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DNC Chair Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s Statement Celebrating the Beginning of Chanukah

Washington, DC – Tonight marks the beginning of Chanukah. In recognition of that occasion, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:

“Tonight, my family will join Jewish families across the country and around the world in beginning the celebration of Chanukah. As we gather with family and loved ones, we remember the great miracle that occurred more than two thousand years ago, and appreciate the little miracles that occur in our lives every day. Each candle we light reminds us that acts of justice and righteousness can prevail even in the darkest times of trouble and adversity.

“This is a time of year in which Americans come together with those closest to them to celebrate in their respective faiths and traditions. We take time to count our blessings from the previous year, express our gratitude for those we love, and embark on new beginnings in the year ahead. We are mindful of those less fortunate, and rededicate ourselves to building an America in which all families can enjoy our nation’s opportunities and successes.

“From my family to yours, I wish you a blessed holiday season and a happy new year.”

DNC Chair Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on the Two Year Anniversary of the Sandy Hook Tragedy

“Today marks two years since the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, an act of violence in which we needlessly lost 26 lives, 20 of them children.

“For those of us who still vividly recall the profound sadness which accompanied news of this horrific tragedy, it is unfathomable that Congress has yet to enact commonsense measures that can reduce the scourge of gun violence. With each successive incident, the toll of Congress’ inaction mounts. The hope that another parent may avoid having to bury their child as a victim of gun violence should not be viewed as partisan gamesmanship, but one of our fundamental responsibilities as elected officials.

“The victims of Sandy Hook have not been forgotten, nor have the far too many others we’ve lost in the last 24 months. Their loss touches us all, and tears at the fabric of who we are as Americans. On this anniversary, we must use the sadness which fills our hearts to once again find the sense of urgency needed to put an end to gun violence for good.”

The DNC’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide

‘Tis the season! We’ve put together a few of our favorite pieces of Democratic gear from our new store just in time for holiday shopping. Not only is it the perfect place to find a gift for your favorite Democrat, but all proceeds go to help elect Dems across the country in 2015, 2016, and beyond.

  1. "Like a Boss" POTUS T-Shirt
  2. Democrats Logo, I Lean Left, and Stop the GOP Buttons
  3. I Hate Tea (Parties) Travel Tumbler
  4. "I <3 Obamacare" and “I’m a Democrat" Car Mangets
  5. Democrats T-Shirt

DNC Chair Rep. Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on the November Jobs Report

Washington, DC – After the release of the November jobs report, which showed that 321,000 jobs were added last month, the highest single month of job creation in nearly three years, and the unemployment rate held at 5.8 percent – a six year low, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:

“This is what progress looks like. Our economy has added nearly 11 million private-sector jobs over 57 months of straight job growth. That’s the longest streak on record and it didn’t happen by accident. We’ve added 2.65 million jobs in the past 11 months alone, putting 2014 on pace to be the strongest year for job growth since 1999.  It happened because of the hard work and determination of the American people and the President’s policies over the last six years that have gotten our economy moving again. 

“As a nation, we still have a lot of work to do. While Democrats continue to fight for common sense proposals that would help grow our economy over the long-term like fixing our broken immigration system, investing in infrastructure and raising the minimum wage; Republicans continue to fight progress every step along the way. Instead of using their influence to obstruct growth, sue the President and continually raise the specter of shutting down the government, Republicans should join with Democrats to help ensure that every working American has the ability to support his or her family.”

DNC Chair Wasserman Schultz Announces Democratic Victory Task Force Members

Washington, DC – Today, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced that she has appointed the members of the DNC’s Democratic Victory Task Force, an initiative that Wasserman Schultz announced in the days after the 2014 Midterm Election. The appointed members of the Democratic Victory Task Force are Naomi Aberly, Governor Steve Beshear (KY), Donna Brazile, Maria Cardona, Marc Elias, Teddy Goff, Maneesh Goyal, Colorado Democratic Party Chair Rick Palacio, Lee Saunders and Eric Schmidt.

The Democratic Victory Task Force will conduct a thorough review and assessment of key components of the Democratic Party’s – and related organizations - role in recent elections and identify places where the Party can strengthen and improve operations to better serve candidates and constituents in future elections. It will cast a wide net that will examine a range of issues that ultimately will produce recommendations on steps both the national and state parties must take to improve their performance including, but not limited to, future midterm elections.

“We are proud to announce the members of the Democratic Victory Task Force, and are eager to work with them to build on what we’ve done that works, identify and prioritize challenges and ultimately improve our party’s performance in future elections,” said Wasserman Schultz. “This diverse group of Democratic Party officials, strategists and advocates will each bring with them expertise from their fields to collaborate on a holistic review of the Party’s past performance and present actionable areas for improvement moving forward.”

Task Force members will solicit input from a wide array of stake holders - from activists to outside experts to Party Leadership that will guide the assessment and its findings.

Preliminary findings of the Democratic Victory Task Force will be presented at the DNC’s Winter Meeting in February 2015. The task force will produce final recommendations by mid-2015.

Donna Brazile, a DNC Vice Chair and Task Force Member said, “We all have a lot to learn from what we’ve done in the past - both successes and shortcomings. As a member of the Task Force and a Democrat I applaud Chair Wasserman Schultz and the DNC for launching this initiative. Our goal is to help strengthen the Party as a whole and provide a blueprint for State Parties, candidates, activists, supporters and other decision makers as we move forward. We’re excited to get to work.”

See below for Task Force members and bios:

Naomi Aberly is a political activist and civic volunteer who focuses her efforts on Women’s Health.  She has been deeply involved in progressive politics, policymaking and fundraising at the state and federal levels for the past fifteen years.

She is currently a Vice Chair of the DNC’s National Finance Committee, an Advisory Board Co-Chair of Organizing for Action and most recently served as a Co-Chair of Wendy Davis’ campaign for Governor of Texas.

She joined the Obama for America National Finance Committee in early 2007 and continued as a National Finance Committee member for the 2012 election. She has been a substantial fundraiser for Senate and House campaigns nationwide since 2004.

Naomi serves on the boards of both the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF). She is Vice Chair of the PPFA board and co-chairs the Development Council of both PPFA and PPAF.  She also chairs the Planned Parenthood Federal PAC and created the PPAF Victory Circle.

She was elected a life board member of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, having served that organization as development committee chair, Board Chair and Chair of its recent $20 million capital campaign.  She also served on the Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Action Fund board.

She is a former board chair of Annie’s List in Texas. She is a member of the Planned Parenthood Leadership Council, the Women Donors Network, and the EMILY’s List Majority Council.  She is also an active supporter of the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Center for American Progress and the Texas Organizing Project.

In addition to her political work, Naomi has also served as a board member of the Dallas Museum of Art, KERA Public Media for North Texas and The Center for Progressive Policy Priorities.

She shares her work with her husband, Larry Lebowitz, and her two teenage sons.

Governor Steve Beshear has propelled Kentucky forward through intense and targeted efforts to create and protect jobs, expand access to health care, and enhance K-12 education, during his two terms in office.  Under his leadership, the state’s Democratic Party has kept nearly all the state constitutional offices Democratic and has protected the single remaining Democratic state legislative chamber in the South.

Shortly after he took office in 2007, Kentucky faced the worst economic recession in nearly a century.  Gov. Beshear streamlined state government operations through a combination of cuts and efficiencies, which shrank the state workforce to its smallest size in more than 40 years.  He’s balanced the state budget 14 times, cutting more than $1.6 billion while still protecting the state’s critical investments in education, public protection and job creation.

Gov. Beshear rejuvenated the state’s economic development toolkit in 2009, which has led to nearly $10 billion in private investment and more than 55,000 new or retained jobs.  This year, Kentucky’s jobless rate has dropped at a record-setting pace and is now below pre-recession levels.

Gov. Beshear emerged as a national leader on health care as states implemented the Affordable Care Act. Kentucky’s health benefit exchange, known as kynect, was hailed as a national model for its smooth operation and easy interface for users looking for affordable health coverage. Since the first open enrollment last fall, more than 521,000 Kentuckians (more than 1 in 10) have enrolled in affordable health care through kynect.

Kentucky leads the nation in education reform.  Under the Governor’s guidance, Kentucky was the first to adopt Common Core and the second to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards.  Graduation rates are improving, and Kentucky students are better prepared for college and careers than ever before.

Gov. Beshear was overwhelmingly reelected in 2011, defeating his Republican opponent by more than 20 points, and Democrats won six of seven statewide constitutional offices.

By maintaining focus on the issues that affect Kentucky families and by promoting job creation and bipartisanship, the Kentucky Democratic Party has thrived even as national Republican waves have turned much of the South red.  In the 2014 elections, Gov. Beshear led state Democrats against multi-million dollar attacks by outside Republican groups.  The disciplined messaging and focus on the state’s economy paid off.  Democrats maintained control of the state House at a time when Republicans either won seats or won control of state legislatures across the country.  Kentucky’s House is the only state legislative chamber in the South that remains under Democratic majority.

Donna Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, a syndicated columnist, and the Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee.

Ms. Brazile began her political career at the age of nine when she worked to support the campaign of a city council candidate who promised to build a playground in her neighborhood. Four decades and innumerable state and local campaigns later, she has worked on every presidential campaign from 1976 through 2000, when she served as presidential campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore.

Author of the best-selling autobiography Cooking with Grease: Stirring the Pots in American Politics, Ms. Brazile is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. In the media, she serves as a political contributor on CNN; consultant to ABC News; regularly appearing commentator on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos; and frequent contributor to NPR's News and Notes. In print and online, she is a columnist for Roll Call and Ms Magazine.

Washingtonian named Ms. Brazile one of the '100 most powerful women' and Essence named her one of the top 50 women in America. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has bestowed upon her its award for political achievement.

Prior to serving as Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation, Ms. Brazile dedicated herself to strengthening the American democratic process as chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute, established in 2001 to help protect and promote the rights of all American citizens to participate in the electoral process. Her passion is encouraging young people to vote, work within the system to strengthen it, and run for public office.

Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco appointed Ms. Brazile, a New Orleans native, a member of the board of directors of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the guiding agency charged with leading the state’s rebuilding process in the aftermath of two catastrophic hurricanes.

Brazile is founder and managing director of Brazile & Associates LLC, a general consulting, grassroots advocacy, and training firm based in Washington, D.C.

Maria Cardona has more than two decades of experience in the government, politics, public relations and community affairs arenas. Recognized among the most influential Latinos in the country, Maria is a Principal at the Dewey Square Group (DSG), the founder of Latinovations, and a CNN/CNN en Español Political Contributor.  As the head of DSG’s Public Affairs Practice, she combines public policy, communications, coalition building, constituency outreach, government relations, traditional and new media at this premier national public affairs firm. Prior to signing on exclusively with CNN, Maria was a frequent political commentator on MSNBC, Fox, Univision and Telemundo, appearing as a public policy expert and providing political analysis on all manner of national issues. During the 2008 Democratic primary election, Cardona was senior adviser and spokesperson to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and served on the campaign’s Hispanic outreach team. During the 2008 general election, Cardona was a key surrogate for the Obama for America campaign, a role she revisited in the most recent 2012 presidential election. Previously, Cardona was a senior vice president for the New Democrat Network, and before that, the communications director for the Democratic National Committee. During the Clinton administration, Cardona served as chief spokesperson at the Immigration and Naturalization Service at the U.S. Department of Justice after serving as Press Secretary for the Department of Commerce.

Marc Elias is the chair of the Perkins Coie Political Law practice. His practice focuses on representing public officials, candidates, parties, corporations, tax-exempt organizations and Political Action Committees (PACs) in connection with campaign finance, governmental ethics, lobbying disclosure, and white-collar criminal defense matters.  His clients include numerous Fortune 500 corporations, national non-profit organizations, lobbying firms, Am Law 100 law firms, prominent individuals, candidates and campaigns.

Marc is a nationally recognized authority in the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Lobbying Disclosure Act, the Ethics in Government Act, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, congressional and executive branch ethics and gift rules, and federal and state pay-to-play laws and rules.  He also advises and litigates claims under the Voting Rights Act, Help America Vote Act and National Voter Registration Act.

Teddy Goff is a Founding Partner at Precision Strategies, a communications, digital, and data firm that builds and executes campaigns for candidates, nonprofits, and businesses. 

Teddy was the Digital Director for President Obama’s reelection campaign, leading the President's digital strategy and managing the 250-person nationwide team responsible for the campaign's social media, email, web, online advertising, online organizing, front-end and product development, design, and video presences. TIME described his work as "redefining the limits of viral politics."

Under Teddy’s leadership, Obama for America raised more than $690 million over the Internet, registered more than a million voters online, built Facebook and Twitter followings of more than 45 and 33 million people respectively, earned more than 133 million video views, ran more than $100 million in online media, built groundbreaking tools for online fundraising and campaigning, organized hundreds of thousands of volunteers and events through a proprietary organizing platform, and sent the second-most retweeted tweet of all time (thanks, Ellen) and the most liked Facebook post ever.

As a member of the campaign’s leadership, he also played a seminal role in shaping and executing the broader campaign's strategy for communications, fundraising, and organizing. His work has been featured in TIME, Bloomberg Businessweek, Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, BuzzFeed, and the New York Times.

Before joining the campaign, Teddy served as Associate Vice President for Strategy at Blue State Digital, overseeing BSD's creative team that serviced more than 75 active engagements across the globe.

On President Obama's 2008 campaign, Teddy was responsible for state-level digital campaigns, managing everything from email and social media programs to online organizing strategies in more than 25 battleground states. During the primaries, he helped lead President Obama’s mass email team, developing fundraising, mobilization, and messaging plans for the campaign. Teddy also oversaw the creation and launch of the Obama Administration’s new website as a member of the Presidential Transition Team.

Teddy lives in Manhattan and is a graduate of Yale University. He has been featured in TIME's list of the "30 people under 30 who are changing the world," Forbes' 30 under 30, Bloomberg Businessweek's list of "The Most Eligible Hires in Techdom," BusinessInsider's list of the top people in online politics, and the AdWeek 50.

Maneesh Goyal is the Founder and President of both marketing agency MKG and Live in the Grey, an initiative and consultancy focused on company culture and professional fulfillment. 

MKG, with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, is an award-winning experiential event marketing & branding agency serving as a long-term partner to many of the world's top brands including Delta Air Lines, Audi, Google, Heineken, Whole Foods and NBC Universal, while also being firmly committed to creating a one-of-a-kind office culture. Recent accolades include being named to the Crain's New York "50 Fastest Growing Companies" list in 2013 and 2014, and "100 Best Places to Work" list in 2014.  

Goyal founded Live in the Grey in 2013 as a movement that challenges the work/life divide and encourages the blend of personal passions with professional pursuits. Since then, Live in the Grey has built a community through live events and online content, working with supporters and partners like lululemon athletica, Warby Parker, Charlie Rose and charity: water. In 2015, Live in the Grey is launching The Grey Certification Program, a tool to identify and highlight exemplary company culture. By contributing to the growing conversation around attraction and retention of talent, Live in the Grey seeks to make an impact on the future of work through organizations.

Goyal holds a bachelor's degree from Duke University & a master’s in Public Health from Yale University.  In November 2014, he was appointed by President Obama as a member of the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board.  Goyal lives with his husband, Andrew Wingrove, in New York & Atlanta.

Rick Palacio, 40, is the Chair of the Colorado Democratic Party. First elected in 2011, he is currently serving his second term. Palacio also serves as the Western Regional Vice President for the Association of State Democratic Party Chairs and sits on the DNC’s Executive Committee.

Rick is a 6th generation Coloradan who was born and raised in Pueblo. The son of a steel worker and homemaker, Rick's family's roots are in the southern part the state where both of his grandfathers were coal miners.

Before serving in his current role, Palacio worked in a variety of roles in Colorado and national politics. He was the chief aide to the former Colorado House Majority Leader, then served as a Regional Director of the Colorado Democratic Party’s 2006 Coordinated Campaign. Palacio then held multiple roles with U.S. Rep. John Salazar of Colorado's Third Congressional District, including Legislative Assistant and later Deputy Communications Director. From 2008 through 2011 he served as a senior leadership aide in the office of former U.S. House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny H. Hoyer, the second highest-ranking Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lee Saunders is the president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, which represents 1.6 million members. He was elected at the union’s 40th International Convention in June 2012.

Saunders, the first African American to serve as AFSCME's president, was previously elected secretary-treasurer at the union’s 39th International Convention in July 2010.

Saunders grew up in a union household in Cleveland, Ohio. This inspired him to join the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association (OCSEA) when he began working for the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services in 1975. His father was a bus driver and a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union. His mother was a community organizer and, after raising two sons, returned to college and became a community college professor and a member of the American Association of University Professors.

Saunders began his career with AFSCME in 1978 as a labor economist. He has served in the capacities of assistant director of Research and Collective Bargaining Services, director of Community Action and deputy director of Organizing and Field Services. Saunders also served as executive assistant to the president of AFSCME and was responsible for managing what is acknowledged to be one of the most effective political and legislative operations in the history of the American labor movement. AFSCME’s clout in fundraising and member mobilization, and its lobbying expertise are unmatched in the ranks of the AFL-CIO and beyond.

Building on ideas generated by local unions, Saunders has championed AFSCME’s Next Wave initiative to encourage and develop the next generation of union leadership. He has also developed and supported programs that foster diversity and promote increased member participation within the union.

He has served as administrator of a number of AFSCME councils and large local unions across the country. For nearly four years, he served as administrator of AFSCME District Council 37, New York City’s largest public employee union, representing 125,000 members. In that capacity, he was successful in restoring the fiscal health, integrity and good name of the council and its 56 affiliated local unions.

Saunders serves as a Vice president of the AFL-CIO Executive Council, which guides the daily work of the labor federation; he also serves as chair of its Political Committee. He is an at-large member of the Democratic National Committee, treasurer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, president of Working America, and chairman of the board of Americans United for Change. He also serves on the board of the National Action Network.

He received a Master of Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1974, a year after earning his Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio University. In 2002, the College of New Rochelle awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in Humane Letters.

Eric Schmidt is the Executive Chairman of Google. He joined Google in 2001 and helped grow the company from a Silicon Valley startup to a global leader in technology. He served as Google’s Chief Executive Officer from 2001-2011, overseeing the company’s technical and business strategy alongside founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Under his leadership Google dramatically scaled its infrastructure and diversified its product offerings while maintaining a strong culture of innovation.

President Obama wants to say thank you

President Obama sent an email to supporters today thanking them for all they do for the Democratic Party. Here's what he had to say:

I really hope you know how grateful I am to have you standing with me. And I hope you've heard me say that before.

But just in case, I want to send you something to make it clear how much I appreciate all you do.

What's the best place for me to send a thank you note?

For years you've stood by me -- and not just when we've won. You've been part of making access to affordable health care a reality for millions more in this country, in taking groundbreaking action against climate change, and in working to improve our immigration system. We took those steps together, and I can't thank you enough.

Sign up, then check your mailbox -- and know that we couldn't have done any of this without you:

Thank you. Really.

Barack Obama

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement in Recognition of World AIDS Day

Washington, DC – DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement today recognizing December 1 as World AIDS Day:

“Today, we come together as a global community to recognize World AIDS Day. It is an opportunity to honor the memory of those we’ve lost, offer our support to those living with HIV/AIDS, and reaffirm our commitment to continuing the fight against this epidemic.

“Across the globe, millions of lives are affected by HIV and AIDS. Under President Obama, America has been a leader in the fight at home and abroad. This administration’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy has aimed to reduce HIV incidence, increase access to care, and reduce HIV-related health disparities. As part of the international community, we have invested in prevention, testing, and treatment, while continuing to search for a cure.

“We have made extraordinary progress since the first World AIDS Day in 1988, but there is much work left to do. Only by working together can we hope to eradicate this terrible disease.”

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on Thanksgiving

Washington, DC – DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement on Thanksgiving Day:

“Today, family and friends across our country will join together to give thanks for their good fortune throughout the year.  As we gather, let us not forget the brave women and men serving our country, as well as their families who selflessly sacrifice each and every day.

“I'm thankful for President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration reform, as more American families gathered today can do so with greater peace of mind that they will be together with loved ones again at this time next year.

“We must also be reminded that Thanksgiving is a time to recommit ourselves to lending a helping hand to our neighbors who are less fortunate; it’s that tradition that makes this one of the most special times of the year. From our DNC family to yours, happy Thanksgiving.”

DNC Announces 2016 Convention City Finalists

Washington, DC – Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz today announced the finalist cities under consideration to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention: Columbus, New York, and Philadelphia. The announcement comes after a round of site visits by the DNC’s Technical Advisory Group to five cities.

“We’re thrilled to move to the next step of the selection process to determine where Democrats will come together to nominate the 45th President of the United States,” said Wasserman Schultz. “We are fortunate to have such a diverse and vibrant group of cities interested in hosting this special event and we thank Phoenix and Birmingham for showcasing their special communities. We look forward to working with Columbus, New York, and Philadelphia as we go forward.”

In addition, the DNC announced the potential weeks for the 2016 convention that will be under consideration: Weeks of July 18, July 25, and August 22. The DNC will announce a final city and date early next year.

Below is an e-mail Wasserman Schultz will send to supporters on the news.

Friend -- I'm so excited to share some great news for 2016: We have three finalists to host the Democratic National Convention where we'll nominate the next President of the United States.

Here's that list: Philadelphia, New York, and Columbus.

In the next few months, we'll be making our final choice.

In the meantime, I need you to say you're supporting Democrats as we build up to 2016. We'll make sure you're one of the first to know as soon as we've made our decision:

I'm so excited for this convention, and I hope you are too. We have a critical, incredible opportunity to elect another Democrat to the presidency, and this is where we'll come together as a party to do that important work. We will review what we've learned from 2014 and what we can do to make the coming years the best our party has ever had.

We'll be keeping you updated with details about the convention, and we'll announce the location soon.



Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Democratic National Committee

P.S. -- Obviously, we have a lot of work to do before 2016, and only you can help us do it. Click here to support the Democratic Party with a small monthly donation.

DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on the Passing of Mayor Marion Barry

Washington, DC – DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz today released the following statement on the passing of Mayor Marion Barry:

"Today, the city of Washington, DC mourns the loss of 'Mayor for Life' Marion Barry. A hero of the civil rights movement and a longtime leader in the District of Columbia, Barry's personal demons could not obscure his deep and abiding love for the city and its people. His voice and his constant presence will be missed by the people of Ward 8 and residents across the District."


Readout of the Vice President’s Call with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko spoke today about the situation in eastern Ukraine and diplomatic efforts to support the Minsk peace process. They also discussed the financial situation in Ukraine and the government's notable efforts to implement broad reforms. President Poroshenko thanked the United States for enacting additional restrictions on trade and investment with entities in Crimea, and for the President's signing of the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014. The Vice President and President Poroshenko discussed progress in assembling a new package of international financial assistance to support Ukraine as it moves forward with its reform program.

Statement by the President

I unconditionally condemn today's murder of two police officers in New York City. Two brave men won't be going home to their loved ones tonight, and for that, there is no justification. The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day - and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day. Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal - prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen.


Weekly Address: America’s Resurgence Is Real

WASHINGTON, DC — In this week’s address, the President reflected on the significant progress made by this country in 2014, and in the nearly six years since he took office. This past year has been the strongest for job growth since the 1990s, contributing to the nearly 11 million jobs added by our businesses over a 57-month streak.  America is leading the rest of the world, in containing the spread of Ebola, degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL, and addressing the threat posed by climate change.  And earlier this week, the President announced the most significant changes to our policy towards Cuba in over 50 years. America’s resurgence is real, and the President expressed his commitment to working with Congress in the coming year to make sure Americans feel the benefits.

The audio of the address and video of the address will be available online at at 6:00 a.m. ET, December 20, 2014.

Remarks of President Barack Obama
Weekly Address
The White House
December 20, 2014

Hi, everybody.  As 2014 comes to an end, we can enter the New Year with new confidence that America is making significant strides where it counts.

The steps we took nearly six years ago to rescue our economy and rebuild it on a new foundation helped make 2014 the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s.  Over the past 57 months, our businesses have created nearly 11 million new jobs.  And in a hopeful sign for middle-class families, wages are on the rise again.

Our investments in American manufacturing have helped fuel its best stretch of job growth since the ‘90s.  America is now the number one producer of oil and gas, saving drivers about 70 cents a gallon at the pump over last Christmas.  The auto industry we rescued is on track for its strongest year since 2005.  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, about 10 million Americans have gained health insurance in the past year alone.  And since I took office, we have cut our deficits by about two-thirds.

Meanwhile, around the world, America is leading.  We’re leading the coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.  We’re leading the global fight to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  We’re leading global efforts to address climate change, including last month’s joint announcement with China.  We’re turning a new page in our relationship with the Cuban people. 

And in less than two weeks, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over, and our war there will come to a responsible end.  Today, more of our troops are home for the holidays than at any time in over a decade.  Still, many of our men and women in uniform will spend this Christmas in harm’s way.  And as Commander-in-Chief, I want our troops to know:  your country is united in our support and gratitude for you and your families.

The six years since the financial crisis have demanded hard work and sacrifice on everyone’s part.  But as a country, we have every right to be proud of what we’ve got to show for it.  More jobs.  More insured.  A growing economy.  Shrinking deficits.  Bustling industry.  Booming energy.

Pick any metric you want – America’s resurgence is real.  And we now have the chance to reverse the decades-long erosion of middle-class jobs and incomes.  We just have to invest in the things that we know will secure even faster growth in higher-paying jobs for more Americans.  We have to make sure our economy, our justice system, and our government work not only for a few, but for all of us.  And I look forward to working together with the new Congress next year on these priorities. 

Sure, we’ll disagree on some things.  We’ll have to compromise on others.  I’ll act on my own when it’s necessary.  But I will never stop trying to make life better for people like you. 

Because thanks to your efforts, a new foundation is laid.  A new future is ready to be written.  We have set the stage for a new American moment, and I’m going to spend every minute of my last two years making sure we seize it. 

On behalf of the Obama family, I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas.

Thanks, and have a wonderful holiday season.

Statement By The President on S. 2673

Today I have signed into law S. 2673, the "United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014," an Act that underscores the United States unshakeable commitment to Israel's security and its future.  This bipartisan piece of legislation reflects the importance placed by my Administration on strengthening and deepening U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties.  It reinforces critical defense and security programs, which have reached an unprecedented level under my Administration.  It also lays the groundwork for increased trade and cooperation across a range of cutting-edge fields, including energy, water, agriculture, and technology.  Sections 11(b) and 12(c)(2) of this bill purport to require me to provide to the Congress certain diplomatic communications and direct the Secretary of State to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives.  Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my Administration will interpret and implement these sections in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy and to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.


December 19, 2014.

Statement By The President on H.R. 3979

Today I have signed into law H.R. 3979, the "Carl Levin and Howard P. 'Buck' McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015." I have signed this annual defense authorization legislation because it will provide vital benefits for military personnel and their families, as well as critical contingency authorities needed to counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and to respond to emerging needs in the face of evolving terrorist threats and emergent crises worldwide.

Earlier this month, the Department of Defense transferred the last remaining third-country nationals held in U.S. custody in Afghanistan, ending U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan.  Yet halfway around the world, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open for the 13th consecutive year, costing the American people hundreds of millions of dollars each year and undermining America's standing in the world. As I have said many times, the continued operation of this detention facility weakens our national security by draining resources, damaging our relationships with key allies and partners, and emboldening violent extremists.  Closing the detention facility is a national imperative.

I have repeatedly called upon the Congress to work with my Administration to close the detention facility at Guantanamo once and for all.  Individuals from across the political spectrum have recognized that the facility should be closed.  But instead of removing unwarranted and burdensome restrictions that curtail the executive branch's options for managing the detainee population, this bill continues them.  Section 1032 renews the bar against using appropriated funds to construct or modify any facility in the United States, its territories, or possessions to house any Guantanamo detainee in the custody or under the control of the Department of Defense unless authorized by the Congress.  Section 1033 likewise renews the bar against using appropriated funds to transfer Guantanamo detainees into the United States for any purpose.  The Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, contains similar provisions as well as those relating to existing restrictions on the transfer of detainees abroad.  I have consistently opposed these restrictions and will continue to work with the Congress to remove them.  More than 80 percent of detainees at one time held at the detention facility have now been transferred.  The executive branch must have the flexibility, with regard to those detainees who remain, to determine when and where to prosecute them, based on the facts and circumstances of each case and our national security interests, and when and where to transfer them consistent with our national security and our humane treatment policy.  Under certain circumstances, the provisions concerning detainee transfers in both bills would violate constitutional separation of powers principles.  In the event that the restrictions on the transfer of detainees operate in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my Administration will implement them in a manner that avoids the constitutional conflict.

The Guantanamo detention facility's continued operation undermines our national security.  We must close it.  I call on Members from both sides of the aisle to work with us to bring this chapter of American history to a close.


December 19, 2014.



Sala del Gabinete

12:01 p. m. hora del este

EL PRESIDENTE: Buenas tardes. Hoy, Estados Unidos de América empieza a cambiar su relación con el pueblo de Cuba.

En el cambio más significativo de nuestra política en más de cincuenta años, terminaremos con un enfoque obsoleto que por décadas fracasó en promover nuestros intereses y en cambio, comenzaremos a normalizar la relación entre los dos países. A través de estos cambios, es nuestra intención crear más oportunidades para el pueblo estadounidense y para el pueblo cubano y comenzar un nuevo capítulo entre las naciones del continente americano.

La historia entre Estados Unidos y Cuba es complicada. Yo nací en 1961, justo dos años después de que Fidel Castro tomó el poder en Cuba y unos meses después de la invasión en la Bahía de los Cerdos, en la que se intentó derrocar a su régimen. En las siguientes décadas, la relación entre nuestros países tuvo lugar frente al trasfondo de la Guerra Fría y la firme oposición de Estados Unidos al comunismo. Solamente nos separan 90 millas. Pero año tras año, se endureció la barrera ideológica y económica entre los dos países.

Mientras tanto, la comunidad de exilados cubanos en Estados Unidos contribuyó enormemente con nuestro país, en política, negocios, cultura y deportes. Como otros inmigrantes previamente, los cubamos ayudaron a reconstruir a Estados Unidos, a pesar de sentir un anhelo doloroso por la tierra y las familias que dejaron atrás. Todo esto forjó una relación única entre Estados Unidos y Cuba, al mismo tiempo amigos y enemigos.

Nos enorgullece que Estados Unidos ha apoyado la democracia y los derechos humanos en Cuba en estas cinco décadas. Lo hemos hecho principalmente a través de políticas dirigidas a aislarlos, evitando que se realice el más básico transporte y comercio que las personas que viven en Estados Unidos pueden llevar a cabo en cualquier otro lado. Y si bien esta política se originó con la mejor intención, ninguna otra nación impone estas mismas sanciones con nosotros, y ha tenido muy poco efecto más allá de otorgarle al gobierno cubano la lógica para aplicar restricciones sobre su gente. Hoy, Cuba todavía está bajo el gobierno de los Castros y el partido comunista que tomó el poder hace medio siglo.

Esta política rígida no sirve bien ni al pueblo estadounidense ni al pueblo cubano y se origina en eventos que ocurrieron antes de que muchos de nosotros naciéramos. Piensen que por más de 35 años hemos tenido relaciones con China, un país mucho más grande también gobernado por el partido comunista. Hace casi dos décadas, restablecimos relaciones con Vietnam, donde luchamos una guerra en la que perecieron más estadounidenses que en ninguna confrontación de la Guerra Fría.

Por eso es que, cuando asumí el cargo, prometí volver a examinar nuestra política con Cuba. Para comenzar, levantamos restricciones para las personas estadounidenses de origen cubano para viajar y enviar giros a sus familias en Cuba. Estos cambios, aunque fueron polémicos, ahora se ven como obvios. Los estadounidenses de origen cubano se han reunido con sus familias y los mejores embajadores posibles de nuestros valores. Y a través de estos cambios, una nueva generación de estadounidenses de origen cubano ha cuestionado más y más un enfoque que lo que más hace es mantener a Cuba excluida de un mundo interconectado.

Si bien personalmente he estado listo para tomar otras medidas desde hace algún tiempo, un gran obstáculo se interponía en el camino, la encarcelación injusta en Cuba de un ciudadano de Estados Unidos y un subcontratista de USAID, Alan Gross, por cinco años. Durante muchos meses mi administración ha mantenido discusiones con el gobierno cubano sobre el caso de Alan y otros aspectos de nuestra relación. Su Santidad El Papa Francisco apeló personalmente y urgió para que yo y el presidente de Cuba, Raúl Castro, resolviéramos el caso de Alan y para que atendiéramos el interés de Cuba en la liberación de tres agentes cubanos que habían sido encarcelados en Estados Unidos durante 15 años.

En el día de hoy, Alan volvió a su casa y finalmente se reunió con su familia. El gobierno cubano liberó a Alan por motivos humanitarios. Por otro lado, y como intercambio por los tres agentes cubanos, Cuba hoy liberó a uno de los más importantes agentes de inteligencia que Estados Unidos tuvo en Cuba, y que había estado prisionero durante casi dos décadas. Este hombre, cuyo sacrificio era conocido sólo por unos pocos, le dio a Estados Unidos la información necesaria para arrestar a la red de agentes cubanos que incluía a los hombres que se transfieren hoy a Cuba, como también a otros espías en Estados Unidos. Este hombre está a salvo ahora en nuestro territorio.

Habiendo recuperado a estos dos hombres que se sacrificaron por nuestro país, puedo entonces ahora tomar las medidas necesarias para establecer el interés de los pueblos de ambos países como centro de nuestra política.

Primero, he instruido al Secretario de Estado Kerry que comience inmediatamente las discusiones con Cuba para restablecer las relaciones diplomáticas que han estado interrumpidas desde enero de 1961. En adelante, Estados Unidos restablecerá una embajada en la Habana, y funcionarios de alto rango visitarán Cuba.

En donde podamos promover intereses compartidos, lo haremos, en asuntos como salud, inmigración, antiterrorismo, tráfico de drogas y respuesta a catástrofes. De hecho, ya hemos observado los beneficios de la cooperación entre nuestros países antes. Fue un cubano, Carlos Finlay, quien descubrió que los mosquitos transmiten la fiebre amarilla. Su trabajo ayudó a Walter Reed en su lucha. Cuba ha enviado a cientos de trabajadores de la salud a África a ayudar en la lucha contra ébola y creo que los trabajadores de salud de Estados Unidos y Cuba deberían trabajar mano a mano para detener la transmisión de esta enfermedad fatal.

Pero bien, en donde estamos en desacuerdo, plantearemos esas diferencias de manera directa, como lo continuaremos haciendo con los asuntos relacionados con la democracia y los derechos humanos en Cuba. Pero yo creo que podemos hacer más para apoyar al pueblo de Cuba y promover nuestros valores mediante a través de la participación. Después de todo, estos 50 años han demostrado que el aislamiento no funcionó. Es hora de un nuevo enfoque.

Segundo, he instruido al Secretario Kerry que revise la designación de Cuba como un Estado Patrocinador de Terrorismo. Esta revisión será guiada por los hechos y las leyes. El terrorismo ha cambiado en las últimas décadas. En un momento en el que nos concentramos en las amenazas desde Al Qaeda hasta ISIL, una nación que cumple con nuestras condiciones y renuncia al uso de terrorismo no debería enfrentar esta sanción.

En tercer lugar, estamos tomando las medidas para aumentar el transporte, el comercio y el flujo de información de y hacia Cuba. Fundamentalmente esto es sobre libertad y apertura, y también expresa mi creencia en el poder de la participación entre las personas. Con los cambios que estoy anunciando hoy, será más fácil para las personas que viven en Estados Unidos viajar a Cuba, quienes podrán usar tarjetas de crédito y débito de Estados Unidos en la isla. Nadie representa los valores de Estados Unidos mejor que su gente y yo creo que este contacto, en última instancia, hará más para empoderar a la gente de Cuba.

También creo que más recursos deberían llegarle a la gente de Cuba. Así que aumentamos significativamente la cantidad de dinero que se puede enviar a Cuba y eliminamos los límites en giros que apoyan proyectos humanitarios, al pueblo de Cuba y a su emergente sector privado.

Creo que las empresas estadounidenses no deberían ponerse en desventaja y que un aumento en el comercio es bueno para los estadounidenses y para los cubanos. Por lo tanto, facilitaremos transacciones autorizadas entre Estados Unidos y Cuba. Se permitirá a las instituciones financieras de EE. UU. abrir cuentas en instituciones financieras cubanas. Y será más fácil para exportadores de EE. UU. vender productos en Cuba.

Yo creo en el libre flujo de información. Desafortunadamente, nuestras sanciones sobre Cuba han negado a los cubanos el acceso a tecnología que ha empoderado a individuos de todo el mundo. Por lo tanto, he autorizado el aumento de las conexiones de telecomunicaciones entre Estados Unidos y Cuba. Las empresas podrán vender los productos que les darán a los cubanos la habilidad para comunicarse con Estados Unidos y otros países.

Estas son las medidas que yo puedo tomar como Presidente para cambiar esta política. El embargo que se ha impuesto durante décadas ahora se codifica en la legislación. A medida que estos cambios se desarrollan, espero poder envolver al Congreso en una discusión seria y honesta sobre la eliminación del embargo.

Ayer, hablé con Raúl Castro para finalizar la liberación de Alan Gross y el intercambio de prisioneros y para describir cómo progresaremos en adelante. Dejé claro lo que creo firmemente, que la sociedad cubana está oprimida por las restricciones sobre sus ciudadanos. Además del regreso de Alan Gross y de la liberación de nuestro agente de inteligencia, nos da gusto la decisión de Cuba de liberar a un gran número de prisioneros cuyos casos fueron planteados directamente por mi equipo frente al gobierno cubano. Nos agrada la decisión de Cuba de proveer un mayor acceso a internet a sus ciudadanos y la continua participación con instituciones internacionales como las Naciones Unidas y el Comité Internacional de la Cruz Roja que promueve valores universales.

Pero no dudo sobre las barreras continuas para la libertad que permanecen para los cubanos ordinarios. Los Estados Unidos creen que ningún cubano debe enfrentar acosos, arrestos o golpizas simplemente porque ejerce un derecho universal de expresar su pensamiento, y continuaremos apoyando a la sociedad civil en ese asunto. Si bien Cuba ha hecho reformas para abrir su economía de manera gradual, continuamos creyendo que los trabajadores cubanos deben ser libres para formar uniones, de la misma manera que sus ciudadanos deben ser libres para participar en el proceso político.

Además, dada la historia de Cuba, espero que continuará aplicando políticas extranjeras que a veces estarán en fuerte desacuerdo con los intereses de los Estados Unidos. No espero que los cambios que estoy anunciando hoy brinden una transformación de la sociedad cubana de la noche a la mañana. Pero estoy convencido que a través de una política de participación, podemos defender nuestros valores de forma más efectiva y ayudar a los cubanos a que se ayuden a sí mismos a medida que entran en el siglo XXI.

Para aquellos que se oponen a los pasos que anuncio hoy, permítanme decirles que respeto su pasión y comparto su compromiso de la libertad y democracia. La cuestión es cómo mantenemos ese compromiso. No pienso que podamos seguir haciendo lo mismo durante más de cinco décadas y esperar un resultado distinto. Además, intentar empujar a Cuba al colapso no beneficia los intereses de Estados Unidos ni los de los cubanos. Incluso si eso funcionara —lo cual no ha funcionado durante 50 años— sabemos por medio de experiencias obtenidas con esfuerzo que es más probable que los países disfruten de una transformación duradera si la gente no está sujeta al caos. Hacemos un llamado a Cuba para que desencadene el potencial de 11 millones de cubanos al poner un punto final a las innecesarias restricciones impuestas en sus actividades políticas, sociales y económicas. Con ese mismo espíritu, no debemos permitir que las sanciones de EE. UU. impongan una carga aún mayor a los ciudadanos cubanos a los que estamos intentando ayudar.

Para los cubanos, Estados Unidos les extiende una mano de amistad. Algunos de ustedes nos han buscado como fuente de esperanza, y continuaremos alumbrando una luz de libertad. Otros nos han visto como un antiguo intento de colonización para controlar su futuro. José Martí una vez dijo, "La libertad es el derecho de cada hombre de ser honesto." Hoy, estoy siendo honesto con ustedes. Nunca podremos borrar la historia entre nosotros, pero creemos que deben estar empoderados para vivir con dignidad y autodeterminación. Los cubanos tienen un dicho sobre la vida diaria: “No es fácil”. Hoy, los Estados Unidos quieren ser un socio para hacer que la vida de los cubanos ordinarios sea un poco más fácil, más libre y más prospera.

Para aquellos que han respaldado estas medidas, les agradezco por ser socios de nuestros esfuerzos. En particular, quiero agradecer a su Santidad el Papa Francisco, cuyo ejemplo moral nos muestra la importancia de proseguir en el mundo de la manera que tiene que ser, en lugar de simplemente establecerlo como está; al gobierno de Canadá, que ha sido sede de nuestros debates con el gobierno cubano; y a un grupo bipartidista de congresistas que han trabajado sin descanso para el comunicado de Alan Gross, y por un nuevo enfoque con respecto a nuestros intereses y valores en Cuba.

Finalmente, nuestro cambio de política con Cuba llega en un momento de liderazgo renovado en el continente americano. En abril pasado, hicimos una preparación para que Cuba se uniera a otras naciones del hemisferio en la Cumbre de las Américas. Pero insistiremos para que la sociedad civil se una a nosotros, y que de esa forma los ciudadanos y no solo los líderes, formen nuestro futuro. Y hago un llamado a que los demás líderes le brinden un significado a este compromiso con la democracia y los derechos humanos en el corazón de la Carta Interamericana. Permítanos dejar atrás el legado de la colonización y comunismo, la tiranía de los carteles de droga, dictadores y farsas electorales. Es posible tener un futuro de mayor paz, seguridad y desarrollo democrático si trabajamos juntos, no para mantener el poder, no para asegurar el interés personal, sino para promover los sueños de nuestros ciudadanos.

Estimados conciudadanos, la ciudad de Miami se encuentra a solo 200 millas o menos de la Habana. Un sinnúmero de cubanos han ido a Miami, en aviones y balsas improvisadas; algunos sin más que una playera y con esperanza en su corazón. Hoy a menudo se le refiere a Miami como la capital de Latinoamérica. Pero también es una ciudad profundamente estadounidense; un lugar que nos recuerda que los ideales importan más que el color de nuestra piel, o las circunstancias de nuestro nacimiento; una demostración de lo que los cubanos pueden lograr, y la apertura de los Estados Unidos con nuestra familia con el sur. Todos somos americanos.

El cambio es duro, en nuestras propias vidas y en las vidas de las naciones. Y el cambio es aún más duro cuando llevamos el peso de la historia en nuestros hombros. Pero hoy estamos haciendo estos cambios porque es la cosa correcta que hay que hacer. Hoy, Estados Unidos elige deshacerse de las cadenas del pasado para poder llegar a un mejor futuro para los cubanos, estadounidenses, para todo el hemisferio y para el mundo.

Gracias. Que Dios los bendiga y que Dios bendiga a Estados Unidos de América.


12:16 p. m. hora del este

Statement by the Press Secretary on Statement by the Press Secretary on H.R. 1068, H.R. 2754, H.R. 2901, H.R. 3608, H.R. 3979, H.R. 4030, H.R. 4681, H.R. 5462, H.R. 5771, and S. 2673

On Friday, December 19, 2014, the President signed into law:

H.R. 1068, which consolidates and restates National Park Service and related programs statutes of the United States as Title 54, United States Code;

H.R. 2754, the "Collectible Coin Protection Act," which expands current law to provide additional protections to collectors as to the genuineness of political items such as buttons and posters and numismatic items such as coins and commemorative medals;

H.R. 2901, the "Senator Paul Simon Water for the World Act of 2014," which amends Foreign Assistance Act provisions concerning U.S. government assistance for water, sanitation, and hygiene projects;

H.R. 3608, the "Grand Portage Band Per Capita Adjustment Act," which amends the Act of October 19, 1973, to provide a tax exemption for certain funds paid by the State of Minnesota to the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians;

H.R. 3979, the "Carl Levin and Howard P. 'Buck' McKeon National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015," which authorizes fiscal year 2015 appropriations for Department of Defense programs and military construction, Department of Energy national security programs, and Department of Transportation maritime security programs; authorizes recruitment and retention bonuses, special payments, and other authorities relating to the U.S. Armed Forces; authorizes training and equipping the moderate Syrian opposition and Iraqi forces; makes other modifications to national security, foreign affairs, and other related programs; and contains various natural resources and other authorities;

H.R. 4030, which designates the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 18640 NW 2nd Avenue in Miami, Florida, as the Father Richard Marquess-Barry Post Office Building;

H.R. 4681, the "Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015," which authorizes fiscal year 2015 appropriations for U.S. intelligence-related activities and establishes and provides other authorities concerning U.S. intelligence and counter-terrorism activities;

H.R. 5462, which limits the Transportation Security Administration's air passenger security service fee to $11.20 per round trip;

H.R. 5771, which temporarily extends several expired tax provisions related to individuals, business, and energy through December 31, 2014; and exempts from taxation Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) accounts set up for the benefit of persons with disabilities to assist in maintaining health, independence, and quality of life; and

S. 2673, the "United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014," which enhances the strategic partnership between the United States and Israel, and for other purposes.

Statement by the President on Executive Order “Blocking Property of Certain Persons and Prohibiting Certain Transactions with Respect to the Crimea Region of Ukraine”

 Today, I issued an Executive Order taking further steps with respect to the situation in Ukraine.  The E.O. prohibits the export of goods, technology, or services to Crimea and prohibits the import of goods, technology, or services from Crimea, as well as new investments in Crimea.  The E.O. also authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to impose sanctions on individuals and entities operating in Crimea.  The E.O. is intended to provide clarity to U.S. corporations doing business in the region and reaffirm that the United States will not accept Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea.  I again call on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, cease its support to separatists in eastern Ukraine, and fulfill its commitments under the Minsk agreements.  My Administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to events in Ukraine and to support Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well its democratic development and reform efforts.  We will continue to review and calibrate our sanctions, in close coordination with our international partners, to respond to Russia's actions.

President Obama Announces Presidential Delegation to the Federative Republic of Brazil to Attend the Inauguration of Her Excellency Dilma Rousseff

President Barack Obama today announced the designation of a Presidential Delegation to Brasilia to attend the Inauguration of Her Excellency Dilma Rousseff as President of the Federative Republic of Brazil on January 1, 2015.

The Honorable Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Vice President of the United States, will lead the delegation.

Members of the Presidential Delegation:

The Honorable Liliana Ayalde, United States Ambassador to the Federative Republic of Brazil, Department of State 

The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

The Honorable Ricardo Zuniga, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Western Hemisphere Affairs, National Security Council

Press Briefing by the Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 12/18/14

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:04 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you.  Sorry we’re running a little behind today.  Let’s go straight to questions.

Nedra, do you want to get us started?

Q    Does the White House believe that North Korea is behind the hack at Sony Pictures?

MR. EARNEST:  Nedra, this is a matter that is still under investigation both by the FBI and the National Security Division of the Department of Justice.  I, for I think pretty obvious reasons, am not going to get ahead of that investigation or any announcements that they may make about that investigation.  But I can tell you that, consistent with the President’s previous statements about how we will protect against, monitor, and respond to cyber incidents, this is something that’s being treated as a serious national security matter. 

There is evidence to indicate that we have seen destructive activity with malicious intent that was initiated by a sophisticated actor.  And it is being treated by those investigative agencies, both at the FBI and the Department of Justice, as seriously as you would expect.  It has also been the subject of a number of daily meetings that have been convened here at the White House that have been led by both the President’s Homeland Security Advisor and occasionally by his cyber coordinator.  This includes senior members of our intelligence community and homeland security officials, military, diplomatic, and law enforcement officials as well.

Q    What is the United States going to do about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, before we start publicly speculating about a response, it’s appropriate that we allow the investigation to move forward.  I do understand that the investigation is progressing, and that as the members of the national security team meet to discuss this matter, they are considering a range of options. 

As they do so, though, they’re mindful of the need for a couple of things.  First of all, as we would be in any scenario, sort of strategic scenario like this, they would be mindful of the fact that we need a proportional response, and also mindful of the fact that sophisticated actors, when they carry out actions like this, are oftentimes -- they’re not always but often seeking to provoke a response from the United States of America. They may believe that a response from us in one fashion or another would be advantageous so them.  And so we want to be mindful of that, too.  And the President’s national security team is mindful of those two important strategic considerations as they consider a range of available responses.

Q    There’s been a big debate over Sony cancelling “The Interview.”  What has the President said?  Or is he expressing opinion about a movie that depicts the assassination of a sitting head of state?

MR. EARNEST:  I haven't talked to him about that.  What I can say as a general matter is that the President and the administration stands squarely on the side of the artists and other private citizens who seek to freely express their views.  Sometimes those views can be laced with criticism, or are sometimes intended to provoke either some kind of comedic response or one that is intended to be some element of some pretty biting social commentary.  All that is appropriate and well within the rights of private citizens to express their views.
And the President has certainly been on the receiving end of some expressions like that.  And while we may not agree with the content of every single thing that is produced, we certainly stand squarely on the side of the right of private individuals to express themselves.  And that is a view that is strongly held by this administration, as it has been throughout the history of our country.

Q    And then quickly on one other matter.  The EU announced a ban on businesses doing investments in Crimea today.  Is the United States planning to take similar action?  And can you give us an update on the President’s plan to sign the Russia sanctions bill -- and also NDAA while you’re at it?

MR. EARNEST:  Let me first begin with the Russia sanctions bill as it relates to Ukraine.  The President does intend to sign H.R. 5859 into law.  Signing the legislations does not, however, signal a change in the administration’s sanctions policy, which we have carefully calibrated in accordance with developments on the ground and coordinated with our allies and partners, principally in Europe.

At this time, the administration does not intend to impose sanctions under this law, but the act gives the administration additional authorities that could be utilized if circumstances warrant it.  This administration will continue to work closely with allies and partners in Europe and internationally to respond to developments in Ukraine, and we’ll continue to review and calibrate our sanctions to respond to Russia’s actions.

The United States again calls on Russia to end its occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, cease support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, and implement the obligations that it signed up to commit to under the Minsk Agreements.  As the President has said many times, our goal is to promote a diplomatic solution that provides a lasting resolution to the conflict, and helps promote growth and stability in Ukraine and regionally, including in Russia.
In this context, the United States continues to call on Russia’s leadership to implement the Minsk Agreements and to reach a lasting and comprehensive resolution to the conflict which respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territory integrity.  The United States, if Russia acts accordingly, remains prepared to roll back sanctions should Russia take the necessary steps.

I don’t have an update at this point as it related to the NDAA bill.  The President does intend to sign it.  It does include some riders that we have expressed concern about in the past that interfere with the administration to carry out the necessary steps to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  The President has long believed that that prison should be closed. But there are important pieces of this legislation that, in our view, inappropriately interfere with our ability to take the necessary steps to accomplish that goal.

Q    So should we expect a signing statement with that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything to preview along those lines.  I know that in previous occasions when the President signed the bill it has been accompanied by a statement.  I don’t know whether or not that will be the case this time.  I wouldn’t be surprised if it does, though.

Q    Josh, back on Sony.  If it is determined that a nation state was behind this attack, does that affect the degree to which the United States would want to respond?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, I don’t want to get ahead of any investigation that’s being conducted both by the National Security Division of the Department of Justice and the FBI, who are both looking into this matter cooperatively.  I can tell you that regardless of who is found to be responsible for this, that the President considers it to be a serious national security matter, and it’s being treated as such both in the course of the investigation but also by leading members of the President’s national security team here at the White House.

Q    Is it fair to say that investigators are closing in on who’s responsible?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s fair to say that the investigation is progressing.  This is something they’ve been looking into for quite some time and I know that there is significant investigative resources that have been committed to this effort, and they’ve been making progress.  But I don’t have any update that’s more specific than that.

Q    Okay.  And on yesterday’s big news, is the White House concerned with regard to Cuba about Republicans stopping Treasury and Commerce from changing their regulations to allow expanded trade, particularly in telecoms, which the President mentioned yesterday?

MR. EARNEST:  Not particularly.  Primarily because the steps that the President announced are steps that are well within his executive authority as President of the United States and he’s directed the agencies that are responsible for implementing those regulations to make the kinds of changes that are needed to reflect what the President believes is a more effective strategy for dealing with Cuba.

That said, we certainly would welcome the kind of legislative action, specifically repealing Helms-Burton, that would roll back even more of the restrictions that are currently in place that limit some economic activity between the United States and Cuba.  The President has done all that he can do using his executive authority, and the remaining restrictions can only be removed through congressional action.  And we certainly would encourage Congress to act in bipartisan fashion to do that.

Q    And lastly, has the White House -- has the President seen the Secret Service review and is he satisfied with it?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t believe the President has.  I know that senior officials here at the White House will be briefed before the end of the week on that report, if they haven't been already.  But again, I anticipate that we’ll have more -- that you’ll be able to obtain more information on this today from the Department of Homeland Security.

Q    Today for sure?

MR. EARNEST:  That certainly would be my expectation.  It was my, actually, understanding that they were supposed to release it yesterday.  I’m not sure why that didn’t happen.  But I do anticipate that they will have figured out whatever kinks that were in the system and will take care of that important piece of business today.


Q    Thanks, Josh.  Back on North Korea.  You’re calling it a national security matter.  Does that mean you don’t consider it a national security threat at this point?  In other words, that there might be other attacks coming?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Christi, we certainly have seen -- well, let me actually step back and say -- I know you referred to it as the North Korea matter.  That’s certainly the way it’s been widely reported.  I’m not in a position to confirm any attribution at this point.  But certainly as a general matter, the President does view some of the attacks that we have seen in recent years as a threat to our national security.  And there has been an effort underway throughout the President’s first six years in office to do what he can do, again, using his executive authority, to try to better prepare our country to defend against those attacks and to respond to them when they occur.
I can give you a couple of examples of things that the President has succeeded in doing.  We have taken steps to better protect our infrastructure both here in the federal government and working with the private sector to help them protect their infrastructure from attacks.  We’ve worked hard to tighten up and secure federal computer networks.  We’ve sought to improve our capability as it relates to both investigating these intrusions and responding to them.  We have sought to build a stronger cooperative relationship in working with countries around the world to confront this threat.  And we have also been working at a variety of agencies to develop more sophisticated technology, again, that would better defend our networks and allow us to more effectively respond when intrusions occur.
So there have been a number of steps that this administration has been taking because of the perception of this national security threat.  That’s also the reason that we continue to call on Congress to act on cybersecurity legislation. And you’ve heard me on a variety of occasions stand up here and urge Congress to take action on this.  This is not the kind of topic that should allow us to be divided along party lines.  This is something that has a clear impact on our economy and has a clear impact on our national security.  And I would anticipate that Democrats and Republicans should be able to work together on this.

Q    And just because you used the phrase “proportional response,” does that mean that one of the things you’re considering would be a kind of attack on computers where the attacks originated akin to ones that were launched against Sony?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t speculate at this point about the range of options that are currently under consideration.  I also wouldn’t commit at this point to at some point being entirely transparent about what that response is.

Q    And could you also say how provoking the U.S. might be of benefit to the people who did this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that there are -- it’s difficult to do that in the abstract.  But I do think that there are -- it’s not hard to imagine that there may be some organizations or individuals who would perceive a specific response from the United States as something that might enhance their standing, either among their cohorts or colleagues, or even on the international stage.

So, again, I point that out only to indicate that we’re mindful of that phenomenon as we consider the range of options.

Q    And just to circle back, you didn’t rule out a proportional response of taking attack on this, the computers from which the attacks originated -- you didn’t rule that out.

MR. EARNEST:  I did not.  I mean, in fact, I have indicated that we believe this destructive activity merits an appropriate response.  But I would acknowledge that an appropriate response is something that is not always obvious, but is something that is worthy of careful consideration.  And that’s exactly what the President’s national security team is doing.


Q    If there is a government -- a foreign government that is behind this attack on Sony, would that merit sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, there are a range of options that are under consideration right now.  I’m not going to speculate on which options might work best.  There are people that have a lot more experience and expertise in this area who are considering this question, and once they’ve made a decision I do anticipate we’ll be in a position to tell you a little bit more about that decision.  But as I mentioned to Christi, I don’t anticipate that we’ll be in a position where we’re going to be able to be completely forthcoming about every single element of the response that has been decided upon.

Q    And is that imminent, this decision on a response?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what will come first is more information about the investigation and some conclusions about the investigation. 

Q    -- get that sometime today, tomorrow?

MR. EARNEST:  I’d encourage you to check with either the Department of Justice or the FBI.  I know that they have made -- that investigation has been progressing, but I don’t know the exact timing in terms of when they’ll be ready to start talking about that a little bit more publicly.

Q    You’re not prepared to say here at the podium that North Korea was behind this?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not prepared to ascribe any accountability for this specific act, or to describe who might have been the sophisticated actor that initiated it.

Q    And did the President discuss this with the Japanese Prime Minister?  I know that was not in the readout of that call.

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any more details about their conversation beyond what was included in the readout. 

Q    And yesterday you said the President would be willing  -- or potentially might be willing to go to Cuba someday.  You’re not ruling it out.

MR. EARNEST:  Correct.

Q    Would the President welcome Raul Castro to the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a hypothetical as well.  I don’t know that Mr. Castro has necessarily indicated a desire to travel to the United States and visit the White House.  I guess what I would say is that there --

Q    -- any more outrageous than the President going down to Cuba?

MR. EARNEST:  I mean, I suppose not, considering that the analogy that we’ve tried to draw -- or at least identify is that there are important national security reasons for the President to travel to other countries that have what we would describe at best as checkered human rights records. 

The President did, as we discussed yesterday, travel recently to both China and Burma.  These are countries where the President has urged the leadership of those countries to do a better job of respecting universal human rights.  The President traveled to those countries both because he believed it was in our national security interest, but also because he viewed it as an important opportunity to raise concerns about those nations’ human rights records; that having an open relationship in which the President engages with the leaders of other countries can actually serve as a useful way to shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of other countries’ records as it relates to human rights.

He did that when he was in China.  He did that when he was standing next to the Chinese President.  And that did provoke a, as many of you will recall, pretty memorable exchange between the Chinese President and an American journalist.  That kind of exchange that attracted that kind of attention would not have occurred if the President refused to visit the country, or if we refused to visit with that country because we had objections to their human rights record.

Q    You’re not ruling it out?

MR. EARNEST:  I guess the point is that the President has had the leaders of both Burma and China to the United States, and for that reason I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro.

Q    Last question, I’m going to sneak it in -- is the President feeling more liberated after these midterm elections?  There’s been some discussion about that -- Cuba, immigration, climate.  What’s next?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I noticed that there was a cover headline in a local media outlet describing the President in that fashion but using the Spanish version of that word.  (Laughter.) 

What I’ll say is, as a general matter -- here we are in what is likely to be my last press briefing of the year -- that there has been a tremendous amount that the President has accomplished --

Q    Had me hanging there for a second.  (Laughter.) 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any personnel announcements to make, Jim, so don’t get too excited.

Q    Earnest libre.  (Laughter.) 

MR. EARNEST:  Exactly.  I will say that it has been -- in many ways, it has been a rather consequential year in this administration -- in this President’s tenure in office; that if you review the substantial accomplishments that we’ve racked up here, particularly in the last few weeks, from the historic climate deal with China to finally taking action to address some of the broken aspects of our immigration system, to obviously this substantial historic announcement on Cuba -- that the President is pleased with the kind of progress that we have made; that we began this year suggesting that this would -- that 2014 would be a year of action and here in the last couple of weeks of the year, I think, looking back, we can say that, by any measure, that goal has been accomplished.

But there is a lot more that needs to get done, and the President has a long list of things that he is looking forward to tackling in the new year after a couple weeks with his family over the holidays.


Q    In light of what you just said to Jim about engaging with Cuba, I’d like to follow up on a question from yesterday that Ed asked you.  So if engagement works when you’re dealing with a country with a bad human rights record, or a country that behaves poorly, why not North Korea?  Can you explain the difference?  Because you answered very directly yesterday -- you said, no, the President is not considering normalizing relations with North Korea.  He wouldn’t welcome Kim Jong Un to the White House.  He wouldn’t visit Kim Jong Un. 

MR. EARNEST:  All of that is correct.

Q    But can you explain why, given what you just said about how you think that kind of engagement is what works?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, because the principal concern that’s been raised about Cuba is about the deplorable human rights record that the Castro regime has.  And for 50 years -- more than 50 years -- for five decades, there was in place a policy to try to compel the Castro regime to change that record by isolating them.  And the fact is, that policy failed, because the Castro regime remained in power and continued to take steps that oppressed their people.

Q    But the Kim family has been in power a long time.

MR. EARNEST:  They have.  And the point is that policy had failed and it’s time for us to try a new strategy to get the Castro regime to better implement policies that don’t oppress the basic universal human rights of their people.

Our concerns about North Korea’s behavior certainly include their deplorable human rights record, but they also include other things, too.  It includes significant concerns with their nuclear program.  It concerns the threatening statements that they have made about their neighbors who happen to be strong allies of the United States of America.

So our concerns with the regime in North Korea are different than the concerns that we have with Cuba.  There is no concern that the Cuban regime is, for example, developing a nuclear weapon or testing long-range missile technology.  That was, frankly, from a previous era.  That era has closed, and that is why we believe that the policy needs to be changed to reflect the fact that that era no long exists.

Q    But do you think this policy of isolation is ultimately going to work with North Korea?  I understand that the transgressions of North Korea are in many ways qualitatively different than Cuba, but I’m talking about the approach.  Because all the same things could be said -- this has been a long time and there’s certainly been no progress in changing North Korean behavior.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there has been.  I mean, at the end of the previous administration there was a move to begin to relax some sanctions in exchange for the North Koreans to take some steps to come into compliance with the international community’s concerns about their nuclear weapons program.  The North Korean regime walked back from those commitments.

So there have been some attempts to at least consider changing our policy towards North Korea.  But there’s no doubt that the problem of North Korea poses a rather vexing policy challenge to the United States but also to the broader international community, particularly our allies that are much closer to North Korea.  And the United States continues to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Republic of Korea and Japan as they confront the threat that’s posed by North Korea.

Q    And on the Sony hack, what does the President think of the decision of Sony Pictures to pull the movie, to basically give in to the blackmail?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, this is a decision that Sony should make.  This is a private company, these are artists who have created a film and it should be their decision about how and whether to release it.  This is not a decision --

Q    This was a decision made under duress.  This was a decision that was made as the result of a direct threat.  They clearly didn’t want to pull this movie, but they were forced to.

MR. EARNEST:  It's a decision that they should make -- a decision that they should make, not one that the federal government should be making.  But I can say again, as a general matter, the United States stands squarely on the side of artists and companies that want to express themselves, and we believe that that kind of artistic expression is worthy of protection and is not something that should be subjected to intimidation just because you happen to disagree with the views.

Q    But the intimidators won here, whether or not it’s North Korea -- and I guess we’ll find out officially soon, but regardless of who it was, they won.  They succeeded.  They wanted this movie pulled; the movie was pulled.  I understand the government is not going to force Sony to go forward with the movie, but what do you make of that?  This was a direct threat. This was an act of cyberterrorism, or whatever you want to call it.  It worked.  It succeeded.

MR. EARNEST:  What we have seen, Jon, is we have seen that there has been destructive activity with malicious intent.  And the administration believes that that activity merits an appropriate response from the United States.  And that is -- this is something that is being investigated, and the appropriate response is something that is being carefully considered by members of the President’s national security team.


Q    So in part, this is a detective story.  Is it fair to say that North Korea is a nation of interest in the investigation of the Sony hack?

MR. EARNEST:  I’d refer you to the FBI and the Department of Justice on that question.

Q    It’s not even within your range to say that?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t want to say anything that would be perceived by anybody as interfering in any way with their investigation.  What I’m prepared to say at this point is to confirm that the National Security Division of the Department of Justice is working with the FBI to determine what happened and to determine who’s responsible for it.  And what I can tell you is that investigation is progressing, but I don’t have any more that I can say about it than that.

Q    Is part of the problem that this could be somewhat murky and that the direct responsibility might not be a national -- nation state actor, but someone contracted or affiliated or financed through various means by a nation state actor, but the direct responsibility may lie elsewhere?

MR. EARNEST:  I wouldn’t want to speculate on this other than to confirm what I think is the premise of your question, which is that these kinds of investigations are extraordinarily complex because the issues at play here are necessarily murky, as you describe them.  I would agree that that’s an appropriate description of the circumstances here.

And that is why -- we’ve got a team of experts that’s very focused on this.  That’s why I’m reluctant to get out ahead of what they’re learning over the course of their investigation.  And it’s also why some of the senior members of the President’s national security team have been meeting on a daily basis here at the White House to consider this matter and to consider the range of appropriate responses.

Q    How would you describe the direct level of participation of the President in these meetings so far?

MR. EARNEST:  So far, I can tell you that the President has -- is understandably interested in the conversations that are underway, and this is something that he’s monitoring very closely himself.

Q    Is he participating in these meetings, or has he to date?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any presidential participation to read out at this point, but I can assure you this is something that has taken up some time on the President’s schedule on a daily basis over the last several days at least.

Q    To follow up on Jon’s question, do you believe, as some in the artistic community have suggested, and it may be a larger corporate-culture conversation, that there could be broader repercussions from Sony’s decision and what this illustrates the vulnerabilities are and the potential corporate consequences of a cyber attack?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m sympathetic to the very difficult decision that they had to make, and there are a lot of equities that they had to balance, both in terms of the way to release this movie, the way that it could be shown.  I know that there was a reluctance from some of the movie theaters to commit to showing the film, and that certainly weighed on the decision that Sony had to make.  So I’m sympathetic to that.  But ultimately this is a decision that they had to make based on their own best interests and based on the freedom that they have to express themselves as artists.

And I can tell you that this administration and this President stand squarely on the side of a right to free expression, even when the expression of those views by some is considered to be offensive. 

Q    And I may be dense, but you described this as a national security matter.  Can you flesh that out a little bit?  Because to many of us -- maybe just me -- it looks like principally an economic security matter, or a matter of economics, commerce, artistic freedom, things like that.  What is the broadly defined national security component of this from your perspective?

MR. EARNEST:  Certainly, those elements apply here, that there is a financial impact of this activity.  But what we saw here that is maybe not unprecedented but is certainly unique is that the activity that we’ve seen here is destructive with clear malicious intent.  And it was carried out by, all appearances, a sophisticated actor.  And that is something that, in the mind of the President, elevates this to the level of being a legitimate national security matter, and it’s being investigated as such by the FBI and the Department of Justice.  And that’s why you’ve seen members of the President’s national security team assembled to consider a range of responses that we believe at this point is appropriate.

Q    Just to clear up one thing from yesterday -- you made mention of it.  There was blowback from the Hill about this -- funding for an embassy.  But there is an Interest Section building in Havana currently; rather large, somewhat spacious.  Does the United States even need to construct a new embassy in Havana to facilitate the opening of diplomatic relations?  You mentioned yesterday you’re going to need appropriations for a new building, suggesting you might still need one.  I’m just trying to figure out -- this is a rather large building there now.  Can we do all the business that we intend to do there, and this is kind of a non-issue entirely?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that we’ll have to evaluate as we begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba.  But as I mentioned yesterday and as you’re pointing out now, there is already a substantial American diplomatic presence in Cuba and it resides at a significant structure that essentially is the American Interests Section there in Cuba, and there is business done on a daily basis with Cuban citizens.  And obviously the range of engagement that American diplomats have with Cuban government officials will expand as a result of this decision and as a result of our efforts to begin to normalize relations with Cuba.

One of the leading proponents of this strategy of shutting off funding for the construction of an embassy and the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba is Senator Rubio of course. In thinking about this, it occurs to me that it seems odd that Senator Rubio would be reluctant and, in fact, actively seeking to block the appointment of an ambassador to Cuba when earlier this year he voted to confirm the ambassador to China that the President nominated his former colleague, Max Baucus -- who’s doing an excellent job representing the United States in China, I might add.

The other thing that I noticed is that in the context of those hearings, Senator Rubio said something that this administration wholeheartedly agrees with.  Let me read it to you.  (Laughter.)  All right?  Isn’t this good?

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. EARNEST:  I know.  Be careful what you ask for. 

Senator Rubio said, and I quote, “I think you’ll find broad consensus on this committee and I hope in the administration” -- he does -- “that our embassy, the American embassy, should be viewed as an ally of those within the Chinese society that are looking to express their fundamental rights to speak out and to worship freely.”  We think the exact same thing can be said of the new American embassy in Cuba.

Q    Last question.  Since you intimated that this is your last briefing of the year, can I put on my calendar that President Obama will be the briefer tomorrow?

MR. EARNEST:  You can put on your calendar that the President will convene his traditional end-of-the-year news conference tomorrow.

Q    Very good. 

Q    Time?

MR. EARNEST:  I believe it will be in the afternoon.  We’ll get some more details on the timing to you before the end of the day. 

Q    Glad I asked.

MR. EARNEST:  There you go. 

Mr. Dorning.

Q    News you can use.  Afternoon.

MR. EARNEST:  There you go.

Q    On the Russia sanctions, two questions.  First, today, President Hollande of France is publicly raising the idea of easing up the sanctions.  Is there some distance opening between the U.S. on these sanctions and European partners, or do we agree with him that maybe we should think about easing up on the sanctions?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll say a couple things about that, Mike.  The first is that we have said from the very beginning that the success of the sanctions regime depends upon the effective coordination and cooperation of the United States with other members of the international community, including France, and we have worked very effectively with France and other countries to maximize the impact of this sanctions regime on China [Russia] and to focus the costs on the Russian economy without disadvantaging American businesses. 

The second thing that I will point out is that after the latest ratcheting up of the sanctions regime that was announced at the NATO meeting earlier this fall, the President convened a news conference at the end of the NATO meeting and said that if Russia were to begin to live up to the commitments that they signed onto in Minsk and were to begin showing tangible evidence of their commitment to respecting the territorial integrity of a nation like Ukraine, that the President would be prepared to begin rolling back our sanctions regime.

So I didn’t see the entirety of President Hollande’s remarks, but based on the way that you described them, it sounds consistent with the sentiment that the President expressed earlier this fall.

Q    Separately, a day before the President end-of-the-year news conference President Putin had his end-of-the-year news conference today.  And he didn’t sound like he was giving in.  He was saying, we have to be ready in Russia for two years of economic downturn, and he compared what the U.S. is trying to do to Russia with the sanctions to trying to chain a bear and then rip out its teeth and claws.  Is that what we’re trying to do?  And what do you read from his comments?  It doesn’t sound like someone who’s giving in easily.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re certainly aware of President Putin’s comments.  I can tell you that President Putin has repeatedly attempted to shift blame for the conflict in Ukraine and the internal problems that Russia is experiencing away from his own policies, both in his speeches and in the government-funded propaganda that is disseminated not only inside Russia but beyond its borders.  The revisionist narrative of the crisis in Ukraine is deeply troubling but utterly unconvincing. 

The United States has made clear repeatedly that it’s the choices of Russian leaders and actions that Russian leaders have taken with respect to Eastern Ukraine that has caused this conflict in the first place.  And it is in response to those destabilizing actions that the United States and the broader international community has imposed sanctions.

The other thing that I would point you to is what I said in response to the question about whether or not the President would sign the sanctions bill that’s on his desk.  What I noted is that we do believe that a diplomatic solution is one that will provide a lasting resolution to the conflict and help to promote growth and stability in Ukraine and in Russia.  And I think that is pretty clear evidence about what our aims are here.

I don’t think that President Putin’s rather colorful imagery is at all an accurate description of either the situation or our goals.  The goal of the international community is to resolve this conflict in Eastern Ukraine.  President Putin has repeatedly refused to take steps that even he has committed to, to try to resolve this conflict.  And that is why the international community has acted to send a clear signal to President Putin that there will be economic consequences for his failure to respect basic international norms, including the territorial integrity of a neighboring country.

So the person with the most influence for resolving this situation is actually, and maybe even somewhat ironically, President Putin.  If he lives up to these commitments and if he lives up to the international norms that are generally accepted across the globe, he can have some influence over the international community in terms of prompting the international community to start to roll back the sanctions regime that’s been in place.

Q    And logistically, when you say the President will sign the sanctions bill, is he going to do that today, do you know?

MR. EARNEST:  I anticipate that that will be today, but we will let you know through the usual process of sending a pro forma notification. 

Mr. Viquiera.

Q    Thanks.  If I could reframe Major’s question -- how did the Sony case go from a case of corporate espionage to a national security threat?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, because of the destructive activity with malicious intent that is evident from this situation.  I know there have been reports about the substantial number of computers and other equipment that have been destroyed as a result of this attack.  I think that’s an indication that the intent of whatever this sophisticated actor is went beyond what you described, and it ventures into the territory of being destructive.  And the President believes that that kind of behavior is consistent with a national security matter.

Q    Was there one revelation, piece of evidence, discovery that led to this sort of escalation in rhetoric here?  And does it go beyond Sony?  Is that the implication?  Is that what you’ve found?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, in terms of what’s been found, I’m going to let the Department of Justice and the FBI speak to that.

Q    Does it go beyond Sony?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’d refer you to the FBI and the Department of Justice.  They’re looking into -- among the other things that they’re looking into is the scope of this activity.  So you can ask them about that.

Q    And finally, the 2:00 p.m. meeting the President has scheduled, is this on the agenda, this issue?

MR. EARNEST:  This issue?  No, I don’t believe it is. 


Q    I’m going to rephrase another question if I can, Josh. Sony -- and let’s -- if we call this terrorism, whether it’s something state-sponsored or it’s cyber terror -- and I don’t want to draw a direct analogy, but in the way that you’ve said many times from the podium that the U.S. is against ransom in the case of kidnappings because it encourages other kidnappings, is there a concern that Sony, in withdrawing “The Interview,” might encourage further similar activity?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, you did draw one analogy that I do think is appropriate, and I do think -- well, and I can actually say that it has influenced the way that we here at the White House and the way that this administration responds to these specific incidents.

Within the last year, Lisa Monaco, who’s the President’s top counterterrorism advisor, has stood up something called the Cyber Response Group.  And she did that based on the recognition that our administration, and the U.S. government more generally, even predating this administration, has learned a lot about the appropriate way for us to respond to acts of terror and incidents of terrorism, or even threats of terrorism.
And Lisa identified something I think that is appropriate, which is that for a long time the risk of cyber-attacks was sort of siloed in a compartment of individuals that had extensive expertise as it relates to information technology and computer networks and the like.  And what Lisa found is that it’s useful for us to pool our knowledge in the same way that we pool the knowledge of a variety of agencies when responding to terror threats.  And so what that allows for is it allows for different agencies to come together and sit around the table, literally -- these are members of intelligence community, military leaders, diplomatic leaders, law enforcement officials and homeland security officials -- to sit down and evaluate a problem.
This will allow us to have the kind of agile defense and response that’s necessary when dealing with a threat like a cyber-attack.  And this is consistent with the kind of response that this administration and, again, even the previous administration has honed in responding to threats from terror; that what’s required is a quick evaluation of the problem and an effective, prompt, coordinated response.  And so that’s something that we have tried to deploy over the course of the last year to these specific situations.
Q    But given the global economic reach of the movie industry, is there concern that giving the terrorists, the criminals what they wanted just encourages others to do the same?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the truth is, Chris, I’m not sure exactly what this sophisticated actor was trying to accomplish.  What’s clear is that --

Q    Well, they didn’t want the movie shown.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not in a position to identify who the sophisticated actor is, so it would be hard for me to ascribe any motive to an individual whom I do not know.  What is clear, however, is that they did carry out destructive activity with malicious intent.  And that is something that this administration takes very seriously.  We view it as a legitimate national security matter.  It’s being investigated accordingly.  And an appropriate response will be attendant as well.

Q    A couple quick questions on the Secret Service report that’s coming out.  Jeh Johnson said today that already the Acting Director has made some changes, which we all know about, and that he’s encouraging him to continue with those changes.  Is there any urgency to name a permanent new director?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I suspect that the interim director probably feels some of that urgency.

Q    Does the President or the White House feel the urgency?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, certainly this is a very important job. And as I have said on a number of occasions, the President, the First Lady, and everybody here at the White House is appreciative of the commitment that Mr. Clancy has made in leaving his private sector job temporarily to come over here and to assume this very important responsibility at a really important time for the agency.

So his brief tenure so far has been characterized by the kind of professionalism and confidence that, frankly, is exactly what we all expected.  So he is somebody that has a sterling reputation and he’s lived up to it in the confines of his current role.

What I’ll say is that we certainly do believe that having a permanent director in place is important, and that’s why you’ve seen this independent panel that was stood up take very seriously their responsibilities.  We’ll be sure that their recommendations are carefully reviewed.  But I don’t have any update for you in terms of timing about when a new director would be appointed.
Q    Last question.  Secretary Johnson also said that -- obviously he’s seen the report, reviewed the report -- that there are fundamental systemic issues with the Secret Service.  Does the President feel he and his family are safe in the interim while these changes are going to be made?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as I mentioned earlier and on a number of occasions in briefings earlier this fall, the President does have confidence in the men and women of the Secret Service.  These are dedicated professionals with a lot of expertise who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect the President and his family.  They also work hard to protect all of us, and that’s certainly something that we’re grateful for.
It is clear that some changes are needed.  As you pointed out, Mr. Clancy is putting in place some of those changes, and we’ll consider the recommendations from this independent panel of experts about additional changes that be necessary.


Q    Josh, given your transparency to Major about the news conference, any sense on early next year when the President would like to do a State of the Union?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a date yet.  I don’t believe that the President has been invited yet by the Speaker of the House, who traditionally does that.  I can tell you that there have already been some conversations about this.  But we’ll let you know as soon -- well, I guess the Speaker’s office will let you know as soon as they have made a decision.  But there’s obviously a lot of coordination that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that we choose a date that’s appropriate for the President’s schedule but also appropriate for the schedule of the members of Congress who will be in attendance as well.

Q    I want to go back to Sony.  I know you said the White House does not want to dictate to Sony about what they should or shouldn’t do.  But the Daily Beast has gotten some emails that show that at least two Obama administration officials screened a rough cut of this movie, “The Interview,” some months ago -- I believe back in June -- including the final scene that allegedly shows the dictator’s head explode.  And essentially, these administration officials felt, despite the sensitivity, it was okay to move forward.  Can you, first of all, tell us what involvement the Obama administration had months ago in this film, and why you even got involved?  Was it because you were concerned that this would become a big deal?

MR. EARNEST:  No, Ed, there is no policy at the administration for screening films before they are released.

Q    So that didn’t happen?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can tell you that there’s no policy in place that requires this.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however -- and I think this is apparent in the emails that were released -- that administration officials were consulted about the film prior to its release at the request of officials from the company that was producing the movie.

Q    I’m not suggesting you were dictating to them, but I’m saying you had an involvement months ago in this.  So did this administration underestimate the impact this was going to have?

MR. EARNEST:  No, because we would not have been in a position of dictating an outcome or dictating changes to a film.

Q    Why get involved at all?

MR. EARNEST:  We did so at the request of the company.  So again, you had this private company that had come to administration officials seeking their input, and that was -- presumably that input was shared.  But certainly nothing was dictated.  And changes that were made to the film were made by the film’s creators themselves; certainly nothing that was created by the administration.

Q    And you make an important distinction that the President can’t tell Sony, do this or don’t this.  But given the fact that they were twisting in the wind, the company, for several days about what to do, why didn’t the company and other senior officials here speak out and say, look, whatever decision you make, you’re an American company, we’ve got your back?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President was asked something along these lines in the interview he did with Jon’s network just yesterday.

Q    About theaters.  And he said people should go to theaters.  But what about the fact that --

MR. EARNEST:  I think that is a pretty strong show of support for the artists who are making films these days.

Q    I thought the context of the question was about the concern about terror threats out there.

MR. EARNEST:  It was.  But I think it was also a show of support for artists and others who are making films, including the artists who made this film, that they have a right to be able to express themselves and produce these kinds of movies, even if some people happen to find their brand of humor offensive.

Q    Okay.  I want to go to a last subject.  On executive orders, executive actions.  USA Today has taken a look, and you’ll remember some months ago the President claimed that he was using executive orders “at the lowest rate in more than a hundred years.”  And then USA Today looked at the fine print and, yes, 195 executive orders less than Democratic and Republican predecessors.  But when you add on 198 presidential memoranda, it actually turns out he’s using a lot more executive action than his predecessors, right?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think there’s no doubt that the President has sought to use his executive authority to move this country forward within the confines of the law, oftentimes in the face of congressional inaction.  That I wouldn’t disagree with.

Q    But why did he make this public claim that there’s this criticism that I’m acting on executive basis, and I’m doing that less -- the lowest level in a hundred years?  That wasn’t really true, right?

MR. EARNEST:  It was true, because the level -- the number of executive orders that this President has issued is lower, as you pointed out, than executive orders that have been issues by many of his previous predecessors.

Q    Presidential memoranda have essentially the same effect.  It’s called something different.  But the fact of the matter is that he’s taking a lot more executive action.  Why would he --

MR. EARNEST:  There is an important difference between executive orders and presidential memorandums.  But I would not  -- but I would grant the premise that the President has used every element at his disposal to try to move the country forward. And he has done that in a way that is consistent with the law, that is consistent with precedent, and is often carried out in the face of pretty rigid congressional obstruction.

Q    And last one.  What do you see as that distinction?  I understand there are legal distinctions.  But, big picture, what is the difference?  Because both -- it’s still executive action. So what is the big difference according to you or the President?

MR. EARNEST:  Generally speaking, presidential memorandums  -- presidential memoranda are associated with more technical issues and are often directives that are related to a subset of agencies.  Executive orders, therefore, are more sweeping and often more impactful.  But again, I would readily concede that this President has, using executive orders and presidential memoranda, used his executive authority to try to move the country forward as much as he possibly can.
And whether it’s taking action on climate change, fixing -- adding some accountability to our broken immigration system, or even relaxing some of the failed trade restriction policies as it relates to Cuba, the President has taken a number of steps, using his executive authority, to move the country forward.  And I recognize that this was something that was done over the objection of many members of Congress, but frankly, a lot of this was done because Congress was refusing to act.

Q    But you just said executive orders usually are more sweeping, but in the case of immigration, which you would acknowledge was pretty sweeping, it was a presidential memorandum, not an executive order.

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.

Q    So, by your definition -- I’m slightly confused.  You said that executive orders are quite sweeping; the immigration one, which you acknowledged was sweeping, actually was not.  So doesn’t that make the point USA Today was trying to make, that no matter what you call it, he was kind of misleading people about how often he’s using executive action?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I think the President was being specific about the fact that his predecessors have issued far more executive orders than he has.  I don’t think anybody has ever made the case from here about this President, that he is not willing to use his executive authority to move the country forward.  In fact, he has, and I think the numbers that you cite demonstrate a commitment to doing exactly that.

Thank you, Ed. 


Q    Josh, yesterday President Obama issued another batch of pardons, and yet six years into his presidency he’s issued far fewer pardons than nearly all of his predecessors over the last half-century.  And I wonder if he feels that he’s stingy with pardons, as some of his critics have said.

MR. EARNEST:  The President and his administration take this issue very seriously.  And we have had the opportunity to talk quite a bit about criminal justice reform over the last few months, and this is something that the President believes is critically important.  One of the things that the President has done is sign into law the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010.  This was a bill that would address the unjust disparity between penalties for crack and powder cocaine, and this reflected some improvements in the way that the law is being carried out and the way that it’s enforced.

What we have also seen is we have also seen some changes to the sentencing guidelines that have freed up judges to use more discretion when applying sentences and penalties.  So we certainly have made some important progress in trying to address some of the current concerns that the President has identified about criminal justice reform.  But the President believes that there is more work that can and should be done.
The good news is that there are some Republicans who believe that there is more work that can and should be done.  And this would be one area where we would hope we could work with Republicans in the new year to make some progress on an issue that both Democrats and Republicans have identified.  But I would anticipate the President will continue to use the clemency authority that he is granted under the Constitution to try to address some of these problems as well.

But I think ideally what we would try to do is try to fix some of these problems statutorily so we could fix them on the front end, and future Presidents won’t have to resort to using their clemency authority to try to address some of these disparities that we see in the law.

Q    Can you describe what his criteria are for granting pardons?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m sure there’s a pretty legal description related to this that I wouldn’t want to venture into.

Q    Like he’s President, he can grant a pardon to anyone he likes.  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as a factual matter, that is true.  Let me follow up with you to see if I have some more specific guidance I can share with you about how these kinds of decisions are reached.

Q    Perhaps I could ask him this tomorrow.

MR. EARNEST:  Perhaps you could.  (Laughter.)


Q    Josh, buried in the spending bill was one provision affecting the consideration of the sage grouse and a couple of other grassland birds.  The federal government is involved in extensive negotiation with 11 governors out West about what to do.  Could you comment on how the White House views that provision and how it will affect what could be a very significant decision regarding endangered species?

MR. EARNEST:  Once again, Juliet, this highlights the fact that the omnibus legislation that the President signed earlier this week is a genuinely compromise proposal.  It includes some riders, like this one, that would essentially prohibit the Fish and Wildlife Service from issuing an endangered species act rule related to the sage grouse.  That’s not a rider that we believe is the right policy and certainly wasn’t appropriate to include on a piece of legislation like this.

That said, this rider does nothing to stop the administration from continuing bipartisan work with the governors that you cited to put conservation measures in place with the aim of avoiding the need to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered in the first place; that we can take some of these steps as it relates to conservation that would prevent them from reaching the point where they are threatened or endangered in the first place and that would obviously make it so that the Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t have to issue this endangered species act rule.
In fact -- and this is where the good news comes in -- the bill contains funding that will enable the Department of Interior and the United States Department of Agriculture to continue their work to continue sage grouse habitat.  The Fish and Wildlife Service will still be able to do the critical data collection and analysis work that’s required to meet a court-ordered deadline to decide whether a listing is warranted under the Endangered Species Act.

So we certainly do not agree with this provision, but the bill does contain funding for the kinds of conservation measures that we believe will be important to protecting the sage grouse and hopefully preventing the need for any sort of Endangered Species Act rule to be implemented.


Q    Josh, a couple for you.  Under what circumstances would the President showcase his support for artists by screening this movie at the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  I don't have any announcements about that now. As I think you know, the President is preparing to leave tomorrow night with his family to go to their traditional Hawaii holiday vacation trip.  I know that he’s looking forward to getting that time away.  So I guess the point is I don't think we're going to be showing the film here anytime soon.  But I wouldn’t rule it out necessarily in the future.

Q    And then -- and I apologize, I missed your briefing yesterday, so if this is well-trod ground just say so.  But how will we know in six months, in a year, in 18 months, whether the President’s overtures to Cuba have worked?  Based on your own internal guidelines and your own internal criteria, are there very specific concrete deliverables?  Can I look at the news out of Cuba in six months and say they’ve let those 53 released prisoners stay and continue their activities?  Can I look at they’ve freed up the resort workers to keep more of the money they make in resorts that cater to Western European tourists, say?  Are there things I can look at in six months, in a year, in a year and a half, to make that judgment?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the first thing I’ll point out, and I think you're alluding to this in your question, is that the President acknowledged pretty directly that we're not going to see changes overnight in Cuba, that these kinds of broader social and political changes take time.

And that said, we certainly should have seen a lot more progress over the last 53 or 54 years since the embargo was put in place than we did see.  And I think that is a reflection of the fact that that policy failed.  That's why the President is advocating a different approach, one that emphasizes openness and engagement, and that focuses on empowering the Cuban people to assert more authority and to take more control over their daily lives and to try to bring about the kinds of political and social and economic changes that they would like to see in their own country.  Ultimately, it should be their decision.

But I do think it’s appropriate -- I do think it would be appropriate for us to evaluate the progress of the Castro regime when it comes to respecting basic human rights by watching how they treat political prisoners, particularly those who have recently been granted their release or soon will be released.  There was talk, as the President mentioned yesterday, of the Cuban government taking steps that would allow their citizens greater access to the Internet and greater access to the kind of information that has in many other societies, including this one, succeeded in empowering citizens and individuals to take greater control over their own lives.

We saw specific commitments from the Castro regime to engage more deeply with both the United Nations and the International Committee for the Red Cross.  The engagement and cooperation with those international institutions that champion human rights I think would be another legitimate way for us to evaluate their progress.

Now, the other thing that I’m confident the President would be quick to point out -- and maybe you’ll have the opportunity to probe him on this tomorrow -- is that when we see this kind of change, it doesn't occur in a straight line.  It wouldn’t be uncommon for us to see a step forward, a step back, two steps forward, another step back.  What we're looking at is over the longer term.  And certainly we do anticipate that because of the strategy change, we will see the Cuban people become more empowered. 

And we will also see that the U.S. policy toward Cuba will no longer be a distraction, and that our partners and allies in the Western Hemisphere who’ve previously come to us complaining about our policy toward Cuba can now spend more time talking to us about the Cuba government’s policy toward its own people.  That would be a welcome development.  That would shine a light on the situation and put more pressure on the Castro regime to protect and advance the kind of basic human values that we have long championed in this country.


Q    Would you argue that the same thing has happened in China and Vietnam? 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I certainly -- I think there is a clearer story to be told about Vietnam, that the progress that they have made has been important -- certainly not complete, and certainly not a long a straight a line, as I was describing to Olivier -- but we continue to believe that the progress, the economic progress that we’ve seen in Vietnam will lead to the kind of political and social progress that we have seen.

Again, this should be about the people of an individual country realizing their aspirations and having some say over how their country and their society is run.  And it is the philosophy of this administration, as it has been of previous administrations, that greater openness, that greater engagement, that deeper economic ties facilitates the kinds of economic changes that often lead to the political and social changes that we believe are important, that reflects the kinds of values that we believe should take priority.

Q    I know you think they will do it.  I’m just wondering, in our experience so far, has that happened in China?  I mean, to date.

MR. EARNEST:  I mean, I think there are people who are probably better equipped to evaluate this than I am, but I do -- so I’ll let somebody else pass judgment on that.  I will say that I believe that the strategy that the President has pursued to engage them is clearly in our national security interest.  That goes without saying.  And I do think it serves to put more pressure on the Chinese leadership to respect those basic universal human rights.

Again, as a result of the President’s trip there, there was extensive coverage and debate about this that would not have occurred had the President not traveled to China.  And again, there are a variety of ways to evaluate how much progress has been made and whether that progress is lasting.  And I think, again, we're not going to see that kind of progress travel along a straight line, but the President does retain a lot of confidence in the strategy that it’s worked in many other places too.


Q    A couple of Sony.  The first is, I know you mentioned the cybersecurity legislation.  Back in 2012, the administration was pretty active in lobbying for this up on Capitol Hill.  There was a series of classified briefings for lawmakers.  Since then, kind of overtly, you guys have said that you've shifted towards kind of trying to handle it administratively.  But since you mentioned it to Christi, as much as I’m sure you’ve had great success calling for Congress to do things from behind the podium, I’m wondering if there’s additional work that you're going to do on this issue with Congress in the new session, nd also if Congress is being briefed right now on kind of the developments of the investigation.

MR. EARNEST:  Justin, we do retain hope that advancing cybersecurity legislation in the new year can be a bipartisan pursuit.  As I mentioned earlier, there’s no reason that there should be divisions along party lines when it comes to an issue that's important.

I can understand given the complexity of the issue that there might be differences of opinion on this, but they shouldn’t break down along partisan lines.  We shouldn’t allow partisan differences to interfere with our ability to tackle something that's this complex, but yet at the same time, that’s this important to the country.  So I certainly would hope that we would see some bipartisan movement on this in the new year. 

The steps that we have taken on our own using the President’s executive authority were done out of necessity.  And there is also a need for Congress to act here, and we hope that they will recognize that and take action in the new year.

As it relates to your other question, it is not uncommon at all for the administration to work closely with Congress as we confront these kinds of situations related to cyber-attacks.  So I don't know of any specific conversations that have occurred, but that is part of the standard operating procedure when it comes to these matters.

Q    And since you've mentioned differences of opinion, I know it will shock you to hear that Senator John McCain has been critical of the administration’s response to the cyber hack.  He said that because you guys haven’t responded so far that you're effectively yielding to the hackers, and that you also kind of created the window by not responding sooner for Sony to have to make a decision on pulling the movie.  So I’m wondering if you could respond to that, but also if there’s any concern that by maybe slow-walking this investigation to some extent that this window has been --

MR. EARNEST:  I don't think there’s any evidence to suggest that this investigation has not moved at the pace that is appropriate.  This is a matter that the President takes very seriously.  This is a matter that the National Security Division of the Department of Justice and the FBI take very seriously, and they’ve been conducting the kind of investigation that you would expect them to do in light of the fact that this is considered by the administration to be a serious national security matter.

And it would be inappropriate to get ahead of that investigation to start publicly discussing what our response is going to be, particularly in light of the fact that I’m confident that at least some of the measures that will be considered as a response are the kinds of things we wouldn’t want to telegraph in advance.  So what you have seen is a very professional approach to dealing with this situation, and that reflects the seriousness with which we believe this issues should be confronted.

Zeke, I’m going to put a lot of pressure on you, man, and give you the last question of the year.  (Laughter.)  So make it a good one.

Q    I got to rethink this now.  So, still on Sony.  You said that White House officials are contemplating a response and that response needs to be proportional.  How do they -- who are they contemplating responses against?  Is there an array of potential perpetrators that we're working off of?  Are they sort of shooting blindly from the hip who is behind it, or do you actually have a culprit in mind and you're just not telling us?

MR. EARNEST:  You're asking a very good question, and it illustrates why it’s necessary for us to allow the investigation to make some more progress before we start talking publicly about the range of options that are being considered.

Q    Then why do you keep talking about the range of options that are being considered?  Isn’t that then premature, what you’ve just before in that if you're not comfortable talking about who’s behind it, why are you talking about the response?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I guess because I’m not talking -- I think I’ve been pretty candid about the fact that I’m not talking in a lot of detail about what our response is going to be.

What I am suggesting, though -- and I think this is because of the activity that we have seen -- is that we believe an appropriate response is warranted.  And that is why we have begun the process of considering the range of appropriate responses.  But any more information about the range of appropriate responses will not be provided until more information about the investigation has been nailed down.

Q    And just in terms of having a counterattack, that's not something that you would do normally when there’s a criminal ring behind this.  Is that an indication that, when you say significant actor, that is something larger than what we’ve seen, very large cyber-attacks at -- whether the American businesses that have seen large numbers of credit card numbers stolen or other intellectual property stolen before -- that this is a step beyond that?  This is not -- you're not going to go carry out counter-cyber-attacks against a band of cybercriminals somewhere overseas?  This is different.  Are you indicating that this a larger actor here?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, let me try to answer your question as best I can.  I think the direct answer to your question is, no.  What I -- I described him as a sophisticated actor, which does not necessarily describe their size, but it does describe their level of, well, sophistication.  (Laughter.)  And so that is what we're focused on. 

And the other thing -- the other line that I would draw here is that you cited previous incidents in which we saw other sophisticated actors take actions related to cyber theft.  And you've seen public reports that some people believe that acts of cyber theft have been committed by both state actors as well as more conventional criminal rings.  I’m not going to speculate at this point about which category this one falls into, other than to say cyber theft is treated differently by this administration than something that is -- than an activity that is destructive with a malicious intent.  And because of that, that destructive activity with malicious intent that we’ve seen, we consider this to be a serious national security matter.

So, Alexis, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Can I just follow on that?  Zeke was asking something that struck me, and that is, last night the NSC’s statement talked about the government working hard to bring “the perpetrators to justice.”  That is not what you're saying here today.  You're saying that you're looking for a range of options proportional to what has occurred.  So just to follow on what Zeke was saying, did something happen between the statement last night and the knowledge today that left justice, which reflects crime, out of your commentary?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, no.  I think you might be over-reading the statement a little bit.  I don't think that justice necessarily only refers to crime.  After all, it’s the National Security Division of the Department of Justice that is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to review this matter.  So I wouldn’t suggest any sort of change in policy or perspective based on last night’s statements and my extensive statements here today.

Q    -- more facts, a set of facts?

MR. EARNEST:  Correct.

Q    Okay.

MR. EARNEST:  Okay.  Thanks, everybody.  Happy New Year, everybody. 

2:15 P.M. EST


Open thread for night owls. Zornick: How bad can Rubio and Congress muck up the Cuba shift?
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland March 14, 2013. Two senators seen as possible candidates for the 2016 presidential election will address a conservative conference wh
The guy who said his family fled the Castro regime three years before there was a Castro regime
says the U.S. should continue the half-century embargo against the island nation.
At The Nation, George Zornick writes How Bad Can Marco Rubio and Congress Muck Up the Cuba Shift?. An excerpt:
Even if Congress doesn’t lift the embargo, the degree of opposition on Capitol Hill will significantly affect Obama’s attempted policy shift. Senator Marco Rubio openly threatened during a press conference Wednesday that the Senate would not confirm an ambassador to Cuba, and he also promised to work against any funding for a new US embassy. Senator Lindsey Graham joined in that threat.

Rubio, who is of Cuban heritage, jumped to the front of the Republican response to the new policies and seems to be leading the charge. […]

Rubio also attempted to frame it as a populist issue, with a twist of animus towards liberal elites: “While business interests seeking to line their pockets, aided by the editorial page of The New York Times, have begun a significant campaign to paper over the facts about the regime in Havana, the reality is clear,” his statement said.

No doubt some on the left will share Rubio’s ostensible concerns about free-market exploitation of Cuba, if not for entirely different reasons. […]

So will Congress lift the embargo? Will it go so far as to block an ambassador? On the one hand, the opposition of the House Speaker and the (soon-to-be) ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations is a bad sign. Rubio also chairs a key Foreign Relations Committee on the Western Hemisphere. And “no, Congress won’t do anything” is a safe bet, generally speaking. But members of both parties also support normalized relations—Republican Speaker Jeff Flake flew to Cuba to see imprisoned American Alan Gross home on Wednesday—and Americans favor lifting the embargo. […]

Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2010Steve King Is Nuts:

Apparently the daily-dose of teabagging has amped up Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) cognitive dissonance:

"It's thousands of times bigger than Watergate because Watergate was only a little break-in by a couple of guys," said King. "By the time we pull ACORN out by its roots America's going to understand just how big this is."

The House Judiciary Committee member described the ACORN saga as "the largest corruption crisis in the history of America."

So, we had secret slush funds, the involvement of the White House, Justice Department, FBI and CIA in the crime and/or the cover-up, the "Saturday Night Massacre," the prison sentences, and the resignation of a President ... versus allegations of voter fraud that has never been proven and a couple of conservatives dressing up like a pimp and a prostitute.

You make the call.

Tweet of the Day
This I would like to see.

Every Monday through Friday you can catch the Kagro in the Morning Show 9 AM ET by dropping in here, or you can download the Stitcher app (found in the app stores or at, and find a live stream there, by searching for "Netroots Radio."

High Impact Posts. The Week's High Impact Posts. Top Comments

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Happy days are here again
Democrats still have a lot to learn from FDR about politics.
In 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for a second term and, just like four years earlier, the campaign featured the song, "Happy Days Are Here Again." In 1936, the unemployment rate in this country was 16.9 percent. How did FDR dare trumpet the return of "happy days," with so many still suffering the effects of the Great Depression? Because an unemployment rate (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) of 16.9 percent was a significant improvement from the 24.9 percent unemployment rate in 1933, the year he took office, and because, as bad as the economy remained in 1936, the New Deal policies he implemented had made things much better than they would otherwise have been. This, in a nutshell, is the lesson Democrats are ignoring right now.

Rep. Steve Israel, who ran the (cough) highly successful 2014 midterm campaign for House Democrats, noted that the party is in a "message knot" over how exactly to talk about the economy:

"On the one hand, when we talk about the progress in the economy, most middle-class voters don’t feel that progress, and they believe we’re out of touch," Mr. Israel said. "On the other hand, if we don’t talk about progress on the economy, we cede the narrative to Republicans and lose."
Could you for a minute imagine FDR allowing his party to get tied in a similar "knot?" It's true that midterm elections are different from presidential elections. However, the Republicans successfully "nationalized" the recent midterms, which meant that Democrats needed to address those national issues and neutralize the Republican arguments, even as they also encouraged each candidate to talk about local matters. Ignoring the president or running as "not really Obama" proved to be a disaster, as we know.

What else can FDR teach today's Democrats? Follow below the fold for more.

2014 candidates versus the expectations game
Final Senate Race Ratings
The 2014 election is, thankfully, in the books and fading in the rearview mirror. For the truly devoted elections nerds, though, the work's just beginning, slicing and dicing the results to see what happened, and where our strengths and weaknesses are. For starters, let's take a look at how the various candidates did individually, and how those candidates did when compared to the expectations that were set for them.

While Daily Kos Elections experimented this year with a quantitative predictive model (which turned out well, narrowly beating all the other models), we also stuck with our tried-and-true qualitative race ratings that we've used every cycle since 2008, using the same "Likely/Lean/Tossup" framework that anyone who follows along with the Charlie Cooks and Larry Sabatos of the world is familiar with. So here's our chance to look back at how those predictions (the final version of which you can see here) panned out.

Most races, of course, are entirely predictable from the very start; they're in a very red or very blue state or congressional district, with an entrenched incumbent and a little-known, underfunded opponent. So that means that by cycle's end, there are usually only a dozen or so Senate races, and under 100 House races, where there's any doubt whatsoever about the result; as for true tossups, those are only a small fraction of the total.

This exercise doesn't just help us know how we did, but also gives us some targeting information for the 2016 elections (and help us as we start thinking about 2016 ratings). It can help us pinpoint Republicans who were supposed to be safe but barely squeaked by, who might have some previously unknown glass jaw that we might exploit next time. It can also help us find which Democrats are at risk of underperforming again.

We'll look at the individual races over the fold, starting with the Senate:

You won't believe what happens in a manual recount
I Voted sticker
You think you voted. But we'll confirm that in a hand count.
Spend enough time working campaigns, and you'll eventually be a a part of a race that's so close that isn't decided on election day. This is especially true of states like California and Washington, where vote-by-mail and provisional ballots continue to be processed for weeks afterward. Spend even more time working campaigns, and you just might be lucky enough to be part of a race that's so close that even when all the ballots have been counted and the election is certified, the result is so close—just a handful of votes separating the two candidates—that no matter how accurate the machine count may be, the only way to know for sure who won is to count every single ballot by hand.

I'm a relatively seasoned campaign professional, and I've been lucky enough (unlucky, perhaps?) to have already been part of two manual recounts in California. And while election and recount laws vary from state to state (hint: they really shouldn't), the process is instructive, and provides insights into how we could make our entire voting systems better serve the people they're intended to: the actual voters.

More below the fold for an inside look at how manual recounts work. It's not all hanging chads and lizard people.

Cuba and 50 years of other foreign policy failures, brought to you by a willfully ignorant media

While watching The Rundown with José Díaz-Balart recently, it became obvious to me why bad American foreign policy can continue without much public objection. What many Americans fail to see is how it hurts the country’s credibility. Many times what Americans perceive as hate, indifference, disrespect, lack of appreciation, or downright hostility is simply blowback from policies foreign to the average American citizens. Why are these policies foreign to the average American citizens? They are foreign because of bad, biased, or coerced reporting.

The media went into hyperventilating mode after President Obama announced the path to normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba last week. The reality is that while this is a big step, it was not a necessarily courageous step—Americans, including Cuban Americans, have long supported more positive relations with Cuba. Many in the older exile Cuban community have long had much too much sway over American foreign policy towards Cuba.

Chuck Todd was interviewed by José Díaz-Balart about the president’s change in Cuban policy. Instead of laying out the facts about why this change is overdue after a 50-plus year failed policy, Todd decided to discuss platitudes. He had dinner with friends while in Florida. Chuck Todd said that while these friends understood the intellectual argument for relations based on America's relations with China and Vietnam, the tone of the president’s presentation of the new policy was not sufficiently deferential to the exile community in Florida.

Are you kidding? How deferential was President Nixon to Chinese expats? Or any president for that matter to Vietnamese refugees?

Follow below the fold for more.

Living in the zombie apocalypse
Zombie Lincoln
Zombies aren't just on TV. And they're not just shambling across the pages of low rent fiction. They're really here... only they're bigger than you might have expected.

Because it's not individual humans who have succumbed to a mystery virus that leaves them rotting but upright—it's institutions. It's state agencies. It's police departments. Federal departments. It's whole nations. We're living in the sagging shadows of institutional zombies, of twitching, mindless shells that still carry some resemblance to the thing they used to be. They're... representational. Metaphorical. Propped up by memories and animated by platitudes. Only they're dead. Or worse than dead.

In a lot of zombie movies, the monsters appear by mistake. It's a disease out of space, or an unanticipated side effect of some sincere, but careless, science experiment. Our zombies don't have such a relatively innocent origin story. The decay of major social institutions into lurching heaps didn't happen that way. Their effectiveness, their intent, their brains... were surgically removed.

Come on in (under the shadow of this red rock) and lets see who was wielding the scalpel...

When the war on women meets the war on drugs
Aerial view of Central California Prison
Central California Women's Facility
Often used as a political football, the war on women has been going on for a very long time. It is not just reflected in the battle for a woman's right to control her own body, but also in efforts to gain financial parity. Neither battle seems to be going particularly well.

Women make up two-thirds of minimum wage workers, and the same percentage serve as primary or co-breadwinners of families. The poverty rate for female-headed families with children is 40.9 percent, compared to 22.6 percent for male-headed families with children, and 8.9 percent for families with children headed by a married couple. According to the American Association of University Women, the gender pay gap, as of 2013 is 78 percent overall. Both the poverty rate for female heads of household and the pay gap are worse for women of color:

Poverty rate female head of household with children Women's earnings as ratio of white male earnings
Native American 56.9% 59%
Hispanic 48.6% 54%
Foreign born 47.1% NA
Black 46.7% 64%
White, non-Hispanic 33.1% 78%
Asian 26.3% 90%
Women are poorer than men. A woman is two and a half times more likely than a man to be a single head of household. And women are more likely to have been victims of domestic abuse.

There is another area in which the women exceed men, and that is the increase in the rate of incarceration. Over the last thirty years, our prison population has exploded, going from 300,000 in 1980 to over 2.3 million today. The increase is due largely to the war on drugs that has targeted people of color and applied discriminatory mandatory minimum sentences, even for first-time offenders.

Not widely known however, is the fact that the number of women incarcerated over this period increased at nearly 1.5 times the rate of men.

Who they are and why they are in prison, below the fold.

It's time to end America's global isolation over Cuba
There's an old saying that the United States is always fighting the last war. If so, then the apoplectic assortment of Cuban-American irredentists, aging anti-Communist crackpots and knee-jerk, Cro-Magnon conservatives opposing the normalization of relations with Havana are several conflicts behind.

Simply put, the exigencies of the Cold War and the Monroe Doctrine no longer apply. Castro's Cuba long ago ceased being a dangerous client of the Soviet empire, one that ended up on the dustbin of history. There are no Russian intermediate range nuclear missiles and no combat brigades in Cuba. There is no Marxist dictatorship in Jamaica, and no "red menace" in Central America. There aren't thousands of Cuban troops fighting in Angola. (There are, however, Cuban doctors in West Africa, fighting Ebola.)  And the thousands of Cubans who land on American beaches or cross over from Mexico aren't met with gunfire, but with the guarantee of a path to citizenship. Yet 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the United States maintains its anachronistic embargo that helps keep the Cuban people in tatters and Americans alone on the world stage.

Nevertheless, the usual suspects among the shrinking Cuban exile community and the conservative commentariat are still calling for regime change. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose father Rafael fought alongside Castro's force against the Batista dictatorship before fleeing the island in 1957, called President Obama's diplomatic opening to Havana "a tragic mistake." His fellow 2016 GOP White House hopeful Marco Rubio (R-FL)—the same Marco Rubio who pretended his parents fled Cuba after Castro seized power—called Obama's move a "victory for oppression" and a "precedent" that "places a new price on the head of every American." (Apparently, Rubio was confusing Barack Obama with Ronald Reagan.)  Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez, the face of the large Cuban community in New Jersey, echoed those talking points in his USA Today op-ed, as you can read below the fold:

We are no better than our enemies
Former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney speaks about national security at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington in this file photo from May 21, 2009. Cheney, 69, was hospitalized in George Washington Hospital on February 22, 2010 after experienci
This man authorized torture. Never forget that.

Significant emotional events, a term learned in a Sociology class, are instances in your life that change you. They are events that once they occur, you cannot go back to being the person you were before that event. Some of the significant emotional events I have experienced in my life have been being bullied in elementary and grade school, going through Army basic training, becoming a father, seeing my parents age and pass away, and going to Dachau when I was stationed in Germany.

As a child I grew up watching the sanitized version of war that was available on the meager channel selection of early cable TV. My dad loved watching westerns and war movies. The Longest Day, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Rat Patrol, Combat, To Hell and Back, Battleground ... the list goes on and on. Men died, but there was no blood. The Japanese were portrayed as savages, the Germans/Nazis were portrayed as efficient, but not really evil. The only time I ever had a hint of how evil the Nazis were was during an episode of the Twilight Zone, Deaths-Head Revisited, and even that left a lot to the imagination for someone who did not live through that time.

Follow below the fold for more.

Ignoring torture here at home
black man bound - screen shot from The Outer Limits of Solitary Confinement
It is incredibly important that news headlines, pundits, bloggers, and activists are once again discussing heinous tortures perpetrated by our government—excused and explained away by the torturers—and applauded by a certain element of the public in the unholy name of "national security." Too often we hear that the end justifies the means—to keep us "safe." One can only hope that the national outrage being expressed around the murder of people of color by police will spill over into an in-depth examination of the ongoing torture, and death inflicted upon men, and women, and children—many of whom are also people of color—held in our nations jails, prisons, and juvenile detention facilities.

There are some small signs that this might, just might, be happening. But too many people who are willing to vociferously condemn torture and brutality that has taken place not on our soil remain silent when it comes to denouncing what is happening every day behind bars. There are no rebellions in the streets or massive marches. Strikes by inmates themselves tend to be ignored, and the retaliation for their resistance that takes place afterwards does not usually make the nightly news.

It's not a secret. These practices have been denounced by major civil, legal, and human rights organizations for many years now. For example, consider the case of Latandra Ellington:

A Floridian prison inmate wrote a letter to her aunt saying she feared a corrections officer might kill her while behind bars — and ten days later, she was dead. The body of Latandra Ellington, 36, was found Oct. 1 at Lowell Correctional Institution in Ocala. Now Daryl Parks and Benjamin Crump, the attorneys who represented Trayvon Martin's family, are calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the woman's suspicious death.

In the letter, written Sept. 21, Ellington expressed her fear that she might not make it out alive because of an officer she identified only as Sgt. Q, the Miami Herald reported."He was gone beat me to death and mess me like a dog,'' she wrote in the letter, obtained by the newspaper. "He was all in my face Sqt. Q then he grab his radio and said he was gone bust me in my head with it.''

A private autopsy paid for by the family shows that Ellington—who had seven months left to serve—died of blunt-force trauma to her stomach consistent with kicking and punching, according to the family's lawyer.

Had she not written that letter, one wonders if there would even be an investigation. Help came too late for Ellington, but that does not have to be the outcome for countless others.  

Follow me below the fold for more.


Cuba Seizures Now Present Opportunities
Lawyers are scrambling to determine whether normalized relations with Cuba will create a chance to get compensation for lost properties now estimated to be worth nearly $7 billion.

Editorial: Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses
The tactics used on terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks were crimes, and the perpetrators knew it. Now they must be brought to justice.

Christie Wants Obama to Push Cuba to Return New Jersey Trooper’s Killer
Joanne Chesimard, who goes by the name Assata Shakur, was convicted in the 1973 killing of a New Jersey state trooper and fled to Cuba.

Protecting a Home Where the Puffer Fish Roam in Biscayne National Park
A dispute over the possibility of a no-fishing zone in Biscayne National Park off the coast of Florida has raised contrasts with hunting bans on federal land.

G.O.P. Hopes for Unity May Be Upset by Ben Carson
The Republican establishment is determined not to repeat the mistakes of 2012, but Ben Carson is riding a groundswell of support from outside the mainstream.

The Media Equation: Hacking at Sony Over ‘The Interview’ Reveals Hollywood’s Failings, Too
Things have gone so deeply wrong so quickly, it is hard to keep track of all the mistakes that led us here.

Op-Ed Contributors: Obama, the Least Lame President?
Like Bush’s, his last two years might be the best ones.

F.T.C. Raises Its Voice Under Its Soft-Spoken Chairwoman
Edith Ramirez’s tenure as leader of the commission has been marked by an effort to bring the regulator into the public eye, directing particular attention on digital privacy and transactions.

Obama to See if North Korea Should Return to Terror List
President Obama said he would “review” whether to return North Korea to the list, part of a broader government response to a damaging cyberattack on Sony’s Hollywood studio.

Letter From Washington: Assessing the G.O.P. Election Field
The precise mix of Republican candidates who enter the 2016 presidential race or decide to stay out of it will greatly affect the party's choice of nominee.


Hendrik Hertzberg: Anthony Weiner’s all-digital sex scandal.
It’s been another political season of impressively gaudy sex scandals, further confounding America’s hard-won reputation as a nation of censorious puritans. The paradox isn’t so surprising, when you think about it: the broader the range of sex-related activities deemed immoral, unnatural, or . . .

John Cassidy: Don’t give up on Detroit.
If you were to visit the Detroit Institute of Arts, home to Diego Rivera’s magnificent murals depicting scenes at the Ford Motor Company in the early nineteen-thirties, and then take a stroll through the surrounding streets, you might be surprised at what you would find: coffee shops . . .

Jelani Cobb: The folly of Stand Your Ground laws.
For some years, the N.R.A.’s approach to gun-rights advocacy has amounted to a variant of the old Maoist dictum, to the effect that democracy flows from the barrel of a gun. In March, the group provided a novel twist on the theme of sidearm liberty when it . . .

George Packer: Why Egypt is a foreign-policy puzzle.
American foreign aid has always been an awkward exercise in high-minded self-interest—humanitarian goals balanced uneasily with strategic calculations. Whenever these two come into conflict, Presidents inevitably find a way out of their loftier commitments. In 1947, when Secretary of State George C. Marshall proposed a huge . . .

Jeffrey Toobin: The end of DOMA and the future of gay rights.
The Supreme Court’s embrace of gay rights last week had an almost serene majesty. The obvious correctness of the Court’s judgment, its curt dismissal of a monstrous injustice, had a grandeur that requires little elaboration. Yet the decision had its roots in something prosaic and largely . . .

Steve Coll: Obama sends weapons to Syria.
The carved minaret above Aleppo’s twelfth-century Umayyad Mosque collapsed in April. The city, which is Syria’s most populous, has endured Hittite, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman rule, little of it benevolent. But this year, forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad have delivered a distinctly . . .

Hendrik Hertzberg: Difficult questions about the N.S.A.
Since the first week of June, when the Washington Post and London’s Guardian, doing the work that journalism is supposed to do, published detailed news of the National Security Agency’s gigantic programs of cell-phone and Internet information-gathering, the world has been riveted. These were . . .

Steve Coll: Why journalists deserve better protections.
In 1969, when nothing excited the public’s interest like the depredations of drug fiends, the Louisville Courier-Journal sent a reporter named Paul Branzburg to penetrate Kentucky’s marijuana underground. He published eyewitness accounts; a photograph accompanying one of them showed hands hovering over a pile of . . .

William Finnegan: The struggle for immigration reform.
It was edifying while it lasted. A bipartisan immigration bill, supported by an unusually wide coalition of business, labor, church, and humanitarian groups, made its way through the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the baying over Benghazi and the Internal Revenue Service was fierce and rising . . .

Elizabeth Kolbert: What’s at stake in Obama’s Keystone decision.
A lot of what’s known about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be traced back to a chemist named Charles David Keeling, who, in 1958, persuaded the U.S. Weather Bureau to install a set of monitoring devices at its Mauna Loa observatory, on the island of Hawaii. By . . .

60 MINUTES +/-

Reese Witherspoon: Ready for a change
The Oscar-winning actress has overcome a lull in her career by taking matters into her own hands and starting a successful production company

Sen. Tom Coburn: A proud contrarian
The retiring Oklahoma Republican bids farewell to the Senate and talks to Lesley Stahl about President Obama, his personal friend and political foe

New day for Cuban-American relations
Scott Pelley reports from Havana as the U.S. reopens diplomatic relations with its longtime Cold War enemy

Reese Witherspoon on being called "washed up"
Award-winning actress talks about some tough years and reading she was "washed up" in The New Yorker before she made her comeback

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn: Proud U.S. elected Obama
Retiring Oklahoma politician bids farewell to Senate and talks about his personal friend and political foe, President Obama

Anderson Cooper reports on what it's like to try to achieve "mindfulness," a self-awareness scientists say is very healthy, but rarely achieved in today's world of digital distractions

When insurance companies deny the mentally ill the treatment their doctors prescribe, seriously ill people are often discharged, and can be a danger to themselves or others

Inside Homs
Eyewitness accounts and video from inside the besieged city of Homs offer a rare and disturbing window into the cruel realities of the Syrian civil war

Inside Syria's civil war
Survivor of Homs siege recalls having to eat grass as food ran out and documenting images that offer a rare look inside the country's cruel civil war

Anderson Cooper plugs in to mindfulness
Anderson Cooper gives up his cell phone to report on "mindfulness," the self-awareness that's hard to attain in today's digitally distracted world

The Spill at Dan River
Lesley Stahl reports on how Duke Energy is handling over 100 million tons of coal ash waste in North Carolina

The City of Music
Bill Whitaker travels to Cremona, the medieval Italian city that gave the world the famed Stradivarius violin

Disrupting Cancer
Billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is turning heads with unconventional ways of treating the deadly disease

Doctor battles cancer in unorthodox way
Already a billionaire for creating an innovative cancer drug, Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong is turning heads with more unconventional ways of treating the disease he hopes to conquer

Duke Energy addresses coal ash spills
No simple solution to cleaning up toxic coal ash ponds, Duke Energy CEO says in a rare interview with Lesley Stahl

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