few years or decades ago.  This is not some passing fad; these aren’t just isolated phenomenon.  And we know from our history they cannot be ignored.  Anti-Semitism is, and always will be, a threat to broader human values to which we all must aspire.  And when we allow anti-Semitism to take root, then our souls are destroyed, and it will spread.

And that’s why, tonight, for the first time ever, congregations around the world are celebrating a Solidarity Shabbat.  It’s a chance for leaders to publicly stand against anti-Semitism and bigotry in all of its forms.  And I’m proud to be a part of this movement, and I’m proud that six ambassadors from Europe are joining us today.  And their presence here — our presence together — is a reminder that we are not doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.  (Applause.)  Our traditions, our history, can help us chart a better course as long as we are mindful of that history and those traditions, and we are vigilant in speaking out and standing up against what is wrong.  It’s not always easy, I think, to speak out against what is wrong, even for good people.

So I want to close with the story of one more of the many rabbis who came to Selma 50 years ago.  A few days after David Teitelbaum arrived to join the protests, he and a colleague were thrown in jail.  And they spent a Friday night in custody, singing Adon Olam to the tune of “We Shall Overcome.”  And that in and of itself is a profound statement of faith and hope.  But what’s wonderful is, is that out of respect many of their fellow protestors began wearing what they called “freedom caps” — (laughter) — yarmulkes — as they marched.

And the day after they were released from prison, Rabbi Teitelbaum watched Dr. King lead a prayer meeting before crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  And Dr. King said, “We are like the children of Israel, marching from slavery to freedom.”

That’s what happens when we’re true to our values.  It’s not just good for us, but it brings the community together.  (Applause.)  Tikkun Olam — it brings the community together and it helps repair the world.  It bridges differences that once looked unbridgeable.  It creates a future for our children that once seemed unattainable.  This congregation — Jewish American life is a testimony to the capacity to make our values live.  But it requires courage.  It requires strength.  It requires that we speak the truth not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard.

So may we always remember that our shared heritage makes us stronger, that our roots are intertwined.  May we always choose faith over nihilism, and courage over despair, and hope over cynicism and fear.  As we walk our own leg of a timeless, sacred march, may we always stand together, here at home and around the world.

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

11:26 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency May 18, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Steps to Demilitarize Local Police Forces



Remarks by the President on Community Policing

Source: WH, 5-18-15 

Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center
Camden, New Jersey

2:42 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)  Thank you, everybody.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.  Well, thank you so much.  It is good to be in Camden.  (Applause.)

I want to thank your Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno; your Congressman, Donald Norcross; and your Mayor, Dana Redd, for being here.  Give them all a big round of applause.  (Applause.) I want to thank the outstanding facility, our hosts.  The Salvation Army is doing great work, and the Ray Kroc Center here seems like just a wonderful, wonderful facility.  (Applause.)  So we’re very proud of them.

I want to thank Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson for his outstanding work.  (Applause.)  Where’s the Chief?  There he is.

So I’ve come here to Camden to do something that might have been unthinkable just a few years ago — and that’s to hold you up as a symbol of promise for the nation.  (Applause.)  Now, I don’t want to overstate it.  Obviously Camden has gone through tough times and there are still tough times for a lot of folks here in Camden.  But just a few years ago, this city was written off as dangerous beyond redemption — a city trapped in a downward spiral.  Parents were afraid to let their children play outside.  Drug dealers operated in broad daylight.  There weren’t enough cops to patrol the streets.

So two years ago, the police department was overhauled to implement a new model of community policing.  They doubled the size of the force — while keeping it unionized.  They cut desk jobs in favor of getting more officers out into the streets.  Not just to walk the beat, but to actually get to know the residents — to set up basketball games, to volunteer in schools, to participate in reading programs, to get to know the small businesses in the area.

Now, to be a police officer takes a special kind of courage. And I talked about this on Friday at a memorial for 131 officers who gave their lives to protect communities like this one.  It takes a special kind of courage to run towards danger, to be a person that residents turn to when they’re most desperate.  And when you match courage with compassion, with care and understanding of the community — like we’ve seen here in Camden — some really outstanding things can begin to happen.

Violent crime in Camden is down 24 percent.  (Applause.)    Murder is down 47 percent.  (Applause.)  Open-air drug markets have been cut by 65 percent.  (Applause.)  The response time for 911 calls is down from one hour to just five minutes.  And when I was in the center, it was 1.3 minutes, right when I was there. (Applause.)  And perhaps most significant is that the police and residents are building trust.  (Applause.)  Building trust.

Now, nobody is suggesting that the job is done.  This is still a work in progress.  The Police Chief would be the first one to say it.  So would the Mayor.  Camden and its people still face some very big challenges.  But this city is on to something. You’ve made real progress in just two years.  And that’s why I’m here today — because I want to focus on the fact that other cities across America can make similar progress.

Everything we’ve done over the past six years, whether it’s rescuing the economy, or reforming our schools, or retooling our job training programs, has been in pursuit of one goal, and that’s creating opportunity for all of us, all our kids.  But we know that some communities have the odds stacked against them, and have had the odds stacked against them for a very long time  — in some cases, for decades.  You’ve got rural communities that have chronic poverty.  You have manufacturing communities that got hit hard when plants closed and people lost jobs.  There are not only cities but also suburbs where jobs can be tough to find, and tougher to get to because of development patterns and lack of transportation options.  And folks who do work, they’re working harder than ever, but sometimes don’t feel like they can get ahead.

And in some communities, that sense of unfairness and powerlessness has contributed to dysfunction in those communities.  Communities are like bodies, and if the immunity system is down, they can get sick.  And when communities aren’t vibrant, where people don’t feel a sense of hope and opportunity, then a lot of times that can fuel crime and that can fuel unrest.
We’ve seen it in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York.  And it has many causes — from a basic lack of opportunity to some groups feeling unfairly targeted by their police forces. And that means there’s no single solution.  There have to be a lot of different solutions and different approaches that we try.
So one of the things that we did to address these issues was to create a task force on the future of community policing.  And this task force was outstanding because it was made up of all the different stakeholders — we had law enforcement; we had community activists; we had young people.  They held public meetings across the country.  They developed concrete proposals that every community in America can implement to rebuild trust and help law enforcement.

The recommendations were released in March; they were finalized today.  They include everything from enhanced officer training to improving the use of body cameras and other technologies to make sure that police departments are being smart about crime and that there’s enough data for them to be accountable as well.

And we’re trying to support the great work that’s happening at the local level where cities are already responding to these recommendations.  And before I go further, I just want the members of our task force to stand, because they’ve done some outstanding work and they deserve to be acknowledged.  Thank you. (Applause.)

Now, we’ve launched a Police Data Initiative that’s helping Camden and other innovative cities use data to strengthen their work and hold themselves accountable by sharing it with the public.  Departments might track things like incidents of force so that they can identify and handle problems that could otherwise escalate.

Here in Camden, officers deal with some 41 different data systems, which means they have to enter the same information multiple times.  So today, we’ve brought a volunteer, Elite Tech Team, to help — a group of data scientists and software engineers, and tech leaders.  They’re going to work with the police department here to troubleshoot some of the technical challenges so it’s even easier for police departments to do the things they already want to do in helping to track what’s going on in communities, and then also helping to make sure that that data is used effectively to identify where there are trouble spots, where there are problems, are there particular officers that may need additional help, additional training.  All that can be obtained in a really effective, efficient way.

Today, we’re also releasing new policies on the military-style equipment that the federal government has in the past provided to state and local law enforcement agencies.  We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.  It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message.  So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments. (Applause.)

There is other equipment that may be needed in certain cases, but only with proper training.  So we’re going to ensure that departments have what they need, but also that they have the training to use it.

We’re doing these things because we’re listening to what law enforcement is telling us.  The overwhelming majority of police officers are good and honest and fair.  They care deeply about their communities.  They put their lives on the line every day to keep them safe.  Their loved ones wait and worry until they come through the door at the end of their shift.  So we should do everything in our power to make sure that they are safe, and help them do the job the best they can.

And what’s interesting about what Chief Thomson has done, and what’s happening here in Camden, is these new officers — who I have to confess made me feel old — (laughter) — because they all look like they could still be in school.  (Laughter.)  The approach that the Chief has taken in getting them out of their squad cars, into the communities, getting them familiar with the people that they’re serving — they’re enjoying their jobs more because they feel as if, over time, they can have more of an impact, and they’re getting more help from the community because the community has seen them and knows them before there’s a crisis, before there’s an incident.

So it’s not just crisis response.  It’s not after the fact there’s a crime, there’s a dead body, there’s a shooting, and now we’re going to show up.  It’s, we’re here all the time, and hopefully, we can prevent those shootings from happening in the first place.  (Applause.)

But one of the things I also want to focus on is the fact that a lot of the issues that have been raised here, and in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York, goes beyond policing.   We can’t ask the police to contain and control problems that the rest of us aren’t willing to face or do anything about.  (Applause.)

If we as a society don’t do more to expand opportunity to everybody who’s willing to work for it, then we’ll end up seeing conflicts between law enforcement and residents.  If we as a society aren’t willing to deal honestly with issue of race, then we can’t just expect police departments to solve these problems. If communities are being isolated and segregated, without opportunity and without investment and without jobs — if we politicians are simply ramping up long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes that end up devastating communities, we can’t then ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able-bodied men in the community, or kids are growing up without intact households.  (Applause.)

We can’t just focus on the problems when there’s a disturbance — and then cable TV runs it for two or three or four days, and then suddenly we forget about it again, until the next time.  Communities like some poor communities in Camden or my hometown in Chicago, they’re part of America, too.  The kids who grow up here, they’re America’s children.  Just like children everyplace else, they’ve got hopes and they’ve got dreams and they’ve got potential.  And if we’re not investing in them, no matter how good Chief Thomson and the police are doing, these kids are still going to be challenged.  So we’ve all got to step up.  We’ve all got to care about what happens.

Chief Thomson will tell you that his officers read to young children in the communities not just to build positive relationships, but because it’s in the interest of the community to make sure these kids can read — so that they stay in school and graduate ready for college and careers, and become productive members of society.  That’s in his interest not just as a police chief, but also as a citizen of this country, and somebody who grew up in this areas and knows this area.

And that’s why we’ve partnered with cities and states to get tens of thousands more kids access to quality early childhood education.  No matter who they are or where they’re born, they should get a good start in life.  (Applause.)

That’s why we’ve partnered with cities, including Camden, to create what we call Promise Zones — (applause) — where all-hands-on-deck efforts to change the odds for communities start happening because we’re providing job training, and helping to reduce violence, and expanding affordable housing.

It’s why we’re ready to work with folks from both sides of the aisle to reform our criminal justice system.  We all want safety, and we all know how pernicious the drug culture can be in undermining communities.  But this massive trend toward incarceration even of nonviolent drug offenders, and the costs of that trend are crowding out other critical investments that we can make in public safety.  If we’re spending a whole lot of money on prisons, and we don’t have computers or books or enough teachers or sports or music programs in our schools, we are being counterproductive.  It’s not a good strategy.  (Applause.)

And so, in addition to the work we’re doing directly on the criminal justice front, we’re also launching something that we call My Brother’s Keeper — an initiative to ensure that all young people, but with a particular focus on young men of color, have a chance to go as far as their dreams will take them.  (Applause.)  Now, over the coming weeks, members of my Cabinet will be traveling around the country to highlight communities that are doing great work to improve the lives of their residents.

We know these problems are solvable.  We’re know that we’re not lacking for answers, we’re just lacking political will.  We have to see these problems for what they are — not something that’s happening in some other city to some other people, but something that’s happening in our community, the community of America.  (Applause.)

And we know that change is possible because we’ve seen it in places like this.  We’ve seen it, thanks to people like Officer Virginia Matias.  Where is Virginia?  There she is right there.  (Applause.)  Earlier this year, Vice President Biden and I got to sit with Officer Matias and rank-and-file law enforcement officers from around the country.  And Virginia was talking about how when she was growing up in East Camden, crime was so bad she wasn’t allowed to go to the store alone.  Her mom was once robbed at gunpoint.  When she was 17, her uncle was shot and killed in his own store.  Instead of turning away from Camden, she decided she wanted to become a cop where she grew up to help the community she loved.  (Applause.)  And today, she is a proud member of the Camden County Police Department.  (Applause.)

And she’s a constant presence in the community, getting to know everybody she passes on her beat, even volunteering in a kindergarten.  Officer Matias isn’t just helping to keep her community safe, she’s also a role model for young people of Camden.  And anybody who thinks that things aren’t getting better, she says, “I see kids playing outside, riding bikes in the neighborhood, on their porches having a conversation.  That’s how I measure change.”

That’s how we should all measure change.  I had a chance to meet with some of the young people here who participated in a little roundtable with the officers, and they’re extraordinary young people.  And they’ve got hopes and dreams just like Malia and Sasha, and they’re overcoming some bigger barriers than my children ever had to go through, or I had to go through.  And they’re strong, and they’re focused.

But in talking to them, some of them — the reason they’ve been able to make it and do well is because their parents don’t let them out outside.  Well, you know what, children shouldn’t have to be locked indoors in order to be safe.  That’s not right. Some of them still have concerns about friends of theirs that have taken a wrong path and gotten involved in the streets and drugs.  That’s not the environment we need our kids to be growing up in.

I challenge everybody to get to know some of these young people.  They’re outstanding, and they’re going to do great things in their lives.  (Applause.)  But the point is, is that they shouldn’t have to go through superhuman efforts just to be able to stay in school and go to college and achieve their promise.  That should be the norm.  That should be standard.  And if it isn’t, we’re not doing something right.  We as a society are not doing something right if it isn’t.  (Applause.)

So, ultimately, that’s how we’re going to measure change:  Rising prospects for our kids.  Rising prospects for the neighborhood.  Do our children feel safe on the streets?  Do they feel cared for by their community?  Do they feel like the police departments care about them?  Do they feel as if when they work hard they can succeed?  Do they feel like the country is making an investment in them?  Do they see role models for success?  Are there pathways to jobs that they can identify?  Do they know that if they put in effort, they can make it?  Are they going to be treated fairly regardless of the color of their skin or what their last name is?

It’s pretty basic.  I travel around the country — the one thing that makes me always so optimistic is our children.  And what you realize is everywhere, kids are — kids are kids.  Sometimes they’ll drive you crazy.  (Laughter.)  They’ll make mistakes.  But there’s an inherent goodness in them.  They want to do the right thing.  They just need to be given a chance.

And some of them aren’t going to be lucky enough to have the structures at home that they need — in which case then, we all have to pick up the slack.  And if we do, they’ll respond.  They will.  But we got to feel like that they’re our kids.  We got to see our children in them, in their eyes.  And we haven’t done enough of that.  But we can.

This is a moment of great promise; this is a moment of great hope.  And if we’re seeing such extraordinary improvement in Camden because of the good efforts of a lot of elected officials, and an outstanding police chief and some wonderful police officers, and a community that’s supportive, and nonprofit organizations like the Salvation Army and others that are doing some great work — if it’s working here, it can work anywhere. (Applause.)  It can work anywhere.

On the City Hall of Camden you got an inscription by Walt Whitman:  “In a dream, I saw a city invincible.”  In a dream I see a country invincible — if we care enough to make the effort on behalf of every child in this country.  (Applause.)

Camden is showing that it can be done.  I want America to show everybody around the world that it can be done.

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

3:05 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts April 29, 2015: Hillary Clinton’s speech on criminal justice reform response to Baltimore Riots at Columbia University



Hillary Clinton’s speech on criminal justice reform

Source: Vox, 4-29-15

Thank you so much. I am absolutely delighted to be back here at Columbia. I want to thank President Bollinger, Dean Janow, and everyone at the School of International and Public Affairs. It is a special treat to be here with and on behalf of a great leader of this city and our country, David Dinkins. He has made such an indelible impact on New York, and I had the great privilege of working with him as First Lady and then, of course, as a new senator.

When I was just starting out as a senator, David’s door was always open. He and his wonderful wife Joyce were great friends and supporters and good sounding boards about ideas that we wanted to consider to enhance the quality of life and the opportunities for the people of this city. I was pleased to address the Dinkins Leadership and Public Policy Forum in my first year as a senator, and I so appreciated then as I have in the years since David’s generosity with his time and most of all his wisdom. So 14 years later, I’m honored to have this chance, once again, to help celebrate the legacy of one of New York’s greatest public servants.

I’m pleased too that you will have the opportunity after my remarks to hear from such a distinguished panel, to go into more detail about some of the issues that we face. I also know that Manhattan Borough President Gail Brewer is here, along with other local and community leaders.

Because surely this is a time when our collective efforts to devise approaches to the problems that still afflict us is more important than ever. Indeed, it is a time for wisdom.

For yet again, the family of a young black man is grieving a life cut short.

Yet again, the streets of an American city are marred by violence. By shattered glass and shouts of anger and shows of force.

Yet again a community is reeling, its fault lines laid bare and its bonds of trust and respect frayed.

Yet again, brave police officers have been attacked in the line of duty.

What we’ve seen in Baltimore should, indeed does, tear at our soul.

And, from Ferguson to Staten Island to Baltimore, the patterns have become unmistakable and undeniable.

Walter Scott shot in the back in Charleston, South Carolina. Unarmed. In debt. And terrified of spending more time in jail for child support payments he couldn’t afford.

Tamir Rice shot in a park in Cleveland, Ohio. Unarmed and just 12 years old.

Eric Garner choked to death after being stopped for selling cigarettes on the streets of this city.

And now Freddie Gray. His spine nearly severed while in police custody.

Not only as a mother and a grandmother but as a citizen, a human being, my heart breaks for these young men and their families.

We have to come to terms with some hard truths about race and justice in America.

There is something profoundly wrong when African American men are still far more likely to be stopped and searched by police, charged with crimes, and sentenced to longer prison terms than are meted out to their white counterparts.

There is something wrong when a third of all black men face the prospect of prison during their lifetimes. And an estimated 1.5 million black men are “missing” from their families and communities because of incarceration and premature death.

There is something wrong when more than one out of every three young black men in Baltimore can’t find a job.

There is something wrong when trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve breaks down as far as it has in many of our communities.

We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again.

We should begin by heeding the pleas of Freddie Gray’s family for peace and unity, echoing the families of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others in the past years.

Those who are instigating further violence in Baltimore are disrespecting the Gray family and the entire community. They are compounding the tragedy of Freddie Gray’s death and setting back the cause of justice. So the violence has to stop.

But more broadly, let’s remember that everyone in every community benefits when there is respect for the law and when everyone in every community is respected by the law. That is what we have to work towards in Baltimore and across our country.

We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans. Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.

Restoring trust in our politics, our press, our markets. Between and among neighbors and even people with whom we disagree politically.

This is so fundamental to who we are as a nation and everything we want to achieve together.

It truly is about how we treat each other and what we value. Making it possible for every American to reach his or her God-given potential—regardless of who you are, where you were born, or who you love.

The inequities that persist in our justice system undermine this shared vision of what America can be and should be.

I learned this firsthand as a young attorney just out of law school—at one of those law schools that will remain nameless here at Columbia. One of my earliest jobs for the Children’s Defense Fund, which David had mentioned—I was so fortunate to work with Marian Wright Edelman as a young lawyer and then serving on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund—was studying the problem then of youth, teenagers, sometimes preteens, incarcerated in adult jails. Then, as director of the University of Arkansas School of Law’s legal aid clinic, I advocated on behalf of prison inmates and poor families.

I saw repeatedly how our legal system can be and all too often is stacked against those who have the least power, who are the most vulnerable.

I saw how families could be and were torn apart by excessive incarceration. I saw the toll on children growing up in homes shattered by poverty and prison.

So, unfortunately, I know these are not new challenges by any means.

In fact they have become even more complex and urgent over time. And today they demand fresh thinking and bold action from all of us.

Today there seems to be a growing bipartisan movement for commonsense reforms in our criminal justice systems. Senators as disparate on the political spectrum as Cory Booker and Rand Paul and Dick Durbin and Mike Lee are reaching across the aisle to find ways to work together. It is rare to see Democrats and Republicans agree on anything today. But we’re beginning to agreeing on this: We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system.

Now of course it is not enough just to agree and give speeches about it—we actually have to work together to get the job done.

We need to deliver real reforms that can be felt on our streets, in our courthouses, and our jails and prisons, in communities too long neglected.

Let me touch on two areas in particular where I believe we need to push for more progress.

First, we need smart strategies to fight crime that help restore trust between law enforcement and our communities, especially communities of color.

There’s a lot of good work to build on. Across the country, there are so many police officers out there every day inspiring trust and confidence, honorably doing their duty, putting themselves on the line to save lives. There are police departments already deploying creative and effective strategies, demonstrating how we can protect the public without resorting to unnecessary force. We need to learn from those examples, build on what works.

We can start by making sure that federal funds for state and local law enforcement are used to bolster best practices, rather than to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.

President Obama’s task force on policing gives us a good place to start. Its recommendations offer a roadmap for reform, from training to technology, guided by more and better data.

We should make sure every police department in the country has body cameras to record interactions between officers on patrol and suspects.

That will improve transparency and accountability, it will help protect good people on both sides of the lens. For every tragedy caught on tape, there surely have been many more that remained invisible. Not every problem can be or will be prevented with cameras, but this is a commonsense step we should take.

The President has provided the idea of matching funds to state and local governments investing in body cameras. We should go even further and make this the norm everywhere.

And we should listen to law enforcement leaders who are calling for a renewed focus on working with communities to prevent crime, rather than measuring success just by the number of arrests or convictions.

As your Senator from New York, I supported a greater emphasis on community policing, along with putting more officers on the street to get to know those communities.

David Dinkins was an early pioneer of this policy. His leadership helped lay the foundation for dramatic drops in crime in the years that followed.

And today smart policing in communities that builds relationships, partnerships, and trust makes more sense than ever.

And it shouldn’t be limited just to officers on the beat. It’s an ethic that should extend throughout our criminal justice system. To prosecutors and parole officers. To judges and lawmakers.

We all share a responsibility to help re-stitch the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities.

We also have to be honest about the gaps that exist across our country, the inequality that stalks our streets. Because you cannot talk about smart policing and reforming the criminal justice system if you also don’t talk about what’s needed to provide economic opportunity, better educational chances for young people, more support to families so they can do the best jobs they are capable of doing to help support their own children.

Today I saw an article on the front page of USA Today that really struck me, written by a journalist who lives in Baltimore. And here’s what I read three times to make sure I was reading correctly: “At a conference in 2013 at Johns Hopkins University, Vice Provost Jonathan Bagger pointed out that only six miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Hollins Market.

But there is a 20-year difference in the average life expectancy.” We have learned in the last few years that life expectancy, which is a measure of the quality of life in communities and countries, manifests the same inequality that we see in so many other parts of our society.

Women—white women without high school education—are losing life expectancy. Black men and black women are seeing their life expectancy goes down in so many parts of our country.

This may not grab headlines, although I was glad to see it on the front page of USA Today. But it tells us more than I think we can bear about what we are up against.

We need to start understanding how important it is to care for every single child as though that child were our own.

David and I started our conversation this morning talking about our grandchildren; now his are considerably older than mine. But it was not just two longtime friends catching up with each other. It was so clearly sharing what is most important to us, as it is to families everywhere in our country.

So I don’t want the discussion about criminal justice, smart policing, to be siloed and to permit discussions and arguments and debates about it to only talk about that. The conversation needs to be much broader. Because that is a symptom, not a cause, of what ails us today.

The second area where we need to chart a new course is how we approach punishment and prison.

It’s a stark fact that the United States has less than 5 percent of the world’s population, yet we have almost 25 percent of the world’s total prison population. The numbers today are much higher than they were 30, 40 years ago, despite the fact that crime is at historic lows.

Of the more than 2 million Americans incarcerated today, a significant percentage are low-level offenders: people held for violating parole or minor drug crimes, or who are simply awaiting trial in backlogged courts.

Keeping them behind bars does little to reduce crime. But it is does a lot to tear apart families and communities.

One in every 28 children now has a parent in prison. Think about what that means for those children.

When we talk about one and a half million missing African American men, we’re talking about missing husbands, missing fathers, missing brothers.

They’re not there to look after their children or bring home a paycheck. And the consequences are profound.

Without the mass incarceration that we currently practice, millions fewer people would be living in poverty.

And it’s not just families trying to stay afloat with one parent behind bars. Of the 600,000 prisoners who reenter society each year, roughly 60 percent face long-term unemployment.

And for all this, taxpayers are paying about $80 billion a year to keep so many people in prison.

The price of incarcerating a single inmate is often more than $30,000 per year—and up to $60,000 in some states. That’s the salary of a teacher or police officer.

One year in a New Jersey state prison costs $44,000—more than the annual tuition at Princeton.

If the United States brought our correctional expenditures back in line with where they were several decades ago, we’d save an estimated $28 billion a year. And I believe we would not be less safe. You can pay a lot of police officers and nurses and others with $28 billion to help us deal with the pipeline issues.

It’s time to change our approach. It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration. We need a true national debate about how to reduce our prison population while keeping our communities safe.

I don’t know all the answers. That’s why I’m here—to ask all the smart people in Columbia and New York to start thinking this through with me. I know we should work together to pursue together to pursue alternative punishments for low-level offenders. They do have to be in some way registered in the criminal justice system, but we don’t want that to be a fast track to long-term criminal activity, we don’t want to create another “incarceration generation.”

I’ve been encouraged to see changes that I supported as Senator to reduce the unjust federal sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine crimes finally become law.

And last year, the Sentencing Commission reduced recommended prison terms for some drug crimes.

President Obama and former Attorney General Holder have led the way with important additional steps. And I am looking forward to our new Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, carrying this work forward.

There are other measures that I and so many others have championed to reform arbitrary mandatory minimum sentences are long overdue.

We also need probation and drug diversion programs to deal swiftly with violations, while allowing low-level offenders who stay clean and stay out of trouble to stay out of prison. I’ve seen the positive effects of specialized drug courts and juvenile programs work to the betterment of individuals and communities. And please, please, let us put mental health back at the top of our national agenda.

You and I know that the promise of de-institutionalizing those in mental health facilities was supposed to be followed by the creation of community-based treatment centers. Well, we got half of that equation—but not the other half. Our prisons and our jails are now our mental health institutions.

I have to tell you I was somewhat surprised in both Iowa and New Hampshire to be asked so many questions about mental health. “What are we going to do with people who need help for substance abuse or mental illness?” “What are we going to do when the remaining facilities are being shut down for budget reasons?” “What are we going to do when hospitals don’t really get reimbursed for providing the kind of emergency care that is needed for mental health patients?”

It’s not just a problem in our cities. There’s a quiet epidemic of substance abuse sweeping small-town and rural America as well. We have to do more and finally get serious about treatment.

I’ll be talking about all of this in the months to come, offering new solutions to protect and strengthen our families and communities.

I know in a time when we’re afflicted by short-termism, we’re not looking over the horizon for the investments that we need to make in our fellow citizens, in our children. So I’m well aware that progress will not be easy, despite the emerging bipartisan consensus for certain reforms. And that we will have to overcome deep divisions and try to begin to replenish our depleted reservoirs of trust.

But I am convinced, as the congenital optimist I must be to live my life, that we can rise to this challenge. We can heal our wounds. We can restore balance to our justice system and respect in our communities. And we can make sure that we take actions that are going to make a difference in the lives of those who for too long have been marginalized and forgotten.

Let’s protect the rights of all our people. Let’s take on the broader inequities in our society. You can’t separate out the unrest we see in the streets from the cycles of poverty and despair that hollow out those neighborhoods.

Despite all the progress we’ve made in this country lifting people up—and it has been extraordinary—too many of our fellow citizens are still left out.

Twenty-five years ago, in his inaugural address as Mayor, David Dinkins warned of leaving “too many lost amidst the wealth and grandeur that surrounds us.”

Today, his words and the emotion behind them ring truer than ever. You don’t have to look too far from this magnificent hall to find children still living in poverty or trapped in failing schools. Families who work hard but can’t afford the rising prices in their neighborhood.

Mothers and fathers who fear for their sons’ safety when they go off to school—or just to go buy a pack of Skittles.

These challenges are all woven together. And they all must be tackled together.

Our goal must truly be inclusive and lasting prosperity that’s measured by how many families get ahead and stay ahead…

How many children climb out of poverty and stay out of prison…

How many young people can go to college without breaking the bank…

How many new immigrants can start small businesses …

How many parents can get good jobs that allow them to balance the demands of work and family.

That’s how we should measure prosperity. With all due respect, that is a far better measurement than the size of the bonuses handed out in downtown office buildings.

Now even in the most painful times like those we are seeing in Baltimore …

When parents fear for their children…

When smoke fills the skies above our cities…

When police officers are assaulted…

Even then—especially then—let’s remember the aspirations and values that unite us all: That every person should have the opportunity to succeed. That no one is disposable. That every life matters.

So yes, Mayor Dinkins. This is a time for wisdom.

A time for honesty about race and justice in America.

And, yes, a time for reform.

David Dinkins is a leader we can look to. We know what he stood for. Let us take the challenge and example he presents and think about what we must do to make sure that this country we love—this city we live in—are both good and great.

And please join me in saying a prayer for the family of Freddie Gray, and all the men whose names we know and those we don’t who have lost their lives unnecessarily and tragically. And in particular today, include in that prayer the people of Baltimore and our beloved country.

Thank you all very much.

Full Text Obama Presidency April 28, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Baltimore Riots — Transcript



President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Baltimore Riots

Source: WH, 4-28-15

With respect to Baltimore, let me make a couple of points.  First, obviously our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray.  Understandably, they want answers.  And DOJ has opened an investigation.  It is working with local law enforcement to find out exactly what happened, and I think there should be full transparency and accountability.

Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night’s disturbances.  It underscores that that’s a tough job and we have to keep that in mind, and my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible.

Point number three, there’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday.  It is counterproductive.  When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement — they’re stealing.  When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson.  And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.

So it is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday, and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction.  That is not a protest.  That is not a statement.  It’s people — a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.

Point number four, the violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore, led by clergy and community leaders.  And they were constructive and they were thoughtful, and frankly, didn’t get that much attention.  And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way I think have been lost in the discussion.

The overwhelming majority of the community in Baltimore I think have handled this appropriately, expressing real concern and outrage over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray, and that accountability needs to exist.  And I think we have to give them credit.  My understanding is, is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.  What they were doing, what those community leaders and clergy and others were doing, that is a statement.  That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem.  And they deserve credit for it, and we should be lifting them up.

Point number five — and I’ve got six, because this is important.  Since Ferguson, and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals — primarily African American, often poor — in ways that have raised troubling questions.  And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or once every couple of weeks.  And so I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations but, more importantly, moms and dads across the country, might start saying this is a crisis.  What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis.  This has been going on for a long time.  This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.

The good news is, is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras and so forth that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond.

What’s also good news is the task force that was made up of law enforcement and community activists that we brought together here in the White House have come up with very constructive concrete proposals that, if adopted by local communities and by states and by counties, by law enforcement generally, would make a difference.  It wouldn’t solve every problem, but would make a concrete difference in rebuilding trust and making sure that the overwhelming majority of effective, honest and fair law enforcement officers, that they’re able to do their job better because it will weed out or retrain or put a stop to those handful who may be not doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

Now, the challenge for us as the federal government is, is that we don’t run these police forces.  I can’t federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain.  But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves.

And coming out of the task force that we put together, we’re now working with local communities.  The Department of Justice has just announced a grant program for those jurisdictions that want to purchase body cameras.  We are going to be issuing grants for those jurisdictions that are prepared to start trying to implement some of the new training and data collection and other things that can make a difference.  And we’re going to keep on working with those local jurisdictions so that they can begin to make the changes that are necessary.

I think it’s going to be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organization to acknowledge that this is not good for police.  We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are going to be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation.  There are some bad politicians who are corrupt.  There are folks in the business community or on Wall Street who don’t do the right thing.  Well, there’s some police who aren’t doing the right thing.  And rather than close ranks, what we’ve seen is a number of thoughtful police chiefs and commissioners and others recognize they got to get their arms around this thing and work together with the community to solve the problem.  And we’re committed to facilitating that process.

So the heads of our COPS agency that helps with community policing, they’re already out in Baltimore.  Our Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division is already out in Baltimore.  But we’re going to be working systematically with every city and jurisdiction around the country to try to help them implement some solutions that we know work.

And I’ll make my final point — I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but this is a pretty important issue for us.

We can’t just leave this to the police.  I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching.  I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching.  But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching.  This is not new.  It’s been going on for decades.

And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; they’ve got parents — often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves — can’t do right by their kids; if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.  In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks — in those environments, if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not going to solve this problem.  And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.

If we are serious about solving this problem, then we’re going to not only have to help the police, we’re going to have to think about what can we do — the rest of us — to make sure that we’re providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we’re reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we’re not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we’re making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs.  That’s hard.  That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force.  And there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that.

Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we’re going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training, and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities trying to attract new businesses in.

But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could.  It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant — and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.  We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they’re important.  And they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.

That’s how I feel.  I think there are a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way.  But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time.  And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference.  But I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it’s easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law and order issue, as opposed to a broader social issue.

Full Text Obama Presidency March 7, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches — Transcripts



Remarks by the President at the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery Marches

Source: WH,  3-7-15

Edmund Pettus Bridge

Selma, Alabama

2:17 P.M. CST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, President Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes.  And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind.  A day like this was not on his mind.  Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.  Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked.  A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones.  The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear.  And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

“No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government — all you need for a night behind bars — John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:

As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war — Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character — Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

Selma is such a place.  In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history — the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher — all that history met on this bridge.

It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.  And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America — that idea ultimately triumphed.

As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

They did as Scripture instructed:  “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And in the days to come, they went back again and again.  When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.  A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing.  (Laughter.)  To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson.  And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear:  “We shall overcome.”  (Applause.)  What enormous faith these men and women had.  Faith in God, but also faith in America.

The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  (Applause.)

What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism challenged.

And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?  (Applause.)  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?  (Applause.)

That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:  “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  (Applause.)

These are not just words.  They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work.  And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.  (Applause.)

The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.  (Applause.)

It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.  (Applause.)

That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  They saw what John Lewis had done.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama.  They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political and economic and social barriers came down.  And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.  (Applause.)

Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities — they all came through those doors.  (Applause.)  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.  And what a solemn debt we owe.  Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.  (Applause.)  The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic.  It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom.  And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.  (Applause.)

We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.

We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.  We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.  “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem.  And this is work for all Americans, not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.  (Applause.)

With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some.  Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law.  (Applause.)  Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors.  (Applause.)

With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity.  Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.  But we do expect equal opportunity.  And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need.  We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  (Applause.)  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts.  (Applause.)  President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.  (Applause.)  One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge.  (Applause.)

Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone.  If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples.  Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap.  It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

What’s our excuse today for not voting?  How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought?  (Applause.)  How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?  Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places?  (Applause.)  We give away our power.

Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years.  We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace.  We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives.  We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined.  But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

For we were born of change.  We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people.  That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction — because we know our efforts matter.  We know America is what we make of it.

Look at our history.  We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters.  That’s our spirit.  That’s who we are.

We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some.  And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.  That is our character.

We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan.  We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.  (Applause.)

We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.  (Applause.)  We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent.  And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.

We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)

We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.  (Applause.)

We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”  We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others.  (Applause.)  We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing.  We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.  That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day.  You are America.  Unconstrained by habit and convention.  Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.

For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.”  (Applause.)  That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer.  Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.  Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile.  Somebody already got us over that bridge.  When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on [the] wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint.”  (Applause.)

We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

2:50 P.M. CST

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



Remarks by the President in Meeting with DREAMers

Source: WH,  2-4-15

Oval Office

11:47 A.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11:56 A.M. EST

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




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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

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



Remarks By The President At Evening Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

State Floor

8:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!


THE PRESIDENT:  Happy Hanukkah!

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hanukkah!

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

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s good.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s very impressive.

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

MRS. OBAMA:  He said that earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:11 P.M. EST


Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

East Room

4:27 P.M. EST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Happy Hanukkah, Mr. President!

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

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hannukah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The blessings are given.)

END                  4:38 P.M. EST




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



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

Source: WH, 12-9-14

Casa Azafran
Nashville, Tennessee

2:26 P.M. CST

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


THE PRESIDENT:Hola.Cómo estás?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right.Gentleman there in the back.

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

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

Q I do miss the White Sox.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:37 P.M. CST

Political Musings December 1, 2014: Obama issues four-point plan to improve minority police relations after Ferguson




Obama issues four-point plan to improve minority police relations after Ferguson

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama wants to actively do something to curb the wave of police shootings of unarmed African Americans that seems to be plaguing the country. On Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 President Obama hosted three meetings at the White House…READ MORE

Political Musings November 24, 2014: Obama urges calm after grand jury does not indict Darren Wilson in Michael Brown’s death




Obama urges calm after grand jury does not indict Wilson in Brown’s death

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Right after the Missouri Grand Jury announced that they would not indict police officer Darren Wilson in the death of black teen Michael Brown Monday evening, Nov. 24, 2014, President Barack Obama made a statement in the White House briefing…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency November 24, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri — Transcript



Remarks by the President After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri

Source: WH, 11-24-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

10:08 P.M. EST

     THE PRESIDENT:  As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America.  So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.

First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law.  And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make.  There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry.  It’s an understandable reaction.  But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully.  Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words:  “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer.  No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain.  I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.”  Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone.  We should be honoring their wishes.

I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur.  Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day.  They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law.  As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence — distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.

Finally, we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.  The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color.  Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country.  And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.  The good news is we know there are things we can do to help.  And I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement.

That means working with law enforcement officials to make sure their ranks are representative of the communities they serve.  We know that makes a difference.  It means working to train officials so that law enforcement conducts itself in a way that is fair to everybody.  It means enlisting the community actively on what should be everybody’s goal, and that is to prevent crime.

And there are good people on all sides of this debate, as well as in both Republican and Democratic parties, that are interested not only in lifting up best practices — because we know that there are communities who have been able to deal with this in an effective way — but also who are interested in working with this administration and local and state officials to start tackling much-needed criminal justice reform.

So those should be the lessons that we draw from these tragic events.  We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America.  We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades.  I’ve witnessed that in my own life.  And to deny that progress I think is to deny America’s capacity for change.

But what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren’t just making these problems up.  Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion.  I don’t think that’s the norm.  I don’t think that’s true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials.  But these are real issues.  And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down.  What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress.  And that can be done.

That won’t be done by throwing bottles.  That won’t be done by smashing car windows.  That won’t be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property.  And it certainly won’t be done by hurting anybody.  So, to those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively.  Michael Brown’s parents understand what it means to be constructive.  The vast majority of peaceful protesters, they understand it as well.

Those of you who are watching tonight understand that there’s never an excuse for violence, particularly when there are a lot of people in goodwill out there who are willing to work on these issues.

On the other hand, those who are only interested in focusing on the violence and just want the problem to go away need to recognize that we do have work to do here, and we shouldn’t try to paper it over.  Whenever we do that, the anger may momentarily subside, but over time, it builds up and America isn’t everything that it could be.

And I am confident that if we focus our attention on the problem and we look at what has happened in communities around the country effectively, then we can make progress not just in Ferguson, but in a lot of other cities and communities around the country.


Q    Mr. President, will you go to Ferguson when things settle down there?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s take a look and see how things are going.  Eric Holder has been there.  We’ve had a whole team from the Justice Department there, and I think that they have done some very good work.  As I said, the vast majority of the community has been working very hard to try to make sure that this becomes an opportunity for us to seize the moment and turn this into a positive situation.

But I think that we have to make sure that we focus at least as much attention on all those positive activities that are taking place as we do on a handful of folks who end up using this as an excuse to misbehave or to break the law or to engage in violence.  I think that it’s going to be very important — and I think the media is going to have a responsibility as well — to make sure that we focus on Michael Brown’s parents, and the clergy, and the community leaders, and the civil rights leaders, and the activists, and law enforcement officials who have been working very hard to try to find better solutions — long-term solutions, to this issue.

There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it will make for good TV.  But what we want to do is to make sure that we’re also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible, that the vast majority of people in Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri, and around the country are looking for.  And I want to be partners with those folks.  And we need to lift up that kind of constructive dialogue that’s taking place.

All right.

                         END              10:18 P.M. EST

Political Musings November 20, 2014: Emperor Obama outlines executive amnesty for nearly 5 million illegal immigrants




Emperor Obama outlines executive amnesty for nearly 5 million illegal immigrants

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama addressed the nation on Thursday evening, Nov. 20, 2014 announcing and outlining his plan for immigration reform and executive actions to provide amnesty for nearly five million illegal immigrants for three years in a speech to the…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency November 20, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech to the Nation Outlining Immigration Reform Executive Actions & Executive Amnesty — Transcript



Full text: Obama’s immigration speech

My fellow Americans, tonight, I’d like to talk with you about immigration.

For more than 200 years, our tradition of welcoming immigrants from around the world has given us a tremendous advantage over other nations. It’s kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial. It has shaped our character as a people with limitless possibilities — people not trapped by our past, but able to remake ourselves as we choose.

But today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it.

Families who enter our country the right way and play by the rules watch others flout the rules. Business owners who offer their workers good wages and benefits see the competition exploit undocumented immigrants by paying them far less. All of us take offense to anyone who reaps the rewards of living in America without taking on the responsibilities of living in America. And undocumented immigrants who desperately want to embrace those responsibilities see little option but to remain in the shadows, or risk their families being torn apart.

It’s been this way for decades. And for decades, we haven’t done much about it.

When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history. And over the past six years, illegal border crossings have been cut by more than half. Although this summer, there was a brief spike in unaccompanied children being apprehended at our border, the number of such children is now actually lower than it’s been in nearly two years. Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts.

Meanwhile, I worked with Congress on a comprehensive fix, and last year, 68 Democrats, Republicans, and Independents came together to pass a bipartisan bill in the Senate. It wasn’t perfect. It was a compromise, but it reflected common sense. It would have doubled the number of border patrol agents, while giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship if they paid a fine, started paying their taxes, and went to the back of the line. And independent experts said that it would help grow our economy and shrink our deficits.

Had the House of Representatives allowed that kind of a bill a simple yes-or-no vote, it would have passed with support from both parties, and today it would be the law. But for a year and a half now, Republican leaders in the House have refused to allow that simple vote.

Now, I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common sense law. But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me – that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.

Tonight, I am announcing those actions.

First, we’ll build on our progress at the border with additional resources for our law enforcement personnel so that they can stem the flow of illegal crossings, and speed the return of those who do cross over.

Second, I will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay and contribute to our economy, as so many business leaders have proposed.

Third, we’ll take steps to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.

I want to say more about this third issue, because it generates the most passion and controversy. Even as we are a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws. Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable — especially those who may be dangerous. That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day.

But even as we focus on deporting criminals, the fact is, millions of immigrants — in every state, of every race and nationality — will still live here illegally. And let’s be honest – tracking down, rounding up, and deporting millions of people isn’t realistic. Anyone who suggests otherwise isn’t being straight with you. It’s also not who we are as Americans. After all, most of these immigrants have been here a long time. They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours.

As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: “They are a part of American life.”

Now here’s the thing: we expect people who live in this country to play by the rules. We expect that those who cut the line will not be unfairly rewarded. So we’re going to offer the following deal: If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily, without fear of deportation. You can come out of the shadows and get right with the law.

That’s what this deal is. Now let’s be clear about what it isn’t. This deal does not apply to anyone who has come to this country recently. It does not apply to anyone who might come to America illegally in the future. It does not grant citizenship, or the right to stay here permanently, or offer the same benefits that citizens receive – only Congress can do that. All we’re saying is we’re not going to deport you.

I know some of the critics of this action call it amnesty. Well, it’s not. Amnesty is the immigration system we have today – millions of people who live here without paying their taxes or playing by the rules, while politicians use the issue to scare people and whip up votes at election time.

That’s the real amnesty – leaving this broken system the way it is. Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I’m describing is accountability – a commonsense, middle ground approach: If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law. If you’re a criminal, you’ll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up.

The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill. I want to work with both parties to pass a more permanent legislative solution. And the day I sign that bill into law, the actions I take will no longer be necessary. Meanwhile, don’t let a disagreement over a single issue be a dealbreaker on every issue. That’s not how our democracy works, and Congress certainly shouldn’t shut down our government again just because we disagree on this. Americans are tired of gridlock. What our country needs from us right now is a common purpose – a higher purpose.

Most Americans support the types of reforms I’ve talked about tonight. But I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home. Millions of us, myself included, go back generations in this country, with ancestors who put in the painstaking work to become citizens. So we don’t like the notion that anyone might get a free pass to American citizenship. I know that some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs, or stick it to middle-class families at a time when they already feel like they’ve gotten the raw end of the deal for over a decade. I hear these concerns. But that’s not what these steps would do. Our history and the facts show that immigrants are a net plus for our economy and our society. And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character.

Because for all the back-and-forth of Washington, we have to remember that this debate is about something bigger. It’s about who we are as a country, and who we want to be for future generations.

Are we a nation that tolerates the hypocrisy of a system where workers who pick our fruit and make our beds never have a chance to get right with the law? Or are we a nation that gives them a chance to make amends, take responsibility, and give their kids a better future?

Are we a nation that accepts the cruelty of ripping children from their parents’ arms? Or are we a nation that values families, and works to keep them together?

Are we a nation that educates the world’s best and brightest in our universities, only to send them home to create businesses in countries that compete against us? Or are we a nation that encourages them to stay and create jobs, businesses, and industries right here in America?

That’s what this debate is all about. We need more than politics as usual when it comes to immigration; we need reasoned, thoughtful, compassionate debate that focuses on our hopes, not our fears.

I know the politics of this issue are tough. But let me tell you why I have come to feel so strongly about it. Over the past few years, I have seen the determination of immigrant fathers who worked two or three jobs, without taking a dime from the government, and at risk at any moment of losing it all, just to build a better life for their kids. I’ve seen the heartbreak and anxiety of children whose mothers might be taken away from them just because they didn’t have the right papers. I’ve seen the courage of students who, except for the circumstances of their birth, are as American as Malia or Sasha; students who bravely come out as undocumented in hopes they could make a difference in a country they love. These people – our neighbors, our classmates, our friends – they did not come here in search of a free ride or an easy life. They came to work, and study, and serve in our military, and above all, contribute to America’s success.

Tomorrow, I’ll travel to Las Vegas and meet with some of these students, including a young woman named Astrid Silva. Astrid was brought to America when she was four years old. Her only possessions were a cross, her doll, and the frilly dress she had on. When she started school, she didn’t speak any English. She caught up to the other kids by reading newspapers and watching PBS, and became a good student. Her father worked in landscaping. Her mother cleaned other people’s homes. They wouldn’t let Astrid apply to a technology magnet school for fear the paperwork would out her as an undocumented immigrant – so she applied behind their back and got in. Still, she mostly lived in the shadows – until her grandmother, who visited every year from Mexico, passed away, and she couldn’t travel to the funeral without risk of being found out and deported. It was around that time she decided to begin advocating for herself and others like her, and today, Astrid Silva is a college student working on her third degree.

Are we a nation that kicks out a striving, hopeful immigrant like Astrid – or are we a nation that finds a way to welcome her in?

Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too.

My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal – that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.

That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.

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

Full Text Obama Presidency October 2, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala — Transcript



Remarks by the President at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala

Source: WH, 10-2 -14

Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

7:54 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening!  (Applause.)  Thank you to Senator Menendez, Congressman Hinojosa, and the entire CHC for inviting me.  Everybody, you can have a seat, take a load off. (Laughter.)  I want to congratulate tonight’s outstanding honorees — Jose Diaz-Balart — (applause) — Eliseo Medina — (applause) — and Juliet Garcia.  (Applause.)  I want to thank all the other members of Congress who are here tonight, including the outstanding Nancy Pelosi.  (Applause.)  Although I have to say Nancy Pelosi was really talking mostly about the San Francisco Giants — in a Nationals town.  So that just shows her courage.  (Laughter.)

I want to give a special thanks to two young men who rode over with me from the White House tonight.  Luis and Victor are CHCI interns and fellows.  (Applause.)  They are also DREAMers, living and working in the country they call home, and making it a better place for all of us.  Their stories are inspiring.  And along with the other CHCI fellows, they give me great hope for the future.  They make me optimistic about what America is all about.

Six years ago, I came here as a candidate for this office and I said if we worked together, we could do more than just win an election — we could rebuild America so that everybody, no matter what you look like, no matter what your last name is, no matter what God you worship, no matter who you love — everybody is free to pursue their dreams.  (Applause.)

And that’s exactly what we set out to do.  And today, there is progress that we should be proud of.  I gave a long speech this afternoon about it because sometimes we don’t focus on what has happened over these last six years.  Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have created 10 million new jobs — the longest uninterrupted stretch of job creation in our history. (Applause.)  In the spring, our economy grew faster than any time since 2006, and there are more job openings today than at any time since 2001.  (Applause.)And we are going to keep working as hard as we can to help create good, middle-class jobs even faster.

Six years ago, I told you we would confront the crisis of overcrowded classrooms and underfunded schools, and help more families afford higher education.  And since 2000, we have cut the Latino dropout rate by more than half.  (Applause.)  Because dropouts are down, today our high school graduation rate is the highest on record.  And since 2008, the rate of college enrollment among young Latinos has risen by 45 percent.  (Applause.)

Six years ago, I said we’d take on a broken health care system that left one out of three Hispanics uninsured.  Today, millions more Americans have quality, affordable health insurance that they can count on.  (Applause.)  Over the last year alone, about 10 million Americans gained health insurance.  And that includes millions of Latinos.  (Applause.)

Six years ago, I told you we’d restore the idea at the heart of America that we’re in this together, that I am my brother’s keeper, and my sister’s keeper.  Last year, poverty among Latinos fell, and incomes rose.  And this week, I launched the My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, asking every community in our country to publicly commit to strategies that will help put our young people on the path to success, from cradle to career.  (Applause.)

So the point I want to make is the progress we’ve made has been hard, sometimes it’s been slower than we want, but that progress has been steady and it has been real.  We have done big things together, and we’re going to do more.  And tonight, I want to make something clear:  Fixing our broken immigration system is one more, big thing that we have to do and that we will do.  (Applause.)

Now, I know there’s deep frustration in many communities around the country right now.  And I understand that frustration because I share it.  I know the pain of families torn apart because we live with a system that’s broken.  But if anybody wants to know where my heart is or whether I want to have this fight, let me put those questions to rest right now.  I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done.  (Applause.)

As Bob mentioned, I’ve taken so far actions — (audience interruption) — I’m about to get to that.  About to get to it. (Applause.)  The actions that we’ve taken so far — (audience interruption) — you’re going to want to hear it, you’ll want to hear what I say, rather than just — the actions that we’ve taken so far are why more than 600,000 young people can live and work without fear of deportation.  (Applause.)  That’s because of the actions I took and the administration took.  (Applause.)

Because of the coalition that we built together, business and labor, faith and law enforcement, Democrats and Republicans
— created a bipartisan bill and got it through the Senate last year.  When states like Alabama and Arizona passed some of the harshest immigration laws in history, my Attorney General took them on in court and we won.  (Applause.)

So you know what we’ve done together.  You know that we’ve done it despite what is possibly the most uncooperative House of Representatives in history.  (Applause.)  If House Republicans brought the Senate bill up for a vote today, it would pass today; I would sign it today.  And they know it.  (Applause.)  But instead, they’ve been sitting on it for more than a year.  They voted to strip DREAMers of new protections and make them eligible for deportation — not once, but twice they voted that way.

And this summer, when a wave of unaccompanied minors crossed part of our southwest border, my administration matched compassion for kids with a firm message to families.  Today, fewer parents are sending their children on that perilous journey than they were at this time last year, and we’re working to give more kids the chance to apply for asylum in their home countries and avoid that journey altogether.  (Applause.)

But while we worked to deal with an urgent humanitarian problem, while we actually did something about the problem, Republicans exploited the situation for political gain.  And in June, as all this was going on, Speaker Boehner told me he would continue to block a vote on immigration reform for at least the remainder of this year.


THE PRESIDENT:  Now, don’t boo, vote.  (Applause.)

I’ve said before that if Congress failed to live up to its responsibilities to solve this problem, I would act to fix as much of our immigration system as I can on my own, and I meant what I said.  So this is not a question of if, but when.  Because the moment I act — and it will be taking place between the November elections and the end of the year — opponents of reform will roll out the same old scare tactics.  They’ll use whatever excuse they have to try to block any attempt at immigration reform at all.  And we have to be realistic:  For any action to last, for it to be effective and extend beyond my administration — because I’m only here two more years — we’re going to have to build more support of the American people so that it is sustainable and lasting.

And so I am going to be spending the next month, month and a half, six weeks, eight weeks — I’m going to be spending that time not just talking about what we’ve done for the economy, but explaining why immigration reform is good for our economy, and why it’s good for everybody.  (Applause.)  And when opponents are out there saying who knows what, I’m going to need you to have my back.  I’m going to need you to have my back.  I’m going to need you to keep putting pressure on Congress, because the fact of the matter is no matter how bold I am, nothing I can do will be as comprehensive or lasting as the Senate bill.  Anything I can do can be reversed by the next President.

To move beyond what I can do in a limited way, we are going to need legislation.  And if we want that legislation to happen sooner rather than later, then there’s one more thing I need you to do — I’ve got to have you talk to your constituents and your communities, and you’ve got to get them out to vote.  (Applause.)

You already know how powerful the Latino vote can be.  (Applause.)  In 2012, Latinos voted in record numbers.  The next day, even Sean Hannity changed his mind and decided immigration reform was a good idea.  (Laughter.)  But despite that record-breaking turnout, only 48 percent of Hispanic voters turned out. Fewer than half.  Fewer than half.  So the clearest path to change is to change that number.  Si, se puede … si votamos.  Yes we can … if we vote.  (Applause.)

You know, earlier this year, I had the chance to host a screening of the film Cesar Chavez at the White House, and I was reminded that Cesar organized for nearly 20 years before his first major victory.  He never saw that time as a failure.  Looking back, he said, “I remember… the families who joined our movement and paid dues long before there was any hope of winning contracts… I remember thinking then that with spirit like that… no force on Earth could stop us.”

That’s the promise of America then, and that’s the promise of America now — people who love this country can change it.  America isn’t Congress.  America isn’t Washington.  America is the striving immigrant who starts a business, or the mom who works two low-wage jobs to give her kid a better life.  America is the union leader and the CEO who put aside their differences to make the economy stronger.  America is the student who defies the odds to become the first in a family to go to college — (applause) — the citizen who defies the cynics and goes out there and votes — (applause) — the young person who comes out of the shadows to demand the right to dream.  That’s what America is about.  (Applause.)

And six years ago, I asked you to believe.  And tonight, I ask you to keep believing — not just in my ability to bring about change, but in your ability to bring about change.  Because in the end, “dreamer” is more than just a title — it’s a pretty good description of what it means to be an American.  (Applause.) Each of us is called on to stand proudly for the values we believe in and the future we seek.  All of us have the chance to reach out and pull this country that we call home a little closer to its founding ideals.

That’s the spirit that’s alive in this room.  That’s the spirit I saw in Luis and Victor, and all the young people here tonight.  That spirit is alive in America today.  And with that spirit, no force on Earth can stop us.

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

8:07 P.M. EDT

Political Musings September 30, 2014: Netanyahu in powerful UN address equates ISIS with Hamas, Iran greatest threat





Netanyahu in powerful UN address equates ISIS with Hamas, Iran greatest threat

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promise to “refute all of the lies being directed at us” when he boarded his flight to New York on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014, and when he delivered his address to…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency September 27, 2014: President Obama’s Speech at Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner — Transcript



Remarks by the President at Congressional Black Caucus Awards Dinner

Source: WH, 9-27-14

Walter E. Washington Convention Center

Washington, D.C.

9:06 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, CBC!  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, have a seat.  It is good to be with you here tonight.  If it wasn’t black tie I would have worn my tan suit.  (Laughter.)  I thought it looked good.  (Laughter.)

Thank you, Chaka, for that introduction.  Thanks to all of you for having me here this evening. I want to acknowledge the members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Chairwoman Marcia Fudge for their outstanding work.  (Applause.)  Thank you, Shuanise Washington, and the CBC Foundation for doing so much to help our young people aim high and reach their potential.

Tonight, I want to begin by paying special tribute to a man with whom all of you have worked closely with; someone who served his country for nearly 40 years as a prosecutor, as a judge, and as Attorney General of the United States:  Mr. Eric Holder.  (Applause.)  Throughout his long career in public service, Eric has built a powerful legacy of making sure that equal justice under the law actually means something; that it applies to everybody — regardless of race, or gender, or religion, or color, creed, disability, sexual orientation.  He has been a great friend of mine.  He has been a faithful servant of the American people.  We will miss him badly.  (Applause.)

This year, we’ve been marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.  We honor giants like John Lewis — (applause); unsung heroines like Evelyn Lowery.  We honor the countless Americans, some who are in this room — black, white, students, scholars, preachers, housekeepers, patriots all, who, with their bare hands, reached into the well of our nation’s founding ideals and helped to nurture a more perfect union.  We’ve reminded ourselves that progress is not just absorbing what has been done — it’s advancing what’s left undone.

Even before President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, even as the debate dragged on in the Senate, he was already challenging America to do more and march further, to build a Great Society — one, Johnson said, “where no child will go unfed, and no youngster will go unschooled.  Where no man who wants work will fail to find it.  Where no citizen will be barred from any door because of his birthplace or his color or his church.  Where peace and security is common among neighbors and possible among nations.”  “This is the world that waits for you,” he said.  “Reach out for it now.  Join the fight to finish the unfinished work.”  To finish the unfinished work.

America has made stunning progress since that time, over the past 50 years — even over the past five years.  But it is the unfinished work that drives us forward.

Some of our unfinished work lies beyond our borders.  America is leading the effort to rally the world against Russian aggression in Ukraine.  America is leading the fight to contain and combat Ebola in Africa.  America is building and leading the coalition that will degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL.  As Americans, we are leading, and we don’t shy away from these responsibilities; we welcome them.  (Applause.)  That’s what America does.  And we are grateful to the men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way in service of the country that we all love.  (Applause.)

So we’ve got unfinished work overseas, but we’ve got some unfinished work right here at home.  (Applause.)  After the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, our businesses have now created 10 million new jobs over the last 54 months.  This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of job growth in our history.  (Applause.)  In our history.  But we understand our work is not done until we get the kind of job creation that means everybody who wants work can a find job.

We’ve done some work on health care, too.  I don’t know if you’ve noticed.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen a 26 percent decline in the uninsured rate in America.  (Applause.)  African Americans have seen a 30 percent decline.  And, by the way, the cost of health care isn’t going up as fast anymore either.  Everybody was predicting this was all going to be so expensive.  We’ve saved $800 billion — (applause) — in Medicare because of the work that we’ve done — slowing the cost, improving quality, and improving access.  Despite unyielding opposition, this change has happened just in the last couple years.

But we know our work is not yet done until we get into more communities, help more uninsured folks get covered, especially in those states where the governors aren’t being quite as cooperative as we’d like them to be.  (Applause.)  You know who you are.  It always puzzles me when you decide to take a stand to make sure poor folks in your state can’t get health insurance even though it doesn’t cost you a dime.  That doesn’t make much sense to me, but I won’t go on on that topic.  (Applause.)  We’ve got more work to do.

It’s easy to take a stand when you’ve got health insurance.  (Laughter and applause.)  I’m going off script now, but — (laughter) — that’s what happens at the CBC.

Our high school graduation rate is at a record high, the dropout rate is falling, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before.  Last year, the number of children living in poverty fell by 1.4 million — the largest decline since 1966.  (Applause.)  Since I took office, the overall crime rate and the overall incarceration rate has gone down by about 10 percent.  That’s the first time they’ve declined at the same time in more than 40 years.  Fewer folks in jail.  Crime still going down.  (Applause.)

But our work is not done when too many children live in crumbling neighborhoods, cycling through substandard schools, traumatized by daily violence.  Our work is not done when working Americans of all races have seen their wages and incomes stagnate, even as corporate profits soar; when African-American unemployment is still twice as high as white unemployment; when income inequality, on the rise for decades, continues to hold back hardworking communities, especially communities of color.  We’ve got unfinished work.  And we know what to do.  That’s the worst part — we know what to do.

We know we’ve got to invest in infrastructure, and manufacturing, and research and development that creates new jobs.  We’ve got to keep rebuilding a middle class economy with ladders of opportunity, so that hard work pays off and you see higher wages and higher incomes, and fair pay for women doing the same work as men, and workplace flexibility for parents in case a child gets sick or a parent needs some help.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to build more Promise Zones partnerships to support local revitalization of hard-hit communities.  We’ve got to keep investing in early education.  We want to bring preschool to every four-year-old in this country.  (Applause.)  And we want every child to have an excellent teacher.  And we want to invest in our community colleges and expand Pell Grants for more students.  And I’m going to keep working with you to make college more affordable.  Because every child in America, no matter who she is, no matter where she’s born, no matter how much money her parents have, ought to be able to fulfill her God-given potential.  That’s what we believe.  (Applause.)

So I just want everybody to understand — we have made enormous progress.  There’s almost no economic measure by which we are not better off than when I took office.  (Applause.)  Unemployment down.  Deficits down.  Uninsured down.  Poverty down.  Energy production up.  Manufacturing back.  Auto industry back.  But — and I just list these things just so if you have a discussion with one of your friends — (laughter) — and they’re confused.  Stock market up.  Corporate balance sheet strong.  In fact, the folks who are doing the best, they’re the ones who complain the most.  (Laughter and applause.)  So you can just point these things out.

But we still have to close these opportunity gaps.  And we have to close the justice gap — how justice is applied, but also how it is perceived, how it is experienced.  (Applause.)  Eric Holder understands this.  (Applause.)  That’s what we saw in Ferguson this summer, when Michael Brown was killed and a community was divided.  We know that the unrest continues.   And Eric spent some time with the residents and police of Ferguson, and the Department of Justice has indicated that its civil rights investigation is ongoing.

Now, I won’t comment on the investigation.  I know that Michael’s family is here tonight.  (Applause.)  I know that nothing any of us can say can ease the grief of losing a child so soon.  But the anger and the emotion that followed his death awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.

Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.  We know that, statistically, in everything from enforcing drug policy to applying the death penalty to pulling people over, there are significant racial disparities.  That’s just the statistics.  One recent poll showed that the majority of Americans think the criminal justice system doesn’t treat people of all races equally.  Think about that.  That’s not just blacks, not just Latinos or Asians or Native Americans saying things may not be unfair.  That’s most Americans.

And that has a corrosive effect — not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America.  It harms the communities that need law enforcement the most.  It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them.  And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children.  It scars the hearts of the white kids who grow unnecessarily fearful of somebody who doesn’t look like them.  It stains the heart of black children who feel as if no matter what he does, he will always be under suspicion.  That is not the society we want.  It’s not the society that our children deserve.  (Applause.)  Whether you’re black or white, you don’t want that for America.

It was interesting — Ferguson was used by some of America’s enemies and critics to deflect attention from their shortcomings overseas; to undermine our efforts to promote justice around the world.  They said, well, look at what’s happened to you back home.

But as I said this week at the United Nations, America is special not because we’re perfect; America is special because we work to address our problems, to make our union more perfect.  We fight for more justice.  (Applause.)  We fight to cure what ails us.  We fight for our ideals, and we’re willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short.  And we address our differences in the open space of democracy — with respect for the rule of law; with a place for people of every race and religion; and with an unyielding belief that people who love their country can change it.  That’s what makes us special — not because we don’t have problems, but because we work to fix them.  And we will continue to work to fix this.

And to that end, we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track.  And under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department has launched a national effort to do just that.  He’s also been working to make the criminal justice system smarter and more effective by addressing unfair sentencing disparities, changing department policies on charging mandatory minimums, promoting stronger reentry programs for those who have paid their debt to society.  (Applause.)

And we need to address the unique challenges that make it hard for some of our young people to thrive.  For all the success stories that exist in a room like this one, we all know relatives, classmates, neighbors who were just as smart as we were, just as capable as we were, born with the same light behind their eyes, the same joy, the same curiosity about the world — but somehow they didn’t get the support they needed, or the encouragement they needed, or they made a mistake, or they missed an opportunity; they weren’t able to overcome the obstacles that they faced.

And so, in February, we launched My Brother’s Keeper.  (Applause.)  And I was the first one to acknowledge government can’t play the only, or even the primary, role in the lives of our children.  But what we can do is bring folks together, and that’s what we’re doing — philanthropies, business leaders, entrepreneurs, faith leaders, mayors, educators, athletes, and the youth themselves — to examine how can we ensure that our young men have the tools they need to achieve their full potential.

And next week, I’m launching My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge, asking every community in the country — big cities and small towns, rural counties, tribal nations — to publicly commit to implementing strategies that will ensure all young people can succeed, starting from the cradle, all the way to college and a career.  It’s a challenge to local leaders to follow the evidence and use the resources on what works for our kids.  And we’ve already got 100 mayors, county officials, tribal leaders, Democrats, Republicans signed on.  And we’re going to keep on signing them up in the coming weeks and months.  (Applause.)  But they’re going to need you — elected leaders, business leaders, community leaders — to make this effort successful.  We need all of us to come together to help all of our young people address the variety of challenges they face.

And we’re not forgetting about the girls, by the way.  I got two daughters — I don’t know if you noticed.  (Laughter.)  African American girls are more likely than their white peers also to be suspended, incarcerated, physically harassed.  Black women struggle every day with biases that perpetuate oppressive standards for how they’re supposed to look and how they’re supposed to act.  Too often, they’re either left under the hard light of scrutiny, or cloaked in a kind of invisibility.

So in addition to the new efforts on My Brother’s Keeper, the White House Council for Women and Girls has for years been working on issues affecting women and girls of color, from violence against women, to pay equity, to access to health care.  And you know Michelle has been working on that.  (Applause.)  Because she doesn’t think our daughters should be treated differently than anybody else’s son.  I’ve got a vested interest in making sure that our daughters have the same opportunities as boys do.  (Applause.)

So that’s the world we’ve got to reach for — the world where every single one of our children has the opportunity to pursue their measure of happiness.  That’s our unfinished work.  And we’re going to have to fight for it.  We’ve got to stand up for it.  And we have to vote for it.  We have to vote for it.  (Applause.)

All around the country, wherever I see folks, they always say, oh, Barack, we’re praying for you — boy, you’re so great; look, you got all gray hair, you looking tired.  (Laughter.)  We’re praying for you.  Which I appreciate.  (Laughter.)  But I tell them, after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, he immediately moved on to what he called “the meat in the coconut” — a voting rights act bill.  And some of his administration argued that’s too much, it’s too soon.  But the movement knew that if we rested after the Civil Rights Act, then all we could do was pray that somebody would enforce those rights.   (Applause.)

So whenever I hear somebody say they’re praying for me, I say “thank you.”  Thank you — I believe in the power of prayer.  But we know more than prayer.  We need to vote.  (Applause.)  We need to vote.  That will be helpful.  It will not relieve me of my gray hair, but it will help me pass some bills.  (Laughter.)

Because people refused to give in when it was hard, we get to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act next year.  Until then, we’ve got to protect it.  We can’t just celebrate it; we’ve got to protect it.  Because there are people still trying to pass voter ID laws to make it harder for folks to vote.  And we’ve got to get back to our schools and our offices and our churches, our beauty shops, barber shops, and make sure folks know there’s an election coming up, they need to know how to register, and they need to know how and when to vote.

We’ve got to tell them to push back against the cynics; prove everybody wrong who says that change isn’t possible.  Cynicism does not fix anything.  Cynicism is very popular in America sometimes.  It’s propagated in the media.  But cynicism didn’t put anybody on the moon.  Cynicism didn’t pass the Voting Rights Act.  Hope is what packed buses full of freedom riders. Hope is what led thousands of black folks and white folks to march from Selma to Montgomery.  Hope is what got John Lewis off his back after being beaten within an inch of his life, and chose to keep on going.  (Applause.)

Cynicism is a choice, but hope is a better choice.  And our job right now is to convince the people who are privileged to represent to join us in finishing that fight that folks like John started.  Get those souls to the polls.  Exercise their right to vote.  And if we do, then I guarantee you we’ve got a brighter future ahead.

Thank you, God bless you.  Keep praying.  But go out there and vote.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

                        END                9:29 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 23, 2014: President Barack Obama Wishes The American Jewish Community a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year



Wishing You a Sweet, Happy, and Healthy New Year

Shanah Tovah from the White House! On Wednesday evening, Jews in the United States and around the world will begin celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The High Holidays offer the Jewish community a moment of pause, a time to reflect on the previous year and recommit to the unending task of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. Together, working with people of all faiths, we can bring greater peace and prosperity to the world in 5775.

In his 2014 video message for the High Holidays, President Obama extends his wishes for a sweet new year and discusses why this time of year is so significant.

Watch on YouTube

Read the remarks:

Hello. As Jews across America, Israel, and the world gather together for the High Holidays, Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to you and your families for a sweet and happy new year.

My good friend Elie Wiesel once said that God gave human beings a secret, and that secret was not how to begin but how to begin again. These days of awe are a chance to celebrate that gift, to give thanks for the secret, the miracle of renewal.

In synagogues and homes over the coming days, Jews will reflect on a year that carried its shares of challenges. We’ve been reminded many times that our world still needs repair. So here at home we continue the hard work of rebuilding our economy and restoring our American dream of opportunity for all. Around the world, we continue to stand for the dignity of every human being, and against the scourge of anti-Semitism, and we reaffirm the friendships and bonds that keep us strong, including our unshakeable alliance with the State of Israel.

So let’s approach this new year with new confidence and new hope. Let’s recommit ourselves to living out the values we share as individuals and as a country. Above all, let’s embrace this God-given miracle of renewal, this extraordinary opportunity to begin again in pursuit of justice, prosperity, and peace. From my family to yours, shanah tovah.

Political Musings September 6, 2014: Obama will not take executive action on immigration until after midterms





Obama will not take executive action on immigration until after midterms

By Bonnie K. Goodman

A White House official revealed to the press on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014 that President Barack Obama would not take executive action on immigration prior to the midterm elections as he had previously indicated in June. The midterm elections are…READ MORE

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





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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

Full Text Obama Presidency August 20, 2014: Attorney General Eric Holder’s Remarks in Ferguson, Missouri about Michael Brown Shooting and Unrest — Transcript



Excerpts of Attorney General Eric Holder’s Remarks at a Community College

Souce: DOJ, 8-20-14

Florissant Valley Community College ~ Wednesday, August 20, 2014

“The eyes of the nation and the world are watching Ferguson right now. The world is watching because the issues raised by the shooting of Michael Brown predate this incident. This is something that has a history to it and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson.

“We have seen a great deal of progress over the years. But we also see problems and these problems stem from mistrust and mutual suspicion.

“I just had the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful young people and to hear them talk about the mistrust they have at a young age. These are young people and already they are concerned about potential interactions they might have with the police.

“I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over…“Let me search your car”…Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.

“I think about my time in Georgetown – a nice neighborhood of Washington – and I am running to a picture movie at about 8 o’clock at night. I am running with my cousin. Police car comes driving up, flashes his lights, yells “Where you going? Hold it!” I say “Woah, I’m going to a movie.” Now my cousin started mouthing off. I’m like, “This is not where we want to go. Keep quiet.” I’m angry and upset. We negotiate the whole thing and we walk to our movie. At the time that he stopped me, I was a federal prosecutor. I wasn’t a kid. I was a federal prosecutor. I worked at the United States Department of Justice. So I’ve confronted this myself.”

“We are starting here a good dialogue. But the reality is the dialogue is not enough. We need concrete action to change things in this country. That’s what I have been trying to do. That’s what the President has been trying to do. We have a very active Civil Rights Division. I am proud of what these men and women have done. As they write about the legacy of the Obama administration, a lot of it is going to be about what the Civil Rights Division has done.

“So this interaction must occur. This dialogue is important. But it can’t simply be that we have a conversation that begins based on what happens on August 9, and ends sometime in December, and nothing happens. As I was just telling these young people, change is possible. The same kid who got stopped on the New Jersey freeway is now the Attorney General of the United States. This country is capable of change. But change doesn’t happen by itself.

“So let’s start here. Let’s do the work today.”

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



Statement by the President

Source: WH, 8-18-14 

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

4:27 P.M. PDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Holland, Reuters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Thank you very much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.

4:54 P.M. EDT

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