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Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                                       May 4, 2015


Lehman College
West Bronx, New York

2:56 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, New York!  (Applause.)  Give Darinel a big round of applause for that introduction.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  We are so proud of Darinel.  We want to thank him for being such a great role model for other students here in New York and around the country.

I want to give a shout-out to a friend of mine who happens to be your Assemblyman -- Michael Blake.  (Applause.)  Where’s Michael?  He is around here somewhere.  There he is.  You got to stand up, Michael.  (Laughter.)  We're still teaching him about politics.  (Applause.)  When the President introduces you, you got to stand up.  (Laughter.)  Get some TV time.  (Laughter.)

So Mike grew up in tough circumstances, as well.  He worked hard, went to a good college.  He joined my campaign, worked in the White House.  Now he’s in public office to make sure that other young people like him have every chance in the world.  So we couldn't be prouder of him.  It's great to see.  (Applause.)

So I'm getting practice for Malia and Sasha leaving home.  I’ve got all these incredible young people who worked on the White House staff who are now doing all kinds of great things.

I want to thank all the members of Congress and elected officials who are in the house.  You’ve got a couple of proud Lehman graduates -- Eliot Engel -- where’s Eliot?  (Applause.)  There he is.  And Jose Serrano.  (Applause.)  And we've got some more folks -- we've got three other folks from the New York delegation -- Gregory Meeks -- (applause) -- the always dapper Charlie Rangel -- (applause) -- the outstanding Yvette Clarke.  (Applause.)  And visiting from Florida -- Frederica Wilson.  (Applause.)  But they all share the same passion that I do, and that is making sure every young person in this country has opportunity.

That’s why we’re all here today.  Because we believe in the idea that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like, no matter where you came from, no matter what your circumstances were, if you work hard, if you take responsibility, then America is a place where you can make something of your lives.

And I want to thank Lehman for hosting us here today.  And our community college system -- the CUNY system -- our public education institutions, they are all pathways for success.  And we're very proud of what they do.

Everything that we’ve done since I've been President, the past six and a half years -- from rescuing the economy to giving more Americans access to affordable health care, to reforming our schools for all of our kids -- it’s been in pursuit of that one goal:  creating opportunity for everybody.  We can’t guarantee everybody’s success.  But we do strive to guarantee an equal shot for everybody who’s willing to work for it.

But what we’ve also understood for too long is that some communities have consistently had the odds stacked against them; that there’s a tragic history in this country that has made it tougher for some.  And folks living in those communities, and especially young people living in those communities, could use some help to change those odds.

It’s true of some rural communities where there’s chronic poverty.  It’s true of some manufacturing communities that have suffered after factories they depended on closed their doors.  It’s true for young people of color, especially boys and young men.

You all know the numbers.  By almost every measure, the life chances of the average young man of color is worse than his peers.  Those opportunity gaps begin early -- often at birth -- and they compound over time, becoming harder and harder to bridge, making too many young men and women feel like no matter how hard they try, they may never achieve their dreams.

And that sense of unfairness and of powerlessness, of people not hearing their voices, that’s helped fuel some of the protests that we’ve seen in places like Baltimore, and Ferguson, and right here in New York.  The catalyst of those protests were the tragic deaths of young men and a feeling that law is not always applied evenly in this country.  In too many places in this country, black boys and black men, Latino boys, Latino men, they experience being treated differently by law enforcement -- in stops and in arrests, and in charges and incarcerations.  The statistics are clear, up and down the criminal justice system; there’s no dispute.  

That’s why one of the many things we did to address these issues was to put together a task force on community policing.  And this task force was made up of law enforcement and of community activists, including some who had led protests in Ferguson, some who had led protests here in New York -- young people whose voices needed to be heard.  And what was remarkable was law enforcement and police chiefs and sheriffs and county officials working with these young people, they came up with concrete proposals that, if implemented, would rebuild trust and help law enforcement officers do their jobs even better, and keep them and their communities even safer.

And what was clear from this task force was the recognition that the overwhelming majority of police officers are good and honest and fair, and care deeply about their communities.  And they put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe.  And their loved ones wait and worry until they come through that door at the end of their shift.

As many of you know, New York’s finest lost one of its own today -- Officer Brian Moore, who was shot in the line of duty on Saturday night, passed away earlier today.  He came from a family of police officers.  And the family of fellow officers he joined in the NYPD and across the country deserve our gratitude and our prayers not just today but every day.  They’ve got a tough job.  (Applause.)

Which is why, in addressing the issues in Baltimore or Ferguson or New York, the point I made was that if we’re just looking at policing, we’re looking at it too narrowly.  If we ask the police to simply contain and control problems that we ourselves have been unwilling to invest and solve, that’s not fair to the communities, it’s not fair to the police.  What we gathered here to talk about today is something that goes deeper than policing.  It speaks to who we are as a nation, and what we’re willing to do to make sure that equality of opportunity is not an empty word.

Across the country and in parts of New York, in parts of New Jersey, in parts of my hometown in Chicago, there are communities that don’t have enough jobs, don’t have enough investment, don’t have enough opportunity.  You’ve got communities with 30, or 40, or 50 percent unemployment.  They’ve been struggling long before the economic crisis in 2007, 2008.  Communities without enough role models.  Communities where too many men who could otherwise be leaders, who could provide guidance for young people, who could be good fathers and good neighbors and good fellow citizens, are languishing in prison over minor, nonviolent drug offenses.

Now, there’s no shortage of people telling you who and what is to blame for the plight of these communities.  But I’m not interested in blame.  I’m interested in responsibility and I’m interested in results.  (Applause.)

That’s why we’ve partnered with cities to get more kids access to quality early childhood education -- no matter who they are or where they’re born.  It’s why we’ve partnered with cities to create Promise Zones, to give a booster shot to opportunity.  That’s why we’ve invested in ideas from support for new moms to summer jobs for young people, to helping more young people afford a college education.

And that’s why, over a year ago, we launched something we call My Brother’s Keeper -- an initiative to address those persistent opportunity gaps and ensure that all of our young people, but particularly young men of color, have a chance to go as far as their dreams will take them.  It’s an idea that we pursued in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s death because we wanted the message sent from the White House in a sustained way that his life mattered, that the lives of the young men who are here today matter, that we care about your future -- not just sometimes, but all the time.

In every community in America, there are young people with incredible drive and talent, and they just don't have the same kinds of chances that somebody like me had.  They're just as talented as me, just as smart.  They don't get a chance.  And because everyone has a part to play in this process, we brought everybody together.  We brought business leaders and faith leaders, mayors, philanthropists, educators, entrepreneurs, athletes, musicians, actors -- all united around the simple idea of giving all our young people the tools they need to achieve their full potential.

And we were determined not to just do a feel-good exercise, to write a report that nobody would read, to do some announcement, and then once the TV cameras had gone away and there weren’t protests or riots, then somehow we went back to business as usual.  We wanted something sustained.  And for more than a year, we’ve been working with experts to identify some of the key milestones that matter most in every young person’s life -- from whether they enter school ready to learn, to whether they graduate ready for a career.  Are they getting suspended in school?  Can we intervene there?  Are they in danger of falling into the criminal justice system?  Can we catch them before they do?  Key indicators that we know will make a difference.  If a child is reading by the third grade at grade level, we know they’ve got a chance of doing better.  If they aren’t involved with the criminal justice system and aren’t suspended while they're in school, we know they’ve got a chance of doing better. So there are certain things that we knew would make a difference.

And we’ve looked at which programs and policies actually work in intervening at those key periods.  Early childhood education works.  Job apprenticeship programs work.  Certain mentoring programs work.  And we’ve identified which strategies make a difference in the lives of young people, like mentoring, or violence prevention and intervention.

And because we knew this couldn’t be the work of just the federal government, we challenged every community in the country -- big cities, small towns, rural counties, tribal nations -- to publicly commit to implementing strategies to help all young people succeed.  And as a result, we’ve already got more than 200 communities across the country who are focused on this issue.  They're on board and they're doing great work.  They're sharing best practices.  They're sharing ideas.

All of this has happened just in the last year.  And the response we’ve gotten in such a short amount of time, the enthusiasm and the passion we’ve seen from folks all around the country proves how much people care about this.  Sometimes politics may be cynical, the debate in Washington may be cynical, but when you get on the ground, and you talk to folks, folks care about this.  They know that how well we do as a nation depends on whether our young people are succeeding.  That's our future workforce.

They know that if you've got African American or Latino men here in New York who, instead of going to jail, are going to college, those are going to be taxpayers.  They're going to help build our communities.  They will make our communities safer.  They aren’t part of the problem, they're potentially part of the solution -- if we treat them as such.

So we’ve made enormous progress over the last year.  But today, after months of great work on the part of a whole lot of people, we’re taking another step forward, with people from the private sector coming together in a big way.  We’re here for the launch of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which is a new nonprofit organization of private sector organizations and companies that have committed themselves to continue the work of opening doors for young people -- all our young people -- long after I’ve left office.  (Applause.)  It’s a big deal.

I want to thank the former CEO of Deloitte, Joe Echevarria, who’s been involved for a long time.  He has taken the lead on this alliance.  Joe, stand up.  You've done an incredible job.  (Applause.)  Just like the My Brother’s Keeper overall effort that we launched last year, Joe and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance -- they're all about getting results.  They’ve set clear goals to hold themselves accountable for getting those results:  Doubling the percentage of boys and young men of color who read at grade level by the third grade.  Increasing their high school graduation rates by 20 percent.  (Applause.)  Getting 50,000 more of those young men into post-secondary education or training.

They’ve already announced $80 million in commitments to make this happen, and that is just the beginning.  And they’ve got a great team of young people who helped to work on this, a lot of them from Deloitte.  We appreciate them so much.  We’re very proud of the great work that they did.

But here’s what the business leaders who are here today -- and Joe certainly subscribes to this -- will tell you, they’re not doing this out of charity.  The organizations that are represented here, ranging -- as varied as from Sprint to BET -- they’re not doing it just to assuage society’s guilt.  They’re doing this because they know that making sure all of our young people have the opportunity to succeed is an economic imperative.

These young men, all our youth, are part of our workforce.  If we don’t make sure that our young people are safe and healthy and educated, and prepared for the jobs of tomorrow, our businesses won’t have the workers they need to compete in the 21st century global economy.  Our society will lose in terms of productivity and potential.  America won’t be operating at full capacity.  And that hurts all of us.

So they know that there’s an economic rationale for making this investment.  But, frankly, this is also about more than just economics; it’s about values.  It’s about who we are as a people.

Joe grew up about a mile from here, in the Bronx.  And as he and I were sitting there, listening to some incredible young men in a roundtable discussion, many of them from this community, their stories were our stories.  So, for Joe and I, this is personal, because in these young men we see ourselves.

The stakes are clear.  And these stakes are high:  At the end of the day, what kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of country do we want to be?  It’s not enough to celebrate the ideals that we’re built on -- liberty for all, and justice for all and equality for all.  Those can’t just be words on paper.  The work of every generation is to make those ideals mean something concrete in the lives of our children -- all of our children.

And we won’t get there as long as kids in Baltimore or Ferguson or New York or Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or the Pine Ridge Reservation believe that their lives are somehow worth less.

We won’t get there when we have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, and where, in the richest nation on Earth, children are born into abject poverty.

We won’t be living up to our ideals when their parents are struggling with substance abuse, or are in prison, or unemployed, and when fathers are absent, and schools are substandard, and jobs are scarce and drugs are plentiful.  We won’t get there when there are communities where a young man is less likely to end up in college than jail, or dead -- and feels like his country expects nothing else of him.

America’s future depends on us caring about this.  If we don’t, then we will just keep on going through the same cycles of periodic conflict.  When we ask police to go into communities where there’s no hope, eventually something happens because of the tensions between societies and these communities -- and the police are just on the front lines of that.

And people tweet outrage.  And the TV cameras come.  And they focus more on somebody setting fire to something or turning over a car than the peaceful protests and the thoughtful discussions that are taking place.  And then some will argue, well, all these social programs don’t make a difference.  And we cast blame.  And politicians talk about poverty and inequality, and then gut policies that help alleviate poverty or reverse inequality.  (Applause.)

And then we wait for the next outbreak or problem to flare up.  And we go through the same pattern all over again.  So that, in effect, we do nothing.

There are consequences to inaction.  There are consequences to indifference.  And they reverberate far beyond the walls of the projects, or the borders of the barrio, or the roads of the reservation.  They sap us of our strength as a nation.  It means we’re not as good as we could be.  And over time, it wears us out.  Over time, it weakens our nation as a whole.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.  We can have the courage to change.  We can make a difference.  We can remember that these kids are our kids.  “For these are all our children,” James Baldwin once wrote.  “We will all profit by, or pay for, whatever they become.”

And that’s what My Brother’s Keeper is about, that’s what this alliance is about.  And we are in this for the long haul.  We’re going to keep doing our work at the White House on these issues.  Sometimes it won’t be a lot of fanfare.  I notice we don’t always get a lot of reporting on this issue when there’s not a crisis in some neighborhood.  But we’re just going to keep on plugging away.  And this will remain a mission for me and for Michelle not just for the rest of my presidency, but for the rest of my life.  (Applause.)

  And the reason is simple.  Like I said before -- I know it’s true for Joe; it’s true for John Legend, who was part of our roundtable; it’s true for Alonzo Mourning who is here, part of our board -- we see ourselves in these young men.

I grew up without a dad.  I grew up lost sometimes and adrift, not having a sense of a clear path.  And the only difference between me and a lot of other young men in this neighborhood and all across the country is that I grew up in an environment that was a little more forgiving.  And at some critical points, I had some people who cared enough about me to give me a second chance, or a third chance, or give me a little guidance when I needed it, or to open up a door that might otherwise been closed.  I was lucky.

Alex Santos is lucky, too.  Where’s Alex?  Alex is here.  Stand up, Alex.  (Applause.)  So Alex was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in Brooklyn and the Bronx, in some tough neighborhoods.  When he was 11, he saw his mom’s best friend, a man he respected and looked up to, shot and killed.  His older brothers dropped out of school, got caught up in drugs and violence.  So Alex didn’t see a whole lot of options for himself, couldn’t envision a path to a better future.  He then dropped out of school.

But then his mom went back to school and got her GED.  She set an example.  That inspired Alex to go back and get his GED.  Actually, it’s more like she stayed on him until he went back.  (Laughter.)  And I know, because just like I was lucky, I also had a mom who used to get on my case about my studies.  So I could relate.  But this is what Alex says about his mom:  “She made me realize that no matter what, there’s a second chance in life.”

So, today, Alex is getting his GED.  He’s developed a passion for sports.  His dream is to one day work with kids as a coach and set an example for them.  He says he never thought he could go to college; now he believes he can.  All Alex wants to be is a good role model for his younger brothers, Carlos and John, who are bright and hardworking and doing well in school.  And he says, “They matter so much to my life, and I matter to theirs.”

So, Alex, and his brothers, and all the young people here, all the young ones who are out there struggling -- the simple point to make is:  You matter.  You matter to us.

It was interesting during the roundtable, we asked these young men -- incredible gifted young men, like Darinel -- asked them, what advice would you give us?  And they talked about mentor programs and they talked about counseling programs and guidance programs in schools.  But one young man -- Malachi -- he just talked about, we should talk about love.  (Applause.)  Because Malachi and I shared the fact that our dad wasn’t around, and that sometimes we wondered why he wasn’t around and what had happened.

But really that's what this comes down to is, do we love these kids?  (Applause.)  See if we feel like because they don't look like us, or they don't talk like us, or they don't live in the same neighborhood as us that they're different, that they can't learn, or they don't deserve better, or it’s okay if their schools are rundown, or it’s okay if the police are given a mission just to contain them rather than to encourage them, then it’s not surprising that we're going to lose a lot of them.

But that's not the kind of country I want to live in.  That's not what America is about.  So my message to Alex and Malachi and Darinel, and to all the young men out there and young boys who aren’t in this room, haven’t yet gotten that helping hand, haven’t yet gotten that guidance -- I want you to know you matter.  You matter to us.  You matter to each other.  There’s nothing, not a single thing, that’s more important to the future of America than whether or not you and young people all across this country can achieve their dreams.

And we are one people, and we need each other.  We should love every single one of our kids.  And then we should show that love -- not just give lip-service to it, not just talk about it in church and then ignore it, not just have a seminar about it and not deliver.

It’s hard.  We’ve got an accumulation of not just decades but, in some cases, centuries of trauma that we're having to overcome.  But if Alex is able to overcome what he’s been through, then we as a society should be able to overcome what we’ve been through.  If Alex can put the past behind him and look towards the future, we should be able to do the same.

I’m going to keep on fighting, and everybody here is going to keep on fighting to make sure that all of our kids have the opportunity to make of their lives what they will.  Today is just the beginning.  We’re going to keep at this for you, the young people of America, for your generation and for all the generations to come.

So, thank you.  God bless you.  God bless all of you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

                        END           3:27 P.M. EDT

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                             April 28, 2015


Rose Garden

12:10 P.M. EDT

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Good morning, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Good afternoon.  Konnichiwa.  Once again, it is an honor to welcome my partner and friend, Prime Minister Abe, back to the White House.  I’m told there’s a phrase in Japanese culture that speaks to the spirit that brings us together today.  It’s an idea rooted in loyalty.  It’s an expression of mutuality, respect and shared obligation.  It transcends any specific moment or challenge.  It’s the foundation of a relationship that endures.  It’s what allows us to say that the United States and Japan stand together.  Otagai no tame ni -- “with and for each other.”

This is the essence of the alliance between the United States and Japan -- an alliance that holds lessons for the world.  Prime Minister Abe and I had the opportunity yesterday to visit our memorial to President Lincoln, who believed that a great conflict had to be followed with reconciliation.  Shinzo, on behalf of the American people, I want to thank you for your visit to Arlington National Cemetery.  Your gesture is a powerful reminder that the past can be overcome, former adversaries can become the closest of allies, and that nations can build a future together.

Across seven decades, our nations have become not just allies, but true partners and friends.  And that mutual affection will be on display tomorrow when Shinzo becomes the first Japanese Prime Minister to address a joint meeting of Congress.  And we are two global partners that stand together for security and human dignity around the world -- opposing Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, providing relief to innocent civilians threatened by ISIL, combating Ebola and promoting global health, and now offering help to the people of Nepal, who are in our prayers today.    

This friendship includes my partnership with Prime Minister Abe.  Since taking office, I’ve worked to rebalance American foreign policy to ensure that we’re playing a larger and lasting role in the Asia Pacific -- a policy grounded in our treaty alliances, including our treaty with Japan.  And I’m grateful to Shinzo for his deep commitment to that alliance.  He is pursuing a vision of Japan where the Japanese economy is reinvigorated and where Japan makes greater contributions to security and peace in the region and around the world.  So, Shinzo, thank you.  I believe the progress we’ve made today will help to guide the U.S.-Japanese partnership for decades to come.        

Specifically, we first talked about transforming our security alliance.  For the first time in nearly two decades, we’ve updated the guidelines for our defense cooperation.  Together, our forces will be more flexible and better prepared to cooperate on a range of challenges, from maritime security to disaster response.  Our forces will plan, train and operate even more closely.  We’ll expand our cooperation, including on cyber threats and in space.  And Japan will take on greater roles and responsibilities in the Asia Pacific and around the world.

Our new guidelines complement our effort to realign U.S. forces across the region, including on Okinawa, in order to lessen the impact of our bases on local communities.  And I reaffirmed our commitment to move forward with the relocation of Marines from Okinawa to Guam.

I want to reiterate that our treaty commitment to Japan’s security is absolute, and that Article 5 covers all territories under Japan’s administration, including Senkaku Islands.  We share a concern about China’s land reclamation and construction activities in the South China Sea, and the United States and Japan are united in our commitment to freedom of navigation, respect for international law, and the peaceful resolution of disputes without coercion.

We also remain united in pursuit of peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and addressing North Korean provocations.  We fully support Japan’s efforts to resolve the tragedy of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese citizens.  During my last visit to Japan, I met with the mother of one of those abductees and she described the awful pain that she has endured, so I know how important this is to the Japanese people.  Meanwhile, our growing trilateral cooperation -- with the Republic of Korea, as well as with Australia -- gives us new opportunities to enhance security across the region.

With respect to trade, we reviewed the progress our teams have made towards the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  I know that the politics around trade can be hard in both our countries.  But I know that Prime Minister Abe, like me, is deeply committed to getting this done, and I’m confident we will.  I often point out, for example, that there are many Japanese cars in America.  I want to see more American cars in Japan, as well.  TPP will help level the playing field.  It will be good for the workers of both our countries.

And moreover, TPP will have strong protections for workers and the environment and help us set high standards for trade in the 21st century.  Japan and the United States both operate with high standards in our companies and our corporations.  We try to be responsible when it comes to corporate citizenship.  And high standards will be good for us and good for the region.

Based on the progress we've made, Prime Minister Abe and I discussed how the United States and Japan, as the two largest economies in the TPP negotiations, will now work together to lead our TPP partners to swift and successful conclusions of the broader negotiations.  

We also agreed to continue our close coordination on climate change.  As the two countries that have made the largest pledges to the Green Climate Fund, we’re committed to helping nations around the world seize the opportunities of transitioning to low-carbon economies.  And we discussed the importance of all major economies submitting ambitious targets to reduce emissions so we can reach a strong climate agreement this year in Paris.

And finally, we agreed to keep investing in our people so that they and our countries can reach their full potential.  I want to once again commend the Prime Minister for his efforts to bring more Japanese women into the workforce.  I can tell you it is very much my view here in the United States and around the world that when women are given opportunity, when they are full-fledged members of the political community and the economic community, when they have opportunity, those countries succeed.  It’s good for everybody.

Along with the initiative we launched last year in Tokyo, we’re also aiming to double student exchanges in the coming years.  And with the leadership of our better halves -- our wives -- the United States and Japan are helping to lead our global initiative, Let Girls Learn, to give more young women and girls access to education.

So these are just some examples of what it means to be true global partners.  And I’m confident that with the steps that we’ve taken today, our alliance will play an even greater role in upholding security, prosperity and human dignity -- not just in the Asia Pacific, but around the world.

So, Prime Minister Abe, arigato gozaimasu.  Mr. Prime Minister.

     PRIME MINISTER ABE:  (As interpreted.)  Barack, thank you for inviting me to make an official visit in this commemorative year which marks 70 years after the war.  Thank you for inviting me and my wife.

     Walking together with you at the Lincoln Memorial, which has witnessed America tread the path of democracy, will be an extraordinary memory to be cherished.  We have a dream -- that is to create a world abound in peace and prosperity.  To realize this common dream, Japan and the United States will together pave the way towards a new era.

     I was able to confirm this strong resolve with President Obama in this milestone year of 70 years after the war.  Today, we turned a new page in the history of the U.S.-Japan alliance, which exceeds half a century.  This is a Japan-U.S. alliance within the context of the world.  Japan and the United States are partners who share basic values, such as freedom, democracy, and basic human rights, and the rule of law.  The U.S.-Japan alliance characterized by the firmness of its bond is now indispensable to the peace and stability of not only the Asia Pacific but to the world.

     We are united in our resoluteness in opposing unilateral attempts to change the status quo in whatever form.  Any dispute should be resolved peacefully based on international law and not through coercion or intimidation.  Japan welcomes the United States policy of rebalancing, which emphasizes the Asia Pacific.  And President Obama has expressed his support for Japan’s principle of proactive contribution to peace.  Through coordination of these two policies, the deterrence of our alliance will no doubt be further strengthened.

     Against this backdrop, we have reaffirmed our resolve to steadily move forward with the realignment of the U.S. forces in Japan.  The dangers arising from the Futenma Air Station being surrounded by housing and schools should be eliminated by relocation to Henoko as soon as possible.  We will move forward with mitigating the impact of the base in Okinawa, founded on a strong relationship of trust between Japan and the United States.  It is prosperity that brings peace.  These beliefs make us eager to see the early conclusion of the TPP.

     On the bilateral outstanding issues, we welcome the fact that significant progress was made.  We will continue to cooperate to lead the TPP talks through its last phase.  We’ve confirmed that we would work together for the early and successful conclusion of the talks.

     In addition, with regard to the situation in East Asia, abduction by North Korea, nuclear missile issues, the situation in the Ukraine, the nuclear issue in Iran, and the threat of terrorism; furthermore, climate change, infectious and communicable diseases, the U.N. Security Council reform -- the world has a multitude of issues facing it.  And on these all sorts of issues, we have had a frank and candid exchange of views and we agreed that we would cooperate.

     When it comes to the future of Japan and the United States, there are infinite possibilities -- energy, infrastructure, science and technology, space, and, in addition to this, the empowerment of women.  We agree that is between President Obama and myself that we would cooperate and move forward in making investments for the future.

     I would like to express my due heartfelt respect once again to President Obama and the citizens of the United States who have committed to take on the multitude of challenges of this world and for the unstinting efforts that you are making for the benefit of the peoples of the world.

     Yesterday, I visited the JFK Library in Boston.  On television, I saw President Kennedy deliver his inauguration speech; it deeply resonated with me and it still has a lingering effect.  I recall the following quote:  “My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of mankind.”

     Now, Japan wants to be a country that can respond to such calls.  Hand in hand, we want to work together with the United States to spread basic values throughout the world such as those of freedom, democracy, basic human rights and the rule of law.  And we want to be a country that can contribute to peace and prosperity of the world.

     In visiting the United States, I’ve had a very heartwarming welcome and reception by all citizens of the United States.  I’d like to express my heartfelt gratitude.

     Lastly, I’d like to emphasize the following.  Barack, as we stand here, we will be starting a new era for Japan and the United States.  I think that 70 years from now, our children and grandchildren will look back on the talks we had as one of such historical significance.  Thank you very much.

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Starting with Andrew Beatty of AFP.

     Q    Thank you very much, Mr. President.  First of all, I wanted to know if you think there’s a risk in this more assertive U.S.-Japanese security stands -- if you think there’s a risk that it might be seen as a provocation in Beijing, Pyongyang, or heightened tension in the East China and South China Seas.

     And for Mr. Abe, if I may -- you stopped short of a full apology for Japan’s actions during World War II, including with regard the estimated 200,000 women enslaved by Imperial Forces.  Would you make an apology for that today?  Thank you.

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I think it’s very important to recognize that the U.S.-Japan alliance hasn’t just been good for the United States and Japan; it’s been good for the Asia Pacific region and the world.

     The basic foundation of peace, stability, ensuring that territorial borders were respected, freedom of navigation -- all that has underwritten the incredible growth that’s taken place in the Asia Pacific region.  China has benefitted from it.  It’s on that basis that China became an economic juggernaut that ended up being incorporated into global trade.

And so, no, we don’t think that a strong U.S.-Japan alliance should be seen as a provocation.  It should be seen as a continuation of the important work that we’ve done to ensure that you have a stable area where there are diplomatic conflicts, a healthy economic competition.  But, largely, we’ve been able to maintain forward progress for a whole host of nations, and our treaty alliances have been critical to that.  The U.S. serving as an Asia Pacific power has been critical to that.

And as I’ve said before, we welcome China’s peaceful rise.  We think it’s good not only because China is a booming potential market.  We think it’s good not only because it allows China potentially to share some burdens with us in helping countries that are not as far along develop.  But we think it’s just good that hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens have been able to rise out of poverty at incredible speed over the last several years.  They could not have done that had it not been for a stable trading system and world order that is underwritten in large part by the work that our alliances do.

I think it is going to be important for us to continue to adapt to new challenges.  So part of the goal here is that the same principles that the alliance was founded on continually update to concerns about cyber threats; that we are nimble and responsive to potential conflicts that may arise because of maritime disputes.  But I think we have to do it in a way that brings China and other countries into a common effort to maintain order and peace in the region.

     And we are seeking to strengthen military-to-military cooperation with China even as we continue to upgrade our alliance efforts.  Obviously, the Republic of Korea is a critical part of our alliance structure, as well.  And the trilateral work that we do is going to be also very, very important.

     I don't want to minimize, though, the fact that there are some real tensions that have arisen with China around its approach to maritime issues and its claims.  But that's not an issue that is arising as a consequence of the U.S.-Japan alliance.  It’s primarily a conflict between China and various claimants throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia in which they feel that rather than resolve these issues through normal international dispute settlements, they are flexing their muscles.

     And we’ve said to China what we would say to any country in that circumstance:  That's the wrong way to go about it.  And we will continue to work with all countries in the region, starting with our treaty allies, to make sure that basic international norms continue to be observed.

     PRIME MINISTER ABE:  (As interpreted.)  On the issue of comfort women, I am deeply pained to think about the comfort women who experienced immeasurable pain and suffering as a result of victimization due to human trafficking.  This is a feeling that I share equally with my predecessors.  The Abe Cabinet upholds the Kono Statement and has no intention to revise it.  Based on this position, Japan has made various efforts to provide realistic relief for the comfort women.

     Throughout the history of the 20th century, women’s dignity and basic human rights had often been infringed upon during wars.  We intend to make the 21st century a world with no human rights violations against women.

     I promised at the General Assembly of the United Nations last year that Japan would stand at the fore and lead the international community in eliminating sexual violence during conflicts.  For an international framework, including the U.N. Women, Japan provided approximately $12 million in 2014 and decided that it would provide approximately $22 million in 2015.

     In any case, the 21st century should be an age where women’s rights is never infringed upon.  And that is our strong resolve.

     Q    (As interpreted.)  Thank you very much.  I’m from NHK.  I’d like to address this question to Prime Minister Abe and President Obama.  In the East China Sea and in the South China Sea, China continues to make forays into the oceans.  And the Islamic State is still very active.  How does the United States and Japan intend to collaborate?

And what do you expect of each other in terms of actions taken by the respective countries?  In Japan, with regard to the acceptance of exercise of collective self-defense and the new guidelines, there is a strong concern that Japan will become involved in America’s wars.  How does Prime Minister Abe intend to dispel those fears?  And what is President Obama’s take on these concerns?

     PRIME MINISTER ABE:  (As interpreted.)  First of all, on extremism and radicalism, which is on the rise, the world community should unite to counter such extremism.  Moderation is the best method, is the speech I delivered in Cairo.  We have to face extremism.  There are moderates who are at the very forefront are facing extremism, and we want to support this.

     With the rise of extremism, there are refugees and support to these refugees.  And also, through the influx of refugees, there are countries who are faced with difficulties.  To these countries, it’s important that we provide support appropriately.  And to the moderate countries, we need to tell them that they are not alone, they are not isolated in the international society.  The moderate countries should be supported, and we need to express that at all times.  I believe that is important.

     In the Middle East, there are people who are living there; improving the welfare and livelihood of these people are areas in which we’d like to make efforts.  From such a standpoint, the United States and Japan would like to cooperate to respond to the challenges.

     Another point.  The defense guidelines and with regard to the security legislation that we may be involved, get caught up in wars -- people tend to label this in some cases.  It’s very unfortunate.  Labeling activities of this kind is not the first time it has occurred.  In 1960, when we revised the security treaty, some people said that we would be involved in wars of the United States, and that was the core of the criticism which was aired then.

     It's been 55 years since then.  This criticism has been proved totally wrong, and that is very clear and evident.  History has proved this.  Our choice made at the time to revise the security treaty.  And in case Japan suffers from aggression between Japan and the United States, we would respond through cooperation.

     And in the Far East, to maintain security, Japan’s facilities would be leveraged and U.S. military would leverage these facilities to conduct activities.  Through such activities, Japan’s safety was protected and prosperity happened, and safety in the Asia Pacific has been maintained.

     To further strengthen this trend, it is provided for through the new guidelines, and seamless response is made possible.  And by so doing, the deterrence would be enhanced.  The Japan-U.S. alliance would be more efficient and more functional.  Deterrence and response capabilities would be heighted as a result.  And this would lead to peace and prosperity of Japan, and regional peace and prosperity as well.  This is my firm conviction.

     In the streamlining of the laws, I should like to explain to the citizens -- and the Parliament -- in a detailed fashion.

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Ultimately, the people of Japan and their elected representatives will be making decisions about how best to approach their defense.  But I think it's important to note, as Prime Minister Abe said, that we have seen over multiple decades now that Japan is a peace-loving country having absorbed some very difficult lessons from the past.  Japan does not engage in aggression on the international stage, or in its region.  And that the alliance that has been built with the United States is principally one that seeks to defend our countries from potential attack or aggression.

     And what the new defense guidelines, and the collective defense approach that Prime Minister Abe is proposing, it simply upgrades our ability to carry out those core functions.  We do share, as people in countries all around the world share, a determination to eliminate the kind of barbaric terrorist acts perpetrated by organizations like ISIL that have resulted in the death of innocent citizens from the United States, from Japan, from other countries and, most of all, from Muslim countries.

And that’s why we have a broad-based coalition designed to defeat ISIL.  And we will continue to work with a wide range of countries around the world in our counterterrorism efforts.

Japan’s cooperation in that is vital and appreciated, but there are many ways in which coalition members participate.  Japan’s willingness and commitment to provide humanitarian assistance makes an enormous difference in countries that have been destabilized.  Japan’s willingness to serve in areas of peacekeeping and working with other countries to rebuild after they’ve been destroyed makes a big difference.

     So I think it's important to recognize we do not expect some instant and major transformation in terms of how Japan projects military power, but we do expect that Japan, like all of our allies and like ourselves, will continue to adapt to new threats, understanding that our basic core principle is not territorial ambition, it's not aggression towards others, but it is simply to defend prosperity and liberty and the sovereignty of countries, as we have done for a very long time now -- as we have done together for a very long time.

     Chris Jansing.

Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  As you know, the National Guard is now on the streets of Baltimore -- the latest aftermath in a series of what have been high-profile confrontations between black men and police officers.  And there seems to be growing frustration among African American leaders that not enough is being done quickly enough.  Marc Morial of the Urban League said, “The U.S. is in a state of emergency of tremendous proportions.”  The president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says, “We are in the throes of a national crisis.”

Are we in the throes of a national crisis?  What are you prepared to do about it, both in terms of Baltimore and the larger picture?  And what do you say to critics who say that since the death of Trayvon Martin, you have not been aggressive enough in your response?

And to Prime Minister Abe, how important is a Pacific trade deal to keeping the influence of China in check, both economically and militarily?  And do you agree with President Obama when he says that failing to complete a deal will simply further China’s influence?  Thank you.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Before I answer the question about Baltimore, I’m going to horn in on your question to Prime Minister Abe.

I’ve been very clear that TPP is good for American businesses and American workers, regardless of what China is doing.  And we will make the case on the merits as to why it will open up markets for American goods, American exports, and create American jobs.  So this is not simply a defensive agreement, this is something that is going to be part and parcel of our broader economic agenda moving forward.  And when 95 percent of the world’s markets are outside our shores, we’ve got to make sure that we’re out there competing.  And I’m confident we can compete.

With respect to Baltimore, let me make a couple of points.  First, obviously our thoughts continue to be with the family of Freddie Gray.  Understandably, they want answers.  And DOJ has opened an investigation.  It is working with local law enforcement to find out exactly what happened, and I think there should be full transparency and accountability.

     Second, my thoughts are with the police officers who were injured in last night’s disturbances.  It underscores that that’s a tough job and we have to keep that in mind, and my hope is that they can heal and get back to work as soon as possible.

     Point number three, there’s no excuse for the kind of violence that we saw yesterday.  It is counterproductive.  When individuals get crowbars and start prying open doors to loot, they’re not protesting, they’re not making a statement -- they’re stealing.  When they burn down a building, they’re committing arson.  And they’re destroying and undermining businesses and opportunities in their own communities that rob jobs and opportunity from people in that area.

     So it is entirely appropriate that the mayor of Baltimore, who I spoke to yesterday, and the governor, who I spoke to yesterday, work to stop that kind of senseless violence and destruction.  That is not a protest.  That is not a statement.  It’s people -- a handful of people taking advantage of a situation for their own purposes, and they need to be treated as criminals.

     Point number four, the violence that happened yesterday distracted from the fact that you had seen multiple days of peaceful protests that were focused on entirely legitimate concerns of these communities in Baltimore, led by clergy and community leaders.  And they were constructive and they were thoughtful, and frankly, didn’t get that much attention.  And one burning building will be looped on television over and over and over again, and the thousands of demonstrators who did it the right way I think have been lost in the discussion.

The overwhelming majority of the community in Baltimore I think have handled this appropriately, expressing real concern and outrage over the possibility that our laws were not applied evenly in the case of Mr. Gray, and that accountability needs to exist.  And I think we have to give them credit.  My understanding is, is you’ve got some of the same organizers now going back into these communities to try to clean up in the aftermath of a handful of criminals and thugs who tore up the place.  What they were doing, what those community leaders and clergy and others were doing, that is a statement.  That’s the kind of organizing that needs to take place if we’re going to tackle this problem.  And they deserve credit for it, and we should be lifting them up.

     Point number five -- and I’ve got six, because this is important.  Since Ferguson, and the task force that we put together, we have seen too many instances of what appears to be police officers interacting with individuals -- primarily African American, often poor -- in ways that have raised troubling questions.  And it comes up, it seems like, once a week now, or once every couple of weeks.  And so I think it’s pretty understandable why the leaders of civil rights organizations but, more importantly, moms and dads across the country, might start saying this is a crisis.  What I’d say is this has been a slow-rolling crisis.  This has been going on for a long time.  This is not new, and we shouldn’t pretend that it’s new.

     The good news is, is that perhaps there’s some newfound awareness because of social media and video cameras and so forth that there are problems and challenges when it comes to how policing and our laws are applied in certain communities, and we have to pay attention to it and respond.

What’s also good news is the task force that was made up of law enforcement and community activists that we brought together here in the White House have come up with very constructive concrete proposals that, if adopted by local communities and by states and by counties, by law enforcement generally, would make a difference.  It wouldn’t solve every problem, but would make a concrete difference in rebuilding trust and making sure that the overwhelming majority of effective, honest and fair law enforcement officers, that they're able to do their job better because it will weed out or retrain or put a stop to those handful who may be not doing what they're supposed to be doing.

     Now, the challenge for us as the federal government is, is that we don't run these police forces.  I can't federalize every police force in the country and force them to retrain.  But what I can do is to start working with them collaboratively so that they can begin this process of change themselves.

     And coming out of the task force that we put together, we're now working with local communities.  The Department of Justice has just announced a grant program for those jurisdictions that want to purchase body cameras.  We are going to be issuing grants for those jurisdictions that are prepared to start trying to implement some of the new training and data collection and other things that can make a difference.  And we're going to keep on working with those local jurisdictions so that they can begin to make the changes that are necessary.

I think it’s going to be important for organizations like the Fraternal Order of Police and other police unions and organization to acknowledge that this is not good for police.  We have to own up to the fact that occasionally there are going to be problems here, just as there are in every other occupation.  There are some bad politicians who are corrupt.  There are folks in the business community or on Wall Street who don't do the right thing.  Well, there’s some police who aren’t doing the right thing.  And rather than close ranks, what we’ve seen is a number of thoughtful police chiefs and commissioners and others recognize they got to get their arms around this thing and work together with the community to solve the problem.  And we're committed to facilitating that process.

     So the heads of our COPS agency that helps with community policing, they're already out in Baltimore.  Our Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division is already out in Baltimore.  But we're going to be working systematically with every city and jurisdiction around the country to try to help them implement some solutions that we know work.

     And I’ll make my final point -- I’m sorry, Mr. Prime Minister, but this is a pretty important issue for us.

     We can't just leave this to the police.  I think there are police departments that have to do some soul searching.  I think there are some communities that have to do some soul searching.  But I think we, as a country, have to do some soul searching.  This is not new.  It’s been going on for decades.

And without making any excuses for criminal activities that take place in these communities, what we also know is that if you have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty; they’ve got parents -- often because of substance-abuse problems or incarceration or lack of education themselves -- can't do right by their kids; if it’s more likely that those kids end up in jail or dead, than they go to college.  In communities where there are no fathers who can provide guidance to young men; communities where there’s no investment, and manufacturing has been stripped away; and drugs have flooded the community, and the drug industry ends up being the primary employer for a whole lot of folks -- in those environments, if we think that we're just going to send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not going to solve this problem.  And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets, and everybody will feign concern until it goes away, and then we go about our business as usual.

     If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to not only have to help the police, we're going to have to think about what can we do -- the rest of us -- to make sure that we're providing early education to these kids; to make sure that we're reforming our criminal justice system so it’s not just a pipeline from schools to prisons; so that we're not rendering men in these communities unemployable because of a felony record for a nonviolent drug offense; that we're making investments so that they can get the training they need to find jobs.  That's hard.  That requires more than just the occasional news report or task force.  And there’s a bunch of my agenda that would make a difference right now in that.

     Now, I’m under no illusion that out of this Congress we're going to get massive investments in urban communities, and so we’ll try to find areas where we can make a difference around school reform and around job training, and around some investments in infrastructure in these communities trying to attract new businesses in.

     But if we really want to solve the problem, if our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could.  It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant -- and that we don't just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don't just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped.  We're paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they're important.  And they shouldn’t be living in poverty and violence.

     That's how I feel.  I think there are a lot of good-meaning people around the country that feel that way.  But that kind of political mobilization I think we haven’t seen in quite some time.  And what I’ve tried to do is to promote those ideas that would make a difference.  But I think we all understand that the politics of that are tough because it’s easy to ignore those problems or to treat them just as a law and order issue, as opposed to a broader social issue.

     That was a really long answer, but I felt pretty strongly about it.

     PRIME MINISTER ABE:  (As interpreted.)  First of all, on TPP, this is not something that we create out of consciousness about China.  The economic growth of the region will be positive and create opportunities for Japan, the United States and the world.  The TPP is such that to the eyes of many countries it has to become a model.  It should be a model for China in that it's an ambitious attempt to create a new economic sphere in which people, goods, and money will flow freely within the Asia Pacific region.  It's a new economic region of freedom, democracy, basic human rights, and rule of law.

     With countries that share these universal values, we will be creating new rules.  This will benefit regional prosperity and it also has a strategic significance related to regional stability.

On these points, we see completely eye to eye between President Obama and myself.  The early conclusion of TPP -- by achieving this, this will work on other countries -- non-members of the TPP -- to follow rules.  And I believe that this will lead to prosperity.

     Q    (As interpreted.)  My question is addressed to Prime Minister Abe, as well as President Obama.  In relation to the answer that has been given, China is working toward the establishment of the AIIB, and it intends to enhance its influence in the international economy and finance.  What is the strategic significance of the early conclusion of the TPP?

And the next question is to President Obama.  Do you have confidence, or how do you intend to work on Congress to pass the TPP-related bills?  And how confident are you that you’ll be able to pass this bill?

     PRIME MINISTER ABE:  (As interpreted.)  On the TPP, as I mentioned in my answer previously, in the Asia Pacific region this is a region where growth is very prominent.  And in such a region, for people and goods and money under proper rules to flow freely, without a doubt we’ll make affluent the countries participating in the TPP, in the Asia Pacific.  And the people in the countries will be able to lead affluent lives.  I believe this will feed into this.

     So for this purpose as well, as soon as possible, with the general public’s understanding, toward early conclusion of the TPP, we’d like to make efforts.  And in this context, Japan and the United States -- or with President Barack Obama and myself -- we want to exert leadership to bring about an early conclusion of the TPP.

     Furthermore, on the AIIB, in Asia there’s a tremendous demand for infrastructure, and the financial system to respond to this is very important.  On this recognition, we see eye to eye between China and myself, and I think this is a point on which we see eye to eye between many countries.

     For Japan to participate in the AIIB is a decision that which we have not taken yet.  But to create such an enormous financial institution and since this will have an enormous impact on Asian countries, a fair governance is necessary of the institution.  In particular, the board to review individual projects and to approve of this is indispensable.  And that sustainability, and the environment and society and the impact of this should be considered.  We need to secure this.

     It’s not only about the lenders, but the borrowing nations.  For example, various infrastructure projects may not be sustainable.  It may have too much of a burden on the environment.  If this is the case, this will be a very negative -- bring negative results for the citizens living in the countries.  It will prove to be a burden.  And so in that sense, a proper review as to whether lending the money to a country will be of benefit to the country.  Rigorous review is very important.

     So from such a standpoint, the two points to be secured I believe is very important.  So from such a standpoint, Japan and the United States should cooperate, and we need to continue dialogue with China -- and it is my intention to do so.

     PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Let me agree with Prime Minister Abe when it comes to the Asian Infrastructure Bank proposal that's been made by China.

     Asia needs infrastructure.  There are a lot of countries that have difficulty financing infrastructure, but if they got that infrastructure put in place and developed, they can grow much more rapidly.  And that's good for everybody.  It’s good for that country.  It’s good for the world economy.  It’s good for us.  We want more markets to be able to get our goods in and sell our services that are some of the best in the world.  And China has got a lot of money.  It’s been running a big surplus for quite some time.  So to the extent that China wants to put capital into development projects around the region, that's a positive.  That's a good thing.

     So let me be very clear and dispel this notion that we were opposed or are opposed to other countries participating in the Asia Infrastructure Bank.  That is simply not true.  It sprung up out of one story after the Brits decided that they were going to join up, and then folks have just been running with it.  And there have been all these editorials subsequently based on these reports -- not from any official position of the United States government, but from a series of behind-the-scenes quotes.

What we have said and what we said to all the other countries involved is exactly what Prime Minister Abe said, which is, if we're going to have a multilateral lending institution, then you have to have some guidelines by which it’s going to operate.  That's how the World Bank operates.  That's how the IMF operates.  There may be weighted votes in terms of who’s the biggest contributor, but you've got to have some transparency in terms of how the thing is going to operate -- because if not, a number of things can happen.  Number one, money could end up flowing that is misused, or it doesn't have high accounting standards, and we don't know what happens to money that is going into projects.

As Prime Minister Abe said, the projects themselves may not be well-designed.  They may be very good for the leaders of some countries and contractors, but may not be good for the actual people who live there.  And the reason I can say that is because, in the past, some of the efforts of multilateral institutions that the United States set up didn't always do right by the actual people in those countries.  And we learned some lessons from that, and we got better at making sure that we were listening to the community and thinking about how this would affect the environment, and whether it was sustainable.

And so our simple point to everybody in these conversations around the Asia Infrastructure Bank is let’s just make sure that we're running it based on best practices, based on what we’ve learned from the entire post-war era and how other multilateral financing mechanisms have worked.

And if, in fact, the Asia Infrastructure Bank that is being set up ends up having those kinds of safeguards, is run in a way that ultimately is actually going to lead to good infrastructure and benefit the borrowing countries, then we're all for it.  And we look forward to collaborating with the Asia Infrastructure Bank, just like we do with the Asia Development Bank and with the World Bank on a whole bunch of stuff.  So this could be a positive thing.

But if it’s not run well, then it could be a negative thing.  And what we don't want to do is just be participating in something and providing cover for an institution that does not end up doing right by its people.  Because when these countries borrow money, even from a development bank, for a boondoggle project that doesn’t work, they’re oftentimes still on the hook for paying that money back.  And there have been experiences like that across continents and across decades.

     With respect to TPP, it’s never fun passing a trade bill in this town because people are understandably concerned about its potential impacts on specific industries but also the general concerns that people have had about globalization and technology displacing workers.  We’re addressing those systematically.  Here’s what I’m confident about:  This will end up being the most progressive trade bill in history.  It will have the kinds of labor and environmental and human rights protections that have been absent in previous agreements.  It’s going to be enforceable.  It’s going to open up markets that currently are not fully open to U.S. businesses.  It’s going to be good for the U.S. economy.

And because I always believe that good policy ends up being good politics, I’m confident we’re going to end up getting the votes in Congress.  And Congress, by the way, will have a lot of time to review it when and if it’s actually completed.  So this whole notion that it’s all secret, they’re going to have 60 days before I even sign it to look at the text, and then a number of months after that before they have to take a final vote.

     Thank you very much, everybody.

                                       END                1:09 P.M. EDT


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                            April 22, 2015


The Everglades, Florida

3:16 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody!  Please have a seat.  It’s good to be back in Florida.  So I can’t think of a better way to spend Earth Day than in one of our nation’s greatest natural treasures, the Everglades.  (Applause.)  And anybody who comes here to visit -- and I advise everybody who’s watching who hasn’t been down here to come on down.  You can see what makes this unique landscape so magical -- what the poet Emma Lazarus called “the savage splendor of the swamp.”  Although I was informed it’s not technically a swamp.  (Laughter.)

I want to thank our outstanding Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, who’s here.  (Applause.)  Her team at the Interior Department and the National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis for helping to protect places like this.  (Applause.)  The Everglades National Park Superintendent Pedro Ramos is doing outstanding work.  (Applause.)  I want to thank Miami-Dade Congressmen Murphy and Carvalho who are here doing outstanding work, as well as Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  (Applause.)  You’ll be pleased to know that they are all in when it comes to protecting the Everglades, and we’re very proud of the good work that they’re going.  We even have the Science Guy, Bill Nye, here.  (Applause.)  There’s Bill.

Now, they’re all here and we’re all here because this 1.5 million acres is unlike any place on Earth.  It’s no wonder that over a million people visited last year alone.  The sawgrass prairies and mangrove forests are home to an incredible diversity of wildlife -- bald eagles, herons, hundreds of plant species, from pine trees to wild orchids.  Believe it or not, south Florida is the only place in the world where you can find both alligators and crocodiles in the same habitat.  I’m told this is a good thing.  (Laughter.)

In the words of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who helped preserve this land: “There are no other Everglades in the world.”  But part of the reason we’re here is because climate change is threatening this treasure and the communities that depend on it, which includes almost all of south Florida.  And if we don’t act, there may not be an Everglades as we know it.

2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Fourteen of the 15 hottest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.  Yes, this winter was cold in parts of our country, including Washington.  Some people in Washington helpfully used a snowball to illustrate that fact.  But around the world, in the aggregate, it was the warmest winter ever recorded.

This is not a problem for another generation.  Not anymore.  This is a problem now.  It has serious implications for the way we live right now.  Stronger storms.  Deeper droughts.  Longer wildfire seasons.  The world’s top climate scientists are warning that a changing climate already affects the air that our children are breathing.  The Surgeon General and I recently met with doctors and nurses and parents who see patients and kids grappling with the health impacts.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses an increasing set of risks to our national security.

And here in the Everglades, you can see the effect of a changing climate.  As sea levels rise, salty water from the ocean flows inward.  And this harms freshwater wildlife, which endangers a fragile ecosystem.  The saltwater flows into aquifers, which threatens the drinking water of more than 7 million Floridians.  South Florida, you’re getting your drinking water from this area, and it depends on this.  And in terms of economic impact, all of this poses risks to Florida’s $82 billion tourism industry on which so many good jobs and livelihoods depend.

So climate change can no longer be denied.  It can’t be edited out.  It can’t be omitted from the conversation.  And action can no longer be delayed.  And that’s why I’ve committed the United States to lead the world in combatting this threat.  (Applause.)  

The steps we’ve taken over the last several years are already making a difference.  We’re using more clean energy than ever before.  America is number one in wind power, and last year we generated 20 times more electricity from sunlight than we did in all of 2008 -- 20 times.  

We’ve committed to doubling the pace at which we cut carbon pollution.  China, in part because of our actions, has now committed for the first time to limit their emissions.  And this means that there’s new hope that this year the world will finally reach an agreement to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it’s too late.

We’re wasting less energy, with more fuel-efficient cars that save people money at the pump, and more energy-efficient buildings that save us money on our electricity bills.

So more clean energy, improved energy efficiency -- these steps can help us avoid some of the worst effects of climate change down the road.  But we also have to prepare for the effects of climate change that we’re already too late to avoid.  If you think about it, this is like we’re hitting the brakes on a car, but the car is not going to come to a complete halt right away.  So some of these changes are already happening, and even if we take the right steps, we’re going to have to make some adaptations.

And that’s why we’ve been working with cities and states to build more resilient infrastructure and restore natural defenses like wetlands.  And today, I want to announce new actions to protect our national parks and our public lands, and the communities that rely on them.

First, we’re releasing a report showing that every dollar invested in the National Park Service generates $10 for the economy.  That’s a good investment.  (Applause.)  I don’t run a private equity fund, but I know that if you invest a dollar and you get $10 back, that’s a good investment.  (Laughter.)

In 2014, almost 300 million visitors to our national parks spent almost $16 billion and supported 277,000 jobs.  So protecting our parks is a smart thing to do for our economy.  That’s why I’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history.  (Applause.)

Here in the Everglades, we’ve already invested $2.2 billion in restoration efforts.  With the support of some outstanding members of Congress, I’ve proposed another $240 million this year.  We want to restore the natural water flow of the Everglades, which we know is one of the best defenses against climate change and rising sea levels.  (Applause.)  And I’m calling on Congress to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which supports this work across the country.  (Applause.)

I’m also announcing $25 million in public and private money for restoration projects at our national parks.  And this is part of our broader effort that we’ve launched to encourage every American to “Find Your Park.”  Chances are, there’s one closer than you think.

Just last weekend, Michelle and I took the girls for a hike in a national park just 20 minutes outside of Washington, D.C.  As we were walking a trail along the Everglades, we saw a group of school kids -- couldn’t have been more excited about mostly seeing the gators, not seeing me -- (laughter) -- but also learning about the science of the planet that they live on.  And I want every child to have that opportunity.

So starting this fall, we’re going to give every fourth grader in America an “Every Kid In A Park” pass, and that’s a pass good for free admission to all our public lands for you, your families for an entire year.  (Applause.)  Because no matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks, our monuments, our lands, our waters -- these places are your birthright as Americans.

And today, I’m designating America’s newest national historic landmark, the Marjory Stoneham Douglas House in Miami, so that future generations will know how this amazing woman helped conserve the Everglades for all of us.  (Applause.)

We’re also working with farmers and ranchers and forest land owners to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions.  I’m going to keep doing everything I can to prepare and protect America from the worst effects of climate change, including fighting for clean air, clean water.  Because in places like this, folks don’t have time, we don’t have time -- you do not have time to deny the effects of climate change.  Folks are already busy dealing with it.  And nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in south Florida.  No place else.  It has to be paying closer attention to this and acknowledging it, and understanding that if we take action now we can do something about it.  (Applause.)  

This is not some impossible problem that we cannot solve.  We can solve it if we’ve got some political will.  And we can solve it in a way that creates jobs.  We can solve it in a way that doesn’t disrupt our economy but enhances our economy.  And it’s a bipartisan issue.

On the way in, I was talking to some folks about the fact that Teddy Roosevelt, he’s a Republican -- started our National Park System.  Richard Nixon started the EPA.  George H.W. Bush was the first President, globally, to acknowledge the impacts of climate change and that we needed to do something about it.  This is not something that historically should be a partisan issue.

Five years ago, local leaders down here, Republicans and Democrats, formed the bipartisan Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact -- an agreement to work together to fight climate change.  (Applause.)  And it’s become a model not just for the country, but for the world.

It’s the type of mission that Americans from all walks of life are taking on -- from the CEOs of some of our biggest corporations and utilities, to student organizations across the country.  Because they know that simply refusing to say the words “climate change” doesn’t mean that climate change isn’t happening.  (Applause.)

And we know that in our own lives.  If you’ve got a coming storm, you don’t stick your head in the sand; you prepare for the storm.  You make sure our communities are prepared for climate change.  And that’s an economic imperative.  Protecting the one planet we’ve got is what we have to do for the next generation.  I want Malia and Sasha not only to be able to enjoy this amazing view; I want my grandchildren -- a way, way long time from now -- (laughter) -- to enjoy this amazing view.  And their children, and their children after that.  That’s what we do as Americans, take responsibility and leave behind for our children something special.

And we are blessed with the most beautiful God-given landscape in the world.  (Applause.)  It’s an incredible bounty that’s been given to us.  But we’ve got to be good stewards for it.  We have to take care of it.  We only get to enjoy things like our amazing national parks because great Americans like Teddy Roosevelt and Marjory Stoneman Douglas and a whole bunch of ordinary folks whose name aren’t in the history books, they fought to protect our national inheritance.  And now it’s our turn to ensure that this remains the birthright of all Americans for generations to come.  So many people here are active in your communities, doing what’s needed.  The young people who are here, the next generation, they’re way ahead of us in understanding how important this is.  Let’s make sure we don’t disappoint them.  Let’s stand up and do what’s right before it’s too late.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you.

                        END                3:32 P.M. EDT


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                                                                      April 2, 2015


Rose Garden

2:25 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Today, the United States -- together with our allies and partners -- has reached a historic understanding with Iran, which, if fully implemented, will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people.  And I am convinced that if this framework leads to a final, comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies, and our world safer.

This has been a long time coming.  The Islamic Republic of Iran has been advancing its nuclear program for decades.  By the time I took office, Iran was operating thousands of centrifuges, which can produce the materials for a nuclear bomb -- and Iran was concealing a covert nuclear facility.  I made clear that we were prepared to resolve this issue diplomatically, but only if Iran came to the table in a serious way.  When that did not happen, we rallied the world to impose the toughest sanctions in history -- sanctions which had a profound impact on the Iranian economy.

Now, sanctions alone could not stop Iran’s nuclear program. But they did help bring Iran to the negotiating table.  Because of our diplomatic efforts, the world stood with us and we were joined at the negotiating table by the world’s major powers -- the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China, as well as the European Union.

Over a year ago, we took the first step towards today’s framework with a deal to stop the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and roll it back in key areas.  And recall that at the time, skeptics argued that Iran would cheat, and that we could not verify their compliance and the interim agreement would fail. Instead, it has succeeded exactly as intended.  Iran has met all of its obligations.  It eliminated its stockpile of dangerous nuclear material.  Inspections of Iran’s program increased.  And we continued negotiations to see if we could achieve a more comprehensive deal.

Today, after many months of tough, principled diplomacy, we have achieved the framework for that deal.  And it is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives.  This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.  Iran will face strict limitations on its program, and Iran has also agreed to the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program in history.  So this deal is not based on trust, it’s based on unprecedented verification.

Many key details will be finalized over the next three months, and nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed.  But here are the basic outlines of the deal that we are working to finalize.

First, Iran will not be able to pursue a bomb using plutonium, because it will not develop weapons-grade plutonium.  The core of its reactor at Arak will be dismantled and replaced. The spent fuel from that facility will be shipped out of Iran for the life of the reactor.  Iran will not build a new heavy-water reactor.  And Iran will not reprocess fuel from its existing reactors -- ever.

Second, this deal shuts down Iran’s path to a bomb using enriched uranium. Iran has agreed that its installed centrifuges will be reduced by two-thirds.  Iran will no longer enrich uranium at its Fordow facility.  Iran will not enrich uranium with its advanced centrifuges for at least the next 10 years.  The vast majority of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium will be neutralized.

Today, estimates indicate that Iran is only two or three months away from potentially acquiring the raw materials that could be used for a single nuclear bomb.  Under this deal, Iran has agreed that it will not stockpile the materials needed to build a weapon.  Even if it violated the deal, for the next decade at least, Iran would be a minimum of a year away from acquiring enough material for a bomb.  And the strict limitations on Iran’s stockpile will last for 15 years.

Third, this deal provides the best possible defense against Iran’s ability to pursue a nuclear weapon covertly -- that is, in secret.  International inspectors will have unprecedented access not only to Iranian nuclear facilities, but to the entire supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program -- from uranium mills that provide the raw materials, to the centrifuge production and storage facilities that support the program.  If Iran cheats, the world will know it.  If we see something suspicious, we will inspect it.  Iran’s past efforts to weaponize its program will be addressed.  With this deal, Iran will face more inspections than any other country in the world.

So this will be a long-term deal that addresses each path to a potential Iranian nuclear bomb.  There will be strict limits on Iran’s program for a decade.  Additional restrictions on building new facilities or stockpiling materials will last for 15 years.  The unprecedented transparency measures will last for 20 years or more.  Indeed, some will be permanent.  And as a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran will never be permitted to develop a nuclear weapon.

In return for Iran’s actions, the international community has agreed to provide Iran with relief from certain sanctions -- our own sanctions, and international sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council.  This relief will be phased as Iran takes steps to adhere to the deal.  If Iran violates the deal, sanctions can be snapped back into place.  Meanwhile, other American sanctions on Iran for its support of terrorism, its human rights abuses, its ballistic missile program, will continue to be fully enforced.        

Now, let me reemphasize, our work is not yet done.  The deal has not been signed.  Between now and the end of June, the negotiators will continue to work through the details of how this framework will be fully implemented, and those details matter.  If there is backsliding on the part of the Iranians, if the verification and inspection mechanisms don’t meet the specifications of our nuclear and security experts, there will be no deal.  But if we can get this done, and Iran follows through on the framework that our negotiators agreed to, we will be able to resolve one of the greatest threats to our security, and to do so peacefully.

Given the importance of this issue, I have instructed my negotiators to fully brief Congress and the American people on the substance of the deal, and I welcome a robust debate in the weeks and months to come.  I am confident that we can show that this deal is good for the security of the United States, for our allies, and for the world.

For the fact is, we only have three options for addressing Iran’s nuclear program.  First, we can reach a robust and verifiable deal -- like this one -- and peacefully prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The second option is we can bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, thereby starting another war in the Middle East, and setting back Iran’s program by a few years -- in other words, setting it back by a fraction of the time that this deal will set it back.  Meanwhile we’d ensure that Iran would race ahead to try and build a bomb.

Third, we could pull out of negotiations, try to get other countries to go along and continue sanctions that are currently in place or add additional ones, and hope for the best -- knowing that every time we have done so, Iran has not capitulated but instead has advanced its program, and that in very short order, the breakout timeline would be eliminated and a nuclear arms race in the region could be triggered because of that uncertainty.  In other words, the third option leads us very quickly back to a decision about whether or not to take military action, because we’d have no idea what was going on inside of Iran.

Iran is not going to simply dismantle its program because we demand it to do so.  That’s not how the world works, and that’s not what history shows us.  Iran has shown no willingness to eliminate those aspects of their program that they maintain are for peaceful purposes, even in the face of unprecedented sanctions.  Should negotiations collapse because we, the United States, rejected what the majority of the world considers a fair deal, what our scientists and nuclear experts suggest would give us confidence that they are not developing a nuclear weapon, it’s doubtful that we can even keep our current international sanctions in place.

So when you hear the inevitable critics of the deal sound off, ask them a simple question:  Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?  Is it worse than doing what we’ve done for almost two decades, with Iran moving forward with its nuclear program and without robust inspections?  I think the answer will be clear.

Remember, I have always insisted that I will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and I will.  But I also know that a diplomatic solution is the best way to get this done, and offers a more comprehensive -- and lasting -- solution.  It is our best option, by far.  And while it is always a possibility that Iran may try to cheat on the deal in the future, this framework of inspections and transparency makes it far more likely that we’ll know about it if they try to cheat -- and I, or future Presidents, will have preserved all of the options that are currently available to deal with it.

To the Iranian people, I want to reaffirm what I’ve said since the beginning of my presidency.  We are willing to engage you on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect.  This deal offers the prospect of relief from sanctions that were imposed because of Iran’s violation of international law.  Since Iran’s Supreme Leader has issued a fatwa against the development of nuclear weapons, this framework gives Iran the opportunity to verify that its program is, in fact, peaceful.  It demonstrates that if Iran complies with its international obligations, then it can fully rejoin the community of nations, thereby fulfilling the extraordinary talent and aspirations of the Iranian people.  That would be good for Iran, and it would be good for the world.

Of course, this deal alone -- even if fully implemented -- will not end the deep divisions and mistrust between our two countries.  We have a difficult history between us, and our concerns will remain with respect to Iranian behavior so long as Iran continues its sponsorship of terrorism, its support for proxies who destabilize the Middle East, its threats against America’s friends and allies -- like Israel.  So make no mistake: We will remain vigilant in countering those actions and standing with our allies.

It’s no secret that the Israeli Prime Minister and I don't agree about whether the United States should move forward with a peaceful resolution to the Iranian issue.  If, in fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu is looking for the most effective way to ensure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon, this is the best option.  And I believe our nuclear experts can confirm that.

More importantly, I will be speaking with the Prime Minister today to make clear that there will be no daylight, there is no daylight, when it comes to our support for Israel’s security and our concerns about Iran’s destabilizing policies and threats toward Israel.  That’s why I've directed my national security team to consult closely with the new Israeli government in the coming weeks and months about how we can further strengthen our long-term security cooperation with Israel, and make clear our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s defense.

Today, I also spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia to reaffirm our commitment to the security of our partners in the Gulf.  And I’m inviting the leaders of the six countries who make up the Gulf Cooperation Council -- Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Bahrain -- to meet me at Camp David this spring to discuss how we can further strengthen our security cooperation, while resolving the multiple conflicts that have caused so much hardship and instability throughout the Middle East.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that Congress has, on a bipartisan basis, played a critical role in our current Iran policy, helping to shape the sanctions regime that applied so much pressure on Iran and ultimately forced them to the table.  In the coming days and weeks, my administration will engage Congress once again about how we can play -- how it can play a constructive oversight role.  I’ll begin that effort by speaking to the leaders of the House and Senate today.

In those conversations, I will underscore that the issues at stake here are bigger than politics.  These are matters of war and peace, and they should be evaluated based on the facts and what is ultimately best for the American people and for our national security.  For this is not simply a deal between my administration and Iran.  This is a deal between Iran, the United States of America, and the major powers in the world -- including some of our closest allies.  If Congress kills this deal -- not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative -- then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy.  International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.

The American people understand this, which is why solid majorities support a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue.  They understand instinctively the words of President Kennedy, who faced down the far greater threat of communism, and said:  “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”  The American people remember that at the height of the Cold War, Presidents like Nixon and Reagan struck historic arms control agreements with the Soviet Union, a far more dangerous adversary -- despite the fact that that adversary not only threatened to destroy our country and our way of life, but had the means to do so.  Those agreements were not perfect.  They did not end all threats.  But they made our world safer.  A good deal with Iran will do the same.

Today, I’d like to express my thanks to our international partners for their steadfastness and their cooperation.  I was able to speak earlier today with our close allies, Prime Minister Cameron and President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel, to reaffirm that we stand shoulder-to-shoulder in this effort.

And most of all, on behalf of our nation, I want to express my thanks to our tireless -- and I mean tireless -- Secretary of State John Kerry and our entire negotiating team.  They have worked so hard to make this progress.  They represent the best tradition of American diplomacy.  Their work -- our work -- is not yet done and success is not guaranteed.  But we have an historic opportunity to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in Iran, and to do so peacefully, with the international community firmly behind us.  We should seize that chance.

Thank you.  God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.

                        END           2:43 P.M. EDT


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                             March 25, 2015


South Court Auditorium

10:42 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you so much, everybody.   Everybody, have a seat.  Thank you, Doctor, for that introduction.  I want to thank Sylvia Burwell, our outstanding head of Health and Human Services.  We’ve got some wonderful members of Congress here today who helped make this happen.  And I want to offer a heartfelt thanks to all of the top medical professionals who are here today.  We’ve got hospital leaders, we’ve got health care CEOs, doctors, patients, advocates, consumer groups, Democrats and Republicans, who have all come together and spent time and effort to make the Affordable Care Act, and America’s health care system, work even better.

What your efforts have meant is the start of a new phase, where professionals like you and organizations like yours come together in one new network with one big goal, and that is to continue to improve the cost and quality of health care in America.

A lot of you have already taken steps on your own.  The American Cancer Society that’s represented here is committed to teaching its members about how new patient-centered approaches can improve cancer care.  Governor Markell of Delaware, who’s here, has set a goal of having 80 percent of his citizens receive care through new and improved payment and delivery models within five years.  And Dr. Glenn Madrid, of Grand Junction, Colorado, is using a new care model that allowed him to hire case coordinators and use better technology so that patients have access to him 24/7.  I don’t know when that lets him sleep -- but his patients are sleeping better.

And these are examples of efforts that show we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; you’re already figuring out what works to reduce infections in hospitals or help patients with complicated needs.  What we have to do is to share these best practices, these good ideas, including new ways to pay for care so that we’re rewarding quality.  And that’s what this network is all about.

In fact, just five years in, the Affordable Care Act has already helped improve the quality of health care across the board.  A lot of the attention has been rightly focused on people’s access to care, and that obviously was a huge motivator for us passing the Affordable Care Act -- making sure that people who didn’t have health insurance have the security of health insurance.

But what was also a central notion in the Affordable Care Act was we had an inefficient system with a lot of waste that didn’t also deliver the kind of quality that was needed that often put health care providers in a box where they wanted to do better for their patients, but financial incentives were skewed the other way.

And so the work that we’ve been able to do is already spurring the kinds of changes that we had hoped for.  It’s helped reduce hospital readmission rates dramatically.  It’s a major reason why we’ve seen 50,000 fewer preventable patient deaths in hospitals.  And if you want to know what that means, ask Alicia Cole, who suffers -- Alicia is right here -- who suffers the long-term effects of a hospital-acquired infection.  And she is here today because she doesn’t want anybody else to endure what she has.  And it's preventable if we set up good practices, and financial incentives, reimbursement incentives, are aligned with those best practices.

So making sure that the Affordable Care Act works as intended, to not only deliver access to care but also to improve the quality of care and the cost of care, that’s something that requires all of us to work together.  That’s part of what the law is all about.  It’s making health coverage more affordable and more effective for all of us.  And in a lot of ways, it’s working better than many of us, including me, anticipated.  (Laughter.)

Wherever you are, here’s why you should care about making this system more efficient, and here’s why you should care that we keep the Affordable Care Act in place.

If you get insurance through your employer, like most Americans do, the ACA gave you new savings and new protections.  If you’ve got a pre-existing condition like diabetes or cancer, if you’ve had heartburn or a heart attack, this law means that you can no longer be charged more or denied coverage because of a preexisting condition, ever.  It’s the end of the discrimination against the sick in America, and all of us are sick sometimes.

If you don’t have health insurance, you can go online to the marketplace and choose from an array of quality, affordable private plans.  Every governor was given the option to expand Medicaid for his or her citizens, although only 28 have chosen to do so -- so far.  But after five years of the ACA, more than 16 million uninsured Americans have gained health care coverage -- 16 million.  In just over one year, the ranks of the uninsured have dropped by nearly one-third -- one-third.

If you’re a woman, you can no longer be charged more just for being a woman.  And you know there are a lot of women.  (Laughter.)  Like more than 50 percent.  (Laughter.)  Preventive care, like routine checkups and immunizations and contraception now come with no additional out-of-pocket costs.

If you’re a young person, you can now stay on your parents’ plan until you turn 26.  And if you want to turn that new idea into a business, if you’re going to try different jobs, even a different career, you now have the freedom to do it because you can buy health care that’s portable and not tied to your employer.  Most people have options that cost less than 100 bucks a month.

If you’re a business owner -- because when we put forward the Affordable Care Act, there was a lot of question about how it would affect business; well, it turns out employer premiums rose at a rate tied for the lowest on record.  If premiums had kept growing at the rate we saw in the last decade, then either the average family premium, paid by the family or paid by the business, would be $1,800 higher than it is today.  That’s 1,800 bucks that businesses can use to higher and invest, or that’s 1,800 bucks that stays in that family’s bank account, shows up in their paycheck.

If you’re a senior -- more than 9 million seniors and people with disabilities have saved an average of $1,600 on their prescriptions, adding up to over $15 billion in savings.  There were fears promoted that somehow this was going to undermine Medicare.  Well, it turns out the life of the Medicare Trust Fund has been extended by 13 years since this law has passed.

And, relevant to the topic today, we’re moving Medicare toward a payment model that rewards quality of care instead of quantity of care.  We don’t want the incentives to be skewed so that providers feel obliged to do more tests; we want them to do the right tests.  We want them, perhaps, to save -- to invest some money on the front end to prevent disease and not just on the back end to treat disease.  And so these changes are encouraging doctors and hospitals to focus on getting better outcomes for their patients.

As we speak, Congress is working to fix the Medicare physician payment system.  I’ve got my pen ready to sign a good, bipartisan bill -- (applause) -- which would be really exciting.  I love when Congress passes bipartisan bills that I can sign.  (Laughter.)  It’s always very encouraging.  And I want to thank everybody here today for their work in supporting new models of care that will benefit all Americans.

But the bottom line is this for the American people:  The Affordable Care Act, this law, is saving money for families and for businesses.  This law is also saving lives -- lives that touch all of us.  It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund, and defame this law.

It’s not the “job-killer” that critics have warned about for five years.  When this law was passed, our businesses began the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record:  60 straight months, five straight years, 12 million new jobs.

It’s not the fiscal disaster critics warned about for five years.  Health care prices are rising at the slowest rate in nearly 50 years, which has helped cut our deficit by two-thirds since I took office.  Before the ACA, health care was the single biggest driver driving up our projected deficits.  Today, health care is the single biggest factor driving those projections down.

I mean, we have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case:  death panels, doom.  (Laughter.)  A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.  (Laughter.)

The budget they introduced last week would literally double the number of the uninsured in America.  And in their defense, there are two reasons why coming up with their own alternative has proven to be difficult.

First, it’s because the Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it -- (laughter) -- based on conservative, market-based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in Congress, and deployed by a guy named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect.  If they want to take credit for this law, they can.  I’m happy to share it.  (Laughter.)

And second, it’s because health reform is really hard and the people here who are in the trenches know that.  Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for 100 years, because every public policy has some trade-offs, especially when it affects one-sixth of the American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American.

And we’ve made our share of mistakes since we passed this law.  But we also know beyond a shred of a doubt that the policy has worked.  Coverage is up.  Cost growth is at a historic low.  Deficits have been slashed.  Lives have been saved.  So if anybody wants to join us in the spirit of the people who have put aside differences to come here today and help make the law work even better, come on board.

On the other hand, for folks who are basing their entire political agenda on repealing the law, you’ve got to explain how kicking millions of families off their insurance is somehow going to make us more free.  Or why forcing millions of families to pay thousands of dollars more will somehow make us more secure.  Or why we should go back to the days when women paid more for coverage than men.  Or a preexisting condition locked so many of us out of insurance.

And if that's your argument, then you should meet somebody like Anne Ha, who is here.  Anne is 28 years old.  Where’s Anne?  There you are.  Anne runs her own business in Philadelphia.  And she thought what many of us think when we're young -- I no longer qualify -- (laughter) -- that she was too young, too healthy to bother with health insurance.  She went to the gym every day.  She ate healthy, looks great, felt invincible.  Why pay a doctor just to tell her she’s okay?

But then her mom called, as moms sometimes do, and told Anne to get insured against the “what ifs” of life.  What if you get sick?  What if you get into a car accident?  So Anne, dutiful daughter that she was, went to, checked out her options in the marketplace.  And thanks to the tax credits available to her under this law, she got covered for 85 bucks a month.  Four months later, Anne was diagnosed with early-stage stomach cancer.  Anne underwent surgery, endured chemo.  Today, she’s recovering.  She looks great.  She’s here with us at the White House.  She invited me to her wedding.  I told her you don't want the President at her wedding.  (Laughter.)

“If I didn’t have insurance,” Anne wrote, “my stomach cancer would have gone undiscovered, slowly and silently killing me.  But because I did have insurance, I was given a chance to live a long and happy life.”  (Applause.)

And so in September, Anne is going to be marrying her fiancé, Tom.  And she’s convinced him to get covered, too.  And I do appreciate, Michelle appreciates the invitation.  As I said, we have to mag people at the wedding, and it spoils the fun.  (Laughter.)  

But here are two lessons from Anne’s story.  Number one:  Listen to your mom.  (Laughter.)  Number two:  The Affordable Care Act works.  And it’s working not just to make sure that folks like Anne get coverage, but it’s also working to make sure that the system as a whole is providing better quality at a better price, freeing up our providers to do the things that led them to get into health care in the first place -- and that's help people.  It works.

Five years ago, we declared that in the United States of America, the security of quality, affordable health care was a privilege -- was not a privilege, but a right.  And today, we’ve got citizens all across the country, all of you here today who are helping make that right a reality for every American, regardless of your political beliefs, or theirs.  And we're saving money in the process.  And we're cutting the deficit in the process.  And we're helping businesses in their bottom lines in the process.  We're making this country more competitive in the process.

And it’s not going to happen overnight.  There are still all kinds of bumps along the way.  Health care is complicated stuff.  And the hospital executives who are here, and the doctors who are here, and the consumer advocates who are here can tell you -- all the complications and the quirks not just to the Affordable Care Act, but just generally making the system more rational and more efficient, it takes some time.  But we're on our way.  We're making progress.

And if all of us summon the same focus, the same kind of courage and wisdom and hard work that so many of you in this room display; and if we keep working not against one another, but for one another, with one another, we will not just make progress in health care.  We're going to keep on making sure that across the board we're living up to our highest ideals.

So I very much am appreciative of what all of you are doing.  I’m very proud of you.  And why don't you guys get back to work?  (Laughter.)  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)

                        END                10:59 A.M. EDT


Office of the Vice President


March 9, 2015

Statement by the Vice President on the March 9th Letter From Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran

I served in the United States Senate for thirty-six years. I believe deeply in its traditions, in its value as an institution, and in its indispensable constitutional role in the conduct of our foreign policy. The letter sent on March 9th by forty-seven Republican Senators to the Islamic Republic of Iran, expressly designed to undercut a sitting President in the midst of sensitive international negotiations, is beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.

This letter, in the guise of a constitutional lesson, ignores two centuries of precedent and threatens to undermine the ability of any future American President, whether Democrat or Republican, to negotiate with other nations on behalf of the United States. Honorable people can disagree over policy. But this is no way to make America safer or stronger.

Around the world, America’s influence depends on its ability to honor its commitments. Some of these are made in international agreements approved by Congress. However, as the authors of this letter must know, the vast majority of our international commitments take effect without Congressional approval. And that will be the case should the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany reach an understanding with Iran. There are numerous similar cases. The recent U.S.-Russia framework to remove chemical weapons from Syria is only one recent example. Arrangements such as these are often what provide the protections that U.S. troops around the world rely on every day. They allow for the basing of our forces in places like Afghanistan. They help us disrupt the proliferation by sea of weapons of mass destruction. They are essential tools to the conduct of our foreign policy, and they ensure the continuity that enables the United States to maintain our credibility and global leadership even as Presidents and Congresses come and go.

Since the beginning of the Republic, Presidents have addressed sensitive and high-profile matters in negotiations that culminate in commitments, both binding and non-binding, that Congress does not approve. Under Presidents of both parties, such major shifts in American foreign policy as diplomatic recognition of the People’s Republic of China, the resolution of the Iran hostage crisis, and the conclusion of the Vietnam War were all conducted without Congressional approval.

In thirty-six years in the United States Senate, I cannot recall another instance in which Senators wrote directly to advise another country—much less a longtime foreign adversary— that the President does not have the constitutional authority to reach a meaningful understanding with them. This letter sends a highly misleading signal to friend and foe alike that that our Commander-in-Chief cannot deliver on America’s commitments—a message that is as false as it is dangerous.

The decision to undercut our President and circumvent our constitutional system offends me as a matter of principle. As a matter of policy, the letter and its authors have also offered no viable alternative to the diplomatic resolution with Iran that their letter seeks to undermine.  

There is no perfect solution to the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program. However, a diplomatic solution that puts significant and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program represents the best, most sustainable chance to ensure that America, Israel, and the world will never be menaced by a nuclear-armed Iran. This letter is designed to convince Iran's leaders not to reach such an understanding with the United States.

The author of this letter has been explicit that he is seeking to take any action that will end President Obama’s diplomatic negotiations with Iran. But to what end? If talks collapse because of Congressional intervention, the United States will be blamed, leaving us with the worst of all worlds. Iran’s nuclear program, currently frozen, would race forward again. We would lack the international unity necessary just to enforce existing sanctions, let alone put in place new ones. Without diplomacy or increased pressure, the need to resort to military force becomes much more likely—at a time when our forces are already engaged in the fight against ISIL.

The President has committed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. He has made clear that no deal is preferable to a bad deal that fails to achieve this objective, and he has made clear that all options remain on the table. The current negotiations offer the best prospect in many years to address the serious threat posed by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It would be a dangerous mistake to scuttle a peaceful resolution, especially while diplomacy is still underway.

Office of the Press Secretary
March 9, 2015

Statement by the President

It’s no coincidence that the rise of the middle class in America coincided in large part with the rise of unions – workers who organized together for higher wages, better working conditions, and the benefits and protections that most workers take for granted today. So it’s inexcusable that, over the past several years, just when middle-class families and workers need that kind of security the most, there’s been a sustained, coordinated assault on unions, led by powerful interests and their allies in government.

So I’m deeply disappointed that a new anti-worker law in Wisconsin will weaken, rather than strengthen workers in the new economy. Wisconsin is a state built by labor, with a proud pro-worker past. So even as its governor claims victory over working Americans, I’d encourage him to try and score a victory for working Americans – by taking meaningful action to raise their wages and offer them the security of paid leave. That’s how you give hardworking middle-class families a fair shot in the new economy – not by stripping their rights in the workplace, but by offering them all the tools they need to get ahead.

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                           March 7, 2015


Edmund Pettus Bridge
Selma, Alabama

2:17 P.M. CST

     AUDIENCE MEMBER:  We love you, President Obama!

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, you know I love you back.  (Applause.)

It is a rare honor in this life to follow one of your heroes.  And John Lewis is one of my heroes.

     Now, I have to imagine that when a younger John Lewis woke up that morning 50 years ago and made his way to Brown Chapel, heroics were not on his mind.  A day like this was not on his mind.  Young folks with bedrolls and backpacks were milling about.  Veterans of the movement trained newcomers in the tactics of non-violence; the right way to protect yourself when attacked.  A doctor described what tear gas does to the body, while marchers scribbled down instructions for contacting their loved ones.  The air was thick with doubt, anticipation and fear.  And they comforted themselves with the final verse of the final hymn they sung:

     “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast, God will take care of you.”

     And then, his knapsack stocked with an apple, a toothbrush, and a book on government -- all you need for a night behind bars -- John Lewis led them out of the church on a mission to change America.

     President and Mrs. Bush, Governor Bentley, Mayor Evans, Sewell, Reverend Strong, members of Congress, elected officials, foot soldiers, friends, fellow Americans:

     As John noted, there are places and moments in America where this nation’s destiny has been decided.  Many are sites of war -- Concord and Lexington, Appomattox, Gettysburg.  Others are sites that symbolize the daring of America’s character -- Independence Hall and Seneca Falls, Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral.

     Selma is such a place.  In one afternoon 50 years ago, so much of our turbulent history -- the stain of slavery and anguish of civil war; the yoke of segregation and tyranny of Jim Crow; the death of four little girls in Birmingham; and the dream of a Baptist preacher -- all that history met on this bridge.

     It was not a clash of armies, but a clash of wills; a contest to determine the true meaning of America.  And because of men and women like John Lewis, Joseph Lowery, Hosea Williams, Amelia Boynton, Diane Nash, Ralph Abernathy, C.T. Vivian, Andrew Young, Fred Shuttlesworth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so many others, the idea of a just America and a fair America, an inclusive America, and a generous America -- that idea ultimately triumphed.

     As is true across the landscape of American history, we cannot examine this moment in isolation.  The march on Selma was part of a broader campaign that spanned generations; the leaders that day part of a long line of heroes.

     We gather here to celebrate them.  We gather here to honor the courage of ordinary Americans willing to endure billy clubs and the chastening rod; tear gas and the trampling hoof; men and women who despite the gush of blood and splintered bone would stay true to their North Star and keep marching towards justice.

     They did as Scripture instructed:  “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.”  And in the days to come, they went back again and again.  When the trumpet call sounded for more to join, the people came –- black and white, young and old, Christian and Jew, waving the American flag and singing the same anthems full of faith and hope.  A white newsman, Bill Plante, who covered the marches then and who is with us here today, quipped that the growing number of white people lowered the quality of the singing.  (Laughter.)  To those who marched, though, those old gospel songs must have never sounded so sweet.

     In time, their chorus would well up and reach President Johnson.  And he would send them protection, and speak to the nation, echoing their call for America and the world to hear:  “We shall overcome.”  (Applause.)  What enormous faith these men and women had.  Faith in God, but also faith in America.

     The Americans who crossed this bridge, they were not physically imposing.  But they gave courage to millions.  They held no elected office.  But they led a nation.  They marched as Americans who had endured hundreds of years of brutal violence, countless daily indignities –- but they didn’t seek special treatment, just the equal treatment promised to them almost a century before.  (Applause.)

     What they did here will reverberate through the ages.  Not because the change they won was preordained; not because their victory was complete; but because they proved that nonviolent change is possible, that love and hope can conquer hate.

     As we commemorate their achievement, we are well-served to remember that at the time of the marches, many in power condemned rather than praised them.  Back then, they were called Communists, or half-breeds, or outside agitators, sexual and moral degenerates, and worse –- they were called everything but the name their parents gave them.  Their faith was questioned.  Their lives were threatened.  Their patriotism challenged.

     And yet, what could be more American than what happened in this place?  (Applause.)  What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people –- unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?

     What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this, what greater form of patriotism is there than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?  (Applause.)

     That’s why Selma is not some outlier in the American experience.  That’s why it’s not a museum or a static monument to behold from a distance.  It is instead the manifestation of a creed written into our founding documents:  “We the People…in order to form a more perfect union.”  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  (Applause.)

     These are not just words.  They’re a living thing, a call to action, a roadmap for citizenship and an insistence in the capacity of free men and women to shape our own destiny.  For founders like Franklin and Jefferson, for leaders like Lincoln and FDR, the success of our experiment in self-government rested on engaging all of our citizens in this work.  And that’s what we celebrate here in Selma.  That’s what this movement was all about, one leg in our long journey toward freedom.  (Applause.)

     The American instinct that led these young men and women to pick up the torch and cross this bridge, that’s the same instinct that moved patriots to choose revolution over tyranny.  It’s the same instinct that drew immigrants from across oceans and the Rio Grande; the same instinct that led women to reach for the ballot, workers to organize against an unjust status quo; the same instinct that led us to plant a flag at Iwo Jima and on the surface of the Moon.  (Applause.)

     It’s the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths.  It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what is right, to shake up the status quo.  That’s America.  (Applause.)  

     That’s what makes us unique.  That’s what cements our reputation as a beacon of opportunity.  Young people behind the Iron Curtain would see Selma and eventually tear down that wall.  Young people in Soweto would hear Bobby Kennedy talk about ripples of hope and eventually banish the scourge of apartheid.  Young people in Burma went to prison rather than submit to military rule.  They saw what John Lewis had done.  From the streets of Tunis to the Maidan in Ukraine, this generation of young people can draw strength from this place, where the powerless could change the world’s greatest power and push their leaders to expand the boundaries of freedom.

     They saw that idea made real right here in Selma, Alabama.  They saw that idea manifest itself here in America.

     Because of campaigns like this, a Voting Rights Act was passed.  Political and economic and social barriers came down.  And the change these men and women wrought is visible here today in the presence of African Americans who run boardrooms, who sit on the bench, who serve in elected office from small towns to big cities; from the Congressional Black Caucus all the way to the Oval Office.  (Applause.)  

     Because of what they did, the doors of opportunity swung open not just for black folks, but for every American.  Women marched through those doors.  Latinos marched through those doors.  Asian Americans, gay Americans, Americans with disabilities -- they all came through those doors.  (Applause.)  Their endeavors gave the entire South the chance to rise again, not by reasserting the past, but by transcending the past.

     What a glorious thing, Dr. King might say.  And what a solemn debt we owe.  Which leads us to ask, just how might we repay that debt?

     First and foremost, we have to recognize that one day’s commemoration, no matter how special, is not enough.  If Selma taught us anything, it’s that our work is never done.  (Applause.)  The American experiment in self-government gives work and purpose to each generation.

     Selma teaches us, as well, that action requires that we shed our cynicism.  For when it comes to the pursuit of justice, we can afford neither complacency nor despair.

     Just this week, I was asked whether I thought the Department of Justice’s Ferguson report shows that, with respect to race, little has changed in this country.  And I understood the question; the report’s narrative was sadly familiar.  It evoked the kind of abuse and disregard for citizens that spawned the Civil Rights Movement.  But I rejected the notion that nothing’s changed.  What happened in Ferguson may not be unique, but it’s no longer endemic.  It’s no longer sanctioned by law or by custom.  And before the Civil Rights Movement, it most surely was.  (Applause.)

     We do a disservice to the cause of justice by intimating that bias and discrimination are immutable, that racial division is inherent to America.  If you think nothing’s changed in the past 50 years, ask somebody who lived through the Selma or Chicago or Los Angeles of the 1950s.  Ask the female CEO who once might have been assigned to the secretarial pool if nothing’s changed.  Ask your gay friend if it’s easier to be out and proud in America now than it was thirty years ago.  To deny this progress, this hard-won progress -– our progress –- would be to rob us of our own agency, our own capacity, our responsibility to do what we can to make America better.

     Of course, a more common mistake is to suggest that Ferguson is an isolated incident; that racism is banished; that the work that drew men and women to Selma is now complete, and that whatever racial tensions remain are a consequence of those seeking to play the “race card” for their own purposes.  We don’t need the Ferguson report to know that’s not true.  We just need to open our eyes, and our ears, and our hearts to know that this nation’s racial history still casts its long shadow upon us.

     We know the march is not yet over.  We know the race is not yet won.  We know that reaching that blessed destination where we are judged, all of us, by the content of our character requires admitting as much, facing up to the truth.  “We are capable of bearing a great burden,” James Baldwin once wrote, “once we discover that the burden is reality and arrive where reality is.”

     There’s nothing America can’t handle if we actually look squarely at the problem.  And this is work for all Americans, not just some.  Not just whites.  Not just blacks.  If we want to honor the courage of those who marched that day, then all of us are called to possess their moral imagination.  All of us will need to feel as they did the fierce urgency of now.  All of us need to recognize as they did that change depends on our actions, on our attitudes, the things we teach our children.  And if we make such an effort, no matter how hard it may sometimes seem, laws can be passed, and consciences can be stirred, and consensus can be built.  (Applause.)

     With such an effort, we can make sure our criminal justice system serves all and not just some.  Together, we can raise the level of mutual trust that policing is built on –- the idea that police officers are members of the community they risk their lives to protect, and citizens in Ferguson and New York and Cleveland, they just want the same thing young people here marched for 50 years ago -– the protection of the law.  (Applause.)  Together, we can address unfair sentencing and overcrowded prisons, and the stunted circumstances that rob too many boys of the chance to become men, and rob the nation of too many men who could be good dads, and good workers, and good neighbors.  (Applause.)

     With effort, we can roll back poverty and the roadblocks to opportunity.  Americans don’t accept a free ride for anybody, nor do we believe in equality of outcomes.  But we do expect equal opportunity.  And if we really mean it, if we’re not just giving lip service to it, but if we really mean it and are willing to sacrifice for it, then, yes, we can make sure every child gets an education suitable to this new century, one that expands imaginations and lifts sights and gives those children the skills they need.  We can make sure every person willing to work has the dignity of a job, and a fair wage, and a real voice, and sturdier rungs on that ladder into the middle class.

     And with effort, we can protect the foundation stone of our democracy for which so many marched across this bridge –- and that is the right to vote.  (Applause.)  Right now, in 2015, 50 years after Selma, there are laws across this country designed to make it harder for people to vote.  As we speak, more of such laws are being proposed.  Meanwhile, the Voting Rights Act, the culmination of so much blood, so much sweat and tears, the product of so much sacrifice in the face of wanton violence, the Voting Rights Act stands weakened, its future subject to political rancor.

     How can that be?  The Voting Rights Act was one of the crowning achievements of our democracy, the result of Republican and Democratic efforts.  (Applause.)  President Reagan signed its renewal when he was in office.  President George W. Bush signed its renewal when he was in office.  (Applause.)  One hundred members of Congress have come here today to honor people who were willing to die for the right to protect it.  If we want to honor this day, let that hundred go back to Washington and gather four hundred more, and together, pledge to make it their mission to restore that law this year.  That’s how we honor those on this bridge.  (Applause.)

     Of course, our democracy is not the task of Congress alone, or the courts alone, or even the President alone.  If every new voter-suppression law was struck down today, we would still have, here in America, one of the lowest voting rates among free peoples.  Fifty years ago, registering to vote here in Selma and much of the South meant guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar, the number of bubbles on a bar of soap.  It meant risking your dignity, and sometimes, your life.

     What’s our excuse today for not voting?  How do we so casually discard the right for which so many fought?  (Applause.)  How do we so fully give away our power, our voice, in shaping America’s future?  Why are we pointing to somebody else when we could take the time just to go to the polling places?  (Applause.)  We give away our power.  

     Fellow marchers, so much has changed in 50 years.  We have endured war and we’ve fashioned peace.  We’ve seen technological wonders that touch every aspect of our lives.  We take for granted conveniences that our parents could have scarcely imagined.  But what has not changed is the imperative of citizenship; that willingness of a 26-year-old deacon, or a Unitarian minister, or a young mother of five to decide they loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.

     That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.

     For we were born of change.  We broke the old aristocracies, declaring ourselves entitled not by bloodline, but endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.  We secure our rights and responsibilities through a system of self-government, of and by and for the people.  That’s why we argue and fight with so much passion and conviction -- because we know our efforts matter.  We know America is what we make of it.

     Look at our history.  We are Lewis and Clark and Sacajawea, pioneers who braved the unfamiliar, followed by a stampede of farmers and miners, and entrepreneurs and hucksters.  That’s our spirit.  That’s who we are.

     We are Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer, women who could do as much as any man and then some.  And we’re Susan B. Anthony, who shook the system until the law reflected that truth.  That is our character.

     We’re the immigrants who stowed away on ships to reach these shores, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free –- Holocaust survivors, Soviet defectors, the Lost Boys of Sudan.  We’re the hopeful strivers who cross the Rio Grande because we want our kids to know a better life.  That’s how we came to be.  (Applause.)

     We’re the slaves who built the White House and the economy of the South.  (Applause.)  We’re the ranch hands and cowboys who opened up the West, and countless laborers who laid rail, and raised skyscrapers, and organized for workers’ rights.

     We’re the fresh-faced GIs who fought to liberate a continent.  And we’re the Tuskeegee Airmen, and the Navajo code-talkers, and the Japanese Americans who fought for this country even as their own liberty had been denied.

     We’re the firefighters who rushed into those buildings on 9/11, the volunteers who signed up to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We’re the gay Americans whose blood ran in the streets of San Francisco and New York, just as blood ran down this bridge. (Applause.)

     We are storytellers, writers, poets, artists who abhor unfairness, and despise hypocrisy, and give voice to the voiceless, and tell truths that need to be told.

     We’re the inventors of gospel and jazz and blues, bluegrass and country, and hip-hop and rock and roll, and our very own sound with all the sweet sorrow and reckless joy of freedom.

     We are Jackie Robinson, enduring scorn and spiked cleats and pitches coming straight to his head, and stealing home in the World Series anyway.  (Applause.)  

     We are the people Langston Hughes wrote of who “build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how.”  We are the people Emerson wrote of, “who for truth and honor’s sake stand fast and suffer long;” who are “never tired, so long as we can see far enough.”

     That’s what America is.  Not stock photos or airbrushed history, or feeble attempts to define some of us as more American than others.  (Applause.)  We respect the past, but we don’t pine for the past.  We don’t fear the future; we grab for it.  America is not some fragile thing.  We are large, in the words of Whitman, containing multitudes.  We are boisterous and diverse and full of energy, perpetually young in spirit.  That’s why someone like John Lewis at the ripe old age of 25 could lead a mighty march.

     And that’s what the young people here today and listening all across the country must take away from this day.  You are America.  Unconstrained by habit and convention.  Unencumbered by what is, because you’re ready to seize what ought to be.

     For everywhere in this country, there are first steps to be taken, there’s new ground to cover, there are more bridges to be crossed.  And it is you, the young and fearless at heart, the most diverse and educated generation in our history, who the nation is waiting to follow.

     Because Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.”  (Applause.)  That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.

     Fifty years from Bloody Sunday, our march is not yet finished, but we’re getting closer.  Two hundred and thirty-nine years after this nation’s founding our union is not yet perfect, but we are getting closer.  Our job’s easier because somebody already got us through that first mile.  Somebody already got us over that bridge.  When it feels the road is too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:  “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on [the] wings like eagles.  They will run and not grow weary.  They will walk and not be faint.”  (Applause.)

     We honor those who walked so we could run.  We must run so our children soar.  And we will not grow weary.  For we believe in the power of an awesome God, and we believe in this country’s sacred promise.

     May He bless those warriors of justice no longer with us, and bless the United States of America.  Thank you, everybody.  (Applause.)

                             END                  2:50 P.M. CST

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                                 March 2, 2015


Roosevelt Room

12:09 P.M. EST

     THE PRESIDENT:  Last year, the events in Ferguson and New York exposed a deep-rooted frustration in many communities of color around the need for fair and just law enforcement.

And so back in December, I announced a Task Force on 21st Century Policing, chaired by two outstanding leaders who are respected both in law enforcement and in civil rights circles -- Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson.  And I asked them to help to form a task force made up of community leaders, law enforcement leaders, academics, practitioners, and to come up in 90 days with a very specific set of recommendations that would allow us to continue to drive crime down, to continue to deal with issues of community building, but would begin to build the kind of trust that we need in order to continue to make progress in the future.

For the last few months, they’ve been holding hearings.  They met with people who care passionately about these issues; they’ve debated recommendations thoughtfully and deliberately.  Some put their lives on hold for more than two months to do this. I am extraordinarily grateful for their efforts.

This morning, they presented to me their report, which will be available online for everybody to see.  It offers pragmatic, common-sense ideas based on input from criminal justice experts, community leaders, law enforcement, and civil liberties advocates.  We are carefully reviewing all their recommendations, which include very specific recommendations, more general recommendations, everything from training issues to technology issues, to approaches for interacting with schools, to how we get research and data.

But I want to summarize just a few key points that were made so that people are very clear about the direction that we're going to be moving.  Number one, I think uniformly, the task force talked about the issue of legitimacy as being important not just for the communities, but also for law enforcement officers; that the more there is trust between communities and law enforcement, the safer it is for cops, the more effectively they can do their jobs, the more cooperation there’s going to be, the more likely those communities are to be safe.

And so there is no theoretical separation between the interests of community and law enforcement.  But obviously the devil is in the details, and we've got to figure out how to make that work.

Number two, there was a great emphasis on the need to collect more data.  Across this country, we've got 18,000 law enforcement jurisdictions.  Right now, we do not have a good sense, and local communities do not have a good sense, of how frequently there may be interactions with police and community members that result in a death, result in a shooting.  That's the kind of information that is needed for police departments to do their job, to be able to manage their forces effectively, and for communities to be able to evaluate and provide appropriate oversight to the folks who are supposed to be serving and protecting them.

There was a lot of discussion about the need for expanding and enhancing community policing that we know works.  When I had several law enforcement officers from around the country the other day, almost all of them -- and this is a diverse group, some from big cities, some from small communities, some from tribal areas -- they all discussed the need for police officers to be engaged with the community, not just in a stop but also in a school, also working with children, also being seen as enhancing the life of the community beyond law enforcement.  That trust then enhances their ability to do a good job.  And that's an area that was emphasized by this task force.

There’s a great interest in training.  We know some things that work.  We need more information to find out how to take to scale best practices when it comes to training so that police officers are able to work in a way that reduces the possibilities of bias, that allows them to deal with what are very stressful situations.  Oftentimes the police officers have extraordinarily difficult jobs; they may be put in situations in which there’s a lot of tension, and how do they deal with that appropriately, and how do they work with the community effectively to mitigate some of those challenges.

There are going to be some controversial recommendations in here.  For example, the need for independent investigations and independent special prosecutors (inaudible) a situation in which law enforcement has interacted with an individual that results in death.

I'm going to give Laurie some water right now. (Laughter.)  I think it's important -- she’s been working very hard.  (Laughter.)  And Michelle has that same cough.

But the importance of making sure that the sense of accountability when, in fact, law enforcement is involved in a deadly shooting is something that I think communities across the board are going to need to consider.  Or some recommendations around prohibiting racial profiling.  That's a step that we've already taken at the federal level.  If you talk to the FBI, if you talk to our federal law enforcement, it may be challenging for them to change old practices, but they are confident that they’re able to continue to do their job effectively.  The same is going to be true at the local level as long as it is an intentional policy coming from the top that is followed up with key metrics so the people know exactly what is going on.

And then there’s some discussions of technology.  There’s been a lot of talk about body cameras as a silver bullet or a solution.  I think the task force concluded that there is a role for technology to play in building additional trust and accountability, but it's not a panacea, and that it has to be embedded in a broader change in culture and a legal framework that ensures that people’s privacy is respected and that not only police officers but the community themselves feel comfortable with how technologies are being used.

There’s some additional recommendations that are very specific.  For example, how law enforcement handles mass demonstrations.  I think there was a lot of concern that bubbled up in the wake of Ferguson.  The federal government has already taken it upon itself to look at how we are dealing with providing military equipment to local law enforcement and how that may be used.  There are some recommendations that deal with civilian oversight and how that might be managed.

The point is that this report is going to contain a series of very specific, concrete, common-sense efforts for us to build trust.  It will be good for police and it will be good for the communities involved.  And as a consequence, it will be good for the country.  Everybody wants our streets safe and everybody wants to make sure that laws are applied fairly and equitably.

Nobody, by the way, wants that more than law enforcement themselves.  I was keenly interested in hearing from some of our law enforcement representatives who talked about how important it is for police to feel as if the community supports them, because they got into law enforcement to serve and protect, not to be viewed as some external force.  And unfortunately, sometimes policies, politics, politicians put law enforcement in an untenable position.

There was some discussion within the report about how we have to look at the broader context in which law enforcement is happening.  Our approach to our drug laws, for example, and criminalization of nonviolent offenses rather than taking more of a public health approach -- that may be something that has an impact in eroding trust between law enforcement and communities. Broader issues of poverty and isolation may have an impact.

I emphasized to the task force that I think it's important for us to recognize that context, but I don't want us to have such a 40,000-foot argument that we lose track of the very specific concrete practices that can be instituted right now that will make a difference.

Now, last point I'll make.  Most of the recommendations that have been made are directed at the 18,000 law enforcement jurisdictions that are out there.  Law enforcement is largely a local function as opposed to a federal function.  Many of the recommendations that have been made for changes in federal practice we already have entrain.  Those that we do not yet have entrain, that we have not yet implemented, I'm going to be asking Eric Holder and the Justice Department and his successor to go through all these recommendations so that we can start implementing them.

I know that one area that's going to be of great interest is whether we can expand the COPS program that in the past has been very effective, continues to be effective, but is largely underfunded -- to see if we can get more incentives for local communities to apply some of the best practices and lessons that are embodied in this report.

But a lot of our work is going to involve local police chiefs, local elected officials, states recognizing that the moment is now for us to make these changes.  We have a great opportunity, coming out of some great conflict and tragedy, to really transform how we think about community law enforcement relations so that everybody feels safer and our law enforcement officers feel, rather than being embattled, feel fully supported.

We need to seize that opportunity.  And so this is something that I'm going to stay very focused on in the months to come.  I'm going to be pushing my Justice Department and the COPS program and others to continue to work on it.  But I want to close by just once again saying thank you to the extraordinary contributions that have been made by this task force.

I expect our friends in the media to really focus on what’s in this report and pay attention to it.  So often we see an event that's flashy; it makes the news; people are crying out for solutions.  And by the time recommendations are put forward, our focus has moved on and we don't actually see and pay attention to the concrete ways that we can improve the situation.  This is a moment where a lot of work has been done.  There’s some good answers to be had if we don't make this a political football or sensationalize it, but rather really focus on getting the job done.

So I appreciate everybody’s efforts.  I'm going to be focused on it.  I hope you will be, too.

Thank you very much, everybody.

Q    Surely you don't mean us, do you?

THE PRESIDENT:  You pay attention, personally.  It's more generically.

Thank you, guys.

                         END             12:23 P.M. EST

Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2015

Statement from Press Secretary Josh Earnest

Upon return from the Department of Justice, the President convened a meeting in the Oval Office with Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, OMB Director Shaun Donovan and members of his senior team to discuss the impending deadline for funding the Department of Homeland Security. The President then called Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid to get an update on efforts to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security does not shut down.

Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2015

Statement by the President on the Murder of Boris Nemtsov

The United States condemns the brutal murder of Boris Nemtsov, and we call upon the Russian government to conduct a prompt, impartial, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his murder and ensure that those responsible for this vicious killing are brought to justice.  Nemtsov was a tireless advocate for his country, seeking for his fellow Russian citizens the rights to which all people are entitled.  I admired Nemtsov’s courageous dedication to the struggle against corruption in Russia and appreciated his willingness to share his candid views with me when we met in Moscow in 2009.  We offer our sincere condolences to Boris Efimovich’s family, and to the Russian people, who have lost one of the most dedicated and eloquent defenders of their rights.

Office of the Press Secretary
February 27, 2015

Statement by the President on the Passing of Leonard Nimoy

Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy.  Leonard was a lifelong lover of the arts and humanities, a supporter of the sciences, generous with his talent and his time.  And of course, Leonard was Spock.  Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek’s optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity’s future.

I loved Spock.

In 2007, I had the chance to meet Leonard in person.  It was only logical to greet him with the Vulcan salute, the universal sign for “Live long and prosper.”  And after 83 years on this planet – and on his visits to many others – it’s clear Leonard Nimoy did just that.  Michelle and I join his family, friends, and countless fans who miss him so dearly today.

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