Category Archives: education

“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

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West Wing Week 11/15/13 or, “We Will Stand By Your Side”

Welcome to the West Wing Week, your guide to everything that’s happening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and beyond. This week, the First and Second Families honored Veterans Day, the President traveled to New Orleans and to Cleveland to speak on the importance of infrastructure to job creation, signed the EpiPen Law, discussed immigration reform with Faith Leaders and attended the 5th Annual Tribal Nations Conference. That’s November 8th to November 14th or “We Will Stand By Your Side.”

President Obama Speaks at the 2013 Tribal Nations Conference, 11/13/13

The President:

“Now, most of all, I want to thank all of you, especially the tribal leaders who are here today. And I understand, actually, we’ve got more tribal leaders here than we ever have at any of these conferences. So it just keeps on growing each year, which is wonderful news. (Applause.) You represent more than 300 tribal nations, each of you with your own extraordinary heritage, each a vital part of a shared American family. And as a proud adopted member of the Crow Nation, let me say kaheé — welcome — to all of you.

Now, after I became President, I said that given the painful chapters and broken promises in our shared history, I’d make sure this country kept its promises to you. I promised that tribal nations would have a stronger voice in Washington –- that as long as I was in the White House, it would be your house, too. And for the past five years, my administration has worked hard to keep that promise –- to build a new relationship with you based on trust and respect.

And this new relationship wasn’t just about learning from the past. It was also about the here and now –- recognizing the contributions that your communities make to enrich the United States every single day. Native Americans are doctors and teachers and businessmen and women, and veterans and service members. And they get up every morning and help make America stronger and more prosperous and more just.

And I want to build on our true government-to-government relationship as well. So I’m proud to have Native Americans serving with dedication in my administration, including Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs, Kevin Washburn of the Chickasaw Nation; my Senior Advisor for Native American Affairs, Jodi Gillette of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe — (applause) — our [inter]governmental affairs office, we’ve got Charlie Galbraith of the Navajo Nation….

And while we should be proud of what we’ve achieved together in recent years, we also should be focused on all the work that we still have to do.

I know we’ve got members of the Iroquois nation here today. And I think we could learn from the Iroquois Confederacy, just as our Founding Fathers did when they laid the groundwork for our democracy. The Iroquois called their network of alliances with other tribes and European nations a “covenant chain.” Each link represented a bond of peace and friendship. But that covenant chain didn’t sustain itself. It needed constant care, so that it would stay strong. And that’s what we’re called to do, to keep the covenant between us for this generation and for future generations. And there are four areas in particular where I think we need to focus.

First, let’s keep our covenant strong by strengthening justice and tribal sovereignty. We’ve worked with you in good faith to resolve longstanding disputes like establishing the Land Buy Back Program to consolidate Indian lands and restore them to tribal trust lands. We’ve reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, so tribes can prosecute those who commit domestic violence in Indian Country, whether they’re Native American or not. (Applause.) I signed changes to the Stafford Act, to let tribes directly request disaster assistance, because when disasters like floods or fires strike, you shouldn’t have to wait for a middleman to get the help you need. (Applause.)

But there’s more we can do to return more control to your communities. And that’s why I’m urging Congress to reauthorize the Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act — because your communities know your affordable housing needs better than Washington does. (Applause.) It’s why we’ll keep pushing Congress to pass the Carcieri fix, so that more tribal nations can put their land into federal trust. (Applause.) And we’ve heard loud and clear your frustrations when it comes to the problem of being fully reimbursed by the federal government for the contracted services you provide, so we’re going to keep working with you and Congress to find a solution. (Applause.) That’s all going to be part of making sure that we’re respecting the nation-to-nation relationship.

Now, second, we’ve got to keep our covenant strong by expanding opportunity for Native Americans. We’ve created jobs building new roads and high-speed Internet to connect more of your communities to the broader economy. We’ve made major investments in job training and tribal colleges and universities. But the fact remains Native Americans face poverty rates that are higher by far than the national average. And that’s more than a statistic, that’s a moral call to action. We’ve got to do better.

So I said to some of you that I met with yesterday, growing our economy, creating new jobs is my top priority. We’ve got to stop the self-inflicted wounds in Washington. Because for many tribal nations, this year’s harmful sequester cuts and last month’s government shutdown made a tough situation worse. Your schools, your police departments, child welfare offices are all feeling the squeeze. That’s why I’m fighting for a responsible budget that invests in the things that we need in order to grow -– things like education, and job training, and affordable housing and transportation, including for Native American communities. And we’re going to work to make sure Native American-owned businesses have greater access to capital and to selling their goods overseas. So we’ve got to build the economy, create more opportunity.

Number three, we’ve got to keep our covenant strong by making sure Native Americans have access to quality, affordable health care just like everybody else. That’s one of the reasons we fought hard to pass the Affordable Care Act, and we’re working overtime to make sure the law works the way it’s supposed to. For Native Americans, this means more access to comprehensive, affordable coverage. It permanently reauthorizes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, which provides care to so many in your communities.

And let me just give you one example of how this law is already working for tribal nations. Thanks to the ACA, the Puyallup Tribal Health Authority in Washington State created the country’s first tribal family medicine residency program. Patients are cared for in a culturally sensitive way, often by Native American staff. And we’re seeing results -– a young physician caring for a revered Tribal Elder; a doctor who has delivered babies in the community for years, and now his son is also doing the same. And that’s creating more quality health care, but also sustaining bonds between generations. That’s progress that we need to build on.

And then the fourth area that we’ve got to work on is, let’s keep our covenant strong by being good stewards of native homelands, which are sacred to you and your families. I saw the beauty of Crow Agency, Montana, when I was a candidate for this office. Next year, I’ll make my first trip to Indian Country as President. (Applause.)

The health of tribal nations depends on the health of tribal lands. So it falls on all of us to protect the extraordinary beauty of those lands for future generations. And already, many of your lands have felt the impacts of a changing climate, including more extreme flooding and droughts. That’s why, as part of the Climate Action Plan I announced this year, my administration is partnering with you to identify where your lands are vulnerable to climate change, how we can make them more resilient.

And working together, we want to develop the energy potential of tribal lands in a responsible way and in accordance with tribal wishes. Over the last four years, we’ve more than doubled oil and gas revenues on tribal lands –- a big reason why the United States is now more energy independent. So we’re working with tribes to get more renewable energy projects, like solar and wind, up and running. Your lands and your economies can be a source of renewable energy and the good local jobs that come with it….

And we don’t have to look far for inspiration. Some of you know, Monday obviously was Veterans’ Day, a time to honor all who have worn America’s uniform. (Applause.) I know everyone here is proud that Native Americans have such a high enlistment rate in our military. And we’ve seen generations of patriotic Native Americans who have served with honor and courage, and we draw strength from them all.

We draw strength from the Navajo Code Talkers whose skill helped win the Second World War. (Applause.) We draw strength from Woodrow Wilson Keeble, who many years after his death was finally awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in the Korean War. (Applause.) We draw strength from — and I want to make sure I get this right — Lori Piestewa, who during the Iraq war was the first known Native American woman to give her life in combat for the United States. (Applause.) And we draw strength from all our men and women in uniform today, including two pilots I rely on when I step onto Marine One -– Major Paul Bisulca, from the Penobscot Nation, and Major Eli Jones, of the Shoshone Bannock. And those guys are carrying me around, keeping me safe. (Applause.)

So on this Veterans Day week, even though it’s technically not Veterans Day, I want to ask all the veterans in the audience –- including several legendary Navajo Code Talkers who are here
-– if you can, please stand, accept our gratitude. (Applause.)

For generations, these men and women have helped keep our covenant strong. So now we’ve got to keep strong what they’ve built, for this and generations to come. It falls to us to keep America the place where no matter where you come from, what you look like, you can always make it as long as you try, as long as you work hard. And I know that that’s what — all of you are working hard. That’s what you represent as leaders of the communities that are represented here from coast to coast. I want you to know that’s what I’m working for. That’s the partnership that I cherish, and I will cherish as long as I have the honor of serving as your President.

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

The First Lady speaks on the power of education, 11/12/13

Mrs. Obama:

“See, when Barack came into office, one of the very first things he did was to set what he calls a North Star goal for the entire country -– that by the year 2020, the year that all of you will be graduating from college, that this country will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

Now, Barack set this goal because as a — a generation ago, we were number one in college graduates. But over the past couple of decades, this country has slipped all the way to 12th. We’ve slipped. And that’s unacceptable, and we’ve all got a lot of work to do to turn that around and get back on top.

But Barack didn’t just set that goal because it’s good for our country. He did it because he knows how important higher education is to all of you as individuals. Because when the year 2020 rolls around, nearly two-thirds of all jobs in this country are going to require some form of training beyond high school. That means whether it’s a vocational program, community college, a four-year university, you all are going to need some form of higher education in order to build the kind of lives that you want for yourselves, good careers, to be able to provide for your family.

And that’s why the President and Secretary Duncan have been doing everything they can to make sure that kids like you get the best education possible and that you have everything you need to continue your education after high school. They’ve been fighting to strengthen your schools and to support your teachers. They’ve been working hard to make college more affordable for all young people in this country no matter where you come from or how much money your parents have. They’ve been working with parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders all across this country just to help you succeed.

But here’s the thing — and I want you to listen to this — at the end of the day, no matter what the President does, no matter what your teachers and principals do or whatever is going on in your home or in your neighborhood, the person with the biggest impact on your education is you. It’s that simple. It is you, the student. And more than anything else, meeting that 2020 goal is going to take young people like all of you across this country stepping up and taking control of your education.”

Complete text: http://1.usa.gov/1cl0e9a

President Obama observes Veterans Day, 11/11/13

THE PRESIDENT:

“Today, we gather once more to honor patriots who have rendered the highest service any American can offer this nation — those who fought for our freedom and stood sentry for our security. On this hillside of solemn remembrance and in veterans’ halls and in proud parades across America, we join as one people to honor a debt we can never fully repay….

They fought on a green at Lexington so that we could make independent the country they imagined. They fought on the fields of Gettysburg so that we could make whole a nation torn asunder. They fought on the beaches of Europe and across Pacific islands. And from their sacrifice we emerged the strongest and most prosperous nation in the history of the world. And this year, as we mark the 60th anniversary of the end of the fighting in Korea, we pay special tribute to all those who served in the Korean War….

On tour after tour after tour, in Iraq and Afghanistan, this generation — the 9/11 Generation — has met every mission we have asked of them. And today we can say that because of their heroic service, the core of al Qaeda is on the path to defeat, our nation is more secure, and our homeland is safer.

They’re men and women like the soldier — and soon to be veteran — I met a few months ago, Jacare Hogan. Jacare deployed to Iraq twice, and she survived not one, but two –- excuse me, three separate IED explosions. And when she was well enough, she deployed again, this time to Afghanistan, where she was often the only woman at our forward operating bases. She proudly wears the Combat Action Badge. And today, Jacare is committed to helping other wounded warriors recover from the trials of war. “Helping the troops,” she says, “is what I’m all about.” My fellow Americans, that’s what we should be all about.

Our work is more urgent than ever, because this chapter of war is coming to an end. Soon, one of the first Marines to arrive in Afghanistan 12 years ago — Brigadier General Daniel Yoo — will lead his Camp Pendleton Marines as they become one of the last major groups of Marines to deploy in this war. And over the coming months, more of our troops will come home. This winter, our troop levels in Afghanistan will be down to 34,000. And by this time next year, the transition to Afghan-led security will be nearly complete. The longest war in American history will end. (Applause.)

As is true after every conflict, there is a risk that the devoted service of our veterans could fade from the forefront of our minds; that we might turn to other things. But part of the reason we’re here today is to pledge that we will never forget the profound sacrifices that are made in our name. Today reminds us of our sacred obligations. For even though this time of war is coming to a close, our time of service to our newest veterans has only just begun….

And that’s why, as Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to keep making sure we’re providing unprecedented support to our veterans. (Applause.) Even as we make difficult fiscal choices as a nation, we’re going to keep making vital investments in our veterans. We’re going to keep improving veterans’ health care, including mental health care so you can stay strong. We’re making sure that veterans not covered by the VA can secure quality, affordable health insurance.

We’re going to keep reducing the claims backlog. We’ve slashed it by a third since March, and we’re going to keep at it so you can get the benefits that you have earned and that you need, when you need them. (Applause.) We’re going to keep helping our newest veterans and their families pursue their education under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We just welcomed our one millionth student veteran, and we’re ready for all those who come next.

And we’re going to keep demanding that the rights and dignity of every veteran are upheld, including by pushing for the Disabilities Treaty so that our disabled veterans enjoy the same opportunities to travel and work and study around the world as everybody else. (Applause.) And with the help of Michelle and Dr. Jill Biden and Joining Forces, we’re going to keep fighting to give every veteran who has fought for America the chance to pursue the American Dream — a fair shot at the jobs and opportunity you need to help us rebuild and grow here at home. Because you’re bringing home the skills and the work ethic and leadership necessary to start companies and serve your communities and take care of your fellow veterans.

And that’s our promise to you and all who have served: to be there, to support you, when you come home — every step of the way. And as a nation, we will strive to be worthy of the sacrifices that you’ve made. That’s what we owe all our veterans. That’s what we owe veterans like Richard Overton, who served in the Army in World War II. He was there, at — (applause) — now, everybody, I want you to know a little something about Mr. Overton here. He was there at Pearl Harbor, when the battleships were still smoldering. He was there at Okinawa. He was there at Iwo Jima, where he said, “I only got out of there by the grace of God.”

When the war ended, Richard headed home to Texas to a nation bitterly divided by race. And his service on the battlefield was not always matched by the respect that he deserved at home. But this veteran held his head high. He carried on and lived his life with honor and dignity. He built his wife a house with his own two hands. He went back to work in the furniture business. In time, he served as a courier in the Texas State Capitol, where he worked for four governors, and made more friends than most of us do in a lifetime.

And today, Richard still lives in the house that he built all those years ago. He rakes his own lawn. And every Sunday he hops in his 1971 Ford truck and drives one of the nice ladies in his neighborhood to church. (Laughter and applause.) This is the life of one American veteran — living proud and strong in the land he helped keep free.

And earlier this year, the great folks at Honor Flight Austin brought Richard to Washington, D.C. for the first time. And he and his fellow veterans paid their respects at the World War II Memorial. And then they visited the memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. And as Richard sat in a wheelchair beneath that great marble statue, he wept. And the crowd that gathered around him wept, too, to see one of the oldest living veterans of World War II bear witness to a day — to the progress of a nation — he thought might never come.

Richard Overton, this American veteran, is 107 years old. (Applause.) And we are honored that he’s here with us today. So let’s ask Richard to stand again — because he can stand. (Applause.)

And this is how we’ll be judged. Not just by how well we care for our troops in battle, but how we treat them when they come home — and by the America we build together; by what we do with the security and peace that they have helped grant us; by the progress that allows citizens from Richard Overton to Jacare Hogan to play their part in the American story.

Today, our message to all those who have ever worn the uniform of this nation is this: We will stand by your side, whether you’re seven days out or, like Richard, seventy years out. Because here in America, we take care of our own. We honor the sacrifice that has been made in our name, for this nation that we love. And we commit ourselves to standing by these veterans and their families, for as long as we’re blessed to walk this Earth.”

Complete text: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/11/08/remarks-president-veterans-day

President’s Weekly Address: Honoring America’s Veterans, 11/9/13

The President:

“Hello everyone. Veterans’ Day Weekend is a chance for all of us to say two simple words: “Thank you.” Thank you to that greatest generation who fought island by island across the Pacific, and freed millions from fascism in Europe. Thank you to the heroes who risked everything through the bitter cold of Korea and the stifling heat of Vietnam. And thank you to all the heroes who have served since, most recently our 9/11 Generation of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Now that more of them are coming home, we need to serve them as well as they served us. That requires more than a simple “thank you” – especially from those of us who’ve been elected to serve.

I’ve often said that my top priority is growing the economy, creating new jobs, and restoring middle-class security. And a very important part of that is making sure that every veteran has every chance to share in the opportunity he or she has helped defend. In addition to the care and benefits they’ve earned – including good mental health care to stay strong – that means a good job, a good education, and a home to call their own.

If you fight for your country overseas, you should never have to fight for a job when you come home. I’ve made sure the federal government leads by example, and since I took office, we’ve hired about 300,000 veterans to keep serving their country. Our new transition assistance program is helping veterans and their spouses find that new job and plan their career. And I’m going to keep calling on Congress to do the right thing and pass the Veterans Jobs Corps. Put our veterans to work rebuilding America.

Our troops gain unmatched skills while serving in harm’s way. So we’re also doing everything we can to connect more businesses with highly-skilled veterans. More help with job searches. More tools to connect veterans to job openings. More chances to earn licenses and credentials for civilian jobs. And new tax credits for companies that hire veterans and wounded warriors – tax credits which Congress should make permanent.

And America’s businesses have worked with Michelle and Jill Biden’s Joining Forces campaign to help returning heroes find jobs in the private sector. They’ve already hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses, and they’ve committed to hiring over 400,000 more.

We’re also committed to giving today’s veterans and their families the same shot at a great education this country gave my grandfather when he came home from World War II. We’re helping more of them earn their degrees under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. We’ve worked with thousands of schools across the country to set new standards to protect against dishonest recruiting and predatory lending practices that target our veterans. And we’re helping hundreds of community colleges and universities do more to welcome and encourage our veterans on campus.

Thanks to these efforts, and the efforts of the private sector, we’ve made progress getting our vets back to work. But we’ve got a lot more to do. And as more than a million of our troops return to civilian life, we’re going to have to work even harder. Because the skill, dedication, and courage of our troops is unmatched – and when they come home, we all benefit from their efforts to build a stronger America and a brighter future for our kids.

So to all our veterans, on behalf our entire nation, thank you for everything you’ve done and will continue to do for our country. As your Commander-in-Chief, I’m proud of your service, and grateful for your sacrifice. And as long as I’m your President, I will make it my mission to make sure that America has your back, not just on one day or one weekend, but 365 days a year.

Thanks. God bless you, and have a great weekend.”

First Lady speaks at Careers in Film Symposium, 11/8/13

The First Lady:

“So you all have had a chance to learn the nuts and bolts of the movie business from some of Hollywood’s most respected leaders. But here’s the thing: These folks know that it doesn’t just take technical knowledge to succeed in the movie business. That’s one of the important points we want you all to take away. It’s not just about being a good actor or knowing how to create the best special effects. It’s also about things like grit. It’s about determination, resilience. Because all of those character traits — the ability to overcome adversity — all of that are some of the traits and skills that have made the folks on this stage successful in life. And that’s what I want you guys to understand.

Talent comes and goes. But it’s your ability to dig deep when things are hard and make things happen for yourself — that’s the difference between just an average life and success. And there are many examples up on this stage….

Because no matter what kind of neighborhood you come from, no matter what obstacle you are facing in your path right now — I don’t care what’s happening to you today, you can always find something that you’re passionate about. You can always find something worth working for in your life.

And once you find that passion, whether it’s film — maybe it’s science or business, maybe it’s teaching — anything, you have got to get your education…. And getting your education means doing everything you can. It is on you….

….And if you do that, if you own your education and you don’t let any excuses get in your way, no obstacle block you, then I guarantee you can achieve anything that you put your mind to. As Gayle once said — she said, “Confidence comes by doing and doing and doing. That’s the secret.” And she said, “You can’t get confident without working hard. That’s the key to everything.”

The President works hard. Everybody in this room — every intern, every person with a light or a camera, they get up and they work hard. That’s the difference. So I want you all to have that confidence for yourself.

And I hope that this day here in the White House showed you that if you can walk into the White House and sit in the East Room with all these stars and greats, that you can do anything. Do you realize that? You have been in this room in this house with all of us. So you can do anything. Can you just own that for a minute? Stand up a little straighter. (Laughter.) Own it. I spent the day at the White House with the First Lady and with all these stars and actors, and I held it together. (Laughter.)….

And promise me that you will do everything you can in your powers to get the education that is right before you. Because there are kids all over the world that would love to trade places with any single one of you, because they don’t have a fraction of the opportunities that kids in America do, kids like all of you. So promise me that you will take this seriously. Take your lives seriously. Own your futures, because we all did.”