White House Report | Tuesday, June 30, 2009
– Bill signings
– Robert Gibbs’ Tuesday press briefing
– President talks on community solutions agenda
– Town-hall meeting on health care in Virginia on Wednesday
On Tuesday, the President signed into law:
– H.R. 813, which designates a Federal building and United States courthouse as the J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse;
– H.R. 837, which designates a Federal building as the Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building;
– H.R. 2344, which authorizes webcasters for 30 days after enactment to negotiate royalty rates with copyright holders that differ from the rates set by the Library of Congress Copyright Royalty Board;
– S. 407, which provides for a cost-of-living adjustment for the beneficiaries of veterans’ disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation equal to the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment; and
– S.615, which provides additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.
Robert Gibbs’ Tuesday press briefing
Q My arm is better now.
MR. GIBBS: Never going to live that down. Did you see the video on the White House Web site? Oh, I wish you could see the look on my face. Wow. Good throw, though.
Q Did you hear yourself when you came out of the water on the White House —
Q On the White House video?
MR. GIBBS: I think they —
Q Did they edit that out?
MR. GIBBS: I think the new media guys did some editing.
Q Are you on a seven-second delay? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I should be, after that.
Yes, ma’am. Go ahead. Take us away.
Q Thanks, Robert. We want to start with Honduras. Has the U.S. been in contact with Honduran military leaders to insist on the President’s return to power?
MR. GIBBS: I know that State Department officials have been in touch with President Zelaya. I do not know the extent of their contact with military officials. Obviously there are — there’s a special meeting of the OAS scheduled for later on this afternoon and we’ll continue working on this situation.
Q Is there any other acceptable solution other than his return to power?
MR. GIBBS: Not at this point that I think that people have in any way contemplated, no.
Q Is he meeting today with the State Department or anybody in the White House?
MR. GIBBS: I believe if he does come, either today or tomorrow, that he will likely meet with officials from the State Department, some of whom, as I said, have been in contact.
Q He won’t come here?
MR. GIBBS: Not that I’m aware of, no.
Q That was partially my question, actually — one of two — the first one being, if he does come to Washington, as he says he would like to do, will the President meet with him?
MR. GIBBS: Well, at this point, I think he would — if he comes, he was likely to be seen by State Department officials.
Q So no plans for the President — all right. And secondly, could you give us — it’s not that far off, coming up — a little bit of a heads up on what the President hopes to achieve at the G8?
MR. GIBBS: Let’s do that a little bit later. We’re going to do a briefing call on that. I think it’s important to go through the whole arc of the trip. We’ll go through the Russia stops, the G8, because there’s some stuff on the schedule that’s sort of built around G8 but not part of that official program, as well as the stop in Ghana.
Q Do you know when that call will be?
MR. GIBBS: It will I think be tomorrow afternoon. That’s when it’s sort of tentatively holding.
Q Robert, we understand the President is going to talk a little bit about Iraq this afternoon —
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q — at the beginning of the event. Could you give us a kind of an idea, a preview, of what he might say? And why does it seem like he’s downplaying it a little bit? I mean, he’s only mentioning it at the beginning of another event. He’s not having an event about this historic occasion. Is there some reason why he doesn’t want to talk too much about it? Or what’s the calculation?
MR. GIBBS: No, I don’t — I mean, I don’t know why the President is going to speak about it, and I don’t know that that minimizes in any way. I think you saw — I think officials were on the — CNN just this weekend, speaking in the form of Ray Odierno, who’s, as you well know, our commander on the ground.
So let me — without getting into the semantics of that part of it, the President will discuss that obviously this is an important step forward in this process. We are today handing responsibility to the Iraqis for their — an increased level of their security situation, as well as the responsibility that clearly is going to come with needing to continue to work on and solve their political reconciliation problems, as we get closer to September of next year for the drawdown of our combat troops and then ultimately the end of 2011 for the later stages of the SOFA agreement.
So, again, I think this is an important step. I think the President will talk about why it’s an important step, but why we also have to remain vigilant in monitoring the situation and, again, working with — continuing for General Odierno, Ambassador Hill, working with all of those involved for political reconciliation. And I think, finally, Ed, he’ll discuss today the reason we’re at this point, and that is the courageous contributions of our men and women in uniform and what that’s meant for our ability to be meeting this historic date.
Q Well, on that point, does the White House believe the U.S. has won the war in Iraq or has now been put in a position to win the war?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think — without getting into those characterizations, I think this is an important step forward. It is an important step forward for the Iraqis to govern their own nation. It is an important step forward in our ability to ultimately draw down our combat troops and leave Iraq in a good situation. And all of that has let us invest more of our resources in Afghanistan.
Q And has the President ruled out ever declaring victory there?
MR. GIBBS: We’ll keep the banner printers from doing anything crazy.
Q Robert, on that point about security, you talked about the Americans, but what about the Iraqis? Five Americans were killed on the eve of the handoff. Are you confident in the Iraqi security forces’ ability to take on this task?
MR. GIBBS: Well, more importantly, General Odierno is confident in their ability as we move forward. I think as General Odierno has said over the course of the past few days, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen high-profile incidents in which extremists seek to kill innocent civilians in order — in many ways for them to try to convince their followers that what’s happening today is a result of their actions. And obviously it’s not.
We will continue to monitor the situation, as I said. And at this point, it looks like these are fairly isolated incidents as we’ve seen the level of violence as a whole continue to decrease across Iraq.
Q Treasury today froze the assets of a Hong Kong company relative to North Korea’s missile regime. Is this likely to be considered a threatening action? Is there concern that it might be taken as a threatening action by North Korea?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate for any number of reasons to speak for the North Koreans and what they may or may not find —
Q No, but you might speak to whether such a consideration was —
MR. GIBBS: Well, look — well, let me do characterize some of what North Korea — North Korea has made some — they’ve usually — they’ve stated a lot of bellicose things. They’ve threatened to do certain things. A lot of times what they threaten to do they follow up on doing.
But this administration, whether it is through sanctions and our monitoring of North Korea moving — potentially moving any sort of arms out of their country through proliferation — what Ambassador Rice negotiated and passed through the U.N. Security Council is part of it, as well as a stepped-up role in ensuring that we are cutting off any potentially harmful financing, as in this case.
Again, we have I think been fairly explicit with the North Koreans about what — the responsibilities that they entered into that we expect them to live up to. And I think today’s action demonstrates the seriousness of what we intend to do to address it.
Q Right. The question had to do, however, with any consideration that was given to the kind of reaction this might provoke.
MR. GIBBS: I can assure you that obviously we take — lots of stuff is factored in, and you can assume that we’ve — took that into account and decided that the best thing going forward was — were the actions that were taken today and the continued monitoring of what’s going on during the situation.
Q Robert, do you have any more details on Ambassador Goldberg’s trip, interagency trip, on North Korean —
MR. GIBBS: We have some stuff from last week that I can get you on some of his stops.
Q But nothing beyond the stops they’re making in terms of —
MR. GIBBS: No, not at this point.
Q Rather than get into win or loss, would you describe the mission so far as a success or failure, what’s going on in Iraq? I mean, it’s classified. I mean, I know the political reasons, and you mentioned the —
MR. GIBBS: Well, but it’s not — it’s less that than — again, I think we should — I think the way we look at this is there is progress that is being made; obviously the security situation has improved. I think President Obama talked about that throughout last year. And again, I think we’re taking important steps on two fronts: one, our ability to get our own combat troops home, but also to give the sovereign nation of Iraq more control and ultimately more responsibility.
We continue to — let me say this: The administration believes that despite whatever happens today in that step forward that this situation bears constant monitoring because there are — there may be rough patches ahead. We understand that. There are important elections that will happen over the course of this year and important steps that have to be taken on the path toward political reconciliation in order for the promise of today to be met by all Iraqis.
Q Walk through the differences between the administration’s decision to sort of — to take a position in what’s going on in Honduras and the more hands-off approach you took with Iran. I know they’re two different countries, but —
MR. GIBBS: I think that’s probably the understatement of the week, that —
Q — but from 35,000 feet, there are people saying, hey, you know, this is —
MR. GIBBS: I would suggest you have your plane come in a little lower and take a look at maybe like 10,000 feet —
Q Can you enunciate this difference —
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think part of the reason that you saw the administration come out is to address any rumors that we were in any way involved in this. I think that’s important, and I think what was important was, as all in the international community and the OAS have done, despite whatever you — despite whatever political disagreements you might have, there is a — there are democratic norms that have to and should be followed.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Robert, is there any plans by the U.S. government to recall your ambassador to Washington as other major Latin America countries are doing?
MR. GIBBS: Not at this point, because the administration believes that having him there is important for — an important player on the ground in seeking an ultimate solution to the problem that we face now.
Q Robert, following on Chuck and Ed’s question, on the issue of victory or the lack thereof in Iran militarily —
MR. GIBBS: Iraq.
Q I mean — excuse me, Iraq, I’m sorry, forgive me. On the issue of Iraq, during the Bush years, there was debate — one side of the coin said, look, we can never win this war militarily; it’s a several-pronged approach, to include the military as well as political issues. Now, is this administration subscribing to that? And if so, how could this war be won militarily?
MR. GIBBS: Well, without getting into whatever agreements or disagreements were had inside the previous administration, I’ll leave that up to members of the previous administration, which in some ways seem to be having those arguments still. The President has always said, and said this for probably the past at least two and a half years, that there wasn’t only a military solution to this problem; that unless or until there was a political solution to this — obviously there are dimensions of a political solution that have to happen in order for this country to move forward.
Q So once the political solution is — if I’m getting this correct from your statement — once the political solution is settled, we could maybe claim victory in Iraq?
MR. GIBBS: Well, you know, I don’t know what you call it. We’re focused on a stable and secure Iraq that is governed by Iraqis and the sovereign country of Iraq. We’re concerned about getting the brave men and women who have served tour after tour after tour in Iraq home to their families, in accordance with the time frame that the President and the commanders have laid out and in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement that was negotiated and signed with the sovereign nation of Iraq.
Q When former President Bush took this nation to war with Iraq, many people realized there would be sacrifice. Now, years later, the sacrifice, many people are saying, is great. One reason why this President was elected President is because he said that he would pull the troops out of Iraq. People still, though, want a period behind it to say that all the sacrifice is worth something. Will there be something saying we want victory at some point?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m not going to get into that, except to say I think the President on any number of occasions throughout the campaign was asked if the sacrifice of men and women in uniform, some of whom have paid the ultimate price, tens of thousands of whom have been injured, whether that was worth it. Of course it was.
Q Just to follow up.
MR. GIBBS: Everybody is getting shy today. (Laughter.)
Q To continue on Iraq, what degree did the surge — does the President believe the surge played in creating an atmosphere now where the emphasis in Iraq tends to be more on the political than the day-to-day security? Obviously day-to-day security is an ongoing and crucial concern, but Ken Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon, to name two, spent a lot of time looking at Iraq, saying 2009-2010 is really the year for — the two years for politics in Iraq. To what degree did the surge — which the President opposed — play in creating an atmosphere that’s better for politics to play itself out?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me give you, I think, the answer that he would probably have given to this question as it was asked, probably more than a year ago. He I think would say obviously increasing the number of troops in that country improved the security situation, but understanding — and part of this was the answer I gave to April — the surge was to lessen — to improve the security situation so that the political reconciliation could take place.
So while the security situation has improved, we still have a lot of work to do on the political side of this equation. I don’t know whether 2009 and 2010 were the original years in which that was contemplated. I do believe that, as the President said and as I said to April, security and military alone was never going to put us in a position of being to leave the country and to make progress.
Q And yesterday you said that you’d try to get back to us on the Vice President’s role in Iraq policy. Can you fill us in on that?
MR. GIBBS: Yes. The Vice President will — has been asked by the President to oversee the policy, and in working with General Odierno and Ambassador Hill in working with the Iraqis toward overcoming their political differences and achieving the type of reconciliation that we all understand has yet to fully take place but needs to take place.
Q What does that mean, “oversee”? In what way will that change or enlarge his interaction with the President, with General Odierno, or Ambassador Hill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I mean, obviously he spends a fairly decent amount of time with the President. I think the meetings that I’ve been in in different parts of the building on Iraq the Vice President has always been an active participant.
I think given his knowledge of the region, the number of times he’s been there, he’s perfectly suited for this type of role.
Q I guess what I’m getting at is does it mean travel, does it mean briefing, does it mean doing some of the things he’s done more publicly, for example, on the stimulus?
MR. GIBBS: My sense is it probably means many of those things. Again, I think what we want to ensure happens is that as we reach these milestones and these important dates, that we not forget that work has to be done to get our troops back and to achieve that political reconciliation. This is somebody who can oversee that at the White House and ensure that we’re making continued progress toward those goals.
Q Just one more on that partition. Is that an item that is a live debate within this administration?
MR. GIBBS: No.
Q Okay, that’s gone —
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Completely gone.
MR. GIBBS: Yes. Yes, sir.
Q Are you saying that —
MR. GIBBS: Go ahead, I’m sorry.
Q Are you saying that he’s going to become sort of a mediator between the different factions, possibly, or a hands-on type thing?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think he will be involved in working with Shia, Sunni and Kurd to achieve political reconciliation. I would hesitate to use the term “mediator.” Somebody who I think can oversee that we are making progress, that our attention and our resources are matched by what we see needs to happen. I think that he’s well suited to do that.
Q Can you walk us through what the President — did he do anything extraordinary today to stay posted on the transition since midnight, Iraq time?
MR. GIBBS: None that I’m aware of. I know that — I mean, he has fairly regular — I can check and see if they received anything special in intelligence briefings —
Q Any video conferencing with the people over there —
MR. GIBBS: — or when the last time he spoke with General Odierno or Ambassador Hill. But they’re in fairly regular contact.
Q Back on the Honduran issue for one moment. You said that if the President were to come here he would likely meet with the State Department. Could you explain why he wouldn’t meet with any White House officials?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think right now a lot of this is being done out of the State Department. State Department officials have been in contact with him already. And again, I’m not even sure it’s clear that he’s going to — that if he comes to this country that a stop will be in Washington.
Q But is there some particular reason why it wouldn’t be appropriate for the White House directly to get involved?
MR. GIBBS: No, I think the State Department is a pretty good extension of our reach on foreign policy.
Q Robert, in the President’s remarks last night to the National Finance Committee he talked about why Americans are still skeptical of change. And he said that Americans had been promised legislation, most of which has been a bait-and-switch — they had been promised one thing, they had gotten something else. So by opening the door to taxing Americans who are earning less than $250,000 — no, how is that not a bait-and-switch? How is that not what we’ve seen —
MR. GIBBS: Because that was all about Ed doing a story yesterday afternoon on the lawn of the White House. (Laughter.)
Q Now I’m doing a story.
MR. GIBBS: Well, there you go. (Laughter.)
Look, I’ll do the same song and dance I did yesterday: I appreciate the opportunity to comment on what’s in the final product of a bill that you all keep reminding me we don’t have a final product for. So when we get closer to some of that —
Q But —
MR. GIBBS: No, look, I’ll do this part again, too: I think the President has outlined the best way forward in paying for this. I’ve been asked — hold on, hold on — I’ve been asked this — maybe I’ll ask somebody to find this out at the end of this briefing — over the past 10 weeks, the same question probably every week for those 10 weeks.
The President has laid out what he believes is the best way to pay for health care. It’s consistent with everything that he said in the campaign. The President has also said that we’re early in this process and he’s going to watch what happens in Congress. And as I said yesterday, I think what has marked efforts in the past to achieve big reform like is necessary to bring under control the cost of health care is bright lines that cause people to leave the table. Everybody is still at the table. Everybody is still talking to each other in an effort to move health care reform forward, to do so in a way that’s consistent with our principles and our values. And that’s what the President is most focused on.
Q Well, how does that not result in the bait-and-switch that he criticized last night?
MR. GIBBS: How does what not result?
Q A different end result than what he had originally promised.
MR. GIBBS: And what end result is that?
Q Taxing people who earn less than $250,000 a year.
MR. GIBBS: And is that on the President’s desk to sign?
Q But the door is open to it.
Q Isn’t it? What’s the different between a bright line and a campaign promise?
MR. GIBBS: We’re not going to negotiate with ourselves, Major, we’re going to watch this process — again, I appreciate the opportunity to comment on —
Q But, for example, the President and the Treasury Department set up legislation today on financial regulation; it drew lines, very definitive lines about things it does and doesn’t want to do, and is asking Congress to follow those bright lines.
MR. GIBBS: I would — I guess I would ask you to look at the legislation we’ve sent Congress on health care and see those bright lines.
Q Speaking of health care, tomorrow’s town hall — can you describe it for us, how does it differ from the previous town halls the President is doing, and is this going to be a continuing pattern — town hall per week until they pass something?
MR. GIBBS: An interesting concept. No, the President wanted to continue the conversation that we started last week with town halls. We’re in Annandale, which is primarily chosen because it’s close. (Laughter.) We’ve got a lot of assets that have been deployed to foreign countries in order to support our visits in the next few — in the next week. But — and I think they’re going to take questions off of a series of — either through video, through questions that are received through the Internet, as well as questions from the audience, again, as a continuing conversation about how to move health care reform forward, how to get a bill that cuts costs for the American people and gives the promise of accessible and affordable health care to the millions of those that don’t currently have it.
Q Robert, what legislation on health care did you send to the Hill?
MR. GIBBS: We didn’t. Jon.
Q That was sarcasm.
Q That would be news.
MR. GIBBS: But that was —
Q Well, it didn’t feel like sarcasm. We think we know your sarcasm, but you keep throwing —
Q We just like to keep current.
MR. GIBBS: That was —
Q But you acknowledge —
Q And if you did send —
Q But you acknowledge what Major said, which is you did send — the Treasury Department sent their own legislation —
Q — Treasury Department on an important legislative issue.
MR. GIBBS: Okay, now I have to explain my sarcasm, which is I was setting up the point that the bright lines that you discussed in the legislation that was sent was not sent in this case. Therefore, I was a little cute by —
Q We thought for a moment you may have.
Q Robert, just a follow-up on this?
MR. GIBBS: Let me call on Jon for a second.
Q I’ll defer to Laura for a second.
Q Thank you. Is it possible that — what you haven’t said here is that, yes, maybe some of these things do go against the campaign promises, but it’s more important to get — let me finish my question before you dismiss it.
MR. GIBBS: Okay.
Q It’s more important to get a bill that has most of what you want and you’re willing to compromise on things, even things that you promised in the campaign. Is that what’s going on?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will — the President is going to watch the process, is going to be flexible, and we’ll evaluate it as we go along.
Q Is what I said an accurate depiction of the —
MR. GIBBS: I would prefer that you quote me.
Q Thank you. CBO scores on the HELP and the Finance Committee bill has got a lot of — stirred up a lot of controversy in Washington. And then when the President last week commented on CBO, that got a lot of attention. Do you feel like the President’s remarks on CBO were blown out of proportion in any way, in the sense that he was complaining about their lack of willingness to make concessions to his plans for saving —
MR. GIBBS: No, no. I think — and I think we got this question, I think, after the meeting. What the President was expressing was — look, we’re going to follow, obviously follow what CBO — how CBO scores health care legislation. I think the frustration is less with how they score the bills than just simply the notion that the mission and the job that CBO has in this instance is simply to look at and evaluate some of that — what that legislation does, rather than some of the game-changers in terms of going forward costs, right?
Some of this stuff is not, obviously, taking into broader account what it can do to help families lower health care costs. I think — that’s all he was expressing, was simply just that there’s a broadness to what we’re trying to do on health care policy that is not scored by CBO, because that’s, in all honesty, not what CBO does. Rather, there’s that focus here on just what each individual report said, even though I think there was some frustration that you’re looking at earlier incomplete pieces of legislation.
Q Is there a concern, though, like when you come to the $600 billion in Medicare savings that the President has proposed, is there a concern that his comments are being interpreted as applying to — they’re saying CBO is not scoring that? Because that —
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s what — I don’t think that’s what he said or what he intended.
Q It wasn’t what he was saying, but do you —
MR. GIBBS: Yes, I don’t think that’s what he — I hope nobody took that as what he intended to say, because that’s not the direction that he was moving.
Q Yes, going back to Honduras and Iran, your different approach on them, you said that you approached Honduras that way because you wanted to address rumors that we were not involved. But that’s exactly the situation in Iran, because you wanted to address the rumors you were not involved. And on Honduras you’ve taken a very strong position. On Iran you took a very weak position.
MR. GIBBS: I appreciate the characterization, as opinionated as it may be. I don’t think what the President has done on Iran is weak. Maybe Henry Kissinger and others can address that.
Q When it came to — in terms of — with Honduras, you flat out said that the position is that Zelaya is President. But when it came to Iran, you will not take a position on the election.
MR. GIBBS: Well, we’re not the — I think that everybody recognizes the democratic process that is — has happened in Honduras. I don’t think anybody disputes, or at least disputed a week ago that he was the President. In terms of elections in Iran, that’s — who won an election — as the President said, we don’t have observers on the ground. This is for Iranians to settle, and I think obviously if you look at what has gone on in that country, there are still a significant number of Iranians who don’t have confidence in the result that’s been reported.
Yes, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Robert. So yesterday in the — at the reception, President Obama said that he had asked Secretary Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen for some type of plan on how to implement a change in the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Do we have any sense of what the time frame would be on when that plan would come forth from them? Did the President ask for any sort of time frame?
MR. GIBBS: No, not that I know of. Not that I know of. But again, I think consistent with what we’ve talked about in terms of working with the Pentagon to ensure that durable solution.
Q On health care, back on health care, yesterday both Tom Daschle and John Podesta said that they would not hesitate to use reconciliation to get a bill passed, saying that the price Senate Republicans are demanding may be too high. Do you believe that that parliamentary move should be deployed if the price from Senate Republicans is too high?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think that gets a great deal ahead of where we are in the process.
Q But as part of the broader thing of a bipartisan bill?
MR. GIBBS: Well, but I think the President has confidence in the system working, the system moving forward, the steps that the many committees are taking to work amongst themselves to find a legislative solution. Obviously I think having the ability — having lots of different avenues to take gives I think Congress an understanding of how serious the problem is, and the fact that we want to go through Congress and work with them in a constructive way to get comprehensive health care reform enacted this year.
Q Are Republican demands too high at this juncture?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I’m not going to draw bright lines here. I think the process continues. The President and the administration feel good about the progress that’s being made, and we’ll continue to work in that system to find a solution to this problem.
Q Does the White House prefer regular order to reconciliation?
MR. GIBBS: Always.
President talks on community solutions agenda
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Well, it is wonderful to see all these do-gooders in one room. (Laughter.) And it is always a dangerous thing trying to follow Geoffrey Canada. (Laughter.) But I thank you all for being here.
Before we begin the subject of today’s gathering, I want to say a few words about an important milestone that we’ve reached in Iraq. Today, American troops have transferred control of all Iraqi cities and towns to Iraq’s government and security forces. (Applause.) This transition was agreed to last year as part of our Status of Forces Agreement with the sovereign Iraqi government. It’s a part of our strategy to responsibly end the war by removing all American combat brigades from Iraq by next September, and all of our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
So the Iraqi people are rightly treating this day as a cause for celebration. This is an important step forward, as a sovereign and united Iraq continues to take control of its own destiny. And with this progress comes responsibility. Iraq’s future is in the hands of its own people. And Iraq’s leaders must now make some hard choices necessary to resolve key political questions, to advance opportunity, and to provide security for their towns and their cities. In this effort, America will be a strong partner to the Iraqi people on behalf of their security and prosperity.
Make no mistake: There will be difficult days ahead. We know that the violence in Iraq will continue — we see that already in the senseless bombing in Kirkuk earlier today. And there are those who will test Iraq’s security forces, and the resolve of the Iraqi people, through more sectarian bombings and the murder of innocent civilians. But I’m confident that those forces will fail. The future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy. And today’s transition is further proof that those who have tried to pull Iraq into the abyss of disunion and civil war are on the wrong side of history.
Finally, the very fact that Iraqis are celebrating this day is a testament to the courage, the capability, and commitment of every single American who has served in Iraq. (Applause.) That’s worth applause. Through tour after tour of duty, our troops have overcome every obstacle to extend this precious opportunity to the Iraqi people. These women and men are not always in the headlines, but they’re in our hearts and prayers, and we will forever honor their selfless service and sacrifice, as well as the service and sacrifice of their families. There is more work to be done, but we’ve made important progress in supporting a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq. And everyone who has served there, both in uniform as well as our civilians, deserves our thanks.
Now, it’s fitting that we’re here today to talk about what each of us can do to lift up this nation, because our troops’ sacrifice challenges all of us to do what we can do to be better citizens. That’s what the people that you’ve heard from already are doing every single day.
So I want to start off thanking Geoffrey Canada, Robert Chambers, Pat Christen — who’s here with one of Hope Lab’s student testers, Richard Ross — Richard, wave to everybody — (laughter) — for speaking with us about the extraordinary work their organizations are doing in their communities. And I want to thank Richard and Vanessa Nunez for sharing their stories with us today. Thank you very much. You both clearly have very bright futures ahead of you.
I want to acknowledge our outstanding Education Secretary, Arne Duncan. He’s worth giving a round of applause. (Applause.) As well as, if I’m not mistaken, Congressman Jim Moran is here. There he is, right here in the front, with his daughter, Dorothy. (Applause.) I want to thank Steve Goldsmith for moderating. We were discussing the fact that at Harvard — Vanessa, you were there — how long ago was that? Fifteen years ago? We were together on a conference talking about this very issue. And so it’s nice to see Steve, one of the outstanding mayors at the time, and now continuing to do great work helping people to think about how we can all fulfill our civic responsibilities more effectively. So thank you very much.
I also want to thank Dave Cieslewicz — I want to make sure I say that properly — of Madison, Wisconsin, and Mayor Sara Presler of Flagstaff, Arizona, for their commitment as well. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And finally, I want to thank all of you here today for everything you’re doing to find new solutions to some of our oldest, toughest problems. I know what you do is not easy. I know that for many of you, the hours are long, the pay could be better — let’s face it. But I also know the difference that each of you make. I know the lives that you change every single day. You teach us that there’s no such thing as a lost cause if you’re willing to be creative, and challenge the conventional wisdom, and take some risks — if you’re willing to try, and fail, and then try again until you find something that works. And today, I want to recognize that pioneering spirit and thank you all for the contributions that you’re making to our communities.
What you all do is important in any year. But at this particular moment, when we’re facing challenges unlike any we’ve seen in our lifetime, it’s absolutely critical, because while we’re working hard to rebuild our economy and help people who are struggling, let’s face it, there’s only so much that Washington can do. Government can’t do everything and be everywhere — nor should it be.
For example, government can help rebuild schools — and Arne Duncan is working as hard as anybody — but we need new ways to teach our children and train our teachers and get parents more involved in their children’s education. Government can reform our health care system, but we need innovative approaches to help people manage their illnesses and lead healthier lives. Government can invest in clean energy, but we need new initiatives to get people to train for green jobs and make their homes and offices more energy-efficient.
So if anyone out there is waiting for government to solve all their problems, they’re going to be disappointed. Because ultimately, the best solutions don’t come from the top-down, not from Washington; they come from the bottom-up in each and everyone one of our communities.
As some of you know, I first saw this years ago when I worked as a community organizer in Chicago — neighborhoods devastated by steel plant closings. And I spent hours going door to door, meeting with anyone who would talk to me, asking people about their struggles and what an organization could do to help.
And it was slow, laborious going. We had plenty of setbacks and failed more often than we succeeded. But we listened to the people in the community and we learned from them and got them engaged and got them involved. And slowly, block by block, we began to turn those neighborhoods around, fighting for job training and better housing and more opportunity for young people.
The lesson I learned then still holds true today: that folks who are struggling don’t simply need more government bureaucracy; that top-down, one-size-fits-all program usually doesn’t end up fitting anybody. People don’t need somebody out in Washington to tell them how to solve their problems, especially when the best solutions are often right there in their own neighborhoods, just waiting to be discovered.
So right now, in communities across America, people are hard at work developing and running programs that could be the next Harlem Children’s Zone or the next Genesys Works or the next Hope Lab, and idealistic young people like Wendy Kopp who refused to listen to the skeptics years ago and pushed ahead to bring her vision for Teach for America to life.
We’ve got young-at-heart people like Robert Chambers, who finish out careers in business or health care or education, and instead of transitioning into retirement, they’re just too busy, they’re too restless, so they come back for an encore, plowing a lifetime of experience into helping people in need. We’ve got people from all backgrounds, all walks of life succeeding where others have failed; getting real, measurable results; changing the way we think about some of our toughest problems.
The bottom line is clear: Solutions to America’s challenges are being developed every day at the grass roots — and government shouldn’t be supplanting those efforts, it should be supporting those efforts. Instead of wasting taxpayer money on programs that are obsolete or ineffective, government should be seeking out creative, results-oriented programs like the ones here today and helping them replicate their efforts across America.
So if the Harlem Children’s Zone can turn around neighborhoods in New York, then why not Detroit, or San Antonio, or Los Angeles or Indianapolis? If Bonnie Clac can help working people purchase cars and manage their finances in New Hampshire, then they can probably do it in Vermont or all across New England, or all across America.
Now it’s not going to be easy to scale up some of these great ideas. If it was easy, you would have already done it and you wouldn’t be here today — except maybe to just check out the White House. (Laughter.) It’s hard. But it’s also critical. And it’s absolutely possible if we’re willing to work together to give organizations like these the resources they need to reach their fullest potential and have their fullest impact, and if we’re able to ensure that best practices are shared all across the country, that we’ve set up a strong network of ideas. And that’s precisely the idea behind the $50 million innovation fund included in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act — an initiative designed to assist community solutions like these that we’re asking Congress to fund this year.
We’re going to use this fund to find the most promising non-profits in America. We’ll examine their data and rigorously evaluate their outcomes. We’ll invest in those with the best results that are most likely to provide a good return on our taxpayer dollars. And we’ll require that they get matching investments from the private sector — from businesses and foundations and philanthropists — to make those taxpayer dollars go even further.
And today, I’m announcing that I’ll be asking Melody Barnes, who is our director of the Domestic Policy Council, and our innovation team to lead this process, traveling across the country to discover and evaluate the very best programs in our communities.
And we won’t just be looking at the usual suspects in the usual places. We won’t just be seeking the programs that everybody already knows about, but we also want to find those hidden gems that haven’t yet gotten the attention they deserve. And we’ll be looking in all sorts of communities — rural, urban, and suburban — in every region of this country, because we know that great ideas and outstanding programs are everywhere — and it’s up to us to find them.
We’re going to take this new approach, this new way of doing business, government-wide. So we’ve already set up a What Works Fund at the Department of Education — $650 million in the Recovery Act that we’ll be investing in the most successful, highest-impact initiatives in our school districts and communities. It’s not just going to be the usual formulas here. From pioneering teacher training programs and efforts to bring new technologies into our schools, to early learning programs and programs to help at-risk kids — these are the kinds of initiatives that Arne and his staff at the department are looking to support.
At the Department of Health and Human Services, we’re working on a new home-visiting initiative connecting nurses and other trained professionals with at-risk families to ensure that children get a healthy, safe, and smart start to life. We’ll be seeking out the very best programs to achieve those goals — ones with the strongest record of success — and we’ll test promising approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.
So all of this represents a new kind of partnership between government and the non-profit sector. But I can tell you right now, that partnership isn’t complete, and it won’t be successful, without help from the private sector. And that’s why I’m glad that there are some deep pockets in the audience here — foundations, corporations, and individuals. You need to be part of this effort, as well. And that’s my challenge to the private sector today.
Our non-profits can provide the solutions. Our government can rigorously evaluate these solutions and invest limited taxpayer dollars in ones that work. But we need those of you from the private sector to step up, as well. We need you to provide that critical seed capital to launch these ideas. We need you to provide those matching funds to help them grow. And we need you to serve as a partner, providing strategic advice and other resources to help them succeed.
If we work together — if we all go all-in here — think about the difference we can make. Think about the impact we could have with just the organizations represented in this room.
We’ve got Jim McCorkell here from Admission Possible, a group that helps promising young people from low-income families attend college. Ninety-nine percent of the Admission Possible class of 2008 got into college — 99 percent. (Applause.) Where’s Jim? Where’s Jim? There he is back there. The vast majority stay in college and earn their degrees. Admission Possible operates in just two states now. So imagine if it was 10, or 20, or 50.
We’ve got Alfa Demmellash here from Rising Tide Capital. Where is Alfa? Right over there. Did I pronounce your name right? Good. When your name is Barack Obama, you’re sensitive to these things. (Laughter.) So Alfa is with Rising Tide Capital, an organization that helps struggling mom-and-pop entrepreneurs get loans, run their businesses and improve their profit margins. Seventy percent of their clients are single moms. All of them rely on their businesses to support their families. So far Rising Tide has helped 250 business owners in the state of New Jersey. So imagine if they could help 500 or 1,000 or more all across America.
If we empower organizations like these, think about the number of young people like Vanessa and Richard whose lives we can change; the number of families whose livelihoods we can boost; the number of struggling communities we can bring back to life.
In the end, that’s what this effort is about. It’s not about the old partisan lines in the sand. We know there’s nothing Democratic or Republican about just doing what works. So we want to cast aside worn ideological debates and focus on what really helps people in their daily lives. That’s what each and every one of you are doing all across America. For that, I honor you, I thank you, and I look forward to working with you in the days and months and years ahead to address the urgent challenges of our time.
Thank you very much, everybody. Good luck. (Applause.)
Town-hall meeting on health care in Virginia on Wednesday
Today, Rep. Gerald Connolly (VA-11) joined an Organizing for America press conference call in anticipation of President Obama’s health care town hall meeting taking place tomorrow, Wednesday, July 1 in Annandale, Virginia. During the call participants discussed the grassroots effort taking place in support of the President’s key principles of reducing costs, providing for choice of doctors, hospitals and health plans, and assuring affordable quality health care for all Americans.
Joining Rep. Connolly was Organizing for America’s Director, Mitch Stewart, who served as the Obama campaign’s Virginia state director last fall. Stewart discussed OFA’s grassroots efforts across the country and in Virginia to engage Americans in a dialogue on the President’s health care reform efforts. During the call, Alicia Brewster, a Herndon, VA resident, shared that though she is employed full-time by a small family business, she was forced to seek out insurance on her own. Brewster found that her premiums skyrocketed after a brief health scare that left her with astronomical bills and forced her to move in with a friend. Also on the call was Russell Axelson, an Alexandria, VA resident whose medication to treat diabetes, even with COBRA health insurance, was too expensive. Axelson’s story was featured in a recent OFA web video, which can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv3_AOrOq60.
Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee committed to supporting President Obama’s agenda for change, coordinated the call in an effort to highlight health care stories, the challenges facing those wanting to bring about health care reform, and to stress the urgency in providing health care to the 45 million Americans currently without health care.
To listen to audio of the call, please click on the link below:
Please see statements from the participants in today’s call below:
“There’s no question that most Americans recognize there’s a crisis in health care. Even if we’re happy with the current coverage we individually may have, we recognize that premiums have doubled in the last seven years. Deductibles are going through the roof. We know that more and more companies are shedding health care for retirees and even for their employees. We know that only 48 percent of small businesses in the United States offer any health care coverage at all. And we know that those small businesses are going to incur a cost if we do nothing – an extra cost of 2.4 trillion dollars over the next 10 years. That’s an unsustainable cost for small businesses in America.”
“I was laid off of my job a couple years ago and I found out that I didn’t have any health care [that] I could take with me after I lost my job… I’m a borderline diabetic and I have to take medicine everyday–otherwise I’ll find myself seriously ill and will probably have to go to the hospital, which will cost me even more money. So I had to do something about my health situation and how I was going to be able to afford the medicine. And I have a small family, but they don’t have the kind of money I needed to buy the medicine. I ended up having to go to the church I belong to in Alexandria, and I was able to convince them to help me out financially so I could afford the medicine, which was over $700 a month for the retail price.”
“I am 27 years old, I am relatively healthy, and I have a full-time job which does not offer health insurance. I had to go out and research and find my own insurance company. I didn’t really have any problems with payments or anything in the beginning, but a little over a year ago, I started getting heart palpitations and rapid heart rate which necessitated a few visits to the emergency room and several appointments with cardiologists and specialists to determine the cause. After about six or eight months of routine testing and multiple visits to specialists, it just turned out to be benign consequences from low blood pressure… However, because of all of this, my premiums each month went up about 60 percent, to about $325 a month. I was paying just a little under $175 before.”
“One of the roles that we think we’re uniquely positioned to play as the President’s grassroots operation is to draw a very direct line from the debate that’s happening in Washington DC to local communities across the country. And then vice-a-versa–make sure that Washington knows exactly what these folks are saying across the country. So to that end, not only were we doing these public service events, we’ve also been collecting stories, personal health care stories that we think are going to amplify the need for urgent health care reform and also to put a human face on this debate.”