The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Remarks by the President in Personnel Announcement
2:17 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you. Please, everybody have a seat. Well, good afternoon. It is a beautiful day, and it's good to see so many friends here.
Of all the jobs in government, leading my national security team is certainly one of the most demanding, if not the most demanding. And since the moment I took office, I've counted on the exceptional experience and insights of Tom Donilon. Nearly every day for the past several years I've started each morning with Tom leading the presidential daily brief, hundreds of times, a sweeping assessment of global developments and the most pressing challenges. As my National Security Advisor his portfolio is literally the entire world.
He has definitely advanced our strategic foreign policy initiatives while at the same time having to respond to unexpected crises, and that happens just about every day. He's overseen and coordinated our entire national security team across the government, a Herculean task. And it's non-stop -- 24/7, 365 days a year.
Today, I am wistful to announce that after more than four years of extraordinary service, Tom has decided to step aside at the beginning of July. And I am extraordinarily proud to announce my new National Security Advisor, our outstanding Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice -- (applause) -- as well as my nominee to replace Susan in New York, Samantha Power. (Applause.)
When I first asked Tom to join my team, I knew I was getting one of our nation's premier foreign policy leaders, somebody with a deep sense of history and a keen understanding of our nation's place in the world. He shared my view that in order to renew American leadership for the 21st century, we had to fundamentally rebalance our foreign policy. And more than that, he knew how we could do it.
See, Tom is that rare combination of the strategic and the tactical. He has a strategic sense of where we need to go, and he has a tactical sense of how to get there.
Moreover, Tom’s work ethic is legendary. He began his public service in the Carter White House when he was just 22 years old -- and, somehow, he has been able to maintain the same drive, and the same stamina, and the same enthusiasm and reverence for serving in government. He has helped shape every single national security policy of my presidency -- from forging a new national security strategy rooted in our economic strength here at home to ending the war in Iraq. Here at the White House, Tom oversaw the operation that led us to bin Laden. He’s helped keep our transition on track as we wind down the war in Afghanistan.
At the same time, Tom has played a critical role as we’ve bolstered the enduring pillars of American power -- strengthening our alliances, from Europe to Asia; enhancing our relationship with key powers; and moving ahead with new trade agreements and energy partnerships. And from our tough sanctions on Iran to our unprecedented military and intelligence cooperation with Israel -- (baby cries) -- it’s true -- (laughter) -- from New START with Russia to deeper partnerships with emerging powers like India, to stronger ties with the Gulf states, Tom has been instrumental every step of the way.
I’m especially appreciative to Tom for helping us renew American leadership in the Asia Pacific, where so much of our future security and prosperity will be shaped. He has worked tirelessly to forge a constructive relationship with China that advances our interests and our values. And I’m grateful that Tom will be joining me as I meet with President Xi of China this week.
And finally, Tom, I am personally grateful for your advice, for your counsel, and most of all for your friendship. Whenever we sit down together -- whether it’s in the Oval Office or the Situation Room -- I do so knowing that you have led a rigorous process: that you’ve challenged assumptions, that you’ve asked the tough questions, that you’ve led an incredibly hard-working national security staff, and presented me with a range of options to advance our national interests. A President can’t ask for anything more than that, and this is a testament to your incredible professionalism, but also your deep love of country.
I know that this relentless pace has meant sacrifices for your family -- for Cathy, who is here, Dr. Biden’s former Chief of Staff, who I was proud to nominate as our new Global Ambassador for Women; and for Tom and Cathy’s wonderful children, Sarah and Teddy. So today, I want to publicly thank all the Donilons for their abiding commitment to public service that runs through the family. (Applause.)
You’ve been with me every step of the way these past four years, and the American people owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for everything that you’ve done. You’ve helped to restore our nation’s prestige and standing in the world. You’ve positioned us well to continue to lead in the years ahead. I think that Tom Donilon has been one of the most effective national security advisors our country has ever had, and he’s done so without a lot of fanfare and a lot of fuss. So, Tom, on behalf of us all, thank you for your extraordinary service. (Applause.)
Now, I am proud that this work will be carried on by another exemplary public servant -- Ambassador Susan Rice. (Applause.) Susan was a trusted advisor during my first campaign for President. She helped to build my foreign policy team and lead our diplomacy at the United Nations in my first term. I’m absolutely thrilled that she’ll be back at my side, leading my national security team in my second term.
With her background as a scholar, Susan understands that there is no substitute for American leadership. She is at once passionate and pragmatic. I think everybody understands Susan is a fierce champion for justice and human dignity, but she’s also mindful that we have to exercise our power wisely and deliberately.
Having served on the National Security Council staff herself, she knows how to bring people together around a common policy and then push it through to completion -- so that we’re making a difference where it matters most, here in the country that we have pledged to defend, and in the daily lives of the people we’re trying to help around the world.
Having served as an Assistant Secretary of State, she knows our policies are stronger when we harness the views and talents of people across government. So Susan is the consummate public servant -- a patriot who puts her country first. She is fearless; she is tough. She has a great tennis game and a pretty good basketball game. (Laughter.) Her brother is here, who I play with occasionally, and it runs in the family -- throwing the occasional elbow -- (laughter) -- but hitting the big shot.
As our Ambassador to the U.N., Susan has been a tireless advocate in advancing our interests. She has reinvigorated American diplomacy, in New York. She has helped to put in place tough sanctions on Iran and North Korea. She has defended Israel. She has stood up for innocent civilians, from Libya to Cote d’Ivoire. She has supported an independent South Sudan. She has raised her voice for human rights, including women’s rights.
Put simply, Susan exemplifies the finest tradition of American diplomacy and leadership. So thank you, Susan, for being willing to take on this next assignment. I'm absolutely confident that you're going to hit the ground running. And I know that after years of commuting to New York while Ian, Jake and Maris stayed here in Washington, you will be the first person ever in this job who will see their family more by taking the National Security Advisor's job. (Applause.)
Now, normally I'd be worried about losing such an extraordinary person up at the United Nations and be trying to figure out how are we ever going to replace her. But fortunately, I'm confident we've got an experienced, effective and energetic U.N. ambassador-in-waiting in Samantha Power.
Samantha first came to work for me in 2005, shortly after I became a United States senator, as one of our country's leading journalists; I think she won the Pulitzer Prize at the age of 15 or 16. One of our foremost thinkers on foreign policy, she showed us that the international community has a moral responsibility and a profound interest in resolving conflicts and defending human dignity.
As a senior member of my national security team, she has been a relentless advocate for American interests and values, building partnerships on behalf of democracy and human rights, fighting the scourge of anti-Semitism and combatting human trafficking. To those who care deeply about America’s engagement and indispensable leadership in the world, you will find no stronger advocate for that cause than Samantha.
And over the last four years, Samantha has worked hand-in-glove with Susan in her role because Samantha has been the lead White House staffer on issues related to the United Nations. And I'm fully confident she will be ready on day one to lead our mission in New York while continuing to be an indispensable member of my national security team.
She knows the U.N.'s strengths. She knows its weaknesses. She knows that American interests are advanced when we can rally the world to our side. And she knows that we have to stand up for the things that we believe in. And to ensure that we have the principled leadership we need at the United Nations, I would strongly urge the Senate to confirm her without delay.
So, Samantha, thank you. To Cass, and you, and Declan and Rian for continuing to serve our country.
This team of people has been extraordinarily dedicated to America. They have made America safer. They have made America's values live in corners of the world that are crying out for our support and our leadership. I could not be prouder of these three individuals -- not only their intelligence, not only their savvy, but their integrity and their heart.
And I'm very, very proud to have had the privilege of working with Tom. I'm very proud that I'll continue to have the privilege of working with Samantha and with Susan.
So with that, I'd invite Tom to say a few words. Tom. (Applause.)
MR. DONILON: Thank you, Mr. President. You mentioned the many hours that we’ve worked together in the Situation Room, put together here by John Kennedy and without windows.
THE PRESIDENT: No windows.
MR. DONILON: No windows. So I would first like to thank you for this rare opportunity to be outside and experience the natural light. (Laughter.)
You also mentioned how I began my public service here under President Carter in 1977 when I was 22 years old. And I still remember leaving at the end of the day, walking up West Executive Drive, past the office of then-National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and looking up at the windows of the White House -- the light is always on in Zbig’s office, no matter how late. And I’d think to myself, don’t those guys ever go home? And now, these many years later, I finally have the answer -- no, they don’t go home very much, at least not as often or as early as their spouses and families would like.
Mr. President, to serve in this capacity where we’ve had the opportunity to protect and defend the United States, to improve the position of the United States in the world, has been the privilege of a lifetime. To serve during your presidency, however, is to serve during one of the defining moments in our nation’s history. This is because of your vision, your principled leadership, your commitment to defending our interests and upholding our ideals.
Those many hours of meetings and briefings have given me the opportunity to see you as few people do: behind closed doors, away from the cameras, when a leader’s character is revealed. And with your permission, I’d like to take this opportunity to share a little bit of what I’ve seen.
First, I’ve seen you make the most difficult decisions a Commander-in-Chief can make -- the decision to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way. I’ve seen the great care with which you have weighed these grave decisions and I’ve seen your devotion to the families of our men and women in uniform.
I have seen your fierce patriotism, your love of our country. When confronted with competing agendas and interests, you always bring the discussion back to one question: What’s in the national interest, what’s best for America? I’ve seen your abiding commitment to the core values that define us as Americans, our Constitution, civil liberties, the rule of law. Time and time again, you have reminded us that our decisions must stand up to the judgment of history.
Finally, Mr. President, I’ve seen you represent the United States around the world and what you mean to the people around the world when you represent our country. When you step off that plane with the words, “United States of America”, when you reach out to foreign audiences and speak to the basic aspirations we share as human beings, you send a clear message that America wants to be their partner. And that ability to connect, to forge new bonds, is a form of American power and influence that advocates our interests and ideals as well.
To Vice President Biden and Jill, Cathy and I have considered you dear friends for more than 30 years, and it has been an honor to make this journey with you.
To my colleagues and friends here at the White House and across the government, the American people will never truly know how hard you work in their defense.
To my long-time partners in the senior leadership of the National Security Council -- Denis McDonough, John Brennan, Tony Blinken, Lisa Monaco, Mike Froman, Ben Rhodes, and Brian McKeon. I could not have asked for better brothers or sisters in this effort.
To you and all our remarkable national security staff, you're a national treasure. And every day you get up, you come here -- you devote your days to keeping our country secure. You are the best our nation has to offer, and it's been an honor and a privilege to serve with each and every one of you. And I'm glad so many of you are here today. (Applause.)
And to my friends and colleagues -- Susan and Sam -- congratulations, the nation is fortunate to have leaders of your intellect, compassion, character, and determination. Susan, you'll be an outstanding National Security Advisor. Sam, you'll be an outstanding Ambassador to the United Nations. And we really appreciate your willingness to do this. (Applause.)
Finally, and most importantly, to Cathy, Sarah and Teddy -- as the President said, this job has meant great sacrifices for you. And each of you in your way has made a contribution to the country. And I could not be more grateful.
So again, Mr. President, thank you for the opportunity -- the extraordinary opportunity to serve you and to serve our nation. I stand here -- 36 years ago, almost to the day when I first came on the 18 acres of the White House to come to work, and I must tell you I leave this position much less cynical and never more optimistic about our country and its future. Thank you very much, Mr. President. (Applause.)
AMBASSADOR RICE: Mr. President, thank you so much. I'm deeply honored and humbled to serve our country as your National Security Advisor. I'm proud to have worked so closely with you for more than six years. And I'm deeply grateful for your enduring confidence in me.
As you've outlined, we have vital opportunities to seize and ongoing challenges to confront. We have much still to accomplish on behalf of the American people. And I look forward to continuing to serve on your national security team to keep our nation strong and safe.
Tom, it's been a real honor to work with you again. You have led with great dedication, smarts, and skill, and you leave a legacy of enormous accomplishment. All of us around the principals’ table will miss you. And I wish you and Cathy, and your family, all the very best.
Above all, I want to thank my own wonderful family for their unfailing support -- my mother, Lois; my wonderful husband, Ian; our children Jake and Maris; and my brother, John, have all been my strength and my greatest source of humor. I'm also thinking today about my late father, who would have loved to be here. I'm forever grateful to my family for their love and sacrifice.
I want to thank my remarkable colleagues at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. I am so proud of the work we've done together under your leadership, Mr. President, to advance America's interests at the United Nations.
And, Samantha, my friend -- warmest congratulations. You're a tremendous colleague, and the United States will be extremely well served by your leadership at the United Nations. And I'm so glad we get to continue to work together.
Mr. President, having participated in the national security decision-making process over the last four years, I admire the exemplary work done every day by our colleagues at State, Defense, the intelligence community, and across the government to make our nation more secure. I look forward to working closely with you, your extraordinary national security team, our country's most experienced leaders from both parties, and your superb national security staff to protect the United States, advance our global leadership, and promote the values Americans hold dear.
Thank you very much.
MS. POWER: Thank you, Mr. President. From the day I met you and you told me that you had spent a chunk of your vacation reading a long, dark book on genocide -- (laughter) -- I knew you were a different kind of leader, and I knew I wanted to work for you.
It has been my privilege here at the White House to serve you, and it would be the honor of a lifetime to fight for American values and interests at the United Nations. Now that I have two small children, Declan and Rian -- somewhere -- the stakes feel even higher.
Thank you, Tom and Susan. I consider myself immensely fortunate these last four years to have collaborated with both of you. There are two no more dedicated professionals on this Earth, no more strategic stewards of our foreign policy than these two individuals. And I'm honored and immensely humbled to share the stage with you.
I moved to the United States from Ireland when I -- with my parents, who are here -- when I was 9 years old. I remember very little about landing in Pittsburgh, except that I was sure I was at the largest airport in the history of the world. I do remember what I was wearing -- a red, white and blue stars and stripes t-shirt. It was the t-shirt I always wore in Ireland on special occasions.
Even as a little girl with a thick Dublin accent who had never been to America, I knew that the American flag was the symbol of fortune and of freedom. But I quickly came to learn that to find opportunity in this country, one didn’t actually need to wear the flag, one just needed to try to live up to it.
For the next three months, I came home from school every day, as my mother can attest, my dad can attest, and I sat in front of the mirrors for hours, straining to drop my brogue so that I, too, could quickly speak and be American.
Not long ago, my husband, Cass Sunstein, came across a letter written toward the end of World War II by his father, Dick Sunstein, who was a Navy lieutenant. Dick had happened to stop briefly in San Francisco after his two years fighting for this country in the Pacific, and he wrote to his family on April 25th, 1945, the very day that the nations of the world were coming together in San Francisco to establish the new United Nations.
And in this letter to my mother-in-law, who I never had the chance to meet, he wrote, excitedly, “Conference starts today. The town is going wild with excitement. It is a pleasure to be here for the opening few days. Let’s pray that they accomplish something.”
Let’s pray that they accomplish something. The question of what the United Nations can accomplish for the world and for the United States remains a pressing one. I have seen U.N. aid workers enduring shellfire to deliver food to the people of Sudan. Yet I’ve also see U.N. peacekeepers fail to protect the people of Bosnia. As the most powerful and inspiring country on this Earth, we have a critical role to play in insisting that the institution meet the necessities of our time. It can do so only with American leadership.
It would be an incomparable privilege to earn the support of the Senate and to play a role in this essential effort, one on which our common security and common humanity depend. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.)
2:41 P.M. EDT