Category Archives: White House

President Obama’s press conference with Chancellor Merkel, 5/2/14: Excerpted remarks on NSA

The President:

If you don’t mind, I’m going to also go ahead and maybe say something about NSA just because I know it’s of great interest in the German press as well. Germany is one of our closest allies and our closest friends, and that’s true across the spectrum of issues — security, intelligence, economic, diplomatic. And Angela Merkel is one of my closest friends on the world stage, and somebody whose partnership I deeply value. And so it has pained me to see the degree to which the Snowden disclosures have created strains in the relationship.

But more broadly, I’ve also been convinced for a very long time that it is important for our legal structures and our policy structures to catch up with rapidly advancing technologies. And as a consequence, through a series of steps, what we’ve tried to do is reform what we do and have taken these issues very seriously. Domestically, we’ve tried to provide additional assurances to the American people that their privacy is protected. But what I’ve also done is taken the unprecedented step of ordering our intelligence communities to take the privacy interests of non-U.S. persons into account in everything that they do — something that has not been done before and most other countries in the world do not do. What I’ve said is, is that the privacy interests of non-U.S. citizens are deeply relevant and have to be taken into account, and we have to have policies and procedures to protect them, not just U.S. persons. And we are in the process of implementing a whole series of those steps.

We have shared with the Germans the things that we are doing. I will repeat what I’ve said before — that ordinary Germans are not subject to continual surveillance, are not subject to a whole range of bulk data gathering. I know that the perceptions I think among the public sometimes are that the United States has capacities similar to what you see on movies and in television. The truth of the matter is, is that our focus is principally and primarily on how do we make sure that terrorists, those who want to proliferate weapons, transnational criminals are not able to engage in the activities that they’re engaging in. And in that, we can only be successful if we’re partnering with friends like Germany. We won’t succeed if we’re doing that on our own.

So what I’ve pledged to Chancellor Merkel has been in addition to the reforms that we’ve already taken, in addition to saying that we are going to apply privacy standards to how we deal with non-U.S. persons as well as U.S. persons, in addition to the work that we’re doing to constrain the potential use of bulk data, we are committed to a U.S.-German cyber dialogue to close further the gaps that may exist in terms of how we operate, how German intelligence operates, to make sure that there is transparency and clarity about what we’re doing and what our goals and our intentions are.

These are complicated issues and we’re not perfectly aligned yet, but we share the same values and we share the same concerns. And this is something that is deeply important to me and I’m absolutely committed that by the time I leave this office, we’re going to have a stronger legal footing and international framework for how we are doing business in the intelligence sphere.

I will say, though, that I don’t think that there is an inevitable contradiction between our security and safety and our privacy. And the one thing that I’ve tried to share with Chancellor Merkel is that the United States historically has been concerned about privacy. It’s embedded in our Constitution, and as the world’s oldest continuous constitutional democracy, I think we know a little bit about trying to protect people’s privacy.

And we have a technology that is moving rapidly and we have a very challenging world that we have to deal with, and we’ve got to adjust our legal frameworks. But she should not doubt, and the German people should not doubt, how seriously we take these issues. And I believe that we’re going to be able to get them resolved to the satisfaction not just of our two countries but of people around the world.

Transcript of complete remarks: http://1.usa.gov/1rNHqGs

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.

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

Holidays at the White House 2013: Gingerbread White House, the National Tree, Decorations


Building the 2013 Gingerbread White House

As part of White House holiday tradition, the State Dining Room is home to the famous gingerbread house. Over the course of several weeks, Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and his talented team created a 300-pound, edible White House replica. This year’s creation features a mini Bo and Sunny sitting on the front steps of the house lit from within, and a functioning replica of the North Lawn fountain. Dec. 9, 2013


National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony 2013

The President:

“Merry Christmas, everybody! Well, this show is always a great way to get in the holiday spirit. Every year, I rehearse my own little act, just in case. But it seems like, yet again, they couldn’t find space to squeeze me into the program. (Laughter.) You are lucky I’m not singing.

First of all, let me thank Secretary Jewell and welcome her to her first Christmas Tree Lighting. She is doing a great job for our national parks. She used to run one of America’s biggest outdoor recreation companies, and now she’s charged with protecting the great outdoors for all of us. So we appreciate her and we want to thank Neil Mulholland and the whole National Park Foundation and National Park Service team for helping to put this beautiful production together.

Let’s also give it up for Jane Lynch and all the great performers who are doing an incredible job putting us in a festive mood tonight. (Applause.) And to all Americans who are here today and watching at home, we are so glad to be part of this wonderful holiday tradition.

For 91 years, the National Christmas Tree has stood as a beacon of light and a promise during the holiday season. During times of peace and prosperity, challenge and change, Americans have gathered around our national tree to kick off the holiday season and give thanks for everything that makes this time of year so magical — spending time with friends and family, and spreading tidings of peace and goodwill here at home and around the world.

And this year, we give a special measure of gratitude for Nelson Mandela, a man who championed that generosity of spirit. (Applause.) In his life, he blessed us with tremendous grace and unbelievable courage. And we are all privileged to live in a world touched by his goodness.

Each Christmas, we celebrate the birth of a child who came into the world with only a stable’s roof to shelter Him. But through a life of humility and the ultimate sacrifice, a life guided by faith and kindness towards others, Christ assumed a mighty voice, teaching us lessons of compassion and charity that have lasted more than two millennia. He ministered to the poor. He embraced the outcast. He healed the sick. And in Him we see a living example of scripture that we ought to love others not only through our words, but also through our deeds.

It’s a message both timeless and universal — no matter what God you pray to, or if you pray to none at all — we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other to make a difference that is real and lasting. We are our brother’s keeper. We are our sister’s keeper.

And so in this season of generosity, let’s reach out to those who need help the most. In this season of reflection, let’s make sure that our incredibly brave servicemembers and their families know how much we appreciate their sacrifice. And there are several military families and servicemen and women here tonight. We are so grateful to you for all that you do. (Applause.)

In this season of hope, let us come together as one people, one family to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to keep America the land of endless opportunity and boundless optimism for which we’re so thankful.

So on behalf of Malia, Sasha, Marian, the First Lady Michelle, plus Bo and Sunny, I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and a joyful holiday season. God bless you. God bless our troops. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)”

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


First Lady Michelle Obama Previews the 2013 White House Holiday Decorations

The First Lady:

“And that actually brings me to this year’s official White House holiday theme, which is “Gather Around: Stories of the Season.” This holiday season, we’ll be focusing on the stories behind classic American holiday traditions — traditions celebrated here at the White House and across the country. Our goal is for every room and every tree to tell a story about who we are and how we gather around one another to mark the holidays.

And that starts with all of you — literally. In fact, when visitors arrive, the very first thing they’ll see is a tree decorated to pay tribute to our Armed Forces. This tree, graced with special Gold Star ornaments, tells the story of some of our greatest heroes: Those who gave their lives for our country. And any Gold Star family who visits the White House can create their own ornament to honor their loved one. In addition, everyone who visits this White House this year gets a chance to fill out an Operation Honor Card pledging to serve their community in honor of our military families, your servicemembers, your veterans, whoever you choose, just find a way to serve.

We also have an entire room — it’s right next door, it’s the Blue Room, one of my favorite rooms — dedicated to the idea of gathering around our military. The tree in that room is decorated with holiday greeting cards drawn by military children from bases all across the country as a way to celebrate their parents’ service. And they’re beautiful, they’re really sweet cards.

So that’s how we’ll be honoring our veterans and servicemembers and their families this holiday season. And I would ask during this time that every American find a way to honor these great Americans, not just during the holidays, but every day. And let us never forget the debt that we owe these men and women and their amazing families.

As for the rest of the house, because there is more, we have a number of special touches that build on our “Gather Around: Stories of the Season” theme. In the East Garden Room, you’ll see Christmas trees made entirely of stacks of books. You may have seen those coming in, they’re very cool. In the Cross Hall, you’ll see trees reflecting the idea of gathering around our heritage. They’ll be decorated with ornaments representing great American sites like the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore, and there’s some silhouettes of people you might know today in history, so you guys will look and see if you recognize anyone.

And of course, we have our usual first dog display. This year, Bo will be joined by his little sister Sunny, our new pup, and the two of them will be surrounded by books. And I was surprised to see last night, this year they actually move. They’re mechanical. This is a new step. We’re stepping up in the world of Bo-and-Sunny honoring. And these are just a few of this year’s highlights.

Although people who visit the White House will see dozens of trees and wreaths, they’re going to see thousands of ornaments and they’re going to see a gingerbread house that weighs about 300 pounds — it’s pretty big — some of the best sights they’ll see are kids enjoying all of this just wonderful glory. Some of the best times in this White House is just watching the faces of kids as they walk through this house and count the trees and look at the ornaments.

And none of this would be possible without the 83 volunteers like Diane who came from all across the country to help us decorate, once again, sacrificing, leaving their families — because they start decorating this house the day after Thanksgiving. It would not be possible for us to do all of this without our volunteers. They are a pleasure to work with, they are high-energy, they are positive. And just look around. I mean, every year they just outdo themselves. So we are just so grateful for their hard work and enthusiasm.

Now, over the course of this season, about 70,000 people will come to see our holiday decorations — not bad. And I can’t imagine a better group of people than all of you to be our very first guests. Don’t you feel special? No one has seen these, not even the President has seen these. (Applause.) He hasn’t seen them yet. You guys are the first.

And truly, it is a treat to make you all the first every season, because you all do so much for us. And we are so proud and so honored and so grateful. And we just want to give you a chance to bring your families in to just get a little special something just to remind you just how special we all think you are.”

Source: http://1.usa.gov/191xLqu

Hanukkah at the White House, 2013


Koshering the White House Kitchen for Hanukkah

Watch the kitchen at the White House undergo a transformation into a kosher kitchen. This entails wrapping existing kitchen surfaces and a complete separation of milk and meat, as well as the use of kosher ingredients and utensils that have only been used for kosher. This allows the kitchen to prepare and serve a completely kosher meal for this year’s Hanukkah celebration at the White House. Local Rabbi’s were also on hand to oversee the koshering.


President Obama Speaks at an Afternoon Hanukkah Reception

As the Festival of Lights draws to a close this year, President Obama suggests taking one last chance to think about all the miracles big and small that we’ve been lucky enough to experience in our own lives. December 5, 2013.


President Obama Speaks at an Evening Hanukkah Reception

“It’s a story that has been repeated countless times throughout Jewish history. And as we light the candles tonight, we’re reminded that we’re still writing new chapters in that story today. In 1922, Abraham and Hayyah Ettinger donated this menorah to their congregation in a small town that’s now the Czech Republic. And tragically, the Ettingers — and their prayer hall — were lost in the Holocaust.

Yet even in the face of tragedy, Jewish communities around the world kept alive a light that would not be extinguished — the hope that freedom would triumph over tyranny. And tonight, we’re honored that the menorah that once belonged to the Ettingers will be lit by two Holocaust survivors from the former Czechoslovakia — Margit Meissner and Martin Weiss. (Applause.) The triumph they represent and the triumph this menorah represents, the progress that it represents, the notion that we can join together here tonight reminds us that we can never take our blessings for granted and that we always need to keep working for peace and the freedom that we seek.

And that’s why we continue to stand up for our values around the world. That’s why we stand alongside and partner with those allies who share those values, including the State of Israel. Together with our Israeli friends, we’re determined to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) And we’re testing whether it’s possible through diplomacy to achieve that goal, understanding that we have to remain vigilant.

For the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program. And key parts of the program — (applause) — key parts of the program will be rolled back, even though the toughest of our sanctions remain in place. And that’s good for the world and that’s good for Israel. Over the coming months, we’re going to continue our diplomacy with the goal of achieving a comprehensive solution that deals with the threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons once and for all. And through it all, as always, our commitment to Israel and its security will remain iron clad and unshakeable. (Applause.)

Building a future of security and peace is not easy. But the story of Hanukkah, of survivors like Margit and Martin — leaders like Nelson Mandela — remind us that those who came before us overcame even greater obstacles than those that we face. So let’s take strength from their struggles and from their sacrifice. Let’s give thanks for miracles large and small. Let’s recommit ourselves to building a future that shines with hope and freedom and peace. I want to thank all of you for the contributions you’ve made to communities across the country and the many friends who have been so supportive to Michelle and myself during these years.

And with that, I want to welcome Rabbi Joshua Sherwin, a lieutenant in the United States Navy, to say a blessing.”

Source: http://1.usa.gov/19m1CpU

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.)”

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.”

West Wing Week 11/07/13 or, “Casual, With a Raffish Look”

This week, the President worked to help consumers learn about and enroll in quality, affordable health insurance plans through the Marketplaces, welcomed Iraq’s Prime Minister, hosted the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, and kicked off the newly reinstated White House Tours with a surprise drop-by.