Politics November 16, 2016: Senate leadership McConnell re-elected, Democrat Schumer elected, Sanders grabs post

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By Bonnie K. Goodman

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) leaves after an election meeting of Senate Democrats to elect new leadership at the Capitol November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Sen. Schumer was elected as the incoming Senate minority leader. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) leaves after an election meeting of Senate Democrats to elect new leadership at the Capitol November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Sen. Schumer was elected as the incoming Senate minority leader. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After the House Republicans had voted on their leadership posts, the Senate had their turn. On Wednesday morning, Nov. 16, 2016, as predicted Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) was re-elected majority leader by acclamation, while New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer was elevated to minority leader, as departing minority leader Sen. Harry Reid’s heir apparent. Vermont Sen. and 2016 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders also grabbed his first Senate leader post as Chair of Outreach.

The Republicans retained their leaders in their election for the 115th Congress. In a meeting of the GOP conference on Wednesday morning, McConnell was re-elected “by acclimation by his colleagues with a standing ovation,” as his spokesman Don Stewart told the press. Sen. Marco Rubio (R- FL) nominated McConnell, while Sen.-elect Todd Young, (R-IN) second the motion, both were instrumental to the GOP maintaining their majority.

McConnell was expected to remain in his post, and there were no surprises in the GOP leadership votes. McConnell, 74 will be serving his second term as majority leader, previously he was minority leader for four terms, and is “Kentucky’s longest-serving senator;” he was first elected in 1984.

All the action was with the Democrats after they shook up their leadership with the retirement of longtime leader Sen. Reid. Reid already named Schumer, his successor, but Wednesday’s vote made that a reality. After the being elected Schumer expressed, “I am going to wake up every single day focused on how Senate Democrats can effectively fight for America’s middle class and those struggling to join it.” While Schumer told reporters, “We are ready to go toe to toe with Republicans.” Although the minority leader acknowledged, “When you lose an election like this, you can’t flinch. You can’t ignore it. You need to look it right in the eye and ask why, analyze it and learn from it.”

Schumer, 66 has served in the Senate since 1998, and he was in the House representing Brooklyn and Queens for 18 years before that. In 2006, Reid tapped Schumer to be the party’s number three in the Senate as vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, a position her served for ten years. When Reid announced his retirement in 2015, he made it clear he wanted Schumer to succeed him as Senate Democratic leader.

Overshadowing Schumer’s election was the addition of Sanders to the enlarged leadership team. The popular Sanders will be the outreach chairman, a newly created post within the ranks. Senate Democrats were pressured to add the formerly independent Senator to their leadership ranks after his historic run for the Democratic nomination, with a still very loyal supporter base.

After his appointment, Sanders spoke to reporters, telling them he has a “heavy responsibility to help shape the priorities of the United States government. I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the budget that leaves the United States Congress is a budget that represents the needs of working families and a shrinking middle class and not billionaires.” Sanders will also retain his post as the senior minority member of the Budget Committee.

Otherwise, in the Democratic ranks, Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill) remains minority whip. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will be the new assistant Democratic leader, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) moves up to chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Center. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI) becomes Democratic Conference secretary, the fourth ranking in leadership, and Joe Manchin (D-WV) takes over as vice chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

The Democrats enlarged their team from seven to 10 posts. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) now moved up to newly titled posts of vice chairs of the Senate Democratic Conference. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) position title changed from chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee to just chair of the Steering Committee.

Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA ) becomes the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, while longtime-Judiciary member Patrick Leahy (D-VT)  moves to the Appropriations Committee.

Politics November 16, 2016: Senate leadership McConnell re-elected, Democrat Schumer elected, Sanders grabs post

By Bonnie K. Goodman

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) leaves after an election meeting of Senate Democrats to elect new leadership at the Capitol November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Sen. Schumer was elected as the incoming Senate minority leader. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 16: U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) leaves after an election meeting of Senate Democrats to elect new leadership at the Capitol November 16, 2016 in Washington, DC. Sen. Schumer was elected as the incoming Senate minority leader. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

After the House Republicans had voted on their leadership posts, the Senate had their turn. On Wednesday morning, Nov. 16, 2016, as predicted Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) was re-elected majority leader by acclamation, while New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer was elevated to minority leader, as departing minority leader Sen. Harry Reid’s heir apparent. Vermont Sen. and 2016 Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders also grabbed his first Senate leader post as Chair of Outreach.

The Republicans retained their leaders in their election for the 115th Congress. In a meeting of the GOP conference on Wednesday morning, McConnell was re-elected “by acclimation by his colleagues with a standing ovation,” as his spokesman Don Stewart told the press. Sen. Marco Rubio (R- FL) nominated McConnell, while Sen.-elect Todd Young, (R-IN) second the motion, both were instrumental to the GOP maintaining their majority.

McConnell was expected to remain in his post, and there were no surprises in the GOP leadership votes. McConnell, 74 will be serving his second term as majority leader, previously he was minority leader for four terms, and is “Kentucky’s longest-serving senator;” he was first elected in 1984.

All the action was with the Democrats after they shook up their leadership with the retirement of longtime leader Sen. Reid. Reid already named Schumer, his successor, but Wednesday’s vote made that a reality. After the being elected Schumer expressed, “I am going to wake up every single day focused on how Senate Democrats can effectively fight for America’s middle class and those struggling to join it.” While Schumer told reporters, “We are ready to go toe to toe with Republicans.” Although the minority leader acknowledged, “When you lose an election like this, you can’t flinch. You can’t ignore it. You need to look it right in the eye and ask why, analyze it and learn from it.”

Schumer, 66 has served in the Senate since 1998, and he was in the House representing Brooklyn and Queens for 18 years before that. In 2006, Reid tapped Schumer to be the party’s number three in the Senate as vice chairman of the Democratic Conference, a position her served for ten years. When Reid announced his retirement in 2015, he made it clear he wanted Schumer to succeed him as Senate Democratic leader.

Overshadowing Schumer’s election was the addition of Sanders to the enlarged leadership team. The popular Sanders will be the outreach chairman, a newly created post within the ranks. Senate Democrats were pressured to add the formerly independent Senator to their leadership ranks after his historic run for the Democratic nomination, with a still very loyal supporter base.

After his appointment, Sanders spoke to reporters, telling them he has a “heavy responsibility to help shape the priorities of the United States government. I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that the budget that leaves the United States Congress is a budget that represents the needs of working families and a shrinking middle class and not billionaires.” Sanders will also retain his post as the senior minority member of the Budget Committee.

Otherwise, in the Democratic ranks, Sen. Dick Durbin, (D-Ill) remains minority whip. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will be the new assistant Democratic leader, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) moves up to chair the Democratic Policy and Communications Center. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI) becomes Democratic Conference secretary, the fourth ranking in leadership, and Joe Manchin (D-WV) takes over as vice chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

The Democrats enlarged their team from seven to 10 posts. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) now moved up to newly titled posts of vice chairs of the Senate Democratic Conference. Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) position title changed from chairwoman of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee to just chair of the Steering Committee.

Additionally, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, (D-CA ) becomes the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, while longtime-Judiciary member Patrick Leahy (D-VT)  moves to the Appropriations Committee.

Politics November 15, 2016: House Speaker Paul Ryan re-elected by Republican conference

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House Speaker Paul Ryan re-elected by Republican conference

By Bonnie K. Goodman

WASHINGTON, D.C. - NOVEMBER 09: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a press conference after a House Leadership Election on Capitol Hill on November 15, 2016 in Washington, D.C. United States. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), and GOP Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will keep their roles.(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – NOVEMBER 09: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks during a press conference after a House Leadership Election on Capitol Hill on November 15, 2016 in Washington, D.C. United States. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), and GOP Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) will keep their roles.(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

House Republicans have opted to re-elected Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, (R- WI) to a second term. On Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 15, 2016, in a closed-door session Republicans unanimously voted that Ryan should stay on as House Speaker in the 115th session.

Ryan’s re-election with support from all Republicans is surprising, but after a week of shocks, that has become the new norm for Republicans. Ryan’s speakership was in danger before President-elect Donald Trump’s shocking upset victory a week ago on Tuesday, Nov. 8. His lack of support and distancing himself from Trump after a 2005 lewd tape emerged threatened Trump’s chances of winning the presidency. The conservative Freedom Caucus and some Southerner Republicans wanted Ryan replaced.

After the FBI reopened their investigation into Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump rose in the polls that changed, Ryan had a change of heart, he campaigned and told Americans particularly Republicans to vote for Trump. Since Trump’s election, Ryan has been President-elect Trump’s greatest endorser on Capitol Hill. Ryan sees himself guiding policy for the administration and Republican-controlled Congress. Ryan and Trump met on Thursday, Nov. 10 and had been talking on the phone each day.

Ryan told the conference that Vice President-elect Mike Pence told him Trump supports the entire House Republican leadership’s re-election. In the spirit of their new president, GOP Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) gave Trump campaign hats red Make America great Again hats to each member.

Also, a new leadership position was created to help the new president. Ryan appointed Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) the congressional liaison to the Trump transition team. Collins was the one to second Ryan’s re-election. Collins said, “Paul Ryan’s future is as bright as ever. He has no opposition today. I’m seconding Paul Ryan’s nomination today as a sign of Trump’s support of Mr. Ryan. This is a team effort.”

On Tuesday, the Republicans also elected Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers to helm the National Republican Congressional Committee. Stivers was in the running with Rep. Roger Williams of Texas for the post. Now Ryan has to face a full vote in the House when they convene their new session in January, but with full support from the Republican majority, Ryan is certain to coast to a second term as Speaker of the House.

Full Text Political Transcripts March 16, 2016: President Barack Obama’s Remarks Announcing Judge Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President Announcing Judge Merrick Garland as his Nominee to the Supreme Court

Source: WH, 3-16-16

 

Rose Garden

11:04 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good morning.  Everybody, please have a seat.

Of the many powers and responsibilities that the Constitution vests in the presidency, few are more consequential than appointing a Supreme Court justice — particularly one to succeed Justice Scalia, one of the most influential jurists of our time.

The men and women who sit on the Supreme Court are the final arbiters of American law.  They safeguard our rights.  They ensure that our system is one of laws and not men.  They’re charged with the essential task of applying principles put to paper more than two centuries ago to some of the most challenging questions of our time.

So this is not a responsibility that I take lightly.  It’s a decision that requires me to set aside short-term expediency and narrow politics, so as to maintain faith with our founders and, perhaps more importantly, with future generations.  That’s why, over the past several weeks, I’ve done my best to set up a rigorous and comprehensive process.  I’ve sought the advice of Republican and Democratic members of Congress.  We’ve reached out to every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to constitutional scholars, to advocacy groups, to bar associations, representing an array of interests and opinions from all across the spectrum.

And today, after completing this exhaustive process, I’ve made my decision.  I’ve selected a nominee who is widely recognized not only as one of America’s sharpest legal minds, but someone who brings to his work a spirit of decency, modesty, integrity, even-handedness, and excellence.  These qualities, and his long commitment to public service, have earned him the respect and admiration of leaders from both sides of the aisle.  He will ultimately bring that same character to bear on the Supreme Court, an institution in which he is uniquely prepared to serve immediately.

Today, I am nominating Chief Judge Merrick Brian Garland to join the Supreme Court.  (Applause.)

Now, in law enforcement circles, and the in the legal community at large, Judge Garland needs no introduction.  But I’d like to take a minute to introduce Merrick to the American people, whom he already so ably serves.

He was born and raised in the Land of Lincoln — in my hometown of Chicago, in my home state of Illinois.  His mother volunteered in the community; his father ran a small business out of their home.  Inheriting that work ethic, Merrick became valedictorian of his public high school.  He earned a scholarship to Harvard, where he graduated summa cum laude.  And he put himself through Harvard Law School by working as a tutor, by stocking shoes in a shoe store, and, in what is always a painful moment for any young man, by selling his comic book collection.  (Laughter.)  It’s tough.  Been there.  (Laughter.)

Merrick graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, and the early years of his legal career bear all the traditional marks of excellence.  He clerked for two of President Eisenhower’s judicial appointees — first for a legendary judge on the Second Circuit, Judge Henry Friendly, and then for Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.  Following his clerkships, Merrick joined a highly regarded law firm, with a practice focused on litigation and pro bono representation of disadvantaged Americans.  Within four years, he earned a partnership — the dream of most lawyers. But in 1989, just months after that achievement, Merrick made a highly unusual career decision.  He walked away from a comfortable and lucrative law practice to return to public service.

Merrick accepted a low-level job as a federal prosecutor in President George H.W. Bush’s administration.  He took a 50-percent pay cut, traded in his elegant partner’s office for a windowless closet that smelled of stale cigarette smoke.  This was a time when crime here in Washington had reached epidemic proportions, and he wanted to help.  And he quickly made a name for himself, going after corrupt politicians and violent criminals.

His sterling record as a prosecutor led him to the Justice Department, where he oversaw some of the most significant prosecutions in the 1990s — including overseeing every aspect of the federal response to the Oklahoma City bombing.  In the aftermath of that act of terror, when 168 people, many of them small children, were murdered, Merrick had one evening to say goodbye to his own young daughters before he boarded a plane to Oklahoma City.  And he would remain there for weeks.  He worked side-by-side with first responders, rescue workers, local and federal law enforcement.  He led the investigation and supervised the prosecution that brought Timothy McVeigh to justice.

But perhaps most important is the way he did it.  Throughout the process, Merrick took pains to do everything by the book.  When people offered to turn over evidence voluntarily, he refused, taking the harder route of obtaining the proper subpoenas instead, because Merrick would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality.

Merrick also made a concerted effort to reach out to the victims and their families, updating them frequently on the case’s progress.  Everywhere he went, he carried with him in his briefcase the program from the memorial service with each of the victims’ names inside –- a constant, searing reminder of why he had to succeed.

Judge Garland has often referred to his work on the Oklahoma City case as, and I quote, “the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”  And through it all, he never lost touch with that community that he served.

It’s no surprise then, that soon after his work in Oklahoma City, Merrick was nominated to what’s often called the second highest court in the land — the D.C. Circuit Court.  During that process, during that confirmation process, he earned overwhelming bipartisan praise from senators and legal experts alike.  Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who was then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, supported his nomination.  Back then, he said, “In all honesty, I would like to see one person come to this floor and say one reason why Merrick Garland does not deserve this position.”  He actually accused fellow Senate Republicans trying to obstruct Merrick’s confirmation of “playing politics with judges.”  And he has since said that Judge Garland would be a “consensus nominee” for the Supreme Court who “would be very well supported by all sides,” and there would be “no question” Merrick would be confirmed with bipartisan support.

Ultimately, Merrick was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit, the second highest court in the land, with votes from a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans.  Three years ago, he was elevated to Chief Judge.  And in his 19 years on the D.C. Circuit, Judge Garland has brought his trademark diligence, compassion, and unwavering regard for the rule of law to his work.

On a circuit court known for strong-minded judges on both ends of the spectrum, Judge Garland has earned a track record of building consensus as a thoughtful, fair-minded judge who follows the law.  He’s shown a rare ability to bring together odd couples, assemble unlikely coalitions, persuade colleagues with wide-ranging judicial philosophies to sign on to his opinions.

And this record on the bench speaks, I believe, to Judge Garland’s fundamental temperament — his insistence that all views deserve a respectful hearing.  His habit, to borrow a phrase from former Justice John Paul Stevens, “of understanding before disagreeing,” and then disagreeing without being disagreeable.  It speaks to his ability to persuade, to respond to the concerns of others with sound arguments and airtight logic.  As his former colleague on the D.C. Circuit, and our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, once said, “Any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you’re in a difficult area.”

At the same time, Chief Judge Garland is more than just a brilliant legal mind.  He’s someone who has a keen understanding that justice is about more than abstract legal theory; more than some footnote in a dusty casebook.  His life experience –- his experience in places like Oklahoma City –- informs his view that the law is more than an intellectual exercise.  He understands the way law affects the daily reality of people’s lives in a big, complicated democracy, and in rapidly-changing times.  And throughout his jurisprudence runs a common thread -– a dedication to protecting the basic rights of every American; a conviction that in a democracy, powerful voices must not be allowed to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.

To find someone with such a long career of public service, marked by complex and sensitive issues; to find someone who just about everyone not only respects, but genuinely likes –- that is rare.  And it speaks to who Merrick Garland is — not just as a lawyer, but as a man.

People respect the way he treats others — his genuine courtesy and respect for his colleagues and those who come before his court.  They admire his civic-mindedness — mentoring his clerks throughout their careers, urging them to use their legal training to serve their communities, setting his own example by tutoring a young student at a Northeast D.C. elementary school each year for the past 18 years.  They’re moved by his deep devotion to his family — Lynn, his wife of nearly 30 years, and their two daughters, Becky and Jessie.  As a family, they indulge their love of hiking and skiing and canoeing, and their love of America by visiting our national parks.

People respect Merrick’s deep and abiding passion for protecting our most basic constitutional rights.  It’s a passion, I’m told, that manifested itself at an early age.  And one story is indicative of this, is notable.  As valedictorian of his high school class, he had to deliver a commencement address.  The other student speaker that day spoke first and unleashed a fiery critique of the Vietnam War.  Fearing the controversy that might result, several parents decided to unplug the sound system, and the rest of the student’s speech was muffled.

And Merrick didn’t necessarily agree with the tone of his classmate’s remarks, nor his choice of topic for that day.  But stirred by the sight of a fellow student’s voice being silenced, he tossed aside his prepared remarks and delivered instead, on the spot, a passionate, impromptu defense of our First Amendment rights.

It was the beginning of a lifelong career — as a lawyer, and a prosecutor, and as a judge — devoted to protecting the rights of others.  And he has done that work with decency and humanity and common sense, and a common touch.  And I’m proud that he’ll continue that work on our nation’s highest court.

I said I would take this process seriously — and I did.  I chose a serious man and an exemplary judge, Merrick Garland.  Over my seven years as President, in all my conversations with senators from both parties in which I asked their views on qualified Supreme Court nominees — this includes the previous two seats that I had to fill — the one name that has come up repeatedly, from Republicans and Democrats alike, is Merrick Garland.

Now, I recognize that we have entered the political season  — or perhaps, these days it never ends — a political season that is even noisier and more volatile than usual.  I know that Republicans will point to Democrats who’ve made it hard for Republican Presidents to get their nominees confirmed.  And they’re not wrong about that.  There’s been politics involved in nominations in the past.  Although it should be pointed out that, in each of those instances, Democrats ultimately confirmed a nominee put forward by a Republican President.

I also know that because of Justice Scalia’s outsized role on the Court and in American law, and the fact that Americans are closely divided on a number of issues before the Court, it is tempting to make this confirmation process simply an extension of our divided politics — the squabbling that’s going on in the news every day.  But to go down that path would be wrong.  It would be a betrayal of our best traditions, and a betrayal of the vision of our founding documents.

At a time when our politics are so polarized, at a time when norms and customs of political rhetoric and courtesy and comity are so often treated like they’re disposable — this is precisely the time when we should play it straight, and treat the process of appointing a Supreme Court justice with the seriousness and care it deserves.  Because our Supreme Court really is unique.  It’s supposed to be above politics.  It has to be.  And it should stay that way.

To suggest that someone as qualified and respected as Merrick Garland doesn’t even deserve a hearing, let alone an up or down vote, to join an institution as important as our Supreme Court, when two-thirds of Americans believe otherwise — that would be unprecedented.

To suggest that someone who has served his country with honor and dignity, with a distinguished track record of delivering justice for the American people, might be treated, as one Republican leader stated, as a political “piñata” — that can’t be right.

Tomorrow, Judge Garland will travel to the Hill to begin meeting with senators, one-on-one.  I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up or down vote.  If you don’t, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate’s constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair.  It will mean everything is subject to the most partisan of politics — everything.  It will provoke an endless cycle of more tit-for-tat, and make it increasingly impossible for any President, Democrat or Republican, to carry out their constitutional function.  The reputation of the Supreme Court will inevitably suffer.  Faith in our justice system will inevitably suffer.  Our democracy will ultimately suffer, as well.

I have fulfilled my constitutional duty.  Now it’s time for the Senate to do theirs.  Presidents do not stop working in the final year of their term.  Neither should a senator.

I know that tomorrow the Senate will take a break and leave town on recess for two weeks.  My earnest hope is that senators take that time to reflect on the importance of this process to our democracy — not what’s expedient, not what’s happening at the moment, what does this mean for our institutions, for our common life — the stakes, the consequences, the seriousness of the job we all swore an oath to do.

And when they return, I hope that they’ll act in a bipartisan fashion.  I hope they’re fair.  That’s all.  I hope they are fair.  As they did when they confirmed Merrick Garland to the D.C. Circuit, I ask that they confirm Merrick Garland now to the Supreme Court, so that he can take his seat in time to fully participate in its work for the American people this fall. He is the right man for the job.  He deserves to be confirmed.  I could not be prouder of the work that he has already done on behalf of the American people.  He deserves our thanks and he deserves a fair hearing.

And with that, I’d like to invite Judge Garland to say a few words.  (Applause.)

JUDGE GARLAND:  Thank you, Mr. President.  This is the greatest honor of my life — other than Lynn agreeing to marry me 28 years ago.  It’s also the greatest gift I’ve ever received except — and there’s another caveat — the birth of our daughters, Jessie and Becky.

As my parents taught me by both words and deeds, a life of public service is as much a gift to the person who serves as it is to those he is serving.  And for me, there could be no higher public service than serving as a member of the United States Supreme Court.

My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here.  My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement at the border of Western Russian and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, fleeing anti-Semitism, and hoping to make a better life for their children in America.  They settled in the Midwest, eventually making their way to Chicago.

There, my father, who ran the smallest of small businesses from a room in our basement, took me with him as he made the rounds to his customers, always impressing upon me the importance of hard work and fair dealing.  There, my mother headed the local PTA and school board and directed a volunteer services agency, all the while instilling in my sister and me the understanding that service to the community is a responsibility above all others.  Even now, my sisters honor that example by serving the children of their communities.

I know that my mother is watching this on television and crying her eyes out.  (Laughter.)  So are my sisters, who have supported me in every step I have ever taken.  I only wish that my father were here to see this today.  I also wish that we hadn’t taught my older daughter to be so adventurous that she would be hiking in the mountains, out of cell service range — (laughter) — when the President called.  (Laughter.)

It was the sense of responsibility to serve a community, instilled by my parents, that led me to leave my law firm to become a line prosecutor in 1989.  There, one of my first assignments was to assist in the prosecution of a violent gang that had come down to the District from New York, took over a public housing project and terrorized the residents.  The hardest job we faced was persuading mothers and grandmothers that if they testified, we would be able to keep them safe and convict the gang members.  We succeeded only by convincing witnesses and victims that they could trust that the rule of law would prevail.
Years later, when I went to Oklahoma City to investigate the bombing of the Federal Building, I saw up close the devastation that can happen when someone abandons the justice system as a way of resolving grievances, and instead takes matters into his own hands.  Once again, I saw the importance of assuring victims and families that the justice system could work.  We promised that we would find the perpetrators, that we would bring them to justice, and that we would do it in a way that honored the Constitution.  The people of Oklahoma City gave us their trust, and we did everything we could to live up to it.

Trust that justice will be done in our courts without prejudice or partisanship is what, in a large part, distinguishes this country from others.  People must be confident that a judge’s decisions are determined by the law, and only the law.  For a judge to be worthy of such trust, he or she must be faithful to the Constitution and to the statutes passed by the Congress.  He or she must put aside his personal views or preferences, and follow the law — not make it.

Fidelity to the Constitution and the law has been the cornerstone of my professional life, and it’s the hallmark of the kind of judge I have tried to be for the past 18 years.  If the Senate sees fit to confirm me to the position for which I have been nominated today, I promise to continue on that course.

Mr. President, it’s a great privilege to be nominated by a fellow Chicagoan.  I am grateful beyond words for the honor you have bestowed upon me.  (Applause.)

END
11:30 A.M. EDT

Full Text Political Transcripts January 8, 2016: President Barack Obama vetoes GOP Congress’ ObamaCare repeal the Reconciliation Act

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 114TH CONGRESS:

Veto Message from the President — H.R. 3762

Source: WH, 1-8-16

TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:

I am returning herewith without my approval H.R. 3762, which provides for reconciliation pursuant to section 2002 of the concurrent resolution on the budget for fiscal year 2016, herein referred to as the Reconciliation Act.  This legislation would not only repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act, but would reverse the significant progress we have made in improving health care in America.  The Affordable Care Act includes a set of fairer rules and stronger consumer protections that have made health care coverage more affordable, more attainable, and more patient centered.  And it is working.  About 17.6 million Americans have gained health care coverage as the law’s coverage provisions have taken effect.  The Nation’s uninsured rate now stands at its lowest level ever, and demand for Marketplace coverage during December 2015 was at an all-time high.  Health care costs are lower than expected when the law was passed, and health care quality is higher — with improvements in patient safety saving an estimated 87,000 lives.  Health care has changed for the better, setting this country on a smarter, stronger course.

The Reconciliation Act would reverse that course.  The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured Americans by 22 million after 2017.  The Council of Economic Advisers estimates that this reduction in health care coverage could mean, each year, more than 900,000 fewer people getting all their needed care, more than 1.2 million additional people having trouble paying other bills due to higher medical costs, and potentially more than 10,000 additional deaths.  This legislation would cost millions of hard-working middle-class families the security of affordable health coverage they deserve.  Reliable health care coverage  would no longer be a right for everyone:  it would return to being a privilege for a few.

The legislation’s implications extend far beyond those who would become uninsured.  For example, about 150 million Americans with employer-based insurance would be at risk of higher premiums and lower wages.  And it would cause the cost of health coverage for people buying it on their own to skyrocket.

The Reconciliation Act would also effectively defund Planned Parenthood.  Planned Parenthood uses both Federal and non-federal funds to provide a range of important preventive care and health services, including health screenings, vaccinations, and check-ups to millions of men and women who visit their health centers annually.  Longstanding Federal policy already prohibits the use of Federal funds for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the woman would be endangered.  By eliminating Federal Medicaid funding for a major provider of health care, H.R. 3762 would limit access to health care for men, women, and families across the Nation, and would disproportionately impact low-income individuals.

Republicans in the Congress have attempted to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act over 50 times.  Rather than refighting old political battles by once again voting to repeal basic protections that provide security for the middle class, Members of Congress should be working together to grow the economy, strengthen middle-class families, and create new jobs.  Because of the harm this bill would cause to the health and financial security of millions of Americans, it has earned my veto.

Political Musings January 13, 2015: Obama meets with Congressional leaders promises to disagree but work together

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Obama meets with Congressional leaders promises to disagree but work together

By Bonnie K. Goodman

In President Barack Obama’s first meeting with the 114th Congress’ leadership, there was no bourbon, but there was sports talk. Obama met with the Congressional leadership of the new GOP majority in the House of Representatives and…READ MORE

Political Musings January 6, 2015: 114th Congress convenes: Boehner reelected Speaker McConnell new Senate Majority Leader

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

114th Congress convenes: Boehner reelected Speaker McConnell new Majority Leader

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Despite some opposition from conservative tea party wing of the Republican Party John Boehner, R-OH was reelected for his third term as Speaker of the House of Representatives on Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 6, 2016 the first day of…READ MORE

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

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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

By Bonnie K. Goodman

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

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

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS

OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Remarks by the President in Year-End Press Conference

Source: WH, 12-19-14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:53 P.M. EST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Will this be one of them?

THE PRESIDENT:  I never release my full movie list.

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Brussels.

THE PRESIDENT:  Brussels.

Q    Yes.  Helping Politico start a new publication.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, congratulations.

Q    I’ve been covering you since the beginning.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I think —

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

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

Q    I’ll take that as an endorsement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julie Pace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesley Clark.

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

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

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

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

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

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, so just general provocative activity.

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

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

Q    Okay, all right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roberta Rampton.

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

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

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

Colleen McCain Nelson.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  There you are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q    Any New Year’s resolutions?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

END
2:45 P.M. EST

Political Musings December 13, 2014: Senate passes $1.1 trillion spending bill after Ted Cruz forced Saturday session

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

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Political Musings November 7, 2014: Gillespie concedes to Warner in Virginia Senate race, Examiner called it wrong

POLITICAL MUSINGS

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OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Gillespie concedes to Warner in Virginia Senate race, Examiner called it wrong

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Political Musings November 5, 2014: Republicans take control of the Senate win 52 seats in 2014 midterm elections

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Republicans take control of the Senate win 52 seats in 2014 midterm elections

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Just before 11:30 PM on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 4,2014, the Republicans won 52 seats in the Senate and the control they were looking for this election cycle. The GOP picked up seats from Democrats in Arkansas…READ MORE

Campaign Headlines November 4, 2014: 2014 Midterm Elections Results: Live Blog

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Campaign Headlines November 4, 2014: Midterm Elections 2014: Live Updates & Blog

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Political Musings November 4, 2014: 2014 midterm elections results: Democrats or GOP take control of the Senate?

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2014 midterm elections results: Democrats or GOP take control of the Senate?

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The midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 will decide 36 seats, six of which will determine which party will control the chamber, specifically seats Democrats hold in states where 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney won. Additionally all 435 seats…READ MORE

Political Musings October 27, 2014: 2014 midterm elections guide: Republicans lead in polls, will control Senate

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Political Musings October 15, 2014: Unpopular Obama sees lowest rating as Republicans set to win Senate in midterms

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Political Musings October 12, 2014: Raising minimum wage not unemployment extension top issue for Obama in midterms

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Full Text Obama Presidency October 11, 2014: President Barack Obama’s Weekly Address: America Is a Place Where Hard Work Should Be Rewarded on Raising the Minimum Wage — Transcript

POLITICAL TRANSCRIPTS


OBAMA PRESIDENCY & THE 113TH CONGRESS:

Weekly Address: America Is a Place Where Hard Work Should Be Rewarded

Source: WH, 10-11-14

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President made the case for why it’s past time to raise the minimum wage. Increasing the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would benefit 28 million Americans, and make our economy stronger. While Republicans in Congress have blocked this commonsense proposal, a large and growing coalition of state and local leaders and owners of businesses large and small have answered the President’s call and raised wages for their residents and employees. This progress is important, but there is more that can be done. No American who works full time should have to raise a family in poverty. That’s why the President will continue to push Congress to take action and give America its well-deserved raise.

The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov at 6:00 a.m. ET, October 11, 2014.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
October 11, 2014

Hi, everybody.  For the first time in more than 6 years, the unemployment rate is below 6%.  Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have created more than 10 million new jobs.  That’s the longest uninterrupted stretch of private sector job creation in our history.

But while our businesses are creating jobs at the fastest pace since the ‘90s, the typical family hasn’t seen a raise since the ‘90s also.  Folks are feeling as squeezed as ever.  That’s why I’m going to keep pushing policies that will create more jobs faster and raise wages faster – policies like rebuilding our infrastructure, making sure women are paid fairly, and making it easier for young people to pay off their student loans.

But one of the simplest and fastest ways to start helping folks get ahead is by raising the minimum wage.

Ask yourself: could you live on $14,500 a year?  That’s what someone working full-time on the minimum wage makes.  If they’re raising kids, that’s below the poverty line.  And that’s not right.  A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay.

Right now, a worker on the federal minimum wage earns $7.25 an hour.  It’s time to raise that to $10.10 an hour.

Raising the federal minimum wage to ten dollars and ten cents an hour, or ten-ten, would benefit 28 million American workers.  28 million.  And these aren’t just high schoolers on their first job.  The average worker who would benefit is 35 years old.  Most low-wage workers are women.  And that extra money would help them pay the bills and provide for their families.  It also means they’ll have more money to spend at local businesses – which grows the economy for everyone.

But Congress hasn’t voted to raise the minimum wage in seven years.  Seven years.  And when it got a vote earlier this year, Republicans flat-out voted “no.”  That’s why, since the first time I asked Congress to give America a raise, 13 states, 21 cities and D.C. have gone around Congress to raise their workers’ wages.  Five more states have minimum wage initiatives on the ballot next month.  More companies are choosing to raise their workers’ wages.  A recent survey shows that a majority of small business owners support a gradual increase to ten-ten an hour, too.  And I’ve done what I can on my own by requiring federal contractors to pay their workers at least ten-ten an hour.

On Friday, a coalition of citizens – including business leaders, working moms, labor unions, and more than 65 mayors – told Republicans in Congress to stop blocking a raise for millions of hard-working Americans. Because we believe that in America, nobody who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty.  And I’m going to keep up this fight until we win.  Because America deserves a raise right now.  And America should forever be a place where your hard work is rewarded.

Thanks, and have a great weekend.

Political Musings October 6, 2014: Long-term jobless rate remains high Obama, Boehner ignore unemployment extension

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Political Musings October 5, 2014: Obama praises September jobs report pitches raising minimum wage in midterm push

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Obama praises September jobs report pitches raising minimum wage in midterm push

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Political Musings October 5, 2014: GOP make midterms referendum on Obama, as president refocuses on the economy

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