Remarks by the President at OFA Event
St. Regis Hotel
7:06 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody! Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you. Everybody have a seat, have a seat.
Jim claims that he always gives short introductions. That is not true. (Laughter.) That’s why I walked out here with him, to keep him on point. (Laughter.) But I can’t thank Jim enough for everything that he’s done. He and I were just reminiscing a little bit backstage. Somebody had brought for me to sign a New York Times article -- New York Times Magazine -- dated November 2011. And it was some -- it has a picture of me on the cover, and some numbers, and it says, “Is Obama Toast?” (Laughter.) And so Jim had that blown up, and I’m signing that as well. (Laughter.)
A couple other people I want to thank. Jon Carson, who does extraordinary work every day -- we love Jon. (Applause.) We miss him over at the White House, but he is in the right place because he’s one of the best organizers I have ever met -- of anything. And he is doing just great, great work with OFA.
And then two elected officials -- I see Congressman Eliot Engel here, who is doing a great job on behalf of his district back in New York. (Applause.)
And then somebody who is not just a great colleague, but a great friend. When Deval -- Deval and I have sort of hopscotched a little bit, because initially, I met Deval because he came into Chicago to campaign for me when I was still running for the U.S. Senate. And we had a mutual friend who introduced us. And Deval, who had worked at the Justice Department and had some modest celebrity, but also was just good-looking and smart, so people like to hear him talk –- (laughter)-- so he came and did a little fundraiser for me. And so then I won the Senate race. And then I was in the Senate and one day he comes by to visit, and he says, “I’m thinking about running for governor.” He said, “You’ve won a Senate seat; how hard can this be?” (Laughter.)
And so then he ran a historic race for governor. And then when I decided to run for President, I sought his counsel and advice. And there’s nobody who I’m not just more fond of, but who I actually think is a better public servant anywhere in the country than the Governor of Massachusetts. So, Deval Patrick. (Applause.)
So because I’ve got a bunch of friends here, I’m not going to give a big windup. I want to basically spend some time in conversation, as we usually do when we get together. I’ll just make a couple of points.
Number one, the work that we’ve done this year has been challenging to say the least, because of a Congress that has been resistant to everything. And I know that sometimes that causes great frustration, even when there’s not a government shutdown. But what I want to just remind people of is that this government is an enormous enterprise, and so even as sometimes we see ourselves getting stymied at the congressional level, at the administrative level, in the work that we’re doing, all kinds of changes are happening. Whether it’s on climate change, or education, or speeding up services to veterans, or making sure that we are creating the kind of job-training programs that are going to put people back to work, or making your tax dollars work more effectively to rebuild our infrastructure in this country, we’re accomplishing a lot of stuff.
It doesn’t always get publicity -- partly because a lot of times it’s not controversial. But slowly, surely, we keep on making progress on the things that you care very deeply about. And I want you guys to understand that and know that.
Number two, obviously we’ve been very frustrated -- I, personally, have been frustrated with the problems around the website on health care. And it’s inexcusable, and there are a whole range of things that we’re going to need to do once we get this fixed -- to talk about federal procurement when it comes to IT and how that’s organized. But the model of providing health insurance for all Americans and using not just what government can do but also private sector competition and choice -- that model is working.
We have in most states massively expanded the choices that people have available, and because of competition and these insurers having to chase after folks’ business, premiums are lower, the deals are better, and people ultimately are going to be benefiting greatly across the board. And the website will get fixed.
So there are going to be challenges and bumps along this path -- we always knew there would be -- because we are not only initiating one of the largest changes in one of the largest sectors of our economy in history, but we’re doing so under a very hostile political environment.
Nevertheless, the mission is the right one, and the plan is the right one. And we are going to look back a year from now, three years from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, and the American people are going to understand that in this country, finally, after decades, we are going to make sure that every single person in this country can get affordable health care. And we’re going to be driving down health care costs at the same time. (Applause.) That’s point number two.
Point number three -- despite the resistance of Congress, slowly, surely, we’re starting to see some common sense starting to prevail. It hasn’t quite gotten over the hump, but you’re starting to see in the Senate in particular -- we had already gotten the vote on immigration reform, bipartisan vote. It’s ready to go. We still need help from the House, but there’s still an opportunity.
We’re seeing it, perhaps tonight, on the ENDA vote, which -- non-discrimination around sexual orientation -- where we think that we’ll probably get this done in the Senate. Again, there is going to be resistance in the House. But the more that we can continue at a grassroots level to speak out on behalf of the values that we care about -- they’re mainstream values. They’re the values that 60, 70, 80 percent of the country believe in. And they’re also the values that young people and future generations believe in.
And so I want everybody to understand that change in America has always been slow, and sometimes you take a step back for every two steps you take forward. But, inexorably, the idea of a more tolerant, more prosperous country that offers more opportunity to more people -- that’s an idea that the vast majority of Americans believe in.
And the challenge we’ve got is that with a federal government that has been gridlocked and a filter through which people see and receive information about government that is tilted towards cynicism, I think sometimes people, particularly on our side, end up feeling frustrated or despairing. And I’m here to tell you, we’ve got a righteous wind at our backs and we are, on each of these fights, going to just keep on steadily making progress. And when the journey is over -- now, the journey of the country is never over, but the journey of my presidency is over, and we look back, I think people are going to be maybe even surprised themselves at how much we’ve gotten done. And that’s because of you and the support that all of you provide. So I’m grateful for it.
And with that, let me start taking some questions, or suggestions.
7:16 P.M. EST