Southern Pies by Nancie McDermott

nancie cookbook 003

So happy to receive Nancie McDermott’s awesome cookbook Southern Pies! THERE WILL BE BAKING DONE HERE. :D

Website: http://www.nanciemcdermott.com/cookbooks/southern_pies.htm

Twitter: @nanciemac

And great pie vs. cake issue of Our State: North Carolina
magazine!

Website: http://www.ourstate.com/

Twitter: @ourstatemag

“2014 needs to be a year of action”: President Obama’s end-of-year press conference, 12/20/13

THE PRESIDENT:

Good afternoon, everybody. I know you are all eager to skip town and spend some time with your families. Not surprisingly, I am, too. But you know what they say — it’s the most wonderful press conference of the year — right now. (Laughter.) I am eager to take your questions, but first, I just want to say a few words about our economy.

In 2013, our businesses created another 2 million jobs, adding up to more than 8 million in just over the past 45 months. This morning, we learned that over the summer, our economy grew at its strongest pace in nearly two years. The unemployment rate has steadily fallen to its lowest point in five years. Our tax code is fairer, and our fiscal situation is firmer, with deficits that are now less than half of what they were when I took office.

For the first time in nearly two decades, we now produce more oil here at home than we buy from the rest of the world, and our all-of-the-above strategy for new American energy means lower energy costs. The Affordable Care Act has helped keep health care costs growing at their slowest rate in 50 years. Combined, that means bigger paychecks for middle-class families and bigger savings for businesses looking to invest and hire here in America.

And for all the challenges we’ve had and all the challenges that we’ve been working on diligently in dealing with both the ACA and the website these past couple months, more than half a million Americans have enrolled through healthcare.gov in the first three weeks of December alone. In California, for example, a state operating its own marketplace, more than 15,000 Americans are enrolling every single day. And in the federal website, tens of thousands are enrolling every single day. Since October 1st, more than one million Americans have selected new health insurance plans through the federal and state marketplaces. So, all told, millions of Americans, despite the problems with the website, are now poised to be covered by quality, affordable health insurance come New Year’s Day. Now, this holiday season, there are mothers and fathers and entrepreneurs and workers who have something new to celebrate — the security of knowing that when the unexpected or misfortune strikes, hardship no longer has to.

And you add that all up and what it means is we head into next year with an economy that’s stronger than it was when we started the year. More Americans are finding work and experiencing the pride of a paycheck. Our businesses are positioned for new growth and new jobs. And I firmly believe that 2014 can be a breakthrough year for America. But as I outlined in detail earlier this month, we all know there’s a lot more that we’re going to have to do to restore opportunity and broad-based growth for every American. And that’s going to require some action.

It’s a good start that earlier this week, for the first time in years, both parties in both houses of Congress came together to pass a budget. That unwinds some of the damaging sequester cuts that created headwinds for our economy. It clears the path for businesses and for investments that we need to strengthen our middle class, like education and scientific research. And it means that the American people won’t be exposed to the threat of another reckless shutdown every few months. So that’s a good thing.

It’s probably too early to declare an outbreak of bipartisanship. But it’s also fair to say that we’re not condemned to endless gridlock. There are areas where we can work together.

I believe that work should begin with something that Republicans in Congress should have done before leaving town this week, and that’s restoring the temporary insurance that helps folks make ends meet when they are looking for a job. Because Congress didn’t act, more than one million of their constituents will lose a vital economic lifeline at Christmastime, leaving a lot of job-seekers without any source of income at all.

I think we’re a better country than that. We don’t abandon each other when times are tough. Keep in mind unemployment insurance only goes to folks who are actively looking for work — a mom who needs help feeding her kids when she sends out her resumes, or a dad who needs help paying the rent while working part-time and still earning the skills he needs for that new job. So when Congress comes back to work, their first order of business should be making this right. I know a bipartisan group is working on a three-month extension of this insurance. They should pass it, and I’ll sign it right away.

Let me repeat: I think 2014 needs to be a year of action. We’ve got work to do to create more good jobs, to help more Americans earn the skills and education they need to do those jobs and to make sure that those jobs offer the wages and benefits that let families build a little bit of financial security. We still have the task of finishing the fix on our broken immigration system. We’ve got to build on the progress we’ve painstakingly made over these last five years with respect to our economy and offer the middle class and all those who are looking to join the middle class a better opportunity, and that’s going to be where I focus all of my efforts in the year ahead.

And let me conclude by saying just as we’re strengthening our position here at home, we’re also standing up for our interests around the world. This year, we’ve demonstrated that with clear-eyed, principled diplomacy, we can pursue new paths to a world that’s more secure — a future where Iran does not build a nuclear weapon; a future where Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles are destroyed. By the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over, just as we’ve ended our war in Iraq, and we’ll continue to bring our troops home. And, as always, we will remain vigilant to protect our homeland and our personnel overseas from terrorist attacks.

Of course, a lot of our men and women in uniform are still overseas, and a lot of them are still spending their Christmas far away from their family and their friends, and in some cases, are still in harm’s way. So I want to close by saying to them and their families back home, we want to thank you. Your country stands united in supporting you and being grateful for your service and your sacrifice. We will keep you in our thoughts and in our prayers during this season of hope.

So, before I wish a Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night, I will take some questions. Jay prepared a list of who’s naughty and nice — (laughter) — so we’ll see who made it.

Julie must be nice. (Laughter.) Julie Pace.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Despite all of the data points that you cited in your opening statement, when you look back at this year, very little of the domestic agenda that you outlined in your inaugural address and your State of the Union have been achieved. Health care rollout obviously had huge problems and your ratings from the public are near historic lows for you. When you take this altogether, has this been the worst year of your presidency?

THE PRESIDENT:

I’ve got to tell you, Julie, that’s not how I think about it. I have now been in office five years — close to five years — was running for President for two years before that, and for those of you who’ve covered me during that time, we have had ups and we have had downs. I think this room has probably recorded at least 15 near-death experiences. And what I’ve been focused on each and every day is are we moving the ball in helping the American people — families — have more opportunity, have a little more security to feel as if, if they work hard, they can get ahead.

And if I look at this past year, there are areas where there obviously have been some frustrations, where I wish Congress had moved more aggressively. Not passing background checks in the wake of Newtown is something that I continue to believe was a mistake. But then I also look at because of the debate that occurred, all the work that’s been done at state levels to increase gun safety and to make sure that we don’t see tragedies like that happen again.

There’s a lot of focus on legislative activity at the congressional level, but even when Congress doesn’t move on things they should move on, there are a whole bunch of things that we’re still doing. So we don’t always get attention for it, but the ConnectEd program that we announced where we’re going to be initiating wireless capacity in every classroom in America will make a huge difference for kids all across this country, and for teachers.

A manufacturing hub that we set up in Youngstown, something that I talked about during the State of the Union, is going to create innovation and connect universities, manufacturers, job training to help create a renaissance — build on the renaissance that we’re seeing in manufacturing.

When it comes to energy, this year is going to be the first year in a very long time where we’re producing more oil and natural gas here in this country than we’re importing. That’s a big deal.

So I understand the point that you’re getting at, Julie, which is that a lot of our legislative initiatives in Congress have not moved forward as rapidly as I’d like. I completely understand that, which means that I’m going to keep at it. And if you look at, for example, immigration reform, probably the biggest thing that I wanted to get done this year, we saw progress. It passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote. There are indications in the House that even though it did not get completed this year that there is a commitment on the part of the Speaker to try to move forward legislation early next year. And the fact that it didn’t hit the timeline that I’d prefer is obviously frustrating but it’s not something that I end up brooding a lot about.

Q But, sir, it’s not just your legislative agenda. When you look at polling and you talk to Americans, they seem to have lost confidence in you, trust in you. Your credibility has taken a hit. Obviously the health care law was a big part of that. So do you understand that the public has changed in some way their view of you over this year?

THE PRESIDENT: But, Julie, I guess what I’m saying is if you’re measuring this by polls, my polls have gone up and down a lot through the course of my career. I mean, if I was interested in polling, I wouldn’t have run for President. I was polling at 70 percent when I was in the U.S. Senate. I took this job to deliver for the American people. And I knew and will continue to know that there are going to be ups and downs on it.

You’re right, the health care website problems were a source of great frustration. I think in the last press conference I adequately discussed my frustrations on those. On the other hand, since that time I now have a couple million people, maybe more, who are going to have health care on January 1st. And that is a big deal. That’s why I ran for this office.

And as long as I’ve got an opportunity every single day to make sure that in ways large and small I’m creating greater opportunity for people — more kids are able to go to school, get the education they need; more families are able to stabilize their finances; the housing market is continuing to improve; people feel like their wages maybe are inching up a little bit — if those things are happening, I’ll take it.

And I’ve said before, I’ve run my last political race. So at this point, my goal every single day is just to make sure that I can look back and say we’re delivering something — not everything, because this is a long haul.

Mark Felsenthal.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. One of the most significant events of this year was the revelation of the surveillance by the National Security Agency. As you review how to rein in the National Security Agency, a federal judge said that, for example, the government had failed to cite a single instance in which analysis of the NSA’s bulk metadata actually stopped an imminent attack. Are you able to identify any specific examples when it did so? Are you convinced that the collection of that data is useful to national security and should continue as it is?

THE PRESIDENT:

Let me talk more broadly, and then I’ll talk specifically about the program you’re referring to.

As you know, the independent panel that I put together came back with a series of recommendations, 46 in total. I had an extensive meeting with them down in the Situation Room to review all the recommendations that they had made. I want to thank them publicly, because I think they did an excellent job and took my charge very seriously, which is I told them I want you to look from top to bottom at what we’re doing and evaluate whether or not the current structures that we have and the current programs that we have are properly addressing both our continuing need to keep ourselves secure and to prevent terrorist attacks, or proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or other threats to the homeland, and are we also making sure that we’re taking seriously rule of law and our concerns about privacy and civil liberties.

So what we’re doing now is evaluating all the recommendations that have been made. Over the next several weeks, I’m going to assess based on conversations not just with the intelligence community but others in government and outside of government how we might apply and incorporate their recommendations. And I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January where I’ll be able to say, here are the recommendations that we think make sense; here are ones that we think are promising but still need to be refined further; here’s how it relates to the work we’re doing not just internally but also in partnership with other countries. And so I’m taking this very seriously because I think, as I’ve said before, this is a debate that needed to be had.

One specific program, the 215 program, is the metadata, the bulk collection of phone numbers and exchanges that have taken place that has probably gotten the most attention, at least with respect to domestic audiences. And what I’ve said in the past continues to be the case, which is that the NSA, in executing this program, believed, based on experiences from 9/11, that it was important for us to be able to track if there was a phone number of a known terrorist outside of the United States calling into the United States, where that call might have gone, and that having that data in one place and retained for a certain period of time allowed them to be confident in pursuing various investigations of terrorist threats.

And I think it’s important to note that in all the reviews of this program that have been done, in fact, there have not been actual instances where it’s been alleged that the NSA in some ways acted inappropriately in the use of this data. But what is also clear is from the public debate, people are concerned about the prospect, the possibility of abuse. And I think that’s what the judge and the district court suggested. And although his opinion obviously differs from rulings on the FISA Court, we’re taking those into account.

The question we’re going to have to ask is can we accomplish the same goals that this program is intended to accomplish in ways that give the public more confidence that, in fact, the NSA is doing what it’s supposed to be doing. I have confidence in the fact that the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around, but I also recognize that as technologies change and people can start running algorithms and programs that map out all the information that we’re downloading on a daily basis into our telephones and our computers, that we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence. And I’m going to be working very hard on doing that.

And we’ve got to provide more confidence to the international community. In some ways, what has been more challenging is the fact that we do have a lot of laws and checks and balances and safeguards and audits when it comes to making sure that the NSA and other intelligence agencies are not spying on Americans. We’ve had less legal constraint in terms of what we’re doing internationally. But I think part of what’s been interesting about this whole exercise is recognizing that in a virtual world, some of these boundaries don’t matter anymore, and just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should. And the values that we’ve got as Americans are ones that we have to be willing to apply beyond our borders I think perhaps more systematically than we’ve done in the past.

Okay? Ed Henry.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. I want to follow up on that because — and merry Christmas, by the way.

THE PRESIDENT:

Merry Christmas to you.

Q When Edward Snowden first started leaking the information, you made a statement on June 7th in California, and you claimed to the American people that you had already reformed many of these surveillance programs. You said you came into office — “my team evaluated them, we scrubbed them thoroughly, we actually expanded some of the oversight,” and you did expand some of it.

THE PRESIDENT:

Yes.

Q You also said we may have to rebalance some, there may be changes. But you concluded with, “You can complain about Big Brother and how this is a potential program run amok. But when you actually look at the details, then I think we’ve struck the right balance.” That was only six months ago. Now this judge is saying no, your own panel is saying no, even you’re saying no, we haven’t really struck the right balance perhaps, that changes have to be made. My question is: Were you wrong then because you were not fully read in not just on these programs but on other programs outside of the ones you just talked about, where we were potentially listening in on the German leaders, the Brazilian leaders and others, that suggest there were abuses? Number one.

And number two, if you were fully read in on these programs, is it another example of what Julie was getting at with this question of credibility with the American people, that just like on health care, “you like your plan, you can keep it”? On surveillance, you looked the American people in the eye six months ago and said, “We’ve got the right balance,” and six months later you’re saying maybe not.

THE PRESIDENT:

Well, hold on a second, Ed. I think it’s important to note that when it comes to the right balance on surveillance, these are a series of judgment calls that we’re making every single day, because we’ve got a whole bunch of folks whose job it is to make sure that the American people are protected. And that’s a hard job, because if something slips, then the question that’s coming from you the next day at a press conference is, “Mr. President, why didn’t you catch that? Why did the intelligence people allow that to slip? Isn’t there a way that we could have found out that in fact this terrorist attack took place?”

Q so why were you so — why did you say we struck the right balance?

THE PRESIDENT:

So the point is, Ed, not that my assessment of the 215 program has changed in terms of technically how it works. What is absolutely clear to me is that given the public debate that’s taken place and the disclosures that have taken place over the last several months, that this is only going to work if the American people have confidence and trust.

Now, part of the challenge is, is that because of the manner in which these disclosures took place, in dribs and drabs, oftentimes shaded in a particular way, and because of some of the constraints that we’ve had in terms of declassifying information and getting it out there, that that trust in how many safeguards exist and how these programs are run has been diminished. So what’s going to be important is to build that back up. And I take that into account in weighing how we structure these programs.

So let me just be very specific on the 215 program. It is possible, for example, that some of the same information that the intelligence community feels is required to keep people safe can be obtained by having the private phone companies keep these records longer and to create some mechanism where they can be accessed in an effective fashion.

That might cost more. There might need to be different checks on how those requests are made. There may be technological solutions that have to be found to do that. And the question that we’re asking ourselves now is, does that make sense not only because of the fact that there are concerns about potential abuse down the road with the metadata that’s being kept by a government rather than private companies, but also does it make sense to do it because people right now are concerned that maybe their phone calls are being listened to, even if they’re not? And we’ve got to factor that in.

So my point is, is that the environment has changed in ways that I think require us to take that into account. But the analysis that I’ve been doing throughout has always been periodically looking at what we’re doing and asking ourselves, are we doing this in the right way? Are we making sure that we’re keeping the American people safe, number one? Are we also being true to our civil liberties and our privacy and our values?

Q I understand it’s a tough job, and, God forbid, there’s another terror attack, every one of us is going to be second-guessing you, and that is extremely difficult to be in the Oval Office.

THE PRESIDENT:

That’s okay. I volunteered.

Q But as you said, you took that on.

THE PRESIDENT:

Yes.

Q You put it on your back. And so my question is do you have any personal regrets? You’re not addressing the fact the public statements you’ve made to reassure the public — your Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, months ago went up, got a question from a Democrat, not a Republican, about whether some of this was going on, and he denied it. Doesn’t that undermine the public trust?

THE PRESIDENT:

Ed, you’re conflating, first of all, me and Mr. Clapper –

Q He’s the Director of National — he’s still on the job.

THE PRESIDENT:

I understand. But what I’m saying is this, that, yes, these are tough problems that I am glad to have the privilege of tackling. Your initial question was whether the statements that I made six months ago are ones that I don’t stand by. And what I’m saying is, is that the statements I made then are entirely consistent with the statements that I make now, which is that we believed that we had scrubbed these programs and struck an appropriate balance, and there had not been evidence and there continues not to be evidence that the particular program had been abused in how it was used, and that it was a useful tool, working with other tools that the intelligence community has, to ensure that if we have a thread on a potential terrorist threat, that that can be followed effectively.

What I’ve also said, though, is that in light of the disclosures that have taken place, it is clear that whatever benefits the configuration of this particular program may have may be outweighed by the concerns that people have on its potential abuse. And if that’s the case, there may be another way of skinning the cat.

So we just keep on going at this stuff and saying, can we do this better? Can we do this more effectively? I think that the panel’s recommendations are consistent with that. So if you had a chance to read the overall recommendations, what they were very clear about is we need this intelligence. We can’t unilaterally disarm. There are ways we can do it potentially that gives people greater assurance that there are checks and balances, that there’s sufficient oversight, sufficient transparency. Programs like 215 could be redesigned in ways that give you the same information when you need it without creating these potentials for abuse.

And that’s exactly what we should be doing, is to evaluate all these things in a very clear, specific way, and moving forward on changes. And that’s what I intend to do.

Q So you have no regrets? You have no regrets?

THE PRESIDENT:

That’s what I intend to do.

Jon Karl.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. It’s been a tough year. You may not want to call it the worst year of your presidency, but it’s clearly been a tough year. The polls have gone up and down, but they are at a low point right now. So what I’m asking you — you’ve acknowledged the difficulties with the health care rollout. But when you look back and you look at the decisions that you have made and what you did, what you didn’t do, for you personally, what do you think has been your biggest mistake?

THE PRESIDENT:

With respect to health care, specifically, or just generally?

Q The whole thing, back at this tough year.

THE PRESIDENT:

Well, there’s no doubt that when it came to the health care rollout, even though I was meeting every other week or every three weeks with folks and emphasizing how important it was that consumers had a good experience, an easy experience in getting the information they need, and knowing what the choices and options were for them to be able to get high-quality, affordable health care, the fact is it didn’t happen in the first month, the first six weeks, in a way that was at all acceptable. And since I’m in charge, obviously we screwed it up.

Part of it, as I’ve said before, had to do with how IT procurement generally is done, and it almost predates this year. Part of it, obviously, has to do with the fact that there were not clear enough lines of authority in terms of who was in charge of the technology and cracking the whip on a whole bunch of contractors. So there were a whole bunch of things that we’ve been taking a look at, and I’m going to be making appropriate adjustments once we get through this year and we’ve gotten through the initial surge of people who’ve been signing up.

But having said all that, bottom line also is, is that we’ve got several million people who are going to have health care that works. And it’s not that I don’t engage in a lot of self-reflection here. I promise you, I probably beat myself up even worse than you or Ed Henry does on any given day. But I’ve also got to wake up in the morning and make sure that I do better the next day, and that we keep moving forward.

And when I look at the landscape for next year, what I say to myself is, we’re poised to do really good things. The economy is stronger than it has been in a very long time. Our next challenge then is to make sure that everybody benefits from that, not just a few folks. And there are still too many people who haven’t seen a raise and are still feeling financially insecure.

We can get immigration reform done. We’ve got a concept that has bipartisan support. Let’s see if we can break through the politics on this.

I think that, hopefully, folks have learned their lesson in terms of brinksmanship, coming out of the government shutdown. There have been times where I thought about, were there other ways that I could have prevented those three, four weeks that hampered the economy and hurt individual families who were not getting a paycheck during that time — absolutely. But I also think that, in some ways, given the pattern that we had been going through with House Republicans for a while, we might have needed just a little bit of a bracing sort of recognition that this is not what the American people think is acceptable. They want us to try to solve problems and be practical, even if we can’t get everything done.

So the end of the year is always a good time to reflect and see what can you do better next year. That’s how I intend to approach it. I’m sure that I will have even better ideas after a couple days of sleep and sun.

Brianna.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. On the debt ceiling, your Treasury Secretary has estimated that the U.S. government will lose its ability to pay its bills come late February or early March. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has said that “Republicans are going to decide what it is they can accomplish on this debt limit fight” — his words. Will you negotiate with House Republicans on the debt ceiling?

THE PRESIDENT:

Oh, Brianna, you know the answer to this question. No, we’re not going to negotiate for Congress to pay bills that it has accrued.

Here’s the good news — I want to emphasize the positive as we enter into this holiday season. I think Congressman Ryan and Senator Murray did a good job in trying to narrow the differences and actually pass a budget that I can sign. It’s not everything that I would like, obviously. It buys back part of these across-the-board cuts, the so-called sequester, but not all of them. So we’re still underfunding research; we’re still underfunding education; we’re still underfunding transportation and other initiatives that would create jobs right now.

But it was an honest conversation. They operated in good faith. And given how far apart the parties have been on fiscal issues, they should take pride in what they did. And I actually called them after they struck the deal and I said congratulations, and I hope that creates a good pattern for next year, where we work on at least the things we agree to, even if we agree to disagree on some of the other big-ticket items.

I think immigration potentially falls in that category, where let’s — here’s an area where we’ve got bipartisan agreement. There are a few differences here and there, but the truth of the matter is, is that the Senate bill has the main components of comprehensive immigration reform that would boost our economy, give us an opportunity to attract more investment and high-skilled workers who are doing great things in places like Silicon Valley and around the country. So let’s go ahead and get that done.

Now, I can’t imagine that having seen this possible daylight breaking when it comes to cooperation in Congress that folks are thinking actually about plunging us back into the kinds of brinksmanship and governance by crisis that has done us so much harm over the last couple of years.

To repeat: The debt ceiling is raised simply to pay bills that we have already accrued. It is not something that is a negotiating tool. It’s not leverage. It’s the responsibility of Congress. It’s part of doing their job. I expect them to do their job. Although I’m happy to talk to them about any of the issues that they actually want to get done. So if Congressman Ryan is interested in tax reform, let’s go. I’ve got some proposals on it. If he’s interested in any issue out there, I’m willing to have a constructive conversation of the sort that we just had in resolving the budget issues. But I’ve got to assume folks aren’t crazy enough to start that thing all over again.

Q If I may just quickly, on a more personal note, what is your New Year’s resolution?

THE PRESIDENT:

My New Year’s resolution is to be nicer to the White House Press Corps. (Laughter.) You know? Absolutely.

Q All right.

THE PRESIDENT:

Major Garrett

Q That’s quite a lead-in, Mr. President, thank you. Rick Leggett, who is the head of the NSA task force on Edward Snowden, told “60 Minutes” that it was, “worth having a conversation about granting Edward Snowden amnesty.” To what degree, sir, were you pleased that he floated this trial balloon? And under what circumstances would you consider either a plea agreement or amnesty for Edward Snowden? And what do you say to Americans, sir, who after possibly being alerted to Judge Leon’s decision earlier this week, reading the panel recommendations, do you believe Edward Snowden set in motion something that is proper and just in this country about the scope of surveillance and should not be considered by this government a criminal?

THE PRESIDENT:

I’ve got to be careful here, Major, because Mr. Snowden is under indictment, he’s been charged with crimes. And that’s the province of the Attorney General and, ultimately, a judge and a jury. So I can’t weigh in specifically on this case at this point. I’ll make — I’ll try to see if I can get at the spirit of the question, even if I can’t talk about the specifics.

I’ve said before and I believe that this is an important conversation that we needed to have. I’ve also said before that the way in which these disclosures happened have been damaging to the United States and damaging to our intelligence capabilities. And I think that there was a way for us to have this conversation without that damage.

I’ll give you just one specific example. The fact of the matter is that the United States, for all our warts, is a country that abides by rule of law, that cares deeply about privacy, that cares about civil liberties, that cares about our Constitution. And as a consequence of these disclosures, we’ve got countries who actually do the things that Mr. Snowden says he’s worried about very explicitly — engaging in surveillance of their own citizens, targeting political dissidents, targeting and suppressing the press — who somehow are able to sit on the sidelines and act as if it’s the United States that has problems when it comes to surveillance and intelligence operations. And that’s a pretty distorted view of what’s going on out there.

So I think that as important and as necessary as this debate has been, it is also important to keep in mind that this has done unnecessary damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities and U.S. diplomacy. But I will leave it up to the courts and the Attorney General to weigh in publicly on the specifics of Mr. Snowden’s case.

Q Sir, if I could follow up, Mr. Leggett is setting this in motion, at least raising this as a topic of conversation. You, sir, would I’m certain be consulted if there was ever going to be a conversation about amnesty or a plea bargain with Edward Snowden.

THE PRESIDENT:

I think that’s true, Major, and I guess what I’m saying is there’s a –

Q Would you rule it out forever that you would never consider it?

THE PRESIDENT:

What I’m saying is, is that there’s a difference between Mr. Leggett saying something and the President of the United States saying something.

Q That’s why I’m trying to get at you.

THE PRESIDENT:

That’s exactly right. (Laughter.)

Chuck Todd.

Q Thank you, Mr. President, and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. You talk about the issues with health care and the website rollout, but there have been other issues — the misinformation about people keeping their policies, the extended deadlines, some postponements. We have a new waiver that HHS announced last night. How do you expect Americans to have confidence and certainty in this law if you keep changing it? This one here, this new waiver last night, you could argue you might as well have just delayed the mandate.

THE PRESIDENT:

Well, no, that’s not true, because what we’re talking about is a very specific population that received cancellation notices from insurance companies. The majority of them are either keeping their old plan because the grandfather clause has been extended further, or they’re finding a better deal in the marketplace with better insurance for cheaper costs.

But there may still be a subset — a significantly smaller subset than some of the numbers that have been advertised — that are still looking for options, are still concerned about what they’re going to be doing next year. And we just wanted to make sure that the hardship provision that was already existing in the law would also potentially apply to somebody who had problems during this transition period. So that’s the specifics of this latest change.

You’re making a broader point that I think is fair and that is that in a big project like this, that what we are constantly doing is looking, is this working the way it’s supposed to, and if there are adjustments that can be made to smooth out the transition, we should make them. But they don’t go to the core of the law.

First of all, the core of the law is, is that for 85 percent of the population, all they’ve been getting is free preventive care, better consumer protections, and ability to keep their kids on their insurance plan until they’re 26, thousand-dollar or five hundred-dollar discounts on prescription drugs for seniors on Medicare. So 85 percent of the population, whether they know it or not, over the last three years have benefited from a whole set of the provisions of the law. And, by the way, if it were to be repealed, you would be taking away all those benefits from folks who already are enjoying them.

You had this sub-portion of the population, 15 percent, who either don’t have health insurance or are buying it on the individual market. And that’s still millions of people. And what we’re doing is creating a marketplace where they can buy insurance and we can provide them some tax credits to help them afford it.

The basic structure of [the Affordable Care Act] is working despite all the problems — despite the website problems, despite the messaging problems. Despite all that, it’s working. And again, you don’t have to take my word for it. We’ve got a couple million people who are going to have health insurance just in the first three months, despite the fact that probably the first month and a half was lost because of problems with the website and about as bad a bunch of publicity as you could imagine. And yet you’ve still got 2 million people who signed up, or more.

And so what that means then is that the demand is there and, as I said before, the product is good. Now, in putting something like this together, there are going to be all kinds of problems that crop up, some of which may have been unanticipated. And what we’ve been trying to do is just respond to them in a common-sense way. And we’re going to continue to try to do that. But that doesn’t negate the fact that a year from now or two years from now, when we look back, we’re going to be able to say that even more people have health insurance who didn’t have it before. And that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing. That is part of the reason why I pushed so hard to get this law done in the first place.

And I’ve said before this is a messy process, and I think sometimes when I say that people say, well, A, yes, it’s real messy; and B, isn’t the fact that it’s been so messy some indication that there are more fundamental problems with the law? And I guess what I’d say to that, Chuck, is when you try to do something this big, affecting this many people, it’s going to be hard. And every instance — whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, the prescription drug plan under President Bush — there hasn’t been an instance where you tried to really have an impact on the American people’s lives and wellbeing, particularly in the health care arena, where you don’t end up having some of these challenges. The question is going to be ultimately, do we make good decisions trying to help as many people as possible in as efficient a way as possible. And I think that’s what we’re doing.

Q But with 72 hours to go, you make this change where people are buying the junk — frankly, a junk-type policy that you weren’t — you were trying to get people away from.

THE PRESIDENT:

Well, keep in mind, Chuck, first of all, that the majority of folks are going to have different options. This is essentially an additional net in case folks might have slipped through the cracks. We don’t have precision on those numbers, but we expect it’s going to be a relatively small number, because these are folks who want insurance and the vast majority of them have good options. And in a state like North Carolina, for example, the overwhelming majority of them have just kept their own plans — the ones that they had previously.

But we thought and continue to think that it makes sense that as we are transitioning to a system in which insurance standards are higher, people don’t have unpleasant surprises because they thought they had insurance until they hit a limit, and next thing you know they still owe $100,000 or $200,000 or $300,000 for a hospital visit — that as we transition to higher standards, better insurance, that we also address folks who get caught in that transition and there are unintended consequences.

And I’ll be — that was the original intent of the grandfather clause that was in the law. Obviously, the problem was it didn’t catch enough people. And we learned from that, and we’re trying not to repeat those mistakes.

Q So does the mandate need to be enforced?

THE PRESIDENT:

Absolutely. Yes.

Let’s see, Phil Mattingly.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. What was the message you were trying to send with not only your decision not to attend the Sochi Games, but also with the people you named to the delegation to represent the United States at those games?

THE PRESIDENT:

Well, first of all, I haven’t attended Olympics in the past, and I suspect that me attending the Olympics, particularly at a time when we’ve got all the other stuff that people have been talking about, is going to be tough, although I would love to do it. I’ll be going to a lot of Olympic Games post-presidency. (Laughter.) I think the delegation speaks for itself. You’ve got outstanding Americans, outstanding athletes, people who will represent us extraordinarily well.

And the fact that we’ve got folks like Billie Jean King or Brian Boitano, who themselves have been world-class athletes that everybody acknowledges for their excellence but also for their character, who also happen to be members of the LGBT community, you should take that for what it’s worth — that when it comes to the Olympics and athletic performance, we don’t make distinctions on the basis of sexual orientation. We judge people on how they perform, both on the court and off the court — on the field and off the field. And that’s a value that I think is at the heart of not just America, but American sports.

I’m going to just roll down these last few, real quickly. Ari Shapiro. Last day at the White House. He deserves a question. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you very much, Mr. President. Senator Max Baucus was widely seen as the best hope for a large-scale deal to overhaul the tax code. What does your decision to nominate him as ambassador to China say about your hopes for major tax bill in your second term?

THE PRESIDENT:

It says that Max Baucus is going to be an outstanding ambassador to China, and I’d like a swift confirmation. And my expectation and hope is, is that if both the Senate Democrats — or if Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate are serious about tax reform, then it’s not going to depend on one guy, it’s going to depend on all of us working together. And my office is ready, willing, and eager to engage both parties and having a conversation about how we can simplify the tax code, make it fairer, make it work to create more jobs and do right by middle-class Americans.

Jackie Calmes.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. And how do you say it in Hawaii? Mele Kalikimaka?

THE PRESIDENT:

Mele Kalikimaka. (Laughter.)

Q Since we’ve been looking back at the year, I’d like to ask you what your reaction was to the nonpartisan truth-telling group, PolitiFact, when it said that the lie of the year was your statement that if you like your health care plan, you can keep it.

And related to the health care problems that we’ve seen over the past year, the fallout from that seems to be making Democrats, particularly in the Senate, a little rambunctious and independent of you, which is evidenced most clearly in the debate over the Iran sanctions. It looks like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has expedited consideration of an Iran sanctions bill for January, even as your administration — and you have been trying to get them to lay off sanctions while your –

THE PRESIDENT:

Jackie, I’ve got to say, you’re stringing a bunch of things along here. Let’s see if we can hone in on a question. I mean, I –

Q Two questions. That’s a lot less than Ed Henry had. (Laughter.)

Q Oh! I thought we were trying to get along for Christmas. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:

How about I separate out the Iran question from the health care question? On the health care question, look, I think I’ve answered several times — this is a new iteration of it — but bottom line is that we are going to continue to work every single day to make sure that implementation of the health care law and the website and all elements of it, including the grandfather clause, work better every single day. And as I’ve said in previous press conferences, we’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to have problems, but my intentions have been clear throughout, which is, I just want to help as many people as possible feel secure and make sure that they don’t go broke when they get sick. And we’re going to just keep on doing that.

On Iran, there is the possibility of a resolution to a problem that has been a challenge for American national security for over a decade now, and that is getting Iran to, in a verifiable fashion, not pursue a nuclear weapon. Already, even with the interim deal that we struck in Geneva, we had the first halt and, in some cases, some rollback of Iran’s nuclear capabilities — the first time that we’ve seen that in almost a decade. And we now have a structure in which we can have a very serious conversation to see is it possible for Iran to get right with the international community in a verifiable fashion to give us all confidence that any peaceful nuclear program that they have is not going to be weaponized in a way that threatens us or allies in the region, including Israel.

And as I’ve said before and I will repeat, it is very important for us to test whether that’s possible, not because it’s guaranteed, but because the alternative is possibly us having to engage in some sort of conflict to resolve the problem with all kinds of unintended consequences.

Now, I’ve been very clear from the start, I mean what I say: It is my goal to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But I sure would rather do it diplomatically. I’m keeping all options on the table, but if I can do it diplomatically, that’s how we should do it. And I would think that would be the preference of everybody up on Capitol Hill because that sure is the preference of the American people.

And we lose nothing during this negotiation period. Precisely because there are verification provisions in place, we will have more insight into Iran’s nuclear program over the next six months than we have previously. We’ll know if they are violating the terms of the agreement. They’re not allowed to accelerate their stockpile of enriched uranium — in fact, they have to reduce their stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

Ironically, if we did not have this six-month period in which we’re testing whether we can get a comprehensive solution to this problem, they’d be advancing even further on their nuclear program. And in light of all that, what I’ve said to members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — is there is no need for new sanctions legislation. Not yet.

Now, if Iran comes back and says, we can’t give you assurances that we’re not going to weaponize, if they’re not willing to address some of their capabilities that we know could end up resulting in them having breakout capacity, it’s not going to be hard for us to turn the dials back, strengthen sanctions even further. I’ll work with members of Congress to put even more pressure on Iran. But there’s no reason to do it right now.

And so I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions — I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office or if you’re in office. But as President of the United States right now, who’s been responsible over the last four years, with the help of Congress, in putting together a comprehensive sanctions regime that was specifically designed to put pressure on them and bring them to the table to negotiate — what I’m saying to them, what I’ve said to the international community, and what I’ve said to the American people is let’s test it. Now is the time to try to see if we can get this thing done.

And I’ve heard some logic that says, well, Mr. President, we’re supportive of the negotiations, but we think it’s really useful to have this club hanging over Iran’s head. Well, first of all, we still have the existing sanctions already in place that are resulting in Iran losing billions of dollars every month in lost oil sales. We already have banking and financial sanctions that are still being applied even as the negotiations are taking place. It’s not as if we’re letting up on that.

I’ve heard arguments, well, but this way we can be assured and the Iranians will know that if negotiations fail even new and harsher sanctions will be put into place. Listen, I don’t think the Iranians have any doubt that Congress would be more than happy to pass more sanctions legislation. We can do that in a day, on a dime. But if we’re serious about negotiations, we’ve got to create an atmosphere in which Iran is willing to move in ways that are uncomfortable for them and contrary to their ideology and rhetoric and their instincts and their suspicions of us. And we don’t help get them to a position where we can actually resolve this by engaging in this kind of action.

Okay, everybody, I think I’m going to take one more question. Colleen McCain Nelson. And that is it.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT: There you are.

Q Some of your longtime advisors are leaving the White House and new folks are coming in. Others are taking on new roles in the West Wing. As you reshape your team a bit, how does that change the dynamic here and how does it impact what you think you can accomplish going forward?

THE PRESIDENT:

I just had lunch with Pete Rouse, who is leaving me. And that’s tough.

Q He says so.

THE PRESIDENT:

He says so right now at least. I love that guy and that will be a significant loss, although he’ll still be in town and, hopefully, I’ll be able to consult with him on an ongoing basis.

I think the fact that John Podesta is coming in will be terrific. He may deny it, but I’ve been trying to get him in here for quite some time. He ran my transition office. I asked him when he was running the transition office if he would be willing to join us, and at that time I think he was still feeling that he wanted to develop CAP and other organizations. But John is a great strategist, as good as anybody on domestic policy. And I think he’ll be a huge boost to us and give us more bandwidth to deal with more issues.

I suspect that we may have additional announcements in the New Year. There’s a natural turnover that takes place. People get tired. People get worn out. Sometimes, you need fresh legs.

But what I can tell you is that the team I have now is tireless and shares my values, and believes the thing that I think I’ve repeated probably four or five times in this press conference, which is we get this incredible privilege for a pretty short period of time to do as much as we can for as many people as we can to help them live better lives. And that’s what drives them. That’s the sacrifice they make being away from families and soccer games and birthdays, and some of them will end up working over Christmas on issues like Iran. And the fact that they make those kinds of sacrifices I’m always grateful for. And if they then say to me after making those sacrifices for three, four, five years, I need a break, then I completely understand.

All right? Have a great holiday, everybody. Appreciate you.

Q Merry Christmas.

THE PRESIDENT:

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

Source: http://1.usa.gov/1i8Du2r

President Obama & First Lady Michelle Obama Mark the One-Year Anniversary of the Sandy Hook Shooting, 12/14/13

The President and First Lady observe a moment of silence and light candles at the White House in honor of those lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

***

Now Is the Time — The President’s plan to reduce gun violence: http://1.usa.gov/1b6Af35

President’s Weekly Address: Marking the One-Year Anniversary of the Tragic Shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, 12/14/13

The President:

“One year ago today, a quiet, peaceful town was shattered by unspeakable violence.

Six dedicated school workers and 20 beautiful children were taken from our lives forever.

As parents, as Americans, the news filled us with grief. Newtown is a town like so many of our hometowns. The victims were educators and kids that could have been any of our own. And our hearts were broken for the families that lost a piece of their heart; for the communities changed forever; for the survivors, so young, whose innocence was torn away far too soon.

But beneath the sadness, we also felt a sense of resolve – that these tragedies must end, and that to end them, we must change.

From the very beginning, our efforts were led by the parents of Newtown – men and women, impossibly brave, who stepped forward in the hopes that they might spare others their heartbreak. And they were joined by millions of Americans – mothers and fathers; sisters and brothers – who refused to accept these acts of violence as somehow inevitable.

Over the past year, their voices have sustained us. And their example has inspired us – to be better parents and better neighbors; to give our children everything they need to face the world without fear; to meet our responsibilities not just to our own families, but to our communities. More than the tragedy itself, that’s how Newtown will be remembered.

And on this anniversary of a day we will never forget, that’s the example we should continue to follow. Because we haven’t yet done enough to make our communities and our country safer. We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily. We have to do more to heal troubled minds. We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for.

And as we do, we can’t lose sight of the fact that real change won’t come from Washington. It will come the way it’s always come – from you. From the American people.

As a nation, we can’t stop every act of violence. We can’t heal every troubled mind. But if we want to live in a country where we can go to work, send our kids to school, and walk our streets free from fear, we have to keep trying. We have to keep caring. We have to treat every child like they’re our child. Like those in Sandy Hook, we must choose love. And together, we must make a change. Thank you.”

Source: http://1.usa.gov/1ed6yFx

The President and Vice President Meet with Newly Elected Mayors, 12/13/13

The President:

“Well, it is a great pleasure to welcome not only some of the most outstanding mayors in the country, but also folks who are representing incredible cities, world-class cities, that are going to be central to America’s economic growth and progress for years to come.

I’ve always said that mayors don’t have time to be ideological, and they don’t really have time to be partisan, because they, every day, are held accountable for concretely delivering the services that people count on all across the country. And I think it’s for that reason that when we think about mayors, we think about folks who actually get stuff done.

This is an outstanding group of both mayors and mayors-elect, representing some of our largest cities. They have a shared vision of cities as being critical hubs in which we’re creating jobs; bringing businesses; seeing startups develop; making sure that there are pathways, gateways for opportunity for people from the surrounding areas, the surrounding states, the regions, and in many cases, the world, because I think you’ve got a lot of immigrant populations that naturally gravitate towards the diversity and dynamism of the city.

And although we have seen terrific progress in our cities, as we have across the country over the last several years — millions of jobs being created, the housing market starting to recover, businesses investing again, manufacturing making an extraordinary comeback — what we know is we’ve still got a lot of work to do to deliver a vision that we all share, which is an America where if you work hard you can make it.

And what that means is, is that my hope and goal out of this meeting is we immediately set up a strong partnership with all the mayors here and all the mayors who aren’t here where we get a clear sense of what their vision is and how they’re trying to deliver services; how we can make sure that our kids are getting the very best education possible; how we make sure that we are creating the platforms, the infrastructure for jobs to succeed — or jobs to be created and businesses to succeed in these cities; how we make sure our transportation dollars are flowing in a way that maximizes economic development that hopefully reduces congestion and rush-hour traffic — I suspect that’s something that some of you have heard from your constituents about — (laughter) — how we make sure that there’s a strong social safety net there that is not a place where people stay over the long term but rather is a mechanism whereby people who have had some bad luck can get back on their feet and get back into the workforce.

So I’m very much looking forward to the conversation. In the meantime, at the federal level, there’s some things that we can do to help mayors. If we, in fact, can get this budget deal completed and out of the Senate, we can get away for the first time in a couple of years from the constant brinksmanship and crisis governance that we’ve seen up on Capitol Hill that impedes growth and makes businesses and investors less certain about wanting to put their money in. So that would be an important achievement and that’s something the federal government can do to help make.

One element that’s not in this budget that needs to be passed right away is UI — unemployment insurance. You’ve got potentially 1.3 million people who, during Christmastime, are going to lose their unemployment benefits, at a time when it’s still very difficult for a lot of folks to find a job. And that’s not just bad for those individuals and for those families, that’s bad for our economy and that’s bad for our cities, because if they don’t have the money to pay the rent or be able to buy food for their families, that has an impact on demand and businesses and it can have a depressive effect generally. In fact, what we know is the economists have said failing to extend unemployment benefits is going to have a drag on economic growth for next year.

So there are some basic things that we can do just to create a better economic environment for these outstanding mayors. There are some areas — for example, raising the minimum wage — that could have a tremendous boost in a lot of the cities where there are a lot of service workers who get up and do some of the critical work for all of us every single day but oftentimes still find themselves just barely above poverty or, in some cases, below poverty.

So what I want to do is explore ideas with them. We wish them luck. You can see that it’s a diverse group, but what binds them together is a commitment to helping people succeed in this country.

And so I want to congratulate all of them and I’m looking forward to, over the next three years for me, working with them for the benefit of their constituencies. Many of them may end up being around for 20 years and — (laughter) — so they’ll have other Presidents to work with.

But thank you so much for coming in.”

Source: http://1.usa.gov/1dyr7qZ

President Obama Speaks at the Saban Forum, 12/7/13

The President:

“Let me start with the basic premise that I’ve said repeatedly. It is in America’s national security interests, not just Israel’s national interests or the region’s national security interests, to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.

And let’s remember where we were when I first came into office. Iran had gone from having less than 200 centrifuges to having thousands of centrifuges, in some cases more advanced centrifuges. There was a program that had advanced to the point where their breakout capacity had accelerated in ways that we had been concerned about for quite some time and, as a consequence, what I said to my team and what I said to our international partners was that we are going to have to be much more serious about how we change the cost-benefit analysis for Iran.

We put in place an unprecedented regime of sanctions that has crippled Iran’s economy, cut their oil revenues by more than half, have put enormous pressure on their currency — their economy contracted by more than 5 percent last year. And it is precisely because of the international sanctions and the coalition that we were able to build internationally that the Iranian people responded by saying, we need a new direction in how we interact with the international community and how we deal with this sanctions regime. And that’s what brought President Rouhani to power. He was not necessarily the first choice of the hardliners inside of Iran.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we should trust him or anybody else inside of Iran. This is a regime that came to power swearing opposition to the United States, to Israel, and to many of the values that we hold dear. But what I’ve consistently said is even as I don’t take any options off the table, what we do have to test is the possibility that we can resolve this issue diplomatically. And that is the deal that, at the first stages, we have been able to get done in Geneva, thanks to some extraordinary work by John Kerry and his counterparts in the P5-plus-1.

So let’s look at exactly what we’ve done. For the first time in over a decade, we have halted advances in the Iranian nuclear program. We have not only made sure that in Fordor and Natanz that they have to stop adding additional centrifuges, we’ve also said that they’ve got to roll back their 20 percent advanced enrichment. So we’re –

MR. SABAN: To how much?

THE PRESIDENT: Down to zero. So you remember when Prime Minister Netanyahu made his presentation before the United Nations last year –

MR. SABAN: The cartoon with the red line?

THE PRESIDENT: The picture of a bomb — he was referring to 20 percent enrichment, which the concern was if you get too much of that, you now have sufficient capacity to go ahead and create a nuclear weapon. We’re taking that down to zero. We are stopping the advancement of the Arak facility, which would provide an additional pathway, a plutonium pathway for the development of nuclear weapons.

We are going to have daily inspectors in Fordor and Natanz. We’re going to have additional inspections in Arak. And as a consequence, during this six-month period, Iran cannot and will not advance its program or add additional stockpiles of advanced uranium — enriched uranium.

Now, what we’ve done in exchange is kept all these sanctions in place — the architecture remains with respect to oil, with respect to finance, with respect to banking. What we’ve done is we’ve turned the spigot slightly and we’ve said, here’s maximum $7 billion out of the over $100 billion of revenue of theirs that is frozen as a consequence of our sanctions, to give us the time and the space to test whether they can move in a direction, a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would give us all assurances that they’re not producing nuclear weapons.

MR. SABAN: I understand. A quick question as it relates to the $7 billion, if I may.

THE PRESIDENT: Please.

MR. SABAN: How do we prevent those who work with us in Geneva, who have already descended on Tehran looking for deals, to cause the seven to become 70? Because we can control what we do, but what is the extent that we can control the others?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Haim, this is precisely why the timing of this was right. One of the things we were always concerned about was that if we did not show good faith in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically, then the sanctions regime would begin to fray.

Keep in mind that this was two years of extraordinary diplomatic work on behalf of our team to actually get the sanctions in place. They’re not just the unilateral sanctions that are created by the United States. These are sanctions that are also participated in by Russia, by China, and some allies of ours like South Korea and Japan that find these sanctions very costly. But that’s precisely why they’ve become so effective.

And so what we’ve said is that we do not loosen any of the core sanctions; we provide a small window through which they can access some revenue, but we can control it and it is reversible. And during the course of these six months, if and when Iran shows itself not to be abiding by this agreement, not to be negotiating in good faith, we can reverse them and tighten them even further.

But here is the bottom line. Ultimately, my goal as President of the United States — something that I’ve said publicly and privately and shared everywhere I’ve gone — is to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. But what I’ve also said is the best way for us to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapons is for a comprehensive, verifiable, diplomatic resolution, without taking any other options off the table if we fail to achieve that.

It is important for us to test that proposition during the next six months, understanding that while we’re talking, they’re not secretly improving their position or changing circumstances on the ground inside of Iran. And if at the end of six months it turns out that we can’t make a deal, we’re no worse off, and in fact we have greater leverage with the international community to continue to apply sanctions and even strengthen them.

If, on the other hand, we’re able to get this deal done, then what we can achieve through a diplomatic resolution of this situation is, frankly, greater than what we could achieve with the other options that are available to us.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/1aOx7J3

Vice President Biden Speaks on US-Korea Relations and the Asia Pacific, 12/6/13

The Vice President:

“But as much progress as you’ve made in the last 60 years, we can make even greater progress together in the next 60 years if we’re wise, trust one another, and are willing to make some sacrifices, shaping a peaceful and prosperous Pacific region. This is one of those inflexion points in history. We actually have a chance — a chance to bend history just slightly.

That’s why our administration adopted a policy of what we call “rebalancing” to the region. Rebalancing economically, diplomatically, and, yes, militarily — and Barack, the President, and I and the American people are all in. We’re determined to strengthen our alliances, cultivate new partners in the Pacific Basin, build constructive relations with China, pursue major agreements that further integrate our economies, and join and strengthen the institutions of the Asia Pacific and of the East Asian Summit — APEC, ASEAN and others.

President Obama is absolutely committed to rebalance. And to make the point again, no one should underestimate or question our staying power. Just look at the last 60 years in Korea. Ask the people of Japan — the Mutual Defense Treaty since 1960 and still going strong. Ask the people of the Philippines — American helicopters, small ships, medical services, road clearing — all responding on the backs of U.S. Marines when one of the most fierce tropical storms in history devastated their country. We were there and so was Korea.

And as I speak, my son has just boarded — my grown son has just boarded a plane, an aircraft — he’s heading to the Philippines. His name is Hunter Biden. He’s Chairman of the World Food Program U.S.A, and he’s going there out in the field, like so many of you did. I’m so incredibly proud of him, and the tens of thousands of young people around the world who either went or wanted to.

Or ask the people of Burma. When their leaders bravely chose to change their country’s path, they looked to America. And Secretary Clinton was there, and President Obama was there, not only to extend a hand but to help and commit, helping the people of Burma find a better future. Our commitment to rebalance starts with growing our economies, the lifeblood of this region.

By the way, when we talk about rebalance here, for years, as the General knows, I was in charge of the Senate of U.S.-European, U.S.-NATO, and U.S. then “Soviet relations.” All my European friends are saying, what does this mean for us? Are you leading? Let me make clear what rebalancing means. It means adding to, not subtracting from, existing commitments we have around the world.

What we seek is an open, transparent economic order to deliver the growth for all — because in growth resides peace. And we believe the way to sustain and enhance the region’s remarkable economic progress is not just make sure it is physically secure, but to eliminate trade barriers at and behind borders, protections for intellectual property, one set of rules that applies to all companies, domestic or foreign. These are the principles behind the Korean-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

Trade between our countries has already grown 65 percent from $80 billion a year in the year 2000 to $130 billion in 2012. That means employment. That means the ability to live a middle-class life. That means stability. That’s what’s happened. But before it went into force — our Free Trade Agreement went into force — now, it’s in force. Now that it is, bilateral trade will continue to grow if we fully implement it, and we still have implementation to do.

There’s more work to be done. We have to end the bureaucratic hurdles that close off trade in key sectors like autos and agriculture. We have to agree on final regulations that allow financial institutions to operate fully. And the United States welcomes Korea’s interest in joining the Transpacific Partnership. The negotiating taking place now literally encompasses 40 percent of the world’s GDP. That’s without Korea. With Korea added, it will be impossible for the rest of the world to resist moving toward sane 21st century rules of the road.”

Full text: http://1.usa.gov/IwmTqp