November 14, 2019
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The President Holds a Press Conference After the Midterm Elections

The President: Good
afternoon, everybody. Have a seat. Today, I had a chance to
speak with John Boehner and congratulated Mitch
McConnell on becoming the next Senate
Majority Leader. And I told them both that I
look forward to finishing up this Congress’ business,
and then working together for the next two years to
advance America’s business. And I very much appreciated
Leader McConnell’s words last night about the prospect
of working together to deliver for the American people. On Friday, I look forward to
hosting the entire Republican and Democratic leadership
at the White House to chart a new course forward. Obviously, Republicans
had a good night, and they deserve credit for
running good campaigns. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to
all of you and the professional pundits to pick through
yesterday’s results. What stands out to me, though,
is that the American people sent a message, one that they’ve
sent for several elections now. They expect the people
they elect to work as hard as they do. They expect us to focus on
their ambitions and not ours. They want us to
get the job done. All of us, in both parties,
have a responsibility to address that sentiment. Still, as President, I have
a unique responsibility to try and make this
town work. So, to everyone who
voted, I want you to know that I hear you. To the two-thirds of voters
who chose not to participate in the process yesterday,
I hear you, too. All of us have to give more
Americans a reason to feel like the ground is stable
beneath their feet, that the future is secure,
that there’s a path for young people to succeed,
and that folks here in Washington are
concerned about them. So I plan on spending every
moment of the next two-plus years doing my job the best I
can to keep this country safe and to make sure that
more Americans share in its prosperity. This country has made
real progress since the crisis six
years ago. The fact is more
Americans are working; unemployment has come down. More Americans have
health insurance. Manufacturing has grown. Our deficits have shrunk. Our dependence on foreign oil
is down, as are gas prices. Our graduation rates are up. Our businesses aren’t just
creating jobs at the fastest pace since the 1990s, our
economy is outpacing most of the world. But we’ve just got to keep
at it until every American feels the gains of a
growing economy where it matters most, and
that’s in their own lives. Obviously, much of that will
take action from Congress. And I’m eager to work with
the new Congress to make the next two years as
productive as possible. I’m committed to making sure
that I measure ideas not by whether they are from
Democrats or Republicans, but whether they work
for the American people. And that’s not to say
that we won’t disagree over some issues that
we’re passionate about. We will. Congress will pass some
bills I cannot sign. I’m pretty sure I’ll
take some actions that some in Congress
will not like. That’s natural. That’s how our
democracy works. But we can surely find ways
to work together on issues where there’s broad agreement
among the American people. So I look forward to
Republicans putting forward their governing agenda. I will offer my ideas on areas
where I think we can move together to respond to
people’s economic needs. So, just take one example. We all agree on the need to
create more jobs that pay well. Traditionally, both parties
have been for creating jobs rebuilding our
infrastructure — our roads, bridges, ports, waterways. I think we can hone in on a way
to pay for it through tax reform that closes loopholes and
makes it more attractive for companies to create jobs
here in the United States. We can also work together to
grow our exports and open new markets for our
manufacturers to sell more American-made goods to the
rest of the world. That’s something I’ll be
focused on when I travel to Asia next week. We all share the
same aspirations for our young people. And I was encouraged that this
year Republicans agreed to investments that expanded
early childhood education. I think we’ve got a chance
to do more on that front. We’ve got some common ideas to
help more young people afford college and graduate without
crippling debt so that they have the freedom to fill
the good jobs of tomorrow and buy their first homes
and start a family. And in the five states where
a minimum wage increase was on the ballot last
night, voters went five for five to increase it. That will give about
325,000 Americans a raise in states where Republican
candidates prevailed. So that should give us new
reason to get it done for everybody, with a national
increase in the minimum wage. So those are some areas where
I think we’ve got some real opportunities to cooperate. And I am very eager to hear
Republican ideas for what they think we can do together over
the next couple of years. Of course, there’s
still business on the docket that needs
attention this year. And here are three places where
I think we can work together over the next several weeks,
before this Congress wraps up for the holidays. First, I’m submitting a
request to Congress for funding to ensure that
our doctors, scientists, and troops have the resources
that they need to combat the spread of Ebola in Africa
and to increase our preparedness for any
future cases here at home. Second, I’m going to begin
engaging Congress over a new Authorization to Use
Military Force against ISIL. The world needs to know we are
united behind this effort, and the men and women of our
military deserve our clear and unified support. Third, back in September,
Congress passed short-term legislation to keep
the government open and operating
into December. That gives Congress five
weeks to pass a budget for the rest of
the fiscal year. And I hope that they’ll do
it in the same bipartisan, drama-free way that they
did earlier this year. When our companies are steadily
creating jobs — which they are — we don’t want to inject
any new uncertainty into the world economy and to
the American economy. The point is it’s time for
us to take care of business. There are things this country
has to do that can’t wait another two years or
another four years. There are plans this country has
to put in place for our future. And the truth is I’m
optimistic about our future. I have good reason to be. I meet Americans all across the
country who are determined, and big-hearted, and
ask what they can do, and never give up, and
overcome obstacles. And they inspire me
every single day. So the fact is I still believe
in what I said when I was first elected six
years ago last night. For all the maps plastered
across our TV screens today, and for all the cynics
who say otherwise, I continue to believe
we are simply more than just a collection of
red and blue states. We are the United States. And whether it’s immigration
or climate change, or making sure our kids are
going to the best possible schools, to making sure that our
communities are creating jobs; whether it’s stopping the
spread of terror and disease, to opening up doors of
opportunity to everybody who’s willing to work hard and
take responsibility — the United States has
big things to do. We can and we will make
progress if we do it together. And I look forward
to the work ahead. So, with that, let me
take some questions. I think that our
team has got my list. And we’re going to start with
Julie Pace at Associated Press. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. You said during this
election that while your name wasn’t on the ballot,
your policies were. And despite the optimism
that you’re expressing here, last night was a devastating
night for your party. Given that, do you feel
any responsibility to recalibrate your agenda
for the next two years? And what changes do you need
to make in your White House and in your dealings with
Republicans in order to address the concerns
that voters expressed with your administration? The President: Well, as I
said in my opening remarks, the American people
overwhelmingly believe that this town doesn’t
work well and that it is not attentive
to their needs. And as President, they,
rightly, hold me accountable to do more to make
it work properly. I’m the guy who’s
elected by everybody, not just from a particular
state or a particular district. And they want me to push hard to
close some of these divisions, break through some of the
gridlock, and get stuff done. So the most important thing
I can do is just get stuff done, and help Congress
get some things done. In terms of agenda items,
though, Julie, if you look, as I just mentioned, to
a minimum wage increase, for example, that’s
something I talked about a lot during the campaign. Where voters had a chance to
vote directly on that agenda item, they voted for it. And so I think it would be
hard to suggest that people aren’t supportive of it. We know that the surveys
consistently say they want to see that happen. The key is to find areas where
the agenda that I’ve put forward, one that I believe will
help strengthen the middle class and create more ladders of
opportunity into the middle class, and improve our schools,
and make college more affordable to more young people, and make
sure that we’re growing faster as an economy and we stay
competitive — the key is to make sure that those
ideas that I have overlap somewhere with some of the
ideas that Republicans have. There’s not going to
be perfect overlap. I mean, there are going to be
some ideas that I’ve got that I think the evidence backs up
would be good for the economy; and Republicans disagree. They’re not going to
support those ideas. But I’m going to keep on
arguing for them because I think they’re the right
thing for the country to do. There are going to be some ideas
that they’ve got that they believe will improve the
economy or create jobs that, from my perspective, isn’t
going to help middle-class families improve their
economic situation, so I probably won’t
support theirs. But I do think there are
going to be areas where we do agree — on
infrastructure, on making sure that we’re boosting
American exports. And part of my task then is
to reach out to Republicans, make sure that I’m
listening to them. I’m looking forward to them
putting forward a very specific agenda in terms of what they
would like to accomplish. Let’s compare notes in terms of
what I’m looking at and what they’re looking at, and
let’s get started on those things where we agree. Even if we don’t
agree 100 percent, let’s get started on those
things where we agree 70, 80, 90 percent. And if we can do that, and build
up some trust and improve how processes work in Washington,
then I think that’s going to give the American people a
little bit more confidence that, in fact, their government
is looking after them. The Press: But is there anything
specific that you feel like you and your administration need to
change given this disastrous election for your party and
the message that voters sent? The President: Julie, I think
every single day I’m looking for, how can we do what
we need to do better. Whether that is delivering basic
services the government provides to the American people; whether
that is our capacity to work with Congress so that
they’re passing legislation; whether it’s how we communicate
with the American people about what our priorities and vision
is — we are constantly asking ourselves questions about how
do we make sure that we’re doing a better job. And that’s not going to stop. I think that every election
is a moment for reflection, and I think that everybody
in this White House is going to look and say,
all right, what do we need to do differently. But the principles that
we’re fighting for, the things that motivate me
every single day and motivate my staff every day — those
things aren’t going to change. There’s going to be a consistent
focus on how do we deliver more opportunity to more
people in this country; how do we grow the
economy faster; how do we put more
people back to work. And I maybe have a naïve
confidence that if we continue to focus on the American
people, and not on our own ambitions or image or
various concerns like that, that at the end of the
day, when I look back, I’m going to be able to say
the American people are better off than they were
before I was President. And that’s my most
important goal. But the other thing I just want
to emphasize is I’m — I’ve said this before, I want to reiterate
it — if there are ideas that the Republicans have that I
have confidence will make things better for ordinary
Americans, the fact that the Republicans suggesting it
as opposed to a Democrat, that will be irrelevant to me. I want to just see what works. And there are some things like
rebuilding our infrastructure or early childhood education
that we know works. And I’m hoping that the kind
of attitude and approach that Mitch McConnell
and John Boehner have already expressed, their
desire to get things done, allows us to find
some common ground. Jeff Mason. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. In 2010, you called the result
of the midterm election “a shellacking.” What do you call this? And can you give us an update
on your feelings about the immigration executive order in
the result — in the aftermath of this election? Does the election affect
your plans to release it? Will it still — is
it likely to come out before the lame duck
session is over? And have you reduced its scope
to just a couple million people? The President: Well, as I
said in my opening statement, there’s no doubt that
Republicans had a good night. And what we’re going to make
sure that we do is to reach out to Mitch McConnell
and John Boehner, who are now running both
chambers in Congress, and find out what
their agenda is. And my hope is, is that they’ve
got some specific things they want to do that correspond
with some things that we want to get done. What’s most important to the
American people right now, the resounding message
not just of this election, but basically the last
several is: Get stuff done. Don’t worry about
the next election. Don’t worry about
party affiliation. Do worry about
our concerns. Worry about the fact
that I’m a single mom, and at the end of the month it’s
really hard for me to pay the bills, in part because I’ve got
these huge child care costs. Do worry about the fact that
I’m a young person who’s qualified to go to college,
but I’m really worried about taking $50,000 a year out
in debt and I don’t know how I’d pay that back. Do worry about the fact that I’m
a construction worker who has been working all my life, and I
know that there’s construction work that should be done, but
right now, for some reason, projects are stalled. If we’re thinking about
those folks I think we’re, hopefully, going to be able
to get some stuff done. In terms of immigration, I
have consistently said that it is my profound
preference and interest to see Congress act on a
comprehensive immigration reform bill that would
strengthen our borders; would streamline our legal
immigration system so that it works better and we’re
attracting the best and the brightest from around the world;
and that we give an opportunity for folks who’ve lived
here, in many cases, for a very long time, may
have kids who are U.S. citizens, but aren’t properly
documented — give them a chance to pay their back taxes,
get in the back of the line, but get through a process that
allows them to get legal. The Senate, on a bipartisan
basis, passed a good bill. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t
exactly what I wanted, but it was a sound, smart, piece
of legislation that really would greatly improve not just our
immigration system but our economy, and would improve
business conditions here in the United States
— and make sure that American-born workers
aren’t undercut by workers who are undocumented
and aren’t always paid a fair wage and, as a
consequence, employers who are breaking the rules are
able to undercut folks who are doing
the right thing. So we got a bipartisan
bill out of the Senate. I asked John Boehner
at that point, can we pass this
through the House? There’s a majority of votes in
the House to get this passed. And Speaker Boehner I think was
sincere about wanting to pass it, but had difficulty over the
last year trying to get it done. So when he finally told me he
wasn’t going to call it up this year, what I indicated to him is
I feel obliged to do everything I can lawfully with my executive
authority to make sure that we don’t keep on
making the system worse, but that whatever executive
actions that I take will be replaced and supplanted
by action by Congress. You send me a bill
that I can sign, and those executive
actions go away. That’s a commitment I made not
just to the American people — and to businesses and the
evangelical community and the law enforcement
folks and everybody who’s looked at this issue
and thinks that we need immigration reform — that’s
a commitment that I also made to John Boehner, that
I would act in the absence of action by Congress. So before the end of the year,
we’re going to take whatever lawful actions that I can take
that I believe will improve the functioning of our
immigration system that will allow us to surge additional
resources to the border, where I think the vast
majority of Americans have the deepest concern. And at the same time, I’ll
be reaching out to both Mitch McConnell, John
Boehner, and other Republican as well as Democratic
leaders to find out how it is that they
want to proceed. And if they want to get a bill
done — whether it’s during the lame duck or next year
— I’m eager to see what they have to offer. But what I’m not going
to do is just wait. I think it’s fair to say that
I’ve shown a lot of patience and have tried to work on a
bipartisan basis as much as possible, and I’m going
to keep on doing so. But in the meantime, let’s
figure out what we can do lawfully through
executive actions to improve the functioning of the
existing system. The Press: How will you make
sure that that executive action has teeth if Republicans try to
block it by blocking funding? And can you give us a
sense of whether or not you’re thinking about — The President: Jeff, I
think if you want to get into the details of it, I suspect
that when I announce that executive action, it
will be rife with detail. (laughter) And I’m sure there will be a
lot of follow-up questions. Chris Jansing. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. I want to follow up
on a couple of things and start with
immigration. And are you concerned that if
you sign an executive order on immigration before the end
of the year it will scuttle whatever chances there may be
for there to be some sort of compromise on the issues
that you talked about? And I wonder that, given this
unhappy electorate, clearly, and they seem to be disappointed
with both sides pretty much, why they punished the
Democrats more than the Republicans by far. The President: Well, as
I said, when it comes to the political analysis,
that’s your job. But what is also
true is I am the President of
the United States, and I think, understandably,
people are going to ask for greater
accountability and more responsibility from me than
from anybody else in this town. Appropriately so,
and I welcome that. And the commitment that I will
make to the American people and the way I’ve tried to
conduct myself throughout this presidency is that I’m going
to wake up every single day doing my absolute best
to deliver for them. And there are areas where
we’ve made real progress. I think economically, I
can look back and there is no doubt that almost —
on almost every measure, we are better off economically
than we were when I took office. But what is also true is there
are still a lot of folks out there who are anxious and are
hurting and are having trouble making ends meet, or are worried
about their children’s future. And it’s my job to give them
some confidence that this town can work to respond to some of
those worries that folks have. And we haven’t done a good
enough job convincing them of that. And I understand that. They’ve been watching Washington
over the last two, four years. What they’ve seen is a lot of
arguing and a lot of gridlock, but not a lot of concrete
actions, at least legislatively, that have made a
difference in their lives. And so we’ve got to make sure
that we do a better job, and I’m committed
to doing that. On immigration, I know that
concerns have been expressed that, well, if you do something
through executive actions, even if it’s within
your own authorities, that that will make it harder
to pass immigration reform. I just have to remind everybody
I’ve heard that argument now for a couple of years. This is an issue I actually
wanted to get done in my first term, and we didn’t
see legislative action. And in my second term, I made
it my top legislative priority, and we got really good work
done by a bipartisan group of senators, but it
froze up in the House. And I think that the best way if
folks are serious about getting immigration reform
done is going ahead and passing a bill and
getting it to my desk. And then the executive
actions that I take go away. They’re superseded by
the law that has passed. And I will engage any member
of Congress who’s interested in this in how we can shape
legislation that will be a significant improvement
over the existing system. But what we can’t do is
just keep on waiting. There is a cost
to waiting. There’s a cost to
our economy. It means that resources
are misallocated. When the issue of unaccompanied
children cropped up during this summer, there was a
lot of folks who perceived this as a major crisis in
our immigration system. Now, the fact is, is that those
numbers have now come down and they’re approximately
where they were a year ago or two years ago or a
year before that. But it did identify a real
problem in a certain portion of the border where we got
to get more resources. But those resources
may be misallocated, separating families right
now that most of us, most Americans would say
probably we’d rather have them just pay their back taxes,
pay a fine, learn English, get to the back of the line,
but we’ll give you a pathway where you can be legal
in this country. So where I’ve got executive
authorities to do that, we should get
started on that. But I want to emphasize
once again, if, in fact, Republican leadership wants to
see an immigration bill passed, they now have the
capacity to pass it. And hopefully engaging with
me and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, it’s
a bill that I can sign because it addresses the real
concerns that are out there. And the sooner they do it, from
my perspective, the better. Jonathan Karl. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. Mitch McConnell has been
the Republican Leader for six years, as long as
you’ve been President. But his office tells me that he
has only met with you one-on-one once or twice during that
entire six-year period. So I’m wondering, as somebody
who came to Washington promising to end the hyper-partisanship
that was here long before you became President but has gotten
worse since you got here, was it a mistake for you
to do so little to develop relationships with
Republicans in Congress? The President: I think that
every day I’m asking myself, are there some things
I can do better. And I’m going to keep on
asking that every single day. The fact is that most
of my interactions with members of Congress
have been cordial and they’ve been
constructive. Oftentimes, though, we just
haven’t been able to actually get what’s discussed in a
leadership meeting through caucuses in the House and the
Senate to deliver a bill. The good news is that now Mitch
McConnell and John Boehner are from the same party;
I think they can come together and decide
what their agenda is. They’ve got sufficient
majorities to make real progress on some of these issues. And I’m certainly going to be
spending a lot more time with them now because that’s the only
way that we’re going to be able to get some stuff done. And I take them at their word
that they want to produce. They’re in the majority; they
need to present their agenda. I need to put forward
my best ideas. I think the American people
are going to be able to watch us and they’re paying
attention to see whether or not we’re serious about actually compromising and being constructive. And my commitment to them
— and I’ve said this when I spoke to them — is, is
that anywhere where we can find common ground, I’m
eager to pursue it. The Press: Are you going
to have that drink with Mitch McConnell now
that you joked about at the White House Correspondents Dinner? The President: You
know, actually, I would enjoy having
some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell. (laughter) I don’t know what his
preferred drink is, but — my interactions with
Mitch McConnell, he has always been very
straightforward with me. To his credit, he has
never made a promise that he couldn’t deliver. And he knows the
legislative process well. He obviously knows his
caucus well — he has always given me, I think, realistic
assessments of what he can get through his
caucus and what he can’t. And so I think we can have
a productive relationship. Phil Mattingly. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. Another deadline coming
up is your negotiators by November 24th have to
figure out if they’re going to reach a deal with
Iran on a nuclear area, a nuclear agreement. I’m interested what your current
perspective is on how those negotiations are going. Also if it is your feeling that
you have the power to implement any type of agreement
that’s reached without any action
from Congress? And then, also I just
wanted to quickly touch on the AUMF that you
mentioned earlier. Is that going to be more of a
codification of the limits that you’ve put in place for
the mission up to this point? Or what should we be looking
for on that when you send it to the Hill? Thank you. The President: On the
AUMF, the leaders are going to be coming
here on Friday. It will be an expanded group,
not just the four leaders, but a larger group who all have
an interest in the issues we’re discussing today. And I’m actually going
to invite Lloyd Austin, the CENTCOM Commander, to make a
presentation about how our fight against ISIL is proceeding and
I think to answer questions and assure that Congress
is fully briefed on what we’re doing there. With respect to the AUMF, we’ve
already had conversations with members of both
parties in Congress, and the idea is to right-size
and update whatever authorization Congress provides
to suit the current fight, rather than previous fights. In 2001, after the
heartbreaking tragedy of 9/11, we had a very specific set of
missions that we had to conduct, and the AUMF was designed
to pursue those missions. With respect to Iraq, there
was a very specific AUMF. We now have a different
type of enemy. The strategy is different. How we partner with Iraq
and other Gulf countries and the international
coalition — that has to be
structured differently. So it makes sense for us to make
sure that the authorization from Congress reflects what we
perceive to be not just our strategy over the
next two or three months, but our strategy
going forward. And it will be a process
of listening to members of Congress, as well as us
presenting what we think needs to be the set of
authorities that we have. And I’m confident we’re going
to be able to get that done. And that may just be a process
of us getting it started now. It may carry over into
the next Congress. On Iran, because of the
unprecedented sanctions that we put in place that really
did have a crippling effect on Iran’s economy,
they’ve come to the table and they’ve negotiated seriously around providing assurances that they’re not developing
a nuclear weapon for the first time. And they have abided
by the interim rules. We have been able to
freeze their program, in some cases reduce
the stockpile of nuclear material that
they already had in hand. And the discussions,
the negotiations have been constructive. The international community
has been unified and cohesive. There haven’t been a lot
of cracks in our alliance. Even countries where we have
some differences, like Russia, have agreed with us and have
worked with us cooperatively in trying to find ways
to make sure that we can verify and have
confidence going forward that Iran doesn’t have the
capacity to develop a nuclear weapon that could
not only threaten friends of ours like Israel, trigger a
nuclear arms race in the region, but could over the long term,
potentially threaten us. Whether we can actually
get a deal done, we’re going to have to find
out over the next three to four weeks. We have presented to them
a framework that would allow them to meet their
peaceful energy needs. And if, in fact, what
their leadership says, that they don’t want to develop
a nuclear a weapon — if that is, in fact, true, then they’ve
got an avenue here to provide that assurance to the world
community, and in a progressive, step-by-step, verifiable way,
allow them to get out from under sanctions so that they
can reenter as full-fledged members of the
international community. But they have
their own politics, and there’s a long tradition
of mistrust between the two countries. And there’s a sizeable portion
of the political elite that cut its teeth on anti-Americanism
and still finds it convenient to blame America for
every ill that there is. And whether they can manage
to say yes to what clearly would be better for Iran,
better for the region, and better for the world,
is an open question. We’ll find out over
the next several weeks. The Press: Sir, on whether
or not you have the power unilaterally to relax sanctions
to implement an agreement? The President: There are a
series of different sanctions. There are multilateral
sanctions; there are U.N. sanctions; there are sanctions
that have been imposed by us, this administration,
unilaterally. And I think it’s different
for each of those areas. But I don’t want to put
the cart before the horse. What I want to do is see if
we, in fact, have a deal. If we do have a deal that I have
confidence will prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,
and that we can convince the world and the public will
prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, then it will
be time to engage in Congress. And I think that we’ll be able
to make a strong argument to Congress that this
is the best way for us to avoid a nuclear
Iran; that it will be more effective than
any other alternatives we might take, including
military action. But that requires it
being a good deal. And I’ve said consistently that
I’d rather have no deal than a bad deal — because what
we don’t want to do is lift sanctions and provide Iran
legitimacy but not have the verifiable mechanisms to
make sure that they don’t break out and produce
a nuclear weapon. Ed Henry. I missed you guys. I haven’t done this
in a while. The Press: I know,
I’ve missed you. Thank you, Mr. President. I haven’t heard you say
a specific thing during this news conference that
you would do differently. You’ve been asked it
a few different ways. I understand you’re
going to reach out, but you’ve talked about
doing that before. It’s almost like you’re
doubling down on the same policies and approach
you’ve had for six years. So my question is, why
not pull a page from the Clinton playbook
and admit you have to make a much more
dramatic shift in course for these
last two years? And on ISIS, there was
pretty dramatic setback in the last few days
with it appearing that the Syrian rebels
have been routed. There are some Gitmo
detainees who have rejoined the battlefield, helping ISIS
and other terror groups, is what the reports
are suggesting. So my question is,
are we winning? The President: Well, I think
it’s too early to say whether we are winning, because as I
said at the outset of the ISIL campaign, this is going
to be a long-term plan to solidify the Iraqi government, to solidify their security forces, to
make sure that in addition to air cover that they
have the capacity to run a ground game that
pushes ISIL back from some of the territories
that they had taken, that we have a strong
international coalition that we’ve now built, but that
they are on the ground providing the training,
providing the equipment, providing the supplies that
are necessary for Iraqis to fight on behalf
of their territory. And what I also said was that in
Syria that’s been complicated and that’s not going to
be solved any time soon. Our focus in Syria is not
to solve the entire Syria situation, but rather to
isolate the areas in which ISIL can operate. And there is no doubt that
because of the extraordinary bravery of our men
and women in uniform, and the precision of our pilots
and the strikes that have taken place, that ISIL is in
a more vulnerable position and it is more difficult
for them to maneuver than it was previously. Now, there’s a specific
issue about trying to get a moderate opposition
in Syria that can serve as a partner with us
on the ground. That’s always been the hardest
piece of business to get done. There are a lot of opposition
groups in Syria along a spectrum from radical jihadists who
are our enemies to folks who believe in inclusive democracy,
and everything in between. They fight among
each other. They are fighting
the regime. And what we’re trying to do
is to find a core group that we can work with that we
have confidence in, that we’ve vetted, that can help
in regaining territory from ISIL, and then ultimately serve
as a responsible party to sit at the table in eventual
political negotiations that are probably some
ways off in the future. That’s always
been difficult. As you know, one of the
debates has consistently been, should the Obama administration
provide more support to the opposition? Could that have averted some
of the problems that are taking place in Syria? And as I’ve said before,
part of the challenge is it’s a messy
situation. This is not a situation where
we have one single unified, broad-based,
effective, reliable — The Press: — the idea that maybe we have to have — The President: Let me
answer the question, Ed. And so what we are going
to continue to test is, can we get a more stable,
effective, cohesive, moderate opposition? But that’s not the sole
measure of whether we are “winning” or not. Remember, our first focus,
Ed, here is to drive ISIL out of Iraq. And what we’re doing in Syria
is, first and foremost, in service of reducing ISIL’s
capacity to resupply and send troops, and then run back
over the Syrian border — to eventually reestablish
a border between Iraq and Syria so that slowly
Iraq regains control of its security
and its territory. That is our
number-one mission. That is our number-one focus. There are aspects of what’s
going on in Syria that we’ve got to deal with in order to reduce
the scope of ISIL’s operations. So, for example, our
support for Kurds in Kobani, where they’ve been able to hold
off ISIL and where we’ve been able to effectively strike ISIL
positions consistently — that’s not just because we’re trying
to solve a Syria problem. That’s also because it gives us
an opportunity to further weaken ISIL so that we can meet
our number-one mission, which is Iraq. In terms of things to do
differently, I guess, Ed, the question you’re
asking is one actually I think I have answered. If you’re asking
about personnel, or if you’re asking about
position on issues, or what have you, then it’s
probably premature because I want to hear what — The Press: Your
leadership. Is there something about
your leadership — The President: Ed, what
I’d like to do is to hear from the Republicans
to find out what it is that they would
like to see happen. And what I’m committing to is
making sure that I am open to working with them on the
issues where they think that there’s going to
be cooperation. Now, that isn’t a change,
because I’ve suggested to them before that where they think
there’s areas of cooperation, I’d like to see us
get some things done. But the fact that they
now control both chambers of Congress I think means
that perhaps they have more confidence that they can
pass their agenda and get a bill on my desk. It means that negotiations end
up perhaps being a little more real because they have larger
majorities, for example, in the House and they may
be able to get some things through their caucuses
that they couldn’t before. But the bottom line that
the American people want to know and that I’m going
to repeat here today is that my number-one goal — because I’m not running again, I’m not on the ballot,
I don’t have any further political aspirations
— my number-one goal is just to deliver as
much as I can for the American people in
these last two years. And wherever I see
an opportunity, no matter how
large or how small, to make it a little bit easier
for a kid to go to college, make it a little more likely
that somebody is finding a good-paying job, make it
a little more likely that somebody has
high-quality health care — even if I’m not
getting a whole loaf, I’m interested in getting
whatever legislation we can get passed that adds
up to improved prospects and an improved future
for the American people. Sam Stein. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. Following the elections,
congressional Republicans are pushing once again for major
reforms to your health care act. In the past, you’ve said
you’re open to good ideas but you don’t want to
undermine the bill. Can you tell us what specific
ideas you’re ruling out? Have the election results
changed your calculus on reforming the law? And how confident are you
heading into the second enrollment period? And on a totally
unrelated matter — (laughter) — have you settled on
a nominee to replace Attorney General
Eric Holder, and if so, who is it? (laughter) The President: You guys
want to spread out your news a little
bit, don’t you? You don’t want it all
in just one big bang. On the attorney general, we
have a number of outstanding candidates who we’re
taking a look at now, and in due course I will
have an announcement. And you’ll be there, Sam,
when that’s announced. But I’m confident that
we’ll find somebody who is well-qualified, will elicit
the confidence of the American people, will uphold their
constitutional obligations and rule of law, and will
get confirmed by the Senate. On health care, there
are certainly some lines I’m going to draw. Repeal of the law
I won’t sign. Efforts that would take
away health care from the 10 million people who now
have it and the millions more who are eligible to get it
we’re not going to support. In some cases there may be
recommendations that Republicans have for changes that would
undermine the structure of the law, and I’ll be very honest
with them about that and say, look, the law doesn’t work
if you pull out that piece or that piece. On the other hand, what I
have said is there’s no law that’s ever been
passed that is perfect. And given the contentious
nature in which it was passed in the first place,
there are places where, if I were just drafting
a bill on our own, we would have made
those changes back then, and certainly as we’ve
been implementing, there are some other areas where
we think we can do even better. So if, in fact, one of the items
on Mitch McConnell’s agenda and John Boehner’s agenda is to
make responsible changes to the Affordable Care Act
to make it work better, I’m going to be very
open and receptive to hearing those ideas. But what I will remind them
is that despite all the contention, we now
know that the law works. You’ve got millions of people
who have health insurance who didn’t have it before. You’ve got states that have
expanded Medicaid to folks who did not have it before,
including Republican governors who’ve concluded this is a
good deal for their state. And despite some of the
previous predictions, even as we’ve enrolled more
people into the Affordable Care Act and given more people the
security of health insurance, health care inflation has gone
done every single year since the law passed, so that we now
have the lowest increase in health care costs in
50 years, which is saving us about $180 billion in
reduced overall costs to the federal government
in the Medicare program. So we are I think really proud
of the work that’s been done. But there’s no doubt that
there are areas where we can improve it. So I’ll look forward to
see what list they’ve got of improvements. The Press: Is the individual
mandate one of those lines you can’t cross? The President: The individual
mandate is a line I can’t cross because the concept,
borrowed from Massachusetts, from a law instituted by a
former opponent of mine, Mitt Romney, understood
that if you’re providing health insurance to people
through the private marketplace, then you’ve got to make
sure that people can’t game the system and just wait
until they get sick before they go try to buy
health insurance. You can’t ensure that people
with preexisting conditions can get health insurance unless you
also say, while you’re healthy, before you need it, you’ve
got to get health insurance. And obviously, there are
hardship exemptions. We understand that there
are some folks who, even with the generous subsidies
that have been provided, still can’t afford it. But that’s a central
component of the law. In terms of enrollment,
we’ll do some additional announcements about that
in the days to come. Starting in the middle of this
month, people can sign up again. I think there are a number of
people who the first time around sat on the sidelines in part
because of our screw-ups on That’s one area, Ed, by the
way, that’s very particular. We’re really making sure the
website works super well before the next
open enrollment period. (laughter) We’re double- and
triple-checking it. And so I think a lot of people
who maybe initially thought we’re not sure how this
works, let’s wait and see — they’re going to have an
opportunity now to sign up. And what’s been terrific is to
see how more private insurers have come into the marketplace
so that there’s greater competition in more markets
all around the country. The premiums that have come in
that are available to people and the choices that are
available are better than a lot of people I
think had predicted. So the law is working. That doesn’t mean it
can’t be improved. Major Garrett. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. And if you do miss us,
allow me to humbly suggest we do this every week. (laughter) The President:
We might. Who knows. (laughter) I’m having a
great time. The Press: Let me go
back to immigration. Moments before you
walked out here, sir, Mitch McConnell said — and I
quote — that if you in fact use your executive authority
to legalize a certain number of millions of
undocumented workers, it would “poison the well” —
direct quote — and it would be “like waving a red
flag in front of a bull.” Do you not believe that is
the considered opinion of the new Republican majority
in the House and Senate? And do you also not believe what
they have said in the aftermath of last night’s results that
the verdict rendered by voters should stop you or should
prevent you from taking this action because it was a subtext
in many of the campaigns? Let me ask you a
couple of specifics. Republicans haven’t made
a mystery about some of the things they
intend to say — The President: Do I have to
write all of these down? (laughter) The Press: You’re very
well familiar with these. These will not be
mysteries to you. The President:
No, but I — The Press: Keystone
XL pipeline — they will send you
legislation on that. They will ask you to repeal the
medical device tax as a part of a funding mechanism of
the Affordable Care Act. And they have said they would
like to repatriate some maybe $2 trillion of offshore
revenue at the corporate level by reforming the corporate
tax code without touching the individual tax code. To use your words, Mr.
President, are any of those three lines you
cannot cross and also deal with what you perceive
to be Republican attitudes about immigration? The President: All right. I think, Major, that I answered
the question on immigration. I have no doubt that there
will be some Republicans who are angered or frustrated
by any executive action that I may take. Those are folks, I
just have to say, who are also deeply opposed to
immigration reform in any form and blocked the House from being
able to pass a bipartisan bill. I have said before that
I actually believe that John Boehner is sincere
about wanting to get immigration reform
passed, which is why for a year I held off taking
any action beyond what we had already done for
the so-called DREAM kids, and did everything I could
to give him space and room to get something done. And what I also said at
the time was, if, in fact, Congress — if this Congress
could not get something done, then I would take further
executive actions in order to make the system work better,
understanding that any bill that they pass will supplant the
executive actions that I take. So I just want to reemphasize
this, Major — if, in fact, there is a great eagerness
on the part of Republicans to tackle a broken
immigration system, then they have every
opportunity to do it. My executive actions not
only do not prevent them from passing a law that
supersedes those actions, but should be a spur for
them to actually try to get something done. And I am prepared to
engage them every step of the way
with their ideas. I think we should have
further broad-based debate among the American people. As I’ve said before, I do think
that the episode with the unaccompanied children
changed a lot of attitudes. I think what may also change
a lot of attitudes is when the public now realizes
that that was a very temporary and isolated
event, and that, in fact, we have fewer illegal
immigrants coming in today than we did five years ago,
10 years ago or 20 years go, but that what we also have
is a system that is not serving our economy well. The Press: — Republicans
who say the election was a referendum, at least in
part, on your intentions to use executive authority
for immigration. The President: As I said
before, I don’t want to try to read the tea
leaves on election results. What I am going to try to do
as President is to make sure that I’m advancing what I think
is best for the country. And here’s an opportunity
where I can use my administrative authorities,
executive authorities, and lawfully try to make
improvements on the existing system, understanding that
that’s not going to fix the entire problem, and
we’re much better off if we go ahead and pass a
comprehensive bill. And I hope that the Republicans
really want to get it passed. If they do, they’re
going to have a lot of cooperation from me. So let me just tick
off — on Keystone, there’s an
independent process. It’s moving forward. And I’m going to let
that process play out. I’ve given some parameters in
terms of how I think about it: Ultimately, is this going to be
good for the American people? Is it going to be good
for their pocketbook? Is it going to
actually create jobs? Is it actually going to
reduce gas prices that have been coming down? And is it going to be, on net,
something that doesn’t increase climate change that we’re
going to have to grapple with? There’s a pending case
before a Nebraska judge about some of
the citing. The process is
moving forward. And I’m just going to
gather up the facts. I will note, while this debate
about Canadian oil has been raging — keep in mind
this is Canadian oil, this isn’t U.S. oil — while
that debate has been raging, we’ve seen some of the biggest
increases in American oil production and American natural
gas production in our history. We are closer to energy
independence than we’ve ever been before — or at least
as we’ve been in decades. We are importing less
foreign oil than we produce for the first
time in a very long time. We’ve got a 100-year supply
of natural gas that if we responsibly tap puts us in the
strongest position when it comes to energy of any industrialized
country around the world. When I travel to Asia
or I travel to Europe, their biggest envy is the
incredible homegrown U.S. energy production that is
producing jobs and attracting manufacturing, because
locating here means you’ve got lower energy costs. So our energy
sector is booming. And I’m happy to engage
Republicans with additional ideas for how we
can enhance that. I should note that our
clean energy production is booming as well. And so Keystone I just consider
as one small aspect of a broader trend that’s really positive
for the American people. And let’s see — okay,
medical device tax. I’ve already answered
the question. We are going to take a look at
whatever ideas — let me take a look comprehensively at the
ideas that they present. Let’s give them
time to tell me. I’d rather hear it from
them than from you. The Press: For example — The President: Major — The Press: I’m just telling
you what they said. The President: Conceivably, I
could just cancel my meeting on Friday because I’ve heard
everything from you. (laughter) I think I’d rather let
Mitch McConnell — The Press: I just asked if it
was a line you couldn’t cross. The President: I’d rather
hear from Mitch McConnell and John Boehner what ideas
they’d like to pursue, and we’ll have a conversation
with them on that. On repatriation, I said in my
opening remarks that there is an opportunity for
us to do a tax reform package that is good for
business, good for jobs, and can potentially finance infrastructure development here in the United States. Now, the devil is
in the details. So I think, conceptually, it’s
something where we may have some overlap, and I’m very interested
in pursuing ideas that can put folks to work right now on
roads and bridges and waterways and ports, and a better air
traffic control system. If we had one, by the way,
we would reduce delays by about 30 percent. We could reduce fuel costs for
airlines by about 30 percent. And hopefully that would
translate into cheaper airline tickets, which I know everybody
would be interested in. So there’s all kind of work we
can do on our infrastructure. This may be one mechanism
that Republicans are comfortable in financing
those kinds of efforts. So that will be part of the
discussion that I think we’re prepared for on Friday
and then in the weeks to come leading into
the new Congress. Whew. Major works me, man. Jim Acosta. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. I know you don’t want
to read the tea leaves, but it is a fact that your party
rejected you in these midterms. By and large, they
did not want you out on the campaign trail in these
key battleground states. How do you account for that? And your aides have said that
this is the fourth quarter of your administration, but
I don’t know if you saw the morning talk shows, but
there were several potential candidates for 2016 who
are out there already. Is the clock ticking? Are you running
out of time? How much time do
you have left? And what do you make of
the notion that you’re now a lame duck? The President: Well,
traditionally, after the last midterm of
the two-term presidency, since I can’t run again, that’s
the label that you guys apply. Here’s what I tell my
team — I told them this last week and I told them
this this morning — we had this incredible
privilege of being in charge of the most important
organization on Earth, the U.S. government and our
military, and everything that we do for good
around the world. And there’s a lot of work to be
done to make government work better, to make Americans safer,
to make opportunity available to more people, for us
to be able to have a positive influence in
every corner of the globe — the way we’re doing right
now in West Africa. And I’m going to squeeze every
last little bit of opportunity to help make this world a better
place over these last two years. And some of that is going to be
what we can do administratively, and simple things like how do we
make customer service better in every agency. Are there things we can
do to streamline how our veterans access care? Are there better ways that we
can make businesses understand the programs that are available
to them to promote their business or exports? So there’s a whole bunch of
stuff to do on that front. And as I said before, there’s
going to be opportunities to work with Democrats and
Republicans on Capitol Hill to get laws done. And if you look at the history
of almost every President, those last two years, all
kinds of stuff happens; in some cases, stuff that
we couldn’t predict. So the one thing I’m pretty
confident about, Jim, is I’m going to be busy
for the next two years. And the one thing that I want
the American people to be confident about is that every
day I’m going to be filling up my time trying to figure out how
I can make their lives better. And if I’m doing that, at
the end of my presidency, I’ll say, we played that
fourth quarter well. And we played the
game well. And the only difference between
I guess basketball and politics is that the only score
that matters is how did somebody else do,
not how you did. And that’s the
score I’m keeping. Am I going to be able
to look back and say, are more people
working? Are there bank
accounts better? Are more kids
going to college? Has housing improved? Is the financial
system more stable? Are younger kids getting
a better education? Do we have greater
energy independence? Is the environment
cleaner? Have we done something
about climate change? Have we dealt with an ongoing
terrorist threat and helped to bring about stability
around the world? And those things — every
single day I’ve got an opportunity to make
a difference on those fronts, which is — The Press: And you’re
not satisfied with where you are now? The President:
Absolutely not. I wouldn’t be satisfied as
long as I’m meeting somebody who has a — doesn’t have
a job and wants one. I’m not going to be satisfied
as long as there’s a kid who writes me a letter
and says, I got $60,000 worth of debt and I don’t
know how to pay it back. And the American people
aren’t satisfied. So I want to do everything
I can to deliver for them. The Press: And how
about Democrats, the fact that they kept you out
of these battleground states? Does that kind of
bug you a little bit? The President: Listen, as I
think some of you saw when I was out on the campaign
trail, I love campaigning. I love talking to
ordinary people. I love listening
to their stories. I love shaking hands and
getting hugs and just seeing the process of democracy and
citizenship manifest itself during an election. But I’m also a
practical guy. And ultimately, every
candidate out there had to make their own decisions
about what they thought would be most
helpful for them. And I wanted to make sure
that I’m respectful of their particular region,
their particular state or congressional district, and
if it was more helpful for them for me to be behind the
scenes, I’m happy to do it. The Press: You don’t
think it was a mistake? The President: I don’t
have — I’ll let other people analyze that. But what I will emphasize is
that one of the nice things about being in the sixth year of
your presidency is you’ve seen a lot of ups and downs and
you’ve gotten more than your fair share of attention. And I’ve had the limelight, and
there have been times where the request for my
appearances were endless. There have been times
where, politically, we were down — and it
all kind of evens out, which is why what’s most
important I think is keeping your eye on the ball, and
that is are you actually getting some good done. Scott Horsley,
last question. The Press: Thank
you, Mr. President. You mentioned that where
your policies actually were on the ballot they often
did better than members of your party. Does that signal some
shortcoming on your part or on the party’s
part in framing this election and communicating
to the American people what it is that
Democrats stand for? The President: I
do think that — one area where I know
we’re constantly experimenting and trying
to do better is just making sure that people know
exactly what it is that we’re trying to accomplish and what
we have accomplished in clear ways that people can — that
understand how it affects them. And I think the minimum
wage I talked about a lot on the campaign trail,
but I’m not sure it penetrated well enough
to make a difference. Part of what I also think
we’ve got to look at is that two-thirds of people who
were eligible to vote just didn’t vote. One of the things that I’m very
proud of in 2008 and 2012 when I ran for office was we got
people involved who hadn’t been involved before. We got folks to vote
who hadn’t voted before, particularly young people. And that was part of the
promise and the excitement was if you get involved,
if you participate, if you embrace that
sense of citizenship, then things change — and
not just in abstract ways, they change in
concrete ways. Somebody gets a job who
didn’t have it before. Somebody gets health care
who didn’t have it before. Or a student is able to go
to college who couldn’t afford it before. And sustaining that, especially
in midterm elections, has proven difficult;
sustaining that sense of, if you get involved
and if you vote then there is going to be
big change out there. And partly I think when they
look at Washington, they say, nothing is working and it’s
not making a difference, and there’s just a constant
slew of bad news coming over the TV screen, then you
can understand how folks would get discouraged. But it’s my job to figure
this out as best I can. And if the way we are talking
about issues isn’t working, then I’m going to try
some different things. If the ways that we’re
approaching the Republicans in Congress isn’t working, I’m
going to try different things — whether it’s having a drink with
Mitch McConnell or letting John Boehner beat me again at golf,
or weekly press conferences — I don’t know if that
would be effective. (laughter) Whatever I think might
make a difference in this, I’m going to be trying out up
until my last day in office. But I’ll close with what I
said in my opening statement. I am really optimistic
about America. I know that runs counter
to the current mood, but when you look at
the facts, our economy is stronger than just
about anybody’s. Our energy production is better
than just about anybody’s. We’ve slashed our deficit
by more than half. More people have
health insurance. Our businesses have the
strongest balance sheets that they’ve had
in decades. Our young people are just
incredibly talented and gifted, and more of them are
graduating from high school, and more of them are
going on to college, and more women are getting
degrees and entering into the workforce. And part of the reason I love
campaigning is you travel around the country,
folks are just good. They’re smart and
they’re hardworking. And they’re not always paying a
lot of attention to Washington, and in some cases they’ve
given up on Washington. But their impulses are
not sharply partisan, and their impulses
are not ideological. They’re really practical,
good, generous people. And we continue to be
a magnet for the best and brightest from
all around the world. We have all the best
cards relative to every other country on Earth. Our armed forces, you talk to
them — I had a chance this morning to just call some
of our health service that is operating in
Liberia, and the amount of hope and
professionalism that they’ve brought has galvanized
the entire country, and has built — they’ve
built a platform effectively for other countries suddenly
to start coming in. And we’re seeing real progress
in fighting the disease in a country that just
a month or a month and a half ago was
desperate and had no hope. So all that makes
me optimistic. And my job over the
next couple of years is to do some practical,
concrete things — as much as possible with Congress;
where it’s not possible with Congress, on my own
— to show people why we should be confident,
and to give people a sense of progress
and a sense of hope. That doesn’t mean there aren’t
going to be ongoing nagging problems that are stubborn and
can’t be solved overnight. And probably the biggest one
is the fact that despite economic growth, wages
and income have still not gone up. And that’s a long-term
trend that we’ve seen for 10, 20, 30 years. And it makes people worried
about not just their own situation, but whether their
kids are going to be doing better than they did,
which is the essence of the American Dream. I think there are some
concrete things we can do to make sure that wages
and incomes do go up. Minimum wage in those five
states was a good start. But I think more than anything
what I want to communicate over these next two
years is the promise and possibility
of America. This is just an
extraordinary country. And our democracy
is messy. And we’re diverse
and we’re big. And there are times where
you’re a politician and you’re disappointed
with election results. But maybe I’m just getting
older — I don’t know. It doesn’t make me mopey. It energizes me
because it means that this democracy
is working. And people in America
were restless and impatient, and we
want to get things done. And even when things
are going good, we want them to do better. And that’s why this is the
greatest country on Earth. That’s why I’m so
privileged to have a chance to be President for
the next couple years. All right? Thank you, everybody.

Robin Kshlerin