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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."
Add your name to President Obama’s
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on President Obama’s Immigration Action
Washington, DC – In response to President Barack Obama’s immigration announcement, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“I'm proud President Obama has taken bold, definitive action to enact meaningful change for so many families living in fear of being torn apart, an action which will also serve to boost our economy. This is a real step towards protecting families and our national security while optimizing our resources and improving as much of the immigration system as he legally can while Republicans in Congress refuse to act.
“The American people are sick and tired of the GOP's stall and scare tactics. While men, women and children who have already sacrificed so much for a better life waited anxiously, Republicans in Congress sat back and refused to act.
“This is not a political issue, it's a human issue. President Obama knows that so many undocumented people living in the United States simply can't wait any longer for the protections they deserve. Instead of threatening to shut down the government and impeach the President -- Republicans in Congress should immediately rise to the occasion and act to pass comprehensive immigration reform.”
Add your name and stand with President Obama
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement on the Swearing in of Alma Adams
Washington, DC – In advance of the swearing in of Alma Adams, the 100th woman to serve as a voting member of the current Congress, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“When Alma Adams is sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives today, she will become the 100th woman to serve as a voting member of the current Congress. A century ago, women were still fighting to be guaranteed the right to vote; today is a historic milestone in the progress we have made. As a woman, a mother, and a member of Congress, I am encouraged to see more women making their voices heard and taking their seat at the table.
“However, it is also a sobering reminder of how far we have yet to go. Women comprise more than fifty percent of our nation’s population, but less than twenty percent of our elected officials in Congress. I am proud that the Democratic Party has made engaging more women in the political process a top priority, through programs like the Women’s Leadership Forum and the Democratic Women’s Alliance, but equal representation will require our continued focus and efforts. As a party, we will continue to press for that progress.”
Vice President Biden: Stay committed, keep your head up, and invest in the future of our party
Today, Vice President Joe Biden sent an email asking Democrats to keep fighting for our country's future. Here's what he wrote:
I've been through a lot of elections, and it's a simple fact that you're not going to win them all. No matter how hard you work, sometimes things don't turn out the way you want them to.
But I hope you won't listen to any of the people who are saying that what happened on one Tuesday night in November changed everything -- because they are wrong.
Nothing changed the fact that there are millions of Americans counting on us to create good middle-class jobs, and build better schools for our children. It didn't change that we still have a lot of work to do together, and two full years to do it.
So I want you to stay committed, keep your head up, and invest in the future of our party:
Thank you -- I mean it. Folks like you have always been the Democratic Party's biggest asset, and there's nothing that's going to change that either.
DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s Statement Honoring Veterans Day
Washington, DC – In honor of Veterans Day, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz released the following statement:
“Today, we reflect on the extraordinary courage of the brave men and women who protect the rights and freedoms that define who we are as a nation.
“The first observance of November 11 as a national holiday was a commemoration of Armistice Day, thought to be the end of the war to end all wars. Though it is a promise which we have yet to fulfill, each successive generation has answered the call to fight in the hopes that their children will not have to. On Veterans Day, we express our gratitude for their strength and sacrifices.
“More than anything we do today, the best way to honor their service is to ensure that when they return home they are provided the same opportunities which they have risked their lives to defend. This means that we have a responsibility to fully fund the VA, expand educational opportunities through the GI Bill, provide job training to translate the skills they’ve developed in the armed services to the workplace, offer assistance to companies that hire veterans, and ensure access to mental health services. I am proud of the commitment that President Obama and Democrats have made to our veterans, including the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, so that those willing to serve can do so openly.
“On behalf of Democrats across the country, I would like to say thank you to our nation’s veterans and their families.”
Thank you so much
Last week, the Republicans had a good night. We didn't.
We worked hard for months, we even won a few tough races, but it wasn't enough.
Sometimes, that happens. In a democracy, on occasion, the other side is going to win. But even if I'm disappointed, I'm not discouraged. And that's because of people like you.
For months, you all made calls. You talked to your neighbors. You knocked doors. You donated. You stood with President Obama, and you stood up for middle-class families.
You inspire me every single day, and I don't want another minute to go by without you hearing me say how much I appreciate what you do. So, thank you.
Your dedication is at the heart and soul of who we are as a party, and because of that, I need your help for what's going to come next.
I don't want to sit through another night like Tuesday again.
So we're going to kick off an effort at the DNC to figure out how we can do better in future elections like these. We're going to look at where we fell short. We're going to identify our mistakes. And we're going to talk to the smartest people in our party and the most dedicated Democrats in the country to build on what we've done that works and find solutions for things that are broken.
That's where you come in.
We're going to ask you to be part of this conversation. We're going to ask you for your best ideas. And we're going to ask for your patience as we test out new theories, and try new ways of doing things.
If we're going to be successful, I need you to be part of this effort -- and bring to it the same dedication you've shown again and again this year:
Thank you, again! You'll hear more from us soon.
DNC Announces Election Review with Video from Chair Wasserman Schultz
Washington, DC – Today the DNC announced a top-to-bottom review of the 2014 election. In the coming weeks, DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz will appoint leading Democratic Party organizers, activists and strategists to review what happened in 2014 and what the party needs to improve in coming midterm elections. The Democratic Party has failed to translate success in presidential years to midterms and off years.
Wasserman Schultz announced the new effort in a video for supporters, saying in part:
We know we’re right on the issues. The American people believe in the causes we’re fighting for. But the electoral success we have when our presidential nominee is able to make the case to the country as a whole, doesn’t translate in other elections.
That’s why we lost in 2010, and it’s why we lost on Tuesday. We’ve got to do better.
So that’s why, we’re going to kick off an effort at the DNC to do a top-to-bottom assessment of how we can do better in future midterm elections like these.
We are going to look at where we fell short. We're going to identify our mistakes. And we're going to talk to the smartest people in our party and the most dedicated Democrats in the country to build on what we’ve done that works and find solutions for things that are broken.
Wasserman Schultz will appoint a committee in the coming weeks with a goal of releasing the report at the DNC’s winter meeting early next year.
See below for a video message from DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Hello fellow Democrats,
I'm not going to gloss over the facts: on Tuesday, the Republicans had a good night. We didn't. We worked hard for months, we even won a few tough races, but it wasn't enough.
Sometimes, you work your heart out, leave it all on the field and still come up short. In a democracy, on occasion, the other side is going to win. When that happens, you don't give up - instead, you focus, review and press forward!
Even if I'm disappointed, I'm not discouraged. And that is because of people like you.
Whether I’m talking to a grandmother giving up her weekends to volunteer on a campaign back in Florida or a teacher who comes up to say that he chipped in five bucks to one of our emails, Democrats like you do amazing things.
For months, you all made calls. You all talked to your neighbors. You knocked doors. You donated. You stood with President Obama, and you stood up for middle class families.
You inspire me every single day, and I don't want another minute to go by without you hearing me say how much I appreciate what you do.
So, thank you.
Your dedication is at the heart and soul of who we are as a party.
But our party has a problem.
We know we’re right on the issues. The American people believe in the causes we’re fighting for. But the electoral success we have when our presidential nominee is able to make a case to the country as a whole, doesn’t translate in other elections.
That’s why we lost in 2010, and it’s why we lost on Tuesday.
We’ve got to do better.
So that’s why, we’re going to kick off an effort at the DNC to do a top-to-bottom assessment of how we can do better in future midterm elections like these.
Of course our next big and most important task at the DNC is to elect a Democratic president of the United States in 2016. And we have the building blocks to do just that. We will be talking more about that in the coming months. But finding real and lasting solutions to our mid-term election issues is critical for the success of the policies we care about and the long term strength of our party.
Within the next couple of weeks, I’m going to name a committee of key party stakeholders and experts, who will spearhead an examination of what went wrong, and how the Democratic Party can do a better job of connecting in midterm elections.
We are going to look at where we fell short. We're going to identify our mistakes. And we're going to talk to the smartest people in our party and the most dedicated Democrats in the country to build on what we’ve done that works and find solutions for things that are broken.
That's where you come in.
Because we are committed as a party to inclusiveness, we're going to ask you to be part of this conversation. We're going to ask you for your best ideas. And we're going to ask for your patience as we test out new theories, and try new ways of doing things.
And we’re going to report out our findings by our DNC winter meeting early next year — with measures by which you can hold us accountable.
If we're going to be successful, we need you to be part of this effort -- and to bring to this project the same dedication you've shown again and again this year.
If you want to add your voice to this discussion, take a minute to let us know.
Thank you, again! You'll hear more from us soon!
Statement by the Vice President on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
As the world recognizes the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, I am deeply concerned by the continued magnitude of this problem. Approximately one in three women across the globe is physically or sexually abused during her lifetime; many at the hands of an intimate partner. Too many women and girls are victimized by practices like human trafficking or forced marriage. Violence against women creates and maintains poverty. It threatens peace. Perhaps, most importantly, it degrades all of humanity. We all must work together to fight gender-based violence around the world, and the abuse of power in all of its forms. Today we join with the international community in renewing this commitment.
Readout of the Vice President’s Call with Romanian President-elect Klaus Iohannis
Vice President Joe Biden called Romanian President-elect Klaus Iohannis to congratulate him on his election victory, noting the impressive voter turnout as a sign of a strong and healthy democracy. The Vice President underscored the strength of the bilateral relationship and expressed appreciation for Romania’s contributions to NATO, its support for Ukraine, and its efforts to degrade and defeat ISIL. The Vice President expressed his condolences for the loss of life in the November 21 helicopter accident and thanked Romania for its sacrifices as part of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Finally, the Vice President and President-elect Iohannis discussed the critical importance of rule of law reforms, both as a driver of economic growth and as a national security issue.
Remarks by the President After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri
10:08 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America. So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.
First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: “Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.” Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.
I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence -- distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.
Finally, we need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact is, in too many parts of this country, a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic, because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates. The good news is we know there are things we can do to help. And I’ve instructed Attorney General Holder to work with cities across the country to help build better relations between communities and law enforcement.
That means working with law enforcement officials to make sure their ranks are representative of the communities they serve. We know that makes a difference. It means working to train officials so that law enforcement conducts itself in a way that is fair to everybody. It means enlisting the community actively on what should be everybody’s goal, and that is to prevent crime.
And there are good people on all sides of this debate, as well as in both Republican and Democratic parties, that are interested not only in lifting up best practices -- because we know that there are communities who have been able to deal with this in an effective way -- but also who are interested in working with this administration and local and state officials to start tackling much-needed criminal justice reform.
So those should be the lessons that we draw from these tragic events. We need to recognize that this is not just an issue for Ferguson, this is an issue for America. We have made enormous progress in race relations over the course of the past several decades. I've witnessed that in my own life. And to deny that progress I think is to deny America’s capacity for change.
But what is also true is that there are still problems and communities of color aren't just making these problems up. Separating that from this particular decision, there are issues in which the law too often feels as if it is being applied in discriminatory fashion. I don't think that's the norm. I don't think that's true for the majority of communities or the vast majority of law enforcement officials. But these are real issues. And we have to lift them up and not deny them or try to tamp them down. What we need to do is to understand them and figure out how do we make more progress. And that can be done.
That won't be done by throwing bottles. That won't be done by smashing car windows. That won't be done by using this as an excuse to vandalize property. And it certainly won't be done by hurting anybody. So, to those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. Michael Brown’s parents understand what it means to be constructive. The vast majority of peaceful protesters, they understand it as well.
Those of you who are watching tonight understand that there’s never an excuse for violence, particularly when there are a lot of people in goodwill out there who are willing to work on these issues.
On the other hand, those who are only interested in focusing on the violence and just want the problem to go away need to recognize that we do have work to do here, and we shouldn’t try to paper it over. Whenever we do that, the anger may momentarily subside, but over time, it builds up and America isn't everything that it could be.
And I am confident that if we focus our attention on the problem and we look at what has happened in communities around the country effectively, then we can make progress not just in Ferguson, but in a lot of other cities and communities around the country.
Q Mr. President, will you go to Ferguson when things settle down there?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let’s take a look and see how things are going. Eric Holder has been there. We've had a whole team from the Justice Department there, and I think that they have done some very good work. As I said, the vast majority of the community has been working very hard to try to make sure that this becomes an opportunity for us to seize the moment and turn this into a positive situation.
But I think that we have to make sure that we focus at least as much attention on all those positive activities that are taking place as we do on a handful of folks who end up using this as an excuse to misbehave or to break the law or to engage in violence. I think that it's going to be very important -- and I think the media is going to have a responsibility as well -- to make sure that we focus on Michael Brown’s parents, and the clergy, and the community leaders, and the civil rights leaders, and the activists, and law enforcement officials who have been working very hard to try to find better solutions -- long-term solutions, to this issue.
There is inevitably going to be some negative reaction, and it will make for good TV. But what we want to do is to make sure that we're also focusing on those who can offer the kind of real progress that we know is possible, that the vast majority of people in Ferguson, the St. Louis region, in Missouri, and around the country are looking for. And I want to be partners with those folks. And we need to lift up that kind of constructive dialogue that's taking place.
END 10:18 P.M. EST
Remarks by the President at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom
The East Room
2:22 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Everybody, have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. This is one of my favorite events. Once a year, we set aside this event to celebrate people who have made America stronger, and wiser, and more humane, and more beautiful with our highest civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This year we honor 18. Unfortunately, Stephen Sondheim could not be with us today. I’m going to be presenting him with this award at our 2015 ceremony.
We give thanks to public servants who have devoted their lives to their fellow citizens. When Edward Roybal told Speaker Tip O’Neill that he was starting a Congressional Hispanic Caucus, there were so few Hispanics in Congress that Tip joked they could fit the whole caucus in a phone booth. But Edward saw beyond the times.
As a congressman from Los Angeles for 30 years, he fought for bilingual education, bilingual proceedings in our judicial system, and to make sure Hispanic Americans counted -- literally. Thanks to him, the Census was revised to more accurately count Latinos. Although his roots in America went back hundreds of years, he championed the cause of immigrants, and spoke up for vulnerable communities, and was one of few in the early 1980s calling for more AIDS research. He left us nearly a decade ago, but Edward Roybal was and remains a hero to so many -– not just Latinos but all Americans.
Every girl in Little League, every woman playing college sports, and every parent -– including Michelle and myself -– who watches their daughter on a field or in the classroom is forever grateful to the late Patsy Takemoto Mink. I am particularly grateful because she was my congresswoman for a long time. (Laughter.)
Denied admission to medical school because she was a woman, Patsy went on to law school and to co-authored Title IX, banning gender discrimination in our schools. Patsy was many “firsts” -– including the first woman of color in Congress -– and to those of us in Hawaii, she represented the best of public service and the Aloha spirit.
And if she was a first, she dedicated her life to making sure that she would not be the last. From championing civil rights to fighting for -– fighting against gender discrimination -- Patsy was a passionate advocate for opportunity, equality and realizing the full promise of the American Dream.
When John Dingell’s father, a New Deal Democrat, passed away in 1955, John stepped up. And over the course of six decades -– a congressional career longer than any in history -– John built a peerless record of his own. He gaveled in the vote for Medicare, helped lead the fight for the Civil Rights Act. For more than half a century, in every single Congress, John introduced a bill for comprehensive health care. That is, until he didn’t have to do it anymore. (Laughter and applause.)
I could not have been prouder to have John by my side when I signed the Affordable Care Act into law. John will retire at the end of this session, but at 88, he’s still going strong. And his life reminds us that change takes time; it takes courage and persistence. But if we push hard enough and long enough, change is possible.
As a University of Chicago student, Abner Mikva stopped by the local Democratic headquarters and asked to volunteer. I love this story. A committeeman asked who sent you. And Ab said, nobody. And the committeeman said, we don’t want nobody nobody sent. (Laughter.) That’s Chicago for you.
Despite that abrupt dismissal, Ab went on to devote his life to public service -- reformed Illinois’s criminal code, defended free speech and consumer rights; in 1993, struck down the Pentagon’s ban on gays in the military. He was overturned on that one -– but history proved him right. And he inspired the next generation, including me.
After I graduated from law school, he offered me the chance to be his law clerk. I declined but was extraordinarily grateful, and he forgave me -– (laughter) -- for which I was also grateful. Ab transcends any single moment in recent political history. But he had a hand in shaping some of the best of it. So we’ve got some extraordinary public servants on this stage.
We also give thanks for innovators who’ve changed our world. Mildred Dresselhaus’s high school yearbook contained commentary from her classmates. They printed a mathematical tribute: “Mildred equals brains plus fun. In math and science, she’s second to none.” (Laughter.)
Growing up in New York during the Great Depression, this daughter of Polish immigrants had three clear paths open to her: teaching, nursing, and secretarial school. Somehow she had something else in mind. And she became an electrical engineer and a physicist, and rose in MIT’s ranks, performed groundbreaking experiments on carbon, became one of the world’s most celebrated scientists. And her influence is all around us -– in the cars we drive, the energy we generate, the electronic devices that power our lives. When she arrived at MIT in 1960, only 4 percent of students were women. Today, almost half are, a new generation walking the path that Millie blazed.
Robert Solow’s father was a businessman who handled a lot of documents. And when Robert became an economist, his dad joked, we do the same thing: deliver papers.
But Bob’s influence extends far beyond the page. More than just about any living economist, he has shaped economic policy, and with it, the lives of people everywhere. His insights into how technological progress drives growth transformed our thinking about how to build prosperity, leading to more investments in research and education – in other words, more investments in people.
When he won the Nobel Prize, a colleague wrote, “Economists’ faces lit up all over the world.” And this isn’t exactly an irrationally exuberant group, economists. (Laughter.) They don’t usually get real fired up. But Bob isn’t just admired by his peers; he is adored. And he continues to be a leading voice on the economic challenges of our times, especially when it comes to reversing income inequality and growing the economy for everybody – always pushing our nation to do better for everybody, for all.
So, we give thanks to public servants, we give thanks to innovators, and we give thanks to performers who have captivated our hearts and our minds. The Onion once ran this headline: “Court Rules Meryl Streep Unable to Be Tried by Jury As She Has No Peers.” (Laughter and applause.)
I think this is like the third or fourth award Meryl’s gotten since I’ve been in office, and I’ve said it publicly: I love Meryl Streep. I love her. Her husband knows I love her. Michelle knows I love her. There’s nothing either of them can do about it. (Laughter.)
But, she’s done it all for her craft. She’s sung Abba, which -- that's something. (Laughter.) She learned violin, wore a nun’s habit, faced down a charging lion, mastered every accent under the sun. She inhabits her characters so fully and compassionately, saying, “It’s the great gift of human beings that we have this power of empathy.”
And off screen, as an advocate for women and girls, she uses that gift to help others write the life stories of their choosing, and to encourage greater empathy in the rest of us. So Meryl is truly one of America’s leading ladies.
And then there’s Stevie. Don't get Michelle talking about Stevie Wonder now. (Laughter.) Early copies of Stevie Wonder’s classic album Talking Book had a simple message, written in Braille: “Here is my music. It is all I have to tell you how I feel. Know that your love keeps my love strong.” This is, by the way, the first album I ever bought with my own money. I was 10 years old, maybe 11, with my own cash. I didn't have a lot of it. And I listened to that -- that thing got so worn out, had all scratches. Young people, you won’t remember this, but you’d have albums. (Laughter.) And they’d get scratched.
For more than 50 years, Stevie has channeled his “Innervisions” into messages of hope and healing, in becoming one of the most influential musicians in American history.
A musical prodigy with an electrifying voice, Stevie’s blend of R&B, and jazz, and funk, and blues, and soul, and whatever else you've got, speaks of love and loss, justice and equality, war and peace. But what really defines Stevie’s music is the warmth and humanity that resonate in every note. Some of his songs helped us to fall in love. Others mended our hearts. Some motivated us on the campaign trail. (Laughter.) And thanks to Stevie, all of us have been moved to higher ground.
Alvin Ailey was born during the Depression in small-town Texas. And by the time he was 27, he had founded a dance company of his own in New York City. It became a place where artists of all races had a home. All that mattered was talent. The dances he choreographed were a blend of ballet, modern, and jazz, and they used the blues and spirituals, as well. And through him, African-American history was told in a way that it had never been told before -– with passionate, virtuoso dance performances that transfixed audiences worldwide.
Alvin said that, “Dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people.” Alvin Ailey delivered, both through his life and through the dance company that will forever bear his name.
When Isabel Allende learned that her grandfather in Chile was dying, she started writing him a letter. Night after night, she returned to it – until, she realized, she was actually writing her first novel. She’s never really stopped. Her novels and memoirs tell of families, magic, romance, oppression, violence, redemption -– all the big stuff. But in her hands, the big becomes graspable and familiar and human. And exiled from Chile by a military junta, she made the U.S. her home; today, the foundation she created to honor her late daughter helps families worldwide. She begins all her books on January 8th, the day she began that letter to her grandfather years ago. “Write to register history,” she says. “Write what should not be forgotten.”
On the night that the Berlin Wall fell, only one American network anchor was there reporting live. A reporter remembers Ben Bradlee standing in the Post newsroom, watching Tom Brokaw at the Brandenburg Gate and wondering aloud, “How do we beat that?” (Laughter.) “Brokaw’s got this.”
At pivotal moments, Tom got it. He reported on Watergate, snuck a camera into Tiananmen Square, sat down for the first one-on-one with Mikhail Gorbachev by an American TV reporter, covered every presidential election since 1968. We’ve welcomed him into our homes at dinnertime and Sunday mornings. We’ve trusted him to tell us what we needed to know and to ask the questions that needed asking. I know, because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of those questions. (Laughter.) Many of him know -- many know him as the chronicler of the Greatest Generation, and today, we celebrate him as one of our nation’s greatest journalists.
We give thanks to trailblazers who bent the arc of our nation towards justice. In the 1950s, golfer Charlie Sifford won the Negro National Open – five times in a row. But by the time he became the first African American to earn a PGA Tour card, most of his best golf was behind him.
On the tour, Charlie was sometimes banned from clubhouse restaurants. Folks threatened him, shouted slurs from the gallery, kicked his ball into the rough. Charlie’s laughing about that -- my ball is always in the rough. (Laughter.)
And because golf can be a solitary sport, Charlie didn’t have teammates to lean on. But he did have his lovely wife, Rose. And he had plenty of guts and grit and that trademark cigar. And Charlie won on the Tour twice, both after age 45. But it was never just about the wins. As Charlie says, “I wasn’t just trying to do this for me, I was trying to do it for the world.”
Speaking of trailblazers, to some, Marlo Thomas will always be “That Girl,” who followed her dreams to New York City and kind of was running around Manhattan, having fun, on her own terms. To others, she’s the creative mind behind “Free to Be … You and Me,” whose songs taught a generation of kids that they were strong and beautiful, just the way they were.
As a founder of the “Ms. Foundation,” Marlo helped turn women’s hopes and aspirations into concrete social and economic progress. And she’s helped build the hospital her father founded, St. Jude’s, into one of the premier pediatric hospitals in the world. She recalls her dad saying, “There are two types of people in the world: the givers and the takers. The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better.” I love that saying. Marlo Thomas sleeps very well because she’s given so much.
Raised on an Oklahoma reservation by a Cheyenne mother and a Hodulgee Muskogee father, Suzan Shown Harjo grew up to become one of the most effective advocates for Native American rights. And through her work in government and as the head of the National Congress of American Indians and the Morning Star Institute, she has helped preserve a million acres of Indian lands, helped develop laws preserving tribal sovereignty. She has repatriated sacred cultural items to tribes, while expanding museums that celebrate Native life. Because of Suzan, more young Native Americans are growing up with pride in their heritage, and with faith in their future. And she has taught all of us that Native values make America stronger.
On June 21, 1964, three young men – two white, one black – set out to learn more about the burning of a church in Neshoba County, Mississippi: James Earl Chaney, 21 years old; Andrew Goodman, 20 years old; and Michael Henry Schwerner, 24 years old. Young men. And in that Freedom Summer, these three Americans refused to sit on the sidelines. Their brutal murder by a gang of Ku Klux Klan members shook the conscience of our nation. It took 44 days to find their bodies, 41 years to bring the lead perpetrator to justice.
And while they are often remembered for how they died, we honor them today for how they lived -– with the idealism and the courage of youth. James, Andrew, and Michael could not have known the impact they would have on the Civil Rights Movement or on future generations. And here today, inspired by their sacrifice, we continue to fight for the ideals of equality and justice for which they gave their lives. Today we are honored to be joined by James’s daughter Angela, Andrew’s brother David, and Michael’s wife, Rita.
And finally, we give thanks to a person whose love for her family is matched by her devotion to her nation. To most Americans, Ethel Kennedy is known as a wife, mother, and grandma. And in many ways, it’s through these roles that she’s made her mark on history. As Bobby Kennedy’s partner in life, she shared his commitment to justice. After his death, she continued their work through the center she created in his name, celebrating activists and journalists and educating people around the world about threats to human liberty.
On urgent human rights issues of our time -– from juvenile justice to environmental destruction – Ethel has been a force for change in her quiet, flashy -- unflashy, unstoppable way. As her family will tell you, and they basically occupy this half of the room -- (laughter) -- you don’t mess with Ethel. (Laughter.)
She’s gone to extraordinary lengths to build support for the causes close to her heart -– including helping to raise money for ALS research this summer by pouring a bucket of ice water over her head. (Laughter.) As you may know, she nominated me to do it, too. And as you may know, I chose to write a check instead. (Laughter.) I grew up in Hawaii. I don't like pouring ice water on top of my head. (Laughter.) That is probably the only time I’ve said no to Ethel, by the way. (Laughter.)
Ethel is the matriarch of a patriotic family, and with her encouragement, many of her children and grandchildren are carrying on the Kennedy tradition of public service. She is an emblem of enduring faith and enduring hope, even in the face of unimaginable loss and unimaginable grief. And she has touched the lives of countless people around the world with her generosity and her grace. It gives me great pleasure to present this award, which her brother-in-law, President Kennedy, re-established more than 50 years ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are the recipients of the 2014 President Medal of Freedom. Let’s give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
Well, you don't just get applause. You actually get a medal. (Laughter.) So let’s read the citations.
MILITARY AIDE: Robert Battle, receiving on behalf of Alvin Ailey.
A visionary choreographer and dancer, Alvin Ailey transformed American dance through his groundbreaking exploration of the African American experience, weaving traditional songs and stories with ballet, jazz, and modern dance to create something entirely new. He founded and served as artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, renowned worldwide for its soulful, virtuoso performances, including the beloved American masterpiece Revelations. An advocate for the importance of art to the soul of our nation, Alvin Ailey's life and pioneering legacy remind us of our limitless potential for creative self-expression.
MILITARY AIDE: Isabel Allende. A beloved daughter of Chile and the United States, Isabel Allende has transfixed readers worldwide with her extraordinary storytelling. Forced to flee Chile after the overthrow of her cousin, President Salvador Allende, she spent years abroad, filling her books with the stories, rhythms and flavors of home. She is now one of the most widely read and cherished Spanish-language authors in history. She also writes and speaks forcefully about the human rights of women and children, and her foundation supports vulnerable families in Chile and California. With creativity and conviction, Isabel Allende continues to move and delight the world.
MILITARY AIDE: Thomas J. Brokaw. (Applause.) One of our Nation’s most admired journalists, Thomas J. Brokaw has helped Americans better understand the world and each other. From Today, to NBC Nightly News, to Meet the Press, Americans have relied on his authoritative reporting and keen analysis for decades. At moments of great consequence -– from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 -– he was our nation’s eyes and ears at the scene. He has lent his voice to our Nation’s heroes, from The Greatest Generation to the latest generation of service members and their families. Thomas J. Brokaw’s work remains the model of responsible journalism, and his insights continue to enrich our public discourse.
MILITARY AIDE: Angela Lewis, receiving on behalf of her father, James Earl Chaney; David Goodman, receiving on behalf of his brother Andrew Goodman; and Rita Schwerner Bender, receiving on behalf of her husband, Michael Henry Schwerner. (Applause.)
In 1964, three young men sought to right one of the many wrongs of the Jim Crow era by joining hundreds of others to register black voters in Mississippi during “Freedom Summer.” The work was fraught with danger, yet their commitment to justice was so strong that they were willing to risk their lives for it. Their deaths shocked the nation, and their courage has never been forgotten. James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Henry Schwerner still inspire us. Their ideals have been written into the moral fabric of our nation, from the landmark civil rights legislation enacted days after their deaths to our continued pursuit of a more perfect union.
MILITARY AIDE: The Honorable John D. Dingell, Jr. John D. Dingell, Jr.’s tenure surpasses that of any member of Congress in American history. A child of the House, he became its Dean, and his legacy is evident all around us: in cleaner air, safer water, stronger protections for workers, and greater respects for the civil rights of all Americans.
He summoned his grit and determination for legislative battles over health care, from Medicare to the Affordable Care Act. Thanks to his efforts, millions more families across our Nation now have the peace of mind that comes with access to quality, affordable care. A grateful Nation honors John D. Dingell, Jr. for his lifetime of service, from World War II to nearly six decades in Congress.
MILITARY AIDE: Mildred S. Dresselhaus. Mildred S. Dresselhaus has helped uncover the mysteries of our world. One of the most distinguished physicists, materials scientists, and electrical engineers of her generation, her experiments into the conductivity of semi-metals transformed our understanding of those materials, leading to breakthroughs in modern electronics. Her pioneering research on nanotubes has had implications across the economy, from electronics to energy storage to automotive parts. As a leader and mentor, she has inspired countless women to pursue opportunities in physics and engineering. Mildred S. Dresselhaus’s example is a testament to what we can achieve when we summon the courage to follow our curiosity and our dreams.
MILITARY AIDE: Susan Shown Harjo. Suzan Shown Harjo is a poet, writer, curator, and advocate dedicated to the dignity of all people. A Cheyenne and Hodulgee Muscogee, and a citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, she has fought all her life for the human, civil, and treaty rights of Native peoples. As the head of the National Congress of American Indians, president of the Morning Star Institute, and a founding trustee of the National Museum of the American Indian, her tireless efforts have protected Native culture, returned Native lands, and improved Native lives. With bold resolve, Suzan Shown Harjo pushes us to always seek justice in our time.
MILITARY AIDE: Ethel Kennedy. (Applause.) Ethel Kennedy’s life is a story of perseverance and generosity. A tireless advocate for the causes she holds dear, she founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights where she advances her husband’s vision and challenges us to imagine the world as it should be. Whether on gun control, environmental protection, human rights, or public health, she tackles difficult issues with a relentless drive and inspires those around her to do the same. In Ethel Kennedy, we find the strength, resilience, and passion that are at the heart of the American spirit.
MILITARY AIDE: The Honorable Abner Mikva. (Applause.) One of the greatest jurists of his time, Abner Mikva built his career on reverence for the law, commitment to public service, and love for Chicago. As a Congressman, federal judge, and counsel to President Clinton, he helped shape the national debate on some of the most challenging issues of the day, always insisting that government live up to its responsibilities to citizens. He has imparted his sense of civic duty to a new generation, from shaping legal minds as a law professor to challenging young people to give back to their communities through public service. Thanks to Abner Mikva, our laws -– and our nation -– are more fair and equal.
MILITARY AIDE: Wendy Mink, receiving on behalf of her mother, the Honorable Patsy Takemoto Mink. (Applause.)
Patsy Takemoto Mink was ahead of her time. The first woman of color elected to Congress, she entered office determined to do all she could to ensure equal treatment for every American, regardless of race or sex. She co-authored Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, guaranteeing equal educational opportunities for women. She was a forceful advocate for civil rights legislation and for a sensible end to the Vietnam War. She served her beloved Hawaii with integrity and grace all her life. An American trailblazer, Patsy Takemoto Mink helped build a nation that lives up to its promise, and her example challenges us to make progress in our time.
MILITARY AIDE: The Honorable Lucille Roybal Allard receiving on behalf of the Honorable Edward R. Roybal. (Applause.)
Edward R. Roybal lived to serve. He served in the Civilian Conservation Corps, in the Army during World War II, and on the Los Angeles City Council. In 1962, he became the first Hispanic American elected to Congress from California in almost a century, and he served there for thirty years. He stood up for people who needed a champion, including veterans, the mentally ill, the elderly, and people living with HIV/AIDS. He founded the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to ensure that the voices of Hispanic Americans would always be heard. Edward R. Roybal believed that our nation is strongest when we harness the talents of all of our people. That belief, and his legacy, will always live on.
MILITARY AIDE: Charles Sifford. Charles “Charlie” Sifford just wanted to play golf. At a time when the PGA adhered to a “Caucasians only” rule, he risked everything to affect change. In the face of death threats and stinging insults, he persistently challenged the discrimination that plagued his beloved sport while demonstrating his extraordinary skills on the course, winning six National Negro Opens before receiving his PGA Tour card. He went on to win PGA events, was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame, and received an honorary doctorate from St. Andrews University. Charlie Sifford leveled the fairway for generations of athletes of all races and inspired a community beyond the sport he loves.
MILITARY AIDE: Robert M. Solow. (Applause.) A brilliant economist, Robert M. Solow transformed our fundamental understanding of how to build broad-based prosperity. His ground-breaking research illustrated the importance of technological advancement to long-term growth, upending conventional thinking and earning him a Nobel Prize.
His conclusions emphasized the importance of investing in education, health, and scientific research, and millions of Americans have benefited from the economic progress that he helped to spark. Robert M. Solow’s contributions have molded public opinion and policy, and he continues to engage with the most pressing economic questions of the day with his incisive commentary on income inequality and economic mobility.
MILITARY AIDE: Meryl Streep. (Applause.) One of our nation’s greatest actors, Meryl Streep has an unmatched ability to bring a character to life. Her performances have earned her the most Academy Award nominations of any actor in history and have given her audiences the chance to see the world through someone else’s eyes.
Whether portraying a famous chef, a fashion editor, a Holocaust survivor, or a prime minister, she conveys her characters’ stories with empathy and dignity. Off screen, she brings that same humanity to her advocacy for women, education, and the arts. With depth, joy, and discipline, Meryl Streep invites us to explore the full range of the human experience, one story at a time.
MILITARY AIDE: Marlo Thomas. (Applause.) For over half a century, Marlo Thomas has been challenging conventions and defying expectations. She broke barriers in television with her iconic role in That Girl, and lifted the voices of women as co-founder of the Ms. Foundation for Women. Through stories and songs, she reminds children that we are all “Free to be You and Me,” and her work with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has helped it become one of the top children’s cancer hospitals in the nation. Through her words, deeds, and characters, Marlo Thomas has taught us to be true to ourselves and to lead our lives with confidence and compassion.
MILITARY AIDE: Stevie Wonder. (Applause.) One of the world’s most gifted singer-songwriters, Stevland Morris, known to the world as Stevie Wonder, crafts songs about joy and loss, love and loneliness – with a musical style entirely his own. He is celebrated for his exuberant creativity, his virtuosity on multiple instruments, and his mastery of a wide range of genres. The results have gained him millions of fans and 25 Grammy awards. Beyond his music, Stevie Wonder has impacted the world through his philanthropy and advocacy, especially his championing of people with disabilities. Creating music in the key of life, Stevie Wonder has brought greater harmony to our nation.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what an extraordinary group. Let’s give them all a big round of applause one more time. (Applause.)
We thank all of them for the gifts they’ve given to us, the incredible performances, the incredible innovation, the incredible ideas, the incredible expressions of the human spirit. And not only have they made the world better, but by following their example, they make us a little bit better every single day.
We are truly grateful to them. And on behalf of Michelle and myself, please enjoy the reception. And God bless you all. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 3:07 P.M. EST
Remarks by the President on the Resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
State Dining Room
11:10 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: About a year ago, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was visiting our troops in the Republic of Korea thanking them for their service and answering their questions, and they asked about the usual topics, about our national security, the future of our military. And then one soldier, a sergeant from Ohio asked him, what was the most pertinent question of the day, which was what was your favorite college football team. To which Chuck replied, born and raised in Nebraska, I don’t have a choice; I am a strong Cornhuskers fan.
Now there was a time when an enlisted soldier might have been reluctant to ask that kind of question of the Secretary of Defense. But Chuck Hagel has been no ordinary Secretary of Defense. As the first enlisted combat veteran to serve in that position, he understands our men and women like few others, because he’s stood where they stood, he’s been in the dirt and he’s been in the mud, and that’s established a special bond. He sees himself in them and they see themselves in him. And their safety, their lives, have always been at the center of Chuck’s service.
When I asked Chuck to serve as Secretary of Defense we were entering a significant period of transition. The draw-down in Afghanistan, the need to prepare our forces for future missions and tough fiscal choices to keep our military strong and ready. Over nearly two years, Chuck has been an exemplary Defense Secretary, providing a steady hand as we modernized our strategy and budget to meet long-term threats, while still responding to immediate challenges like ISIL and Ebola. Thanks to Chuck, our military is on a firmer footing, engaged in these missions and looking ahead to the future.
Now last month, Chuck came to me to discuss the final quarter of my presidency and determined that having guided the department through this transition, it was an appropriate time for him to complete his service. Let me just say that Chuck is and has been a great friend of mine. I’ve known him, admired him and trusted him for nearly a decade since I was a green-behind-the-ears, freshman senator, and we were both on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If there’s one thing I know about Chuck, it’s that he does not make this or any decision lightly, this decision does not come easily to him, but I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to have had him by my side for two years. And I am grateful that Chuck has agreed to stay on until I nominate a successor and that successor is confirmed by the Senate. Which means that he’ll continue to guide our troops at this challenging time.
I’ll have more opportunity to pay tribute to Chuck’s life of service in the days ahead. For now, let me just say this: Chuck Hagel has devoted himself to our national security and our men and women in uniform across more than six decades. He volunteered for Vietnam and still carries the scars and shrapnel from the battles that he fought. At the VA, he fought to give our veterans, especially his fellow Vietnam veterans, the benefits they had earned. As head of the USO, he made sure America always honors our troops. As a Senator, he helped lead the fight for the post-9/11 GI Bill, which is helping so many of our newest veterans and their families realize their dreams of a college education. As Secretary, Chuck has helped transition our military and bolstered America’s leadership around the world. During his tenure, Afghan forces took the lead for security in Afghanistan. Our forces have drawn down. Our combat mission there ends next month, and we’ll partner with Afghans to preserve the gains we have made.
The NATO Alliance is as strong as it has ever been, and we have reassured our allies with our increased presence in Central and Eastern Europe. We’ve modernized our alliances in the Asia Pacific; updated our defense posture and recently agreed to improve communications between the U.S. and Chinese militaries. Chuck has been critical to all these accomplishments.
Meanwhile, Chuck has ensured that our military is ready for new missions. Today our men and women in uniform are taking the fight against ISIL in Iraq, in Syria, and Chuck helped build the international coalition to ensure that the world is meeting this threat together.
Today our forces are helping to support the civilian effort against Ebola in West Africa, a reminder, as Chuck likes to say, that America’s military is the greatest force for good in the world.
Finally, in a very difficult budgetary environment, Chuck has never lost sight of key priorities. The readiness of our force and the quality of our life of our troops and their families. He’s launched new reforms to ensure that even as our military is leaner, it remains the strongest in the world and so our troops can continue to get the pay, the housing, the healthcare, the childcare that they and their families need -- reforms that we need Congress to now support.
At the same time, after the tragedies we’ve seen, Chuck has helped lead the effort to improve security at our military installations and to stamp out the scourge of sexual assault from the ranks.
Chuck, I also want to thank you on a personal level. We come from different parties, but in accepting this position you send a powerful message -- especially to folks in this city -- that when it comes to our national security and caring for our troops and their families, we are all Americans first. When I nominated you for this position, you said that you’d always give me your honest advice and informed counsel. You have. When it’s mattered most -- behind closed doors, in the Oval Office --you’ve always given it to me straight. And for that I will always be grateful.
I recall when I was a nominee in 2008, and I traveled to Afghanistan and Iraq. Chuck Hagel accompanied me on that trip along with Jack Reed. And it’s pretty rare at a time when sometimes this town is so politicized to have a friend who was willing to accompany a nominee from another party because he understood that whoever ended up being President, what was most important was that we were unified when we confronted the challenges that we see overseas. And that's the kind of class and integrity that Chuck Hagel has always represented.
Now, Chuck, you’ve said that a life is only as good as the family you have and the friends you surround yourself with. And in that, you are blessed. I want to thank Lilibet, your son Ziller and your daughter Allyn for the sacrifices that they’ve made as well. I know that as reluctant as we are to see you go, they are equally excited to getting their husband and father back. And I’m sure the Cornhuskers are also happy that a fan will be there to cheer them on more often.
Today, the United States of America can proudly claim the strongest military the world has ever known. That’s the result of investments made over many decades, the blood and treasure and sacrifices of generations. It’s the result of the character and wisdom those who lead them, as well -- including a young Army sergeant in Vietnam who our rose to serve as our nation's 24th Secretary of Defense. So on behalf of a grateful nation, thank you Chuck. (Applause.)
SECRETARY HAGEL: Thank you very much.
Mr. President, thank you -– thank you for your generous words, for your friendship, for your support which I have always valued and will continue to value. And to my not old, but my longtime, dear friend Vice President Biden, who I have always admired and respected, and both the President and I have learned an awful lot from the Vice President over the years -– thank you. And I want to thank the Deputy Secretary of Defense who is here, Bob Work, and the Chairman and Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Marty Dempsey, who also is here. I want to thank them for being here this morning.
I also want to thank you both for your tremendous leadership of the Defense Department and what you mean to our men and women and their families all over the world; and for the honor I’ve had to serve with each of you and the privilege it’s been in every way.
And I want to thank the entire leadership team at the Pentagon. Without their support and wise counsel over the last couple of years our many accomplishments, and the President noted some, I have been part of that -– but it’s a team. It’s all these tremendous men and women, as you know Mr. President, that make this happen and I couldn’t be prouder of them and what we have accomplished over the almost two years that I’ve had the honor of serving in this position.
And as the President noted I have today submitted my resignation as Secretary of Defense. It’s been the greatest privilege of my life; the greatest privilege of my life to lead and most important, to serve -- to serve with the men and women of the Defense Department and support their families. I am immensely proud of what we’ve accomplished during this time. We have prepared ourselves, as the President has noted, our allies and Afghan National Security Forces for a successful transition in Afghanistan. We bolstered enduring alliances and strengthened emerging partnerships while successfully responding to crises around the world.
And we’ve launched important reforms that the President noted -- reforms that will prepare this institution for the challenges facing us in decades to come. I believe we have set not only this department –- the Department of Defense -– but the nation on the stronger course toward security, stability and prosperity. If I didn’t believe that, I would not have done this job.
As our country prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving I want to –- you, Mr. President, and you, Vice President Biden, -– acknowledge what you have done and how grateful I am to both of you for your leadership and your friendship and for giving me this opportunity to serve our country once again.
I will continue to support you, Mr. President, and the men and women who defend this country every day so unselfishly; and their families, what they do for our country, so unselfishly. And as I have said –- and as the President noted –- I will stay on this job and work just as hard as I have over the last couple of years, every day, every moment, until my successor is confirmed by the United States Senate.
I’d also like to express my gratitude to our colleagues on Capitol Hill -- my gratitude to them for their support of me, but more importantly their support of our troops and their families and their continued commitment to our National Security.
I also want to thank my international counterparts for their friendship and their partnership and their advice during my time as Secretary of Defense. Their involvement with me and their partnership with me -- in so many of these important areas as we build these coalitions of common interests as you have noted, Mr. President –- are so critically important and to them, I am grateful I will be forever grateful.
And finally I’d like to thank my family. My wife Lilibet, who you have mentioned, Mr. President, who was with me this morning as she has been with me throughout so many years, and during so many tremendous experiences. And this experience and opportunity and privilege to serve as Secretary of Defense has been one of those; and to my daughter Allyn and my son Ziller.
Mr. President, again, thank you. To you and to all of our team everywhere, as we know Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, it is a team effort. And that’s part of the fun of it, to help build teams and to work together to make things happen for the good of the country and make a better world. For all of that I am immensely grateful. And to all of you, your families, happy Thanksgiving. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 11:25 A.M. EST
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EST
MR. EARNEST:Afternoon, everybody.Nice to see you all.Just a quiet Monday to get our Thanksgiving week going.
Q We thought it was.
MR. EARNEST:Yes, well, we like to keep you on your toes.Let’s get settled in here.Josh, would you like to get us started, please?
Q Sure.Thanks, Josh.The President this morning said that it was the appropriate time for Chuck Hagel’s tenure at the Pentagon to come to an end.What exactly did he mean by that?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Josh, the President alluded to the fact that Secretary Hagel and the President had convened a number of conversations more than a month ago about the President’s two remaining years in office and the kinds of priorities that this administration, this country would be facing when it comes to our foreign policy.
Over the course of the last month or so, the President and the Secretary have had a number of conversations, and they determined that it would be best for the Pentagon to transition to new leadership.Now, this is pretty consistent with the tenure of previous Secretaries of Defense that we’ve seen.For about the President’s first two years, Secretary Gates served, and then the next two years, Secretary Panetta.And generally speaking, over the course of the last two years, Secretary Hagel has been running the Pentagon.So it certainly is consistent with this pattern that we would have a new Secretary of Defense for the two remaining years of the presidency.
I’ll tell you that Secretary Hagel departs with a pretty strong track record at the Department of Defense; that he’s put in place some key reforms at the Pentagon that will -- that have strengthened our military in the short term, but also will do a lot to strengthen our military and our national security in the years ahead.
Obviously, he has served at a -- in a very challenging budget environment, not just for the Pentagon but for the government.And managing those challenges, while also making sure that our military had the resources that they needed to carry out the very important missions that are protecting the United States and our interests around the globe, he was successful in that effort.
He is somebody who also led the effort at the Pentagon to ensure that the necessary steps were being taken to stamp out the scourge of sexual assault.There have been obviously reports of sexual assaults -- at the rate of sexual assaults increasing in the military, and this is something that the President and his Secretary of Defense took very seriously.There’s a review underway on that, and that's -- that was something that required a significant reevaluation inside the military, and it required leadership.And that's exactly what Secretary Hagel provided.
Q So if all those things were going so well then why did he have to leave?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the other thing that we have seen, Josh, is just in the last year, there have been some other significant challenges that have cropped up that have required strong leadership at the Department of Defense -- something, again, that Secretary Hagel has provided -- from countering the threat that's posed by ISIL, building an international coalition to take the fight to them; to countering Ebola and using Department of Defense resources in West Africa to try support the ongoing international effort to stop that outbreak at the source; and certainly, our ongoing efforts to support the people of Ukraine as they deal with the inappropriate interference from separatists and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
All of those are crises that have emerged in just the last year or so and are things that will, on an ongoing basis, require the continued attention of the Department of Defense.
What I can tell you is that over the course of the last two years, Secretary Hagel has stepped in to fill a very important role, which is to navigate that department through a very difficult era of budget constraints and other threats to the United States.And he is somebody who has served ably, and he is somebody in whom the President has the highest respect.And the President is pleased that he’s agreed to stay on and serve in that role until his successor has been confirmed by the United States Senate.
Q How much of a role did the changing environment when it comes to the threat posed by Islamic State play in this decision?And is it fair to say that the President is looking for a new Defense Secretary who can bring a new approach to the Islamic State issue?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, the President has been working very intensively with his national security team to deal with this rapidly changing environment.And certainly to make sure that we have the kind of strategy in place that will ensure that our interests are protected against the threat that's posed by ISIL is an important part of the kinds of discussions the President has been having over the last several months.
I would anticipate that -- the President is mindful of the fact that the next Secretary of Defense will have this as a top priority when he or she steps into that office.And the President is certainly mindful of that.
But the other thing that I think that it’s important for us to not forget -- and this is one of the reasons that Secretary Hagel was nominated for this job in the first place -- is that he was the first enlisted combat veteran to ever serve as a Secretary of Defense.He is somebody who understands firsthand -- who understood and understands firsthand what our men and women in uniform and their families sacrifice on a daily basis to ensure our safety and security.
And that firsthand knowledge is not just a testament to Secretary Hagel’s character, it means he was the right person to lead that department at a time when they were going to have to make important reforms and important budgetary decisions that would have a direct impact on the ability of those -- or our men and women in uniform to do their jobs.
So he served in a leadership role at a very critical time for the Department of Defense.He has been the right person for the job and he has performed to the President’s expectations in a way, as the President mentioned in his statement, will contribute to the ongoing effort that has made the United States military the most powerful force for good in the world.
Q Do you have any timeline for wanting to name and replace and confirm a replacement?The end of this year, at the start of the next congressional session?Anything like that?
MR. EARNEST:I don't have any timeframe like that to lay out for you here.I would anticipate that, as we always do, that when the President makes a decision about who should succeed Secretary Hagel at the Pentagon, that that is a person that will be worthy of swift consideration and confirmation in bipartisan fashion by the United States Senate.
Q And just one on Iran -- there are already members of Congress, prominent members, who are calling for increased sanctions to accompany this extension in the nuclear talks.During the round of talks that has just concluded, the President had threatened to veto any such new sanctions from Congress.Is that veto threat still valid and active now that the administration is asking for another seven months to wrap up these talks?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Josh, we continue to believe that adding on sanctions while negotiations are ongoing would be counterproductive.And the reason for that is pretty simple.It’s important for people to understand how the sanctions regime works.
The United States Congress deserves credit for this aspect of the strategy.They put in place a very tough sanctions regime against Iran.But the effect of that sanctions regime was multiplied because of the diplomatic work that the administration did to get other countries around the world to abide by that regime.So basically, you had American diplomats going around the globe urging their counterparts in other significant countries -- some of whom buy much more Iranian oil than we do -- saying, hey, we need to abide by this sanctions regime so that we can resolve the broader international community’s concerns with the Iranian nuclear program.And that required very difficult diplomatic work.
But that is, I think, a pretty good illustration of how Congress and the administration can work together to maximize the impact of these sanctions.The concern that we have is that layering on additional sanctions could leave some of our partners with the impression that this sanctions regime is more punitive in nature than anything else, and that could cause some cracks in that international coordination to appear.And that would, therefore, undermine the point of the sanctions regime in the first place.
So at this point, because of the ongoing talks, we have succeeded in actually rolling back Iran’s nuclear program.You’ll recall, Josh, that a year ago, Iran had 200 kilograms of uranium that had been enriched at the 20-percent level.They now don't have a single ounce of uranium that has been enriched to the 20-percent level.They’ve eliminated that stockpile.That was one of the terms of these conversations.
You’ll recall that Iran was -- has also, as part of this agreement, suspended enriching uranium above the 5-percent level.So that is also an indication that they are not making the same kinds of strides with their nuclear program that they have previously.The same is true when it comes to the heavy-water reactor that they were building in Arak.No progress has been made on that reactor in the context of these talks because the agreement was that they would not continue to develop that site in the context of these talks.
That also relates to the kind of inspections that we’ve seen.We’ve got international inspectors who are keeping close tabs on the Iranian nuclear program, and the access that they’ve gotten in the context of these talks is unlike any access they’ve gotten to the Iran nuclear program in history.
So again, there are substantial gaps that remain.And the President on numerous occasions has made clear that he believes the prospects of a deal are 50-50 at best.The President has also been clear that no deal is better than a bad deal.But we do believe that enough progress has been made to warrant giving the Iranian regime more time to answer the international community’s concerns about their nuclear program, and to put in place a protocol for continuing to assure the international community about their compliance with these agreements.
Q But if Congress sends him a bill early next year with more sanctions, will the President veto it?
MR. EARNEST:Again, Josh, our position on putting in place sanctions in the midst of these ongoing negotiations has not changed.
Q Josh, was Secretary Hagel forced out?
MR. EARNEST:Steve, again, the decision that was announced today is the result of conversations that the President and the Secretary have been having for more than a month now.And in the context of those conversations, the two of them arrived together at the determination that new leadership should take over at the Pentagon and -- for the last two years of the President’s term, and that's what’s going to happen.
Q Did the President try to talk him out of leaving?
MR. EARNEST:Well, certainly they spent a lot of time talking about the progress that's been made under Secretary Hagel’s leadership.They talked about some of the critically important budget reforms that were put in place at the Pentagon.They talked about the work that Secretary Hagel has done with our men and women in uniform to combat sexual assault in the military.They also spent a lot of time talking about the success that Secretary Hagel has had in strengthening our relationships with NATO, strengthening that alliance.And you’ll recall, Steve, or at least those of you who traveled with us to Asia last week, that part of the context of the visit with -- the state visit to China was an agreement about U.S.-China military relations; that there was an agreement on a protocol for stronger and clearer communication between the U.S. military and Chinese military.
Those kinds of agreements don't happen by accident, particularly when you're talking about agreements between the U.S. military and a pretty secretive military like the one that's maintained by the Chinese.So again, that is an illustration of the kind of success and leadership that Secretary Hagel has provided at the Department of Defense.
Q The Secretary had written a two-page memo about Syria in which he disagreed with the President’s policy.Did that -- what effect did that have here?
MR. EARNEST:It did not have any effect.As you know, Steve, the President is looking for his -- the senior members of his team to provide clear, unvarnished advice based on their experience and their instincts.And people like Secretary Hagel are sought out because of their unique point of view.
The question, though, is how reliable are those individuals in terms of acting and carrying out the strategy that the President has selected.And in this matter, Secretary Hagel has performed extremely well.He is somebody who has understood the strategy.Obviously, the Department of Defense has a core component of that strategy.And Secretary Hagel has demonstrated clearly in a variety of public settings that he believes in the strategy that the President has laid out, that he believes that the strategy the President has laid out has made -- has yielded important progress in the short term, and it will be successful over the long term.
Q And when exactly did the Secretary turn in his resignation?Was there a meeting on Friday, or -- how did this transpire?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Steve, I probably won’t get into the tick-tock of all of the meetings that they had.But you heard Secretary Hagel say in his statement today that he had submitted his letter of resignation today.
Q Josh, is it safe to say the President will be looking for some new blood, some fresh perspectives, maybe somebody from outside of his inner circle, the administration for a replacement for Chuck Hagel?
MR. EARNEST:Jon, at this point I don't have a sense of sort of where that process is, so I wouldn’t want to handicap that process at this point.But obviously, whoever the next Secretary of Defense is is going to have some big shoes to fill based on the success and track record of somebody like Secretary Hagel.
Q And let me get back to -- Josh asked you a very direct question and I did not hear a direct answer to -- if he’d done such a wonderful job, you listed all his accomplishments, why did he have to go?I mean, why?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, this is based on a conversation between the two of them about what the next two years of this administration is going to look like.And based on what those priorities are going to be over the next two years, both men determined that it was an appropriate time for Secretary Hagel to step down and for someone else to take the reigns over at the Pentagon.
Q How central was he to crafting the strategy that the President has pursued against ISIL and the strategy towards Syria in general?
MR. EARNEST:Well, obviously the Secretary of Defense has a very important role to play in that strategy.Our men and women in uniform are performing a variety of important functions in that region of the world.The first and I think the most significant are the airstrikes that are being carried out against ISIL targets both in Iraq and in Syria.In Iraq, they're obviously in support of ongoing ground operations by Iraqi and Kurdish security forces.
But there also is an important role for our military to play in terms of providing equipment to Iraqi security forces.There also is an important training and advisory component.So there are a number of important things that the Department of Defense is doing against ISIL, and so obviously the Secretary of Defense has to play an important role doing two things.One is making recommendations to the President about the capabilities of the Department of Defense, and then two, once the President has set out a strategy, implementing it within his department.Obviously, there are a lot of elements of the President’s strategy that need to be implemented that directly affect the Department of Defense.
Q Absolutely no question about that.But what I asked, though, is how central was he, how critical is he, how much ownership does he have over the strategy that the President has pursued?Obviously he’s been implementing the strategy insofar as it involves the Department of Defense, but in terms of the President’s strategy, the approach he has taken to Syria specifically and to the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, how much of a role did Chuck Hagel have in that?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the role that he played was substantial, as it was with other members of the President’s national security team.We all have lots of conversations in here about the number of national security meetings that the President had convened to discuss this issue.And obviously, again, there are significant equities when it comes to the Department of Defense, and so the President expected to hear from his Secretary of Defense on a number of these important strategic decisions.And the President is pleased with the advice and counsel that Secretary Hagel provided.
Q In an interview today, John McCain said that he spoke to Chuck Hagel and that Hagel was very frustrated -- he said he has this conversation last week -- he was very frustrated.There had been leaks out of the White House that he wasn’t up to the job, and he felt he was being micromanaged.Is John McCain onto something there?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think that given his relationship with the administration, I think there might be reasons to view a readout of the phone call from Senator McCain to be something less than impartial.
Q But a close relationship with Hagel, though?I mean he’s --
MR. EARNEST:Yes, I don't think that was on full display during his confirmation hearings.(Laughter.)But I would grant that they served together for quite some time.And both of them certainly proudly served our country in the military, so I would expect that would make -- form some kind of personal bond between the two men.
But again, I can't speak to any private conversation that Secretary Hagel had with Senator McCain, but I can speak to Secretary Hagel’s proud record of service to this country, both as an enlisted combat veteran, but also as Secretary of Defense.
Q And you wouldn’t expect this confirmation of the successor to happen before the lame duck is up, right?This will be the next Congress?
MR. EARNEST:Well, before we talk about timing, we’ll find a nominee, and then we’ll -- then we can discuss time up here.
Q Yes, thanks.Different topic.I understand that the House and Senate are close on a package of tax extenders and I’m wondering if you’ve seen that package and what the -- if the President might support it.
MR. EARNEST:I have not seen that package.I’ve seen the reports about that package, Cheryl.I can tell you that the reports are not promising.The reports suggest that there may be some in Congress who want to provide tax relief to businesses and to corporate insiders, but not ensuring that those benefits are shared by middle-class families.
So certainly the administration would not be supportive of a package that provided relief to corporations without providing relief to middle-class families.That is consistent with the President’s view that we need to be focused on expanding economic opportunity for middle-class families because the President believes that our economy is strongest when it’s growing from the middle out.And investment in significant, unpaid-for tax breaks for corporations without giving a tax break to middle-class families is not consistent with that philosophy at all.
Q But does the President want to see that package move in the lame duck, or does he think with these reports that maybe we should hold off?
MR. EARNEST:Well, we certainly don't want to see a package that benefits corporations but not middle-class families.That's something that we’d strongly oppose.So we wouldn’t want to see that move in the lame duck.We wouldn’t want to see that move any point.We believe that if we're going to have a conversation about lightening the tax load, that we need to start that conversation by focusing on how that will expand opportunity for middle-class families.
And again, just offering up those benefits to corporations without offering up any benefits to middle-class families is not something the President would support.
Q Josh, on -- in terms of policy and substance with the new Secretary of Defense, has the President’s thinking evolved in terms of whether or not there will be combat missions for U.S. troops in Afghanistan next year?
MR. EARNEST:It has not, Ed.I know there are some reports about the role that U.S. men and women in our military will play in Afghanistan.As you know, the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan will end at the end of this year, in just a little over a month.
In 2015, the mission for our men and women in uniform will shift into a different role that will be focusing on training and equipping Afghan security forces, and conducting targeted counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda that still operate in that region of the world.That will be the focal point of their mission in in Afghanistan.
Q So there’s no expansion at all of the mission?
MR. EARNEST:No, the mission that the President has laid out remains consistent.
Q And in terms of the last two Secretaries of Defense writing books that were pretty scathing about the leadership of the President, and in some cases attacked him personally -- Leon Panetta, Robert Gates -- did that play any factor at all in terms of some of the divisions that have been raised, any concerns that Secretary Hagel was headed in that direction?
MR. EARNEST:No, I haven’t seen any evidence of that.I think that one of the hallmarks of Secretary Hagel’s career is he is somebody who has been extraordinarily loyal to his country and to his Commander-in-Chief.And again, that was true when he was an enlisted combat veteran, it was true when was in the United States Senate, and that's been true when he’s served as Secretary of Defense.
Q And a couple other quick things.On immigration -- in his interview with ABC News yesterday, the President was sort of asked about future Presidents, Democrat and Republican, using this as a precedent.And he seemed to say and dismiss the idea that it could be used on taxes, saying, “Absolutely not.It’s not legitimate for the next President to say we're not going to enforce certain tax laws.”How can he make such a blanket statement when he’s applying this principle to immigration law that's on the books?And frankly, he doesn't know, if it’s a Democrat or a Republican, how they're going to approach this.How does this not open the door to a pretty large precedent?
MR. EARNEST:It’s a good question.I think there are a couple of reasons for that, Ed.
The first is, we’re not talking about whether or not the President is going to enforce certain laws.We’re talking about the Department of Homeland Security using prosecutorial discretion to sharpen the focus of enforcement on those who pose a threat to national security, and those who pose a threat to public safety.
That is consistent with the kinds of executive actions that previous Presidents have taken in this area that every administration is challenged to make a decision about how to use limited resources to enforce the law.And in this case, the President believes that those limited resources should be focused on cracking down on criminals, on those who pose a threat to public safety, and those, of course, who pose a threat to national security.
The tax law thing is obviously much different.I think the analogy would be that refusing to enforce certain tax laws would be akin to refusing to enforce any laws as it relates to our border, for example.That’s not at all what the President is doing.In fact, as we’ve discussed quite a bit over the last couple of years, enforcement at the border is actually up under President Obama, and that’s thanks to the investment that we’ve made in terms of manpower and resources at the border.
Q But I thought George Stephanopoulos was trying to say, the next President could say, I’m going to enforce personal income tax, that’s a bigger priority, I’m going to enforce corporate taxes, but capital gains taxes maybe not as important -- and could pick and choose, I think was the point that was made.So how do you know this is not a precedent on laws across the books?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I guess that’s the question that you could have asked President Reagan after he announced his executive action in terms of using prosecutorial discretion to reform the immigration law.
I guess the other thing is this -- is that certainly when it comes to our tax law, there are important restrictions as it relates to political interference and the enforcement of tax law.Those are laws that have been scrupulously abided by in this administration, and we anticipate that other administrations would, as well.
Q Last one on tax laws.There was a rather long story in The New York Times last week about Al Sharpton having allegedly back taxes up to $4.5 million, between personally and his for-profit entity.He has said that he’s paid a bunch of it, and there’s some dispute about how much has been paid or not.He’s here at the White House frequently as an advisor to the President; the President spoke to his organization a few months ago.Is the White House concerned that he hasn’t paid his taxes?
MR. EARNEST:Ed, I have to be honest with you, I haven’t read those stories.I can tell you that the question that you’re asking, though, I think does illustrate the kind of important and justified restrictions that there are on political interference with any sort of tax investigations and tax enforcement.So I’m confident that this administration is allowing whatever enforcement procedures are underway to be carried out.
Q But an advisor to the President should pay his or her taxes.
MR. EARNEST:I’m sorry?
Q An advisor to the President should pay his or her taxes.
MR. EARNEST:I think every American should pay his or her taxes.Controversial statement for a Monday.(Laughter.)
Q Josh, Vice President Biden just spent several days in Turkey talking with Prime Minister Davutoglu and President Erdogan.Other than (inaudible), what progress was made on any of major issues between Turkey and U.S., such as no-fly zone or use of Incirlik Base -- Air Base?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I got only a very brief readout of the Vice President’s meeting.I know that he had very long conversations with both the President and the Prime Minister while he was there.I think that’s indicative of a couple of things.
First, it’s indicative of the strong alliance that exists between the United States and Turkey.It also is indicative of the strong relationships that the Vice President personally has with those two leaders.
It’s also indicative of the significant stake that Turkey has in the outcome in Syria, and in degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL.There’s a long border that Turkey has with Syria.There’s a substantial humanitarian situation that’s pretty dire that Turkey has been focused on confronting.
And so I would anticipate that this is just the latest in what will continue to be extensive consultations between U.S. officials and Turkish officials in the region as it relates to dealing with ISIL.But in terms of any agreements or progress on those conversations, I’d refer you to the Vice President’s office for more details.
Q Thanks, Josh.You said that the President and Secretary Hagel have been having more than a month of conversations.Why wasn’t there a successor at this press event today?Does no one want the job?
MR. EARNEST:I’m sorry, what was the --
Q Does no one want the job?I mean, the array of challenges is huge.You had about a month, I guess, to figure out a potential successor.Why was there no one up there today?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the very first conversation between the President and the Secretary was -- began with Secretary Hagel’s departure in mind; that this was a more recent decision that came out of more than a month of conversations between the two men.
So I can tell you that there has already been work done to start considering who the next Secretary of Defense will be, but I don’t have any updates on that process.
Q And then -- I’m sorry to come back on this, but I’m confused -- you told Josh -- you suggested to Josh that the increased prominence of the ISIL threat was a factor in Secretary Hagel’s departure, but you told Jon that Secretary Hagel was implementing the strategy perfectly.I don’t understand, then, why -- what role that campaign played in his departure.
MR. EARNEST:That’s a good question.Let me try to clarify.
The point I’m trying to make is that -- simply, when Secretary Hagel was first nominated for this job -- I believe that was at the end of 2012, even, before the first of the year -- that the threat that was posed by ISIL was not nearly as significant as it is now.And that has caused the threat that’s posed by ISIL to rise up to near the top of the priority list at the Department of Defense, and that wasn’t the case when Secretary Hagel first took office.
At the top of the priority list was helping the Department of Defense adjust to some of the budgetary challenges that are facing that agency.Those challenges aren’t over, but substantial progress has been made in making sure that our men and women in uniform have the resources that they need to carry out their mission even as these new challenges emerge.And that is, frankly, a testament to the leadership and management of Secretary Hagel.
I think the point I’m trying to make is just that the priorities of the Department -- or at least of the new Secretary -- have changed, given changes in the international community.It doesn’t mean that Secretary Hagel hasn’t done an excellent job of managing these crises as they’ve cropped up, but it does mean that as we consider the next remaining two years of the President’s time in office, that another Secretary might be better suited to meet those challenges.That was something that the two of them agreed, and I’ll anticipate that we’ll have an announcement about his successor relatively soon.
Q I have two things I wanted to ask about.The first is, there’s reports that the Ferguson grand jury has come to a decision and will be announcing that today, and so I’m wondering if there are any plans here from the President to -- I know he spoke about it in his interview over the weekend -- but to address that verdict if it comes out, or in the coming days.
MR. EARNEST:I saw those news reports right before I walked out here.I don’t have any special insight into those grand jury proceedings, neither does anybody else at the White House.So if there’s a need for the President to make a public statement today, we’ll obviously let you know as soon as we’ve made that decision, but I don’t have any insight to share with you about what may be a part of those -- of an announcement from the St. Louis County prosecutor.
Q And then there was a report in the Times last Friday, and so I’m wondering if it’s true, that the White House has banned congressional staffers from meetings between the President and lawmakers.
MR. EARNEST:I don’t think that that’s true, but I don’t sit in on too many meetings with the President and congressional leaders these days.I think he prefers to have those conversations just with the members, but I don’t think that that means that there’s never been a congressional staff who’s participated in those sessions.
Q I mean, the report suggested that this is a new policy initiative that’s changed as part of what I’ve asked you about a lot, which is kind of the continuing drama between --
MR. EARNEST:You have asked me about it a lot.(Laughter.)
Q It was funny, even though -- I was the only one who cared about it.
MR. EARNEST:I’m just saying.
Q There was a very lengthy story in The New York Times.
MR. EARNEST:Yes, I did read that one.(Laughter.)
Q Well, I’m sort of wondering -- I mean, it described --
MR. EARNEST:Let me try to answer your question more directly.I don’t know of any specific policy that’s been in place that bans congressional staffers from participating in meetings between the President and members of Congress.I know that as a general matter, the President prefers to have those meetings in smaller settings with fewer people, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be members of congressional staff included in the future.
Q Sifting through what you’ve been able to tell us this afternoon, a month ago these conversations started, they did not start with the premise that Hagel would leave.
MR. EARNEST:That’s correct.
Q They discussed the future of the obligations of the Secretary of Defense and the very difficult challenges ahead, preeminently, ISIL.And at the conclusion of those conversations, it was determined by both of them mutually that Hagel had to go.You also said that it was important for the President to know that the person at the head of the Defense Department would reliably implement his strategy going forward.Taking those things together, it sounds like there was a disagreement about the strategy, and a lack of confidence in the President that Hagel, if he remained there, would implement it to his satisfaction.Fair enough?
MR. EARNEST:No, I didn’t mean to -- the last part of it -- I was with you until the very last part.Secretary Hagel has been very reliably implementing the strategy that the President has directed.The President has been completely comfortable, in fact, pleased, with the way that the Secretary of Defense has implemented the very important role that the Department of Defense has to play in the execution of the strategy.
So this is not about the --
Q What about going forward?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the President doesn’t have any doubts about Secretary Hagel’s loyalty or his commitment to implementing the strategy that the President has laid out.There’s no concern about that.The fact is that, based on --
Q Was Hagel uncomfortable with carrying out the strategy as he saw it the next two years, and therefore less willing to serve?
MR. EARNEST:You’d have to ask him that, but I don’t think that he would say that that was the case.He is somebody who on a number of occasions has publicly stated his confidence in the strategy that the President and this nation is pursuing to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL.
Q So they were in agreement on everything but looked at each other and said, after a month of conversations, this can’t go on?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think they just -- again, I don’t think they arrived at that conclusion, because you saw the two of them stand next to each other and talk about the respect and admiration that they have for one another in the State Dining Room today.I think there are genuinely warm feelings between the two men; that Secretary Hagel formed his friendship with then-newly elected Senator Obama at a very formative time, and I think that really sealed a strong bond between the two of them.
Q Right, and yet when Steve asked you if he was pushed out, you had an opportunity to say, no, he wasn’t pushed out, and you didn’t.
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, because I keep saying that the two men, in the context of these conversations, made the decision together, and I think that’s a pretty clear indication that this happened differently then what you or he described.
Q Okay.On Afghanistan, the report Friday late in The New York Times, which others here have confirmed, is that the President did sign an order clarifying force protection for U.S. military personnel remaining in Afghanistan until they’re all pulled out, meaning providing air cover and authorizing the use of combat operations if necessary to protect them from potential attacks.Those questions were raised on the various conference calls that the White House organized.At the time the new numbers were announced, and they weren’t answered.So I just want to clarify that the President has authorized air cover and combat operations if it’s needed for force protection for those remaining U.S. military personnel until they’re all pulled out of Afghanistan.
MR. EARNEST:Well, let’s go through a couple pieces of this.
The first is, there’s no secret order.The reports of a secret order are, at best, greatly exaggerated.There is a routine policymaking process that the President engages in with his national security team to determine these kinds of policies and strategies, and when the President did sign off on the strategy for keeping about 10,000 troops on the ground in Afghanistan after 2014, focused on this very specific mission of training Afghan security forces and conducting limited counterterrorism operations, that in the context of that strategy, the President also signed off on those service personnel doing what is necessary to protect themselves.And I don’t think that’s a particularly surprising development; that’s pretty consistent with the kinds of decisions that the President makes as the military implements other military strategies.
So again, we’re not talking about a secret order here -- at least in this case there’s no secret order.And the kind of guidance that the President has shared with the U.S. military is entirely consistent with the mission that they’ll be carrying out that we announced I guess it was at least a year ago.
Q Right, but air cover will be provided if necessary, and there could be combat operations, if required, to protect the forces there, correct?
MR. EARNEST:Again, for those kinds of operational details in terms of air cover --
Q Because that’s what the authorization is.
MR. EARNEST:The authorization is to make sure that our men and women in uniform have the authorization to do what’s necessary to protect themselves, yes.But that is true in a variety of -- wide variety of settings where our men and women are stationed overseas, particularly when they’re serving in an area as dangerous as it continues to be in Afghanistan.
The other thing that’s I think important for people to more broadly understand is that we’ve made substantial progress in carrying out the strategy that this President has put in place for Afghanistan; that we, at one point, did peak the number of American boots on the ground in Afghanistan at over 100,000, by the end of this year we’ll be talking about 10,000 boots on the ground in Afghanistan.And that will be part of a trend that, at the end of 2016, will have our military personnel back into an embassy-protection role.And that I think represents the fulfillment of the President’s promise to wind down the war in Afghanistan in a responsible way.
Q One other thing -- last week, the administration and you took great pains to talk about this particular figure related to immigration executive actions taken under George Herbert Walker Bush.Glenn Kessler has done a tremendous amount of fact-checking for The Washington Post.Understanding that it’s precedent that George H.W. Bush did take some actions, they were not nearly as significant, statistically, as represented by this administration in some of the news articles at the time.Will you either retract that or stop using that in the future as part of the defense of the President’s actions?
MR. EARNEST:I will not, Major.The fact of the matter is, the Bush administration did take an executive action that did have an impact on 1.5 million people who were living in this country, and that is about 40 percent of the population -- of the undocumented population at the time.This is something that, as you point out, has been reported by The Associated Press, New York Times, and even the Congressional Research Service.
There actually is -- we did a little digging on this because I anticipated that somebody might ask, so --
Q It’s a fair question.
MR. EARNEST:It is a fair question.February 21st, 1990 -- we had to go far back into the archives -- Mr. Gene McNary, who, at the time, was serving as the INS commissioner, testified before Congress, and he said -- he was asked a specific question by Senator Morrison, I assume, who said, “Under your recent administrative order, these 1.5 million people essentially are here to stay, with work and travel privileges, isn’t that right?”And Mr. McNary said, under oath, “We think you are right as to the 1.5 million being here.There is an estimate of another 1.5 million that could come as a result of this change in definition.”So then Senator Morrison follows up and says, “There is another 1.5 million who you think would become eligible?”Mr. McNary’s answer to that question was, “Yes.”
So according to reports from The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Congressional Research Service, and according to the under-oath testimony of the Secretary -- or of the commissioner of the INS, about 1.5 million people were affected by President Bush’s order.
Q Those were estimates at the time.As Glenn pointed out in his piece, subsequent numbers obtained from those who actually applied are far, far lower.So those were estimates of what might happen.There are numbers about what actually did happen that are far smaller than that.Do you find that any reason to revise your --
MR. EARNEST:I do not, because, again, what we’re talking about is the number of people who are eligible.There continues to be this open question about the take-up rate, about how many people will actually come forward and apply for this deferred action protection.But the fact is, there are 1.5 million people, about 40 percent of the undocumented population, that would have been eligible for the executive action that President George H.W. Bush announced, and about 40 percent of the undocumented population will be eligible for the executive action that President Obama announced.
Q Thank you.
MR. EARNEST:Yes, sir.Mark.
Q Yes, Josh, let me come back to the Iran talks, if I may.
Q A number of the lawmakers who have said they want to have additional sanctions have spoken of passing something that’s conditional that would only take effect, impose new sanctions, if the talks failed.How is that punitive?How does that signal in these -- not any lack of seriousness in the talks if it’s held -- if it, in effect, gives the negotiators an additional weapon?
MR. EARNEST:Well, at this point, Mark, I can tell you that, so far, we have felt we’ve needed -- we’ve gotten all the leverage that we’ve needed from the Iranian regime to engage in serious conversations with the broader international community.That’s principally because we’ve had broad agreement among the international community about the enforcement of these sanctions, and that has had a substantial impact on the Iranian economy.
So that is why we have suggested that additional sanctions, at this point, are not necessary.
Q Because a lot of the lawmakers -- and especially those who are critical of the administration -- say, look, if the powers that be in Iran haven’t made the commitment necessary to reach agreement in this period of time, just adding another seven months is letting them play for time; that they’ve certainly proven in the past they’re willing to secretly try and build a bomb, why is there not some alarm that they’re not trying to do the same thing?
MR. EARNEST:Well, we’re mindful of that, Mark.And you raise what’s a really important point -- that previously, the Iranian regime has used diplomatic conversations as cover to go out and secretly develop a nuclear capability.
What’s different in this instance is that there are -- there is an inspections regime that has been more thorough and transparent than has previously been in place to confirm that the Iranians are abiding by the agreement that they’ve committed to in the course of these talks.And those agreements that they made in the course of the talks actually have succeeded in rolling back their program.They eliminated their stockpile of uranium that had been enriched to the 20-percent level.That’s important, because uranium that’s been enriched to the 20-percent level can rapidly be enriched further to a weaponized form.
We’ve also seen that they are not actually continuing to develop the heavy-water reactor at Arak, and that is a substantial agreement, too.And again, we know that not because the Iranians tell us that, we know that because international inspectors have been there to verify it.And that will be the key to any sort of agreement that we reach with the Iranian regime.
Q Understanding all that, how do you answer the argument that the incentives you already have at the table didn’t produce an agreement in a very likely period of time?How is it going to -- how is putting additional incentive on the table going to -- how is that not going to help the -- hurry things toward an agreement?
MR. EARNEST:That’s an important question, and it is our assessment -- or at least it has been our assessment that adding additional sanctions would actually cause others who are helping enforce these sanctions to break apart; that there might be others who say, look, we’ve put in -- we’ve had in place a very tough sanctions regime, and just piling on more sanctions on the Iranians, even though they’ve rolled back their nuclear program, is an indication that you guys are more interested in punishing them than you are in actually reaching an agreement.
So this is not a matter just of applying additional pressure on Iran.There is substantial pressure on Iran, and that, frankly, is why we’ve been able to make as much progress as we have so far.We want to make sure that other members of the international community who need to have buy-in on this continue to enforce this sanctions regime.
But the other important -- but because of the important points that you’ve raised that have also been raised by other members of Congress, this administration is going to continue to closely coordinate and communicate with leaders in Congress who are very interested in this issue.So I know that there are senior members of the administration up to and including the President of the United States who have been making calls on this in recent days and will be over the course of this week as well.
Q Josh, is there a worry, though, inside the administration, to follow up on Mark’s question, that the Iranians are buying themselves more time to develop things covertly that the rest of the world may not know about?
Mr. Ernest:Well, Jim, the reason that we are less concerned about that than we have been in the past is we do have this inspection team that’s been on the ground there, and has been given much greater access to the Iran and nuclear program than they have been in the past.
So again, were not in a situation where were trusting the Iranian regime that they aren’t making progress, we’re verifying that the Iranian regime is not making progress.In the context of engaging in these conversations, we’ve made some very difficult asks of the Iranian regime to take some steps to actually roll back their nuclear program, and based on the inspections regime, we know that that’s what they’ve done.
So we’re not in a position, as others have been in the past, where Iran has just been playing for time and engaging in diplomatic conversations while they could try to develop some aspects of their nuclear program secretly.We’re not as worried about that this time because we know that this -- that our inspections team has been able to confirm that they’re living up with the agreement.
Q And getting back to Secretary Hagel, you said earlier that the President and Secretary arrived at this decision together.That suggests that this decision was not solely Secretary Hagel’s, isn’t that right?Because it was also the President’s decision.
MR. EARNEST:Well, yes, it’s something that they arrived at together.
Q But the President -- as my good friend Steve tried to ask you -- the President did not try to talk him out of that decision, so in essence, this was also the President’s decision?
MR. EARNEST:In essence I would say that this was a decision that they made together.
Q That’s as far as you want to -- okay.And then on Ferguson, I know you said earlier that you don’t have any insights into the grand jury’s decision, but does the White House have a message for the people of Ferguson as this decision is about to be released later on today?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I think -- in his interview with ABC, the President I think delivered a pretty forceful message about his view -- that those individuals in reaction to the grand jury’s decision that want to protest should do so peacefully.And he cited the words of Mr. Brown’s parents, who indicated that the proper way to remember and pay tribute to their son’s memory is for people to express their views peacefully.And that is a viewpoint that the President wholeheartedly embraces.
Q And on immigration –-
MR. EARNEST:And I should say, Jim, that that is the message that the President has for people not just in Ferguson but for people in communities all across the country.
Q And are you concerned that there could be unrest around the country and other parts of the country?
MR. EARNEST:Well, the Department of Defense has been engaged with local law enforcement and communities not just in the St. Louis area but across the country, because we are mindful of
Q Justice, you mean, not Defense.
MR. EARNEST:I’m sorry.We’ve been talking a lot about them lately, I apologize for that.Yes, the Department of Justice, that’s correct.
Q And let me just ask you very quickly on immigration, the President said in his speech in Las Vegas on Friday that the Congress should just pass a bill.But haven’t those prospects dimmed --
MR. EARNEST:They have, unfortunately.
Q -- by the President taking executive action?Why would the Congress race out and pass a bill now?
MR. EARNEST:Because they say –- it’s a great question, I’m glad that you asked.The reason, simply, that Congress would feel motivated to pass legislation now is they’ve had such a strong negative reaction to the President’s executive action that what they could do is they could pass a piece of legislation that would supersede the President’s executive action.I’ve said this a couple of times -- House Republican leaders actually are holding the trump card in their hands, they just have to decide whether or not to play it -- maybe that’s an apt analogy for those of you who were in Las Vegas over the weekend.
But the fact of the matter is, the President has already said if House Republican leaders want to allow the bipartisan Senate bill to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives, it would pass.Even if John Boehner and others who have been aggressively critical of the President’s executive action want to vote no because they disagree with the bill, just let it come up for a vote.It’ll pass with bipartisan support, the President will happily sign it into law, and it will completely supersede any executive actions the President announced last week.
Q But putting that aside, putting the talking points to the side for a moment, just the objective assessment, political assessment -- I mean, it’s just really not likely, isn’t that correct, that Congress would pass a bill, given that the President just took executive action and did what he wanted.
MR. EARNEST:I say that it’s not likely because Republican leaders for a year and a half have had this opportunity and not taken advantage of it.And there’s no reason to think that they’re going to now, particularly because the Speaker of the House won’t even commit to bringing it up next year.
But the fact is, what motivation do they have for actually passing the bill?If they feel as strongly and as negatively about the President’s executive action as they say, then the easiest way for them to counter it is to take the President up on his offer, to pass a piece of legislation that would fulfill these principles generally.And the President has indicated that he would tear up his own executive order, thereby easing all of the strenuous constitutional concerns that have been raised by Republicans.
Q Would he tear it up if the bill doesn’t go as far as he would like to see in certain areas?Is that negotiable in any way?Would it automatically supersede the executive action no matter what the Congress pass and he sign?
MR. EARNEST:What we would need to see Congress do is to take action along the lines of the comprehensive, common-sense measure that the Senate passed.Does it have to be exactly the Senate bill?Not necessarily.Certainly the Senate bill would do it, though.
Q That’s not going to happen.
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, it is the way that Republicans can counter the executive action that they feel so strongly about.And again, it is -– and this isn’t a matter of House Republicans being opposed to the President on this immigration issue.This is House Republicans being opposed to the President, every Senate Democrat, 14 Senate Republicans, and the leaders of the business community, the evangelical community, and even law enforcement officials all across the country.
So House Republicans, I can understand why they’re feeling pretty defensive right now, because they’re awfully isolated on this issue.
Q Thanks, Josh.Does the President think the rest of his national security team is well-suited to the new priorities?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I can tell you that the President is very proud of the important work that his --- that members of his national security team have been conducting over the last couple of years.I just sort of highlighted that even just in the last year, if you take a look at the crises that have emerged from the Ebola outbreak, to the unrest in Ukraine that’s been fomented by their Russian neighbors, to, of course, the emergence of ISIL as a significant threat to the Middle East, that it’s been a very tumultuous environment.
And I mentioned in some briefings prior to the election that this a natural time for people to announce their decisions to leave.Now, I don’t have any knowledge of anybody else who’s planning to leave; I indicated that before the election, too.I didn’t do that knowing that Secretary Hagel was engaged in these conversations with the President.But I at the time said that I would anticipate that there will be other members of the President’s team, some of who work on national security and some of whom don’t, they might take advantage of this opportunity to depart so that someone else can take -– can come in and fulfill those responsibilities for the remaining two years.
So again, I don’t know of anybody who’s planning to leave, but I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody else makes a similar decision.
Q What kind of timeframe would you be thinking about for that?I mean the President needs time to nominate someone else and presumably get them confirmed in the near future.
MR. EARNEST:Again, it’s hard for me to characterize a timeframe of something that I’m not sure is going to happen.I think it’s possible that it could happen, but I don’t know for sure that it will.
Q The President -– did Chuck Hagel indicate in these conversations the desire to stay on?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, this is a decision that the two of them arrived at together.
Q I understand that, I’m just asking if he, before they came to the mutual decision, he indicated a desire to stay on?
MR. EARNEST:I’m not aware of sort of the twists and turns of the conversations they’ve had over course of the last month.
Q Is it fair to say the President did not ask him to stay on?
MR. EARNEST:It’s fair to say that the two men arrived at the same conclusion together that it was time for Secretary Hagel to submit his letter of resignation, which he did today.
Q Thanks, Josh.You say you don’t know of anyone else who’s planning to leave, but it doesn’t sound like Secretary Hagel was planning to leave; in fact, he had given indications in the last couple of weeks that he had hoped to stay.So is this the first step in a broader shake-up of the national security team?
MR. EARNEST:Again, I don’t know of any other staff changes that are being contemplated either on the national security team or even on the domestic policy team for that matter.That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are other individuals who decide that somebody else should serve in their role for the last two years of the President’s time in office.But I’m not aware of any impending announcements on this front.
Q Another question -- looking ahead, you said that he was the right person to lead at the time; that certainly was the suggestion that was made at the time he was nominated -- the particular skills, the particular background he had, including the combat experience.What is important now as you look at the things that -- if indeed this change is being made because the situation has changed, the focus and the priorities have changed, what are the skills, what’s the background of the person who you’re looking at?Maybe -- and I’m not asking you for a specific name, I know you’re not going to give it to me -- but what are you looking for, what is the White House looking for in terms of meeting those new and emerging needs?
MR. EARNEST:Well, just as it relates to your question, let me say one other thing, which is there’s another way that we know that Secretary Hagel was the right man for the job, and that's to look back at his two years -- nearly two years of service as a Secretary of Defense; that if you look at his tremendous record of accomplishment over those two years, we know that he was the right person for the job.
As it relates to the next person, I don't have a particularly specific answer to give you.I can tell you that the President is -- certainly wants to make sure that the next Secretary of Defense is somebody who knows the inner workings of that agency well, and somebody who will bring the kind of leadership skills and management experience that's necessary to guide such a large organization at a time of crisis; that there are emerging situations across the globe, from Ebola to ISIL, that mean that we need strong and steady leadership at the Pentagon.And the President is going to be looking for somebody who can provide it.
Q The conversation that Senator McCain talked about that he had with Secretary Hagel does seem to reflect the same criticisms that were in the books that Ed mentioned from Secretaries Panetta and Gates -- that the White House micromanaged, that there was a difficult decision-making process, that the White House dominated it.Given those three Secretaries of Defense and the unanimity -- what seems to be unanimity of opinion, of their criticism of the White House, is there -- or does there need to be an assessment of the relationship between the White House and the Pentagon?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’ll say a couple things about that.I just want to revisit the concerns that I raised earlier when Ed first asked this question.The fact that Senator McCain read out his conversation with Secretary Hagel in a way that's consistent with common criticisms of the administration should not be a surprise to anybody in this room.It’s certainly not a surprise to me.
Q Does that necessarily mean that he’s misrepresenting the conversation?
MR. EARNEST:Well, again, I don't have any insight into the conversation, so I’m not going to say that.I’m just going to observe that it shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that Senator McCain would characterize the conversation as consistent with criticism that we have received from others.
That being said, I can tell you that if you look at Secretary Hagel’s track record of success in that agency, I think it would lend many people to the conclusion that the Department of Defense under Secretary Hagel’s management worked very well with the White House; that adjusting to the budgetary constraints of that department could not have been done without close coordination between the White House and the Pentagon.The prompt and efficient and effective response to these emerging situations in West Africa and the Middle East and in Ukraine are a testament to the careful and successful coordination between the White House and the Department of Defense.
So again, looking --
Q And yet he’s leaving not totally of his own accord, if any of it is of his own accord.
MR. EARNEST:Well, he’s leaving based on a number of conversations that he and the President convened over the last month or so.And it’s a conclusion that they arrived at together.
Q You also suggested that this was part of two years, two years, two years.There were, if my memory serves me, three Defense Secretaries in the Clinton administration; just two in over the course of the Bush administration.Is there some concern that there is not consistency at the Pentagon?
MR. EARNEST:Again, no, there is not.What the President has been looking for is looking for people who are highly qualified, skilled and effective managers who understand what it takes to use the elements of the Department of Defense to keep the country safe.And from Secretary Gates to Secretary Panetta to Secretary Hagel, we’ve had individuals in that role who performed at a very high level.And I’m confident that whomever the President nominates next will serve at a similarly high level.
Q And just really quick on Ferguson -- now that we have confirmation that there is going to be an announcement today from the St. Louis prosecutor’s office, is the decision on whether the President makes a comment based on what the decision is, on what happens on the ground there?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I don't have an explanation for why the President will speak because I don't yet know whether or not the President will speak.So after we have made that determination and made an announcement, then we can certainly have a conversation about why that decision was made.
Q Thanks, Josh.Regarding the Iran talks, did the President personally sign off on the Iran extension?And if yes, could you tell us when?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Byron, I can tell you that the President was in close touch with the negotiating team out in Vienna, including in close touch with Secretary Kerry.The President was being frequently updated on these conversations both over the weekend, but also even last week when these talks were sort of reaching a fever pitch, you might say.
I don't have any specific tick-tock to tell you, relate to you about what the President’s reaction was to those briefings, or what sort of conversations he may have had with the team, other than to say that the President has been aware in a very detailed fashion of how those conversations were proceeding.
Q Josh, you said a minute ago that the President would tear up his executive orders if Congress passed a bill that he could sign on immigration.But I just want to check -- there are no executive orders associated with this immigration action, right?
MR. EARNEST:I must have misspoke.I meant executive actions.So I apologize.
Q Can you tell us why there are no executive orders where the President wrote down specifically and signed what he was ordering be done at his direction?
MR. EARNEST:I can follow up with you for -- with a more detailed question -- or a more detailed answer on this.But what I can tell you is that the exercise of prosecutorial discretion is something that is implemented by the Department of Homeland Security under the leadership of the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Now, you’ll recall that the Secretary of Homeland Security reviewed the law to determine what the administration could do to try to address some of the shortcomings in our legal immigration system.And my understanding is that those changes could be implemented within the confines of the current law based on exercising that prosecutorial discretion that resides in the Secretary of Homeland Security’s office.
Q And the idea of a three-year delay in deportations for certain people, isn’t that something that warrants an executive order?
MR. EARNEST:Apparently not.Our lawyers looked carefully at this.But we can follow up with you on these more detailed legal questions if you’d like.
Q Iran again, just to follow up.You just praised the Iranians for cooperation on good inspectors, regarding the inspectors.But the IAEA in the last report, they criticize them, and actually your own ambassador in Vienna slammed them for lack of cooperation.So how do you explain that you praise?
MR. EARNEST:Well, I’ve seen those reports.What I’m suggesting is that we have more insight into the Iranian nuclear program than we ever have before, and that is because of the inspections that have taken place to review those facilities and to have a clear understanding of how they're complying with the agreement.And based on the inspections that have occurred and have been conducted, we do have a high degree of confidence that the Iranians are living up to their end of the bargain.
Q On Iraq again, how do you see the President’s strategy of working with the Sunni tribes to fight ISIS being affected today by the decision by the Iraqi government to pass the death sentence on a prominent Iraqi Sunni leader?And does this hinder your kind of fight against ISIS in Iraq, which is the biggest component of the President’s kind of declared strategy?
MR. EARNEST:Well, Nadia, I haven’t seen the reports about that specific sentence.I can tell you as a general matter that we have long identified as critical to the success of this broader operation the ability of the Iraqi central government to unify that country.And that means even a Shia leader like Prime Minister Abadi governing that country in a way that makes it clear to the diverse population of Iraq that the central government, even though it’s led by a Shia, has the best interests of every Iraqi citizen at heart.
And there are plenty of indications to -- that the Prime Minister has had success in winning over Sunni leaders to demonstrate to them that he’s willing to use the resources and military of the central government to protect their interests, too.And that was one of the principal concerns with Prime Minister Maliki, that he left too many Iraqis with the impression that he was willing to use the central government, the military of Iraq, to protect his own interests and the interests of the Shia citizens of Iraq.
Prime Minister Abadi has taken a much different approach and has had much more success in bringing on board and earning the support of Sunni leaders across the country.
Paul, I’ll give you the last one.
Q I want to come back to something you said about Afghanistan a little while ago.You said that basically troops will be there to basically mop up “remnants,” was the word you said, of al Qaeda.So they’ve got nothing left to do but mop up.But if you drive an hour beyond Kabul, the Taliban is controlling big parts of the country.Why are you downplaying the true threat that the Taliban poses in the country?
MR. EARNEST:I’m not, Paul.But there’s a little sleight of hand that you use there in your question.There is a difference between the Taliban and al Qaeda.And the difference in this mission after 2014 is that the U.S. military will not be engaged in specific operations targeting members of the Taliban just because they're members of the Taliban.Any sort of combat operations that are carried out by U.S. military personnel will be for force protection or to go after remnants of al Qaeda or other extremists like al Qaeda that work with al Qaeda that pose a significant threat to the U.S. homeland or to U.S. interests around the globe.And that's the change in the mission that will move forward at the end of this year consistent with the directives that the President has been discussing for some time now.
Q Even so, you can concede that the Taliban still represents a tremendous threat to Afghanistan’s stability as a whole.
MR. EARNEST:And that's why it’s so important that the United States continue to play an important role in supporting the Afghan central government and supporting the Afghan security forces that are trying to maintain security in that country in a very difficult environment.
Thanks a lot, everybody.
2:29 P.M. EST
Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials on the Trip of Vice President Joe Biden to Morocco, Ukraine and Turkey
(November 22, 2014)
7:13 P.M. (Local)
MR. SPECTOR: Thanks for joining us tonight. We have a number of senior administration officials with us who are looking forward to talking to you and taking your questions. So with that, if somebody wants to begin.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Actually, let me just make sure everybody is up to speed about exactly what we actually did. I think you know the itinerary. We spent two hours last night, fresh off the plane from Ukraine and went straight into a working dinner with Prime Minister Davutoğlu. It went for two hours. It was a very good conversation.
Then we got up this morning. The Vice President gave public remarks at the Atlantic Council, which some of you may have seen, on energy security with a particular focus on Europe. After that he had a short follow-up conversation with Prime Minister Davutoğlu. And then we went off and had a meeting with a civil society network known as the Checks & Balances Network, which is the funded by the National Democratic Institute. Then we went to what turned out to be a four-hour session with President Erdoğan; about half that time was spent just the two of them one-on-one; and then we had a working lunch, although it happened at 3:00 p.m. So that's maybe longer personally -- whatever time it was, and time lost much of its meaning by that point. But it was also -- so that's what we did.
But just to economize your time, why don't you ask me the questions you're most interested in. And I’ll invite my colleagues to chime in if they have their way to talk about it. And we’ll do this -- obviously, we’ll do it on background. But if there’s -- if at some point I need to pivot, we need to pivot to off-the-record, we’ll do that. But start on background.
Q They came out and they only gave like general and brief comments about all these things that they're going to accomplish -- trying to get the train-and-equip mission going. There was hardly anything on that. No mention of Incirlik. No mention of Assad really. It looks to us that if they made any deals behind closed doors, they certainly didn't want to announce anything. So was there -- you say progress was made, but how do we quantify that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the way I would describe is that the conversation has evolved and is quite dynamic to begin with. You're right that they didn't sit there and sign their names on the bottom line on a whole host of agreements. But actually, I think we came to a much greater clarity about where we need to go from here. There were some additional questions that went unresolved, and both of our systems have to noodle over those in the coming days. But I actually think that we have a much better understanding about what each other’s needs and constraints are on these issues.
And let me just give you a sense for where I think the conversation focused. Look, I know there’s been a lot made about whether we're close or far apart from the Turks on the ISIL issue and the Syria issue in particular. I will say that I think coming out of these conversations we are convinced we have a lot more in common than there is disagreement on these issues. Just let me point to three areas in particular.
We are in complete agreement that ISIL needs to be defeated. Complete agreement. It’s a threat not only to the United States and our other allies in the region, but it’s a threat right on Turkey’s border. They take it very seriously. They want to work with us to combat the threat. They're already working with us to combat the threat. They want to look for ways to expand their cooperation with us. And we want to work with them to combat the threat. There is agreement on that.
The second is we are both in agreement that just like in Iraq you basically need an effective ground force to work alongside our air force to defeat -- to degrade and then defeat ISIL in Iraq. You're not going to have that type of -- that in Syria unless you have a viable force on the ground.
We are in agreement that that viable force to defeat ISIL on the ground in Syria is not Assad; and instead, is the moderate Syrian opposition, the Free Syrian Army, and that we need to do more in that space to train and equip. We obviously have our own program. The Turks have signed up to host one of those training bases. But we talked about whether there might be some other ways that we can expand cooperation, grow the moderate Syrian opposition faster, make it more effective. There are no final decisions on that, but that's not a bad thing. We're moving -- I think we're moving in a very positive direction about getting a fuller understanding about how we might accelerate the training and equipping of the moderate Syrian opposition.
And the third thing that we agree on is that the conflict in the Assad regime is a magnet for extremism in the region. We need a political transition away from Assad. We agree about that, as well.
So they talked a lot about that. I should also say with the Prime Minister, who was just back from Iraq, there was a lengthy -- I would say most of the dinner last night was about Iraq. And what’s interesting is -- it’s no surprise that the Turks did not have the smoothest of relationships with the previous Iraqi government. The relationship with Prime Minister Maliki was quite scratchy. And I think they agree with us that Prime Minister Abadi is serious, that he is committed to forming a more inclusive government, and importantly committed to figuring out a way to really get Sunni buy-in at the local level to include standing up national guard elements, mobilizing tribes to flip against ISIL, and in other areas of Iraq, making sure that Erbil and Baghdad are working together. The Turks have been supportive of this interim oil revenue-sharing agreement that Erbil and Baghdad just struck. Both we and the Turks and most importantly Baghdad and Erbil have, I think, an interest in pivoting off this interim agreement towards a more enduring and lasting solution to the oil-revenue issue. And so we talked a lot about Iraq too.
And I think we and the Turks are -- I mean if there’s a Venn diagram, it’s like this on Iraq right now. So I think we feel really good about our conversations with the Turks.
So you're right. There weren’t a ton of details I guess after the remarks, but I think you heard from both leaders that the relationship and our discussions on these issues are in a good place.
Q So what do you still disagree on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know -- I think we have to -- I think we agree on the major objectives of the strategy, right, which is we have to do everything we can to defeat and degrade ISIL. We have to stand up a viable ground force in Syria to be able to do that. That's not the regime. It’s got to be the moderate Syrian opposition. And we need to facilitate a political transition.
Where we still are -- it’s not disagreement. But I think where we still need to get across the goal line in terms of our agreement is how our military-to-military cooperation is going to be synced up in those areas. But that's not disagreement. I just think that -- now that I think we are in a good place about what we're trying to accomplish, we need to figure out what’s the best way for our militaries to work together to make that happen.
Q Talking the moderate Syrian opposition, there are lots of stories about FSA and guys going in to fight for FSA and coming out fighting for somebody else. A lot of fluid lines between the various groups in Syria.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There’s no question. And it’s been our position from the beginning, and I think the Turks agree, which is whatever we do -- and we're going to do in the train-and-equip mission already, but to the degree that we're cooperating with the Turks and other allies in the region to stand up a moderate Syrian opposition, we're going to have to be good about vetting these groups.
And by the way, we're not always probably going to agree. But to the degree that we're partnering on standing up these forces, then it’s on those forces that we agree that we trust, and it will take Syria in a better place and are committed to combating ISIL on the ground. So there will have to be a vetting criteria that's agreed to by parties.
Q What about the other two conditions that the Turks have placed for cooperation -- the no-fly zone and the buffer zone, the safe zone?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I want you to ask the Turks about that. But here’s the point that I would make about that. Those are not ends in and of themselves. The question is: What is the purpose of it? And this was part of the discussion. What is the purpose of the no-fly zone? Or what is the purpose of a buffer zone along the Syria-Turkish border? The purpose is to create a space where a moderate Syrian opposition dominates the ground, pushes out extremists and carve out territory where refugees don't have to flow into neighboring countries, where people can contemplate returning back to these safer zones.
And so if you think about a strategy -- go back to the three things that I talked about -- if you think about a strategy of how can you push ISIL out of these areas, look at where they're operating in the north. If you look at the Euphrates Valley and go north to that, ISIL is crawling all over the border areas between Syria and Turkey. So how do you push them out, how do you stand up a moderate force that can fill in that void as they get pushed out? And how can you do it in a way hopefully that leads to a political transition away from the current regime?
None of this, by the way, is going to be instantaneous. But the whole point I’m making is that I think sometimes we get too fixated on the buzzwords like no-fly zone, buffer zone, safe zone. We may or may not end up with certain labels. It’s the objectives, though, that we share in common.
Q What’s the military-to-military problem?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There’s not a problem. There’s not a problem. It’s that we haven’t -- well, once you agree on the objectives, we have our militaries work together to figure out how it is that we can fill in the white space here.
Q There was a military delegation here for two days --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, there’s a couple. We’ve had a number of delegations here. So we had a delegation in a number of weeks ago from CENTCOM and EUCOM, the two --
Q There was one just last week --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are military folks here all the time. We had -- let me go off the record for a minute.
*** OFF THE RECORD ***
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So we can go back on the record. Look, the PYD -- I think you all are tracking -- but the Turks have concerns because the PYD, some of the actors fighting ISIL in Kobani have ties to the PKK, which the Turks obviously have to contend with a longstanding insurgency with the PKK. And their concern always with Kobani was, they didn't like ISIL, but they weren’t (inaudible) with PYD too. So they were stuck. They had all these refugees coming over the border. But once the town was basically empty, they kind of looked at the town, they saw two enemies.
And so we had this conversation that senior official number two mentioned with the Turks about, okay, well, then let’s facilitate a way -- if you're not crazy about the PYD, and we get that, let’s figure out a way to allow reinforcements and resupply from Iraqi-Kurdish Pesh, transiting through Turkey, to resupply fighters against ISIL. It’s a win-win. Because it continues to support the fighters fighting ISIL, and it’s a win because it balances out some of the concerns you're worried about on the PYD side of the equation. That was the deal.
The only issue was there came a point where it was our assessment that the fighters in Kobani were a couple of days away from running out of ammunition. So we did an emergency airdrop. Not to preclude the arrival of the Pesh, but to buy time for the arrival of the Pesh. And that's what we explained to the Turks. And you’ll notice we did the airdrop. And since then the Pesh have moved in. There are also some FSA, I believe, operating there. So senior official number two is right. This is an area where -- even in the case where we and the Turks did not have identical views of the situation on the ground, we worked it out.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, I think the issue there was that we both wanted ISIL out. They didn't want ISIL replaced with a group that they think has been responsible for terrorism in Turkey. We both agreed that the Peshmerga were a reliable force to hold, and the Peshmerga and the FSA working together were an even better combination. So we had an overlapping interest. We were able to prove concept that you could clear space and hold it with forces that we have confidence in to have our same long-term interests and objectives.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let’s also keep our eye on the prize here that we and the Turks agree ISIL is a huge threat. But for us, ISIL is the most important issue here. And the biggest reason we have been engaged in Kobani, to cite General Austin, is they’ve been providing a lot of targets, so we’ve been servicing those targets. They have literally lost hundreds and hundreds of fighters in Kobani because of the airstrikes there. And they just keep coming. They just keep coming from other parts of Syria. So as long as they're going to keep coming to Kobani, which by the way our sense is that now as the momentum has tipped against them, they keep coming. As long as they keep coming, Lloyd Austin's guys are going to keep coming too.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What did Allen say? He said, they are impaling themselves on Kobani.
Q How can you stop Assad barrel-bombing civilians, for example, say in the north, without a formal no-fly zone? And that was my first question. And then also, why is there so much sort of concern about figuring out who the moderate opposition are when America, as much of the Friends of Syria group, is already supporting moderate opposition rebels who have been vetted, why isn’t that vetting good enough going forward? And if you sort of supported -- if in Kobani, Turkey I think gives kind of advice on where to strike and stuff, why don't you want to do that in the rest of the country with the FSA, or do you?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me answer your second question first. And your first question, I’ll probably go off the record.
We are working with groups that we believe are committed to taking Syria into a better place, that is a political transition towards of more inclusive, more accountable, more just element.
But when we're talking about vetting groups that we're going to provide lethal assistance to through the train-and-equip mission, which the Department of Defense will oversee, we're talking about pretty high-level vetting. You got to have confidence that these guys are capable, can be trained, and if you -- when you train them and provide them with weapons, they're not going to go immediately in to switch sides or hand their weapons over to somebody else.
So the vetting and screening and training procedure is different and has to be more rigorous.
Q Isn’t America already giving lethal assistance through the Friends of Syria agreement, through the Asia regional command centers in Jordan and the Southeast?
*** Off the record ***
Q -- so the FSA can help?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think eventually as you train forces that you have confidence in, there’s the possibility that down the line, those forces can help you or make airstrikes. We see that in Iraq.
Q Just go back to the prize again. I understand that you're very happy about the way the meetings are going, about the common goals. But is there any evidence it’s working? Assad is still in power. Is there any evidence ISIS is seriously degraded other than the momentum might have been shifted?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, so let’s be clear, the current campaign and strategy in Iraq and Syria is focused on ISIL, so let’s measure it against that.
I think it’s our judgment that a lot of the momentum that you saw over the summer -- first of all, you saw it earlier because when they did Fallujah and Ramadi, really, if Mosul was the tipping point in June, you saw Mosul, and then bang, bang, bang up and down the Tigris and Euphrates River. And when you look at the map now, I think the kind of blob which is the ISIL territory, that really emerged like that in the second half of the summer. I think it’s our view that a lot of ISIL’s forward momentum has been if not stopped substantially slowed, and that they're starting to get pushed back in other areas.
Obviously there are the kind of tactical defeats in places like Mount Sinjar or Amerli or others. But I think recently you’ve seen Iraqi security retake the Baiji refinery. I think you're starting to see some progress in other parts of the country, as well. I think you're seeing elements of the Iraqi security forces and the Peshmerga work together to fight ISIL in certain places. And I think what we're finding in Iraq is that ISIL is not 800-feet tall; that our airstrikes have forced them to fundamentally change the way in which they were operating. Like the days of them feeling comfortable having a hundred armed vehicles on a road in a convoy and rolling down the highway like a conventional army, those days are if not over, they are rapidly declining because when that happens, they're getting hit.
So they are I think pulling back into a more dispersed, diffuse entity, which can be tough to root out. And it’s also an entity that's a lot harder to gain a lot more. It’s a mobile operation. It makes it a lot more difficult to take and hold territory.
The other thing I think we're starting to see on the Iraqi side in particular, also to some degree in Kobani, is that when we have local forces who are well organized and committed to fight, have the equipment to do so, and can be backed up by American airpower, they can actually do some real damage to ISIL.
So the President was clear from the very beginning, this is a multi-year enterprise. I know Americans are impatient. But from the very beginning, the administration has been clear: This is going to take some time. And let’s remember, the objective is to degrade and eventually defeat. Well, we're doing a lot of degrading. And I’ll leave it up to you to judge in a couple of months or six months or a year from now whether they're on the path to defeat or not. But at the moment I think we're doing a heck of a lot of degrading.
Q Let me ask about Ukraine. Erdoğan said that you discussed -- Biden and Erdoğan discussed the crisis in Ukraine. You talk about ISIS a lot, are Ukrainian crisis -- is ISIS a bigger threat than Russian aggression in Ukraine? And do you consider that? And the second question is, Ukrainian -- talking to Ukrainians yesterday, they were a little bit disappointed with the results of the visit. And there is disagreement between Congress and the White House about assistance to Ukraine. They ask for more equipment, military equipment, and so on. Is there any movement in that regard? Did you discuss any further additional --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me do a couple of top lines, and then my colleague can give you some more detail.
I’m not sure it’s productive to think of is ISIL more or less of a threat. Let me put it this way, the Vice President, the President, the administration as a whole has I think been pretty clear that issues like ISIL, Ukraine, and Ebola, for example, are right at the top of our national security. Now whether you rank them one, two, three or three, two, one, that's not -- it’s just an ESPN. So it’s not productive to think that way. They're really important.
But in terms of the deliverables of the trip, I’ll make two points. One, we are increasing our security assistance to Ukraine. The first of our counter-mortar radars have arrived. More are on the way. We're providing excess defense articles like Humvees and other vehicles that are necessary. We’ve already provided $100 million. We're looking at tens of millions of dollars of additional money for training. We're working with Congress to secure tens of millions of dollars more.
But there’s a little bit, as it relates to the assistance package, writ large, I think what you've heard out of the meetings is a little bit of a chicken-and-egg problem, which is everybody recognizes that there is enormous need right now for assistance. And we are committed. The United States is committed to doing our fair share -- more than our fair share, frankly, to provide assistance. But we could not provide enough of it on our own. We need the IMF with us. We need the Europeans with us.
And I think what you heard not only from the Vice President yesterday, but from Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and President Poroshenko -- especially Poroshenko -- is that we have a new government. We will not be able to mobilize billions and billions of dollars of foreign assistance, nor get that next tranche of IMF money and move forward towards an official package or anything until there’s a government and we know who the ministers and what they're -- and what reforms they're committed to. So it’s a little bit of -- the government hasn’t formed yet.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you laid it down well. With regard to the security assistance, as senior official one has said, we’ve done a lot. The conversation that we're having with the Congress is with regard to the European Reassurance Initiative, the big package with a billion dollars that the President has asked for for the NATO space and for the Eastern Partnership area. And there I think we anticipate that the Congress will be quite generous to Ukraine. But we haven’t gotten the appropriation yet. But then we’ll be able to increase, we hope, particularly the train-and-assist mission with that.
And with regard to the larger macro-financial that we need, we need a government. We need the reform program to begin to be implemented. We need to have a real partnership with this new government of Ukraine -- both on the security side and on the reform and financial side.
And I think we had -- it was good to see the program come forward. Now we need to see the personnel and just to reinforce what the Vice President said is, it’s a matter of the next six days, the next six weeks, the next six months for Ukraine will be crucial.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: President Putin is visiting here soon. Turkey has an intense interest in what happens in Ukraine, has been very supportive of our general transatlantic policy, but has a particular concern about the Crimean Tatars we talked about a bit today; but about the dire straits that they are in and about Turkey’s efforts to support them and our joint efforts to ensure that there are costs for Russia’s aggression in Crimea and everywhere else.
Q I just want to ask a question about the Incirlik base. This still is being discussed between the U.S. and Turkey? Or has the U.S. basically given up on this issue? Is it still on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no, in what I referred to earlier, I think as we continue to have this high-level conversation about how we can act together to combat ISIL in both Iraq and Syria, to the degree our militaries are working together, we continue to have conversations about the ability of coalition aircraft and other assets to be able to use Turkish facilities. But I think the Turks have been clear that they want to get us all on the same page first before they open up -- what they would call open up their platforms a little bit more. So what I’m saying is I think we're making very good progress in that space. And hopefully when we get to the end, if we're all in agreement, then we’ll have expanded access for the coalition in Turkey. But, of course, that will be up to the Turks.
MR. SPECTOR: Okay, thank you.
Readout of the Vice President’s Call with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades
Vice President Joe Biden spoke today with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades. The Vice President updated President Anastasiades on his recent conversations with President Erdogan and Prime Minister Davutoglu of Turkey, and discussed developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Vice President noted the need to deescalate tensions in order to get back to a more constructive track in UN-mediated settlement talks on Cyprus and reinvigorate efforts to seek mutually beneficial solutions. Both leaders underscored their commitment to reunifying the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
Statement by the President on the Passing of Marion Barry
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of Marion Barry. Marion was born a sharecropper's son, came of age during the Civil Rights movement, and became a fixture in D.C. politics for decades. As a leader with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Marion helped advance the cause of civil rights for all. During his decades in elected office in D.C., he put in place historic programs to lift working people out of poverty, expand opportunity, and begin to make real the promise of home rule. Through a storied, at times tumultuous life and career, he earned the love and respect of countless Washingtonians, and Michelle and I extend our deepest sympathies to Marion's family, friends and constituents today.
Statement to the Press by Vice President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Erdogan
6:20 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT ERDOĞAN: (English audio unavailable.)
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Mr. President, I’m delighted to be here. We’ve been -- we’ve known each other for many years. And I’ve been the recipient of your hospitality in your city; last time I was here in your home with your family. And it is -- this city has come to define for me what hospitality really means.
As I told my fellow Americans during the President’s visit to Washington, you can’t understand the meaning of hospitality until you’ve been welcomed by a Turkish family into their home. And again, my thanks to you and your daughter and your son and your wife. And thank your wife for hosting my wife, Jill, today. She is anxious to see her again.
Mr. President, I’m not sure our teams are going to allow us to get together any more. We came to have lunch, and you and I ended up having a conversation that lasted almost four hours. So I don't think they're happy when we go off alone in a room together. When we came down, they looked very, very hungry. So I apologize to our collective staffs.
The President and I, as I said, have known each other for a long time. I have great respect for the President. And we have always had a direct, frank and open discussion on every issue because that's what friends do, that’s what allies do.
And the one thing that is absolutely clear is that the depth of that friendship and the resolve of that partnership is as strong as it has ever been. In spite of the fact that the world is facing and we collectively are facing some difficult problems right now.
The President and I have been talking about Iraq and Syria for a long time. We wanted to get to some of the detail today. We spoke about our work as part of an international coalition to degrade and eventually defeat Daash, ISIL -- and most people in this region and I’m comfortable referring to ISIL as Daash. And we talked about Syria’s future, as well.
We had a candid discussion, and we strategized together as allies and friends do and should. On Iraq, the President told me of his impressions of developments taking place in Iraq. I had an opportunity to spend several hours yesterday and again this morning with the Prime Minister who just returned from Iraq. And we're on the same page. We have the same view.
And we’re -- I was -- I told the President how impressed the new Iraqi government was at the fact that he and his government reached out a hand to the Iraqi government, and they're working in close coordination with Prime Minister Dr. Abadi.
Turkey has shown significant leadership in this regard. As I said, including the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Erbil and to Baghdad last week.
On Syria, we discussed in-depth the full range of issues that face us both and the options available to deal with those issues. Not only to deny ISIL a safe haven, and to roll them back and defeat them, but also to strengthen the Syrian opposition and pursue a political transition away from the Assad regime.
We spoke about our efforts to train and equip the moderate Syrian opposition forces, and the others protecting their communities.
Turkey, as a consequence of what’s going on in Syria today, is carrying a heavy humanitarian burden. There are over -- I’m told by the President -- close to 1.6 million refugees in Turkey. And Turkey is providing, as they do in humanitarian relief from housing, to health care, to food, to clothing. And it’s the government and the people of Turkey that have often cared for those displaced by this war. Accommodating so many is a costly proposition. And the United States has provided humanitarian assistance inside Turkey to refugee countries holding them, but it should not in any way underestimate the amount of the requirements that have imposed upon the President and the people of Turkey.
We have devoted -- because of what Turkey is doing, we’ve been able to devote roughly a little over $3 billion to this effort, including $200 million to Turkey, which is not nearly the cost they incur. But collectively we are working to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Turkey, the largest burden of that being thrust upon the Turkish people.
And beyond our humanitarian efforts, we’re both taking a -- talking to and working together to stem the flow of foreign fighters to and from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, and to dry up their funding. And we thank Turkey for their leadership in this regard.
On Cyprus -- we spoke about Cyprus. I traveled to Cyprus in May, and I met with both Mr. Eroğlu and as well as President Anastasiades. And I’m told I didn't realize at the time I was the highest-ranking American in five decades to visit the island. Because our administration and the United States remains committed to supporting the U.N.-led effort to renew the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
Today, the potential exists -- if the political will is there -- to reach a solution that benefits everyone on the island and in the region. Right now that requires a focus on de-escalating tensions and returning to the negotiating table in Cyprus. Given the significant energy potential in the Eastern Mediterranean, the rewards to both communities on Cyprus of finding a cooperative path forward has never been greater. The visit also gave me an opportunity to discuss the importance of our robust economic partnership with Turkey, as well.
In addition, I had an excellent meeting with Turkish civil society earlier today. And, Mr. President, our countries have been allies for 60 years. I would posit today that our partnership is as strong as it ever has been. Today we're working closely together once again to meet the very pressing challenges of this moment, and to further strengthen the strategic partnership between Turkey and America.
I said earlier, we need Turkey. And I think Turkey believes that they need us, as well. We are close. We are going to continue to discuss how to approach each of these problems in the region. And as I said, I thank you, Mr. President, for your welcome and your hospitality and for your friendship to my country. Thank you.
6:28 P.M. (Local)
Open thread for night owls. Johnson: What '60 Minutes' should have said about funding infrastructure
Dave Johnson at the Campaign for America's Future writes Here’s What ’60 Minutes’ Should Have Reported About Infrastructure:
It's way past time to build a 21st Century infrastructure.
“60 Minutes” ran a report Sunday, “Falling apart: America’s neglected infrastructure,” describing the seriousness and damage to the economy caused by our country’s crumbling infrastructure. […]
How bad is the problem? The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issues a regular “report card” on “the condition and performance of the nation’s infrastructure.” The 2013 grade is D+ and the cost to get us back to normal is now at $3.6 trillion. (The longer we wait the more the cost increases.) Because of this, The World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report ranks the U.S. as 16th in the quality of its infrastructure.
How do we fix this? Well, it’s simple: Congress can just invest in maintaining and modernizing our infrastructure! That’s all it takes. (OK, you’re either laughing hysterically or crying. Sorry.) […]
A popular proposal in Washington right now was mentioned in the “60 Minutes” piece: “Fund infrastructure through corporate tax reform.” Unfortunately, this is Washington/Corporate-speak for letting companies off the hook for most of the up-to $700 billion they owe on corporate profits they are hoarding “offshore” if they let us use a little bit of it for infrastructure. The obvious answer to the infrastructure problem is to just make these companies pay the taxes owed on profits already made, and use the money—up to $700 billion—for infrastructure.
“60 Minutes” leans heavily toward raising the gas tax to raise money, which is an obvious and necessary component of a long-term funding solution. The gas tax hasn’t been increased for over 20 years. However, today’s Republican Party—also known as the National Association of Petroleum and Coal Companies (NAPCC)—is strongly opposed to anything that would potentially have an impact on the profits of their clients. Since increasing the gas tax could potentially reduce the sale of gasoline and encourage the development of alternatives, the oil and coal companies are solidly opposed, which means the NAPCC (Republican Party) is solidly opposed.
The best solution is to borrow the money while interest rates are near zero. Investing in infrastructure at a time of high unemployment and low economic growth accomplishes the following:
• Hires people.
• Purchases of supplies (Buy America) boosts American businesses and leads to a secondary wave of hiring.
• These employed people spend money, causing a wave of hiring at local stores, etc.
• You end up with modern infrastructure, which makes the economy more competitive.
Waiting until the economy is already growing and interest rates are higher means the costs are higher. […]
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2008—Save Coal River Mountain—Now:
Feeling a post election letdown? Looking for another dragon to slay? Buddy, have I got a mean, scaly, ugly one for you.
Coal River Mountain in West Virginia is a beautiful forested area surrounded by communities with long experience with coal mining as been practiced for decades. How long have these folks been settled around the mountain? Many are descendants of those who moved to the area on land grants given soldiers in the Revolutionary War. Now the mountain itself is threatened by coal mining as it's been practiced under the Bush administration—mountaintop removal.
Just yesterday, a permit to start blasting the top off the mountain was awarded to Massey Energy, headed by Don Blankenship. Who is Don Blankenship? He's the guy who spent millions putting his own man on the West Virginia Supreme Court so he could get out of a lawsuit. Then, when he was caught vacationing in Monaco with that judge, he bought himself another. And another. He spent millions on smear campaigns so he could get his own brand of justice. He's the guy who was named the scariest person in America when it comes to the environment. This is the guy behind the death of miners in the Aracoma mine after hundreds of safety violations.
This is a guy who makes $15 million a year, and spends as much as $9 million of it reshaping West Virginia into a deep red state that supports his strong arm tactics. You think West Virginia has an "Appalachian problem?" No. It has a Don Blankenship problem.
Now Blankenship has Coal River Mountain in his grip, and if he has his way, it will soon join more than a million acres of ancient mountains, towering forests, and free-flowing streams that are turned into the acidic rubble left behind after mountaintop removal mining. And perhaps worst of all, Coal River Mountain has already been studied as a site for a wind farm. This wind farm would produce more energy than the coal that Blankenship will get from blasting down the mountain. It will employ more people.
And it will do it cleanly, preserving both the mountain and the surrounding communities.
Tweet of the Day
On today's Kagro in the Morning show: Tough day, in the wake of events in Ferguson. Armando discusses the grand jury process, a listener contribution on SCOTUS curtailment of the civil rights suit avenue, and other inexplicable details of the case. More details emerge in the GunFAIL case involving a 3-year-old accidentally shot by a 4-year-old playmate in the home of his gun enthusiast dad. The House finally files its lawsuit against the president. Except it's not against the president. And it might just undermine the Congress, instead. Vox wonders what a Republican president might do with expanded executive power. And I wonder why they think we have to guess.
High Impact Posts. Top Comments
Economics Daily Digest: Wall Street's scams, food pantries at the brink, sharing economy
By Rachel Goldfarb, originally published on Next New Deal
Click here to subscribe to Roosevelt First, our weekday morning email featuring the Daily Digest.
Wall Street’s Taxpayer Scam: How Local Governments Get Fleeced — and So Do You (Salon)
Elias Isquith interviews Roosevelt Institute Fellow Saqib Bhatti about his new report on how governments can push back against Wall Street's predatory deals.
Could you explain to me what the relationship is like between Wall Street and municipal governments? Or is it too varied to say there’s any single dynamic?
There are, of course, some nuances from place to place, but in general there are some broad trends. The relationship between municipalities and Wall Street is largely broken because there’s a very strong imbalance of power that exists or, at least, is perceived to exist. Banks typically set the rules of the game. They make recommendations for different types of deals municipalities should be doing, they pitch deals to them. Typically, municipalities may bargain around the margins but largely accept the rules as they’re set by Wall Street.
When I say there’s a perception of imbalance of power I use that word because, in reality, municipalities could have a lot more power if they chose to wield it. If they actually chose to play hardball or question some of the underlying assumptions that Wall Street brings into various municipal finance deals, they could potentially fight to get a better deal or to question the entire framework around how some fees are structured and so forth.
Follow below the fold for more.
The mystery and controversy of 'Serial'
On January 13, 1999, an 18-year-old girl named Hae Min Lee disappeared. She was last seen leaving Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland. Less than a month later, Lee's body was discovered. She had been strangled to death, and her body buried in a public park. Through a confluence of events and the information provided by one particular witness, police came to believe Lee's ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was responsible for the crime. At trial, Syed is convicted for Lee's murder and sentenced to life in prison. To this day, Syed maintains his innocence. Some people believe him. Some don't.
Who killed Hae Min Lee?
That is the setup for Serial, a spin-off of the radio series This American Life and produced by WBEZ Chicago, which delves into a topic as a serialized narrative where a nonfiction story is unraveled week by week. In the first season, hours upon hours of investigation by host Sarah Koenig and other veteran staffers of This American Life have gone into analyzing aspects of the prosecution's case against Syed and whether it fits with the circumstances surrounding Lee's murder. While there are certain pieces of evidence that seem damning to Syed, the case is paper thin and riddled with holes.
Serial has been the most popular podcast in this country and others for weeks, breaking download records, and critics have called it revolutionary and "The Wire of podcasts" in its ability to marry a true crime procedural format to something akin to an old-school radio show and make it compelling. The case touches on big issues: culture, race, Islamophobia, and how those elements are treated by the justice system. However, in recent weeks there's been a bit of a backlash against Serial. Various columns have been written arguing the podcast is exploitative, manipulative, violates journalistic ethics, and approaches the case involving people of color from a position of white privilege.
Follow beneath the fold for more.
Fox & Friends: What's been the toughest part of this for the guy who killed Michael Brown?
I'm convinced that the people of Fox & Friends spend every morning rededicating themselves to the fine art of making the news worse.
Still reeling from #pointergate, Minneapolis protestors for Mike Brown plowed over by car
Earlier today, Minneapolis protestors, still reeling and frustrated by years of police brutality and the recent #pointergate scandal, gathered to protest the recent decision to not indict Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Ferguson teenager Mike Brown.
While protesting, a man deliberately plowed through the crowd, hitting protestors, and pinning a woman underneath the front tires. See the video here.
The hit-and-run driver, according to a local Star Tribune reporter, has been arrested.
This is our normal
A white cop. A dead black teenager.
The white cop fires multiple rounds. The dead black teenager was unarmed.
This is our normal.
It's often said that a prosecutor can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor so desires. This prosecutor not only didn't desire to get an indictment, he clearly desired to get an exoneration. His press conference sounded like that from a defense attorney, which is what he effectively was. It was timed to maximize the potential for public backlash.
The worst thing about the failure to indict was that it came as a surprise to no one. We take it for granted that when an unarmed black man is shot dead by a white man there will be no justice. We take it for granted that when anyone is shot dead by even a police officer with a history of misconduct there will be no justice. This is our normal. We take for granted that this is how things are, but we cannot take for granted that this is how things will continue to be. Our humanity is at stake.
In the hours before the failure to indict was announced, the authorities made very clear that they would be out in force so that the public reaction wouldn't get out of hand. It was important that white people not have to worry about unnecessary violence. Black people already know that violence can be a part of their lives at any time. This is our normal.
A white man shoots dead an unarmed black man. The white man is ruled not to have committed any crime. Again and again and again and again.
This is our normal.
The killer was not indicted. The Missouri criminal justice system was.
The killer was not indicted. The United States was.
This is our normal. This is not normal, but it is our normal.
A young man was shot dead. There was no justice. We all are condemned.
Ferguson news and updates
Some brief evening updates on today's events in and around Ferguson, Missouri.
- Officer Darren Wilson released a letter to his supporters.
I would like to thank you all for standing up for me during this stressful time. Your support and dedication is amazing and it is still hard to believe that all of these people that I have never met are doing so much for me.
- In his first interview since the shooting, Wilson says he has a "clean conscience" over the death of Brown. "I know I did my job right."
- Rep. Peter King (R-NY) suggested President Barack Obama should invite Darren Wilson to the White House to say "thank you for doing your job."
- A man was found dead this morning in a car parked in Ferguson; it is "not immediately clear" whether the death is related to last night's unrest in the town.
- Protesters held four-and-a-half minutes of silence in remembrance of Michael Brown, in accordance with the requests of his family.
- The Republican mayor of Ferguson says that National Guard deployment in the city was "delayed" as violence broke out in the city last night, calling that delay "deeply disturbing".
- Perhaps in response, Gov. Jay Nixon announced at a press conference today that "hundreds more National Guardsmen" would be deployed in the city, raising the deployed total to 2,200.
- The National Bar Association released a statement on the grand jury decision, calling on the Department of Justice to pursue federal charges in the case.
- Nationwide, over 100 protests were expected to take place today.
Peaceful protestors assaulted and teargassed over and over again in St. Louis
After the grand jury in Ferguson opted not to indict Darren Wilson over the August 9 slaying of Michael Brown, protests broke out all over St. Louis.
Peaceful protestors, taking shelter in designated safe places all over the city, were deliberately targeted and teargassed by police, and assaulted with rubber bullets. Below the fold are their live accounts. Again, it needs to be noted, that none of these protestors were even near any violence or physical threats and were deliberately targeted and harmed by police.
A little reminder: 20 years after being ordered to tally cop shootings, the DOJ still isn't doing it
The chart above isn't new. Mother Jones magazine created it two months ago. But it is worth keeping in mind amid the fall-out from the grand jury decision in the Michael Brown slaying.
Note: Most arrest-related deaths by homicide are by law enforcement, not private citizens. Rate calculated by dividing deaths by the average census population for each race in 2003-09. "Other" includes American Indians, Alaska Natives, Asians, Native Hawaiians, other Pacific Islander, and persons of two or more races.
In the accompanying story, Jaeah Lee writes:
• The Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Reporting program records that 410 people were killed in justifiable homicides by police in 2012. While the FBI collects information on the victims' race, it does not publish the overall racial breakdown.
There's more below the fold.
• The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that between 2003 and 2009 there were more than 2,900 arrest-related deaths involving law enforcement. Averaged over seven years, that's about 420 deaths a year. While BJS does not provide the annual number of arrest-related deaths by race or ethnicity, a rough calculation based on its data shows that black people were about four times as likely to die in custody or while being arrested than whites.
• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Vital Statistics System offers another view into officers' use of deadly force. In 2011, the CDC counted 460 people who died by "legal intervention" involving a firearm discharge. In theory, this includes any death caused by a law enforcement or state agent (it does not include legal executions).
Cartoon: Forty One
Keith Knight is currently on tour with a slideshow of his police brutality cartoons. Support his work through the magic of Patreon!!
After Ferguson Announcement, a Racial Divide Remains Over Views of Justice
Although whites and blacks have much more contact than they did decades ago, it appears that in some ways they go home to different worlds.
National Briefing | Washington: Schumer Criticizes Timing of Affordable Care Act
Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said Tuesday that it was a political mistake to pass the Affordable Care Act in 2010 because voters were looking instead for relief from the recession.
White House Memo: Hagel’s Departure Bears Little Likeness to Rumsfeld’s Removal
Despite similar timing, after a disastrous midterm election, the exit of President Obama’s defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, did not represent the same kind of shift in policy that Donald H. Rumsfeld’s departure did.
As Protests Take a Turn, Holder Finds It Harder to Ease Racial Tensions
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who helped soothe protesters after the killing of an unarmed black teenager in the summer, now finds himself with limited options to calm the unrest in Ferguson.
Obama to Introduce Sweeping New Controls on Ozone Emissions
The regulation would be the latest in a series of E.P.A. controls on air pollution that wafts from smokestacks and tailpipes, and would probably set off a battle among all sides of the issue.
Former Under Secretary of Defense Withdraws Her Name for Pentagon’s Top Post
Michèle A. Flournoy, who was seen as a leading contender to succeed Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, has asked not to be considered, citing family concerns.
Obama Threatens to Veto $440 Billion Tax Deal
The president, saying that an emerging agreement to extend a number of existing tax cuts favored corporations over the middle class, delivered a setback to negotiations that have already been divisive.
National Briefing | South: Arkansas: Another Judge Rejects Marriage Ban
Judge Kristine Baker of Federal District Court struck down Arkansas’ same-sex marriage ban on Tuesday, which could pave the way for county clerks to resume issuing licenses.
Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Rules on Mercury From Power Plants
Industry groups, energy companies and 20 states are challenging the E.P.A.'s interpretation of the law and whether the costs of adhering to regulations should be taken into account.
Giving and Giving: An Ex-Congressman Whose Retirement Plan Is Charity
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THE NEW YORKER - POLITICS+/-
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 . . .
A forgotten corner of hell
Anderson Cooper accompanies volunteers searching for the remains of World War II airmen missing in action in the waters off Palau
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Steve Kroft reports on why our roads, bridges, airports and rail are outdated and need to be fixed
Chernobyl: The catastrophe that never ended
Nearly 30 years after the explosion, Bob Simon travels to Ukraine and discovers the reactor still has the power to kill
Letters on "The Ebola Hot Zone"
In the mail this week, medical workers wrote about caring for Ebola patients in Liberia
Bob Simon profiles the famously energetic "Homeland" actor, who is never at a loss for words
The archbishop of Boston tells Norah O'Donnell about working with Pope Francis to remake the Catholic Church and combat child abuse
Depleting the water
Lesley Stahl reports on disturbing new evidence that our planet's groundwater is being pumped out much faster than it can be replenished
Robert McDonald: Cleaning up the VA
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Steve Carell in a dramatic new role
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The Ebola Hot Zone
Lara Logan travels to Liberia to report on Americans working on the frontline of the Ebola outbreak
60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Greed
Is greed good? Americans share their opinions in the November edition of the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll
Campaigning for ISIS in the West
Clarissa Ward speaks with Islamic radicals in London about accusations they recruit British citizens for battlefields in Syria and Iraq
SEAL under fire for writing about bin Laden raid
After sharing his eyewitness account with Scott Pelley of how Osama bin Laden was killed, a Navy SEAL faces criminal investigation
Blake Shelton's love of country
The country music superstar brings Norah O'Donnell back to his hometown for a discussion on his childhood, his music and why he loves going home
Update on "Saving the Children"
This past week, 105-year-old Sir Nicholas Winton received the Czech Republic's highest award - the Order of the White Lion
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