My biggest frustration so far is the fact that this society has not been willing to take some basic steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who can do just unbelievable damage. … We’re the only developed country on Earth where this happens. And it happens, now, once a week. And it’s a one-day story. There’s no place else like this.
… I have been in Washington for a while now, and most things don’t surprise me. The fact that 20 six-year-olds were gunned down (at Sandy Hook Elementary) and this town couldn’t do anything about it was stunning to me.
… The country has to do some soul-searching about this. This is becoming the norm, and we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me. I am prepared to work with anybody — including responsible sportsmen and gun owners — to craft some solutions, but right now, it’s not possible to get even the mildest restrictions through Congress, and we should be ashamed of that.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA, on the (perhaps willing) inability of Congress to address gun violence, at yesterday’s Tumblr town hall in Washington, DC.
There have been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012.
The NRA and its members shrug.
This is the President sliding over a stainless steel counter to snap a photo with workers at a Washington, D.C. Shake Shack late last week. Joe Biden stayed on the other side, probably because the hamburgers at Shake Shack are mediocre and cost too damned much. (Photo: Pete Souza / The White House)
Hey look — the President is in Westchester County, right across the Hudson River from my hometown Rockland County! So close yet so far!
“These days, House Republicans give John Boehner a harder time than they gave me. Which means orange really is the new black.”
At the White House Correspondents Dinner, PRESIDENT OBAMA.
(via CBS News)
In overhauling the nation’s spy programs, President Obama vowed on Friday that he “will end” the bulk telephone data program that has caused so much consternation — “as it currently exists.”
The caveat is important. Although Mr. Obama imposed some new conditions on the program, the National Security Agency, for the time being at least, will continue to maintain and tap into its vast catalog of telephone data of tens of millions of Americans until someone can think of another way to do the same thing.
The series of surveillance changes offered by Mr. Obama on Friday were intended to reassure a wary public without uprooting programs that he argued have helped protect the country. In his most extensive response to revelations by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor, Mr. Obama ordered more transparency and instituted more safeguards, but he either passed over the most far-reaching recommendations of his own review panel or left them for Congress and the security agencies themselves to hash out.
“The reforms I’m proposing today should give the American people greater confidence that their rights are being protected, even as our intelligence and law enforcement agencies maintain the tools they need to keep us safe,” Mr. Obama said in his speech in the cavernous Great Hall of the Justice Department. “And I recognize that there are additional issues that require further debate.”
Mr. Obama argued that the programs that have become so disputed had not been abused and yet needed reform to avoid the perception of abuse. And as he tried to satisfy critics by embracing their concerns, Mr. Obama also seemed determined to avoid alienating many of the major players involved in the country’s intelligence programs.
He deferred to James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, by rejecting a proposal by his review panel to require court approval of administrative subpoenas known as national security letters. He avoided offending Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. by declining to accept a recommendation to take away his unilateral power to appoint every member of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees secret spying programs.
Mr. Obama agreed with telecommunications providers and did not back a proposal to have them keep the bulk data now housed at the N.S.A. He did not take on the N.S.A. military establishment by permitting a civilian to head the agency or by making the director’s position subject to Senate confirmation, two other recommendations of his advisers. And he acceded to Judge John D. Bates, the former surveillance court chief judge who had told Congress that any new privacy advocate appointed to argue before the court should not be an independent figure allowed to participate across the board.
Civil liberties advocates who had pressed Mr. Obama to do more reacted with a mix of optimism and disappointment. “While I appreciate the president’s effort to strike a better balance between the twin imperatives of protecting Americans from harm and ensuring their civil liberties, the steps he announced today fall short of reining in the N.S.A.,” said Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont.
Supporters of the intelligence programs, on the other hand, were skeptical, worrying that the immediate changes ordered by Mr. Obama may produce more procedural hurdles, and that the larger changes still possible down the road would hinder the search for terrorists.”
– The New York Times, "A Crucial Caveat In Obama’s Vow On Phone Data"
Baby Force One. (via The White House on Twitter)
“One faction of one party in one house of Congress doesn’t get to shut down the government just to fight the results of an election.”
President Obama said Friday he had spoken by phone with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran, the first direct contact between the leaders of Iran and the United States since 1979. Mr. Obama, speaking in the White House briefing room, said the two leaders discussed Iran’s nuclear program and said he was persuaded there was a basis for an agreement.
Mr. Obama called the discussion an important breakthrough after a generation of deep mistrust and suggested that it could serve as the starting point to an eventual deal on Iran’s nuclear program and a broader renewal of relations between two countries that once were close allies.
“The test will be meaningful, transparent and verifiable actions, which can also bring relief from the comprehensive international sanctions that are currently in place,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
Mr. Obama added: “A path to a meaningful agreement will be difficult. And at this point both sides have significant concerns that will have to be overcome. But I believe we’ve got a responsibility to pursue diplomacy and that we have a unique opportunity to make progress with the new leadership in Tehran.””
– The New York Times, "Obama Says He Spoke to Iran’s President by Phone"
President Obama mounted a passionate, campaign-style defense of his health care program on Thursday, just days before its main elements take effect, mocking opponents for “crazy” arguments and accusing them of trying to “blackmail a president” to stop the law.
Addressing a friendly audience outside Washington, the president abandoned the professorial tone he sometimes takes while describing the program and departed from his text to fire up supporters. He portrayed critics as billionaires who would deny help for the sick, and politicians who have become hostage to Tea Party ideologues.
Mr. Obama, his voice laced with scorn, ridiculed Republicans for threatening to shut down the government or refusing to increase the debt ceiling to undercut the health care program, saying they had “put up every conceivable roadblock” and were “poisoning Obamacare” so they could then “claim it’s sick.” He cited some of their more flamboyant quotes in an attempt to portray them as extremists, including one racially charged quotation.
“All this would be funny if it wasn’t so crazy,” Mr. Obama told hundreds of students, professors and others at Prince George’s Community College. “A lot of it is just hot air, a lot of it is just politics, I understand that. But now the Tea Party Republicans have taken it to a whole new level because they’re threatening either to shut down the government or shut down the entire economy by refusing to let America pay its bills for the first time in history unless I agree to gut a law that will help millions of people.”
He noted that one Republican Congressional candidate recently said that the health care program was “as destructive to personal, individual liberty as the Fugitive Slave Act” of 1850. “Think about that,” Mr. Obama told the largely black crowd. “Affordable health care is worse than a law that lets slave owners get their runaway slaves back. I mean these are quotes. I’m not making this stuff up.”
At another point, referring to opponents, he asked, “What is it that they’re so scared about?”
Many in the crowd called out, “You.”
Mr. Obama also singled out sponsors of a “cynical ad campaign” discouraging Americans from signing up for the new health care program by arguing that it would effectively put the government into the room when women undergo gynecological exams and men undergo colonoscopies.
“These are billionaires several times over,” Mr. Obama said, evidently referring to the conservative political activists Charles and David Koch, without naming them. “You know they’ve got good health care.” But if people who turn down the new health care subsidy get sick, he said, the Kochs would not care. “Are they going to pay for your health care?”
“It is interesting, though, how over the last couple years the Republican Party has just spun itself up around this issue,” Mr. Obama continued. “And the fact is the Republicans’ biggest fear at this point is not that the Affordable Care Act is going to fail. What they’re worried about is it’s going to succeed.””
– The New York Times, "Obama Makes Impassioned Defense of Health Law"
Universal Healthcare Pushers-In-Chief.
The conventional view in Washington these days is that President Barack Obama is not having such a great second term and might already be suffering a bit of lame duckery. After all, he failed to overcome NRA and GOP opposition to modest gun safety legislation after the horrific the Newtown massacre, and his immigration reform push has crashed into that brick wall known as the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. But here’s a Slate pitch: Obama is the most wily tactician in the nation’s capital since Lyndon Johnson.
Consider what Obama has recently done to two of his most bothersome foes: Vladimir Putin and John Boehner. Faced with the thorny question of how to respond to the Bashar al-Assad’s presumed use of chemical weapons in Syria, Obama sent conflicting messages at first. He dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to deliver a hawkish message that seemed to suggest a retaliatory but limited strike against the regime was imminent, but then Obama surprisingly announced he would seek authorization from Congress for such an attack, fully realizing that such a move would take weeks to pull off—that is, if he could rally sufficient votes.
Having sparked a contentious debate on Capitol Hill—with opposition to a strike on the rise—Obama appeared to have led himself into a political quagmire. He got perilously close to what could have been an embarrassing defeat. But before Congress could vote, this mess yielded a beneficial outcome: it drew Putin into co-ownership of the chemical weapons problem. As Obama failed to gain support on the Hill for an attack on the Assad regime, Putin leapt into the fray to broker a deal that would supposedly end with Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
Whether by design or dumb luck, Obama succeeded in placing Putin on the hook for Assad’s chemical weapons. The Russian leader was now acknowledging that Assad’s stockpile was indeed a problem and, more important, assuming the role of guarantor. Certainly, the subsequent negotiations would be difficult, with Assad likely to slow-walk and obfuscate. But having sucked Putin into the process, Obama had increased the odds of achieving his chief goal: preventing the further use of chemical weapons by the regime. With Russia-brokered talks underway, could Assad deploy chemical weapons again? Doing so would risk embarrassing (and maybe angering) Putin, Assad’s top benefactor.
Back home, Obama has placed House Speaker Boehner in a different sort of hot seat. By declining to negotiate with Boehner about defunding Obamacare in order to prevent a government shutdown, the president has fueled the ongoing civil war within GOP ranks. True, this pitched battle would wage with or without Obama, as tea partiers try to hold the government hostage in order to destroy Obama’s health care program and less extreme Republicans contend that this act of political terrorism will backfire against their party. But sometimes in politics, it takes discipline to stand back and not get in the way when an opponent is self-immolating.
Obama may start talking with congressional Republicans later this week, but he’s given the Rs plenty of time and room for their internecine squabbling. In past years, Obama eschewed standing by while GOPers engaged in reckless behavior that could result in a shutdown or a financial crisis. At those times, he argued, reasonably, that he had a responsibility to ensure government operations would continue and the debt ceiling would be lifted to avert what could be serious blows to the economic recovery. And he devoted significant energy toward cutting deals with the Republicans, even endeavoring to use those occasions as opportunities to reach a so-called grand bargain on spending and taxes. But at the same time, he resolved to limit the openings for future GOP hostage-taking.
After the debt ceiling showdown of 2011, Obama repeatedly stated he would no longer negotiate future boosts in the debt ceiling. With another debt ceiling tussle coming in weeks, Obama has continued to stick to this red line. And with the government due to run out of money for its operations at the end of the month, he has not rushed to draw Boehner (or Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell) into budget talks. He’s craftily letting the Republicans brawl amongst themselves—bickering over who’s a real conservative or not—as polls repeatedly suggest that the GOPers can expect to receive most of the public’s scorn should the government come to a congressionally inflicted standstill.”