Full Text Political Transcripts June 16, 2017: President Donald Trump’s Remarks on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

TRUMP PRESIDENCY & 115TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by President Trump on the Policy of the United States Towards Cuba

Source: WH, 6-16-17

Manuel Artime Theater
Miami, Florida

1:31 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, everybody.  Thank you very much.  Great honor.  And thank you to my truly great friend, Vice President Mike Pence — he’s terrific.  (Applause.)  And thank you to Miami.  We love Miami.

Let me start by saying that I’m glad Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and I, along with a very talented team, were able to get Otto Warmbier back with his parents.  (Applause.)  What’s happened to him is a truly terrible thing, but at least the ones who love him so much can now take care of him and be with him.

Also, my dear friend, Steve Scalise, took a bullet for all of us.  And because of him, and the tremendous pain and suffering he’s now enduring — he’s having a hard time, far worse than anybody thought — our country will perhaps become closer, more unified.  So important.

So we all owe Steve a big, big thank you.  And let’s keep the Warmbier family, and the Scalise family, and all of the victims of the congressional shooting, in our hearts and prayers.  And it was quite a day and our police officers were incredible, weren’t they?  They did a great job.  (Applause.)

And let us all pray for a future of peace, unity and safety for all of our people.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  And for Cuba.

I am so thrilled to be back here with all of my friends in Little Havana.  (Applause.)  I love it.  I love this city.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you?

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.

This is an amazing community, the Cuban-American community — so much love.  I saw that immediately.

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you!

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, darling.  Oh do I love you, too.  (Applause.)

What you have built here — a vibrant culture, a thriving neighborhood, the spirit of adventure — is a testament to what a free Cuba could be.  And with God’s help, a free Cuba is what we will soon achieve.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  USA! USA! USA!

THE PRESIDENT:  And I don’t even mind that it is 110 degrees up here.  (Laughter.)  This room is packed.  You know, it wasn’t designed for this.  I would like to thank the fire department.  (Laughter.)

We are delighted to be joined by so many friends and leaders of our great community.  I want to express our deep gratitude to a man who has really become a friend of mine — and I want to tell you, he is one tough competitor — Senator Marco Rubio.  (Applause.)  Great guy.  (Applause.)  He is tough, man.  He is tough and he’s good, and he loves you.  He loves you.

And I listened to another friend of mine, Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart — (applause) — and I’ll tell you, I loved what he said, and I appreciate it.  Mario, I appreciated what you said so much.  In fact I was looking for Mario.  I wanted to find him — they said he was onstage.  I almost dragged him off the stage to thank him, but now I’m thanking you anyway.  Thank you, Mario.  That was great.  Really appreciate it.

And I also want to thank my good friend, and just a man who was of tremendous support in the state of Florida, for being with us — Governor Rick Scott.  (Applause.)  Great job.  He’s doing a great job.  I hope he runs for the Senate.  I know I’m not supposed to say that.  I hope he runs for the Senate.  Rick, are you running?  (Applause.)  I don’t know.  Marco, let’s go, come on.  We got to get him to — I hope he runs for the Senate.

We are deeply honored to be joined by amazing Veterans of the Bay of Pigs.  (Applause.)  These are great people, amazing people.  (Applause.)

I have wonderful memories from our visit during the campaign.  That was some visit.  That was right before the election.  I guess it worked, right?  Boy, Florida, as a whole, and this community supported us by tremendous margins.  We appreciate it.

But including one of the big honors, and that was the honor of getting the Bay of Pigs award just before the election, and it’s great to be gathered in a place named for a true hero of the Cuban people.  And you know what that means.  (Applause.)

I was also looking forward to welcoming today two people who are not present — José Daniel Ferrer and Berta Soler — (applause) — were both prevented from leaving Cuba for this event.  So we acknowledge them.  They’re great friends — great help.  And although they could not be with us, we are with them 100 percent.  (Applause.)  We are with them.  Right?

Finally, I want to recognize everyone in the audience who has their own painful but important story to tell about the true and brutal nature of the Castro regime.  Brutal.  We thank the dissidents, the exiles, and the children of Operation Peter Pan — you know what that means — (applause) — and all who gather in the cafes, churches, and the streets in this incredible area and city to speak the truth and to stand for justice.  (Applause.)

And we want to thank you all for being a voice for the voiceless.  There are people –- it’s voiceless, but you are making up the difference, and we all want to thank you.  This group is amazing.  Just an incredible –- you are an incredible group of talented, passionate people.  Thank you.  Incredible group of people.

Many of you witnessed terrible crimes committed in service of a depraved ideology.  You saw the dreams of generations held by captive, and just, literally, you look at what happened and what communism has done.  You knew faces that disappeared, innocents locked in prisons, and believers persecuted for preaching the word of God.  You watched the Women in White bruised, bloodied, and captured on their way from Mass.  You have heard the chilling cries of loved ones, or the cracks of firing squads piercing through the ocean breeze.  Not a good sound.

Among the courageous Cuban dissidents with us onstage here today are Cary Roque, who was imprisoned by the Castro regime 15 years ago.  (Applause.)  She looks awfully good.

MS. ROQUE:  Thank you, Mr. President.  Thank you, Mr. Vice President.  Thank you, Marco Rubio, Mario Diaz-Balart.  Thank you to all the men and the Cubans who fight no matter what — for the Cuban liberty.  Mr. President, on behalf of the Cuban people, the people inside my eyes, my homeland, thank you.  Thank you, and we appreciate your love.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Wow.  That’s pretty good.  She didn’t know she was going to do that either, I will tell you.  Thank you very much.

Antunez, imprisoned for 17 years.  Where is he?  (Applause.)  I love that name.  Antunez — I love that name –and Angel De Fana, imprisoned for over 20 years.  (Applause.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  Very brave people.

The exiles and dissidents here today have witnessed communism destroy a nation, just as communism has destroyed every single nation where it has ever been tried.  (Applause.)  But we will not be silent in the face of communist oppression any longer.  You have seen the truth, you have spoken the truth, and the truth has now called us — this group — called us to action.  Thank you.

Last year, I promised to be a voice against repression in our region — remember, tremendous oppression — and a voice for the freedom of the Cuban people.  You heard that pledge.  You exercised the right you have to vote.  You went out and you voted.  And here I am like I promised — like I promised.  (Applause.)

I promised you — I keep my promises.  Sometimes in politics, they take a little bit longer, but we get there.  We get there.  Don’t we get there?  You better believe it, Mike.  We get there.  (Laughter.)  Thank you.  Thank you.  No, we keep our promise.

And now that I am your President, America will expose the crimes of the Castro regime and stand with the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom.  Because we know it is best for America to have freedom in our hemisphere, whether in Cuba or Venezuela, and to have a future where the people of each country can live out their own dreams.  (Applause.)

For nearly six decades, the Cuban people have suffered under communist domination.  To this day, Cuba is ruled by the same people who killed tens of thousands of their own citizens, who sought to spread their repressive and failed ideology throughout our hemisphere, and who once tried to host enemy nuclear weapons 90 miles from our shores.

The Castro regime has shipped arms to North Korea and fueled chaos in Venezuela.  While imprisoning innocents, it has harbored cop killers, hijackers, and terrorists.  It has supported human trafficking, forced labor, and exploitation all around the globe.  This is the simple truth of the Castro regime. (Applause.)

My administration will not hide from it, excuse it, or glamorize it.  And we will never, ever be blind to it.  We know what’s going on and we remember what happened.  (Applause.)

On my recent trip overseas, I said the United States is adopting a principled realism, rooted in our values, shared interests, and common sense.  I also said countries should take greater responsibility for creating stability in their own regions.  It’s hard to think of a policy that makes less sense than the prior administration’s terrible and misguided deal with the Castro regime.  (Applause.)  Well, you have to say, the Iran deal was pretty bad also.  Let’s not forget that beauty.

They made a deal with a government that spreads violence and instability in the region and nothing they got — think of it — nothing they got — they fought for everything and we just didn’t fight hard enough.  But now those days are over.  Now we hold the cards.  We now hold the cards.  (Applause.)

The previous administration’s easing of restrictions on travel and trade does not help the Cuban people — they only enrich the Cuban regime.  (Applause.)  The profits from investment and tourism flow directly to the military.  The regime takes the money and owns the industry.  The outcome of the last administration’s executive action has been only more repression and a move to crush the peaceful, democratic movement.

Therefore, effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba.  (Applause.)

AUDIENCE:  Trump!  Trump!  Trump!

THE PRESIDENT:  I am announcing today a new policy, just as I promised during the campaign, and I will be signing that contract right at that table in just a moment.  (Applause.)

Our policy will seek a much better deal for the Cuban people and for the United States of America.  We do not want U.S. dollars to prop up a military monopoly that exploits and abuses the citizens of Cuba.

Our new policy begins with strictly enforcing U.S. law.  (Applause.)  We will not lift sanctions on the Cuban regime until all political prisoners are freed, freedoms of assembly and expression are respected, all political parties are legalized, and free and internationally supervised elections are scheduled.  Elections.  (Applause.)

We will very strongly restrict American dollars flowing to the military, security and intelligence services that are the core of Castro regime.  They will be restricted.  We will enforce the ban on tourism.  We will enforce the embargo.  We will take concrete steps to ensure that investments flow directly to the people, so they can open private businesses and begin to build their country’s great, great future — a country of great potential.  (Applause.)

My action today bypasses the military and the government, to help the Cuban people themselves form businesses and pursue much better lives.  We will keep in place the safeguards to prevent Cubans from risking their lives to unlawful travel to the United States.  They are in such danger the way they have to come to this country, and we are going to be safeguarding those people.  We have to.  We have no choice.  We have to.  (Applause.)

And we will work for the day when a new generation of leaders brings this long reign of suffering to an end.  And I do believe that end is in the very near future.  (Applause.)

We challenge Cuba to come to the table with a new agreement that is in the best interests of both their people and our people and also of Cuban Americans.

To the Cuban government, I say:  Put an end to the abuse of dissidents.  Release the political prisoners.  Stop jailing innocent people.  Open yourselves to political and economic freedoms.  Return the fugitives from American justice — including the return of the cop-killer Joanne Chesimard.  (Applause.)

And finally, hand over the Cuban military criminals who shot down and killed four brave members of Brothers to the Rescue who were in unarmed, small, slow civilian planes.  (Applause.)

Those victims included Mario de la Pena, Jr., and Carlos Costa.  We are honored to be joined by Mario’s parents, Miriam and Mario, and Carlos’s sister, Mirta.  Where are you?  (Applause.)  Those are great, great parents who love their children so much.  What they’ve done is just an incredible, incredible thing — what they represent — they did not die in vain — what they represent to everybody, and especially to the Cuban people.  So your children did not die in vain, believe me.  (Applause.)

So to the Castro regime, I repeat:  The harboring of criminals and fugitives will end.  You have no choice.  It will end.  (Applause.)

Any changes to the relationship between the United States and Cuba will depend on real progress toward these and the other goals, many of which I’ve described.  When Cuba is ready to take concrete steps to these ends, we will be ready, willing, and able to come to the table to negotiate that much better deal for Cubans, for Americans.  Much better deal and a deal that’s fair.  A deal that’s fair and a deal that makes sense.

Our embassy remains open in the hope that our countries can forge a much stronger and better path.  America believes that free, independent, and sovereign nations are the best vehicle for human happiness, for health, for education, for safety, for everything.  We all accept that all nations have the right to chart their own paths — and I’m certainly a very big believer in that — so we will respect Cuban sovereignty.  But we will never turn our backs on the Cuban people.  That will not happen.  (Applause.)

Over the years, a special sympathy has grown between this land of the free, and the beautiful people of that island, so close to our shores and so deeply woven into the history of our region.  America has rejected the Cuban people’s oppressors.  They are rejected.  Officially today, they are rejected.  (Applause.)  And to those people, America has become a source of strength, and our flag a symbol of hope.

I know that is exactly what America is to you and what it represents to you.  It represents the same to me.  It represents the same to all of us.  And that is what it was to a little boy, Luis Haza.  You ever hear of Luis?  He became very famous, great talent — just eight years old when Fidel Castro seized power. At the time, Luis’s father was the police chief in Santiago de Cuba.  You know Santiago?  Yeah?  Oh, they know Santiago.  Just days after Fidel took control, his father was one of 71 Cubans executed by firing squad near San Juan Hill at the hands of the Castro regime.

Luis buried his grief in his great love of music.  He began playing the violin so brilliantly and so beautifully.  Soon the regime saw his incredible gift and wanted to use him for propaganda purposes.  When he was 12, they organized a national television special and demanded he play a solo for Raul Castro  — who by the way is leaving now.  I wonder why.

They sent an official to fetch Luis from his home.  But Luis refused to go.  And a few days later, Castro’s soldiers barged into his orchestra practice area, guns blazing.  They told him to play for them.  Terrified, Luis began to play.  And the entire room was stunned by what they heard.  Ringing out from the trembling boy’s violin was a tune they all recognized.  This young Cuban boy was playing “The Star Spangled Banner.”  (Applause.)  Luis played the American National Anthem all the way through, and when he finished, the room was dead silent.

When we say that America stands as a symbol to the world — a symbol of freedom, and a symbol of hope — that is what Luis meant, and that is what Luis displayed that day.  It was a big day.  It was a great day.  And that is what we will all remain. That was a very important moment, just like this is now, for Cuba.  A very important moment.  (Applause.)  America will always stand for liberty, and America will always pray and cheer for the freedom of the Cuban people.

Now, that little boy, whose story I just told you, the one who played that violin so beautifully so many years ago, is here with us today in our very, very packed and extremely warm auditorium.  (Laughter.)  Of course, he is no longer a little boy, but a world-renowned violinist and conductor — one of the greats.  And today he will once again play his violin and fill the hearts of all who love and cherish Cuba, the United States, and freedom.  (Applause.)

I would like to now invite Luis to the stage.

Luis.  (Applause.)

(Luis Haza plays The Star-Spangled Banner on the violin.)

AUDIENCE:  USA! USA! USA!  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Luis.  I just said, so where were you more nervous?  Today or then?  He said, honestly, I think today.  That’s pretty — (laughter.)  Thank you, Luis, that was beautiful.

So I want to thank Miami.  I want to thank Little Havana.  Havana, we love.  Do we love it?  Would you move anywhere else?  You wouldn’t move to Palm Beach, would you?  No.  No way.  Little Havana.

And I want to thank all of our great friends here today.  You’ve been amazing, loyal, beautiful people.  And thank you.  Don’t remind me.  Actually, I was telling Mike, so it was two days — on my birthday — until a big day, which turned out to be tomorrow — the 16th.  That was the day I came down with Melania on the escalator at Trump Tower.  That’s tomorrow.  (Applause.)  So it’s exactly tomorrow — two years since we announced.  And it worked out okay.  Worked out okay.  (Applause.)  It’s a great honor.  Believe me, it’s a great honor.  Right?

AUDIENCE:  (Sings Happy Birthday.)

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

I just want to end by saying may God bless everyone searching for freedom.  May God bless Cuba.  May God bless the United States of America.  And God bless you all.  Thank you.  Now I’m going to sign.  Thank you.
(The President participates in a signing.)

So this says, “strengthening the policy of the United States toward Cuba.”  And I can add, “strengthening a lot.”  (Laughter.)  So this is very important, and you watch what’s going to happen.  Going to be a great day for Cuba.

Thank you.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

END
2:09 P.M. EDT

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Political Headlines March 20, 2016: President Barack Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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PRESIDENCY, CONGRESS & CAMPAIGNS:

Obama’s schedule for trip to Havana, Cuba

Source: USA Today

SUNDAY

• Arrival at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, 4:50 p.m.
• Meet-and-greet at U.S. Embassy, 5:50 p.m.
• Family sight-seeing in Old Havana, including the Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana, 6:40 p.m.

MONDAY

• Wreath-laying at the José Marti Memorial, morning
• Official welcoming ceremony, Palace of the Revolution, morning
• Meeting with Cuban President Raul Castro, morning
• Entrepreneurship summit, afternoon
• State Dinner at the Palace of the Revolution, evening

TUESDAY

• Address to the Cuban people at El Gran Teatro de Havana, morning
• Meeting with dissidents and civil society leaders, morning
• Baseball have between the Tampa Bay Rays at Cuban National Team at Estadio Latinoamericano, 2 p.m.
• Departure from Jose Marti International Airport en route to Buenos Aires, Argentina, afternoon

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

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.

END
11:15 A.M. EDT

Political Musings December 20, 2014: Obama invokes Reagan in reflective and optimistic American resurgence declaration

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama invokes Reagan in reflective and optimistic American resurgence declaration

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In the last press conference of the year on Friday afternoon, Dec. 19, 2014 at the East Room of the White House President Barack Obama kept the topics lighter and optimistic in the 50-minute presser; the theme was definitely…READ MORE

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Brussels.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

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

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

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Pace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Clark.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

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

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

Q    Okay, all right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta Rampton.

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

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

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

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
2:45 P.M. EST

Full Text Obama Presidency December 17, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Speech on the Normalization of Diplomatic Relations with CubaFull Text Obama Presidency December 15, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Remarks at “Christmas in Washington” — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Statement by the President on Cuba Policy Changes

Source: WH, 12-17-14

Cabinet Room

12:01 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT:   Good afternoon.  Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba.

In the most significant changes in our policy in more than fifty years, we will end an outdated approach that, for decades, has failed to advance our interests, and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries.  Through these changes, we intend to create more opportunities for the American and Cuban people, and begin a new chapter among the nations of the Americas.

There’s a complicated history between the United States and Cuba.  I was born in 1961 –- just over two years after Fidel Castro took power in Cuba, and just a few months after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which tried to overthrow his regime. Over the next several decades, the relationship between our countries played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, and America’s steadfast opposition to communism.  We are separated by just over 90 miles. But year after year, an ideological and economic barrier hardened between our two countries.

Meanwhile, the Cuban exile community in the United States made enormous contributions to our country –- in politics and business, culture and sports.  Like immigrants before, Cubans helped remake America, even as they felt a painful yearning for the land and families they left behind.  All of this bound America and Cuba in a unique relationship, at once family and foe.

Proudly, the United States has supported democracy and human rights in Cuba through these five decades. We have done so primarily through policies that aimed to isolate the island, preventing the most basic travel and commerce that Americans can enjoy anyplace else.  And though this policy has been rooted in the best of intentions, no other nation joins us in imposing these sanctions, and it has had little effect beyond providing the Cuban government with a rationale for restrictions on its people.  Today, Cuba is still governed by the Castros and the Communist Party that came to power half a century ago.

Neither the American, nor Cuban people are well served by a rigid policy that is rooted in events that took place before most of us were born.  Consider that for more than 35 years, we’ve had relations with China –- a far larger country also governed by a Communist Party.  Nearly two decades ago, we reestablished relations with Vietnam, where we fought a war that claimed more Americans than any Cold War confrontation.

That’s why -– when I came into office -– I promised to re-examine our Cuba policy.  As a start, we lifted restrictions for Cuban Americans to travel and send remittances to their families in Cuba.  These changes, once controversial, now seem obvious. Cuban Americans have been reunited with their families, and are the best possible ambassadors for our values.  And through these exchanges, a younger generation of Cuban Americans has increasingly questioned an approach that does more to keep Cuba closed off from an interconnected world.

While I have been prepared to take additional steps for some time, a major obstacle stood in our way –- the wrongful imprisonment, in Cuba, of a U.S. citizen and USAID sub-contractor Alan Gross for five years.  Over many months, my administration has held discussions with the Cuban government about Alan’s case, and other aspects of our relationship.  His Holiness Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to me, and to Cuba’s President Raul Castro, urging us to resolve Alan’s case, and to address Cuba’s interest in the release of three Cuban agents who have been jailed in the United States for over 15 years.

Today, Alan returned home –- reunited with his family at long last.  Alan was released by the Cuban government on humanitarian grounds.  Separately, in exchange for the three Cuban agents, Cuba today released one of the most important intelligence agents that the United States has ever had in Cuba, and who has been imprisoned for nearly two decades.  This man, whose sacrifice has been known to only a few, provided America with the information that allowed us to arrest the network of Cuban agents that included the men transferred to Cuba today, as well as other spies in the United States.  This man is now safely on our shores.

Having recovered these two men who sacrificed for our country, I’m now taking steps to place the interests of the people of both countries at the heart of our policy.

First, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to immediately begin discussions with Cuba to reestablish diplomatic relations that have been severed since January of 1961.  Going forward, the United States will reestablish an embassy in Havana, and high-ranking officials will visit Cuba.

Where we can advance shared interests, we will -– on issues like health, migration, counterterrorism, drug trafficking and disaster response.  Indeed, we’ve seen the benefits of cooperation between our countries before.  It was a Cuban, Carlos Finlay, who discovered that mosquitoes carry yellow fever; his work helped Walter Reed fight it.  Cuba has sent hundreds of health care workers to Africa to fight Ebola, and I believe American and Cuban health care workers should work side by side to stop the spread of this deadly disease.

Now, where we disagree, we will raise those differences directly -– as we will continue to do on issues related to democracy and human rights in Cuba.  But I believe that we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.  After all, these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked.  It’s time for a new approach.

Second, I’ve instructed Secretary Kerry to review Cuba’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.  This review will be guided by the facts and the law.  Terrorism has changed in the last several decades.  At a time when we are focused on threats from al Qaeda to ISIL, a nation that meets our conditions and renounces the use of terrorism should not face this sanction.

Third, we are taking steps to increase travel, commerce, and the flow of information to and from Cuba.  This is fundamentally about freedom and openness, and also expresses my belief in the power of people-to-people engagement.  With the changes I’m announcing today, it will be easier for Americans to travel to Cuba, and Americans will be able to use American credit and debit cards on the island.  Nobody represents America’s values better than the American people, and I believe this contact will ultimately do more to empower the Cuban people.

I also believe that more resources should be able to reach the Cuban people.  So we’re significantly increasing the amount of money that can be sent to Cuba, and removing limits on remittances that support humanitarian projects, the Cuban people, and the emerging Cuban private sector.

I believe that American businesses should not be put at a disadvantage, and that increased commerce is good for Americans and for Cubans.  So we will facilitate authorized transactions between the United States and Cuba.  U.S. financial institutions will be allowed to open accounts at Cuban financial institutions.  And it will be easier for U.S. exporters to sell goods in Cuba.

I believe in the free flow of information.  Unfortunately, our sanctions on Cuba have denied Cubans access to technology that has empowered individuals around the globe.  So I’ve authorized increased telecommunications connections between the United States and Cuba.  Businesses will be able to sell goods that enable Cubans to communicate with the United States and other countries.

These are the steps that I can take as President to change this policy.  The embargo that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation.  As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.

Yesterday, I spoke with Raul Castro to finalize Alan Gross’s release and the exchange of prisoners, and to describe how we will move forward.  I made clear my strong belief that Cuban society is constrained by restrictions on its citizens.  In addition to the return of Alan Gross and the release of our intelligence agent, we welcome Cuba’s decision to release a substantial number of prisoners whose cases were directly raised with the Cuban government by my team.  We welcome Cuba’s decision to provide more access to the Internet for its citizens, and to continue increasing engagement with international institutions like the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross that promote universal values.

But I’m under no illusion about the continued barriers to freedom that remain for ordinary Cubans.  The United States believes that no Cubans should face harassment or arrest or beatings simply because they’re exercising a universal right to have their voices heard, and we will continue to support civil society there.  While Cuba has made reforms to gradually open up its economy, we continue to believe that Cuban workers should be free to form unions, just as their citizens should be free to participate in the political process.

Moreover, given Cuba’s history, I expect it will continue to pursue foreign policies that will at times be sharply at odds with American interests.  I do not expect the changes I am announcing today to bring about a transformation of Cuban society overnight.  But I am convinced that through a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban people help themselves as they move into the 21st century.

To those who oppose the steps I’m announcing today, let me say that I respect your passion and share your commitment to liberty and democracy.  The question is how we uphold that commitment.  I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result.  Moreover, it does not serve America’s interests, or the Cuban people, to try to push Cuba toward collapse.  Even if that worked -– and it hasn’t for 50 years –- we know from hard-earned experience that countries are more likely to enjoy lasting transformation if their people are not subjected to chaos.  We are calling on Cuba to unleash the potential of 11 million Cubans by ending unnecessary restrictions on their political, social, and economic activities.  In that spirit, we should not allow U.S. sanctions to add to the burden of Cuban citizens that we seek to help.

To the Cuban people, America extends a hand of friendship.  Some of you have looked to us as a source of hope, and we will continue to shine a light of freedom.  Others have seen us as a former colonizer intent on controlling your future.  José Martí once said, “Liberty is the right of every man to be honest.”  Today, I am being honest with you.  We can never erase the history between us, but we believe that you should be empowered to live with dignity and self-determination.  Cubans have a saying about daily life:  “No es facil” –- it’s not easy.  Today, the United States wants to be a partner in making the lives of ordinary Cubans a little bit easier, more free, more prosperous.

To those who have supported these measures, I thank you for being partners in our efforts.  In particular, I want to thank His Holiness Pope Francis, whose moral example shows us the importance of pursuing the world as it should be, rather than simply settling for the world as it is; the government of Canada, which hosted our discussions with the Cuban government; and a bipartisan group of congressmen who have worked tirelessly for Alan Gross’s release, and for a new approach to advancing our interests and values in Cuba.

Finally, our shift in policy towards Cuba comes at a moment of renewed leadership in the Americas.  This April, we are prepared to have Cuba join the other nations of the hemisphere at the Summit of the Americas.  But we will insist that civil society join us so that citizens, not just leaders, are shaping our future.  And I call on all of my fellow leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights at the heart of the Inter-American Charter.  Let us leave behind the legacy of both colonization and communism, the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators and sham elections.  A future of greater peace, security and democratic development is possible if we work together — not to maintain power, not to secure vested interest, but instead to advance the dreams of our citizens.

My fellow Americans, the city of Miami is only 200 miles or so from Havana.  Countless thousands of Cubans have come to Miami — on planes and makeshift rafts; some with little but the shirt on their back and hope in their hearts.  Today, Miami is often referred to as the capital of Latin America.  But it is also a profoundly American city -– a place that reminds us that ideals matter more than the color of our skin, or the circumstances of our birth; a demonstration of what the Cuban people can achieve, and the openness of the United States to our family to the South.  Todos somos Americanos.

Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.  But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.

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

END
12:16 P.M. EST

Political Headlines June 9, 2013: Sens. John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Obama Chief of Staff on Surprise Trip to Gitmo

POLITICAL HEADLINES

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

THE HEADLINES….

McCain, Feinstein and Obama Chief of Staff on Surprise Trip to Gitmo

Source: ABC News Radio, 6-9-13

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., traveled to the federal detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on Sunday with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough….READ MORE

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