Full Text Obama Presidency October 1, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon Transcript



Statement by the President on the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

6:22 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  There’s been another mass shooting in America — this time, in a community college in Oregon.

That means there are more American families — moms, dads, children — whose lives have been changed forever.  That means there’s another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relieve their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families or their children.

I’ve been to Roseburg, Oregon.  There are really good people there.  I want to thank all the first responders whose bravery likely saved some lives today.  Federal law enforcement has been on the scene in a supporting role, and we’ve offered to stay and help as much as Roseburg needs, for as long as they need.

In the coming days, we’ll learn about the victims — young men and women who were studying and learning and working hard, their eyes set on the future, their dreams on what they could make of their lives.  And America will wrap everyone who’s grieving with our prayers and our love.

But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough.  It’s not enough.  It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel.  And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America — next week, or a couple of months from now.

We don’t yet know why this individual did what he did.  And it’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be.  But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people.  We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.

Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws — even in the face of repeated mass killings.”  And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana.  That day!  Somehow this has become routine.  The reporting is routine.  My response here at this podium ends up being routine.  The conversation in the aftermath of it.  We’ve become numb to this.

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston.  It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation.  Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out:  We need more guns, they’ll argue.  Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that?  There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country –they know that’s not true.  We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws — including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America.  So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer?  We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths.  So the notion that gun laws don’t work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.

We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings.  Friends of ours, allies of ours — Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours.  So we know there are ways to prevent it.

And, of course, what’s also routine is that somebody, somewhere will comment and say, Obama politicized this issue.  Well, this is something we should politicize.  It is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.  I would ask news organizations — because I won’t put these facts forward — have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.  This won’t be information coming from me; it will be coming from you.  We spend over a trillion dollars, and pass countless laws, and devote entire agencies to preventing terrorist attacks on our soil, and rightfully so.  And yet, we have a Congress that explicitly blocks us from even collecting data on how we could potentially reduce gun deaths.  How can that be?

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America.  We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.  When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer.  When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.  When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities.  We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives.  So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.

So, tonight, as those of us who are lucky enough to hug our kids a little closer are thinking about the families who aren’t so fortunate, I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up.  And that will require a change of politics on this issue.  And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision.  If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.

And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners — who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families — to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it’s speaking for you.

And each time this happens I’m going to bring this up.  Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we’re going to have to change our laws.  And this is not something I can do by myself.  I’ve got to have a Congress and I’ve got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.

I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as President to offer my condolences to families in these circumstances.  But based on my experience as President, I can’t guarantee that.  And that’s terrible to say.  And it can change.

May God bless the memories of those who were killed today.  May He bring comfort to their families, and courage to the injured as they fight their way back.  And may He give us the strength to come together and find the courage to change.

Thank you.

6:35 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts September 25, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Resignation Transcript



President Barack Obama’s Statement on Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Resignation

Source: WH, 9-25-15

On John Boehner, I just heard the news as I was coming out of the meeting here, so it took me by surprise.  And I took the time prior to this press conference to call John directly and talk to him.

John Boehner is a good man.  He is a patriot.  He cares deeply about the House, an institution in which he served for a long time.  He cares about his constituents, and he cares about America.  We have obviously had a lot of disagreements, and politically we’re at different ends of the spectrum.  But I will tell you, he has always conducted himself with courtesy and civility with me.  He has kept his word when he made a commitment.  He is somebody who has been gracious.

And I think maybe most importantly, he’s somebody who understands that in government, in governance, you don’t get 100 percent of what you want, but you have to work with people who you disagree with — sometimes strongly — in order to do the people’s business.

I’m not going to prejudge who the next Speaker will be.  That’s something that will have to be worked through in the House.  And I will certainly reach out immediately to whoever is the new Speaker to see what his or her ideas are, and how we can make progress in the important issues that America faces.

The one thing I will say is that my hope is there’s a recognition on the part of the next Speaker — something I think John understood, even though at times it was challenging to bring his caucus along — that we can have significant differences on issues, but that doesn’t mean you shut down the government.  That doesn’t mean you risk the full faith and credit of the United States.  You don’t invite potential financial crises.  You build roads and pass transportation bills.  And you do the basic work of governance that ensures that our military is operating and that our national parks are open and that our kids are learning.

And there’s no weakness in that.  That’s what government is in our democracy.  You don’t get what you want 100 percent of the time.  And so sometimes you take half a loaf; sometimes you take a quarter loaf.  And that’s certainly something that I’ve learned here in this office.

So I’m looking forward to working with the next Speaker.  In the meantime, John is not going to leave for another 30 days, so hopefully he feels like getting as much stuff done as he possibly can.  And I’ll certainly be looking forward to working with him on that.

Full Text Political Transcripts September 25, 2015: House Speaker John Boehner’s Statement Announcing Resignation Transcript



Statement by House Speaker John Boehner

Source: Speaker Boehner’s Press Office, 9-25-15

WASHINGTON, DC – House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) today issued the following statement:

“My mission every day is to fight for a smaller, less costly, and more accountable government. Over the last five years, our majority has advanced conservative reforms that will help our children and their children. I am proud of what we have accomplished.

“The first job of any Speaker is to protect this institution that we all love. It was my plan to only serve as Speaker until the end of last year, but I stayed on to provide continuity to the Republican Conference and the House. It is my view, however, that prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable damage to the institution. To that end, I will resign the Speakership and my seat in Congress on October 30.

“Today, my heart is full with gratitude for my family, my colleagues, and the people of Ohio’s Eighth District. God bless this great country that has given me – the son of a bar owner from Cincinnati – the chance to serve.”
– See more at: http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/statement-house-speaker-john-boehner#sthash.RpczjQCa.dpuf

Full Text Political Transcripts September 23, 2015: Pope Francis Addresses President Barack Obama And Guests At White House Transcript



Pope Francis Addresses President Obama And Guests At White House (Full Transcript)

Source: Huffington Post, 9-23-15

Mr. President,

I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.

During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles. I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.

Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.

We know by faith that “the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (Laudato Si’, 13). As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.

The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.

Mr. President, once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country. God bless America!

Full Text Political Transcripts September 22, 2015: President Barack Obama and His Holiness Pope Francis’ Remarks at Arrival Ceremony in Washington for US Trip Transcript



Remarks by President Obama and His Holiness Pope Francis at Arrival Ceremony

Source: WH, 9-22-15

South Lawn

9:32 A.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good morning.

AUDIENCE:  Good morning!  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  What a beautiful day the Lord has made.  Holy Father, on behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House.  (Applause.)  I should explain that our backyard is not typically this crowded — (laughter) — but the size and spirit of today’s gathering is just a small reflection of the deep devotion of some 70 million American Catholics.  (Applause.)  It reflects, as well, the way that your message of love and hope has inspired so many people across our nation and around the world.  So on behalf of the American people, it is my great honor and privilege to welcome you to the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Today, we mark many firsts.  Your Holiness, you have been celebrated as the first Pope from the Americas.  (Applause.) This is your first visit to the United States.  (Applause.)  And you are also the first pontiff to share an encyclical through a Twitter account.  (Laughter.)

Holy Father, your visit not only allows us, in some small way, to reciprocate the extraordinary hospitality that you extended to me at the Vatican last year.  It also reveals how much all Americans, from every background and every faith, value the role that the Catholic Church plays in strengthening America.  (Applause.)  From my time working in impoverished neighborhoods with the Catholic Church in Chicago, to my travels as President, I’ve seen firsthand how, every single day, Catholic communities, priests, nuns, laity are feeding the hungry, healing the sick, sheltering the homeless, educating our children, and fortifying the faith that sustains so many.

And what is true in America is true around the world.  From the busy streets of Buenos Aires to the remote villages in Kenya, Catholic organizations serve the poor, minister to prisoners, build schools, build homes, operate orphanages and hospitals.  And just as the Church has stood with those struggling to break the chains of poverty, the Church so often has given voice and hope to those seeking to break the chains of violence and oppression.

And yet, I believe the excitement around your visit, Holy Father, must be attributed not only to your role as Pope, but to your unique qualities as a person.  (Applause.)  In your humility, your embrace of simplicity, in the gentleness of your words and the generosity of your spirit, we see a living example of Jesus’ teachings, a leader whose moral authority comes not just through words but also through deeds.  (Applause.)

You call on all of us, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, to put the “least of these” at the center of our concerns.  You remind us that in the eyes of God our measure as individuals, and our measure as a society, is not determined by wealth or power or station or celebrity, but by how well we hew to Scripture’s call to lift up the poor and the marginalized — (applause) — to stand up for justice and against inequality, and to ensure that every human being is able to live in dignity –- because we are all made in the image of God.  (Applause.)

You remind us that “the Lord’s most powerful message” is mercy.  And that means welcoming the stranger with empathy and a truly open heart –- (applause) — from the refugee who flees war-torn lands to the immigrant who leaves home in search of a better life.  (Applause.)  It means showing compassion and love for the marginalized and the outcast, to those who have suffered, and those who have caused suffering and seek redemption.  You remind us of the costs of war, particularly on the powerless and defenseless, and urge us toward the imperative of peace.  (Applause.)

Holy Father, we are grateful for your invaluable support of our new beginning with the Cuban people — (applause) — which holds out the promise of better relations between our countries, greater cooperation across our hemisphere, and a better life for the Cuban people.  We thank you for your passionate voice against the deadly conflicts that ravage the lives of so many men, women and children, and your call for nations to resist the sirens of war and resolve disputes through diplomacy.

You remind us that people are only truly free when they can practice their faith freely.  (Applause.)  Here in the United States, we cherish religious liberty.  It was the basis for so much of what brought us together.  And here in the United States, we cherish our religious liberty, but around the world, at this very moment, children of God, including Christians, are targeted and even killed because of their faith.  Believers are prevented from gathering at their places of worship.  The faithful are imprisoned, and churches are destroyed.  So we stand with you in defense of religious freedom and interfaith dialogue, knowing that people everywhere must be able to live out their faith free from fear and free from intimidation.  (Applause.)

And, Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet, God’s magnificent gift to us.  (Applause.)  We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to changing climate, and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.  (Applause.)

Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example.  And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency.  All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true, what we know to be right.  But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better.  You shake our conscience from slumber; you call on us to rejoice in Good News, and give us confidence that we can come together in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free.  Here at home and around the world, may our generation heed your call to “never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope.”

For that great gift of hope, Holy Father, we thank you, and welcome you, with joy and gratitude, to the United States of America.  (Applause.)


AUDIENCE:  Good morning!

HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS:  Mr. President, I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of the all Americans.  As a son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.  (Applause.)

I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue in which I hope to listen to and share many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.  During my visit, I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles.  I will also travel to Philadelphia for the eighth World Meeting of Families to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this critical moment in the history of our civilization.  (Applause.)

Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination.  (Applause.)  With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and the right to religious liberty.  (Applause.)  That freedom reminds one of America’s most precious possessions.  And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.  (Applause.)

Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution.  (Applause.)  Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation.  (Applause.)  When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.  We still have time to make the change needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.  (Applause.)

Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.  Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded, which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities, our societies.  To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note, and now is the time to honor it.  (Applause.)
We know by faith that the Creator does not abandon us; He never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home.  As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.

Mr. President, the efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom.

I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development — (applause) — so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.

Mr. President, once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

9:53 A.M. EDT

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 September 16, 2015: President Barack Obama’s remarks to the business roundtable urging against a government shutdown transcript



Remarks by the President to the Business Roundtable

Source: WH, 9-16-15

Business Roundtable Headquarters
Washington, D.C.

11:24 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Randall, and thank you to everybody here at the Business Roundtable for having me today.  I’m just going to say a few words and then hopefully spend a lot of time taking your questions.

Seven years ago today was one of the worst days in the history of our economy.  If you picked up the Wall Street Journal that morning, you read that the shocks from AIG and Lehman were spreading worldwide.  The day before, stocks had suffered their worst loss since 9/11.  In the months after, businesses would go bankrupt, millions of Americans would lose their jobs and their homes, and our economy would reach the brink of collapse.

That’s where we were when I became chief executive.  Here’s where we are today:  Businesses like yours have created more than 13 million new jobs over the past 66 months -– the longest streak of job growth on record.  The unemployment rate is lower than it’s been in over seven years.  There are more job openings right now than at any time in our history.  Housing has bounced back.  Household wealth is higher than it was before the recession.  We have made enormous strides in both traditional energy sources and clean energy sources while reducing our carbon emissions.  And our education system is actually making significant progress with significant gains in reducing the dropout rate, reading scores increasing, math scores increasing.  And, by the way, more than 16 million people have health insurance that didn’t have it before.

So this progress is a testament to American business and innovation.  It’s a testament to the workers that you employ.  But I’m going to take a little credit, too.  It’s a testament to some good policy decisions.  Soon after we took office, we passed the Recovery Act, rescued our auto industry, worked to rebuild our economy on a stronger foundation for growth.  Other countries in some cases embraced austerity as an ideology without looking at the data and the facts, tried to cut their way out of recession.  The results speak for themselves.  America has come back from crisis faster than almost every other advanced nation on Earth.  And at a time of significant global volatility, we remain the world’s safest, smartest investment.

Of course, I will not be satisfied — and we as a country shouldn’t be satisfied — until more working families are feeling the recovery in their own lives.  But the fact is that what I’ve called middle-class economics has been good for business.  Corporate profits have hit an all-time high.  Slowing health care prices and plummeting energy costs have helped your bottom lines.  Manufacturing is growing at the fastest clip in about two decades.  Our workforce is more educated than ever before.  The stock market has more than doubled since 2009, and 2015 is on pace to be the year with the highest consumer confidence since 2004.  And America’s technological entrepreneurs have continued to make incredible products that are changing our lives rapidly.
Now, you wouldn’t know any of this if you were listening to the folks who are seeking this office that I occupy.  (Laughter.)  In the echo chamber that is presidential politics, everything is dark and everything is terrible.  They don’t seem to offer many solutions for the disasters that they perceive -– but they’re quick to tell you who to blame.

I’m here to say that there’s nothing particularly patriotic or American about talking down America, especially when we stand as one of the few sources of economic strength in the world.

Right now, we’ve got the chance to build on progress that we have made and that is acknowledged worldwide.  We have a chance to grow the economy even faster, create jobs even faster, lift people’s incomes and prospects even faster.  We just have to make some sensible choices.  And I’m going to focus on one particular example.  America’s next fiscal year is almost upon us, which means that Congress has about two weeks to pass a budget.  If they don’t, they will shut down America’s government for the second time in two years.

Democrats are ready to sit down and negotiate with Republicans right now, today, as we speak.  But it should be over legitimate questions of spending and revenue –- not unrelated ideological issues.  You’ll recall that two years ago Republicans shut down the government because they didn’t like Obamacare.  Today, some are suggesting the government should be shut down because they don’t like Planned Parenthood.  That’s not good sense and it’s not good business.  The notion that we’d play chicken with an $18 trillion economy and global markets that are already skittish all because of an issue around a women’s health provider that receives less than 20 cents out of every thousand dollars in the federal budget, that’s not good policymaking.

The last time Republicans shut down the government, it cost our economy billions of dollars; consumer confidence plummeted.  I don’t think anybody here thinks that’s going to be good for your business.

I’ve always believed what our first Republican President, a guy from my home state named Abraham Lincoln, believed –- that through government we should do together those things that we can’t do as well by ourselves.  Funding infrastructure projects.  Educating the best workforce in the world.  Investing in cutting-edge research and development so that businesses can take that research and take some risks to create new products and new services.  Setting basic rules for the marketplace that encourage innovation and fair competition that help a market-based economy thrive.  Creating a safety net that not only helps the most vulnerable in our society but also frees all of us to take risks and protect against life’s uncertainties.  And welcoming, rather than disparaging, the striving immigrants that have always been the source of continued renewal, economic vibrancy and dynamism in our economy.

So my hope is that Congress aims a little higher than just not shutting the government down.  That’s a good start, we’d like them to achieve that, but I think we can do better.  We can actually do some things to help the economy grow.  After the last shutdown, both parties came together and unwound some of the irrational cuts to our economy and military readiness that’s known as sequester.  That agreement expires in two weeks as well.  And for those of you who are not steeped in federal budget terminology, sequester basically are automatic topline cuts that don’t discriminate, don’t think through what are good investments and what is waste.  And if we don’t reverse the cuts that are currently in place, a lot of the drivers of growth that your companies depends on — research, job training, infrastructure, education for our workforce — they are going to be reduced effectively at a time when other countries around the world are racing to get ahead of us.  On the other hand, if Congress does reverse dome of these cuts, then our own budget office estimates it would add about half a million jobs to our economy next year alone, about 0.4 percent to GDP.

And keep in mind that we can afford it right now — all the things I said at the front in terms of the recovery that we’ve made.  We’ve also reduced the deficit by two-thirds.  Right now it’s about 2.8 percent of GDP.  We’ve reduced our deficit faster than some of those countries that pursued strict austerity policies and weren’t thinking about how to grow the economy.

And so we are well positioned without adding to the deficit.  I want to repeat — since I took office, we’ve cut the deficit by more than two-thirds.  And the good news is we might actually be moving beyond some of the stale debates we’ve been having about spending and revenue over the past several years if what economists and people who are knowledgeable about the federal budget are listened to as opposed by this being driven by short-term politics.

People in both parties, including some of the leading Republican candidates for President, have been putting out proposals.  Some I agree with, some I don’t.  I’ll give you one example, though.  You’ve got two leading candidates on the Republican side who have said that we should eliminate the carried interest loophole.  Now, there’s disagreement in this room around that.  But I will tell you that keeping this tax loophole, which leads to folks who are doing very well paying lower rates than their secretaries, is not in any demonstrable way improving our economy.

On the other hand, if we close the tax loophole, we could double the number of workers in America’s job training programs.  We could help another 4 million students afford college.  These are sensible choices that if you were running your business and you took a look at it, you’d make that decision.  Well, America should too.

And this is an example of how we can maintain fiscal responsibility while at the same time making the investments that we need to grow.

So the bottom line is this:  Seven years ago, if we had listened to some politicians who said we could only cut our way to prosperity, the fact is we’d be worse off today.  If we listen to them now, then we’re going to be worse off tomorrow.

I hope that you will talk to your friends in Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike.  As Congress flirts with another shutdown, remind them of what is at stake.  We will have some disagreements sometimes.  I do not expect to get 100 percent of what I want in any conversation, including with my wife.  But I do expect us to stay focused on why we’re here, which is to help the American people and businesses like yours and your workers do better.  That’s our job.  We’re not supposed to be impeding progress.  We’re supposed to be advancing progress, accelerating it.

And if our leaders can put common sense over ideology and the good of the country before the good of the party, then we’ll do just fine.  Despite the perennial doom and gloom that I guess is inevitably part of a presidential campaign, America is winning right now.  America is great right now.  We can do even better.  But the reason that I’m so confident about our future is not because of our government or the size of our GDP or our military, but because everybody in this country that I meet — regardless of their station in life, their race, their religion, the region they live in — they do believe in a common creed that if people work hard in this country, they should be able to get ahead.  And I know that’s what you believe.  That’s the values that you try to instill in our companies, as well.  My hope is, is that that decency, that hard work, that common sense is going to be reflected here in Washington.

So with that, let me take some questions.  And I’m going to start with Randall, because since he volunteered for what I’m sure is a thankless job of being head of the — (laughter).

Q    I’ll get it going here.  I know there are a lot of other questions for you.  But Leader McConnell was just here a little earlier, and he gave us all a cause to exhale, talking about the budget and seemed confident that we would get a place where we would have a budget.  And in the context of that he spoke about how split government can actually provide opportunities for getting big things done that might be hard to get done otherwise.  And he caused a head-snapper with all of us when he gave you a very strong compliment over —

THE PRESIDENT:  My head is snapping.  (Laughter.)  What did I do?

Q    Trade Promotion Authority, and how you worked that and you worked it very aggressively.  And, by the way, all of us in here — Mike Froman, I don’t know if he’s here, and Jeff Zients are very complimentary of the work that was done there.

So now you have the authority to get a trade deal done.  It’s going to have to come back to Congress, and so forth.  Talk to us a little bit about your view of the opportunity to get the Trans-Pacific deal done.

THE PRESIDENT:  I am confident that we can get it done, and I believe we can get it done this year.  The trade ministers should be meeting again sometime in the next several weeks.  They have the opportunity to close the deal.  Most chapters have been completed at this point.  And I’m confident that it will, in fact, accomplish our central goal, which is to make sure that we’ve got a level playing field for American businesses and American workers in the fastest-growing region of the world.

There are going to be unprecedented protections for labor standards and environmental standards, but also for IP protection, also for making sure that when any company here makes an investment, that they’re not being disadvantaged but are instead being treated like domestic companies for commercial purposes.

And so the notion here is, is that we’ve got 11 nations who represent the fastest-growing, most populous part of the world buying into a high-standards trade deal that allows us and your companies on a consistent basis to compete.  And the good news is, is that with a lot of tough negotiating and a lot of pushing and pulling — mainly by Mr. Froman, but occasionally I get called in to lob a call into one of my counterparts — I think that we’re going to get this done.

Now, the key then, once we close the negotiations and we have an agreement, is to get TPP through Congress.  We got it through.  I will return the compliment of Mitch McConnell worked very hard and very creatively to get it done.  We should not assume, though, that because the authority was done, that we automatically are going to be able to get TPP done.

And I’ll be honest with you, the reason is that the politics around trade are tough.  And I said this even in the run-up to getting TPA authority.  A lot of Americans, when they think of trade, think of plants in their hometown or nearby shutting down and moving to Mexico or China, and American manufacturing and good-paying jobs being lost.  That’s the image of trade.

And the argument that I have made consistently to Democrats has been that there may have been some mistakes made in past trade agreements in not, for example, having enforceable labor and environmental provisions that put American companies that are doing the right thing at a disadvantage; that there weren’t enough safeguards for intellectual property and the abuses of state-owned enterprises and subsidies that companies may have been involved with.

But that’s the status quo now.  And if you want to correct those things, we’ve got to raise the bar.  I didn’t fully persuade all my Democratic colleagues, because the politics are tough.  And I was willing to take my case to the Democratic caucus and to talk to my friends in organized labor and say that we can’t look backwards, we’ve got to look forward.  We’re going to have to compete in these areas.

Here’s the concern politically, is that I think within the Republican Party some of the same impulses that are anti-immigration reform, some of the same impulses that see the entire world as a threat and we’ve got to wall ourselves off, some of those same impulses also start creeping into the trade debate.  And a party that traditionally was pro free trade now has a substantial element that may feel differently.

And so the BRT, I think — you know, you got to put Engler to work over there.  To their credit, both Mitch McConnell and John Boehner I think are on the right program here, but they’re going to need some help potentially with their membership, because the closer we get to political season, the tighter some of these votes get.  I will tell you this, though:  I am confident that if I’m presenting an agreement to Congress, that it will meet the commitment that I made that this would be the highest standard, most progressive trade deal in American history.  It will be good for American business and American workers.

Q    Hi, Mr. President.  Thank you for being with us.  I wanted to ask you about cybersecurity.  You put an executive order in place earlier this week because of the issues we have with information-sharing and with liabilities.  And we at the BRT are very supportive of the legislation that has passed the House and is now in progress in the Senate.  And I wanted to just get your thoughts on how you’re thinking about this, and also with the upcoming visit of the President of China about cybersecurity and our relationship with China.

THE PRESIDENT:  This is an issue that is not going away.  It is going to be more and more important, and it is going to be very challenging.  It’s challenging in part because the Internet itself, the architecture of it was not intended to carry trillions of dollars of transactions and everybody’s personal information.  It was designed for a couple of professors to trade academic papers.  And so the kind of security that we were looking for was not embedded into the DNA of the Internet.

And the vulnerabilities are significant and they are being exploited by not just state actors, but also non-state actors and criminal gangs at an accelerating pace.  So this is something that from a national security perspective and from a business perspective we’re going to have to continue to concentrate on.

One of the big issues that you mentioned, Maggie, that we’re focused on, is this encryption issue.  And there is a legitimate tension around this issue.  On the one hand, the stronger the encryption, the better we can potentially protect our data.  And so there’s an argument that says we want to turbocharge our encryption so that nobody can crack it.  On the other hand, if you have encryption that doesn’t have any way to get in there, we are now empowering ISIL, child pornographers, others to essentially be able to operate within a black box in ways that we’ve never experienced before during the telecommunications age.  And I’m not talking, by the way, about some of the controversies around NSA; I’m talking about the traditional FBI going to a judge, getting a warrant, showing probable cause, but still can’t get in.

So we’ve created a process around which to see if we can square the circle here and reconcile the need for greater and greater encryption and the legitimate needs of national security and law enforcement.

And I won’t say that we’ve cracked the code yet, but we’ve got some of the smartest folks not just in government but also in the private sector working together to try to resolve it.  And what’s interesting is even in the private sector, even in the tech community, people are on different sides of this thing.

With respect to China, this will probably be one of the biggest topics that I discuss with President Xi.  We have repeatedly said to the Chinese government that we understand traditional intelligence-gathering functions that all states, including us, engage in.  And we will do everything we can to stop you from getting state secrets or transcripts of a meeting that I’ve had, but we understand you’re going to be trying to do that.  That is fundamentally different from your government or its proxies engaging directly in industrial espionage and stealing trade secrets, stealing proprietary information from companies.  That we consider an act of aggression that has to stop.

And we are preparing a number of measures that will indicate to the Chinese that this is not just a matter of us being mildly upset, but is something that will put significant strains on the bilateral relationship if not resolved, and that we are prepared to some countervailing actions in order to get their attention.

My hope is, is that it gets resolved short of that, and ultimately the goal should be to have some basic international framework that won’t be perfect because there’s still going to be a lot of non-state actors and hackers who are very good, and we’re still going to have to have good defense and still have to be able to find the fingerprints of those and apprehend them, and stop networks that are engaged in cybercrime.

But among states, there has to be a framework that is analogous to what we’ve done with nuclear power because nobody stands to gain.  And, frankly, although the Chinese and Russians are close, we’re still the best at this.  And if we wanted to go on offense, a whole bunch of countries would have some significant problems.  And we don’t want to see the Internet weaponized in that way.  That requires I think some tough negotiations.  That won’t be a one-year process, but we’d like to see if we can — if we and the Chinese are able to coalesce around a process for negotiations, then I think we can bring a lot of other countries along.

Q    And we will work with you on that too.


Q    Thank you.


Q    Thank you for being here.  It’s also good to be reminded occasionally of some of the progress that we’ve made in like a complete sentence.  So I think thank you for that, as well.  And some recent ones — TPA is good; even the Iran deal, really good.  Health care standing up.  All good.  The place that we haven’t made a lot of progress but that’s really important for business and business progress is on tax and tax reform.

And what we’re getting to now is I think almost kind of like being backed in the corner.  So since you can’t get a grand deal, we’re starting to talk about sub-deals.  And the sub-deals in and of themselves are destructive, in the Business Roundtable’s view, to the grand deal, which is total tax reform or comprehensive tax reform.  So can you help us think about how we should negotiate this duality that we’re in right now?  And where do you think we’re going to end up?

THE PRESIDENT:  We put forward a proposal early on that I’m confident I could sell to this group.  Not everybody would be thrilled but I think I could argue that over time would be good for business, because essentially what we proposed was the traditional framework for tax reform:  close loopholes, lower rates.  We’d address international taxation in ways that currently put American businesses at a disadvantage and would allow for a repatriation, but would not simply empty out the Treasury and would generate enough revenue that we could actually also pay for some infrastructure.

And our hope was that we’d get some nibbles on the other side.  To his credit, Paul Ryan expressed real interest in discussions and negotiations.  But your previous speaker, Mitch McConnell, has said that he is not interested in getting tax reform — comprehensive tax reform of that sort done.

So there’s still work being done.  We’re still in conversations with Mr. Ryan.  And I know that Senator Schumer and others have still been working on the possibilities of a fairly robust package.  But ultimately you’re going to have to have the leader of the Senate majority party bought in to try to get this done.

I understand why tax reform is elusive — because those of us who believe in a simpler, fairer, more competitive tax framework in the abstract sometimes look at our bottom lines and say, I don’t know, that deduction is helping us pretty good here.  And even if this organization has been supportive, there are other business organizations in town that have some pretty strong influence over the Republican Party that haven’t been as wild on it, partly because their view is, is that the only kind of tax reform that’s acceptable is one that would also lower all rates, regardless of its effect on the deficit.  That’s just not something that is viable.

So we’re going to keep on working on it.  My suggestion would be that the BRT continue to encourage Speaker Boehner, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell to come up with an ambitious package.  And what I can assure you is, is that the White House will take it seriously.  We don’t expect that everything in our original package would go forward.

But the one thing that we couldn’t do — and I get concerned sometimes that what is labeled as tax reform ends up just being cuts, you’re not closing the loopholes, and as a consequence it’s a huge drain on the Treasury.  We then suddenly are accused of running up the deficit to help your tax rates, and we’re not doing enough to help grow the economy and help ordinary workers.  So that’s the one direction we can’t go in.

Yes, Tom.

Q    Thank you for being here.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on energy policy.  I know we talk a lot about all of the above, but I think what’s really changing kind of in an unprecedented way here recently are technology revolutions that are occurring either in the production of energy, or perhaps, more importantly, in the use of energy, that gives Americans I think a way to play offense in what has been a set of unprecedented challenges.  What’s your thoughts on that?

THE PRESIDENT:  Tom, I think you described it well.  I am much more optimistic about our ability to get a handle around energy that is good for our economy, good for business, good for consumers, good for job creation, and maybe saves the planet in the process.  I’m much more optimistic about that now than I was when I started as President.

And a good example is just when you look at what’s happened with solar.  I mean, we’re not quite at Moore’s law yet, but the pace at which the unit costs for solar energy have gone down is stunning.  We’ve seen not quite the same pace, but similar progress around wind.  Our natural gas production is unprecedented.  And I have been very supportive of our natural gas production as being not only important to our economy but also geopolitically.  It’s a huge recipe for energy independence as long as we get it — the methane discharge issues — right.  And I think there are ways of doing that with sound science.  So that’s on the production side.

And, as you said, on the utilization side, all of you are — there’s not a company here that is not producing significantly more product with less energy than you were just 10 years ago, and certainly than you were 20 years ago.  Everybody here has seen the power of tracking utilization, identifying waste, and timing issues around when is energy expensive, when is energy cheap.  So there’s enormous progress on the commercial side.  And then individual households now with things like Nest or the equivalence, we’re able to fine-tune our energy usage in ways that we just haven’t seen before.

And then you’ve got the whole transportation sector in which we’ve continued to make significant progress in Detroit as well as upstarts like Tesla.  There are still some distribution network issues around the transportation revolution, although companies like UPS are doing a great job I think already experimenting with their fleets.  So that’s all good news.

I would say that the big challenge now, if we’re going to realize all the potential here, is to work with utilities so that they have a business model in which they’re making money while seeing this change in distribution patterns and grid, because I think that there’s still some legitimate economic issues there that have to be sorted through.  And it’s tricky because it’s a patchwork system; we don’t have one national grid, obviously.

The second thing is, investment in basic research needs to continue.  Battery technology is greatly improved, but we still haven’t seen all the breakthroughs that I think that we can make with battery technology that would make a huge difference in storage.  And that’s an exciting area for development.

And then I would urge the BRT and some of you individually, as companies have already done this, view the issue of climate change and the Paris Conference that’s going to be coming up at the end of this year as an opportunity rather than as a problem.  Because this is coming; it’s coming generationally.  If you talk to your kids or my kids, they are much more attuned to this issue.  Consumers are going to be caring about it more and more.  The environmental effects that we’re seeing — I’m going to be calling Jerry Brown later today just to talk about California wildfires.  Some of you may have read the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada — lowest it’s been in 200 years.  The flooding problems that we’re already seeing in places like South Florida; it’s just during high tide.  Suddenly billions of dollars of property is under water.

So this is coming.  And for us to be out ahead of it and to think about how our ingenuity and our science can solve these problems is going to give us a jump on everybody else.  So there is a pledge that some members of the BRT have organized around supporting a strong Paris agreement.  I would encourage you to sign up on that and look for opportunities on this.  And that includes companies that have been in the traditional fossil fuel area.  Because if you know how to do oil and gas well, you can figure out how to do solar well, you can figure out to make money doing it.  You can figure out how to create efficiencies that help your bottom line.

And what we’ve tried to do with the Clean Power Plan is to give states flexibility, understanding everybody has got a different energy mix.  So, down south, we approved the first nuclear plant in a generation, basically, because we think nuclear needs to be part of that package.  I’m a big believer that there are going to be different ways to skin the cat on this thing.  We just have to set a baseline in which all of us understand the direction we need to go.  Instead of us spending a lot of time fighting science, let’s go with science.  We usually do better when we’re on the side of facts and evidence and science.  Just as a general rule, that’s proved to be our strength as Americans.


Q    If I could just turn back to China for a second.  There are a lot of issues we’ve got to sort out, and you mentioned a couple of them — cybersecurity, their feelings about TPP, their own economy.  Their inward turn in the name of creating a consumer economy has had some protectionist elements that we don’t like.  I think, though — I think many in this room would like to see some kind of positive outcome from this summit, as well, that underlines our mutual benefit if we can figure out some of these things and find a way for the world’s two biggest economies to see a path forward as well as all the issues we’ve got.

Do you have a comment on the tone you’re going to try to set with the President, and roles that we could play in supporting both the — managing our relationship as well as finding a future for it?

THE PRESIDENT:  My tone with respect to China has been pretty consistent.  It doesn’t jump up and down depending on where the polls are.  My view is that China should be and will continue to be an economic competitor; that we need to make sure that we are reaching an understanding with them about our presence as a Pacific power, but that it is in our interest for China to continue what has been dubbed a “peaceful, orderly rise.”  I think that’s good for the world.

China is a big place with a lot of people.  And we’re better off if those people are eating and have shelter and are buying consumer goods, rather than starving and writhing on the streets.
And so what I’ve consistently communicated, first to President Hu when I came into office, now President Xi, is our goal is to have them as a partner in helping to maintain a set of international rules and norms that benefit everybody; that in fact, we’re what facilitated China’s rise.  They were essentially riding on our backs for the last 30 years because we were underwriting peace, security, the free flow of commerce, international rules in the financial sector.

And as they have matured, what we’ve said to them is, with power comes responsibility, so now you’ve got to step up.  You can’t act as if you are a third-world country and pursue protectionist policies, or engage in dumping, or not protect intellectual property at a time when we’re now — when you’re now the second and, eventually, probably the first-largest economy in the world.

You can’t simply pursue an export-driven strategy, because you’re too big.  You’re not going to be able to grow your economy at the same pace over the next 20 years that you did in the last 20 years.  Once your economy reaches a certain size, there’s not enough global market to absorb that, which means that you’ve got to start thinking about transparency within your own economy, and how are you setting up a safety net so that workers have some cushion, and in turn, are willing to spend money as opposed to stuffing it in a mattress.

You’ve got to be concerned about environmental issues, because you can’t breathe in Beijing.  And that spills over for all of us.  And as a large country with a powerful military, you can’t go around pushing your little neighbors around just because you’re bigger, but you have to start abiding by a basic code of conduct and a set of rules, because ultimately, you will be advantaged by everybody following the rules.

And I think in some areas, the Chinese understand this; I think in other areas, they don’t.  I think in other areas, they still see themselves as the poor country that shouldn’t have any obligations internationally.  And in some cases, they still feel that when we call them on issues like their behavior in the South China Sea, or on intellectual property theft, that we are trying to contain them as opposed to us just wanting them to abide by the same rules that helped create an environment in which they can rise.

The good news is that our fates are sufficiently intertwined, that — and in many ways, they still need us a lot more than we need them; that I think that there are going to be continuing areas in which they move, as long as we don’t resort to the kind of loose talk and name-calling that I notice some of our presidential candidates engage in — people you know.  (Laughter.)  It tends not to be constructive.

So bottom line, though, is, Jim, I think this summit will be useful.  I think there are going to be a lot of outcomes around things like energy and climate change, around improvements in how they deal with investors that will show constructive progress.  I think our military-to-military conversations have been much better than they were when I began office.

The one thing I would suggest that the BRT can do — two things.  Number one — and I think I’ve said this to some of you in the past — when your companies have a problem in China and you want us to help, you have to let us help.  Don’t tell us on the side, we’ve got this problem, you need to look into it, but then — but leave our names out of it because we want to be punished kind of thing.

Typically, we are not effective with the Chinese unless we are able to present facts and evidence of a problem.  Otherwise, they’ll just stonewall and slow-walk issues.  So if we’re seeing problems in terms of the competitive environment there, in terms of protecting your IP, in terms of unfair competition that runs afoul of understanding the principles that have already been established, you’ve got to let us know and let us be your advocates.  That’s important.

The second thing I think everybody here should do is not fall into the same trap that we fell into around Japan in the 1980s, which is somehow China is taking over just like Japan was taking over, and we’re in inevitable decline.  This whole argument — I’m just going to go on a quick rant here for a second — (laughter) — this whole notion that somehow we’re getting out-competed, out-dealt, out-this, out-that, we’re losing, we’re in — nobody outside the United States understands what we’re talking about.  (Laughter.)

I mean we’ve got problems.  We’ve got issues.  Our biggest problem is gridlock in Washington and that’s just not making some sensible policies.  But overall, our cards are so much better than everybody else’s.  Our pool of quality businesses and talent, and our institutions, and our rule of law, and how we manage and adapt to new and changing circumstances, and our dominance in knowledge-based industries — nobody matches us.  And we attract — the best talent around the world still wants to come here if we’d just let them come.

So I think it’s important for business voices to point out every once in a while America is in the driver’s seat if we make some smart decisions.   And that’s not a partisan comment, that is just the facts.  There is not a country out there, including China, that wouldn’t look at us with envy right now.

And so our problem is not that China is going to out-negotiate us, or that Mr. Putin is sort of out-strategizing us.  Anybody taken a look at the Russian economy lately?  That’s not our problem.  Our problem is us, typically.  We engage in — and I’m being generous when I say “we,” — (laughter) — but we engage in self-inflicted wounds like this potential government shutdown.  It’s unnecessary.

I’ve got time for a couple more questions.  Good to see you.  How you doing?  How you doing, Ed?  How is everybody back home?

Q    Very good.


Q    Along that, in that same vein, looking earlier this summer, the expiration of the Ex-Im Bank authorization.

THE PRESIDENT:  Speaking of self-inflicted wounds.

Q    Understand.  And part of the ongoing discussion, debate here in Washington, the Senate has attached a reauthorization, as you know, to the transportation bill, which is now down at the House.  And on Monday the Roundtable sent a letter to the leadership on both sides in Congress pointing out really the benefits of reauthorization, that some of those get lost in this debate.  Because really, it’s been characterized as only benefitting a few companies, which ignores the thousands of people who are basically employed by our suppliers across the country, and the impact — positive impact that has, as well as it’s a net generator revenue for the governor — for the government.  And we have plans to have further discussions later today and this week with leadership in the House.

Do you have any — we had a good discussion with your team this morning.  Do you have any insights that you could share with us that would help us in getting that reauthorization?

THE PRESIDENT:  It is mind-boggling that this wasn’t reauthorized a year ago.  And it is this weird reversal in which the principle opponents are the tea party caucus in the Republican Party.

Somehow, Ex-Im Bank has become this cause célèbre of what some of the presidential candidates called “crony capitalism.”  And what’s ironic is obvious — I think some of you know the backstory.  There was I think a member of this organization that kind of started this whole thing because they were upset about some planes being sold to a competitor on a route, and suddenly this caught fire in the right wing Internet.  And it’s just hard to explain.

Look, Ed, I had a group of small businesses, ranging from, what, four people to a couple of hundred people, talking about how they use Ex-Im.  This is the only way that they can get into these markets.  And as you said, Ex-Im doesn’t cost the government.  This is not a money loser for us.  And I don’t have to tell Emil (ph) or Jim how important it is.  I keep on telling them I expect a gold watch from them because it seems like every time I take a foreign trip I’ve got to sell some turbine or plane.  (Laughter.)

And I was concerned about Jeff’s announcement that jobs that were here in the United States are now going to be overseas because we don’t get this done.  But that’s true for the supply chain; it’s also true for some smaller companies that use Ex-Im directly.  It’s not just that they’re part of the GE or Boeing supply chain, it’s that they’re selling tea to a country and this is the only mechanism they have to be able to make those sales.

The good news is McConnell and Boehner both say they want to get it done.  As you said, we’ve already shown there are sufficient votes for it in the Senate, and we actually think there are sufficient votes for it in the House.  I would concentrate your attention on House Republican caucus members.  And I think you have to flood the zone and let them know this is important.  And that includes, by the way, talking to individual members who, in their districts, potentially have companies that are being adversely affected as long as Ex-Im is frozen.

But my expectation is it gets done during the course of these budget negotiations.  And we’re going to push as hard as we can to get it, though.

Q    Mr. President, thank you for being here today.  One of the issues that we deal with and we talked about last time you were here was regulations.  And one of the areas that the Business Roundtable is very focused on these days is the ozone rule, which October 1, your administration will be coming out with a recommendation associated with that.

The Business Roundtable position is that we need to maintain the 75 parts-per-billion.  To lower that standard when technology doesn’t exist and when communities are already advancing toward the 75 goal — if you lower it to 70, it’s going to introduce another 200 counties in this country into non-attainment, which basically is a “we’re not open for business.”  And that’s our concern.  Do you have any thoughts on that, or what the administration’s plans are in that regard?

THE PRESIDENT:  There’s a lot of complicated technical issues involved in this, but I’ll try to simplify it as much as possible.

Number one, we’re under a court order to do this.  So I think there may be a misperception that the EPA can do whatever it wants here.  There were lawsuits brought under the previous administration that continued into my administration.  We went before a judge.  We actually, I think properly, got some additional time, because there was the notion that we were going to lower standards a few years ago, and then immediately get new data and force everybody to lower them all over again.  And we said, let’s just do this one time in a sensible way so that people can plan.

But we’ve got some legal constraints.  This is not something that just popped out of my head full blown.  And so I always enjoy seeing the advertising for “Obama’s ozone plan.”  The ozone rules date back to when I was I think still in law school, before I had any gray hair.  And there are some fairly stringent statutory guidelines by which the EPA is supposed to evaluate the standards.  So the EPA is following the science and the statutes as best as it can.

We are mindful that in some cases, because of the nature of where pollutants are generated, where they blow, that this can create a really complicated situation for certain local jurisdictions and local communities, and some states and counties end up being hit worse than others.  And we’re trying to work with those states and those communities as best we can taking in their concerns into account.

So I guess the bottom line is this is — you can legitimately go after me on the clean power plant rule because we — that was hatched by us, and I believe that we need to deal with climate change and — so we can have a lengthy debate about that.

And on ozone, this is an existing statute and an existing mechanism, and we are charged with implementing it based on the science that’s presented to us.  And that’s what we’re trying to do, but we’re taking this input into account.  I recognize some of the concerns.

I will say this — last point I’ll make on this.  Even with the costs associated with implementing the ozone rule, when you do a cost-benefit, the amount of lives saved, asthma averted and so forth is still substantially higher than the costs.  Now, that doesn’t necessarily resolve all the concerns that people may have about local costs being borne, whereas the savings are spread out more broadly.  And those are legitimate economic issues that have to be considered.  And the EPA has been listening to I think every stakeholder there.

But I think what you’ll see in the analysis overall is — we don’t issue a regulation where the costs are not lower than the benefits.  And if you look at the regulations we’ve generally put forward, the costs are substantially lower than the benefits that are generated.


Q    Yes, thank you, Mr. President.  Many of us are interested in Cuba.  And the opening there has been positive.  There is a lot of issues to get to full normal relations.  Just how do you see that path happening?  And what’s the future of that in your opinion?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t think it’s going to be an overnight transformation, but I am convinced that by re-engaging Cuba, re-engaging the Cuban people, that we are creating the environment in which a generational change and transition will take place in that country.  And already you’re seeing conversations taking place about how is Cuba going to accommodate an influx of tourists, and how do they think about the Internet and open communications in order to be able to participate in the modern economy?

And that inevitably then leads to questions about can you hire — can a company hire a Cuban directly, a foreign investor, as opposed to going through the government?  And over time, that creates space for personal freedom and I think a long-term political transition.

For now, what we’ve said is that we will step by step look for areas and opportunities within our authorities.  As long as Congress still has the embargo in place, there are certain things we can’t do.  But there are certain things we can do, for example, on telecommunications, and we’re looking for opportunities there.

And we will also continue to press the Cuban government around issues of political freedom.  And when His Holiness the Pope comes, he’s going to be visiting Cuba.  That I think is going to be an opportunity for more interesting conversations inside of Cuba.

My biggest suggestion would be for the BRT just to start having a conversation on a bipartisan basis about lifting the embargo.  It doesn’t necessarily have to happen — or even should happen all in one fell swoop.  But I think if you look at the economic opportunities that are presented, they’re significant.  And it doesn’t make much sense that a country 90 miles off the shore of Florida that is not at this point a significant threat to us, and that has shown itself willing to at least look beyond its borders for the first time — even if it’s still scared of what it might bring — it doesn’t make sense for us to keep sticking to the old ways of doing business.

I’ll actually take one more question, and then I’ll come around and say hi to everybody.  So anybody else?  Yes, go ahead.

Q    Mr. President, again, thank you.  And I know a topic near to your heart has been education for young folks, and you’ve spent a lot of time on this.  And many of us have done things private-public partnerships.  And you recently made a comment about computer science for all high school kids, which I think is an important point, because technology is such a broad topic.  It will infiltrate all jobs in the future.

So maybe a chance to make some comments about how you envision something like that actually taking root over the long term that we could make some progress with it — on scale.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I want to commend Ginni and IBM because you guys have done some terrific work.  Anybody who wants some inspiration, go to the high school that IBM is participating in in Brooklyn where kids — a collaboration between the public school system, the city colleges of New York, the CUNY system and IBM.

And you’ve got kids from — most of them, parents never went to college.  A lot of them immigrant kids.  And they are marching through STEM education, pre-engineering education.  They’re getting essentially college credits by the time they’re sophomore or juniors in high school.  They’re able to save money because in five years in high school, they come out with an associate’s degree.  They then either are transferring to a four-year university with those credits, or they’re starting to work with IBM because they’ve been apprenticing and the curriculum design has given them confidence that if they do well, they’re going to be able to get a job.

That model is something that we’re actually looking to try to duplicate all across the country.  And the good news, as I mentioned at the top, is because of the strong work that Arne Duncan has done, the strong work that a lot of governors and local communities have done to increase accountability, creativity, have high expectations for kids, bust through some of the old bureaucratic obstacles.

We are seeing highest reading scores, highest math scores, highest graduation rates.  And part of our goal here is to improve STEM education generally.  A critical element of that is understanding this computer age that these kids are immersed.  And I don’t want them just to know how to use their phone to play video games; I want them to know how that phone works, and potentially code it and program it.

And what’s remarkable — I’m about the age where — I think my high school just had, like, the first coding class when I was maybe in seventh or eighth grade.  But this is what — you had, like, those cards, and it was — and the punch cards.  And now, the way these — the tools and resources that are available for kids starting in first, second grade — we have these science fairs and these little Girl Scout troops come in and they’ve coded, they’ve designed their own games, and — or simulations of entire towns with people and all kinds of scenarios that they’ve figured out.

And so it’s actually something that they naturally gravitate to.  We just have to start early.  It’s almost like a foreign language, where rather than try to catch kids when they’re in tenth, eleventh, twelfth grade, they get part of the broader curriculum and incorporate it into how you’re teaching math and how you’re teaching science and how you’re teaching social studies.  That seems to be the way in which kids get most engaged.

So we’re doing a lot of work with many of you individually as companies on this STEM education issue.  We hope that you will continue to participate.  You’ve been great partners on that front.

I’ll just say in closing, it’s always a pleasure to be here.  I want to just reiterate, as we enter into the silly season of politics, that the primary thing that is holding back a lot of potential growth, jobs, improved bottom lines, greater stability is well within our control right now, and are things that traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support — Ex-Im Bank, getting TPP done, financing and executing on an infrastructure policy.  I’ve had conversations with folks like Larry Fink and others about if we’re open to looking at new, creative ways of financing it, but the notion that we’re not doing that right now makes absolutely no sense — investing in research and development.

These are not partisan issues.  There are some areas where there have traditionally been legitimate arguments between Democrats and Republicans.  There are some issues — like on environmental regulations, or financial regulations, where Jamie and I may disagree, or Nick and I may disagree.  And we can have those arguments, and we probably won’t convince each other on some of these things.

But what I’m looking at is the low-hanging fruit that are no-brainers and that nobody here would argue with.  And the notion that we’re not doing them right now because — primarily because a faction within one of our parties has gone off the rails and sees a conspiracy around everything, or simply is opposed to anything I propose even if they used to propose it, that’s a problem.

And I think it’s very important for all of you to just step back and take a look at it, because you still have influence on at least some of those folks.  And challenge them.  Why wouldn’t we do things that everybody knows make sense?

Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

12:34 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency September 14, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at Town Hall on College Access and Affordability transcript



Remarks by the President at Town Hall on College Access and Affordability

Source: WH, 9-14-15

North High School
Des Moines, Iowa

4:06 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody give it up for Russhaun!  (Applause.)  Hello, Iowa! (Applause.)  Well, it is good to be back in Iowa.  (Applause.)  I was missing you guys.  (Applause.) Go, Polar Bears!  (Applause.)  It is great to be back in Des Moines.  You know, I landed at the airport and saw the Hampton Inn there that I — I must have stayed there like a hundred days. (Laughter.)  I’m sure I’ve got some points or something.  I could get a couple free nights at the Hampton Inn.  (Laughter.)

Everybody, have a seat.  Have a seat.  Relax.  And I know it’s September, so I know you guys are all about to be flooded with ads and calls from a bunch of folks who want this job.  (Laughter.)  I just can’t imagine what kind of person would put themselves through something like this.  (Laughter.)  Although I noticed — I didn’t know Russhaun was on the ballot.  During the introduction, he was all like, “the next President of the United States.”

We could not be prouder of Russhaun, not just for the introduction, but for the inspiring story that he’s told.  I think it’s an example of what our young people can do when they put their minds to it.

I want to thank your principal, Mike Vukovich.  Where’s Mike?  (Applause.)  There he is.  Your Superintendent is here — Tom Ahart is here.  Where’s Tom?  (Applause.)  Your Mayor, Frank Cownie is here, who is a great friend.  Where’s Frank?  He was here.  He had to go to a City Council meeting.  He’s missing out on the fun.  Iowa Attorney General and great friend of mine, Tom Miller.  (Applause.)  Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, great supporter. (Applause.)  And, of course, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, for letting me crash his bus tour.  (Applause.)

So I’m not going to give a long speech, because we want to spend most of the time taking questions from all of you.  But I just want to explain that we came to North High School because you guys have done some great things over the past few years — making sure more students have laptops and iPads, more AP classes, improving test scores.  And so you’ve become a great example for the whole country of what’s possible.  (Applause.)

So we thought we’d come to pay you a visit, talk with some of the students here in Des Moines and your parents.  Because I know that there’s nothing that high schoolers love more than being in public with their moms and dads.  (Laughter.)  I know that — that’s what Malia and Sasha tell me all the time.  (Laughter.)

It was seven years ago this week that a financial crisis on Wall Street ended up ushering in some really hard years on Main Street.  But thanks to the incredible resilience and grit and hard work of the American people, we’ve bounced back.  We’ve created 13.1 million new private sector jobs over the past five and a half years.  We’ve helped more than 16 million people have the security of health insurance, many of them for the first time.  Our high school graduation rate is the highest that it has ever been.  (Applause.)  And I should point out, by the way, if you want to see the best graduation rate in America, it’s right here in Iowa.  (Applause.)

So we’ve been investing in things that help to grow the middle class and help provide opportunity for every young person. But no 21st century economy — nobody in a 21st century economy is going to be able to do what they want to do with their lives unless they’ve got a great education.  That’s just the truth.  By 2020, two in three job openings are going to require some form of post-high school education — whether it’s a four-year university, or a community college, or a tech school.  And it’s an investment that pays off.

Now, partly it pays off — and Russhaun mentioned this — because it empowers you.  It gives you a sense of who you are, and your hopes and your dreams.  It helps to sharpen how you see the world, and empowers you in all sorts of ways.  But it also has some pretty practical ramifications.  Compared to a high school diploma, a degree from a two-year school could earn you an extra $10,000 a year -– a four-year degree could earn you a million dollars more over the course of your lifetime.  That’s how important education is in today’s economy.

And here’s the thing — just as higher education has never been more important, let’s face it, it’s never been more expensive.  And that’s why Arne and I have been working to try to make college and post-high school education more affordable.  We’ve increased scholarships.  We reformed our student loan system that funneled billions of taxpayer dollars into big banks — we said, let’s cut out the middleman, let’s put that money directly to students.  We created a new tax credit of up to $2,500 to help working families pay for tuition and books and fees.  We’re helping people cap their federal student loan payments at 10 percent of their income.  So if you want to be a teacher, or you want to be a social worker, or some other profession that may not make a huge amount of money, you can still do that, knowing that you’re not going to go — you’re still going to be able to afford to support yourself and your family while doing it.  And we’re fighting for two years of free community college for any student that’s willing to work for it. (Applause.)

The bottom line is, is that no young person in America should be priced out of college.  They should not be priced out of an education.

And I know that finding the right school for you, the best school for you is a tough process.  Malia is going through it right now.  You guys are juggling deadlines and applications and personal statements.  And some of you, in the back of your mind, are asking yourselves what you plan for a career and what you want to do with your life.

I think we should make that process easier.  So a couple of things that we’ve done that we’re announcing over the course of this week during Arne’s bus tour — we’ve introduced something called College Scorecard.  Right now, a lot of families don’t have all the information they need to choose the right school.  And a lot of the college ranking systems that you see, they reward schools just for spending more money, or for rejecting more students.  And I think that’s the wrong focus.  I think that our colleges should be focusing on affordability and on serving students and providing them good value.

So we’ve pulled together all sorts of data on college costs and value; we created this College Scorecard.  And you can scroll through it to see which schools are more likely to graduate their students, are more likely to result in good jobs for the students, more likely to make sure that those students can pay off their student loans — and you can then use that information to make choices that are right for your future and right for your budget.

And you guys can go to CollegeScorecard.ED.gov.  CollegeScorecard.ED.gov — and we’ve already got half a million visits since we launched this thing on Saturday.  So it’s a valuable tool for students and parents as you’re trying to make a decision about which school to go to.

We’re also simplifying the financial aid process to give you more time as you make a decision.  Right now, about two million students don’t claim the financial aid that they’re eligible for. And part of it is it’s just complicated and time-consuming.  And so those young people are leaving money on the table.  And there may be some young people here who are not aware of all the financial help you can get.  So what we’ve done is we’ve shortened the federal student aid form — it’s called FAFSA — down to about 20 minutes.  It used to be about two, three times as long.

And because only Congress has the power to eliminate certain requirements, we’re asking them to simplify it even further.  The good news is it’s got some good bipartisan support.  In fact, we’ve got a Congressman here from Virginia who traveled with us

— Congressman Bobby Scott — where’s Bobby?  There he is way in the back there.  (Applause.)  And he’s working — he’s a Democrat — he’s working with Republicans to see if we can further shorten and make this form simpler.

Today, I’m also announcing that beginning next year, families will be able to fill out FAFSA even earlier — starting on October 1st, right around the time that college applications ramp up.  That means you won’t have to wait for months for your W-2s to arrive before you can get started, so you can get a jump on the college application process.  You’ll know sooner how much aid you qualify for; you’ll have more time to evaluate your options.  And we’re also working with colleges and universities and scholarship programs to align their application and their financial aid processes with this new FAFSA start date.

So all these steps taken together should help hundreds of thousands more students pay for college.  And I know that’s important to you.

I’m going to end my opening remarks with a story from somebody who couldn’t be here today, but graduated from here last year, and his name is Neico Greene.  (Applause.)  You might remember Neico from the Polar Bear basketball team.  (Applause.) And the reason that I want to tell his story is for the past few years, Neico was homeless.  As a junior and senior, he was grateful to mostly stay with his coach or his counselor.  But before that, he spent nights in shelters and in church basements, or in hotels with his mom — sometimes sleeping next to drug addicts or worse.  And this is something Neico wrote.  He said, “I’ve seen some terrible things… but I’m thankful for what I’ve been through because it’s taught me to be strong.”

And being strong meant studying.  It meant keeping his eye on college.  Applying for — and winning — some scholarships.  Last year, he filled out his FAFSA, found out he qualified for thousands of dollars of federal and state aid.  Today, Neico is a freshman at Graceland University.  He’s studying accounting.  He’s still playing ball, hoping to make enough money one day to build a career and give back to the mom that he loves.  (Applause.)

So that’s why we’re here.  That’s what this is about — the students like Neico and Russhaun.  Students like many of you who want to take that next step and have big dreams.  We want you to know that we’re there to help you achieve those dreams.  We want to make sure that we’re giving every student who’s willing to put in the effort all the tools that they need in order to succeed.

That’s not just good for the students, by the way.  That’s also good for America.  Because this country was built on the notion that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what you look like, what your last name is — if you’re willing to work hard, you can make it.  And education is the key to making that future possible.  That’s how we grow this country.  That’s how we make it successful.  And that’s the incredible project, the great experiment in democracy that all of you are part of.

So, with that, Arne and I are looking forward to taking your questions.  Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)

All right.  So here’s how this is going to work.  You raise your hand and I’ll call on you.  We’re going to go girl, boy, girl, boy — to make it fair.  (Laughter.)  There should be people in the audience with microphones, so wait until they get there.  And introduce yourself.  Try to keep your question short enough that we can get as many questions in as possible.

And contrary to what Arne said, he’s going to get all the tough questions and I just want the easy ones.  (Laughter.)  All right.  So let’s see who wants to go first?  All right, well, this young lady, she shot her hand up quick.  Right here.  We need a microphone up here.  All right.

Q    Hi, my name is Angelica (ph).  And my question is for your — it’s what do you believe the role of a teacher should be?

THE PRESIDENT:  What do I believe the role of teacher should be?  That’s a great question.  When I think about my own life — some of you may know, my dad left when I was very young, so I really didn’t know him.  So I was raised by a single mom.  And we didn’t have a lot when we were coming up, although my mom had this great love of learning.  But she was a teenager when she had me; she was 18.  And she was still going to school and working at the same time as she was raising me and then my sister.

She was my first great teacher.  And what she taught me was compassion, caring about other people, but she also taught me to be curious.  And when I think back to all the great teachers that I’ve had, it’s not so much the facts that they’ve taught me — because I can get those from books — but it has been teachers who are able to spark in me a sense of curiosity, like, well, how does that work?  Why is that the way it is?  Somebody who has helped me want to learn more.  That, to me, is the role of a great teacher.  Somebody who can teach you to be so interested in the subject that you then start over time teaching yourself.

And I’ll bet there are a lot of great teachers here.  Part of the challenge I think for being a teacher is, is that sometimes students don’t always appreciate good teachers, let’s face it.  Because I think sometimes we think education is something that you just receive from somebody else.  It’s passive.  They just kind of pour knowledge in here.  But in fact, good teaching is a conversation that you’re having with somebody where they’re giving you not just answers but also asking you questions, and helping your brain get a workout and try to learn how to figure things out yourself.

And also, I think great teachers are somebody who’s got — who have — are people who have confidence in you and have high expectations for you, and they see something in you where they get a sense of, you know what, you’re important, and you can do amazing things.  And when you feel that from a teacher, that a teacher really thinks you’ve got something in you that’s worth saying or writing or — those are the teachers that you remember. Those are the teachers that inspire you.

What do you think, Arne?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  I’ll be quick.  I think it’s a really, really good answer.  The only thing I would add is I think great teachers see things in students that they don’t even see in themselves, and pull things out of you.  And someone like Russhaun, who talked publicly, mom was locked up — lots of folks could look at you and say, well, that’s where he’s going to go.  Other teachers see him as a student body president, as a future teacher, as a future leader in the community.

So those amazing teachers see things in us as kids.  Those are the teachers I remember from my childhood, who saw things in me that I didn’t even recognize myself and helped to bring that to life.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Great question.  All right.  I think it’s a guy’s turn now.  Let’s see.  That gentleman right back there, around the corner there.

Q    Hi, my name is Dennis.  I have a senior here at North High School.  (Laughter.)  What’s so funny?

THE PRESIDENT:  Are you the dad that’s embarrassing —

Q    Maybe.

THE PRESIDENT:  Your daughter is just like, oh, dad, god.

Q    Well, it’s a give-and-take; they embarrass me, I’m going to embarrass them.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Listen, I’m right there with you.  (Laughter.)

Q    Okay.  In your opinion, of all the next presidential candidates that are in line, which ones have the best ideas for education reform to make it more affordable and accessible?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know, I — (laughter and applause) — I’m going to beg off this question a little bit.  I promise you I’m generally going to give you straight answers.  On this one, I’m going to wiggle around a little bit.  (Laughter.)  Right now, I’m going to try to stay out of the campaign season until it — partly because I can’t keep track of all the candidates.  (Laughter.)  So I’ll wait until it’s winnowed down a little bit before I have an opinion.

But here’s what I can say — that a society’s values are reflected in where we put our time, our effort, our money.  It is not sufficient for us to say we care about education if we aren’t actually putting resources into education.  (Applause.)

Now, both Arne and I have gotten some guff sometimes from even within our own party because we’ve said that money alone is not enough; that it’s important for us, if a school isn’t teaching consistently kids so that they can achieve, then we’ve got to change how we do things, in collaboration with teachers and principals and parents and students.  We’ve got to figure out how do we make it work better.

So a lot of the initiatives we’ve had in terms of increased accountability and encouraging more creativity and empowering teachers more, those don’t cost money.  But what we also know is that if science labs don’t have the right equipment, then it’s harder to teach science.  If kids don’t have access to broadband and laptops in their classrooms, then they’re at a disadvantage to those kids who do.  If you’ve got a school that doesn’t have enough counselors, and so, come time to apply for college, there aren’t enough counselors to go around and kids aren’t getting the best advice that they need, then they may end up selling themselves short in terms of their ability to go to college.

So resources do matter.  And part of the reason I’m making this point — so that when you’re evaluating candidates, you pay attention to this — is we’re going to be having a major debate in Congress coming up, because the budget is supposed to be done by the end of this month.  And so far, Congress has not come up with a budget.  And there are some in the other party who are comfortable with keeping in place something called sequester, which is going to be — is going to result in significant cuts over the next several years in the amount of federal support for education.  And that’s going to force then either layoffs, or kids not getting the kinds of support that they need.  It will have an effect on the education of students.

So I just want everybody to be clear, without endorsing any particular candidate’s ideas, that if somebody is running for President and they say they want to be the “education president,” it means two things.  One is that you care about every student doing well, not just some — because whoever is President is the President for all people, not just some people.  That’s point number one.  (Applause.)  And point number two is, is that you’ve got to be willing to provide the resources, particularly for communities that may not have as much of a property tax base so they can’t always raise money on their own in order to help their students achieve.

All right?  Anything you want to add on that?  (Applause.)

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Just very quickly, without getting into this candidate or that — you’ve got about two dozen to choose from, and they all want your vote.  Four questions I’d like you to ask every candidate, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal — it doesn’t matter.

One:  What are you willing to do to have more children have access to high-quality early childhood education?  That’s the best investment we can make.  (Applause.)  Two:  What are you going to do to continue to increase our nation’s high school graduation rate?  And we’re very proud, it’s at an all-time high, but it’s nowhere near where it needs to be.

Three:  What are you going to do to make sure high school graduates are truly college and career ready, and not having to take remedial classes in college,; that they’ve been taught to high standards?  And fourth, we need to lead the world in college graduation rates again.  We were first a generation ago; today, we’re 12th.  Other countries have passed us by.

So if every candidate you ask, what are your concrete goals for those four things, and then what resources — to the President’s point — are you willing to put behind that, our country would be a much stronger place.

THE PRESIDENT:  And not to be a tag team here, here’s one last thing.  Because — I’m sorry, what was your name?  Angelica asked a terrific question about what does it mean to be a great teacher.  If you hear a candidate say that the big problem with education is teachers, you should not vote for that person.  (Applause.)  Because it is a hard job.  And it is the most important job we’ve got.  And folks who go into teaching don’t go into it for the money.  (Laughter.)  They go into it because they are passionate about kids.

Now, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some bad teachers, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t hold teachers to high standards as well, and continue to work in terms of professional development and recruitment and retention of great teachers.  And there have been times where Arne and I have had some disagreements with the teachers’ unions on certain issues because we want to encourage experimentation.  But the bottom line, though, is, is that you can measure how good a school is by whether or not it is respecting and engaging teachers in the classroom so that they are professionals and they feel good about what they’re doing, and they’re given freedom and they’re not just being forced to teach to a test.

And it is very important for us, then, to make sure that — if what we hear is just a bunch of teacher-bashing, I can’t tell you who to vote for, but — at least not right now.  Later I will.  (Laughter.)  But I can tell you who to vote against, and that is somebody who decides that somehow teachers don’t deserve the kind of respect and decent pay that they deserve.  (Applause.)

All right.  Let’s see.  It’s a young lady’s turn.  Yes, you right there in the brown sweater right there.  Go ahead.  That’s fine.

Q    I’m Elena Hicks (ph), and I’m a senior at Roosevelt and an intern at the Hillary Clinton campaign.

THE PRESIDENT:  Oh, okay.  I guess I know who you’re voting for.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes.  And this was a standards question, but I’ll make it more general.  Do you think it’s possible or realistic for there to be free tuition for college in the United States?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think that it is absolutely realistic for us to, first of all, have the first two years of community college free, because it’s in my budget and I know how to pay for it.  (Applause.)  And it would — and essentially if you close up some corporate tax loopholes that aren’t growing the economy and are just kind of a boondoggle, you take that money, you can then help every state do what Tennessee is already doing — because Tennessee is already making community colleges free for the first two years.

And what that does, then, is, first of all, it helps young people who may not right now want to go get a four-year college education but know that they still need some sort of technical training, or they want to get an associate’s degree.  Right away, that whole group, they now know they can get their education for free as long as they’re working hard.  But for those who are thinking about a four-year college education, they can also get their first two-years at the community college, then transfer those credits to a four-year college, and they’ve just cut their overall college costs in half.  So it would be good for everybody, whether you’re going two years or four years.

Now, if we can get that done, then I think we can start building from there.  In the meantime, I do want to make sure, though, that everybody understands what we were talking about in terms of FAFSA.  You have to fill out this form.  And we are making it easier for you to do.  You have no excuse.  Parents who are here, even if you didn’t go to college, you need to nag your kids to make sure that this FAFSA form gets filled out so that people — so that you know the student aid that you may be entitled to.

My grandma, she didn’t go to college, even though she was probably the smartest person I knew, but she did know that you had to go to college and that you had to fill out this form.  So I want everybody here to make sure that you stay focused on that, because there’s more help already than a lot of people are aware of.  And this College Scorecard that we talked about — CollegeScorecard.ED.gov — what that does is it allows you to take a look at the schools to find out, do they graduate their students; how much debt do they have; are they generally getting a job after they graduate.

So we’re not, like, just ranking, here’s the most prestigious school; we’re giving you some news you can use here in evaluating whether the schools that you’re applying to actually deliver on their commitment.  Because a lot of times, the students who get big student loans debt after they graduate, it’s because they didn’t think through where they should go, what should they be studying, what resources are available.  And we want you to on the front end to have as much information as possible in order to make a good choice.

Arne, anything to add on that?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Very, very quickly, quick test.  That FAFSA form the President talked about — how much in grants and loans do we give out each year?  Any guesses at the federal level?


SECRETARY DUNCAN:  How much is a lot?

THE PRESIDENT:  See, I didn’t test you.  (Laughter.)  You notice this.  That’s the head of the Education Department.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  How much?  30,000?  Any other thoughts?  Yes, sir.  What’s that?  Total — How much?  $30 billion?  Any other guesses?  All right, so very quickly, we give out $150 billion in grants and loans each year.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s real money.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  And the President said we’ve got a long way to go, we want to do more, trying to make community colleges free.  But we don’t care whether your family has money or don’t have money, or whether your family has gone to college or not, or where you live.  If you work hard — $150 billion.  It’s the only form — 20 minutes, half an hour — the only form you’re ever going to fill out in your life that’s going to give you access to $150 billion.  So I just want to emphasize this point.  You have to fill that out.

THE PRESIDENT:  Got to fill it out.  (Laughter.)  All right? A’ight.  (Laughter.)  This gentleman back here.  I don’t want to neglect the folks in the back here.

Q    How are you doing, Mr. President?

THE PRESIDENT:  How are you, sir?

Q    Good, good.  My name is Rudolph Dawson and I’m a graduate of Fort Valley State University in Georgia.  My concern is that the Historically Black schools like Fort Valley State, a lot of the pressure is being put on them in terms of they’re not getting the budget they need to continue to educate people like myself.  They are not getting the programs that they need to attract students that want the higher pay.  And it’s to me — what can you do, or what can your administration do, or the next administration do to right the wrong that’s been done in the past?  And it’s continued to be done to these universities.  Fort Valley State is also a land-grant college and they haven’t been getting all the money they needed for agriculture like the University of Georgia.  I’d like to see some changes there.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Well, first of all, for those of you — because some of you — we’ve got a lot of young people here so just to give you a little bit of history, the Historically Black Colleges and Universities arose at a time when obviously a lot of schools were segregated.  And so African American students couldn’t attend a lot of the traditional state colleges and universities that had been set up.

And many of them went on to become incredible educational institutions that produced some of our greatest thinkers.  So Morehouse College, Howard, Spelman — all across the country, particularly in the South, a lot of these Historically Black Colleges and Universities were really the nurturer of an African American middle class — many of whom then went on to become the civil rights pioneers that helped to lead to Dr. King and to the Civil Rights Movement and to all the history that I think you’re aware of.

A lot of those schools are still doing well.  Some of them have gotten smaller and are struggling, partly because of — good news — University of Georgia isn’t segregated anymore, for example, so it’s good that African American students or Latino students have more diverse options.  But they still serve an important role.  And so working with people like Congressman Bobby Scott and others, we’ve continued to provide some support to those schools.

But one thing that Arne and I have been doing is saying to these Historically Black Colleges and Universities, you’ve also got to step up your game in terms of graduation rates, because there are some of those schools, just like non-historically black colleges and universities, who take in a lot of students but don’t always graduate those students.  And those students end up being stuck with debt and it’s not a good deal for them.

So we’re working together.  We’ve got a whole task force and commission that’s just devoted to working with these schools to make sure that they’ve got the resources they need to continue to perform a really important function, but that they’re also stepping up their game so that kids who attend these universities and colleges, they’re graduating on time and are able to then pursue the kind of careers that they need.

I think it’s a young lady’s turn now.  Oh, you know what, I need to go up top.  That young lady in the striped shirt right there.  I can barely see, but that’s what happens when you get older, young people.  (Laughter.)  First time I came to Iowa, I had no gray hair.  (Laughter.)  I didn’t.  Look at me now.  (Laughter.)

Q    Hi, my name is Abba.  I’m currently a junior at Lincoln High School here on the South Side of Des Moines.  My question to you is — I know you don’t want to get involved with the presidential race at the moment, but a candidate has said that they want to cut government spending to politically biased colleges, and I was wondering if, say, that would hurt the education system for those who depend on that, or would it better the education as a whole?

THE PRESIDENT:  First of all, I didn’t hear this candidate say that.  I have no idea what that means.  (Laughter.)  I suspect he doesn’t either.  (Laughter and applause.)

Look, the purpose of college is not just, as I said before, to transmit skills.  It’s also to widen your horizons; to make you a better citizen; to help you to evaluate information; to help you make your way through the world; to help you be more creative.  The way to do that is to create a space where a lot of ideas are presented and collide, and people are having arguments, and people are testing each other’s theories, and over time, people learn from each other, because they’re getting out of their own narrow point of view and having a broader point of view.

Arne, I’m sure, has the same experience that I did, which is when I went to college, suddenly there were some folks who didn’t think at all like me.  And if I had an opinion about something, they’d look at me and say, well, that’s stupid.  And then they’d describe how they saw the world.  And they might have had a different sense of politics, or they might have a different view about poverty, or they might have a different perspective on race, and sometimes their views would be infuriating to me.  But it was because there was this space where you could interact with people who didn’t agree with you and had different backgrounds that I then started testing my own assumptions.  And sometimes I changed my mind.  Sometimes I realized, you know what, maybe I’ve been too narrow-minded.  Maybe I didn’t take this into account.  Maybe I should see this person’s perspective.

So that’s what college, in part, is all about.  The idea that you’d have somebody in government making a decision about what you should think ahead of time or what you should be taught, and if it’s not the right thought or idea or perspective or philosophy, that that person would be — that they wouldn’t get funding runs contrary to everything we believe about education.  (Applause.)  I mean, I guess that might work in the Soviet Union, but it doesn’t work here.  That’s not who we are.  That’s not what we’re about.

Now, one thing I do want to point out is it’s not just sometimes folks who are mad that colleges are too liberal that have a problem.  Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side.  And that’s a problem, too.

I was just talking to a friend of mine about this.  I’ve heard I’ve of some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative.  Or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African Americans, or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women.  And I’ve got to tell you, I don’t agree with that either.  I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of views.  (Applause.)

I think that you should be able to — anybody should — anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with them.  But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, you can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.  That’s not the way we learn, either.

What do you think, Arne?


THE PRESIDENT:  He said, amen.  (Laughter.)

Let’s see.  I think it’s a guy’s turn.  This gentleman here in the tie, you had your hand up a couple times.  Yes, I didn’t want you to feel neglected.  You almost gave up and I wanted to make sure to call on you.  Hold on a second.  Wait for the mic.

Q    My name is James Quinn.  This is my wife, Tatiana, and our daughter, Victoria.  We’ve been saving for her college education for 10 years, and over that time, the federal deductibility of 529 contributions has gone away, even though we can still get that deduction from Iowa income taxes.  It would be nice to see a little reward for saving, rather than just making borrowing money get easier.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m going to let Arne hit this one because he’s an expert on our various savings programs.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Yes.  I’ll just say, as a parent with two kids not quite this age, my wife and I are putting money actively into 529s to try to save.  And getting the federal government to support that more or encourage that would be fantastic.  And again, this is something we have to work with Congress to do the right thing.

But for families who are saving — we have some families now starting kindergarten, first grade, saving every year, just a little bit, to help their kids to go to college.  We need to incentivize that and reward that.  It’s a great point.

THE PRESIDENT:  There was a time when the deductibility with student loans was more significant than it is today.  Whenever you make something tax-deductible, that means that there’s less money going into the Treasury.  That, then, means that either somebody has got to pay for it with other taxes, or the deficit grows, or we spend less on something else.

And this is part of why this argument, this debate that’s going on right now in Congress about lifting the sequester is so important.  It’s a Washington term — I hate the term — but essentially what Congress did was it said, all right, we’re just going to lop off spending at this level for the next decade.  The problem is, of course, the population is going up, the economy is growing, and so even though the deficit right now has been cut by two-thirds since I came into office — which is — (applause) — you wouldn’t know that listening to some of the candidates around here, but it has.

If, in fact, sequester stays in place, not only our ability to spend for education or to help families with student loans, but also things like early childhood education, Head Start programs, Pell grants — all those things can end up being adversely affected.

And this is one thing that I would just ask everybody to consider.  When you hear budget debates, I know your eyes kind of glaze over, but the federal budget, that’s really where we express our values.  And a lot of times people say, well, we should just cut government spending because there’s all this waste.  But, in fact, the vast majority of government spending is for Social Security, it’s for Medicare, it’s for Medicaid, it’s for helping vulnerable populations, and it’s for defense.  And not a lot is left over for helping middle-class families, for example, send their kids to college, or to save.

And if you have this ceiling, this artificial cap, without take into account a growing population and more young people going to college, then you end up with a situation in which fewer people are getting help.  And that’s why it’s important for us to lift this artificial cap.  And it’s also why it’s important for us to close some of these tax loopholes that are going to either the very wealthy or to corporations that really don’t need them, because they’re doing just fine and they’re not having a problem financing their college education — their kids’ college educations.  (Applause.)

All right.  It’s a young lady’s turn.  All right.  I will go — I’m going to go to this young lady because originally I called on her first and then — but we got mixed up.  Go ahead.  What’s your name?

Q    My name is Rosalie (ph) and I go to Roosevelt High School.  Hopefully, my question is not too difficult.  And it’s what is your best advice for Malia as she goes off to college?

THE PRESIDENT:  My best advice to Malia.  Now, this is assuming that Malia would listen to my advice.  (Laughter.)  She’s very much like her mother at this point.  (Laughter.)  She’s got her own mind.

One piece of advice that I’ve given her is not to stress too much about having to get into one particular college.  There are a lot of good colleges and universities out there, and it’s important I think for everybody here to understand you can find a college or university that gives you a great education, and just because it’s not some name-brand, famous, fancy school doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get a great education there.  So one is, lower the stress levels in terms of just having to get into one particular school.  I think that’s important.

The second piece of advice I have is keep your grades up until you get in, and after that, make sure you pass.  (Laughter.)  Because it’s important that you kind of run through the tape in your senior year and not start feeling a little slack.  I don’t worry about that with her; she’s a hard worker.

And then the third thing is really the advice that I already mentioned, which is be open to new experiences when you go to college.  Don’t go to college just to duplicate the same experience you had in high school.  Don’t make your decision based on, well, where are all my friends going so that I can do the exact same things with the exact same friends that I did in high school.  The whole point is for you to push yourself out of your comfort level, meet people you haven’t met before, take classes that you hadn’t thought of before.  Stretch yourself. Because this is the time to do it, when you’re young.  Seek out new experiences.

Because I think when you do that, you may discover you may think that you wanted to do one thing; it may turn out you wanted to do — that you wanted to do something completely different, and you have an amazing talent for something completely different, but you just haven’t been exposed to it yet.  You’ve got to know what it is that’s out there, and that requires you to do some things differently than you’ve been doing in high school.

So, Arne, anything you wanted to add on that?

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Just quickly, particularly for the seniors, please don’t apply to one school — sort of what the President said — apply to four, five, six, seven schools.  It’s amazing to me how many young people just apply to one school.  And it might be the best fit for you, but keep your options open. So look at what’s out there — close to home, less close to home, whatever it might be — apply to a bunch of places.

And a final thing, just to emphasize, the goal is not to go to college; the goal is to graduate.  And so, figure out where you’re going to go and graduate.  It might take you three years, it might take you four, it might take you five.  But the big thing we need all of you — not to just go, not to attend, but to walk across those stages four or five years from now with that diploma in hand.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Gentleman right here.  Here, you can use my mic.

Q    All right.  (Laughter.)  Thanks, Mr. President.  I’m an elementary school principal here in Des Moines public schools, and one of the things that we really value is the diversity that we have within our community.  And I’m really curious to hear from you and Secretary Duncan the value that you see that diversity brings to a young person’s education.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s a great question.  How long have you been a principal?

Q    Five years.

THE PRESIDENT:  Five years?

Q    Five years.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s outstanding.  We’re getting old, though, man, because I thought he was a student.  (Laughter.)  He’s the principal.  He’s not even just a teacher, he’s a principal.  (Laughter.)  Well, thank you for the great work you’re doing.

To some degree, I’ve already answered this question.  The value of diversity is getting to know and understand people who are different from you, because that’s the world you will be living in and working in.  And it’s actually really interesting  — they’ve been showing through a variety of studies that people who can understand and connect with a wide range of people, that that ends up being as important a skill, if not more important a skill, than just about anything else in terms of your career success, whatever the field.

It also, by the way, is part of what makes our democracy work.  I was having a discussion about this earlier today.  Our democracy is premised on an assumption that even if somebody is not just like me, that they’re a good person and a generous person, and that we have things in common, and that we can work things out, and if we have a disagreement then we can have an argument based on facts and evidence.  And I might sometimes lose the argument, I don’t persuade as many people, and then — that’s how voting works, and majorities are formed, and they change. That’s how our democracy is supposed to work.

And I think that starts early.  Because when you’ve got diversity in schools, then you’re less likely as an adult to start thinking, well, that person, they’re not like me, or those persons, they don’t have the same values, or they don’t care as much about their kids, or — and then democracy starts breaking down, because then everything is a fight to the death because there’s no sense that we can actually bridge our differences and disagree without being disagreeable, and find common ground.

So it’s not only good for your career, but it’s also good for our country.  The same goes — the same holds true, by the way, as part of diversity — studies show that organizations that have women in decision-making positions function better than those who don’t.  (Applause.)  Seriously.  That if you look at corporate boards, actually you can correlate their performance with the number of women that they’ve got on those boards.  So it also is valuable for us to make sure that not only is there diversity, but that in leadership positions, different voices are heard.

So, Arne, anything you want to add to that?

Good.  So keep it up.  (Applause.)

Young lady right there.  Yes, you.  Right there.  Oh, I’m sorry, I’ll call on you first and then I’ll get back to you.  I’m sorry.  The mic is already there.  I promise you’ll be the next.

Q    Hi.  My name is Heidi.  I’m a junior here at North High School.  And actually, I have, like, two questions.  One is one for my friend — he’s very shy, he can’t speak up.  We are part of a group called Upward Bound, and we work through Simpson College.  There’s been stories of our budget being cut, and we want to know what the government can — help us and work with us for that.

And my other question is, in your professional opinion, how much is visual arts an importance to our school, and how are you going to save it?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Why don’t I — I’ll take the first — I’ll take the question on visual arts, you talk about Upward Bound.  Arne, go ahead.

SECRETARY DUNCAN:  Just very quickly, it really goes back to what the President talked about.  It’s not just Upward Bound that’s at risk; it’s Pell grants that are at risk, early childhood education.  Folks in Congress want to zero that out of the budget.  I think it’s so important that all of us as students and as educators to not pit this program against the other, but to hold folks in Washington accountable for investing in education.

As the President said, we want to make sure we’re getting results.  It’s not blindly investing.  But there are lots of things in our budget — Upward Bound being a piece of it — that honestly are in pretty significant danger right now.  And the President is fighting very hard.  We have some folks backing us, but the others that just sort of see these things as somehow extras.  And I think it’s so important that as young people, as voters, as family, your voices be heard.

He cannot by himself prevent these cuts.  That’s not how our democracy works.  And so we’ll hold us accountable.  We’ll continue to push very, very hard.  That’s why we’re out traveling the country all the time.  But we need voters’ voices being heard, saying, we need Upward Bound programs, we need TRIO, we need early childhood, we need after-school programs, we need the arts.  And you can talk about the arts, as well.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, look, I mean, the arts are what make life worthwhile, right?  (Applause.)  You need food and shelter and all that good stuff, but the things that make you laugh, cry, connect, love — so much of that is communicated through the arts.

And I don’t want our young people to think that the arts are just something that you sit there passively and watch on a TV screen.  I want everybody, even if you’re not a great artist, to have the experience of making art, and have the experience of making music.  Because that’s part of what makes for a well-rounded education.

We also know that young people learn better if they’re not just looking at a textbook and multiple text quizzes all day long, and that it breaks up the monotony and it gives expression to different sides of themselves — that that’s good for the overall educational experience.

So I think visual arts, music, it’s all important.  And we should not be depriving young people of those experiences.  And they’re not extras.  They’re central to who we are.  Part of what makes us human is our ability to make art, to represent what’s inside of us in ways that surprise and delight people.  And I don’t want us to start thinking that that’s somehow something we can just push aside.

Now, I want you to be able to read and be able to do your algebra, too.  But I don’t know where we got this idea we’ve got to choose between those two things.  We’ve got to be able to do them all.  And it used to be standard practice.  There was no debate, even in the smallest town in a poor community or a rural community.  There was always the art teacher and the math teacher — or the art teacher and the music teacher, and nobody assumed somehow that that was an extra.  That was part of it, just like having a sports program was part of it.  (Applause.)  And that’s part of what a well-rounded education is all about.

But it does cost some money.  And that’s something that I want to emphasize — that you can’t do all this stuff on the cheap all the time.

How many more questions — how much more time we got?  Only one?  I’m going to take two.  (Laughter.)  All right.  I’m going to get to you because I promised I was going to — I’ll tell you, it’s a guy’s turn.  This guy right there.  (Applause.)  All right.

Q    All right.  I’ve got two short questions.

THE PRESIDENT:  What’s your name?

Q    My name is Marcus Carter.  And I’m a senior.  And out of all the schools in Iowa, why did you come here?  And after this, can I get a picture with you?  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Now, Marcus, I’m going to answer your first question.  Second question, though, if I start taking a picture with you — look at this crowd right here.  (Laughter.)  We’d be taking a lot of selfies.  So I’m imposing the no-selfie rule, although I’ll definitely try to shake as many hands as possible.

We came here because some really good work is being done here.  And I think that your teachers, your principal, the superintendent deserve credit for the improvements that have been made.  (Applause.)  I want Arne to address this, because Arne travels to schools all across the country.  And sometimes we get so focused on what’s not working that we forget to lift up what is working.  And when a school is doing a good job, I’m sure the principal and superintendent, the teachers here feel like they want to do even more and do even better.  But when we’ve made progress, we’ve got to acknowledge that, because that makes us feel encouraged and hopeful that we can continue to make even more strides.


SECRETARY DUNCAN:  I’ll just say a couple quick things.  It’s not a coincidence that we’re here, but this is a school that historically struggled, had some hard times.  And new leadership, new expectations — the President talked about technology here, talked a much better sense of culture, different ways to discipline.  But the thing I always go back to — I don’t know if my numbers are exact — I think a couple years ago you had two AP classes, and now you have 15.  (Applause.)  And to go from two to 15 is a really big deal.

But what I always say is the students here aren’t seven times as smart as four years ago; it’s just higher expectations, a different sense of belief among adults about what’s possible.  And so we try and highlight places that haven’t always been successful but are trying to do the right thing and move in the right direction.

As the President said, no one is satisfied.  You guys are still hungry, you’re still trying to get better.  But that’s real progress.  That’s adults saying, kids, students, young people deserve the opportunity to take college classes in high school, deserve to go to a safe school, deserve the technology.  I think there are lots of lessons other schools could learn from the progress you’re making here at North High School.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  I promised I was going to call on this young lady last.  Go ahead.

Q    Okay.

THE PRESIDENT:  What’s your name?

Q    My name is Tanya from North High School.  And my question is, if you legalize college — or free two-year college, is everyone, including illegal students with a good GPA able to get this benefit?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, right now, the way — no, this is an important question, and I know this is a debate that’s been taking place among some of the presidential candidates.  Right now, the way that the federal student loan programs work is that undocumented students are not eligible for these loan programs.  That’s how the law is currently.  And it is my view that — well, two things I want to say.

First, if you fall in that category, you should still fill out the FAFSA, because it may be that states or universities or colleges may have private scholarships or other mechanisms.  So it doesn’t automatically mean that you may not qualify for some benefits.  So it’s still important for you to kind of — because that’s a standard form that’s used by everybody.

But this raises the broader question that I’ve been talking about now for a couple of years, and that is that for young people who came here, their parents may have brought them here and they now are Americans, kids by every other criteria except for a piece of paper — they may be your classmates, they may be your friends, they may be your neighbors — the notion that somehow we would not welcome their desire to be full-fledged parts of this community and this country, and to contribute and to serve makes absolutely no sense.  (Applause.)

And this whole anti-immigrant sentiment that’s out there in our politics right now is contrary to who we are.  (Applause.)  Because unless you are a Native American, your family came from someplace else.  (Applause.)  And although we are a nation of laws and we want people to follow the law, and we have been working — and I’ve been pushing Congress to make sure that we have strong borders and we are keeping everybody moving through legal processes — don’t pretend that somehow 100 years ago the immigration process was all smooth and strict and — that’s not how it worked.

There are a whole bunch of folks who came here from all over Europe and all throughout Asia and all throughout Central America and all — and certainly who came from Africa, who it wasn’t some orderly process where all the rules applied and everything was strict, and I came the right way.  That’s not how it worked.

So the notion that now, suddenly, that one generation or two generations, or even four or five generations removed, that suddenly we are treating new immigrants as if they’re the problem, when your grandparents were treated like the problem, or your great-grandparents were treated like the problem, or were considered somehow unworthy or uneducated or unwashed — no.  That’s not who we are.  It’s not who we are.

We can have a legitimate debate about how to set up an immigration system that is fair and orderly and lawful.  And I think the people who came here illegally should have the consequences of paying a fine and getting registered, and all kinds of steps that they should have to take in order to get right with the law.  But when I hear folks talking as if somehow these kids are different from my kids, or less worthy in the eyes of God, that somehow they are less worthy of our respect and consideration and care — I think that’s un-American.  I do not believe that.  I think it is wrong.  (Applause.)  And I think we should do better.  Because that’s how America was made — by us caring about all our kids.

Thank you, everybody.  I love you guys.  (Applause.)


5:16 P.M. CDT



Full Text Obama Presidency August 31-September 3, 2015: President Barack Obama’s trip to Alaska recap speeches transcripts



Full Text Obama Presidency August 27, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina Transcript



Remarks by the President on the Ten Year Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Source: WH, 8-27-15

Andrew Sanchez Community Center
New Orleans, Louisiana
4:00 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody, have a seat.  Hello, everybody!  Where y’at?  It is good to be back in the Big Easy.  And this is the weather in August all the time, right?  (Laughter.)  As soon as I land in New Orleans, the first thing I do is get hungry.  When I was here with the family a few years ago, I had a shrimp po-boy at Parkway Bakery and Tavern.  I still remember it — that’s how good it was.  And one day, after I leave office, maybe I’ll finally hear Rebirth at the Maple Leaf on Tuesday night.  (Applause.)  I’ll get a chance to “see the Mardi Gras,” and somebody will tell me what’s Carnival for.  (Laughter.)  But right now, I just go to meetings.

I want to thank Michelle for the introduction and, more importantly, for the great work she’s doing, what she symbolizes, and what she represents in terms of the city bouncing back.  I want to acknowledge a great friend and somebody who has been working tirelessly on behalf of this city, and he’s following a family legacy of service — your mayor, Mitch Landrieu.  (Applause.)  Proud of him.  And his beautiful wife, Cheryl.  Senator Bill Cassidy is here.  Where did Senator Cassidy go?  There he is.  (Applause.)  Congressman Cedric Richmond.  (Applause.)  Where’s the Congressman?  There he is over there.  We’ve got a lifelong champion of Louisiana in your former senator, Mary Landrieu in the house.  Mary!  (Applause.)  I want to acknowledge a great supporter to the efforts to recover and rebuild, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York, who has traveled down here with us.  (Applause.)

To all the elected officials from Louisiana and Mississippi who are here today, thank you so much for your reception.

I’m here to talk about a specific recovery.  But before I begin to talk just about New Orleans, I want to talk about America’s recovery, take a little moment of presidential privilege to talk about what’s been happening in our economy.    This morning, we learned that our economy grew at a stronger and more robust clip back in the spring than anybody knew at the time.  The data always lags.  We already knew that over the past five and a half years, our businesses have created 13 million new jobs.  (Applause.)  These new numbers that came out, showing that the economy was growing at a 3.7 percent clip, means that the United States of America remains an anchor of global strength and stability in the world — that we have recovered faster, more steadily, stronger than just about any economy after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

And it’s important for us to remember that strength.  It’s been a volatile few weeks around the world.  And there’s been a lot of reports in the news, and the stock market swinging, and worries about China and about Europe.  But the United States of America, for all the challenges that we still have, continue to have the best cards.  We just got to play them right.

Our economy has been moving, and continues to grow.  And unemployment continues to come down.  And our work is not yet done, but we have to have that sense of steadiness and vision and purpose in order to sustain this recovery so that it reaches everybody and not just some.  It’s why we need to do everything we can in government to make sure our economy keeps growing.  That requires Congress to protect our momentum — not kill it.  Congress is about to come back from a six-week recess.  The deadline to fund the government is, as always, the end of September.  And so I want everybody just to understand that Congress has about a month to pass a budget that helps our economy grow.  Otherwise, we risk shutting down the government and services that we all count on for the second time in two years.  That would not be responsible.  It does not have to happen.

Congress needs to fund America in a way that invests in our growth and our security, and not cuts us off at the knees by locking in mindless austerity or shortsighted sequester cuts to our economy or our military.  I’ve said I will veto a budget like that.  I think most Americans agree we’ve got to invest in, rather than cut, things like military readiness, infrastructure, schools, public health, the research and development that keeps our companies on the cutting edge.

That’s what great nations do.  (Applause.)  That’s what great nations do.  And you know, eventually, we’re going to do it anyway, so let’s just do it without too much drama.  (Laughter.)  Let’s do it without another round of threats to shut down the government.  (Applause.)  Let’s not introduce unrelated partisan issues.  Nobody gets to hold the American economy hostage over their own ideological demands.  You, the people who send us to Washington, expect better.  Am I correct?  (Applause.)

So my message to Congress is:  Pass a budget.  Prevent a shutdown.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  Don’t worry our businesses or our workers by contributing unnecessarily to global uncertainty.  Get it done, and keep the United States of America the anchor of global strength that we are and always should be.

Now, that’s a process of national recovery that from coast to coast we’ve been going through.  But there’s been a specific process of recovery that is perhaps unique in my lifetime, right here in the state of Louisiana, right here in New Orleans.  (Applause.)

Not long ago, our gathering here in the Lower 9 probably would have seemed unlikely.  As I was flying here today with a homegirl from Louisiana, Donna Brazile, she was — she saved all the magazines, and she was whipping them out, and one of them was a picture of the Lower 9th right after the storm had happened.  And the notion that there would be anything left seemed unimaginable at the time.

Today, this new community center stands as a symbol of the extraordinary resilience of this city, the extraordinary resilience of its people, the extraordinary resilience of the entire Gulf Coast and of the United States of America.  You are an example of what is possible when, in the face of tragedy and in the face of hardship, good people come together to lend a hand, and, brick by brick, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, you build a better future.

And that, more than any other reason, is why I’ve come back here today — plus, Mitch Landrieu asked me to.  (Laughter.)  It’s been 10 years since Katrina hit, devastating communities in Louisiana and Mississippi, across the Gulf Coast.  In the days following its landfall, more than 1,800 of our fellow citizens — men, women and children — lost their lives.  Some folks in this room may have lost a loved one in that storm.

Thousands of people saw their homes destroyed, livelihoods wiped out, hopes and dreams shattered.  Many scattered in exodus to cities across the country, and too many still haven’t returned.  Those who stayed and lived through that epic struggle still feel the trauma sometimes of what happened.  As one woman from Gentilly recently wrote me, “A deep part of the whole story is the grief.”  So there’s grief then and there’s still some grief in our hearts.

Here in New Orleans, a city that embodies a celebration of life, suddenly seemed devoid of life.  A place once defined by color and sound — the second line down the street, the crawfish boils in backyards, the music always in the air — suddenly it was dark and silent.  And the world watched in horror.  We saw those rising waters drown the iconic streets of New Orleans.  Families stranded on rooftops.  Bodies in the streets.  Children crying, crowded in the Superdome.  An American city dark and under water.

And this was something that was supposed to never happen here — maybe somewhere else.  But not here, not in America.  And we came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens.  And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades because we came to understand that New Orleans, like so many cities and communities across the country, had for too long been plagued by structural inequalities that left too many people, especially poor people, especially people of color, without good jobs or affordable health care or decent housing.  Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools where few had a shot to break out of poverty.  And so like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there was no resources to fall back on.

Shortly after I visited — shortly after the storm, I visited with folks not here because we couldn’t distract local recover efforts.  Instead, I visited folks in a shelter in Houston — many who had been displaced.  And one woman told me, “We had nothing before the hurricane.  And now we have less than nothing.”  We had nothing before the hurricane — now we had less than nothing.

And we acknowledge this loss, and this pain, not to dwell on the past, not to wallow in grief; we do it to fortify our commitment and to bolster our hope, to understand what it is that we’ve learned, and how far we’ve come.

Because this is a city that slowly, unmistakably, together, is moving forward.  Because the project of rebuilding here wasn’t just to restore the city as it had been.  It was to build a city as it should be — a city where everyone, no matter what they look like, how much money they’ve got, where they come from, where they’re born has a chance to make it.  (Applause.)

And I’m here to say that on that larger project of a better, stronger, more just New Orleans, the progress that you have made is remarkable.   The progress you’ve made is remarkable.  (Applause.)

That’s not to say things are perfect.  Mitch would be the first one to say that.  We know that African Americans and folks in hard-hit parishes like Plaquemines and St. Bernard are less likely to feel like they’ve recovered.  Certainly we know violence still scars the lives of too many youth in this city.  As hard as rebuilding levees are, as hard as —

PARTICIPANT:  (Inaudible) mental health.

THE PRESIDENT:  I agree with that.  But I’ll get to that.  Thank you, ma’am.

As hard as rebuilding levees is, as hard as rebuilding housing is, real change — real lasting, structural change — that’s even harder.  And it takes courage to experiment with new ideas and change the old ways of doing things.  That’s hard.  Getting it right, and making sure that everybody is included and everybody has a fair shot at success — that takes time.  That’s not unique to New Orleans.  We’ve got those challenges all across the country.

But I’m here to say, I’m here to hold up a mirror and say because of you, the people of New Orleans, working together, this city is moving in the right direction.  And I have never been more confident that together we will get to where we need to go.  You inspire me.  (Applause.)

Your efforts inspire me.  And no matter how hard it’s been and how hard and how long the road ahead might seem, you’re working and building and striving for a better tomorrow.  I see evidence of it all across this city.  And, by the way, along the way, the people of New Orleans didn’t just inspire me, you inspired all of America.  Folks have been watching what’s happened here, and they’ve seen a reflection of the very best of the American spirit.

As President, I’ve been proud to be your partner.  Across the board, I’ve made the recovery and rebuilding of the Gulf Coast a priority.  I made promises when I was a senator that I’d help.  And I’ve kept those promises.  (Applause.)

We’re cutting red tape to help you build back even stronger.  We’re taking the lessons we’ve learned here, we’ve applied them across the country, including places like New York and New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy.

If Katrina was initially an example of what happens when government fails, the recovery has been an example of what’s possible when government works together — (applause) — state and local, community — everybody working together as true partners.

Together, we’ve delivered resources to help Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida rebuild schools and hospitals, roads, police and fire stations, restore historic buildings and museums.  And we’re building smarter, doing everything from elevating homes to retrofitting buildings to improving drainage, so that our communities are better prepared for the next storm.

Working together, we’ve transformed education in this city.  Before the storm, New Orleans public schools were largely broken, leaving generations of low-income kids without a decent education.  Today, thanks to parents and educators, school leaders, nonprofits, we’re seeing real gains in achievement, with new schools, more resources to retain and develop and support great teachers and principals.  We have data that shows before the storm, the high school graduation rate was 54 percent.  Today, it’s up to 73 percent.  (Applause.)  Before the storm, college enrollment was 37 percent.  Today, it’s almost 60 percent.  (Applause.)  We still have a long way to go, but that is real progress.  New Orleans is coming back better and stronger.

Working together, we’re providing housing assistance to more families today than before the storm, with new apartments and housing vouchers.  And we will keep working until everybody who wants to come home can come home.  (Applause.)

Together, we’re building a New Orleans that is as entrepreneurial as any place in the country, with a focus on expanding job opportunities and making sure that more people benefit from a growing economy here.  We’re creating jobs to rebuild the city’s transportation infrastructure, expanding training programs for industries like high-tech manufacturing, but also water management, because we’ve been building some good water management around here and we want to make sure everybody has access to those good, well-paying jobs.  Small businesses like Michelle’s are growing.  It’s small businesses like hers that are helping to fuel 65 straight months of private sector job growth in America.  That’s the longest streak in American history.  (Applause.)

Together, we’re doing more to make sure that everyone in this city has access to great health care.  More folks have access to primary care at neighborhood clinics so that they can get the preventive care that they need.  We’re building a brand new VA Medical Center downtown, alongside a thriving biosciences corridor that’s attracting new jobs and investment.  We are working to make sure that we have additional mental health facilities across the city and across the country, and more people have access to quality, affordable health care –- some of the more than 16 million Americans who have gained health insurance over the past few years.  (Applause.)

All of this progress is the result of the commitment and drive of the people of this region.  I saw that spirit today.  Mitch and I started walking around a little bit.  Such a nice day outside.  And we went to Faubourg Lafitte, we were in Tremé, and we saw returning residents living in brand new homes, mixed income — new homes near schools and clinics and parks, child care centers; more opportunities for working families.

We saw that spirit today at Willie Mae’s Scotch House.  After Katrina had destroyed that legendary restaurant, some of the best chefs from the country decided America could not afford to lose such an important place.  So they came down here to help — helped rebuild.  And I just sampled some of her fried chicken.  (Laughter.)  It was really good.  (Laughter.)  Although I did get a grease spot on my suit.  (Laughter.)  But that’s okay.  If you come to New Orleans and you don’t have a grease spot somewhere — (applause) — then you didn’t enjoy the city.  Just glad I didn’t get it on my tie.  (Laughter.)



We all just heard that spirit of New Orleans in the remarkable young people from Roots of Music.  (Applause.)  When the storm washed away a lot of middle school music programs, Roots of Music helped fill that gap.  And today, it’s building the next generation of musical talent — the next Irma Thomas, or the next Trombone Shorty, or the next Dr. John.  (Applause.)  There’s a Marsalis kid in here somewhere.  How you doing?


And I saw it in the wonderful young men I met earlier who are part of “NOLA for Life,” which is focused on reducing the number of murders in the city of New Orleans.  (Applause.)  This is a program that works with the White House’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative to make sure that all young people, and particularly our boys and young men of color who so disproportionately are impacted by crime and violence, have the opportunity to fulfill their full potential.

In fact, after the storm, this city became a laboratory for urban innovation across the board.  And we’ve been tackling with you, as a partner, all sorts of major challenges — fighting poverty, supporting our homeless veterans.  And as a result, New Orleans has become a model for the nation as the first city, the first major city to end veterans’ homelessness — (applause) — which is a remarkable achievement.

You’re also becoming a model for the nation when it comes to disaster response and resilience.  We learned lessons from Katrina.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers developed stricter standards, more advanced techniques for levees.  Here in Louisiana, we built a $14 billion system of improved levees and pump stations and gates — a system that stood the test of Hurricane Isaac.

We’ve revamped FEMA — and I just have to say, by the way, there’s a man named Craig Fugate who runs FEMA — (applause) — and has been doing extraordinary work, and his team, all across the country, every time there’s a disaster.  I love me some Craig Fugate.  (Laughter.)  Although it’s a little disturbing — he gets excited when there are disasters — (laughter) — because he gets restless if everything is just quiet.  But under his leadership, we’ve revamped FEMA into a stronger, more efficient agency.  In fact, the whole federal government has gotten smarter at preventing and recovering from disasters, and serving as a better partner to local and state governments.

And as I’ll talk about next week, when I visit Alaska, making our communities more resilient is going to be increasingly important, because we’re going to see more extreme weather events as the result of climate change — deeper droughts, deadlier wildfires, stronger storms.  That’s why, in addition to things like new and better levees, we’ve also been investing in restoring wetlands and other natural systems that are just as critical for storm protection.

So we’ve made a lot of progress over the past 10 years. You’ve made a lot of progress.  That gives us hope.  But it doesn’t allow for complacency.  It doesn’t mean we can rest.  Our work here won’t be done when almost 40 percent of children still live in poverty in this city.  That’s not a finished job.  That’s not a full recovery.  Our work won’t be done when a typical black household earns half the income of white households in this city.  The work is not done yet.  (Applause.)

Our work is not done when there’s still too many people who have yet to find good, affordable housing, and too many people — especially African American men — who can’t find a job.  Not when there are still too many people who haven’t been able to come back home; folks who, around the country, every day, live the words sung by Louis Armstrong, “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?”

But the thing is, the people of New Orleans, there’s something in you guys that is just irrepressible.  You guys have a way of making a way out of no way.  (Applause.)  You know the sun comes out after every storm.  You’ve got hope — especially your young people reflect hope — young people like Victor York-Carter.  Where’s Victor?  Victor York-Carter.  Stand up, Victor.  I was just talking to Victor.  I had some lunch with him.  He’s this fine young man that I just met with.  (Applause.)  Stand up — everybody.  See, these are the guys who I ate chicken with.  (Applause.)  Really impressive — have overcome more than their fair share of challenges, but are still focused on the future.  Yes, sit down.  I don’t want you to start getting embarrassed.  (Laughter.)

So I’ll just give you one example.  Victor grew up in the 8th Ward.  Gifted art student, loved math.  He was 13 when Katrina hit.  And he remembers waking up to what looked like something out of a disaster movie.  He and his family waded across the city, towing his younger brother in a trash can to keep him afloat.

They were eventually evacuated to Texas.  Six months later, they returned, and the city was almost unrecognizable.  Victor saw his peers struggling to cope, many of them still traumatized, their lives still disordered.  So he joined an organization called Rethink to help young people get more involved in rebuilding New Orleans.  And recently, he finished a coding bootcamp at Operation Spark; today, he’s studying to earn a high-tech job.  He wants to introduce more young people to science and technology and civics so that they have the tools to change the world.

And so Victor and these young men that I just met with, they’ve overcome extraordinary odds.  They’ve lived through more than most of us will ever have to endure.  (Applause.)  They’ve made some mistakes along the way.  But for all that they’ve been through, they have been just as determined to improve their own lives, to take responsibility for themselves, but also to try to see if they can help others along the way.

So when I talk to young men like that, that gives me hope.  It’s still hard.  I told them they can’t get down on themselves.  Tough stuff will happen along the way.  But if they’ve come this far, they can keep on going.  (Applause.)

And Americans like you — the people of New Orleans, young men like this — you’re what recovery has been all about.  You’re why I’m confident that we can recover from crisis and start to move forward.  You’ve helped this country recover from a crisis and helped it move forward.  You’re the reason 13 million new jobs have been created.  You’re the reason the unemployment rate fell from 10 percent to 5.3.  You’re the reason that layoffs are near an all-time low.  You’re the reason the uninsured rate is at an all-time low and the high school graduation rate is at an all-time high, and the deficit has been cut by two-thirds, and two wars are over.  (Applause.)  And nearly 180,000 American troops who were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have now gone down to 15,000.  And a clean energy revolution is helping to save this planet.

You’re the reason why justice has expanded and now we’re focused on making sure that everybody is treated fairly under the law, and why people have the freedom to marry whoever they love from sea to shining sea.  (Applause.)

I tell you, we’re moving into the next presidential cycle and the next political season, and you will hear a lot of people telling you everything that’s wrong with America.  And that’s okay.  That’s a proper part of our democracy.  One of the things about America is we’re never satisfied.  We keep pushing forward.   We keep asking questions.  We keep challenging our government.  We keep challenging our leaders.  We keep looking for the next set of challenges to tackle.  We find what’s wrong because we have confidence that we can fix it.

But it’s important that we remember what’s right, and what’s good, and what’s hopeful about this country.  It’s worth remembering that for all the tragedy, for the all images of Katrina in those first few days, in those first few months, look at what’s happened here.  It’s worth remembering the thousands of Americans like Michelle, and Victor, and Mrs. Willie Mae and the folks who rallied around her — Americans all across this country who when they saw neighbors and friends or strangers in need came to help.  And people who today still spend their time every day helping others — rolling up their sleeves, doing the hard work of changing this country without the need for credit or the need for glory; don’t get their name in the papers, don’t see their day in the sun, do it because it’s right.

These Americans live the basic values that define this country — the value we’ve been reminded of in these past 10 years as we’ve come back from a crisis that changed this city, and an economic crisis that spread throughout the nation — the basic notion that I am my brother’s keeper, and I am my sister’s keeper, and that we look out for each other and that we’re all in this together.

That’s the story of New Orleans — but that’s also the story of America — a city that, for almost 300 years, has been the gateway to America’s soul.  Where the jazz makes you cry, the funerals make you dance — (laughter) — the bayou makes you believe all kinds of things.  (Laughter.)  A place that has always brought together people of all races and religions and languages.  And everybody adds their culture and their flavor into this city’s gumbo.  You remind our nation that for all of our differences, in the end, what matters is we’re all in the same boat.  We all share a similar destiny.

If we stay focused on that common purpose, if we remember our responsibility to ourselves but also our responsibilities and obligations to one another, we will not just rebuild this city, we will rebuild this country.  We’ll make sure not just these young men, but every child in America has a structure and support and love and the kind of nurturing that they need to succeed.  We’ll leave behind a city and a nation that’s worthy of generations to come.

That’s what you’ve gotten started.  Now we got to finish the job.

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

4:36 P.M. CDT


Full Text Obama Presidency August 5, 2015: President Barack Obama’s speech about the Iran nuclear deal at American University Transcript



Remarks by the President on the Iran Nuclear Deal

Source: WH, 8-5-15

American University
Washington, D.C.

11:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Thank you very much.  I apologize for the slight delay.  Even Presidents have problems with toner.  (Laughter.)

It is a great honor to be back at American University, which has prepared generations of young people for service in public life.  I want to thank President Kerwin and the American University family for hosting us here today.

Fifty-two years ago, President Kennedy, at the height of the Cold War, addressed this same university on the subject of peace.  The Berlin Wall had just been built.  The Soviet Union had tested the most powerful weapons ever developed.  China was on the verge of acquiring a nuclear bomb.  Less than 20 years after the end of World War II, the prospect of nuclear war was all too real.  With all of the threats that we face today, it’s hard to appreciate how much more dangerous the world was at that time.

In light of these mounting threats, a number of strategists here in the United States argued that we had to take military action against the Soviets, to hasten what they saw as inevitable confrontation.  But the young President offered a different vision.  Strength, in his view, included powerful armed forces and a willingness to stand up for our values around the world.  But he rejected the prevailing attitude among some foreign policy circles that equated security with a perpetual war footing.  Instead, he promised strong, principled American leadership on behalf of what he called a “practical” and “attainable peace” — a peace “based not on a sudden revolution in human nature but on a gradual evolution in human institutions — on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements.”

Such wisdom would help guide our ship of state through some of the most perilous moments in human history.  With Kennedy at the helm, the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved peacefully.  Under Democratic and Republican Presidents, new agreements were forged — a Non-Proliferation Treaty that prohibited nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, while allowing them to access peaceful nuclear energy; the SALT and START Treaties which bound the United States and Soviet Union to cooperation on arms control.  Not every conflict was averted, but the world avoided nuclear catastrophe, and we created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.

The agreement now reached between the international community and the Islamic Republic of Iran builds on this tradition of strong, principled diplomacy.  After two years of negotiations, we have achieved a detailed arrangement that permanently prohibits Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.  It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program.  As was true in previous treaties, it does not resolve all problems; it certainly doesn’t resolve all our problems with Iran.  It does not ensure a warming between our two countries.  But it achieves one of our most critical security objectives.  As such, it is a very good deal.

Today, I want to speak to you about this deal, and the most consequential foreign policy debate that our country has had since the invasion of Iraq, as Congress decides whether to support this historic diplomatic breakthrough, or instead blocks it over the objection of the vast majority of the world.  Between now and the congressional vote in September, you’re going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising.  And if the rhetoric in these ads, and the accompanying commentary, sounds familiar, it should — for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal.

Now, when I ran for President eight years ago as a candidate who had opposed the decision to go to war in Iraq, I said that America didn’t just have to end that war — we had to end the mindset that got us there in the first place.  It was a mindset characterized by a preference for military action over diplomacy; a mindset that put a premium on unilateral U.S. action over the painstaking work of building international consensus; a mindset that exaggerated threats beyond what the intelligence supported.  Leaders did not level with the American people about the costs of war, insisting that we could easily impose our will on a part of the world with a profoundly different culture and history.  And, of course, those calling for war labeled themselves strong and decisive, while dismissing those who disagreed as weak — even appeasers of a malevolent adversary.

More than a decade later, we still live with the consequences of the decision to invade Iraq.  Our troops achieved every mission they were given.  But thousands of lives were lost, tens of thousands wounded.  That doesn’t count the lives lost among Iraqis.  Nearly a trillion dollars was spent. Today, Iraq remains gripped by sectarian conflict, and the emergence of al Qaeda in Iraq has now evolved into ISIL.  And ironically, the single greatest beneficiary in the region of that war was the Islamic Republic of Iran, which saw its strategic position strengthened by the removal of its long-standing enemy, Saddam Hussein.

I raise this recent history because now more than ever we need clear thinking in our foreign policy.  And I raise this history because it bears directly on how we respond to the Iranian nuclear program.

That program has been around for decades, dating back to the Shah’s efforts — with U.S. support — in the 1960s and ‘70s to develop nuclear power.  The theocracy that overthrew the Shah accelerated the program after the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, a war in which Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons to brutal effect, and Iran’s nuclear program advanced steadily through the 1990s, despite unilateral U.S. sanctions.  When the Bush administration took office, Iran had no centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce material for a bomb — that were spinning to enrich uranium.  But despite repeated warnings from the United States government, by the time I took office, Iran had installed several thousand centrifuges, and showed no inclination to slow — much less halt — its program.

Among U.S. policymakers, there’s never been disagreement on the danger posed by an Iranian nuclear bomb.  Democrats and Republicans alike have recognized that it would spark an arms race in the world’s most unstable region, and turn every crisis into a potential nuclear showdown.  It would embolden terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, and pose an unacceptable risk to Israel, which Iranian leaders have repeatedly threatened to destroy.  More broadly, it could unravel the global commitment to non-proliferation that the world has done so much to defend.

The question, then, is not whether to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, but how.  Even before taking office, I made clear that Iran would not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon on my watch, and it’s been my policy throughout my presidency to keep all options — including possible military options — on the table to achieve that objective.  But I have also made clear my preference for a peaceful, diplomatic resolution of the issue — not just because of the costs of war, but also because a negotiated agreement offered a more effective, verifiable and durable resolution.

And so, in 2009, we let the Iranians know that a diplomatic path was available.  Iran failed to take that path, and our intelligence community exposed the existence of a covert nuclear facility at Fordow.

Now, some have argued that Iran’s intransigence showed the futility of negotiations.  In fact, it was our very willingness to negotiate that helped America rally the world to our cause, and secured international participation in an unprecedented framework of commercial and financial sanctions.  Keep in mind unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran had been in place for decades, but had failed to pressure Iran to the negotiating table.  What made our new approach more effective was our ability to draw upon new U.N. Security Council resolutions, combining strong enforcement with voluntary agreements from nations like China and India, Japan and South Korea to reduce their purchases of Iranian oil, as well as the imposition by our European allies of a total oil embargo.

Winning this global buy-in was not easy — I know.  I was there.  In some cases, our partners lost billions of dollars in trade because of their decision to cooperate.  But we were able to convince them that absent a diplomatic resolution, the result could be war, with major disruptions to the global economy, and even greater instability in the Middle East.  In other words, it was diplomacy — hard, painstaking diplomacy — not saber-rattling, not tough talk that ratcheted up the pressure on Iran.

With the world now unified beside us, Iran’s economy contracted severely, and remains about 20 percent smaller today than it would have otherwise been.  No doubt this hardship played a role in Iran’s 2013 elections, when the Iranian people elected a new government that promised to improve the economy through engagement with the world.  A window had cracked open.  Iran came back to the nuclear talks.  And after a series of negotiations, Iran agreed with the international community to an interim deal — a deal that rolled back Iran’s stockpile of near 20 percent enriched uranium, and froze the progress of its program so that the P5+1 — the United States, China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and the European Union — could negotiate a comprehensive deal without the fear that Iran might be stalling for time.

Now, let me pause here just to remind everybody that when the interim deal was announced, critics — the same critics we’re hearing from now — called it “a historic mistake.”  They insisted Iran would ignore its obligations.  They warned that sanctions would unravel.  They warned that Iran would receive a windfall to support terrorism.

The critics were wrong.  The progress of Iran’s nuclear program was halted for the first time in a decade.  Its stockpile of dangerous materials was reduced.  The deployment of its advanced centrifuges was stopped.  Inspections did increase. There was no flood of money into Iran, and the architecture of the international sanctions remained in place.  In fact, the interim deal worked so well that the same people who criticized it so fiercely now cite it as an excuse not to support the broader accord.  Think about that.  What was once proclaimed as a historic mistake is now held up as a success and a reason to not sign the comprehensive deal.  So keep that in mind when you assess the credibility of the arguments being made against diplomacy today.

Despite the criticism, we moved ahead to negotiate a more lasting, comprehensive deal.  Our diplomats, led by Secretary of State John Kerry, kept our coalition united.  Our nuclear experts — including one of the best in the world, Secretary of Energy Ernie Moniz — worked tirelessly on the technical details.  In July, we reached a comprehensive plan of action that meets our objectives.  Under its terms, Iran is never allowed to build a nuclear weapon.  And while Iran, like any party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is allowed to access peaceful nuclear energy, the agreement strictly defines the manner in which its nuclear program can proceed, ensuring that all pathways to a bomb are cut off.

Here’s how.  Under this deal, Iran cannot acquire the plutonium needed for a bomb.  The core of its heavy-water reactor at Arak will be pulled out, filled with concrete, and replaced with one that will not produce plutonium for a weapon.  The spent fuel from that reactor will be shipped out of the country, and Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors for at least 15 years.

Iran will also not be able to acquire the enriched uranium that could be used for a bomb.  As soon as this deal is implemented, Iran will remove two-thirds of its centrifuges.  For the next decade, Iran will not enrich uranium with its more advanced centrifuges.  Iran will not enrich uranium at the previously undisclosed Fordow facility, which is buried deep underground, for at least 15 years.  Iran will get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, which is currently enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs, for the next 15 years.  Even after those 15 years have passed, Iran will never have the right to use a peaceful program as cover to pursue a weapon.

And, in fact, this deal shuts off the type of covert path Iran pursued in the past.  There will be 24/7 monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities.  For decades, inspectors will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain — from the uranium mines and mills where they get raw materials, to the centrifuge production facilities where they make machines to enrich it.  And understand why this is so important:  For Iran to cheat, it has to build a lot more than just one building or a covert facility like Fordow.  It would need a secret source for every single aspect of its program.  No nation in history has been able to pull off such subterfuge when subjected to such rigorous inspections.  And under the terms of the deal, inspectors will have the permanent ability to inspect any suspicious sites in Iran.

And finally, Iran has powerful incentives to keep its commitments.  Before getting sanctions relief, Iran has to take significant, concrete steps like removing centrifuges and getting rid of its stockpile.  If Iran violates the agreement over the next decade, all of the sanctions can snap back into place.  We won’t need the support of other members of the U.N. Security Council; America can trigger snapback on our own.  On the other hand, if Iran abides by the deal and its economy begins to reintegrate with the world, the incentive to avoid snapback will only grow.

So this deal is not just the best choice among alternatives -– this is the strongest non-proliferation agreement ever negotiated.  And because this is such a strong deal, every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support.  The United Nations Security Council has unanimously supported it.  The majority of arms control and non-proliferation experts support it.  Over 100 former ambassadors — who served under Republican and Democratic Presidents — support it.  I’ve had to make a lot of tough calls as President, but whether or not this deal is good for American security is not one of those calls.  It’s not even close.

Unfortunately, we’re living through a time in American politics where every foreign policy decision is viewed through a partisan prism, evaluated by headline-grabbing sound bites. And so before the ink was even dry on this deal — before Congress even read it — a majority of Republicans declared their virulent opposition.  Lobbyists and pundits were suddenly transformed into arm-chair nuclear scientists, disputing the assessments of experts like Secretary Moniz, challenging his findings, offering multiple — and sometimes contradictory — arguments about why Congress should reject this deal.  But if you repeat these arguments long enough, they can get some traction.  So let me address just a few of the arguments that have been made so far in opposition to this deal.

First, there are those who say the inspections are not strong enough because inspectors can’t go anywhere in Iran at any time with no notice.

Well, here’s the truth:  Inspectors will be allowed daily access to Iran’s key nuclear sites.  If there is a reason for inspecting a suspicious, undeclared site anywhere in Iran, inspectors will get that access, even if Iran objects.  This access can be with as little as 24 hours’ notice.  And while the process for resolving a dispute about access can take up to 24 days, once we’ve identified a site that raises suspicion, we will be watching it continuously until inspectors get in.  And by the way, nuclear material isn’t something you hide in the closet.  It can leave a trace for years.  The bottom line is, if Iran cheats, we can catch them — and we will.

Second, there are those who argue that the deal isn’t strong enough because some of the limitations on Iran’s civilian nuclear program expire in 15 years.  Let me repeat:  The prohibition on Iran having a nuclear weapon is permanent.  The ban on weapons-related research is permanent.  Inspections are permanent.  It is true that some of the limitations regarding Iran’s peaceful program last only 15 years.  But that’s how arms control agreements work.  The first SALT Treaty with the Soviet Union lasted five years.  The first START Treaty lasted 15 years.  And in our current situation, if 15 or 20 years from now, Iran tries to build a bomb, this deal ensures that the United States will have better tools to detect it, a stronger basis under international law to respond, and the same options available to stop a weapons program as we have today, including — if necessary — military options.

On the other hand, without this deal, the scenarios that critics warn about happening in 15 years could happen six months from now.  By killing this deal, Congress would not merely pave Iran’s pathway to a bomb, it would accelerate it.

Third, a number of critics say the deal isn’t worth it because Iran will get billions of dollars in sanctions relief.  Now, let’s be clear:  The international sanctions were put in place precisely to get Iran to agree to constraints on its program.  That’s the point of sanctions.  Any negotiated agreement with Iran would involve sanctions relief.  So an argument against sanctions relief is effectively an argument against any diplomatic resolution of this issue.

It is true that if Iran lives up to its commitments, it will gain access to roughly $56 billion of its own money — revenue frozen overseas by other countries.  But the notion that this will be a game-changer, with all this money funneled into Iran’s pernicious activities, misses the reality of Iran’s current situation.  Partly because of our sanctions, the Iranian government has over half a trillion dollars in urgent requirements — from funding pensions and salaries, to paying for crumbling infrastructure.  Iran’s leaders have raised the expectations of their people that sanctions relief will improve their lives.  Even a repressive regime like Iran’s cannot completely ignore those expectations.  And that’s why our best analysts expect the bulk of this revenue to go into spending that improves the economy and benefits the lives of the Iranian people.

Now, this is not to say that sanctions relief will provide no benefit to Iran’s military.  Let’s stipulate that some of that money will flow to activities that we object to.  We have no illusions about the Iranian government, or the significance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Quds Force.  Iran supports terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.  It supports proxy groups that threaten our interests and the interests of our allies — including proxy groups who killed our troops in Iraq.  They try to destabilize our Gulf partners.  But Iran has been engaged in these activities for decades.  They engaged in them before sanctions and while sanctions were in place.  In fact, Iran even engaged in these activities in the middle of the Iran-Iraq War — a war that cost them nearly a million lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

The truth is that Iran has always found a way to fund these efforts, and whatever benefit Iran may claim from sanctions relief pales in comparison to the danger it could pose with a nuclear weapon.

Moreover, there’s no scenario where sanctions relief turns Iran into the region’s dominant power.  Iran’s defense budget is eight times smaller than the combined budget of our Gulf allies. Their conventional capabilities will never compare with Israel’s, and our commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge helps guarantee that.  Over the last several years, Iran has had to spend billions of dollars to support its only ally in the Arab World — Bashar al-Assad — even as he’s lost control of huge chunks of his country.  And Hezbollah has suffered significant blows on the same battlefield.  And Iran, like the rest of the region, is being forced to respond to the threat of ISIL in Iraq.

So contrary to the alarmists who claim that Iran is on the brink of taking over the Middle East, or even the world, Iran will remain a regional power with its own set of challenges.  The ruling regime is dangerous and it is repressive.  We will continue to have sanctions in place on Iran’s support for terrorism and violation of human rights.  We will continue to insist upon the release of Americans detained unjustly.  We will have a lot of differences with the Iranian regime.

But if we’re serious about confronting Iran’s destabilizing activities, it is hard to imagine a worse approach than blocking this deal.  Instead, we need to check the behavior that we’re concerned about directly:  By helping our allies in the region strengthen their own capabilities to counter a cyber-attack or a ballistic missile; by improving the interdiction of weapons shipments that go to groups like Hezbollah; by training our allies’ special forces so that they can more effectively respond to situations like Yemen.  All these capabilities will make a difference.  We will be in a stronger position to implement them with this deal.  And, by the way, such a strategy also helps us effectively confront the immediate and lethal threat posed by ISIL.

Now, the final criticism — this sort of a catch-all that you may hear — is the notion that there’s a better deal to be had.  “We should get a better deal” — that’s repeated over and over again.  “It’s a bad deal, need a better deal” — (laughter) — one that relies on vague promises of toughness, and, more recently, the argument that we can apply a broader and indefinite set of sanctions to squeeze the Iranian regime harder.

Those making this argument are either ignorant of Iranian society, or they’re just not being straight with the American people.  Sanctions alone are not going to force Iran to completely dismantle all vestiges of its nuclear infrastructure — even those aspects that are consistent with peaceful programs.  That oftentimes is what the critics are calling “a better deal.”  Neither the Iranian government, or the Iranian opposition, or the Iranian people would agree to what they would view as a total surrender of their sovereignty.

Moreover, our closest allies in Europe, or in Asia — much less China or Russia — certainly are not going to agree to enforce existing sanctions for another 5, 10, 15 years according to the dictates of the U.S. Congress.  Because their willingness to support sanctions in the first place was based on Iran ending its pursuit of nuclear weapons.  It was not based on the belief that Iran cannot have peaceful nuclear power.  And it certainly wasn’t based on a desire for regime change in Iran.

As a result, those who say we can just walk away from this deal and maintain sanctions are selling a fantasy.  Instead of strengthening our position as some have suggested, Congress’s rejection would almost certainly result in multilateral sanctions unraveling.  If, as has also been suggested, we tried to maintain unilateral sanctions, beefen them up, we would be standing alone.  We cannot dictate the foreign, economic and energy policies of every major power in the world.

In order to even try to do that, we would have to sanction, for example, some of the world’s largest banks.  We’d have to cut off countries like China from the American financial system.  And since they happen to be major purchasers of or our debt, such actions could trigger severe disruptions in our own economy and, by the way, raise questions internationally about the dollar’s role as the world’s reserve currency.

That’s part of the reason why many of the previous unilateral sanctions were waived.  What’s more likely to happen, should Congress reject this deal, is that Iran would end up with some form of sanctions relief without having to accept any of the constraints or inspections required by this deal.  So in that sense, the critics are right:  Walk away from this agreement and you will get a better deal — for Iran.  (Applause.)

Now, because more sanctions won’t produce the results that the critics want, we have to be honest.  Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any U.S. administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option — another war in the Middle East.

I say this not to be provocative.  I am stating a fact. Without this deal, Iran will be in a position — however tough our rhetoric may be –- to steadily advance its capabilities.  Its breakout time, which is already fairly small, could shrink to near zero.  Does anyone really doubt that the same voices now raised against this deal will be demanding that whoever is President bomb those nuclear facilities?

And as someone who does firmly believes that Iran must not get a nuclear weapon, and who has wrestled with this issue since the beginning of my presidency, I can tell you that alternatives to military action will have been exhausted once we reject a hard-won diplomatic solution that the world almost unanimously supports.

So let’s not mince words.  The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war — maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.  And here’s the irony.  As I said before, military action would be far less effective than this deal in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  That’s not just my supposition.  Every estimate, including those from Israeli analysts, suggest military action would only set back Iran’s program by a few years at best, which is a fraction of the limitations imposed by this deal.  It would likely guarantee that inspectors are kicked out of Iran.  It is probable that it would drive Iran’s program deeper underground.  It would certainly destroy the international unity that we’ve spent so many years building.

Now, there are some opponents — I have to give them credit; there are opponents of this deal who accept the choice of war.  In fact, they argue that surgical strikes against Iran’s facilities will be quick and painless.  But if we’ve learned anything from the last decade, it’s that wars in general and wars in the Middle East in particular are anything but simple.  (Applause.)  The only certainty in war is human suffering, uncertain costs, unintended consequences.  We can also be sure that the Americans who bear the heaviest burden are the less than 1 percent of us, the outstanding men and women who serve in uniform, and not those of us who send them to war.

As Commander-in-Chief, I have not shied from using force when necessary.  I have ordered tens of thousands of young Americans into combat.  I have sat by their bedside sometimes when they come home.  I’ve ordered military action in seven countries.  There are times when force is necessary, and if Iran does not abide by this deal, it’s possible that we don’t have an alternative.

But how can we in good conscience justify war before we’ve tested a diplomatic agreement that achieves our objectives; that has been agreed to by Iran; that is supported by the rest of the world; and that preserves our options if the deal falls short? How could we justify that to our troops?  How could we justify that to the world or to future generations?

In the end, that should be a lesson that we’ve learned from over a decade of war.  On the front end, ask tough questions.  Subject our own assumptions to evidence and analysis.  Resist the conventional wisdom and the drumbeat of war.  Worry less about being labeled weak; worry more about getting it right.

I recognize that resorting to force may be tempting in the face of the rhetoric and behavior that emanates from parts of Iran.  It is offensive.  It is incendiary.  We do take it seriously.  But superpowers should not act impulsively in response to taunts, or even provocations that can be addressed short of war.  Just because Iranian hardliners chant “Death to America” does not mean that that’s what all Iranians believe.  (Applause.)

In fact, it’s those hardliners who are most comfortable with the status quo.  It’s those hardliners chanting “Death to America” who have been most opposed to the deal.  They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.  (Laughter and applause.)

The majority of the Iranian people have powerful incentives to urge their government to move in a different, less provocative direction — incentives that are strengthened by this deal.  We should offer them that chance.  We should give them that opportunity.  It’s not guaranteed to succeed.  But if they take it, that would be good for Iran, it would be good for the United States.  It would be good for a region that has known too much conflict.  It would be good for the world.

And if Iran does not move in that direction, if Iran violates this deal, we will have ample ability to respond.  The agreements pursued by Kennedy and Reagan with the Soviet Union, those agreements, those treaties involved America accepting significant constraints on our arsenal.  As such, they were riskier.  This agreement involves no such constraints.  The defense budget of the United States is more than $600 billion.  To repeat, Iran’s is about $15 billion.  Our military remains the ultimate backstop to any security agreement that we make.  I have stated that Iran will never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.  I have done what is necessary to make sure our military options are real.  And I have no doubt that any President who follows me will take the same position.

So let me sum up here.  When we carefully examine the arguments against this deal, none of them stand up to scrutiny.  That may be why the rhetoric on the other side is so strident.  I suppose some of it can be ascribed to knee-jerk partisanship that has become all too familiar; rhetoric that renders every decision that’s made a disaster, a surrender — “you’re aiding terrorists; you’re endangering freedom.”

On the other hand, I do think it’s important to acknowledge another, more understandable motivation behind the opposition to this deal, or at least skepticism to this deal, and that is a sincere affinity for our friend and ally, Israel — an affinity that, as someone who has been a stalwart friend to Israel throughout my career, I deeply share.

When the Israeli government is opposed to something, people in the United States take notice.  And they should.  No one can blame Israelis for having a deep skepticism about any dealings with a government like Iran’s — which includes leaders who have denied the Holocaust, embrace an ideology of anti-Semitism, facilitate the flow of rockets that are arrayed on Israel’s borders, are pointed at Tel Aviv.  In such a dangerous neighborhood, Israel has to be vigilant, and it rightly insists that it cannot depend on any other country — even its great friend the United States — for its own security.  So we have to take seriously concerns in Israel.

But the fact is, partly due to American military and intelligence assistance, which my administration has provided at unprecedented levels, Israel can defend itself against any conventional danger — whether from Iran directly or from its proxies.  On the other hand, a nuclear-armed Iran changes that equation.

And that’s why this deal ultimately must be judged by what it achieves on the central goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  This deal does exactly that.  I say this as someone who has done more than any other President to strengthen Israel’s security.  And I have made clear to the Israeli government that we are prepared to discuss how we can deepen that cooperation even further.  Already we’ve held talks with Israel on concluding another 10-year plan for U.S. security assistance to Israel.  We can enhance support for areas like missile defense, information sharing, interdiction — all to help meet Israel’s pressing security needs, and to provide a hedge against any additional activities that Iran may engage in as a consequence of sanctions relief.

But I have also listened to the Israeli security establishment, which warned of the danger posed by a nuclear-armed Iran for decades.  In fact, they helped develop many of the ideas that ultimately led to this deal.

So to friends of Israel, and to the Israeli people, I say this:  A nuclear-armed Iran is far more dangerous to Israel, to America, and to the world than an Iran that benefits from sanctions relief.

I recognize that Prime Minister Netanyahu disagrees — disagrees strongly.  I do not doubt his sincerity.  But I believe he is wrong.  I believe the facts support this deal.  I believe they are in America’s interest and Israel’s interest.  And as President of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally.  I do not believe that would be the right thing to do for the United States.  I do not believe it would be the right thing to do for Israel.  (Applause.)

Over the last couple weeks, I have repeatedly challenged anyone opposed to this deal to put forward a better, plausible alternative.  I have yet to hear one.  What I’ve heard instead are the same types of arguments that we heard in the run-up to the Iraq War:  Iran cannot be dealt with diplomatically; we can take military strikes without significant consequences; we shouldn’t worry about what the rest of the world thinks, because once we act, everyone will fall in line; tougher talk, more military threats will force Iran into submission; we can get a better deal.

I know it’s easy to play on people’s fears, to magnify threats, to compare any attempt at diplomacy to Munich.  But none of these arguments hold up.  They didn’t back in 2002 and 2003; they shouldn’t now.  (Applause.)  The same mindset, in many cases offered by the same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong, led to a war that did more to strengthen Iran, more to isolate the United States than anything we have done in the decades before or since.  It’s a mindset out of step with the traditions of American foreign policy, where we exhaust diplomacy before war, and debate matters of war and peace in the cold light of truth.

“Peace is not the absence of conflict,” President Reagan once said.  It is “the ability to cope with conflict by peaceful means.”  President Kennedy warned Americans, “not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodation as impossible, and communication as nothing more than the exchange of threats.”  It is time to apply such wisdom.  The deal before us doesn’t bet on Iran changing, it doesn’t require trust; it verifies and requires Iran to forsake a nuclear weapon, just as we struck agreements with the Soviet Union at a time when they were threatening our allies, arming proxies against us, proclaiming their commitment to destroy our way of life, and had nuclear weapons pointed at all of our major cities — a genuine existential threat.

We live in a complicated world — a world in which the forces unleashed by human innovation are creating opportunities for our children that were unimaginable for most of human history.  It is also a world of persistent threats, a world in which mass violence and cruelty is all too common, and human innovation risks the destruction of all that we hold dear.  In this world, the United States of America remains the most powerful nation on Earth, and I believe that we will remain such for decades to come.  But we are one nation among many.

And what separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional, is not the mere fact of our military might.  Since World War II, the deadliest war in human history, we have used our power to try to bind nations together in a system of international law.  We have led an evolution of those human institutions President Kennedy spoke about — to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security, and promote human progress.

We now have the opportunity to build on that progress.  We built a coalition and held it together through sanctions and negotiations, and now we have before us a solution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, without resorting to war.  As Americans, we should be proud of this achievement.  And as members of Congress reflect on their pending decision, I urge them to set aside political concerns, shut out the noise, consider the stakes involved with the vote that you will cast.

If Congress kills this deal, we will lose more than just constraints on Iran’s nuclear program, or the sanctions we have painstakingly built.  We will have lost something more precious: America’s credibility as a leader of diplomacy; America’s credibility as the anchor of the international system.

John F. Kennedy cautioned here, more than 50 years ago, at this university, that “the pursuit of peace is not as dramatic as the pursuit of war.”  But it’s so very important.  It is surely the pursuit of peace that is most needed in this world so full of strife.

My fellow Americans, contact your representatives in Congress.  Remind them of who we are.  Remind them of what is best in us and what we stand for, so that we can leave behind a world that is more secure and more peaceful for our children.

Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

12:54 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 25-28, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Trip to Kenya and Ethiopia



President Obama Travels to Kenya and Ethiopia

President Obama is traveling in Kenya and Ethiopia to meet with leaders from government, business, and civil society, reinforcing the U.S. commitment to economic growth and trade, democracy, and investing in the next generation of African leaders.

Follow along for highlights from the President’s trip.

Thursday, July 25th

  • On Saturday morning, the President spoke at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit
  • President Obama visited the Power Africa Innovation Fair
  • He then attended a wreath laying ceremony and then a welcome ceremony
  • President Obama and President Kenyatta of Kenya then held a bilateral meeting and joint press conference
  • In the evening, the President attended the Kenya State Dinner

July 26th

  • President Obama participates in a welcoming ceremony, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • The President and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held a bilateral meeting and press conference
  • President Obama holds a multilateral meeting on South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda.
  • President Obama attends a State Dinner with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

July 27th

  • President Obama participates in a welcoming ceremony, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • The President and Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn held a bilateral meeting and press conference
  • President Obama holds a multilateral meeting on South Sudan and counterterrorism issues with Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union and Uganda.
  • President Obama attends a State Dinner with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn

July 28th

  • President Obama Visits Faffa Foods, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • President Obama Holds a Bilateral Meeting with AUC Chairperson Dr. Dlamini Zuma
  • President Obama Speaks to the African Union


Full Text Obama Presidency July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Remarks on Launch of ConnectHome Initiative to connect low-income homes to the internet Transcript



Remarks by the President on Launch of ConnectHome Initiative

Source: WH, 7-15-15

Durant High School
Durant, Oklahoma

6:07 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, Oklahoma!  (Applause.)  Halito!

AUDIENCE:  Halito!

THE PRESIDENT:  Everybody, please have a seat.  Have a seat.  It’s good to see you.  How is everybody doing?  (Applause.)

First of all, Michelle says hi.  (Laughter.)  And I want to thank all of you for helping to build the terrific partnership that we share with the Choctaw Nation.


THE PRESIDENT:  I love you, too.  (Laughter.)  So I want to first of all thank Chief Gary Batton and the many tribal leaders who are here today.  (Applause.)  I want to thank the extraordinary young people that I just had a chance to meet with.  Give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  They were just exceptional, and gave me all kinds of interesting thoughts and ideas about how young people can lead and thrive, and reshape America.  And I could not be prouder of them.

As many of you know, we’ve held a Tribal Nations Conference each year that I’ve been President.  And just last week, as part of what we call our Generation Indigenous initiative, focused on young people, we hosted our first-ever Tribal Youth Gathering with over 1,000 young leaders from 230 tribes -– including several Choctaw youth.  (Applause.)  You spend time with these young people from all across the country and they will blow you away.  They are smart, and they’re passionate, and they are ready to seize the future.

And Michelle and I believe we’ve got a special obligation to make sure that tribal youth have every opportunity to achieve their potential not just for the benefit of themselves and their communities, but for our entire nation; that all of you young people have a chance to succeed not by leaving your communities, but by coming back and investing in your communities, and that you have a whole range of options that can lift us all up.  And so we are really excited about what you’re doing, and we’re really excited about some of the work that’s going to be done not just here but all across the country.  That’s why I’m here today.

When you step back and look at everything that we’ve done in the past six and a half years to rebuild our economy on a new foundation –- from retooling our industries to rethinking our schools, reforming our health care system –- all of it’s been in pursuit of one goal, and that’s creating opportunity for all people — not just some, but everybody.  (Applause.)

And thanks to the hard work and the resilience of the American people, the work we’ve done is paying off.  So our businesses have created 2.8 12.8 million new jobs over the past 64 months in a row.  That’s the longest streak of private sector job growth on record.  (Applause.)  The housing market is stronger.  The stock market recovered, so people’s 401(k)s and retirement accounts got replenished.  More than 16 million Americans now have the financial security of having health insurance.  (Applause.)  We’ve invested in clean energy.  We’ve made ourselves more independent of foreign oil.  We’ve seen jumps in high school enrollment and college graduation rates.

So across the board, there’s really no economic measure where we’re not doing better than we were when I came into office.  That’s the good news.  But I also made it clear when I came into office that even as we’re trying to make sure the entire economy recovers, we also have to pay attention to those communities that all too often have been neglected and fallen behind.  And as part of that, I said we’re going to do better by our First Americans.  We’re going to do better.  (Applause.)

Now, we can’t reverse centuries of history — broken treaties, broken promises.  But I did believe that we could come together as partners and forge a new path based on trust and respect.  And that’s what we’ve tried to do.  So we strengthened the sovereignty of tribal nations.  We gave more power to tribal courts and police.  We restored hundreds of thousands of acres of tribal trust lands.  We expanded opportunity by permanently reauthorizing the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, and helping businesses, and building roads, and moving forward on renewable energy projects in Indian Country.  We untied tribal hands when it came to dealing with domestic violence, which was really important.  (Applause.)

Here in Oklahoma, we designated the Choctaw Nation as one of America’s first Promise Zones -– areas where the federal government is partnering with local communities and businesses to jumpstart economic development and job creation, expand educational opportunities, and increase affordable housing, and improve public safety.  And as a result, you’ve already received federal investments in Early Head Start, to make sure our young people are getting the best possible beginning in life; child care, job training, support for young entrepreneurs.  And I’ve called on Congress to pass a Promise Zone tax credit to encourage employment and private sector investment in places like this.  (Applause.)

So we’ve made a lot of progress not just in Indian Country but in America as a whole.  But we’ve got more work to do.  We’ve got more work to do, especially because the economy around the globe is changing so fast.

So today, I want to focus on one way we can prepare our kids and our workers for an increasingly competitive world, a way that we can help our entrepreneurs sell more goods here at home and overseas, a way where we can get every American ready to seize the opportunities of a 21st century economy.

Today, we’re going to take another step to close the digital divide in America, and make sure everybody in America has access to high-speed broadband Internet.  (Applause.)  We’re taking some initiatives today to make that happen.

Now, I don’t really have to tell you why this is important.  Even old folks like me know it’s important.  In this digital age, when you can apply for a job, take a course, pay your bills, order a pizza, even find a date — (laughter) — by tapping your phone, the Internet is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.  You cannot connect with today’s economy without having access to the Internet.  Now, that doesn’t mean I want folks on the Internet all the time.  I always tell young people when I meet them, sometimes they just have the phone up, I’m standing right in front of them — (laughter) — and I got to tell them, young man, put down that phone.  Shake the hand of your President.  (Laughter.)  And then after you shake my hand and look me in the eye, and told me your name, then you can maybe go back to taking pictures.  (Laughter.)  So there’s nothing wrong with every once in a while putting the technology aside and actually having a conversation.  This is something I talk to Malia and Sasha about.  We don’t let tose phones at the dinner — but that’s a whole other story.  I went off track.

But if you’re not connected today, then it’s very hard for you to understand what’s happening in our economy.  Now, here’s the problem.  While high-speed Internet access is a given, it’s assumed for millions of Americans, it’s still out of reach for too many people — especially in low-income and rural communities.  More than 90 percent of households headed by a college graduate use the Internet.  Fewer than half of households with less than a high school education are plugged into the Internet.  So, in other words, the people who could benefit the most from the latest technology are the least likely to have it.

So if you’re a student and you don’t have Internet access at home, that means you could be struggling to type papers or do online homework assignments, or learn basic computer skills, or try to get help from your teacher.  You may have to wait in long lines at public libraries or even in parking lots at the local McDonald’s just to try to get digital access.  And what that means is you’re not learning the critical tech skills required to succeed in tomorrow’s economy.

And this has consequences.  A lot of you have heard about the achievement gap, how some kids in certain groups consistently lag behind, and the opportunity gap, where certain groups have a tougher time getting attached to the labor market.  Well, this starts with a “homework gap” for a lot of young people, and an “access to learning” gap, which then can translate into a science gap or a math gap, and eventually becomes an economic gap for our country.  And that’s not what America is about.  America doesn’t guarantee you success.  That’s never been the promise.  But what America does stand for — has to stand for — is if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility, then you can succeed — (applause) — no matter where you start off.

That’s the essential American story.  That’s why we admire stories like Abraham Lincoln’s.  Starts off in a log cabin, teaches himself to read and write, and becomes our greatest President.  That’s what America is supposed to be about.

And in an increasingly competitive global economy, our whole country will fall behind unless we’re got everybody on the field playing.  Obviously, as President, you travel around a lot, and you go to countries like South Korea where a higher percentage of the population has high-speed broadband — and, by the way, they pay their teachers the way they pay their doctors — (applause) — and they consider education to be at the highest rung of the professions.  Well, we will start falling behind those countries — which is unthinkable when we invented the stuff.  It’s American ingenuity that created the Internet, that created all these technologies.  And the notion that now we’d leave some Americans behind in being able to use that, while other countries are raising ahead, that’s a recipe for disaster, and it offends our most deeply held values.

A child’s ability to succeed should not be based on where she lives, how much money her parents make.  That’s not who we are as a country.  We’ve got a different standard.  We’re a people who believe we should be able to go as far as our talents and hard work will take us.  And just because you don’t have money in your household to buy fancy technology, that should not be an obstacle.

We’ve been doing a lot to encourage coding and STEM education — math and science and technology education.  And unfortunately, for too many of our kids, that’s something that’s viewed as out of reach.  Listen, people are not born coders.  It’s not as if suddenly if you’re born in Silicon Valley you can figure out how to code a computer.  That’s not — what happens is kids get exposed to this stuff early, and they learn, they soak it up like sponges.

And somewhere among the millions of young people who don’t have access to the digital world could be the next Mark Zuckerberg, the next Bill Gates.  Some of them might be right here in the Choctaw Nation.  (Applause.)  But only if we make sure you have access and exposure.  If we don’t give these young people the access to what they need to achieve their potential, then it’s our loss, it’s not just their loss.

So that’s why my administration has made it a priority to connect more Americans to the Internet, and close that digital divide that people have been talking about for 20 years now.  We’ve invested so far in more than 100,000 miles of network infrastructure; that’s enough to circle the globe four times.  We’ve laid a lot of line.  We’ve supported community broadband.  We’ve championed net neutrality rules to make sure that the Internet providers treat all web traffic equally.  And then we launched something called ConnectEd, and this was targeted at making sure that every school was connected and classrooms were connected.  And we’re now well on our way to connecting 99 percent of students to high-speed broadband in their classrooms by 2018, and that includes here in Durant.  (Applause.)

So far, 29 million more students in 55,000 schools are on track to have access to high-speed broadband, and 20 million more have Wi-Fi in their classrooms.  And last year, when I visited Standing Rock Nation in North Dakota, I announced that Verizon would connect 10 Native student dorms, Microsoft would donate more tablets to more Native students, including students right here in Oklahoma.  So we’ve been making progress.  We’re chipping away this thing.

But today, we’re going to go further.  I’m announcing a new initiative called ConnectHome.  Now, ConnectEd, the idea was making sure the schools were connected and that you didn’t have a situation where in a classroom, even if it was connected to the Internet, you could only have one student at a time or a couple of computers at a time.  So we had to make sure that the classroom was state of the art.  ConnectHome is designed to make high-speed Internet more affordable to residents in low-income housing units across the country — because young people today, they’re not just learning in the classroom, they’re learning outside the classroom as well.  So my Department of Housing and Urban Development is going to work with 28 communities, from Boston to Durham, from Seattle to Durant.  About 200,000 of our most vulnerable children and their families will soon be able to access affordable Internet in their home.  (Applause.)

Now, I want to give credit where credit is due.  This is not something government does by itself.  I’m proud to say that folks around the country are stepping up to do their part.  So businesses like Cox are providing low-cost Internet and devices.  Best Buy is committing free computer education and technical support so that folks learn how to make the most of the Internet.  Organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs will teach digital literacy so that kids in this community can be just as savvy as kids growing up in Silicon Valley.  You’ve got non-profits like EveryoneOn and U.S. Ignite who are going to help make this work on the ground.  So we’ve got some great businesses and some great non-for-profits who are partnering with us on this.

But most importantly, it really requires all of us to be involved — parents, principals, teachers, neighbors — because we have to demand the best in our schools and for our kids.

These investments are the right thing to do for our communities.  They’re the smart thing to do for the national economy.  And we can’t allow shortsighted cuts to the programs that are going to keep us competitive.

So this is a smart investment.  These are the kinds of investments we need to make.  Sometimes there’s a debate going on in Washington about the size of government and what we should be spending on.  And look, I’ve said before, there are programs in Washington that don’t work, and we don’t want taxpayer money wasted.  But there are some investments that we make in future generations, there are investments we make in things that help all of us that we can’t do by ourselves.  We’re not going to build a road by ourselves; we’ve got to do that together.  We’re not going to invest in basic research to solve Alzheimer’s by ourselves.  At least I don’t have enough money to do that.  We’ve got to do that together.  I’ll pay some tax dollars, we’ll pool our money, and then we all invest in the research because we all stand to benefit at some point.  We don’t know when we might get sick, and it’s good for us to keep that cutting edge of science.

Well, the same thing is true when it comes to schools and investing in our young people, making sure that they’ve got the tools they need to succeed.  So this idea of ConnectHome, just like ConnectEd, this is going to make the difference for a dad who can now — because it’s not just for the kids — now he can learn a new skill and apply for a better job after work, because he’s working a tough shift to pay the rent, but he knows he wants to advance.  He may be able to take an online course because he’s got access to the Internet — and that could make all the difference in his family and his future.  This will make a difference for the young entrepreneur — got a great idea, wants to start a business.  Can start it from her home.  This will make a difference for the student who can now download the resources he needs to study for that exam that’s coming up, and then maybe come up with a new theory that’s going to make a difference in our understanding of the world.

This will make a difference for young people like Kelsey Janway.  Where’s Kelsey?  There’s Kelsey, right here.  (Applause.)  Stand up, Kelsey, so everybody can see you.  All right, Kelsey, I know this is embarrassing, so you can sit down for a second.  (Laughter.)

Kelsey is 16 years old, a proud member of the Choctaw Nation.  This might be a game-changer for her.   When she was younger, her family only got phone reception if they stood on a particular rock in their yard, or on the top window sill in their bathroom.  Is that right?

MS. JANWAY:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  You remember the rock.

MS. JANWAY:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  It was this particular rock.  So today she has spotty, slow Internet service at home.  And at school, service is just as bad — which makes it tough for students like Kelsey to learn the skills they need for success.  Meanwhile, a high school nearby has much better technology; it gives those kids an advantage that she doesn’t have.

Now, even though she’s seen many of her peers get caught up in trouble or lose motivation and maybe drop out of school, Kelsey is keeping on pushing.  She works two jobs, belongs to 11 organizations.  Now, we’re going to need to talk about that.  That’s a lot of organizations.  I don’t know where you’re finding that time.  (Applause.)  She’s leading a youth council where she helps guide some of her peers.  And she says that even the slow Internet that she’s got — probably that buffer and things coming up all the time is getting on her nerves.  Nevertheless, that’s opened her mind and introduced her to views outside of her own.  “I have a sense of a bigger world out there.”  That’s what Kelsey says.

And that glimpse of what’s possible, that can change everything.  So last week, Kelsey represented Choctaw Nation at the White House Tribal Youth Gathering.  Had a chance to hear from Michelle, right?  And she plans to return to the White House one day — as President.  So I’m just keeping the seat warm for her until she gets there.  (Laughter.)  But I wanted to point out Kelsey having to stand on a rock trying to get phone service as an example of what we’re talking about here.

There are amazing young people like Kelsey all across the country.  I meet them every day.  Talented, smart, capable; of every race, of every ethnicity, every faith, every background.  They’ve got big dreams.  They’re just poised to succeed, and they’re willing to work through all kinds of obstacles to make great things happen.  But they’ve got big dreams — we’ve got to have an interest in making sure that they can achieve those dreams.  Kelsey, these young people, young people all across the country — they deserve a country that believes in those dreams, and that invests in those dreams, and that loves them for their dreams.  (Applause.)

And ultimately, that’s what America is about.  You know, I know sometimes folks get discouraged about Washington — I know I do — because the arguments between the parties are just so stark, and all the differences are exaggerated, and what attracts attention and gets on the news on TV is conflict and shouting and hollering.  And as a consequence, everybody kind of goes into their corners and nobody agrees to anything, and nothing gets done, and everybody gets cynical and everybody gets frustrated.

But the thing is that for all our disagreements, for all our debates, we are one family.  And we may squabble just like families do, but we’re one family — from the First Americans to the newest Americans.  We’re one family.  We’re in this together.  We’re bound by a shared commitment to leave a better world for our children.  We’re bound together by a commitment to make sure that that next generation has inherited all the blessings that we inherited from the previous generation.

And that requires work on our part.  It requires sacrifice.  It requires compromise.  And it requires that we invest in that future generation; that we’re thinking not just about taking care of our own kids — because I know Malia and Sasha will be fine — but I want to make sure Kelsey is fine.  I want to make sure every one of these young people are fine.  I want to make sure that some kid stuck in the inner city somewhere, that they’ve got a shot.  I can’t do it for them, but I want to make sure at least that they’ve got a shot.  I want to make sure that somebody down in some little border town in Texas, whose parents maybe never went to college, that they’ve got a dream and they’ve got a shot.

And I’m willing to do something about that.  And we all have to be.  When we make those commitments to all of our children, the great thing about it is the blessings are returned back to us — because you end up having a workforce that is better educated, which means suddenly companies want to locate, which means businesses start booming, which means businesses start hiring, which means everybody does better.

So not only is it the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.  That’s our tradition.  It’s not Democratic or Republican; it is the American tradition.  And we forget that sometimes because we’re so caught up in our day-to-day politics, and we listen to a bunch of hooey on TV or talk radio — (laughter) — that doesn’t really tell the truth about what’s going on.  (Applause.)

So I’m proud of Kelsey.  I’m proud of these young people.  I’m proud of Choctaw Nation.  And I surely am proud of these United States of America.  Let’s get to work and make sure we’re leaving the kind of country we want for our kids.

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

6:37 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama scolds CBS News’ Major Garrett on Iran hostages question at press conference



Obama scolds CBS News’ Major Garrett on Iran hostages question at press conference

Source: CBS News, 7-15-15

Transcription of exchange between CBS News Chief White House Correspondent Major Garrett and President Obama over Iranian hostages.

Major Garrett: As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran – three held on trumped up charges according to your administration, one, whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all of the fanfare around this [nuclear] deal to leave the conscience of this nation, the strength of this nation, unaccounted for, in relation to these four Americans?

And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It was perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations, making the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry. Could you comment?

President Obama: I’ve got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content, as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails – Major, that’s nonsense. And you should know better. I’ve met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody’s content, and our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates. Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals – makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal. And by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing just as hard to get these folks out. That’s why those issues are not connected, but we are working every single day to try to get them out and won’t stop until they’re out and rejoined with their families.

With respect to the Chairman’s testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol. We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles. As I just explained, not only do we keep in place for five years the arms embargo this particular new UN resolution, not only do we maintain the eight years on the ballistic missiles under this particular UN resolution, but we have a host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities – whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now.

So, we have not lost those legal authorities, and in fact part of my pitch to the GCC countries, as well as to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is we should do a better job making sure that Iran’s not engaged in sending arms to organizations like Hezbollah, and as I just indicated, that means improving our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity with our partners.

Full Text Obama Presidency July 15, 2015: President Barack Obama’s press conference on the Iran nuclear deal Transcript



Full text: Obama’s news conference on the Iran nuclear deal

Source: WH, 7-15-15

Press Conference by the President

East Room

1:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Yesterday was a historic day.  The comprehensive, long-term deal that we achieved with our allies and partners to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon represents a powerful display of American leadership and diplomacy.  It shows what we can accomplish when we lead from a position of strength and a position of principle, when we unite the international community around a shared vision, and we resolve to solve problems peacefully.

As I said yesterday, it’s important for the American people and Congress to get a full opportunity to review this deal.  That process is now underway.  I’ve already reached out to leaders in Congress on both sides of the aisle.  My national security team has begun offering extensive briefings.  I expect the debate to be robust — and that’s how it should be.  This is an important issue.  Our national security policies are stronger and more effective when they are subject to the scrutiny and transparency that democracy demands.

And as I said yesterday, the details of this deal matter very much.  That’s why our team worked so hard for so long to get the details right.  At the same time, as this debate unfolds, I hope we don’t lose sight of the larger picture — the opportunity that this agreement represents.  As we go forward, it’s important for everybody to remember the alternative and the fundamental choice that this moment represents.

With this deal, we cut off every single one of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear program — a nuclear weapons program, and Iran’s nuclear program will be under severe limits for many years.  Without a deal, those pathways remain open; there would be no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, and Iran could move closer to a nuclear bomb.

With this deal, we gain unprecedented, around-the-clock monitoring of Iran’s key nuclear facilities and the most comprehensive and intrusive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated.  Without a deal, those inspections go away, and we lose the ability to closely monitor Iran’s program and detect any covert nuclear weapons program.

With this deal, if Iran violates its commitments, there will be real consequences.  Nuclear-related sanctions that have helped to cripple the Iranian economy will snap back into place.  Without a deal, the international sanctions regime will unravel, with little ability to re-impose them.

With this deal, we have the possibility of peacefully resolving a major threat to regional and international security.  Without a deal, we risk even more war in the Middle East, and other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world.

As I said yesterday, even with this deal, we will continue to have profound differences with Iran — its support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize parts of the Middle East.  Therefore, the multilateral arms embargo on Iran will remain in place for an additional five years, and restrictions on ballistic missile technology will remain for eight years.  In addition, the United States will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.  And we’ll continue our unprecedented security cooperation with Israel and continue to deepen our partnerships with the Gulf States.

But the bottom line is this:  This nuclear deal meets the national security interests of the United States and our allies.  It prevents the most serious threat — Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, which would only make the other problems that Iran may cause even worse.  That’s why this deal makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.  It’s why the alternative — no limits on Iran’s nuclear program, no inspections, an Iran that’s closer to a nuclear weapon, the risk of a regional nuclear arms race and a greater risk of war — all that would endanger our security.  That’s the choice that we face.  If we don’t choose wisely, I believe future generations will judge us harshly for letting this moment slip away.

And no one suggests that this deal resolves all the threats that Iran poses to its neighbors or the world.  Moreover, realizing the promise of this deal will require many years of implementation and hard work.  It will require vigilance and execution.  But this deal is our best means of assuring that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.  And, from the start, that has been my number-one priority, our number-one priority.  We’ve got a historic chance to pursue a safer and more secure world — an opportunity that may not come again in our lifetimes.  As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I am determined to seize that opportunity.

So with that, I’m going to take some questions.  And let me see who I’m starting off with.  Here you go.  I got it.  (Laughter.)

Andrew Beatty, AFP.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Yesterday, you said the deal offered a chance at a new direction in relations with Iran.  What steps will you take to enable a more moderate Iran?  And does this deal allow you to more forcefully counter Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region quite aside from the nuclear question?  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Andrew, if you don’t mind, just because I suspect that there’s going to be a common set of questions that are touched on — I promise I will get to your question, but I want to start off just by stepping back and reminding folks of what is at stake here.  And I already did in my opening statement, but I just want to reiterate it because I’ve heard already some of the objections to the deal.

The starting premise of our strategy with respect to Iran has been that it would be a grave threat to the United States and to our allies if they obtained a nuclear weapon.  And so everything that we’ve done over the last six and a half years has been designed to make sure that we address that number-one priority.  That’s what the sanctions regime was all about.  That’s how we were able to mobilize the international community, including some folks that we are not particularly close to, to abide by these sanctions.  That’s how these crippling sanctions came about, was because we were able to gain global consensus that Iran having a nuclear weapon would be a problem for everybody.

That’s the reason that Iran’s accounts got frozen and they were not able to get money for the oil sales that they’ve made.  That’s the reason that they had problems operating with respect to international commerce — because we built that international consensus around this very specific, narrow, but profound issue — the possibility of Iran getting a nuclear weapon.

And, by the way, that was not simply my priority.  If you look back at all the debates that have taken place over the last five, six years, this has been a Democratic priority, this has been a Republican priority, this has been Prime Minister Netanyahu’s priority.  It’s been our Gulf allies’ priority — is making sure Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.

The deal negotiated by John Kerry, Wendy Sherman, Ernie Moniz, our allies, our partners, the P5+1 achieves that goal.  It achieves our top priority — making sure that Iran does not get a nuclear weapon.  But we have always recognized that even if Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, Iran still poses challenges to our interests and our values, both in the region and around the world.

So when this deal gets implemented, we know that we will have dismantled the immediate concerns around Iran’s nuclear program.  We will have brought their stockpiles down to 98 percent.  We will have significantly reduced the number of centrifuges that they operate.  We will have installed an unprecedented inspections regime, and that will remain in place not just for 10 years but, for example, on the stockpiles, will continue to 15 years.

Iran will have pledged to the international community that it will not develop a nuclear weapon and now will be subject to an Additional Protocol, a more vigorous inspection and monitoring regime that lasts in perpetuity.  We will have disabled a facility like Arak, the Arak facility, from allowing Iran to develop plutonium that could be used for a bomb.  We will have greatly reduced the stockpile of uranium that’s enriched.  And we will have put in place inspections along the entire supply chain so that if uranium was diverted into a covert program we would catch it.

So I can say with confidence but, more importantly, nuclear experts can say with confidence that Iran will not be in a position to develop a nuclear bomb.  We will have met our number-one priority.

Now, we’ll still have problems with Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism; its funding of proxies like Hezbollah that threaten Israel and threaten the region; the destabilizing activities that they’re engaging in, including in places like Yemen.  And my hope is that building on this deal we can continue to have conversations with Iran that incentivize them to behave differently in the region, to be less aggressive, less hostile, more cooperative, to operate the way we expect nations in the international community to behave.  But we’re not counting on it.  So this deal is not contingent on Iran changing its behavior.  It’s not contingent on Iran suddenly operating like a liberal democracy.

It solves one particular problem, which is making sure they don’t have a bomb.  And the point I’ve repeatedly made — and is, I believe, hard to dispute — is that it will be a lot easier for us to check Iran’s nefarious activities, to push back against the other areas where they operate contrary to our interests or our allies’ interests, if they don’t have a bomb.

And so will they change their behavior?  Will we seek to gain more cooperation from them in resolving issues like Syria, or what’s happening in Iraq, to stop encouraging Houthis in Yemen?  We’ll continue to engage with them.  Although, keep in mind that unlike the Cuba situation, we’re not normalizing diplomatic relations here.  So the contacts will continue to be limited.  But will we try to encourage them to take a more constructive path?  Of course.  But we’re not betting on it.

And in fact, having resolved the nuclear issue, we will be in a stronger position to work with Israel, work with the Gulf countries, work with our other partners, work with the Europeans to bring additional pressure to bear on Iran around those issues that remain of concern.

But the argument that I’ve been already hearing — and this was foreshadowed even before the deal was announced — that because this deal does not solve all those other problems, that that’s an argument for rejecting this deal, defies logic.  It makes no sense.  And it loses sight of what was our original number-one priority, which is making sure that they don’t have a bomb.

Jon Karl.

Q    Mr. President, does it give you any pause to see this deal praised by Syrian dictator Assad as a “great victory for Iran,” or praised by those in Tehran who still shout “death to America,” and yet our closest ally in the Middle East calls it “a mistake of historic proportions”?  And here in Congress, it looks like a large majority will vote to reject this deal.  I know you can veto that rejection, but do you have any concerns about seeing a majority of the people’s representatives in Congress saying that this is a bad deal?

And if I can just ask you quick political question, a very quick one.

THE PRESIDENT:  Jon, I think —

Q    Donald —

THE PRESIDENT:  Let me answer the question that you asked.  It does not give me pause that Mr. Assad or others in Tehran may be trying to spin the deal in a way that they think is favorable to what their constituencies want to hear.  That’s what politicians do.  And that’s been the case throughout.  I mean, you’ll recall that during the course of these negotiations over the last couple of months every time the Supreme Leader or somebody tweeted something out, for some reason we all bought into the notion, well, the Obama administration must be giving this or capitulating to that.  Well, now we have a document so you can see what the deal is.

We don’t have to speculate, we don’t have to engage in spin, you can just read what it says and what is required.  And nobody has disputed that as a consequence of this agreement Iran has to drastically reduce its stockpiles of uranium, is cut off from plutonium; the Fordow facility that is underground is converted; that we have an unprecedented inspections regime; that we have snap-back provisions if they cheat.  The facts are the facts.  And I’m not concerned about what others say about it.

Now, with respect to Congress, my hope — I won’t prejudge this — my hope is, is that everyone in Congress also evaluates this agreement based on the facts — not on politics, not on posturing, not on the fact that this is a deal I bring to Congress as opposed to a Republican President, not based on lobbying, but based on what’s in the national interest of the United States of America.

And I think that if Congress does that, then, in fact, based on the facts, the majority of Congress should approve of this deal.  But we live in Washington and politics do intrude.  And as I said in an interview yesterday, I am not betting on the Republican Party rallying behind this agreement.  I do expect the debate to be based on facts and not speculation or misinformation.  And that I welcome — in part because, look, there are legitimate real concerns here.  We’ve already talked about it.  We have huge differences with Iran.  Israel has legitimate concerns about its security relative to Iran.  You have a large country with a significant military that has proclaimed that Israel shouldn’t exist, that has denied the Holocaust, that has financed Hezbollah, and as a consequence there are missiles that are pointed towards Tel Aviv.

And so I think there are very good reasons why Israelis are nervous about Iran’s position in the world generally.  And I’ve said this to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I’ve said it directly to the Israeli people.  But what I’ve also said is that all those threats are compounded if Iran gets a nuclear weapon.  And for all the objections of Prime Minister Netanyahu, or, for that matter, some of the Republican leadership that’s already spoken, none of them have presented to me, or the American people, a better alternative.

I’m hearing a lot of talking points being repeated about “this is a bad deal” — “this is a historically bad deal,” “this will threaten Israel and threaten the world and threaten the United States.”  I mean, there’s been a lot of that.

What I haven’t heard is, what is your preferred alternative?  If 99 percent of the world community and the majority of nuclear experts look at this thing and they say, this will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and you are arguing either that it does not, or that even if it does it’s temporary, or that because they’re going to get a windfall of their accounts being unfrozen that they’ll cause more problems, then you should have some alternative to present.  And I haven’t heard that.  And the reason is because there really are only two alternatives here:  Either the issue of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon is resolved diplomatically through a negotiation, or it’s resolved through force, through war.  Those are the options.

Now, you’ll hear some critics say, well, we could have negotiated a better deal.  Okay.  What does that mean?  I think the suggestion among a lot of the critics has been that a better deal, an acceptable deal would be one in which Iran has no nuclear capacity at all, peaceful or otherwise.  The problem with that position is that there is nobody who thinks that Iran would or could ever accept that, and the international community does not take the view that Iran can’t have a peaceful nuclear program.  They agree with us that Iran cannot have a nuclear weapon.

And so we don’t have diplomatic leverage to eliminate every vestige of a peaceful nuclear program in Iran.  What we do have the leverage to do is to make sure they don’t have a weapon.  That’s exactly what we’ve done.

So to go back to Congress, I challenge those who are objecting to this agreement, number one, to read the agreement before they comment on it; number two, to explain specifically where it is that they think this agreement does not prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and why they’re right and people like Ernie Moniz, who is an MIT nuclear physicist and an expert in these issues, is wrong, why the rest of the world is wrong, and then present an alternative.

And if the alternative is that we should bring Iran to heel through military force, then those critics should say so.  And that will be an honest debate.

All right.

Q    Mr. President, if I can —


Q    Prime Minister Netanyahu said that you have a situation where Iran can delay 24 days before giving access to military facilities —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’m happy to — that’s a good example.  So let’s take the issue of 24 days.  This has been I think swirling today, the notion that this is insufficient in terms of inspections.

Now, keep in mind, first of all, that we’ll have 24/7 inspections of declared nuclear facilities — Fordow, Natanz, Arak, their uranium mines; facilities that are known to produce centrifuges, parts.  That entire infrastructure that we know about we will have sophisticated, 24/7 monitoring of those facilities.

So then the issue is, what if they try to develop a covert program?  Now, one of the advantages of having inspections across the entire production chain is that it makes it very difficult to set up a covert program.  There are only so many uranium mines in Iran.  And if, in fact, we’re counting the amount of uranium that’s being mined and suddenly some is missing on the back end, they got some explaining to do.

So we’re able to track what’s happening along the existing facilities to make sure that there is not diversion into a covert program.  But let’s say that Iran is so determined that it now wants to operate covertly.  The IAEA, the international organization charged with implementing the non-proliferation treaty and monitoring nuclear activities in countries around the world — the IAEA will have the ability to say, that undeclared site we’re concerned about, we see something suspicious.  And they will be able to say to Iran, we want to go inspect that.

Now, if Iran objects, we can override it.  In the agreement, we’ve set it up so we can override Iran’s objection.  And we don’t need Russia or China in order for us to get that override.  And if they continue to object, we’re in a position to snap back sanctions and declare that Iran is in violation and is cheating.

As for the fact that it may take 24 days to finally get access to the site, the nature of nuclear programs and facilities is such, this is not something you hide in a closet.  This is not something you put on a dolly and kind of wheel off somewhere.  And, by the way, if we identify an undeclared site that we’re suspicious about, we’re going to be keeping eyes on it.  So we’re going to be monitoring what the activity is, and that’s going to be something that will be evidence if we think that some funny business was going on there that we can then present to the international community.

So we’ll be monitoring that that entire time.  And, by the way, if there is nuclear material on that site, high school physics will remind us that that leaves a trace.  And so we’ll know that, in fact, there was a violation of the agreement.

So the point is, Jonathan, that this is the most vigorous inspection and verification regime by far that has ever been negotiated.  Is it possible that Iran decides to try to cheat despite having this entire inspection verification mechanism?  It’s possible.  But if it does, first of all, we’ve built in a one-year breakout time, which gives us a year to respond forcefully.  And we’ve built in a snap-back provision so we don’t have to go through lengthy negotiations at the U.N. to put the sanctions right back in place.

And so really the only argument you can make against the verification and inspection mechanism that we’ve put forward is that Iran is so intent on obtaining a nuclear weapon that no inspection regime and no verification mechanism would be sufficient because they’d find some way to get around it because they’re untrustworthy.

And if that’s your view, then we go back to the choice that you have to make earlier.  That means, presumably, that you can’t negotiate.  And what you’re really saying is, is that you’ve got to apply military force to guarantee that they don’t have a nuclear program.  And if somebody wants to make that debate — whether it’s the Republican leadership, or Prime Minister Netanyahu, or the Israeli Ambassador or others, they’re free to make it.  But it’s not persuasive.

Carol Lee.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to ask you about the arms and ballistic missile embargo.  Why did you decide — agree to lift those even with the five- and eight-year durations?  It’s obviously emerging as a sticking point on the Hill.  And are you concerned that arms to Iran will go to Hezbollah or Hamas?  And is there anything that you or a future President can do to stop that?

And if you don’t mind, I wanted to see if you could step back a little bit, and when you look at this Iran deal and all the other issues and unrest that’s happening in the Middle East, what kind of Middle East do you want to leave when you leave the White House in a year and a half?

THE PRESIDENT:  So the issue of the arms embargo and ballistic missiles is of real concern to us — has been of real concern to us.  And it is in the national security interest of the United States to prevent Iran from sending weapons to Hezbollah, for example, or sending weapons to the Houthis in Yemen that accelerate a civil war there.

We have a number of mechanisms under international law that give us authority to interdict arms shipments by Iran.  One of those mechanisms is the U.N. security resolution related to Iran’s nuclear program.  Essentially, Iran was sanctioned because of what had happened at Fordow, its unwillingness to comply with previous U.N. security resolutions about their nuclear program.  And as part of the package of sanctions that was slapped on them, the issue of arms and ballistic missiles were included.

Now, under the terms of the original U.N. resolution, the fact is that once an agreement was arrived at that gave the international community assurance Iran didn’t have a nuclear weapon, you could argue just looking at the text that those arms and ballistic missile prohibitions should immediately go away.

But what I said to our negotiators was given that Iran has breached trust, and the uncertainty of our allies in the region about Iran’s activities, let’s press for a longer extension of the arms embargo and the ballistic missile prohibitions.  And we got that.  We got five years in which, under this new agreement, arms coming in and out of Iran are prohibited.  And we got eight years with respect to ballistic missiles.

But part of the reason why we were willing to extend it only for five, let’s say, as opposed to a longer period of time, is because we have other U.N. resolutions that prohibit arms sales by Iran to organizations like Hezbollah.  We have other U.N. resolutions and multilateral agreements that give us authority to interdict arms shipments from Iran throughout the region.  And so we’ve had belts and suspenders and buttons, a whole bunch of different legal authorities.  These legal authorities under the nuclear program may lapse after five or eight years, but we’ll still be in possession of other legal authorities that allow us to interdict those arms.

And truthfully, these prohibitions are not self-enforcing.  It’s not like the U.N. has the capacity to police what Iran is doing.

What it does is it gives us authority under international law to prevent arms shipments from happening in concert with our allies and our partners.  And the real problem, if you look at how, for example, Hezbollah got a lot of missiles that are a grave threat to Israel and many of our friends in the region, it’s not because they were legal.  It’s not because somehow that was authorized under international law.  It was because there was insufficient intelligence, or capacity, to stop those shipments.

So the bottom line is, Carol, I share the concerns of Israel, Saudis, Gulf partners about Iran shipping arms and causing conflict and chaos in the region.  And that’s why I’ve said to them, let’s double down and partner much more effectively to improve our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity so that fewer of those arms shipments are getting through the net.

But the legal authorities, we’ll still possess.  And obviously, we’ve got our own unilateral prohibitions and sanctions in place around non-nuclear issues, like support for Hezbollah.  And those remain in place.

Now, in terms of the larger issues of the Middle East, obviously that’s a longer discussion.  I think my key goal when I turn over the keys to the President — the next President — is that we are on track to defeat ISIL; that they are much more contained and we’re moving in the right direction there.  That we have jumpstarted a process to resolve the civil war in Syria, which is like an open sore in the region and is giving refuge to terrorist organizations who are taking advantage of that chaos.  To make sure that in Iraq not only have we pushed back ISIL, but we’ve also created an environment in which Sunni, Shia and Kurd are starting to operate and function more effectively together.  And to be in a conversation with all our partners in the region about how we have strengthened our security partnerships so that they feel they can address any potential threats that may come, including threats from Iran.  And that includes providing additional security assurances and cooperation to Israel, building on the unprecedented cooperation that we have already put in place and support that we’ve already put in place.  It includes the work that we’ve done with the GCC up at Camp David, making sure that we execute that.

If we’ve done those things, then the problems in the Middle East will not be solved.  And ultimately, it’s not the job of the President of the United States to solve every problem in the Middle East.  The people of the Middle East are going to have to solve some of these problems themselves.  But I think we can provide that next President at least a foundation for continued progress in these various areas.

The last thing I would say — and this is a longer-term issue — is we have to address the youth in the region with jobs and opportunity and a better vision for the future so that they are not tempted by the nihilistic, violent dead-end that organizations like ISIL offer.  Again, we can’t do that entirely by ourselves, but we can partner with well-intentioned organizations, states, NGOs, religious leaders in the region.  We have to do a better job of that than we’ve been doing so far.

Michael Crowley.

Q    Thank you.  You alluded earlier to Iran’s role in Syria, just to focus on that for a moment.  Many analysts and some former members of your administration believe that the kind of negotiated political settlement that you say is necessary in Syria will require working directly with Iran and giving Iran an important role.  Do you agree?  And is that a dialogue you’ll be actively seeking?

And what about the fight against ISIS?  What would it take for there to be explicit cooperation between the U.S. and Iran?

THE PRESIDENT:  I do agree that we’re not going to solve the problems in Syria unless there’s buy-in from the Russians, the Iranians, the Turks, our Gulf partners.  It’s too chaotic.  There are too many factions.  There’s too much money and too many arms flooding into the zone.  It’s gotten caught up in both sectarian conflict and geopolitical jockeying.  And in order for us to resolve it, there’s going to have to be agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield.  So Iran is one of those players, and I think that it’s important for them to be part of that conversation.

I want to repeat what I said earlier.  We have not — and I don’t anticipate any time in the near future — restored normal diplomatic relations with Iran.  And so I do not foresee a formal set of agreements with Iran in terms of how we’re conducting our counter-ISIL campaign.

But clearly, Iran has influence in Iraq.  Iraq has a majority Shia population.  They have relationships to Iran.  Some are natural.  We expect somebody like Prime Minister Abadi to meet with and negotiate and work with Iran as its neighbor.  Some are less legitimate, where you see Iran financing Shia militias that in the past have killed American soldiers and in the future may carry out atrocities when they move into Sunni areas.

And so we’re working with our diplomats on the ground, as well as our military teams on the ground to asses where can we appropriately at least de-conflict, and where can we work with Prime Minister Abadi around an overall strategy for Iraq to regain its sovereignty, and where do we tell Abadi, you know what, what Iran is doing there is a problem, and we can’t cooperate in that area, for example, unless you get those folks out of there because we’re not going to have our troops, even in an advisory or training role, looking over their shoulders because they’re not sure of what might happen to them.  And those conversations have been ongoing.  I think they will continue.

The one thing you can count on is that any work that the U.S. government does, or the U.S. military does in Iraq with other partners on the ground is premised on the idea that they are reporting to — under the chain of command of the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces.  If we don’t have confidence that ultimately Abadi is directing those soldiers, then it’s tough for us to have any kind of direct relationship.

Major Garrett.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran — three held on trumped-up charges, according to your administration; one, whereabouts unknown.  Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?

And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons.  It is perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations.  Many in the Pentagon feel you’ve left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry.  Could you comment?

THE PRESIDENT:  I got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions.  The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails — Major, that’s nonsense, and you should know better.

I’ve met with the families of some of those folks.  Nobody is content.  And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out.

Now, if the question is why we did not tie the negotiations to their release, think about the logic that that creates.  Suddenly, Iran realizes, you know what, maybe we can get additional concessions out of the Americans by holding these individuals.  It makes it much more difficult for us to walk away if Iran somehow thinks that a nuclear deal is dependent in some fashion on the nuclear deal.  And, by the way, if we had walked away from the nuclear deal, we’d still be pushing them just as hard to get these folks out.  That’s why those issues are not connected.  But we are working every single day to try to get them out, and won’t stop until they’re out and rejoined with their families.

With respect to the Chairman’s testimony, to some degree I already answered this with Carol.  We are not taking the pressure off Iran with respect to arms and with respect to ballistic missiles.  As I just explained, not only do we keep in place for five years the arms embargo under this particular new U.N. resolution, not only do we maintain the eight years on the ballistic missiles under this particular U.N. resolution, but we have a host of other multilateral and unilateral authorities that allow us to take action where we see Iran engaged in those activities whether it’s six years from now or 10 years from now.

So we have not lost those legal authorities.  And in fact, part of my pitch to the GCC countries, as well as to Prime Minister Netanyahu, is we should do a better job making sure that Iran is not engaged in sending arms to organizations like Hezbollah.  And as I just indicated, that means improving our intelligence capacity and our interdiction capacity with our partners.

April Ryan.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I want to change the subject a bit.  Earlier this year, on the flight to Selma, you said, on matters of race, as President your job is to close the remaining gaps that are left in state and federal government.  Now, how does criminal justice reform fit into that equation?  And what gaps remain for you towards the end of your presidency?  And also, what does it mean to travel to Kenya, your father’s homeland, in the next couple of weeks as President to the United States?  And lastly, would you revoke the Medal of Freedom from Bill Cosby?

THE PRESIDENT:  You stuffed a lot in there, April.  (Laughter.)

Q    I learned from my colleagues.

THE PRESIDENT:  Say, who did you learn from?  Jonathan Karl?  Is that what you said?  (Laughter.)

Q    On criminal justice reform, obviously I gave a lengthy speech yesterday, but this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot; been working first with Eric Holder, now with Loretta Lynch about — we’ve been working on along with other prosecutors of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  It’s an outgrowth of the task force that we put together, post-Ferguson and the Garner case in New York.

And I don’t think that the criminal justice system is obviously the sole source of racial tension in this country, or the key institution to resolving the opportunity gap.  But I think it is a part of the broader set of challenges that we face in creating a more perfect union.

And the good news is, is that this is one of those rare issues where we’ve got some Republican and Democratic interest, as well as federal, state, and local interest in solving the problem.  I think people recognize that there are violent criminals out there and they’ve got to be locked up.  We’ve got to have tough prosecutors, we have to support our law enforcement officials.  Police are in a tough job and they are helping to keep us safe, and we are grateful and thankful to them.

But what we also know is this huge spike in incarcerations is also driven by non-violent drug offenses where the sentencing is completely out of proportion with the crime.  And that costs taxpayers enormous amounts of money.  It is debilitating communities who are seeing huge proportions of the young men in their communities finding themselves with a criminal record, rendering them oftentimes unemployable.  So it compounds problems that these communities already have.

And so I am very appreciative of folks like Dick Durbin and Cory Booker, alongside Mike Lee and Rand Paul and other folks in the House who are working together to see if we can both reduce some of these mandatory minimums around non-violent drug offenses.  Because again, I tend not to have a lot of sympathy when it comes to violent crime.  But when it comes to non-violent drug offenses, is there work that we can do to reduce mandatory minimums, create more diversion programs like drug courts?  Then, can we do a better job on the rehabilitation side inside of prisons so that we are preparing these folks who are eventually going to be released to reenter the workforce?  On the back end, are we doing more to link them up with reentry programs that are effective?

And this may be an area where we could have some really significant bipartisan legislation that doesn’t eliminate all the other challenges we’ve got.  Because the most important goal is keeping folks from getting in the criminal justice system in the first place, which means early childhood education and good jobs, and making sure that we’re not segregating folks in impoverished communities that have no contact with opportunity.

But this can make a difference.  I met these four ex-offenders, as I said, yesterday, and what was remarkable was how they had turned their lives around.  And these were some folks who had been some pretty tough criminals.  One of them had served 10 years; another was a repeat offender that had served a lot of time.  And in each instance, somebody intervened at some point in their lives — once they had already been in the criminal justice system, once they had already gotten in trouble — and said, you know what, I think you can live a different way, and I’m willing to help you.

And that one person, an art teacher, or a GED teacher, or somebody who was willing to offer a guy a job — I want to give a shout-out to Five Guys, because one of the guys there was an ex-felon, and Five Guys gave him a job.  And he ended up becoming a manager at the store and was able to completely turn his life around.  But the point was, somebody reached out to that person and gave him a chance.

And so part of our question should be, how about somebody reaching out to these guys when they’re 10, or 11, or 12, or eight, as opposed to waiting until they’ve already gone through a criminal justice program.  That’s part of why we’re doing My Brother’s Keeper.  But this is an area where I feel modestly optimistic.

I think in the meantime we’ve got to stay on top of keeping the crime rate down, because part of the reason I think there’s a conversation taking place is violent crime has significantly dropped.  Last year, we saw both incarcerations and the crime rate drop, and this can always turn if we start seeing renewed problems in terms of violent crime.  And there’s parts of the country where violent crime is still a real problem, including my hometown of Chicago, and in Baltimore.

And part of what I’ve asked Attorney General Lynch to do is to figure out how can we refocus attention.  If we’re going to do a package of criminal justice reforms, part of it would be actually having a greater police presence and more law enforcement in the communities that are really getting hit hard and haven’t seen some of the drops in violent crime that we’ve seen in places like Manhattan, for example.

With respect to the visit to Kenya, it’s obviously something I’m looking forward to.  I’ll be honest with you, visiting Kenya as a private citizen is probably more meaningful to me than visiting as President because I can actually get outside of a hotel room or a conference center.  And just the logistics of visiting a place are always tough as President, but it’s obviously symbolically important.  And my hope is, is that we can deliver a message that the U.S. is a strong partner not just for Kenya, but for Sub-Saharan Africa generally; build on the progress that’s been made around issues of health and education; focus on counterterrorism issues that are important in East Africa because of al-Shabaab and some of the tragedies that have happened inside of Kenya; and continue to encourage democracy and the reduction of corruption inside that country that sometimes has held back this incredibly gifted and blessed country.

And with respect to the Medal of Freedom, there’s no precedent for revoking a medal.  We don’t have that mechanism.  And as you know, I tend to make it a policy not to comment on the specifics of cases where there might still be, if not criminal, then civil issues involved.

I’ll say this:  If you give a woman — or a man, for that matter — without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that’s rape.  And I think this country — any civilized country — should have no tolerance for rape.

All right.  Have we exhausted Iran questions here?  I think there’s a helicopter that’s coming.  But I really am enjoying this Iran debate.  Topics that may not have been touched upon, criticisms that you’ve heard that I did not answer?  Go ahead.  I know Josh is getting a little stressed here — (laughter) — but I just want to make sure that we’re not leaving any stones unturned here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Mr. President.  I’ll be brief.  The argument has been made that Iran now has a cash windfall, billions to spend.  Your people seem confident they’re going to spend it at home.  Why are you confident they’re not going to spend it on arming Hezbollah, arming Bashar al-Assad, et cetera?

THE PRESIDENT:  I think that’s a great question and I’m glad you brought it up.  I think it is a mistake to characterize our belief that they will just spend it on daycare centers, and roads, and paying down debt.  We think that they have to do some of that, because Rouhani was elected specifically on the premise of improving the economic situation inside of Iran.  That economy has tanked since we imposed sanctions.

So the notion that they’re just immediately going to turn over $100 billion to the IRGC or the Quds Force I think runs contrary to all the intelligence that we’ve seen and the commitments that the Iranian government has made.

Do we think that with the sanctions coming down, that Iran will have some additional resources for its military and for some of the activities in the region that are a threat to us and a threat to our allies?  I think that is a likelihood that they’ve got some additional resources.  Do I think it’s a game-changer for them?  No.

They are currently supporting Hezbollah, and there is a ceiling — a pace at which they could support Hezbollah even more, particularly in the chaos that’s taking place in Syria.  So can they potentially try to get more assistance there?  Yes.  Should we put more resources into blocking them from getting that assistance to Hezbollah?  Yes.  Is the incremental additional money that they’ve got to try to destabilize the region or send to their proxies, is that more important than preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon?  No.  So I think — again, this is a matter of us making a determination of what is our priority.

The other problem with the argument that folks have been making about, oh, this is a windfall and suddenly Iran is flushed with cash, and they’re going to take over the world.  And I say that not tongue-in-cheek, because if you look at some of the statements by some of our critics, you would think that Iran is, in fact, going to take over the world as a consequence of this deal — which I think would be news to the Iranians.

That argument is also premised on the notion that if there is no deal, if Congress votes down this deal, that we’re able to keep sanctions in place with the same vigor and effectiveness as we have right now.  And that, I can promise you, is not true.  That is absolutely not true.  I want to repeat:  We’re not writing Iran a check.  This is Iran’s money that we were able to block from them having access to.  That required the cooperation of countries all around the world, many of whom really want to purchase oil from Iran.  The imposition of sanctions — their cooperation with us — has cost them billions of dollars, made it harder for them.  They’ve been willing to do that because they’ve believed we were sincere about trying to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, and they considered that a priority — a high enough priority that they were willing to cooperate with us on sanctions.

If they saw us walking away, or more specifically, if they saw the U.S. Congress effectively vetoing the judgment of 99 percent of the world community that this is a deal that resolves the Iranian weapons program — nuclear weapons program in an equitable way, the sanctions system unravels.  And so we could still maintain some of our unilateral sanctions, but it would be far less effective — as it was before we were able to put together these multilateral sanctions.

So maybe they don’t get $100 billion; maybe they get $60 billion or $70 billion instead.  The price for that that we’ve paid is that now Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon.  We have no inspectors on the ground.  We don’t know what’s going on.  They’re still getting some cash windfall.  We’ve lost credibility in the eyes of the world.  We will have effectively united Iran and divided ourselves from our allies.  A terrible position to be in.

I’m just going to look — I made some notes about any of the arguments — the other arguments that I’ve heard here.

Q    What about — (off-mic) — the end of the deal?

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, yes, that’s a good one.  The notion —

Q    At the end of the deal they could go back —

THE PRESIDENT:  Right.  Well, so let’s address this issue of — because that’s the other big argument that’s been made.  All right, let’s assume that the deal holds for 10 years, Iran doesn’t cheat.  Now, at the end of 10 years, some of the restrictions have been lifted — although, remember, others stay in place for 15 years.  So for example, they’ve still got to keep their stockpiles at a minimal level for 15 years.  The inspections don’t go away; those are still in place 15, 20 years from now.  Their commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty does not go away; that’s still in place.  The additional protocol that they have to sign up for under this deal, which requires a more extensive inspection and verification mechanism — that stays in place.

So there’s no scenario in which a U.S. President is not in a stronger position 12, 13, 15 years from now if, in fact, Iran decided at that point they still wanted to get a nuclear weapon.  Keep in mind, we will have maintained a one-year breakout time, we will have rolled back their program, frozen their facilities, kept them under severe restrictions, had observers.  They will have made international commitments supported by countries around the world.

And — hold on a second — and if at that point they finally decided, you know what, we’re going to cheat, or not even cheat — at that point, they decide openly we’re now pursuing a nuclear weapon — they’re still in violation of this deal and the commitments they’ve made internationally.

And so we are still in a position to mobilize the world community to say, no, you can’t have a nuclear weapon.  And they’re not in a stronger position to get a nuclear weapon at that point; they’re in a weaker position than they are today.  And, by the way, we haven’t given away any of our military capabilities.  We’re not in a weaker position to respond.

So even if everything the critics were saying was true — that at the end of 10 years, or 12 years, or 15 years, Iran now is in a position to decide it wants a nuclear weapon, that they’re at a breakout point — they won’t be at a breakout point that is more dangerous than the breakout point they’re in right now.  They won’t be at a breakout point that is shorter than the one that exists today.  And so why wouldn’t we at least make sure that for the next 10, 15, years they are not getting a nuclear weapon and we can verify it; and afterwards, if they decide if they’ve changed their mind, we are then much more knowledgeable about what their capabilities are, much more knowledgeable about what their program is, and still in a position to take whatever actions we would take today?

Q    So none of this is holding out hope that they’ll change their behavior?


Q    Nothing different —

THE PRESIDENT:  No.  Look, I’m always hopeful that behavior may change for the sake of the Iranian people as well as people in the region.  There are young people there who are not getting the opportunities they deserve because of conflict, because of sectarianism, because of poor governance, because of repression, because of terrorism.  And I remain eternally hopeful that we can do something about that, and it should be part of U.S. foreign policy to do something about that.  But I’m not banking on that to say that this deal is the right thing to do.

Again, it is incumbent on the critics of this deal to explain how an American President is in a worse position 12, 13, 14, 15 years from now if, in fact, at that point Iran says we’re going to pull out of the NPT, kick out inspectors and go for a nuclear bomb.  If that happens, that President will be in a better position than what happened if Iran, as a consequence of Congress rejecting this deal, decides that’s it, we’re done negotiating, we’re going after a bomb right now.

The choices would be tougher today than they would be for that President 15 years from now.  And I have not yet heard logic that refutes that.

All right.  I really have to go now.  I think we’ve hit the big themes.  But I promise you, I will address this again.  All right?  I suspect this is not the last that we’ve heard of this debate.

2:33 P.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 14, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech at the NAACP Conference Calls for Criminal Justice Reform Transcript



Remarks by the President at the NAACP Conference

Source: WH, 7-14-15

Pennsylvania Convention Center
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

4:54 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, NAACP!  (Applause.)  Ah, it’s good to be back.  (Applause.)  How you all doing today?  (Applause.)  You doing fine?


THE PRESIDENT:  You look fine.  (Applause.)  All right, everybody have a seat.  I got some stuff to say.  (Applause.)  I’ve got some stuff to say.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  I love you back.  You know that.  (Applause.)

So, see, now, whenever people have, like, little signs, you all got to write it bigger, because I’m getting old now.  (Laughter.)  And I like that picture of me.  That’s very nice.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

Let’s get something out of the way up front.  I am not singing today.


THE PRESIDENT:  Not singing.  Although I will say your board sang to me as I came in for the photograph.  (Laughter.)  So I know there’s some good voices in the auditorium.

Let me also say what everybody knows but doesn’t always want to say out loud — you all would rather have Michelle here.  (Laughter.)  I understand.  I don’t blame you.  But I will do my best to fill her shoes.  (Laughter.)  And she sends everybody her love.  And Malia and Sasha say hi, as well.  (Applause.)

I want to thank your chair, Roslyn Brock.  I want to thank your president, Cornell Brooks.  I want to thank your Governor, Tom Wolf, who’s doing outstanding work and was here.  (Applause.) The Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, who’s been a great friend and ally.  (Applause.)  Governor Dan Malloy of Connecticut, who’s here today.  (Applause.)  And some outstanding members of Congress who are here.  I want to just say thank you to all of you for your love, for your support, but most importantly, for the work that you are doing in your communities all across the country every single day.  (Applause.)

It’s not always received with a lot of fanfare.  Sometimes it’s lonely work; sometimes it’s hard work; sometimes it’s frustrating work.  But it’s necessary work.  And it builds on a tradition of this organization that reshaped the nation.

For 106 years, the NAACP has worked to close the gaps between the words of our founding that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights — those words try to match those with the realities that we live each and every day.

In your first century, this organization stood up to lynching and Jim Crow and segregation; helped to shepherd a Civil Rights Act and a Voting Rights Act.  I would not be here, and so many others would not be here, without the NAACP.  (Applause.)

In your second century, we’ve worked together to give more of our children a shot at a quality education; to help more families rise up out of poverty; to protect future generations from environmental damage; to create fair housing; to help more workers find the purpose of a good job.  And together, we’ve made real progress — including a My Brother’s Keeper initiative to give more young people a fair shot in life; including the passage of a law that declares health care is not a privilege for the few, but a right for all of us.  (Applause.)

We made progress, but our work is not done.  By just about every measure, the life chances for black and Hispanic youth still lag far behind those of their white peers.  Our kids, America’s children, so often are isolated, without hope, less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to earn a college degree, less likely to be employed, less likely to have health insurance, less likely to own a home.

Part of this is a legacy of hundreds of years of slavery and segregation, and structural inequalities that compounded over generations.  (Applause.)  It did not happen by accident.  (Applause.)  Partly it’s a result of continuing, if sometimes more subtle, bigotry — whether in who gets called back for a job interview, or who gets suspended from school, or what neighborhood you are able to rent an apartment in — which, by the way, is why our recent initiative to strengthen the awareness and effectiveness of fair housing laws is so important.  (Applause.)  So we can’t be satisfied or not satisfied until the opportunity gap is closed for everybody in America.  Everybody.
But today, I want to focus on one aspect of American life that remains particularly skewed by race and by wealth, a source of inequity that has ripple effects on families and on communities and ultimately on our nation — and that is our criminal justice system.  (Applause.)

Now, this is not a new topic.  I know sometimes folks discover these things like they just happened.  There’s a long history of inequity in the criminal justice system in America.  When I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked to make sure that we had videotaping of interrogations because there were some problems there.  We set up racial profiling laws to prevent the kind of bias in traffic stops that too many people experience.  Since my first campaign, I’ve talked about how, in too many cases, our criminal justice system ends up being a pipeline from underfunded, inadequate schools to overcrowded jails.  (Applause.)

What has changed, though, is that, in recent years the eyes of more Americans have been opened to this truth.  Partly because of cameras, partly because of tragedy, partly because the statistics cannot be ignored, we can’t close our eyes anymore.  And the good news — and this is truly good news — is that good people of all political persuasions are starting to think we need to do something about this.

So let’s look at the statistics.  The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  Think about that.  Our incarceration rate is four times higher than China’s.  We keep more people behind bars than the top 35 European countries combined.  And it hasn’t always been the case — this huge explosion in incarceration rates.  In 1980, there were 500,000 people behind bars in America — half a million people in 1980.  I was in college in 1980.  Many of you were not born in 1980 — that’s okay.  (Laughter.)  I remember 1980 — 500,000.  Today there are 2.2 million.  It has quadrupled since 1980.  Our prison population has doubled in the last two decades alone.

Now, we need to be honest.  There are a lot of folks who belong in prison.  (Applause.)  If we’re going to deal with this problem and the inequities involved then we also have to speak honestly.  There are some folks who need to be in jail.  They may have had terrible things happen to them in their lives.  We hold out the hope for redemption, but they’ve done some bad things.
Murderers, predators, rapists, gang leaders, drug kingpins — we need some of those folks behind bars.  Our communities are safer, thanks to brave police officers and hardworking prosecutors who put those violent criminals in jail.  (Applause.)

And the studies show that up to a certain point, tougher prosecutors and stiffer sentences for these violent offenders contributed to the decline in violent crime over the last few decades.  Although the science also indicates that you get a point of diminishing returns.  But it is important for us to recognize that violence in our communities is serious and that historically, in fact, the African American community oftentimes was under-policed rather than over-policed.  Folks were very interested in containing the African American community so it couldn’t leave segregated areas, but within those areas there wasn’t enough police presence.

But here’s the thing:  Over the last few decades, we’ve also locked up more and more nonviolent drug offenders than ever before, for longer than ever before.  (Applause.)  And that is the real reason our prison population is so high.  In far too many cases, the punishment simply does not fit the crime.  (Applause.)  If you’re a low-level drug dealer, or you violate your parole, you owe some debt to society.  You have to be held accountable and make amends.  But you don’t owe 20 years.  You don’t owe a life sentence.  (Applause.)  That’s disproportionate to the price that should be paid.

And by the way, the taxpayers are picking up the tab for that price.  (Applause.)  Every year, we spend $80 billion to keep folks incarcerated — $80 billion.  Now, just to put that in perspective, for $80 billion, we could have universal preschool for every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in America.  (Applause.)  That’s what $80 billion buys.  (Applause.)  For $80 billion, we could double the salary of every high school teacher in America. (Applause.)  For $80 billion, we could finance new roads and new bridges and new airports, job training programs, research and development.  (Applause.)  We’re about to get in a big budget debate in Washington — what I couldn’t do with $80 billion.  (Laughter.)  It’s a lot of money.  For what we spend to keep everyone locked up for one year, we could eliminate tuition at every single one of our public colleges and universities.  (Applause.)

As Republican Senator and presidential candidate Rand Paul has said — (laughter) — no, and to his credit, he’s been consistent on this issue — imprisoning large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders for long periods of time, “costs the taxpayers money, without making them any safer.”

Roughly one-third of the Justice Department’s budget now goes toward incarceration — one-third.  And there are outstanding public servants at our Justice Department, starting with our outstanding Attorney General, Loretta Lynch — (applause) — and we’ve got some great prosecutors here today — and they do outstanding work — so many of them.  But every dollar they have to spend keeping nonviolent drug offenders in prison is a dollar they can’t spend going after drug kingpins, or tracking down terrorists, or hiring more police and giving them the resources that would allow them to do a more effective job community policing.

And then, of course, there are costs that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.  Because the statistics on who gets incarcerated show that by a wide margin, it disproportionately impacts communities of color.  African Americans and Latinos make up 30 percent of our population; they make up 60 percent of our inmates.  About one in every 35 African American men, one in every 88 Latino men is serving time right now.  Among white men, that number is one in 214.

The bottom line is that in too many places, black boys and black men, Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated differently under the law.  (Applause.)

And I want to be clear — this is not just anecdote.  This is not just barbershop talk.  A growing body of research shows that people of color are more likely to be stopped, frisked, questioned, charged, detained.  African Americans are more likely to be arrested.  They are more likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime.  (Applause.)  And one of the consequences of this is, around one million fathers are behind bars.  Around one in nine African American kids has a parent in prison.

What is that doing to our communities?  What’s that doing to those children?  Our nation is being robbed of men and women who could be workers and taxpayers, could be more actively involved in their children’s lives, could be role models, could be community leaders, and right now they’re locked up for a non-violent offense.

So our criminal justice system isn’t as smart as it should be.  It’s not keeping us as safe as it should be.  It is not as fair as it should be.  Mass incarceration makes our country worse off, and we need to do something about it.  (Applause.)

But here’s the good news.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  All right, good news.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good news.  Don’t get me preaching now.  (Laughter.)  I am feeling more hopeful today because even now, when, let’s face it, it seems like Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on anything — (laughter) — a lot of them agree on this.  In fact, today, back in Washington, Republican senators from Utah and Texas are joining Democratic senators from New Jersey and Rhode Island to talk about how Congress can pass meaningful criminal justice reform this year.  (Applause.) That’s good news.  That is good news.  Good news.

That doesn’t happen very often.  And it’s not just senators. This is a cause that’s bringing people in both houses of Congress together.  It’s created some unlikely bedfellows.  You’ve got Van Jones and Newt Gingrich.  (Laughter.)  You’ve got Americans for Tax Reform and the ACLU.  You’ve got the NAACP and the Koch brothers.  (Laughter.)  No, you’ve got to give them credit.  You’ve got to call it like you see it.  (Laughter.)  There are states from Texas and South Carolina to California and Connecticut who have acted to reduce their prison populations over the last five years and seen their crime rates fall.  (Applause.)  That’s good news.

My administration has taken steps on our own to reduce our federal prison population.  So I signed a bill reducing the 100-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.  (Applause.)  I’ve commuted the sentences of dozens of people sentenced under old drug laws that we now recognize were unfair, and yesterday I announced that I’m commuting dozens more.  (Applause.)

Under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder — now continued by Loretta Lynch — federal prosecutors got what he called “Smart on Crime,” which is refocusing efforts on the worst offenders, pursuing mandatory minimum sentences 20 percent less often than they did the year before.  The idea is you don’t always have to charge the max.  To be a good prosecutor, you need to be proportionate.  And it turns out that we’re solving just as many cases and there are just as many plea bargains, and it’s working.  It’s just that we’ve eliminated some of the excess.

And recently, something extraordinary happened.  For the first time in 40 years, America’s crime rate and incarceration rate both went down at the same time.  That happened last year.  (Applause.)

So there’s some momentum building for reform.  There’s evidence mounting for why we need reform.  Now I want to spend the rest of my time just laying out some basic principles, some simple ideas for what reform should look like, because we’re just at the beginning of this process and we need to make sure that we stay with it.  And I’m going to focus on what happens in three places — in the community, in the courtroom, and in the cell block.

So I want to begin with the community because I believe crime is like any other epidemic –- the best time to stop it is before it even starts.  (Applause.)   And I’m going to go ahead and say what I’ve said a hundred times before or a thousand times before, and what you’ve heard me say before, if we make investments early in our children, we will reduce the need to incarcerate those kids.  (Applause.)

So one study found that for every dollar we invest in pre-K, we save at least twice that down the road in reduced crime.  Getting a teenager a job for the summer costs a fraction of what it costs to lock him up for 15 years.  (Applause.)  Investing in our communities makes sense.  It saves taxpayer money if we are consistent about it, and if we recognize that every child deserve opportunity — not just some, not just our own.  (Applause.)

What doesn’t make sense is treating entire neighborhoods as little more than danger zones where we just surround them.  We ask police to go in there and do the tough job of trying to contain the hopelessness when we are not willing to make the investments to help lift those communities out of hopelessness.  (Applause.)  That’s not just a police problem; that’s a societal problem.  (Applause.)

Places like West Philly, or West Baltimore, or Ferguson, Missouri — they’re part of America, too.  They’re not separate. (Applause.)  They’re part of America like anywhere else.  The kids there are American kids, just like your kids and my kids.  So we’ve got to make sure boys and girls in those communities are loved and cherished and supported and nurtured and invested in.  (Applause.)  And we have to have the same standards for those children as we have for our own children.

If you are a parent, you know that there are times where boys and girls are going to act out in school.  And the question is, are we letting principals and parents deal with one set of kids and we call the police on another set of kids.  That’s not the right thing to do.  (Applause.)

We’ve got to make sure our juvenile justice system remembers that kids are different.  Don’t just tag them as future criminals.  Reach out to them as future citizens.  (Applause.)

And even as we recognize that police officers do one of the toughest, bravest jobs around — (applause) — and as we do everything in our power to keep those police officers safe on the job — I’ve talked about this — we have to restore trust between our police and some of the communities where they serve.  (Applause.)  And a good place to start is making sure communities around the country adopt the recommendations from the task force I set up — that included law enforcement, but also included young people from New York and from Ferguson, and they were able to arrive at a consensus around things like better training, better data collection — to make sure that policing is more effective and more accountable, but is also more unbiased.  (Applause.)

So these are steps in the community that will lead to fewer folks being arrested in the first place.  Now, they won’t eliminate crime entirely.  There’s going to be crime.  That’s why the second place we need to change is in the courtroom.  (Applause.)

For nonviolent drug crimes, we need to lower long mandatory minimum sentences — or get rid of them entirely.  (Applause.)  Give judges some discretion around nonviolent crimes so that, potentially, we can steer a young person who has made a mistake in a better direction.

We should pass a sentencing reform bill through Congress this year.  (Applause.)  We need to ask prosecutors to use their discretion to seek the best punishment, the one that’s going to be most effective, instead of just the longest punishment.  We should invest in alternatives to prison, like drug courts and treatment and probation programs — (applause) — which ultimately can save taxpayers thousands of dollars per defendant each year.

Now, even if we’re locking up fewer people, even if we are reforming sentencing guidelines, as I’ve said before, some criminals still deserve to go to jail.  And as Republican Senator John Cornyn has reminded us, “virtually all of the people incarcerated in our prisons will eventually someday be released.” And that’s why the third place we need to reform is in the cell block.

So on Thursday, I will be the first sitting President to visit a federal prison.  (Applause.)  And I’m going to shine a spotlight on this issue, because while the people in our prisons have made some mistakes — and sometimes big mistakes — they are also Americans, and we have to make sure that as they do their time and pay back their debt to society that we are increasing the possibility that they can turn their lives around.  (Applause.)

That doesn’t mean that we will turn everybody’s life around. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some hard cases.  But it does mean that we want to be in a position in which if somebody in the midst of imprisonment recognizes the error of their ways, is in the process of reflecting about where they’ve been and where they should be going, we’ve got to make sure that they’re in a position to make the turn.

And that’s why we should not tolerate conditions in prison that have no place in any civilized country.  (Applause.)  We should not be tolerating overcrowding in prison.  We should not be tolerating gang activity in prison.  We should not be tolerating rape in prison.  And we shouldn’t be making jokes about it in our popular culture.  That’s no joke.  These things are unacceptable.  (Applause.)

What’s more, I’ve asked my Attorney General to start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons.  (Applause.)  The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent.  Do we really think it makes sense to lock so many people alone in tiny cells for 23 hours a day, sometimes for months or even years at a time? That is not going to make us safer.  That’s not going to make us stronger.  And if those individuals are ultimately released, how are they ever going to adapt?  It’s not smart.

Our prisons should be a place where we can train people for skills that can help them find a job, not train them to become more hardened criminals.  (Applause.)

Look, I don’t want to pretend like this is all easy.  But some places are doing better than others.  Montgomery County, Maryland put a job training center inside the prison walls — (applause) — to give folks a head start in thinking about what might you do otherwise than committing crime.  That’s a good idea.

Here’s another good idea — one with bipartisan support in Congress:  Let’s reward prisoners with reduced sentences if they complete programs that make them less likely to commit a repeat offense.  (Applause.)  Let’s invest in innovative new approaches to link former prisoners with employers and help them stay on track.  Let’s follow the growing number of our states and cities and private companies who have decided to “Ban the Box” on job applications — (applause) — so that former prisoners who have done their time and are now trying to get straight with society have a decent shot in a job interview.  (Applause.)  And if folks have served their time, and they’ve reentered society, they should be able to vote.  (Applause.)

Communities that give our young people every shot at success; courts that are tough but fair; prisons that recognize eventually the majority will be released and so seek to prepare these returning citizens to grab that second chance — that’s where we need to build.

But I want to add this.  We can’t ask our police, or our prosecutors, or our prison guards, or our judges to bear the entire burden of containing and controlling problems that the rest of us are not facing up to and willing to do something about.  (Applause.)

So, yes, we have to stand up to those who are determined to slash investments in our communities at any cost — cutting preschool programs, cutting job-training programs, cutting affordable housing programs, cutting community policing programs. That’s shortsighted.  Those investments make this country strong. (Applause.)  We’ve got to invest in opportunity more than ever.

An African American man born roughly 25 years ago has just a one-in-two chance of being employed today.  More than one in three African American children are growing up in poverty.  When America’s unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, when I first came into office, as it was going up, we properly recognized this is a crisis.  Right now, the unemployment rate among African Americans is 9.5 percent.  What should we call that?  It is a crisis.  And we have to be just as concerned about continuing to lift up job opportunities for these young people.  (Applause.)

So today, I’ve been talking about the criminal justice system, but we have to recognize that it’s not something we can view in isolation.  Any system that allows us to turn a blind eye to hopelessness and despair, that’s not a justice system, it is an injustice system.  (Applause.)  But that is an extension and a reflection of some broader decisions that we’re making as a society.  And that has to change.  That has to change.

What the marchers on Washington knew, what the marchers in Selma knew, what folks like Julian Bond knew, what the marchers in this room still know, is that justice is not only the absence of oppression, it is the presence of opportunity.  (Applause.)
Justice is giving every child a shot at a great education no matter what zip code they’re born into.  Justice is giving everyone willing to work hard the chance at a good job with good wages, no matter what their name is, what their skin color is, where they live.

Fifty years after the Voting Rights Act, justice is protecting that right for every American.  (Applause.)  Justice is living up to the common creed that says, I am my brother’s keeper and my sister’s keeper.  Justice is making sure every young person knows they are special and they are important and that their lives matter — not because they heard it in a hashtag, but because of the love they feel every single day — (applause) — not just love from their parents, not just love from their neighborhood, but love from police, love from politicians.  (Applause.)  Love from somebody who lives on the other side of the country, but says, that young person is still important to me.  (Applause.)  That’s what justice is.  (Applause.)

And in the American tradition and in the immigrant tradition of remaking ourselves, in the Christian tradition that says none of us is without sin and all of us need redemption, justice and redemption go hand in hand.  (Applause.)

Right before I came out here, I met with four former prisoners, four ex-offenders.  Two of them were African American, one of them was Latino, one of them was white.  All of them had amazing stories.  One of them dropped out of school when he was a young kid.  Now he’s making film about his experience in the prison system.

One of them served 10 years in prison, then got a job at Five Guys — which is a tasty burger — (laughter) — and they gave him an opportunity, and he rose up and became a general manager there, and now is doing anti-violence work here in the community.  (Applause.)

One of them, the young Latino man, he came out of prison and was given an opportunity to get trained on green jobs that are helping the environment but also gave him a marketable skill.  And he talked about how the way he’s staying out of trouble is he just keeps on thinking about his two daughters.  And I could relate to that, because you don’t want to disappoint your daughters. (Applause.)  You don’t want to disappoint those baby girls.  And so he says, I go to work and I come home, and I grab that little baby and get a kiss, and that’s keeping me focused.

And then one of them, Jeff Copeland, was arrested six times before his 38th birthday.  He was drinking, using drugs, racked up DUI after DUI, sentence after sentence.  And he admits that the sentences he was getting for DUI weren’t reflective of all the trouble he was causing, could have been worse.  And Jeff spent so much time jogging in place in his cell that inmates nicknamed him “The Running Man.”  And he was literally going nowhere, running in place.

And then, somehow, Jeff started examining his life.  And he said, “This isn’t me.”  So he decided to hold himself accountable.  He quit drinking.  He went to AA.  Met a recruiter from the re-entry program at the Community College of Philadelphia, enrolled in classes once he was released — made sure to show up every day.  Graduated summa cum laude — (applause) — with a 3.95 GPA.  And this fall he’ll graduate from Temple University with a major in criminal justice and a minor in social work.  (Applause.)  And he volunteers helping former inmates get their lives back on track.

And “it’s sort of a cliché,” he says, “but we can do anything.”  (Applause.)  And just two years ago, “The Running Man” ran his first marathon — because he’s going somewhere now. (Applause.)  “You never look at crossing the finishing line,” he says of his journey, “you attack it by putting one mile after the other.  It takes steps.”  It takes steps.  That’s true for individuals.  It’s true for our nation.

Sometimes I get in debates about how to think about progress or the lack of progress when it comes to issues of race and inequality in America.  And there are times where people say, “Oh, the President, he’s too optimistic.”  Or “he’s not talking enough about how bad things are.”  Oh, let me tell you something, I see what happens.  My heart breaks when I see families who are impacted.  I spend time with those families and feel their grief. I see those young men on street corners and eventually in prisons, and I think to myself, they could be me; that the main difference between me and them is I had a more forgiving environment so that when I slipped up, when I made a mistake, I had a second chance.  And they’ve got no margin for error.  (Applause.)

I know — I know — how hard things are for a lot of folks. But I also know that it takes steps.  And if we have the courage to take that first step, then we take a second step.  And if we have the courage to take the second step then suddenly we’ve taken 10 steps.  The next thing you know, you’ve taken 100 steps. And that’s true not just for us as individuals, but that is true for us as a nation.

We are not perfect, but we have the capacity to be more perfect.  Mile after mile; step after step.  And they pile up one after the other and pretty soon that finish line starts getting into sight, and we are not where we were.  We’re in a better place because we had the courage to move forward.  (Applause.)  So we cannot ignore the problems that we have, but we can’t stop running the race.  (Applause.)  That’s how you win the race.  That’s how you fix a broken system.  That’s how you change a country.

The NAACP understands that.  (Applause.)  Think about the race that you have run.  Think about the race ahead.  If we keep taking steps toward a more perfect union, and close the gaps between who we are and who we want to be, America will move forward.  There’s nothing we can’t do.

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

4:40 P.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts July 14, 2015: Speaker John Boehner’s Statement on Iran Nuclear Deal



Speaker Boehner Statement on Iran Nuclear Agreement

Source: Speaker Boehner’s Press Office, 7-14-15

“At the outset of these talks, the Obama administration said it would secure an agreement that affirmed Iran does not have a right to enrich and permanently dismantles the infrastructure of its nuclear programs. It said that sanctions would not be lifted until Iran met concrete, verifiable standards. And if these terms were not met, the president promised he would walk away.

“The American people and our allies were counting on President Obama to keep his word. Instead, the president has abandoned his own goals. His ‘deal’ will hand Iran billions in sanctions relief while giving it time and space to reach a break-out threshold to produce a nuclear bomb – all without cheating. Instead of making the world less dangerous, this ‘deal’ will only embolden Iran – the world’s largest sponsor of terror – by helping stabilize and legitimize its regime as it spreads even more violence and instability in the region. Instead of stopping the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, this deal is likely to fuel a nuclear arms race around the world.

“The House of Representatives will review every detail of this agreement very closely, but I won’t support any agreement that jeopardizes the safety of the American people and all who value freedom and security. This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats. It’s about right and wrong. And we will fight a bad deal that is wrong for our national security and wrong for our country.”
– See more at: http://www.speaker.gov/press-release/speaker-boehner-statement-iran-nuclear-agreement#sthash.JkHQYhtS.dpuf

Full Text Obama Presidency July 14, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on Iran Nuclear Deal Transcript



Statement by the President on Iran

Source: WH, 7-14-15

State Floor

**Please see below for a correction, marked with an asterisk.

7:02 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Today, after two years of negotiations, the United States, together with our international partners, has achieved something that decades of animosity has not — a comprehensive, long-term deal with Iran that will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

This deal demonstrates that American diplomacy can bring about real and meaningful change — change that makes our country, and the world, safer and more secure.  This deal is also in line with a tradition of American leadership.  It’s now more than 50 years since President Kennedy stood before the American people and said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  He was speaking then about the need for discussions between the United States and the Soviet Union, which led to efforts to restrict the spread of nuclear weapons.

In those days, the risk was a catastrophic nuclear war between two super powers.  In our time, the risk is that nuclear weapons will spread to more and more countries, particularly in the Middle East, the most volatile region in our world.

Today, because America negotiated from a position of strength and principle, we have stopped the spread of nuclear weapons in this region.  Because of this deal, the international community will be able to verify that the Islamic Republic of Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

This deal meets every single one of the bottom lines that we established when we achieved a framework earlier this spring.  Every pathway to a nuclear weapon is cut off.  And the inspection and transparency regime necessary to verify that objective will be put in place.  Because of this deal, Iran will not produce the highly enriched uranium and weapons-grade plutonium that form the raw materials necessary for a nuclear bomb.

Because of this deal, Iran will remove two-thirds of its installed centrifuges — the machines necessary to produce highly enriched uranium for a bomb — and store them under constant international supervision.  Iran will not use its advanced centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for the next decade.  Iran will also get rid of 98 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium.

To put that in perspective, Iran currently has a stockpile that could produce up to 10 nuclear weapons.  Because of this deal, that stockpile will be reduced to a fraction of what would be required for a single weapon.  This stockpile limitation will last for 15 years.

Because of this deal, Iran will modify the core of its reactor in Arak so that it will not produce weapons-grade plutonium.  And it has agreed to ship the spent fuel from the reactor out of the country for the lifetime of the reactor.  For at least the next 15 years, Iran will not build any new heavy-water reactors.

Because of this deal, we will, for the first time, be in a position to verify all of these commitments.  That means this deal is not built on trust; it is built on verification.  Inspectors will have 24/7 access to Iran’s key nuclear facilities.

*Iran [Inspectors] will have access to Iran’s entire nuclear supply chain — its uranium mines and mills, its conversion facility, and its centrifuge manufacturing and storage facilities.  This ensures that Iran will not be able to divert materials from known facilities to covert ones.  Some of these transparency measures will be in place for 25 years.

Because of this deal, inspectors will also be able to access any suspicious location.  Put simply, the organization responsible for the inspections, the IAEA, will have access where necessary, when necessary.  That arrangement is permanent.  And the IAEA has also reached an agreement with Iran to get access that it needs to complete its investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s past nuclear research.

Finally, Iran is permanently prohibited from pursuing a nuclear weapon under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which provided the basis for the international community’s efforts to apply pressure on Iran.

As Iran takes steps to implement this deal, it will receive relief from the sanctions that we put in place because of Iran’s nuclear program — both America’s own sanctions and sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased in.  Iran must complete key nuclear steps before it begins to receive new sanctions relief.  And over the course of the next decade, Iran must abide by the deal before additional sanctions are lifted, including five years for restrictions related to arms, and eight years for restrictions related to ballistic missiles.

All of this will be memorialized and endorsed in a new United Nations Security Council resolution.  And if Iran violates the deal, all of these sanctions will snap back into place.  So there’s a very clear incentive for Iran to follow through, and there are very real consequences for a violation.

That’s the deal.  It has the full backing of the international community.  Congress will now have an opportunity to review the details, and my administration stands ready to provide extensive briefings on how this will move forward.

As the American people and Congress review the deal, it will be important to consider the alternative.  Consider what happens in a world without this deal.  Without this deal, there is no scenario where the world joins us in sanctioning Iran until it completely dismantles its nuclear program.  Nothing we know about the Iranian government suggests that it would simply capitulate under that kind of pressure.  And the world would not support an effort to permanently sanction Iran into submission.  We put sanctions in place to get a diplomatic resolution, and that is what we have done.

Without this deal, there would be no agreed-upon limitations for the Iranian nuclear program.  Iran could produce, operate and test more and more centrifuges.  Iran could fuel a reactor capable of producing plutonium for a bomb.  And we would not have any of the inspections that allow us to detect a covert nuclear weapons program.  In other words, no deal means no lasting constraints on Iran’s nuclear program.

Such a scenario would make it more likely that other countries in the region would feel compelled to pursue their own nuclear programs, threatening a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world.  It would also present the United States with fewer and less effective options to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

I’ve been President and Commander-in-Chief for over six years now.  Time and again, I have faced decisions about whether or not to use military force.  It’s the gravest decision that any President has to make.  Many times, in multiple countries, I have decided to use force.  And I will never hesitate to do so when it is in our national security interest.  I strongly believe that our national security interest now depends upon preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon — which means that without a diplomatic resolution, either I or a future U.S. President would face a decision about whether or not to allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon or whether to use our military to stop it.

Put simply, no deal means a greater chance of more war in the Middle East.  Moreover, we give nothing up by testing whether or not this problem can be solved peacefully.  If, in a worst-case scenario, Iran violates the deal, the same options that are available to me today will be available to any U.S. President in the future.  And I have no doubt that 10 or 15 years from now, the person who holds this office will be in a far stronger position with Iran further away from a weapon and with the inspections and transparency that allow us to monitor the Iranian program.

For this reason, I believe it would be irresponsible to walk away from this deal.  But on such a tough issue, it is important that the American people and their representatives in Congress get a full opportunity to review the deal.  After all, the details matter.  And we’ve had some of the finest nuclear scientists in the world working through those details.  And we’re dealing with a country — Iran — that has been a sworn adversary of the United States for over 35 years.  So I welcome a robust debate in Congress on this issue, and I welcome scrutiny of the details of this agreement.

But I will remind Congress that you don’t make deals like this with your friends.  We negotiated arms control agreements with the Soviet Union when that nation was committed to our destruction.  And those agreements ultimately made us safer.

I am confident that this deal will meet the national security interest of the United States and our allies.  So I will veto any legislation that prevents the successful implementation of this deal.

We do not have to accept an inevitable spiral into conflict. And we certainly shouldn’t seek it.  And precisely because the stakes are so high, this is not the time for politics or posturing.  Tough talk from Washington does not solve problems.  Hard-nosed diplomacy, leadership that has united the world’s major powers offers a more effective way to verify that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this deal will resolve all of our differences with Iran.  We share the concerns expressed by many of our friends in the Middle East, including Israel and the Gulf States, about Iran’s support for terrorism and its use of proxies to destabilize the region.  But that is precisely why we are taking this step — because an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon would be far more destabilizing and far more dangerous to our friends and to the world.

Meanwhile, we will maintain our own sanctions related to Iran’s support for terrorism, its ballistic missile program, and its human rights violations.  We will continue our unprecedented efforts to strengthen Israel’s security — efforts that go beyond what any American administration has done before.  And we will continue the work we began at Camp David to elevate our partnership with the Gulf States to strengthen their capabilities to counter threats from Iran or terrorist groups like ISIL.

However, I believe that we must continue to test whether or not this region, which has known so much suffering, so much bloodshed, can move in a different direction.

Time and again, I have made clear to the Iranian people that we will always be open to engagement on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.  Our differences are real and the difficult history between our nations cannot be ignored.  But it is possible to change.  The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel — that’s a dead end.  A different path, one of tolerance and peaceful resolution of conflict, leads to more integration into the global economy, more engagement with the international community, and the ability of the Iranian people to prosper and thrive.

This deal offers an opportunity to move in a new direction.  We should seize it.

We have come a long way to reach this point — decades of an Iranian nuclear program, many years of sanctions, and many months of intense negotiation.  Today, I want to thank the members of Congress from both parties who helped us put in place the sanctions that have proven so effective, as well as the other countries who joined us in that effort.

I want to thank our negotiating partners — the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, as well as the European Union — for our unity in this effort, which showed that the world can do remarkable things when we share a vision of peacefully addressing conflicts.  We showed what we can do when we do not split apart.

And finally, I want to thank the American negotiating team.  We had a team of experts working for several weeks straight on this, including our Secretary of Energy, Ernie Moniz.  And I want to particularly thank John Kerry, our Secretary of State, who began his service to this country more than four decades ago when he put on our uniform and went off to war.  He’s now making this country safer through his commitment to strong, principled American diplomacy.

History shows that America must lead not just with our might, but with our principles.  It shows we are stronger not when we are alone, but when we bring the world together.  Today’s announcement marks one more chapter in this pursuit of a safer and more helpful and more hopeful world.

Thank you.  God bless you.  And God bless the United States of America.

7:17 A.M. EDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 10, 2015: President Barack Obama at Signing of Monument Designation



Remarks by the President at Signing of Monument Designation

Source: WH, 7-10-15

Oval Office

2:02 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  As many of you know, one of the great legacies of this incredible country of ours is our national parks and national monuments.  It is something that we pass on from generation to generation, preserving the incredible beauty of this nation, but also reminding us of the richness of its history.  And I am especially pleased to be able to announce three new designations that are going to be taking place in varied landscapes, but all of them speak to some incredible history.

The first, we are going to be designating the Waco Mammoth National Monument.  This is one of the most incredible collections of mammoth fossils anywhere in the country.  And for us to be able to preserve this space is going to be important not only to scientists but also to many people who are able to take a look at this incredible landscape down in Texas.

We’re also designating the Basin and Range area of southeastern Nevada — the Basin and Range National Monument.  This is one of the most undisturbed corners of the Great Basin region, and its topography is unique.  It is a place that attracts already a large number of visitors because of some of its unique geological aspects.  And we’re going to be able to make sure that even more visitors are aware and take advantage of this incredible landscape.

And finally, we’re going to be designating the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument in California’s wild Inner Coast Range.  Once covered by ocean waters, it’s a landscape that is shaped by geological forces that are unique, and it has been a refuge for Native American inhabitants for 11,000 years — so that gives you a sense of the time scales that we’re working off of with some of these national monuments.

Teddy Roosevelt, it’s been said, had America’s best idea when he talked about preserving the incredible national heritage. And for me to be able to add to that heritage is greatly appreciated.

I want to thank our outstanding Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, and everybody in the Park Service who does such a great job.

One of the wonderful things about our use of the Antiquities Act is we’ve had the opportunity to engage local communities consistently throughout this process — businesses, residents, people who are profoundly attached to the land.  And as a consequence, the local communities have huge buy-in to these things and are absolutely confident that not only is it going to be a real economic spur in these areas but it’s also going to be able to preserve everything that they love about the places where they live.

So you guys have done a great job.  I’m very proud.

And with that, I’m going to start signing these things.

(The designations are signed.)

2:07 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 6, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Speech on Progress in the Fight Against ISIS Transcript



Remarks by the President on Progress in the Fight Against ISIL

Source: WH, 7-6-15

The Pentagon

4:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend — especially our men and women in uniform.  This Fourth of July we were honored to once again welcome some of our incredible troops and their families to share Fourth of July and fireworks at the White House.  It was another chance for us, on behalf of the American people, to express our gratitude for their extraordinary service around the world every day.

And that includes the work that brings me here today — our mission to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group ISIL.  This is a cause, a coalition, that’s united countries across the globe — some 60 nations, including Arab partners.  Our comprehensive strategy against ISIL is harnessing all elements of American power, across our government — military, intelligence, diplomatic, economic, development and perhaps most importantly, the power of our values.

Last month, I ordered additional actions in support of our strategy.  I just met with my national security team as part of our regular effort to assess our efforts — what’s working and what we can do better.  Secretary Carter, Chairman Dempsey, I want to thank you and your team for welcoming us and for your leadership, including General Austin who’s leading the military campaign.  And I want to summarize briefly where we stand.

I want to start by repeating what I’ve said since the beginning.  This will not be quick.  This is a long-term campaign.  ISIL is opportunistic and it is nimble.  In many places in Syria and Iraq, including urban areas, it’s dug in among innocent civilian populations.  It will take time to root them out — and doing so must be the job of local forces on the ground, with training and air support from our coalition.

As with any military effort, there will be periods of progress, but there are also going to be some setbacks — as we’ve seen with ISIL’s gains in Ramadi in Iraq and central and southern Syria.  But today, it’s also important for us to recognize the progress that’s been made.

Our coalition has now hit ISIL with more than 5,000 airstrikes.  We’ve taken out thousands of fighting positions, tanks, vehicles, bomb factories, and training camps.  We’ve eliminated thousands of fighters, including senior ISIL commanders.  And over the past year, we’ve seen that when we have an effective partner on the ground, ISIL can be pushed back.

In Iraq, ISIL lost at the Mosul Dam.  ISIL lost at Mount Sinjar.  ISIL has lost repeatedly across Kirkuk Province.  ISIL lost at Tikrit.  Altogether, ISIL has lost more than a quarter of the populated areas that it had seized in Iraq.  In Syria, ISIL lost at Kobani.  It’s recently endured losses across northern Syria, including the key city of Tal Abyad, denying ISIL a vital supply route to Raqqa, its base of operations in Syria.

So these are reminders that ISIL’s strategic weaknesses are real.  ISIL is surrounded by countries and communities committed to its destruction.  It has no air force; our coalition owns the skies.  ISIL is backed by no nation.  It relies on fear, sometimes executing its own disillusioned fighters.  Its unrestrained brutality often alienates those under its rule, creating new enemies.  In short, ISIL’s recent losses in both Syria and Iraq prove that ISIL can and will be defeated.

Indeed, we’re intensifying our efforts against ISIL’s base in Syria.  Our airstrikes will continue to target the oil and gas facilities that fund so much of their operations.  We’re going after the ISIL leadership and infrastructure in Syria — the heart of ISIL that pumps funds and propaganda to people around the world.  Partnering with other countries — sharing more information, strengthening laws and border security — allows us to work to stem the flow of foreign fighters to Syria as well as Iraq, and to stem, obviously, the flow of those fighters back into our own countries.  This continues to be a challenge, and, working together, all our nations are going to need to do more, but we’re starting to see some progress.

We’ll continue cracking down on ISIL’s illicit finance around the world.  By the way, if Congress really wants to help in this effort, they can confirm Mr. Adam Szubin, our nominee for Treasury Under Secretary to lead this effort.  This is a vital position to our counterterrorism efforts.  Nobody suggests Mr. Szubin is not qualified.  He’s highly qualified.  Unfortunately, his nomination has been languishing up on the Hill, and we need the Senate to confirm him as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, we continue to ramp up our training and support of local forces that are fighting ISIL on the ground.  As I’ve said before, this aspect of our strategy was moving too slowly.  But the fall of Ramadi has galvanized the Iraqi government.  So, with the additional steps I ordered last month, we’re speeding up training of ISIL [Iraqi] forces, including volunteers from Sunni tribes in Anbar Province.

More Sunni volunteers are coming forward.  Some are already being trained, and they can be a new force against ISIL.  We continue to accelerate the delivery of critical equipment, including anti-tank weapons, to Iraqi security forces, including the Peshmerga and tribal fighters.  And I made it clear to my team that we will do more to train and equip the moderate opposition in Syria.

Now, all this said, our strategy recognizes that no amount of military force will end the terror that is ISIL unless it’s matched by a broader effort — political and economic — that addresses the underlying conditions that have allowed ISIL to gain traction.  They have filled a void, and we have to make sure that as we push them out that void is filled.  So, as Iraqi cities and towns are liberated from ISIL, we’re working with Iraq and the United Nations to help communities rebuild the security, services and governance that they need.  We continue to support the efforts of Prime Minister Abadi to forge an inclusive and effective Iraqi government that unites all the people of Iraq — Shia, Sunnis, Kurds and all minority communities.

In Syria, the only way that the civil war will end — and in a way so that the Syrian people can unite against ISIL — is an inclusive political transition to a new government, without Bashar Assad — a government that serves all Syrians.  I discussed this with our Gulf Cooperation Council partners at Camp David and during my recent call with President Putin.  I made it clear the United States will continue to work for such a transition.

And a glimmer of good news is I think an increasing recognition on the part of all the players in the region that given the extraordinary threat that ISIL poses it is important for us to work together, as opposed to at cross-purposes, to make sure that an inclusive Syrian government exists.

While the focus of our discussions today was on Iraq and Syria, ISIL and its ideology also obviously pose a grave threat beyond the region.  In recent weeks we’ve seen deadly attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.  We see a growing ISIL presence in Libya and attempts to establish footholds across North Africa, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and Southeast Asia. We’ve seen attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, France and Copenhagen.

So I’ve called on the international community to unite against this scourge of violent extremism.  In this fight, the United States continues to lead.  When necessary to prevent attacks against our nation, we’ll take direct action against terrorists.  We’ll continue to also partner with nations from Afghanistan to Nigeria to build up their security forces.  We’re going to work day and night with allies and partners to disrupt terrorist networks and thwart attacks, and to smother nascent ISIL cells that may be trying to develop in other parts of the world.

This also includes remaining vigilant in protecting against attacks here in the homeland.  Now, I think it’s important for us to recognize the threat of violent extremism is not restricted to any one community.  Here in the United States, we’ve seen all kinds of homegrown terrorism.  And tragically, recent history reminds us how even a single individual motivated by a hateful ideology with access to dangerous weapons can inflict horrendous harm on Americans.  So our efforts to counter violent extremism must not target any one community because of their faith or background, including patriotic Muslim Americans who are our partners in keeping our country safe.

That said, we also have to acknowledge that ISIL has been particularly effective at reaching out to and recruiting vulnerable people around the world, including here in the United States.  And they are targeting Muslim communities around the world.  Numerous individuals have been arrested across the country for plotting attacks or attempting to join ISIL in Syria and Iraq.  Two men apparently inspired by ISIL opened fire in Garland, Texas.  And because of our success over the years in improving our homeland security, we’ve made it harder for terrorists to carry out large-scale attacks like 9/11 here at home.

But the threat of lone wolves or small cells of terrorists is complex — it’s harder to detect and harder to prevent.  It’s one of the most difficult challenges that we face.  And preventing these kinds of attacks on American soil is going to require sustained effort.

So I just want to repeat, the good news is that because of extraordinary efforts from law enforcement as well as our military intelligence, we are doing a better job at preventing any large-scale attacks on the homeland.  On the other hand, the small, individual lone wolf attacks or small cells become harder to detect and they become more sophisticated, using new technologies.  And that means that we’re going to have to pick up our game to prevent these attacks.

It’s also true why, ultimately, in order for us to defeat terrorist groups like ISIL and al Qaeda it’s going to also require us to discredit their ideology — the twisted thinking that draws vulnerable people into their ranks.  As I’ve said before — and I know our military leaders agree — this broader challenge of countering violent extremism is not simply a military effort.  Ideologies are not defeated with guns; they’re defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and more compelling vision.

So the United States will continue to do our part, by working with partners to counter ISIL’s hateful propaganda, especially online.  We’ll constantly reaffirm through words and deeds that we will never be at war with Islam.  We’re fighting terrorists who distort Islam and whose victims are mostly Muslims.  But around the world, we’re also going to insist on partnering with Muslim communities as they seek security, prosperity and the dignity that they deserve.  And we’re going to expect those communities to step up in terms of pushing back as hard as they can, in conjunction with other people of goodwill, against these hateful ideologies in order to discredit them more effectively, particularly when it comes to what we’re teaching young people.

And this larger battle for hearts and minds is going to be a generational struggle.  It’s ultimately not going to be won or lost by the United States alone.  It will be decided by the countries and the communities that terrorists like ISIL target.  It’s going to be up to Muslim communities, including scholars and clerics, to keep rejecting warped interpretations of Islam, and to protect their sons and daughters from recruitment.  It will be up to all people — leaders and citizens — to reject the sectarianism that so often fuels the resentments and conflicts upon which terrorists are currently thriving.  It will be up to governments to address the political and economic grievances that terrorists exploit.

Nations that empower citizens to decide their own destiny, that uphold human rights for all their people, that invest in education and create opportunities for their young people — those can be powerful antidotes to extremist ideologies.  Those are the countries that will find a true partner in the United States.

In closing, let me note that this Fourth of July we celebrated 239 years of American independence.  Across more than two centuries, we’ve faced much bigger, much more formidable challenges than this — Civil War, a Great Depression, fascism, communism, terrible natural disasters, 9/11.  And every time, every generation, our nation has risen to the moment.  We don’t simply endure; we emerge stronger than before.  And that will be the case here.

Our mission to destroy ISIL and to keep our country safe will be difficult.  It will take time.  There will be setbacks as well as progress.  But as President and Commander-in-Chief, I want to say to all our men and women in uniform who are serving in this operation — our pilots, the crews on the ground, our personnel not only on the ground but at sea, our intelligence teams and our diplomatic teams — I want to thank you.  We are proud of you, and you have my total confidence that you’re going to succeed.

To the American people, I want to say we will continue to be vigilant.  We will persevere.  And just as we have for more than two centuries, we will ultimately prevail.

Thank you very much, everybody.  And thanks to the team up on the stage here with me — they’re doing an outstanding job.

Q    Take a question?

THE PRESIDENT:  You know what, I will take a question.  Go ahead.

Q    Every servicemember who is listening to you today, Mr. President, is wondering, are you going to veto the defense bills that are going to pay me?  What is your latest thinking on that? Because we’ve heard secondhand through statements of policy that your advisors would threaten a veto.  What’s your take, sir?  Would you veto the appropriations bills?

THE PRESIDENT:  Our men and women are going to get paid.  And if you’ll note that I’ve now been President for six and a half years and we’ve had some wrangling with Congress in the past — our servicemembers haven’t missed a paycheck.

But what is also important in terms of our budget is making sure that we are not short-changing all the elements of American power that allow us to secure the nation and to project our power around the world.  So what we’re not going to do is to accept a budget that short-changes our long-term requirements for new technologies, for readiness.  We’re not going to eat our seed corn by devoting too much money on things we don’t need now and robbing ourselves of the capacity to make sure that we’re prepared for future threats.

I’ve worked very closely with the Chairman and the members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a budget that is realistic and that looks out into the future and says this is how we’re going to handle any possible contingency.  And we can’t do that if we’ve got a budget that short-changes vital operations and continues to fund things that are not necessary.

We also have to remind ourselves that the reason we have the best military in the world is, first and foremost, because we’ve got the best troops in history.  But it’s also because we’ve got a strong economy, and we’ve got a well-educated population.  And we’ve got an incredible research operation and universities that allow us to create new products that then can be translated into our military superiority around the world.  We short-change those, we’re going to be less secure.

So the way we have to look at this budget is to recognize that, A, we can’t think short term, we’ve got to think long term; and B, part of our national security is making sure that we continue to have a strong economy and that we continue to make the investments that we need in things like education and research that are going to be vital for us to be successful long term.

Q    As an Army reservist, I’m curious to know if you have any plans to send any more American troops overseas right now, any additional forces.

THE PRESIDENT:  There are no current plans to do so.  That’s not something that we currently discussed.  I’ve always said that I’m going to do what’s necessary to protect the homeland.

One of the principles that we all agree on, though, and I pressed folks pretty hard because in these conversations with my military advisors I want to make sure I’m getting blunt and unadultered [sic] uncensored advice.  But in every one of the conversations that we’ve had, the strong consensus is that in order for us to succeed long-term in this fight against ISIL we have to develop local security forces that can sustain progress.

It is not enough for us to simply send in American troops to temporarily set back organizations like ISIL, but to then, as soon as we leave, see that void filled once again with extremists.  It is going to be vital for us to make sure that we are preparing the kinds of local ground forces and security forces with our partners that can not only succeed against ISIL, but then sustain in terms of security and in terms of governance.

Because if we try to do everything ourselves all across the Middle East, all across North Africa, we’ll be playing Whack-a-Mole and there will be a whole lot of unintended consequences that ultimately make us less secure.

All right?  Thank you.  I didn’t even plan to do this.  (Laughter.)  You guys got two bonus questions.

Thank you.

4:28 P.M. EDT


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’s Remarks in a Discussion on Obamacare the Affordable Care Act Nashville, TN



Remarks by the President in a Discussion on the Affordable Care Act — Nashville, TN

Source: WH, 7-3-15

Taylor Stratton Elementary School
Nashville, Tennessee

1:36 P.M. CDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  (Applause.)  Everybody, have a seat.  Have a seat.  Well, it’s good to be back in Nashville.  (Applause.)  I like Nashville.  I don’t know if you noticed, I come back here quite a bit.  (Laughter.)

First of all, can everybody please give Kelly a big round of applause?  (Applause.)  In addition to being wonderful and somewhat feisty spirit, as I have learned, she also has the distinction of possibly being the first person ever to be picked up at her house by a presidential motorcade.  (Laughter.)  Which I thought was pretty cool.  Well, it turned out it was so close to the school, so we said, well, we might as well just swing by and get her.  (Laughter.)

I want to thank the school for hosting us here today, because I know it’s a lot of work when we come into town.  Very much appreciate everybody who was involved in that.  You have a great Mayor, Karl Dean, who’s here, so please give Karl a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  There he is with his beautiful family right there.  Family, stand up.  Family, come on.  There’s his family — yay!  (Applause.)  You can’t imagine what a family has to put up with when you’re in public service.  So we really appreciate all of them.

Kelly already mentioned him, but he is somebody who is what you want out of a member of Congress.  He works hard.  He calls it like he sees them.  He’s willing to do courageous stuff even when it’s not popular.  He is a gentleman, one of my favorite people — Jim Cooper.  (Applause.)

Also here is somebody who knows health care well, was a health care professional, a doctor and executive, and knows a little bit about politics because he used to be the former Majority Leader.  When I first came in, in fact, he and I had a chance to work together on a number of things, and he’s been a terrific advocate on behalf of health care for a lot of people — Mr. Bill Frist.  (Applause.)

So, with that, I think I’m going to take off my jacket, get a little more relaxed here.  Part of the reason we came to Tennessee — in addition to me just liking Nashville and liking the state, generally, is that Tennessee has a history of innovation when it comes to health care, doing some very creative stuff — health care professionals, doctors, nurses, hospitals and executives working alongside nonprofits and the public sector to make sure that people are getting the very best health care they can, and also being able to control costs in a sensible way.
And thanks to the Affordable Care Act and the efforts of people like Jim who took some very tough votes, we now have about 166,000 Tennesseans who have health care who didn’t have it before.  Folks like Kelly.  (Applause.)

In addition to the people who are able to buy health insurance through the exchanges, through the marketplaces that were set up through the Affordable Care Act, I think it’s important to remember that everybody who has health insurance benefitted and continues to benefit from this law — even though a lot of folks don’t know it.

So if you have health insurance through the job, you’re able to keep your child on health insurance up until they’re 26 years old because of this law.  (Applause.)  And that’s provided millions of young people across the country with health insurance who may not have had it before.  And that’s especially important as young people are transitioning, getting their first job — they may not always get a job that has full benefits, and this way they’re able to make sure that they stay healthy.

In addition, if you’re a senior citizen, or somebody who’s disabled, it turns out that you are getting discounts on your prescription drugs that you may not have noticed but are saving you potentially hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  And there are millions of people across the country who are benefitting.  That is because of this law.

If you don’t fall under those categories and you’re just somebody who’s got health insurance on the job, you now are protected, so that if you, let’s say, lost that job, or decided to move to a job or just start your own business, you can’t be prohibited from getting health insurance because of a preexisting condition.  That’s a protection that everybody is benefitting from as a consequence of this law.  (Applause.)

If you’re a woman, you can’t be charged just for being a woman as a consequence of this law.  (Applause.)  Last I checked, that’s about over half of the population, so that’s a pretty large constituency.  You’re able to get free preventive care, including mammograms, as a consequence of this law, on your insurance.

So there are a whole host of things that fall under the Affordable Care Act that are benefitting 100 million, 150 million people.  They just may not be aware of it.  But what it’s done is it’s made health care stronger, more secure, and more reliable in America.  You don’t always notice that until you need it — the way Kelly needed it.  And that peace of mind, that understanding that if you get sick you’re not going to lose your job — or you’re not going to lose your house, you’re not going to lose all your savings, that you’re going to be able to get quality care — that is extraordinarily important.

I’ve said before, the scariest day of my life was when Sasha was three months old — my daughter — and she got meningitis.  And the only reason we knew was because we had a great primary care physician and we were able to rush to an emergency room and the doctors and nurses did extraordinary work.  And I was feeling helpless in that situation, but I thought, what would happen if I was in the same situation and I didn’t have health care, and I didn’t have a primary care physician to call in the middle of the night because we noticed she wasn’t crying the same way she usually cried?  Because of the law we passed, there are parents who just aren’t going to have to face that.  And that’s priceless.

Now, the good news is that, contrary to some of the expectations, not only has the law worked better than we expected, not only are 16 million people now getting health insurance that didn’t have it before, not only do we now have the lowest uninsured rate since we started tracking people and how much health insurance they had, but it’s actually ended up costing less than people expected.  And health care costs have been held — the inflation on health care costs have actually proved to be the lowest — since the Affordable Care Act passed  — in the last 50 years.  So we’re actually seeing less health care inflation.

And part of the reason is because the law also encouraged health care providers and doctors, nurses, hospitals to start thinking more creatively about how can we get a better bang for our health care dollar.  How can we make sure that rather than spending a lot of money on unnecessary tests or readmissions, we’re encouraging really high-quality care that’s good for the patient but also good for health care spending.

And this is another area where Tennessee actually has been really innovative.  In fact, it won a $65 million grant for state innovation, where you’ve got hospitals and doctors and nurses and not-for-profits and other groups working together to figure out how can we, for example, identify potential diabetes patients early, make sure that they’re getting healthy quicker, preventing some of the worst elements of it.  And even though it might involve a little extra spending on the front end, it turns out it saves hundreds of thousands of dollars on the back end; improves quality of life, improves quality of care, cuts costs, which is good for our economy, good for patients, and good for America.

So I’m feeling pretty good about how health care is going.  (Applause.)  And the thing I’ve never lost sight of, though, is that this is about people.  This is not about politics, it’s not about Washington.  It’s about families and loved ones, and the struggle and the fear that comes about when you have a serious illness and knowing that you’ve got not just your own family, but also a community that has your back.

And you heard Kelly talk about her story.  Sitting right next to Kelly is a wonderful woman named Natoma Canfield, who came down with me today.  She’s from Ohio, and she wrote a letter to me, pretty similar to Kelly’s, back in — five years ago, so back in 2010, when we were still in the middle of this fight to try to get health care that’s affordable for everybody.  And Natoma had been diagnosed with cancer, had beat it back, then was buying health insurance on the individual market and it turned out that the costs were just skyrocketing so high that she just couldn’t afford it anymore.

And she wrote to me a passionate letter about why we needed to get this done.  And I would always refer back to her letter whenever things got a little bleak and Congress wasn’t behaving as sensibly as Jim Cooper behaves.  (Laughter.)  And when we finally signed that bill, I had Natoma’s letter framed with the pen that I signed the bill with — one of the pen’s that I signed the bill with — just to remind me that this wasn’t about politics, this was about people.

And so I’m so glad Natoma is here, but I’m also glad that all of you are here.  And part of what I’m hoping is that with the Supreme Court case now behind us, what we can do is — (applause) — I’m hoping that what we can do is now focus on how we can make it even better.  Because it’s not as if we’ve solved all the problems in our health care system.  America still spends more on health care than any other advanced nation and our outcomes aren’t particularly better.

And so we know there’s still a lot of waste in the system.  We know that the quality of care isn’t always where it needs to be.  And so my hope is, is that on a bipartisan basis, in places like Tennessee, but all across the country, we can now focus on what have we learned.  What’s working?  What’s not working?  Are there further improvements we can make to improve quality?  Are there more ways we can encourage people to get preventive care so that they don’t get sick in the first place, so that we have a actual health care system instead of a disease care system?  Are there ways that we can do better to provide the support we need for outstanding primary care physicians and nurses, who oftentimes are coming out of school loaded up with debt and aren’t always getting the support that they need and aren’t always able to practice the way they want to practice?

There are huge areas of improvement and, frankly, there’s still a lot of people who aren’t insured.  Part of the design of the Affordable Care Act was that some people were going to buy health care on the marketplace; in some cases, we were going to allow states to expand their coverage through individualized programs in their states.  I think because of politics, not all states have taken advantage of the options that are out there.  Our hope is, is that more of them do.

We still have to sign a bunch of people up.  We’ve covered now about a third of the people who weren’t covered before this law passed, but that means there’s still two-thirds out there who still need some help and they’re still going to the emergency room at the last minute when something goes wrong.

And so we want to educate people.  We want to listen to folks.  We want to hear good ideas from all sources.  We want to think about this in a practical, American way instead of a partisan, political way.  And if we do that, then I think there’s still great strides to be made.

So I want to thank all of you for being here.  And with that, I’m just going to open it up for a bunch of questions.  And you can ask me about anything, but probably you should ask me a couple of questions about health care.  (Laughter.)  I’m also willing to talk about the women’s soccer team and how we’re going to beat whoever it is we’re playing up in Canada.  (Applause.)  I can talk about the NBA free agency.  (Laughter.)  I can talk about the Predators and hockey. (Applause.)  And I can talk about other things other than sports.  (Laughter.)

But the way we’re going to do this is we’re just going to — this is very casual.  I’m just going to call on folks.  The only rules I’m going to lay down are when you raise your hand, if you can wait — are there microphones in the audience?  So wait for a microphone so we can all hear you.  And I’d like you to introduce yourself.  And I’m going to try to make sure that we go boy, girl, boy, girl, so that it’s even.  (Laughter.)  Okay?  All right.

We’re going to start with this young lady right here in front.  You’ve got a microphone right here.  So remember to introduce yourself.  Go ahead and hand her the mic.  Sometimes we tell our folks to hang onto the mic because people keep it for too long.  (Laughter.)  But this looks like a pretty well-behaved group, so go ahead and hand them the mic.

Q    I am a Tennessee volunteer enrolling people in the Affordable Care Act.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.

Q    Thank you.  (Applause.)  We live in a city with a lot of health care companies and a lot of great medical facilities who can take advantage of some of the things you mentioned.  What do you think ordinary people — people who are volunteers, or ordinary citizens can do to help make our health care system and our health insurance system better?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I want to thank you for volunteering, because so much of our challenge these first couple of years as we’ve gotten this started was just getting people information, because there was so much misinformation out there.
So, for example, a lot of people don’t know that through the exchange, through the Affordable Care Act exchange plan, there is enormous choice of plans.  And Tennessee actually has benefitted from some of the widest range of choices of just about any state. I think there are 70 options to choose from for people throughout the state.  And about 80 percent of people who are purchasing health insurance through these exchanges because they’re getting federal subsidies, they’re spending less than 100 bucks a month for good, quality care.  And that’s true nationwide.

So part of our goal here is just to give people good information.  And in fairness to folks, look, before I started tackling this whole health care thing, when I got a job I didn’t really pay attention to health care benefits.  You go to the job, and somebody from HR hands you a form and says, here, fill this out, and they tell you, well, you need to choose from two or three plans, and you kind of ask them, all right, well, what do you think?  (Laughter.)  They tell you, well, that one is pretty good, and you sign up for it.  Most of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about health insurance until we get sick, unfortunately.

So getting people information, I think that’s something that is really helpful when it comes from neighbors, friends, coworkers, your church — because you have more trust.  Sometimes people don’t always trust what they see on television, especially on something that became sort of a political football.

I think the other thing is for citizens to share their stories of how it’s helped them not only with their friends, neighbors, coworkers, but also with their state legislators and with their governor, and writing letters and letting them know that this is helping people, it makes a difference — so that they then recognize that this is an important need and it’s worthy of support.

And then you’ve also got to take care of yourself.  But you look really good, so you’re obviously — (laughter) — getting exercise and eating right, and getting regular checkups and all that good stuff.  Because that’s helpful, as well.  That’s part of how we keep costs down, is making sure people are well-informed about what it takes to live a healthy life.

Great question, though.

All right, it’s a gentleman’s turn.  This guy right down here.  You’ve got a good-looking beard.  All right, hold on a second.  Let’s get the mic — like I said, you can just pass it down to him.

Q    It is an honor and a privilege to be here, Mr. President.  I live in Pikeville, Tennessee.  It’s about 50 miles north of Chattanooga.  And I’m here representing the 280,000 people that is uninsurable in the state of Tennessee with the Insure Tennessee Act.  And what we need is — we got no insurance.  We can’t get no insurance.  We don’t make enough to pay for insurance, but still yet we make too much to get a subsidy insurance.  And I would like to know if you are aware of this, or is there anything that — movements or acts that you can make on the part of our problem here?

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, first of all, I appreciate your comments.  There is something that can be done, but it’s going to be at the state level.  And I think that it’s important for state legislators to get together and find a uniquely Tennessee solution to the problem.

But understand, the way the law was set up was that states would have the option of expanding existing programs like Medicaid, and then you’d also have people who were buying health insurance on the marketplace and getting subsidies.  And the point you’re making is that if the state hasn’t taken action on one part of the program, then even with the good work that’s being done for people who are getting subsidies and purchasing insurance, you’re still leaving a bunch of folks out.  And here in Tennessee, that’s probably a couple hundred thousand people who could benefit if we really focused on how to fix it.

Now, as I said before, Tennessee has a history of bipartisan, smart, state-specific efforts to expand health insurance.  And I don’t expect that what’s good for Tennessee is automatically going to be the same as what’s good for California or what’s good for my home state of Illinois.  But given the strong history of innovation in health care in Tennessee and given the high quality of doctors and hospitals and nurses and networks that are here, you all should be able to find a solution.  And the federal government is there to help and to work with those states that are ready to get going.

I will tell you the states that have taken full advantage of all the federal options available, they have an even lower uninsured rate, and a healthier population, and more people signing up for the options that are available than those states that have not taken full advantage of those options.  And that’s just a fact.  And it is unfortunate that getting this done got so political.  Washington is kind of a crazy place.  But that doesn’t mean every place has got to be crazy.  (Laughter and applause.)  So I’d like to see some good sense spring forth from the great state of Tennessee, see if we can get this thing done. (Applause.)

All right.  Yes, right there.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you so much for being here today and sharing with us.  I’m from St. Thomas Health and one of the administrators.  So the work that’s already been done, the exchange, we know we have work to do with expansion.  What would you envision are the next steps that we need to take in health care in general for our country?

THE PRESIDENT:  The areas where I think we can still make the biggest difference, in addition to making sure everybody is signed up for the options that they have, is to really think more about the delivery system of health care.  And this can get real complicated because we got a complicated health care system.  But I can boil it down maybe into layman’s terms.

Right now we spend too much money on the wrong things and not enough money on the right things.  So health care generally is very expensive in this country.  But if you look at how that money is spent, we don’t give enough incentives to health care providers to really focus just on the patient and the quality of care.  First of all, there’s way too much bureaucracy.  There’s way too much paperwork.  That wears out the patient.  It wears out the doctor.  It wears out the nurses.  They don’t like it.

The second problem is that because of the way that we’ve designed the payment system in health care, historically what happened was that, let’s say, a hospital or a doctor had a patient come in, says, I’ve got diabetes or I have I think maybe diabetes.  The hospital or the doctor would get paid to amputate the leg of a patient, but they wouldn’t get reimbursed if they just hired somebody to monitor whether that individual was taking their medicines on a regular basis and monitoring their eating habits, right?  So what ends up happening is, is that you don’t end up helping the patient who might have kept their leg if they were keeping up a regular regiment of looking after themselves.

The doctors don’t feel good about that.  The nurses don’t feel good about it.  But they just don’t have time because of the economics of the health care system.  So one of the things that we’re trying to do across the board — and Tennessee is actually doing some good innovation on this — is let’s reimburse people for the outcomes and the quality of care that people are getting.

So instead of — when that patient comes in, instead of worrying about just, okay, I’m going to bill for this test and I’m going to bill for this surgery, let’s tell them, if that person ends up having a good outcome, then you’re going to get reimbursed.  And the better the outcome, maybe the bigger the reimbursement.

And now it may turn out that it’s a good deal for the doctor to spend an extra half an hour with the patient very carefully going over the medicine they should be getting.  Or the hospital may say, you know what, we’re going to sign you up for a health club and make sure that you’re getting some regular exercise, or we’re going to reimburse you for a smoking-cessation program — and suddenly all that produces a better result.

But we’ve got to make sure that we’ve got a payment system that follows that logic of patient-centered care.  And as I said before, we’re already seeing that happening.  Part of the reason that we’ve actually seen health care costs slow — the inflation of health care slow is because folks are starting to get reimbursed in different ways, and health care groups are starting to organize themselves to focus on the quality of care as opposed to the amount of care.

If we can do that, see, what that does is it — first of all, it frees up resources.  It’s not good for anybody when health care costs go up because not only does the federal government have to pay more, the state of Tennessee has to pay more.  That means there’s less money left over for doctors, nurses, for health education.  It means higher premiums for the patients.  But it also means that if we’re saying — if we just cut 2 percent or 3 percent on the cost of health care, that’s hundreds of billions of dollars that we can now spend on something else.  We can spend that on education.  We can spend that on job training programs.  We can spend that on fixing some potholes.  And it can improve everybody’s quality of life.

So that I think is the area that we’re going to be spending a lot of focus and a lot time, in addition to making sure that people are able to sign up for the care that they need.  Because I want to emphasize, there are still too many people out there who haven’t signed up or can’t sign up for the health care that’s available to them.  And if we can clear away some of the politics, that will help, as well.

Good.  Gentleman, right here.

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.  My name is Eric Brown from Nashville, Tennessee.  I work for the Children’s Defense Fund and a small, local congregation here.  My question is more for veterans when it comes to health care.  I have a family member who’s a veteran.  She would like to have a female doctor. She’s been rejected about two or three times.  So I just wanted to hear more of your thoughts on that — how to help her to get the health care that she needs, but also have the safety that she needs for it as well.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Well, as most of you know, the VA system is an entirely separate health care system from the private sector health care systems that most of us use.

Here’s the basic principle:  If somebody is wearing our — the uniform of the armed services of this country and sacrificing and putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us, we’ve got to give them good health care when they come home.  (Applause.)  We’ve got to make sure that they get the very best.

Now, the good news is that the overwhelming majority of veterans are very satisfied with the health care they receive once they get into the system.  The bad news is that because a lot of the processing and systems in the VA system are outdated, sometimes it’s taking a long time for folks to get into the system, to get an appointment, to make sure that they’ve got a doctor that they’re comfortable with.  There are areas where there are still shortages — for example, in mental health, with a lot of folks coming back with PTSD — there haven’t been, historically, enough mental health services provided for our veterans.

So my Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald, who is a former — who’s a veteran himself, but also a former CEO of Procter & Gamble, so knows about big companies and big operations — he’s really been doing a good job in revamping how the VA system is organized generally.  It’s going to take some time.  It’s still not where it needs to be.

With respect to your — was it your sister, in particular?

Q    Mother-in-law.

THE PRESIDENT:  Your mother-in-law, in particular — we’ll get your name and your mother-in-law’s name, and we’ll find out what exactly the issue is.  But generally speaking, we’ve actually made an investment in women’s health care in the VA system, reflecting the fact that we now have extraordinary women who are serving in the armed services, and the health care needs of women are not always going to be the same as the health care needs of men.  And so we’ve actually been trying to boost the kinds of specialties and training that are needed to provide health care to women — our women veterans, and we’ve been expanding that.

And that’s something I’m very proud of.  We’ve made a significant inroad in that area.  Tell her thanks for her service.

All right, it’s a young lady’s turn.  Go ahead.  I’ll go here, and — don’t worry, I think I’ll be able to catch everybody.  Go ahead.  But she does have an Obama pin on, so I thought I’d — (laughter) — I figured I had to give her a little props for that.

Q    Thank you.  And thank you, Mr. President, for coming to Tennessee.  And my name is Brenda Gilmore.  I’m a member of the Tennessee General Assembly in the House.  And there are a number of members that are here, so I just wanted you to know that we support you.  We believe that health care is the right thing for everybody, and especially for Tennesseans.

And I wanted to ask you, with your background also being a state senator —

THE PRESIDENT:  State legislator.

Q    — do you have some strategies that you could share with us — (laughter) — that we could encourage our Governor to stay on the journey and to continue to find solutions to present Insure Tennessee, and to bring some of our colleagues over on the other side so that we can take the politics out of it and help them to understand how important this is to the quality of life for Tennesseans?  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I don’t presume to know as much as you do about Tennessee politics, so I will leave the expert advice to folks like Jim Cooper maybe.

But here’s the one thing I do know, is that elected officials respond to public opinion.  I think one of the challenges that we’ve had throughout this fight has been that there’s been a lot of misinformation out there.  And so if you stopped the average Tennessean on the street and you asked them, do you support making sure that insurance companies can’t bar you from getting health insurance because of a preexisting condition, eight out of 10 of them would say, absolutely, I support that.  Overwhelming majority of Republicans would support it just as much as Democrats did.

Now, if you asked them, did you know the Affordable Care Act is what is guaranteeing you don’t get blocked from getting health insurance with a preexisting condition, you’d get an argument with at least half those folks — “no, that’s not what it’s doing.”  So part of it is just providing people good information. That’s really important.  And if ordinary folks feel it’s important, then usually elected officials start responding.

I think the other thing to emphasize, which I know you’re already doing, is recognizing that not every state is the same, and that the truth is, is that there are a lot of different ways that states are approaching this problem.  And if everybody will just acknowledge that people should get health insurance, that they should be able to get affordable care when they need it — if that much is acknowledged, that base principle, then you can say to them, okay, here’s our ideas for how to do it, what are your ideas?  And people can come up with good ideas of their own.

I will say this.  People tend to forget that the Affordable Care Act model, with health care exchanges and buying on the — in the marketplace, and getting subsidies from the federal government — that was originally a model that was embraced by Republicans before I embraced it.  It’s the model that Mitt Romney signed into law in Massachusetts.  It’s the model that conservative organizations like Heritage Foundation thought were a good idea.

So my hope is that maybe now we can return to a constructive conversation about — if folks have better ideas, you should accept them.  My general rule is I have no pride of authorship here.  I just want to make sure Kelly has got health insurance and I want to make sure that Thelma has got health insurance, and I want to make sure this gentleman gets health insurance.  And if there’s a better way of doing it, let me know.

But it turns out that it’s hard.  (Laughter.)  So it’s got to be an idea that actually works.  It can’t be an idea that sounds good, but then doesn’t work.  That’s the only danger.  So if somebody tells you that, well, we’re going to prohibit insurance companies from barring you from getting health insurance if you’ve got a preexisting condition — which is popular — but we’re going to allow people not to get health insurance if they don’t feel like it, then the truth is that doesn’t work.  And the reason it doesn’t work is, if you think about it, if you knew that the insurance company couldn’t prevent you from getting health insurance once you were sick, you wouldn’t pay all those premiums until you got sick.  And then you’d go to your health insurance company and say, there’s a law you got to sell me health insurance — and you’d save a whole lot of money, but, of course, the whole insurance system would collapse.  It wouldn’t work.

So there are just some basic things that — basic realities about the health care system that have to be taken into account. But I think you should be open to other ideas.  Like I said, look, I didn’t mind stealing ideas from Mitt Romney.  (Laughter.) But the bottom line is:  What works?  What works?  And if Republican legislators have better ideas, they should present them.  But they have to be realistic.  They have to be meaningful.  (Applause.)

Okay.  The gentleman right here in the glasses.  Right here.  Yes.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  I work with Family and Children Service.  I am versed in the health care system and I help people enroll in the marketplace.  And I want to thank you so much on behalf of the many people I’ve been helping, especially the most vulnerable immigrant people, to get affordable health insurance.  We really thank you very much.

Also, I just want to ask you if you have any plans to expand the Affordable Care Act for sick migrant people, especially the people who don’t have enough documents in this country but they still live and work here for a long time.  Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we were very clear that the Affordable Care Act did not apply to people who are not here legally.  And that’s the law.  So that’s another example of — there’s a lot of misinformation about this.  The law says that if you are undocumented, if you’re not here legally, you can’t benefit from subsidies and the program that we’ve set up.

The real answer to your question is why don’t we have immigration reform so that people who’ve been here a long time who are otherwise law-abiding citizens, who oftentimes have children who are U.S. citizens, who are contributing to the society and are willing to pay their dues, pay taxes, get a background check — why don’t we give them a pathway so they can be legal.  (Applause.)  If we do that — if we reform the immigration system, which is all broken, then this problem that you just mentioned takes care of itself.

I mean, look, we should not be encouraging illegal immigration.  What we should be doing is setting up a smart, legal immigration system that doesn’t separate families, but does focus on making sure that people who are dangerous, people who are gang-bangers or criminals — that we’re deporting them as quickly as possible, that we’re focusing our resources there; that we’re focusing on a strong border.  We’ve made improvements on all those fronts, but we could be doing even more if we had immigration reform.

And we almost got that done.  We had a bipartisan bill come through the Senate that was very smart and was well-crafted.  It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it was a good compromise among a lot of different ideas.  The House of Representatives declined to call it to a vote, even though I think we had a majority of members of the House of Representatives who would be willing to vote for it.

I’ve taken some administrative actions to try to improve the system.  For example, us not deporting some young person who grew up here and been here since they were three or four or five years old, brought here by their parents, hasn’t done anything wrong, are going to school with our kids, or friends with our kids, and suddenly — in some cases, they didn’t even know that they weren’t citizens — and then they’re 18 years old and suddenly they can’t get a college scholarship because it turns out they don’t have the legal documents.

And I said, administratively, that’s not who we are to just send those kids back.  In some cases, they’ve never been to the country that their parents are from, don’t speak the language.  What do you mean we’re going to send them back?  Some of them serving in our military.

So we’ve done a lot administratively.  Ultimately, though, to really find a full solution to the problem we’re going to have to get congressional action.  And I suspect this will be a topic of conversation during the upcoming presidential campaign.

I should note by the way that Michelle is very happy that I cannot run.  (Laughter.)  That is good for the health care of our family.  (Laughter.)

Yes, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  Marian Hurst from Mount Juliet, Tennessee.  And thanks to the ACA, I was able to retire and still get health insurance.  My question is, what are your thoughts on how to now manage the premiums?  I don’t know if you’re aware that BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has announced a significant increase after the one that they gave from 2014 to 2015.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, keep in mind that the Affordable Care Act was designed so that there’s competition.  And folks in Tennessee benefitted over these last two years not only of a lot of healthy competition — more insurers came in offering plans than just about any other place — it was really impressive — but Tennessee’s premiums were also substantially lower than a lot of other states, and have been over the last couple of years.  The insurance companies now have come in requesting higher premiums.

The good news for people of Tennessee is this has to be reviewed and approved by the insurance commission.  And if — last year is a good example.  Last year there were a number of states where the insurance companies came in requesting significant spikes in premiums.  And there were a lot stories in the newspaper, just like there are this year, about, oh, premiums are skyrocketing and this is going to be terrible and all that.  When all the dust settled and the commissioners who were empowered to review these rates forced insurance companies to justify what they were seeking, what you discovered was, is that the rates actually didn’t go up as much as people thought.

So I think the key for Tennessee is just making sure that the insurance commissioner does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, okay, what is it that you are looking for here?  Why would you need very high premiums?  And my expectation is, is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested.

But I think that this emphasizes the need for us to not let our foot off the gas when it comes to the delivery system reforms that I talked about earlier.  Because part of what’s happening in terms of health care costs is that as technology changes, and there are more cures for more diseases, people utilize them more. And if we aren’t smart about how we spend our health care dollars, if we want everything right away even if it’s not shown to be particularly effective, then that shoots up health care costs and ultimately premiums are going to keep on going up.

So we’ve got to think more carefully about this.  The best example of this, by the way, is prescription drugs.  The biggest spike in health care costs is around prescription drugs.  Now, some of this is just because drugs have gotten better and people are able to now deal with cholesterol or deal with other chronic problems through a drug regimen.  And that’s a good thing.  We should be happy about that.  But when you’ve got a situation where the brand-name drug costs 100 bucks a pill and the generic drug costs 10 bucks a pill, and the generic has been shown to be just as effective as the brand name, it’s good for all of us as consumers to make sure that we’re generally using the generic drug when we can.

And a lot of times — sometimes we’re very insistent because we’ve seen some fancy ad on TV — people are running around looking happy.  (Laughter.)  Until they read that thing about:  “This may cause serious side effects.”  (Laughter.)  Diarrhea, migraines.  (Laughter.)  I always laugh at those ads.  (Laughter.)

But a lot of times, because of the advertising, you’ll have somebody come into their doctor and say, well, I want X because I saw a TV ad, and if the doctor says, well, actually Y works just as well and is a lot cheaper — a lot of times, people’s attitude is no, no, no, I want X.  And if the system is set up where you’re getting X, then that means your premiums are going to go up.  If you want your premiums to stay low, then you have got to base your decisions on your doctor — you want your doctors and your nurses basing decisions on science and what’s proven as opposed to what’s being advertised.

And that’s just one example of how we’ve got to make sure that we continue to save money in the system.  Because if costs keep on going up and everybody wants everything and is not smart about how we’re spending out health care dollars, then, yes, premiums are going to end up going up too high.  But stay on your insurance commissioner, pay attention to what they’re doing.

Okay.  I got time for one more — but I’m going to take two.  (Laughter.)  Yes, sir, this gentlemen right here.

Q    I’m Walter Davis, and I’m a director of the Tennessee Health Care Campaign, which does both enrollment and advocating for Governor Haslam’s Insure Tennessee.  It’s wonderful to hear the success stories here.  But here in the South, we need help from the government and from supportive institutions to talk about the people being left behind.  And I want to make sure you meet Davy Crockett before you leave today.

THE PRESIDENT:  Is this Davy right here?

Q    Right there.


Q    Over there with the Tennessee Justice Center.  There are important stories about the people who are left out because of decisions by legislators.  And we love the legislators that are with us, both parties, but the other legislators need to meet people in the gap.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  Well, you know what, I think this is like a handoff to Davy here.  (Laughter.)  So we’ll get you the mic here, Davy.  Hold on one second.  Is your name really Davy Crockett?

Q    Yes.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s a cool name.  (Laughter.)  But you don’t have that beaver cap.  (Laughter.)

Q    I’ve got one at the house.

THE PRESIDENT:  You do?  (Laughter.)

Q    Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  All right.

Q    My name is James Davy Crockett.  And I live in Bulls Gap, Tennessee.  And I want to know — I’ve been turned down four times for Social Security.  Is there anything that you can do to maybe push it through or something?  (Laughter.)  I mean, I have been turned down and I’d like to be able to get some help.

THE PRESIDENT:  All right.  Well, here, I’ll tell you what. Here’s the thing, Davy, I don’t run the Social Security Administration.  It’s the law.  But here’s one thing that does happen.  If I ask a question, I tend to get an answer pretty quick.  So what we’re going to do is we’re going to get your information, Davy, and I’ll make sure the Social Security Administrator takes a look at it and expedites it.  All right?  (Applause.)

Q    Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, thank you.

Davy Crockett!  (Applause.)  You all remember that TV show? Actually, a lot of people are too young here.  (Starts to sing)  Davy, Davy Crockett.  (Laughter.)  I loved that.

Right here.  This young lady is going to get the last question, because she wrote me a letter, and when people tell their stories that reminds me of why I’m doing what I’m doing.

Q    Thank you Mr. President.   My name is Margaret Mackatee (ph) and I’m a retired teacher and school administrator for 38 years in the great state of Ohio.  And I moved to Tennessee to be with my son and my grandchildren.  And my grandson, Patrick, said to say hi to you.

THE PRESIDENT:  Tell Patrick I said hey.  (Laughter.)

Q    Yes, sir.  The letter I wrote was after watching you make a speech to college students.  And at the time, it was after the fact of the death of my son.  And being off of health care  immediately after he graduated from Wright State University, and through the process of his illness and his death, how it affected me economically, and paying COBRA and shots.

And in the context of being a school administrator, as hard as that might have been to me, it was worse for my kids at school, going through much the same thing or worse, with no support system like I had, especially as we went through the economic downturn in the country.  And being a high school principal and watching my kids be homeless and transient and mobile, and much harder to grab ahold of.  And they would be into crime or stealing or whatever for survival on the streets.  And they would show up at school, or they’d get off the bus and come down and say, “Doctor Mackatee (ph), I need to go to the clinic because I’m sick.”

And so our little school clinics became their health care. And sometimes even their parents would come and say, hey, can your nurse check us out.  And at one time, we had one nurse for seven schools.

And so, in terms of people that are lost in the shuffle — especially at the secondary level — transient, homeless children — we had a huge population of homeless children and they kept my head on straight through the grief I felt in our family because they’re so compelling.  They don’t let — teenagers don’t let you sit around and whine.  They pull you forward into life.

And my concern for the school systems in this country is for the massive health care issues that walk in the doors of school systems who don’t have nursing care, who don’t have clinics that are staffed, who don’t have the resources.  And many of the teachers in America take care of the kids out of their pocket.  School cooks feed children — slip them a little bit.  I know for a fact that many of my kids only ate with confidence at school.  That’s one of the reasons I love Mrs. Obama and her notion of — (applause) — of decent school lunch.

I can remember walking into a school system and the lunch they served was a little piece of cheese, a little short pasty breadstick and a tiny little tomato sauce cup.  And that was lunch until Mrs. Obama brought focus to what was being served to our children.

So the kids in the country who are homeless and deprived and transient — as soon as a kid gets 15 or 16, it’s hard to — they come and they show up once in a while, or they go off and they bounce from home to home, or buddy to buddy, or situation to situation.  They’re the ones that I’m worried about falling through the cracks.

And I’m worried about our school system and the focus that we spend more time and effort trying to get what we used to call in Ohio “butts in seats to take tests,” instead of seeing to their health care needs and their mental health care needs and support needs, so that we can wholly educate a child in the United States of America.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s a great comment.  Well, first of all, Margaret, we’re so grateful for you sharing your personal story, because it reminds us of the goodness and generosity of the American people, when somebody like Margaret is going through her own pain but she’s thinking about people other than herself and her family.  That kind of spirit is to be found all across the country.  It’s not unique to one party.  It’s not unique to one region.  There are good people like Margaret everywhere.

A couple of points I’d just pick up on that you’ve mentioned.  Number one — when we talk about the health care system, we have to just remind ourselves of the economic impact of the health care system on families.  It’s not just feeling bad.  Obviously, when you’re sick, your most important concern is getting well.  But what is also true is, is that when you get sick and you don’t have health insurance, then that is draining your resources for other things.

Bankruptcy because of medical expenses is a huge portion of the bankruptcies in America.  When families lose their house, or a parent has to stop working because of an untreated illness, or they miss too many days at work because they can never go to a doctor and then lose their job or lose incomes from those days they don’t work — that can send a household into a spiral.  And then, once a household starts breaking down because they lose a home, or they lose a car, or they lose a job, now, suddenly, you start having people in shelters, and people on the streets.  And that then affects kids and then their capacity to learn.  And you then create cycles of problems that are much harder for people to pull out of.

So part of the reason that it’s important for us to get this health care issue right is so that people have at least a stable base from which to then focus on all the other issues that they’ve got to focus on in their lives.  And if we can, as I said before, continue to do a better job of providing high-quality care to everybody, but in a more efficient way, then that will free up resources so that, for example, we can address the underfunding of schools, and we can make sure that we are having additional resources inside the schools for things like mental health.

The number of under-diagnosed young people who end up getting in trouble or dropping out of school just because they didn’t get the same health care services that better-off families get, it’s substantial.  And once they’ve dropped out, you lose them.  And then they end up in the criminal justice system.  And we then end up paying for their incarceration instead of them paying taxes because they’re able to get a good job and support a family.  And those cycles can build.

One of the most challenging things as President for me is to try to get folks to recognize that investments in people oftentimes save us money over the long term, even if it looks like it costs money in the short term.  And we make this mistake over and over again.

You mentioned school lunches, for example.  We know that children’s grades and test scores tend to go down at the end of the month, on average, in low-income communities.  All right, well, why is that?  It’s because food stamps start running out at the end of the month and kids are hungry and they’re not focused.

Now, it may look smart for us to restrict those benefits, except if even half of those kids end up doing better in school, and didn’t drop out, and were able to get a job, the society would be much wealthier.  If we are focused on mental health services, then we could cut down on the crime rate.  If we invest in early childhood education, we know there are improved outcomes that save the society money as a whole.

And let’s face it, part of what prevents us from making those investments in the short term is, is that we’ve gone through some tough times.  The middle class feels strapped.  People’s incomes and wages haven’t gone up — even after the recovery where we dug ourselves out of the crisis.  We still have growing inequality where a huge amount of the increase in income is still going to folks at the very top.  And so if you’re a middle-class person, and you’re already struggling and things are tight, then sometimes you feel like, well, why am I going to pay more taxes to help folks at the bottom?  Right?  That’s, I think, the mentality that a lot of folks have.  And it’s understandable.

But part of what I’ve been trying to argue — and I know Jim tries to do it, as well — is to recognize that we don’t have to choose between middle-class families working hard and trying to get ahead and low-income families who are working hard and trying to get ahead — if those of us who’ve been extremely blessed are just a little more open-hearted about how we can help everybody. (Applause.)

And I would like us to just reflect the generosity of spirit that Margaret expresses, because if we all had that generosity of spirit, if we all look at every child as a member of our family, if we think of everybody as part of a single community, then we can solve a lot of these problems.  And it won’t end up costing us more money, we won’t necessarily have to pay more taxes, we’ll just be spending it in different ways.

In some ways, health care is a good metaphor for a lot of the problems we have.  We spend things on stuff we don’t need and we neglect the things we do, and we don’t end up healthier as a result.

Well, that’s not just true for the health care system; that’s true for our economy.  We waste a lot of money on stuff we don’t need.  And we under-invest in those things that will make sure that we have a healthy society.  And politics oftentimes gets in the way.  And part of what I’ve tried to encourage my own Democratic Party to do is to recognize that not all the money that we spend at the federal level is smart, and some of it — some programs don’t work and we should end those when they don’t work, and be honest about what’s working and what’s not.

But part of what I’ve also tried to do is to say to the Republican Party:  Open your hearts and think about the people here in Tennessee who are working hard, are struggling, and just need a little bit of help.  And if we give them that help, it’s going to pay off over the long term.  This will be a stronger state.  Employment will be higher.  Folks will be paying taxes.  Everybody is going to prosper.

We’re all in this together.  That’s what I believe.  When America is together and we have a certain generosity of spirit, even if we’re hard-headed about making sure stuff works right and we’re not wasting money, but we’re doing what is needed to give everybody a shot in life, that’s when America grows.  That’s when we prosper.

I know that’s what you believe, too, Margaret.  You showed it in your own life.  We appreciate you very much.

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

2:44 P.M. CDT

Full Text Obama Presidency July 1, 2015: President Barack Obama’s Statement on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba and Reopening Embassies Transcript



Statement by the President on the Re-Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba

Source: WH, 7-1-15

Rose Garden

11:08 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning, everybody.  Please have a seat.

More than 54 years ago, at the height of the Cold War, the United States closed its embassy in Havana.  Today, I can announce that the United States has agreed to formally re-establish diplomatic relations with the Republic of Cuba, and re-open embassies in our respective countries.  This is a historic step forward in our efforts to normalize relations with the Cuban government and people, and begin a new chapter with our neighbors in the Americas.

When the United States shuttered our embassy in 1961, I don’t think anyone expected that it would be more than half a century before it re-opened.  After all, our nations are separated by only 90 miles, and there are deep bonds of family and friendship between our people.  But there have been very real, profound differences between our governments, and sometimes we allow ourselves to be trapped by a certain way of doing things.

For the United States, that meant clinging to a policy that was not working.  Instead of supporting democracy and opportunity for the Cuban people, our efforts to isolate Cuba despite good intentions increasingly had the opposite effect -– cementing the status quo and isolating the United States from our neighbors in this hemisphere.  The progress that we mark today is yet another demonstration that we don’t have to be imprisoned by the past. When something isn’t working, we can -– and will –- change.

Last December, I announced that the United States and Cuba had decided to take steps to normalize our relationship.  As part of that effort, President Raul Castro and I directed our teams to negotiate the re-establishment of embassies.  Since then, our State Department has worked hard with their Cuban counterparts to achieve that goal.  And later this summer, Secretary Kerry will travel to Havana formally to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more.

This is not merely symbolic.  With this change, we will be able to substantially increase our contacts with the Cuban people.  We’ll have more personnel at our embassy.  And our diplomats will have the ability to engage more broadly across the island.  That will include the Cuban government, civil society, and ordinary Cubans who are reaching for a better life.

On issues of common interest –- like counterterrorism, disaster response, and development -– we will find new ways to cooperate with Cuba.  And I’ve been clear that we will also continue to have some very serious differences.  That will include America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly, and the ability to access information.  And we will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.

However, I strongly believe that the best way for America to support our values is through engagement.  That’s why we’ve already taken steps to allow for greater travel, people-to-people and commercial ties between the United States and Cuba.  And we will continue to do so going forward.

Since December, we’ve already seen enormous enthusiasm for this new approach. Leaders across the Americas have expressed support for our change in policy; you heard that expressed by President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil yesterday.  Public opinion surveys in both our countries show broad support for this engagement.  One Cuban said, “I have prepared for this all my life.”  Another said that that, “this is like a shot of oxygen.”  One Cuban teacher put it simply:  “We are neighbors.  Now we can be friends.”

Here in the United States, we’ve seen that same enthusiasm.  There are Americans who want to travel to Cuba and American businesses who want to invest in Cuba.  American colleges and universities that want to partner with Cuba.  Above all, Americans who want to get to know their neighbors to the south. And through that engagement, we can also help the Cuban people improve their own lives.  One Cuban American looked forward to “reuniting families and opening lines of communications.”  Another put it bluntly:  “You can’t hold the future of Cuba hostage to what happened in the past.”

And that’s what this is about:  a choice between the future and the past.

Americans and Cubans alike are ready to move forward.  I believe it’s time for Congress to do the same.  I’ve called on Congress to take steps to lift the embargo that prevents Americans from travelling or doing business in Cuba.  We’ve already seen members from both parties begin that work.  After all, why should Washington stand in the way of our own people?

Yes, there are those who want to turn back the clock and double down on a policy of isolation.  But it’s long past time for us to realize that this approach doesn’t work.  It hasn’t worked for 50 years.  It shuts America out of Cuba’s future, and it only makes life worse for the Cuban people.

So I’d ask Congress to listen to the Cuban people.  Listen to the American people.  Listen to the words of a proud Cuban American, Carlos Gutierrez, who recently came out against the policy of the past, saying, “I wonder if the Cubans who have to stand in line for the most basic necessities for hours in the hot Havana sun feel that this approach is helpful to them.”

Of course, nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight. But I believe that American engagement — through our embassy, our businesses, and most of all, through our people — is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights.  Time and again, America has demonstrated that part of our leadership in the world is our capacity to change.  It’s what inspires the world to reach for something better.

A year ago, it might have seemed impossible that the United States would once again be raising our flag, the stars and stripes, over an embassy in Havana.  This is what change looks like.

In January of 1961, the year I was born, when President Eisenhower announced the termination of our relations with Cuba, he said:  It is my hope and my conviction that it is “in the not-too-distant future it will be possible for the historic friendship between us once again to find its reflection in normal relations of every sort.”  Well, it took a while, but I believe that time has come.  And a better future lies ahead.

Thank you very much.  And I want to thank some of my team who worked diligently to make this happen.  They’re here.  They don’t always get acknowledged.  We’re really proud of them.  Good work.

11:15 A.M. EDT

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