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06/10/2015
Press Conference Call on Additional Steps to Counter ISIL

Via Conference Call

12:42 P.M. EDT

MR. PRICE:  Thanks very much, everyone.  This is Ned.  Thanks for joining today’s call on additional U.S. steps in the counter-ISIL effort.  Today’s call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion of the call. 

We have four senior administration officials on the line with us today.  First we have Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications.  We also have Jeff Prescott, the NSC Senior Director for Iran, Iraq, Syria, and the Gulf States.  We have Elissa Slotkin, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.  And finally, we have Brett McGurk, the Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL.

So just a reminder, today’s call is on the record, but it is embargoed until the conclusion.  And with that, I will turn it over to Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES:  Thanks, everybody, for joining the call.  I'll just make some opening comments, before turning it over to Elissa and Brett, about some additional steps the President has decided to take with respect to our counter-ISIL campaign.

We've been pursuing a strategy since last year to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, focusing on efforts within Iraq and Syria, in particular, to degrade ISIL, to push it out of areas that it had claimed, and also, importantly, to strengthen the capacity of partners on the ground in that effort.  And I'd note that we're working with a very broad coalition of countries on the various elements of our strategy.

Over the course of the last several months, we have worked on a regular basis to evaluate what is going well in the strategy, where we've had successes in pushing ISIL out of territory that it had claimed, and also to look at setbacks that have taken place, including recently, ISIL’s movement into Ramadi, for instance.  So there’s a very regular process of evaluation; there’s a very regular process of consultation with the Iraqi government to determine what we can best do to support their efforts, just as we are also in constant contact with our coalition partners.

Clearly, what we have determined in reviewing this effort over the last several months is that the counter-ISIL campaign works best when we have a capable partner that we are supporting on the ground, and where Iraqis are able to pursue an inclusive approach to their politics and their efforts to provide for the security of the Iraqi people, generally.  And so the steps that the President is announcing today very much aim to reinforce those important elements of the strategy -- strengthening our Iraqi partners on the ground and supporting an inclusive approach to Iraqi politics and security. 

And I would note that the President reached these decisions after consulting with Prime Minister Abadi -- he was able to meet him twice in the last several weeks, once here in the White House, and then recently, at the G-7, where the President was able to have a final consultation with Prime Minister Abadi before then making the determination to move forward with these steps that are very much in line with Prime Minister Abadi’s request and desire for additional assistance.  He’s also met several times with his national security team, which, of course, fully supports the steps that we're announcing today. 

Just briefly, to give you the overview, as a part of our effort to strengthen the capacity of Iraqi partners on the ground, the President is authorizing the deployment of additional U.S. military personnel to train and advise and assist Iraqi security forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar Province.  So this gives us an additional venue to be able to coordinate with Iraqi forces in Anbar Province, which has been a focus of our efforts, just as we've seen ISIL make Anbar a focus of their efforts.

These advisors will give us a greater capacity to strengthen Iraqi forces, including, importantly, working with the local tribal fighters who are going to be essential to our efforts to conduct operations against ISIL and to try to push them out of areas that they have taken control of over the recent months. This is in addition to the ongoing efforts that the U.S. and other coalition partners have to train Iraqi at four training sites across Iraq.  I’d note that these are not troops who will be serving in a combat role, but they will be supporting Iraqi forces on the ground who are in the fight.

In addition, the President is also focused in his announcement today on expediting the delivery of equipment and materiel to Iraqi forces.  This is being done in full coordination with the Iraqi government and will enable us to better supply both the Peshmerga forces in the north and the tribal fighters operating under Iraqi command as well in Anbar Province.  We, together with our coalition partners, want to make sure that the Iraqis fighting ISIL on the ground have the equipment that they need to carry out that effort.

Furthermore, we’ve been very focused in those areas where ISIL has been pushed back in making sure that there’s an immediate capacity to provide assistance to local populations.  We have seen ISIL lose substantial territory -- for instance, in northern Iraq and in some areas around Baghdad -- and we want to make sure that there is a framework in place to allow for the provision of assistance so that security can take hold as well as effective local governance in those areas.  So, in that vein, the United States is working to facilitate with the United Nations an international fund that can help Iraqi communities that have been recently rid of ISIL governance.

More broadly, of course, we have a strategy that also incorporates efforts to crack down on the flow of foreign fighters in and out of Syria and Iraq, which poses a potential threat to many countries around the world, including in Europe and here in the United States.  And so we’re working with other countries as they amend their laws and practices to better crack down on that flow of foreign fighters, just as we are engaged in an ongoing effort to counter ISIL’s efforts to propagate its ideology.

Again, I’d just note that these steps fully reflect the consultations we’ve had with the Iraqi government, with Prime Minister Abadi, and they’re in support of the plan that Iraq’s own Council of Ministers has passed for the liberation of Anbar, which Brett can speak to.  And, again, I think this will give us a greater capacity as a coalition to support Iraq as they aim to push back against ISIL and to reclaim their territory.

And the last thing I’d just say is we also will be able to continue those consultations here, with Speaker Jabouri of the Iraqi Parliament having meetings here in Washington, including at the White House, later this week.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to Elissa to talk to the deployment.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:  Hi, everyone.  I’ll just give a few additional details.  Once the President authorized the Secretary, we moved out to expand our advise-and-assist mission at Al-Taqaddum Air Base in support of the government of Iraq’s plan.  The intent of the additional site is to provide personnel to assist with planning, integration, logistics, and support to the Iraqi security forces and tribal forces as they fight to retake Ramadi and Fallujah, and ultimately all throughout Anbar.

U.S. forces will provide operational advice and planning support to the Iraqi security forces to include the Iraqi 8th Army Division, the Special Forces -- the Iraqi Special Forces, other security forces associated with the government of Iraq.  The mission will also enable tribal outreach as part of the Prime Minister’s plan that the Council of Ministers passed on May 19th, and this will help accelerate training and equipping of the local tribes in coordination with Anbar authorities and the central government of Iraq.

Based on this addition, we’ll add an additional 450 troops at this one site.  This will bring our total up to 3,550 authorized across Iraq.  These forces, again, will provide an advisory, training, and support role.  They are not conducting offensive ground combat operations.

The types of things we’ll be covering there, in addition to our advise-and-assist mission -- things like mission command, helping the Iraqis with mission command, intelligence; we’ll be doing force protection for the site along with the Iraqis.  We’ll be focused on sustainment and logistics with them.  Those are the types of things we’ll be working on.  We’ll begin sourcing the forces that will be located at Taqaddum in the next couple of days.  The first forces will come from forces already on the ground in Iraq, and then we will pull additional forces from out of country into that site.

Let me leave it there and I’ll be happy to take questions.

MR. RHODES:  We’ll go to Brett.

MR. McGURK:  This is Brett out in Baghdad.  I would just add a few things that we think are pretty significant about what’s happened since the events of Ramadi, now a few weeks ago.

The Iraqi government responded almost immediately and they unanimously came together -- Sunni, Shia, Kurds -- and they adopted an Anbar liberation plan.  And that plan has five really key elements.  One, as Elissa mentioned, is mobilizing tribal fighters in Anbar Province to work in coordination with Iraqi security forces.  Let me just talk about that a little bit.

We have had success in that regard out in western Anbar, at Al-Asad Air Base, where we’ve been based since November.  We’ve been working with three tribes out there, and with the 7th Iraqi Army Division.  And we’ve had some real success advising and assisting tribal fighters with the Iraqi security forces.  Even when Daesh -- ISIL -- has come at the towns in that area, such as Baghdadi, which they took over about three months ago, we’ve been able through our advise-and-assist mission to organize the tribes, organize Iraqi forces, and take back territory.  That’s been a real success, and we’ve look at that in terms of what’s worked and can we build on that, can we reinforce that.

At Taqaddum, we have seen the Iraqis over the last couple months, they launched an initiative on their own to incorporate tribal fighters in that area.  And on May 27th, we had 800 tribal fighters at Habbaniyah, just across the street from Taqaddum.  And we had some guys there to kind of see that process, and it was quite impressive.  It was 800 tribal fighters; they were all equipped with weapons, and they’re now integrated in Iraqi security force operations.  So the government is committed to tribal mobilization, as are we, and we think the second site will really help enable that.

The second element of the plan is recruiting into the Iraqi army.  And specifically, the plan mentions the Anbar Base divisions.  The Iraqis are going through an audit of their rolls, and they’re going to cut from their rolls those soldiers who have attrited or are no longer in the ranks.  We think that’s going to open up immediately about 3,000 positions in the Anbar Base divisions, and that number will go up.  And we want to see recruits coming into those divisions.  That’s something the Iraqi government has now committed to.  And again, we think the second site will help enable that.

The third element of the plan is reconstituting the Iraqi police.  This mission is not directly tied to that, but the Ramadi police are now consolidating at Habbaniyah Base -- again, just across the street from Taqaddum.  And coalition partners, such as the Italians, are stepping up to really help the Iraqis organize and consolidate the police, which will be the hold force when the counterattack happens in Ramadi.

The fourth element is something Ben mentioned, and this is called stabilization.  And the Iraqis remain -- their economy is in pretty desperate straits due to the price of oil.  Their budget has been cut in almost half from what it was a year ago, and they’re managing that in a number of ways.  But one thing that they’re limited in doing, we found, is flushing resources to areas that are cleared of ISIL.  And the U.N. here and experts who do this -- that’s really a necessary condition to help get life come back to the streets and set the conditions for IDPs to return. 

We have now established an international stabilization fund, as Ben mentioned.  We have announced an intent to put in about $8.3 million into that fund, and a number of contributors announced their pledges in Paris about a week ago.  And the U.N. is overseeing this with the Iraqi government, and we think this is going to be an effective mechanism to flush resources in areas once they’re cleared of ISIL.

The final element of the plan, which is really important, is consolidating the forces that retreated from Ramadi and organizing them, and to ensure there is command and control over all forces in the field.  That means tribal mobilization forces. It also means the Popular Mobilization Forces that have been pretty much a part of this fight now, going back for about six to eight months.

The Iraqis just set up their Anbar operation center at Taqqadum Air Base, and obviously we’ll be working very closely with them.  And that is where operations throughout the province, particularly the eastern part of the province, will be organized. And we’ll be advising and assisting in those efforts.

I think to see why this is significant, if you look on a map of the Euphrates Valley, Daesh really has -- ISIL has a Euphrates Valley campaign.  You can go from Raqqa all the way to Ramadi, and then all the way into Baghdad -- that’s what they’ve been trying to do.  You can see those maps that you see from time to time with the red swatch of territory they control.  There’s a big green circle, which they do not control, and that’s in -- if you go up to Baghdadi and Haditha -- that’s where Al Asad Air Base is -- that’s where our guys are based and working in the advise-and-assist mission, which, again, has been very effective. And then if you look at where Taqqadum is, just by Habbaniyah Lake, between Fallujah and Ramadi, we think we can have a similar effect.

I would just say that Prime Minister Abadi specifically asked for this mission.  We’ve been talking about it for some time.  After the events of Ramadi, in a phone call with the Vice President, he asked if we could look at this again, and it’s something that we very much had been looking at and, of course, looked at very closely in the National Security Council in meetings with the President, and the President made the decision to move forward.  And General Austin was here today, and we had a good meeting with the Prime Minister talking through the modalities. 

So we now are moving forward.  And we’re happy to take any questions.

Q    Thank you.  Question for Elissa and for Brett.  The announcement that you’ve made today is noteworthy not only for the steps that you are taking, but for what is not in there.  There’s no provision for American JTACs to call in airstrikes, which can be important in an urban environment.  There’s no provision to send advisors in the field with Iraqi troops, which can be helpful to mentor them.  There’s no provision to use American Apache attack aviation to support the Iraqis.  These are all steps that would keep the Iraqis in the lead, but might be more decisive in helping them retake Ramadi.

Could you explain, given that ISIS has held Mosul for a year, Fallujah for more than that, now has the second provisional capital -- provincial capital -- why you haven’t -- didn’t take more decisive steps?  Are these options still on the table?  And given the effort that you’ve outlined so far, would you expect Ramadi to be in Iraqi hands by the end of the summer or perhaps by the end of the year?

MR. RHODES:  I’ll start and give it to Brett or Elissa to add.  Look, I'd say the President has been very clear that he’ll look at a range of different options.  We’ve worked through many of these questions at NSC meetings as to what the range of assistance we can provide is.  I think our overriding focus here is making sure that there is Iraqi capacity on the ground. 

Ultimately, you’ve heard the President say many times that there have to be local solutions to taking back this territory and holding it and that the U.S. military cannot and should not do this simply for Iraqis.  And, frankly, Iraqis want to be in the lead themselves. 

And so, therefore, the President has focused in the options that he has chosen on those elements that will better enable Iraqi capacity, both in terms of the types of equipment we're able to expedite to them, but also in terms of our ability to provide training and advice, intelligence support, support with command and control, so that they can ultimately be the ones on the front lines who are working to take back their own territories.

So, Michael, the President hasn’t ruled out any additional steps; he’s always open to considering refinements to the strategy.  But I think we’ve been guided by a belief that the best way for Iraqis to take back those portions of their country that have fallen to ISIL is for them to be in the lead.  That will be a more sustainable model.

And there’s much that we can do through airstrikes, through training and equipping and advice.  But, again, ultimately we want to see -- and believe that the strategy has worked in places where Iraqi forces, Kurdish forces in the north have been able to work with us in a supporting role to facilitate their operations. 
But I don’t know, Brett or Elissa, if you want to add to that. 

MR. MCGURK:  I would just add briefly just what Ben said, that we obviously are considering a number of things and the President has always said he’ll consider any option that’s recommended to him.  I think in the case of Taqaddum, we have to get on the ground, we have to get our eyes on, develop the relationships there, work with the joint operations center, work with their plan and then we’ll assess from there. 

But one capability this will give us -- and it’s a lesson that we’ve learned from Al Asad -- and I refer you to Elissa, but I was just over at our joint operations center, again, listening how the whole thing is working.  It’s a tremendously effective system, compared to even six months ago.  And where we have a presence such as Al Asad Air Base, the turnaround time for airstrikes is pretty quick. 

So given the strategic location of Taqaddum, I think this will greatly improve our ability to turn around airstrikes in a pretty fast clip when we are directly advising and assisting Iraqi units in those areas and also the associated tribal fighters who will be with them. 

So I think it will really enhance our capability just having the advise-and-assist mission on the base and then any additional missions, as Ben said, I think the President, of course, will consider them as the recommendations come from the chain of command. 

Q    Hi, thanks very much.  The 450 number is relatively modest.  Do you think that that will be enough to do the job against the Islamic State?  And secondly, Ben, you referred to this a little bit now, but will the strategy review continue past this, or is this sort of it for now?

MR. RHODES:  So, on the second question Jeff, I wouldn’t think of it as some type of formal review process as we had, for instance, early in the administration with Afghanistan, or even as we had last summer as we were formulating the counter-ISIL strategy that the President announced in September. 

What we do have is a belief that we should regularly review our approach and make adjustments and refinements based on what we’re seeing on the ground.  That’s what we’ve been doing the last several months -- including after ISIL moved into Ramadi.

And the steps that we’re announcing today I think are meant to respond very specifically to both what the President’s national security team thought would be the most effective way to provide some immediate support to the Iraqi efforts to liberate Anbar, but also to draw from what we’ve seen works in terms of how we can expedite support both in terms of advice and assistance, but also equipment to Iraqi forces that are out in the fight -- whether it’s in northern Iraq or whether it’s in Anbar.

So the 450, that is added to the cap of U.S. forces in Iraq, which as Elissa said, is now up to 3,550.  But this is meant to respond very specifically to the desire to have this capacity at Taqaddum.  So the reason for that number is that’s the resource that is necessary to carry out the specific enhancement of having this additional facility at Taqaddum.

Again, the other thing that we’ve seen is that there are forces across the country that are in this fight with ISIL, in the north in Anbar, and we want to be able to expedite the ability to equip them, working in coordination with the Iraqi government, of course, which has overall command and control.  But this step will better allow us to provide that expedited equipment into Anbar Province, just as we’re also working to expedite equipment to Kurdish forces in the north.  So that’s something else that we’ve drawn from in looking at what has worked and what hasn’t. 

Notably, as the President said the other day, in Ramadi, you did not have Iraqi forces in substantial numbers who had been trained and equipped by the coalition and, therefore, they did not have the same capabilities that some of the Iraqi forces have had in the north and around Baghdad, where they had the benefit of that support from us. 

And so we’re looking for ways to broaden our ability to have Iraqi security forces -- including some of these more local solutions to the Popular Mobilization Forces that can utilize not just coalition airstrikes but direct coalition support. 

I don’t know, Elissa or Brett, if you want to add to that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:  So I’ll just add on the numbers question.  I think we started from a place of looking at what missions had to take place on Taqaddum, and then we built the numbers out from there.  We didn’t come with a number first and sort of fit missions within it.  And I think that’s important.  And we do have some experience doing this, and so we think we have the right numbers.  But as Ben and others have said, we will always relook at those numbers and make our best recommendations when we have them, if it is to increase. 

Q    Hi, thanks a lot.  Especially, Ben, this is for you.  While we have you on the line, can you give us a sense of right now the total ISIS troop strength?  And much has been said about foreign fighters over the last few weeks.  Can you give us an approximate number of how many foreign fighters are crossing the border into Iraq and Syria every month? 

And my second question is, much has been made of the problems after the fall of Ramadi -- a long list of problems from low moral to truck bombs, et cetera.  And now we’re seeing the doubling of the number of trainers in Iraq.  So I'm wondering why some of those problems weren’t known well ahead of time.  Why wasn’t the situation with the Iraqi army and other issues not known before the fall of Ramadi?  Why couldn’t some of this have been done preemptively?

MR. RHODES:  Thanks, Michelle.  On the numbers question, we tend to defer to the intelligence community for specifics.  I think generally in terms of ISIL fighters who are out in the fight, the estimates have tended to be in the range of 20,000 to 30,000 at any given time.  They, of course -- in terms of foreign fighters that is, to be specific.

In terms of the pipeline of foreign fighters, that’s something that we are monitoring on a regular basis.  We continue to believe that the number of Americans who have aimed to join the fight, either going into Iraq and Syria, or trying to and being stopped in that effort, is in the neighborhood of 180. But in terms of our European partners, that is clearly up into the thousands.  And that I think has been a source of grave concern for our European partners.

So that's our assessment of foreign fighters.  Clearly, ISIL draws from a larger pool as it relates to their efforts to either recruit or coerce local populations in Syria and Iraq to cooperate with them.  But in terms of our own security, we're very focused on the foreign fighter issue because ultimately that could provide a pipeline for people to return to either the United States or Europe or other countries to conduct, potentially, attacks.  And that's why we've put a focus on harmonizing laws and protocols with many different countries around the world -- working with Turkey, in particular, to crack down on their border, which has been a focal point for the flow of foreign fighters into Syria.

I'll just start on Ramadi.  I don't know if Brett or Elissa wants to add to it.  I think that, look, we have seen shortfalls in elements of Iraqi capacity.  I think the Iraqi government itself recognizes that.  Part of the question that we're trying to answer here is how do we have a better ability to move quicker when we see those shortfalls -- because it's both a question of seeing where ISIL may be posing a threat, but also what is our capacity to get assistance to Iraqi forces who are on the front lines.

So, clearly, we've been able to establish a pipeline into the north where you have the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces working together to push back against ISIL; around Baghdad where we have a joint operations center, we’ve had that capacity we established at Al Asad.  But we need to make sure that in terms of where our forces are and how we're able to equip Iraqi forces that we can be more nimble -- because, clearly, this is a very nimble enemy.

So the question you ask, that's part of the problem we're trying to solve, which is, how can we move faster to provide advice, assistance, and equipment to Iraqi forces who are in places like Anbar where they’re under great pressure from ISIL.

But, Brett, you may want to add to that.

MR. McGURK:  I would just add one reason the Iraqis asked us to consider this -- I'm going to have to drop off after this question, but let me just focus on it -- is that where we have a presence and an advise-and-assist mission, it dramatically increases the situational awareness of the Iraqis on the field.  So out at Al Asad -- I've been out there a few times -- we're working 24-7 in that theater.  And it's really -- particularly when ISIL tried to mount one of their attacks, and what they do when they mount an attack is a number of suicide bombers, suicide truck bombs, car bombs -- and also suicide bombers we assess are foreign fighters, nearly all of them.  So that gets to the foreign fighters group.  And they try to create panic, and then they come from different angles so it feels like they’re totally surrounding a unit.  And that can lead to command and control issues and, potentially, kind of a crack in the forces.

So when we’re fused with them and advising and assisting, we’re able to kind of see a little better and buck up the ranks. So, given the strategic location of Taqaddum, I think this is really kind of perfect for that situation.  And given the fact that the Iraqis have put the Anbar operation center there, I think this will have a fairly dramatic effect on just their situational awareness of the enemy -- because sometimes the enemy is not as strong as they pretend to me -- and also, specifically -- this is a tactical issue, but we have accelerated our delivery of anti-tank rockets to make sure that the Iraqis in the field have the ability to combat what is now ISIL’s weapon of choice, just these massive suicide truck bombs. 

So the Iraqis have actually been fairly effective in this in recent days, and we’ll continue -- we’re training them on them now.  They have some safety force from us and they have some other systems.

But, again, we’re going to work with them to combat what is ISIL’s primary weapon of choice now -- these massive suicide bombs -- and also to help with their situational awareness when they do come under attack; and then, most importantly, help them consolidate their ranks and plan for operations and counterattack operations in Anbar Province.  And I think, again, strategically, being at Al Asad and being at Taqaddum, we’ll be pretty well positioned to help them do that.

MR. PRICE:  Thanks, we have time for a couple final questions.

Q    It’s my understanding that there have been a good number of trainers, but the bigger issue in Iraq has been the number of trainees.  And you talked a little bit about how part of the goal is to replenish the Iraqi forces, but can you go a little more into that?  How do you get capable Iraqis who are willing to be trained and do the work?  And how confident are you that that can happen, given how longstanding of a problem and challenge this has been?

MR. RHODES:  That’s a very good question and the President referenced this the other day.  Part of what we’re aiming to do, in our statement of our support for the Iraqi government’s plan around decentralization and the type of functional federalism they’re aiming to cultivate, is to provide different pipelines for Iraqis to get into the fight under the umbrella of the Iraqi security forces. 

So, in other words, to be specific, you’ve had in the past, some of the Sunni tribes who have not joined the regular Iraqi security forces -- because of some of the political tensions and divisions in Iraqi politics over the last several years -- who do recognize that there is a threat from ISIL, who do want to protect their communities.  But we are aiming to find with the Iraqi government different ways to tap into that recruitment pool.

So what the Iraqi government has done, in coordination with the coalition, is undertake outreach to those tribes and to try to create a space for them to be a part of the Popular Mobilization Forces that are emerging in different parts of Iraq -- which, frankly, would then provide for a greater recruitment base for fighters to both get in the fight against ISIL, but also receive training, equipping and assistance from the coalition, as well -- again, in coordination with the Iraqi government.

So with this greater presence in Anbar Province, at Al Asad, now Taqqadum, combined with the type of tribal outreach that’s being done, we are hoping to get more of those Sunni tribes invested in the fight against ISIL to have a greater recruiting base for the effort against ISIL in Anbar Province.  And that I think will be key to not just getting a manpower issue resolved, but, frankly, making sure that the people who have the most at stake in this part of Iraq are fully invested in this effort. 

But I don’t know if Elissa or anybody else wants to add anything to that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:  This is Elissa.  I think that’s exactly right, Ben.  I mean, I think the other point that Brett made was that you need to have -- given the Iraqi budget, you need to have the ability to pay and arm and train these forces.  And so the other part of it, in addition to the interest in participating, is the slots and the availability. 

That’s part of what the Prime Minister is trying to do, and clean up the books so that he has the space, the finances, to be able to bring those on.  His goal, along with our goal, is always to have the military represent the people who are resident in Iraq.  So it’s critically important to get the Sunnis in the main security forces.  That’s another reason we want folks on the ground, U.S. forces on the ground to help facilitate that conversation.

MR. PRESCOTT:  This is Jeff Prescott.  Let me just add one other note to that good point, which is, look, we’ve already completed training of about 9,000 through this building partner capacity program.  And we’ve got 3,100 or so Iraqi forces that are currently in training.

But just to step back for a second -- when the Iraqis, under Prime Minister Abadi’s direction, announced their plan after the fall of Ramadi for efforts to retake Ramadi and, indeed, to improve the performance across Anbar Province, they called for expanding recruitment across the board, in just the way that Ben was just mentioning.  And so that’s why not only with this new location, but we also expect that we’re going to see an increasing flow of trainees to the other locations that we already have set up.

So in some ways, the Iraqis are now getting themselves organized in a way that will allow them to flow more in, and take advantage of the existing capacity that we do have.

Q    You noted that Taqqadum sits between Ramadi and Fallujah.  And I’m just wondering, what is the risk that these trainers are drawn into direct contact with Islamic State fighters?  And do these -- is there a sense in which the U.S. personnel will actually serve as a deterrent force in their own right there to stop ISIL advance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY SLOTKIN:  So I’m happy to take this one first.  But, of course, force protection is something that we look at first and foremost whenever we consider putting U.S. forces in a new location.  We’ve done site surveys of the location, and a lot of our recommendations to the President were based on on-the-ground site assessments of what we might need. 

Of course, there is always a risk whenever we’re in Iraq that we could be hit with indirect fire, as we have in the past; that we could be attacked.  That's something we consider wherever we go in Iraq.  But we felt like we could sufficiently mitigate the risk to make it worthwhile, to go out there to perform this important mission. 

In terms of serving as a deterrent effect, I think certainly the idea that the U.S. is closer to the actual combat role the Iraqis will be taking, that we’re closer to the fight, that we shorten the strings on support for those forces when it comes to providing overhead cover, all of those things I think certainly, if I were Daesh, I would be factoring into the equation.  But it wasn’t our primary goal in thinking of the site.  It was getting to the Iraqis and helping them with the specific advice and operational planning that they really need to take the fight to Daesh.

MR. RHODES:  That’s exactly right.  I’d just say that, look, the President recognizes whenever there’s a deployment like this to a place like Iraq, there’s inherent risk, and we take that very seriously.  The forces will not be in a combat role themselves, but, clearly, force protection has been a very principal concern of the President’s as he looks at these training facilities across Iraq.  And so that’s been a part of all the discussions we’ve had with his national security team.

Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  We appreciate it, on relatively short notice.  And we’ll look forward to staying in touch on these issues going forward.

END 
1:21 P.M. EDT






06/10/2015
White House Event to Kick-Off the National Week of Making

WASHINGTON, DC – On Friday, June 12, the White House will host an event to celebrate and kick-off the National Week of Making, which lasts from June 12 to June 18.

The week coincides with the one-year anniversary of the first-ever White House Maker Faire.  Events are being planned around the country in libraries, museums, schools, universities, and community spaces to celebrate the students, entrepreneurs and everyday citizens who are using new tools and techniques to launch businesses, learn vital skills in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and lead a grassroots renaissance in American manufacturing.

The White House event on June 12 will include announcements and progress updates on the President’s call to action to create a “Nation of Makers,” and leaders in the Maker community, and the private sector, as well as senior Obama Administration officials, will participate.






06/10/2015
Notice -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Belarus

NOTICE

- - - - - - -

CONTINUATION OF THE NATIONAL EMERGENCY WITH RESPECT TO
THE ACTIONS AND POLICIES OF CERTAIN MEMBERS OF
THE GOVERNMENT OF BELARUS AND OTHER PERSONS TO UNDERMINE
BELARUS'S DEMOCRATIC PROCESSES OR INSTITUTIONS
 

On June 16, 2006, by Executive Order 13405, the President declared a national emergency pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701-1706) to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States constituted by the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons to undermine Belarus's democratic processes or institutions, manifested in the fundamentally undemocratic March 2006 elections, to commit human rights abuses related to political repression, including detentions and disappearances, and to engage in public corruption, including by diverting or misusing Belarusian public assets or by misusing public authority.

The actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.  For this reason, the national emergency declared on June 16, 2006, and the measures adopted on that date to deal with that emergency, must continue in effect beyond June 16, 2015.  Therefore, in accordance with section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)), I am continuing for 1 year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13405.

This notice shall be published in the Federal Register and transmitted to the Congress.

 

BARACK OBAMA






06/10/2015
Message -- Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Belarus

TO THE CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES:

Section 202(d) of the National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1622(d)) provides for the automatic termination of a national emergency unless, within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of its declaration, the President publishes in the Federal Register and transmits to the Congress a notice stating that the emergency is to continue in effect beyond the anniversary date.  In accordance with this provision, I have sent to the Federal Register for publication the enclosed notice stating that the national emergency with respect to the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons to undermine Belarus's democratic processes or institutions that was declared in Executive Order 13405 of June 16, 2006, is to continue in effect beyond June 16, 2015.

The actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Belarus and other persons to undermine Belarus's democratic processes or institutions, to commit human rights abuses related to political repression, and to engage in public corruption continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.  For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to continue the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13405 with respect to Belarus.

 

BARACK OBAMA

 

 

 






06/10/2015
FACT SHEET: Administration Announces Actions to Bring Jobs and Clean Energy to Rural America

Financing Hundreds Of Projects To Reduce Carbon Pollution In Rural Communities

President Obama is committed to combating climate change to protect future generations while supporting a strong rural economy. Climate change can no longer be seen as a distant threat. It is already affecting rural communities across the country and putting homes, businesses, and vital infrastructure at risk. Farmers and ranchers face devastating impacts – from severe floods to extreme heat and drought to increased challenges due to wildfires, disease and pests. These impacts threaten the lives and livelihoods of Americans in rural communities.

That is why the President is taking action now. The sooner we act, the more we can do to protect rural America, especially the areas that are the most vulnerable. By investing in renewable energy and supporting climate-smart agricultural practices, rural communities and businesses can help slow the effects of climate change while creating jobs and growing the economy. To continue down this track, today the Administration is making these announcements:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is announcing a new investment in nearly 550 renewable energy and energy efficiency projects across the country totaling nearly $7 million in funding through its Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Today, Secretary Tom Vilsack will visit the Snake River Brewing Company, in Jackson, Wyoming, one of the REAP awardees that received nearly $14,000 in funding to install a solar panels on their business, which is estimated to save the brewery nearly $1,200 on their electricity bill each year.  Since President Obama took office, USDA has helped thousands of rural small businesses, farmers and ranchers improve their bottom lines by investing in renewable energy systems and energy efficiency solutions, including:
    • Awarding $545 million through REAP for more than 8,800 projects nationwide to install renewable energy systems or make energy efficiency upgrades, which will save more than 7 billion kWh, enough energy to power 660,000 American homes annually. In fact, the number of farms using a renewable energy producing system since 2007 has more than doubled.
    • Financing more than $1.7 billion to help rural electricity providers reduce carbon pollution, bringing significant cost savings, and improve the quality of life for those living and working in rural America.
  • Companies across the U.S. understand that reducing carbon pollution and growing the economy go hand-in-hand. To highlight leadership in the agricultural sector, today the White House is hosting a roundtable discussion with businesses and organizations that are already taking action to cut emissions and strengthen the rural economy. Participants include:
    • Cargill
    • The Coca-Cola Company
    • Environmental Defense Fund
    • Field to Market
    • General Mills
    • Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
    • Monsanto
    • National Corn Growers Association
    • Syngenta
    • The Fertilizer Institute
    • Kellogg Company
    • The Nature Conservancy
    • Unilever
    • United Soybean Board
    • Walmart
    • World Wildlife Fund
  • Building on their earlier progress, several businesses and organizations are also announcing new commitments to improve agricultural practices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve water quality, and improve water efficiency:
    • Unilever is pledging to source 100% of its soy (approximately 1 million acres) in the U.S. sustainably by 2017, and all other raw agriculture commodities by 2020.  Utilizing Field to Market, Unilever will work with farmers to gather data about their fields and farming practices and then co-solve with them to implement changes to farming practices that promote reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. For example, working with the Conservation Technology Information Center in Iowa, Unilever was recently awarded $1 million in cost share by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship to encourage growers to utilize cover crops to improve water quality.
    • Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture and The Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy commit to harmonizing metrics to assess the sustainability of feed production, maximize interoperability among tools used to inform sustainable practices, advance scientific research and communication, and jointly convene the supply chain to address sustainability challenges in November 2015. 
    • Coca-Cola Company is committing to rapidly expand the application of the Field to Market program and its data-driven tool to quantify water use, fertilizer use, energy use, and greenhouse emissions. By the end of 2015, Coca-Cola will aim to engage farmers representing 250,000 acres, and up to 1 million acres by 2020s—equating to roughly 50% of the company’s global corn supply – to implement this commitment.
    • National Corn Growers Association is committing to actively participate in Field to Market and administer the Soil Health Partnership (SHP), , a project to make agriculture more sustainable through improved soil management, which is committed to expanding the current SHP Demonstration Farm Network from 40 to 100 by 2018. The main goal of the SHP is to demonstrate the contributions improved soil health makes to increased agricultural productivity, profitability, and environmental sustainability outcomes through the adoption of best management practices (BMPs) such as conservation tillage, cover crops and advanced nutrient management.
    • Walmart has committed to joint agricultural partnerships with 17 suppliers, cooperatives, and service providers on 23 million acres of land in the U.S. and Canada, with the potential to reduce 11 MMT of GHGs by 2020.   Walmart is committed to working with packers, feed yards, and ranchers to ensure that 15% of their U.S. beef supply is sourced with environmental criteria by 2023. In September 2014, Walmart announced that they will work with their suppliers and other partners in the food supply chain to cut greenhouse gas emissions, better conserve water, and increase yields as part of their Climate Smart Agriculture platform. Over the next ten years, Walmart will work to gain increasing visibility into key metrics regarding yields, water usage and GHGs in food supply chains. Walmart is now working with suppliers, representing ~70% of food sales, to report their yield, water and GHG footprints all the way back to the farm.
    • PepsiCo, a global food and beverage company, has committed to expanding its Sustainable Farming Initiative to 500,000 acres of farmland used by North American agricultural suppliers by year-end 2016.  PepsiCo’s Sustainable Farming Initiative provides a comprehensive framework to help meet the goals set out in PepsiCo’s Sustainable Agriculture Policy, providing critical support to farmers as they seek to address climate change and other key issues of sustainable farming. PepsiCo has committed to work in the U.S. and other global markets to engage growers of corn, oats, potato, and oranges to increase the utilization of sustainable farming practices, particularly in the areas of environmental, social and economic sustainability. 
    • The Nature Conservancy commits to help reduce nutrient loading in the Mississippi Basin by 25 percent by 2025 by seeking and developing new funding resources to assist farmers and local communities, partnering with the private industry to build a new conservation force of champions and advisors to farmers, and targeting resources to the highest priority areas.
    • Environmental Defense Fund is committing to work with all actors in the commodity crop supply chain – from corporations to farmers - to get improved fertilizer and soil health practices adopted across the majority of U.S. commodity acreage and strategically-placed wetland filters on 2-3% of the acres in the Upper Mississippi River Basin by 2030.  Combined, these changes will result in the 45% reduction in nutrient loading needed to achieve water quality restoration goals for the Gulf of Mexico, restore drinking water systems and deliver an estimated 50 million metric tons in avoided greenhouse gas emissions. Specifically, EDF will work with food companies, retailers, and grain buyers to support development of strong sustainability goals and connect these goals to effective programming on the ground with farmers. Existing collaborations including work with Walmart, Murphy Brown, Campbell Soup, and General Mills, among others.

BUILDING ON PROGRESS

Today’s actions build on a series of steps the Administration is taking to reduce the dangerous levels of carbon pollution that are driving climate change, scale up financing for renewable energy and energy efficiency, and create jobs in rural America including:

  • In April 2015, USDA released a Building Blocks for Climate Smart Agriculture and Forestry framework to support farmers, ranchers and forest landowners in their response to climate change. Through this comprehensive set of voluntary programs and initiatives, USDA expects to reduce net emissions and enhance carbon sequestration by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent (MMTCO2e) per year – about 2% of economy-wide net greenhouse emissions – by 2025. That’s the equivalent of taking 25 million cars off the road, or offsetting the emissions produced by powering nearly 11 million homes last year.
  • USDA recently made an additional 800,000 acres of highly environmentally sensitive land eligible for enrollment in its Conservation Reserve Program. USDA will accept new offers to participate in CRP under a general signup to be held Dec. 1, 2015, through Feb. 26, 2016. For 30 years, the Conservation Reserve Program has supported farmers and ranchers as they continue to be good stewards of land and water. This initiative has helped farmers and ranchers prevent more than 8 billion tons of soil from eroding, reduce nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to cropland by 95 and 85 percent respectively, and sequester 43 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, equal to taking 8 million cars off the road.
  • USDA recently announced that it will invest up to $100 million in a Biofuels Infrastructure Partnership to support the infrastructure needed to make more renewable fuel options available to American consumers, which will help to lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce dependence on foreign oil, give businesses and consumers more energy options and create well-paying American jobs. Specifically, USDA will administer competitive grants to match funding for state-led efforts to test and evaluate innovative and comprehensive approaches to market higher blends of renewable fuel, such as E15 and E85. States that are able to provide greater than a one-to-one ratio in funding will receive higher consideration.
  • In 2014, USDA established a series of regional Climate Hubs, located in California, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico, to serve as a source of regional data and information for hazard and adaptation planning in the agriculture and forest sectors. The Hubs address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts, and work with land managers to translate and connect relevant science and research to address on-the-ground information needs.
  • Through the Conservation Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, and the Conservation Stewardship Program, USDA is working with farmers, ranchers and forest landowners to implement conservation practices that have reduced net greenhouse gas emissions by over 360 million metric tons since 2009, or approximately 60 million metric tons per year. That is the equivalent of taking 12.6 million cars off the road for a year; or 6.7 million gallons of gasoline consumed; or more than 5.4 million home's energy use for a year.
  • The great American outdoors is also an important aspect of rural communities, providing both an invaluable national treasure and a critical resource for the tourism industry.  In 2014, a record 293 million National Park visitors spent $15.7 billion in communities around National Parks, providing a nearly $30 billion benefit to the U.S. economy and supporting 277,000 jobs.
  • Last October, USDA funded its first two loans under the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program. North Arkansas Electric Cooperative, Inc. will use a loan of $4.6 million to fund geothermal and air source installations, energy efficiency lightning, and weatherization measures, including Energy Star® windows and doors, insulation, efficient water heaters, and roofing. Financing will reduce energy costs for Arkansas consumers and improve the services within Arkansas Electric's service territory.  North Carolina's Roanoke Electric Membership Corporation will use a loan of $6 million to finance improvements to HVAC Systems, appliance replacements, and building envelope improvements for an average of 200 residential energy efficiency upgrades per year over four years. These loans will help reduce energy costs and improve the services within Roanoke's service territory. Roanoke's service territory includes both poverty and out-migration counties.
  • USDA, in partnership with the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, completed the Biogas Opportunities Roadmap, Voluntary Actions to Reduce Methane Emissions and Increase Energy Independence, which identifies voluntary actions that can be taken to reduce methane emissions through the use of biogas systems and outlines strategies to overcome barriers to a robust biogas industry in the United States and increase the use of biogas to help meet our renewable energy goals. Already, USDA has funded 93 anaerobic digesters to help farm operations produce electricity from captured methane. Thanks to a partnership with the Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy to reduce greenhouse emissions across the supply chain, most of these projects are at dairy operations.
  • Through the Biomass Research and Development Initiative and the U.S. Global Change Research Program, USDA has since 2009 provided $610.9 million in funding to support climate change research by USDA scientists and partners at land-grant universities. USDA has also invested $332 million to accelerate research on clean renewable energy ranging from genomic research on bioenergy feedstock crops, to development of biofuel conversion processes and cost-benefit estimates of renewable energy production.





06/10/2015
Statement by the Press Secretary on Additional U.S. Steps in the Counter-ISIL Effort

In furtherance of his comprehensive strategy to degrade and destroy the ISIL terrorist group, President Obama has approved additional actions to enhance the implementation of the counter-ISIL campaign.

To improve the capabilities and effectiveness of partners on the ground, the President authorized the deployment of up to 450 additional U.S. military personnel to train, advise, and assist Iraqi Security Forces at Taqaddum military base in eastern Anbar province. The President made this decision after a request from Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi and upon the recommendation of Secretary Carter and Chairman Dempsey, and with the unanimous support of his national security team. These new advisors will work to build capacity of Iraqi forces, including local tribal fighters, to improve their ability to plan, lead, and conduct operations against ISIL in eastern Anbar under the command of the Prime Minister. This effort will complement the ‎efforts of U.S. and coalition trainers at the four previously-established training sites in Al-Asad, Besmaya, Erbil, and Taji, where over 9,000 Iraqi troops have already been trained, with an additional 3,000 currently in training. These additional U.S. troops will not serve in a combat role and will augment the 3,100 U.S. troops who have already deployed to Iraq.

This train, advise, and assist mission builds on lessons learned during the past several months and is just one aspect of our commitment to support the Iraqi Security Forces. Toward this end, the President has also directed the expedited delivery of essential equipment and materiel in coordination with the central government to Iraqi forces, including Peshmerga and tribal fighters, operating under Iraqi command, to ensure that our partners have the equipment needed to effectively fight ISIL.

The President also approved a comprehensive approach to aid the Iraqi government’s efforts to support the people and communities living in areas newly liberated from ISIL. At the President’s direction, the United States has been working closely with the Iraqi government, the global counter-ISIL coalition, and the United Nations to develop a holistic framework to help the Iraqi government provide sustained security, services and assistance, and local governance among other key support. The United States fully supports the development of an international fund facilitated by the United Nations to help these communities across Iraq recover.

More broadly, we will continue our efforts to leverage all instruments of power to counter ISIL globally and most importantly, to protect the US Homeland. Thousands of foreign fighters – including Europeans and some Americans – have joined ISIL in Syria and Iraq. We remain concerned that these trained fighters will return to their home countries and carry out attacks and seek to inspire supporters to conduct attacks at home, and the President directed his national security team to intensify efforts with coalition partners to stem the flow of foreign fighters to and from Iraq and Syria.

The President also reaffirmed U.S. support for the efforts of Prime Minister Al-Abadi and other Iraqi leaders to build an inclusive and effective governance structure within which all of Iraq’s diverse communities feel that they have a say in determining the future of their country. In this regard, the U.S. will fully support the plan endorsed by the Council of Ministers on May 19 for the liberation of Anbar, as well as the Iraqi Government’s priority of de-centralization to empower local communities in line with the Iraqi Constitution. This “functional federalism” effort being pursued by the Iraqi government is integral to ensuring that ISIL – once defeated – can never again return to Iraqi soil.






06/09/2015
Remarks by the First Lady at Martin Luther King Jr. Preparatory High School Commencement Address

Chicago State University Convocation Hall

Chicago, Illinois

7:44 P.M. CDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Wow!  (Applause.)  Yes! 

STUDENT:  We love you so much, Michelle!

MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, I love you guys!  (Applause.)  Look, I am beyond excited to be here with the winners of our first-ever FAFSA Video Challenge, the King College Prep Class of 2015!  (Applause.) 

So let me just explain, because you all know some of the best schools in the country submitted videos for this challenge.  But when I saw your Scandal video, let me tell you, I was blown away.  I was just blown away with -- amazing.  I was blown away by your creativity, but I was even more blown away by how hard you all worked to achieve your outstanding FAFSA completion rate here at KCP.  In fact, as you saw, I was so impressed that I decided to send your video to the cast of the real Scandal.  And they were so impressed that Shonda* Rhimes and Kerry Washington and the whole staff, they wanted to be a part of this graduation.  And I want to thank Libby, because she was the only one who knew.  She kept the secret.  So let’s give the cast of Scandal another round of applause.  Wasn’t that wonderful?  (Applause.)  That’s how special you all are.  That is just how special you all are.

And I want to thank Libby for that wonderful introduction.  I want to thank Jostens for their generosity.  And, of course, I want to honor the Pendleton family for their courage and their grace and their love.  I love these folks.  (Applause.)  Hadiya’s memory is truly a blessing and an inspiration to me and to my husband and to people across this country and around the world.  And we are so grateful for her family’s presence here tonight.  Love you all.  Love you so much.  (Applause.) 

I also want to acknowledge President Watson, Provost Henderson, Jesse Ruiz, as well as the fabulous singers -- way to go, guys!  (Applause.)  And our musicians, the best band in the land.  (Applause.)  And all of the amazing student speakers -- you guys did such a phenomenal job.  You’re amazing.  (Applause.)

And of course, I want to give a big shoutout to Principal Narain for his outstanding leadership.  Yes.  (Applause.)  He made sure my speech was up here, so I thank him for that.  (Laughter.)  But also, to the phenomenal teachers, the administrators, the school counselors, the staff who pushed you, who inspired you, who hunted you down in the hallway to fill out your FAFSA forms -- well done.  (Laughter and applause.) 

And, graduates, I think we’ve got to give another show of love to the parents, the guardians, the grandparents, the aunts, the uncles, the siblings -- (applause) -- everyone else who has been there for you throughout your lives -- the folks who shook you out of bed in the morning, and didn’t let you go to sleep until your homework was done; the folks who believed in you; the folks who sacrificed for you and loved you even when you drove them crazy.  Today is their day too.  Let’s give them a round of applause.  (Applause.)  Yes!  That’s it, blow kisses.  That’s right, mom.  Take your bow. 

And of course, most of all, to the class of 2015 -- you all, congratulations.  You did it!  You did it!  You are here!  You are here!   (Applause.)  And you all look so good, so glamorous, so handsome.  But just think about how hard you worked to make it to this day -- stayed up late studying, working on those college essays, preparing for those ACTs.  I understand that you threw yourselves into your activities as well -- the Jaguars won the Division 3A basketball regional championship.  (Applause.)  Pretty nice.  The best band in the land performed with Jennifer Hudson -- really?  Jennifer Hudson?  J-Hud? -- and at the NFL Draft.  (Applause.)  I hear you all lit up the stage with Shrek the Musical -- (applause) -- Spring Concert I heard was pretty nice.  But you all truly honored Dr. King’s legacy with your commitment to service-learning.

So, graduates, tonight, I am feeling so proud of you.  I am feeling so excited for you.  I am feeling so inspired by you.  But there is one thing that I’m not feeling right now, and that is surprised.  I am not at all surprised by how accomplished you all are.  (Applause.)  I’m not at all surprised by the dedication your teachers have shown, or by the sacrifices your families have made to carry you to this day.  I’m not surprised because I know this community.

I was born and raised here on the South Side, in South Shore, and I am who I am today because of this community.  (Applause.)  I know the struggles many of you face -- how you walk the long way home to avoid the gangs.  How you fight to concentrate on your homework when there’s too much noise at home.  How you keep it together when your families are having hard times making ends meet. 

But more importantly, I also know the strengths of this community.  I know the families on the South Side.  And while they may come in all different shapes and sizes, most families here are tight, bound together by the kind of love that gets stronger when it’s tested.  

I know that folks on the South Side work hard -- the kind of hard where you forget about yourself and you just worry about your kids, doing everything it takes -- juggling two and three jobs, taking long bus rides to the night shift, scraping pennies together to sign those kids up for every activity you can afford -- Park District program, the Praise Dance Ministries -- whatever it takes to keep them safe and on the right track.  And I know that in this community, folks have a deep faith, a powerful faith, and folks are there for each other when times get hard, because we understand that “there but for the grace of God go I.”  (Applause.)  

And over the past six years as First Lady, I’ve visited communities just like this one all across this country -- communities that face plenty of challenges and crises, but where folks have that same strong work ethic, those same good values, those same big dreams for their kids.

But unfortunately, all those positive things hardly ever make the evening news.  Instead, the places where we’ve grown up only make headlines when something tragic happens -- when someone gets shot, when the dropout rate climbs, when some new drug is ruining people’s lives.

So too often, we hear a skewed story about our communities -- a narrative that says that a stable, hardworking family in a neighborhood like Woodlawn or Chatham or Bronzeville is somehow remarkable; that a young person who graduates from high school and goes to college is a beat-the-odds kind of hero.

Look, I can’t tell you how many times people have met my mother and asked her, “Well, how on Earth did you ever raise kids like Michelle and Craig in a place like South Shore?”  And my mom looks at these folks like they’re crazy, and she says, “Michelle and Craig are nothing special.  There are millions of Craigs and Michelles out there.  And I did the same thing that all those other parents did.”  She says, “I loved them.  I believed in them.  And I didn’t take any nonsense from them.”  (Applause.)  

And I’m here tonight because I want people across this country to know that story -- the real story of the South Side.  The story of that quiet majority of good folks -- families like mine and young people like all of you who face real challenges but make good choices every single day.  (Applause.)  I’m here tonight because I want you all to know, graduates, that with your roots in this community and your education from this school, you have everything -- you hear me, everything -- you need to succeed.  (Applause.) 

And I’m here tonight because I want to share with you just two fundamental lessons that I’ve learned in my own life, lessons grounded in the courage, love and faith that define this community and that I continue to live by to this day.  

Now, the first lesson is very simple, and that is, don’t ever be afraid to ask for help.  And I cannot stress that enough.  During your four years here at King College Prep, you all were surrounded by folks who were determined to help you, as Jade said -- teachers who stayed after class to explain an assignment, counselors who pushed you to apply to college, coaches who saw something special in you that no one had seen before.

And as you head to college or the military, or whatever else comes next, you will face plenty of obstacles.  There will be times when you find yourself struggling.  And at first, you might not know where to turn to for help.  Or maybe you might be too embarrassed to ask.  And trust me, I know how that feels. 

See, when I started my freshman year at Princeton, I felt totally overwhelmed and out of place.  I had never spent any meaningful time on a college campus.  I had never been away from home for an extended period of time.  I had no idea how to choose my classes, to -- how to take notes in a large lecture.  And then I looked around at my classmates, and they all seemed so happy and comfortable and confident.  They never seemed to question whether they belonged at a school like Princeton.

So at first, I didn’t tell a soul how anxious and lonely and insecure I was feeling.  But as I got to know my classmates, I realized something important.  I realized that they were all struggling with something, but instead of hiding their struggles and trying to deal with them all alone, they reached out.  They asked for help.  If they didn’t understand something in class, they would raise their hand and ask a question, then they’d go to professor’s office hours and ask even more questions.  And they were never embarrassed about it, not one bit.  Because they knew that that’s how you succeed in life. 

See, growing up, they had the expectation that they would succeed, and that they would have the resources they needed to achieve their goals.  So whether it was taking an SAT-prep class, getting a math tutor, seeking advice from a teacher or counselor -- they took advantage of every opportunity they had.

So I decided to follow their lead.  I found an advisor who helped me choose my classes.  I went to the multicultural student center and met older students who became my mentor.  And soon enough, I felt like I had this college thing all figured out.  And, graduates, wherever you are headed, I guarantee you that there will be all kinds of folks who are eager to help you, but they are not going to come knocking on your door to find you.  You have to take responsibility to find them.  (Applause.) 

So if you are struggling with an assignment, go to a tutoring session.  If you’re having trouble with a paper, get yourself to the writing center.  And if someone isn’t helpful, if they are impatient or unfriendly, then just find somebody else.  You may have to go to a second, or third, or a fourth person but if you keep asking.  (Applause.)  And if you understand that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness but a sign of strength, then I guarantee you that you will get what you need to succeed.

And that brings me to the other big lesson that I want to share with you today.  It’s a lesson about how to get through those struggles, and that is, instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you.  Let them make you even hungrier to succeed. 

Now, I know that many of you have already dealt with some serious losses in your lives.  Maybe someone in your family lost a job or struggled with drugs or alcohol or an illness.  Maybe you’ve lost someone you love, someone you desperately wish could be here with you tonight.  And I know that many of you are thinking about Hadiya right now and feeling the hole that she’s left in your hearts. 

So, yes, maybe you’ve been tested a lot more and a lot earlier in life than many other young people.  Maybe you have more scars than they do.  Maybe you have days when you feel more tired than someone your age should ever really feel.  But, graduates, tonight, I want you to understand that every scar that you have is a reminder not just that you got hurt, but that you survived.  (Applause.)  And as painful as they are, those holes we all have in our hearts are what truly connect us to each other.  They are the spaces we can make for other people’s sorrow and pain, as well as their joy and their love so that eventually, instead of feeling empty, our hearts feel even bigger and fuller.

So it’s okay to feel the sadness and the grief that comes with those losses.  But instead of letting those feelings defeat you, let them motivate you.  Let them serve as fuel for your journey.  See, that’s what folks in this community have always done.  Just look at our history. 

Take the story of Lorraine Hansberry, who grew up right here on the South Side.  Lorraine was determined to be a playwright, but she struggled to raise the money to produce her first play.  But Lorraine stayed hungry.  And eventually, that play -- “A Raisin in the Sun” -- became the first play by an African American woman to make it to Broadway.  (Applause.)   

And how about Richard Wright, who spent his young adult years on the South Side.  Richard’s father was a sharecropper who abandoned his family.  And while Richard loved to read, the local library wouldn’t let him check out books because he was black.  So Richard went ahead and wrote books of his own -- books like “Native Son,” and “Black Boy,” that made him one of the greatest writers in American history.  (Applause.) 

And finally, tonight, I’m thinking about my own parents -- yes, Marian and Frazier Robinson.  See, neither of them went to college.  They never had much money.  But they were determined to see me and my brother get the best education possible.  So my mom served on the PTA, and she volunteered at school so she could keep an eye on us.

As for my Dad, he worked as a pump operator at the city water plant.  And even after he was diagnosed with MS in his thirties, and it became harder for him to walk and get dressed, he still managed to pull himself out of bed every morning, no matter how sick he felt.  Every day, without fail, I watched my father struggle on crutches to slowly make his way across our apartment, out the door to work, without complaint or self-pity or regret.  (Applause.) 

Now, my Dad didn’t live to see me in the White House.  He passed away from complications from his illness when I was in my twenties.  And, graduates, let me tell you, he is the hole in my heart.  His loss is my scar.  But let me tell you something, his memory drives me forward every single day of my life.  (Applause.)  Every day, I work to make him proud.  Every day, I stay hungry, not just for myself, but for him and for my mom and for all the kids I grew up with who never had the opportunities that my family provided for me.

And, graduates, today, I want to urge you all to do the same thing.  There are so many folks in your school and in your families who believe in you, who have sacrificed for you, who have poured all of their love and hope and ambition into you.  And you need to stay hungry for them.  (Applause.) 

There are so many young people who can only dream of the opportunities you’ve had at King College Prep -- young people in troubled parts of the world who never set foot in a classroom.  Young people in this community who don’t have anyone to support them.  Young people like Hadiya, who were taken from us too soon and can never become who they were meant to be.  You need to stay hungry for them.

And, graduates, look, I know you can do this.  See, because if Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright could stay hungry through their hardships and humiliations; if Dr. Martin Luther King, the namesake of your school, could sacrifice his life for our country, then I know you can show up for a tutoring session.  I know you can go to some office hours.  (Applause.) 

If Hadiya’s friends and family could survive the heartbreak and pain; if they could found organizations to honor her unfulfilled dreams; if they could inspire folks across this country to wear orange in to protest gun violence -- then I know you all can live your life with the same determination and joy that Hadiya lived her life.  I know you all can dig deep and keep on fighting to fulfill your own dreams.

Because, graduates, in the end, you all are the ones responsible for changing the narrative about our communities.  (Applause.)  Wherever you go next, wherever you go, you all encounter people who doubt your very existence -- folks who believe that hardworking families with strong values don’t exist on the South Side of Chicago, or in Detroit, or in El Paso, or in Indian Country, or in Appalachia.  They don’t believe you are real. 

And with every word you speak, with every choice you make, with the way you carry yourself each day, you are rewriting the story of our communities.  And that’s a burden that President Obama and I proudly carry every single day in the White House.  (Applause.)  Because we know that everything we do and say can either confirm the myths about folks like us, or it can change those myths.  (Applause.)

So, graduates, today, I want you all to join our team as we fight to get out the truth about our communities -- about our inner cities and our farm towns, our barrios, our reservations.  You need to help us tell our story -- the story of Lorraine Hansberry and Richard Wright, the story of my family and your families, the story of our sacrifice, our hunger, our hard work.

Graduates, starting today, it is your job to make sure that no one ever again is surprised by who we are and where we come from.  (Applause.)  And you know how I know you can do this?  Because you all -- graduates of the King College Prep High School.  You all are from so many proud communities -- North Kenwood, Chatham, South Shore, Woodlawn, Hyde Park -– I could go on and on.  You embody all of the courage and love, all of the hunger and hope that have always defined these communities –- our communities. 

And I am so proud of you all.  And I stay inspired because of you.  And I cannot wait to see everything you all continue achieve in the years ahead.

So thank you.  God bless you.  I love you all.  Congratulations.  (Applause.) 

END                  8:08 P.M. CDT






06/09/2015
Remarks by National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice at a Tribute to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter - As Prepared for Delivery

National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice
Center for the National Interest Tribute to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter
As Prepared
Washington, D.C.
June 9, 2015

Good evening everyone. Thank you, James, for that introduction. I want to thank General Boyd, Dov Zakheim, Dimitri Simes, and everyone at the Center for the National Interest for bringing us together tonight. It’s a tribute to this organization, and to our honoree, that this dinner has drawn such a broad cross section of Washington—academics and ambassadors, leaders from Congress and the Administration, Republicans and Democrats. For more than 20 years, the Center has reminded us of something we should never forget – that our national security should stand above politics.

Tonight, I’m proud to celebrate one of the most effective colleagues I’ve ever had the privilege to work with, my friend Ash Carter. Ash and I go back more than 20 years. We’ve collaborated both in and out of government. I love Ash. He’s a public servant’s public servant. He’s fiercely competent and wicked smart. He cares about the job at hand and about doing it well—even when it means long hours away from his wife Stephanie and his kids Will and Ava, especially when Will and Ava were young. Simply put, Ash believes deeply that American leadership can make the world a better, safer, more prosperous place.

I know how much President Obama values and relies on Ash’s counsel. I see it every day. But tonight, I want to say how much I personally appreciate Ash, whether we’re having our regular working lunches or logging hours together in the Situation Room. I could spend much of the evening extolling Ash’s virtues, but I’m standing between you and dinner, so I’ll be brief and focus on just three of the reasons I am so grateful to work alongside Ash again.

First, Ash comes from a science background—training that instills a commitment to starting from the facts and grounding analysis and recommendations in evidence. Which isn’t always the case in Washington. Of course, as a theoretical physicist, Ash studied constants like the law of gravity or the conservation of energy or…the Perturbative Quantum Chromodynamics in a Covariant Gauge. You know, the easy stuff.

In today’s rapidly changing world, however, there are few constants. We have to navigate a shifting landscape of rising global powers and nonstate actors and borderless challenges. So it’s all the more important to seek out the best information to shape our policies. Ash never fails to dig deeply into the evidence and think critically. I’m told that he even grades the memos that are sent to him at the Pentagon to make sure his staff are coming up to his standards. I’m not joking.

Second, Ash has a practical commitment to getting stuff done—to not just examining what we should do, but how precisely we can accomplish it. During his years teaching at the Kennedy School, Ash would relish playing the role of president in mock scenarios with his students. He would push them to get more creative with their solutions, dropping lines like “Don’t you put me in a box on this, I am the President of the United States.” Ash, I have this on the authority of several of your former students who now work at the White House. They sold you out.

He also warned students that he didn’t grant extensions because there is no such thing as a late paper in government. You have to be able to deliver excellence within the time and resources you have. That’s the mindset he’s brought to his work at the Pentagon over the years. When he served as Under Secretary and Deputy Secretary of Defense, he was so focused on cutting through red tape and getting needed equipment and protective gear to the field faster, our troops gave him a nickname—“The Deliverer.” Ashton is already a movie star name. With a nickname like “The Deliverer,” you could build a Hollywood franchise.

As Secretary, Ash is leading our armed forces through a period of transition while ensuring that our military remains the greatest fighting force in the world. He’s taking on multiple pressing national security challenges—from fulfilling a new mission in Afghanistan, degrading and destroying ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and affirming our enduring commitment to the Asia-Pacific region to improving our readiness to meet future threats. He’s also reaching out to tech-minded young people to show them that careers in national security are just as cool as Silicon Valley start-ups. You might have to relax the Pentagon dress code for that though, Ash.

But perhaps the brightest star in Ash’s constellation of honors is the respect he’s earned from the men and women who wear our country’s uniform. And that’s the third reason Ash is an invaluable partner. As President Obama has said, Ash has a deep regard and love for our military members and their families. He’s passionate about their well-being. He’s dedicated many hours of his personal time, together with Stephanie, to visiting our wounded warriors and listening to the stories and the struggles of American service members firsthand.

A couple weeks ago, as Ash marked his first Memorial Day as Secretary, he took a quiet moment to visit Arlington Cemetery. Walking among the headstones in Section 60, he left coins at a few graves—just a small sign to the families that he’d been there. And met a Gold Star widow visiting the grave of her husband—a Marine. She had their baby daughter with her. As a devoted dad, I know Ash’s heart was breaking for their loss. But he listened. He heard about their sacrifice. And I know beyond a doubt that he carries their story with him, because that’s what drives his service every day.

So Ash, on behalf of us all, thank you for your devotion to our men and women in uniform and to the defense and prosperity of this country that we all love. And thank you, as always, for being such a wonderful friend and partner.






06/09/2015
Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest, 6/9/2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:32 P.M. EDT

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Nice to see you all.  It's nice to see that some of you made it back from Germany already.  Hope the rest of you missed us -- I'm sure you did. 

I don't have any announcements at the top, Josh, so I'll let you get us started with questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Welcome back.

MR. EARNEST:  Thank you.

Q    The President attracted a little bit of attention during his press conference yesterday for saying that he did not yet have a complete strategy.  And I know he was referring very specifically to a strategy for training Iraqi forces, not the broader fight against ISIL.  But, nonetheless, Republicans have been piling on.  So I wanted to give you an opportunity to do a little bit of clean-up, if you would like. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, I think the President was very direct about something that we have actually talked about in here for several weeks now, which is the President has been very clear with his team that we need to be carefully examining the strategy and refining and optimizing it where we can capitalize on lessons learned, apply some best practices, and make sure that we're doing everything we can to make progress against ISIL and make progress in the effort to degrade and ultimately destroy them.

That is the ultimate goal.  The training, equipping, and offering some advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces is merely one element of that strategy.  But this is one area where we can talk with some specificity about how Iraqi security forces that have benefitted from the support of our coalition military partners have performed well on the battlefield.  And what we know is in at least one recent area where we experienced a setback, in Ramadi, those were forces that had not benefitted from being trained by the U.S.-led coalition. 

And so, again, this is an example of the President saying, well, let’s make sure that we're taking the lessons learned.  We know that troops in the Iraqi security forces that have the support of the coalition perform well on the battlefield.  Let’s try to ramp up the numbers and capacity of those individuals in Anbar Province.  And that's exactly the strategy that we're pursuing.

Now, how exactly to implement that is something that we're still working through.  And what we also know that we need for us to maximize that opportunity is for the Iraqi government to do a better job of sending recruits to that program.  And that includes both Iraqi security force units -- essentially units of the Iraqi military -- to get enhanced training from our coalition trainers. 

It also means the Iraqi central government doing a better job of recruiting more Sunni tribal fighters, because ultimately we do know that the only sustainable solution are local security forces in Anbar Province that are willing to take on ISIL, that they can do so knowing that they have the full support of our military coalition, can be backed by military airstrikes, but also know that after they have succeeded in driving ISIL out of Anbar Province that they can then, working with the Iraqi central government, actually govern that region of the country.

Q    Admiral Kirby over at the State Department this morning said that saving Iraq could be a proposition that takes three to five years.  Does the President -- that obviously would put us well into the next White House.  Does the President agree with that assessment?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Josh, I wouldn’t put a number on it.  But the President has indicated exactly what Mr. Kirby indicated, which is that this is something that is going to require a significant and long-term commitment from the international community.  This is not a short-term proposition.  And we are in a phase now where we are very focused on degrading ISIL and their capacity to operate inside of Iraq, but that over the long term we're going to need to build up the capacity of the local governments and of the local security forces, and to enhance their capabilities when it comes to working with the central government and, frankly, build up their confidence in the central government -- not just to both function effectively, but also to look out for their interests.

We have been blunt about our assessment that one of the things that created the kind of weakness that ISIL capitalized on last year was the failure of the Maliki-led central government in Baghdad to demonstrate to the diverse population of Iraq that he had their best interests at heart.  And that did cause that country to fracture, particular along sectarian lines, and did create an opening that ISIL has capitalized on.

So what we want to do is we want to make sure that we can address this immediate threat from ISIL, allow Iraqi security forces and Iraqi fighters to take the fight on the ground to ISIL.  But once they’re driven out, we want to make sure that there is a local governing capacity there and that there is confidence in the Iraqi central government to lead that country.

Q    But that three-to-five-year timetable that the State Department put out, that’s not something that you are disputing, is it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, what we’re saying is that this is going to be -- this is not going to be a short-term proposition.  And again, I think that’s entirely consistent with Mr. Kirby’s assessment as well.

Q    There was an interesting moment yesterday in Germany where Prime Minister Abadi appeared to sidle up to the President for an interaction, and some interpreted it as some type of a snub, or perhaps the President didn’t see that the Prime Minister was there, but they didn’t end up speaking at that time.  Can you clear up for us what was going on at that interaction?

MR. EARNEST:  I think those who concluded that it was a snub were probably telegraphing some insecurities that date back to junior high.  The fact is, the President just completed a long working lunch that included Prime Minister Abadi, and the President was engaged in conversations with the IMF Director and others.

After that photograph, the President did have the opportunity to meet with Mr. Abadi in a bilateral, private meeting, and it actually represented the second time in two months that the two leaders had met.  So I think that’s an indication that the President has all the communication he needs with Prime Minister Abadi.

Q    And I wanted to ask you about these protests that we’ve seen in Texas after a white police officer pulled a gun on a group of black teenagers who were at a party and tackled one girl to the ground.  Has the President seen the video of that incident, and does he feel that race may have been a motivating factor in that incident?

MR. EARNEST:  Josh, I don’t know that the President has seen the video.  He’s aware of the news coverage of that particular incident.  I think what is clear is that early indications are that local authorities have taken what appear to be appropriate steps.  They have placed that officer on leave.  And again, without knowing any of the details here, but that seems like a prudent thing for them to do.  But ultimately, what steps they need to take and what the investigation yields about what exactly happened there is still something that’s going to take a few more days at least to determine.

But, again, I think this goes back to something that the President has been talking about quite a bit over the last several months, which is that there’s a strong benefit to police forces working effectively to build the trust and confidence of the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And I think understandably, graphic incidents like the one that we saw depicted on that video do have a detrimental impact on the relationship between local law enforcement and the local community.  And I think that’s evident from some of the news coverage and public statements of people who live in that community.

But, again, based on very early evidence here, it appears that local authorities understand the need to protect that trust and are trying to take steps consistent with that priority.  I will say that this is a topic that the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing looked at carefully.  And they put forward a long list of public recommendations of best practices that local law enforcement agencies can implement to enhance the trust with local communities.  And so that obviously is something that we believe doesn’t just enhance the safety and security of the American public and of communities across the country, it actually makes it safer for members of local law enforcement to do their very important work.

Q    A follow-up on that please, Josh?

MR. EARNEST:  I’ll come right back to you. 

Roberta.

Q    I want to ask about encryption.  And I know you talked about this a little bit last week, but since then, yesterday, two major industry groups -- technology industry groups sent a letter to the White House saying they oppose policy actions that would undermine encryption, and specifically said they oppose building in work-arounds for government law enforcement to get in through encrypted systems.  And I’m wondering if you have any reaction to what they said, and if you can explain sort of the process, where things are at in the White House consideration of this issue.

MR. EARNEST:  Roberta, I have not seen the letter, so I don’t know if that was something that they sent today.  Maybe it’s still in the mail.  The thing that I -- and I don’t have a new position, frankly, to share with you at this point.  The President --

Q    Can you explain where things are at in the President’s consideration of encryption and allowing law enforcement to --

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I don’t have an update for you in terms of that policy process.  The President has spoken about this publicly on a couple of different occasions, both in the news conference that he convened with Prime Minister Cameron earlier this year as well as at the cybersecurity summit that the President convened out at Stanford University back in February. So his position on this is clear.  I don’t have an update for you in terms of that policy process.

Q    So there’s no recommendations before him that he’s looking at or considering?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a public update for you on the process.

Q    Lastly, on Turkey.  I was wondering whether the White House has any reaction to the election there, and any concerns about what it might mean for stability in the country or the fight against Islamic State, or if there are any implications for U.S. initiatives that are happening on the borders there.

MR. EARNEST:  The United States looks forward to working with the newly elected parliament and with the future government, and to continuing our close political economic and security cooperation. 

As you know, Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, and we’re committed to continuing our close political, economic and security cooperation.  One area where the United States is coordinating closely with Turkey in our efforts to try to shut down the flow of foreign fighters that benefits ISIL.  This is really important.  This is a difficult task.  Turkey has a long border with Syria and we know that that is a commonly used route for individuals who are looking to travel to Syria to enter the country and to take up arms alongside ISIL.  And we know that Turkey has taken important steps to try to shut down the flow of those individuals. 

But there is more that we would like them to do.  And I think the President was pretty direct in his conversations -- or in his comments at the news conference yesterday about what more we would like to see Turkey do to shut down the flow of foreign fighters in a way that would benefit the security of not just countries throughout the region but also benefit the security of the people of Turkey.

Q    Did the outcome of the election have any bearing on that -- on what the United States hopes to see Turkey do?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the United States -- again, they’re a NATO Ally.  We have a strong relationship with them, particularly when it comes to matters related to national security.  And, again, we are pleased with the work that Turkey has done so far to address this issue.  But we also believe that there’s more important work that they should be doing.  And we’ve communicated those views directly to them in private and I think the President was pretty blunt in talking about it publicly as well.

Michelle.

Q    In the President’s words yesterday on what was working and not working in the fight against ISIS, I think what really stands out is this lack of recruits in certain areas where the capacity to train is there.  I mean, at this point, Iraq is trying to defend its own country.  I mean, these are people of Iraq whose cities are being overrun.  The fact that those recruits aren’t there now, doesn’t that bode poorly for the future of this?  I mean, in so many ways, the U.S. is picking up every slack.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Michelle, I think you are making an observation that we have discussed for some time about politics being critically important to the longer-term success of Iraq.  And that is to say the Iraqi central government needs to inspire the confidence of the people of Iraq; that they need to build political support for their ongoing efforts to lead that country and to unify that country to face down the ISIL threat. 

This is, as I mentioned in response to one of Josh’s questions, this is what we had diagnosed as the principal weakness of the previous prime minister -- that Prime Minister Malaki had governed that country in a way that did not demonstrate a commitment to inclusiveness and, frankly, made that country vulnerable to the kind of offensive operations from ISIL that we saw last summer. 

And we are pleased that Prime Minister Abadi has followed through on his early political commitments to try to govern that country in a multi-sectarian fashion, and to demonstrate clearly to every citizen of Iraq that he has their best interest at heart and that the country’s resources will be used to benefit every citizen in the country. 

And that’s a difficult challenge.  You can understand the skepticism among some members of the Shia population who, for a long time, did not feel that the Iraqi central government had their best interests at heart.  And you can imagine that they’re carefully evaluating the policy decisions that are being made by the new Iraqi government.  And I think their hesitation is understandable. 

What’s also clear, though, is that the failure of the Iraqi people to unite behind this goal of facing down the ISIL threat put at risk the very existence of their country.  And so the stakes here are high.  And that’s why, again, our approach to this challenge has always been to insist that Prime Minister Abadi follow through on his commitments to build a multi-sectarian security force to govern the country in an inclusive way.  And so far he’s done that, to his credit, but it will take some time for him to build and strengthen the trust of the population -- the population that’s not Shia, like he is.

Q    But it’s kind of like now is the time to defend their own country from falling apart completely.  Building this inclusive government network is going to take a lot of time.  This seems to be pointing directly to a lack of a will to fight overall.  Isn’t this -- go ahead.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I was going to say, I think that’s an overly broad generalization.  That there have been areas --

Q    Areas, yeah. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, yes, there have been areas where we have seen the Iraqi security forces, when backed with the support of our military coalition, not just demonstrate a will to fight but actually demonstrate some effectiveness when fighting.  And that has succeeded in driving ISIL out of areas like Tikrit and Haditha, even some areas in Anbar like Baghdadi.  That is an indication that there is a strategy -- there is a template for success here. 

And we want to make sure that we essentially work closely with the Iraqi central government to build on that opportunity, and that means a variety of things.  It means putting more Iraqi security forces through our training programs, but it also means recruiting more Sunni local tribal fighters who will benefit from the advice and assistance in training of coalition forces.  And that last element is particularly important because, as you point out, these local Sunni tribal fighters will take the fight to ISIL not just within their own country but in their own neighborhood.  And it means that these Sunni tribal fighters will be fighting for their communities. 

And what’s important is that they carry out those efforts under the command and control of the Iraqi central government.  And again, it reflects Prime Minister Abadi’s commitment to governing the country in a multi-sectarian way, and protecting the country in a multi-sectarian way. 

Q    And lastly, what do you think about this bipartisan AUMF that’s being introduced in the Senate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, as you know, Michelle, several months ago the administration put forward language urging Congress to pass an ISIL-specific authorization to use military force.  We put forward that language at the specific request of Congress so that they could follow through on something the President challenged them to do, which is to pass a specific authorization to use military force that applied in this case.

You’ve seen the administration send up the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense to go and urge -- to testify before congressional committees and urge Congress to take action. And in the last several months, we’ve seen very little congressional action.  And you’ve heard some pretty sharp criticism from me because of their failure to act on this.

But I do think that the language that was put forward by Senator Kaine and Senator Flake is an indication that at least some members of Congress are willing to step up and fulfill their constitutional responsibility to be heard on this matter.  And I think that Senator Kaine and Senator Flake deserve credit for that.  The language that they put forward does include some tweaks to the language that we had originally submitted.  But we are also candid about the fact from day one that our legislative language was intended to be a starting point for negotiations. 

So it appears that Senator Kaine and Senator Flake have acted consistent with the spirit of that legislative proposal.  And we’re hopeful that other members of Congress will follow through in a similar way.

Jon.

Q    On the OPM hack.  We learned that up to 4 million current and former government employees had -- their personal information was vulnerable to these hackers.  Does that universe of people include Cabinet Secretaries?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, there is an ongoing investigation to this specific matter and that investigation includes the scope of this particular intrusion.  So if there’s more information that we have to share about who precisely was affected, that’s information that would come from the FBI who is leading this investigation.

Q    Were the vulnerable personnel files -- did they include the Secret Service, FBI?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, part of this investigation is to determine the precise scope of the intrusion and to get a better sense of exactly what information was put at risk and what information was potentially exfiltrated.  And so that’s work that is ongoing right now.

Q    But we were told this was a universe of up to 4 million, so you must have known what the universe is.  Does that universe of possible vulnerabilities include Cabinet Secretaries, people employed by the Secret Service, FBI and the like? 

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the scope of this particular intrusion is something that continues to be investigated by the FBI. 

Q    So what did you mean when we were told it was 4 million -- up to 4 million?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that was a number that was based on our assessment at that time of precisely the number of records that were affected by this particular intrusion.  But this is an ongoing investigation and --

Q    You must information as to -- I mean, that number didn’t come out of the blue.  I mean, it was 4 million who, 4 million what?

MR. EARNEST:  We’ve described them as either former or current federal employees. 

Q    And is there any suggestion that this information that was taken, or feared to have been taken, could be used to either blackmail individuals or to steal the identity of individuals that have sensitive security positions?

MR. EARNEST:  Jon, again, the investigation doesn’t just include the scope of this particular intrusion, but it also includes an effort to try to determine the motive of the individuals who may have been acting in this case.  As a precautionary measure, those individuals that are determined to be at risk here will be offered by the Office of Personnel Management some identity theft protection and other advice about steps they can take --

Q    Okay.  So then you’re offering that to somebody.  So is that being offered to Cabinet Secretaries, members of the Secret Service or FBI?

MR. EARNEST:  It’s being offered to individuals who may have potentially been affected in this case.

Q    And so does those individuals include --

MR. EARNEST:  I'm not going to talk about the individuals who may have been affected.

Q    So you’re not ruling out that the group of people that I just mentioned were included in this group?

MR. EARNEST:  You should check with the FBI, and if they have more information to share with you they’ll share it.

Q    How concerned are you about this?  And what is the nature of the concern?  Is the concern that people might be ripped off because their identities might be stolen?  Or is there a greater concern -- security concern?

MR. EARNEST:  I think the concern that the President has is that this highlights the clear vulnerabilities that exist in many elements of the federal government’s computer architecture.  And this administration, for years now, has been working diligently to try to upgrade our defenses and to put in place measures that would mitigate against those intrusions and respond to them when necessary.  This is --

Q    So is the President upset of the gross failure here?  I mean, supposedly, these people had access to personnel records for months without even being detected.

MR. EARNEST:  the President is concerned about the vulnerabilities that were highlighted here.  But the other thing the President indicated, in talking about this yesterday, is that the reason that this intrusion was detected is that OPM was actually in the process of implementing better defenses of their computer network when this particular intrusion was detected.  So that’s an indication that they’re making progress.  But there’s clearly more important work that needs to be done not just at OPM, but at other government agencies.

But, again, this is not different than the kind of threat that we see in the private sector as well.  And all of you represent news organizations, many of which have been subjected to intrusions like this, and your security professionals are doing the same thing that our security professionals are doing, which is making sure that we’re rapidly adapting to the innovative and persistent adversary that’s out there.

Q    Was China behind this?

MR. EARNEST:  The specific individuals or entities who carried out this particular intrusion is something that’s still being investigated by the FBI.

Q    Do you have reason to believe it was a foreign government or somebody working on behalf of a foreign government?

MR. EARNEST:  What the FBI is doing is trying to determine who those individuals are and if they were acting on behalf of a criminal enterprise or a nation state.  They’re going to do their best to work to determine that.

As is consistent with the strategy that we’ve used in investigating previous cyber intrusions, I can’t promise you that we’ll be in a position at any point in the future to make a grand pronouncement about who may have been responsible for this particular intrusion, but it’s something that we are working hard to try to determine.  And if a response is necessary, then the President, because of steps that he announced a couple of months ago, has more tools at his disposal to respond to this particular incident -- and I’m referring to the executive order the President signed that authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to impose financial sanctions against those who are deemed to be responsible or benefit from a cyber-attack.

Bob.

Q    Josh, with the al-Abadi meeting yesterday, which leader suggested -- who suggested to who that the United States should speed up or whatever, do more training of Iraqi forces?  Because the President, in the news conference, made a relatively strong statement saying that when Iraqi forces have been trained that they’ve done much better at retrieving land of their country.  Who came up with the idea of speeding this process up, or however you want to put it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that is a conclusion that the President’s national security team has reached based on their assessment of conditions on the ground. 

And you have U.S. military personnel that are operating in joint operation centers in Iraq where they’re essentially embedded with Iraqi security forces.  You have some U.S. military personnel and coalition military personnel that are on the ground at -- stationed at bases in Iraq where they’re working directly with Iraqi security forces to train them.  So we’re in a position, based on our knowledge of what’s happening on the ground, to evaluate the effectiveness of Iraqi security forces.  And what is becoming clear is that the kind of training that these Iraqi security forces are getting from the United States and our coalition partners is having a positive impact in their performance on the battlefield.  And that’s a good thing.

And again, this is the President wanting to apply this lesson throughout the country, and to encourage the Iraqi central government to ramp up their recruitment both of other military personnel that are already enlisted in the Iraqi security forces, but also to include Sunni tribal fighters and others that will ensure that we have a multi-sectarian security force under the command and control of the Iraqi central government that’s taking the fight to ISIL on the ground in Iraq. 

Q    Was it a request from al-Abadi, or was it a suggestion by the President?

MR. EARNEST:  The President and his national security team reached the conclusion that this was an effective strategy that the President wanted his team to ramp up.

April.

Q    Josh, I want to go back to that question about Texas.  First of all, how did the President find out?  Was he watching the news, or was he informed by the Justice Department as to what was going on?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of any formal notification that the President has gotten from the Department of Justice.  This is obviously something that was covered extensively in the news while we were in Germany.

Q    Did he find out in Germany, or did he find out when he came back here?

MR. EARNEST:  The President was aware of this yesterday, soon after it was reported publicly.

Q    So in Germany, or on the plane coming back?

MR. EARNEST:  In Germany.

Q    So also -- well, now since, yet again, another videotape has surfaced showing at the very least the fact that there could be excessive force, is there an expectation at this White House that the Justice Department will go into this and look at what happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, that would obviously be a decision that would be made by officials at the Justice Department.  That would not be a presidential directive.

Q    And I understand that, but is there an expectation, particularly when, again, this White House is now known for this effort into supporting law enforcement as well as rooting out the bad policing, is this something that there’s an expectation possibly around this White House that this could indeed be something that the Justice Department could be reviewing to see what happened?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, in terms of an investigation, that would be a decision that would be made by Department of Justice prosecutors.  And so I wouldn’t want to say anything that might leave somebody with the appearance that we’re interfering in those kinds of decisions.  But there are also other officials at the Department of Justice that are responsible for administering federal resources that can be used to assist local law enforcement.  And some of those individuals have spent time in places like Ferguson, in Baltimore, and other places, other communities that have experiences this kind of public attention as a result of the conduct of some members of their local police force. 

But, again, I’d refer you to the Department of Justice for any decisions they may have about contacting the local law enforcement in that community in Texas.

Q    In the waning months, year or so that you have in office, the President has in office, the President started out his presidency stepping into a situation with racial profiling and then at the end of the first term had Trayvon, and then it kept going second term with issues of policing.  Does this administration embrace the fact that because of how this President has handled the issue of policing, bad policing as well as supporting good policing, that this could be a legacy piece for him -- dealing with the accountability component of video cameras, also rooting out bad policing, pattern and practice reports, and changes in police departments?  Is this President looking at this as a legacy piece?  Are you embracing this as a potential legacy piece for this administration?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I guess what I would say is that this is an issue that the President has been involved in throughout his career in public service, going all the way back to his service in the Illinois State Senate; that some of the President’s most important legislative achievements in that office were his efforts to broker agreement on racial profiling legislation in the state of Illinois.  And he did that by working closely with civil rights leaders, as well as law enforcement officials in that state.

So this is an issue that the President has been working on for a long time and he spoke in pretty personal terms about why he believes these efforts are so important.  And the President -- I do think he expects that over the course of the next 18 months, that he will spend more time talking about this issue and continuing to make it a priority.

Q    So you do embrace it as a legacy piece?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I think it's too early to say sort of what historians will evaluate.  And one of the reasons for that is that so much of what we have seen are -- that have raised concerns have raised questions about the leadership and staff of local law enforcement organizations, and the President has been pretty clear that as the head of the federal government he has limited influence over those particular organizations. 

But the influence and authority that he has is influence and authority that he’s willing to use to do several things.  One is to help communities deal with these particular challenging situations, particularly in a way that supports, as you pointed out, the vast majority of men and women in law enforcement who work really hard and do a really good job of protecting communities all across the country, and doing it in a fair way.  These are professionals who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect.  And these are individuals who are worthy of our praise and our recognition.  But what’s also true is that we can make those individuals more effective if we can bolster confidence that the community has in the broader law enforcement organization.

And, again, I do think this is something the President will spend a decent amount of time talking about over the next year and a half.

Julie.

Q    Thanks.  Just getting back to the breach of federal employee data.  I know you said, and they’ve said at OPM that the reason they discovered it was because they were installing additional safeguards.  But I'm wondering whether the President thinks that there was a management failure here.  I mean, this is, after all, an agency that handles sensitive personal information for the vast majority of federal government employees.  They had been told by their IG that they had vulnerabilities.  Even though they were addressing those, it wasn’t happening in a quick enough way, obviously, to stop this from happening.  So does he have confidence in the director over there and senior leadership that they have their hands around this issue?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has confidence that every single member of his staff understands that cybersecurity needs to be a priority.  And, again, in talking about this yesterday, the President was pretty direct about the fact that we've got our work cut out for us when it comes to taking what, in some cases, are pretty old computer systems and making sure that they have modern, adaptable security measures in place to protect against cyber intrusions.

What’s also clear is that our adversaries -- whether we're talking about criminal enterprises or federal governments, or entities acting on behalf of foreign governments -- that these adversaries are persistent and well-resourced, and we need to make sure on our side that we're vigilant and well-resourced to meet this threat.  And it requires an approach that understands that this is a very adaptive environment, that particularly when we're talking about modern technology, we're talking about very complex mechanisms and the need to make sure that our defenses adapt as rapidly as our adversaries do.

Q    So does he feel that the OPM Director is up to that challenge?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President certainly believes that the Director of the OPM is aware that this is a priority.  And this is a message that's been delivered to -- the President convened this Cabinet meeting a couple of weeks ago -- two or three weeks ago, I guess it was now -- where this was an item on the agenda, the need to make sure that, institutionally, agencies across the administration understand that these kinds of threats are real and require the attention of the senior-level officials at each of these agencies. 

(Interruption of the briefing.  Secret Service agents announce that they need to evacuate the Briefing Room.)

(Pause at 2:08 P.M. EDT)

  * * * *  

(Briefing resumes at 2:46 P.M. EDT)

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  (Laughter.)  We’ll try this again.  Just to give you an update on what has transpired, as many of you may have heard from the Secret Service, shortly before 2:00 p.m. today, a telephonic bomb threat concerning the room that we are now all in was called into the Metropolitan Police Department.  The local police department contacted Secret Service officials, who determined that for the safety of all of us, they needed to evacuate the room and to sweep it. 

Fortunately, here at the White House, the Secret Service maintains the resources that are necessary to quickly make the room safe and make sure that it’s safe for all of us.  And they did that quickly, and now we’re ready to restart. 

Before I get to your questions, I used our brief respite to gather some more information, Roberta, in terms of answering your previous question about encryption, and I can tell you that officials at the White House have received the letter.  We are aware of it, and we appreciate the input and perspective of these organizations.  The administration firmly supports the development and robust adoption of strong encryption.  The President himself has acknowledged that it can be a strong tool to secure commerce and trade, safeguard private information, and promote free expression and association.

At the same time, we’re also, understandably, concerned about the use of encryption by terrorists and other criminals to conceal and enable crimes and other malicious activity.  But the fact is that even though some people misuse this encryption technology.  We believe here in the administration that responsibly deployed encryption helps secure private communications in commerce, and that’s something that’s worth supporting.

Q    Josh, before the alarm, who covered up the cameras in this room?  Because the cameras were covered up or pointed down. I mean, these are cameras that are owned by news organizations.  I’m just wondering -- we were all escorted out, so it wasn’t anybody with our news organizations, but somebody cut off our ability to see what was going on in this room by turning the cameras down.  Who did that and why?

MR. EARNEST:  I was also evacuated alongside you, Jon, so I was not in the room.

Q    Can you find out?

Q    Because these cameras, again, are owned by the news organizations --

MR. EARNEST:  I understand. 

Q    -- and somebody has gone to every single one of them, even the ones outside were tampered with so that we wouldn’t be able to see what was going on in here.

Q    Josh, was President Obama or his family in any way impacted or evacuated?

MR. EARNEST:  They were not.  This was the only room in the White House complex that was evacuated.

Q    But you were evacuated as well, though, so it wasn’t exclusively this room.  Who beyond this room or how far outside of this room did the evacuation go into effect?

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, when I said that I was evacuated, I left the room at the same time that all of you did.

Q    So you stayed in the White House complex, though?

Q    So it was safe to be in the room adjacent to here, but specifically not in here?

MR. EARNEST:  I was not in the room adjacent to here, Peter.  I went back into my office.

Q    Which is --

Q    Is that --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s just do this one at a time.

Q    So just to be clear, so this room was evacuated.  Was the lower press room adjacent to us evacuated?

MR. EARNEST:  So, yes.  It is considered part of the press area that the White House press operates, so the staff that works there came into my office while the room was swept.

Q    Was any staff outside of this room or the adjacent room evacuated?  Was any senior staff or any other staff within the White House evacuated?

MR. EARNEST:  No, it is my understanding that no one else was affected by this particular incident.

Q    Concerning the evacuation --

Q    Is this --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s just do this one at a time.

Q    The call came in at 1:53 p.m., Josh, according to the Secret Service.  The evacuation took place, as you witnessed with us, at 2:14 p.m., so more than 20 minutes passed in that time.  Is there any reason for any concern in that delay before the evacuation took place?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  This is a decision that was made by Secret Service based on information that they had received.  I don’t know how long it took for that information to be transferred -- transmitted to the Secret Service and for the decision to be made to evacuate the room, but, again, the evacuation was conducted to protect the safety of all of us.

Q    And what was the President doing at the time?  Even if he wasn’t impacted, what was he physically doing while we were evacuating?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure exactly what he was doing.  He was here at the White House, but I’m not sure where he was.

Q    Do you know if he was at the Oval Office at the time?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know exactly where he was.  He was here on the White House grounds.

Q    If this was a serious enough threat -- it was a bomb threat, right?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s my understanding, yes.

Q    If it’s serious enough to move us all the way over to the Executive Office Building, why would the President not be moved out of the White House?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, Chip, I can’t -- these are obviously decisions that are made by the Secret Service.  They did that in the interest of keeping us safe.  But I suspect that part of the reason for moving you to the South Court Auditorium was because that was a place where you could be inside and be in the air-conditioning.  But that’s what they’re trying to do, is make sure that they could quickly clear the room, which they did, and allow us to all come back here and go about our business.

Q    The President was never in any danger as far as we know?

MR. EARNEST:  Certainly not that I’m aware of.

Q    Josh, do we know if there’s any indication that this incident was connected to the security incident that we saw on Capitol Hill today?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know.  You should check with the Secret Service about that.

Go ahead, Jon.

Q    And, Josh, you said you were evacuated, but you mean you just went to your office?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.  I was evacuated from this room, like all of you were.

Q    Can you remind us how close your office is?  I mean, it’s right down the hallway.

MR. EARNEST:  It’s not far away.

Q    So it’s just hard to imagine why a bomb threat that would necessitate evacuating this entire room wouldn’t affect the rest of this West Wing complex.  It’s not a very large complex.

MR. EARNEST:  It’s not a very large complex, but, Jon, I can’t account for that.

Go ahead, Julie.

Q    Just quickly, can you tell us how it is that the rest of the West Wing could have stayed in their offices while we had to leave?  I mean, if it had been a bomb, is there some sort of fireproofing, bombproofing that exists between here and there that would allow them to stay while we had to leave? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know all of the security measures that are in place to protect the White House.  Even if I did, I'm not sure I’d be in a position to talk about them from here.  But for a question like that, I’d refer you to the Secret Service. 

Q    Can you tell us what they did in here before they gave us the all-clear and let us come back?

MR. EARNEST:  My understanding is that they swept the room, which, typically, involves the inspection of the room by some experts.  And I know that they had K9 units in here as well.  But for all of the activities that were required to clear the room, I’d refer you to the Secret Service.

Q    Swept it very closely.

MR. EARNEST:  Correct.

Q    Josh, is this --

Q    Josh --

MR. EARNEST:  Let’s just do this one at a time.  Go ahead.

Q    I want to go back to the question I was asking before we were evacuated.  If anyone else --

Q    Could we just say -- could you find out where the President was and where he was moved?

MR. EARNEST:  I know that he was not moved.  And we’ll see if we can get some additional information about where he happened to be at that time.

Q    I want to follow on the line of questioning about the proximity.  So you were told to shelter in place, correct -- in your office?

MR. EARNEST:  No, April, I was asked to leave the room in the same way that you did.

Q    I'm saying, in your office, were you told to shelter in place?  Because you said --

MR. EARNEST:  No, I was not told to shelter in place. 

Q    Okay, so we’re just feet from your office and feet from the Oval Office, and also feet from the Residence.  There’s a close proximity.  Was anyone else told in the Residence maybe to move, or over here, to shelter in place while this was going on? Because it seems like it was a very serious scenario that they had gone in offices, gone under desks, had dogs walking through, and that no one was told to move or shelter in place except for lower press.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, I'm sharing with you all the information that I have right now, which is that, based on a threat that the Secret Service received from another law enforcement organization about the press area at the White House, the press area at the White House was evacuated for the safety of all of us.  And the Secret Service, using resources that they keep here on the complex, was able to quickly search this location and conclude that it was safe.  As soon as they did we were able to all come back in the room and pick up where we left off. 

Q    But they moved us.  We went outside.  You say it was to keep us cool, but I don’t think it was.  We were out there -- you were in your office.  We went to Pebble Beach first, and then they moved us further down into the next building on the campus and moved us even further back.  It wasn’t for coolness.  It was because of a fear.  So my question is, with a proximity to everyone and everything here, the seat of power just feet away, and they were not moved, but we had to be pushed all the way back.  I'm trying -- there’s something not jogging and not mixing.  It just seems odd. 

MR. EARNEST:  Well, April, for the questions that you have about decisions that were made by the Secret Service, then I would encourage you to contact the Secret Service and they can maybe get you a more specific answer to your question than I'm able to. 

Q    And the Secret Service to break into a briefing, which they don’t -- they had to think about it coming in -- because I watched them.  They had to think about stopping the briefing because of the severity, and no one was -- it's just, it doesn’t sound right, I'm sorry. 

Q    Did you talk to the President since the evacuation? 

MR. EARNEST:  No, I did not. 

Q    Could you just clarify?  Was he in the West Wing, do you know?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know, but we’ll see if we can get you precise information.  He was here at the White House, but I don’t know exactly what room he was in.

Q    Okay.

MR. EARNEST:  Are we ready to go back to our regularly scheduled programming?

Go ahead, Viquiera.

Q    Can you say any more about the nature of the threat as it relates to law enforcement that would necessitate a limited evacuation here at the White House -- potency, or power, or wherever it may have been?

MR. EARNEST:  No, I'm not.  I don’t know what information was transmitted in the specific bomb threat other than the briefing room was identified as the location of this purported bomb.  But I --

Q    And it was a bomb, though?  Not any sort of agent or -- 

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the Secret Service said it was a threat. 

Go ahead, Michelle.

Q    Does it concern you that if the bomb was in the building, that you were so close to it, potentially?  And does it concern you that if the bomb was called in as a threat that somebody in the press corps might have had on their person that the entire press corps was then kept together in a small area well away from the White House?  I mean, do either of these scenarios raise questions in your mind?

MR. EARNEST:  No.  I have complete confidence in the professionalism of the men and women in the Secret Service to make judgments about what’s necessary to keep all of us safe, and that’s what they did this afternoon.  But for questions about why those decisions were made and how they were made, you can direct them to the Secret Service. 

Okay.  All right.  Are we ready to move on to other topics?

Q    Not yet. 

MR. EARNEST:  Okay.  Go ahead, Mark.

Q    Josh, you said the President was not moved today.  Have there been occasions in the past during his presidency when he’s been moved into the EEOB?

MR. EARNEST:  I’d refer you to the Secret Service for answering questions --

Q    Yourself, though?

MR. EARNEST:  Off the top of my head, no.  But it doesn’t mean that it didn’t occur.  So I’d encourage you to check with the Secret Service to confirm.  

Q    And there was no bomb, right?  Just a threat.  They didn’t discover something and deactivate it.  I mean, there was nothing --

MR. EARNEST:  That’s correct.  That’s correct.  

Q    Josh, were any other members of the Obama family at the White House at the time that this all took place?  The girls, or his -- Michelle, First Lady Michelle Obama --

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have the answer to that, but we’ll check on that for you, too.

Anybody else?  Okay, Julie, back to you.

Q    Just to follow up on what you were saying when we were all evacuated.  You were talking about a Cabinet meeting where the President raised this several weeks ago -- or a couple of weeks ago. 

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, I was.

Q    I wanted to clarify, was that before or after he had been made aware, and you at the White House became aware of this breach of 4 million people’s identifying information?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know of the precise sequence of those events.  But I will tell you that it is not unusual for the President to spend time at a Cabinet meeting talking to the leaders of his government about the importance of cybersecurity. But I do know that as recently as the most recent Cabinet meeting which occurred two or three weeks ago, that this was an agenda item and the President made clear to members of his Cabinet how seriously he takes cybersecurity and how important it is for the leaders of those organizations to prioritize the effort to upgrade our cyber defenses, put in place software that can mitigate the threat from cyber intrusions, and also make sure that we have the tools that are necessary to adapt to the ever-evolving threat.

Q    And has he talked with the OPM Director since this breach was revealed, as he became aware of it? 

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t believe so, no. 

Juliette.

Q    You’ve got a few major decisions or events coming up between the health care ruling that's expected to come out of the Supreme Court, the upcoming trade vote, and then obviously the deadline for the Iran talks.  When the President and his top aides look at what’s happening in the next few weeks, how do they view these key issues as influencing his ultimate record while here in office? 

MR. EARNEST:  It’s going to be a busy summer.  It is an indication of just how dominate the President’s priorities have become in the political discussion in Washington.  And that’s an indication that you have a President here who is doing everything that he can to drive his agenda.  And at least one or two of the topics that you cited are pretty good examples where members of Congress, failing to thwart the President’s agenda through the legislative process, have turned their attention to the courts.  And I think that’s an indication, again, of how much progress the President has made to advance his agenda, to advance his priorities.  And hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to implement them.

And when it comes to -- the President spoke at length about the upcoming -- or the recent arguments before the Supreme Court related to the Affordable Care Act, and the President expressed some confidence that the administration would be able to continue to move forward with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in a way that maximizes benefits for millions of Americans, not just the 16 million Americans who got health care coverage because of the Affordable Care Act, but because of the many other millions of Americans that benefit from the other consumer protections that are written into the law.

When it comes to the ongoing Iran negotiations, the President does believe that negotiations with Iran are the best way for us to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And we have seen a pretty concerted effort by some in Congress to try to undermine those negotiations, but the President remains as determined as ever to try to see that diplomatic effort through because he believes it’s clearly in the best interest of the United States; he believes it’s clearly in the best interest of our closest ally in the Middle East, Israel; but also because it is clearly the best way to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

And then the third one you mentioned was --

Q    Well, the Supreme Court ruling on health care.  So, right, I mean -- and trade, in terms of the trade --

MR. EARNEST:  Oh, and then trade, yes.  And the President I think expressed some confidence that we would succeed in building a bipartisan majority in the House for trade promotion authority. 
Q    Should those events not transpire the way you’ve laid out, but, in fact, for example, the trade bill doesn’t pass, the Supreme Court rules against you, or Iran falls through, how much do you think that affects the ultimate impact the President will have while in office?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the way that we think about it is that these are priorities that the President has identified.  And we’re going to put -- I think we’ve already expended significant political capital on each of those things to try to move them forward, and we’ve made really important progress in each of those areas.  And the President is determined to see them through because they are consistent with the kinds of values and priorities that he promised the American people that he would seek to advance as President and this is him making good on that promise.

Q    A couple questions on Iraq.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes.

Q    Number one, when the President says that there aren’t enough recruits for training, what is he referring to -- number one, that overall, there aren’t enough recruits that the Iraqi security forces are getting, or are not enough recruits being made available for training?  In other words, they’re just not presenting enough of them for training?  Or is he simply saying there aren’t enough Sunni recruits and sort of non-Shia majority of recruits?  What is he exactly referring to?

MR. EARNEST:  Mike, I think great minds think alike, because I asked our national security staff this exact question today.  So let me convey to you what I understand to be the case.  And in some ways, I’m going to actually leave the most important thing for last, so stick with me here through the beginning.

The first is we have seen that already-organized units of the Iraqi security forces are able to go through training -- so these are individuals who are already in the military, are already part of a unit, but when this unit has the benefit of coalition training, we see that they perform more effectively on the battlefield.  

And so one of the things that we would like to see the Iraqi government do is to speed the movement of Iraqi security force units into and through the coalition training process.  Now, what that means is it means when you are taking security forces from one area of the country and putting them into training, you need to make sure that you have enough recruits to replace them in what they’re currently doing.  So there is a need for the Iraqi central government to continue to recruit Iraqis into the Iraqi security forces for that reason, to essentially replenish those security forces that are --

Q    And they’re falling short of that?   

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we would like to see them do more of that.  And our sense is, is that that would actually allow us to speed the process through which Iraqi units that are already organized be transferred into the training process.

Now, separate from that, you asked what is a very good question about the effort to train local Sunni fighters.  Here’s why that is really important -- and this goes back to a question that I was answering earlier.  The only enduring solution that we will have to this, what appears to be chaos in many areas in the Middle East, is for local structures to be in place where you have local governments and local security forces that are vested in the protection of their communities. 

And what is evident is that U.S. military personnel, even when fully committed to offensive large-scale ground operations, can be successful in stabilizing a security situation -- even over a large swath of desert in Iraq that essentially the United States military can effectively put a lid on outbreaks of violence.  But what we saw happen is, without a governing structure that has the credibility of the local population to follow on to those U.S. forces, we see that the fabric of those communities starts to break down. 

So what the President has said as it relates to this specific strategy -- and this is true of our broader strategy against ISIL -- is we need to build up the capacity of local forces to take the fight to ISIL on the ground in their own country.  That’s a phrase you’ve heard me use many times.  I would adapt it here to Anbar, which is, we need local forces on the ground who can take the fight to ISIL in their own communities. 

And so the idea is to essentially recruit local Sunni tribal righters, train them, equip them, have them work very closely with Iraqi security forces, have them all operate under the command and control of the Iraqi central government, and essentially have a multi-sectarian force fighting ISIL on the ground in Iraq.  What this means is it means you will have local citizens fighting ISIL to protect their own community, or in some cases, to take back their own communities.  And they’ll do that with the strong support of the Iraqi central government.

So what this would do is it would inspire the confidence of local citizens in the support that they receive from the Iraqi central government, while at the same time, have individuals who have literally taken up arms to defend their own communities.

And what I have just described is a scenario that we believe could ultimately be successful in trying to bring greater stability to these communities that have experienced so much chaos in recent years.  But what’s also true, from what I just described -- it took me a long time to describe it; it’s going to take even much longer to successfully implement it and to allow that strategy to take root. 

But there’s no time like the present to try to advance that kind of strategy.  And that’s what we’ve been engaged in over the last several months.  And the President believes that there is more that we can do to recruit and train local Sunni tribal fighters.  And that will be a part of this ongoing effort as well.

Q    Yesterday when you said there’s not a complete strategy yet on this training mission, does he have a timeline for when he will have the complete strategy on the training mission?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President has asked his team, as he frequently does, to be in a constant state of refining and optimizing the strategy that we have in place.  And it’s clear that one element that is in need of refining is this effort to train, equip, and offer advice and assistance to Iraqi security forces.  And so this will be an ongoing process, but this is something that the President is focused on.

Q    And last question.  At the risk of sounding like a blowhard, when I was in Iraq 10 years ago, Bush administration, they were going to train everyone with American trainers.  Spent a lot of time at combat outposts -- great trainers, but it was very clear to anyone who spent a day there or two days there that the problems were not problems that could be cured by trainers.  They were things like a culture of cowardly leadership at the company battalion level, completely unprofessional NCO corps; that it’s more cronies than professionals; corrupt logistics, they weren’t supplying things correctly; ghost soldiers.  And when you read the descriptions of the collapse of the Iraqi military in places like Mosul, you could see the same sort of elements there that weren’t just political problems, but they were endemic, operational problems in the Iraqi army that can’t be cured just by having trainers train people.

Do you have a sense now whether those fatal operational problems in the Iraqi army have been cured?  Or that this training will actually do more than help a little bit so that it takes a few seconds longer for them to collapse?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Mike, I think what I would say is -- I think what you’re asking is a perfectly legitimate question, and many of the problems that you have identified based on your own experience covering this conflict years ago I do think, in the mind of the President, can be traced back to inherent political problems; that if you don’t have a central government that’s committed to pursuing an inclusive brand of leadership that includes a multi-sectarian security force, that you’re going to see the kinds of problems that you have just talked about.  You’re going to see corruption.  You’re going to see fighters who aren’t committed to the safety and security of the entire country, and that’s going to erode morale.

And that’s why the President prioritized from the very beginning the establishment of a central government in Iraq that was ready to not just make promises, but actually live up to the pursuit of a multi-sectarian inclusive governing agenda.  And so far, that’s exactly what we’ve seen from Prime Minister Abadi.  And it’s because of Prime Minister Abadi’s commitment to that inclusive governing style, that’s why you’ve seen a corresponding investment from the United States and the broader international community.

Because the President’s view wa, all of our investments in training a equipping would not have the desired effect if there wasn’t a corresponding commitment from the central government to address the political problems that had plagued the Maliki administration.  But because of the commitment from Prime Minister Abadi, we are optimistic that the kind of investment that the United States and our coalition partners are making in Iraq now are more likely to take root and be successful.

Shannon.

Q    The President’s comments on King v. Burwell yesterday, as we’re waiting for a decision, he said he was optimistic that the court would “play it straight” with regard to the decision on the subsidies.  So what is the implication there if you all don’t win that case?  That the justices are playing politics with the issue, or that they don’t know how to do their jobs?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think the President’s view is that this is a straightforward case.  And in the mind of the President, as he mentioned yesterday, this is probably a case that the Supreme Court shouldn’t have even taken up.  But as long as they have, the President believes that the reading of the law is quite clear -- and this is a case that you’ve heard me make many times.  Frankly, this is also a case that we’ve heard from Republican staffers on Capitol Hill who have also validated that those who wrote this legislation intended for every single American, regardless of which state they live in, who is eligible to collect tax credits, to do so to make their health insurance more affordable.  So it’s a pretty straightforward reading of the law in the mind of the President and in the mind of many -- the vast majority of legal scholars who have taken a look at this, and that’s why the President indicated that he was optimistic about the outcome.

Q    What are we to do with Jonathan Gruber’s comments then, who has taken credit for participating in helping to draft the ideas behind the Affordable Care Act, saying that essentially the idea was that states that didn’t set up exchanges would not get these subsidies and credits?  Their residence would pay out, but they wouldn’t get the benefit?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I can’t account for his comments. All I can do is I can account for the comments of many Republican staffers on Capitol Hill, who said that the law was intended to ensure that every citizen, regardless of which state they lived in, could collect tax credits to make their health insurance more affordable if, in fact, their income level was at the appropriate level.

Q    So if you lose, what’s the implication about the Court and its reasoning in coming to that decision?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, again, I’m not in a position where we’re expecting to lose.  Because of the power -- because of the strength of our arguments and because what we believe is the Supreme Court’s commitment to -- as the President mentioned -- playing it straight, we’re confident about the outcome.

Q    Another question.  The administration’s filing June 2nd with the FISA Court regarding renewing collection -- bulk collection of data to reverse the Second Circuit’s decision, the Clapper case, the only federal appellate decision that’s found that the program is being used improperly -- essentially, in this filing, telling the FISA Court to disregard that ruling.  So you think the Second Circuit got it wrong?  Do you intend to appeal it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the thing that we have said -- and this is what we said shortly after the Second Circuit issued their ruling and while the Congress was debating the USA FREEDOM Act -- it’s the view of the administration, speaking generally, that the reforms that are included in the USA FREEDOM Act would address the concerns that were raised by the Second Circuit.  There may be an opportunity for the Second Circuit to eventually reach that conclusion on their own, but because of the kinds of reforms that the President encouraged Congress to pass in the context of this bill, we believe that it does strike an appropriate balance between the need to keep the country safe with the need to protect our civil liberties.

Q    Do you have a time frame for anticipating whether or not you will appeal either to -- hearing of the Second Circuit or the Supreme Court?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have a timing for that.  I’d refer you to the Department of Justice on that.

Andrew.

Q    There was some reports that Lisa Monaco and Ash Carter are working on a new plan to close the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay.  Is that the case?

MR. EARNEST:  Drew, it has long been a priority of the President -- frankly, since his first day in office -- to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay.  The reason for that is -- well, there are many reasons for that.  The first is the President believes that continuing to operate the prison at Guantanamo Bay serves primarily as a recruiting tool for terrorists and extremists around the globe.  The cost of operating that prison is prohibitively expensive and doesn’t serve the best interest of the American people.

The fact is, this administration has demonstrated time and time again that we can bring those individuals to justice, many of them through criminal courts here in the United States.  There are any number of extremists and terrorists that have been convicted of very serious crimes and put away and brought to justice.  But there are also other proceedings through military commissions and others that can dispense with these cases.  And the President believes -- and has believed for a long time -- that the interest of the United States would be best served by closing the prison.  And this is an effort that we have doggedly pursued, even in the face of strident opposition from members of Congress.

Q    You’ve got nothing new to announce?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything new to share with you at this point.

Q    Just on a completely different subject, has anybody told the First Lady about Robert Gibbs going to McDonalds?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not sure if she has received the news.   Obviously I had an opportunity to work closely with Robert both on the campaign and here at the White House -- and the folks at McDonalds have just hired themselves one of the most effective and articulate communications professionals in the country.

Cheryl.

Q    Thanks.  So, Josh, why did the President give a speech on health care today?  Is he still concerned about public opinion, or did he have a different audience in mind?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the first, Cheryl, is he received an invitation from the Catholic Health Association to speak to their group.  He was pleased to accept and he did believe that it was an appropriate venue to talk about the enormous benefits of the Affordable Care Act that has made life better for millions of Americans -- and not just the 16 million Americans who have gotten health care since the Affordable Care Act took effect, but also the millions of other Americans who have enjoyed the benefits of the slowest growth in health care costs in history. 

These are individuals who -- again, millions of Americans who no longer have to worry about being discriminated against because they have a preexisting condition.  This is the millions of women all across the country that don’t have to be worried about being charged more for their health insurance just because they’re women.

So this gave the President an opportunity to make a case that probably was familiar to all of you but one that he obviously enjoys making.

Fred.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  On health care, one quick one to start with.  The President didn’t mention, speaking to this Catholic group, anything about the HHS mandate, which has obviously been a point of controversy with Catholics.  Why is that?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Fred, I can talk to you about lots of things that were included in the speech.  It’s hard for me to account for the things that aren’t.

Q    Okay.  And as far as King v. Burwell, you’ve talked about how this could cause utter chaos.  The President talked yesterday in Germany about the consequences if the Court rules against the administration.  I wanted to get your thoughts.  Should the Court in your opinion consider the social consequences of its ruling, or should they purely stick strictly to the legal argument?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I am confident that the nine justices of the Supreme Court know much more about what it is they should do than I do.  So I would be among the last people to tell them exactly what decision they should make or how they should make it.  They have an independent responsibility to evaluate the arguments and reach a conclusion.  And each of them is eminently qualified to do that.  And I’ll express the same confidence that the President did yesterday about their ability to do that.

Q    And one last one on this.  The President said today that none of the predictions have come true about this, but yet there have been reports about people who have been shifted to new insurance policies through their work, that people have been put in new networks so they’ve had to see new doctors in some cases. That was something that came up -- if you like your doctor, you can keep it, if you like your health plan, you can keep it.  Is that something that was -- was that one of those dire predictions that did come true?

MR. EARNEST:  Fred, that was the circumstance in the health care market before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.  And the fact is that there are a lot of people who had to change their health care plan because they got sick and because their health care plan tried to drop them.  No longer can health care plans do that because of the Affordable Care Act.  And I think that’s a testament to the power of this law and the impact that it’s had -- the positive impact that it’s had on people all across the country.

Yes, ma’am, I’ll give you the last one.

Q    Josh -- (inaudible) the deputy head of China central military commission, is coming to visit the White House this Friday.  Would you please disclose some agenda and details -- will he meet with President Obama?

MR. EARNEST:  I’m not aware of that particular visit, but let me have one of my colleagues in the National Security Council get back with you and we can give you a better sense of what’s planned for the visit.

Thanks, everybody.  We’ll see you tomorrow.

END   
3:20 P.M. EDT






06/09/2015
Remarks by the President at the Catholic Health Association Conference

Washington Marriott Wardman Park
Washington, D.C.

11:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much. (Applause.)  Everybody, please have a seat.  Thank you so much. 

Well, I don't know whether this is appropriate, but I just told Sister Carol I love her.  (Laughter.)  On a big stage.  It is true, though -- I do.  She is just wonderful.  Her dedication to doing God’s work here on Earth, her commitment to serving “the least of these,” here steadiness, her strength, her steadfast voice have been an inspiration to me.  We would not have gotten the Affordable Care Act done had it not been for her.  I want to thank the entire Catholic Health Association for the incredible work you do.  (Applause.)

And it's true, I just love nuns, generally.  (Laughter.)  I'm just saying.  (Laughter.) 

It is an honor to join you on your 100th anniversary of bringing hope and healing to so many.  I want to acknowledge Dignity Health and its CEO, Lloyd Dean -- (applause) -- honored by the Catholic Health Association last night for his outstanding support of our efforts to improve health care in America.  He has been a great friend. 

I want to thank Ascension Health, a great provider of care  -- that also recently raised its minimum wage.  (Applause.)  I want to thank Secretary Burwell and the members of Congress who are here today, because they have been obviously doing extraordinary work.  (Applause.)  

My first job in Chicago when I moved after college to work as a community organizer -- my first job was funded by the Campaign for Human Development, an anti-poverty initiative of the Catholic Church.  And my first office was at Holy Rosary Church on the South Side of Chicago, across from Palmer Park.  (Applause.)  You're clapping there -- she knows Holy Rosary.  (Laughter.)  And the task was to work with parishes and neighbors and faith and community leaders to bring low-income people together, to stitch neighborhoods together, clergy and laypeople. And the work was hard, and there were times where it was dispiriting.  We had plenty of setbacks.  There were times where I felt like quitting, where I wondered if the path I’d chosen was too hard. 

But despite these challenges, I saw how kindness and compassion and faith can change the arc of people’s lives.  And I saw the power of faith -- a shared belief that every human being, made in the image of God, deserves to live in dignity; that all children, no matter who they are or where they come from or how much money they were born into, ought to have the opportunity to achieve their God-given potential; that we are all called, in the words of His Holiness Pope Francis, “to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness, and respect for every human being.”

And at the time, when I had just moved to Chicago, the Cardinal there was Cardinal Bernardin, an extraordinary man.  And he understood that part of that commitment, part of that commitment to the dignity of every human being also meant that we had to care about the health of every human being.  And he articulated that, and the Church articulated that, as we moved at the state level in the Illinois legislature, once I was elected there later on in life, to advance the proposition that health care is not a privilege, it is a right. 

And that belief is at the heart of the Catholic Health Association’s mission.  For decades, your member hospitals have been on the front lines, often serving the marginalized, the vulnerable and the sick and the uninsured.  And that belief is at the heart of why we came together more than five years ago to reform our health care system -- to guarantee that every American has access to quality, affordable care. 

So I’m here today to say thank you for your tireless efforts to make health reform a reality.  Without your commitment to compassionate care, without your moral force, we would not have succeeded.  (Applause.)  We would not have succeeded had it not been for you and the foundation you had laid.  (Applause.)

And pursuing health care reform wasn’t about making good on a campaign promise for me.  It was, remember, in the wake of an economic crisis with a very human toll and it was integral to restoring the basic promise of America -- the notion that in this country, if you work hard and you take responsibility, you can get ahead.  You can make it if you try.  Everything we’ve done these past six years and a half years to rebuild our economy on a new foundation -- from rescuing and retooling our industries, to reforming our schools, to rethinking the way we produce and use energy, to reducing our deficits -- all of that has been in pursuit of that one goal, creating opportunity for all people.  And health reform was a critical part of that effort. 

For decades, a major barrier to economic opportunity was our broken health care system.  It exposed working families to the insecurities of a changing economy.  It saddled our businesses with skyrocketing costs that made it hard to hire or pay a good wage.  It threatened our entire nation’s long-term prosperity, was the primary driver of our deficits. 

And for hospitals like yours, the fact that so many people didn’t have basic care meant you were scrambling and scratching every single day to try to figure out how do we keep our doors open.

Leaders from Teddy Roosevelt to Teddy Kennedy wanted to reform it.  For as long as there were Americans who couldn’t afford decent health care, as long as there were people who had to choose between paying for medicine or paying the rent, as long as there were parents who had to figure out whether they could sell or borrow to pay for a child’s treatment just a few months more, and beg for God’s mercy to make it work in time -- as long as those things were happening, America was not living up to our highest ideals.

And that’s why providers and faith leaders like you called for expanding access to affordable care.  Every day, you saw the very personal suffering of those who go without it.  And it seemed like an insurmountable challenge.  Every time there was enough political will to alleviate that suffering and to reform the health care system -- whether it was under Democratic Presidents or Republican Presidents -- you had special interests arraying and keeping the status quo in place.  And each year that passed without reform the stakes kept getting higher.
 
By the time I took office, thousands of Americans were losing their health insurance every single day.  Many people died each year because they didn’t have health insurance.  Many families who thought they had coverage were driven into bankruptcy by out-of-pocket costs.  Tens of millions of our fellow citizens had no coverage at all in this, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth.  And despite being the only advanced economy in the world without universal health care, our health care costs grew to be the most expensive in the world with no slowing in sight.  And that trend strained the budgets of families and businesses and our government. 

And so we determined that we could not keep kicking that can down the road any longer.  We could not leave that problem for another generation to solve, or another generation after that. 

And remember, this was not easy.  (Laughter.)  There were those who thought health care reform was too messy, and too complicated, and too politically risky.  I had pollsters showing me stuff, and 85 percent of folks at any given time had health care and so they weren’t necessarily incentivized to support it. And you could scare the heck out of them about even if they weren’t entirely satisfied with the existing system that somehow it would be terrible to change it.  All kinds of warning signs about how tough this was -- bad politics. 

But for every politician and pundit who said we should wait, why rush, barely a day went by where I didn’t hear from hardworking Americans who didn’t have a moment left to lose.  These were men and women from all backgrounds, all walks of life, all races, all faiths, in big cities, small towns, red states, blue states.  Middle-class families with coverage that turned out not to be there for them when they needed it.  Moms and dads desperately seeking care for a child with a chronic illness only to be told “no” again and again -- or fearful as their child got older, what was there future going to be because they weren’t going to be able to get insurance once they left the house.  Small business owners forced to choose between insuring their employees and keeping the “open” sign hanging in the window. 

And every one of these stories tugged at me in a personal way -- because I spoke about seeing my mom worry about how she was going to deal with her finances when she got very sick.  And I was reminded of the fear that Michelle and I felt when Sasha was a few months old and we had to race to the hospital, in the emergency room learning that she had meningitis -- that we caught only because we had a wonderful pediatrician and regular care.  Never felt so scared or helpless in my life. 

We were fortunate enough to have good health insurance.   And I remember looking around in that emergency room and thinking what about the parents who aren’t that lucky?  What about the parents who get hit with a bill of $20,000 or $30,000, and they’ve got no idea how to pay for it?  What about those parents with kids who have a chronic illness like asthma and have to keep going back to the emergency room because they don’t have a regular doctor, and the bills never stop coming?  Who’s going to stand up for them?

Behind every single story was a simple question:  What kind of country do we want to be?  Are we a country that’s defined by values that say access to health care is a commodity awarded to only the highest bidders, or by the values that say health care is a fundamental right?  Do we believe that where you start should determine how far you go, or do we believe that in the greatest nation on Earth, everybody deserves the opportunity to make it -- to make of their lives what they will? 

The rugged individualism that defines America has always been bound by a shared set of values, an enduring sense that we’re in this together, that America is not a place where we simply turn away from the sick, or turn our backs on the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.  It is a place sustained by the idea:  I am my brother’s keeper.  I am my sister’s keeper -- that we have an obligation to put ourselves in our neighbor’s shoes and see each other’s common humanity.

And so, after a century of talk, after decades of trying, after a year of sustained debate, we finally made health care reform a reality here in America.  (Applause.) 

And despite the constant doom-and-gloom predictions, the unending Chicken Little warnings that somehow making health insurance fairer and easier to buy would lead to the end of freedom, the end of the American way of life -- lo and behold, it did not happen.  None of this came to pass.  In fact, in a lot of ways, the Affordable Care Act worked out better than some of us anticipated.

Nearly one in three uninsured Americans have already been covered -- more than 16 million people -– driving our uninsured rate to its lowest level ever.  (Applause.)  Ever.  On top of that, tens of millions more enjoy new protections with the coverage that they’ve already got.  That 85 percent who had health insurance, they may not know that they’ve got a better deal now than they did, but they do.  Americans can no longer be denied coverage because of preexisting conditions -- from you having had cancer to you having had a baby.  Women can’t be charged more just for being a woman.  (Applause.)  And they get free preventive services like mammograms.  And there are no more annual or lifetime caps on the care patients receive. 

Medicare has been strengthened and protected.  We’ve added 13 years to its actuarial life.  The financial difference for business owners trying to invest and grow, and the families trying to save and spend -- that’s real, too.  Health care prices have risen at the lowest rate in 50 years.  Employer premiums are rising at a rate tied for the lowest on record.  The average family premium is $1,800 lower today than it would have been had trends over the decade before the ACA passed continued.

In the years to come, countless Americans who can now buy plans that are portable and affordable on a competitive marketplace will be free to chase their own ideas, unleash new enterprises across the country, knowing they’ll be able to buy health insurance. 

And here’s the thing -- that security won’t just be there for us.  It will be there for our kids as they go through life.  When they graduate from college, they’re looking for that first job, they can stay on our plans until they’re 26.  When they start a family, pregnancy will no longer count against them as a preexisting condition.  When they change jobs or lose a job, or strike out on their own to start a business, they’ll still be able to get good coverage.  They’ll have that peace of mind all the way until they retire into a Medicare that now has cheaper prescription drugs and wellness visits to make sure that they stay healthy.

And while we were told again and again that Obamacare would be a job-killer -- amazingly enough, some critics still peddle this notion -- it turns out in reality, America has experienced 63 straight months of private sector job growth -- a streak that started the month we passed the Affordable Care Act.  (Applause.) The longest streak of private sector job growth on record -- that adds up to 12.6 million new jobs.  (Applause.)

So the critics stubbornly ignore reality.  In reality, there is a self-employed single mom of three who couldn’t afford health insurance until health reform passed and she qualified for Medicaid in her state.  And she was finally able to get a mammogram, which detected early-stage breast cancer and may have saved her life.  That's the reality, not the mythology.

In reality, there are parents in Texas whose autistic son couldn’t speak.  Even with health insurance, they struggled to pay for his treatment.  But health reform meant they could buy an affordable secondary plan that covered therapy for their son -- and today, that little boy can tell his parents that he loves them.  That's the reality.  (Applause.)  

In reality, there’s a self-employed barber from Tennessee -- who happens to be a Republican -- who couldn’t afford health insurance until our new marketplace opened up.  And once he bought a plan, he finally went to the doctor and was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.  In the old days, without coverage, he wouldn’t have even known that he was sick.  And today, he’s now cancer-free.

So five years in, what we are talking about it is no longer just a law.  It’s no longer just a theory.  This isn’t even just about the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare.  This isn’t about myths or rumors that folks try to sustain.  There is a reality that people on the ground day to day are experiencing.  Their lives are better.

This is now part of the fabric of how we care for one another.  This is health care in America -- which is why, once you get outside of Washington and leave behind the Beltway chatter and the politics, Americans support this new reality.  When you talk to people who actually are enrolled in a new marketplace plan, the vast majority of them like their coverage. The vast majority are satisfied with their choice of doctors and hospitals and satisfied with their monthly premiums.  They like their reality.

Now, that doesn't mean that we don't have more work to do.  Sister Carol and I were talking backstage -- we know we got more work to do.  Like any serious attempt at change, there were disruptions in the rollout, there are policies we can put in place to make health care work even better.  Secretary Burwell is talking about all the things we have to do together around delivery system reform.  We have to protect the coverage that people have now and sign even more people up.  We need more governors and state legislatures to expand Medicaid, which was a central part of the architecture of the overall plan.  We have to continue to improve the quality of care.  And we know we can still bring down costs. 

And none of this is going to be easy.  Nobody suggests that somehow our health care system is perfect as a consequence of the law being passed, but it is serving so many more people so much better.  And we're not going to go backwards.  There’s something, I have to say, just deeply cynical about the ceaseless, endless partisan attempts to roll back progress.  I mean, I understood folks being skeptical or worried before the law passed and there wasn’t a reality there to examine.  But once you see millions of people of having health care, once you see that all the bad things that were predicted didn't happen, you’d think that it would be time to move one. 

Let’s figure out how to make it better.  It seems so cynical to want to take coverage away from millions of people; to take care away from people who need it the most; to punish millions with higher costs of care and unravel what’s now been woven into the fabric of America. 

And that kind of cynicism flies in the face of our history.  Our history is one of each generation striving to do better and to be better than the last.  Just as we’ll never go back to a time when seniors were left to languish in poverty or not have any health insurance in their golden years.  There was a generation that didn't have that guarantee of health care.  We're not going to go back to a time when our citizens can be denied coverage because of a preexisting condition.  When tens of millions of people couldn’t afford decent, affordable care -- that wasn’t a better America.  That's not freedom.  The freedom to languish in illness, or to be bankrupt because somebody in your family gets stick -- that's not who we are.  That's not what we're about.

Debra Lea Oren of Pennsylvania knows that.  Debra suffers from osteoarthritis that was so severe that it put her in a wheelchair.  And for years she couldn’t stand or walk at all, and was in constant pain -- through no fault of her own, just the twists and turns of life.  And without health insurance to get treatment, it seemed as though she might never again live a life that was full.  Today, Debra is enrolled in affordable health coverage, was able to have surgery to replace her knees.  She’s back on her feet.  She walks her dogs, shops at the grocery store, gets to her doctor’s appointments.  She’s cooking, she’s exercising, regaining her health. 

Debra couldn’t be here today, but she recently wrote to me and she said:  “I walk with my husband Michael and hold hands.  It’s like a whole new world for me.”  Just walking and holding hands -- something that one of our fellow Americans for years could not do. 

Every day, miracles happen in your hospitals.  But remaking Debra’s world didn’t require a miracle.  It just required that Debra have access to something that she and every other American has a right to expect, which is health care coverage.

And while there are outcomes that we can calculate and enumerate -- the number of newly insured families, the number of lives saved -- those numbers all add up to success in this reform effort.  But there are also outcomes that are harder to calculate -- in the tally of pain and tragedy and bankruptcies that have been averted, but also in the security of a parent who can afford to take her kid to the doctor; or the dignity of a grandfather who can get the preventive care that he needs; or the freedom of an entrepreneur who can start a new venture -- or the joy of a wife who thought she’d never again take her husband’s hand and go for a walk.

In the end, that’s why you do what you do.  Isn’t that what this is all about?  Is there any greater measure of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness than those simple pleasures that are afforded because you have good health and you have some security? 

More than five years ago, I said that while I was not the first President to take up this cause, I was determined to be the last.  And now it’s up to all of us -- the citizens in this room and across the country- -- to continue to help make the right to health care a reality for all Americans.  And if we keep faith with one another and keep working for each other to create opportunity for everybody who strives for it, then, in the words of Senator Ted Kennedy, “the dream will be fulfilled for this generation, and preserved and enlarged for generations to come.” 
It couldn’t have happened without you.  (Applause.)

Thank you.  God bless you all.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

END
12:25 P.M. EDT






THE DAILY KOS +/-

07/06/2015
Republicans grind judicial votes to a halt
U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) (L), along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R), speaks at a news conference after the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 3, 2015. The White House has said Pre

Mitch McConnell's Republican Senate has all but ended judicial confirmations for the last 18 months of President Obama's final term in office, with a few exceptions, like when home-state politics demand a Republican running for re-election allow a nominee through. This with more than two dozen "judicial emergencies" declared in states where vacancies have drug on and on.
Republicans say there's little reason to shift gears with a lame-duck president in office and hopes running high about their prospects of winning the White House.

"It'll be a slow, steady pace," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Is it payback for Democrats invoking the so-called "nuclear option" two years ago to get their judges through? "We’re way too busy to think about things like retribution," Cornyn replied. […]

The Judiciary Committee will take up three more judicial nominations when the Senate returns from its July 4 recess. One is Luis Felipe Restrepo, who was chosen to fill a vacancy on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Liberal groups have accused Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) of delaying that nomination for months, but Toomey disputed in an interview that he was responsible for holding up Restrepo since Obama nominated him in November. […]

Indeed, home-state politics can trump the broader war over the courts. The other two judicial nominees set for committee consideration are Travis Randall McDonough and Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr., both chosen to serve as district court judges in Tennessee and praised by their senators, Republicans Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander. And Cornyn is happy to note three of the four judges confirmed this year are from Texas.

Right now, as White House spokesman Eric Schultz points out in the article, the Judiciary Committee has approved seven nominees that haven't made it to the floor for a vote, and six of them "were nominated last year, and three would fill judicial emergencies." None of the nominees waiting for a vote is controversial, and if they ever do make it to the floor, they'll likely be confirmed near unanimously. Meanwhile, there are 63 vacant slots and 47 of them haven't even received a nomination—half of those in states with two Republican senators who have been slow to work with the president in approving nominations.

Republicans say they're not invoking the so-called "Thurmond Rule," which ends confirmation votes in July of an election year, early. But it's clear that they are going to do their best to limit this president's ability to leave his stamp on the nation's judiciary.






07/06/2015
'Because of his wife': Donald Trump tweets then deletes attack on Jeb Bush

Donald Trump celebrated the Fourth of July by retweeting, then deleting, an anti-immigrant attack on Jeb Bush. Media Matters' Angelo Carusone grabbed a record of Trump's tweet that "#JebBush has to like the Mexican illegals because of his wife."

Now-deleted retweet by Donald Trump saying
Is Trump trying to turn around and undo the damage his vicious anti-immigrant comments have done to the Republican Party? On the one hand, he's a leading Republican presidential candidate (!!!) saying horrible thing after horrible thing about immigrants, particularly Mexican ones. On the other hand, here he is attacking another leading Republican presidential candidate for being too pro-immigrant because of his own Mexican wife, a move that potentially sends the message that not all Republicans hate brown people. Is this some kind of 11-dimensional chess to inoculate the rest of the party against being tied too tightly to Trump's views, despite the well-established anti-immigrant policies of the Republican Party?

Nah, Trump is probably just that nasty and stupid.






07/06/2015
Cartoon: World gone mad

Check out my first-ever Kickstarter: 25 YEARS OF TOMORROW, a two-volume, hardcover, thousand-page compilation of every cartoon I've ever done! It's a dream project, compiling a quarter-century of my life's work, and the only way it can become a reality is with your help!






07/06/2015
Daily Kos Radio is LIVE at 9 am ET!
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Oh my God, you guys!

I love Madison, Wisconsin SO MUCH!

I just wanted to say that. No particular reason. I just think it's nice to say so every once in a while, when you know a city and its inhabitants are so awesome.

Seriously. It's the best. And I'm not just saying that. I'm typing it!

And, of course, I will tell you why, in case you don't already know. In just a few minutes.

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Holiday reminder: Don’t fire weapons in the air for celebration! Greg Dworkin visits to describe how Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are shaking up the presidential election, and Jim Carrey is screwing up medicine and science. Rosalyn MacGregor reports on Michigan bills for absentee ballots and minimum wage. What does it means to “support” Bernie and/or Hillary. And we revisit the old question of whether yard signs, door knocking and bumper stickers are worth the money to sway votes. The mayor of Barcelona giving banks a run for their money. The rest of the show is devoted to the unboxing of the many peccadilloes of Paul LePage.

Need more info on how to listen? Find it below the fold.






07/06/2015
Cheers and Jeers: Monday
C&J Banner

From the GREAT STATE OF MAINE…

The Week Ahead

Monday A burglary spree hits Maine as every resident of the state attends the Bernie Sanders rally in Portland except burglars.

A new poll finds Democrats, Republicans and Independents in total agreement on something: a constitutional amendment banning Mondays.

Tuesday The House and Senate are both back in session. This used to mean something but I forget what.

All week: more gay marriages!
President Obama welcomes a communist leader---Nguyen Phu Trong of Vietnam---into the White House. Trong will thank the president for his hospitality. Fox News will thank the president for giving it another chance to break its record for saying "Obama" and "communist" in the same sentence.

Today is chocolate day. You know what to do.

Wednesday Commander-in-Chief Obama announces T-minus one week and counting until Operation Jade Helm 15, his plan to invade Texas and make it our 51st state. But it's a secret so don’t tell anybody in Texas.

Alcoa releases its latest earnings report. As usual, their most reliable area of growth is the tinfoil hat sector.

Thursday The House Committee on Foreign Affairs holds a hearing on "Implications of a Nuclear Agreement with Iran." The most worrisome implication to Republicans of the Obama administration's efforts to bring about more peace and stability to the region: that it might work.

Their latest session having ended, the conservative Supreme Court justices get together at Antonin Scalia's place to slap each other on the back, play a few rounds of Pin the Jiggery Pokery on the Gays, and then try bobbing for apple sauce.

Friday A tearful Donald Trump apologizes for his earlier remarks about Mexicans, saying it was rude of him to forget to also label them car thieves, wife beaters and lazy bums. Moments later polls show him as the undisputed front-runner in the GOP primary race.

Today is Don’t Step on a Bee Day. Also known as the most popular holiday among bees.

Cheers and Jeers starts below the fold... [Swoosh!!] RIGHTNOW! [Gong!!]





07/06/2015
Abbreviated pundit round-up: Greeks declare a loud 'no'; liberation and the black church

Paul Krugman at The New York Times writes—Ending Greece’s Bleeding:

But the campaign of bullying — the attempt to terrify Greeks by cutting off bank financing and threatening general chaos, all with the almost open goal of pushing the current leftist government out of office — was a shameful moment in a Europe that claims to believe in democratic principles. It would have set a terrible precedent if that campaign had succeeded, even if the creditors were making sense.

What’s more, they weren’t. The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients — and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap.

But how can such an escape be managed? Is there any way for Greece to remain in the euro? And is this desirable in any case?

There's more pundits on the Greek referendum and other topics below the fold.





07/05/2015
Open thread for night owls: Making the 2016 election work for families
Families
Elaine Weiss at the Campaign for America's Future writes—Can the 2016 Election be About Making it Work for American Families?
Millions of parents in states across the country work jobs that provide no time off at all to take care of their new babies. It is hard to fathom how this lays the foundation for healthy child development, let alone stable family life. Others who are searching for jobs at a time when there are five, ten, or even fifty people applying for an open position are hampered by their inability to pay for the child care that makes job hunting feasible. And if they do get the job, it is unlikely to pay enough to cover the cost of that care, which in some states now exceeds in-state college tuition rates. Not to mention the trade-offs among such basics as food, clothing, and rent that those families will be forced to make because wages are so far behind the cost of living.

owls
In other words, as President Obama and Hillary Clinton hint, and Bernie Sanders loudly proclaims, the United States has spent the past few decades gradually becoming the least family- and child-friendly nation in the Western world. Indeed, findings from a study of a recent cohort of kindergarten entrants – children who began school in 2010-2011, and who spent their formative early years in the throes of the Great Recession – provide stark evidence of that sobering reality. When children step foot into their kindergarten classrooms for the first time, gaps in both reading and math skills between those in the highest and lowest social class quintiles are already a full standard deviation in size. To get a sense of how enormous those gaps are, the What Works Clearinghouse estimates that it would take at least four independent, highly effective interventions to close them. Before school even starts.

This election must be about changing that reality and giving our children and their families a real future.

One initiative that is out to do just that is the Make it Work Campaign. Recognizing the depth and breadth of the day-to-day struggles millions of working American families face, Make it Work developed a three-pronged, evidence-based policy agenda to help put our country back on the right public policy footing, laying the foundations to rebuild the middle class we’ve been systematically chipping away at since the early 1980s.

Together, the campaign’s three policy buckets – Equal Pay, Caregiving, and Work and Family – would provide a web of supports that enable parents to live dignified, productive lives, including caring for their children well. In particular, Make it Work’s ambitious goals of affordable child care and accessible high-quality pre-kindergarten for all children, bolstered by living wages for the providers and educators who work with them, alleviate critical stressors for working parents and ensure that all kids get the help they need to arrive at kindergarten ready to learn


Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2013Texans Perry, Cruz vie for stupidest tax plan:

In a campaign email to supporters Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he would reveal "exciting future plans" next Monday in San Antonio. But if Gov. Perry is planning to pass up a fourth term in order to wage a second campaign for president, he will find he already has plenty of company from inside the Lone Star State. After all, freshman GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, who like Perry is a pro-gun, anti-abortion extremist, has already begun staking out that ground. And as it turns out, Cruz is calling for a flat tax to deliver a staggering windfall for the wealthy, a scheme almost identical to Perry's 2012 proposal.

Last month, Sen. Cruz hit the airwaves to pitch his version of the GOP's toxic brew of IRS animus and irresponsible tax cuts. As Cruz explained to Fox News:

"We ought to abolish the IRS and instead move to a simple flat tax, where the average American can fill out our taxes on a postcard. Put down how much you earn. Put down a deduction for charitable contributions and home mortgage. And put down how much you owe."

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07/05/2015
U.S. women take the world cup!
Jul 5, 2015; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; United States midfielder Carli Lloyd (10) celebrates with goalkeeper Hope Solo (1), midfielder Megan Rapinoe (15) and defender Meghan Klingenberg (22) after scoring against Japan during the first half of the final of the FIFA 2015 Women's World Cup at BC Place Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow-USA TODAY Sports  - RTX1J51J
Teammates bury Carli Lloyd in a hug after she scored one of her three goals within the first 15 minutes of play.
The U.S. women's soccer team won its third world cup Sunday, beating Japan 5-2. The U.S. women dominated, scoring four of their five goals in the first 16 minutes of play.
The Americans relied on stalwart defense throughout their run to the final, allowing just one goal in their first six games. But in the final at BC Place Stadium, they scored four goals in the first 16 minutes, an outburst capped by Carli Lloyd’s audacious strike from near midfield.

That goal gave Lloyd a hat trick in the game, and she finished with six goals in the tournament, tied with Celia Sasic of Germany for the highest tally.

Nice!





06/29/2015
A heritage of hatred, brutality, treason, terrorism & lies
Today, because of the actions of one young man, we look back at many generations of American History over the issues of race elations, Southern pride, slavery its aftermath and attempt to come to grips with what it all means.  South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has asked for the battle flag of the Confederacy to be taken down from the Confederate memorial on the statehouse grounds.

Many have argued that the flag itself has nothing to do with slavery as did the Anne Robb owner of Dixie Outfitters in Branson, Missouri:

“When something like this happens, people are always looking for something to blame,” she explained. “It’s easy to grab a hold of the flag and say, ‘Oh, it’s the flag,’ or ‘Oh, it’s the gun.’ The guy [shooter Dylann Roof] was an idiot … He is to blame for this, not the flag.

She added, “Our customers are hard-working, red-blooded Americans that understand the history of the Confederate flag. They are not haters or anything like that. They are proud of their country and proud of what the Confederate flag represents. It has nothing to do with the slavery issue.

Right, Southern pride and slavery and Jim Crow and the KKK and the battle flag have absolutely nothing to do with each other.  And mind you, I'm mildly sympathetic to that view, belief, delusion, self-deception, whatever, from some people.

Look, everyone who died in that war was an American.  And as we should respect the sacrifices of all American veterans, we should at least leave some gracious forgiving openness in our hearts for those who lost their lives on the losing siding of that conflict.

We just need to stop listening to some of their supporters like Anne Robb when it turns out she has ties to the Klan.

Continued over the flip. [Note: Potential trigger warning as some of the images are unfiltered and graphic]






07/05/2015
Being a liberal in Texas is not all that bad
The Kingwood Area Democrats had secured a prime spot at the early voting location.There were balloons, coffee, donuts, and trinkets for kids. There was even some music. Throughout the day many people stopped by to get some coffee. In this seemingly dark red suburban town, many people who came up were elated that not only Democrats but liberals would stake their position with pride. A man in a tea party decorated truck policed the area ensuring that everyone at the gathering could see his displeasure.

In this area like in many parts of Texas, tea party sympathizers are more vocal than their numbers suggest. They have more influence than their numbers suggest. At doctors' offices, car repair shops, restaurants, and everywhere else with a television, they generally effectively force all to consume Fox News. This is but a soft continuation of the Powell Manifesto where an ideology subliminally infiltrates every aspect of our society in order to indoctrinate.

Texas is a laboratory where the concept has been implemented successfully. Texas is not a deep red conservative state. Texas is a conforming state. It conforms to those with a bigger megaphone. Texas is a non-voting state. Texas is a state where rights are taken away slowly in order for a minority to maintain power. Texas is a state that continues to cut education because it realizes that uneducated masses are easily controlled.

How then does a liberal survive in Texas? For too long the answer has been "keep your liberalism to your self or within your close circle." The problems with that are twofold. First, that stance effectively changes the body politic. Politicians really believe they are serving a majority if a portion of the electorate remains silent. Secondly it changes the aggregate psyche of the population. If no one is expounding liberal, progressive, enlightening new ideas, the old status quo ideas become the only ideas. Everyone acquiesces to it. It becomes the norm.

What then must a liberal do in Texas? One must develop a thik skin. One must realize that those promoting an alternate ideology, one they generally know little about as they parrot its tenets, are just like you. Very few realize how much alike most people are. Differences must be magnified to ensure a dialogue of commonality does not occur.

Here is a true story that illustrates much. While many of the Kingwood Area Democrats were having friendly conversations in the booth, a very irate female doctor barged into the area. She was pointing her fingers with disdain. She called us liberals among other things as if liberal was a dirty word. She then told us that Obamacare would destroy the country.

Let me digress for a minute. All the rights attained in this country came from the doings of both Democratic and Republican liberals. Liberals fought to end slavery. Liberals fought to ensure women would get the right to vote. Liberals ensured humane working condition. In effect the rights that Americans have were fought for by those who refused the status quo: liberals. That's why the powers that be needed to redefine the word liberal into a negative.

The doctor that entered our booth is a smart woman. After all, she is a doctor. It does show how ideology can hinder pragmatism and logical thinking. Drew Westen explains this concept in his book The Political Brain, where he talks about reaching people not through statistics but through their hearts. Many of our Kingwood Area Democrats were taken aback. A few were even incensed and simply walked away. As the doctor attempted to leave, I begged her to stay. Why? I wanted to remove the caricature she had of the Kingwood Area Democrats and of liberals in particular.

We could have gotten into a shouting match or we could find some way to dialogue. We chose the latter. The Obamacare debate was actually quite easy. Instead of telling the doctor why Obamacare was better than the status quo, I asked her what would be her solution. She responded with the standard tag lines about interstate insurance purchasing, portability, and choice. As a doctor, she knew all that was needed. When I calmly asked her point by point,  that if Obamacare provided what she stated, if she would then agree that it was not as bad as she thought, she said she would look into it.

I then gave her my personal story of having a wife with lupus, a preexisting condition. Being an entrepreneur who has always had insurance and received nothing from the government, my wife's condition could eventually bankrupt us sans Obamacare. I asked her what would she suggest for my family. She thought about it but her silence said it all. She soon after said, "You people are nice people. I never expected this when I came in to talk to you." She was referring to our Kingwood Area Democrats. She then left with a completely different attitude. We were no longer the caricature of liberals or Democrats she expected based on her Fox News programming. Yes, the effectuated Powell Memo is Fox News as well. There is even a possibility that the word liberal would not immediately shutdown her channels of comprehension.

One must not be naive to believe that encounters like this are enough to change these people's minds. What is important is that these types of dialogues occur and are replicated over and over again. When entering an establishment, kindly ask that the channel be changed from Fox News. If it upsets some, attempt to have a civil dialogue. Talk to people. Don't talk down to them. Do not attempt to corner them. We all have the ability to fall for some level of indoctrination. This is even evident on the left, but that is for another post.

Being liberal in Texas is not difficult if viewed in a positive frame of mind. Being liberal in Texas simply means there is a lot of opportunity to engage and change people to make a better Texas and with that a better America.






THE NEW YORK TIMES +/-

07/06/2015
First Draft: G.O.P. Sees Opportunity in Harry Reid’s Nevada Senate Seat
Representative Joe Heck will look to flip the seat in Nevada to the Republican side when Senator Harry Reid, the minority leader, retires next year after his fifth term.














07/06/2015
First Draft: Ted Cruz Raises About $10 Million in 2nd Quarter
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, sought to frame his fund-raising for his presidential campaign in the context of the first half of the year, noting that he had also brought in $4.3 million in the final week before the end of the first quarter.














07/06/2015
First Draft: Today in Politics: Gaps Remain as Deadline Nears on Iran Deal
The campaign trail gives way this week to Vienna, where negotiators report progress but also great distance over crucial elements of a deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.














07/05/2015
I.R.S. Expected to Stand Aside as Nonprofits Increase Role in 2016 Race
Nonprofits are supposed to limit their political activity, but the I.R.S. appears powerless to stop the onslaught of money coursing through them.














07/05/2015
With Merging of Insurers, Questions for Patients About Costs and Innovation
As insurers grow larger, the effect on consumers depends largely on how successfully other companies, particularly those created or attracted by the Affordable Care Act, can compete.














07/05/2015
Boyd K. Packer, Advocate of Conservative Mormonism, Dies at 90
Next in line to become president of the Mormon Church, Mr. Packer spoke for those in the church who resisted social change.














07/05/2015
South Carolina Legislators Gird for Confederate Flag Debate
The General Assembly is expected on Monday to begin considering a bipartisan proposal to remove the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.














07/05/2015
Marco Rubio Is Hardly a Hero in Cuba. He Likes That.
Residents of towns that were home to the Republican senator’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents take issue with his Cuba policy, if they are aware of him at all.














07/05/2015
National Cathedral’s Repair Work: Finials, Finance and Faith
The Washington National Cathedral, a fixture of American politics and religion, is still trying to rebound from recession and a damaging earthquake.














07/05/2015
Iran Faces Hard Choices in Nuclear Talks, Kerry Warns
Two days before a target date for an agreement, Secretary of State John Kerry says the negotiations “could go either way.”














THE NEW YORKER - POLITICS+/-

08/04/2013
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 . . .




07/28/2013
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 . . .




07/21/2013
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 . . .




07/14/2013
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 . . .




06/30/2013
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 . . .




06/23/2013
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 . . .




06/16/2013
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 . . .




06/02/2013
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 . . .




05/26/2013
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 . . .




05/19/2013
Elizabeth Kolbert: What’s at stake in Obama’s Keystone decision.
A lot of what’s known about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be traced back to a chemist named Charles David Keeling, who, in 1958, persuaded the U.S. Weather Bureau to install a set of monitoring devices at its Mauna Loa observatory, on the island of Hawaii. By . . .




60 MINUTES +/-

06/22/2015
Steve Carell
Steve Kroft talks with the gifted actor about the challenges of making the film "Foxcatcher" and his success in Hollywood





06/22/2015
Dead or Alive
Thousands of errors to the Social Security Administration's Death Master File can result in fraudulent payments -- costing taxpayers billions -- and identity headaches





06/22/2015
Breeding Out Disease
Norah O'Donnell looks into a controversial procedure that could stop the spread of dangerous genes that have stalked families for generations





06/22/2015
The Tax Refund Scam
Con artists have been filing bogus tax returns and collecting millions. Steve Kroft finds out how far the scam has gone and why the IRS hasn't been able to stop it





06/22/2015
Cleaning up the VA
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs tells Scott Pelley about his personal mission to reorganize the troubled agency for his fellow vets





06/22/2015
Foo Fighters
While profiling Foo Fighters and their frontman Dave Grohl, Anderson Cooper joins them for an exploration into the roots of American music





06/17/2015
The Director
FBI Director James Comey speaks with Scott Pelley about our lives online and the need for government electronic surveillance, but only with a court order





06/17/2015
Saving History
As the Italian government struggles to maintain its historic ruins and monuments, Morley Safer discovers it's become fashionable to help





06/17/2015
The Cost of Cancer Drugs
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs





06/11/2015
The Spill at Dan River
Lesley Stahl reports on how Duke Energy is handling over 100 million tons of coal ash waste in North Carolina





06/11/2015
Recruiting for ISIS
Clarissa Ward speaks with Islamic radicals in London about accusations they recruit British citizens for battlefields in Syria and Iraq





05/27/2015
60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll: Corruption
Americans weigh in on the topic of corruption in the June edition of the 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll





09/30/2013
Scott Pelley
Anchor and Managing Editor, "CBS Evening News"; Correspondent, "60 Minutes"





06/03/2015
Bradley Cooper
Three consecutive Oscar nominations put Cooper in the company of actors like Marlon Brando and Jack Nicholson, but five years ago you may not have recognized his name





06/04/2015
Colorado Pot
Bill Whitaker checks in on Colorado after becoming the first state to legalize recreational pot






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