Statement by the President on the Passing of Jaime Escalante
I was saddened to hear about the passing of Jaime Escalante today. While most of us got to know him through the movie that depicted his work teaching inner-city students calculus, the students whose lives he changed remain the true testament to his life’s work. Throughout his career Jaime opened the doors of success and higher education for his students one by one, and proved that where a person came from did not have to determine how far they could go. He instilled knowledge in his students, but more importantly he helped them find the passion and the will to fulfill their potential. Jaime’s story became famous. But he represented countless, valiant teachers throughout our country whose great works are known only to the young people whose lives they change. Michelle and I offer our condolences to Jaime’s family, and to all those who knew him and whose lives he touched.
President and First Lady Host White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility
Small Business Owners, Workers, Business and Labor Leaders, and Experts Join Administration Officials to Discuss Workplace Practices for a Changing American Workforce
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls are hosting the White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility to discuss the importance of creating workplace practices that allow America’s working men and women to meet the demands of their jobs without sacrificing the needs of their families.
Small business owners, business leaders, policy experts, workers and labor leaders are joining with senior administration officials today to share their ideas and strategies for making the workplace more flexible for American workers and families. The opening and closing sessions, as well as five breakout sessions focused on best practices and benefits for the American workplace and workforce, are streaming live on www.WhiteHouse.gov/live. In addition, much of the event is streaming on Facebook and Ustream, and the White House will include comments taken through these social networks in the feedback collected through the forum.
In conjunction with the forum, the President’s Council of Economic Advisers is releasing a report presenting an economic perspective on flexible workplace policies and practices. The report documents some of the changes in the U.S. workforce which have increased the need for flexibility in the workplace, including the increased number of women entering the labor force, the prevalence of families where all adults work, increasing eldercare responsibilities, and the rising importance of continuing education. It then examines the current state of flexible work arrangements and discusses the economic benefits of workplace flexibility – such as reduced absenteeism, lower turnover, improved health of workers, and increased productivity. The analysis is available online here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/files/documents/100331-cea-economics-workplace-flexibility.pdf.
“Workplace flexibility isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s an issue that affects the well-being of our families and the success of our businesses,” said President Obama. “It affects the strength of our economy – whether we’ll create the workplaces and jobs of the future that we need to compete in today’s global economy.”
“Flexible policies actually make employees more – not less – productive,” said Mrs. Obama. “Instead of spending time worrying about what’s happening at home, employees have the support and the peace of mind they need to concentrate at work which is good for their families – and the bottom line.”
The Office of Personnel Management is also announcing a pilot program to incorporate flexibility in the government to provide better, more efficient service for the American people – even in the face of snow storms and other emergencies. The pilot program will build on the cost savings telework provided during last winter’s snow storms and expand opportunities for federal employees, here in Washington and across America, to telework on a regular basis.
“Employers, including the federal government, will have to implement flexible work policies if they want to attract the best and the brightest,” said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Adviser to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. ” The President is committed to making sure that the federal government can compete for talent because he knows that good people produce better work, which in turn, leads to better service for the American people.”
Shortly after taking office, the President signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, restoring basic protections against pay discrimination for women and other workers, and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is delivering relief to working families across the country, including tax credits and child care assistance for working families.
The President’s Budget for FY2011 builds on those initiatives with a series of investments to support caregivers for elderly relatives or family members with disabilities, to help families afford the cost of quality child care, to aid states wishing to establish paid leave funds, and to build the knowledge base about work-family policies.
Obama Administration Announces Comprehensive Strategy for Energy Security
Decisions expand domestic production, promote efficiency
Washington D.C. — As part of the Administration’s comprehensive energy strategy President Barack Obama and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced more details of the Obama Administration’s efforts to strengthen our energy security. President Obama and Secretary Salazar announced that the Administration will expand oil and gas development and exploration on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to enhance our nation’s energy independence while protecting fisheries, tourism, and places off U.S. coasts that are not appropriate for development. Also included in the announcement are landmark car and truck fuel standards, key efforts being carried out by the Department of Defense to enhance energy security, and an effort to green the federal vehicle fleet. Details are below.
“I want to emphasize that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and the long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake,” said President Obama.
Over the last year, under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, the Administration has worked to reevaluate previous decisions in an effort to set oil and gas drilling policies on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil, create jobs, and take environmental risks and responsibilities into account.
“By responsibly expanding conventional energy development and exploration here at home we can strengthen our energy security, create jobs, and help rebuild our economy,” said Salazar. “Our strategy calls for developing new areas offshore, exploring frontier areas, and protecting places that are too special to drill. By providing order and certainty to offshore exploration and development and ensuring we are drilling in the right ways and the right places, we are opening a new chapter for balanced and responsible oil and gas development here at home.”
The President will highlight today additional key measures that will boost domestic energy production, diversify America’s energy portfolio and promote clean energy innovation.
Background on Today’s Announcements:
More Domestic Production – Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing: The Administration’s strategy calls for developing oil and gas resources in new areas, such as the Eastern Gulf of Mexico; increasing oil and gas exploration in frontier areas, such as parts of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans; and protecting ocean areas that are simply too special to drill, such as Alaska’s Bristol Bay. The strategy will guide the current 2007-2012 offshore oil and gas leasing program, as well as the new 2012-2017 program that this administration will propose. More specific details on this plan are available at www.doi.gov.
Landmark Car and Truck Fuel Standards – Finalized EPA/DOT CAFE and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards: On April 1st, EPA and DOT will sign a joint final rule establishing greenhouse gas emission standards and corporate average fuel economy standards for light-duty vehicles for model years 2012-2016. Announced last May, the rule is a product of a historic deal between the Obama Administration, the State of California, and automakers to bring regulatory certainty to the automotive market while increasing fuel efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, and ensuring consumer choice and savings. This measure is expected to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the life of the program.
Leading by Example – Greening the Federal Fleet: Last year, President Obama issued Executive Order 13514 asking Federal agencies to lead by example towards a clean energy economy. GSA and DOE are doing just that. As a result of their combined efforts we have doubled the Federal hybrid vehicle fleet and before the end of the year we’ll purchase the first 100 plug-in electric vehicles to roll off American assembly lines. Additionally, agencies are: Purchasing hybrid instead of conventional cars and trucks that use more fuel; Downsizing vehicle fleets overall; and requiring plug-in electric charging stations for all new facilities and for major retrofits.
Department of Defense Energy Security Strategic Emphasis: The recently released Quadrennial Defense Review makes clear that crafting a strategic approach to energy and climate change is a high priority for the Department of Defense (DoD). This reflects mission considerations above all. The Department’s own analysis confirms what outside experts have long warned: our military’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels creates significant risks and costs at a tactical as well as a strategic level. The DoD is actively pursuing strategic initiatives to enhance energy security and independence and reduce harmful emissions, including encouraging the development and use of domestically produced advanced biofuels. You can learn more about DoD’s energy initiatives here.
Remarks of President Barack Obama—As Prepared for Delivery
Statement on Energy Security
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland
As Prepared for Delivery—
Thank you, Secretary Salazar. Ken and I were colleagues in the Senate, and I appointed him because I knew he’d be a faithful and pragmatic steward of our natural resources. As Secretary, he’s changing the way the Interior Department does business so that we are responsibly developing traditional sources of energy and renewable sources of energy, from the wind on the high plains to the sun in the deserts to the waves off our coasts.
It’s also good to see so many members of our Armed Forces here today. Andrews is the home of Air Force One, and I appreciate everything you do for me and my family. You’ve got a 100-percent on-time departure record. And you don’t charge for checking luggage. So it’s a pretty good deal. But in all seriousness, I want to thank you not only for the support you provide to me – but also for the service you perform to keep our country safe.
We are here today to talk about America’s energy security, an issue that has been a priority for my administration since the day I took office. Already, we’ve made the largest investment in clean energy in our nation’s history. It’s an investment that’s expected to create or save more than 700,000 jobs across America: jobs manufacturing advanced batteries for more efficient vehicles, upgrading the power grid so that it’s smarter and stronger, and doubling our nation’s capacity to generate renewable electricity from sources like the wind and the sun.
Just a few months after taking office, I also gathered the leaders of the world’s largest automakers, the heads of labor unions, environmental advocates, and public officials from California and across the country to reach an historic agreement to raise fuel economy standards in cars and trucks. Tomorrow, after decades in which we have done little to increase auto efficiency, those new standards will be finalized, which will reduce our dependence on oil while helping folks spend a little less at the pump. So my administration is upholding its end of the deal, and we expect all parties to do the same. I’d also point out: this rule will not only save drivers money; it will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. That’s like taking 58 million cars off the road for an entire year.
Today, we’re also going one step further. In order to save energy and taxpayer dollars, my administration – led by Secretary Chu at Energy and Administrator Johnson at GSA – is doubling the number of hybrid vehicles in the federal fleet, even as we seek to reduce the number of cars and trucks used by our government overall. We’re going to lead by example and practice what we preach: cutting waste, saving energy, and reducing our reliance on foreign oil.
But we have to do more. We need to make continued investments in clean coal technologies and advanced biofuels. A few weeks ago, I announced loan guarantees to break ground on America’s first new nuclear facility in three decades, a project that will create thousands of jobs. And in the short term, as we transition to cleaner energy sources, we’ll have to make tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development in ways that protect communities and coastlines.
This is not a decision that I’ve made lightly. It’s one Ken and I – as well as Carol Browner, my energy advisor in the White House, and others in my administration – looked at closely for more than a year. But the bottom line is this: given our energy needs, in order to sustain economic growth, produce jobs, and keep our businesses competitive, we’re going to need to harness traditional sources of fuel even as we ramp up production of new sources of renewable, homegrown energy.
So today we’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration – but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources. Under the leadership of Secretary Salazar, we’ll employ new technologies that reduce the impact of oil exploration. We’ll protect areas vital to tourism, the environment, and our national security. And we’ll be guided not by political ideology, but by scientific evidence. That’s why my administration will consider potential new areas for development in the mid and south Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, while studying and protecting sensitive areas in the Arctic. That’s why we’ll continue to support development of leased areas off the North Slope of Alaska, while protecting Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
There will be those who strongly disagree with this decision, including those who say we should not open any new areas to drilling. But what I want to emphasize is that this announcement is part of a broader strategy that will move us from an economy that runs on fossil fuels and foreign oil to one that relies more on homegrown fuels and clean energy. And the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term. To fail to recognize this reality would be a mistake.
On the other side, there will be those who argue that we do not go nearly far enough; who suggest we open all of our waters to energy exploration without any restriction or regard for the broader environmental and economic impact. They’d deny the fact that with less than 2 percent of oil reserves, but more than 20 percent of world consumption, drilling alone cannot come close to meeting our long-term energy needs, and that for the sake of the planet and our energy independence, we need to begin the transition to cleaner fuels now.
Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates between right and left, between business leaders and environmentalists, between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place. Because this issue is just too important to allow our progress to languish while we fight the same old battles over and over again.
For decades we’ve talked about how our dependence on fossil fuels threatens our economy – yet our will to act rises and falls with the price of a barrel of oil. For decades we’ve talked about the threat to future generations posed by our current system of energy – even as we can see the mounting evidence of climate change from the Arctic Circle to the Gulf Coast. And for decades, we’ve talked about the risks to our security created by our dependence on foreign oil – even as that dependence has grown year after year after year.
And while our politics has remained entrenched along worn divides, the ground has shifted beneath our feet. Around the world, countries are seeking an edge in the global marketplace by investing in new ways of producing and saving energy. From China to Germany, these nations recognize that the country that leads the clean energy economy will be the country that leads the global economy. Meanwhile, here at home, as politicians in Washington debate endlessly whether to act, our own military has determined that we can’t afford not to.
If there was any doubt about that, you need only look to the F-18 fighter and the light armored vehicle behind me. The Army and Marine Corps have been testing this vehicle on a mixture of biofuels. And this Navy fighter jet – called the Green Hornet – will be flown for the first time in just a few weeks, on Earth Day. If tests go as planned, it will be the first plane ever to fly faster than the speed of sound on a fuel mix that’s half biomass. The Air Force is also testing jet engines using biofuels and had the first successful biofuel-powered test flight just last week. Though I don’t want to drum up any kind of rivalry.
Now, the Pentagon isn’t seeking these alternative fuels just to protect our environment; they are pursuing these homegrown energy sources to protect our national security. Our military leaders recognize the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels, decreasing energy use, and reducing our reliance on imported oil. That’s why the Navy, led by Secretary Mabus who is here today, has set a goal of using 50-percent alternative fuel in all planes, vehicles, and ships in the next ten years. And that’s why the Defense Department has invested $2.7 billion this year alone to improve energy efficiency.
Moving toward clean energy is about our security. It’s about our economy. And it’s about the future of our planet. And what I hope is that the policies we’ve laid out – from hybrid fleets to offshore drilling, from nuclear energy to wind energy – underscore the seriousness with which my administration takes this challenge. It’s a challenge that requires us to think and act anew.
So I am open to proposals from my Democratic and Republican friends. I believe we can move beyond the broken politics of the past. And I know that we can come together to pass comprehensive energy and climate legislation that will foster new industries and millions of new jobs protecting our planet and helping us become more energy independent. That’s what we can do. That’s what we must do. And I am confident that that is what we will do.
BY PRESS SECRETARY ROBERT GIBBS
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:18 P.M. EDT
Q Sarkozy get here early?
MR. GIBBS: Oooh, all right. Bonjour, Chuck. I was going to say, I don’t know –
Q I was going to ask a question in French.
MR. GIBBS: Well, he probably won’t give you an answer.
I have no announcements, so we can fire away.
Q That’s a segue to my question.
MR. GIBBS: What’s that?
Q The Sarkozy visit, the setup for it — the Rose Garden news conference, the dinner in the family quarters is being perceived as kind of the full treatment, the full royal treatment, for a better word, and kind of a makeup with the French President. Do you think that’s accurate?
MR. GIBBS: A makeup for?
Q There have been perceptions that there was a snub, that he didn’t get quite the treatment that he thought he should get in their prior visits together. So do you think that’s an accurate way to view it and –
MR. GIBBS: No. I mean, I can’t speak to the –
Q When you guys make decisions about how to treat leaders, what sort of — do they get the Oval Office pool spray? Do they get no cameras? Do they get Rose Garden? Do they get a dinner, not a dinner? Those are all decisions that are made so –
MR. GIBBS: I mean, I can’t really speak to what’s based on — what somebody bases prior logistics on. I think you’ll hear the President talk about the very important and close relationship that he has with President Sarkozy and that our country has with France on a whole host of important issues that they’ll go through today: the global economic recovery, climate change, financial reform, Afghanistan, the spread of nuclear weapons, our partnership in the P5-plus-1 in dealing with Iran — all of which are tremendously important to both nations, and both nations — I think there’s a very strong relationship between the two leaders.
I don’t — I’ve never heard anybody say, we’re going to do this because we did this last time.
Q So you’re not intending to send any kind of signal with this setup or the schedule of events?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, obviously it’s an important ally. Obviously the work that the two Presidents have done together on the issues that I just mentioned is significant. There will be a bilateral meeting between the two; we’ll have the two give statements and each take a question; and then they’ll have a private dinner together. I think that is somewhat — I mean, it doesn’t seem totally out of the ordinary to me.
Q He’s getting more than Netanyahu.
Q More than most leaders, actually, who have been to the White House.
MR. GIBBS: I’ve got to say I’ve been puzzled by the notion that — Netanyahu spent more than two hours sitting with the President.
Q Couldn’t prove it by me. I didn’t see it.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you’ll just have to take our word for it, I guess, Bill.
Q Okay, well. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Back to the crossword puzzle.
Q Financial regulatory reform. Paul Volcker said today that regulatory reform will be completed this year. And there have also been some reports that the — about a push to get a bill to the President’s desk by the end of May. Is that kind of a timetable doable? And what kind of progress can you make without Republican support? And to get Republican support, what are you willing or prepared to give up?
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — first and foremost, I don’t think that’s an unrealistic timetable at all. Obviously we’ve got a bill through the House, a bill through committee, unamended. Nobody on the Republican side even offered an amendment. So I think the next piece of business that the Senate will take up will be financial reform.
Q You mean late May is not unrealistic?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think that’s unrealistic. I think without a doubt, the President would like to see, with his signature, strong rules in place, certainly prior to the two-year anniversary of the collapse in our economy.
So I think we’re on a pace to make those changes quite quickly. And I think it’s important as we move forward that we ensure, as I’ve said many times and as the President has said many times, that we don’t have the conditions in place that allow the same type of thing to happen now that happened two years ago.
In order to get Republican support, I think — the President is clear that we are not going to compromise on what we believe represents a very strong piece of legislation. Just last week Senator Corker and others said they thought Republicans would support this legislation.
The President is going to outline the plan that he believes best puts those rules of the road in place, ensures a strong independent consumer finance protection agency, provides the type of clarity and disclosure that the American people need to judge financial reform. So I think we’re on a path to do that.
Q And those are things that are not negotiable?
MR. GIBBS: Those are things that the President has spoken about for quite some time. They’re non-negotiable with the President; they’re non-negotiable with the American people.
Q Secretary Clinton on Monday made a request to Prime Minister Harper to keep Canadian troops in Afghanistan, saying that they could be serving in another — in capacities beyond combat, if need be. And that was rejected today by Prime Minister Harper, saying that the Canadians are withdrawing their troops by 2011. I was wondering, A, if you guys have any response to that; and B, what that says either about the U.S. — the ability of the Obama administration to convince the Canadians that this is their fight, just as it is for all Western countries, or just the basic fact that the Canadians seem to reject that.
MR. GIBBS: Well, first of all, the fact that they were transitioning their troops out of Afghanistan has been known certainly by this administration and I think by most of the world for quite some time.
Q Right, but you guys have tried to convince them not to.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think — we checked in with State on this. I think there seems to be, on their part — State believes there’s a little confusion here. The Secretary of State, first and foremost, wants the Canadians to continue, as you mentioned, to be involved. There are a host of civilian non-combat activities that Canadians can and we hope will contribute to — they’re a valuable partner in our coalition. I would also say that, understanding that this was — for quite some time that this was going to happen, we have seen a dramatic increase in NATO contributions that will make up for troops that — any troops that have to rotate out.
Q Okay. And then the other question had to do with the new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia. You guys herald it now. The President pushed back strongly on the notion of there being any linkage with missile defense. The Russians are saying that there is language in this treaty that addresses missile defense, and that’s a big victory for them since it’s the first time it’s been acknowledged in a treaty. Whether or not there is — it’s actionable, it’s still in the treaty. How do you explain that discrepancy?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I would simply refer you to what Secretary Gates, Admiral Mullen, Secretary Clinton all had to say on this last week that there’s nothing that precludes what we’re doing in Europe as a part of this treaty.
Q Is this the Russians trying to save face?
MR. GIBBS: A better question for the Russians than for me.
Q In addition to all those things that you pointed out that the President would be discussing with Mr. Sarkozy, will he be pushing him to commit additional troops to the –
MR. GIBBS: No, there’s no ask on the table to do that, no.
Q He will not be asking?
MR. GIBBS: I anticipate that they will discuss progress that needs to be made in training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police. And I’ve no doubt that they’ll talk about the contribution that France has already dedicated as the — I think the fourth largest coalition contributor. But there’s no specific ask on the table today from President Obama to President Sarkozy to increase that force.
Let me go to Dan, and I’ll come back.
Q On Hamid Karzai, do you feel that he is the right leader to get the job done — as the President said, the U.S. will get the job done there. Is he the right person to get the job done?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Dan, understand that he’s the elected leader of Afghanistan. We are — we will work with, and we will expect certain things to come from his leadership based on what we’re helping them do in setting up appropriate governance, as well as rooting out the Taliban and its extremist allies.
I think the President has been clear with President Karzai, quite frankly, going back quite some time. And I read out a call that the President made to President Karzai just after he was reelected, that the President was clear that we had — that it was up to them to take important steps on bettering their governance, understanding that in the inaugural he laid that out. In the conference in London, he laid out some positive things. We’ve seen some progress. But as the President said, that’s slow progress. And we understand this isn’t going to happen overnight.
You had a follow-up on France? And then I’ll come over there.
Q A follow-up on, actually, Jake and the question on the training — when you talk about noncombat mission, the Canadians in particular, do you include training the Afghani police forces –
MR. GIBBS: I don’t want to get ahead of the discussions that are happening now with the Canadians. Certainly there are a host of noncombat roles; obviously some aspects of training would be in that. Obviously you couldn’t — we’re not talking about pairing trainers with combat brigades that are out; that obviously would be a more common focus.
But understand, too, there’s a whole host of what we were just talking about in terms of governance issues and civilian activities — that you’ve seen a tremendous increase on our side in dedicating those resources over the past year that without a doubt other nations can help with, as they have in the past.
Q In Pittsburg, Sarkozy was asking for a deadline about Iran. And it seems that the deadline was December 31st. What is President Obama expecting from President Sarkozy about Iran? And I have a final question: Can we have some details about the menu tonight? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I don’t — I have no idea what they’re eating, but I will check –
Q French fries? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: The French want to know. Well, I will check. I don’t even have — I come unarmed with even the slightest knowledge of what is on the menu.
Look, I think if you — as you mentioned, in Pittsburgh, Prime Minister Brown, President Sarkozy and President Obama, at an event that was certainly unplanned, let the world know of additional activities that the Iranians were undertaking that were far out of bounds with what was expected of them and certainly as it relates to the IAEA. I think as we move forward now, the leadership of both Presidents will be tremendously important in the upcoming push for sanctions and additional efforts that are needed to get the Iranians to live up to their many responsibilities that they’ve failed to live up to now.
I think there’s no doubt you’ll hear the President talk about the fact that President Sarkozy has been a leader on this and has spoken throughout the world on the necessity of the Iranians to live up to those responsibilities.
Q What does the President think about the rising tide of right-wing extremism in this country — vandalism, anger, hate, guns, militias?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think — look, as it relates to some of what we’ve seen around this health care debate and this health care vote, I think the President’s message that he’s delivered often, that in a country as strong and as rich as the United States — and when I talk about rich, I mean in values and tradition — our country was founded on open debate; passionate, open debate. But we ought to be able to disagree with one another, despite the passion that we each hold. We ought to be able to disagree without becoming disagreeable. And I would say that –
Q But in terms of the violence and armed militias and –
MR. GIBBS: And I would say that on both sides, that there’s no doubt — and I think, again, you heard the President say this yesterday — there’s no doubt that if you look at the rhetoric around some of these debates — and you’ve heard the President — the President talked about the notion that if you pass this, it’s Armageddon, yet somehow we’ve made it almost a week since the signature on the bill.
Look, as it relates to the indictments yesterday, obviously I have not talk to the President specifically about those except to say that certainly we will vigorously enforce the law against anybody who seeks to break it.
Q Who’s coming to dinner tonight?
THE PRESIDENT: The two Presidents and the two First Ladies.
Q That’s it?
MR. GIBBS: Two interpreters.
Q So it’s an entirely private affair?
MR. GIBBS: It is. You just have to take my word for it. (Laughter.)
Q Apparently, since there won’t be any pictures, right?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t think there are any planned pictures, no.
Q Are any of their children coming?
MR. GIBBS: Not to dinner that I’m aware of, no.
Q Can you shed any light on what the President said to Karzai about the relationship that he’s building with Ahmadinejad?
MR. GIBBS: I’ve not spoken with the President directly on that. I don’t think that — I would say that the notion that somehow in a stiff to us he went and got an invitation — invited somebody like Ahmadinejad to come to Kabul — I would remind people that Afghanistan and Iran share a border. I don’t think it’s — would be out of the ordinary for the Afghan government to deal with its neighbors.
Q But you don’t believe that any protocol or ceremonial aspect of that was at all aimed at –
MR. GIBBS: I don’t. Actually, I don’t.
Q And is it — what is the relationship with the President, with President Sarkozy in this respect? Do you feel like he — does the President feel like he gets these blunt assessments with President Sarkozy in private that we supposedly hear that he does? Is it a frank –
MR. GIBBS: What do you mean?
Q I mean, what kind of — what kind of dialogue and exchange do the two have? Is it frank? Is it blunt? Is it critical of the other in how they handle certain things?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I think, Chuck, if you look at the whole host of issues that I think they’re going to discuss today and that you’ll hear the President speak about later, I think they’ve actually had a pretty good working relationship on virtually every one of those issues: obviously from the beginning of our activities and the President’s activities with the G20; in trying to put together in Copenhagen a deal on climate change. They have increased their share of troops in Afghanistan and they are an exceedingly valuable coalition partner. Obviously in the P5-plus-1 they’ve played an extremely important role and will continue to as we try to marshal the support of the world against the activities of Iran.
So I think they have a very good relationship. I think this will be — I think there is no doubt that President Sarkozy is an energetic and passionate leader. And what you will see later today is what the President sees when they sit down one on one.
Q That comes through in private?
MR. GIBBS: Again, I think he’s an energetic and passionate guy in private and in public.
Q Are you expecting France to play the lead role of getting the EU together on sanctions that can’t be done through the United Nations, so that what you get — whatever minimal sanctions you can get done on Iran — that they’re the — are they point –
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think they will, and I think obviously Great Britain will play a huge role in that. And, look, I think we will be dependent on the eloquence and passion of President Sarkozy and others in rallying the world for what will move to the U.N.
MR. GIBBS: Sorry?
MR. GIBBS: No, no, I mean through the United Nations — through the United Nations.
Q Robert, when Bill mentioned the Netanyahu meeting last week you said you were puzzled. Were you puzzled by the way it was portrayed in the press?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I’m puzzled by the notion that somehow it’s a bad deal to get two hours with the President almost entirely alone. That doesn’t seem like a lot of punishment to me.
Q There were a lot of Israeli reports that President Obama left the meeting suddenly, saying, as far as he was concerned, it was over. And he went to the Residence to have dinner, and he wasn’t expecting Netanyahu to remain in the White House and ask for another meeting. Was that accurate?
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into the substance of what the two discussed. The President was — thought they had a good discussion in the first meeting, and was happy to come back and see Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office later than that.
Q Can you describe the nature of the relationship as it now stands?
MR. GIBBS: Between the United States and Israel?
Q Between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.
MR. GIBBS: Well, between the two countries, as I’ve said here countless times, there is an unbreakable bond between these two countries. The United States has long been dedicated to the security of an important ally. And that doesn’t — that hasn’t, in any way, changed. As a result of having a mature bilateral relationship, there are going to be things that this administration, and countless previous administrations, have disagreed with this Israeli government, as they have with countless previous Israeli governments.
I think as the President, though, discussed yesterday in his interview, that it is important for both sides to take the steps necessary to find a way to come back to these proximity talks; that we are at an important moment, and that either side walking away, both sides walking away, does not further the important cause that has to be undertaken to see Middle East peace.
Q May I follow up on that one, Robert?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q Settlements in East Jerusalem versus settlements in the West Bank: It is a tradition that previous U.S. administrations criticized openly settlements in the West Bank. It seems to be a new tone that explicitly also settlements in East Jerusalem are criticized. Would you confirm that?
MR. GIBBS: Again, our view on this, as, again, the view of many administrations prior to ours, are that the issues around Jerusalem are important and they’re final status issues. We think that coming to the table, coming back to the table, developing the type of confidence and trust that both sides need in these proximity talks, is important to building a process to getting to those final status issues.
Q You mentioned the G20 a second ago in the context of Iran, but on financial regulation, Sarkozy clearly is pushing for tighter financial regulations. This meeting, is it going to be an agreement to disagree? Are they going to work to narrow those differences ahead of the next G8 or G20?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I think you’ve probably all seen the joint letter that was put out today –
Q That letter was pretty thin gruel. I mean, it was diplomatic-speak, there wasn’t a whole lot there.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say this, Hans. We are working with our international friends on what we need to do on a global stage. We also want to make some progress on the rules of the road for what’s going on right here at home. There have been disagreements between us and others about how you respond to an economic slowdown. Those all played out. We feel quite comfortable with the decisions that we made. And understand that it’s important that we get strong rules of the road going forward not just internationally but, first and foremost, right here at home.
Q Do you think there will be a narrowing today between Sarkozy’s position and –
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will — I think that they’ll have an opportunity to discuss that. I don’t want to prejudge what happens prior to those discussions. No doubt this will be the — part of the subject of what they speak about publicly today.
Q Does there need to be a narrowing?
MR. GIBBS: Hold on a second.
Q Netanyahu comes back on the 14th. Do you expect the President to meet with him at that point?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have a bilat schedule yet for the nuclear security summit.
Q Does there need to be a narrowing? Does the President feel that he and President Sarkozy agree on the scope of the new financial regulations that are needed?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I don’t want to get too in depth into what might be discussed internationally and whether things will or won’t narrow until — I’ll have a better sense of that when we get a readout of what the two discussed, rather than conjecture. Again, I think the President believes it’s extremely important that he and the Congress take affirmative actions to institute strong rules of the road going forward as it relates to our economy in this country.
Q Because President Sarkozy’s remarks a day or so ago suggest that he wasn’t happy with the distance Mr. Obama suggests he’s willing to travel on that, with the strength of the regulations the President might be willing to go along.
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, I think we’re enormously proud of where the legislation is at this point in the legislative process as it relates to our rules of the road. We’ve taken action throughout the G20 on a balanced and sustainable growth model, and one that includes strong international rules of the road. We’ll see what they have to say coming out of the meeting. But again, I think we’ve — the President is enormously proud of the steps that we’ve taken thus far, understanding that we’ve got to close the deal on this.
Q On health care reform, AT&T, several other companies announced today they’re taking charges because of the bill’s reform of a tax break for businesses that provide prescription drug coverage for their employees. Now, the fact that they’re taking the hit suggests they’re going to continue providing the coverage, but –
MR. GIBBS: There’s a 28-percent subsidy to do so.
Q There are also questions about whether this is a good time economically for big businesses to be taking these charges and whether that might discourage them from providing the coverage down the road.
MR. GIBBS: Well, let’s fully explain what’s happening here. As part of the Medicare Part D prescription drug legislation that passed in, I believe 2003, firms that provided coverage for retirees were given a 28-percent subsidy in order to continue providing that coverage. Right? That amount of money was not added to a company’s income. Right? So they got 28 percent to continue that, and under the previous law — which I think many considered to be a loophole — not only did they not get taxed on that 28 percent, but then they were able to write off the full amount spent on retiree prescription drug coverage — the money they kick in plus the 28 percent that taxpayers kick in.
So all this does is allow a company to simply write it off once by not counting it as income, rather than both not counting it as income and getting able — being able to write it off.
I would stress too, Wendell, that there are several billion dollars in the bill to help on retiree prescription drug benefits. There have been countless studies, one by the Business Roundtable, on the effect that business will see in lower premiums as a result of health care reform. And I would point out that — understand that AT&T took a charge, basically an accounting charge 30 years down the road, and the same day they did that, their stock went up. So I do think that — again, they have to do this based on accounting rules. But I think this has maybe been framed as a lot more than meets the eye.
Q With the President traveling to Maine and North Carolina later in the week, why is he going to those two places to talk about health care and the economy? And why isn’t he traveling to campaign with members who have tough races in 2010?
MR. GIBBS: Because the elections aren’t in March or April.
Q So can you tell me why he’s going to those two places?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know why Maine was selected. I think one of the reasons was Karen Mills is our SBA Administrator and she’s from Maine, and we’re going to focus on — again, on the small business aspects of the health care reform. North Carolina is one of the states in the country that has seen fairly big unemployment in terms of their rate is north of 10 percent. And we will highlight a company that is seeing, as a result of some of the investments that they’ve made in creating the jobs of the future, increases that they’ve made in their hiring rolls, on Friday.
Q You say the midterms aren’t now, but weren’t some of the — one of the lessons of Virginia and Massachusetts getting the President into campaign –
MR. GIBBS: And there will be — there’s a thousand years before the next elections. You guys will have plenty of time to go cover them. The President is not focused on what happens the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. We’re focused on this Monday and this Tuesday.
Q Yes — what did I want to ask? (Laughter.) Did the President in his security briefings, has he been told that the number of these kind of militia groups seems to be growing dramatically in the last year? Is that a concern?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know the degree to which — in the daily intelligence briefings?
Q Well, in any –
MR. GIBBS: I can certainly check and see if — I will check and see, and then I will check and see if it’s anything that we would make available.
Go ahead. (Cell phone rings.) What is that awkward music that somebody is –
Q Pretty tune, isn’t it?
Q It’s French.
Q It’s a French song.
MR. GIBBS: You can — just so you know, you can change the ring on your phone. (Laughter.)
Q To something louder.
MR. GIBBS: Or less weird. (Laughter.)
Q Two questions. One –
Q Ring tone critic, are you? (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: Did you think that was –
Q That was Carla Bruni’s favorite song. (Laughter.)
MR. GIBBS: I’ll refer that to Chuck.
Q Robert, two questions. One, President Obama made it possible, now it’s a done deal between the United States and India on civil nuclear agreement, because one — it was on his desk 123 Agreement — so that means, how is it going to affect the U.S.-India relations, and also is going to help the President and Mr. Singh to come closer on this –
MR. GIBBS: Well, obviously the President is a proponent of the agreement between the two countries; supported it in the Senate; and is glad that in an important region of the world we’re strengthening a very close bilateral relationship. Obviously the President, as you know and as many of you have seen, has spent considerable time on our relationships with Afghanistan, Pakistan and India in order to see security strengthened and our mutual goals worked on in an important region in the world.
Q And second, the President now is going to visit Indonesia to make his speech to the Arab and Muslim communities, which he had done in Turkey and in Egypt. Do you think before his visit to Indonesia and Australia or India he’s going to make his final speech here, because there’s a need for the Muslim and Arabic community –
MR. GIBBS: I don’t know of any plans to do that speech prior to Indonesia, when we slide the trip over to June as we had originally discussed.
Q Robert, is the President going to, as Senator Dodd wants to, focus on key Republicans and probably make a full-court press on getting them in on the financial recovery regulations that Dodd is going to press — which we’ll probably start having debate on it in just a few weeks — what’s his plan?
MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think the President obviously is enormously supportive of the legislation moving forward, reiterating again the desire and the need to have strong rules in place. I anticipate that not only the President, but other members of the administration, will reach out and talk with Republicans in order to get them onboard supporting strong reforms.
I will say this: The President certainly is committed to reaching out, but understanding that the desire is not to see a weaker set of rules; the desire is to see strong rules going forward to ensure that what happened in September and October of 2008 can’t happen moving forward. And that will certainly be his focus.
Q Robert, what does it mean that Hamid Karzai is coming to the White House in May? What’s the main event — the purpose of that –
MR. GIBBS: Say again? What’s the purpose? Certainly to continue the important discussions that the two Presidents and the two countries have. Christi, I think it’s important to understand, we have said — we said this before — we said this during the Afghanistan review, the President was quite clear about this on West Point: Our security gains that are made through the heroic activities of our military can only be preserved with strong governance to back those up. That’s what the President has been focused on in this relationship and that’s the progress that we have been monitoring and hope to continue to see.
Q Did Karzai make any particular commitments to the President along the lines of merit-based appointments — going after narcotics traffickers –
MR. GIBBS: Well, I will say there was a robust discussion on improving national and sub-national government, local and regional, and strengthening efforts to root out — identify and root out corruption, again, understanding as the President said, just how important better governance is going forward in order to match and preserve the security gains that General McChrystal and our troops are making on the ground.
Q And just one more thing if I could. Are there particular goal points or benchmarks that the President wants to have met by the time he — by the time that meeting takes place here?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, without getting into a lot of the substance that the two discussed privately, obviously, the President understands — I think both Presidents understand what they’d like to see moving forward. We evaluate that constantly.
Again, the President is aware, as I’ve said two or three times now, that all that’s being done militarily has to be matched on the governance side. And I think what the President and the team are focused on is ensuring that as we focus on what’s happening militarily, we don’t take our eyes off the ball in what has to happen on the ground at all levels of the government in order to improve the coordination of activities that are necessary to preserve those security gains.
Q Robert, on immigration reform, Senator Graham, the other day, said, that the White House has done almost nothing. I’m wondering what your response is to that, and if there’s anything that you plan to do to show a seriousness of purpose on immigration.
MR. GIBBS: Well, I, not surprisingly, would likely disagree with that characterization. I think the President has been a strong advocate and proponent of immigration reform, understanding, again, this is — I get asked all the time about bipartisanship, about, well, you can’t just — you guys can’t just go this alone, right? Well, this is not an issue that’s going to be decided by just getting all the Democratic members to support immigration reform. There has to be — there have to be Republicans that come aboard, too. There have to be efforts that Senator Graham is working on in order to continue to convince those that supported immigration reform in 2005 and 2006 when it was voted on in the full Senate, that of those members that remain, that they’re ready, willing, and able to do this again.
Those conversations the President is likely to have with Republican members in the near future, and we’ll gauge whether or not it’s possible to move forward on this issue. But this can’t just be a — this can’t just be President Obama. This can’t just be President Obama and the Democratic Senate. Quite frankly, it probably can’t just be President Obama, the Democratic Senate, and Lindsay Graham. It has to be others. And I think many will get an opportunity to weigh in on that.
Q Is there any chance that the White House is going to write a bill?
MR. GIBBS: I think we put out a strong statement in support of many of the aspects of the legislation that Senator Graham is working on with Senator Schumer. I think they’re still going through a full evaluative process of that. But obviously many aspects of that the President finds greatly appealing.
Q Robert, on Iran, Secretary Clinton, in Moscow last week, said that she would pursue sanctions that I think the word she used was “biting.” Since then, there have been these reports that maybe these sanctions are going to be watered down in order to get everybody onboard. Does that mean they’re going to be biting, or not?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I was amused that, in two different publications there were two different stories and two different views on the sanctions in each of those stories — just last week. So I guess it depends on who leaks what.
I would simply say that –
Q And to whom.
MR. GIBBS: And to whom, right. Good point. (Laughter.) Thank you, Mark, for adding that.
I would say that we have instituted through the Treasury Department some unilateral sanctions on Iran’s military. And no doubt one of the topics that President Sarkozy and President Obama will spend a lot of time on today is exactly what those sanctions look like moving forward, understanding that sanctions are part of an effort to get Iran to change their behavior. And that’s certainly what we’re looking for.
Q In particular, can you talk about two things that have been discussed — the cutting off of gasoline imports to Iran, and also shipping lanes and commercial –
MR. GIBBS: I’m not going to get into specifics at this point.
Q Robert, the March 31st deadline is just hours away for the Black Farmers, and there is a concern by the CBC and the Black Farmers that the deadline will not be met, and they are pushing for an extension of the deadline. And they are hopeful that this White House is looking for an extension as well. Is that the case?
MR. GIBBS: I don’t have an update on this, but let me check with OMB and others on this.
Q So if I’m correct, the President did want this to happen by March 31st, correct?
MR. GIBBS: Yes.
Q So, I mean –
MR. GIBBS: So let me check on what I just said as it related to the first question that you asked.
Q Over successive weeks, Congressman Barney Frank has asked the White House to clarify whether it would like to see legislative action taken this year on “don’t ask, don’t tell.” He’s said that direction from the White House has been muddled, and then at one point said that you guys were actually sort of ducking whether or not you wanted to see legislation action taken on repeal. Would the President like to see that law –
MR. GIBBS: Well, Carol, I would just say this, I don’t think what Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates have enunciated on this appears muddled to anyone. I don’t — there is a process that’s in place to move forward on the President’s commitment to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
I don’t — Admiral Mullen is the first chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to sit up in front of Congress and say that the law ought to be repealed — not somebody who is retired, not somebody who is long past their commitment of serving their country, but somebody who sat up there and said that. And Secretary Gates and the commission at the Pentagon have taken some important steps.
We’re following that process. We’ll see where the legislative road takes us as we continue to build support to keep the commitment that the President has made.
Q So the President would feel perfectly comfortable letting the next Congress take that up?
MR. GIBBS: Well, again, we’re going to follow the process and the path that are underway with the clear direction that the President has given to repeal this.
Q Has the President had any reaction to the current crisis in the Catholic Church?
MR. GIBBS: I have not talked to him about this.
Q Does the White House have any response to — the revelations?
MR. GIBBS: Let me see what folks have here and I will make sure I have that for tomorrow.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE March 30, 2010
President Obama Signs Rhode Island Emergency Declaration
The President today declared an emergency exists in the State of Rhode Island and ordered Federal aid to supplement State and local response efforts in the area struck by severe storms and flooding beginning on March 12, 2010, and continuing.
The President’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in the counties of Bristol, Kent, Newport, Providence, and Washington.
Specifically, FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency. Emergency protective measures, limited to direct Federal assistance, will be provided at 75 percent Federal funding.
W. Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Homeland Security, named Craig A. Gilbert as the Federal Coordinating Officer for Federal recovery operations in the affected area.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: FEMA (202) 646-3272.
REMARKS BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
AND PRESIDENT SARKOZY OF FRANCE
IN JOINT PRESS AVAILABILITY
4:56 P.M. EDT
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Please, everybody have a seat. Good afternoon. Bienvenue.
I am delighted to welcome my dear friend, President Sarkozy, to the White House. And I also want to welcome to the United States the First Lady of France, and Michelle and I are very much looking forward to hosting our guests at dinner this evening.
Now, I have to point out that the French are properly famous for their cuisine, and so the fact that Nicolas went to Ben’s Chili Bowl for lunch — (laughter) — I think knows — shows his discriminating palate. My understanding is he had a half-smoke, so he was sampling the local wares. And we appreciate that very much.
This visit is an opportunity to return the hospitality that the President and the French people have shown to me during my visits to France. And that includes our family’s wonderful visit to Paris last summer. Michelle and I will never forget the opportunity to introduce our daughters for the first time to the City of Lights. And I don’t think that Sasha will ever forget celebrating her 8th birthday at the Élysée Palace with the President of France. That’s a pretty fancy way for an 8-year-old to spend their birthday.
Today, President Sarkozy and I have reaffirmed the enduring ties between our countries. France is our oldest ally, and one of our closest. We are two great republics —- bound by common ideals —- that have stood together for more than two centuries, from Yorktown to Normandy to Afghanistan.
Under President Sarkozy’s leadership, France has further secured its rightful place as a leader in Europe and around the world, recognizing that meeting global challenges requires global partnerships. France took the historic step of returning to NATO’s military command, and we are working to revitalize our transatlantic bonds, including a strong, capable European Union, which the United States firmly supports — because a close transatlantic partnership is critical to progress, whether it’s applying our combined strength to promote development and confront violent extremism in Africa, or reconstruction in Haiti, or advancing peace from the Caucasus to the Middle East.
Mr. President, on behalf of the American people, I also want to thank you for your personal efforts to strengthen the partnership between our countries. We first met four years ago. I was a senator then; Nicolas was still running for President at the time, and I immediately came to admire your legendary energy —- and your enthusiasm for what our countries can achieve together. That was the spirit of your eloquent speech to Congress three years ago, which deeply moved many Americans.
Over the past year, the President and I have worked closely on numerous occasions. We respect one another and understand one another, and we share a belief that through bold yet pragmatic action, our generation can bend the arc of history toward justice and towards progress. And this shared commitment to solving problems allowed us to advance our common interests today.
We agreed to continue working aggressively to sustain the global economic recovery and create jobs for our people. And this includes, as we agreed with our G20 partners at Pittsburgh, to replacing the old cycle of bubble and bust with growth that is balanced and sustained. And this requires effective coordination by all nations. To that end, I updated the President on our efforts to pass financial reform, and I look forward to the Senate taking action on this landmark legislation so we never repeat the mistakes that led to this crisis.
We must provide sufficient oversight so that reckless speculation or reckless risk-taking by a few big players in the financial markets will never again threaten the global economy or burden taxpayers. We must assure that consumers of financial products have the information and safeguards that they need, so their life savings are not placed in needless jeopardy. And that’s why I press for the passage of these reforms through Congress when they return, and I will continue to work with President Sarkozy and other world leaders to coordinate our efforts, because we want to make sure that whatever steps we’re taking, they are occurring on both sides of the Atlantic.
We agreed that sustained and balanced growth includes rejecting protectionism. France is one of our largest trading partners. And we need to expand global commerce, not constrain it. With that regard, we think it’s important that Doha trade negotiations move forward this year, and we need all interested parties to push for a more ambitious and balanced agreement that opens global markets. And we look forward to France’s presidency of both the G8 and G20 next year. So Nicolas is going to be very busy.
To address climate change, we agreed that all nations aligned with the Copenhagen accord must meet their responsibilities. And I would note that President Sarkozy’s leadership has resulted in significant new resources to address deforestation around the world. Upcoming meetings at the United Nations and the Major Economies Forum will be an opportunity for nations to follow up their Copenhagen commitments with specific and concrete actions that reduce emissions.
We reaffirmed our commitment to confront the greatest threat to global security —- the spread of nuclear weapons. And I updated President Sarkozy on our new START treaty with Russia. I look forward to welcoming President Sarkozy back to Washington in two weeks for our summit on securing vulnerable nuclear material so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists.
We discussed our shared determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On this the United States and France are united, are inseparable. With our P5-plus-1 partners, we offer Iran good faith proposals to resolve this matter through diplomacy. But Iran thus far has rejected those offers. Today, the international community is more united than ever on the need for Iran to uphold its obligations. And that’s why we’re pursuing strong sanctions through the U.N. Security Council.
And finally we discussed our efforts to advance security and peace around the world, including in the Middle East, where we agree that all sides need to act now to create the atmosphere that gives the proximity talks the best chance to succeed.
I shared my impressions from my discussions with President Karzai on the urgent need for good government and development in Afghanistan. As I told our troops, we salute our coalition partners, and that includes France, which is one of the largest contributors to the NATO mission, and which has given its most precious resource, the lives of its young men and women, to a mission that is vital to the security of both our countries’ and the world’s security.
So I thank President Sarkozy for his visit and for the progress that our countries have made today, in large part because of his extraordinary leadership. We are global partners facing global challenges together, and I think that Nicolas will agree that when it comes to America’s oldest ally, we’ve never been closer.
So I’ll simply close with words that one American leader expressed to another French partner more than 200 years ago, because Washington’s words to Rochambeau reflect the bonds between our countries today: We are “fellow laborers in the cause of liberty and we have lived together as brothers should do — in harmonious friendship.”
In that spirit, I welcome President Nicolas Sarkozy.
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: (As translated.) Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for your invitation. I think that we can say — I stand to be corrected by Bernard Kouchner and Christine Lagarde — but I think we can say that rarely in the history of our two countries has the community of views been so identical between the United States of America and France.
To wit, one example, which is that France would not be stepping next year into the presidency of the G20 had the United States of America not supported France for this presidency. Now, there are the words, there are the statements, and then there are the facts, the acts, and that is a fact.
Now, I will not repeat what President Obama so eloquently said. On Afghanistan, we support President Obama’s strategy. We cannot afford to lose — not for us, not for ourselves, but for Afghanistan and for the people of Afghanistan, who are entitled to live in freedom. Of course the road is arduous. Of course nothing can be anticipated. And of course we are so sorrowful for the loss of young lives. But we have to have the courage to go to the end of our strategy and explain that there is no alternative strategy. Defeat would be too high a price for the security of Americans, the French, and Europeans. By fighting in Afghanistan, what we are fighting for is world security, quite simply.
Now, on Iran, I am very satisfied with what President Obama has said. The time has come to take decisions. Iran cannot continue its mad race. Now, we don’t want to punish Iran, which deserves better than what it has by way of leadership today, and therefore fully support in order to get stronger, tougher sanctions at the Security Council and take the necessary decisions is what you have. I have said to President Obama that with Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown we will make all necessary efforts to ensure that Europe as a whole engages in the sanction regime.
On the Middle East, it’s excellent news to hear that the United States are thus engaged. Of course peace in the Middle East is the — is something which concerns primarily the Israelis and the Palestinians. However, the absence of peace in the Middle East is a problem for all of us, because what it does is keep feeding terrorism all over the world. And I wish to express my solidarity vis-à-vis President Obama in condemning the settlement process. Everybody knows how engaged and committed I am vis-à-vis Israel’s security, but the settlement process achieves nothing and contributes in no way to Israel’s safety and security. There comes a time when you have to take initiatives in favor of peace.
Now, on financial regulation, again, it’s great news for the world to hear that the United States is availing itself of rules, adopting rules so that we not go back to what we have already experienced. And during the French presidency of the G20, Tim Geithner, Christine Lagarde are going to be working hand-in-glove in order to go even further in regulating world capitalism, and in particular, raising the issue of a new world international monetary order.
On all these subjects there’s much convergence of views. And of course I want to say to President Obama how glad we were for him and for the USA to hear of the successful passing of the health care reform.
And insofar as the President has revealed a secret — namely, where I had lunch today — I should say that I have a good friend in Washington who had actually recommended that restaurant. When I walked in I saw a huge photograph of President Obama. And I’m afraid that when you go back to that restaurant you may see a smaller photograph of the French President. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We’ve got time for a couple of questions. I’m going to call on Ben Feller. There you are, Ben — AP.
Q Thank you, sir. Thank you for your patience. President Obama, you’ve talked about the importance of having consequences for Iran over its nuclear program, but is there ever a real deadline? What is your specific timeline for U.N. sanctions on Iran? And is it one that the American people can believe in?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well –
Q I’m sorry, sir, I just wanted to ask President Sarkozy, you said yesterday in New York that the world needs an open America, an America that listens. I’m wondering if you can elaborate; specifically if you think President Obama is open to the world and is listening to you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me answer the second question, even though that was to Nicolas. I listen to Nicolas all the time. I can’t stop listening to him. (Laughter.)
On Iran, we came in with a very clear approach and a very clear strategy, and it was an open book to the world. We said we would engage Iran and give them an opportunity to take the right path, a path that would lead to prosperity and opportunity for their people and a peaceful region, and one in which they would allow themselves to become a full-fledged member of the community of nations. The alternative path was further isolation and further consequences.
We mobilized the international community around this approach, including partners like Russia that in the past might have been more hesitant to take a firmer stance on Iran’s nuclear program. What we said, though, was that there was going to be a time limit to it and that if we had not seen progress by the end of the year, it was time for us to move forward on that sanctions track.
My hope is that we are going to get this done this spring. So I’m not interested in waiting months for a sanctions regime to be in place; I’m interested in seeing that regime in place in weeks. And we are working diligently with our international partners, emphasizing to them that, as Nicolas said, this is not simply an issue of trying to isolate Iran; it has enormous implications for the safety and the security of the entire region. We don’t want to see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
A conflict in the Middle East as a consequence of Iran’s actions could have a huge destabilizing effect in terms of the world economy at a time when it’s just coming out of a very deep recession.
The long-term consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran are unacceptable. And so Nicolas, myself and others agree that we have engaged; the door remains open if the Iranians choose to walk through it. But they understand very clearly what the terms of a diplomatic solution would be. And in the interim we are going to move forcefully on a U.N. sanctions regime.
Now, do we have unanimity in the international community? Not yet. And that’s something that we have to work on. We think that we are in a much stronger position to get robust sanctions now than we were a year ago prior to us initiating our strategy.
But it’s still difficult, partly because, let’s be honest, Iran is a oil producer and there are a lot of countries around the world that, regardless of Iran’s offenses, are thinking that their commercial interests are more important to them than these long-term geopolitical interests. And so we have to continue to apply pressure not just on Iran but we have to make sure that we are communicating very clearly that this is very important to the United States.
Q You can get unanimity within weeks?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: We think that we can get sanctions within weeks.
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: Well, I’ve read many comments — and I must say I’ve been quite amused — on the relations between European leaders and the President of the United States. I say I’m amused because I’ve thought to myself, well, when we speak to one another, people must be listening to our phone calls because I have seen reports on conversations and discussions which in no way resemble anything that has ever taken place between Barack Obama and myself.
Now, why is it easy for us to work? And I speak on behalf of Chancellor Merkel, Gordon Brown, and other leaders. Well, because President Obama, when he says something, keeps his word. His word is his bond. And that is so important. There’s a joke among us — we don’t like surprises. Well, from my point of view, there’s no surprises. When he can, he delivers. When he can’t, he says so. So there are no surprises. And we try to be likewise.
Furthermore, secondly, on all topics — and there have been some pretty tough topics. I mean, for instance, bonus — taxes on bonuses, regulation, financial regulations — pretty heavy going stuff — Copenhagen. I mean, I happen to think that President Obama is a step ahead of public opinion in the United States on this. But we’re constantly talking about it. It’s even President Obama who wanted us to have a call conference, a videoconference virtually every month with Angela Merkel and Gordon Brown.
Now, this doesn’t really mean that we absolutely agree neck and neck on everything, but we talk amongst ourselves. And this is a novelty from the point of view of Europe whenever we look at the United States that everything is put on the table, anything can be discussed, everything can be discussed.
What matters, you see, is not whether we agree once systematically before we’ve even started discussing — that’s suspicious — it’s to say whatever divergence of views we have, we can talk about it among ourselves. And I say things very frankly to you, and this is what all we European leaders believe and think.
I’ve also heard it said that Europe was less interested in the United States. Well, for heaven’s sake, how many times do we have to come over to show that we are interested? What would it mean if we were interested?
So, very frankly and very honestly on this, not only is it not an issue, not a problem, but it’s great to be able to work under such conditions. I would say that what I have to say about President Obama is the same as what Bernard Kouchner could say about Hillary Clinton, or Christine Lagarde about Tim Geithner. We’re constantly having a dialogue.
I could even take you — give you an example of something on which we don’t necessarily agree, such as Syria — or we didn’t agree. France took an initiative, as you know. Well, I’ll say this to you: At no point, no point, has President Obama turned his back on what we were doing. Constantly he’s watching, he’s listening. We’re constantly exchanging information on the subject. Even when there are more complex topics, including in our relations with the Russians, before even we inform our Russian — the Russians or our partners, I pick up the phone, I call President Obama, and he knows exactly what we’re going to do and why we’re going to do it. You follow me on that?
So, there may be disagreements, but never for the wrong reasons. And as we are very transparent on both sides, there’s confidence, there’s trust. And I really think I can say that. There’s a lot of trust.
Now, trust always helps one overcome perhaps diverging interests. It may be that the United States of America has slightly different interests of those of France, but the bedrock of trust between us is something that he also has with all European leaders. And I don’t say this to please you. I said this is true. And I took two examples of two topics that could, in other tide, other times, have led to head-on collision, and which in this case, on the contrary, are looked at on both sides of the Atlantic as a situation where we are complementary.
Perhaps he said, well, maybe on Syria, France is on the right track, and maybe one day we’ll have the opportunity to do likewise, and that’s exactly the way we work.
Go ahead, I’m not the one with the mic.
Q (As translated.) Since you’ve just talked about the United — the relations between Europe and United States, didn’t you get a bad surprise, a nasty surprise, on the Pentagon’s decision on the tanker planes, which reversed the decision which had originally been taken in favor of Airbus? Did you raise this subject with President Obama? And if so, did you try and put together a new approach so as to ensure that the competition would be fairer, new version of this contract with the Pentagon, and don’t you think that it would be probably fair to share this contract with the Europeans, since they are now full members of NATO and that they share the price of the war on the ground?
PRESIDENT SARKOZY: If I said I hadn’t raised it, it would mean that what I’ve just told you would be meaningless and senseless. Of course we’ve talked about it — and President Obama will give you his answer. But I said to him, I trust you. And I do trust him. If you say to me that the request for proposals, the call for tenders will be free, fair and transparent, then we say EADS will bid and we trust you.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: What I said to President Sarkozy is, is that the process will be free and fair, and that the trust is justified.
Now, it’s important for my European friends to understand that, at least here, the Secretary of Defense makes procurement decisions. The President does not meddle in these decisions. And that’s a longstanding policy. So I maintain an arm’s length approach, but I have assurances from Secretary of Defense Gates that, in fact, the re-bidding process is going to be completely transparent, completely open, and a fair competition. That’s in our interests. It’s in the interest of American taxpayers, and it’s also in the interest of our young men and women who rely on this equipment in order to protect this nation.
And it’s important to note, I think, for those of you who don’t know Secretary Gates, this is somebody who has actually taken on the military and weapons systems establishment and initiated some very significant procurement reforms that nobody ever thought would happen here in Washington. So he’s somebody who’s willing to call it like it is and make difficult decisions, and he will do so in this situation as well.
Thank you very much, everybody.
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND DR. JILL BIDEN AT SIGNING OF THE HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION RECONCILIATION ACT
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
AND DR. JILL BIDEN
AT SIGNING OF THE HEALTH CARE AND EDUCATION RECONCILIATION ACT
Northern Virginia Community College
11:04 A.M. EDT
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Fired up!
THE PRESIDENT: Fired up! (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Obama! (Laughter.)
DR. BIDEN: Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here today. I’m Jill Biden and I am honored to be a community college instructor. (Applause.) I have been a teacher for almost three decades and a community college instructor for the past 16 years. In fact, I’m an English teacher right here on this campus. (Applause.) It’s my great pleasure to welcome you all to Northern Virginia Community College. (Applause.)
Last week, our President signed an historic health care bill that will provide quality, affordable medical care for millions of Americans. (Applause.) Today we are here to celebrate another historic piece of legislation — one that will make a college education a reality for millions of middle-class Americans. (Applause.)
All of us here today know that higher education is essential to the success of our children and vital to the economic future of our country. But too many American families, they’ve had to take on crushing debt to pursue a college degree. I see every day in my classroom just how hard my students work in order to pay their tuition bills. Often their family budgets are stretched to the limit. And when things get tough — someone loses a job or a family member gets sick — a college education is the first thing to go.
Thanks to the leadership of President Obama, our Vice President, and members of Congress here today, families across the country will find it a little easier to get to college and stay in college. (Applause.)
I am pleased to say that the reforms in this bill will make a huge difference to those Americans who need it most. The expansions in Pell Grants will provide critical financial support to millions of middle-class Americans who are struggling with the costs of college. The caps on student loan repayments will ensure that our students don’t go broke because they chose to pursue a college education. And I am particularly thrilled that this bill invests in community colleges across our country so that more students can gain the knowledge and technical job skills that they need to compete and succeed.
I have seen firsthand the power of community colleges to change lives and serve as a gateway to opportunity for students at all stages of their lives and careers. This bill increases investments in community colleges around the country to help these institutions do what they do best — prepare our students for the workforce of today and tomorrow.
The President has set an ambitious goal for higher education in this country. By 2020, we want America once again to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. (Applause.) To make this happen, we’ll need to invest in these students and invest in the colleges that they will attend.
The bill that President Obama will sign here today is a huge step forward toward meeting our goal. I can’t think of a better investment in America’s future.
I’m proud to be here as a community college instructor, and I am especially proud and honored to introduce a President who is making higher education a reality for millions more Americans.
Please welcome President Barack Obama. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Alexandria! Thank you very much. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Please, have a seat.
Thank you, Dr. Biden, for that outstanding introduction and for putting up with Joe. (Laughter.) I want to also thank Dr. Biden for being one of the thousands of instructors all across the country who make such a difference in the lives of students each and every day. So we are very proud of you for that. (Applause.)
I want to thank President Templin and the entire NOVA Community College family for hosting us here today — you can applaud for that. (Applause.)
On stage we’ve got a couple of my outstanding Cabinet members: Secretary Sebelius and Secretary Arne Duncan — please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.) In the audience we’ve got Secretary Salazar of Interior; Secretary Donovan of HUD; and Ambassador Ron Kirk, our U.S. Trade Representative — please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)
To all the outstanding members of Congress who made this day possible — and I’m going to mainly single out the amazing Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi. (Applause.)
Today, we mark an important milestone on the road to health insurance reform and higher education reform. But, more broadly, this day affirms our ability to overcome the challenges of our politics and meet the challenges of our time.
When I took office, one of the questions we needed to answer was whether it was still possible to make government responsive to the needs of everyday people, middle-class Americans, the backbone of this country; or whether the special interests and their lobbyists would continue to hold sway, like they’ve done so many times before. And that’s a test we met one week ago, when health insurance reform became the law of the land in the United States of America. (Applause.)
And it’s a test we met later in the week when Congress passed higher education reforms that will have a tremendous impact on working families — and America’s future. That’s two major victories in one week that will improve the lives of our people for generations to come. (Applause.)
Now, I’ve said before and I’ve repeated this week the health insurance reform bill I signed won’t fix every problem in our health care system in one fell swoop. But it does represent some of the toughest insurance reforms in history. It represents a major step forward towards giving Americans with insurance -– and those without -– a sense of security when it comes to their health care. It enshrines the principle that when you get sick, you’ve got a society there, a community, that is going to help you get back on your feet. It represents meaningful progress for the American people.
And today, I’m signing a bill that will make a number of improvements to these core reforms. We’ll increase the size of tax credits to help middle-class families and small businesses pay for their health insurance. (Applause.)
We’re going to offer $250 to seniors who fall in the Medicare coverage gap known as the doughnut hole to help them pay for prescriptions, and that’s a first step towards closing that gap completely. (Applause.)
We’ll make a significant new investment in community health centers all across America that can provide high-quality primary care to people who need it most. (Applause.) And we’ll strengthen efforts to combat waste and fraud and abuse, to make sure your dollars aren’t lining the pockets of insurance companies when they should be making your health care better. (Applause.)
Now, the debate on health care reform is one that’s gone on for generations, and I’m glad — I’m gratified that we were able to get it done last week. But what’s gotten overlooked amid all the hoopla, all the drama of last week, is what happened in education — when a great battle pitting the interests of the banks and financial institutions against the interests of students finally came to an end. (Applause.)
You see, for almost two decades, we’ve been trying to fix a sweetheart deal in federal law that essentially gave billions of dollars to banks to act as unnecessary middlemen in administering student loans. So those are billions of dollars that could have been spent helping more of our students attend and complete college; that could have been spent advancing the dreams of our children; that could have been spent easing the burden of tuition on middle-class families. Instead, that money was spent padding student lenders’ profits.
Now, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that the big banks and financial institutions hired a army of lobbyists to protect the status quo. In fact, Sallie Mae, America’s biggest student lender, spent more than $3 million on lobbying last year alone.
But I didn’t stand with the banks and the financial industries in this fight. That’s not why I came to Washington. And neither did any of the members of Congress who are here today. We stood with you. We stood with America’s students. (Applause.) And together, we finally won that battle.
I don’t have to tell folks here at NOVA why this victory matters. In the 21st century, when the success of every American hinges more than ever on the quality of their education, and when America’s success as a nation rests more than ever on an educated workforce that is second to none, we can’t afford to waste billions of dollars on giveaways to banks.
We need to invest that money in our students. We need to invest in our community colleges. We need to invest in the future of this country. We need to meet the goal I set last year and graduate more of our students than any other nation by the year 2020. And through the extraordinary leadership of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, that’s what the reforms I’m signing today will help us do. (Applause.)
By cutting out the middleman, we’ll save American taxpayers $68 billion in the coming years — $68 billion. That’s real money — (laughter) — real savings that we’ll reinvest to help improve the quality of higher education and make it more affordable.
Now, we’ve already taken a number of steps through the Recovery Act and through my budget to significantly increase the support provided to young people attending colleges and universities all across the country.
And I just — President Templin handed me a sheet just as I walked in. Just in case you’re wondering whether this makes a difference, so far this year — and the year isn’t over — right here at NOVA, Pell Grant recipients increased by 41 percent over last year. (Applause.) The total dollar amount of Pell Grants increased by 59 percent. The number of federally guaranteed loans increased by 43 percent and loan awards increased by 68 percent. That’s right here at this one community college, because of the steps that we had already taken. (Applause.)
So using the $68 billion that we’re saving, that had been going to the banks, here’s what we’re going to be able to do. First, we will reinvest a portion of those savings to upgrade our community colleges, which are one of the great, undervalued assets in our education system. (Applause.)
Community colleges like NOVA are incredibly important because they serve a varied group of learners, from recent high school grads seeking a pathway to a college degree, to adults seeking training for the jobs of tomorrow. By forging private sector partnerships, community colleges can offer students the education and training they need to find a good job when they graduate — and it helps offer businesses the assurance they need that graduates will be ready for the jobs that they’re hired to do.
And because community colleges like NOVA are so essential to a competitive workforce, I’ve asked your outstanding professor, Dr. Jill Biden — who does not have enough to do — (laughter) — to host a summit on community colleges at the White House this fall. And we’re going to bring everybody together, from educators to students, experts to business leaders. (Applause.) We are going to bring everybody together to share innovative ideas about how we can help students earn degrees and credentials, and to forge private sector partnerships so we can better prepare America’s workforce and America’s workers to succeed in the 21st century.
Now, to help open the doors of higher education to more students, we’ll also reinvest part of that $68 billion in savings in Pell Grants, one of the most popular forms of financial aid. Pell Grants once covered more than three-quarters of the cost of going to college. But now, because the cost of college has skyrocketed, the amount Pell Grants cover is about one-third.
Today, students hoping to attend college on a Pell Grant are going to be able to feel more secure, because not only are we going to offer over 800,000 additional Pell awards over the next 10 years, we’re also going to raise the amount they’re worth to almost $6,000, so that inflation doesn’t erode the value of your grant. (Applause.)
And we’ll put the entire Pell Grant program on firmer footing for years to come. Altogether, we are more than doubling the amount of Pell Grant funding that was available when I took office –- it’s one of the most significant investments in higher education since the G.I. Bill. (Applause.)
Now, third, we’re going to restore a measure of fairness to how students repay their loans. Today, two out of every three students graduates with help from a loan, and often they take on a mountain of debt as a result. Here in Virginia, the typical student carries almost $20,000 in debt. Across the country, the average student graduates with over $23,000 in debt. I know what that’s like. Michelle and I had big debts coming out of school — debts we weren’t able to fully repay until just a few years before I started running for office.
Today, we’re making it easier for responsible students to pay off their loans. Right now, if you’re a borrower, you don’t have to spend more than 15 percent of your income on loans. But starting in 2014, you won’t have to pay more than 10 percent of your income in repaying your student loans. (Applause.) That will make a meaningful difference for over one million more students. We’re also going to give students an incentive to do what’s right — if you pay your loans on time, you’ll only have to pay them off for 20 years. And you’ll only have to pay them off for 10 years if you repay them with service to your community, and to our country, as a teacher or a nurse or a member of our Armed Forces. (Applause.)
Finally, we’ll reinvest some of the $68 billion in savings to strengthen our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions. (Applause.) These are institutions that have struggled more than most in these tough economic times.
The reforms in this bill are significant, but they’re just part of a broader effort to strengthen our entire higher education system. We’re putting college tuition tax credits in the pockets of millions of students from working families to help them pay for college. We’ve taken steps to simplify the federal college assistance form -– called the FAFSA -– because it shouldn’t take a PhD to apply for financial aid. (Applause.) And we’re helping ensure that America’s high school graduates are ready for college. All of this is paid for. We’re redirecting money that was poorly spent to make sure we’re making investments in our future.
Now, this won’t solve all of our problems in higher education. We continue to expect colleges and universities to do their part to hold down tuition increases. (Applause.) That has to happen. We’ve got to work on that. And we also need to take greater initiative not only to help more students enter college, we’ve got to make sure that we see more students successfully earn a college degree. But what we’ve done over the past year represents enormous progress.
So I’ll close by saying this. For a long time, our student loan system has worked for banks and financial institutions. Today, we’re finally making our student loan system work for students and our families. But we’re also doing something more.
From the moment I was sworn into office, I’ve spoken about the urgent need for us to lay a new foundation for our economy and for our future. And two pillars of that foundation are health care and education, and each has long suffered from problems that we chose to kick down the road.
With the bill I signed last week, we finally undertook meaningful reform of our health care system. With this bill, and other steps we’ve pursued over the last year, we are finally undertaking meaningful reform in our higher education system. So this week, we can rightly say the foundation on which America’s future will be built is stronger than it was one year ago. (Applause.)
And so at the end of this extraordinary week, I want to acknowledge some of the people who made it possible. There isn’t time to single out everyone who’s here, the outstanding members of Congress, but I want to make sure I once again say this would not have happened had it not been for the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — (applause) — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — (applause) — Senator Dick Durbin and Congressman Steny Hoyer. All provided outstanding leadership that our nation needed. (Applause.)
On health care, Max Baucus, Chris Dodd, Henry Waxman, Charlie Rangel, and so many others offered invaluable expertise throughout the year. (Applause.) Congressmen George Miller, Jim Clyburn, Dale Kildee, Ruben Hinojosa led the way in the House on education reforms that I sign today. (Applause.)
Senator Tom Harkin’s dedication ensured that the Senate would include these reforms in this bill. (Applause.) Virginia’s own Bobby Scott, and an outstanding freshman, Tom Perriello helped to make this thing possible. (Applause.) We are grateful to them.
Courage is an essential ingredient in any landmark legislation, particularly when the attacks are as fierce and unrelenting — and inaccurate — (laughter) — as they have been over the past year. I just want to commend members of Congress who had the courage to do what’s right — (applause) — and to say a special thank you to all of the newer members. (Applause.)
The past couple of years have brought one challenge after another, and you’ve risen to the moment each time. I could not be prouder of the work that all of you have done. And it would not have happened had it not been for the incredible persistence and stick-to-itiveness of all the folks in the audience here today.
Ultimately, Congress responds to the voices that they’re hearing in their communities, and so many of you have written letters and come to meetings and let people know of the ordinary struggles that people are going through each and every day. You’re what provided members of Congress the courage that they needed to do what was right. And so on behalf of all of us who are serving in Washington, we want to thank you, the American people, for your outstanding leadership. (Applause.)
And with that, I’m going to sign this bill. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
(The bill is signed.) (Applause.)