Jewish Hawaiian Lieutenant Governor Replaces Sen. Daniel Inouye

— by Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

The National Jewish Democratic Council is pleased to see that Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz has been selected to serve in the United States Senate. The late Senator Inouye left behind a tremendous record of partnership with the Jewish and pro-Israel communities — and we are fully confident that Brian Schatz will continue that robust partnership. The entire NJDC family wishes Schatz the best of luck and we look forward to working with him in the future.
 

Senator Daniel Inouye (1924-2012)

  • President pro tempore of the United States Senate.
  • Represented the State of Hawaii in Congress since statehood.
  • First Japanese-American in Congress and in the Senate.
  • Served during World War II earning a Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star Medal, 2 Purple Hearts.

— by Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

On behalf of NJDC, we extend our condolences to Senator Inouye’s family and the people of Hawaii. The Senator leaves behind a distinguished record of heroism and service to our country that has inspired members of younger generations to enter public service. Senator Inouye was one of the strongest pro-Israel voices on Capitol Hill, and his leadership within the Senate Appropriations Committee’s subcommittees resulted in significant increases in aid for Israel. He was a true mensch in every sense of the word, and we are deeply saddened that he is no longer with us.

Romney Wrong on Women, Seniors, and Israel

Even more than after the first presidential debate, Tuesday’s town hall in New York crystallized the differences between President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney for Jewish voters.  And although Republicans strategists have been working overtime to court the American Jewish community, it is increasingly obvious that Romney’s agenda conflicts with core Jewish values.

Perhaps the most striking revelation from Tuesday’s debate involves Romney’s policies toward women.  American Jews hold overwhelmingly progressive values on gender equality, so this issue is an important bellwether for understanding whether Romney can win the community’s support.

When asked by a young woman how he would rectify discrepancies between men and women in the workplace, pointing out how women routinely make less than men for doing the same work, Romney fumbled.  Not only did his rambling response never address the question, his comments betrayed a basic insensitivity.

The closest thing he could offer to a coherent policy involved boasts that he once let a female employee have a flexible work schedule and that his administration in Massachusetts was given “binders full of women” from outside groups when they could not find enough notable female Republicans to serve in his cabinet.

More after the jump.
Clearly, he has never given serious thought to helping women in the work force, and his team’s position on a woman’s right to choose is also quite chilling.  Although Romney pretended to be moderate on abortion during the debate, he has promised to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and his vice presidential candidate said just last week that “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”  Their party’s platform denies women even that right.

Jewish voters overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to choose, and they oppose Republican efforts throughout the nation to roll back this long-established principle.  It will take far more than cheap talk if Romney wants to convince U.S. Jews that he will fight for women’s rights in the way that President Obama has already demonstrated.

Indeed, President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law as his first bill upon coming to office, which gives women greater legal recourse for ensuring that they receive equal pay for equal work.  He has also appointed two Supreme Court justices, both of them women, who oppose right-wing efforts to repeal Roe v. Wade.

Differences between the two candidates also came into clearer focus on senior citizen’s issues.  The Jewish people are particularly attuned to honoring our forefathers and foremothers.  Therefore, we tend to perceive Social Security as a covenant – a promise that if you put in a lifetime of hard work and pay your taxes, you should be able to retire without fear of not being able to put food on the table.

We also see Medicare as part of this covenant, and believe that gutting it in the manner that Paul Ryan has proposed is just plain wrong.  That is why Jewish voters have reacted so negatively to Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate.

In Tuesday’s debate, President Obama did not shy away from drawing firm contrasts with his Republican opponent.  When asked by an audience member how a Romney administration would compare to George W. Bush, President Obama pointed out that even “George Bush didn’t propose turning Medicare into a voucher.”  He also noted that when Romney trashed 47% of Americans as moochers, he was lumping in “folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives.”

There is a reason why Jewish voters in Florida specifically prefer Democrats over Republicans on Social Security by about three to one.  They just don’t trust the GOP.

Since he cannot win over Jewish voters on domestic issues, Governor Romney has wrongfully resorted to smearing the president on foreign policy.  Romney was so desperate to bash the President’s strong record on Israel that he brought the issue up instead of using his full time to answer a very serious question on Libya.  His comments were little more than a blatant attempt to make political points instead of offering serious solutions to genuine global challenges.

Despite Romney’s false claims about the President’s Israel record, President Obama has relentlessly strengthened Israel’s defenses against terrorist attacks.  He has boosted Israel’s military aid higher than ever before, and Israel’s prime minister and defense minister have each called his support “unprecedented.”

In fact, in the fight against Iran’s nuclear program, the President has done something  that Mitt Romney somehow tries to claim as his own policy idea.  Instead of simply saber-rattling and resorting to name-calling, the President has diligently built an unprecedented global sanctions coalition that is devastating the Iranian economy.  Iran’s currency has crashed by nearly 40% just in the last month, and this is largely because President Obama was able to convince Europe to copy our sanctions regime.  I believe that most Jews understand that now is not the time to change horses, either on helping Israel or stopping Iran – especially when the Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military has made it abundantly clear that military force is a very real option for stopping Iran if diplomacy does not achieve a breakthrough.

When Jewish voters go to the polls next month, they will confront stark choices: empty rhetoric or proven leadership on the Middle East; a progressive social agenda that benefits all Americans or a war on women’s rights and abandoning our seniors.  I think I know which choice Jewish voters will prefer.

Originally published in The Times of Israel.

Memories of Senator Arlen Specter (1930-2012)

— President Barack Obama

Arlen Specter was always a fighter.  From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.  He brought that same toughness and determination to his personal struggles, using his own story to inspire others.  When he announced that his cancer had returned in 2005, Arlen said, “I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponents and I’m going to beat this, too.”  Arlen fought that battle for seven more years with the same resolve he used to fight for stem-cell research funding, veterans health, and countless other issues that will continue to change lives for years to come.  Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Joan and the rest of the Specter family.

— Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of former Senator Arlen Specter. Senator Specter sat in the Republican Party for most of his career, and he was a consummate public servant whom we respected greatly as he advocated for Pennsylvanians — and a crucial voice of moderation. When he joined the Democratic Party later in his career, we were proud to welcome him as a Jewish Democrat — and his votes were crucial to helping President Obama during the first year of his presidency. Senator Specter has left behind a proud legacy of public service that will hopefully guide future generations of public servants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice had the honor to interview Senator Specter in our August 2009 edition.

More after the jump.
— Vice-President Joe Biden

Jill and I are deeply saddened. Arlen Specter was a great Senator who lived his life the way he died, with dignity and courage. He was my friend and I admired him a great deal.

For over three decades, I watched his political courage accomplish great feats and was awed by his physical courage to never give up.  Arlen never walked away from his principles and was at his best when they were challenged.

Jill and I are thinking of Joan at the moment – she was an incredible partner through his life journey. Our hearts go out to Shanin and Stephen and all who were deeply touched by his life.  

DREAM Act Protects Children From Deportation

Reactions to the Department of Homeland Security’s new policy directive halting deportations of immigrants who have met the standards of achievement and responsibility that would have qualified them for residency status under the as yet unpassed DREAM Act. There new policies remove the threat of deportation from those who were brought to the United States as children.

Rabbi Steve Gutow, Jewish Council for Public Affairs:

Finally, reason and decency have come to the table in the immigration debate. The JCPA has advocated for passage of the DREAM Act to reward children who, despite their circumstances, have worked hard and remained in school.  But in the face of legislative stagnation, we applaud President Obama and Secretary Napolitano for issuing this policy directive on behalf of young and committed immigrants to permit them to stay and be a part of our nation. This step will assuage their fears that they could be deported at a moment’s notice.

The biblical mandate to treat the stranger as our own holds particularly true to American Jews. Just as we were strangers in Egypt, many Jews began as strangers in America. In light of many of our own experiences, we have an obligation to see that today’s immigrants, looking for a share in the freedom and prosperity of America, are met with the same opportunities we have had.

Larry Gold, JCPA Chair:

Our immigration laws have increasingly been used as a means of turning people away, not welcoming them, betraying the promise of America as a nation that has benefited from the contributions of immigrants from all corners of the world. Today’s directive by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a welcome step.  Finally, those who were brought to the United States as children and worked every day since then to graduate from our schools or serve our country in the military, do not need to fear that their success and effort will be destroyed with deportation.”

Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris:

I want to express our strong support for President Obama’s crucial effort to help reform America’s immigration system. These new measures will remove the threat of deportation from those who were too young to have any say over their legal status, and this effort represents a fair and just policy for those who have known deep uncertainty and fear throughout their lives. The beneficiaries of this decision have worked hard to find a place in the country that they call home. Many of these young people have even risked their lives as members of the armed forces; these young people deserve the opportunity to reach for the American dream without it being denied.

American Jews — as descendants of immigrants, if not immigrants ourselves — understand profoundly what it means to have a shot at success in America. The provisions announced by the President today provide that opportunity. Once again, President Obama has implemented a policy that reflects the values of the vast majority of American Jews — and indeed most Americans — and we thank him for his bold leadership.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres Received Medal of Freedom

Remarks by US President Barack Obama at Presentation of the Medal of Freedom to Israeli President Shimon Peres

Good evening, everybody.  Please have a seat.  On behalf of Michelle and myself, welcome to the White House on this beautiful summer evening.

The United States is fortunate to have many allies and partners around the world.  Of course, one of our strongest allies, and one of our closest friends, is the State of Israel.  And no individual has done so much over so many years to build our alliance and to bring our two nations closer as the leader that we honor tonight — our friend, Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

Remainder of the President’s remarks follow the jump.
Among many special guests this evening we are especially grateful for the presence of Shimon’s children — Tzvia, Yoni and Chemi, and their families.  Please rise so we can give you a big round of applause.  (Applause.)

We have here someone representing a family that has given so much for peace, a voice for peace that carries on with the legacy of her father, Yitzhak Rabin — and that’s Dalia.  We are grateful to have you here.  (Applause.)  Leaders who’ve helped ensure that the United States is a partner for peace — and in particular, I’m so pleased to see Secretary Madeleine Albright, who is here this evening.  (Applause.)  And one of the great moral voices of our time and an inspiration to us all — Professor Elie Wiesel.  (Applause.)

The man, the life that we honor tonight is nothing short of extraordinary.  Shimon took on his first assignment in
Ben-Gurion’s Haganah, during the struggle for Israeli independence in 1947, when he was still in his early 20s.  He ran for President of Israel — and won — when he was 83.   (Laughter.)

By the way, I should mention that I just learned that his son-in-law is also his doctor.  And I asked for all his tips.  (Laughter.)

Shimon has been serving his nation — and strengthening the bonds between our two nations — for some 65 years, the entire life of the State of Israel.  Ben-Gurion and Meir, Begin and Rabin  —  these giants of Israel’s founding generation now belong to the ages.  But tonight, we have the rare privilege in history  —  and that’s to be in the presence of a true Founding Father.

Shimon, you have never stopped serving.  And in two months we’ll join our Israeli friends in marking another milestone  — your 89th birthday.  (Applause.)    

Now, I think Shimon would be the first to tell you that in the ups and downs of Israeli politics, he has been counted out more than once.  But in him we see the essence of Israel itself   —  an indomitable spirit that will not be denied.  He’s persevered, serving in virtually every position — in dozens of cabinets, some two dozen ministerial posts, defense minister, finance minister, foreign minister three times.  Try that, Madeleine.  (Laughter.)  And now, the 9th President of Israel.  And I think President Clinton would agree with me on this — Shimon Peres is the ultimate “Comeback Kid.”  (Laughter.)

And he’s still going  —  on Facebook, on You Tube —  (laughter)  — connecting with young people; looking to new technologies, always “facing tomorrow.”  Recently, he was asked, “What do you want your legacy to be?”  And Shimon replied, “Well, it’s too early for me to think about it.”  (Laughter.)

Shimon, you earned your place in history long ago.  And I know your work is far from done.  But tonight is another example of how it’s never too early for the rest of us to celebrate your legendary life.

Shimon teaches us to never settle for the world as it is.  We have a vision for the world as it ought to be, and we have to strive for it.  Perhaps Shimon’s spirit comes from what he calls the Jewish “dissatisfaction gene.”  (Laughter.)  “A good Jew,” he says, “can never be satisfied.”  There is a constant impulse to question, to do even better.  So, too, with nations  —  we must keep challenging ourselves, keep striving for our ideals, for the future that we know is possible.

Shimon knows the necessity of strength.  As Ben-Gurion said, “An Israel capable of defending herself, which cannot be destroyed, can bring peace nearer.”  And so he’s worked with every American President since John F. Kennedy.  That’s why I’ve worked with Prime Minister Netanyahu to ensure that the security cooperation between the United States and Israel is closer and stronger than it has ever been  —  because the security of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and the bonds between us are unbreakable.  (Applause.)

Of course, Shimon also knows that a nation’s security depends not just on the strength of its arms, but upon the righteousness of its deeds  —  its moral compass.  He knows, as Scripture teaches, that we must not only seek peace, but we must pursue peace.  And so it has been the cause of his life  —  peace, security and dignity, for Israelis and Palestinians and all Israel’s Arab neighbors.  And even in the darkest moments, he’s never lost hope in  —  as he puts it —  “a Middle East that is not a killing field but a field of creativity and growth.”

At times, some have seen his hope and called Shimon Peres a dreamer.  And they are right.  Just look at his life.  The dream of generations, after 2,000 years, to return to Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people  —  Shimon lived it.  The dream of independence, a Jewish State of Israel  —  he helped win it.  The dream of an Israel strong enough to defend itself, by itself, against any threat, backed by an ironclad alliance with the United States of America  —  he helped build it.

The dream of making the desert bloom  —  he and his wife Sonya were part of the generation that achieved it.  The dream of the high-tech Israel we see today  —  he helped spark it.  That historic handshake on the White House lawn  —  he helped to create it.  That awful night in Tel Aviv, when he and Yitzhak sang a Song for Peace, and the grief that followed  —  he guided his people through it.  The dream of democracy in the Middle East and the hopes of a new generation, including so many young Arabs  —  he knows we must welcome it and nurture it.

So, yes, Shimon Peres — born in a shtetl in what was then Poland, who rose to become President of Israel  —  he is a dreamer.  And rightly so.  For he knows what we must never forget:  With faith in ourselves and courage in our hearts, no dream is too big, no vision is beyond our reach.

And so it falls on each of us  — to all of us  —  to keep searching, to keep striving for that future that we know is possible, for the peace our children deserve.

And so it is a high honor for me to bestow this statesman, this warrior for peace, America’s highest civilian honor  —  the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  And I’d ask you to please join me in welcoming President Peres to the presentation.  (Applause.)

(The citation is read.)

MILITARY AIDE: The President of the United States of America awards this Presidential Medal of Freedom to Shimon Peres.  An ardent advocate for Israel’s security and the cause of lasting peace, Shimon Peres has devoted his life to public service.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the profound role he played in Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords, and he continues to serve the Israeli people with courage and dignity.  Through his unwavering devotion to his country and the cooperation of nations, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Before inviting remarks from President Peres, I’d like to conclude by inviting you all to join me in a toast, with the words that Shimon spoke when he accepted the Peace Prize in Oslo:

“From my earliest youth, I have known that while one is obliged to plan with care the stages of one’s journey, one is entitled to dream, and keep dreaming, of its destination.  A man may feel as old as his years, yet as young as his dreams.”

Shimon, to all our friends here tonight, and to our fellow citizens across America and Israel  —  may we never lose sight of our destination.  Shalom, and may we always be as young as our dreams.

L’chaim.  Cheers.

I have one last order of business to attend to.  Before I ask our recipient to come to the stage  —  while I began my remarks I was not yet sure whether one more  —  or two more guests of honor had arrived.  I think it would be entirely appropriate at this point for us also to acknowledge two people who have constantly sought to achieve peace, not only in the Middle East but all around the world  —  one of them happens to be traveling a lot these days on my behalf  —  (laughter)  — – and I am extraordinarily grateful to them.  Shimon, I know that you’re pleased to have two very dear friends to help celebrate this evening.  President Bill Clinton.  (Applause.)  And our outstanding Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.  (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, President Shimon Peres.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT PERES:  Mr. President, Mrs. Obama, it’s so hard to speak after you, my God.  (Laughter.)  You are so moving.  But thank you.  (Laughter.)

I really was profoundly moved by your decision to award me the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  To receive it is an honor.  To receive it from you, Mr. President, in the presence of my dear family, is a privilege that I shall cherish for the rest of my life.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)

It is a testament to the historic friendship between our two nations.  When I was really young  —  not like now —  (laughter)   —  the founder of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, called me to work with him.  For 65 years, inspired by his leadership, I tried to gather strength for my country, pursue peace for my people.  I learned that public service is a privilege that must be based on moral foundations.

I receive this honor today on behalf of the people of Israel.  They are the true recipients of this honor.  With this moving gesture, you are paying, Mr. President, tribute to generations upon generations of Jews who dreamed of, fought for a state of their own  —  a state that would give them a shelter; a state that they could really defend by themselves.

So, Mr. President, you are honoring the pioneers who built homes on bombed mountains, on shifting land; fighters who sacrificed their life for their country.  On their behalf, I thank you.  I thank America for days of concern, for sleepless nights, caring for our safety, caring for our future.

Tonight, Mr. President, you kindly invited outstanding personalities whose commitment to Israel is nothing less than heroic.  I offer them the eternal gratitude of my people.  Present here, for me is a very moving presence is Dalia Rabin, the daughter of my partner, the unforgettable Yitzhak Rabin, who gave his life for peace.

Mr. President, you have pledged a lasting friendship for Israel.  You stated that Israel’s security is sacrosanct for you. So you pledged; so you act.  So you are acting as a great leader, as a champion for peace.  Thank you again.  (Applause.)

Dear friends, Israel sincerely admires the United States for being a land of the free, a home of the brave, a nation of generosity.  A world without the United States, without the values of the United States, would have been chaotic.  Moses began his journey to freedom by demanding, “let my people go.”  The prophet Isaiah promised nations will take up swords against nations.  A biblical promise became a grand American reality, first and foremost in human annals.  

When the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia, it resonated throughout the world.  A tired world was surprised to witness, contrary to its experience, a great nation becoming greater by giving, not by taking; by making generosity the wisdom of policy, and freedom as its heart  —  freedom from oppression, from persecution, freedom from violence and evil, freedom from discrimination and ignorance; liberty that does not fear liberty, liberty that doesn’t interfere with the liberty of others.  You introduced a constitution based on balance, not on force.

Liberty is also the soul of the Jewish heritage.  We didn’t give up our values, even when we were facing furnaces and gas chambers.  We lived as Jews.  We died as Jews.  And we rose again as free Jewish people.  We didn’t survive merely to be a passing shadow in history, but as a new genesis, a startup nation again.
We are faced with the worst of humanity, but also experience the best of humanity.  We shouldn’t forget either of the two.  When we discovered that we were short of land and water, we realized that we had the priceless resource  —  the courageous, undefeatable human spirit.

We invested in knowledge and turned our attention to the ever-growing promise of science.  Unlike land and water, science cannot be conquered by armies or won by wars.  In fact, science can make wars unnecessary.  Science provided Israel with the unexpected economic goals  —  it enabled us to absorb millions of immigrants.  Science enabled us to build an agriculture that is ten times the normal yield.  It enables us to build an effective defense against armies ten times greater than us.  Brave soldiers and sophisticated tools brought us victory in life.

But we remain the people of the book.  Yes, my friends, Israel is the living proof that democracy means progress, science means growth, literature and knowledge means enrichment.  Israel today is an innovating, pluralistic society where Jews, Christians and Muslims live together in peace.  It is not perfect, but it is an example of what may happen in the future.

My friends, we live now in and are now witnessing the departure of one age and the arrival of a new age.  The agricultural age lasted for 10,000 years; the scientific age is still fresh.  Yet in 50 years, the scientific age has achieved more than the 10,000 years of agriculture.  This new age has brought new challenges, new dangers.  It generated a global economy but not a global government.  It gave birth to horrors of global terrorism without global control.

The danger is today concentrated in Iran.  The Iranian people are not our enemies.  It is the present leadership that became a threat.  It turned Iran into a danger to world peace.  It is a leadership that aims to rule the Middle East, spreading terror all over the world.  They are trying to build a nuclear bomb.  They bring darkness to a world longing for light.

It is our responsibility to our own people, to our friends throughout the world, to posterity, that the Iranian threat must be stopped, and it cannot be delayed.

Mr. President, you worked so hard to build a world coalition to meet this immediate threat.  You started, rightly, with economic sanctions.  You made it clear  —  rightly, again  —  that all options are on the table.  Clearly, we support you and your policy.  (Applause.)

Friends, extremists are using the conflict of the Palestinians to cover their true ambitions.  The majority of the people in the Middle East, in my judgment, are tired of war.  In many homes, families still mourn the loss of their loved one.  I believe that peace with the Palestinians is most urgent  —  urgent than ever before.  It is necessary.  It is crucial.  It is possible.  A delay may worsen its chances.

I remember that 19 years ago, on the lawn outside this house, President Clinton  —  dear, Bill  —  initiated the peace process.  Thank you very much.  (Applause.)  Since then, the Israelis and Palestinians have come a long way together.  But still, hard work remains ahead.  Israel and the Palestinians are, in my judgment, ripe today to restart the peace process.  (Applause.)

A firm basis already exists.  A solution of two national states  —  a Jewish state  —  Israel; an Arab state  —  Palestine.  The Palestinians are our closest neighbors.  I believe they may become our closest friends.  (Applause.)  Peace with the Palestinians will open ports of peace all around the Mediterranean.  The duty of leaders is to pursue freedom ceaselessly, even in the face of hostility, in the face of doubt and disappointment.  Just imagine what could be.

Now, a young Arab generation has opened its eyes and stood up against oppression, poverty and corruption.  They seek freedom.  They need freedom.  They understand that freedom begins at home.  I pray for their success.  I believe that their success may become the success of all of us.

So, President, my vision is an Israel living in full, genuine peace, joining with all the people in the Middle East  —  former enemies, new friends alike; Jerusalem becoming the capital of peace; an Israel that is a scientific center open to all, serving all without discrimination; a green Israel, an increasingly green Middle East.

My vision is an Israel whose moral code is old as the Ten Commandments tablets, and whose imagination as new as the digital tablets as well.  (Applause.)  Together, our old and modern vision can help bring tikkun olam.  Mr. President, that’s a better world.  It will take a long time before we shall achieve it and become satisfied, as you have said.  I believe that in the coming decade, Israel will be a center of the latest development in brain research.  As the secrets of the human brain are being revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong.

By the way, I am also extremely optimistic about the United States of America.  You are going to be the real greatest source of energy in our time.  You are introducing a new industry, which is not mass production but individual production.  It’s a new revolution.  And you put again science on top of your agenda.

I believe in the coming decade, Israel will be also a center of the latest developments in brain research.  As the secret of the human brain are revealed, people may improve their capacity to choose between right and wrong.  And absent of a global government  — government can contribute to world peace.

Dear friends, my greatest hope is that a dawn will arise when every man and women  —  Israeli or Palestinian, Syrian or Lebanese, young people wherever they are  —  will wake up in the morning and be able to say to themselves, I am free to be free.  Amen.  (Applause.)  

Jewish American Heritage Month Reception at White House

President Barack Obama hosted the annual Jewish American Heritage Month celebration at the White House to honor and celebrate the Jewish community’s contributions to America. Obama welcomed everyone to the celebration by remarking upon the Jewish community’s long and important history of civic involvement. 400 Jewish leaders from across the nation attended. A partial guest list follows the jump below.

Remarks by President Barack Obama
White House, East Room, May 30, 2012

This year, we celebrate Jewish Heritage Month — Jewish American Heritage Month, and we’re also commemorating an important anniversary.  One hundred-fifty years ago, General Ulysses Grant issued an order — known as General Orders Number 11 — that would have expelled Jews, “as a class,” from what was then known as the military department of the Tennessee.  It was wrong.  Even if it was 1862, even if official acts of anti-Semitism were all too common around the world, it was wrong and indicative of an ugly strain of thought.

But what happened next could have only taken place in America. Groups of American Jews protested General Grant’s decision.  A Jewish merchant from Kentucky traveled here, to the White House, and met with President Lincoln in person.  After their meeting, President Lincoln revoked the order — one more reason why we like President Lincoln.  (Laughter and applause.)

And to General Grant’s credit, he recognized that he had made a serious mistake.  So later in his life, he apologized for this order, and as President, he went out of his way to appoint Jews to public office and to condemn the persecution of Jews in Eastern Europe.

Today, we have a few documents on display — maybe some of you saw them when you walked in.  There are two letters of protest from Jewish organizations to President Lincoln.  There is President Lincoln’s handwritten reply, saying that he had taken action.  And there is a receipt for the donation that President Grant made to the Adas Israel Synagogue here in Washington, when he attended a service there in 1876.

So together, these papers tell a story, a fundamentally American story.  Like so many groups, Jews have had to fight for their piece of the American dream.  But this country holds a special promise:  that if we stand up for the traditions we believe in and in the values we share, then our wrongs can be made right; our union can be made more perfect and our world can be repaired.

Today, it’s our turn, our generation’s turn.  And you guys, your generation’s turn.  You’re younger than us.  (Laughter.)  We got some later generations here in the front.  We’re the ones who have to stand up for our shared values.   Here at home, we have to rebuild an America where everybody gets a fair shot, and everybody is doing their fair share, and everybody is playing by the same rules.

Beyond our borders, we have to stand alongside our friends who share our commitment to freedom and democracy and universal rights; and that includes, of course, our unwavering commitment to the State of Israel and its security and the pursuit of a just and lasting peace.  (Applause.)

It’s no secret that we’ve got a lot of work to do.  But as your traditions teach us, while we are not obligated to finish the work, neither are we free to desist from that work.

So today, we don’t just celebrate all that American Jews have done for our country; we also look toward the future.  And as we do, I know that those of you in this room, but folks all across this country will continue to help perfect our union; and for that, I am extraordinarily grateful.

God bless you.  God bless America.  (Applause.)

Guest list follows the jump.
More after the jump.
Partial Guest List

  • Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park
  • Rabbi Eric Yanoff of Adath Israel in Merion Station
  • Rabbi David Ackerman of Beth Am Israel in Penn Valley
  • Representative Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)
  • NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley
  • NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris
  • Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren
  • Democratic National Committee Chair Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL)
  • Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Representative Shelley Berkley (D-NV)
  • Representative Howard Berman (D-CA)
  • Representative David Cicilline (D-RI)
  • Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN)
  • Representative Susan Davis (D-CA)
  • Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL)
  • Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY)
  • Representative Sander Levin (D-MI)
  • Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY)
  • Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY)
  • Representative Jarrod Polis (D-CO)
  • Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
  • Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA)

All People Deserve Respect


— by David Street

Yesterday, President Barack Obama joined with the sweeping majority of American Jews in supporting marriage equality for all Americans. Leading Jewish organizations including the NJDC lauded the President’s show of support.

“To put it plainly, the vast majority of American Jews are behind the President in support of marriage equality,” commented NJDC President and CEO David A. Harris. “In recent decades, many of our community’s mainstream institutions have worked to welcome and include gays and lesbians-to the point where it is now a widely accepted norm, with certain Jewish clergy routinely performing same-sex marriages. But perhaps most notably, the recent poll released by the Public Religion Research institute found that at least 81% of American Jews support marriage equality — showing that grassroots American Jewry, our communal institutions, and now the President are united on this important civil rights issue.”

A roundup of their statements appears below.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We enthusiastically welcome President Obama’s endorsement today of marriage equality for all couples. History will regard his affirmation of this core right for the LGBT community as a key moment in the advance of civil rights in America. … Civil marriage has historically connoted social acceptance and the recognition of not just a legal relationship between two individuals, but as the Supreme Court has recognized, is ‘the most important relation in life’ (Maynard v. Hill); it is ‘a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred’ (Griswold v. Connecticut). These rights are due no less to same sex couples than heterosexual ones, as the President’s comments today acknowledge….

The support of the President on this issue is particularly meaningful to us as Jews. Our holy texts teach us that all people are created b’tselem Elohim (in the Divine image) (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. We are inspired by our faith and history to stand up for the rights of LGBT Americans, including civil marriage, for we have known the experience of being victims of group hatred, persecution, and discrimination. We feel a keen empathy for those who are still be victimized, deprived of opportunities, and discriminated against because of who they are.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

We are gratified to know that President Obama has said publicly what so many of us have known for some time — that civil marriage is a basic civil right. It should not be denied to anyone.  We stand firm in our belief that civil marriage, which is not bound by halacha [Jewish law] but conveys many civil rights and privileges, should be open to all. That comes from our belief that human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim — in God’s image — and therefore have an inherent dignity.

Keshet, which works to “ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Jews are fully included in all parts of the Jewish community” sent the tweet on the right.

More reactions after the jump.
Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America, said:

Hadassah commends President Obama for taking an important step today in showing his commitment to and respect for the LGBT community. Hadassah has long supported LGBT rights, and we firmly believe that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans are treated equally and have equal access to the same rights. Hadassah is committed to the preservation of rights for all people and vigorously condemns discrimination of any kind. As Zionists, Hadassah members understand the dangers of bigotry.

National Council of Jewish Women CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said:

NCJW hails President Obama’s decision to express his personal support for same-sex marriage. NCJW has been a staunch supporter of marriage equality and we happily welcome the president to this fight for fundamental human rights at this important time. While setbacks such as the lamentable vote yesterday in North   Carolina are unfortunate, we firmly believe that supporters of marriage equality are on the right side of history. NCJW is proud to work with the President of the United States to ensure that gays and lesbians are protected equally under the law and are treated with the dignity they deserve.

The National Jewish Democratic Council‘s Chair Marc R. Stanley said:

On behalf of NJDC’s board, staff, and membership, I am pleased that the President has made a decisive statement in support of marriage equality. From working to end the discriminatory ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy to ending the Federal Government’s defense of the unjust Defense of Marriage Act, this President has demonstrated an unmatched record of progress in favor of equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. President Obama has admirably continued to demonstrate the values of tikkun olam in his work to make America a better place for all Americans. I am truly proud of President Obama and know that so many others in the Jewish community share my feelings.

Bend the Arc

: A Partnership for Justice’s Alan van Capelle said:

Tonight when I go home and look at my six month old son it will be the first time I will be able to tell him that our president believes we are a family. For many Americans, this is a political issue. For millions more, it’s deeply personal.

I applaud President Obama for coming out in support of marriage equality. Today, he showed himself as a leader who is in step with a majority of Americans, and millions of people of faith all over this country who support the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, including 76 percent of American Jews.

Haaretz reported that Israeli LGBT leaders lauded the President’s statement of support:

Irit Rosenblum, founder and CEO of the organization New Family, called the move extremely important. ‘It is a huge step for the enlightened world that the strongest leader publicly recognizes the new family. In doing so, he is obviously posing a challenge to the world’s religious public. I think that this is certainly a very brave act. He is creating the necessary world balance. At a time when it seems the world is becoming increasingly fundamentalist and conservative, this is a liberal point of light.’

According to New Family, there are currently some 18,000 same-sex families living in Israel. Some 4,500 children are being raising in same-sex families, and that number has risen significantly in recent years….

Itay Pinkas, chairman of Tel Aviv’s gay community center, also joined in praising Obama, Pinkas further criticized the situation of the LGBT community in Israel. ‘The only two leaders to bring up the rights of the community in a congressional speech were Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu. Obama spoke of the importance of equality during his inauguration speech…he is one of the heads of state most supportive of equality for all citizens.’

Jay Michaelson explained Three Reasons Obama’s Right on Gay Marriage in The Forward:

First is the ‘who.’ Obama’s support of same-sex marriage signals that he’s not going to let a noisy religious minority dictate public policy. This is important for all religious minorities, including the Jewish one, because that same group of angry fundamentalists wants to Christianize America, support the radical settler-fringe in Israel against Israel’s own best interests (as reflected by the mainstream of Israeli public opinion), and erode the separation of church and state. … If American Jews care about maintaining our religious freedom, we must not allow sectarian religious values to dictate public policy. Period.

Second is the ‘what.’ Obama’s statement brings him in line not just with 55% of the American public, as revealed in a recent Gallup poll, but with the overwhelming majority of non-fundamentalist religious people as well….

Most American Jews …  know that the two obscure and unclear verses in Leviticus may be interpreted in any number of ways. And we know that the core values of our religious and social traditions are upheld, not undermined, by interpreting them narrowly, such that they apply to virtually no LGBT people today.

Which brings me to my third point, which is the religious nature of Obama’s statement itself. What the President said today means little as a statement of public policy since it has little impact ‘on the ground.’ It means more as an expression of personal conviction and conscience. What he said was that, over time, he has seen the truth of same-sex couples: that they are as capable of commitment, love, and sanctity of opposite-sex ones; and that it is an injustice to deny the benefits of marriage to gay people. Those are religious values, expressed in a personal way. It demonstrates the growth of individual conscience: he used to feel one way, but over time, in a careful and long process of discernment, he has now come to feel a different way….

Obama’s statement is thus a model for how all of us ought to evolve on issues of values and society. We grow as human beings by a combination of humility and courage: humility in the face of what we do not know, and courage to take a stand and change our minds. If that’s not a Jewish value, I don’t know what is.

State of the Union Address: A Ringing Endorsement of Jewish Values

— by Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

We thank President Barack Obama for the clear and positive vision he laid out this evening in his State of the Union address — an address that showcased a ringing endorsement of Jewish values.

American Jews are as concerned as all other Americans with our economy and jobs; the President’s plan to ensure that America’s is an “economy built to last,” and the steps he’s proposed regarding making taxes less regressive and ensuring shared responsibility, will ring true to the vast majority of American Jews. Similarly his direct discussion of wanting to sign comprehensive immigration reform, helping students to afford higher education and broadly prioritizing education speaks to the priorities of American Jews — and to most Americans. This President’s commitment to continue keeping Americans safe through common-sense regulations — be it in the field of health, safety, on Wall Street or elsewhere — is more crucial now than ever before as well.

On two foreign policy issues of special concern to the American Jewish community — Israel and Iran — President Obama’s words tonight speak volumes. The President rightly observed that

a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.

Indeed Iran’s leaders are more isolated than ever before, and this President’s leadership on isolating Iran is already achieving results. His clarion words on this core issue of our day

Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal

was a powerful statement on the world’s stage. Similarly, his reminder regarding his strong leadership surrounding the U.S.-Israel relationship, in which he noted that

Our iron-clad commitment to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history,

was both important and deeply appreciated in this address.

Throughout this State of the Union, one common thread was consistent; the reflection of the policy concerns of the vast majority of American Jews. We thank and congratulate the President for this positive, proactive approach to addressing those concerns in tonight’s State of the Union Address.

Complete transcript after the jump.
Remarks by the President Barack Obama in his 2012 State of the Union Address

United States Capitol, Washington, D.C., 9:10 P.M., January 24, 2012

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow Americans:

Last month, I went to Andrews Air Force Base and welcomed home some of our last troops to serve in Iraq.  Together, we offered a final, proud salute to the colors under which more than a million of our fellow citizens fought — and several thousand gave their lives.

We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world.  (Applause.)  For the first time in nine years, there are no Americans fighting in Iraq.  (Applause.)  For the first time in two decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to this country.  (Applause.)  Most of al Qaeda’s top lieutenants have been defeated.  The Taliban’s momentum has been broken, and some troops in Afghanistan have begun to come home.

These achievements are a testament to the courage, selflessness and teamwork of America’s Armed Forces.  At a time when too many of our institutions have let us down, they exceed all expectations.  They’re not consumed with personal ambition.  They don’t obsess over their differences.  They focus on the mission at hand.  They work together.

Imagine what we could accomplish if we followed their example.  (Applause.)  Think about the America within our reach:  A country that leads the world in educating its people.  An America that attracts a new generation of high-tech manufacturing and high-paying jobs.  A future where we’re in control of our own energy, and our security and prosperity aren’t so tied to unstable parts of the world.  An economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded.

We can do this.  I know we can, because we’ve done it before.  At the end of World War II, when another generation of heroes returned home from combat, they built the strongest economy and middle class the world has ever known.  (Applause.)  My grandfather, a veteran of Patton’s Army, got the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.  My grandmother, who worked on a bomber assembly line, was part of a workforce that turned out the best products on Earth.

The two of them shared the optimism of a nation that had triumphed over a depression and fascism.  They understood they were part of something larger; that they were contributing to a story of success that every American had a chance to share — the basic American promise that if you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement.

The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive.  No challenge is more urgent.  No debate is more important.  We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  (Applause.)  What’s at stake aren’t Democratic values or Republican values, but American values.  And we have to reclaim them.

Let’s remember how we got here.  Long before the recession, jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores.  Technology made businesses more efficient, but also made some jobs obsolete.  Folks at the top saw their incomes rise like never before, but most hardworking Americans struggled with costs that were growing, paychecks that weren’t, and personal debt that kept piling up.

In 2008, the house of cards collapsed.  We learned that mortgages had been sold to people who couldn’t afford or understand them.  Banks had made huge bets and bonuses with other people’s money.  Regulators had looked the other way, or didn’t have the authority to stop the bad behavior.

It was wrong.  It was irresponsible.  And it plunged our economy into a crisis that put millions out of work, saddled us with more debt, and left innocent, hardworking Americans holding the bag.  In the six months before I took office, we lost nearly 4 million jobs.  And we lost another 4 million before our policies were in full effect.

Those are the facts.  But so are these:  In the last 22 months, businesses have created more than 3 million jobs.  (Applause.)

Last year, they created the most jobs since 2005.  American manufacturers are hiring again, creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s.  Together, we’ve agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion.  And we’ve put in place new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again.  (Applause.)

The state of our Union is getting stronger.  And we’ve come too far to turn back now.  As long as I’m President, I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum.  But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.  (Applause.)  

No, we will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits.  Tonight, I want to speak about how we move forward, and lay out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last — an economy built on American manufacturing, American energy, skills for American workers, and a renewal of American values.

Now, this blueprint begins with American manufacturing.

On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse.  Some even said we should let it die.  With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen.  In exchange for help, we demanded responsibility.  We got workers and automakers to settle their differences.  We got the industry to retool and restructure.  Today, General Motors is back on top as the world’s number-one automaker.  (Applause.)  Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company.  Ford is investing billions in U.S. plants and factories.  And together, the entire industry added nearly 160,000 jobs.  

We bet on American workers.  We bet on American ingenuity.  And tonight, the American auto industry is back.  (Applause.)  

What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries.  It can happen in Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Raleigh.  We can’t bring every job back that’s left our shore.  But right now, it’s getting more expensive to do business in places like China.  Meanwhile, America is more productive.  A few weeks ago, the CEO of Master Lock told me that it now makes business sense for him to bring jobs back home.  (Applause.)  Today, for the first time in 15 years, Master Lock’s unionized plant in Milwaukee is running at full capacity.  (Applause.)  

So we have a huge opportunity, at this moment, to bring manufacturing back.  But we have to seize it.  Tonight, my message to business leaders is simple:  Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed.  (Applause.)  

We should start with our tax code.  Right now, companies get tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas.  Meanwhile, companies that choose to stay in America get hit with one of the highest tax rates in the world.  It makes no sense, and everyone knows it.  So let’s change it.

First, if you’re a business that wants to outsource jobs, you shouldn’t get a tax deduction for doing it.  (Applause.)  That money should be used to cover moving expenses for companies like Master Lock that decide to bring jobs home.  (Applause.)  

Second, no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas.  (Applause.)  From now on, every multinational company should have to pay a basic minimum tax.  And every penny should go towards lowering taxes for companies that choose to stay here and hire here in America.  (Applause.)    

Third, if you’re an American manufacturer, you should get a bigger tax cut.  If you’re a high-tech manufacturer, we should double the tax deduction you get for making your products here.  And if you want to relocate in a community that was hit hard when a factory left town, you should get help financing a new plant, equipment, or training for new workers.  (Applause.)  

So my message is simple.  It is time to stop rewarding businesses that ship jobs overseas, and start rewarding companies that create jobs right here in America.  Send me these tax reforms, and I will sign them right away.  (Applause.)    

We’re also making it easier for American businesses to sell products all over the world.  Two years ago, I set a goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years.  With the bipartisan trade agreements we signed into law, we’re on track to meet that goal ahead of schedule.  (Applause.)  And soon, there will be millions of new customers for American goods in Panama, Colombia, and South Korea.  Soon, there will be new cars on the streets of Seoul imported from Detroit, and Toledo, and Chicago.  (Applause.)    

I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products.  And I will not stand by when our competitors don’t play by the rules.  We’ve brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration — and it’s made a difference.  (Applause.)  Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires.  But we need to do more.  It’s not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated.  It’s not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they’re heavily subsidized.

Tonight, I’m announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trading practices in countries like China.  (Applause.)  There will be more inspections to prevent counterfeit or unsafe goods from crossing our borders.  And this Congress should make sure that no foreign company has an advantage over American manufacturing when it comes to accessing financing or new markets like Russia.  Our workers are the most productive on Earth, and if the playing field is level, I promise you — America will always win.  (Applause.)

I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can’t find workers with the right skills.  Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job.  Think about that — openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work.  It’s inexcusable.  And we know how to fix it.  

Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic.  Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College.  The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training.  It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.  Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.  (Applause.)  My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help.  Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running.  Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers — places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

And I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that from now on, people like Jackie have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need.  It is time to turn our unemployment system into a reemployment system that puts people to work.  (Applause.)

These reforms will help people get jobs that are open today.  But to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow, our commitment to skills and education has to start earlier.

For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning — the first time that’s happened in a generation.

But challenges remain.  And we know how to solve them.

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to lay off thousands of teachers.  We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance.  Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.  Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies — just to make a difference.

Teachers matter.  So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal.  Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.  (Applause.)  And in return, grant schools flexibility:  to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.  That’s a bargain worth making.  (Applause.)

We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.  (Applause.)

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college.  At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.  (Applause.)

Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves millions of middle-class families thousands of dollars, and give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.  (Applause.)

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid.  We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money.  States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.

Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that.  Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly.  Some use better technology.  The point is, it’s possible.  So let me put colleges and universities on notice:  If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.  (Applause.)  Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

Let’s also remember that hundreds of thousands of talented, hardworking students in this country face another challenge:  the fact that they aren’t yet American citizens.  Many were brought here as small children, are American through and through, yet they live every day with the threat of deportation.  Others came more recently, to study business and science and engineering, but as soon as they get their degree, we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.

That doesn’t make sense.  

I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration.  That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before.  That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office.  The opponents of action are out of excuses.  We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.  (Applause.)

But if election-year politics keeps Congress from acting on a comprehensive plan, let’s at least agree to stop expelling responsible young people who want to staff our labs, start new businesses, defend this country.  Send me a law that gives them the chance to earn their citizenship.  I will sign it right away.  (Applause.)

You see, an economy built to last is one where we encourage the talent and ingenuity of every person in this country.  That means women should earn equal pay for equal work.  (Applause.)  It means we should support everyone who’s willing to work, and every risk-taker and entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs.  

After all, innovation is what America has always been about.  Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses.  So let’s pass an agenda that helps them succeed.  Tear down regulations that prevent aspiring entrepreneurs from getting the financing to grow.  (Applause.)  Expand tax relief to small businesses that are raising wages and creating good jobs.  Both parties agree on these ideas.  So put them in a bill, and get it on my desk this year.  (Applause.)

Innovation also demands basic research.  Today, the discoveries taking place in our federally financed labs and universities could lead to new treatments that kill cancer cells but leave healthy ones untouched.  New lightweight vests for cops and soldiers that can stop any bullet.  Don’t gut these investments in our budget.  Don’t let other countries win the race for the future.  Support the same kind of research and innovation that led to the computer chip and the Internet; to new American jobs and new American industries.

And nowhere is the promise of innovation greater than in American-made energy.  Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.  (Applause.)  Right now — right now — American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years.  That’s right — eight years.  Not only that — last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the past 16 years.  (Applause.)

But with only 2 percent of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough.  This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.  (Applause.)  A strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs.

We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years.  (Applause.)  And my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy.  Experts believe this will support more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.  And I’m requiring all companies that drill for gas on public lands to disclose the chemicals they use.  (Applause.)  Because America will develop this resource without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.

The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.  (Applause.)  And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock — reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.  (Applause.)          
Now, what’s true for natural gas is just as true for clean energy.  In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries.  Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled, and thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.

When Bryan Ritterby was laid off from his job making furniture, he said he worried that at 55, no one would give him a second chance.  But he found work at Energetx, a wind turbine manufacturer in Michigan.  Before the recession, the factory only made luxury yachts.  Today, it’s hiring workers like Bryan, who said, “I’m proud to be working in the industry of the future.”

Our experience with shale gas, our experience with natural gas, shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don’t always come right away.  Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail.  But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy.  I will not walk away from workers like Bryan.  (Applause.)  I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.

We’ve subsidized oil companies for a century.  That’s long enough.  (Applause.)  It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that rarely has been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that never has been more promising.  Pass clean energy tax credits.  Create these jobs.  (Applause.)

We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives.  The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.  But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.  So far, you haven’t acted.  Well, tonight, I will.  I’m directing my administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power 3 million homes.  And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, working with us, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history — with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.  (Applause.)

Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy.  So here’s a proposal:  Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings.  Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, more jobs for construction workers who need them.  Send me a bill that creates these jobs.  (Applause.)  

Building this new energy future should be just one part of a broader agenda to repair America’s infrastructure.  So much of America needs to be rebuilt.  We’ve got crumbling roads and bridges; a power grid that wastes too much energy; an incomplete high-speed broadband network that prevents a small business owner in rural America from selling her products all over the world.

During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge.  After World War II, we connected our states with a system of highways.  Democratic and Republican administrations invested in great projects that benefited everybody, from the workers who built them to the businesses that still use them today.

In the next few weeks, I will sign an executive order clearing away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects.  But you need to fund these projects.  Take the money we’re no longer spending at war, use half of it to pay down our debt, and use the rest to do some nation-building right here at home.  (Applause.)

There’s never been a better time to build, especially since the construction industry was one of the hardest hit when the housing bubble burst.  Of course, construction workers weren’t the only ones who were hurt.  So were millions of innocent Americans who’ve seen their home values decline.  And while government can’t fix the problem on its own, responsible homeowners shouldn’t have to sit and wait for the housing market to hit bottom to get some relief.  

And that’s why I’m sending this Congress a plan that gives every responsible homeowner the chance to save about $3,000 a year on their mortgage, by refinancing at historically low rates.  (Applause.)  No more red tape.  No more runaround from the banks.  A small fee on the largest financial institutions will ensure that it won’t add to the deficit and will give those banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust.  (Applause.)

Let’s never forget:  Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that do the same.  It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom.  No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.  An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.

We’ve all paid the price for lenders who sold mortgages to people who couldn’t afford them, and buyers who knew they couldn’t afford them.  That’s why we need smart regulations to prevent irresponsible behavior.  (Applause.)  Rules to prevent financial fraud or toxic dumping or faulty medical devices — these don’t destroy the free market.  They make the free market work better.

There’s no question that some regulations are outdated, unnecessary, or too costly.  In fact, I’ve approved fewer regulations in the first three years of my presidency than my Republican predecessor did in his.  (Applause.)  I’ve ordered every federal agency to eliminate rules that don’t make sense.  We’ve already announced over 500 reforms, and just a fraction of them will save business and citizens more than $10 billion over the next five years.  We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill — because milk was somehow classified as an oil.  With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk.  (Laughter and applause.)

Now, I’m confident a farmer can contain a milk spill without a federal agency looking over his shoulder.  (Applause.)  Absolutely.  But I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago.  (Applause.)  I will not back down from protecting our kids from mercury poisoning, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.  I will not go back to the days when health insurance companies had unchecked power to cancel your policy, deny your coverage, or charge women differently than men.  (Applause.)

And I will not go back to the days when Wall Street was allowed to play by its own set of rules.  The new rules we passed restore what should be any financial system’s core purpose:  Getting funding to entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and getting loans to responsible families who want to buy a home, or start a business, or send their kids to college.

So if you are a big bank or financial institution, you’re no longer allowed to make risky bets with your customers’ deposits.  You’re required to write out a “living will” that details exactly how you’ll pay the bills if you fail — because the rest of us are not bailing you out ever again.  (Applause.)  And if you’re a mortgage lender or a payday lender or a credit card company, the days of signing people up for products they can’t afford with confusing forms and deceptive practices — those days are over.  Today, American consumers finally have a watchdog in Richard Cordray with one job:  To look out for them.  (Applause.)  

We’ll also establish a Financial Crimes Unit of highly trained investigators to crack down on large-scale fraud and protect people’s investments.  Some financial firms violate major anti-fraud laws because there’s no real penalty for being a repeat offender.  That’s bad for consumers, and it’s bad for the vast majority of bankers and financial service professionals who do the right thing.  So pass legislation that makes the penalties for fraud count.

And tonight, I’m asking my Attorney General to create a special unit of federal prosecutors and leading state attorney general to expand our investigations into the abusive lending and packaging of risky mortgages that led to the housing crisis.  (Applause.)  This new unit will hold accountable those who broke the law, speed assistance to homeowners, and help turn the page on an era of recklessness that hurt so many Americans.

Now, a return to the American values of fair play and shared responsibility will help protect our people and our economy.  But it should also guide us as we look to pay down our debt and invest in our future.

Right now, our most immediate priority is stopping a tax hike on 160 million working Americans while the recovery is still fragile.  (Applause.)  People cannot afford losing $40 out of each paycheck this year.  There are plenty of ways to get this done.  So let’s agree right here, right now:  No side issues.  No drama.  Pass the payroll tax cut without delay.  Let’s get it done.  (Applause.)

When it comes to the deficit, we’ve already agreed to more than $2 trillion in cuts and savings.  But we need to do more, and that means making choices.  Right now, we’re poised to spend nearly $1 trillion more on what was supposed to be a temporary tax break for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.  Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households.  Right now, Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.  

Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans?  Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else — like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans?  Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both.  

The American people know what the right choice is.  So do I.  As I told the Speaker this summer, I’m prepared to make more reforms that rein in the long-term costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and strengthen Social Security, so long as those programs remain a guarantee of security for seniors.

But in return, we need to change our tax code so that people like me, and an awful lot of members of Congress, pay our fair share of taxes.  (Applause.)

Tax reform should follow the Buffett Rule.  If you make more than $1 million a year, you should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes.  And my Republican friend Tom Coburn is right:  Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires.  In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions.  On the other hand, if you make under $250,000 a year, like 98 percent of American families, your taxes shouldn’t go up.  (Applause.)  You’re the ones struggling with rising costs and stagnant wages.  You’re the ones who need relief.  

Now, you can call this class warfare all you want.  But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes?  Most Americans would call that common sense.

We don’t begrudge financial success in this country.  We admire it.  When Americans talk about folks like me paying my fair share of taxes, it’s not because they envy the rich.  It’s because they understand that when I get a tax break I don’t need and the country can’t afford, it either adds to the deficit, or somebody else has to make up the difference — like a senior on a fixed income, or a student trying to get through school, or a family trying to make ends meet.  That’s not right.  Americans know that’s not right.  They know that this generation’s success is only possible because past generations felt a responsibility to each other, and to the future of their country, and they know our way of life will only endure if we feel that same sense of shared responsibility.  That’s how we’ll reduce our deficit.  That’s an America built to last.  (Applause.)

Now, I recognize that people watching tonight have differing views about taxes and debt, energy and health care.  But no matter what party they belong to, I bet most Americans are thinking the same thing right about now:  Nothing will get done in Washington this year, or next year, or maybe even the year after that, because Washington is broken.

Can you blame them for feeling a little cynical?

The greatest blow to our confidence in our economy last year didn’t come from events beyond our control.  It came from a debate in Washington over whether the United States would pay its bills or not.  Who benefited from that fiasco?

I’ve talked tonight about the deficit of trust between Main Street and Wall Street.  But the divide between this city and the rest of the country is at least as bad — and it seems to get worse every year.

Some of this has to do with the corrosive influence of money in politics.  So together, let’s take some steps to fix that.  Send me a bill that bans insider trading by members of Congress; I will sign it tomorrow.  (Applause.)  Let’s limit any elected official from owning stocks in industries they impact.  Let’s make sure people who bundle campaign contributions for Congress can’t lobby Congress, and vice versa — an idea that has bipartisan support, at least outside of Washington.

Some of what’s broken has to do with the way Congress does its business these days.  A simple majority is no longer enough to get anything — even routine business — passed through the Senate.  (Applause.)  Neither party has been blameless in these tactics.  Now both parties should put an end to it.  (Applause.)  For starters, I ask the Senate to pass a simple rule that all judicial and public service nominations receive a simple up or down vote within 90 days.  (Applause.)  

The executive branch also needs to change.  Too often, it’s inefficient, outdated and remote.  (Applause.)  That’s why I’ve asked this Congress to grant me the authority to consolidate the federal bureaucracy, so that our government is leaner, quicker, and more responsive to the needs of the American people.  (Applause.)  

Finally, none of this can happen unless we also lower the temperature in this town.  We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common-sense ideas.

I’m a Democrat.  But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed:  That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.  (Applause.)  That’s why my education reform offers more competition, and more control for schools and states.  That’s why we’re getting rid of regulations that don’t work.  That’s why our health care law relies on a reformed private market, not a government program.

On the other hand, even my Republican friends who complain the most about government spending have supported federally financed roads, and clean energy projects, and federal offices for the folks back home.

The point is, we should all want a smarter, more effective government.  And while we may not be able to bridge our biggest philosophical differences this year, we can make real progress.  With or without this Congress, I will keep taking actions that help the economy grow.  But I can do a whole lot more with your help.  Because when we act together, there’s nothing the United States of America can’t achieve.  (Applause.)  That’s the lesson we’ve learned from our actions abroad over the last few years.

Ending the Iraq war has allowed us to strike decisive blows against our enemies.  From Pakistan to Yemen, the al Qaeda operatives who remain are scrambling, knowing that they can’t escape the reach of the United States of America.  (Applause.)

From this position of strength, we’ve begun to wind down the war in Afghanistan.  Ten thousand of our troops have come home.  Twenty-three thousand more will leave by the end of this summer.  This transition to Afghan lead will continue, and we will build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, so that it is never again a source of attacks against America.  (Applause.)

As the tide of war recedes, a wave of change has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli.  A year ago, Qaddafi was one of the world’s longest-serving dictators — a murderer with American blood on his hands.  Today, he is gone.  And in Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.  (Applause.)

How this incredible transformation will end remains uncertain.  But we have a huge stake in the outcome.  And while it’s ultimately up to the people of the region to decide their fate, we will advocate for those values that have served our own country so well.  We will stand against violence and intimidation.  We will stand for the rights and dignity of all human beings — men and women; Christians, Muslims and Jews.  We will support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests.  Look at Iran.  Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one.  The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.

Let there be no doubt:  America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.  (Applause.)

But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.

The renewal of American leadership can be felt across the globe.  Our oldest alliances in Europe and Asia are stronger than ever.  Our ties to the Americas are deeper.  Our ironclad commitment — and I mean ironclad — to Israel’s security has meant the closest military cooperation between our two countries in history.  (Applause.)

We’ve made it clear that America is a Pacific power, and a new beginning in Burma has lit a new hope.  From the coalitions we’ve built to secure nuclear materials, to the missions we’ve led against hunger and disease; from the blows we’ve dealt to our enemies, to the enduring power of our moral example, America is back.

Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.  (Applause.)

That’s not the message we get from leaders around the world who are eager to work with us.  That’s not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin, from Cape Town to Rio, where opinions of America are higher than they’ve been in years.  Yes, the world is changing.  No, we can’t control every event.  But America remains the one indispensable nation in world affairs — and as long as I’m President, I intend to keep it that way.  (Applause.)  

That’s why, working with our military leaders, I’ve proposed a new defense strategy that ensures we maintain the finest military in the world, while saving nearly half a trillion dollars in our budget.  To stay one step ahead of our adversaries, I’ve already sent this Congress legislation that will secure our country from the growing dangers of cyber-threats.  (Applause.)

Above all, our freedom endures because of the men and women in uniform who defend it.  (Applause.)  As they come home, we must serve them as well as they’ve served us.  That includes giving them the care and the benefits they have earned — which is why we’ve increased annual VA spending every year I’ve been President.  (Applause.)  And it means enlisting our veterans in the work of rebuilding our nation.

With the bipartisan support of this Congress, we’re providing new tax credits to companies that hire vets.  Michelle and Jill Biden have worked with American businesses to secure a pledge of 135,000 jobs for veterans and their families.  And tonight, I’m proposing a Veterans Jobs Corps that will help our communities hire veterans as cops and firefighters, so that America is as strong as those who defend her.  (Applause.)

Which brings me back to where I began.  Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn a thing or two from the service of our troops.  When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian, Latino, Native American; conservative, liberal; rich, poor; gay, straight.  When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails.  When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one nation, leaving no one behind.

One of my proudest possessions is the flag that the SEAL Team took with them on the mission to get bin Laden.  On it are each of their names.  Some may be Democrats.  Some may be Republicans.  But that doesn’t matter.  Just like it didn’t matter that day in the Situation Room, when I sat next to Bob Gates — a man who was George Bush’s defense secretary — and Hillary Clinton — a woman who ran against me for president.

All that mattered that day was the mission.  No one thought about politics.  No one thought about themselves.  One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission.  It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job — the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs.  More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s somebody behind you, watching your back.

So it is with America.  Each time I look at that flag, I’m reminded that our destiny is stitched together like those 50 stars and those 13 stripes.  No one built this country on their own.  This nation is great because we built it together.  This nation is great because we worked as a team.  This nation is great because we get each other’s backs.  And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great; no mission too hard.  As long as we are joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, and our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.  (Applause.)

Gabby Giffords Resigns From Congress

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ): Arizona is my home, always will be. A lot has happened over the past year. We cannot change that. But I know on the issues we fought for we can change things for the better. Jobs, border security, veterans. We can do so much more by working together. I don’t remember much from that horrible day, but I will never forget the trust you placed in me to be your voice. Thank you for your prayers and for giving me time to recover. I have more work to do on my recovery so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week. I’m getting better. Every day, my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much.”

Reaction from NJDC after the jump.
 The National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) reacted today to the news that Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) will be stepping down from her seat in Congress representing Arizona’s Eighth District. NJDC Chair Marc R. Stanley and Vice-Chair Marc Winkelman said:

“We are so tremendously proud of the remarkable determination and resiliency that Gabby has shown in her amazing recovery; indeed all Americans have watched in awe as she has taken her first steps and grown stronger and stronger. While we have all eagerly hoped for the day that Gabby would rejoin her colleagues on a daily basis on Capitol Hill, it’s a sign of how highly she values her constituents and her district that she has made this very difficult decision to step aside. We thank Gabby for her more than ten years of public service representing Arizona’s needs and progressive values — first in the Arizona legislature and then in Congress since 2007. We wish her continued quick healing on her path to recovery, and we look forward to the occasion when we can welcome her back to public life.”