November 14, 2019
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President Obama News Conference

The President:
Good morning, everybody. Have a seat, please. I just want to say a few words
about the economy before I take your questions. There are a lot of folks out
there who are still struggling with the effects
of the recession. Many people are still looking
for work or looking for a job that pays more. Families are wondering how
they’d deal with a broken refrigerator or a
busted transmission, or how they’re going to finance
their kids’ college education, and they’re also worrying about
the possibility of layoffs. The struggles of middle-class
families were a big problem before the recession hit in 2007. They weren’t created overnight,
and the truth is our economic challenges are not going
to be solved overnight. But there are more steps that
we can take right now that would help businesses create
jobs here in America. Today, our administration is
trying to take those steps, so we’re reviewing government
regulations so that we can fix any rules in place that
are an unnecessary burden on businesses. We’re working with the private
sector to get small businesses and start-ups the financing
they need to grow and expand. And because of the partnership
that we’ve launched with businesses and community
colleges, 500,000 workers will be able to receive the
right skills and training for manufacturing jobs in companies
all across America — jobs that companies are looking to fill. In addition to the steps that my
administration can take on our own, there are also things that
Congress could do right now that will help create good jobs. Right now, Congress can send me
a bill that would make it easier for entrepreneurs to patent a
new product or idea — because we can’t give innovators in
other countries a big leg up when it comes to opening
new businesses and creating new jobs. That’s something Congress
could do right now. Right now, Congress could send
me a bill that puts construction workers back on the job
rebuilding roads and bridges — not by having government
fund and pick every project, but by providing loans to
private companies and states and local governments on the basis
of merit and not politics. That’s pending in
Congress right now. Right now, Congress can advance
a set of trade agreements that would allow American businesses
to sell more of their goods and services to countries in Asia
and South America — agreements that would support tens of
thousands of American jobs while helping those adversely
affected by trade. That’s pending before
Congress right now. And right now, we could give
middle-class families the security of knowing that the tax
cut I signed in December will be there for one more year. So there are a number of steps
that my administration is taking, but there are also a
number of steps that Congress could be taking right now on
items that historically have had bipartisan support and that
would help put more Americans back to work. Many of these ideas have
been tied up in Congress for some time. But, as I said, all of them
enjoy bipartisan support, and all of them would
help grow the economy. So I urge Congress to
act on these ideas now. Of course, one of the most
important and urgent things we can do for the economy is
something that both parties are working on right now
— and that’s reducing our nation’s deficit. Over the last few weeks, the
Vice President has been leading negotiations with Democrats
and Republicans on this issue, and they’ve made some real
progress in narrowing down the differences. As of last week, both
parties had identified more than $1 trillion worth
of spending cuts already. But everyone also knows
that we’ll need to do more to close the deficit. We can’t get to the $4 trillion
in savings that we need by just cutting the 12 percent of the
budget that pays for things like medical research and education
funding and food inspectors and the weather service. And we can’t just do
it by making seniors pay more for Medicare. So we’re going to need to
look at the whole budget, as I said several months ago. And we’ve got to eliminate
waste wherever we find it and make some tough decisions
about worthy priorities. And that means trimming
the defense budget, while still meeting
our security needs. It means we’ll have to
tackle entitlements, as long as we keep faith
with seniors and children with disabilities by maintaining
the fundamental security that Medicare and Medicaid provide. And, yes, we’re going to have to
tackle spending in the tax code. There’s been a lot of discussion
about revenues and raising taxes in recent weeks, so I want
to be clear about what we’re proposing here. I spent the last two years
cutting taxes for ordinary Americans, and I want to extend
those middle-class tax cuts. The tax cuts I’m proposing we
get rid of are tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires;
tax breaks for oil companies and hedge fund managers
and corporate jet owners. It would be nice if we could
keep every tax break there is, but we’ve got to make some
tough choices here if we want to reduce our deficit. And if we choose to keep those
tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, if we choose to
keep a tax break for corporate jet owners, if we choose to
keep tax breaks for oil and gas companies that are making
hundreds of billions of dollars, then that means we’ve got to
cut some kids off from getting a college scholarship. That means we’ve got to stop
funding certain grants for medical research. That means that food
safety may be compromised. That means that Medicare
has to bear a greater part of the burden. Those are the choices
we have to make. So the bottom line is this: Any
agreement to reduce our deficit is going to require
tough decisions and balanced solutions. And before we ask our seniors
to pay more for health care, before we cut our
children’s education, before we sacrifice our
commitment to the research and innovation that will help
create more jobs in the economy, I think it’s only fair to ask
an oil company or a corporate jet owner that has done so well
to give up that tax break that no other business enjoys. I don’t think
that’s real radical. I think the majority of
Americans agree with that. So the good news is, because
of the work that’s been done, I this we can actually
bridge our differences. I think there is a conceptual
framework that would allow us to make huge progress on
our debt and deficit, and do so in a way that does not
hurt our economy right here and right now. And it’s not often that
Washington sees both parties agree on the scale
and the urgency of the challenge at hand. Nobody wants to put the
creditworthiness of the United States in jeopardy. Nobody wants to see the
United States default. So we’ve got to
seize this moment, and we have to seize it soon. The Vice President and I will
continue these negotiations with both leaders of both parties
in Congress for as long as it takes, and we will reach a deal
that will require our government to live within its means and
give our businesses confidence and get this economy moving. So, with that, I will
take your questions. I’ve got my list here. Starting off with Ben
Feller, Associated Press. The Press:
Thank you very much, Mr. President. I’d like to follow up on the
comments you just made as you try to reach a deal to raise the
debt limit and cut the deficit. You keep saying that there needs
to be this balanced approach of spending cuts and taxes. But Republicans say
flatly, they won’t — The President:
That they don’t want
a balanced approach. The Press:
They don’t want any tax
increases, as they put it. And the House Speaker says not
only that he doesn’t support that, but that plan won’t
— will not pass the House. So my question is will
you insist, ultimately, that a deal has to include
those tax increases that you just laid out? Is that an absolute
red line for you? And if it is, can you explain
to us how that can possibly get through the Congress? The President:
Look, I think that
what we’ve seen in negotiations here in Washington
is a lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base
or to get on cable news, but that hopefully, leaders
at a certain point rise to the occasion and they do the right
thing for the American people. And that’s what I expect
to happen this time. Call me naïve, but my
expectation is that leaders are going to lead. Now, I just want to be clear
about what’s at stake here. The Republicans say they
want to reduce the deficit. Every single observer who’s
not an elected official, who’s not a politician, says we
can’t reduce our deficit in the scale and scope that we need
to without having a balanced approach that looks
at everything. Democrats have to accept some
painful spending cuts that hurt some of our constituencies
and we may not like. And we’ve shown a willingness
to do that for the greater good. To say, look, there are some
things that are good programs that are nice to have; we
can’t afford them right now. I, as Commander-in-Chief, have
to have difficult conversations with the Pentagon saying, you
know what, there’s fat here; we’re going to have
to trim it out. And Bob Gates has already
done a good job identifying $400 billion in cuts, but
we’re going to do more. And I promise you, the
preference of the Pentagon would be not to cut any more,
because they feel like they’ve already given. So we’re going to have to look
at entitlements — and that’s always difficult politically. But I’ve been willing to say we
need to see where we can reduce the cost of health care spending
and Medicare and Medicaid in the out-years, not by shifting
costs on to seniors, as some have proposed,
but rather by actually reducing those costs. But even if we’re doing
it in a smart way, that’s still tough politics. But it’s the right thing to do. So the question is, if everybody
else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things
in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I
think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there
and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently
important that we’re not willing to come to the table
and get a deal done. Or, we’re so concerned about
protecting oil and gas subsidies for oil companies that are
making money hand over fist — that’s the reason we’re
not going to come to a deal. I don’t think that’s a
sustainable position. And the truth of the matter is,
if you talk to Republicans who are not currently in office,
like Alan Simpson who co-chaired my bipartisan commission,
he doesn’t think that’s a sustainable position. Pete Domenici, Republican,
co-chaired something with Alice Rivlin, the Democrat, says
that’s — he doesn’t think that’s a sustainable position. You can’t reduce the deficit to
the levels that it needs to be reduced without having
some revenue in the mix. And the revenue we’re talking
about isn’t coming out of the pockets of middle-class
families that are struggling. It’s coming out of folks who are
doing extraordinarily well and are enjoying the lowest tax
rates since before I was born. If you are a wealthy CEO or a
health — hedge fund manager in America right now, your
taxes are lower than they have ever been. They’re lower than they’ve
been since the 1950s. And you can afford it. You’ll still be able to
ride on your corporate jet; you’re just going to have
to pay a little more. And if we — I just want to
emphasize what I said earlier. If we do not have revenues, that
means there are a bunch of kids out there who are not
getting college scholarships. If we do not have
those revenues, then the kinds of cuts that
would be required might compromise the National
Weather Service. It means that we would
not be funding critical medical research. It means that food inspection
might be compromised. And I’ve said to some of
the Republican leaders, you go talk to
your constituents, the Republican constituents,
and ask them are they willing to compromise their kids’ safety
so that some corporate jet owner continues to get a tax break. And I’m pretty sure what
the answer would be. So we’re going to keep on
having these conversations. And my belief is, is that
the Republican leadership in Congress will, hopefully
sooner rather than later, come to the conclusion that they
need to make the right decisions for the country; that everybody
else has been willing to move off their maximalist position
— they need to do the same. The Press:
You think they’ll
ultimately give in? The President:
My expectation is that they’ll
do the responsible thing. Chuck Todd. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. There have been a lot
of questions about the constitutionality —
constitutional interpretations of a few decisions you’ve made,
so I’ll just simply ask: Do you believe the War Powers
Act is constitutional? Do you believe that the debt
limit is constitutional, the idea that
Congress can do this? And do you believe that
marriage is a civil right? The President:
Well, that was a hodgepodge. (laughter) Chuck, we’re going to assign
you to the Supreme Court, man. (laughter) I’m not a Supreme Court justice
so I’m not going to — putting my constitutional law
professor hat on here. Let me focus on, initially,
the issue of Libya. I want to talk about the
substance of Libya because there’s been all kinds of noise
about process and congressional consultation and so forth. Let’s talk about
concretely what’s happened. Muammar Qaddafi, who,
prior to Osama bin Laden, was responsible for more
American deaths than just about anybody on the planet,
was threatening to massacre his people. And as part of an international
coalition, under a U.N. mandate that is almost unprecedented,
we went in and took out air defense systems so that an
international coalition could provide a no-fly zone, could
protect — provide humanitarian protection to the
people on the ground. I spoke to the American people
about what we would do. I said there would be
no troops on the ground. I said that we would not be
carrying the lion’s share of this operation, but
as members of NATO, we would be supportive of it
because it’s in our national security interest and
also because it’s the right thing to do. We have done exactly
what I said we would do. We have not put any
boots on the ground. And our allies —
who, historically, we’ve complained aren’t willing
to carry enough of the load when it comes to NATO operations —
have carried a big load when it comes to these NATO operations. And as a consequence, we’ve
protected thousands of people in Libya; we have not
seen a single U.S. casualty; there’s no risks of
additional escalation. This operation is limited
in time and in scope. So I said to the
American people, here’s our narrow mission. We have carried out that narrow
mission in exemplary fashion. And throughout this process
we consulted with Congress. We’ve had 10 hearings on it. We’ve sent reams of information
about what the operations are. I’ve had all the members of
Congress over to talk about it. So a lot of this
fuss is politics. And if you look substantively
at what we’ve done, we have done exactly
what we said to do, under a U.N. mandate, and we
have protected thousands of lives in the process. And as a consequence, a guy who
was a state sponsor of terrorist operations against the United
States of America is pinned down and the noose is
tightening around him. Now, when you look at the
history of the War Powers resolution, it came up after
the Vietnam War in which we had half-a-million soldiers there,
tens of thousands of lives lost, hundreds of billions of dollars
spent — and Congress said, you know what, we don’t
want something like that happening again. So if you’re going to start
getting us into those kinds of commitments you’ve
got to consult with Congress beforehand. And I think that
such consultation is entirely appropriate. But do I think that our
actions in any way violate the War Powers resolution? The answer is no. So I don’t even have to get to
the constitutional question. There may be a time in which
there was a serious question as to whether or not the
War Powers resolution — act was constitutional. I don’t have to get
to the question. We have engaged in a limited
operation to help a lot of people against one of the worst
tyrants in the world — somebody who nobody should want to defend
— and we should be sending a unified message to this guy that
he should step down and give his people a fair chance to live
their lives without fear. And this suddenly becomes
the cause célèbre for some folks in Congress? Come on. So you had, what,
a three-parter? (laughter) What are the other two? The Press:
There is some question about
the constitutionality of the War Powers Act. The President:
I’m just saying I
don’t have to reach it. That’s a good legal answer. The Press:
(inaudible) The President:
Let me start by saying
that this administration, under my direction, has
consistently said we cannot discriminate as a country
against people on the basis of sexual orientation. And we have done more in the two
and a half years that I’ve been in here than the previous
43 Presidents to uphold that principle, whether it’s
ending “don’t ask, don’t tell,” making sure that gay and lesbian
partners can visit each other in hospitals, making sure that
federal benefits can be provided to same-sex couples. Across the board — hate crimes
— we have made sure that that is a central principle
of this administration, because I think it’s a
central principle of America. Now, what we’ve also done
is we’ve said that DOMA, the Defense of Marriage
Act, is unconstitutional. And so we’ve said we cannot
defend the federal government poking its nose into what states
are doing and putting the thumb on the scale against
same-sex couples. What I’ve seen happen over
the last several years, and what happened in New York
last week I think was a good thing, because what you saw was
the people of New York having a debate, talking
through these issues. It was contentious; it was
emotional; but, ultimately, they made a decision to
recognize civil marriages. And I think that’s exactly
how things should work. And so I think it is — I think
it is important for us to work through these issues — because
each community is going to be different and each state is
going to be different — to work through them. In the meantime, we filed a
— we filed briefs before the Supreme Court that say we think
that any discrimination against gays, lesbians, transgenders is
subject to heightened scrutiny, and we don’t think that
DOMA is unconstitutional. And so I think the combination
of what states are doing, what the courts are doing,
the actions that we’re taking administratively, all are
how the process should work. The Press:
Are you at all uncomfortable
that there could be different rules in different
states, you know, and for somebody to make the
argument that’s what we saw during the segregation — The President:
Chuck, I think what you’re
seeing is a profound recognition on the part of the American
people that gays and lesbians and transgender persons are
our brothers, our sisters, our children, our cousins,
our friends, our co-workers, and that they’ve got
to be treated like every other American. And I think that
principle will win out. It’s not going to
be perfectly smooth, and it turns out that the
President — I’ve discovered since I’ve been in this office
— can’t dictate precisely how this process moves. But I think we’re moving in a
direction of greater equality and I think that’s a good thing. Julianna. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President.
I only have a two-parter. (laughter) The President:
Thanks. The Press:
Are you concerned that the
current debate over debt and deficits is preventing
you from taking the kind of decisive and more balanced
action needed to create jobs in this country, which is the
number one concern for Americans? And also, one of the impediments
to job growth that the business community repeatedly cites is
the regulatory environment. So do you think that the NLRB
complaint against Boeing, that that has created some of
the — is an example of the kinds of regulations
that chill job growth, and also that you yourself
have called “just plain dumb”? The President:
I think it’s important to
understand that deficit reduction, debt reduction,
should be part of an overall package for job growth
over the long term. It’s not the only part of
it, but it’s an important part of it. So as I mentioned at the top,
I think it’s important for us to look at rebuilding our
transportation infrastructure in this country. That could put people back to
work right now — construction workers back to work right now. And it would get done work
that America needs to get done. We used to have the best
roads, the best bridges, the best airports. We don’t anymore. And that’s not good for our
long-term competitiveness. So we could put people to work
right now and make sure that we’re in a good position
to win the future, as well. I think — The Press:
— spending and (inaudible) The President:
I’m going to get to it. I think that it’s important for
us to look at the tax code and figure out, are there ways that
we can simplify it and also build on the work that we’ve
already done, for example, saying to small businesses
or start-up businesses, you don’t have to pay capital
gains when you’re in start-up mode, because we want you to get
out there and start a business. That’s important. Making sure that SBA is helping
to get financing to small businesses, that’s important. So there are a whole range of
things that we can be doing. I think these trade deals will
be important — because right now South Korea, frankly, has a
better deal when it comes to our trading relationship than we do. Part of the reason I want to
pass this trade deal is you see a whole bunch of Korean cars
here in the United States and you don’t see any
American cars in Korea. So let’s rebalance that
trading relationship. That’s why we should
get this passed. So there are a range of
things that we could be doing right now. Deficit and debt reduction
should be seen as part of that overall process, because I think
if businesses feel confident that we’ve got our act
together here in Washington, that not only is the government
not going to default but we’re also preparing for a future in
which the population is getting older and we’re going to have
more expenses on the Medicare side and Social Security,
that businesses will feel more confident about investing here
in the United States of America. So I don’t think
they’re contradictory. And as I’ve said before,
certainly in my job, but I think Congress, as well,
they’ve got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. So we can focus on jobs at the
same time as we’re focusing on debt and deficit reduction. Now, one of the things that my
administration has talked about is, is there, in fact, a bunch
of — a tangle of regulations out there that are preventing
businesses from growing and expanding as quickly
as they should. Keep in mind that the business
community is always complaining about regulations. When unemployment is at 3
percent and they’re making record profits, they’re going to
still complain about regulations because, frankly, they want
to be able to do whatever they think is going to
maximize their profits. I’ve got an obligation to make
sure that we’re upholding smart regulations that protect our
air and protect our water and protect our food. If you’re flying on a plane,
you want to make sure that there are some regulations
in place to assure safety in air travel, right? So there are some core
regulations that we’ve got to maintain. But what I have done — and this
is unprecedented, by the way, no administration has done this
before — is I’ve said to each agency, don’t just look at
current regulations — or don’t just look at future regulations,
regulations that we’re proposing, let’s go backwards
and look at regulations that are already on the books,
and if they don’t make sense, let’s get rid of them. And we are in the
process of doing that, and we’ve already identified
changes that could potentially save billions of dollars
for companies over the next several years. Now, you asked specifically
about one decision that was made by the National Labor
Relations Board, the NLRB, and this relates to Boeing. Essentially, the NLRB made a
finding that Boeing had not followed the law in making
a decision to move a plant. And it’s an independent agency. It’s going before a judge. So I don’t want to get into
the details of the case. I don’t know all the facts. That’s going to be up
to a judge to decide. What I do know is this —
that as a general proposition, companies need to have
the freedom to relocate. They have to follow the law,
but that’s part of our system. And if they’re choosing to
relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing. And what it doesn’t make —
what I think defies common sense would be a notion that we would
be shutting down a plant or laying off workers because labor
and management can’t come to a sensible agreement. So my hope is, is that even as
this thing is working its way through, everybody steps back
for a second and says, look, if jobs are being created
here in the United States, let’s make sure that
we’re encouraging that. And we can’t afford to have
labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when
we’re competing against Germany and China and other countries
that want to sell goods all around the world. And obviously, the airplane
industry is an area where we still have a huge advantage,
and I want to make sure that we keep it. Mark Lander. The Press:
Thank you very much, Mr. President. Yesterday, Admiral McRaven
testified before Congress that he was concerned that there
wasn’t a clear procedure to be followed if a terrorist
were captured alive abroad. The administration has also been
clear that it doesn’t want to continue to send suspected
terrorists to Guantanamo. What message do you have for
American men and women in uniform who are
undertaking missions, like the very risky one to
capture and kill bin Laden, about what they should
do in the event that they capture someone alive? And does the lack of these clear
procedures raise the risk that forces might be more inclined to
kill suspected terrorists in the field, rather than capture them
alive, thus depriving the U.S. of the intelligence
that they could provide? The President:
Well, first of all, my top
priority in each and every one of these situations
is to make sure that we’re apprehending those who
would attack the United States; that we are getting all the
intelligence that we can out of these individuals, in a
way that’s consistent with due process of law;
and that we try them, we prosecute them, in
a way that’s consistent with rule of law. And, frankly, there are going to
be different dispositions of the case depending on the situation. And there are going to be
sometimes where a military commission may be appropriate. There are going to be some times
where Article III courts are appropriate in terms
of prosecution. And we do have a process to
work through all the agencies — Department of Defense,
Department of Justice, FBI, anybody else who might be
involved in these kinds of operations — to think through
on a case-by-case basis how a particular individual
should be dealt with. And I think that when it comes
to our men and women in uniform who might be carrying
out these missions, the instructions are not going
to be based on whether or not the lawyers can sort out
how we detain them or how we prosecute them. Their mission is to make
sure that they apprehend the individual; they do so
safely with minimum risk to American lives. And that’s always going
to be the priority, is just carrying
out the mission. And that message is sent
consistently to our men and women in uniform anytime
they start carrying out one of these missions. But I think it’s
important to understand, and the American people need
to be assured that anytime we initiate a mission like this,
our top priorities are making sure this person is not able to
carry out attacks against the United States and that we’re
able to obtain actionable intelligence from
those individuals. And so that mitigates against
this danger that you’re suggesting that our main goal
is going to be to kill these individuals as opposed to
potentially capturing them. Okay? Mike Emanuel, FOX. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. Last week when you gave your
Afghanistan drawdown speech, the word “victory,” in terms of
the overall war in Afghanistan, was not in your speech. So I’m wondering, sir, if you
can define for the 100,000 troops you have in harm’s
way in Afghanistan “victory” in the war, and for their
families, as well, sir. The President:
Well, I didn’t use “victory”
in my West Point speech, either. What I said was we can be
successful in our mission, which is narrowly drawn, and
that is to make sure that al Qaeda cannot attack the United
States of America or our allies or our interests overseas, and
to make sure that we have an Afghan government that — and an
Afghan people that can provide for their own security. We are being successful
in those missions. And the reason that we’re in
a position to draw down 10,000 troops this year and a total of
33,000 troops by the end of next summer is precisely because
of the extraordinary work of our men and women in uniform. What they’ve been able to
do is to severely cripple al Qaeda’s capacities. Obviously bin Laden
got the most attention, but even before the bin Laden
operation we had decimated the middle ranks and some of
the upper ranks of al Qaeda. They’re having a great deal
of difficulty operating, a great deal of difficulty
communicating and financing themselves, and we are going
to keep the pressure on. And in part that’s because of
the extraordinary sacrifices that have been made
by our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan. What we’ve also been able to
do is to ramp up the training of Afghan forces. So we’ve got an additional
100,000 Afghan troops, both Army and police, that have
been trained as a consequence of this surge. And that is going to give the
Afghans more capacity to defend themselves because it is in our
national interest to make sure that you did not have a
collapse of Afghanistan in which extremist elements could
flood the zone once again, and over time al Qaeda might be
in a position to rebuild itself. So what I laid out was a plan in
which we are going to be drawing down our troops from Afghanistan
after 10 very long years and an enormous sacrifice
by our troops. But we will draw them in a —
draw them down in a responsible way that will allow Afghanistan
to defend itself and will give us the operational capacity to
continue to put pressure on al Qaeda until that network
is entirely defeated. The Press:
— the attack on the
Intercontinental Hotel yesterday, sir? And does that concern you that
Afghan forces may not be able to step up if these guys are able
to attack a high-profile target in the nation’s capital? The President:
Well, keep in mind the
drawdown hasn’t begun. So we understood that
Afghanistan is a dangerous place, that the Taliban
is still active, and that there are still
going to be events like this on occasion. The question is, in
terms of overall trend, is Afghanistan
capacity increasing. Kabul, for example,
which contains a huge proportion of the Afghan
population as a whole, has been largely policed
by Afghan forces for quite some time. And they’ve done a
reasonably good job. Kabul is much safer than it was,
and Afghan forces in Kabul are much more capable
than they were. That doesn’t mean that there are
not going to be events like this potentially taking place,
and that will probably go on for some time. Our work is not done. But as I said in my speech,
the tide of war is receding. We have shifted to
a transition phase. And much like
we’ve seen in Iraq, where we’ve drawn
down our troops, the remainder of our troops will
be coming out by the end of this year, but Iraq has been able to
maintain a democratic government and to tamp down violence there
— we think a similar approach makes sense in Afghanistan. But even in Iraq, you still
see the occasional attack. These are still countries that
are digging themselves out of a lot of war, a lot of conflict. They’re dangerous places. And so they’re not going
to be perfectly safe, even if we were there. But we can improve the
chances for the Afghan people to defend themselves. Jim Sciutto. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. You’re aware that Senators Kerry
and McCain have a proposal on the Senate floor to give you the
leeway to continue operations in Libya for a further year. You’ve just said that
this, from the beginning, has been an operation
limited in time and scope. Initially you said
days, not weeks. Are you prepared, are the
American people prepared for this operation,
with American support, to continue for a further year? And is there any other
definition of success than Qaddafi being
removed from power? The President:
Well, first of all, Jim,
just a slight correction. What I told the American people
was that the initial phase where Americans were in the lead
would take days, perhaps weeks. And that’s exactly
what happened, right? I mean, after —
around two weeks, a little less than two weeks, we
had transitioned where NATO had taken full control
of the operation. So promise made, promise kept. Second, I think when you have
the former Republican nominee for President, John McCain, and
the former nominee for President on the Democratic
side, John Kerry, coming together to support
what we’re doing in Libya, that should tell the American
people that this is important. And I very much appreciate
their efforts in that regard. Third, when it comes to
our definitions of success, the U.N. mandate has said that
we are there to make sure that you do not see a massacre
directed against Libyan civilians by the Libyan regime. The Libyan regime’s capacity
has been greatly reduced as a consequence of our operation. That’s already been successful. What we’ve seen both in the
East and in the West is that opposition forces have been able
to mobilize themselves and start getting organized, and people
are starting to see the possibility of a more peaceful
future on the horizon. What is also true is, as long
as Qaddafi is still presenting himself as the head of
the Libyan government, and as long as he still controls
large numbers of troops, the Libyan people are
going to be in danger of counter-offensives
and of retribution. So there is no doubt that
Qaddafi stepping down from power is — from the international
community’s perspective — going to be the primary way that we
can assure that the overall mission of Libya’s people being
protected is accomplished. And I just want to point out —
I know it’s something you know — the International Criminal
Court identified Qaddafi as having violated
international law, having committed war crimes. What we’ve seen is reports of
troops engaging in horrible acts, including potentially
using rape as a weapon of war. And so when you have somebody
like that in charge of large numbers of troops, I think it
would be hard for us to feel confident that the Libyan people
are going to be protected unless he steps down. Now, what that means, whether
there’s the possibility of Libyans arriving at some
sort of political settlement, that I think is something that
ultimately the Libyan people are going to have to make a
decision about — because the international community is there
in service of that broader goal, of a peaceful Libya. The Press:
Would you accept a political
settlement with him involved as success from the
American perspective? The President:
I would accept him stepping down
so that he is not directing armed forces against
the Libyan people. He needs to step down. He needs to go. Laura Meckler. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. In these debt talks, would you
accept — would you like to see some sort of tax breaks aimed
at stimulating the economy, even though that would of course
add to the deficit itself? And I’d also like to follow up
on one of your earlier answers about same-sex marriage. You said that it’s a positive
step that so many states, including New York, are
moving towards that. Does that mean that you
personally now do support same-sex marriage, putting aside
what individual states decide? Is that your personal view? The President:
I’m not going to make
news on that today. (laughter) Good try, though. And with respect to the deficit
and debt talks and where we need to go, I do think
it’s important, since we’re looking at how do we
reduce the debt and deficit both in a 10-year window as well
as beyond a 10-year window, to understand that one of the
most important things we can do for debt and deficit reduction
is to grow the economy. And so if there are steps that
in the short term may reduce the amount of cash in the treasury
but in the long term mean that we’re growing at 3.5 percent
instead of 2.5 percent, then those ideas
are worth exploring. Obviously that was what we did
in December during the lame duck session, when Democrats and
Republicans came together and we said, you know what, a
payroll tax cut makes sense in order to boost the economy;
unemployment insurance makes sense in order to
boost the economy. All that stuff puts money in
people’s pockets at a time when they’re still struggling
to dig themselves out of this recession. And so the American people
have an extra thousand dollars, on average, in their pockets
because of the tax cuts that we initiated. And that has helped cushion some
of the tough stuff that happened in the first six
months of this year, including the effects on oil
prices as a consequence of what happened in the Middle East as
well as what happened in Japan. I think that it makes perfect
sense for us to take a look at can we extend the payroll tax,
for example, an additional year, and other tax breaks for
business investment that could make a big difference in terms
of creating more jobs right now. What we need to do is to restore
business confidence and the confidence of the American
people that we’re on track — that we’re not going
to get there right away, that this is a tough
slog, but that we still are moving forward. And I think that it makes sense,
as we’re looking at an overall package, to see, are there some
things that we can do to sustain the recovery, so long as the
overall package achieves our goals — the goals
that I set out, which is $4 trillion within
a 10-to 12-year window, and making sure that we’re
bending the costs of things like health care
over the long term. The Press:
I’m sorry, I know you don’t
want to say anything further on the same-sex
marriage issue, but what you said before really
led me to believe that that’s what is in your personal mind. And I’m wondering what’s the
distinction you’re drawing. The President:
Laura, I think this has
been asked and answered. I’ll keep on giving you the
same answer until I give you a different one, all right? And that won’t be today. (laughter) The Press:
That’s going to be — (inaudible) The President:
Yes, exactly. I thought you’d like that one. (laughter) Antonieta Cádiz? There you are. The Press:
Thank you very much, Mr. President. First, if you receive a
mandatory E-verify bill only without legalization, are you
planning to veto that deal? And second, on Fast and Furious,
members of Congress and the government of Mexico are
still waiting for answers. Are you planning to
replace ATF leadership? And when can we expect
the results of the current investigation? The President:
On the second
question, as you know, my attorney general has made
clear that he certainly would not have ordered gun
running to be able to pass through into Mexico. The investigation
is still pending. I’m not going to comment
on a current investigation. I’ve made very clear my views
that that would not be an appropriate step by the ATF,
and we got to find out how that happened. As soon as the
investigation is completed, I think appropriate
actions will be taken. With respect to E-verify,
we need comprehensive immigration reform. I’ve said it before. I will say it again. I will say it next week. And I’ll say it six
months from now. We’ve got to have a system that
makes sure that we uphold our tradition as a nation of laws
and that we also uphold our tradition as a
nation of immigrants. And that means tough
border security, going after employers that are
illegally hiring and exploiting workers, making sure that we
also have a pathway for legal status for those who are living
in the shadows right now. We may not be able to get
everything that I would like to see in a package, but we
have to have a balanced package. E-verify can be an important
enforcement tool if it’s not riddled with errors,
if U.S. citizens are protected — because what I
don’t want is a situation in which employers are forced
to set up a system that they can’t be certain works. And we don’t want to expose
employers to the risk where they end up rejecting a
qualified candidate for a job because the list says that
that person is an illegal immigrant, and it turns out that the person
isn’t an illegal immigrant. That wouldn’t be fair for the
employee and would probably get the employer in trouble as well. So I think the goal right now is
to let’s continue to see if we can perfect the E-verify system. Let’s make sure that we have
safeguards in place to prevent the kind of scenarios
that I talked about. But let’s also not lose sight of
some of the other components to immigration reform. For example, making sure that
DREAM Act kids — kids who have grown up here in
the United States, think of themselves
as Americans, who are not legal through
no fault of their own, and who are ready to invest and
give back to our country and go to school and fight in our
military and start businesses here — let’s make sure
that those kids can stay. We need to have a more
balanced approach than just a verification system. The Press:
(inaudible) The President:
I don’t have an answer as to
whether the investigation is completed yet, and it wouldn’t
be appropriate for me to comment on the investigation
if I don’t — if it’s not yet completed. Jessica Yellin. Congratulations, your
first question here. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. The President:
No pressure. You’re
going to do great. (laughter) The Press:
Thank you. Your administration has laid
out four different dates by which you’ve said that the
debt ceiling must be raised or the U.S. would face
potential dire consequences. Three of those dates have come
and gone and we haven’t faced financial calamity. Some of your critics have
argued that these are then scare tactics to force a deal. So why should the American
people believe that the August 2nd deadline is the final
deadline by which a deal must be raised? And would you also spell out
for us what you believe will happen if the debt ceiling
is not raised by that date? The President:
Jessica, let’s be clear. We haven’t given out
four different dates. We have given out dates
that are markers for us getting into trouble. It’s the equivalent of you’re
driving down the street and the yellow light starts flashing. The yellow light is flashing. Now, it hasn’t been
a red light yet. So what Tim Geithner has said
is, technically speaking, we’re in a position now where
we’re having to do a whole bunch of things to make sure
that our bills are paid. By August 2nd, we run out of
tools to make sure that all our bills are paid. So that is a hard deadline. And I want everybody
to understand that this is a jobs issue. This is not an abstraction. If the United States
government, for the first time, cannot pay its bills,
if it defaults, then the consequences
for the U.S. economy will be significant
and unpredictable. And that is not a good thing. We don’t know how capital
markets will react. But if capital markets suddenly
decide, you know what, the U.S. government doesn’t
pay its bills, so we’re going to start
pulling our money out, and the U.S. Treasury has to
start to raise interest rates in order to attract more
money to pay off our bills, that means higher interest
rates for businesses; that means higher interest
rates for consumers. So all the headwinds that we’re
already experiencing in terms of the recovery will get worse. That’s not my opinion. I think that’s a
consensus opinion. And that means that job growth
will be further stymied, it will be further hampered, as
a consequence of that decision. So that’s point number one. Point number two, I want to
address what I’ve been hearing from some quarters,
which is, well, maybe this debt limit thing
is not really that serious; we can just pay
interest on the debt. This idea has been
floating around in some Republican circles. This is the equivalent of
me saying, you know what, I will choose to
pay my mortgage, but I’m not going
to pay my car note. Or I’m going to pay my car
note but I’m not going to pay my student loan. Now, a lot of people in really
tough situations are having to make those tough decisions. But for the U.S. government to
start picking and choosing like that is not going to
inspire a lot of confidence. Moreover, which bills are
we going to decide to pay? These guys have said, well,
maybe we just pay the interest on — for bondholders. So are we really going to start
paying interest to Chinese who hold treasuries and we’re not
going to pay folks their Social Security checks? Or we’re not going to
pay to veterans for their disability checks? I mean, which bills,
which obligations, are we going to say
we don’t have to pay? And last point I want
to make about this. These are bills that
Congress ran up. The money has been spent. The obligations have been made. So this isn’t a situation — I
think the American people have to understand this — this is
not a situation where Congress is going to say, okay, we won’t
— we won’t buy this car or we won’t take this vacation. They took the vacation. They bought the car. And now they’re saying
maybe we don’t have to pay, or we don’t have to pay as fast
as we said we were going to, or — that’s not how
responsible families act. And we’re the greatest
nation on Earth, and we can’t act that way. So this is urgent and
it needs to get settled. The Press:
So is August 2nd a yellow
light or a red light? The President:
I think people should
think of — look, I’m the President of the United
States and I want to make sure that I am not engaging
in scare tactics. And I’ve tried to be responsible
and somewhat restrained so that folks don’t get spooked. August 2nd is a
very important date. And there’s no reason why
we can’t get this done now. We know what the
options are out there. This is not a technical
problem any longer. This is a matter of Congress
going ahead and biting the bullet and making
some tough decisions. Because we know what
the decisions are. We’ve identified what
spending cuts are possible. We’ve identified what
defense cuts are possible. We’ve identified what health
care cuts are possible. We’ve identified what loopholes
in the tax code can be closed that would also raise revenue. We’ve identified
what the options are. And the question now is
are we going to step up and get this done. And, you know, Malia and Sasha
generally finish their homework a day ahead of time. Malia is 13, Sasha is 10. The Press:
Impressive. The President:
It is impressive. They don’t wait until
the night before. They’re not pulling
all-nighters. (laughter) They’re 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to
do something, just do it. And I’ve got to say, I’m very
amused when I start hearing comments about, well, the
President needs to show more leadership on this. Let me tell you something. Right after we finished dealing
with the government shutdown, averting a government
shutdown, I called the leaders here together. I said we’ve got to get
done — get this done. I put Vice President Biden in
charge of a process — that, by the way, has made real
progress — but these guys have met, worked through
all of these issues. I met with every single caucus
for an hour to an hour and a half each — Republican
senators, Democratic senators; Republican House,
Democratic House. I’ve met with the
leaders multiple times. At a certain point, they
need to do their job. And so, this thing, which
is just not on the level, where we have meetings
and discussions, and we’re working
through process, and when they decide they’re not
happy with the fact that at some point you’ve got
to make a choice, they just all step back
and say, well, you know, the President needs to
get this done — they need to do their job. Now is the time to go ahead
and make the tough choices. That’s why they’re
called leaders. And I’ve already shown that I’m
willing to make some decisions that are very tough and will
give my base of voters further reason to give me a hard time. But it’s got to be done. And so there’s no point
in procrastinating. There’s no point
in putting it off. We’ve got to get this done. And if by the end of this week,
we have not seen substantial progress, then I think members
of Congress need to understand we are going to start having
to cancel things and stay here until we get it done. They’re in one week,
they’re out one week. And then they’re saying,
Obama has got to step in. You need to be here. I’ve been here. I’ve been doing Afghanistan and
bin Laden and the Greek crisis. You stay here. Let’s get it done. All right. I think you know my
feelings about that. (laughter) Caren Bohan. The Press:
Thank you, Mr. President. You talked about the payroll
tax holiday and possibly extending that. Are you worried, though,
that by adding a discussion of short-term measures on the
economy into these discussions about long-term deficit
reductions that that may complicate the conversation
and make it harder to pass a debt limit? The President:
I will — let me
put it this way. If we’ve got a good deal on
debt and deficit reduction that focuses not just on the 10-year
window but also the long term, we will get it done. And then we can argue about some
other things — because I think that’s very important. I will say that precisely
because tough votes in Congress are often avoided, that it may
make sense to also deal with something like a payroll tax cut
at the same time — because it does have budget implications
and the American people need to know that we’re focused on
jobs and not just on deficit reduction, even
though, as I said, deficit reduction helps
to serve the job agenda. I think they want to have some
confidence that we’ve got a plan that’s helping right now. But I don’t think it should be
a complicating factor — because if Mitch McConnell and John
Boehner came to me and said, all right, we’re
ready to make a deal, here’s a balanced approach to
debt and deficit reduction, but we want to argue about
payroll tax cuts later, they’re not set to expire until
the end of this year — if that was a situation
that they presented, then I think we would have a
serious conversation about that. I would not discount
that completely. I do think that the steps that
I talked about to deal with job growth and economic growth right
now are vitally important to deficit reduction. Just as deficit reduction is
important to grow the economy and to create jobs — well,
creating jobs and growing the economy also helps
reduce the deficit. If we just increased the growth
rate by one percentage point, that would drastically bring
down the long-term projections of the deficit, because people
are paying more into the coffers and fewer people are drawing
unemployment insurance. It makes a huge difference. And this may be sort of
a good place to wrap up. You know, every day I get
letters from folks all around the country who show
incredible resilience, incredible determination,
but they are having a very, very tough time. They’re losing their homes. Some have lost their businesses. Some have lost work and have
not been able to find jobs for months, maybe a year,
maybe a year and a half. And they feel some desperation. And some folks who are working
just are having a tough time paying the bills because they
haven’t seen their wages or incomes go up in 10 years,
and the costs of everything else have gone up. And every day that weighs on me. Every minute of every
day that weighs on me. Because I ran for President
precisely to make sure that we righted this ship and we start
once again creating a situation where middle-class families and
people who aspire to be in the middle class, if
they’re working hard, then they’re living
a better life. Now, these structural changes in
our economy that have been going on for a decade
— in some cases, longer — they’re not going
to be solved overnight. But we know what to do. We know that if we are
educating our kids well, then they’re going to
be more competitive. We know that if we are investing
in things like infrastructure, it pays off. I was in Alcoa, in Iowa, one of
our most successful companies. They took a big hit
during the recession, but they still invested $90
million in new equipment in a plant that makes airplane wings
and parts for automobiles. And they’ve bounced back. They’ve hired back all their
people and are increasing market share because they
made those investments. Well, just like a
company like Alcoa, America has got to
make some investments. We know that we’ve got to
get control of our deficit. There are some things that
aren’t going to solve all our problems but can
make progress right now. And the question is whether or
not Democrats and Republicans are willing to put aside
the expedience of short-term politics in order
to get it done. And these folks
are counting on us. They desperately want to
believe that their leadership is thinking about them
and not playing games. And I think that if all the
leadership here in Washington has the faces and the stories
of those families in mind, then we will solve
this debt limit issue; we will put in place steps
like a payroll tax cut and infrastructure development;
we’ll continue to fund education; we’ll hold true to
our commitment to our seniors. These are solvable problems, but
it does require us just getting out of the short-term
and, frankly, selfish approach that
sometimes politics breeds. We’ve got to think
a bit long term. Thank you very much, everybody.

Robin Kshlerin