Remarks By First Lady Michelle Obama On Health Insurance Reform And Older Women: “Over Half Of All Women In America Don’t Have The Option Of Getting Insurance Through The Workplace”
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
ON HEALTH INSURANCE REFORM AND OLDER WOMEN
3:12 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. First of all, forgive me — I’ve got children, and now I have a cold. (Laughter.) It goes along with the territory.
Let me begin by first thanking Tina Tchen, who’s doing an outstanding job as Director of the Office of Public Engagement by opening up this White House to the American people and organizing events like this one today. She’s just been a terrific asset and a dear friend — and let’s give her a round of applause. (Applause.)
And I also want to commend Nancy-Ann for her extraordinary leadership on health care — health insurance reform. I know my husband, who is traveling abroad right now, would agree with me when I say that without her, we wouldn’t have come this far, and because of her, we’re going to get the job done. So we are grateful to you, Nancy-Ann. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to thank all the women who are here today. This is a wonderful, lively group — I heard you all giggling earlier today. (Laughter.)
But I also want to thank the women who spoke today — to Kelly and Fran and Judy — for sharing their stories. What they’ve been through isn’t easy, and I’m grateful that they have been brave enough and open enough to share their stories with all of us. It takes a lot of courage.
These stories touch our hearts. They spark in us just a fundamental sense of unfairness. But the sad truth is none of these stories are unique. These kinds of stories are being told in city after city, town after town, all across America. They’re being told by women who lost their coverage when their husband lost a job, or their husband passed away. They’re being told by women who aren’t getting regular checkups because it’s simply too expensive. They’re being told my women living on fixed incomes who can’t afford the prescription drugs that they need.
All of these stories reflect the fundamental reality — and that is, women are among those struggling most under the status quo, the way things are. And women are among those who will benefit most from health insurance reform because the truth is that women, we have a special relationship with our health care system. In a lot of families that’s true because we are the health care system in so many ways. (Laughter.)
Eight in 10 mothers say they’re the ones responsible for choosing their children’s doctors, taking them to appointments, and managing the follow-up care. And over 10 percent of all women are now caring for a sick or elderly relative.
Our entire lives as women, we are asked to bear much of the responsibility for our family’s health and well-being. And yet, we often face special challenges when it comes to our own health insurance. Part of it has to do with the fact that women are more likely than men to do part-time work or to work in a small business — in jobs that are less likely to offer the kind of insurance that you really need. In fact, over half of all women in this country don’t have the option of getting insurance through the workplace at all.
But even women who do have insurance face inequities under the status quo. Because women make less than 80 cents for every dollar their male coworkers make, it’s more difficult for them to pay their premiums — especially when studies show that they’re paying far more than men for the same coverage.
And I don’t think anyone here will be surprised to learn that a recent study found that one-third of all women have either used up savings, taken on debt, or given up basic necessities just to pay their medical bills. And as many of you know firsthand, these kinds of problems — the problems of coverage and cost — only grow worse when you get older, making quality, affordable coverage harder to come by just — as we’ve seen today and heard today — just when you need it the most.
In the individual market, people in their early 60s are more than twice as likely to be denied coverage than people in their late 30s. Older women are more likely than men to face a chronic illness, but they’re less likely to be able to afford the cost of treating that illness. And in recent years, studies have shown that women over the age of 65 spend about 17 percent of their income on health care. And that’s just not right.
Our mothers and grandmothers, they have taken care of us all their lives; they’ve made the sacrifices that it takes to get us where we need to be. And we have an obligation to make sure that we’re taking care of them. It’s as simple as that. America has a responsibility to give all seniors the golden years they deserve and the secure, dignified retirement that they worked so hard to achieve. (Applause.)
And that’s exactly what health insurance reform is going to help us do in this country.
Now, I can tell you — I can’t tell, actually, what the bill that will ultimately land across my husband’s desk will look like — none of us can. But I can tell you just a few important ways that the insurance system will be impacted.
For starters — and this is very important — your insurance will not change unless you want it to change. So if things are great for you, you’re fine. (Laughter.) It will, however, become more stable and more secure, no matter what your situation is. There will be a cap on how much you can be charged in out-of-pocket expenses in a year or in a lifetime. So there will be a cap. It will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage for preexisting conditions. (Applause.) And that change alone will help us end the discrimination women face in our health care system. And also, insurance companies will be required to cover, at no extra cost, routine checkups and preventive care.
And I’d like to speak just a moment about what reform will mean for seniors, in particular.
There’s been a lot of misinformation on this topic so I want to be clear — Nancy-Ann mentioned this: Not a dime of the Medicare Trust Fund will be used to pay for reform. Health insurance reform will not endanger Medicare; it will make Medicare more stable and secure. (Applause.) By eliminating wasteful subsidies to private insurance and cracking down on fraud and abuse throughout the system, this administration believes that we can bring down premiums for all our seniors and extend the life of the Medicare Trust Fund.
My husband believes that Medicare is a sacred part of America’s social safety net, and it’s a safety net that he will protect — he will protect with health insurance reform. And I know that many seniors on Medicare are also concerned about the cost of prescription drugs; we’ve heard about it here.
Right now, millions of seniors face huge out-of-pocket costs when their spending on drugs falls within a coverage gap. My husband is committed to closing that gap, which will save some seniors, as you’ve heard, thousands of dollars on medications and make prescription drugs more affordable for millions of older Americans. (Applause.)
So what we’re talking about — affordable prescription drugs for Americans who need them; Medicare that’s protected today and tomorrow; stability and security for Americans who have insurance; quality, affordable coverage for Americans who don’t. That’s what reform will mean for older women, for seniors, and for all Americans.
So that’s why I believe in this so strongly. That’s why I believe in this so strongly.
But in the end, I’m not here just as a First Lady. That’s not why I’m doing this. I am here because I’m a daughter. I’m here because I have an extraordinary mother who is 72 years old — young. (Laughter and applause.) And I know there are countless women in this country who have loved ones who feel the same way about them as I do about my mother.
And when all is said and done, part of why I believe so strongly in reforming our health care system is because of the difference it will make for these women who gave us life — so simple — these women who raised us, these women who supported us through the years. They deserve better than the status quo. They deserve a health care system that heals them and lifts them up.
And that’s what my husband is committed to doing, to building that kind of system in the weeks and months to come.
So thank you all. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you all for your hard work and dedication, for listening, for being a part — and let’s get to work. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
President Obama In Japan: “We Will Not Be Cowed By Threats, And We Will Continue To Send A Clear Message Through Our Actions And NOt Just Our Words”
Remarks of President Barack Obama
November 14, 2009
Good morning. It is a great honor to be in Tokyo—the first stop on my first visit to Asia as President. It’s good to be among so many of you – Japanese and Americans – who work every day to strengthen the bonds between our two countries, including my longtime friend and our new ambassador to Japan, John Roos.
It is wonderful to be back in Japan. When I was a young boy, my mother brought me to Kamakura, where I looked up at that centuries-old symbol of peace and tranquility – the great bronze Amida Buddha. As a child, I was more focused on the matcha ice cream. But I have never forgotten the warmth and hospitality that the Japanese people showed a young American far from home.
I feel that same spirit on this visit. In the gracious welcome of Prime Minister Hatoyama. In the honor of meeting with Their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and Empress on the 20th anniversary of his accession to the Chrysanthemum Throne. In the hospitality shown by the Japanese people. And of course, I could not come here without sending greetings and my gratitude to the citizens of Obama, Japan.
I am beginning my journey here for a simple reason. Since taking office, I have worked to renew American leadership and pursue a new era of engagement with the world based on mutual interests and mutual respect. And our efforts in the Asia Pacific will be rooted, in no small measure, through an enduring and revitalized alliance between the United States and Japan.
From my first days in office, we have worked to strengthen the ties that bind our nations. The first foreign leader that I welcomed to the White House was the prime minister of Japan, and for the first time in nearly fifty years, the first foreign trip by an American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, was to Asia, starting in Japan.
In two months, our alliance will mark its 50th anniversary – a day when President Dwight Eisenhower stood next to Japan’s Prime Minister and said that our two nations were creating “an indestructible partnership” based on “equality and mutual understanding.”
In the half century since, that alliance has endured as a foundation of our security and prosperity. It has helped us become the world’s two largest economies, with Japan emerging as America’s second-largest trading partner outside of North America. It has evolved as Japan has played a larger role on the world stage, and made important contributions to stability around the world – from reconstruction in Iraq, to combating piracy off the Horn of Africa, to assistance for the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan – most recently through its remarkable leadership in providing additional commitments to international development efforts there.
Above all, our alliance has endured because it reflects our common values – a belief in the democratic right of free people to choose their own leaders and realize their own dreams; a belief that made possible the election of both Prime Minister Hatoyama and myself on the promise of change. And together, we are committed to providing a new generation of leadership for our people, and our alliance.
That is why, at this critical moment in history, the two of us have not only reaffirmed our alliance – we have agreed to deepen it. We have agreed to move expeditiously through a joint working group to implement the agreement that our two governments reached on restructuring US forces in Okinawa. And as our alliance evolves and adapts for the future, we will always strive to uphold the spirit that President Eisenhower described long ago – a partnership of equality and mutual respect.
But while our commitment to this region begins in Japan, it does not end here. The United States of America may have started as a series of ports and cities along the Atlantic, but for generations we also have been a nation of the Pacific. Asia and the United States are not separated by this great ocean; we are bound by it. We are bound by our past – by the Asian immigrants who helped build America, and the generations of Americans in uniform who have served and sacrificed to keep this region secure and free. We are bound by our shared prosperity – by the trade and commerce upon which millions of jobs and families depend. And we are bound by our people – by the Asian Americans who enrich every segment of American life. and all the people whose lives, like our countries, are interwoven.
My own life is a part of that story. I am an American President who was born in Hawaii and lived in Indonesia as a boy. My sister Maya was born in Jakarta, and later married a Chinese-Canadian. My mother spent nearly a decade working in the villages of Southeast Asia, helping women buy a sewing machine or an education that might give them a foothold in the world economy. So the Pacific rim has helped shape my view of the world.
Since that time, perhaps no region has changed as swiftly or dramatically. Controlled economies have given way to open markets. Dictatorships have become democracies. Living standards have risen while poverty has plummeted. And through all these changes, the fortunes of America and the Asia Pacific have become more closely linked than ever before.
So I want every American to know that we have a stake in the future of this region, because what happens here has a direct affect on our lives at home. This is where we engage in much of our commerce and buy many of our goods. And this is where we can export more of our own products and create jobs back home in the process. This is a place where the risk of a nuclear arms race threatens the security of the wider world, and where extremists who defile a great religion plan attacks on both our continents. And there can be no solution to our energy security and our climate challenge without the rising powers and developing nations of the Asia Pacific.
To meet these common challenges, the United States looks to strengthen old alliances and build new partnerships with the nations of this region. To do this, we look to America’s treaty alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines – alliances that are not historical documents from a bygone era, but abiding commitments to each other that are fundamental to our shared security.
These alliances continue to provide the bedrock of security and stability that has allowed the nations and peoples of this region to pursue opportunity and prosperity that was unimaginable at the time of my first visit to Japan. And even as American troops are engaged in two wars around the world, our commitment to Japan’s security and to Asian security is unshakeable, and it can be seen in our deployments throughout the region –above all, through our young men and women in uniform
We look to emerging nations that are poised to play a larger role – both in the Asia Pacific region and the wider world. Places like Indonesia and Malaysia that have adopted democracy, developed their economies, and tapped the great potential of their own people.
We look to rising powers with the view that in the 21st century, the national security and economic growth of one country need not come at the expense of another. I know there are many who question how the United States perceives China’s emergence. But as I have said – in an inter-connected world, power does not need to be a zero-sum game, and nations need not fear the success of another. Cultivating spheres of cooperation – not competing spheres of influence – will lead to progress in the Asia Pacific.
As with any nation, America will approach China with a focus on our interests. And it is precisely for this reason that it is important to pursue pragmatic cooperation with China on issues of mutual concern – because no one nation can meet the challenges of the 21st century alone, and the United States and China will both be better off when we are able to meet them together. That is why we welcome China’s efforts to play a greater role on the world stage – a role in which their growing economy is joined by growing responsibility. China’s partnership has proved critical in our effort to jumpstart economic recovery. China has promoted security and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it is now committed to the global nonproliferation regime, and supporting the pursuit of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
So the United States does not seek to contain China, nor does a deeper relationship with China mean a weakening of our bilateral alliances. On the contrary, the rise of a strong, prosperous China can be a source of strength for the community of nations. And so in Beijing and beyond, we will work to deepen our Strategic and Economic Dialogue, and improve communication between our militaries. We will not agree on every issue, and the United States will never waver in speaking up for the fundamental values that we hold dear – and that includes respect for the religion and cultures of all people. Because support for human rights and human dignity is ingrained in America. But we can move these discussions forward in a spirit of partnership rather than rancor.
In addition to our bilateral relations, we also believe that the growth of multilateral organizations can advance the security and prosperity of this region. I know that the United States has been disengaged from these organizations in recent years. So let me be clear: those days have passed. As an Asia Pacific nation, the United States expects to be involved in the discussions that shape the future of this region, and to participate fully in appropriate organizations as they are established and evolve.
That is the work that I will begin on this trip. The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum will continue to promote regional commerce and prosperity, and I look forward to participating in that forum tomorrow. ASEAN will remain a catalyst for Southeast Asian dialogue, cooperation and security, and I look forward to becoming the first American President to meet with all ten of its leaders. And the United States looks forward to engaging with the East Asia Summit more formally as it plays a role in addressing the challenges of our time.
We seek this deeper and broader engagement because we know our collective future depends on it. And I’d like to speak for a bit about what that future can look like, and what we must do to advance our prosperity, our security, and our universal values and aspirations.
First, we must strengthen our economic recovery, and pursue growth that is both balanced and sustained.
The quick, unprecedented and coordinated action taken by Asia Pacific nations and others has averted economic catastrophe, and helped us begin to emerge from the worst recession in generations. And we have taken the historic step of reforming our international economic architecture, so that the G-20 is now the premier forum for international economic cooperation.
This shift to the G-20 – along with the greater voice that is being given to Asian nations in international financial institutions – clearly demonstrates the broader and more inclusive engagement that America seeks in the 21st century. And as a key member of the G-8, Japan has and will continue to play a leading role in shaping the future of the international financial architecture.
Now that we are on the brink of economic recovery, we must also ensure that it can be sustained. We simply cannot return to the same cycles of boom and bust that led us into a global recession. We cannot follow the same policies that led to such imbalanced growth. One of the important lessons this recession has taught us is the limits of depending primarily on American consumers and Asian exports to drive growth. Because when Americans found themselves in debt or out of work, demand for Asian goods plummeted. When demand fell sharply, exports from this region fell sharply. Since the economies of this region are so dependent on exports, they stopped growing. And the global recession only deepened.
We have now reached one of those rare inflection points in history where we have the opportunity to take a different path. And that must begin with the G20 pledge that we made in Pittsburgh to pursue a new strategy for balanced economic growth.
I’ll be saying more about this in Singapore, but in the United States, this new strategy will mean saving more and spending less, reforming our financial system and reducing our long-term deficit. It will also mean a greater emphasis on exports that we can build, produce, and sell all over the world. For America, this is a jobs strategy. Right now, our exports support millions upon millions of well-paying American jobs. Increasing those exports by just a small amount has the potential to create millions more. These are jobs making everything from wind turbines and solar panels to the technology you use every day.
For Asia, striking this better balance will provide an opportunity for workers and consumers to enjoy higher standards of living that their remarkable increases in productivity have made possible. It will allow for greater investments in housing, infrastructure, and the service sector. And a more balanced global economy will lead to prosperity that reaches further and deeper.
For decades, the United States has had one of the most open markets in the world, and that openness has helped fuel the success of so many countries in this region and others over the last century. In this new era, opening other markets around the globe will be critical not just to America’s prosperity, but to the world’s.
An integral part of this new strategy is working toward an ambitious and balanced Doha agreement – not any agreement, but an agreement that will open up markets and increase exports around the world. We are ready to work with our Asian partners to see if we can achieve that objective in a timely fashion – and we invite our regional trading partners to join us at the table.
We also believe that continued integration of the economies of this region will benefit workers, consumers, and businesses in all of our nations. Together, with our South Korean friends, we will work through the issues necessary to move forward on a trade agreement with them. The United States will also be engaging with the Trans Pacific partnership countries with the goal of shaping a regional agreement that will have broad-based membership and the high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement.
Working in partnership, this is how we can sustain this recovery and advance our common prosperity. But it’s not enough to pursue growth that is balanced. We also need growth that is sustainable – for our planet and the future generations that will live here.
Already, the United States has taken more steps to combat climate change in ten months than we have in our recent history: by embracing the latest science, investing in new energy, raising efficiency standards, forging new partnerships, and engaging in international climate negotiations. In short, America knows there is more work to do – but we are meeting our responsibility, and will continue to do so.
That includes striving for success in Copenhagen. I have no illusions that this will be easy, but the contours of a way forward are clear. All nations must accept their responsibility. Those nations – like my own – who have been the leading emitters must have clear reduction targets. Developing countries will need to take substantial actions to curb their emissions, aided by finance and technology. And there must be transparency and accountability for domestic actions.
Each of us must do what we can to grow our economies without endangering our planet – and we must do it together. But the good news is that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, it will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. It will lead to new jobs, new businesses, and entire new industries.
Yet, even as we confront this challenge of the 21st century, we must also redouble our efforts to meet a threat to our security that is the legacy of the 20th century – the danger posed by nuclear weapons.
In Prague, I affirmed America’s commitment to rid the world of nuclear weapons, and laid out a comprehensive agenda to pursue this goal. I am pleased that Japan has joined us in this effort. No two nations on Earth know better what these weapons can do, and together we must seek a future without them. This is fundamental to our common security, and this is a great test of our common humanity. Our very future hangs in the balance.
Let me be clear: so long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a strong and effective nuclear deterrent that guarantees the defense of our allies – including South Korea and Japan.
But we must recognize that an escalating nuclear arms race in this region would undermine decades of growing security and prosperity. So we are called upon to uphold the basic bargain of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – that all nations have a right to peaceful nuclear energy; that nations with nuclear weapons have a responsibility to move toward nuclear disarmament; and those without them have the responsibility to forsake them.
Indeed, Japan serves as an example to the world that true peace and power can be achieved by taking this path. For decades, Japan has enjoyed the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy, while rejecting nuclear arms development – and by any measure, this has increased Japan’s security, and enhanced its position.
To meet our responsibilities – and move forward with the agenda I laid out in Prague – we have passed a unanimous UN Security Council resolution embracing this international effort. We are pursuing a new agreement with Russia to reduce our nuclear stockpiles. We will work to ratify and bring into force the Test Ban Treaty. And next year at our Nuclear Security Summit, we will advance our goal of securing all of the world’s vulnerable nuclear materials within four years.
As I have said before, strengthening the global nonproliferation regime is not about singling out individual nations. It is about all nations living up to their responsibilities. That includes the Islamic Republic of Iran. And it includes North Korea.
For decades, North Korea has chosen a path of confrontation and provocation, including the pursuit of nuclear weapons. It should be clear where that path leads. We have tightened sanctions on Pyongyang. We have passed the most sweeping UN Security Council resolution to date to restrict their weapons of mass destruction activities. We will not be cowed by threats, and we will continue to send a clear message through our actions, and not just our words: North Korea’s refusal to meet its international obligations will lead only to less security – not more.
Yet there is another path that can be taken. Working in tandem with our partners – and supported by direct diplomacy – the United States is prepared to offer North Korea a different future. Instead of an isolation that has compounded the horrific repression of its own people, North Korea could have a future of international integration. Instead of gripping poverty, it could have a future of economic opportunity – where trade, investment and tourism can offer the North Korean people the chance at a better life. And instead of increasing insecurity, it could have a future of greater security and respect. This respect cannot be earned through belligerence. It must be reached by a nation that takes its place in the international community by fully living up to its international obligations.
The path for North Korea to realize this future is clear: a return to the Six-Party Talks; upholding previous commitments, including a return to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and the full and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. And full normalization with its neighbors can only come if Japanese families receive a full accounting of those who have been abducted. These are all steps that can be taken by the North Korean government, if they are interested in improving the lives of their people and joining the community of nations.
And as we are vigilant in confronting this challenge, we will stand with all of our Asian partners in combating the transnational threats of the 21st century: by rooting out the extremists who slaughter the innocent, and stopping the piracy that threatens our sea lanes; by enhancing our efforts to stop infectious disease, and working to end extreme poverty in our time; and by shutting down the traffickers who exploit women, children and migrants, and putting a stop to this scourge of modern-day slavery once and for all.
Indeed, the final area in which we must work together is in upholding the fundamental rights and dignity of all human beings.
The Asia Pacific region is rich with many cultures. It is marked by extraordinary traditions and strong national histories. And time and again, we have seen the remarkable talent and drive of the peoples of this region in advancing human progress. Yet this much is also clear – indigenous cultures and economic growth have not been stymied by respect for human rights, they have been strengthened by it. Supporting human rights provides lasting security that cannot be purchased in any other way – that is the story that can be seen in Japan’s democracy, just as it can be seen in America’s.
The longing for liberty and dignity is a part of the story of all peoples. For there are certain aspirations that human beings hold in common: the freedom to speak your mind, and choose your leaders; the ability to access information, and worship how you please; confidence in the rule of law, and the equal administration of justice. These are not impediments to stability, they are its cornerstones. And we will always stand on the side of those who seek these rights.
That truth guides our new approach to Burma. Despite years of good intentions, neither sanctions by the United States nor engagement by others succeeded in improving the lives of the Burmese people. So we are now communicating directly with the leadership to make it clear that existing sanctions will remain until there are concrete steps toward democratic reform. We support a Burma that is unified, peaceful, prosperous, and democratic. And as Burma moves in that direction, a better relationship with the United States is possible.
There are clear steps that must be taken – the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi; an end to conflicts with minority groups; and a genuine dialogue between the government, the democratic opposition and minority groups on a shared vision for the future. That is how a government in Burma will be able to respond to the needs of its people. That is the path that will bring Burma true security and prosperity.
These are the steps that the United States will take to improve prosperity, security, and human dignity in the Asia Pacific. We will do so through our close friendship with Japan – which will always be a centerpiece of our efforts in the region. We will do so as a partner – through the broader engagement that I have discussed today. We will do so as a Pacific nation – with a President who was shaped in part by this piece of the globe. And we will do so with the same sense of purpose that has guided our ties with the Japanese people for nearly fifty years.
The story of how these ties were forged dates back to the middle of the last century, some time after the guns of war had quieted in the Pacific. It was then that America’s commitment to the security and stability of Japan, along with the Japanese peoples’ spirit of resilience and industriousness, led to what has been called the Japanese Miracle – a period of economic growth that was faster and more robust than anything the world had seen for some time.
In the coming years and decades, this Miracle would spread throughout the region, and in a single generation, the lives and fortunes of millions were forever changed for the better. It is progress that has been supported by a hard-earned peace, and strengthened by new bridges of mutual understanding that have bound together the nations of this vast and sprawling space.
But we know that there is still work to be done – so that new breakthroughs in science and technology can lead to jobs on both sides of the Pacific, and security from a warming planet; so that we reverse the spread of deadly weapons, and – on a divided peninsula – the people of the South can be freed from fear, while those in the north can live free from want; so that a young girl van be valued not for her body but for her mind, and so that young people everywhere can go as far as their talent, their drive, and their choices will take them.
None of this will come easy, nor without setback or struggle. But at this moment of renewal – in this land of miracles – history tells us it is possible. This is America’s agenda. This is the purpose of our partnership – with Japan, and with the nations and peoples of this region. And there must be no doubt: as America’s first Pacific President, I promise you that this Pacific nation will strengthen and sustain our leadership in this vitally important part of the world. Thank you very much
WEEKLY ADDRESS: President Obama Calls for Comprehensive Review of Events Leading to Tragedy at Fort Hood
WASHINGTON – With the investigation into the tragedy at Fort Hood ongoing, President Barack Obama used his weekly address to call for a careful and complete review of what happened before the tragedy.
Remarks of President Barack Obama
November 14, 2009
This was a week for honoring the extraordinary service and profound sacrifice of our men and women in uniform.
Every fall, we set aside a special day to pay tribute to our veterans. But this year, Veteran’s Day took on even greater poignancy and meaning because of the tragic events at Fort Hood.
On Tuesday, I traveled there to join with the Fort Hood community, the Army, and the friends and families of the victims to honor thirteen of our fellow Americans who died – and the dozens more who were wounded – not on some distant shore, but on a military base at home.
Every man and woman who signs up for military service does so with full knowledge of the dangers that could come – that is part of what makes the service of our troops and veterans so extraordinary. But it’s unthinkable that so many would die in a hail of gunfire on a US Army base in the heart of Texas, and that a fellow service-member could have pulled trigger.
There is an ongoing investigation into this terrible tragedy. That investigation will look at the motives of the alleged gunman, including his views and contacts. As I said in Fort Hood, I am confident that justice will be done, and I will insist that the full story be told. That is paramount, and I won’t compromise that investigation today by discussing the details of this case. But given the potential warning signs that may have been known prior these shootings, we must uncover what steps – if any – could have been taken to avert this tragedy.
On the Thursday evening that this tragedy took place, I met in the Oval Office with Secretary of Defense Gates, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – Admiral Mullen, and FBI Director Mueller to review the immediate steps that were necessary to support the families and secure Fort Hood. The next morning, I met with the leadership of our military and the intelligence community, and ordered them to undertake a full review of the sequence of events that led up to the shootings.
The purpose of this review is clear: We must compile every piece of information that was known about the gunman, and we must learn what was done with that information. Once we have those facts, we must act upon them. If there was a failure to take appropriate action before the shootings, there must be accountability. Beyond that – and most importantly – we must quickly and thoroughly evaluate and address any flaws in the system, so that we can prevent a similar breach from happening again. Our government must be able to act swiftly and surely when it has threatening information. And our troops must have the security that they deserve.
I know there will also be inquiries by Congress, and there should. But all of us should resist the temptation to turn this tragic event into the political theater that sometimes dominates the discussion here in Washington. The stakes are far too high.
Of all the responsibilities of the presidency, the one that I weigh most heavily is my duty as Commander-in-Chief to our splendid service-men and women. Their character and bravery were on full display in that processing center at Fort Hood, when so many scrambled under fire to help their wounded comrades. And their great dignity and decency has been on display in the days since, as the Fort Hood community has rallied together.
We owe our troops prayerful, considered decisions about when and where we commit them to battle to protect our security and freedom, and we must fully support them when they are deployed. We also owe them the absolute assurance that they’ll be safe here at home as they prepare for whatever mission may come. As Commander-in-Chief, I won’t settle for anything less.
This nation will never forget the service of those we lost at Fort Hood, just as we will always honor the service of all who wear the uniform of the United States of America. Their legacy will be an America that is safer and stronger – an America that reflects the extraordinary character of the men and women who serve it.