On This Day: President Obama waits to be introduced in the Blue Room for ABC’s “Prescription for America” town hall conversation on health care at the White House on June 24, 2009 (Photo by Pete Souza)
Today (All Times Eastern)
12:0: The Vice President ceremonially swears in Sylvia Mathews Burwell as Secretary of Health and Human Services
12:45: Josh Earnest briefs the press
6:30: President Obama hosts the 2013 Presidents Cup Team, East Room
Forty-six years after the Fair Housing Act took aim at racial segregation and poverty in America, the federal government has declared the effort half-hearted and is setting out to fix it. Within months, the Obama administration is expected to require local governments to devise new strategies to give people in poor, racially segregated areas better access to jobs, transportation, and, particularly, good schools. At stake locally are tens of millions of dollars in federal grants distributed across the region, from Atlanta to Marietta to Gwinnett County. If governments fail to satisfy the mandate, they could lose that money. To date, few outside of Washington have even heard of the proposal. Where it is known, it tends to draw sharp reactions across the political spectrum:
Liberals, who have waited decades for an administration with moxie enough to confront the issue, cheer it; conservatives blast it as an assault on local communities. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was one of that decade’s signature civil rights laws. Its intent, confirmed in some subsequent court decisions, was not just to prevent obvious discrimination, such as refusing to sell or rent homes to racial minorities. By that definition, things that may stand in the way of “fair housing” might include zoning that keeps apartments or affordable houses out of good neighborhoods. It might include a lack of public transportation from poor neighborhoods to the areas with jobs that pay well. It might include fewer and shabbier parks or weaker police protection in poor areas than affluent ones, or benign neglect of troubled public schools.
A brief note on a new Elliott Abrams essay in Politico Magazine that appears under the eye-catching headline, “The Man Who Broke the Middle East.” The man in question is not Sykes or Picot or Nasser or Saddam or Khomeini or George W. Bush or Nouri al-Maliki, but Barack Obama. A few points. The first is to note that the Middle East Obama inherited in early 2009 was literally at war—Israel and the Gaza-based Hamas were going at each other hard until nearly the day of Obama’s inauguration. Obama managed to extract himself from that one without breaking the Middle East. In reference to a “contained” Iran, I would only note that Iran in 2009 was moving steadily toward nuclearization, and nothing that the Bush administration, in which Elliott served, had done seemed to be slowing Iran down. Flash forward to today—the Obama administration (with huge help from Congress) implemented a set of sanctions so punishing that it forced Iran into negotiations.
(Obama, it should be said, did a very good job bringing allies on board with this program.) Iran’s nuclear program is currently frozen. The Bush administration never managed to freeze Iran’s nuclear apparatus in place. I’m not optimistic about the prospects for success in these negotiations (neither is Obama), but the president should get credit for leading a campaign that gave a negotiated solution to the nuclear question a fighting chance. It’s also worth noting that when Obama came to power, he discovered that the Bush administration had done no detailed thinking about ways to confront Iran, either militarily or through negotiations. There was rhetoric, but no actual planning. Obama applied himself to this problem in ways that Bush simply did not.
The president of Iraq’s ethnic Kurdish region declared Tuesday that “we are facing a new reality and a new Iraq” as the country considers new leadership for its Shiite-led government as an immediate step to curb a Sunni insurgent rampage. The comments by Kurdish President Massoud Barzani came as he met with visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who is pushing the central government in Baghdad to at least adopt new policies that would give more authority to Iraq’s minority Sunnis and Kurds. Kerry has repeatedly said that it’s up to Iraqis — not the U.S. or other nations — to select their leaders. But he also has noted bitterness and growing impatience among all of Iraq’s major sects and ethnic groups with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Barzani told Kerry that Kurds are seeking “a solution for the crisis that we have witnessed.”
Kerry said at the start of an hour-long private meeting that the Kurdish security forces known as peshmerga have been “really critical” in helping restrain the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a Sunni insurgency that has overtaken several key areas in Iraq’s west and north, and is pushing the country toward civil war. “This is a very critical time for Iraq, and the government formation challenge is the central challenge that we face,” Kerry said. He said Iraqi leaders must “produce the broad-based, inclusive government that all the Iraqis I have talked to are demanding.
Last week, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found President Obama tying his record low approval rating of 41 percent. NBC’s Chuck Todd, referring to another poll result showing that 54 percent of Americans “no longer feel that he is able to lead the country and get the job done,” told the hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” “Essentially the public is saying, ‘Your presidency is over.’” But one morsel from the NBC/WSJ poll didn’t fit that narrative: 67 percent of respondents are in favor of the president’s newly announced regulations “to set strict carbon dioxide emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants.” And when the pollsters re-asked the question, after presenting supporting and opposing arguments, including charges of “fewer jobs” and “higher prices,” approval held with a healthy 53 percent to 39 percent margin. That’s a hell of a lot of support for a major presidential initiative from an electorate supposedly no longer listening to the president. What did Obama do right? Adhering to a favorite maxim of U.S. presidents of both parties that it’s remarkable how much you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit, Obama tapped EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to announce the plan and stump for it in media interviews. By keeping a relatively low-profile, Obama tempered the media’s tendency to polarize everything while dampening conservative backlash, a strategy that previously helped shepherd the Dodd-Frank financial regulation law and the repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy on gays and lesbians.
While Obama was exhibiting leadership with finesse, Republicans decided to run into a wall. Instead of training their fire on the climate proposal in the days following the June 2 release, they obsessed over freed prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl. The president has bucked the trend of history and successfully used the bully pulpit to advance another major goal: raising the minimum wage. Anticipating obstinacy from House Republicans, he told the states during his January 2014 State of the Union address, “You don’t have to wait for Congress to act.” He followed up that call with several outside-the-Beltway stump speeches urging states to raise their minimum wage above the federal standard. The stumping is working. So far this year, eight states have raised their minimums and later this week Massachusetts will make it nine. If I were a Republican, I would not be savoring Obama’s 41 percent approval rating and presuming his presidency was done. I would be worried about my party’s 29 percent approval rating, its 15 percent level of support among Latinos and Obama’s plans to take executive action on immigration reform if House Republicans don’t act by July 31. If you think Obama isn’t able to lead on immigration, after what he has done on climate and minimum wage, you haven’t been paying attention.
Greg Sargent: Care About Minors Crossing Border? Then Pass Immigration Reform Now!
Amid all the noise over the crisis of minors crossing the border into South Texas, a basic fact about this debate has gotten lost: The humanitarian disaster we’re now seeing is actually an argument in favor of immigration reform, not against it. Republicans have suggested the crisis proves they are right about Obama’s lawlessness (he cannot be trusted to enforce the law or secure the border, so they shouldn’t make a deal with him) and that the general promise of reform, or “amnesty,” is acting as a magnet for kids. All of this makes it more certain they will not embrace reform this year. But this has it exactly backwards. The crisis underscores the need for reform. In the days ahead, you may see Dems amplify this case. Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network, who has been working on this issue for a decade,
offers this simple explanation for why the crisis is an argument for action: “If Congress wants to help solve the border migrants crisis, the single most consequential thing it could do would be to pass the Senate immigration bill or something similar in the House. Nothing else would do as much to clear up the confusion in Central America about how our system works or do as much to make clear that recent arrivals will not be able to stay under some form of future legalization. Congress will have spoken with a loud and clear voice, making it near impossible for criminal elements south of the border to exploit our current inadequate system for their own ends.”
Hayes Brown: Nobody Thought Syria Would Give Up Its Chemical Weapons. It Just Did.
Last year’s deal to remove all of Syria’s chemical weapons was widely recognized to be extremely ambitious, with a timeframe that few expected would actually be achievable. On Monday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced that beyond many expectations, Syria has turned over all of its declared chemical weapons stockpile for destruction. As the process was ongoing, critics lashed out at the framework negotiated between Russia and the United States last year as a strategic failure. “This removal of chemical weapons…[is] the very thing that has validated [Assad]; it’s the thing that we did to put him in the strongest position he’s been in since this conflict began,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in March. At the announcement of the deal last September, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said it “requires a willful suspension of disbelief to see this agreement as anything than the start of a diplomatic blind alley,
and the Obama Administration is being led into it by Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin.” Still now these weapons are out of hands of Syria, a fact that might not be said if the administration had launched the air strikes it threatened prior to the compromise between Moscow and Washington. And the grounds for legitimacy that the international community needed to bestow upon Assad to facilitate the removal process is gone. With that complete, the international community will now likely return its attention to figuring out how to remove Assad without further emboldening the more extreme militants operating in Syria — including the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) which is currently in possession of several cities across the border in Iraq.
President Obama on Wednesday announced a plan to allow college graduates to cap federal student loan repayments at 10 percent of discretionary income starting in January, two years before the cap was due to take effect under federal law.
The accelerated “pay as you earn” program, which Obama will authorize through executive order, could benefit up to 1.6 million borrowers and reduce their payments by as much as a couple hundred dollars a month, administration officials said. All remaining debt on the federal loans would be forgiven after 20 years – five years earlier than under current law.
Reuters: …. President Obama’s appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” lifted the show to its highest Tuesday-night ratings since March 2, 2010, the night after Leno returned to the show.
Tuesday’s episode received a 4.1/11 metered-market household rating, a 52 percent leap over his Tuesday-night average so far this season. With Obama’s appearance,” The Tonight Show” handily surpassed “Late Show with David Letterman,” which posted a 2.7/7 household rating, “Nightline,” which drew a 3.6/9, and “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” which received a 1.8./6.
Ruth Marcus (Washington Post): In an interview with Parade magazine, the Texas governor declared Obama’s place of birth a “distractive” issue even as he happily latched on to the opportunity to distract ….. It was classic Perry, combining logical incoherence and a smarmy cheap shot.
…. Is this a presidential campaign or a middle-school playground? I’ll show you mine if you show me yours? By the way, if I had Perry’s grades, I wouldn’t be mentioning them. Certainly not if I were running against a former president of the Harvard Law Review.
…. You might think this was the candidate cannily trying to have it both ways: a nod to the birther crazies with a simultaneous wink at those who know this is a ridiculous distraction. Except that Perry managed to step on his real message of the day: his unaffordable and unfair proposal to “simplify” the tax code – by grafting a flat-tax alternative onto the existing system.
…. The matter of Obama’s birth certificate should be a closed case. It is astonishing that a sitting governor, no less a serious candidate for president, would stoop to playing this game.
… The country is facing serious problems. This will be a fateful election. Voters deserve better than scare tactics and drivel.
CBS: Most families who lose a loved one in the war zones receive a letter of condolence from the President of the United States. But there are a few who do not receive this honor. It’s long standing policy – going back many years – that troops who commit suicide in war do not get the president’s acknowledgment.
The CBS Evening News first reported on this last week, and tonight we have learned the White House is changing the policy…. “I had doubts – many, many doubts,” Gregg Keesling said. “We are very pleased.” Last week, Keesling got the call he’d waited nearly two years to receive from the White House. He learned his family’s long wait for acknowledgement from the commander-in-chief was almost over. “My oldest son came down and we had a hug and it was very emotional,” Keesling said. “It was a very good moment that this has been worth it.”
Since the suicide of his son, 25-year-old Army Specialist Chance Keesling, in Iraq, Gregg and his wife Jannett, have fought to receive a condolence letter. They’ve written to the president, and asked their local congressmen for help.
Keesling’s now been told he’ll receive some kind of recognition from the White House – though not an official presidential condolence letter – in memory of his son.
… Under a decades-old White House policy, inherited by the Obama administration, military families received letters from the president only if their loved ones died on the battlefield or in accidents in war zones. Now, the policy is changing, Gregg Keesling told us recently, and for families like his, the acknowledgement is long overdue.
… The new policy goes into effect starting today, which is why the Keesling family will not receive an official presidential condolence letter. Their son, Chance, died in 2009. We’re told the policy affects all military families whose loved ones die in war zones, regardless of how they died….
“As Commander in Chief, I am deeply grateful for the service of all our men and women in uniform, and grieve for the loss of those who suffer from the wounds of war — seen and unseen. Since taking office, I’ve been committed to removing the stigma associated with the unseen wounds of war, which is why I’ve worked to expand our mental health budgets, and ensure that all our men and women in uniform receive the care they need.
“As a next step and in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the military chain of command, I have also decided to reverse a long-standing policy of not sending condolence letters to the families of service members who commit suicide while deployed to a combat zone. This decision was made after a difficult and exhaustive review of the former policy, and I did not make it lightly. This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change. Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation.”
Chicago Tribune: With hundreds of letters arriving each week, first lady Michelle Obama’s mailbag is intriguing more for its variety than its volume.
….Obama gets about 500 to 700 messages a week, including letters, emails and faxes, said Howli Ledbetter, her correspondence director.
….Laura Barajas, 13, of Cicero, with her classmates wrote the first lady last year. Laura pledged to give up chips, except for a small bag on Sundays. The pledge didn’t last long, the girl said, but Obama’s letter has. “I thought it was cool,” Laura said. “I didn’t think she was going to write back.”
Aides to the first lady also respond to mail sent to her daughters, Malia and Sasha; her live-in mother, Marian Robinson; and the family’s Portuguese water dog, Bo.
Meagan Moeggenborg, 10, of St. Johns, Mich., wrote Bo last fall saying her two cats don’t like dogs, but her brother, Reese, does. “If he was with you, I bet he would pet you to death,” she wrote.
Her reward? A letter from the first lady and a postcard of Bo with such facts as his origins (born in 2008 in Texas), what he likes to eat (tomatoes or toys) and what he hopes to achieve (“make friends with foreign dignitaries”).
Meagan read the letter to her fourth-grade class. “People were, like, wide-eyed,” she said. “I felt proud and excited.”
The missive is now kept in her “memory box,” a blue plastic storage container relegated to the basement.
First Lady Michelle Obama, Pasadena, June 13: ….. “let me tell you something about your President … when he returns home after a long day traveling around the country …. he always tells me not about how hard the day was but about the people he’s met along the way.
And I see in those quiet moments late at night, after we’ve put the girls to bed, and he’s hunched over his desk, and he’s reading everything – letters people have sent him. That’s what keeps him motivated. He reads those letters. A letter from the woman dying of cancer whose health insurance wouldn’t cover her care. Those are the letters he’s reading …
And I see the sadness and the worry that’s creasing his face. And I hear the passion and the determination in his voice. He says, “You know, Mich, you won’t believe what these folks are going through.” He says, “It’s not right. Still not right. And we’ve got to fix this. We have to do more.”
…..when it comes to the people he meets and the stories he hears, he has a memory like a steel trap …. if he’s had a few minutes and a decent conversation, he will never forget your story. It becomes imprinted on his heart. And that is what he carries with him every day – that collection of hopes, and dreams, and struggles.
…. Starting first thing in the morning and going late into the night, hunched over every briefing, he reads every word of every memo so that he is more prepared than the people briefing him, writing notes, asking questions. That is who your President is. That’s who you elected, because all those wins and losses, trust me, are not wins and losses for him. They’re wins and losses for the folks whose stories he carries with him, the folks he worries about and prays about before he goes to bed at night.
….here’s the thing about Barack – and this is something I’d appreciate even if he hadn’t shown the good judgment to marry me. (Laughter and applause.) But even in the toughest moments …. when it seems like all is lost, and we’re all wringing our hands, and I’ve done it to him, too – what’s going to happen, are we going to be okay – (laughter) – Barack Obama never loses sight of the end goal. He is always an end-goal game player. He’s not looking right here. He’s looking way down the road. (Applause.) And he never lets himself get distracted by the chatter and the noise. It doesn’t faze him. He just keeps moving forward, step by step. That’s how change happens. (Applause.)
And in those moments when we’re all sweating it, when we’re worried that that bill won’t pass, or the negotiations might fall through, Barack always reminds me that we’re playing a long game here. That’s how he reassures me. It’s not about today. It’s about our future. It’s about these kids. It’s not about us.
He reminds me that change is slow. Nothing worth having happens in an instant. He reminds me that change does not happen all at once. It never does. Never has. But he tells me that if we keep showing up, right, if we keep fighting the good fight, and doing what we know is right, then eventually we will get there, because we always have. When you think about it, we always have gotten to the right place in this country.
NYT: Extracts – EVER since Barack Obama’s inauguration, the staff members and tutors at our nonprofit writing programs have marveled at how this presidency has percolated through student essays, stories and poems.
And it’s not just the president who has captured their attention — his wife, Michelle, has, too. From our students’ perspective, Mrs. Obama is glamorous but accessible, maternal but cool. They trust her.
So, earlier this fall, 826 National hosted a series of workshops inviting students to write to the first lady. The results were collected in the book “I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live: Kids’ Letters to Michelle Obama (and to Sasha, Malia and Bo).”
Here is a sampling of what they came up with:
Dear Mrs. Obama,
You’re the greatest person I ever met. I know that you married Obama because he cares about people and also you think he is a special person. How big is your garden? I hope you have great vegetables and fruits so your two children can be strong and grow too. You’re a better dancer than your husband.
I live in Los Angeles. I live in a white and gray apartment. My favorite things are soccer, movies and also princesses. Do you think princesses are for little kids?
— TATIANA MORALES, age 10, Los Angeles
Dear Mrs. Obama,
If I was to get invited to eat dinner with you, I’d have so much fun. What if I was your daughter? I’d love you a whole lot and I would always play with you. Malia and Sasha are beautiful children and are so sweet to other people that they see. I would like to become friends with your two daughters. Can I? You should take Sasha and Malia to the Brooklyn Park out on Sixth Street. It has a swing that pushes by itself and if you say high it will go high, if you say low it will go low.
The Brooklyn Park closes at midnight and I stay until 10. It’s fun. I have too much fun. When I run I burn off energy. I know that you want kids to exercise every day for an hour, but I exercise two hours and 30 minutes every day.
826: I Live Real Close to Where You Used to Live: Kids’ Letters to Michelle Obama (and to Sasha, Malia, & Bo) is a collection of letters written by kids across America to Michelle Obama and her daughters Malia and Sasha (plus a few to their dog Bo). The book is bursting with advice, observations, and questions for the First Lady and her family.
No topic is off-limits; the letters deal with issues ranging from immigration and war to Easy-Bake Ovens and dog food. While some of the messages are heartfelt – “Please help to stop bullying so the kids can be safe in school” – and others are hilarious – “You’re a better dancer than your husband” – all of the letters are unabashedly honest.
The letters ask all kinds of questions, ranging from immigration to childhood obesity and even “Who made up the Whales?” It also offers the first lady a couple of ideas: “Try to keep drugs off the streets. Robots may be able to help you.”
Proceeds benefit 826, a network of nine nonprofit organizations that help children with expository and creative writing.
This book is a follow-up to:
A few days after the election of Barack Obama, 826 students around the country were asked to provide advice and guidance to their new President. In this collection, arriving at inauguration time, there’s loads of advice for President Obama, often hilarious, sometimes heartfelt and occasionally downright practical.
Topics include the economy, education, war, global warming, race relations in America and immigration. The book also includes letters about snow cones, puppies, microwavable burritos, dinosaur projects, multiplication and the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, reportedly haunting a White House bedroom.
Thanks and Have Fun Running the Country includes such advice as:
“If I were president, I would help all nations, even Hawaii.” —Chad Timsing, age 9, Los Angeles :-)
“I really hope you put America back together. No pressure though.” —Sheenie Shannon Yip, age 13, Seattle
And, while it wasn’t advice, exactly, we thought this was worth sharing:
“You are just like a big me.” —Avante Price, age 7, Seattle
I am a 71-year old man, retired and financially solvent. I’m a great fan of yours. I write in the wake of the election, which had to be even harder on you than it was on me. May I offer a word of encouragement?
First, thank you for giving yourself, heart, soul, and mind, to the task of being our president. Thank you for working so hard and so ably to save a country in dire straits from the follies of the last administration. You’ve done a wonderful job. Thank you for changing the way America is regarded in the world. Thank you for the measures you took to avert a depression. Thank you for health care reform, for reining in the financial industry, for all you have done for education, for tax cuts for the middle class. Thank you for closing out our war in Iraq, for your commitment to ending DADT, for your efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.
You are such a rare gift, and in such a critical time. You are easily the best president of my lifetime, a person both intelligent and good. I pray often that God protect you, keep you strong, give you wisdom. What you are doing is so important, not just for our country but for the world. And, against powerful wealthy interests, it is all so difficult to do. They will stop at nothing to destroy you.
Will you stay the course for us nevertheless? Will you keep leading, keep doing the right things even if you continue to meet misrepresentation and opposition? That is the hope that I and so many others repose in you.
I could be wrong, but I have this idea that, while in the Senate, you felt a call. You saw the leadership vacuum and you offered yourself. You knew it would be difficult. You just didn’t know it would be this difficult.
Abraham Lincoln suffered in the White House, day after day, in the long bleak winter of the Civil War. He held out, and the right thing was finally done. I see your situation in much the same terms. And the question that troubles me is: If you don’t do it, who will?
I pray that you will not lose heart, Barack, even though the going just got even harder, that you will find the strength to carry on. May Michelle help you keep your perspective and your dedication. May the kids continue to bring you the joys that only kids can give. And may God continue to be your refuge and your strength.
Thank you for everything you have done. God bless you as the journey continues.
I found this letter on a website I’d prefer not to link (too much hating going on there!), the person who posted it asked for it to be spread around (it was written by the person’s brother-in-law and sent to the President). I have contacted the poster asking if they want to be credited in any way for the letter, will let you now if I hear back
If you would like to forward this letter to the President just copy it and paste it in to the message box here on the contact page of the White House website. In the subject box just click on the last option, ‘Other’. Just a suggestion, you could write…..
“I found this on the internet (Nov 11, 2010), this man speaks For me”
…..at the start of the letter?
I hope you don’t mind but I have slightly edited the letter so that it will fit in to the 2,500 character limit of the message box – the unedited letter is here
Every day, President Obama reads ten letters from the public in order to stay in tune with America’s issues and concerns. “Letters to the President” is an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at the process of how those ten letters make it to the President’s desk from among the tens of thousands of letters, faxes, and e-mails that flood the White House each day.
August 3, 2009.