The violence in Syria rages on, provoking questions in the briefing room about why the U.S. and its allies aren't doing more to help. Plus, what do three presidents talk about when they get together?
The violence in Syria rages on, provoking questions in the briefing room about why the U.S. and its allies aren't doing more to help. Plus, what do three presidents talk about when they get together?
President Barack Obama didn’t have too much to say about his personal relationship with Mitt Romney when Jimmy Fallon asked him about it in April.
“I’ve met him, but we’re not friends,” he told the late night talk show host.
That seems clear enough. Before their conversation today, during which Obama congratulated Romney for clinching the Republican nomination, neither seems to have called the other in at least three years.
The last time either publicly mentioned a phone call to the other was in January 2009 when Romney, then a former 2008 candidate, told CNN that president-elect Obama phoned his home shortly after Romney’s wife Ann had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that month.
“He was kind enough to call our home when my wife was ill, and he said that he and Michelle had my wife in their prayers, and I said, Mr. President-elect, Ann and I have you in our prayers. And we do,” Romney said during a “Late Edition” interview on Jan. 4, 2009.
But the two don’t keep each other’s numbers on speed dial.
Reports indicate that before the 2009 phone call, Romney and Obama publicly interacted during a break between ABC’s back-to-back Republican and Democratic debates in Manchester, New Hampshire on Jan. 5, 2008.
As the Republican debate concluded, moderator Charlie Gibson invited the Democratic candidates to join their GOP counterparts onstage for a moment of bipartisan unity.
“Since tonight is unique, and since we have candidates of both parties here, I want to ask all of them to share the stage for a moment, just greet one another, as evidence that in one year, we will all come together to support our new president, someone who will be on this stage,” Gibson said.
He beckoned then-contenders Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and Obama to join the Republican hopefuls: Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Ron Paul, Fred Thompson and Romney.
It wasn’t only in controlled, air-conditioned settings that Obama and Romney met each other, albeit passingly, on the last campaign trail.
There just weren’t enough Labor Day parades for the two of them in September 2007, when they both marched in the small town of Milford, N.H.
A Los Angeles Times reporter on the scene described the meeting between the two “tall, slim, implausibly handsome” candidates: “The two converged in a manly embrace -- Mitt Romney, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, and Barack Obama, Democrat senator from Illinois, both chasing the presidency, both surrounded by the Milford High School fife-and-drum corps.”
And years before they were pounding pavement all over the state, Romney and Obama both gave some not-so-subtle hints about their presidential aspirations at the 2004 Gridiron Club dinner, where they were part of the evening’s entertainment.
Obama joked about his sudden fame after giving the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
“It's like I was shot out of a cannon. I am so overexposed, I make Paris Hilton look like a recluse,” he said.
And Romney made Obama’s stardom one of his punch lines.
“I believe Barack when he says he doesn't seek the limelight. After all, he said it on CNN, MSNBC, 'Dateline,' '20/20,' 'Good Morning America,' and 'Meet the Press,” Romney teased.
Given their timeline of phone calls, maybe they’ll reminisce about that night at the Gridiron in another four - or eight – years.
President Obama hosted Congressional leaders at the White House as the U.S. gets closer to having to raise the debt limit again.
Signs of another debt ceiling fight emerged Wednesday as President Obama hosted Congressional leaders at the White House. Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president warned against another last-minute deal to raise the debt limit, even as House Speaker John Boehner insisted this week on spending cuts equal to or higher than the amount the debt ceiling is raised.
While his immediate audience was the 600-member Barnard College class of 2012, the commencement speech President Obama delivered on Monday was clearly aimed at an even bigger group –- all women voters, an essential voting bloc for his re-election bid.
The president empathized with the all-women class over their professional and personal challenges, including issues like fair pay and access to contraception. He also criticized Congress, spotlighting the ever-popular women in his life and sharing his own personal story.
“As young women, you're also going to grapple with some unique challenges like whether you’ll be able to earn equal pay for equal work. Whether you’ll be able to balance the demands of your job with your family. Whether you’ll be able to fully control decisions about your own health,” the president said.
He suggested that the lives of all Americans are improved when women are afforded those abilities.
“Indeed, we know we are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every aspect of American life, whether it's the salary you earn or the health decisions you make.”
Obama said he had confidence in the graduates because, in a statement that seemed geared more towards his 2008 supporters, he’s seen them “engage and turn out in record numbers.”
“As tough as things have been, I am convinced that you are tougher,” he continued. “I've seen your passion and your service.”
Obama’s re-election chances could very well hinge on whether women turn out and vote for him in November. In 2008, according to the exit polls, the president beat John McCain by seven percentage points among all women. A recent NBC/WSJ poll showed Obama leading presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney among female voters by 12 points.
Obama’s three-pronged advice for the graduating women began with the entreaty to not just get involved but “fight for your seat at the table.”
Alluding to the recent congressional spats over women’s access to contraceptive care, the president suggested that the issue may have been nipped in the bud were more women seated in Capitol Hill offices.
“One reason we're actually re-fighting long-settled battles over women's rights is because women occupy fewer than one in five seats in Congress,” he said. “I'm not saying that the only way to achieve success is by climbing to the top of the corporate ladder or running for office, although -- let's face it -- Congress would get a lot more done if you did,” he continued, as the graduates chuckled.
In urging the graduates to lead by example – his second piece of advice – the president highlighted the women in his life, especially his wife Michelle.
He praised her ability to keep up a career and family, as well as the ability to balance the latter with a political persona.
“The reason Michelle had the strength to juggle everything and put up with me and eventually the public spotlight was because she, too, came from a family of folks who didn't quit,” he said.
And the third bullet point of his advice – perseverance – gave the president an opportunity to relay his own personal story, to which so many voters were drawn during his last campaign.
He shared how his first meeting as a community organizer ended up with no attendees besides a few elderly women looking for the bingo game, and how his band of volunteers may have quit if it hadn’t been for his admonition to forge ahead.
“I said to the volunteers: Before you quit, answer one question. What will happen to those boys if you quit?” he asked, gesturing to some boys aimlessly throwing rocks outside. “Who will fight for them if we don't? Who will give them a fair shot if we leave?”
He added that it was those “small victories” that continued to push him into the “bigger victories of my last three and a half years as president.”
RENO, Nev. – Thursday, it was George’s mansion; Friday it was Val and Paul’s house.
The day after President Barack Obama joked around with movie star George Clooney at a high-dollar dinner, he sat down in Val and Paul Keller’s kitchen to talk about how they reduced their monthly mortgage payments by taking advantage of a program to help responsible homeowners refinance their mortgages.
The trip to Reno – the only official event on an otherwise fundraising-heavy West Coast swing – was meant to highlight the administration’s efforts to expand access to refinancing and to push the president’s five-point Congressional “to-do” list.
Speaking outside the Kellers’ home after meeting with them privately, the president first touted the measures he implemented last fall to help homeowners who are current on their government-sponsored loans but had fallen behind because their homes were underwater (their values dropped below what owners owed on them).
He noted the Kellers were beneficiaries of that program but added that it could only help people with government-sponsored loans, the most the president could do without getting the program passed through Congress.
“We want to include everybody; people whose mortgages aren't government-backed. And in order to do that we've got to have Congress move,” he told a crowd of the Kellers’ neighbors seated outside their home.
Three Democratic-sponsored bills on homeownership will be introduced next week, one of which would help those with non-federal loans to save more money through refinancing, exactly what Obama called for on Friday.
He added that Congress should also remove more regulatory barriers for responsible homeowners, including costs for manual appraisals, which aren’t always necessary to determine whether a homeowner is eligible for refinancing, as well as pass a bill that would give homeowners the option of refinancing into lower monthly payments or funneling those savings into rebuilding equity in their homes.
“There’s absolutely no reason why they can’t make this happen right now. If they started now, in a couple of weeks, in a month, they could make every homeowner in America who is underwater right now eligible to be able to refinance their homes -- if they're making their payments, if they're responsible, if they're doing the right thing.”
The visit to the Keller’s followed two fundraisers in Seattle in addition to the Clooney dinner.
Earlier Friday morning, the president played basketball with Clooney and actor Tobey Maguire. Asked on the rope line who won the game, the president responded, “"As you might expect, George and I won.” But he quickly added, “I think we are all winners ‘cause no one got hurt."
Obama did get hurt in a Nov. 26, 2010, post Thanksgiving basketball game with family and friends. He needed 12 stitches after Rey Decerega, a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute aide, elbowed him in the lip.
SEATTLE, Wash. – He sent shock waves through the political world by announcing his support for same-sex marriage, but President Barack Obama made few references to his shift on the issue during two fundraisers here Thursday.
In fact, the most memorable line from either speech might have been on the economy.
“Sometimes people forget the magnitude of [the recession],” Obama said to 2,000 supporters at the Paramount Theater, his second event of the day. “Sometimes I forget. In the last six months of 2008, while we were campaigning, nearly three million Americans lost their jobs. Eight hundred thousand lost their jobs in the month that I took office. And it was tough. But the American people proved they were tougher,” he said.
The Romney campaign quickly pounced on the president’s suggestion that sometimes he “forgets” about the depths of the economic crisis.
“It’s not surprising that a president who forgot to create jobs, forgot to cut the debt, and forgot to change Washington has now admitted that he’s forgotten about the recession. In fact, it seems that the President has forgotten that he’s been in office for the last three-and-a-half years. In November, the American people won’t forget,” Romney spokesman Andrea Saul said in a statement.
But besides the perhaps inadvertent remark, the president’s Paramount Theater remarks adhered largely to the script he used at his first two campaign events in Ohio and Virginia last weekend.
“You should be able to give your kids the chance to do even better than you, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like, no matter your last name, no matter who you love,” he said there, making general remarks about economic fairness with only a slight allusion to same-sex unions.
Obama also praised the voters of Washington State for voting in a law legalizing same-sex marriage, which takes effect in June but may be challenged on a ballot measure in November.
“Here in Washington you'll have a chance to make your voice heard on the issue of making sure that everybody, regardless of sexual orientation is treated fairly," he said to raucous cheers.
Speaking earlier at an elaborate lakeside home in Seattle, the president focused his remarks on the progress he said his administration has made on the economy since he took office, staying far away from his record on gay rights.
“The good news is we've weathered the storm,” he told a room of about 70 supporters, who had each paid $17,900 to attend the event.
He told the attendees that he preferred to spend most of his time at private events like these answering questions, but the traveling press was escorted out of the home before he began, unable to hear whether any of the guests asked him what prompted to change his mind.
Following his Seattle appearances, the president went to Los Angeles where he spoke at a $40,000-per-person dinner at actor George Clooney’s Studio City home.
Vice President Joe Biden apologized to President Barack Obama for saying he supported same-sex marriage last Sunday on Meet the Press, according to the Vice President's office.
The two spoke in the Oval Office shortly before the president sat down for an ABC News interview in which he also announced his support for same sex couples to marry.
"The President has been the leader on this issue from day one and the Vice President never intended to distract from that," the vice president's press secretary Kendra Barkoff said in a written statement.
In Monday's briefing, Press Secretary Jay Carney sought to explain that Vice President Joe Biden's comments on same-sex marriage did not mean he endorsed the issue nor was the president planning to change his "evolving" position on it anytime soon. Plus, Carney is asked whether President Obama will ask French president-elect to reconsider withdrawing his troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
Vice President Joe Biden's comments on "Meet The Press" that he is "absolutely comfortable" with same sex couples getting married sparked a slew of questions from reporters at Monday's White House press briefing. Press Secretary Carney sought to explain that Biden's comments did not mean he supported the issue, nor did it mean President Obama's "evolving" position on the issue would change any time soon.
While that issue consumed most of the air in the briefing room, Carney also got a few questions on French president-elect Francois Hollande, and whether President Obama would try to convince the new leader not to remove his NATO troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.
In his drop-out speech Wednesday, Newt Gingrich singled out one of the two primary states he won: South Carolina, whose 30-year streak of picking the eventual nominee Gingrich acknowledged he had officially ended.
“I have to thank the voters of South Carolina, and I have to apologize to them,” Gingrich said. “We will have broken their tradition of always picking the nominee. This will make me feel slightly guilty every time we go through South Carolina.”
But Palmetto State experts insist that the first-in-the-south primary state’s importance as an early presidential bellwether remains unchanged – even if the current Republican Party slogan -- “We Pick Presidents” -- is no longer completely accurate.
“Think of it as, if you’re a marketing director for a product, and you have all these slogans to sell your product,” Winthrop University political science professor Scott Huffmon pointed out. “You’ll drop that from your advertising but you’ll still stress everything else.”
He noted that South Carolina would remain the first test of candidates’ strength in the delegate-rich South.
“At last count we have something like 160 Electoral College votes, and you need 270 to win,” Huffmon said. “If you can find a Republican who can appeal to the entire South, and they’ve got almost 60 percent of all the Electoral College votes that they need to become president.”
South Carolina can still sell its primary, Huffmon added, as the place “where the presidential mettle gets tested… where you have to face the first fiery brands of Southern conservatism and see if candidates can stand up.”
State Republican Party Chairman Chad Connelly also said he didn’t think the state’s reputation would suffer as a result of its picking a candidate other than the party nominee.
“We might not have our same branding motto or whatever, but the fact that we’re an important part of the process, that hasn’t changed a bit,” Connelly said, noting that the state’s small size and relatively inexpensive media markets allow campaigns with varying amounts of resources to be competitive – something he suggested strengthens the eventual nominee.
“I think Gov. Romney will tell you that he’s a better candidate, he’s a better debater, he’s better with the people than he was before because of this whole process,” Connelly said. Romney lost South Carolina 40-28 percent to Gingrich.
Connelly stressed that he’s not considering changing the state party’s motto any time soon, focusing more on raising money to send South Carolina volunteers to other swing states to help with Republican get-out-the-vote efforts.
And as far as Gingrich’s apology to the voters of South Carolina, at least one of his supporters says there are no hard feelings.
“He owes no one an apology,” said Allen Olsen, a former Columbia Tea Party leader and one of Gingrich’s earliest proponents in the state. “He just got beat, and I don’t think he owes South Carolina an apology. I’m just proud to support him.”
But, Olsen added, now that Romney has prevailed, he said he wished Gingrich “hadn’t come off sounding like a sore loser” in his speech Wednesday.
“I wish he would have come off and endorsed Romney and offered to work with Romney more,” Olsen said.
CHAPEL HILL, NC -- A recent NBC/WSJ poll found that young voters might not be as enthusiastic about the 2012 election as they were in 2008. Even at President Obama’s event at UNC Chapel Hill on Tuesday, where he kicked off his two-day tour talking about student loan interest rates, there were varying levels of excitement.
A grain-of-salt alert: These interviews were all conducted at the event, among students who waited in line for hours to see President Obama, so they may not be the most representative sample of all young North Carolina voters. They do, however, offer a glimpse into how some of Obama’s young 2008 supporters are feeling about the election today.
NBC caught up with some UNC-Chapel Hill students at President Obama's speech on Tuesday and asked about their enthusiasm for the 2012 election.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Kicking off a two-day, swing-state tour focused on keeping student-loan rates from increasing, President Obama told an arena full of college students that he can relate to their struggles paying off loans because he has had his own tuition woes.
“I just want everybody to understand: I didn’t just read about this,” Obama said as the audience at the University of North Carolina crescendo from gradual applause to a full cheer. “I didn’t just get some talking points about this."
He continued, referring to himself and wife Michelle, “We didn’t come from wealthy families. We paid more in student loans than we paid on the mortgage when we finally did buy a condo.”
He noted the length it took for him to pay off his student loans, even though he now holds the nation’s highest office.
“We finished paying our student loans. And check this out -- I’m the President of the Untied States -- we only finished paying off our student loans about eight years ago.”
Obama criticized Republicans, who he said pay “lip service” to the concepts of student aid, a day after presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney said he “fully support[s] the effort to extend the low interest rate on student loans.”
“You’ll hear people say, yeah, education, it’s important,” he said. “That requires not just words but deeds.”
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams, who attended the event at UNC, responded to those remarks saying, “Governor Romney has made his position on this issue clear. He feels that we need to help college students during these tough economic times when they’re unable to find a job under this president.”
The House Republican budget, trumpeted by Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan, would not increase funding for Pell Grants, and keep funding for them at current levels for the 10 years of the budget, Politifact notes. Romney has embraced the Ryan budget, saying the two are "on the same page."
The president was speaking to students and recent graduates here ostensibly to gin up awareness that student loans will double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, unless Congress votes to extend the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, signed into law in September 2007.
As his administration has done frequently when it wants to generate buzz over a certain policy initiative, the president urged his audience to get involved through -- in addition to phone calls and email -- social media and in particular, Twitter.
“Call your member of Congress,” Obama urged. “Email them, write on their Facebook page, Tweet them… we have a hashtag.”
He introduced the hashtag as #dontdoublemyrate, and seemed to feed off the enthusiasm of the rally-like atmosphere by telling the audience to repeat the phrase after him.
“Everybody say it so you can remember it!” he urged.
With the national Holocaust Memorial Museum serving as a powerful backdrop, President Obama today announced new measures intended to crack down on human-rights atrocities in Syria and Iran, saying the United States has to do everything in its power to prevent those nations’ regimes from killing more of its people.
Speaking to an audience that included Holocaust survivors, Obama said that further sanctions against today’s authoritarian rulers is in part a recognition that the threat of genocide is a stark reality, even decades after the systematic killing of millions of Jews in Nazi Germany. The Holocaust later sparked an unofficial slogan: “Never again.”
“Remembrance without resolve is a hollow gesture. Awareness without action changes nothing,” Obama said shortly after touring the museum with survivor and author Elie Wiesel. “In this sense, ‘Never again’ is a challenge to us all -- to pause and to look within.”
The president said he would be authorizing U.S. officials to issue sanctions against leaders found to be using new technologies like cell phones and the Internet to commit abuses against their citizens. He said that one outcome of steps like this would be the fall of the Assad regime, although he did not put a timeline on when that would happen.
“These technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come -- the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people -- and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.”
Obama added that such sanctions did not mean he believes the United States should always intervene “every time there’s an injustice in the world.”
“We cannot and should not,” he continued.
But, he added, the United States takes seriously the threats of genocide around the world.
“This is not an afterthought. This is not a sideline in our foreign policy,” he said, adding that his Atrocities Prevention Board, the formation of which he announced in August 2011, would meet at the White House for the first time today.
He also told of a private moment between himself and Wiesel during their museum tour as they “looked at the unhappy record of the State Department and so many officials in the United States during those years” -- an allusion to the United States’ failure to accept refugees from the Holocaust until 1944, years after the genocide had begun.
“He asked, ‘what would you do?’” Obama recounted of Wiesel.
The author and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who introduced the president, warned against staying on the sidelines amid the current atrocities around the world, noting that the United States could have done much more to reduce the scope of the Holocaust.
“Why did America not open its doors to more of the doomed; it could have,” Wiesel said. “Why did not the allies bomb the railways going into Auschwitz?”
And he seemed to question the current policy in Syria and Iran, bemoaning the fact that the leaders of those two countries were still in power.
“Have we learned anything from it? If so, how is it that Assad is still in power? How is it that the Holocaust's No. 1 denier is still a president?”