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



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

Source: WH, 9-20-15

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

9:40 P.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10:06 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 10, 2015: First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the Kids’ State Dinner Transcript



Remarks by the First Lady and the President at the Kids’ State Dinner

Source: WH, 7-10-15

State Dining Room

11:56 A.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  I see tears.  (Laughter.)  I do.  Wow, Abby, amazing.  We’re so proud of you.  Man, good stuff!  Very good stuff.

You guys, welcome to the White House.  Let’s say that again — welcome to the White House!  (Applause.)

This is the whole house’s favorite event — the Kids’ State Dinner.  Look at this place.  Do you know how many people put time and effort into making this as amazing as it can be for you?  So let’s give everyone who helped put this event together a wonderful round of applause.  (Applause.)

And I want to again thank Abby for her amazing introduction, but more importantly, for listening to what I said about paying it forward.  I thank you.  (Laughter.)  I need you to talk to my children.  (Laughter.)  Listen to me.  (Laughter.)  Abby, great job.  So proud of you, babe, really.

I also want to thank PBS and WGBH Boston for their tremendous generosity in sponsoring our Kids’ State Dinner and our Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.  So I want to give them another round of applause.  (Applause.)

And, of course, to Tanya.  Tanya, this is just a great partnership.  You are amazing.  There you are.  The work you do is amazing.  And it’s always so much fun seeing you here at this event.  Thank you for everything that you do year after year.

I also want to acknowledge all the folks from the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture.  They make a fabulous set of partners on so much of the work that we do.  And I know we have representatives from those departments here, so I want to thank you all for the great work that you do.  Well done.

And how about we give a shout-out to the parents and siblings and grandparents who — yes — (laughter) — who got you all here today.  Let’s give them a round of applause.  (Applause.)   We want to say officially thank you, families, for encouraging these young people — even when they made a mess in the kitchen.  But I’m sure they cleaned up, too.  Right?  (Laughter.)  Thank you all.  Thank you for raising and being part of raising such wonderful young men and women.  And it’s wonderful to have you all here.  They couldn’t do it without you and without that support.  So we are celebrating you all as well.

And finally, most of all, congratulations to all of this year’s 55 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge winners!  (Applause.)  That’s you!  And you, and you!  Yes!  Just so that our press understands — welcome press — (laughter) — all our young press people.  This is the only time we let kids in the press pool.  You guys do your jobs.  Do your jobs over there.  Don’t let the grown-ups push you out of the way.  (Laughter.)

Nearly 1,000 kids entered this contest — 1,000!  Right?  This was a real competition.  But after countless hours of prepping and taste-testing your recipes, our panel of distinguished judges — some of whom are here today, including Deb — she ate every bite — (laughter) — decided that your meals were the healthiest, tastiest, and most fun dishes to cook and to eat!

So you had many hurdles to overcome.  It had to be healthy, tasty, and good to eat, and you did it!  Yes!  (Applause.)  Fabulous!  And you look so good!  (Laughter.)  You all are so handsome and gorgeous.  So you can cook and your smart and you look great, and you’re here at the White House.  It’s just wonderful.

You blew the judges away with your talent and creativity.  You included fruits and veggies from every color of the rainbow in your recipes.  You used all kinds of ingredients — flax seed — do any of the adults even know what flax seed is?  (Laughter.)  Cumin, and we have yellow miso paste that was included in one of the recipes — pretty sophisticated.

And you came up with some of the catchiest recipe names imaginable — one of my favorites, Mango-Cango Chicken.  Who is our Mango — where is our Mango-Cango young man?  There you are. Mango-Cango.  (Applause.)  We had Fizzle Sizzle Stir Fry.  Who created Fizzle Sizzle Stir Fry?  Where is our — there you go!  And then, Sam’s Southern Savoring Salmon Supreme — or S to the 5th power.  (Laughter.)  Sam, was that you?  (Applause.)  And so many more.  You guys have the menus.  We’re tasting just a few of them.  One is the Mic-Kale Obama Slaw — what is that?  I love that one.

And your reasons for creating these dishes were as varied as the ingredients, as Tanya said.  Some of you play sports and you realize that you need good nutrition to be able to compete.  As Hannah Betts — where’s Hannah?  Hannah, where are you?  Hannah!  This is what Hannah Betts, our winner from Connecticut, said — this is her quote — she said, “I do gymnastics and swimming, so I need food that is going to fill me up and give me lots of energy.”  Outstanding.

For some of you, cooking is a way to bond with your families and relive happy memories from when you were little.  And that’s why Felix Gonzalez — Felix, where are you?  There you go, there you go.  You told me this story in the photo line.  He’s from Puerto Rico.  He created his “Wrap it Up” chicken wrap — and this is his quote — he said, “I decided to make this dish as a wrap because I was thinking about the fun times when my dad wrapped me up as a burrito –(laughter)– with a blanket when I was a small child.”  Yeah, cool, dude.  Cool.  (Laughter.)

Some of you became interested in cooking because you were worried about your friends’ unhealthy eating habits.  Something that I try to work with my friends on all the time.  Now, Izzy Washburn from Kentucky actually did — this is Izzy — raise your hand.  Izzy right there.  She did a science experiment comparing school lunches to the lunches her friends brought from home, and the school lunches turned out to be healthier, according to your experiment.

And that wasn’t always the case.  We all know that we’ve seen some tremendous improvements in our school lunches over these years.  And it actually took a whole lot of work by people in your school cafeterias to actually accomplish this goal.

Back in 2010, based on some advice that we got from doctors and nutritionists and scientists in this country, we realized that we needed to improve the quality of school meals by adding fruits and veggies and whole grains.  And it required a lot — a little energy to make that happen, a little pushing back.  But right now, today, 95 percent of schools in this country are now meeting those new standards.  And that’s a wonderful achievement.  (Applause.)

So now tens of millions of kids are now getting better nutrition every single day.  Just like Abby pointed out, there are many kids who go to school and they don’t have breakfast, and breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  So you imagine, now the schools all over this country are providing that kind of nutrition so kids who might not get that nutrition at home are getting it at school.  This is an important step forward.  And I know you guys all agree because you understand the importance of healthy eating.

So I know that Izzy certainly believes so.  This is her quote — she said, “It’s important to teach my friends what good choices look like and how what fuel they choose for their bodies affects how they perform throughout their day.”  Very wise for such a little-bitty person.  (Laughter.)

And that’s why we created Let’s Move and started hosting these Kids’ State Dinners — because, as Abby said in her remarks, we want you guys to be ambassadors and to talk about healthy eating in your schools and in your communities.

So that’s really one of the things — one of the things you will do to pay for this opportunity is that you’re going to pay it forward, and hopefully when you go back, you’ll not only share this experience with your friends and family, but you’ll also talk about why we’re doing this.  Because a lot of kids don’t understand that food is fuel in a very fundamental way.  And sometimes they don’t listen to grown-ups, and they don’t listen to the First Lady.  But many of them will listen to you because you’re living proof of that reality.

So I want you to kind of think about how you can move this issue forward in your communities.  What more can you do when you get back home to continue this conversation and to engage more young people in the work that you all do.  That’s the only thing that I ask of you — and just to keep being the amazing, wonderful human beings that you are.

We developed this really cool — we worked with a PR firm to develop this really cool campaign for fruits and vegetables called FNV.  And it’s being piloted in certain parts of the country.  The idea behind the campaign is very simple:  If unhealthy foods can have all kinds of advertisements and celebrity endorsements, then why can’t we do that for fruits and vegetables?  Right?

So we’ve got Jessica Alba involved, and Colin Kaepernick, and Nick Jonas, and Steph Curry.  I just saw a full-page ad in a paper with Steph in a suit and a basketball, talking about the importance of veggies.  And so many other athletes and celebrities have signed up to show their support for fruits and vegetables.

And now we need you guys to sign up.  You can get involved in this campaign.  It involves T-shirts and fans and sweat bands, and there are things that you can do to be engaged — lot of fun.  All you have to do is go to FNV.com to check it out and figure out how you can join the FNV Team.  And you guys will be among the first ambassadors through FNV.  So, soon as you get out of here — don’t pull out any phones right now.  (Laughter.)  Go to FNV and check it out.  And then tell us what you think — because we want your feedback.

So really, there’s so many ways that you guys can be leaders in your communities and help us build a healthier country for generations to come.

And with your award-winning recipes, you’re already well on your way.  And I’m so proud of everything you all are doing.  The President is so proud of everything you all are doing.  And I just want you all to keep going, have fun.

And now we get to eat.  (Laughter.)  We get to try some of the — yes, we get to eat.  (Laughter.)  So bon appétit, everyone.  (Laughter.)  Let’s get going!  Let’s eat!  (Applause.)

Oh, wait!  Wait!  (The President enters.)  We have one more thing — (applause.)  I’m sorry.  I know you’re hungry, but I’d like to introduce to you guys the President of the United States.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Good to see you!  Hello, everybody!  How are you?  (Applause.)  So, everybody can have a seat.  Have a seat.

I’m sorry to crash your little party here.  (Laughter.)  But I just wanted to say hi to everybody.  And I wanted to let you know that, first of all, I’m very proud of everything that my outstanding wife has done — (applause) — when it comes to healthy eating and Let’s Move.  And we’re celebrating the fifth anniversary of Let’s Move.  So, you guys move?


THE PRESIDENT:  You guys are movers?  Okay.  You guys look pretty healthy, I got to admit.  This is a good-looking group.  (Laughter.)

MRS. OBAMA:  A good-looking group.

THE PRESIDENT:  And so I also just wanted to let you know that although I can’t stay and eat right now, that I’ve looked over the menu and the food looks outstanding.  I particularly am impressed with the Barackamole.  (Laughter.)  So I’m expecting people to save me a little sampling of the Barackamole.

I also noticed that there are a lot of good vegetables on the menu, including my favorite vegetable — broccoli.  (Laughter.)  Did somebody raise their hand?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, I told these two that was your favorite vegetable.

THE PRESIDENT:  You didn’t believe me?  (Laughter.)  It’s true, I love broccoli.  I eat it all the time.  Anybody else love broccoli?


THE PRESIDENT:  That’s what I’m talking about.  (Laughter.)

So I know that all your parents are so proud of you for having come up with these outstanding recipes.  And the reason it’s so important for you guys to be here and to be doing what you’re doing is because the truth is, is that parents, it turns out, don’t always have the most influence — (laughter) — in terms of encouraging young people to eat healthy.

What really helps is when their friends at school are all, like, oh, you’re having chips?  I’m sorry, I’m having the Barackamole.  (Laughter.)  And then, because you’re a cool kid, suddenly the other kids are all, like, well, if that cool kid is eating broccoli, maybe I should try that broccoli out.  So you guys are setting a great example for all your friends in school and in the neighborhoods, and we’re really proud of you for that.

All right?  So I’m proud of you.  And I hope you guys have a wonderful dinner.  And I’m going to come around and shake hands with people, but I can’t take selfies with everybody because I’ve actually got just a few other things to do.  (Laughter.)  So that would end up taking too long.  All right?  But you can take pictures while I’m shaking hands.  I just can’t, like, pose and — (laughter) — all that stuff.

Oops — that’s okay, I get nervous, too.  (Laughter.)  Whenever I’m at state dinners I’m always spilling stuff.  (Laughter.)  Usually on my tie.

Thank you, everybody.   (Applause.)

MRS. OBAMA:  Let’s eat!

THE PRESIDENT:  Let’s eat!  (Applause.)

12:12 P.M.

Full Text Obama Presidency July 4, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at White House 4th of July Celebration Transcript



Remarks by the President at 4th of July Celebration

Source: WH, 7-4-15

South Lawn

8:56 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody having a good time?  (Applause.)  Give it up for Bruno Mars!  (Applause.)  And the band!  (Applause.)

Michelle and I just want to say to everybody here, we love you.  (Applause.)  On this day, we thank everyone who does so much each and every day to defend our country, to defend our freedom.  (Applause.)  We are grateful to our armed services.  (Applause.)  We are grateful to our military families.  (Applause.)  We are grateful to our veterans.  (Applause.)

Without you, we could not enjoy the incredible blessings that we do in this greatest country on Earth.  (Applause.)  And we are so appreciative to all of you.  We hope you are having a good time.  The weather is cooperating.  (Applause.)  And Michelle and I, Malia, Sasha — we could not be more privileged to have gotten to know so many of you, and to know all the sacrifices that you make on our behalf each and every day.

So we just want to wish you the happiest 4th of July and remind ourselves that freedom is not free — it’s paid by all the folks who are here today and all the folks who are around the world.  We want to thank those who aren’t with their families on this holiday season because they’re posted overseas.  (Applause.)  We want to especially remember them.  (Applause.)

Thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

8:58 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 1, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Twitter Chat on Obamacare



  1. Gotta go, but this was fun. Let’s keep the health care conversation going – share how the for you or your family.




  • President Obama retweeted Victor Samuda

    people lack info/turned off by political noise. w court case done, let’s focus on getting people signed up.

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted ryan kartune

    pushing to make 2 yrs comm college free; permit refinancing on student loans; push colleges to keep tuition low

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted JustinGreen∞

    respect the nyt, but not buying peas in guac. onions, garlic, hot peppers. classic.

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted natalie

    was listening to outkast/liberation and the black keys/lonely boy this morning.

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted Christina Loucks

    there’s a hardship exemption; fine only applies to folks who can afford insurance but choose not to.

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted Emma’s Politics

    have principles and issues you are passionate about, and act; worry more about doing something than being something.

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted Sable Systems

    EX-IM bank helps US companies export; that means good paying american jobs. optimistic that congress gets it done.

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted Kat Robison

    now’s time to encourage states that held off for political reasons to do the right thing; contact state officials!

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted nathan210

    congratulations! hope you guys are getting sleep. nothing beats babies!

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted Raul Gonzales

    not true – like last year, insurers request premium hikes, but must be approved; expect final increases to be less

    President Obama added,



  • President Obama retweeted Dylan Green

    we need to encourage states to take advantage of medicaid expansion; could insure 4 mil more people in 22 states!

    President Obama added,






Full Text Obama Presidency July 1, 2015: President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama’s Remarks at Let’s Move Camp Out on the South Lawn



White House Girl Scout Campout

Girl Scouts join hands and sing “Taps” at the White House Campout, as part of the “Let’s Move! Outside” initiative, on the South Lawn of the White House, June 30, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon)

Remarks by The First Lady at Let’s Move! Campout on The South Lawn

Source: WH, 6-30-15

South Lawn

4:36 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Great job, Aniyah!  (Applause.)  Hey, guys.  You ready for this?


MRS. OBAMA:  We are so excited to have you here.  I’m not going to talk long because I really just wanted to formally welcome you to the White House.  There it is.  It’s right there. It is right there.  And you’re going to be sleeping out here.  Can you imagine that?  This is the first time we’ve ever done a campout on the South Lawn of the White House.  You are making history.  This is something you can tell your kids and your grandkids.  Do you understand the impact — (laughter) — the importance of this moment, today?

It’s exciting.  Well, you know who’s more excited than you all?  Me.  (Laughter.)  And everyone here at the White House.  I have to tell you, to make this happen it took a lot of work.  We have security.  The Secret Service had to be involved.  The Social Office, the Department of the Interior.  We couldn’t do this without them.  We’re so excited and so proud of Secretary Jewell, who couldn’t be here because she’s doing stuff for the President.  But she wanted to say hi.  And she put a lot of energy into making this day and night happen for you guys.

So I want to make sure you thank all the people around you while you’re here, all the staff people.  Because people are going to be sleeping out here with you, making sure that you’re safe and that everything goes well.  Okay?  So make sure you thank folks.  But everybody is excited to have you here.

We’re doing this because I am the honorary [National President] of the Girl Scouts.  I’m very proud to be the honorary co-chair.  And I am also very — a big proponent of getting outside and staying active.  You guys have heard of Let’s Move.  That’s my program about keeping kids active and healthy.  And one of the components of the program is something called Let’s Move Outside.  And this is something that we’re doing to encourage kids to get outside and get moving in their National Parks, because this is the 100th anniversary of our National Parks.  And we have so many beautiful parks all over this country that are free to families and kids, and they can hike and they can camp and they can discover the great outdoors.  We want people to find their parks all around.

And one of the reasons why we wanted you all here — did you know that the White House is a National Park?  You knew that?  You did your research?  Well, what better way to highlight Let’s Move Outside than to have the Girl Scouts camping out right here in a National Park at the White House.  Good idea, huh?

Well, I’m very proud of you all because you all get outside a lot.  You’re good campers.  And I’m happy that Kathy and the Girl Scouts — you’ve developed these new outdoor badges that you can earn, I understand.  All these things — hiking, and all these exciting outdoor things.  So you guys are going to teach me how to do some of these things, will you please?  I don’t know if I can officially earn a badge, but I want to try.  All right?

So I want to get going.  But you guys have got to be helpful.  I don’t know anything.  I don’t know how to tie a knot. I don’t know how to pitch a tent.  I can sing a little bit.  I’m definitely not climbing that wall.  (Laughter.)  That’s up to you all, okay?

So will you help me get moving and learn how to do some new stuff?  All right, let’s get going!  (Applause.)

4:40 P.M. EDT

Remarks by the President at Let’s Move Camp Out on the South Lawn

Source: WH, 6-30-15

South Lawn

8:35 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Why are you guys still up here?  (Laughter.) How’s it going?  So what’s been going on?  What have you guys been up to?

GIRLS:  Singing!

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re singing camp songs?

GIRLS:  Yes!

MRS. OBAMA:  Is that all you’ve been doing is singing — and why are you all dusty?  (Laughter.)  What game were you all playing?  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  So you’ve been singing.  What were you doing before you were singing?  You guys had dinner.

GIRLS:  Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  You did some rock climbing?

GIRLS:  Yes!

THE PRESIDENT:  Where did you go rock climbing?  (Laughter.) There are no rocks over there.  What are you talking about?  (Laughter.)  So you guys been having fun?

GIRLS:  Yes!

THE PRESIDENT:  So most of you guys are going into 5th grade or 6th grade?

GIRLS:  Fifth.

THE PRESIDENT:  Going into 5th.  And so you guys are from a bunch of different troops, or —

GIRLS:  Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, from all over the country?

GIRLS:  Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  So you guys are making new friends.

GIRLS:  Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s terrific.

MRS. OBAMA:  Look at their cool little chairs.

THE PRESIDENT:  They’re very nice chairs.

GIRL:  They roll back.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Can I just say back when I went camping my tents weren’t as nice.  (Laughter.)  And I didn’t have cool chairs like this.  (Laughter.)

GIRL:  Where did they come from?

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t know.  They just showed up.  (Laughter.)  I don’t know what you guys are doing here.  (Laughter.)

GIRL:  Camping on your lawn.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  You’re camping on my lawn.  I don’t know how that happened.

MRS. OBAMA:  They’re making history.

THE PRESIDENT:  I think the reason you guys are here is because we’re celebrating the Great Outdoors and the National Park Service is trying to make sure that young people get outside — so you guys aren’t watching TV all the time, or playing video games all the time, but you’re getting outside, getting some fresh air and spending time with your friends and having adventures.  And there are national parks all across the country, and it turns out that the White House is a national park.  (Applause.)  I didn’t know that.

MRS. OBAMA:  They knew.

THE PRESIDENT:  You guys knew.  Okay.  So you guys are helping to celebrate and kick off this whole Great Outdoors adventure that everybody is going to be having this summer, right?

GIRLS:  Yes!

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  So I don’t really know any campfire songs.  Are you guys going to teach me one?

GIRLS:  Yes!

(The President and the First Lady sing along to campfire songs.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Did you see the First Lady rocking out a little bit?  (Laughter.)  She had the moves.

All right, well, you know what, you guys are having so much fun.  Unfortunately, I’ve got to go to work.

GIRLS:  Noooo —

THE PRESIDENT:  I am not allowed to have fun.  (Laughter.)

GIRL:  Can we have a hug?

THE PRESIDENT:  We can have a group hug.  (All the girls at once come running up for a group hug.)  Those are some good hugs! I didn’t know that Girl Scouts gave such good hugs.  (Laughter.) Who are those Girl Scouts over there? (pointing to the troop leaders.)  They look at least like they’re juniors.  (Laughter.)
I’m so glad you guys are having fun.  But I want to make sure — you guys better clean up this mess.  (Laughter.)  When I wake up in the morning — I’m teasing.  You guys aren’t going to be making a racket, are you?

GIRLS:  Yes!

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  It was good to see you guys.  All right, have fun.

8:47 P.M. RDT


Full Text Obama Presidency June 6, 2015: President Barack Obama Delivers a Eulogy in Honor of Beau Biden — Transcript



Remarks by the President in Eulogy in Honor of Beau Biden

Source: WH, 6-6-15

Remarks by the President in Eulogy in Honor of Beau Biden

St. Anthony of Padua Church Wilmington, Delaware

12:08 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT:  “A man,” wrote an Irish poet, “is original when he speaks the truth that has always been known to all good men.”  Beau Biden was an original.  He was a good man.  A man of character.  A man who loved deeply, and was loved in return.
Your Eminences, your Excellencies, General Odierno, distinguished guests; to Hallie, Natalie and Hunter; to Hunter, Kathleen, Ashley, Howard; the rest of Beau’s beautiful family, friends, colleagues; to Jill and to Joe — we are here to grieve with you, but more importantly, we are here because we love you.
Without love, life can be cold and it can be cruel.  Sometimes cruelty is deliberate –- the action of bullies or bigots, or the inaction of those indifferent to another’s pain.  But often, cruelty is simply born of life, a matter of fate or God’s will, beyond our mortal powers to comprehend.  To suffer such faceless, seemingly random cruelty can harden the softest hearts, or shrink the sturdiest.  It can make one mean, or bitter, or full of self-pity.  Or, to paraphrase an old proverb, it can make you beg for a lighter burden.
But if you’re strong enough, it can also make you ask God for broader shoulders; shoulders broad enough to bear not only your own burdens, but the burdens of others; shoulders broad enough to shield those who need shelter the most.
To know Beau Biden is to know which choice he made in his life.  To know Joe and the rest of the Biden family is to understand why Beau lived the life he did.  For Beau, a cruel twist of fate came early –- the car accident that took his mom and his sister, and confined Beau and Hunter, then still toddlers, to hospital beds at Christmastime.
But Beau was a Biden.  And he learned early the Biden family rule:  If you have to ask for help, it’s too late.  It meant you were never alone; you don’t even have to ask, because someone is always there for you when you need them.
And so, after the accident, Aunt Valerie rushed in to care for the boys, and remained to help raise them.  Joe continued public service, but shunned the parlor games of Washington, choosing instead the daily commute home, maintained for decades, that would let him meet his most cherished duty -– to see his kids off to school, to kiss them at night, to let them know that the world was stable and that there was firm ground under their feet.
As Joe himself confessed to me, he did not just do this because the kids needed him.  He did it because he needed those kids.  And somehow, Beau sensed that -– how understandably and deeply hurt his family and his father was.  And so, rather than use his childhood trauma as justification for a life of self-pity or self-centeredness, that very young boy made a very grown-up decision:  He would live a life of meaning.  He would live a life for others.  He would ask God for broader shoulders.
Beau would guide and look out for his younger brother.  He would embrace his new mom –- apparently, the two boys sheepishly asking their father when they could all marry Jill -– and throughout his life, no one would make Jill laugh harder.  He would look after their baby sister, Ashley.  He would forever be the one to do the right thing, careful not to give his family or his friends cause for concern.
It’s no secret that a lot of what made Beau the way he was was just how much he loved and admired his dad.  He studied law, like his dad, even choosing the same law school.  He chased public service, like his dad, believing it to be a noble and important pursuit.  From his dad, he learned how to get back up when life knocked him down.  He learned that he was no higher than anybody else, and no lower than anybody else –- something Joe got from his mom, by the way.  And he learned how to make everybody else feel like we matter, because his dad taught him that everybody matters.
He even looked and sounded like Joe, although I think Joe would be first to acknowledge that Beau was an upgrade — Joe 2.0.  (Laughter.)  But as much as Beau reminded folks of Joe, he was very much his own man.  He was an original.
Here was a scion of an incredible family who brushed away the possibility of privilege for the harder, better reward of earning his own way.  Here was a soldier who dodged glory, and exuded true humility.  A prosecutor who defended the defenseless.  The rare politician who collected more fans than foes, and the rarer public figure who prioritized his private life above all else.
Beau didn’t cut corners.  He turned down an appointment to be Delaware’s attorney general so he could win it fair and square.  When the field was clear for him to run for the Senate, he chose to finish his job as A.G. instead.  He didn’t do these things to gain favor with a cynical public –- it’s just who he was.  In his twenties, he and a friend were stopped for speeding outside Scranton.  And the officer recognized the name on the license, and because he was a fan of Joe’s work with law enforcement he wanted to let Beau off with a warning.  But Beau made him write that ticket.  Beau didn’t trade on his name.
After 9/11, he joined the National Guard.  He felt it was his obligation -– part of what those broader shoulders are for.  He did his duty to his country and deployed to Iraq, and General Odierno eloquently spoke to Major Biden’s service.  What I can tell you is when he was loading up to ship out at Dover, there was a lot of press that wanted to interview him.  Beau refused.  He was just another soldier.
I saw him when I visited Iraq; he conducted himself the same way.  His deployment was hard on Hallie and the kids, like it was for so many families over the last 14 years.  It was hard on Joe, hard on Jill.  That’s partly why Jill threw herself into her work with military families with so much intensity.  That’s how you know when Joe thunders “may God protect our troops” in every speech he does, he means it so deeply.
Like his father, Beau did not have a mean bone in his body.  The cruelty he’d endured in his life didn’t make him hard, it made him compassionate, empathetic.  But it did make him abhor bullies.
Beau’s grandfather, Joe’s father, believed that the most egregious sin was to abuse your power to inflict pain on another.  So Beau squared his broad shoulders to protect people from that kind of abuse.  He fought for homeowners who were cheated, seniors who were scammed.  He even went after bullying itself.  He set up a Child Protector — Predator Task Force, convicted more than 200 of those who targeted vulnerable children.  And in all this, he did it in a way that was alive to the suffering of others, bringing in experts to help spare both the children and their parents further trauma.
That’s who Beau was.  Someone who cared.  Someone who charmed you, and disarmed you, and put you at ease.  When he’d have to attend a fancy fundraiser with people who took themselves way too seriously, he’d walk over to you and whisper something wildly inappropriate in your ear.  (Laughter.)  The son of a senator, a Major in the Army, the most popular elected official in Delaware –- I’m sorry, Joe –- (laughter) — but he was not above dancing in nothing but a sombrero and shorts at Thanksgiving if it would shake loose a laugh from the people he loved.  And through it all, he was the consummate public servant, a notebook in his back pocket at all times so he could write down the problems of everyone he met and go back to the office to get them fixed.
Because he was a Biden, the titles that come with family -– husband, father, son, brother, uncle -– those were the ones Beau valued above any other.  This was a man who, at the Democratic National Convention, didn’t spend all his time in backrooms with donors or glad-handing.  Instead, he rode the escalators in the arena with his son, up and down, up and down, again and again, knowing, just like Joe had learned, what ultimately mattered in life.
You know, anyone can make a name for themselves in this reality TV age, especially in today’s politics.  If you’re loud enough or controversial enough, you can get some attention.  But to make that name mean something, to have it associated with dignity and integrity –- that is rare.  There’s no shortcut to get it.  It’s not something you can buy.  But if you do right by your children, maybe you can pass it on.  And what greater inheritance is there?  What greater inheritance than to be part of a family that passes on the values of what it means to be a great parent; that passes on the values of what it means to be a true citizen; that passes on the values of what it means to give back, fully and freely, without expecting anything in return?
That’s what our country was built on –- men like Beau.  That’s who built it –- families like this.  We don’t have kings or queens or lords.  We don’t have to be born into money to have an impact.  We don’t have to step on one another to be successful.  We have this remarkable privilege of being able to earn what we get out of life, with the knowledge that we are no higher than anybody else, or lower than anybody else.  We know this not just because it is in our founding documents, but because families like the Bidens have made it so, because people like Beau have made it so.
He did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do in 146.  He left nothing in the tank.  He was a man who led a life where the means were as important as the ends.  And the example he set made you want to be a better dad, or a better son, or a better brother or sister, better at your job, the better soldier.  He made you want to be a better person.  Isn’t that finally the measure of a man -– the way he lives, how he treats others, no matter what life may throw at him?
We do not know how long we’ve got here.  We don’t know when fate will intervene.  We cannot discern God’s plan.  What we do know is that with every minute that we’ve got, we can live our lives in a way that takes nothing for granted.  We can love deeply.  We can help people who need help.  We can teach our children what matters, and pass on empathy and compassion and selflessness.  We can teach them to have broad shoulders.
To the Biden family, this sprawling, intimate clan –- I know that Beau’s passing has left a gaping void in the world.  Hallie, I can only imagine the burdens that you’ve been carrying on your shoulders these past couple of years.  And it’s because you gave him everything that he could give everything to us.  And just as you were there for him, we’ll be there for you.
To Natalie and Hunter –- there aren’t words big enough to describe how much your dad loved you, how much he loved your mom.  But I will tell you what, Michelle and I and Sasha and Malia, we’ve become part of the Biden clan.  We’re honorary members now.  And the Biden family rule applies.  We’re always here for you, we always will be — my word as a Biden.  (Laughter.)
To Joe and Jill –- just like everybody else here, Michelle and I thank God you are in our lives.  Taking this ride with you is one of the great pleasures of our lives.  Joe, you are my brother.  And I’m grateful every day that you’ve got such a big heart, and a big soul, and those broad shoulders.  I couldn’t admire you more.
I got to know Joe’s mom, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, before she passed away.  She was on stage with us when we were first elected.  And I know she told Joe once that out of everything bad that happens to you, something good will come if you look hard enough.  And I suppose she was channeling that same Irish poet with whom I began today, Patrick Kavanagh, when he wrote, “And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.”
As hard as it is right now, through all the heartache and through all the tears, it is our obligation to Beau to think not about what was and what might have been, but instead to think about what is, because of him.  Think about the day that dawns for children who are safer because of Beau, whose lives are fuller, because of him.  Think about the day that dawns for parents who rest easier, and families who are freer, because of him.  Some folks may never know that their lives are better because of Beau Biden.  But that’s okay.  Certainly for Beau, acclaim was never the point of public service.
But the lines of well-wishers who’ve been here all week — they know.  The White House mailroom that’s been overflowing with letters from people — those folks know.  The soldiers who served with Beau, who joined the National Guard because of him.  The workers at Verdi’s who still have their home because of him, and who thanked him for helping them bus tables one busy night.  The students in Newark who remember the time he talked with them for hours, inexhaustible, even after giving a speech, even after taking his National Guard fitness test.  The Rehoboth woman who’s saved a kind voicemail from him for five years, and wrote to say “I loved the way he loved his family.”  And the stranger who wrote from halfway across this great country just to say, “The only thing we can hope for is that our children make us proud by making a difference in the world.  Beau has done that and then some.  The world noticed.”
Jill, Joe, Hallie, Hunter and Natalie — the world noticed.  They noticed.  They felt it, his presence.  And Beau lives on in the lives of others.  And isn’t that the whole point of our time here?  To make this country we love fairer and more just, not just for Natalie and Hunter, or Naomi, or Finnegan, or Maisy, or Malia, or Sasha, but for every child?  Isn’t that what this amazing journey we’ve been on is all about -– to make life better for the next generation?
Beau figured that out so early in life.  What an inheritance Beau left us.  What an example he set.
“Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.  “But, above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.”
Beau Biden brought to his work a mighty heart.  He brought to his family a mighty heart.  What a good man.  What an original.
May God bless his memory, and the lives of all he touched.
                        END                12:32 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency June 2, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Medal of Honor Presentation Sergeant William Shemin and Private Henry Johnson — Transcript



Remarks by the President at Presentation of the Medal of Honor

Source: WH, 6-2-15

President Obama Signs Medal of Honor Certificate and Citation

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

11:27 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Please be seated.

Welcome to the White House.

Nearly 100 years ago, a 16-year-old kid from the Midwest named Frank Buckles headed to Europe’s Western Front.  An ambulance driver, he carried the wounded to safety.  He lived to see our troops ship off to another war in Europe.  And one in Korea.  Vietnam.  Iraq.  Afghanistan.  And Frank Buckles became a quietly powerful advocate for our veterans, and remained that way until he passed away four years ago — America’s last surviving veteran of World War I.

On the day Frank was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, Vice President Biden and I went to pay our respects.  And we weren’t alone.  Americans from across the country came out to express their gratitude as well.  They were of different ages, different races, some military, some not.  Most had never met Frank.  But all of them braved a cold winter’s day to offer a final tribute to a man with whom they shared a powerful conviction — that no one who serves our country should ever be forgotten.

We are a nation — a people — who remember our heroes.  We take seriously our responsibility to only send them when war is necessary.  We strive to care for them and their families when they come home.  We never forget their sacrifice.  And we believe that it’s never too late to say thank you.  That’s why we’re here this morning.

Today, America honors two of her sons who served in World War I, nearly a century ago.  These two soldiers were roughly the same age, dropped into the battlefields of France at roughly the same time.  They both risked their own lives to save the lives of others.  They both left us decades ago, before we could give them the full recognition that they deserved.  But it’s never too late to say thank you.  Today, we present America’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor, to Private Henry Johnson and Sergeant William Shemin.

I want to begin by welcoming and thanking everyone who made this day possible — family, friends, admirers.  Some of you have worked for years to honor these heroes, to give them the honor they should have received a long time ago.  We are grateful that you never gave up.  We are appreciative of your efforts.

As a young man, Henry Johnson joined millions of other African-Americans on the Great Migration from the rural South to the industrial North — a people in search of a better life.  He landed in Albany, where he mixed sodas at a pharmacy, worked in a coal yard and as a porter at a train station.  And when the United States entered World War I, Henry enlisted.  He joined one of only a few units that he could:  the all-black 369th Infantry Regiment.  The Harlem Hellfighters.  And soon, he was headed overseas.

At the time, our military was segregated.  Most black soldiers served in labor battalions, not combat units.  But General Pershing sent the 369th to fight with the French Army, which accepted them as their own.  Quickly, the Hellfighters lived up to their name.  And in the early hours of May 15, 1918, Henry Johnson became a legend.

His battalion was in Northern France, tucked into a trench. Some slept — but he couldn’t.  Henry and another soldier, Needham Roberts, stood sentry along No Man’s Land.  In the pre-dawn, it was pitch black, and silent.  And then — a click — the sound of wire cutters.

A German raiding party — at least a dozen soldiers, maybe more — fired a hail of bullets.  Henry fired back until his rifle was empty.  Then he and Needham threw grenades.  Both of them were hit.  Needham lost consciousness.  Two enemy soldiers began to carry him away while another provided cover, firing at Henry.  But Henry refused to let them take his brother in arms.  He shoved another magazine into his rifle.  It jammed.  He turned the gun around and swung it at one of the enemy, knocking him down.  Then he grabbed the only weapon he had left — his Bolo knife — and went to rescue Needham.  Henry took down one enemy soldier, then the other.  The soldier he’d knocked down with his rifle recovered, and Henry was wounded again.  But armed with just his knife, Henry took him down, too.

And finally, reinforcements arrived and the last enemy soldier fled.  As the sun rose, the scale of what happened became clear.  In just a few minutes of fighting, two Americans had defeated an entire raiding party.  And Henry Johnson saved his fellow soldier from being taken prisoner.

Henry became one of our most famous soldiers of the war.  His picture was printed on recruitment posters and ads for Victory War Stamps.  Former President Teddy Roosevelt wrote that he was one of the bravest men in the war.  In 1919, Henry rode triumphantly in a victory parade.  Crowds lined Fifth Avenue for miles, cheering this American soldier.

Henry was one of the first Americans to receive France’s highest award for valor.  But his own nation didn’t award him anything –- not even the Purple Heart, though he had been wounded 21 times.  Nothing for his bravery, though he had saved a fellow solder at great risk to himself.  His injuries left him crippled. He couldn’t find work.  His marriage fell apart.  And in his early 30s, he passed away.

Now, America can’t change what happened to Henry Johnson.  We can’t change what happened to too many soldiers like him, who went uncelebrated because our nation judged them by the color of their skin and not the content of their character.  But we can do our best to make it right.  In 1996, President Clinton awarded Henry Johnson a Purple Heart.  And today, 97 years after his extraordinary acts of courage and selflessness, I’m proud to award him the Medal of Honor.

We are honored to be joined today by some very special guests –- veterans of Henry’s regiment, the 369th.  Thank you, to each of you, for your service.  And I would ask Command Sergeant Major Louis Wilson of the New York National Guard to come forward and accept this medal on Private Johnson’s behalf.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America authorized buy Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Private Henry Johnson, United States Army.  Private Henry Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a member of Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, American Expeditionary Forces, on May 15, 1918, during combat operations against the enemy on the front lines of the Western Front in France.

In the early morning hours, Private Johnson and another soldier were on sentry duty at a forward outpost when they received a surprise attack from the German raiding party consisting of at least 12 soldiers.  While under intense enemy fire and despite receiving significant wounds, Private Johnson mounted a brave retaliation, resulting in several enemy casualties.  When his fellow soldier was badly wounded and being carried away by the enemy, Private Johnson exposed himself to great danger by advancing from his position to engage the two enemy captors in hand-to-hand combat.  Wielding only a knife and gravely wounded himself, Private Johnson continued fighting, defeating the two captors and rescuing the wounded soldier.  Displaying great courage, he continued to hold back the larger enemy force until the defeated enemy retreated, leaving behind a large cache of weapons and equipment and providing valuable intelligence.

Without Private Johnson’s quick actions and continued fighting, even in the face of almost certain death, the enemy might have succeeded in capturing prisoners in the outpost and abandoning valuable intelligence.  Private Johnson’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, Company C, 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Infantry Division, and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is presented.)  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, William Shemin loved sports — football, wrestling, boxing, swimming.  If it required physical and mental toughness, and it made your heart pump, your muscles ache, he was all in.  As a teenager, he even played semi-pro baseball.  So when America entered the war, and posters asked if he was tough enough, there was no question about it — he was going to serve.  Too young to enlist?  No problem.  He puffed his chest and lied about his age.  (Laughter.)  And that’s how William Shemin joined the 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, and shipped out for France.

On August 7th, 1918, on the Western Front, the Allies were hunkered down in one trench, the Germans in another, separated by about 150 yards of open space — just a football field and a half.  But that open space was a bloodbath.  Soldier after soldier ventured out, and soldier after soldier was mowed down.  So those still in the trenches were left with a terrible choice: die trying to rescue your fellow soldier, or watch him die, knowing that part of you will die along with him.

William Shemin couldn’t stand to watch.  He ran out into the hell of No Man’s Land and dragged a wounded comrade to safety.  Then he did it again, and again.  Three times he raced through heavy machine gunfire.  Three times he carried his fellow soldiers to safety.

The battle stretched on for days.  Eventually, the platoon’s leadership broke down.  Too many officers had become casualties. So William stepped up and took command.  He reorganized the depleted squads.  Every time there was a lull in combat, he led rescues of the wounded.  As a lieutenant later described it, William was “cool, calm, intelligent, and personally utterly fearless.”  That young kid who lied about his age grew up fast in war.  And he received accolades for his valor, including the Distinguished Service Cross.

When he came home, William went to school for forestry and began a nursery business in the Bronx.  It was hard work, lots of physical labor — just like he liked it.  He married a red-head, blue-eyed woman named Bertha Schiffer, and they had three children who gave them 14 grandchildren.  He bought a house upstate, where the grandkids spent their summers swimming and riding horses.  He taught them how to salute.  He taught them the correct way to raise the flag every morning and lower and fold it every night.  He taught them how to be Americans.

William stayed in touch with his fellow veterans, too.  And when World War II came, William went and talked to the Army about signing up again.  By then, his war injuries had given him a terrible limp.  But he treated that limp just like he treated his age all those years ago — pay no attention to that, he said.  He knew how to build roads, he knew camouflage — maybe there was a place for him in this war, too.  To Bertha’s great relief, the Army said that the best thing William could do for his country was to keep running his business and take care of his family.  (Laughter.)

His daughter, Elsie — who’s here today with what seems like a platoon of Shemins — (laughter) — has a theory about what drove her father to serve.  He was the son of Russian immigrants, and he was devoted to his Jewish faith.  “His family lived through the pogroms,” she says.  “They saw towns destroyed and children killed.  And then they came to America.  And here they found a haven — a home — success — and my father and his sister both went to college.  All that, in one generation!  That’s what America meant to him.  And that’s why he’d do anything for this country.”

Well, Elsie, as much as America meant to your father, he means even more to America.  It takes our nation too long sometimes to say so — because Sergeant Shemin served at a time when the contributions and heroism of Jewish Americans in uniform were too often overlooked.  But William Shemin saved American lives.  He represented our nation with honor.   And so it is my privilege, on behalf of the American people, to make this right and finally award the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin. I want to invite his daughters — Elsie and Ina — 86 and 83, and gorgeous — (laughter) — to accept this medal on their father’s behalf.  (Applause.)

MILITARY AIDE:  The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, March 3, 1863, has awarded in the name of Congress the Medal of Honor to Sergeant William Shemin, United States Army.

Sergeant William Shemin distinguished himself by extraordinary acts of heroism at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving as a rifleman with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in connection with combat operations against an armed enemy on the Vesle River, near Bazoches, France from August 7th to August 9th, 1918.

Sergeant Shemin upon three different occasions left cover and crossed an open space of 150 yards, repeatedly exposing himself to heavy machine gun and rifle fire to rescue wounded.  After officers and seniors noncommissioned officers had become casualties, Sergeant Shemin took command of the platoon and displayed great initiative under fire until wounded on August 9th.

Sergeant Shemin’s extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, and the United States Army.

(The Medal of Honor is presented.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, it has taken a long time for Henry Johnson and William Shemin to receive the recognition they deserve.  And there are surely others whose heroism is still unacknowledged and uncelebrated.  So we have work to do, as a nation, to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told.   And we’ll keep at it, no matter how long it takes.  America is the country we are today because of people like Henry and William — Americans who signed up to serve, and rose to meet their responsibilities — and then went beyond.  The least we can do is to say:  We know who you are.  We know what you did for us.  We are forever grateful.

May God bless the fallen of all of our wars.  May He watch over our veterans and their families and all those who serve today.  May God bless the United States of America.

With that, I’d ask the Chaplain to return to the podium for a benediction.

(The benediction is given.)

THE PRESIDENT:  With that, we conclude the formal ceremony.  But I welcome everybody to join in a wonderful reception.  And let’s give our Medal of Honor winners one big round of applause. (Applause.)

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

11:48 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency March 14, 2015: President Barack Obama’s remarks from the Gridiron Club Dinner — Transcript



President Barack Obama’s remarks from the Gridiron Club Dinner

Source: WaPo, 3-14-15

10:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you! (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Please have a seat. Thank you so much. What a beautiful evening. Everybody looks wonderful. It’s like Downton Abbey, except less funny. (Laughter.) This is my third appearance at this dinner as President. And I predict you will laugh harder than ever. I’m not saying I’m any funnier. I’m saying weed is now legal in D.C. (Laughter and applause.) I know that’s how you guys are getting through this dinner. That’s why you ate the food. (Laughter.)

This is also my first gridiron with a new press secretary, Josh Earnest, who’s doing a great job. (Applause.) The other day, Josh came into the Oval and he said, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that people are finally rallying around their charismatic African-American president. The bad news — it’s Clarence Page.” (Laughter.)

Clarence and I go way back.

MR. PAGE: Way back.

THE PRESIDENT: Way back. Before he took office, he felt comfortable asking me for tips on a being a successful black president. (Laughter.) And I told him, you want to keep your birth certificate handy. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, let’s face it, being President does age you. I mean, look at me. (Laughter.) I was hoping Fred Thompson would be the Republican speaker so I could buy a reverse mortgage. (Laughter and applause.) You start getting crankier as you get older. Next week, I’m signing an executive order to get off my lawn. (Laughter.) And getting older changes you. For example, coffee really disagrees with me these days — which is why John Boehner just invited coffee to address the joint House. (Laughter.)

It is amazing, though, how time flies. Just a few years ago, I could never imagine ever being in my fifties. And when it comes to my approval ratings, I still can’t. (Laughter.) I mean, think about how things have changed since 2008. Back then, I was the young, tech-savvy candidate of the future. Now I’m yesterday’s news and Hillary has got a server in her house. (Laughter.) I didn’t even know you could have one of those in your house. (Laughter and applause.) I am so far behind. Did you know that? I would have gotten one.

On the bright side, by the time I’m done with this job, I will finally have enough life experience for a memoir. (Laughter.)

My Vice President isn’t here tonight. He told me, “If I want to hear people talking for five hours straight, I’ll just stay home alone.” (Laughter.) And, by the way, this is just a quick aside — Joe rubs my shoulders too. (Laughter.) I just wanted everybody to know. He does. It’s not bad, it feels pretty good. I don’t let him give me a pedicure, but — (laughter.)

Of course, I want to acknowledge my fellow speakers tonight. Give it up for Terry McAuliffe — (applause) — the Governor of Virginia and the mayor of “This Town.” Terry loves fundraising. He’s the first person who’s actually been upset to learn you can’t ask people for tons of money once you become the Governor of Virginia. Well, except maybe the previous Governor of Virginia. (Laughter.)

I also want to congratulate Scott Walker. He did a great job tonight. Give it up for him. (Applause.) Governor Perry, don’t you think he did a great job tonight? I noticed you weren’t clapping that much.

This lame duck stuff is fun. (Laughter.)

Despite a great performance tonight, Scott has had a few recent stumbles. The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum. (Laughter and applause.)

Scott also recently punted on a question of evolution, which I do think is a problem. I absolutely believe in the theory of evolution — when it comes to gay marriage.

And, finally, Governor Walker got some heat for staying silent when Rudy Giuliani said I don’t love America — which I also think is a problem. Think about it, Scott — if I did not love America, I wouldn’t have moved here from Kenya. (Laughter and applause.) Still trying to deal with the overstaying the visa thing. But hopefully the court is okay with the immigration initiatives.

Governors Walker and Perry are not the only possible 2016-ers here tonight. We also have Dr. Ben Carson. He wants to make it clear that being here was a choice. The fact is, Doctor, embracing homosexuality is not something you do because you go to prison. It’s something you do because your Vice President can’t keep a secret on “Meet the Press.” (Laughter.)

But for all the gaffes, all the slip-ups, I think 2016 will come down to the issues. For example, equal pay. Did you know that the average male presidential candidate earns $150,000 less per speech than a woman doing the same job? (Laughter.) It’s terrible. We got to fix that.

And we can’t just focus on 2016, people. We just had an election. This new Congress is just getting started, which is why I want to acknowledge the leader of the House Republicans — as soon as I figure out who that is. (Laughter.)

The fact is, I really genuinely like John Boehner. But from your press reports, I gather he may be in real trouble. Over the past several weeks, many of you have been writing about a possible conservative coup — or as Bill O’Reilly calls it, “reporting from the war zone.” He’s been sniffing around. The good news is, Bill has an eyewitness who can back up some of his claims. The bad news, of course, is that it’s Brian Williams.

And as much as I like to make fun of my friends in the GOP and the media, it’s not like this is an easy time to be a Democrat. They’re turning last year’s midterms into a movie; it’s called “50 Shades of Red.”

But, as was noted, we are determined to bounce back. The Democratic Party recently analyzed the midterm elections, and concluded we have to spend more time focused on older white voters — which is why I’m here. (Laughter and applause.)

Staying focused, moving forward — it’s not always easy in this climate. I mean, you guys are always picking us apart. Recently, I made some comments about the Crusades, and people started blowing it all out of proportion, scrutinizing every single word. What is this, the Spanish Inquisition? (Laughter.)

And then I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. What nonsense. You know, you don’t diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. (Laughter and applause.) Really, that wasn’t a joke.

Now, as with everyone else, I want to end the night by saying something a little more serious. We are producing and consuming news in ways that we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago, let alone a few decades ago. But I believe that having access to more information than ever hasn’t diminished people’s hunger for understanding that news, and processing it. And they want to see an even deeper sense of what’s going on in their world because of so much change.

And as much as politicians and the press go at it sometimes, I think that without the outstanding work that so many of you do every single day, then our need for understanding will not be met and our democracy will be poor.

When there’s a crisis playing out around the world, or a milestone in our history like the one that we commemorated at Selma last week, we count on you to provide context, to see past the superficial, and in some cases, to risk everything in pursuit of the true story, and to hold us — those of us in power — to account.

So while the world of media may be changing, I am confident that our democracy will always be able to rely on the tradition represented by the reporters in this room: your persistence, your dedication, and your lifelong commitment to helping all of us better understand this world. That’s how our democracy works. And we are very grateful for the job that you do.

So thank you, God bless you. And God bless one of the many countries that I love. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you.


Political Musings February 7, 2015: Obama historically right about Christianity ISIS comparison at National Prayer Breakfast




Obama historically right about Christianity ISIS comparison at Prayer Breakfast

By Bonnie K. Goodman

President Barack Obama caused quite the controversy at the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Feb. 5, 2015 when he discussed extremism in religion and then proceeded to make comparisons between the Christian Crusades, Inquisition and ISIS, the Islamic State of…READ MORE

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



Remarks by the President at National Prayer Breakfast

Source: WH,  2-5-15

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

9:13 A.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you all very much.  (Applause.)

9:37 A.M. EST

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



Remarks By The President At Evening Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

State Floor

8:03 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!


THE PRESIDENT:  Happy Hanukkah!

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hanukkah!

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

MRS. OBAMA:  It’s good.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  It’s very impressive.

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

MRS. OBAMA:  He said that earlier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:11 P.M. EST


Remarks by the President at Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

Source: WH, 12-17-14 

East Room

4:27 P.M. EST

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Happy Hanukkah, Mr. President!

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

AUDIENCE:  Happy Hannukah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(The blessings are given.)

END                  4:38 P.M. EST




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



Remarks by the President at “Christmas in Washington”

Source: WH, 12-15-14

National Building Museum

7:32 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

END 7:36 P.M. EST

Political Musings December 10, 2014: First Lady Michelle delivers Toys for Tots with Santa Obama as the big Elf




First Lady Michelle delivers Toys for Tots with Santa Obama as the big Elf

By Bonnie K. Goodman

This year President Barack Obama joined his wife First Lady Michelle Obama, on Wednesday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2014 to deliver and sort toys for the “Marine Corps’ annual Toys for Tots campaign” at the joint Base…READ MORE

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



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

Source: WH, 12-10-14

Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling

1:42 P.M. EST

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Ho, ho, ho.

MRS. OBAMA:  How is everybody doing?

THE PRESIDENT:  She’s doing good.

MRS. OBAMA: Happy holidays, merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT:  Merry Christmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Yay!  (Applause.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MRS. OBAMA:  What video game?

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

MRS. OBAMA:  I wasn’t listening.

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

1:50 P.M. EST

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



Remarks by the President At Early Education Summit

Source: WH,  12-10-14

South Court Auditorium

11:58 A.M. EST

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

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

MS. LANE: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12:16 P.M. EST

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




Remarks by the President at Kennedy Center Honors Reception

Source: WH, 12-7-14

East Room

5:09 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:  Good evening, everybody.

AUDIENCE:  Good evening.

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

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

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

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

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

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Do it again.  Do it again.

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

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


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

AUDIENCE:  Mmm.  (Laughter.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


5:28 P.M. EST

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



Remarks by the President at National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Source: WH, 12-4-14 


6:12 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6:17 P.M. EST

Political Musings November 30, 2014: Elizabeth Lauten’s attack on Malia and Sasha Obama turns into Twitter partisan war on Jenna Bush




Elizabeth Lauten attack on Malia and Sasha Obama turns into Twitter partisan war on Jenna Bush

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Attacking the children of presidents has long been off limits in partisan attacks and in the media, that does not mean that unwritten rule has not been broken time and time again. One can now add the spokesperson for Republican…READ MORE

Political Musings November 29, 2014: Obama family celebrates Thanksgiving, begin Christmas season at the White House




Obama family celebrates Thanksgiving, begin Christmas season at the White House

By Bonnie K. Goodman

This past weekend President Barack Obama and his family celebrated Thanksgiving with all the White House traditions. First Obama pardoned the National Thanksgiving Turkey on Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014 in a White House ceremony, afterwards the whole family volunteered at…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency November 26, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the Pardoning of the National Turkey — Transcript



President Obama Pardons a Thanksgiving Turkey

Source: WH, 11-26-14

President Barack Obama, National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper; and son Cole Cooper participate in the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Nov. 26, 2014.President Barack Obama, National Turkey Federation Chairman Gary Cooper; and son Cole Cooper participate in the annual National Thanksgiving Turkey pardon ceremony in the Grand Foyer of the White House, Nov. 26, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Remarks by the President at Pardoning of the National Turkey

Source: WH, 11-26-14 

Cross Hall

2:32 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:Good afternoon, everybody.Please have a seat.Normally we do this outside.The weather is not cooperating today.But I want to, first of all, on behalf of Malia and Sasha, wish everybody an early Happy Thanksgiving.I am here to announce what I’m sure will be the most talked-about executive action this month.(Laughter.)Today, I’m taking an action fully within my legal authority — (laughter) — the same kind of action taken by Democrats and Republican presidents before me — to spare the lives of two turkeys, Mac and Cheese, from a terrible and delicious fate.(Laughter.)

I want to thank Joel Brandenberger, the president of the National Turkey Federation; Gary Cooper, its chairman; and his son Cole Cooper, who personally raised Mac and Cheese.Give them a big round of applause.(Applause.)Cole is keeping a pretty careful eye there on Cheese.(Laughter.)Uh-oh, he’s getting pretty excited about this.

Thanks to all those who voted online to pick the official National Thanksgiving Turkey.Cheese wants you to know that he won.(Laughter.)Mac, the alternate, is not so badly off either.Let’s face it — if you’re a turkey, and you’re named after a side dish — (laughter) — your chances of escaping Thanksgiving dinner are pretty low.So these guys are well ahead of the curve.They really beat the odds.

It is important to know that turkeys have always had powerful allies.Many of you know that Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country.He is a bird of bad moral character…the turkey is, in comparison, a much more respectable bird.”(Laughter.)I think these two turkeys would agree with Mr. Franklin.And they’ll get to live out the rest of their days, respectably, at a Virginia estate with 10,000 {sic} acres of roaming space.

I know some will call this amnesty — (laughter) — but don’t worry, there’s plenty of turkey to go around.(Laughter.) In fact, later this afternoon, Michelle, Malia and Sasha and I will take two turkeys that didn’t make the cut to a local food pantry that works hard year-round to make sure that folks in our Nation’s Capital have food to eat and clothes to wear.I want to thank Jaindl Turkey Farm in Pennsylvania for donating once again those birds for — it’s, in fact, been six years in a row that they’ve made these contributions — and for making Thanksgiving dinner possible for some of our fellow Americans.

Finally, The Washington Post recently questioned the wisdom of the whole turkey pardon tradition.“Typically on the day before Thanksgiving,” the story went, “the man who makes decisions about wars, virus outbreaks, terrorism cells and other dire matters of state, chooses to pardon a single turkey … plus an alternate.”

Tell me about it.It is a little puzzling that I do this every year.(Laughter.)But I will say that I enjoy it because with all the tough stuff that swirls around in this office, it’s nice once in a while just to say:Happy Thanksgiving.And this is a great excuse to do it.

Tomorrow is a pretty special moment when we give thanks for the people we love, and where we’re mindful of the incredible blessings that we have received.We remember the folks who can’t spend their holiday at home, especially the brave men and women in uniform who help keep our country secure.And we celebrate a holiday that, at its best, is about what makes this nation great — and that’s its generosity and its openness, and, as President Franklin Roosevelt once said, our commitment, “to make a country in which no one is left out.”

Now, because I know everyone wants to get out of town, Mac and Cheese included — (laughter) — it is time for me to engage in the official act.So let’s see what we can do here with Cheese.

Come on, girls.(Laughter.)All right, are we ready?Cheese, you are hereby pardoned from the Thanksgiving dinner table.(Laughter.)Congratulations.(Applause.)

He looks pretty happy about it.(Laughter.)All right, if you want to take Cheese down, that’s okay.(Laughter.)I will tell you, though, turkeys don’t have the best-looking heads.(Laughter.)You know what I’m saying?You think they’re beautiful?

MR. COOPER:I think they’re beautiful — they’re red, white and blue —

THE PRESIDENT:There’s a patriotism element to it.(Laughter.)Absolutely.(To Malia and Sasha) — Do you want to pet him?


THE PRESIDENT:Thank you.Good to see you.Appreciate you.

Thank you, everybody.Happy Thanksgiving.(Applause.)

2:38 P.M. EST

Political Musings October 31, 2014: Obama celebrates Halloween with devilish cake, White House trick-or-treat party




President Barack Obama along with First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 hosted trick-or-treaters at the White House, the treats however, were not as health conscious as the First Lady usually advocates. President Obama was so…READ MORE

Full Text Obama Presidency October 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication — Transcript



Remarks by the President at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial Dedication

Source: WH, 10-5-14 

Washington, D.C.

12:21 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Good afternoon. Please be seated. To all our disabled veterans — our extraordinary wounded warriors — we gather here today, on this gorgeous autumn day in America, because each of you endured a moment that shaped the arc of your lives and that speaks to our debt as a nation.

Maybe it was there on the battlefield, as the bullets and shrapnel rained down around you. Maybe it was as you lay there, the medics tending to your wounds. Perhaps it was days or months later, in that hospital room, when you finally came to. Perhaps it was years later, as you went about your day, or in the midnight hour, when the memories came rushing back like a flood.

Wherever you were, whatever your story, it was the moment that binds each of you forever — that moment of realization that life would not be the same. Your foot. Your hand. Your arm. Your leg — maybe both. Your sight. Your peace of mind. A part of you was gone.

Speaking to his fellow veterans of the Civil War, the great Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “As I look into your eyes I feel…that a great trial in your youth made you different…different from what we could have been without it.” And he said, we learned “a lesson early which has given a different feeling to life” — a sense of duty that burns like a fire in the heart.

To Lois Pope, Art Wilson and everyone at the memorial foundation and our incredible veterans service organizations who devoted so many years of effort, especially our friends at the Disabled American Veterans; to all the architects and craftspeople who lent your talents to bring this memorial to life; members of Congress, Secretaries Jewell and McDonald; distinguished guests; and most of all, to our veterans who have come to know “a different feeling to life,” and to your families — it’s a great honor to be with you here today.

For more than two centuries, Americans have left everything they have known and loved — their families and their friends — and stepped forward to serve: to win our independence, to preserve our Union, to defend our democracy, to keep safe this country that we love. And when the guns fall silent, our veterans return home, ready to play their part in the next chapter of our American story. As a nation, we have not always fulfilled our obligations to those who served in our name. This is a painful truth. And few have known this better than our veterans wounded in war.

In the first years after our Revolution — when our young nation still resisted the idea of a standing army — veterans of the Continental Army returned to towns that could be indifferent to their service. One veteran — his hand mangled by a British musket ball — was deemed, like many veterans, as “unfit for labor.” And frustrated by his inability to secure a disability pension, he wrote that “many of those who aided in conquering the enemy are suffering under the most distressing poverty.” After the Civil War, and again after the First World War, our disabled veterans had to organize and march for the benefits they had earned. Down the decades, our nation has worked to do better — to do right by these patriots. Because in the United States of America, those who have fought for our freedom should never be shunned and should never be forgotten.

So, today, we take another step forward. With this memorial we commemorate, for the first time, the two battles our disabled veterans have fought — the battle over there, and the battle here at home — your battle to recover, which at times can be even harder, and certainly as longer. You walk these quiet grounds — pause by the pictures of these men and women, you look into their eyes, read their words — and we’re somehow able to join them on a journey that speaks to the endurance of the American spirit. And to you, our veterans and wounded warriors, we thank you for sharing your journey with us.

Here we feel your fears — the shock of that first moment when you realized something was different; the confusion about what would come next; the frustrations and the worries — as one veteran said — “that maybe I wouldn’t be quite the same.”

And then here we see your resolve — your refusal, in the face of overwhelming odds, to give in to despair or to cynicism; your decision, your choice, to overcome. Like the veteran who said, “It’s possible for a man to lose half his physical being and still become whole.”

It is here we can see your perseverance — your unyielding faith that tomorrow can be better; your relentless determination, often through years of hard recovery and surgeries and rehab, learning the simple things all over again — how to button a shirt, or how to write your name; in some cases, how to talk or how to walk; and how, when you’ve stumbled, when you’ve fallen, you’ve picked yourself up, you’ve carried on, you’ve never given up.

Here we get a glimpse of the wounds within — the veteran who says, “I relive the war every day.” Because no matter what war you served in — and whether they called it “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” or the “1,000-yard stare” or post-traumatic stress — you know that the unseen wounds of war are just as real as any other, and they can hurt just as much, if not more.

Here we’re reminded that none of you have made this journey alone. Beside each of you is a wife or a husband, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, and neighbors and friends — who day after day, year after year, have been there, lifting you up, pushing you further, rooting you on — like the caregiver who said, “I loved him for who he was in his heart. And he still had that.” Today we salute all your families, and the love that never quits.

And, finally, here we see that our wounded veterans are defined not by what you can’t do, but by what you can do. Just ask Captain Dawn Halfaker. In Iraq, her Humvee was hit by an RPG. She suffered burns and broken bones, lost her right arm. She struggled physically and emotionally. But with the help of her fellow wounded warriors she came to focus, she said, “not on what I had lost, but on what I still had.” And today what she has is the respect of her fellow veterans that she mentors; a business of her own — one that hires veterans; and a beautiful 6-month-old son. Dawn’s picture — this member of the 9/11 Generation — now graces this memorial, and we are honored that she is here today. And, Dawn, please stand up. (Applause.)

I’ve seen Dawn’s story over and over and over again — in all the wounded warriors and veterans that I have the honor to meet, from Walter Reed to Bethesda to Bagram. I know in Dawn’s life, many of you see your own. Today, I want every American to see it. After everything you endured, after all the loss, you summoned the best in yourself and found your strength again. How many of you learned to walk again and stand again and run again. How you’ve competed in races and marathons and the Paralympics, on Team USA. How you found joy and love — getting married, raising children. How you found new ways to serve — returning to your units or starting new businesses, or teaching our children, or serving your fellow veterans, or leading in your communities.

America, if you want to know what real strength is, if you want to see the character of our country — a country that never quits — look at these men and women. And I’d ask all of our disabled veterans here today — if you can stand, please stand; if not, please raise your hand so that our nation can pay tribute to your service. We thank you. We’re inspired by you. And we honor you. (Applause.)

From this day forward, Americans will come to this place and ponder the immense sacrifice made on their behalf; the heavy burden borne by a few so that we might live in freedom and peace. Of course, our reflection is not enough. Our expressions of gratitude are not enough.

Here, in the heart of our nation’s capital, this memorial is a challenge to all of us — a reminder of “the obligations this country is under.” And if we are to truly honor these veterans, we must heed the voices that speak to us here. Let’s never rush into war — because it is America’s sons and daughters who bear the scars of war for the rest of their lives. (Applause.) Let us only send them into harm’s way when it’s absolutely necessary. And if we do, let’s always give them the strategy, the mission, and the support that they need to get the job done. When the mission is over — and as our war in Afghanistan comes to a responsible end in two months — let us stand united as Americans and welcome our veterans home with the thanks and respect they deserve. (Applause.)

And if they come home having left a part of themselves on the battlefield, on our behalf, this memorial tells us what we must do. When our wounded veterans set out on that long road of recovery, we need to move heaven and earth to make sure they get every single benefit, every single bit of care that they have earned, that they deserve. (Applause.)

If they’re hurting and don’t know if they can go on, we need to say loud and clear, as family and friends, as neighbors and coworkers, as fellow citizens, and as a nation: You are not alone, it’s all right to ask for help, and we’re here to help you be strong again. Because our wounded warriors may have “a different feeling to life,” but when we are truly there for them, when we give them every opportunity to succeed and continue their enormous contributions to our country, then our whole nation is stronger, all our lives are richer.

So if you’re an American, and you see a veteran — maybe with a prosthetic arm or leg, maybe burns on their face — don’t ever look away. Do not turn away. You go up and you reach out, and you shake their hand, and you look them in the eye and you say those words every veteran should hear all the time: “Welcome home, thank you. We need you more than ever. You help us stay strong, you help us stay free.” (Applause.)

To every wounded warrior, to every disabled veteran — thank you. God bless you. God bless these United States of America. (Applause.)

12:35 P.M. EDT

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



Remarks by the President at Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute Gala

Source: WH, 10-2 -14

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

7:54 P.M. EDT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8:07 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 16, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Press Conference After U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit



Remarks by the President at Press Conference After U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit

Source: WH, 8-6-14 

State Department
Washington, D.C.

6:14 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  As I think everyone knows by now, this first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit has been the largest gathering we’ve ever hosted with African heads of state and government — and that includes about 50 motorcades.  So I want to begin by thanking the people of Washington, D.C. for helping us host this historic event — and especially for their patience with the traffic.

As I’ve said, this summit reflects the reality that even as Africa continues to face great challenges we’re also seeing the emergence of a new, more prosperous Africa.  Africa’s progress is being led by Africans, including leaders here today.  I want to take this opportunity again to thank my fellow leaders for being here.  Rather than a lot of prepared speeches, our sessions today were genuine discussions — a chance to truly listen and to try to come together around some pragmatic steps that we can take together.  And that’s what we’ve done this week.

First, we made important progress in expanding our trade.  The $33 billion in new trade and investments that I announced yesterday will help spur African development and support tens of thousands of American jobs.  With major new commitments to our Power Africa initiative, we’ve tripled our goal and now aim to bring electricity to 60 million African homes and businesses.  And today I reiterated that we’ll continue to work with Congress to achieve a seamless and long-term renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

We agreed that Africa’s growth depends, first and foremost, on continued reforms in Africa, by Africans.  The leaders here pledged to step up efforts to pursue reforms that attract investment, reduce barriers that stifle trade — especially between African countries — and to promote regional integration. And as I announced yesterday, the United States will increase our support to help build Africa’s capacity to trade with itself and with the world.

Ultimately, Africa’s prosperity depends on Africa’s greatest resource — its people.  And I’ve been very encouraged by the desire of leaders here to partner with us in supporting young entrepreneurs, including through our Young African Leaders Initiative.  I think there’s an increasing recognition that if countries are going to reach their full economic potential, then they have to invest in women — their education, their skills, and protect them from gender-based violence.  And that was a topic of conversation this afternoon.  And this week the United States announced a range of initiatives to help empower women across Africa.

Our New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition continues to grow, aiming to lift 50 million Africans from poverty.  In our fight against HIV/AIDS, we’ll work with 10 African countries to help them double the number of their children on lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs.  And even as the United States is deploying some of our medical first responders to West Africa to help control the Ebola outbreak, we’re also working to strengthen public health systems, including joining with the African Union to pursue the creation of an African Centers for Disease Control.

I also want to note that the American people are renewing their commitment to Africa.  Today, InterAction — the leading alliance of American NGOs — is announcing that over the next three years its members will invest $4 billion to promote maternal health, children’s health, and the delivery of vaccines and drugs.  So this is not just a government effort, it is also an effort that’s spurred on by the private sector.  Combined with the investments we announced yesterday — and the commitments made today at the symposium hosted by our spouses — that means this summit has helped to mobilize some $37 billion for Africa’s progress on top of, obviously, the substantial efforts that have been made in the past.

Second, we addressed good governance, which is a foundation of economic growth and free societies.  Some African nations are making impressive progress.  But we see troubling restrictions on universal rights.  So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies, and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities.  And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.

In particular, we agreed to step up our collective efforts against the corruption that costs African economies tens of billions of dollars every year — money that ought to be invested in the people of Africa.  Several leaders raised the idea of a new partnership to combat illicit finance, and there was widespread agreement.  So we decided to convene our experts and develop an action plan to promote the transparency that is essential to economic growth.

Third, we’re deepening our security cooperation to meet common threats, from terrorism to human trafficking.  We’re launching a new Security Governance Initiative to help our African countries continue to build strong, professional security forces to provide for their own security.  And we’re starting with Kenya, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Tunisia.

During our discussions, our West African partners made it clear that they want to increase their capacity to respond to crises.  So the United States will launch a new effort to bolster the regions early warning and response network and increase their ability to share information about emerging crises.

We also agreed to make significant new investments in African peacekeeping.  The United States will provide additional equipment to African peacekeepers in Somalia and the Central African Republic.  We will support the African Union’s efforts to strengthen its peacekeeping institutions.  And most importantly, we’re launching a new African peacekeeping rapid response partnership with the goal of quickly deploying African peacekeepers in support of U.N. or AU missions.  And we’ll join with six countries that in recent years have demonstrated a track record as peacekeepers — Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda.  And we’re going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa.

In closing, I just want to say that this has been an extraordinary event, an extraordinary summit.  Given the success that we’ve had this week, we agreed that summits like this can be a critical part of our work together going forward, a forcing mechanism for decisions and action.  So we agreed that the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit will be a recurring event to hold ourselves accountable for our commitments and to sustain our momentum.  And I’ll strongly encourage my successor to carry on this work, because Africa must know that they will always have a strong and reliable partner in the United States of America.

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

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  There’s been a lot of discussion surrounding this summit about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  And there’s an untested and unapproved drug in the U.S. that appears to be helping some of the Americans who are infected.  Is your administration considering at all sending supplies of this drug if it becomes available to some of these countries in West Africa?  And could you discuss a bit the ethics of either providing an untested drug to a foreign country, or providing it only to Americans and not to other countries that are harder hit if it could possibly save lives?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think we’ve got to let the science guide us.  And I don’t think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful.  What we do know is that the Ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place.

And the countries that have been affected are the first to admit that what’s happened here is, is that their public health systems have been overwhelmed.  They weren’t able to identify and then isolate cases quickly enough.  You did not have a strong trust relationship between some of the communities that were affected and public health workers.  As a consequence, it spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that have occurred previously.

But despite obviously the extraordinary pain and hardship of the families and persons who’ve been affected, and despite the fact that we have to take this very seriously, it is important to remind ourselves this is not an airborne disease; this is one that can be controlled and contained very effectively if we use the right protocols.

So what we’ve done is to make sure that we’re surging not just U.S. resources, but we’ve reached out to European partners and partners from other countries, working with the WHO.  Let’s get all the health workers that we need on the ground.  Let’s help to bolster the systems that they already have in place. Let’s nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease.  And then during the course of that process, I think it’s entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease.

So we’re going to — we’re focusing on the public health approach right now because we know how to do that.  But I will continue to seek information about what we’re learning with respect to these drugs going forward.

Q    If this drug proves to be effective, would you support fast-tracking its approval in the United States?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think it’s premature for me to say that because I don’t have enough information.  I don’t have enough data right now to offer an opinion on that.

Jon Karl, ABC News.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  When you were running for President, you said, “The biggest problems we’re facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all.  And that’s what I intend to reverse.”  So my question to you — has Congress’s inability to do anything significant given you a green light to push the limits of executive power, even a duty to do so?  Or put another way — does it bother you more to be accused of being an imperial President, pushing those limits, or to be accused of being a do-nothing President who couldn’t get anything done because he faced a dysfunctional Congress?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, I think that I never have a green light.  I’m bound by the Constitution; I’m bound by separation of powers.  There are some things we can’t do.

Congress has the power of the purse, for example.  I would love to fund a large infrastructure proposal right now that would put millions of people to work and boost our GDP.  We know we’ve got roads and bridges and airports and electrical grids that need to be rebuilt.  But without the cooperation of Congress, what I can do is speed up the permitting process, for example.  I can make sure that we’re working with the private sector to see if we can channel investment into much-needed projects.  But ultimately, Congress has to pass a budget and authorize spending. So I don’t have a green light.

What I am consistently going to do is, wherever I have the legal authorities to make progress on behalf of middle-class Americans and folks working to get into the middle class, whether it’s by making sure that federal contractors are paying a fair wage to their workers, making sure that women have the opportunity to make sure that they’re getting paid the same as men for doing the same job, where I have the capacity to expand some of the student loan programs that we’ve already put in place so that repayments are a little more affordable for college graduates — I’m going to seize those opportunities.  And that’s what I think the American people expect me to do.

My preference in all these instances is to work with Congress, because not only can Congress do more, but it’s going to be longer-lasting.  And when you look at, for example, congressional inaction, and in particular, the inaction on the part of House Republicans, when it comes to immigration reform, here’s an area where, as I’ve said before, not only the American people want to see action, not only is there 80 percent overlap between what Republicans say they want and Democrats say they want, we actually passed a bill out of the Senate that was bipartisan.

And in those circumstances, what the American people expect is that, despite the differences between the parties, there should at least be the capacity to move forward on things we agree on.  And that’s not what we’re seeing right now.  So in the face of that kind of dysfunction, what I can do is scour our authorities to try to make progress.

And we’re going to make sure that every time we take one of these steps that we are working within the confines of my executive power.  But I promise you the American people don’t want me just standing around twiddling my thumbs and waiting for Congress to get something done.  Even as we take these executive actions, I’m going to continue to reach out to Democrats and Republicans — to the Speaker, to the leadership on both sides and in both chambers — to try to come up with formulas where we can make progress, even if it’s incremental.

Q    Do you believe you have the power to grant work permits to those who are here illegally, as some of your supporters have suggested?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What I certainly recognize with respect to immigration reform — and I’ve said this in the past — is that we have a broken system; it’s under-resourced; and we’ve got to make choices in terms of how we allocate personnel and resources.

So if I’m going to, for example, send more immigration judges down to the border to process some of these unaccompanied children that have arrived at the border, then that’s coming from someplace else, and we’re going to have to prioritize.  That’s well within our authorities and prosecutorial discretion.

My preference would be an actual comprehensive immigration law.  And we already have a bipartisan law that would solve a whole bunch of these problems.  Until that happens, I’m going to have to make choice.  That’s what I was elected to do.

Margaret Talev, Bloomberg.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Along the lines of executive authority, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has previously said that the executive branch of government doesn’t have the authority to slow or stop corporate inversions, the practice that you have called distasteful, unpatriotic, et cetera.  But now he is reviewing options to do so.  And this is an issue that a lot of business, probably including some of the ones who were paying a lot of attention to this summit, are interested in.  So what I wanted to ask you was, what prompted this apparent reversal?  What actions are now under consideration?  Will you consider an executive order that would limit or ban such companies from getting federal contracts?  And how soon would you like to see Treasury act, given Congress’s schedule?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Just to review why we’re concerned here. You have accountants going to some big corporations — multinational corporations but that are clearly U.S.-based and have the bulk of their operations in the United States — and these accountants are saying, you know what, we found a great loophole — if you just flip your citizenship to another country, even though it’s just a paper transaction, we think we can get you out of paying a whole bunch of taxes.

Well, it’s not fair.  It’s not right.  The lost revenue to Treasury means it’s got to be made up somewhere, and that typically is going to be a bunch of hardworking Americans who either pay through higher taxes themselves or through reduced services.  And in the meantime, the company is still using all the services and all the benefits of effectively being a U.S. corporation; they just decided that they’d go through this paper exercise.

So there is legislation working its way through Congress that would eliminate some of these tax loopholes entirely.  And it’s true what Treasury Secretary Lew previously said, that we can’t solve the entire problem administratively.  But what we are doing is examining are there elements to how existing statutes are interpreted by rule or by regulation or tradition or practice that can at least discourage some of the folks who may be trying to take advantage of this loophole.

And I think it’s something that would really bother the average American, the idea that somebody renounces their citizenship but continues to entirely benefit from operating in the United States of America just to avoid paying a whole bunch of taxes.

We’re reviewing all of our options.  As usual, and related to the answer I gave Jonathan about executive actions, my preference would always be for us to go ahead and get something done in Congress.  And keep in mind it’s still a small number of companies that are resorting to this, because I think most American companies are proud to be American, recognize the benefits of being American, and are responsible actors and willing to pay their fair share of taxes to support all the benefits that they receive from being here.

But we don’t want to see this trend grow.  We don’t want companies who have up until now been playing by the rules suddenly looking over their shoulder and saying, you know what, some of our competitors are gaming the system and we need to do it, too.  That kind of herd mentality I think is something we want to avoid.  So we want to move quickly — as quickly as possible.

Q    Just to clarify, the federal contracting seems like an area that you’ve liked.  It’s worked well for you on issues like promoting gay rights, or contraception policy.  Is it fair to assume that that would — attaching this to federal contractors would be the first thing you would think of?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Margaret, I’m not going to announce specifics in dribs and drabs.  When we’ve done a thorough evaluation and we understand what our authorities are, I’ll let you know.

Chris Jansing, NBC News.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Russia said today that it is going to ban food and agricultural product imports.  That was about $1.3 billion last year.  At the same time, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the massing of troops along the border of Ukraine increases the likelihood of an invasion.  Are sanctions not working?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, we don’t know yet whether sanctions are working.  Sanctions are working as intended in putting enormous pressure and strain on the Russian economy.  That’s not my estimation; if you look at the markets and you look at estimates in terms of capital flight, if you look at projections for Russian growth, what you’re seeing is that the economy has ground to a halt.  Somewhere between $100 billion and $200 billion of capital flight has taken place.  You’re not seeing a lot of investors coming in new to start businesses inside of Russia.

And it has presented the choice to President Putin as to whether he is going to try to resolve the issues in eastern Ukraine through diplomacy and peaceful means, recognizing that Ukraine is a sovereign country, and that it is up ultimately to the Ukrainian people to make decisions about their own lives; or, alternatively, continue on the course that he’s on, in which case he’s going to be hurting his economy, and hurting his own people over the long term.

And in that sense, we are doing exactly what we should be doing.  And we’re very pleased that our European allies and partners joined us in this process, as well as a number of countries around the world.

Having said all that, the issue is not resolved yet.  You still have fighting in eastern Ukraine.  Civilians are still dying.  We’ve already seen some of the consequences of this conflict in the loss of the Malaysian Airlines airliner — or jetliner.

And the sooner that we can get back on a track in which there are serious discussions taking place to ensure that all Ukrainians are heard, that they can work through the political process, that they’re represented, that the reforms that have already been offered by the government in Kyiv are implemented to protect Russian speakers, to assure decentralization of power — the sooner that we move on those, and the sooner that President Putin recognizes that Ukraine is an independent country, it’s only at that point where we can say that the problem has truly been solved.  But in the meantime, sanctions are working the way they’re supposed to.

Q    The troops that are massing on the border are more highly trained.  They seem to have more sophisticated weaponry, according to intelligence.  Does that make you reconsider — as a few Democrats have suggested — providing lethal aid to Ukraine, given those troop movements?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, keep in mind that the Russian army is a lot bigger than the Ukrainian army.  So the issue here is not whether the Ukrainian army has some additional weaponry.  At least up until this point, they’ve been fighting a group of separatists who have engaged in some terrible violence but who can’t match the Ukrainian army.

Now, if you start seeing an invasion by Russia, that’s obviously a different set of questions.  We’re not there yet.  What we have been doing is providing a whole host of assistance packages to the Ukrainian government and to their military, and we will continue to work with them to evaluate on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis what exactly they need in order to be able to defend their country and to deal with the separatist elements that currently are being armed by Russia.

But the best thing we can do for Ukraine is to try to get back on a political track.

David Ohito, The Standard.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  You have been hosting African kings, prime ministers and presidents for the last three days.  But back home in Africa, media freedom is under threat.  The work of journalists is becoming increasingly difficult.  In Egypt, our Al Jazeera colleagues are in jail.  In Ethiopia, dozens of journalists are in prison.  In Kenya, they have passed very bad laws targeting the media.  What can the international community do to ensure that we have a strong media in Africa and, more importantly, to secure the release of the journalists who are behind bars?

And, two, so many countries in Africa are facing threats of terror.  I’m glad you’ve mentioned a few measures you’re going to take.  But what can the international community do also to neutralize terror threats in Mali, Cameroon, Nigeria, Kenya?  Could that be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m sorry, what was the last part of the question?

Q    Could the terror threats be the reason you have skipped Kenya in your visits to Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, no, no, no, no, no.  Well, first of all, with respect to journalists in the media, the last session that we had on good governance emphasized that good governance means everybody has a voice, that government is transparent and, thereby, accountable.  And even though leaders don’t always like it, the media plays a crucial role in assuring people that they have the proper information to evaluate the policies that their leaders are pursuing.

And so we have been very consistent in pushing governments not just in Africa, but around the world, to respect the right of journalists to practice their trade as a critical part of civil society and a critical part of any democratic norm.  The specific issue of the Al Jazeera journalists in Egypt, we’ve been clear both publicly and privately that they should be released.  And we have been troubled by some of the laws that have been passed around the world that seem to restrict the ability of journalists to pursue stories or write stories.  We’ve also been disturbed by efforts to control the Internet.  Part of what’s happened over the last decade or two is that new media, new technology allow people to get information that previously would have never been accessible, or only to a few specialists.  And now people can punch something up on the Internet and pull up information that’s relevant to their own lives and their own societies and communities.  So we’re going to continue to push back against these efforts.

As is true on a whole range of issues — and I’ve said this in the past — many times we will work with countries even though they’re not perfect on every issue.  And we find that in some cases engaging a country that generally is a good partner but is not performing optimally when it comes to all of the various categories of human rights, that we can be effective by working with them on certain areas, and criticizing them and trying to elicit improvements in other areas.  And even among countries that generally have strong human rights records, there are areas where there are problems.  That’s true of the United States, by the way.

And so the good news — and we heard this in the summit — is that more and more countries are recognizing that in the absence of good governance, in the absence of accountability and transparency, that’s not only going to have an effect domestically on the legitimacy of a government, it’s going to have an effect on economic development and growth.  Because ultimately, in an information age, open societies have the capacity to innovate and educate and move faster and be part of the global marketplace more than closed societies do over the long term.  I believe that.

Now, with respect to terrorism, I think there’s uniform concern of terrorist infiltration in many countries throughout Africa.  Obviously, this is a concern that we have globally.  A lot of the initiatives that we put forward were designed to partner so that countries, first and foremost, can deal with these problems within their own borders or regionally.  And the United States doesn’t have a desire to expand and create a big footprint inside of Africa.  What we do want to make sure we can do is partner with the African Union, with ECOWAS, with individual countries to build up their capacity.

And one of the encouraging things in the sessions was a recognition that fighting terrorism also requires security forces that are professional, that are disciplined, that themselves are not engaging in human rights violations; that part of the lesson that we’ve all learned about terrorism is that it is possible in reaction to terrorism to actually accelerate the disease if the response is one that alienates populations or particular ethnic groups or particular religions.  And so the work that we’re doing, including the security initiatives that I announced today, I think can make a big difference in that direction.

It’s not just a matter of us providing better equipment or better training.  That’s a part of it, but part of it is also making sure that these security forces and the intelligence operations are coordinated and professional, and they’re not alienating populations.  The more we do that, the more effective we can be.

Last point I’ll make is, on good governance, one of the best inoculators against terrorist infiltration is a society in which everybody feels as if they have a stake in the existing order, and they feel that their grievances can be resolved through political means rather than through violence.  And so that’s just one more reason why good governance has to be part of the recipe that we use for a strong, stable and prosperous Africa.

Last question, Jérôme Cartillier.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Earlier today, the Israeli Prime Minister described the Gaza operation as “justified and proportionate.”  Do you agree with these two words?  And Israel and Hamas seems to be at odds over prolonging the cease-fire.  Are you hopeful the cease-fire — a true cease-fire can be achieved?  And what exact role can the U.S. play in the current talks going on in Cairo?

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I have said from the beginning that no country would tolerate rockets being launched into their cities.  And as a consequence, I have consistently supported Israel’s right to defend itself, and that includes doing what it needs to do to prevent rockets from landing on population centers and, more recently, as we learned, preventing tunnels from being dug under their territory that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.  I also think it is important to remember that Hamas acts extraordinarily irresponsibly when it is deliberately siting rocket launchers in population centers, putting populations at risk because of that particular military strategy.

Now, having said all that, I’ve also expressed my distress at what’s happened to innocent civilians, including women and children, during the course of this process.  And I’m very glad that we have at least temporarily achieved a cease-fire.  The question is now how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way.

We intend to support the process that’s taking place in Egypt.  I think the short-term goal has to be to make sure that rocket launches do not resume, that the work that the Israeli government did in closing off these tunnels has been completed, and that we are now in the process of helping to rebuild a Gaza that’s been really badly damaged as a consequence of this conflict.  Long term, there has to be a recognition that Gaza cannot sustain itself permanently closed off from the world and incapable of providing some opportunity — jobs, economic growth — for the population that lives there, particularly given how dense that population is, how young that population is.

We’re going to have to see a shift in opportunity for the people of Gaza.  I have no sympathy for Hamas.  I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.  And the question then becomes, can we find a formula in which Israel has greater assurance that Gaza will not be a launching pad for further attacks, perhaps more dangerous attacks as technology develops into their country.  But at the same time, ordinary Palestinians have some prospects for an opening of Gaza so that they do not feel walled off and incapable of pursuing basic prosperity.

I think there are formulas that are available, but they’re going to require risks on the part of political leaders.  They’re going to require a slow rebuilding of trust, which is obviously very difficult in the aftermath of the kind of violence that we’ve seen.  So I don’t think we get there right away, but the U.S. goal right now would be to make sure that the cease-fire holds, that Gaza can begin the process of rebuilding, and that some measures are taken so that the people of Gaza feel some sense of hope, and the people of Israel feel confident that they’re not going to have a repeat of the kind of rocket launches that we’ve seen over the last several weeks.

And Secretary Kerry has been in consistent contact with all the parties involved.  We expect we will continue to be trying to work as diligently as we can to move the process forward.

It is also going to need to involve the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.  I have no sympathy for Hamas.  I have great sympathy for some of the work that has been done in cooperation with Israel and the international community by the Palestinian Authority.  And they’ve shown themselves to be responsible. They have recognized Israel.  They are prepared to move forward to arrive at a two-state solution.

I think Abu Mazen is sincere in his desire for peace.  But they have also been weakened, I think, during this process.  The populations in the West Bank may have also lost confidence or lost a sense of hope in terms of how to move forward.  We have to rebuild that, as well.  And they are the delegation that’s leading the Palestinian negotiators.  And my hope is, is that we’ll be engaging with them to try to move what has been a very tragic situation over the last several weeks into a more constructive path.

Thank you very much, everybody.  And thank you all who participated in the Africa Summit.  It was an outstanding piece of work.  And I want to remind folks, in case they’ve forgotten, of the incredible young people who participated in our fellows program.  We’re very proud of you, and we’re looking forward to seeing all the great things that you do when you go back home.

Thank you.

6:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency August 5, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum



Remarks by the President at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum

Source: WH, 8-5-14

Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Washington, D.C.

3:20 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:   Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Please be seated.  Well, good afternoon, everybody.  To Mayor Bloomberg, thank you — not only for the kind introduction, but to Bloomberg Philanthropies as our co-host, and for the great work that you’re doing across Africa to help create jobs, and promote public health, encourage entrepreneurship, especially women.  So thank you very much, Michael, for your leadership.  I want to thank our other co-host — my great friend and tireless Commerce Secretary, Penny Pritzker.  (Applause.)

I want to welcome all of our partners who are joining us from across Africa — heads of state and government, and let me welcome the delegations from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, with whom we are working so urgently to control the Ebola outbreak and whose citizens are in our thoughts and prayers today.  I also want to welcome Madame Chairperson Dlamini-Zuma of the African Union Commission; President of the African Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka; as well as the President of the World Bank, Dr. Jim Kim.  Please give them all a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And I want to acknowledge members of Congress who are here and who are such great champions of Africa’s engagement with — America’s engagement with Africa.  In a city that does not always agree on much these days, there is broad bipartisan agreement that a secure, prosperous and self-reliant Africa is in the national interest of the United States.

And most of all, I want to thank all of you — the business leaders, the entrepreneurs both from the United States and from across Africa who are creating jobs and opportunity for our people every day.  And I want to acknowledge leaders from across my administration who, like Penny, are your partners, including our U.S. Trade Representative, Mike Froman; USAID Administrator Raj Shah; and our new head of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Dana Hyde; President of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg; Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Lee Zak; and our President and CEO of OPIC, Elizabeth Littlefield.

So we are here, of course, as part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit — the largest gathering any American President has ever hosted with African heads of state and government.  And this summit reflects a perspective that has guided my approach to Africa as President.  Even as Africa continues to face enormous challenges, even as too many Africans still endure poverty and conflict, hunger and disease, even as we work together to meet those challenges, we cannot lose sight of the new Africa that’s emerging.

We all know what makes Africa such an extraordinary opportunity.  Some of the fastest-growing economies in the world.  A growing middle class.  Expanding sectors like manufacturing and retail.  One of the fastest-growing telecommunications markets in the world.  More governments are reforming, attracting a record level of foreign investment.  It is the youngest and fastest-growing continent, with young people that are full of dreams and ambition.

Last year in South Africa, in Soweto, I held a town hall with young men and women from across the continent, including some who joined us by video from Uganda.  And one young Ugandan woman spoke for many Africans when she said to me, “We are looking to the world for equal business partners and commitments, and not necessarily aid.  We want to do [business] at home and be the ones to own our own markets.”  That’s a sentiment we hear over and over again.  When I was traveling throughout Africa last year, what I heard was the desire of Africans not just for aid, but for trade and development that actually helps nations grow and empowers Africans for the long term.

As President, I’ve made it clear that the United States is determined to be a partner in Africa’s success — a good partner, an equal partner, and a partner for the long term.  (Applause.)  We don’t look to Africa simply for its natural resources; we recognize Africa for its greatest resource, which is its people and its talents and their potential.  (Applause.)  We don’t simply want to extract minerals from the ground for our growth; we want to build genuine partnerships that create jobs and opportunity for all our peoples and that unleash the next era of African growth.  That’s the kind of partnership America offers.

And since I took office, we’ve stepped up our efforts across the board.  More investments in Africa; more trade missions, like the one Penny led this year; and more support for U.S. exports.  And I’m proud — I’m proud that American exports to Africa have grown to record levels, supporting jobs in Africa and the United States, including a quarter of a million good American jobs.

But here’s the thing:  Our entire trade with all of Africa is still only about equal to our trade with Brazil — one country.  Of all the goods we export to the world, only about one percent goes to Sub-Saharan Africa.  So we’ve got a lot of work to do.  We have to do better — much better.  I want Africans buying more American products.  I want Americans buying more African products.  I know you do, too.  And that’s what you’re doing today.  (Applause.)

So I’m pleased that in conjunction with this forum, American companies are announcing major new deals in Africa.  Blackstone will invest in African energy projects.  Coca-Cola will partner with Africa to bring clean water to its communities.  GE will help build African infrastructure.  Marriott will build more hotels.  All told, American companies — many with our trade assistance — are announcing new deals in clean energy, aviation, banking, and construction worth more than $14 billion, spurring development across Africa and selling more goods stamped with that proud label, “Made in America.”

And I don’t want to just sustain this momentum, I want to up it.  I want to up our game.  So today I’m announcing a series of steps to take our trade with Africa to the next level.

First, we’re going to keep working to renew the African Growth and Opportunity Act — and enhance it.  (Applause.)  We still do the vast majority of our trade with just three countries — South Africa, Nigeria and Angola.  It’s still heavily weighted towards the energy sector.  We need more Africans, including women and small- and medium-sized businesses, getting their goods to market.  And leaders in Congress — Democrats and Republicans — have said they want to move forward.  So I’m optimistic we can work with Congress to renew and modernize AGOA before it expires, renew it for the long term.  We need to get that done.  (Applause.)

Second, as part of our “Doing Business in Africa” campaign, we’re going to do even more to help American companies compete.  We’ll put even more of our teams on the ground, advocating on behalf of your companies.  We’re going to send even more trade missions.  Today, we’re announcing $7 billion in new financing to promote American exports to Africa.  Earlier today, I signed an executive order to create a new President’s advisory council of business leaders to help make sure we’re doing everything we can to help you do business in Africa.  (Applause.)

And I would be remiss if I did not add that House Republicans can help by reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.  That is the right thing to do.  (Applause.)  I was trying to explain to somebody that if I’ve got a Ford dealership and the Toyota dealership is providing financing to anybody who walks in the dealership and I’m not, I’m going to lose business.  It’s pretty straightforward.  We need to get that reauthorized.  (Applause.)  And you business leaders can help make clear that it is critical to U.S. business.

Number three, we want to partner with Africa to build the infrastructure that economies need to flourish.  And that starts with electricity, which most Africans still lack.  That’s why last year while traveling throughout the continent, I announced a bold initiative, Power Africa, to double access to electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa and help bring electricity to more than 20 million African homes and businesses.

Now, we’ve joined with African governments, the African Development Bank, and the private sector — and I will tell you, the response has exceeded our projections.  It has been overwhelming.  Already, projects and negotiations are underway that, when completed, will put us nearly 80 percent of the way toward our goal.  On top of the significant resources we’ve already committed, I’m announcing that the United States will increase our pledge to $300 million a year for this effort.

And as of today — including an additional $12 billion in new commitments being announced this week by our private sector partners and the World Bank and the government of Sweden — we’ve now mobilized a total of more than $26 billion to Power Africa just since we announced it — $26 billion.  (Applause.)  So today we’re raising the bar.  We decided we’re meeting our goal too easily, Zuma, so we’ve got to go up.  So we’re tripling our goal, aiming to bring electricity to more than 60 million African homes and businesses that can spark growth for decades to come.  (Applause.)

Fourth, we’ll do more to help Africans trade with each other, because the markets with the greatest potential are often the countries right next door.  And it should not be harder to export your goods to your neighbor than it is to export those goods to Los Angeles or to Amsterdam.  (Applause.)  So through our Trade Africa initiative, we’ll increase our investments to help our African partners build their own capacity to trade, to strengthen regional markets, make borders more efficient, modernize the customs system.  We want to get African goods moving faster within Africa, as well as outside of Africa.

And finally, we’re doing more to empower the next generation of African entrepreneurs and business leaders — it’s young men and women, like our extraordinary Mandela Washington Fellows that I met with last week.  And I have to say to the heads of state and government, you would have been extraordinarily proud to meet these young people who exhibit so much talent and so much energy and so much drive.

With new Regional Leadership Centers and online courses, we’re going to offer training and networking for tens of thousands of young entrepreneurs across Africa. New grants will help them access the capital they need to grow.  Our annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit this year will be held in Morocco.  Next year, it will be held for the first time in Sub-Saharan Africa — because we want to make sure that all that talent is tapped and they have access to the capital and the networks and the markets that they need to succeed.  Because if they succeed, then the countries in which they live will succeed.  They’ll create jobs.  They’ll create growth.  They’ll create opportunity.

So the bottom line is the United States is making a major and long-term investment in Africa’s progress.  And taken together, the new commitments I’ve described today — across our government and by our many partners — total some $33 billion.  And that will support development across Africa and jobs here in the United States.  Up to tens of thousands of American jobs are supported every time we expand trade with Africa.

As critical as all these investments are, the key to unlocking the next era of African growth is not going to be here in the United States, it’s going to be in Africa.  And so, during this week’s summit, we’ll be discussing a whole range of areas where we’re going to have to work together — areas that are important in their own right, but which are also essential to Africa’s growth.

Capital is one thing.  Development programs and projects are one thing.  But rule of law, regulatory reform, good governance — those things matter even more, because people should be able to start a business and ship their goods without having to pay a bribe or hire somebody’s cousin.

Agricultural development is critical because it’s the best way to boost incomes for the majority of Africans who are farmers, especially as they deal with the impacts of climate change.

Rebuilding a strong health infrastructure, especially for mothers and children, is critical because no country can prosper unless its citizens are healthy and strong, and children are starting off with the advantages they need to grow to their full potential.

And we’re going to have to talk about security and peace, because the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.  And it’s very hard to attract business investment, and it’s very hard to build infrastructure, and it’s very hard to sustain entrepreneurship in the midst of conflict.

So I just want to close with one example of what trade can help us build together.  Kusum Kavia was born in Kenya; her family was originally from India.  Eventually, she emigrated to the United States and along with her husband started a small business in California.  It started off as a small engineering firm.  Then it started manufacturing small power generators.  With the help of the Export-Import Bank — including seminars and a line of credit and risk insurance — they started exporting power generators to West Africa.  In Benin, they helped build a new electric power plant.

And it’s ended up being a win-win for everybody.  It’s been a win for their company, Combustion Associates, because exports to Africa have boosted their sales, which means they’ve been able to hire more workers here in the United States.  They partner with GE; GE is doing well.  Most of their revenues are from exports to Africa.  It’s been a win for their suppliers in Texas and Ohio and New York.  It’s been a win for Benin and its people, because more electricity for families and businesses, jobs for Africans at the power plant because the company hires locally and trains those workers.  And they hope to keep expanding as part of our Power Africa initiative.

So this is an example of just one small business.  Imagine if we can replicate that success across our countries.

Kusum says, “When our customers see the label, ‘Made in America,’ when they see our flag, it puts us above all the competition.”  And her vision for their company is the same vision that brings us all here today.  She says, “We really want to have a long-term partnership with Africa.”  So Kusum is here.  I had a chance to meet her backstage.  Where is she?  Right there.  Stand up, Kusum.  So she’s doing great work.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

But she’s an example of what’s possible — a long-term partnership with Africa.  And that’s what America offers.  That’s what we’re building.  That’s the difference we can make when Africans and Americans work together.  So let’s follow Kusum’s lead.  Let’s do even more business together.  Let’s tear down barriers that slow us down and get in the way of trade.  Let’s build up the infrastructure — the roads, the bridges, the ports, the electricity — that connect our countries.  Let’s create more and sell more and buy more from each other.  I’m confident that we can.  And when we do, we won’t just propel the next era of African growth, we’ll create more jobs and opportunity for everybody — for people here in the United States and for people around the world.

So thank you very much, everybody, for what so far has been an outstanding session.  And I’ve got the opportunity to speak to this young man.  (Applause.)

Q    So thank you very much, Mr. President for this opportunity.  I’ll start by wishing you a belated Happy Birthday.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    Thank you very much.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Have you introduced yourself to everybody?

Q    I wanted to really jump into the issues.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, go ahead and introduce yourself.

Q    All right.  I’m Takunda Chingonzo.  I’m a young entrepreneur.  I’m 21.  I’m from Zimbabwe.  And I’m working in the wireless technology space.  We’re essentially liberating the Internet for Zimbabweans.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  And let me just — this is an example of our young African leaders; in fact, the youngest young African leader.  But one thing I will say, though, if you’re going to promote your business, you’ve got to make sure to let people know who you are.  (Laughter.)

Q    Definitely, definitely.

THE PRESIDENT:  Just a little tip.

Q    Definitely.

THE PRESIDENT:  You can’t be shy, man.  (Laughter.)  Please, go ahead.

Q    That’s correct, Mr. President.  So I was really going to start by delving into a personal experience.  I was going to get to my business and how I got to where we are.

So as I was saying, we’re working in the technology space.  I’m working on my third startup — it’s called Saisai.  We’re creating Zimbabwe’s first free Internet-access network, hence liberating the Internet.  So in our working, we came to a point in time where we needed to import a bit of technology from the United States, and so we were engaging in conversation with these U.S.-based businesses.  And the response that we got time and time again was that unfortunately we cannot do business with you because you are from Zimbabwe.  And I was shocked — this doesn’t make sense.

And so this is the exact same experience that other entrepreneurs that are in Zimbabwe have gone through, even through the meetings that I’ve had here.  You know, you sit down with potential investors, you talk about the project, the outlook, the opportunity, the growth and all that — and they’re excited, you can see.  All systems are firing, right?  And then I say I’m from Zimbabwe and they look at me and they say, young man, this is a good project, very good, very good, but unfortunately we cannot engage in business with you.

And I understand that the sanctions that we have — that are imposed on entities in Zimbabwe, these are targeted sanctions, right?  But then we have come to a point in time where we as young Africans are failing to properly engage in business with U.S.-based entities because there hasn’t been that clarity.  These entities believe that Zimbabwe is under sanctions.  So what really can we do to do try and clarify this to make sure that we as the young entrepreneurs can effectively develop Africa and engage in business?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, obviously, the situation in Zimbabwe is somewhat unique.  The challenge for us in the United States has been how do we balance our desire to help the people of Zimbabwe with what has, frankly, been a repeated violation of basic democratic practices and human rights inside of Zimbabwe.

And we think it is very important to send clear signals about how we expect elections to be conducted, governments to be conducted — because if we don’t, then all too often, with impunity, the people of those countries can suffer.  But you’re absolutely right that it also has to be balanced with making sure that whatever structures that we put in place with respect to sanctions don’t end up punishing the very people inside those countries.

My immediate suggestion — and this is a broader point to all the African businesses who are here, as well as the U.S. businesses — is to make sure that we’re using the Department of Commerce and the other U.S. agencies where we can gather groups of entrepreneurs and find out exactly what can be done, what can’t be done, what resources are available.  It may be that you and a group of entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe are able to meet with us and propose certain projects that allow us to say this is something that will advance as opposed to retard the progress for the Zimbabwean people.

So what I’d suggest would be that we set up a meeting and we find out what kinds of things that the young entrepreneurs of Zimbabwe want to do, and see if there are ways that we can work with you consistent with the strong message that we send about good governance in Zimbabwe.

Q    I see.  Because really — the point of emphasis really is that as young Africans we want to converse with other business entities here in the U.S., and if these sanctions are really targeted, then in honest truth, they aren’t supposed to hamper the business that we’re trying to engage in, the development that we’re talking about.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, let’s see if we can refine them further based on some of the things you’re talking about.

Q    That’s all right.  Now, there have been a good number of investments that have been announced here — multibillion-dollar investments in Africa — and we’re really excited.  And there’s been a lot of talk about how the public and private partnerships are the vehicle through which this investment will come into Africa, but I really want to bring it to a point of clarity.  I believe that the private sector is stratified in itself.  We have the existing indigenous businesses in these countries that you’re hoping to invest in, and this is where usually the funding comes through — the partnerships and all that.  That is well and fine.

But then, underneath that, we have these young, upcoming entrepreneurs — the innovators, those that come up with products and services that disrupt the industry.  And this is the innovation that we want in Africa, to build products by Africans for Africans.  But in most cases, in what we have seen over the past years, is that, indeed, this investment comes through but it never cascades down to these young entrepreneurs, the emerging businesses.  And so the existing businesses then form a sort of ceiling which we cannot break through.

When it comes to investment, when you’re talking about solving unemployment, I believe that it’s more realistic to assume and understand that the probability of 10 startups employing 10 people in a given time period, it’s more realistic than one indigenous company employing 100 people.

So what really has been — or rather, has there been any consideration in these deals that have been structured in the investments that you announced to cater for the young entrepreneur who is trying to innovate to solve the problems in society?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I think for the business leaders who are here, both African and U.S., it’s hard being a startup everywhere.

Q    That’s true.

THE PRESIDENT:  Part of what you’re describing is typical of business around the world:  Folks who are already in, they don’t necessarily want to share.  They don’t want to be disrupted.  If there’s a good opportunity, they’d rather do it themselves.  If they see a small up-and-coming hotshot who might disrupt their business, they may initially try to block you or they may try to buy you out.  And getting financing for a startup is always going to be difficult.  You hear that from entrepreneurs here in the U.S. as well.

Having said that, what is absolutely true is that as we think about the billions of dollars that we’re mobilizing, we want to make sure that small businesses, medium-size businesses, women-owned businesses — that they have opportunity.  And so my instructions to all of our agencies and hopefully the work that we’re doing with all of our partners is how can we identify, target financing for the startup; how can we identify and link up U.S. companies with small and medium-size businesses and not just the large businesses?  And I think you are absolutely right that by us trying to spread investment, not narrowly through one or two companies but more broadly, that the opportunities for success in those countries are higher, and it also creates a healthy competition.

And that’s true also in terms of how we’re designing – for example, our Feed the Future program, which is working with almost 2 million small farmers inside of Africa.  When I was in Senegal, I met with a woman, maybe in her 30s; she had a small plot of land initially.  Through the Feed the Future program, she had been able to mechanize, double her productivity.  By doubling her productivity and, through a smartphone, getting better prices to the market, she was able to increase her profits.  Then she bought a tractor.  Then she doubled her productivity again.  And suddenly what had started off as just a program to increase her income had become capital for a growing business where she was now hiring people in her area and doing some of the process of the grain that she grew herself, so that she could move up the value chain.

There are entrepreneurs like that all across Africa.  Sometimes the capital they need is not very large.  Sometimes it’s a fairly modest amount.  And so what I want to do is to make sure that we are constantly looking out for opportunities to disburse this capital not just narrowly, but broadly.  And one of the things that I hope happens with U.S. companies is that they’re constantly looking for opportunities to partner with young entrepreneurs, startups, and not just always going to the same well-established businesses.

Now, there are going to be some large-capital projects where you’ve got a good, solid, established company.  Hopefully they, themselves, have policies with respect to their suppliers that allow them to start encouraging and growing small businesses as well.

Q    Exactly.  And on that note, I’m glad that you acknowledged that and I hope that even in these deals, in the investments that you’re talking about, that one of the conditions be that those large organizations that are getting investment have policies that cascade down to people at the grassroots.

You spoke about this lady who was using a smartphone to — it is one key issue that is really propelling business and development in Africa, the ability to leverage technology.  And really it is all about the Internet of things.  And that is why I’m personally working in liberating the Internet to get more people connected.

Now, this is a huge opportunity in Africa as well.  Now, there is this troubling issue that has been brought to our attention with entities and organizations that have come up and have said we want to control the Internet, we want to see who gets what traffic and from whom.  And policies and activities like that become challenges for startups that are trying to leverage the Internet, for this lady farmer that you talked about who is trying to leverage and get information from the Internet.

So I want to understand what is your stance on net neutrality and its effects on the global development in Africa?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, this is an important issue for all the heads of state and government not just in Africa but around the world.  The reason the Internet is so powerful is because it’s open.  My daughters, 16 and 13, they can access information from anyplace in the world.  They can learn about a particular discipline instantaneously, in ways that when I was their age — first of all, I wasn’t as motivated as they are.  I was lazier than them.  (Laughter.)  They do much better in school than I did.  But the world is at their fingertips.

And what facilitates that, and what has facilitated the incredible value that’s been built by companies like Google and Facebook and so many others, all the applications that you find on your smartphone, is that there are not restrictions, there are not barriers to entry for new companies who have a good idea to use this platform that is open to create value.  And it is very important I think that we maintain that.

Now, I know that there’s a tension in some countries — their attitude is we don’t necessarily want all this information flowing because it can end up also being used as a tool for political organizing, it can be used as a tool to criticize the government, and so maybe we’d prefer a system that is more closed.  I think that is a self-defeating attitude.  Over the long term, because of technology, information, knowledge, transparency is inevitable.  And that’s true here in the United States; it’s true everywhere.

And so what we should be doing is trying to maintain an open Internet, trying to keep a process whereby any talented person who has an idea can suddenly use the Internet to disperse information.  There are going to be occasional tensions involved in terms of us monitoring the use of the Internet for terrorist networks or criminal enterprises or human trafficking.  But we can do that in ways that are compatible with maintaining an open Internet.

And this raises the broader question that I mentioned earlier, which is Africa needs capital; in some cases, Africa needs technical assistance; Africa certainly needs access to markets.  But perhaps the biggest thing that Africa is going to need to unleash even more the potential that’s already there and the growth that’s already taking place is laws and regulations and structures that empower individuals and are not simply designed to control or empower those at the very top.

And the Internet is one example.  You’ve got to have a system and sets of laws that encourage entrepreneurship, but that’s also true when it comes to a whole host of issues.  It’s true when it comes to how hard is it to get a business permit when a new startup like yours wants to establish itself.

When it comes to Power Africa, there are billions of dollars floating around the world that are interested in investing in power generation in Africa.  And the countries that are going to attract that investment are the ones where the investor knows that if a power plant is built, that there are rules in place that are transparent that ensure that they’re going to get a decent return, and that some of the revenue isn’t siphoned off in certain ways so that the investor has political risks or risks with respect to corruption.

The more that governments set up the right rules, understanding that in the 21st century the power that drives growth and development and the marketplace involves knowledge and that can’t be controlled, the more successful countries are going to be.

Q    I see.  So just to clarify on the issue of net neutrality, you are advocating for an open and fair Internet —


Q    — which would — then it has structure to ensure that the platform itself isn’t abused.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there are two issues — net neutrality — in the United States, one of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers.  That’s the big controversy here.  You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you.

And I personally — the position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users.  You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.

There’s another problem, though — there are other countries — and I think this is what you were alluding to — that feel comfortable with the idea of controlling and censoring Internet content in their home countries, and setting up rules and laws about what can or cannot be on the Internet.  And I think that that not only is going to inhibit entrepreneurs who are creating value on the Internet; I think it’s also going to inhibit the growth of the country generally, because closed societies that are not open to new ideas, eventually they fall behind.  Eventually, they miss out on the future because they’re so locked into trying to maintain the past.

Q    I see.  Thank you for the clarity.  I think we’re out of a bit of time.  I’ll ask my final question.  When we began this conversation, we were alluding to the fact that — the need to separate the political function and economic function.  In other words, politics should not get in the way of business.  And I’ve gone to quite a good number of — I know it’s difficult — so I’ve gone to a good number of conferences where the end deliverable of the entire summit, or whatever it is, is that we need to lobby government to create policies that are conducive, and this and that.  And that’s usually what you get — either you’re trying to lobby somebody to do something, right?  And, in turn, governments come up and say, yes, we promise to come up with this and that, and this and that.  And that’s a whole political sphere of things.  My question is, apart from that, what can we as business leaders, as the private sector, what can we do sort of independently to — what can we do to create this economic environment that fosters for the growth and development of Africa as a continent?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, although this isn’t always a popular position here in Washington these days, the truth is, is that government really can help set the conditions and the framework for markets to function effectively — in part because governments are able to initiate projects like roads and bridges and airports that any individual business would find cost prohibitive.  It wouldn’t make sense to invest in what is a collective good; it’s not going to help your bottom line if everybody else is using it.  So that’s part of the function of government.

Part of the function of government is to educate a population so that you got a well-trained workforce.  It’s hard for companies to invest in doing that by themselves.  There are certain common goods, like maintaining clean air and clean water, and making sure that if you have capital markets, that they’re well-regulated so that they’re trust-worthy, and small investors and large investors know that if they invest in a stock that they’re not being cheated.

So there are a whole host of functions that government has to play.  But in the end, what drives innovation typically is not what happens in government, it’s what’s happening in companies.  And what we found in the United States is, is that companies, once they’ve got the basic rules and they’ve got the basic platform, they are able to create value and innovation and cultures that encourage growth.  And I think that African entrepreneurs are going to be the trendsetters for determining how societies think about themselves and, ultimately, how governments think about these issues.

The truth of the matter is, is that if you have big, successful companies or you’ve got widespread entrepreneurship, and you have a growing middle class and practices have been established in terms of fair dealing, and treating your workers properly, and extending opportunity to smaller contractors, and promoting women and making sure women are paid like men — suddenly, what happens is businesses create new norms and new sensibilities.  And governments oftentimes will respond.

And so I think in Africa what I’d like to see more and more of is partnerships between American businesses, between African businesses.  Some of the incredible cultures of some of our U.S. businesses that do a really good job promoting people and maintaining a meritocracy, and treating women equally, and treating people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally, and making sure that there are typical norms of how you deal with people in contracts and respect legal constraints — all those things I think can then take root in a country like Zimbabwe or any other country.  Hopefully, governments are encouraging that, not inhibiting that.  They recognize that that’s how the world as a whole is increasingly moving in that direction.  And over time, you will see an Africa that is driven by individual entrepreneurs and private organizations, and governments will be responsive to their demands.

So I think the one thing I want to make sure people understand, though, is it’s not an either/or issue.  Government has a critical role to play.  The marketplace has a critical role to play.  Nonprofit organizations have a critical role to play.  But the goal and the orientation constantly should be how do we empower individuals to work together.  And if we are empowering young people like you all across Africa, if we’ve got a 21-year-old who has already started three businesses, we’ve got to figure out how to invest in him, how to make it easier for him to succeed.  If you succeed, you’re going to then be hiring a whole bunch of people, and they, in turn, will succeed.  And that’s been the recipe for growth in the 20th century and the 21st century.

And I’m confident that Africa is well on its way.  America just wants to make sure that we’re helpful in that process.  And I know that all the U.S. companies who are here, that’s their goal as well.  We are interested in Africa, because we know that if Africa thrives and succeeds, and if you’ve got a bunch of entrepreneurs, they’re going to need supplies from us maybe, or they may supply us with outstanding products; they’re going to have a growing middle class that wants to buy iPhones or applications from us.  In turn, they may provide us new services and we can be the distributor for something that’s invented in Africa, and all of us grow at the same time.

That’s our goal, and I’m confident that we can make it happen.  And this summit has been a great start.  So I want to thank you for doing a great job moderating.  I want to thank all the leaders here not only of government, but also business for participating.  There’s been great energy, great enthusiasm.  I know a lot of business has gotten done.  If any of you are interested in investing in this young man, let him know.  (Laughter.)

All right, thank you, guys.

4:05 P.M. EDT

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