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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Brussels.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

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

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

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Pace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Clark.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

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

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

Q    Okay, all right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta Rampton.

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

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

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

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
2:45 P.M. EST

Political Musings November 6, 2014: Ever defiant Obama knocks down McConnell olive branch vows executive actions

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Ever defiant Obama knocks down McConnell olive branch vows executive actions

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama held his first post-midterm elections press conference in the White House East Room on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. The president said he heard voters after his Democratic Party’s historic losses, but with his…READ MORE

Political Headlines May 16, 2013: President Barack Obama Weathers Rain Storm at Rose Garden Press Conference with Help from Marine, Umbrella

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

WATCH: Obama Weathers Storm with Help from Marine, Umbrella

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-16-13

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

With a trio of scandals rocking the Obama administration, a dark cloud has descended over the White House in recent days.
On Thursday, clouds literally opened up on President Obama. Running 47 minutes late, President Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan stepped out into the Rose Garden for a joint press conference as a light sprinkle began to fall….READ MORE

Political Headlines May 16, 2013: President Barack Obama Vows to Get Ahead of IRS, AP Scandals at Rose Garden Press Conference

POLITICAL HEADLINES

https://historymusings.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/pol_headlines.jpg?w=600

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama Vows to Get Ahead of IRS, AP Controversies

Source: ABC News Radio, 5-16-13

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Playing offense, President Obama on Thursday vowed to take action in response to the three controversies plaguing his administration, calling on Congress to provide additional resources to protect U.S. embassies abroad, vowing to hold accountable those who committed “outrageous actions” at the IRS, and pledging to strike a “balance” between protecting national security interests and the freedom of the press.

“My concern is making sure that if there’s a problem in the government, that we fix it,” the president said in a rainy joint Rose Garden news conference with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey, as his administration seeks to take charge in the wake of the scandals. “That’s my responsibility, and that’s what we’re going to do.”…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency May 21, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at NATO Press Conference — Discusses Afghanistan, Greece & Cory Booker’s Crticism of Campaign Attacks on Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital Record

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

Remarks by the President at NATO Press Conference

South Building
Chicago, Illinois

3:26 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Let me begin by saying thank you to my great friend, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of the city of Chicago and to all my neighbors and friends, the people of the city of Chicago for their extraordinary hospitality and for everything that they’ve done to make this summit such a success.  I could not be prouder to welcome people from around the world to my hometown.

This was a big undertaking, some 60 world leaders not to mention folks who were exercising their freedom of speech and assembly, the very freedoms that our alliance are dedicated to defending.  And so it was a lot to carry for the people of Chicago, but this is a city of big shoulders.  Rahm, his team, Chicagoans proved that this world-class city knows how to put on a world-class event.

And partly, this was a perfect city for this summit because it reflected the bonds between so many of our countries.  For generations, Chicago has welcomed immigrants from around the world, including an awful lot of our NATO allies.  And I’d just add that I have lost track of the number of world leaders and their delegations who came up to me over the last day and a half and remarked on what an extraordinarily beautiful city Chicago is.  And I could not agree more.

I am especially pleased that I had a chance to show them Soldier Field.  I regret that I was not able to take in one of the Crosstown Classics, although I will note that my teams did okay.  (Laughter.)  Now — White Sox fan in the back.  (Laughter.)  Right on.

Now, as I said yesterday, NATO has been the bedrock of common security, freedom and prosperity for nearly 65 years.  It hasn’t just endured.  It has thrived, because our nations are stronger when we stand together.  We saw that, of course, most recently in Libya, where NATO afforded capabilities that no one else in the world could match.

As President, one of my top foreign policy priorities has been to strengthen our alliances, including NATO, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.  Two years ago in Lisbon, we took action in several areas that are critical to the future of our alliance and we pledged that in Chicago we would do more.  Over the last two days, we have delivered.

First, we reached agreement on a series of steps to strengthen the alliance’s defense capabilities over the next decade.  In keeping with the strategic concept we agreed to in Lisbon and in order to fulfill our Article Five commitment to our collective security, we agreed to acquire a fleet of remotely piloted aircraft, drones, to strengthen intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.  We agreed to continue air patrols over our Baltic allies, which reflects our unwavering commitment to collective defense.  We also agreed on a mix of conventional nuclear missile and missile defense forces that we need, and importantly, we agreed on how to pay for them and that includes pooling our resources in these difficult economic times.

We’re moving forward with missile defense, and agreed that NATO is declaring an interim capability for the system.  America’s contribution to this effort will be a phased adaptive approach that we’re pursuing on European missile defense.  And I want to commend our allies who are stepping up and playing a leadership role in missile defense, as well.  Our defense radar in Turkey will be placed under NATO control.  Spain, Romania and Poland have agreed to host key U.S. assets.  The Netherlands will be upgrading radars, and we look forward to contributions from other allies.  Since this system is neither aimed at nor undermines Russia’s strategic deterrent, I continue to believe that missile defense can be an area of cooperation with Russia.

Second, we’re now unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan, a plan that trains Afghan security forces, transitions to the Afghans and builds a partnership that can endure after our combat mission in Afghanistan ends.  Since last year, we’ve been transitioning parts of Afghanistan to the Afghan National Security Forces and that has enabled our troops to start coming home.  Indeed, we’re in the process of drawing down 33,000 U.S. troops by the end of this summer.

Here in Chicago, we reached agreement on the next milestone in that transition.  At the ISAF meeting this morning, we agreed that Afghan forces will take the lead for combat operations next year in mid-2013.  At that time, ISAF forces will have shifted from combat to a support role in all parts of the country.  And this will mark a major step toward the goal we agreed to in Lisbon, completing the transition to Afghan lead for security by the end of 2014, so that Afghans can take responsibility for their own country and so our troops can come home.

This will not mark the end of Afghanistan’s challenges, obviously, or our partnership with that important country.  But we are making substantial progress against our core objective of defeating al Qaeda and denying it safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own.  And we leave Chicago with a clear roadmap.  Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring our war in Afghanistan to a responsible end.

We also agreed on what NATO’s relationship with Afghanistan will look like after 2014.  NATO will continue to train, advise and assist, and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger.  And while this summit has not been a pledging conference, it’s been encouraging to see a number of countries making significant financial commitments to sustain Afghanistan’s progress in the years ahead.  Today the international community also expressed its strong support for efforts to bring peace and stability to South Asia, including Afghanistan’s neighbors.

Finally, NATO agreed to deepen its cooperation with partners that have been critical to alliance operations, as in Afghanistan and Libya.  Today’s meeting was unprecedented, Our 28 allies, joined by 13 nations from around the world — Europe, the Middle East, North Africa and Asia.  Each of these countries has contributed to NATO operations in different ways — military, political, financial — and each wants to see us do more together.  To see the breadth of those countries represented in that room is to see how NATO has truly become a hub of global security.

So again I want to thank all my fellow leaders.  I think the bottom line is that we are leaving Chicago with a NATO alliance that is stronger, more capable and more ready for the future.  As a result, each of our nations — the United States included — is more secure, and we’re in a stronger position to advance the security and prosperity and freedom that we seek around the world.

So with that, I’m going to take a couple of questions, and I’m going to start with Julie Pace of AP.  Where’s Julie?  There she is.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You have said that the U.S. can’t deal with Afghanistan without also talking about Pakistan.  And yet, there has been little public discussion at this summit about Pakistan’s role in ending the war.  In your talks with President Zardari today, did you make any progress in reopening the supply lines?  And if the larger tensions with Pakistan can’t be resolved, does that put the NATO coalition’s gains in Afghanistan at risk?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind my discussion with President Zardari was very brief, as we were walking into the summit and I emphasized to him what we have emphasized publicly as well as privately.  We think that Pakistan has to be part of the solution in Afghanistan, that it is in our national interest to see a Pakistan that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is stable, that we share a common enemy in the extremists that are found not only in Afghanistan, but also within Pakistan and that we need to work through some of the tensions that have inevitably arisen after 10 years of our military presence in that region.

President Zardari shared with me his belief that these issues can get worked through.  We didn’t anticipate that the supply line issue was going to be resolved by this summit.  We knew that before we arrived in Chicago.  But we’re actually making diligent progress on it.

And I think ultimately everybody in the alliance, all of ISAF, and most importantly the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan understand that neither country is going to have the kind of security, stability, and prosperity that it needs unless they can resolve some of these outstanding issues and join in common purpose with the international community in making sure that these regions are not harboring extremists.  So I don’t want to paper over real challenges there.  There is no doubt that there have been tensions between ISAF and Pakistan, the United States and Pakistan over the last several months.  I think they are being worked through both military and diplomatic channels.

But ultimately, it is in our interest to see a successful, stable Pakistan and it is in Pakistan’s interest to work with us and the world community to ensure that they themselves are not consumed by extremism that is in their midst.  And so we’re going to keep on going at this.  And I think every NATO member, every ISAF member is committed to that.

Hans Nichols.  Where is Hans?

Q    Yes, thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday, your friend and ally, Cory Booker said that an ad that you released, that your campaign released was nauseating.  And it alleged that Romney at Bain Capital was “responsible for job losses at a Kansas City steel mill.”  Is that your view that Romney is personally responsible for those job losses?  Will comments from Booker and your former auto czar Steve Rattner that have criticized some of these advertisements call on you to pull back a little bit?  And, generally, can you give us your sense — three part, Mr. President.  Could you give us your sense of just what private equity’s role is in stemming job losses as they seek a return on investment for their investors?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think Cory Booker is an outstanding mayor.  He is doing great work in Newark and obviously helping to turn that city around.  And I think it’s important to recognize that this issue is not a “distraction.”  This is part of the debate that we’re going to be having in this election campaign about how do we create an economy where everybody from top to bottom, folks on Wall Street and folks on Main Street, have a shot at success and if they’re working hard and they’re acting responsibly, that they’re able to live out the American Dream.

Now, I think my view of private equity is that it is set up to maximize profits.  And that’s a healthy part of the free market.  That’s part of the role of a lot of business people.  That’s not unique to private equity.  And as I think my representatives have said repeatedly, and I will say today, I think there are folks who do good work in that area.  And there are times where they identify the capacity for the economy to create new jobs or new industries, but understand that their priority is to maximize profits.  And that’s not always going to be good for communities or businesses or workers.

And the reason this is relevant to the campaign is because my opponent, Governor Romney, his main calling card for why he thinks he should be President is his business expertise.  He is not going out there touting his experience in Massachusetts.  He is saying, I’m a business guy and I know how to fix it, and this is his business.

And when you’re President, as opposed to the head of a private equity firm, then your job is not simply to maximize profits.  Your job is to figure out how everybody in the country has a fair shot.  Your job is to think about those workers who got laid off and how are we paying for their retraining.  Your job is to think about how those communities can start creating new clusters so that they can attract new businesses.  Your job as President is to think about how do we set up a equitable tax system so that everybody is paying their fair share that allows us then to invest in science and technology and infrastructure, all of which are going to help us grow.

And so, if your main argument for how to grow the economy is I knew how to make a lot of money for investors, then you’re missing what this job is about.  It doesn’t mean you weren’t good at private equity, but that’s not what my job is as President.  My job is to take into account everybody, not just some.  My job is to make sure that the country is growing not just now, but 10 years from now and 20 years from now.

So to repeat, this is not a distraction.  This is what this campaign is going to be about — is what is a strategy for us to move this country forward in a way where everybody can succeed?  And that means I’ve got to think about those workers in that video just as much as I’m thinking about folks who have been much more successful.

Q    Just for — is Romney personally responsible for those 750 job losses?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I would say is that Mr. Romney is responsible for the proposals he is putting forward for how he says he is going to fix the economy.  And if the main basis for him suggesting he can do a better job is his track record as the head of a private equity firm, then both the upsides and the downsides are worth examining.

Hold on a second — Alister Bull.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I’d like to take you back to not this summit, but the one you hosted at Camp David a couple of days ago and whether you feel that you can assure investors there are contingency plans in place to cope if Greece leaves the euro to prevent a Lehman-like shock to the U.S. and the global economy?

THE PRESIDENT:  We had an extensive discussion of the situation in the eurozone and obviously everybody is keenly interested in getting that issue resolved.

I’m not going to speculate on what happens if the Greek choose to exit because they’ve got an election and this is going to be an important debate inside of Greece.  Everybody who was involved in the G8 summit indicated their desire to see Greece stay in the eurozone in a way that’s consistent with the commitments that it’s already — that have already been made.  And I think it’s important for Greece, which is a democracy, to work through what their options are at time of great difficulty.

I think we all understand, though, what’s at stake.  What happens in Greece has an impact here in the United States.  Businesses are more hesitant to invest if they see a lot of uncertainty looming across the Atlantic because they’re not sure whether that’s going to mean a further global slowdown.  And we’re already seeing very slow growth rates and in fact contraction in a lot of countries in Europe.  So we had an extensive discussion about how do we strengthen the European project generally in a way that does not harm world economic growth, but instead moves it forward.

And I’ve been clear I think in — not just this week, but over the last two years about what I think needs to be done.  We’ve got to put in place firewalls that ensure that countries outside of Greece that are doing the right thing aren’t harmed just because markets are skittish and nervous.

We’ve got to make sure that banks are recapitalized in Europe so that investors have confidence.  And we’ve got to make sure that there is a growth strategy to go alongside the need for fiscal discipline, as well as a monetary policy that is promoting the capacity of countries like a Spain or an Italy that have put in place some very tough targets and some very tough policies, to also offer their constituencies a prospect for the economy improving, job growth increasing, incomes expanding even if it may take a little bit of time.

And the good news was you saw a consensus across the board from newly elected President Hollande to Chancellor Merkel to other members of the European community that that balanced approach is what’s needed right now.  They’re going to be meeting this week to try to advance those discussions further.  We’ve offered to be there for consultation to provide any technical assistance and work through some of these ideas in terms of how we can stabilize the markets there.

Ultimately, what I think is most important is that Europe recognizes this euro project involves more than just a currency, it means that there’s got to be some more effective coordination on the fiscal and the monetary side and on the growth agenda.  And I think that there was strong intent there to move in that direction.  Of course, they’ve got 17 countries that have to agree to every step they take.  So I think about my one Congress, then I start thinking about 17 congresses and I start getting a little bit of a headache.  It’s going to be challenging for them.

The last point I’ll make is I do sense greater urgency now than perhaps existed two years ago or two and a half years ago.  And keep in mind just for folks here in the States, when we look backwards at our response in 2008 and 2009, there was some criticism because we had to make a bunch of tough political decisions.

In fact, there’s still criticism about some of the decisions we made.  But one of the things we were able to do was to act forcefully to solve a lot of these problems early, which is why credit markets that were locked up started loosening up again.  That’s why businesses started investing again.  That’s why we’ve seen job growth of over 4 million jobs over the last two years.  That’s why corporations are making money and that’s why we’ve seen strong economic growth for a long time.

And so, acting forcefully rather than in small, bite-sized pieces and increments, I think, ends up being a better approach, even though obviously we’re still going through challenges ourselves.  I mean, some of these issues are ones that built up over decades.

All right?  Stephen Collinson.  Where’s Stephen?

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you at this summit try to continue the work of stopping Afghanistan from reverting to its former role as a terrorist haven, terrorists today in Yemen massacred a hundred soldiers.  Are you concerned that despite U.S. efforts, Yemen seems to be slipping further into anarchy?  And what more can the U.S. do to slow that process?

THE PRESIDENT:  We are very concerned about al Qaeda activity and extremist activity in Yemen.  A positive development has been a relatively peaceful political transition in Yemen and we participated diplomatically along with Yemen’s neighbors in helping to lead to a political transition, but the work is not yet done.

We have established a strong counterterrorism partnership with the Yemeni government, but there’s no doubt that in a country that is still poor, that is still unstable, it is attracting a lot of folks that previously might have been in the FATA before we started putting pressure on them there.  And we’re going to continue to work with the Yemeni government to try to identify AQAP leadership and operations and try to thwart them.  That’s important for U.S. safety.  It’s also important for the stability of Yemen and for the region.

But I think one of the things that we’ve learned from the Afghanistan experience is for us to stay focused on the counterterrorism issue, to work with the government, to not overextend ourselves, to operate smartly in dealing with these issues.  And it’s not unique to Yemen, by the way.  I mean we’ve got similar problems in Somalia, what’s happening now in Mali and the Sahel.  And so this is part of the reason why not only is NATO important, but these partnerships that we’re establishing is important because there are going to be times where these partners have more effective intelligence operations, more diplomatic contacts, et cetera in some of these parts of the world where the state is a little wobbly and you may see terrorists attempting to infiltrate or set up bases.

Yes, I’m going to call on Jake Tapper because, Jake, Jay Carney told me that you’ve been talking to some of our troops in Afghanistan.  And since so much of the topic of this summit has been on Afghanistan, obviously none of this would be working were it not for the extraordinary sacrifices that they’re making, so —

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  I appreciate it.  Yes, I put out an invitation for some troops and their families that I know and I’ll just give you two or three of them.  Mr. President, if this handoff and withdrawal prove premature, what plans are in place for dealing with an Afghanistan that’s falling apart or is possibly again under Taliban rule?  And I’ll just do one more, do you feel that the reporting you receive from the Pentagon fully represents what the on-ground commanders assess?  Is there any disconnect between what leaders feel the public and President want to hear versus what is actually occurring on the ground?  These are from troops I’ve met who served in Nuristan Province.

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me take the second question first.  I mean, I think that one of the things that I emphasize whenever I’m talking to John Allen or the Joint Chiefs or any of the officers who are in Afghanistan is — I can’t afford a white wash.  I can’t afford not getting the very best information in order to make good decisions.  I should add, by the way, that the danger a lot of times is not that anybody is purposely trying to downplay challenges in Afghanistan.  A lot of times it’s just the military culture is we can get it done.  And so, their thinking is, how are we going to solve this problem, not boy, why is this such a disaster?  That’s part of the reason why we admire our military so much and we love our troops, because they’ve got that can-do spirit.

But I think that we have set up a structure that really tries to guard against that, because even in my White House for example, I’ve got former officers who have been in Afghanistan who I will send out there as part of the national security team of the White House, not simply the Pentagon, to interact and to listen and to go in and talk to the captains and the majors and the corporals and the privates, to try to get a sense of what’s going on.

And I think the reports we get are relatively accurate in the sense that there is real improvement.  In those areas where we’ve had a significant presence, you can see the Taliban not having a foothold, that there is genuine improvement in the performance of Afghan national security forces.

But the Taliban is still a robust enemy.  And the gains are still fragile, which leads me then to the second point that you’ve made in terms of a premature withdrawal.  I don’t think that there is ever going to be an optimal point where we say, this is all done, this is perfect, this is just the way we wanted it and now we can wrap up all our equipment and go home.  This is a process and it’s sometimes a messy process, just as it was in Iraq.

But think about it.  We’ve been there now 10 years.  We are now committing to a transition process that takes place next year, but the full transition to Afghan responsibility is almost two years away.  And the Afghan Security Forces themselves will not ever be prepared if they don’t start taking that responsibility.

And, frankly, the large footprint that we have in Afghanistan over time can be counterproductive.  We’ve been there 10 years, and I think no matter how much good we’re doing and how outstanding our troops and our civilians and diplomats are doing on the ground, 10 years in a country that’s very different, that’s a strain not only on our folks but also on that country, which at a point is going to be very sensitive about its own sovereignty.

So I think that the timetable that we’ve established is a sound one, it is a responsible one.  Are there risks involved in it?  Absolutely.  Can I anticipate that over the next two years there are going to be some bad moments along with some good ones?  Absolutely.

But I think it is the appropriate strategy whereby we can achieve a stable Afghanistan that won’t be perfect, we can pull back our troops in a responsible way and we can start rebuilding America and making some of the massive investments we’ve been making in Afghanistan here back home, putting people back to work, retraining workers, rebuilding our schools, investing in science and technology, developing our business climate.

But there are going to be challenges.  The one thing that I’m never doubtful about is just the amazing capacity of our troops and their morale.  When I was in Bagram just a couple of weeks ago, the fact that you still have so much determination and stick-to-it-ness and professionalism, not just from our troops but from all our coalition allies, all of ISAF, is a testament to them.  It’s extraordinary.  And we’ve very proud of them.

All right, since I am in Chicago, even though my Press Secretary told me not to do this, I am going to call on a Chicagoan to ask a Chicago question.

Jay.

Q    Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good to see you.  How you been?

Q    Good to see you, too, Mr. President, and good to see you in Chicago.  Chicagoans look at you standing there with Chicago, Chicago, Chicago on the wall behind you.  There is an undeniable sense of pride.  In your view, how did reality match up to fantasy in welcoming the world leaders to Chicago?  And did the demonstrators in any way on the streets undermine your efforts, Mayor Emanuel’s efforts, to project the image of Chicago you would have liked to have seen?

THE PRESIDENT:  I have to tell you, I think Chicago performed magnificently.  Those of us who were in the summit had a great experience.  If you talk to leaders from around the world, they love the city.  Michelle took some of the spouses down to the South Side to see the Comer Center where wonderful stuff is being done with early education.  They saw the Art Institute.

I was just talking to David Cameron.  I think he’s sneaking off and doing a little sight-seeing before he heads home.  I encouraged everybody to shop.  I want to boost the hometown economy.  We gave each leader a Bean, a small model, for them to remember, as well as a football from Soldier Field.  Many of them did not know what to do with it.  (Laughter.)  So people had a wonderful time and I think the Chicagoans that they interacted with couldn’t have been more gracious and more hospitable.  So I could not have been prouder.

Now, I think with respect to the protesters, as I said, this is part of what NATO defends, is free speech and the freedom of assembly.  And, frankly, to my Chicago press, outside of Chicago, folks really weren’t all that stressed about the possibility about having some protesters here, because that’s what — part of what America is about.  And obviously, Rahm was stressed, but he performed wonderfully and the Chicago police, Chicago’s finest, did a great job under some significant pressure and a lot of scrutiny.

The only other thing I’ll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation.  Obviously, Chicago residents who had difficulties getting home or getting to work or what have you — that’s what can I tell you, that’s part of the price of being a world city.  But this was a great showcase.  And if it makes those folks feel any better, despite being 15 minutes away from my house, nobody would let me go home.  I was thinking I would be able to sleep in my own bed tonight.  They said I would cause even worse traffic.  So I ended up staying in a hotel, which contributes to the Chicago economy.  (Laughter.)

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

END                          4:10 P.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency March 6, 2012: President Barack Obama’s Press Conference on Housing Mortgage Refinancing Plan & Potential Military Action Against Iran

POLITICAL SPEECHES & DOCUMENTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

Live Blog: President Obama’s News Conference

Source: NYT, 3-6-12
 
President Obama held a news conference in the White House briefing room on Tuesday.Doug Mills/The New York TimesPresident Obama held a news conference in the White House briefing room on Tuesday.

President Obama held his first news conference of the year on Tuesday. We carried the play-by-play.

Topically, it ranged over a turbulent landscape: Super Tuesday politics, saber-rattling over Iran, gasoline prices, the war in Afghanistan, the economic recovery and contraception. With so much weighty matter before him, the White House chose to use the event to highlight, of all things, some relatively narrow housing policy actions: a recent settlement with banks that will help some veterans recoup their losses on mortgage foreclosures, and a tweak to the refinancing charges on some federally insured loans….READ MORE

Obama Challenges Republicans on Iran

Source: NYT, 3-6-12

President Obama responding to questions from reporters at a news conference in Washington.Doug Mills/The New York TimesPresident Obama responding to questions from reporters at a news conference in Washington.

President Obama challenged his Republican critics to make a case to the American people for a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities if they really believe that is the right course to follow, throwing down an election-year challenge to the men who are vying to succeed him and who say that his Iran policy has been too weak.

“This is not a game,” Mr. Obama said during a news conference at the White House timed to coincide with Super Tuesday voting in the Republican primaries in a number of crucial states. Mr. Obama gave a staunch defense of his administration’s actions to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions and said that tough sanctions put in place by the United States and Europe were starting to work and were part of the reason Iran had returned to the negotiation table.

“The one thing we have not done is we have not launched a war,” Mr. Obama said. “If some of these folks think we should launch a war, let them say so, and explain to the American people.”…READ MORE

POLITICAL QUOTES & SPEECHES

President Barack Obama holds a press conference (March 6, 2012)President Barack Obama holds a press conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, March 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

Press Conference by the President

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:15 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Now, I understand there are some political contests going on tonight, but I thought I’d start the day off by taking a few questions, which I’m sure will not be political in nature.  (Laughter.)  Before I do, I want to make a few announcements about some steps we’re taking to help responsible homeowners who’ve been struggling through this housing crisis.

We’ve clearly seen some positive economic news over the last few months.  Businesses have created about 3.7 million new jobs over the last two years.  Manufacturers are hiring for the first time since the 1990s.  The auto industry is back and hiring more than 200,000 people over the last few years.  Confidence is up. And the economy is getting stronger.

But there are still millions of Americans who can’t find a job.  There are millions more who are having a tough time making the rent or the mortgage, paying for gas or groceries.  So our job in Washington isn’t to sit back and do nothing.  And it’s certainly not to stand in the way of this recovery.  Right now we’ve got to do everything we can to speed it up.

Now, Congress did the right thing when they passed part of my jobs plan and prevented a tax hike on 160 million working Americans this year.  And that was a good first step.  But it’s not enough.  They can’t just stop there and wait for the next election to come around.  There are a few things they can do right now that could make a real difference in people’s lives.

This Congress should, once and for all, end tax breaks for companies that are shipping jobs overseas, and use that money to reward companies that are creating jobs here in the United States.  I’ve put forward a proposal that does just that, and there’s no reason why Congress can’t come together and start acting on it.

This Congress could hold a vote on the Buffett Rule so that we don’t have billionaires paying a lower tax rate than their secretaries.  That’s just common sense.  The vast majority of Americans believe it’s common sense.  And if we’re serious about paying down our deficit, it’s as good a place to start as any.

And finally, this Congress should pass my proposal to give every responsible homeowner a chance to save an average of $3,000 a year by refinancing their mortgage at historically low rates. No red tape.  No runaround from the banks.  If you’ve been on time on your payments, if you’ve done the right thing, if you’ve acted responsibly, you should have a chance to save that money on your home — perhaps to build up your equity, or just to have more money in your pocket that you can spend on businesses in your community.  That would make a huge difference for millions of American families.

Now, if Congress refuses to act, I’ve said that I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.  Last fall, we announced an initiative that allows millions of responsible homeowners to refinance at low interest rates.  Today we’re taking it a step further — we are cutting by more than half the refinancing fees that families pay for loans ensured by the Federal Housing Administration.  That’s going to save the typical family in that situation an extra $1,000 a year, on top of the savings that they’d also receive from refinancing.  That would make refinancing even more attractive to more families.  It’s like another tax cut that will put more money in people’s pockets.  We’re going to do this on our own.  We don’t need congressional authorization to do it.

We’re also taking a series of steps to help homeowners who have served our country.  It is unconscionable that members of our armed forces and their families have been some of those who have been most susceptible to losing their homes due to the actions of unscrupulous banks and mortgage lenders.  Over the last few years that happened — a lot.

So as part of the landmark settlement we reached with some of the nation’s largest banks a few weeks ago, here’s what we’re going to do:  If you are a member of the armed forces whose home was wrongfully foreclosed, you will be substantially compensated for what the bank did to you and your family.  If you are a member of the armed forces with a high interest rate who was wrongfully denied the chance to lower it while you were in active serve, which banks are required to do by law, the banks will refund you the money you would have saved along with a significant penalty.

The settlement will make sure that you aren’t forced into foreclosure just because you have a permanent change in station but can’t sell your home because you owe more than it’s worth.  Some of the money will also go into a fund that guarantees loans on favorable terms to our veterans, and there will be more foreclosure protections for every man and woman who is currently serving this country in harm’s way.

As I’ve said before, no amount of money is going to be enough to make it right for a family who has had their piece of the American Dream wrongfully taken away from them, and no action — no matter how meaningful — will entirely heal our housing market on its own.  This is not something the government by itself can solve.  But I’m not one of those people who believe that we should just sit by and wait for the housing market to hit bottom.  There are real things that we can do right now that would make a substantial difference in the lives of innocent, responsible homeowners.  That’s true in housing, and that’s true in any number of different areas when it comes to ensuring that this recovery touches as many lives as possible.  That’s going to be my top priority as long as I hold this office, and I will do everything I can to make that progress.

So with that I’m going to take some questions, and I will start with Mike Viqueira.

Q    Yes, sir.  On the Middle East and as it relates to American politics, a little less than a year ago Moammar Qaddafi gave a speech, and he said he was going to send his forces to Benghazi, he was going to rout opponents from their bedrooms and he was going to shoot them.  You frequently cited that speech as a justification for NATO, the no-fly zone and military action against Libya.  In Syria, Bashar al Assad is killing people.  There’s a massacre underway.  And your critics here in the United States, including, most notably, John McCain, said you should start air strikes now.

And on Iran, Mitt Romney, on Sunday, went so far as to say that if you are re-elected, Iran will get a bomb and the world will change.  How do you respond to those criticisms?

THE PRESIDENT:  All right, Mike, you’ve asked a couple of questions there, so let me — let’s start with the Iran situation since that’s been the topic in the news for the last few days.

When I came into office, Iran was unified, on the move, had made substantial progress on its nuclear program, and the world was divided in terms of how to deal with it.  What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran.  Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way.  The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon.  My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon — because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists.  And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically.  That’s not just my view.  That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials.  And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That’s my track record.  Now, what’s said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities.  They’re not Commander-in-Chief.  And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war.  I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game.  There’s nothing casual about it.  And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war.  If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so.  And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.  Everything else is just talk.

Q    That goes to Syria as well?

THE PRESIDENT:  With respect to Syria, what’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous, and what you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime.  And it’s not a question of when Assad leaves — or if Assad leaves — it’s a question of when.  He has lost the legitimacy of his people.  And the actions that he’s now taking against his own people is inexcusable, and the world community has said so in a more or less unified voice.

On the other hand, for us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake.  What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a U.N. Security Council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time.  This is a much more complicated situation.

So what we’ve done is to work with key Arab states, key international partners — Hillary Clinton was in Tunisia — to come together and to mobilize and plan how do we support the opposition; how do we provide humanitarian assistance; how do we continue the political isolation; how do we continue the economic isolation.  And we are going to continue to work on this project with other countries.  And it is my belief that, ultimately, this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen.

But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past and it won’t be true now.  We’ve got to think through what we do through the lens of what’s going to be effective, but also what’s critical for U.S. security interests.

Jake Tapper.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran’s leaders to change their behavior, and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike a nuclear facility?  What kind of assurances did you tell him?  And shouldn’t we — I recognize the difference between debate and bluster — but shouldn’t we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think there’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be.

I’m not one of those people — because what I’ve said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully.  We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure.  The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table.  And we’ve got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

I’m not going to go into the details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  But what I said publicly doesn’t differ greatly from what I said privately.  Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security.  And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any Prime Minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.

What I’ve also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran — and that’s not just my assessment, that’s, I think, a uniform assessment — because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they’re now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank, and because we’re now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody’s interests — the United States, Israel and the world’s — to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.

And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts.  And the argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security.  There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal — particularly one in which we have a stake.  This is not just an issue of Israeli interest; this is an issue of U.S. interests.  It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely.  There are consequences to the United States as well.

And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there’s going to be a price to pay.  Sometimes it’s necessary.  But we don’t do it casually.

When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven’t — whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost.  Sometimes we bear that cost.  But we think it through.  We don’t play politics with it.  When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes.  And typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price.  It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

And as a consequence, I think it’s very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem.  And that’s what we’ve been doing over the last three years.  That’s what I intend to keep doing.

Q    Sir, I’m sorry, if I could just quickly follow up — you didn’t —

THE PRESIDENT:  Jake —

Q    You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we’ve got Israel’s back.  What does that mean?

THE PRESIDENT:  What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies — just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan.  And that broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we’ve done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel, that potentially land on schools or children or families.  And we’re going to continue that unprecedented security — security commitment.

It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action.  It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about, and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it.  That’s a commitment we’ve made.

Jackie.  Where’s Jackie?  There you are.

Q    With the news this morning that the U.S. and its allies are returning to the table, are taking up Iran’s offer to talk again, more than a year after those talks broke up in frustration, is this Israel’s — Iran’s last chance to negotiate an end to this nuclear question?

And you said three years ago — nearly three years ago, in a similar one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that the time for talk — by the end of that year, 2009, you would be considering whether Iran was negotiating in good faith.  And you said at that time that “we’re not going to have talks forever.”  So here we are nearly three years later.  Is this it?  And did you think you would be here three years after those first talks?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know, there is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways that the international community has concluded were not serious.  And my expectations, given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied, the huge toll it’s taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they’re feeling right now — which is unprecedented — they understand that the world community means business.

To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful.  They know how to do that.  This is not a mystery.  And so it’s going to be very important to make sure that, on an issue like this — there are complexities; it obviously has to be methodical.  I don’t expect a breakthrough in a first meeting, but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue.

And there are steps that they can take that would send a signal to the international community and that are verifiable, that would allow them to be in compliance with international norms, in compliance with international mandates, abiding by the non-proliferation treaty, and provide the world an assurance that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon.  They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.

Ed Henry.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I wanted to follow up on Israel and Iran because you have said repeatedly you have Israel’s back.  And so I wonder why, three years in office, you have not visited Israel as President.  And related to Iran and Israel, you have expressed concern about this loose talk of war, as you call it, driving up gas prices further.  Your critics will say on Capitol Hill that you want gas prices to go higher because you have said before, that will wean the American people off fossil fuels, onto renewable fuels.  How do you respond to that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Ed, just from a political perspective, do you think the President of the United States going into reelection wants gas prices to go up higher?  (Laughter.)  Is that — is there anybody here who thinks that makes a lot of sense?

Look, here’s the bottom line with respect to gas prices.  I want gas prices lower because they hurt families; because I meet folks every day who have to drive a long way to get to work and them filling up this gas tank gets more and more painful, and it’s a tax out of their pocketbooks, out of their paychecks, and a lot of folks are already operating on the margins right now.

And it’s not good for the overall economy, because when gas prices go up, consumer spending oftentimes pulls back.  And we’re in the midst right now of a recovery that is starting to build up steam, and we don’t want to reverse it.

What I have also said about gas prices is that there is no silver bullet and the only way we’re going to solve this problem over the medium and long term is with an all-of-the-above strategy that says we’re going to increase production — which has happened; we are going to make sure that we are conserving energy — that’s why we doubled fuel efficiency standards on cars, which will save consumers about $1.7 trillion and take about 12 billion barrels of oil offline, which will help to reduce prices — and we’re going develop clean energy technologies that allow us to continue to use less oil.

And we’ve made progress.  I mean, the good news is, 2010, first time in a decade that our oil imports were actually below 50 percent, and they have kept on going down.  And we’re going to keep on looking at every strategy we can to, yes, reduce the amount of oil that we use, while maintaining our living standards and maintaining our productivity and maintaining our economic growth, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that consumers aren’t hurt by it.

Now, there are some short-term steps that we’re looking at with respect to — for example, there are certain potential bottlenecks in refineries around the country that we’ve been concerned about.  We’re concerned about what’s happening in terms of production around the world.  It’s not just what’s happening in the Gulf.  You’ve had, for example, in Sudan, some oil that’s been taken offline that’s helping to restrict supply.

So we’re going to look at a whole range of measures — including, by the way, making sure that my Attorney General is paying attention to potential speculation in the oil markets.  I’ve asked him to reconstitute a task force that’s examining that.

But we go through this every year.  We’ve gone through this for 30 years.  And if we are going to be competitive, successful, and make sure families are protected over the long term, then we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a set of options that reduce our overall dependence on oil.

And with respect to Israel, I am not the first President who has been unable, because of a whole range of issues, not to visit Israel as President in their first term.  I visited Israel twice as senator, once right before I became President.  The measure of my commitment to Israel is not measured by a single visit.  The measure of my commitment to Israel is seen in the actions that I’ve taken as President of the United States.  And it is indisputable that I’ve had Israel’s back over the last three years.

Aamer Madhani.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Do you believe Rush Limbaugh’s apology to the Georgetown law student was sufficient and heartfelt?  Do you agree with the decision of the growing number of sponsors that have decided to drop his show or stop supporting his show?  And has there been a double standard on this issue?  Liberal commentators have made similarly provocative or distasteful statements and there hasn’t been such an outrage.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not going to comment on what sponsors decide to do.  I’m not going to comment on either the economics or the politics of it.  I don’t know what’s in Rush Limbaugh’s heart, so I’m not going to comment on the sincerity of his apology.  What I can comment on is the fact that all decent folks can agree that the remarks that were made don’t have any place in the public discourse.

And the reason I called Ms. Fluke is because I thought about Malia and Sasha, and one of the things I want them to do as they get older is to engage in issues they care about, even ones I may not agree with them on.  I want them to be able to speak their mind in a civil and thoughtful way.  And I don’t want them attacked or called horrible names because they’re being good citizens.  And I wanted Sandra to know that I thought her parents should be proud of her, and that we want to send a message to all our young people that being part of a democracy involves argument and disagreements and debate, and we want you to be engaged, and there’s a way to do it that doesn’t involve you being demeaned and insulted, particularly when you’re a private citizen.

Jessica Yellin.

Q    Bill Mahr apologized for what he said about — (inaudible) — should apologize for what they said about that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Jessica.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    Top Democrats have said that Republicans on a similar issue are engaged in a war on women.  Some top Republicans say it’s more like Democrats are engaged in a war for the women’s vote.  As you talk about loose talk of war in another arena and women are — this could raise concerns among women, do you agree with the chair of your Democratic National Committee that there is a war on women?
THE PRESIDENT:  Here is what I think.  Women are going to make up their own mind in this election about who is advancing the issues that they care most deeply about.  And one of the things I’ve learned being married to Michelle is I don’t need to tell her what it is that she thinks is important.

And there are millions of strong women around the country who are going to make their own determination about a whole range of issues.  It’s not going to be narrowly focused just on contraception.  It’s not going to be driven by one statement by one radio announcer.  It is going to be driven by their view of what’s most likely to make sure they can help support their families, make their mortgage payments; who’s got a plan to ensure that middle-class families are secure over the long term; what’s most likely to result in their kids being able to get the education they need to compete.

And I believe that Democrats have a better story to tell to women about how we’re going to solidify the middle class and grow this economy, make sure everybody has a fair shot, everybody is doing their fair share, and we got a fair set of rules of the road that everybody has to follow.

So I’m not somebody who believes that women are going to be single-issue voters.  They never have been.  But I do think that we’ve got a strong story to tell when it comes to women.

Q    Would you prefer this language be changed?

THE PRESIDENT:  Jessica, as you know, if I start being in the business of arbitrating —

Q    You talk about civility.

THE PRESIDENT:  And what I do is I practice it.  And so I’m going to try to lead by example in this situation, as opposed to commenting on every single comment that’s made by either politicians or pundits.  I would be very busy.  I would not have time to do my job.  That’s your job, to comment on what’s said by politicians and pundits.

All right.  Lori Montenegro.

Q    Mr. President, thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you go.

Q    Mr. President, polls are showing that Latino voters seem to be favoring your reelection over a Republican alternative.  Yet some of them are still disappointed, others have said, about a promise that you’ve made on immigration reform that has yet to come to pass.  If you are reelected, what would be your strategy, what would you do different to get immigration reform passed through the Congress, especially if both houses continue as they are right now, which is split?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, just substantively, every American should want immigration reform.  We’ve got a system that’s broken.  We’ve got a system in which you have millions of families here in this country who are living in the shadows, worried about deportation.  You’ve got American workers that are being undercut because those undocumented workers can be hired and the minimum wage laws may not be observed, overtime laws may not be observed.

You’ve got incredibly talented people who want to start businesses in this country or to work in this country, and we should want those folks here in the United States.  But right now, the legal immigration system is so tangled up that it becomes very difficult for them to put down roots here.

So we can be a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.  And it is not just a Hispanic issue — this is an issue for everybody.  This is an American issue that we need to fix.

Now, when I came into office I said I am going to push to get this done.  We didn’t get it done.  And the reason we haven’t gotten it done is because what used to be a bipartisan agreement that we should fix this ended up becoming a partisan issue.

I give a lot of credit to my predecessor, George Bush, and his political advisors who said this should not be just something the Democrats support; the Republican Party is invested in this as well.  That was good advice then; it would be good advice now.

And my hope is, is that after this election, the Latino community will have sent a strong message that they want a bipartisan effort to pass comprehensive immigration reform that involves making sure we’ve got tough border security — and this administration has done more for border security than just about anybody — that we are making sure that companies aren’t able to take advantage of undocumented workers; that we’ve got strong laws in place; and that we’ve got a path so that all those folks whose kids often are U.S. citizens, who are working with us, living with us and in our communities, and not breaking the law, and trying to do their best to raise their families, that they’ve got a chance to be a fuller part of our community.

So, what do I think will change?

Q    What would you do differently?

THE PRESIDENT:  What I will do — look, we’re going to be putting forward, as we’ve done before, a framework, a proposal, legislation that can move it — move the ball forward and actually get this thing done.

But ultimately, I can’t vote for Republicans.  They’re going to have to come to the conclusion that this is good for the country and that this is something that they themselves think is important.  And depending on how Congress turns out, we’ll see how many Republican votes we need to get it done.

Norah O’Donnell.  How are you?

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Today is Super Tuesday, so I wonder if you might weigh in on some of your potential Republican opponents.  Mitt Romney has criticized you on Iran and said, “Hope is not a foreign policy.”  He also said that you are “America’s most feckless President since Carter.”  What would you like to say to Mr. Romney?

THE PRESIDENT:  Good luck tonight.  (Laughter.)

Q    No, really.

THE PRESIDENT:  Really.  (Laughter.)

Lynn, since you’ve been hollering and you’re from my hometown, make it a good one.

Q    My question is about the switch of the G8 summit from Chicago to Camp David.  A reason given from the White House is that now you wanted a more intimate summit.  People of Chicago would like to know what do you know now that you did not know when you booked hometown Chicago for the G8 that led to the switch?  And what role did security threats possibly play in the decision?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind, Lynn, we’re still going to be showing up with a whole bunch of world leaders.  We’ve got this NATO summit.  Typically what’s happened is, is that we try to attach the G8 summit to the NATO summit so that the leaders in the G8 summit don’t have to travel twice to whatever location.  So last year, in France, we combined a G8 with a NATO summit.  We’ll do so again.

I have to say, this was an idea that was brought to me after the initial organizing of the NATO summit.  Somebody pointed out that I hadn’t had any of my counterparts, who I’ve worked with now for three years, up to Camp David.  G8 tends to be a more informal setting in which we talk about a wide range of issues in a pretty intimate way.  And the thinking was that people would enjoy being in a more casual backdrop.  I think the weather should be good that time of year.  It will give me a chance to spend time with Mr. Putin, the new Russian President.  And from there, we will then fly to Chicago.

I always have confidence in Chicago being able to handle security issues.  Whether it’s Taste of Chicago or Lollapalooza  — (laughter) — or Bull’s championships, we know how to deal with a crowd.  And I’m sure that your new mayor will be quite attentive to detail in making sure that everything goes off well.

All right?  Okay.  Go ahead, last one, last question.

Q    Thank you.  Mr. President, just to continue on that — when the NATO leaders gather in Chicago in May, do you expect that they’ll be able to agree on a transition strategy?  And are you concerned at all that the Koran burning and the episodes that have followed since then threaten your ability to negotiate with partners?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind that the transition policy was in place and established at Lisbon, and we’ve been following that strategy that calls for us turning over increasing responsibility to Afghans and a full transition so that our combat role is over by the end of 2014.  And our coalition partners have agreed to it.  They are sticking with it.  That continues to be the plan.

What we are now going to be doing over the next — at this NATO meeting and planning for the next two years, is to make sure that that transition is not a cliff, but that there are benchmarks and steps that are taken along the way, in the same way that we reduced our role in Iraq so that it is gradual, Afghan capacity is built, the partnering with Afghan security forces is effective, that we are putting in place the kinds of support structures that are needed in order for the overall strategy to be effective.

Now, yes, the situation with the Koran burning concerns me. I think that it is an indication of the challenges in that environment, and it’s an indication that now is the time for us to transition.

Obviously, the violence directed at our people is unacceptable.  And President Karzai acknowledged that.  But what is also true is President Karzai I think is eager for more responsibility on the Afghan side.  We’re going to be able to find a mechanism whereby Afghans understand their sovereignty is being respected and that they’re going to be taking a greater and greater role in their own security.  That I think is in the interest of Afghans.  It’s also in our interests.  And I’m confident we can execute, but it’s not going to be a smooth path. There are going to be bumps along the road just as there were in Iraq.

Q    Well, are these bumps along the road, or are you seeing a deterioration in the relationship, based on the Koran burning itself, the violence that has followed, that inhibits your ability to work out things like how to hand off the detention center?

THE PRESIDENT:  No, I — none of this stuff is easy, and it never has been.  And obviously, the most recent riots or protests against the Koran burning were tragic, but remember, this happened a while back when a pastor in Florida threatened to burn a Koran.  In Iraq, as we were making this transition, there were constant crises that would pop up and tragic events that would take place and there would be occasional setbacks.

But what I’ve tried to do is to set a course, make sure that up and down the chain of command everybody knows what our broader strategy is.  And one of the incredible things about our military is that when they know what our objective is, what our goal is, regardless of the obstacles that they meet along the way, they get the job done.

And I think that President Karzai understands that we are interested in a strategic partnership with the Afghan people and the Afghan government.  We are not interested in staying there any longer than is necessary to assure that al Qaeda is not operating there, and that there is sufficient stability that it doesn’t end up being a free-for-all after ISAF has left.

And so we share interests here.  It will require negotiations, and there will be time where things don’t look as smooth as I’d like.  That’s kind of the deal internationally on a whole range of these issues.

All right?  Thank you guys.

Oh, can I just make one other comment?  I want to publicly express condolences to the family of Donald Payne, Congressman from New Jersey — a wonderful man; did great work, both domestically and internationally.  He was a friend of mine.  And so my heart goes out to his family and to his colleagues.

All right.

END
1:59 P.M. EST

 

What You Need to Know About Today’s Housing Announcement

Source: WH, 3-6-12

In the State of the Union, President Obama introduced a basic principle: Every homeowner who is current on his or her payments ought to have a chance to refinance their mortgage at today’s historically low rates.

To make that idea a reality for everyone, Congress must take action.

But today, the President is taking another step to make refinancing easier for millions of Americans who have government-sponsored mortgages. He’s cutting fees — to help families save money and make refinancing more attractive.

And at a press conference that just wrapped up, President Obama announced a series of steps aimed at helping homeowners who have served in the Armed Forces.

When the nation’s five largest mortgage servicers reached a settlement with the federal government and 49 state attorneys general, they agreed to provide substantial relief to the nation’s veterans who were victims of wrongful foreclosures or who were otherwise disadvantaged in the mortgage process because of the obligations of their service.

Here’s how veterans and their families will benefit because of the settlement:

  • Any service member who saw their home wrongfully foreclosed will be substantially compensated for what the bank did;
  • Any member of Armed Forces who was wrongfully denied the chance to refinance and reduce their mortgage payments through lower interest rates will receive a refund from their bank equal to the money he or she would have saved;
  • Many service members who lost money because they were forced due to sell their homes due to Permanent Change of Station orders will also receive relief; and
  • Finally, under the settlement, the banks will also pay $10 million into the Veterans Housing Benefit Program Fund, which guarantees loans on favorable terms for service members.

To learn more, check out the full video from the press conference or read the transcript.

Political Headlines March 5, 2012: President Barack Obama will hold press conference on Super Tuesday

POLITICAL HEADLINES

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 112TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

Obama to hold news conference Tuesday as GOP rivals face off in 10 contests:  President Barack Obama will hold his first news conference of the year Tuesday, the same day his Republican rivals face off in 10 voting contests. White House spokesman Jay Carney announced the Tuesday afternoon news conference on Twitter…. – WaPo, 3-5-12

Obama to hold press conference on Super Tuesday: President Obama has decided to hold a press conference Tuesday afternoon, the White House said Monday. The press conference comes just hours before polls close in 10 states deciding which Republican should face Mr. Obama in November…. – CBS News 3-5-12

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