Read all posts from February 2009

  • After Gregory Secrest lost his job at American of Martinsville, a Virginia-based furniture manufacturer, he also lost his access to healthcare.
    "When I gave the bad news to my family, my 9-year old son handed me his piggy bank with $4 inside and said 'daddy, if you need it, you take it,'" Secrest said.
    But thanks to FAMIS, Virginia’s State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Secrest children will be covered.
    "In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiations, and health care for our children is one of those obligations," the President said in remarks before signing legislation that reauthorizes federal funding for the CHIP programs and expands its coverage from 7 to 11 million children.
    Unfortunately, given the state of our economy, more families like the Secrests risk losing their health care. It makes the signing of the CHIP Reauthorization, which funds health care for families who don't qualify for Medicaid but still can't afford private insurance, all the more important. And it makes the passage of the stimulus package, which would not only invest in prevention and wellness but also extend health insurance for the unemployed, all the more necessary.
    Read the President's full remarks below.

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
    AT SIGNING OF
    CHILDREN'S HEALTH INSURANCE PROGRAM LEGISLATION
    East Room, The White House
    February 4, 2009
    THE PRESIDENT: All right. Please, everybody have a seat. This is good. This is good. (Laughter and applause.) Today, with one of the first bills that I sign -- reauthorizing the Children's Health Insurance Program -- we fulfill one of the highest responsibilities that we have: to ensure the health and well-being of our nation's children.
    It's a responsibility that's only grown more urgent as our economic crisis deepens, as health care costs have exploded and millions of working families are unable to afford health insurance. Today in America, 8 million children are still uninsured -- more than 45 million Americans altogether.
    And it's hard to overstate the toll this takes on families: the sleepless nights worrying about somebody getting hurt, or praying that a sick child gets better on her own; the decisions that no parent should ever have to make -- how long to put off that doctor's appointment, whether to fill that prescription, whether to let a child play outside, knowing that all it takes is one accident, one injury, to send your family into financial ruin.
    The families joining us today know these realities firsthand. When Gregory Secrest, from Martinsville, Virginia, lost his job back in August, his kids lost their health care. When he broke the news to his family, his nine-year-old son -- where are you? -- that's you, I thought so -- (laughter) -- handed over his piggy bank with $4 in it, and told his father, "Daddy, if you need it, you take it."
    Now, this is not who we are. We're not a nation that leaves struggling families to fend for themselves, especially when they've done everything right. No child in America should be receiving his or her primary care in the emergency room in the middle of the night. No child should be falling behind at school because he can't hear the teacher or see the blackboard. I refuse to accept that millions of our children fail to reach their full potential because we fail to meet their basic needs. In a decent society, there are certain obligations that are not subject to tradeoffs or negotiations, and health care for our children is one of those obligations.
    (Applause.)
    That is why we have passed this legislation. These legislators have passed this legislation on a bipartisan basis to continue coverage for 7 million children, cover an additional 4 million children in need, and finally lift the ban on states providing insurance to legal immigrant children if they choose to do so.
    (Applause.)
    Since it was created more than 10 years ago, the Children's Health Insurance Program has been a lifeline for millions of children whose parents work full time and don't qualify for Medicaid, but through no fault of their own don't have -- and can't afford -- private insurance. For millions of children who fall into that gap, CHIP has provided care when they're sick and preventive services to help them stay well. This legislation will allow us to continue and build on these successes.
    But, as I think everybody here will agree, this is only the first step. The way I see it, providing coverage to 11 million children through CHIP is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American. (Applause.) And it is just one component of a much broader effort to finally bring our health care system into the 21st century. And that's why the Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that's now before Congress is so important.
    Now, think about this -- if Congress passes this recovery plan, in just one month, we will have done more to modernize our health care system than we've done in the past decade.
    We'll be on our way to computerizing all of America's medical records, which won't just -- (applause) -- it won't -- won't just eliminate inefficiencies, won't just save billions of dollars and create tens of thousands of jobs -- but it will save lives by reducing deadly medical errors. We'll have made the single largest investment in prevention and wellness in history -- tacking problems like smoking and obesity, and helping people live longer, healthier lives. And we'll have extended health insurance for the unemployed, so that workers who lose their jobs don't lose their health care, too. (Applause.)
    Now let me say this. In the past few days I've heard criticisms of this plan that frankly echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis in the first place -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can address this enormous crisis with half-steps and piecemeal measures and tinkering around the edges; that we can ignore fundamental challenges like the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.
    I reject these theories, and, by the way, so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. (Applause.) So I urge members of Congress to act without delay. No plan is perfect, and all of us together, Democrats and Republicans, should work to make it stronger. But let's not make the perfect the enemy of the essential. Let's show people all over our country who are looking for leadership, who are desperate for leadership right now, that in difficult times we're equal to the task. Let's give America's families the support they need to weather this crisis.
    In the end, that's really all that people like the Secrests are looking for -- the chance to work hard, and to have that hard work translate into a good life for their children. I'm pleased to report that the Secrest story had a happy ending -- it turned out that Gregory's two sons were eligible for SCHIP, and they are now fully covered, much to his relief and his wife's relief. I think Gregory put it best when he said: "Kids look at us and think that we will take of them." That's -- every parent here has the experience. You look at your children and you know that they're looking back at you and they're saying, "You're going to take care of me, aren't you?" That's our job, to keep them health -- healthy and to keep them safe, and to let them dream as big as their dreams will take them.
    That's what I think about when I tuck my own girls into bed each night. And that's what I want for every child, every family in this nation. That's why it's so important that Congress passes our recovery plan so we can get to work rebuilding America's health care system.
    It won't be easy; it won't happen all at once. But this bill that I'm about to sign, that wasn't easy, either. (Laughter.) It didn't happen all at once, either. And yet, here it is, waiting for me to sign. The bill I sign today is a critical first step. So I want to thank all of the state and local officials, all the advocates and ordinary Americans across this great country who fought so hard to get it passed. I want to personally thank every single member of Congress who is here -- a bipartisan group who worked tirelessly -- (applause) -- worked tirelessly for so long that we could see this day. And I want you all to know that I am confident that if we work together, if we come together, we can finally achieve what generations of Americans have fought for and fulfill the promise of health care in our time.
    So thank you very much, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.)
    (The bill is signed.) (Applause.)

  • That's the title of President Obama's op-ed this morning in the Washington Post, where he makes a forceful argument for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
    "What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives -- action that's swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis," the President writes.
    And echoing remarks he made yesterday, he fired back at critics of the stimulus plan:
    "In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis, the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive. I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."
    Read the full op-ed below.


    The Action Americans Need

    by Barack Obama
    February 5, 2009
    By now, it's clear to everyone that we have inherited an economic crisis as deep and dire as any since the days of the Great Depression. Millions of jobs that Americans relied on just a year ago are gone; millions more of the nest eggs families worked so hard to build have vanished. People everywhere are worried about what tomorrow will bring.
    What Americans expect from Washington is action that matches the urgency they feel in their daily lives -- action that's swift, bold and wise enough for us to climb out of this crisis.
    Because each day we wait to begin the work of turning our economy around, more people lose their jobs, their savings and their homes. And if nothing is done, this recession might linger for years. Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Our nation will sink deeper into a crisis that, at some point, we may not be able to reverse.
    That's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the recovery plan before Congress. With it, we will create or save more than 3 million jobs over the next two years, provide immediate tax relief to 95 percent of American workers, ignite spending by businesses and consumers alike, and take steps to strengthen our country for years to come.
    This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent.
    In recent days, there have been misguided criticisms of this plan that echo the failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can meet our enormous tests with half-steps and piecemeal measures; that we can ignore fundamental challenges such as energy independence and the high cost of health care and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.
    I reject these theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. They know that we have tried it those ways for too long. And because we have, our health-care costs still rise faster than inflation. Our dependence on foreign oil still threatens our economy and our security. Our children still study in schools that put them at a disadvantage. We've seen the tragic consequences when our bridges crumble and our levees fail.
    Every day, our economy gets sicker -- and the time for a remedy that puts Americans back to work, jump-starts our economy and invests in lasting growth is now.
    Now is the time to protect health insurance for the more than 8 million Americans at risk of losing their coverage and to computerize the health-care records of every American within five years, saving billions of dollars and countless lives in the process.
    Now is the time to save billions by making 2 million homes and 75 percent of federal buildings more energy-efficient, and to double our capacity to generate alternative sources of energy within three years.
    Now is the time to give our children every advantage they need to compete by upgrading 10,000 schools with state-of-the-art classrooms, libraries and labs; by training our teachers in math and science; and by bringing the dream of a college education within reach for millions of Americans.
    And now is the time to create the jobs that remake America for the 21st century by rebuilding aging roads, bridges and levees; designing a smart electrical grid; and connecting every corner of the country to the information superhighway.
    These are the actions Americans expect us to take without delay. They're patient enough to know that our economic recovery will be measured in years, not months. But they have no patience for the same old partisan gridlock that stands in the way of action while our economy continues to slide.
    So we have a choice to make. We can once again let Washington's bad habits stand in the way of progress. Or we can pull together and say that in America, our destiny isn't written for us but by us. We can place good ideas ahead of old ideological battles, and a sense of purpose above the same narrow partisanship. We can act boldly to turn crisis into opportunity and, together, write the next great chapter in our history and meet the test of our time.

  • If you don't think the nation's economic situation is dire, just ask the governors who are seeing firsthand the pain its causing in their state's economies.
    That’s why this week, a group of 19 governors -- Democratic and Republican alike, from Oklahoma to Oregon and from Vermont to the Virgin Islands -- made a bold statement of bipartisan support for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act with a letter addressed to the President.
    "Families and businesses across the nation are hurting," read the letter, dated February 2, 2009. "Credit markets have seized up, which is affecting both business activity and consumer spending. Unemployment is rising sharply. While we all believe in the importance of free markets, we believe that the markets today need stimulating."
    Governors Deval Patrick (D-MA), Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), Bill Ritter Jr. (D-CO), M. Jodi Rell (R-CT), Jack Markell (D-DE), Charlie Crist (R-FL), Pat Quinn (D-IL), Chester J. Culver (D-IA), Jennifer M. Granholm (D-MI), Jon S. Corzine (D-NJ), David A. Paterson (D-NY), Ted Strickland (D-OH), Brad Henry (D-OK), Theodore R. Kulongoski (D-OR), Edward G. Rendell (D - PA), James H. Douglas (R - VT), Timothy M. Kaine (D - VA), John deJongh Jr (D-VI), and Jim Doyle (D-WI) all signed the letter.
    We’ve published the letter, complete with their signatures, here.

  • With a stroke of a pen, millions more children now have health care.
    President Obama signed the Children's Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act (CHIP) tonight, which renews and expands the plan from 7 million children affected to 11 million.
    "This is only the first step," he said. "As I see it, providing coverage for 11 million children is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American."
    We'll have more on CHIP tomorrow, but there's one more thing worth noting -- President Obama is sending a new message, loud and clear, to opponents of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.
    It came first in remarks this afternoon, following an announcement of strict new executive compensation rules:
    "In the past few days I've heard criticisms that this plan is somehow wanting, and these criticisms echo the very same failed economic theories that led us into this crisis in the first place -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can ignore fundamental challenges like energy independence and the high cost of health care; that we can somehow deal with this in a piecemeal fashion and still expect our economy and our country to thrive. I reject those theories. And so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. So I urge members of Congress to act without delay. No plan is perfect, and we should work to make it stronger. No one is more committed to making it stronger than me. But let's not make the perfect the enemy of the essential. Let's show people all over the country who are looking for leadership in this difficult time that we are equal to the task."
    He made similar remarks just a few minutes ago as he signed the CHIP Act.

  • Economic adviser Brian Deese was part of the team that assembled an analysis of how the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will create jobs in all 50 states. In a guest blog post, he explains.
    You've probably heard a lot about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. And you may have heard the President or members of his economic team say that this plan will save or create 3 to 4 million jobs over the next two years. Maybe you wondered where that number comes from. Well, it's from a study by Christina Romer, the Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers and Jared Bernstein, Chief Economist to the Vice-President. Their analysis has been confirmed by outside experts including the forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers and Moody's.
    Jumpstarting job growth is the top priority of the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan. Construction jobs to rebuild our nation's crumbling infrastructure*....technology jobs to bring put medical records online and lower health care costs while reducing medical errors...engineering jobs to modernize federal buildings and save billions in annual energy costs...jobs equipping our schools and colleges so the country's best young minds have a place to grow...and jobs laying broadband lines so a business in rural America can compete with any other business in the world.
    The plan will create jobs in all 50 states, in industries across the spectrum. Over 90% of the jobs created will be in the private sector. We put together a fact sheet to show you, state-by-state, just how many jobs the plan aims to create.
    But no matter what state you live in, with 2.6 million jobs lost last year and our economic crisis deepening, we can't afford to delay any longer.
    *Just a couple of weeks ago, the American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for America's Infrastructure issued an overall grade of D. From Katrina to the Minnesota bridge collapse, our nation's failure to take this infrastructure crisis seriously is blatant, and unacceptable. By making long overdue investments in our roads, bridges, transit, ports, and air security, this plan will put people back to work while making our nation safer and more prosperous in the future.

     

  • Yesterday, several members of the President's energy and environment team attended the Washington auto show. We asked Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, to jot down some notes with her impressions of the show.
    12:58 p.m.: Greeted by Auto Alliance CEO Dave McCurdy and his staff at the D.C. Auto Show. We headed upstairs to see the latest Chevy and Ford plug-in hybrid models.
    1:05 p.m.: First stop: Chevy Volt. Ed Welburn, the chief designer for GM, was there and ready to show us around. It was a great opportunity to have the people who craft these vehicles from start to finish on hand explaining their design features in person. I found the Volt to be very comfortable -- and surprisingly simple. You plug it in and you can get 40 miles on a single charge! Because nearly 80% of Americans commute 40 miles or less a day, this car could potentially provide 80% of Americans with a zero-emissions option for their commute.
    1:20 p.m.: We slowly made our way to the Ford exhibition, where we saw the new Ford Fusion. This is another example of a technology that will benefit from funding for battery investments in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the kind of forward thinking that we ought to be encouraging and supporting.
    1:30 p.m.: On our way to the Green Cars exhibit, Dave McCurdy stopped to emphasize the importance of green technologies and green jobs in the auto industry. This kind of innovation and shift in design is key to the renewed success of the American auto industry.
    1:35 p.m.: When we got to the Green Cars Floor, we were met by members of the media who were covering these groundbreaking new vehicles. Lou Rhodes, of Chrysler, showed me some new electric models. I was struck by the accessibility of these cars -- they are on the cutting edge of technology -- and so much of that technology is here today and affordable.
    1:58 p.m.: We wrapped up and headed back to the office.
    The technology is there. And the demand is there. And now, in the face of our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and a faltering economy, there is urgent need to support the industry and nurture this kind of development. That’s why passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is so crucial -- because it brings significant resources to develop new and emerging green car technologies as well as tax credits for consumers to purchase new advanced technology vehicles.

  • "Shameful." That was the President's response last week to the news that Wall Street had doled out $18 billion in bonuses, even after the government had propped up many of the Street's most prominent firms.
    President Obama delivering remarks on new executive compensation restrictionsToday, he and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner took action by imposing new restrictions on executive compensation at firms taking money from the government.
    "We all need to take responsibility," President Obama said. "And this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves customary lavish bonuses....[T]hat's exactly the kind of disregard of the costs and consequences of their actions that brought about this crisis: a culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else."
    Features in the new rules for companies receiving "exceptional assistance" from the government include a $500,000 cap on salaries for senior executives (compensation beyond that must be in restricted stock), expanded bans on golden parachutes, and increases to "clawback" provisions.
    Read the President's full remarks below.
    White House photo 2/4/09 by Joyce N. Boghosian)

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
    ON EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION
    Grand Foyer, The White House
    Febuary 4, 2009

    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Tim, for your hard work on this issue and on the economic recovery.
    The economic crisis we face is unlike any we've seen in our lifetime. It's a crisis of falling confidence and rising debt, of widely distributed risk and narrowly concentrated reward; a crisis written in the fine print of sub-prime mortgages, on the ledger lines of once mighty financial institutions, and on the pink slips that have upended the lives of so many people across this country and cost the economy 2.6 million jobs last year alone.
    We know that even if we do everything that we should, this crisis was years in the making, and it will take more than weeks or months to turn things around.
    But make no mistake: A failure to act, and act now, will turn crisis into a catastrophe and guarantee a longer recession, a less robust recovery, and a more uncertain future. Millions more jobs will be lost. More businesses will be shuttered. More dreams will be deferred.
    And that's why I feel such a sense of urgency about the economic recovery and reinvestment plan that is before Congress today. With it, we can save or create more than three million jobs, doing things that will strengthen our country for years to come. It's not merely a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for long-term economic growth in areas like renewable energy and health care and education.
    Now, in the past few days I've heard criticisms that this plan is somehow wanting, and these criticisms echo the very same failed economic theories that led us into this crisis in the first place -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems; that we can ignore fundamental challenges like energy independence and the high cost of health care; that we can somehow deal with this in a piecemeal fashion and still expect our economy and our country to thrive.
    I reject those theories. And so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change. So I urge members of Congress to act without delay. No plan is perfect, and we should work to make it stronger. No one is more committed to making it stronger than me. But let's not make the perfect the enemy of the essential. Let's show people all over the country who are looking for leadership in this difficult time that we are equal to the task.
    At the same time, we know that this recovery and reinvestment plan is only the first part of what we need to do to restore prosperity and secure our future. We also need a strong and viable financial system to keep credit flowing to businesses and families alike. And my administration will do whatever it takes to restore our financial system. Our recovery depends on it. And so in the next week, Secretary Geithner will release a new strategy to get credit moving again -- a strategy that will reflect some of the lessons of past mistakes while laying the foundation of the future.
    But in order to restore trust in our financial system, we're going to have to do more than just put forward our plans. In order to restore trust, we've got to make certain that taxpayer funds are not subsidizing excessive compensation packages on Wall Street.
    We all need to take responsibility. And this includes executives at major financial firms who turned to the American people, hat in hand, when they were in trouble, even as they paid themselves customary lavish bonuses. As I said last week, this is the height of irresponsibility. It's shameful. And that's exactly the kind of disregard of the costs and consequences of their actions that brought about this crisis: a culture of narrow self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of everything else.
    This is America. We don't disparage wealth. We don't begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we certainly believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset -- and rightfully so -- are executives being rewarded for failure, especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers, many of whom are having a tough time themselves.
    For top executives to award themselves these kinds of compensation packages in the midst of this economic crisis isn't just bad taste -- it's bad strategy -- and I will not tolerate it as President. We're going to be demanding some restraint in exchange for federal aid -- so that when firms seek new federal dollars, we won't find them up to the same old tricks.
    As part of the reforms we're announcing today, top executives at firms receiving extraordinary help from U.S. taxpayers will have their compensation capped at $500,000 -- a fraction of the salaries that have been reported recently. And if these executives receive any additional compensation, it will come in the form of stock that can't be paid up until taxpayers are paid back for their assistance.
    Companies receiving federal aid are going to have to disclose publicly all the perks and luxuries bestowed upon senior executives, and provide an explanation to the taxpayers and to shareholders as to why these expenses are justified. And we're putting a stop to these kinds of massive severance packages we've all read about with disgust; we're taking the air out of golden parachutes.
    We're asking these firms to take responsibility, to recognize the nature of this crisis and their role in it. We believe that what we've laid out should be viewed as fair and embraced as basic common sense.
    And finally, these guidelines we're putting in place are only the beginning of a long-term effort. We're going to examine the ways in which the means and manner of executive compensation have contributed to a reckless culture and a quarter-by-quarter mentality that in turn helped to wrought havoc in our financial system. We're going to be taking a look at broader reforms so that executives are compensated for sound risk management, and rewarded for growth measured over years, not just days or weeks.
    We all have to pull together and take our share of responsibility. That's true here in Washington. That's true on Wall Street. The American people are carrying a huge burden as a result of this economic crisis: bearing the brunt of its effects as well as the cost of extraordinary measures we're taking to address them. The American people expect and demand that we pursue policies that reflect the reality of this crisis -- and that will prevent these kinds of crises from occurring again in the future.
    Thank you very much.

  • "This kind of innovative school…is an example of how all our schools should be," President Obama said yesterday, as he and Mrs. Obama visited a public charter school in Washington, D.C.

    President and Mrs. Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at a public charter school in Washington, D.C.

    The President and First Lady read "The Moon Over Star," a book by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Jerry Pinkey, to a second grade class at the Capital City Public Charter School. After finishing the book, they asked the students if they had any questions. The President fielded queries about pets ("We had a fish. I’ve got to admit the fish died"), why he wanted to become president ("to be able to help people"), and his favorite superheroes ("Spiderman and Batman").
    White House Photo 2.3.09by Joyce N. Boghosian
    Less than 10 years old, the school serves 244 students in grades Pre-k through 8, and is widely regarded as one of the best schools in Washington.
    "We're very proud of what's been accomplished at this school and we want to make sure that we're duplicating that success all across the country," the President said.
    That task falls to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who attended the event along with the President and First Lady.
    We sat down with Secretary Duncan to get to know him a little bit better and understand where he gets his passion. He told us that improving our schools isn’t just about education – it’s a matter of social justice.
    Watch the video (and read the President’s comments from yesterday’s event) below.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
    AFTER READING TO THE SECOND GRADE CLASS
    Capital City Public Charter School
    Washington, D.C. 
    February 3, 2009
    THE PRESIDENT:  Well, listen, you guys, you've been terrific.  Thank you so much for your hospitality --
    MRS. OBAMA:  -- your good questions. 
    THE PRESIDENT:  -- your excellent questions.
    MRS. OBAMA:  -- your outstanding listening skills.
    THE PRESIDENT:  You're excellent listeners.  And the reason we came to visit, A, we wanted to get out of the White House; B, we wanted to see you guys; but C, the other thing we wanted to tell everybody is that this kind of innovative school, the outstanding work that's being done here by the entire staff, and the parents who are so active and involved, is an example of how all our schools should be. 
    And what I've asked Arne Duncan to do is to make sure that he works as hard as he can over the next several years to make sure that we're reforming our schools, that we're rewarding innovation the way that it's taking place here, that we're encouraging parents to be involved, that we're raising standards for all children so that everybody can learn -- especially things like math and science that are going to be so important for the jobs of the future.
    And so we're very proud of what's been accomplished at this school and we want to make sure that we're duplicating that success all across the country.  So nothing is going to be more important than this.  And the recovery and reinvestment act that we've put forward will provide billions of dollars to build schools and help with school construction.  It will provide money to train teachers, especially in subjects like math and science that are so critical.  And it will also give Secretary Duncan the resources he needs to reward excellent, innovative schools.  And so we think it's really important for the country that we get that bill passed.    
    But thank you so much, everybody.  Appreciate you.
    MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, guys.  This was fun.  (Applause.)

  • The Department of Justice has had a rough couple of years.
    But there's a new sheriff in town. Just a few moments ago, Eric Holder was sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden, becoming the first African American Attorney General in the nation's history
    In a short video message to the employees of the Department this morning, Holder promised to set things right at what he called the "crown jewel" of the Federal government.
    He laid out the Department's top three goals:
    "We must strengthen the activities of the Federal government as we protect the American people from terrorism...We must restore the credibility of this Department, which has been so badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference....and we must reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Department. Without letting down our guard in the fight against global terrorism, we must embrace the Department’s historic role in fighting crime, promoting civil rights, preserving the environment, ensuring fairness in the marketplace, and protecting the interests of our fellow citizens.
    You can watch the full message below.
    Viewing this video requires Adobe Flash Player 8 or higher. Download the free player.

  • President Obama called Republican Senator Judd Gregg a "master of reaching across the aisle" in announcing him as his choice to lead the Commerce Department today.
    "Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue -- most notably who should have won the election," President Obama said. "But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet. We see eye to eye on conducting the nation's business in a responsible, transparent, and accountable manner. And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works."
    "The Commerce Department has a broad and interesting portfolio," Senator Gregg (R-NH) said, "but its primary goal must be to create jobs by promoting industry, promoting economic activity, and promoting excellence in science. And I intend to pursue those avenues aggressively."
    Gregg joins Secretary Ray LaHood (Transportation) and Secretary Robert Gates for a total of three Republicans in the cabinet. Read the full remarks from President Obama and Secretary-designate Gregg below.

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
    AND SENATOR JUDD GREGG
    AT ANNOUNCEMENT OF COMMERCE SECRETARY
    Grand Foyer, The White House
    February 3, 2009
    THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. By now, our economic crisis is well-known. Our economy is shrinking. Unemployment rolls are growing. Businesses and families can't get credit, and small businesses can't secure the loans they need to create jobs and get their products to market.
    Now is the time for Washington to act with the same sense of urgency that Americans all across the country feel every single day. With the stakes this high, we cannot afford to get trapped in the same old partisan gridlock. That's why I've worked closely with leaders of both parties on a recovery and reinvestment plan that saves or creates more than three million jobs over the next two years, cuts taxes for 95 percent of American workers, and makes critical investments in our future -- in energy and education; health care and a 21st century infrastructure.
    We will act swiftly and we will act wisely. The vast majority of the investments in the plan will be made within the next 18 months -- immediately creating jobs and helping states avoid painful tax hikes and cuts to essential services. And every dime of the spending will be made available to the public on Recovery.gov -- so every American can see where their tax dollars are going.
    But as we act boldly and swiftly to shore up our financial system and revitalize our economy, we must also make sure that the underpinnings of that economy are sound; that our economic infrastructure is rebuilt to handle the traffic of the global economy; that our cutting-edge science and technology remain the envy of the world; that our policies promote the innovative and competitive nature of this economy, and facilitate the incubation and commercialization of our startups and small businesses -- the very engine of our job creation.
    These are the tasks of the Commerce Department. And I believe that Judd Gregg is the right person to help guide the department towards these goals.
    Judd discovered the family business at an early age. His father, Hugh Gregg, was elected the youngest governor of New Hampshire when Judd was a boy. At a time when the mills in Nashua closed down and folks were laid off, he watched his dad work tirelessly to attract new industry, the kind that created jobs that carried with them a sense of dignity and self-worth. Judd's father even found the time to publish a book titled, "All I Learned About Politics" -- and in keeping with his legendary sense of humor, all of its pages were blank.
    When the book is written about Judd Gregg, it will tell the story of a man with his own proud record of service on behalf of the American people. As a businessman, attorney, state executive councilor, congressman, governor in his own right, and now as a senator, he's seen from all angles what makes our economy work for communities, businesses, and families -- and what keeps it from working better. As former chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Judd has been involved in nearly every facet of public policy. And as Commerce Subcommittee chair on the Senate Appropriations Committee, he's already quite familiar with the department I've chosen him to lead.
    Judd is famous -- or infamous, depending on your perspective -- on Capitol Hill for his strict fiscal discipline. It's not that he enjoys saying "no" -- although if it's directed at your bill you might feel that way -- it's that he shares my deep-seated commitment to guaranteeing that our children inherit a future they can afford.
    Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue -- most notably who should have won the election. (Laughter.) But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet. We see eye to eye on conducting the nation's business in a responsible, transparent, and accountable manner. And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works.
    As one of the Republican Party's most respected voices and skillful negotiators, Judd is a master of reaching across the aisle to get things done. He'll be an outstanding addition to the depth and experience of my economic team, a trusted voice in my Cabinet, and an able and persuasive ambassador for industry who makes it known to the world that America is open for business.
    "Commerce defies every wind, overrides every tempest, and invades every zone." These are the words carved into the walls of the department that I'm so pleased Judd Gregg has agreed to lead. And as we act boldly to defy the winds of this crisis and outride the tempest of this painful moment, I can think of no finer steward for our nation's commerce. I expect the Senate's quick confirmation of their esteemed colleague, and I look forward to working with Judd in the years ahead.
    And I'd like Judd to say just a few words.
    SENATOR GREGG: Thank you, Mr. President.
    Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you for taking this rather extraordinary step of asking me to join your administration as Commerce Secretary.
    We are, as you noted, in the middle of a very difficult economic time. People are worried about their jobs. They're worried about how they're going to pay their bills. They're worried about how they're going to send their kids to college. And you've outlined an extraordinarily bold and aggressive, effective and comprehensive plan for how we can get this country moving.
    This is not a time for partisanship. This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other. This is a time to govern and govern well. And therefore, when the President asked me to join his administration and participate in trying to address the issues of this time, I believed it was my obligation to say yes, and I look forward to it with enthusiasm.
    The Commerce Department is a -- has a broad and interesting portfolio, as the President outlined, but its primary goal must be to create jobs by promoting industry, promoting economic activity, and promoting excellence in science. And I intend to pursue those avenues aggressively.
    I want to especially thank my wife, Kathy, and my family for encouraging me to do this and being willing to stand by me as I take on another effort in my career. And I also want to thank the Governor of New Hampshire for his courtesy and courage in being willing to make this possible through the agreement that we have relative to my successor in the Senate.
    Again, Mr. President, I thank you for choosing me to participate in this effort. Let's go out there and get this country moving. Thank you.

  • The Senate this evening has voted to confirm Eric Holder as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States.
    After Holder is sworn in, he will be the first African-American Attorney General in the history of the United States.
    We'll have more tomorrow.

  • Everybody knows our economy needs a jolt. And no one knows that better than the country's governors, whether they are Democratic or Republican.
    "I know there are some differences of opinion on some of the elements," Governor Jim Douglas (R-Vt) said today before meeting with President Obama to discuss how states and the federal government can work together. "And if I were writing it, it might be a little different. If you were writing it, it might be a little different. But the essence of a recovery package is essential to get our nation's economy moving."
    The President has been working hard to reach out to Republicans and incorporate their input into the plan. Last week he met with Republican Congressional leaders on Capitol Hill, and just yesterday he invited a bipartisan group of senators and representatives over to the White House residence to watch the Super Bowl. That effort continued today.
    You can read the full remarks from Governor Douglas and President Obama below.

     
    REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
    AND GOVERNOR JIM DOUGLAS OF VERMONT
    BEFORE MEETING
    TO DISCUSS THE AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT PLAN
    Oval Office, The White House
    February 2, 2009
    GOVERNOR DOUGLAS: Well, Mr. President, thank you for your time today. Thank you for your leadership on matters of great importance to the American people. You were gracious in reaching out to the governors of our country in December before you took office. We had an opportunity at that time to discuss the economic crisis, the fiscal crisis that's confronting most of our states. And we indicated that we needed some assistance from the federal government to stimulate the economy, to create jobs, to help us balance our budgets and preserve essential programs for the American people and avoid the need to raise taxes at the state level.
    The House of Representatives has passed a bill, and we look forward to working with your administration, with the senators and members of the House to fashion a piece of legislation that fulfills the goals that we have articulated.
    I know there are some differences of opinion on some of the elements. And if I were writing it, it might be a little different. If you were writing it, it might be a little different. But the essence of a recovery package is essential to get our nation's economy moving.
    And it's not just a matter of the bigger picture or numbers, it's really quite personal, in many cases. On my floor alone in the office building where I work, four relatives of employees have lost their jobs over the last couple of weeks. So this is a serious matter. It's the kind of recession that is deep, that appears to be long, and the only way we're going to get the country moving again is a partnership between the states and the federal government.
    So we appreciate your hard work and look forward to coming to some conclusion in the very near future so we can get America moving again.
    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I want to thank Governor Douglas for being here. We met early on during the transition period with all of the governors from across the country, and with very few exceptions, I heard from Republicans and Democrats the need for action -- and swift action -- and that's what we've been trying to do in moving this package forward.
    And nobody understands this better than governors and mayors and county officials who are seeing the devastating effects on the ground of this contraction in the economy. People are being laid off, and that means that governors like Jim are having to not only deal with declining revenue, but increased social services to provide support for people who are unemployed as they're seeking work.
    And the recovery package that we are moving forward is designed to provide states relief, to make sure that people who are laid off from their jobs are still able to get unemployment insurance, are still able to get health care, and that we are putting in place the infrastructure of rebuilding roads, bridges, waterways, other projects at the state levels that allow us to put people back to work. And we want to create or save 3 million jobs, and we want to put the investments in place that are going to ensure long-term economic growth.
    So, as Jim indicated, there are still some differences between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, between the White House and some of the products that's been discussed on the Hill. But what we can't do is let very modest differences get in the way of the overall package moving forward swiftly.
    And so I'm very gratified that Governor Douglas, along with many governors from across the country, are going to be weighing in in these critical next few days, and we hope to be able to get a bill to you in the next couple of weeks so we can put America back to work and start digging ourselves out of this deep hole that we're in.

  • President Obama signed a memorandum today directing more than $20 million for "urgent refugee and migration needs" in Gaza.
    You can read the full text of the memorandum below.

    THE WHITE HOUSE
    Office of the Press Secretary
    For Immediate Release February 2, 2009
    January 27, 2009
    Presidential Determination
    No. 2009-15
    MEMORANDUM FOR THE SECRETARY OF STATE
    SUBJECT: Unexpected Urgent Refugee and Migration
    Needs Related to Gaza
    By the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, including section 2(c)(1) of the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 (the "Act"), as amended (22 U.S.C. 2601), I hereby determine, pursuant to section 2(c)(1) of the Act, that it is important to the national interest to furnish assistance under the Act in an amount not to exceed $20.3 million from the United States Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund for the purpose of meeting unexpected and urgent refugee and migration needs, including by contributions to international, governmental, and nongovernmental organizations and payment of administrative expenses of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the Department of State, related to humanitarian needs of Palestinian refugees and conflict victims in Gaza.
    You are authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.
    BARACK OBAMA

  • As the Steelers and Cardinals faced off in Tampa, congressmen and senators from the teams home states crossed party lines – and team loyalties – to join President Obama at the White House.
    Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa) and Bob Casey (D-Pa) attended the Super Bowl Party, along with representatives Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), Trent Franks (R-Az.), and Raul Grijalva (D-Az.). Other attendees included Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn), Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Artur Davis (D-Ala.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Ct.), Paul Hodes (D-NH), and Fred Upton (R-Mi.), and Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton, (D-DC).
    President Obama watches the Super Bowl
    White House Photo by Pete Souza
    Before the game, the President sat down with NBC’s Matt Lauer to talk about everything from the economy and Iraq to family life in the White House. We pulled a few highlights – the full transcript is below.

    On whether a "substantial number" of troops serving in Iraq will be home for the next Super Bowl:

    I think that we have a sense, now that the Iraqis just had a very significant election, with no significant violence there, that we are in a position to start putting more responsibility on the Iraqis, and that’s good news for not only the troops in the field, but their families who are carrying an enormous burden.
    On bipartisan support for the stimulus package:
    You know, we’ve had a dysfunctional political system for a while now, and the fact that we have been able to move what is by all accounts a historic piece of legislation through this quickly and that the Senate is having a serious debate about it and we still expect it to be on my desk for signature before President’s Day is quite an achievement. But it’s going to take time for people to start getting used to the fact that we don’t have to score political points on every issue. Once in a while, we can take the politics out of it and just focus on getting the job done for the American people.
    On limiting executive compensation:
    We’re going to have to make sure that it’s part of the package that we put forward in terms of how we spend money in the future…. Nothing is worse than finding out after the fact -- when it’s too late that money has been wasted. We’re going to make sure that on the front end, this stuff has been evaluated.
    On closing Guantanamo Bay:
    It’s the right thing to do.  Ultimately it will make us safer. You’ve already seen in the reaction around the world a different sense of America by us taking this action. Now, is it going to be easy?  No…. But I have absolute confidence that ultimately we’re going to be able to find a mechanism…. If we don’t uphold our Constitution and our values, over time that will make us less safe and that will be a recruitment tool for organizations like al Qaeda. 
    On the First Family’s adjustment to life in the White House:
    People think I’m cool -- nobody is cooler than my two girls. They just seem to take whatever comes with, you know, happiness and steadiness….The best deal of this whole thing, is it turns out I’ve got this nice home office. And at the end of the day I can come home....I’m seeing them now more than any time in the last two years, and that’s been great for the whole family.
    On realizing the weight of the office:
    There have been a couple of times -- some wonderful, some sobering.  Whenever you take that walk down the Colonnade and you go to the Oval Office, I do think you get this sense of the history that you’re now a part of.  Some sobering moments -- having to sign letters for troops who have died and sending letters to their families -- where you realize every decision you make counts. And you don’t have time to -- you don’t have time to spend a lot of time on inconsequential stuff.
    On the security features for his Blackberry:
    The works.  The works.  It turns into a car if I have to make a quick getaway.


    INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
    BY MATT LAUER, NBC
    Map Room, The White House
    February 1, 2009

     Q We’re here in the Map Room at the White House, with the 44th President of the United States. President Obama, it’s great to be with you. How you doing?

     THE PRESIDENT: I’m doing great, Matt, thank you.

     Q So you’ve been President 12 days. So let me ask the question that’s on everyone’s mind right now: How’s it going living with your mother-in-law? (Laughter.)

     THE PRESIDENT: Fortunately, I love my mother-in-law and --

     Q I’m just asking, I’m not trying to start trouble.

     THE PRESIDENT: She is actually -- she defends me whenever I screw up. So Michelle, you know, she’s about to come down hard, my mother-in-law comes in, intercedes so --

     Q Everything’s copacetic.

     THE PRESIDENT: The longer she stays, the better off I’m going to be.

     Q I was driving over here, Mr. President, I was thinking about this enormous transition that you’ve been through -- taking on the reins as Commander-in-Chief, Mrs. Obama becoming the First Lady. But you’ve got a daughter, ten, and a daughter, seven, and this is a huge game-changer for them, as well. How are they doing?

     THE PRESIDENT: You know, they -- I said this, I think, in an earlier interview -- people think I’m cool -- nobody is cooler than my two girls. They just seem to take whatever comes with, you know, happiness and steadiness. And they’re loving school, they’re making friends -- in fact, they’ve got some friends from school over today -- and they’ve already joined some clubs. And Sasha, you know, I think maybe to endear myself to her, she decided she wanted to join a basketball team, so what more could I want?

     Q Are you getting to take part in some of the routines? I was thinking, you’ve been on the road basically for two years -- although you got home a lot. Now you’re all under the same room, basically, for 12 days. Are you there for breakfast, do you get to read them a story at night, tuck them in bed? How’s it going?

     THE PRESIDENT: It’s the best deal of this whole thing, is it turns out I’ve got this nice home office. And at the end of the day I can come home -- even if I’ve got more work to do -- I can have dinner with them, I can help them with their homework, I can tuck them in. If I’ve got to go back to the office, I can. But I’m seeing them now more than any time in the last two years, and that’s been great for the whole family.

     Q President Bush said in his last press conference here at the White House, he said he wasn’t sure when it would happen for you, but there would be a moment -- perhaps in the Oval Office -- when you would stop and realize, I am the President of the United States. I’m curious, have you had that moment?

     THE PRESIDENT: There have been a couple of times -- some wonderful, some sobering. Whenever you take that walk down the Colonnade and you go to the Oval Office, I do think you get this sense of the history that you’re now a part of. Some sobering moments -- having to sign letters for troops who have died and sending letters to their families -- where you realize every decision you make counts. And you don’t have time to -- you don’t have time to spend a lot of time on inconsequential stuff. You’ve got to focus on, at this point, putting people back to work, but also reminding yourselves that you’ve got hundreds of thousands of people around the world who are putting themselves in harm’s way and you’re the Commander-in-Chief.

     Q You talk about sobering moments -- even as a senator and member of the Foreign Relations Committee you were getting intelligence briefings, on the campaign trail also, and during the transition. But now, from what I understand, every day you go down there and there’s that intelligence briefing on your desk, and it’s got to contain some pretty sobering stuff.

    There are millions, tens of millions of people watching this broadcast right now, Mr. President. If they were to have access to the same information you have now on a daily basis, how much less sleep would we all be getting?

    THE PRESIDENT: Here’s what I think is important for everybody to understand: We’ve got real threats and we have to remain vigilant, but the quality of our armed forces has never been better. When you meet the people who are charged with keeping America safe, it gives you enormous confidence; they are on the case day in, day out, with extraordinary professionalism. But there is no doubt that we have to make sure that we don’t let up, because there are people who would be willing to do us harm.

    Q Let’s talk about some of those men and women who are serving this country overseas in Afghanistan, other locations, in Iraq -- and I’m sure they’re watching today, it’s a big event for the armed services. And a lot of those people have a vested interest in one of your campaign promises to end this war and get them home as soon -- within 16 months or so -- as humanly possible.

    So when you look at them, can you say that a substantial number of them will be home in time for next Super Bowl Sunday?

    Q Yes. I mean, we’re going to roll out in a very formal fashion what our intentions are in Iraq, as well as Afghanistan. But in conversations that I’ve had with the Joint Chiefs, with people -- the commanders on the ground, I think that we have a sense, now that the Iraqis just had a very significant election, with no significant violence there, that we are in a position to start putting more responsibility on the Iraqis, and that’s good news for not only the troops in the field, but their families who are carrying an enormous burden.

    Q The economy, I mean, people are going to watch this game today, they’re going to blow off some steam, they’re going to have a good time. But a lot of them are going to go to bed, they’re going to wake up tomorrow morning and the worry is going to start again -- they’re going to worry about losing their jobs and their homes and putting their kids through school and making ends meet.

    How much worse is the economy going to get, Mr. President, before it gets better?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we’re going to be in for a tough several months. We’ve got to get this economic recovery plan passed. We’ve got to start putting people back to work. We’re going to have to straighten out the credit markets and make sure that credit is flowing to businesses and individuals so that they can start investing and hiring people again.

    And, you know, as soon as Congress moves forward on the recovery plan, we are going to be also releasing our plan for the financial sector and regulating the financial sector. I have confidence we’re going to be able to get the economy back on track, but it’s going to take a number of months before we stop falling, and then a little bit longer for us to get back on track.

    Q And when it comes to the stimulus plan, the House passed its version last week, but without one Republican vote -- that disappointed a lot of people. The Senate takes up their version of the measure starting tomorrow. How important is gaining some more Republican support for that? How big a test of your leadership at this early stage of your presidency?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, look, the important thing is getting the thing passed. And I’ve done extraordinary outreach I think to Republicans, because they have some good ideas and I want to make sure that those ideas are incorporated.

    I am confident that by the time we actually have the final package on the floor that we are going to see substantial support and people are going to say this is a serious effort, it has no earmarks, we’re going to be trimming out things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now.

    Q Can you predict a number of Republican votes --

    THE PRESIDENT: No, of course not.

    Q You wouldn’t do that?

    THE PRESIDENT: No, I wouldn’t. But I’m confident that -- look, I think that the House Democrats actually adopted a number of ideas that the House Republicans had offered. Obviously, the House Republicans wanted to make a statement. Now it moves to the Senate. We’ve got 535 people who feel it’s their responsibility to represent their constituents and make their voices heard.

    So this is -- democracy is always a somewhat messy process. But the thing I want all of them to remember, and the thing I’m thinking about every single day, is the thousands of people who are being laid off of their jobs right now. They can’t afford politics as usual -- and old habits are hard to break, but now is the time to break them because we’ve got an urgent situation.

    Q Let’s lighten up a little bit, let’s move towards sports, okay? You came out and you said, look, in college football I’m not crazy about the current system for determining a national champion --

    THE PRESIDENT: This is true.

    Q -- I’d rather see a play-off system like in professional baseball or professional football.

    So will you look into the camera right now and talk to the people of Florida and their 27 electoral votes, and tell them that the Gators are not the national champions of football?

    THE PRESIDENT: Where’s the camera, right here?

    Q There you go.

    THE PRESIDENT: Congratulations, Gators, on an outstanding season. Tebow is great -- wouldn’t you feel better if you had beat every team that was out there through a playoff system?

    Q Twenty-seven electoral votes. (Laughter.)

    THE PRESIDENT: I love you. I think they could have --- they could have taken on anybody through the playoff system. By the way, one of our Secret Service guys, his son is a tackle on the Florida Gators, so, you know, I’ve got soft spot for the Gators.

    Q You’ve got a connection.

    THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely.

    Q Let’s talk about this game today. You came out --- and most Presidents don’t pick a team -- you came right out and you said, look, I know the Rooneys, they’ve been good friends of mine, they endorsed me. I think you got the AFC championship ball --

    THE PRESIDENT: I did.

    Q So you said, other than my dear Bears, they’re closest to my heart. But I’m having a hard time understanding how you, of all people, wouldn’t associate with the Cardinals.

    THE PRESIDENT: Underdog --

    Q I mean, it is a Cinderella story, the team that came from nowhere to the big game –- the audacity of hope.

    THE PRESIDENT: Not to mention the fact that Kurt Warner is close to my age. (Laughter.)

    Q Right, exactly. How can you turn your back on the Cardinals?

    THE PRESIDENT: I love Kurt Warner’s story. I love -- Larry Fitzgerald seems like just a wonderful young man. It’s a great story. But Rooney didn’t just endorse me -- that guy was out going to steel plants campaigning for me. Franco Harris was out waving towels at my rallies.

    Q Do you have a Terrible Towel in the other room?

    THE PRESIDENT: I do, actually, so

    Q Are you going to be waving them at the party?

    THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to be rubbing it in, we’ve got some Arizona congressmen here and I may need their vote on the recovery package. (Laughter.)

    Q Give me a score –- what’s the score going to be in this game?

    THE PRESIDENT: You know, it’s tough to predict, but I think the Steelers are going to eke it out in a close one.

    Q All right. Well, last year you predicted the Patriots over my Giants. I don’t have a question here, I just wanted to rub that in a little bit. (Laughter.)

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’m still wondering how the guy made that catch.

    Q The Hail Mary?

    THE PRESIDENT: He has some Stickum on his helmet.

    Q David Tyree.

    THE PRESIDENT: He had Stickum on his helmet.

    Q They just dissected that play in about a five-minute segment on the show.

    THE PRESIDENT: It was one of the greatest plays in pro football history.

    Q Let’s talk about the BlackBerry, all right? You got to keep it.

    THE PRESIDENT: I did.

    Q Can I see it? Do you have it?

    THE PRESIDENT: You know, I didn’t bring it down here.

    Q No?

     THE PRESIDENT: No, it’s like Inspector Gadget -- you know, if you touched it, it might blow up.

     Q I kind of envision that, it’s like Q in the James Bond -- did they give you, like, fingerprint recognition technology or something?

     THE PRESIDENT: The works. The works. It turns into a car if I have to make a quick getaway. (Laughter.)

     Q How many people have that email address?

     THE PRESIDENT: A handful. Look, there are security issues involved, and so we’ve got to make sure that I’m not creating a situation where, you know, potentially people can comprise our system somehow.

     Q But, like, world leaders -- can they contact you on that BlackBerry?

     THE PRESIDENT: Typically, world leaders are going to be contacting me through the Oval Office. They know how to reach me there.

     Q Sasha and Malia?

     THE PRESIDENT: Sasha and Malia can always contact me.

     Q Oprah?

     THE PRESIDENT: Well --

     Q Maybe. You’re not going to hook me up, are you?

     THE PRESIDENT: Matt, do you want one?

     Q No, I want your email address. (Laughter.) I want to communicate with you during the game.

     THE PRESIDENT: I like your son, I might give it to him -- I’m not going to give it to you. Jack, he might get one.

     Q Jack, give it to your papa, okay? (Laughter.)

     Let me end on some -- not only did you just become President, obviously that carries a certain amount of fame with it. But you have achieved a certain rock star status outside of that.

    THE PRESIDENT: Outside of my house. (Laughter.)

     Q Well, let me show you. This is the current issue of US Weekly, and here’s a great picture of –-

     THE PRESIDENT: Oh, it’s a beautiful –-

     Q -- you and Michelle and your daughters. But the reason I bring this up –- I think it’s funny –- it’s a great picture. But I want to show you the cover. Look what they did –- they took you off the cover, they cut you out of it.

     THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it’s a little hurtful.

     Q You got replaced by Jessica Simpson.

     THE PRESIDENT: Yes, who is in a weight battle, apparently. (Laughter.) Yes, oh, well.

     Q What would you like to say to the tens of millions of people who are watching this game today?

     THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, have a wonderful time. The Super Bowl is one of the finest American traditions. I want to give a special shout out to our troops overseas who are going to be watching this, because you allow not just this game to take place, but our liberties to be preserved, and we’re very grateful to you.

     Q President Obama, it’s a pleasure. Thanks for welcoming us to the White House. Enjoy the game.

     THE PRESIDENT: Have a great time.

     Q Thank you. We certainly will.

     THE PRESIDENT: I’ll see if I have to eat my words again next year.

     Q We’ll see; we’ll call you tomorrow, okay? I’ll email you. (Laughter.)

    * * * * *

    Q You talked a lot during the campaign and in your inaugural address about bipartisanship, getting people to work together, about unity. And then people watched this vote on the stimulus package in the House and they saw that not one Republican voted for it. What would you say to the people who were watching that speech of yours at home and maybe the two million people who were freezing out there on the Mall who were saying, you know what, we thought we could change, and maybe we were naive.

    THE PRESIDENT: Oh, listen, it’s only been ten days. People have to recognize that it’s going to take some time for trust to be built not only between Democrats and Republicans, but between Congress and the White House, between the House and the Senate. You know, we’ve had a dysfunctional political system for a while now, and the fact that we have been able to move what is by all accounts a historic piece of legislation through this quickly and that the Senate is having a serious debate about it and we still expect it to be on my desk for signature before President’s Day is quite an achievement. But it’s going to take time for people to start getting used to the fact that we don’t have to score political points on every issue. Once in a while, we can take the politics out of it and just focus on getting the job done for the American people.

    Q You were pretty agitated this past week when the news broke of these Wall Street bonuses paid out in 2008, even as some of the firms that paid them out had their hands out looking for federal assistance. And is there some -- is there an audit underway right now, or can there be an audit that takes place to make sure that none of the taxpayers’ monies goes to anything but stabilizing these firms?

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s what I’ve asked my Treasury Secretary to do -- to put together a clear set of guidelines. If a bank or a financial institution is getting relief, then they’ve got to abide by certain commissions. Now, as I said when I blew off a little steam in the Oval Office, the American people don’t resent folks for getting rich. That’s part of the American way. But they do expect that you share in the pain and they do expect that if taxpayers are having to pony up the bill, then these folks are going to show some restraint. Obviously they’re not doing it on their own. We’re going to have to make sure that it’s part of the package that we put forward in terms of how we spend money in the future.

    Q Well, we’ve seen some crazy examples -- I mean, when the auto executives arrived in Washington for those hearings in Congress in those private jets, these bonuses. The American people might worry that the bailout, you know, could be off course, because if the money is going to people who simply are out of touch, it’s not a confidence builder.

    THE PRESIDENT: Right. Well, and that’s why it’s my job as President and Congress’s job to make sure that there are some rules of the road that people are going to abide by, and that we’ve got transparency and accountability, that this stuff is being posted. And one of the things that we’re going to do is put together an independent board on the recovery package that actually looks at these programs and the money before it goes out the door. Nothing is worse than finding out after the fact --

    Q When it’s too late --

    THE PRESIDENT: -- when it’s too late that money has been wasted. We’re going to make sure that on the front end, this stuff has been evaluated.

    Q It’s hard to estimate because there are so many different numbers going around there, Mr. President, but it seems like somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $350 billion in TARP money has already gone out and been spent. And you’re hearing more and more people saying, it’s going to take much, much more. I’m curious, though, have you heard anyone credible be able to put a real figure on how much it’s going to take to fix this -- and, B, who can say, and this money will work; it will fix the economy?

    THE PRESIDENT: Here’s what I’ve heard from a range of economists across the political spectrum: The banks, because of mismanagement, because of huge risk-taking, are now in very vulnerable positions. We can expect that we’re going to have to do more to shore up the financial system. We also are going to have to make sure that we set up financial regulations so that not only does this never happen again, but you start having some sort of trust in how the credit markets work again.

    Q Right.

    THE PRESIDENT: So all that’s going to have to happen on parallel tracks. How much it’s going to end up costing taxpayers is going to depend in part on how well we manage the process, how well we are overseeing the spending. And that’s why I’ve said before we put out more money, what we want to do is set up very clear guidelines -- that’s the charge of my Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner; that’s the charge that Larry Summers, my national economic advisor, has. And I do have confidence that we’re going to be able to get it right, but it’s not going to be overnight and there’s no silver bullets to this. The fact of the matter is, is that we are suffering from a massive hangover from a binge of risk-taking.

    Q And it’s still getting worse.

    THE PRESIDENT: And that’s still getting worse. And it’s going to take some time for us to be able to dig ourselves out of this hole.

    Q One of those parallel tracks you talked about -- are you planning in the near future to announce an idea that will buy up the toxic debt from the balance sheets of these banks with perhaps a so-called "bad bank," similar to what happened with the savings and loan crisis? And if so, what do you think that could cost? Because Chuck Schumer came out and said, since we don’t really know what those debts are worth, this could cost $4 trillion.

    THE PRESIDENT: No, we’re not going to be spending $4 trillion worth of taxpayer money. It’s conceivable that we have more -- not only is it conceivable, it is likely that the banks have not fully acknowledged all the losses that they’re going to experience. They’re going to have to write down those losses and some banks won’t make it. Other banks are going to make sure that we strengthen. All deposits are going to be safe for ordinary people, but we’re going to have to wring out some of these bad assets and --

    Q Are you going to set up a "bad bank" or whatever it would be called?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I don’t want to preempt an announcement next week. And there’s a lot of technical aspects to it and if I say that we’re doing one thing, then the markets might interpret it differently from what it ends up being. But the basic principle that we’re going to have to see some of this debt written down, that the government is going to have to support some banks, that others that are not viable, essentially, that we’re going to have to do something with those assets.

    You know, that’s all going to be part of a overall plan that not only strengthens the credit markets, but more importantly, puts people back to work, because that’s what people are experiencing right now. They’re seeing their jobs lost every single day. Their neighbors, friends, or, you know, coworkers are losing their jobs. And what they want to know is, is that Congress and the White House has a single-minded focus on making sure that people can be put back to work.

    Q Let me ask you about a exit strategy, and I’m not talking about in Iraq here, although there’s been a lot of talk about that. But do you have an exit strategy for this bailout? In other words, at some point will you say, wait a minute, we’ve spent this amount of money, we’re not seeing the results, we’ve got to change course dramatically -- dramatically. Is there that kind of strategy in place?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, if we are doing things properly then what you’ll start seeing is slowly trust get rebuilt, banks’ balance sheets will start to strengthen, they’ll start lending to each other, they’ll start lending to companies, they’ll start lending to small businesses. There will be some institutions that continue to be weak and we’re going to have to do something with them. Over time, as the market confidence is restored, then what we can do is start getting rid of some of these assets, some of the stock the taxpayers now have in some of these companies start being worth more, we sell them off to private parties, and taxpayers can recoup that money.

    So, you know, it’s going to have to happen in stages. The key thing, I think, for the public right now is they have to know that I’m going to be spending all my time making sure that their money is not wasted because I’m going to be, ultimately, accountable. Look, I’m at the start of my administration. One nice thing about the situation I find myself in is that I will be held accountable. You know, I’ve got four years --

    Q You’ll know quickly how people feel about what’s happened.

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. And, you know, a year from now, I think people are going to see that we’re starting to make some progress, but there’s still going to be some pain out there. If I don’t have this done in three years, then there’s going to be a one-term proposition. And I welcome that responsibility because I think now’s the time for us to start shifting and thinking about long-term economic growth.

    Q Let me go on quickly if I can to some other subjects. You signed an executive order in your first week that says you’ll close the military detention center at Guantanamo within a year. So the clock is ticking. And already you’ve heard the criticism, that you don’t know what you’re going to do with the 245 prisoners being held there. Peter Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the decision to close Guantanamo by a year from now "places hope ahead of reality. It sets an objective without a plan to get there."

    THE PRESIDENT: Let me say this. We had a long campaign between myself and John McCain. One thing we did not disagree on –- in fact, something that John McCain was as adamant as I was, was that we needed to close Guantanamo. It’s the right thing to do. Ultimately it will make us safer. You’ve already seen in the reaction around the world a different sense of America by us taking this action.

    Now, is it going to be easy? No, because we’ve got a couple of hundred of hardcore militants that, unfortunately, because of some problems that we had previously in gathering evidence, we may not be able to try in ordinary courts –- but we don’t want to release. How we structure that is something that I’m going to do carefully. Our lawyers are reviewing it. I have absolute confidence that ultimately we’re going to be able to find a mechanism, with the cooperation of the international community, with the cooperation of some very smart Republicans, like Lindsey Graham, a former JAG who knows this stuff well –- I have confidence that we’re going to be able to find a solution to this problem.

    Q Are you at all worried –- and some of these people may be released, the ones that seem to be less of a threat. But if one of those people that’s released goes back and takes part in the planning of or carrying out of an attack against U.S. interests, you’re going to have a Willie Horton times 100 situation on your hands. How are you going to deal with that?

    THE PRESIDENT: Of course I’m worried about it. Look, I have to make the very best judgments I can make in terms of what’s going to keep the American people safe, and what’s going to uphold our Constitution and our traditions of due process. And what I’m convinced of is that we can balance those interests in a way that makes all of us proud, but also assures that we’re not attacked.

    Now, can I guarantee -– or can anybody guarantee, for that matter –- that some of the people who have already been released –- keep in mind, I mean, the Bush administration released a whole bunch of folks out of Guantanamo, some of them have rejoined some of these militant organizations -- can we guarantee that they’re not going to try to participate in another attack? No.

    But what I can guarantee is that if we don’t uphold our Constitution and our values, that over time that will make us less safe and that will be a recruitment tool for organizations like al Qaeda. That’s what I’ve got to keep my eye on.

    Q Let me ask you about Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this is going to be a long slog, and that it’s our greatest military challenge. You’re going to send 30,000 additional U.S. troops in there. Can that make a difference in a country that’s had 2,000 years of trouble and that’s been called the "graveyard of empires"?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I haven’t definitively authorized the 30,000 troops -– although planning has been done, and I think that it is very important that we have enough troops on the ground that we’re not putting those who are already there at risk, and that we can accomplish some core missions.

    We are not going to be able to rebuild Afghanistan into a Jeffersonian democracy.

    Q So what’s the mission there now?

    THE PRESIDENT: What we can do is make sure that Afghanistan is not a safe haven for al Qaeda. What we can do is make sure that it is not destabilizing neighboring Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons. And that’s going to require not only military efforts, but also diplomatic efforts. It’s also going to require development efforts in a coordinated fashion. And that’s why I’ve asked the Joint Chiefs, that have produced a review. David Petraeus is reviewing the situation there. We assigned Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to the region. They are all working together. They will be presenting to me a plan.

    But the key is the point you made –- we’ve got to have a clear objective. And there’s been drift in Afghanistan over the last couple of years. That’s something that we intend to fix this year.

    Q Two last questions. One is about security –- not national security, but your own. There was an article in The Washington Post that some of the big donors who were invited to some of your inaugural functions were -- I think the word they used was "shocked" by how easy it was to get access to you. And they expressed concerns that not enough was being done to secure you. First of all, just your opinion on that.

    THE PRESIDENT: I have complete confidence in Secret Service. These guys and gals are unbelievably professional, they know what they’re doing, and I basically do what they tell me to do. Now, sometimes I’m the first one to admit that it chafes a little bit being inside this bubble. It’s the hardest adjustment of being President, not being able to just take a walk or –-

    Q I watched you walk down the halls a couple of times and there’s someone in front of you and someone behind you.

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. So it’s tough. But I have complete confidence in their ability to keep me safe.

    Q Last question. There’s been a massive peanut butter products recall in this country over the last several weeks. Most of the products track –- trace to one plant down in Georgia that has a bit of a history of sending out products even though there have been traces of salmonella found.

    The question –- the obvious question people want to know, is the FDA doing its job?

    THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that the FDA has not been able to catch some of these things as quickly as I expect them to catch. And so we’re going to be doing a complete review of FDA operations. I don’t want to prejudge this particular case, but there have been enough instances over the last several years –- and at bare minimum we should be able to count on our government keeping our kids safe when they eat peanut butter. That’s what Sasha -–

    Q It seems a simple thing.

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s what Sasha eats for lunch, probably three times a week. And I don’t want to have to worry about whether she’s going to get sick as a consequence of having her lunch.

    So we are going to make sure that we retool the FDA, that it is operating in a highly professional fashion, and most importantly, that we prevent these things, as opposed to trying to catch them after they’ve already occurred.

    Q I really appreciate your time.

    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

    Q Thank you.

    * * * * *

    Q Has there been any surprise in terms of life in the White House? Is there something that the White House has you didn’t think they had, or doesn’t have you thought they did have?

    THE PRESIDENT: You know, the bowling alley doesn’t seem to be improving my game. (Laughter.) That’s the one thing I’ve noticed.

    Q Have you used it?

    THE PRESIDENT: We did. We took the kids down and I wanted to use the bumpers, but Michelle said, that’s only --

    Q If it doesn’t work, you had the gutters at least? That’s good -- it’s good to know you’re not cheating in bowling, good. (Laughter.) You’re playing horse on the basketball court.

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s right, playing horse on the basketball court. There is a horseshoe pitch out there, so I’m going to have to practice that a little bit.

    Q After 12 days -- it’s a minuscule amount of time -- are you and Mrs. Obama more or less confident that you can keep a real sense of normalcy in the girls’ lives?

    THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that we’re going to be okay. Look, Malia is 10, so three years from now she’s 13 -- who knows what happens to teenagers.

    Q Right.

    THE PRESIDENT: But if there are a pair of kids who can handle this weird fishbowl, it’s those two. They’re just even-keeled, they’re happy, cheerful -- the prettiest, respectful kids.

    Q You’re starting off from the right place.

    THE PRESIDENT: That’s exactly right. And having -- this is where having the mother-in-law, you know, who won’t take any guff from them, really helps. So we feel pretty good about it.

    Q Well, we all wish you luck.

    THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.

    Q Go enjoy the game.

    THE PRESIDENT: Good.

    Q Thanks for your time. I really appreciate it.

     

  • On January 29th, the U.S. Senate approved the Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009, better known as the State Children's Health Insurance Program or SCHIP. Once signed into law, this legislation will continue coverage for six to seven million children and increase that coverage to four million more.
    Since this version of the bill is expected to pass the House of Representatives in the coming week, we are making the legislation available for public comment now.

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