The Waldorf Astoria Hotel
New York, New York
8:29 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. Please, everybody have a seat.
Well, first of all, thank you so much, Steve Israel, not only for the wonderful introduction, but I love the story of your grandparents. And so often we spend time thinking about how we got into this strange business -- (laughter) -- but so often it traces back to the values that were passed on generation through generation. And to hear that story I think affirms not only why you’re such an outstanding Congressman but also the kind of man you are. And so we’re thrilled to have you here, and just the great job you’re doing on behalf of the DCCC. So give Steve a big round of applause. (Applause.)
I want to say thank you to somebody who has been a great friend -- if you are in a foxhole, this is the person you want with you -- the soon-to-be-again Speaker of the House, Leader Nancy Pelosi. We love Nancy. (Applause.)
And one of my favorite senators -- just a guy who everybody who meets him says, that guy, he’s just solid, sincere, hardworking, a wonderful family and has really helped to transform politics in Colorado -- Michael Bennet. Give Michael a big round of applause. (Applause.)
And of course, I want to acknowledge all the outstanding members of the New York delegation who are here. But I’ve got to give a special shout-out to somebody who is helping to engineer some of the most important legislative agenda items that we’ve got in my second term; could not be prouder of him -- Chuck Schumer. Give Chuck a big round of applause. (Applause.)
So over the last month, we’ve gone through some tough times in this country. Obviously, we saw the horrific bombing of the Boston Marathon. I had traveled down to a tiny town in West, Texas to deal with the aftermath of a terrible explosion there that had such a devastating impact on the city. It’s hard to find two communities more different than Boston, Massachusetts and West, Texas, I assure you. (Laughter.) And yet, what was striking about that very difficult, challenging week was the consistency of spirit from Boston all the way to West, Texas.
And I remember being in a car with Deval Patrick, the outstanding mayor of -- Governor of Massachusetts, and we were driving to a memorial service and we were talking about the emergency response and how first responders who were actually running in the race all ran to the site of the explosion, and how the hospitals and doctors responded magnificently to sort through who would go where to maximize their ability to care for the victims, and the people who were driving runners to their homes -- complete strangers -- because of everything that had happened. And what Deval and I agreed on was that in times of tragedy, in the midst of just terrible pain, there’s something about the American spirit that just rises up.
And it’s not just resilience. There is a generosity and a sense of neighborliness and an insistence on doing the right thing and thinking about others. And Deval and I talked about how this is a constant in America, and it’s not just during tragedies, not just during crises. You can see it out on a Little League field where parents are out there volunteering. You see it in churches and synagogues and mosques and temples all across the country. You see it in neighbors helping neighbors, and you see it in workplaces where workers are taking pride of great American products and services that they’re creating, helping to build a nation.
But the one thing Deval and I agreed on was that we’re not seeing enough of it in our politics, and we’re certainly not seeing enough of it in Washington. And one of the things that a second term affords you is a little bit of perspective, because I don’t have to run again, as Michelle happily reminds me. (Laughter.) And I’ve been through some tough battles over the last four years, and then my time in the Senate before that. And you’re able to project out a little bit into the future.
And precisely because of that spirit that was evident in West, Texas and in Boston, I’ve probably never been more optimistic about America. Having gone through these extraordinary hardships -- worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; the financial system on the verge of meltdown; dealing with two wars and all the losses associated with that and the enormous strains on our budget -- we are now in the process of having cleared out the rubble.
And although we are nowhere near where we need to be, given everything that we’ve gone through, we have seen job growth for almost three consecutive years now. We have seen the economy growing. We have seen people’s 401(k)s and investments on Wall Street restored. We’ve seen health care costs grow at a slower pace over the last three years than any time in the last 50 years. We are in the process of implementing and making sure that millions of people all across the country finally get affordable health care that they’ve never had. (Applause.)
We have doubled the production of clean, renewable energy and our traditional natural gas and oil deposits have been tapped with new technology in ways that will probably lead us to be a net exporter of natural gas within the next five to ten years. (Applause.)
And housing, which was probably the biggest drag on our economy, is steadily beginning to recover. And so across the board, there are all these signs of progress. And that’s the American spirit at work. That’s the American people -- through grit and determination and a vision of possibility, just brick by brick, neighborhood by neighborhood, city by city, state by state rebuilding.
And when I travel internationally -- I took a trip down to Mexico -- and met with not only the new Mexican President but also leaders of Central American countries. What was striking is that in a part of the world where in the past there had been times where there had been suspicions directed at the United States and what our motives were, there’s an enormous hunger to engage in trade and commerce and cooperation to deal with these transnational drug networks, and a genuine sense of not just the desire, but the need for American leadership -- not a leadership that dictates, not a leadership that seeks simply to impose our will on others, but a leadership in which we are convening and collaborating and partnering, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
And so the bottom line is, when I canvas the world, there is no nation that we would want to trade hands with. And there’s no nation that secretly -- they couldn't admit it -- wouldn’t mind having the hand that we’re holding. And the only thing that’s holding us back -- the only thing that’s holding us back -- is a spirit in Washington that isn't reflective of the spirit of the American people; a spirit in Washington that’s more interested in game-playing than getting things done -- (applause) -- a spirit in Washington that is more concerned about the next election than the next generation. And that has to change. And that’s why you’re here tonight -- because you know it has to change.
We’ve got more work to do. And I spelled out in my inauguration, I spelled out in my State of the Union exactly what we need to do. We need to continue to build on the tremendous progress we’ve made in reforming our education system and make sure that every child in America is prepared before they start school with universal pre-K for every kid, which can make an enormous difference in achievement levels all across the country. (Applause.) Modernize our high schools so they’re adapted to the 21st century. Make sure that our community colleges are linking up with businesses to prepare our young people for the jobs of tomorrow. Make college more affordable. We know that we need to do that. There’s no credible argument for not doing it.
We know we’ve got to rebuild our infrastructure. We’ve got $2 trillion of deferred maintenance. There was a list a few months back of the top airports in the world -- not one out of the top 25 were in the United States of America. Not one. Imagine that. Roads, bridges, airports, ports, broadband lines, smart grids.
We know what we’ve got to do. And, by the way, if we are rebuilding our infrastructure, we’re putting people back to work right now. So it’s strengthening our economy now and for the future. We know what we need to do.
We know that we have to control our energy future. And as promising as these new technologies are to tap into new sources of energy, we also know that climate change is real. And if we want to leave a world for our children and our grandchildren that is as beautiful as the one that we inherited, then we’re going to have to double down on our investments in basic research and science around clean energy, and discover not just the energy sources of the past, but also the energy sources of the future. We’ve got to win that race. We know that. We know that.
We know we’ve got to get immigration reform done, because we want America to attract the best and the brightest. (Applause.) We want the message of the Statue of Liberty to be resonating around the world, that flame to continue to shine as a beacon not just for freedom but also for people who are ambitious and have drive, and who are unconstrained by the past, because they believe in the future. We know we’ve got to do that.
And we know that we’ve got to have a sensible budget, a budget that invests in education and invests in research, and is true to our commitment to keeping our seniors out of poverty, and is true to our investment in the infrastructure that’s going to continue to make this a growing, dynamic economy. And we can do all that. We don’t have to do anything radical. We know what the basic plan is.
And with just some modest steps, with the deficit already coming down quicker than at any time since World War II, at a faster pace, we know that if we just make a few smart decisions both on the revenue side and on the spending side -- not through automatic, mindless spending cuts that are slashing our commitments to research and our investments in our kids, but through smart, targeted spending cuts and revenue -- that we can stabilize our budget for decades to come, just open field running from there on out. America cannot be stopped if we make some smart decisions.
Internationally, as I said, people are looking for our leadership. But what they’re not looking for is us simply seeing every problem as a military problem. They’re looking for us to be proponents of peace and work on its behalf. (Applause.)
They are looking for us to show leadership in helping make sure that children around the world aren’t dying of malnutrition and that they get a decent education, and that people in extreme poverty making less than two dollars a day, that they’re put in a position in which they can succeed -- because they understand that if they succeed, then America will succeed as well. And they don’t understand exactly sometimes what’s holding us back.
So the promise of America is alive and well, and I could not be more optimistic. But that spirit that we saw in Boston, that spirit that we saw in West, Texas, we’re going to have to unleash that. And the only way we unleash that is to make sure that Washington, our elected leadership -- that they start reflecting that spirit as well. And I can tell you that the Democratic leaders in that room -- in this room, they reflect that spirit because I see them every single day. I know their values and I know what they care about, and I know what they're working for.
And truth be told, there are folks on the other side of the aisle who have that spirit as well. It’s not a Democratic or a Republican spirit. It’s not a partisan spirit. It’s an American spirit.
But what is also true is that the dynamic on the other side of the aisle right now runs contrary to what we need in order to succeed, that they’ve got a different point of view right now, reinforced by some folks around the country that don't share our vision for America as a place where everybody gets a fair shot and everybody is doing their fair share.
Now, I’m going to do everything I can over the next three and a half years to continue to reach out to my Republican friends on the other side of the aisle because I sure want to do some governing. I want to get some stuff done. I don't have a lot of time. I’ve got three and a half years left, and it goes by like that. And if any of you doubt that three and a half years goes by quick, try having some teenage or close-to-teenage girls. (Laughter.) Because you look up and you don't know what happened. (Laughter.)
So I want to get moving. And any time that the other side is ready and willing and prepared to work on the things that Chuck Schumer has been working on, like immigration and making sure that we’re reducing gun violence in this country; any time that somebody is willing to work on the kinds of things that Michael Bennet has been working on, like improving our education system and making sure that we’ve got world-class research; any time that somebody is willing to cooperate with Nancy Pelosi to make sure that our budget reflects our commitment to not just the folks at the very top, but a broad-based prosperity for all Americans, and that we’re making sure that we’re rebuilding our manufacturing base in this country -- any time those folks want to get to work, we are ready to work.
But what I also say is that during those two years that Nancy Pelosi was Speaker, man, we got a lot of stuff done. (Applause.) And what I also know is that unless we had a Democratic Senate, we would not have ended “don't ask, don't tell.” Unless we had had a Democratic Senate, we would not have been able to make sure that everybody in this country is able to access affordable health care. What I know is, is that if we hadn’t had a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate, college would be a lot less affordable for our young people.
We know that. So I want to be clear. I am President of all Americans, not just the leader of a party. And my top priority is to make sure that when I leave this office I can honestly say that America is in a stronger position and a more secure position and a more promising position than it was before I took office.
But what I also know is that with leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Steve Israel and Michael Bennet and Chuck Schumer and all the New York delegation here, with them as partners, this country will take off like we haven’t seen in a very long time. That's what you’re investing in. You're investing in people who share your values and your vision for the future.
And that's why even though I’ve run my last race, I’m going to be working as hard as I can to make sure that their vision is one that is dominant on Capitol Hill. It’s that spirit that we saw in West, Texas. It’s the spirit we saw in Boston. It’s the spirit that we see here in New York City. And as I was driving up and saw the new Freedom Tower rising, it reminded me of just what it is that we’re fighting for. (Applause.)
So thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. God bless America.
8:50 P.M. EDT