DAILY GUIDANCE AND PRESS SCHEDULE FOR
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 30, 2009
In the morning, the President will receive the Presidential Daily Briefing, the Economic Daily Briefing, and meet with senior advisors in the Oval Office. These meetings are closed press.
Later, the President will deliver remarks and sign the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 in the Diplomatic Reception Room.
In the afternoon, the President will meet with the Joint Chiefs of Staff on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room. Expected attendees include:
Vice President Biden
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates
General James Jones, National Security Advisor
Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
General James E. Cartwright, USMC, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
General George W. Casey, Chief of Staff of the Army
General James T. Conway, Commandant, U.S. Marine Corps
Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations
General Norton A. Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force
Tom Donilon, Deputy National Security Advisor
John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security
Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, Special Assistant to the President for Afghanistan and Pakistan
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT GARDEN HARVESTING EVENT
White House Kitchen Garden
2:14 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: So how’s everybody doing?
MRS. OBAMA: So we’ve got some Bancroft students — and what other school do we have here?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, Kimball. You guys are a new school. So we’re happy to have you guys. So you know why we’re here?
CHILD: For the garden.
MRS. OBAMA: To garden. Well, more importantly we’re going to harvest, right, because we’ve got all this food that is ready to be picked and eaten. So just — especially for the Kimball students, because Bancroft students — you guys are new, even though the school isn’t new. Many of you haven’t been here before, right?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, yes. So you remember how this all started. If you remember that it was — in March, right — we decided we were going to plant this garden. So this garden wasn’t here before. Nothing was here. This was grass like everything else. So we thought, well, wouldn’t it be great if we could use this garden to talk about the importance of healthy eating and what good, fresh foods taste like?
So we had Bancroft students, who were fifth graders then — many of them have gone on to sixth grade, a new school — but they helped us till the soil, get the soil ready. So we had to pull up all the grass and make sure that the soil was ready and healthy. And then they came back and we actually planted.
We planted — remember planting these — all these herbs and some of the lettuces. So some of them were seeds, but some of them were little plants. And then they grew, and then in the spring and the summer we harvested. So there was food just like this, ready to be picked. And then we ate together.
So then the summer went by, and now it’s fall, and there’s a whole new crop of food here that’s ready to be harvested. And actually we’ve done a little bit of that. My girls and I, we got a couple of the sweet potatoes, and we’re going to do some of those — these sweet potatoes are huge! They’re huge. So hopefully you guys will be able to pull up some of these huge sweet potatoes.
So that’s why we’ve invited you all here. So you’re going to help us do our fall/winter harvest.
Yes, young man, you have a question? Oh, you’re just fanning your hair? (Laughter.) That’s good, that’s good.
But we also have some other guests in addition to our students. We’ve got somebody very special — the first time he’s been down with us to help harvest, Jim Adams. And Jim is the chief horticulturalist here at the White House. Do you know what a horticulturalist does, or what he did for this garden? He really was responsible for how productive this garden was, because, you know, we sort of know a little bit of something about gardening, but how do you know what to plant where, and what’s going to grow well here in this soil?
Well, Jim helped us figure out where to put things, how to make it beautiful and to make sure that the food was going to grow, and we were going to get the right types of fruits at the right period of the season. So Jim, really, we have to give him a big round of applause because — (applause) — thanks to Jim we have a very productive garden.
Do you know how much food has come out of this garden so far? Over 740 pounds of food have come out of this little piece of land.
And do you know how much it costs to plant all this? How much do you all think it would cost to plant this? Give me a figure.
CHILD: Three hundred dollars.
MRS. OBAMA: What?
CHILD: Three hundred dollars.
MRS. OBAMA: Three hundred dollars? I have three hundred here! (Laughter.)
CHILD: Eight hundred.
MRS. OBAMA: Eight hundred. I’ve got eight hundred. One thousand. Six thousand dollars. One more guess.
CHILD: Five hundred.
MRS. OBAMA: Five hundred. All right, it costs less than two hundred dollars. It was about a hundred and eighty dollars. It cost a hundred dollars to get the — a hundred-and-twenty-something dollars to get the soil ready, and about fifty-five dollars for all of these seeds.
So for less than two hundred dollars we have planted enough food to feed not just the folks at the White House, but we’ve also given a lot of food to some of our neighbors, and we’re going to do that today.
We’ve got some of the staff and our friends from Miriam’s Kitchen, who are here. Miriam’s — you guys raise your hands. The Miriam’s Kitchen team. You guys know about Miriam’s Kitchen? It’s a place where folks can go and get help if they need it. You know, if moms and kids and families are hitting on hard times and they don’t have a place to get food, they can go to Miriam’s Kitchen. And Miriam’s Kitchen specializes in making sure that everyone who comes there has access to really healthy food.
So everything that you guys pick here today, we’re donating it to the Miriam’s Kitchen. So it makes it even extra special, okay?
So I want to thank you guys for coming and for sharing this with us. And I also want to introduce all our chefs at the White House. Everybody, raise your hands, all of our chefs at the White House who are — who have helped to make sure that this garden grows and that we get good food, and they make it, and it’s good, and it’s healthy. You know, it’s all that good stuff.
So are you guys ready to do some work?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready to work really hard?
MRS. OBAMA: Are you ready to get dirty?
MRS. OBAMA: All right, let’s go! Let’s go, let’s do it, let’s do it!
Statement on GDP from CEA Chair Christina Romer
“Data released today by the Commerce Department show that real GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.5 percent in the third quarter of the year. This is in stark contrast to the decline of 6.4 percent annual rate just two quarters ago. Indeed, the two-quarter swing in the rate of growth of 9.9 percentage points was the largest since 1980. Analysis by both the Council of Economic Advisers and a wide range of private and public-sector forecasters indicates that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contributed between 3 and 4 percentage points to real GDP growth in the third quarter. This suggests that in the absence of the Recovery Act, real GDP would have risen little, if at all, this past quarter. ”
“After four consecutive quarters of decline, positive GDP growth is an encouraging sign that the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction. However, this welcome milestone is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered. The turnaround in crucial labor market indicators, such as employment and the unemployment rate, typically occurs after the turnaround in GDP. And it will take sustained, robust GDP growth to bring the unemployment rate down substantially. Such a decline in unemployment is, of course, what we are all working to achieve.”
President Obama Announces More Key Administration Posts
WASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals to key administration posts:
- Suresh Kumar, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, Department of Commerce
- James P. Lynch, Director, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice
President Obama said, “I am grateful that these individuals will bring their energy and expertise to my administration and look forward to working with them in the months and years ahead.”
President Obama announced his intent to nominate the following individuals today:
Suresh Kumar, Nominee for Assistant Secretary of Commerce and Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, Department of Commerce
Suresh Kumar is President & Managing Partner of KaiZen Innovation. He served as Special Advisor to the Clinton Foundation where he worked with governments in Sub-Saharan Africa and corporate CEOs to establish private-public partnerships to stimulate economic development in the region. Mr. Kumar previously served on the Group Operating Committee at Johnson & Johnson and as Vice President of Consumer Products for Latin America at Warner Lambert/Pfizer. Mr. Kumar has published on global management and served as adjunct faculty member at the Schulich School of Business at Toronto’s York University, Bombay University, India and has been appointed Professor of International Business at Rutgers University EMBA program. Between 1970 and 1985 Mr. Kumar was a news anchor on national television in India. Mr. Kumar has an Economics degree from Delhi University, an MBA from Bombay University, and is alum of the Thunderbird International Consortium Program. In 2004, Mr. Kumar was named Distinguished Executive-in-Residence by Thunderbird School of Global Management for his contributions to global trade.
James P. Lynch, Nominee for Director, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Department of Justice
James Lynch is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at John Jay College, City University of New York. He was previously a professor in the Department of Justice, Law, and Society at American University from 1986 to 2005 and chair of the Department from 2003 to 2005. Dr. Lynch is currently serving as the Vice President-elect of the American Society of Criminology (ASC). He previously served on the Committee on Law and Justice Statistics of the American Statistical Association and as a member of the National Academy of Science panel evaluating the programs of the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Dr. Lynch has published three books and numerous articles on crime statistics, victimization surveys, victimization risk, and the role of sanctions in social control and is also co-editor of the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. He received his B.A. degree from Wesleyan University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago.
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AND MINISTER MENTOR LEE KUAN YEW OF SINGAPORE
1:47 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hello, everybody. I just want to welcome the Minister Mentor of Singapore. This is one of the legendary figure of Asia in the 20th and 21st centuries. He is somebody who helped to trigger the Asian economic miracle. Singapore has been an outstanding friend and ally of the United States for many, many years, and so I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to hearing from the Minister Mentor his views on the evolving situation in Asia, as I prepare for my upcoming trip both to Singapore and to other key nations in the region.
And so I’m very grateful that he took the time. Welcome. And on behalf of the American people, we want to say thank you to the people of Singapore for being such outstanding friends.
MINISTER MENTOR LEE: Thank you, Mr. President, for those very warm words. I’m especially privileged to see you at a time of renewal and change in America, and during a period of transition where the world order is changing. And I look forward to hear your views on how you see the world evolving in a manner — (inaudible) — which is crucial to the stability and prosperity of East Asia.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.
All right, everybody.
Q Sir, can we ask about your visit to Dover Air Force Base last night? Will it influence your decision on Afghanistan?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, obviously it was a sobering reminder of the extraordinary sacrifices that our young men and women in uniform are engaging in every single day — not only our troops, but their families as well. And so Michelle and I are constantly mindful of those sacrifices.
And obviously the burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts. And it is something that I think about each and every day.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
ON SMALL BUSINESSES AND HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
11:51 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. Please, have a seat. Before I begin, I want to just acknowledge two people who are working extraordinarily hard on behalf of small businesses. First of all, the administrator of our Small Business Administration, Karen Mills, is here. (Applause.)
The other individual who is on his way and will be here in a hot second but we didn’t want to keep everybody waiting is a dear friend of mine, a great former governor of Virginia, is now the senator from the great state of Virginia, and a huge supporter of small business and trying to figure out how to help all of you control your costs, and that’s Senator Mark Warner. So when he comes in, please give him a smile. (Applause.)
I asked you here today to talk about health insurance reform and why it’s so critical to the success of small businesses across our country. But before I do, let me talk a minute just briefly about the new economic numbers that were released this morning.
I am gratified that our economy grew in the third quarter of this year. We’ve come a long way since the first three months of 2009, when our economy shrunk by an alarming 6.4 percent. In fact, the 3.5 percent growth in the third quarter is the largest three-month gain we have seen in two years. This is obviously welcome news and an affirmation that this recession is abating and the steps we’ve taken have made a difference.
But I also know that we got a long way to go to fully restore our economy and recover from what’s been the longest and deepest downturn since the Great Depression. And while this report today represents real progress, the benchmark I use to measure the strength of our economy is not just whether our GDP is growing, but whether we’re creating jobs, whether families are having an easier time paying their bills, whether our businesses are hiring and doing well. And that’s what I’m here to talk with you about today.
I know many of you have come from different corners of our country to be here, and looking out at all of you I’m reminded of the extraordinary diversity of America’s small businesses. You’re owners of coffee shops, and diners, and hotels. You’re florists, exterminators, builders. Each of your shops and firms reflects different passions, and different ideas, and different skills.
But what you share is a willingness to pursue those passions, take a chance on those ideas, and make the most of those skills. What you share is an entrepreneurial spirit, a tireless work ethic, and a simple hope for something better that lies at the heart of the American ideal. Businesses like yours are the engines of job growth in America. Over the past decade and a half, America’s small businesses have created 65 percent of all new jobs in this country. And more than half of all Americans working in the private sector are either employed by a small business or own one.
Now, even in good times, starting a business, as all of you know, is not easy. It takes moxie, it takes gumption, it takes ingenuity, and failure is often more likely than success. But I don’t have to tell you that it’s been particularly difficult over the past few years. From the middle of 2007 through the end of 2008, small businesses lost 2.4 million jobs. Thousands have shut their doors altogether. And because of the credit crunch, banks have shrunk back from lending, making it harder to get loans to branch out, or finance your inventories, or maybe even to make payroll. Maybe you’ve had to forgo raises. Maybe you’ve had to do the unthinkable and lay off friends or family.
So we know how tough times have been for small businesses. That’s why I made sure the Recovery Act included a number of measures to help small businesses weather this economic storm. We’ve put a tax cut — a tax cut, not a tax hike — a tax cut into the pockets of the vast majority of small business owners and employees. We’ve supported nearly 65,000 [sic] loans to small businesses — more than $13 billion in new lending. More than 1,200 banks and credit unions that had stopped issuing SBA loans when the financial crisis hit are lending again today. And just last week, we proposed increasing the cap on what are called 7(a) and 504 loans — some of the loans most frequently handed out by the SBA.
But given the enormous problems small businesses and all Americans are facing today, we’re aware that these steps are by no means enough. If we’re serious about strengthening small businesses, if we’re serious about creating a climate where our entrepreneurs can succeed, if we’re serious about giving you the chance to prosper and grow, I believe, this administration firmly believes, that we need to pass health insurance reform in the United States of America.
Now, few have a bigger stake in what happens than all of you. Few have a bigger stake than the men and women who own a small business, work at a small business, or rely on someone who does. Few have a bigger stake in what happens because few are struggling more under the status quo. You all know the story.
We all know that family premiums have skyrocketed more than 130 percent over the past decade. They have more than doubled. But small businesses have been hit harder than most. A story in the paper just the other day said that many small businesses may see their premiums rise about 15 percent over the coming year — twice the rate they rose last year. And in part because small businesses pay higher administrative costs than larger ones, your employees pay up to 18 percent more in premiums for the very same health insurance.
In one national survey, nearly three-quarters of small businesses that don’t offer benefits cited high premiums as the reason — and that’s not surprising.
The bottom line is that too many Americans like you can’t afford to build the kinds of businesses you’d been hoping to build. Too many budding entrepreneurs can’t afford to take a gamble on a smart idea because they can’t give up the health insurance they get in their current job. Too many of you not only can’t afford to provide health insurance to your employees, too many of you are having a tough time just affording health insurance for yourselves. That’s bad for our economy, it’s bad for our country, and that’s what we’ll change when health insurance reform becomes law.
Just this morning, the House of Representatives released its version of health reform legislation, and I want to commend Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Caucus for their leadership in achieving this critical milestone. They forged a strong consensus that represents a historic step forward. This bill includes reforms that will finally help make quality insurance affordable. Importantly, this bill is also fully paid for and will reduce the deficit in the long term.
Now, there is no doubt that this legislation, and the legislation that’s being drafted in the Senate, would benefit millions of small businesses. It’s being written with the interests of Americans like you and your employees in mind.
And yet, there are those who have a vested interest in the status quo who are claiming otherwise, and they’re using misleading figures and disingenuous arguments. So I want to try to explain as clearly as I can exactly what health reform would mean for small business owners like you and the workers you employ.
The first thing I want to make clear is that if you are happy with the insurance plan that you have right now, if the costs you’re paying and the benefits you’re getting are what you want them to be, then you can keep offering that same plan. Nobody will make you change it.
What we will do is make the coverage that you’re currently providing more affordable by offering a tax credit to small businesses that are trying to do the right thing and provide coverage for their employees. Under the House and Senate bills, millions of small businesses would be eligible for a tax credit of up to 50 percent of their premiums. That’s in the legislation that’s already been proposed.
We’ll also make your coverage more stable and more secure. Right now, if just one of your workers falls seriously ill, it could spell disaster for your entire business. You could see your premiums shoot up and you face a painful choice: Do you eat the costs and ask your workers to contribute more? Do you seek another insurance plan, without any guarantee that you’ll be able to find one that’s affordable? Or do you just scale back benefits or drop coverage altogether?
I don’t think that you should have to make that choice in the United States of America. Under health insurance reform, we put an end to the days when an insurance company could use one worker’s illness to justify jacking up premiums for everybody. We’ll crack down on excessive overhead charges by setting strong standards on how much of your premium can go towards administrative costs and requiring insurers to give you a refund if they violate those standards. It’ll be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of a preexisting condition. And it will be against the law for insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or water it down when you need it the most.
They’ll no longer be able to place some arbitrary cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or a lifetime. If you get your insurance through your employer, we’ll change the cutoff on how old your kids can be to remain on your plan — we’ll raise that to 26 years old. We’ll place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. And insurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies — because there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse and cost more money. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives.
So that’s what we’ll do for all the small businesses that have insurance, that are currently providing insurance. And for all the small businesses that can’t afford to provide insurance right now, and small business owners who can’t even afford to get coverage themselves, we’ll finally make quality coverage affordable. And here’s how we’ll do it.
One of the biggest problems in our health care system right now is if you’re a small business owner or if you’re self-employed, you often have such a small number of workers that insurance companies aren’t all that interested in your business. It’s basic economics. You don’t have a lot of leverage as a small customer. And as a result, you end up paying higher costs than big businesses that can get better deals because they’ve got more workers — they got more purchasing power.
So what we’ll do is to set up what we’re calling an exchange that will pool small businesses together. And that will mean it’s not just you bargaining with insurance companies, it’s you and many other small business owners and self-employed individuals all across the country. And with all that additional leverage, you’ll be able to get better deals than you could have ever received on your own. In fact, small businesses that choose one of the plans in this exchange could save 25 percent on their premiums by 2016 — only two years after the exchange has been set up.
And we’ll also offer tax credits to make insurance even more affordable for millions of small businesses. So meanwhile, by expanding coverage for more Americans, we’re going to help eliminate the “hidden tax” of more than a thousand dollars that the average worker is paying to cover the medical expenses of the uninsured.
Now, nothing is free, and it’s true that when reform becomes law, businesses of a certain size who do not offer their workers health care coverage may be required to contribute to the costs — and that makes a lot of small business owners nervous. Opponents of reform have tried to say that you’d be subject to this penalty and it could potentially drive up your costs.
But here are the facts, because this has been analyzed repeatedly. About 90 percent — 90 percent of all small businesses, regardless of what version of this plan you’re talking about that’s currently going through Congress — 90 percent of all businesses would be exempt from this requirement. So if your business is anything like the vast majority of small businesses out there, this requirement simply won’t apply to you — because I don’t think it’s fair to impose a penalty on small businesses that are already operating at very narrow margins.
So that’s what health insurance reform would mean for you and for all our small businesses. It would reduce your costs. It would prevent small business owners from facing exorbitant rate hikes. It will make coverage affordable for all small businesses that can’t afford it right now. And if you’re providing health insurance to your employees, it gives you more predictability, more security, more stability.
It will help remove the worry that if you have the courage to strike out on your own and open a business, you’ll be doomed from the start. It will help give entrepreneurs and all Americans the assurance of knowing they won’t go broke when they get sick. It will help ensure that no small business owner in America has to choose between being a successful employer and an employer who cares deeply about the well-being of his employees, or her employees. It will help us be the kind of country we know ourselves to be.
So what’s at stake isn’t just the success of our businesses or the strength of our economy or even the health of our people. What’s at stake is that most American of ideas — that this is a place where you can make it if you try; where you can be your own boss; where the only limits to what you can achieve are your smarts, your savvy, your dreams, your willingness to work hard; where you can pass on to your children a better life than you inherited.
That’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And I’m absolutely confident that if we do what has to be done, if we can build an economy that works for all Americans, if we can promote innovation, and foster growth, and build a better health care system that is not a drag on each and every one of you, then not only will we ease the burdens on entrepreneurs, not only will we give our small businesses a huge boost, not only will we produce the kind of growth we so desperately need in this country, but we’ll secure the blessings of America for our children and our grandchildren.
That’s what we’re fighting for. I need your help to make it happen. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. God bless America. (Applause.)
STATEMENT FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA ON THE AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE FOR AMERICA ACT
“I congratulate the House of Representatives on the introduction of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, another critical milestone in the effort to reform our health care system.
This legislation is the product of unprecedented cooperation and countless hours of hard work by Speaker Pelosi, Chairmen Waxman, Rangel, and Miller, Congressman Dingell, and scores of House members who share my conviction that we can’t wait another year for health insurance reform. They have forged a strong consensus that represents a historic step forward.
The House legislation includes critical reforms to the insurance industry, so that Americans will no longer have to worry that they will be denied coverage, or that their coverage will be dropped or watered down when they need it most. I’m also pleased that the bill includes a public option offered in an exchange. As I’ve said throughout this process, a public option that competes with private insurers is the best way to ensure choice and competition that are so badly needed in today’s market. And the House bill clearly meets two of the fundamental criteria I have set out: it is fully paid for and will reduce the deficit in the long term.
While we know there will may more steps and much spirited debate before a bill reaches my desk, I congratulate the House on their work so far, and I’m confident that members will continue to work together to deliver meaningful reform for America’s families and businesses.”
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AT RECEPTION COMMEMORATING THE ENACTMENT OF THE MATTHEW SHEPARD AND JAMES BYRD, JR. HATE CRIMES PREVENTION ACT
5:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much, everybody. Thank you so much, and welcome to the White House.
There are several people here that I want to just make mention of because they helped to make today possible. We’ve got Attorney General Eric Holder. (Applause.) A champion of this legislation, and a great Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.) My dear friend, senior Senator from the great state of Illinois, Dick Durbin. (Applause.) The outstanding Chairman of Armed Services, Carl Levin. (Applause.) Senator Arlen Specter. (Applause.) Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the House, Representative John Conyers. (Applause.) Representative Barney Frank. (Applause.) Representative Tammy Baldwin. (Applause.) Representative Jerry Nadler. (Applause.) Representative Jared Polis. (Applause.) All the members of Congress who are here today, we thank you.
Mr. David Bohnett and Mr. Tom Gregory and the David Bohnett Foundation — they are partners for this reception. Thank you so much, guys, for helping to host this. (Applause.)
And finally, and most importantly, because these were really the spearheads of this effort – Denis, Judy, and Logan Shepard. (Applause.) As well as Betty Byrd Boatner and Louvon Harris – sisters of James Byrd, Jr. (Applause.)
To all the activists, all the organizers, all the people who helped make this day happen, thank you for your years of advocacy and activism, pushing and protesting that made this victory possible.
You know, as a nation we’ve come far on the journey towards a more perfect union. And today, we’ve taken another step forward. This afternoon, I signed into law the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. (Applause.)
This is the culmination of a struggle that has lasted more than a decade. Time and again, we faced opposition. Time and again, the measure was defeated or delayed. Time and again we’ve been reminded of the difficulty of building a nation in which we’re all free to live and love as we see fit. But the cause endured and the struggle continued, waged by the family of Matthew Shepard, by the family of James Byrd, by folks who held vigils and led marches, by those who rallied and organized and refused to give up, by the late Senator Ted Kennedy who fought so hard for this legislation — (applause) — and all who toiled for years to reach this day.
You understood that we must stand against crimes that are meant not only to break bones, but to break spirits — not only to inflict harm, but to instill fear. You understand that the rights afforded every citizen under our Constitution mean nothing if we do not protect those rights — both from unjust laws and violent acts. And you understand how necessary this law continues to be.
In the most recent year for which we have data, the FBI reported roughly 7,600 hate crimes in this country. Over the past 10 years, there were more than 12,000 reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation alone. And we will never know how many incidents were never reported at all.
And that’s why, through this law, we will strengthen the protections against crimes based on the color of your skin, the faith in your heart, or the place of your birth. We will finally add federal protections against crimes based on gender, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation. (Applause.) And prosecutors will have new tools to work with states in order to prosecute to the fullest those who would perpetrate such crimes. Because no one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hands of the person they love. No one in America should be forced to look over their shoulder because of who they are or because they live with a disability.
At root, this isn’t just about our laws; this is about who we are as a people. This is about whether we value one another
– whether we embrace our differences, rather than allowing them to become a source of animus. It’s hard for any of us to imagine the mind-set of someone who would kidnap a young man and beat him to within an inch of his life, tie him to a fence, and leave him for dead. It’s hard for any of us to imagine the twisted mentality of those who’d offer a neighbor a ride home, attack him, chain him to the back of a truck, and drag him for miles until he finally died.
But we sense where such cruelty begins: the moment we fail to see in another our common humanity — the very moment when we fail to recognize in a person the same fears and hopes, the same passions and imperfections, the same dreams that we all share.
We have for centuries strived to live up to our founding ideal, of a nation where all are free and equal and able to pursue their own version of happiness. Through conflict and tumult, through the morass of hatred and prejudice, through periods of division and discord we have endured and grown stronger and fairer and freer. And at every turn, we’ve made progress not only by changing laws but by changing hearts, by our willingness to walk in another’s shoes, by our capacity to love and accept even in the face of rage and bigotry.
In April of 1968, just one week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, as our nation mourned in grief and shuddered in anger, President Lyndon Johnson signed landmark civil rights legislation. This was the first time we enshrined into law federal protections against crimes motivated by religious or racial hatred — the law on which we build today.
As he signed his name, at a difficult moment for our country, President Johnson said that through this law “the bells of freedom ring out a little louder.” That is the promise of America. Over the sounds of hatred and chaos, over the din of grief and anger, we can still hear those ideals — even when they are faint, even when some would try to drown them out. At our best we seek to make sure those ideals can be heard and felt by Americans everywhere. And that work did not end in 1968. It certainly does not end today. But because of the efforts of the folks in this room — particularly those family members who are standing behind me — we can be proud that that bell rings even louder now and each day grows louder still.
So thank you very much. God bless you and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)