Barack Obama will leave office with a 60% approval rating, one of the highest ratings for an outgoing president – remarkable considering the unprecedented opposition and obstruction he has faced from the moment he swore his oath.
It bears reminding that no one came into the presidency with more challenges than Obama – not Washington, Lincoln or FDR. None of them on their first day, had to contend with an imploding economy headed into a Great Depression at the same time the country was embroiled in two foreign wars, not to mention the swine flu epidemic and environmental disasters (BP Oil spill) that came soon after.
Despite the best efforts of the Republicans to insure Obama’s failure, Obama brought the economy back from the brink of a Great Depression, saved the American auto industry, launched the renewable energy industry, restored America’s leadership in the world (Paris Climate Agreement, Iran Nuclear Agreement, opening relations with Cuba after more than 50 years), succeeded where seven presidents before him failed to provide nearly universal affordable, accessible health care. Despite unprecedented opposition – including bills that were tabled – he made inroads into immigration reform, gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, advanced manufacturing. He accomplished the most sweeping financial protections since the Depression, and yet the stock market has nearly tripled during his tenure, hitting record after record, and since signing Obamacare into law, America’s businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs.
Eight years since taking office, an economy that was shedding 800,000 jobs a month, has had the longest streak of job creation in history; wages have grown faster than any time in the past 40 years. Last year, the poverty rate fell at the fastest pace in almost 50 years while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. And Obama did it while cutting deficits by nearly two-thirds.
His signature Affordable Care Act – which should be his crowning achievement – has brought health insurance to 20 million American adults and 3 million children. For the first time ever, more than 90% of Americans have health insurance. Health costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. Every American now has the benefit of true patient protections that hadn’t existed before, when everyone was at the mercy of for-profit insurance companies: people can’t be rejected for pre-existing conditions, there are no annual or lifetime caps, a cap on what private-insurance can spent on non-patient care, and if you lose your job (or your marriage) or start a business, you can still have access to affordable health insurance. Obama’s health reforms have saved an estimated 87,000 lives, when before, more than 20,000 were dying simply for lack of access to health care, not counting how many tens of thousands suffered debilitating diseases that could have been prevented or cured early.
The high school graduation rate is now 83 percent – the highest on record –and more young people graduate from college than ever before. Those who decide not to pursue college, have more options, from expanding access to apprenticeships, to launching high-tech manufacturing institutes, to revamping the job training system and creating programs like TechHire to help people train for higher-paying jobs in months, not years.
Obama brought back 180,000 American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, eliminated from the face of the earth the mastermind of the September 11 2001 terror attacks that succeeded in knocking America off its foundation, and yes, kept America safe from another major, orchestrated attack, foiling plots. And, with the coalition he forged and a relentless campaign of 16,000 airstrikes, the US is “breaking the back” of ISIS, taking away safe havens (most recently in Libya), and done this at a cost of $10 billion over two years, the same amount that was spent in just one month at the height of the Iraq War.
He accomplished a minor miracle by bringing nearly 200 nations together – including China and India – around a climate agreement that could literally save this planet. With new models for development, American assistance is helping people around the world feed themselves, care for their sick, and power communities across Africa. And almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago. And he applied climate action initiatives here, to stem the destruction and public health disasters of pollution, wild fires, drought, floods.
Obama used his executive authority more than any other president to protect iconic historic, cultural and ecological sites across the country representative of the full spectrum of America’s diverse heritage, paying homage to civil rights, women’s suffrage, workers rights, LGBT rights and adding 554 million acres to our national birthright.
He did more to address systemic racism than any president since Lyndon B. Johnson, including unleashing DoJ investigations into police departments and challenging voter suppression – and yet does not seem to get the appreciation he should from Black Americans. Boy will they miss him.
Years from now, perhaps not that many – we will realize how much was squandered – Obama’s talent, his compassion, his sense of justice and fairness, his brilliance. How much more could have been accomplished in solving the intractable problems of our time. The progress that could have been made to ameliorating climate change, income inequality, advancing healthcare, promoting quality education and job training, protecting and preserving the environment, advancing peace initiatives.
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.
I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can.
Yes, we did. Yes, we can.
It seems that destiny put Obama into the presidency at this time – his election was the result of a confluence of events without which he never would have become the first African-American (half white) President: the historic implosion of the Bush/Cheney administration amid recession and war and John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin for his vice president.
This set of circumstances positioned him to preside during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln’s assassination; the 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the March on Washington, Medicare. He was president for the erection of the Martin Luther King Jr. monument and the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History& Culture on the mall.
All the big domestic enterprises were accomplished in his first two years, when he had a Democratic-controlled Congress, despite Senate Republicans using the filibuster to an unprecedented degree. All of which are likely to be erased or overturned within days of Donald Trump taking over the Oval Office.
All that will be gone because Hillary Clinton, despite winning the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, was denied the presidency. Trump’s elevation through the Electoral College was accomplished through voter suppression, Russian hacking and fake news, and was not a repudiation of Obama, who leaves office with 60% approval – one of the highest – while Trump comes into office with 40% approval the lowest approval rating of any incoming president.
Obama’s most important legacy? His grace, dignity, compassion, brilliance that he brought to his office. His calm, cool demeanor, his careful reasoning in face of extraordinary challenges. His unrelenting quest for fairness and justice. The way he always seemed to have a clear-eyed understanding of what American people were feeling, and his ability to always find the right words. Oh how we will miss that “professorial” style for which he was chided. We will miss No Drama Obama.
Every aspect of Obama’s legacy will now be erased – and if Trump could, he would erase Obama’s name altogether. Except one: you can count on Trump to blame Obama for any bad thing that happens, from the inevitable crash of the economy to a new global war.
The only solace I take is that Obama has created the templates for solutions, which hopefully before I die, will be taken out, dusted off, and implemented in order to propel this nation back on the path to being a more perfect union.
As we look back on the past eight years, President Obama asked each member of his Cabinet to write an Exit Memo on the progress we’ve made, their vision for the country’s future, and the work that remains in order to achieve that vision. At the same time, President Obama has composed a letter to the American people, which will accompany the Cabinet Exit Memos. You can view each memo at go.wh.gov/CabinetInReview.
Letter from President Obama
To my fellow Americans,
Eight years ago, America faced a moment of peril unlike any we’d seen in decades.
A spiraling financial crisis threatened to plunge an economy in recession into a deep depression. The very heartbeat of American manufacturing – the American auto industry – was on the brink of collapse. In some communities, nearly one in five Americans were out of work. Nearly 180,000 American troops were serving in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the mastermind of the worst terror attack on American soil remained at large. And on challenges from health care to climate change, we’d been kicking the can down the road for way too long.
But in the depths of that winter, on January 20, 2009, I stood before you and swore a sacred oath. I told you that day that the challenges we faced would not be met easily or in a short span of time – but they would be met. And after eight busy years, we’ve met them – because of you.
Eight years later, an economy that was shrinking at more than eight percent is now growing at more than three percent. Businesses that were bleeding jobs unleashed the longest streak of job creation on record. The auto industry has roared its way back, saving one million jobs across the country and fueling a manufacturing sector that, after a decade of decline, has added new jobs for the first time since the 1990s. And wages have grown faster over the past few years than at any time in the past forty.
Today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, another 20 million American adults know the financial security and peace of mind that comes with health insurance. Another three million children have gained health insurance. For the first time ever, more than ninety percent of Americans are insured – the highest rate ever. We’ve seen the slowest growth in the price of health care in fifty years, along with improvements in patient safety that have prevented an estimated 87,000 deaths. Every American with insurance is covered by the strongest set of consumer protections in history – a true Patients’ Bill of Rights – and free from the fear that illness or accident will derail your dreams, because America is now a place where discrimination against preexisting conditions is a relic of the past. And the new health insurance marketplace means that if you lose your job, change your job, or start that new business, you’ll finally be able to purchase quality, affordable care and the security and peace of mind that comes with it – and that’s one reason why entrepreneurship is growing for the second straight year.
Our dependence on foreign oil has been cut by more than half, and our production of renewable energy has more than doubled. In many places across the country, clean energy from the wind is now cheaper than dirtier sources of energy, and solar now employs more Americans than coal mining in jobs that pay better than average and can’t be outsourced. We also enacted the most sweeping reforms since the Great Depression to protect consumers and prevent a crisis on Wall Street from punishing Main Street ever again. These actions didn’t stifle growth, as critics predicted. Instead, the stock market has nearly tripled. Since I signed Obamacare into law, America’s businesses have added more than 15 million new jobs. And the economy is undoubtedly more durable than it was in the days when we relied on oil from unstable nations and banks took risky bets with your money.
The high school graduation rate is now 83 percent – the highest on record – and we’ve helped more young people graduate from college than ever before. At the same time, we’ve worked to offer more options for Americans who decide not to pursue college, from expanding apprenticeships, to launching high-tech manufacturing institutes, to revamping the job training system and creating programs like TechHire to help people train for higher-paying jobs in months, not years. We’ve connected more schools across the country to broadband internet, and supported more teachers to bring coding, hands-on making, and computational thinking into our classrooms to prepare all our children for a 21st century economy.
Add it all up, and last year, the poverty rate fell at the fastest rate in almost fifty years while the median household income grew at the fastest rate on record. And we’ve done it all while cutting our deficits by nearly two-thirds even as we protected investments that grow the middle class.
Meanwhile, over the past eight years, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland. Plots have been disrupted. Terrorists like Osama bin Laden have been taken off the battlefield. We’ve drawn down from nearly 180,000 troops in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan to just 15,000. With a coalition of more than 70 nations and a relentless campaign of more than 16,000 airstrikes so far, we are breaking the back of ISIL and taking away its safe havens, and we’ve accomplished this at a cost of $10 billion over two years – the same amount that we spent in one month at the height of the Iraq War.
At the same time, America has led the world to meet a set of global challenges. Through diplomacy, we shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program, opened up a new chapter with the people of Cuba, and brought nearly 200 nations together around a climate agreement that could save this planet for our kids. With new models for development, American assistance is helping people around the world feed themselves, care for their sick, and power communities across Africa. And almost every country on Earth sees America as stronger and more respected today than they did eight years ago. All of this progress is due to the service of millions of Americans in intelligence, law enforcement, homeland security, diplomacy, and the brave men and women of our Armed Forces – the most diverse institution in America.
We’ve also worked to make the changing face of America more fair and more just – including by making strides towards criminal justice reform, making progress towards equal pay, repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and advancing the cause of civil rights, women’s rights, and LGBT rights. I appointed two extraordinary women to the Supreme Court, marking the first time in history that three women sit on the bench, including the first Latina. And today in America, marriage equality is finally a reality across all fifty states.
This is where America stands after eight years of progress. By so many measures, our country is stronger and more prosperous than it was when we started – a situation I’m proud to leave for my successor. And it’s thanks to you – to the hard work you’ve put in; the sacrifices you’ve made for your families and communities; the way you’ve looked out for one another.
Still, through every victory and every setback, I’ve insisted that change is never easy, and never quick; that we wouldn’t meet all of our challenges in one term, or one presidency, or even in one lifetime. And for all that we’ve achieved, there’s still so much I wish we’d been able to do, from enacting gun safety measures to protect more of our kids and our cops from mass shootings like Newtown, to passing commonsense immigration reform that encourages the best and brightest from around the world to study, stay, and create jobs in America.
And for all the incredible progress our economy has made in just eight years, we still have more work to do for every American still in need of a good job or a raise, paid leave or a dignified retirement. We have to acknowledge the inequality that has come from an increasingly globalized economy while committing ourselves to making it work better for everyone, not just those at the top, and give everyone who works hard a fair shot at success.
And here’s the thing – over the past eight years, we’ve shown that we can. Last year, income gains were actually larger for households at the bottom and the middle than for those at the top. We’ve also made the tax code fairer. The tax changes enacted over the past eight years have ensured that the top one percent of Americans pay more of their fair share, increasing the share of income received by all other families by more than the tax changes in any previous administration since at least 1960. Simply put, we’ve actually begun the long task of reversing inequality. But as the global economy changes, we’ll have to do more to accelerate these trends, from strengthening unions that speak for workers, to preventing colleges from pricing out hardworking students, to making sure that minimum wage workers get a raise and women finally get paid the same as men for doing the same job. What won’t help is taking health care away from 30 million Americans, most of them white and working class; denying overtime pay to workers, most of whom have more than earned it; or privatizing Medicare and Social Security and letting Wall Street regulate itself again – none of which middle-class Americans voted for.
We will have to move forward as we always have – together. As a people who believe that out of many, we are one; that we are bound not by any one race or religion, but rather an adherence to a common creed; that all of us are created equal in the eyes of God. And I’m confident we will. Because the change we’ve brought about these past eight years was never about me. It was about you. It is you, the American people, who have made the progress of the last eight years possible. It is you who will make our future progress possible. That, after all, is the story of America – a story of progress. However halting, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey – the story of America is a story of progress.
Recently, I asked each member of my talented and dedicated Cabinet to prepare a detailed report on the progress we’ve made across the board these past eight years, and the work that remains to make this country we love even stronger. Today, I’m sharing them with you. And I hope you’ll share them with others, and do your part to build on the progress we’ve made across the board.
It has been the privilege of my life to serve as your President. And as I prepare to pass the baton and do my part as a private citizen, I’m proud to say that we have laid a new foundation for America. A new future is ours to write. And I’m as confident as ever that it will be led by the United States of America – and that our best days are still ahead.
President Obama has taken an extraordinary next step to having normalized relations with Cuba last year: he is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy that gave Cuban migrants a privilege afforded no other group: the idea that a Cuban national only had to set foot on American soil to be embraced into legal residency and fast-tracked to citizenship. This was a privilege not afforded the Central Americans fleeing unbelievably horrendous violence and poverty, or any other group. Recently, a group of Cuban migrants were actually air-lifted by the United States from El Salvador, when El Salvadorans are unable to escape the murder capital of the world. The move putting Cuban migrants on equal footing with other migrants could not be taken until the Obama Administration obtained assurances from the Cuban government that Cuban migrants who were returned would not be prosecuted or harmed. Senator Marco Rubio’s relatives took advantage of such easy access, as did Senator Ted Cruz. Perhaps they will be more amenable to finding a more just solution to immigration reform. –– Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Here is the statement from President Obama:
Today, the United States is taking important steps forward to normalize relations with Cuba and to bring greater consistency to our immigration policy. The Department of Homeland Security is ending the so-called “wet-foot/dry foot” policy, which was put in place more than twenty years ago and was designed for a different era. Effective immediately, Cuban nationals who attempt to enter the United States illegally and do not qualify for humanitarian relief will be subject to removal, consistent with U.S. law and enforcement priorities. By taking this step, we are treating Cuban migrants the same way we treat migrants from other countries. The Cuban government has agreed to accept the return of Cuban nationals who have been ordered removed, just as it has been accepting the return of migrants interdicted at sea.
Today, the Department of Homeland Security is also ending the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program. The United States and Cuba are working together to combat diseases that endanger the health and lives of our people. By providing preferential treatment to Cuban medical personnel, the medical parole program contradicts those efforts, and risks harming the Cuban people. Cuban medical personnel will now be eligible to apply for asylum at U.S. embassies and consulates around the world, consistent with the procedures for all foreign nationals.
The United States, a land of immigrants, has been enriched by the contributions of Cuban-Americans for more than a century. Since I took office, we have put the Cuban-American community at the center of our policies. With this change we will continue to welcome Cubans as we welcome immigrants from other nations, consistent with our laws. During my Administration, we worked to improve the lives of the Cuban people – inside of Cuba – by providing them with greater access to resources, information and connectivity to the wider world. Sustaining that approach is the best way to ensure that Cubans can enjoy prosperity, pursue reforms, and determine their own destiny. As I said in Havana, the future of Cuba should be in the hands of the Cuban people.
On January 10, P resident Barack Obama returned to his adopted hometown of Chicago to deliver his farewell address to the nation in a way and a venue that had never been done before. In many ways, the speech neatly bookended the beginning of his career in national politics, starting with the 2004 breakthrough speech to the Democratic National Convention, continuing through the 2008 campaign. The themes, the earnest desire to do all he could to bring the country together, to make progress on behalf of all Americans, were all there. The speech was at once extraordinarily realistic and pragmatic yet idealistic, devoid of the cynicism that he would have been entitled to after all the obstacles, the vicious attacks, the nonstop efforts to delegitimize his presidency and demean him. He rose above it all, clinging to the values and principles which he holds most dear, exemplifying the very model of a national leader.
Without dwelling on it, he addressed the despair and despondency of millions and millions of Americans that he will be succeeded by someone who is diametrically opposite and opposed. The fear is that his legacy – record growth in jobs creation, wage increases, historic health care, historic international agreements on climate change, historic progress on civil rights – will all be erased. But he exhorted those who believe in progress to soldier on, to participate, to be engaged. Instead of complaining, run for office. Characteristically, he gave only brief mention of his achievements during his 8 years in office – not the least saving the nation from falling into a Great Depression, extracting us from two foreign wars, addressing numerous climate and environmental catastrophes and emergencies ranging from swine flu to Ebola, to terrorism. With great humility of a truly great and exceptional man, he thanked his Vice President Joe Biden, his wife,First Lady Michelle Obama and his children, his white House staff, those who worked and volunteered for his elections, and said he was about to resume the most cherished position of all: citizen.
And like Washington’s farewell speech, exhorting Americans to be vigilant against foreign interference, and Eisenhower’s farewell speech, warning about the military-industrial complex, Obama offered his own warning: to be vigilant in protecting democracy from enemies, foreign and domestic who would undermine the very values and principles that are foundational, and that vigilance is the responsibility of all citizens.
“The future should be ours,” Obama exhorted. “But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now…
“Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. We, the people, give it meaning. With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge. Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured…
“It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. Citizen….
“I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.
“I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can.”
Here is a highlighted transcript of the speech, which took just under an hour to deliver – Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
THE PRESIDENT: Hello, Chicago! (Applause.) It’s good to be home! (Applause.) Thank you, everybody. Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Thank you. (Applause.) All right, everybody sit down. (Applause.) We’re on live TV here. I’ve got to move. (Applause.) You can tell that I’m a lame duck because nobody is following instructions. (Laughter.) Everybody have a seat. (Applause.)
My fellow Americans — (applause) — Michelle and I have been so touched by all the well wishes that we’ve received over the past few weeks. But tonight, it’s my turn to say thanks. (Applause.) Whether we have seen eye-to-eye or rarely agreed at all, my conversations with you, the American people, in living rooms and in schools, at farms, on factory floors, at diners and on distant military outposts -– those conversations are what have kept me honest, and kept me inspired, and kept me going. And every day, I have learned from you. You made me a better President, and you made me a better man. (Applause.)
So I first came to Chicago when I was in my early 20s. And I was still trying to figure out who I was, still searching for a purpose in my life. And it was a neighborhood not far from here where I began working with church groups in the shadows of closed steel mills. It was on these streets where I witnessed the power of faith, and the quiet dignity of working people in the face of struggle and loss.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: I can’t do that.
AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!
THE PRESIDENT: This is where I learned that change only happens when ordinary people get involved and they get engaged, and they come together to demand it.
After eight years as your President, I still believe that. And it’s not just my belief. It’s the beating heart of our American idea –- our bold experiment in self-government. It’s the conviction that we are all created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s the insistence that these rights, while self-evident, have never been self-executing; that We, the People, through the instrument of our democracy, can form a more perfect union.
What a radical idea. A great gift that our Founders gave to us: The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat and toil and imagination, and the imperative to strive together, as well, to achieve a common good, a greater good.
For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. (Applause.) It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan. And why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well. (Applause.)
So that’s what we mean when we say America is exceptional — not that our nation has been flawless from the start, but that we have shown the capacity to change and make life better for those who follow. Yes, our progress has been uneven. The work of democracy has always been hard. It’s always been contentious. Sometimes it’s been bloody. For every two steps forward, it often feels we take one step back. But the long sweep of America has been defined by forward motion, a constant widening of our founding creed to embrace all and not just some. (Applause.)
If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history — (applause) — if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9/11 — (applause) — if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens –- (applause) — if I had told you all that, you might have said our sights were set a little too high. But that’s what we did. (Applause.) That’s what you did.
You were the change. You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started. (Applause.)
In 10 days, the world will witness a hallmark of our democracy.
AUDIENCE: Nooo —
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, no, no, no — the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected President to the next. (Applause.) I committed to President-elect Trump that my administration would ensure the smoothest possible transition, just as President Bush did for me. (Applause.) Because it’s up to all of us to make sure our government can help us meet the many challenges we still face.
We have what we need to do so. We have everything we need to meet those challenges. After all, we remain the wealthiest, most powerful, and most respected nation on Earth. Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. (Applause.) Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests, help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.
That’s what I want to focus on tonight: The state of our democracy. Understand, democracy does not require uniformity. Our founders argued. They quarreled. Eventually they compromised. They expected us to do the same. But they knew that democracy does require a basic sense of solidarity -– the idea that for all our outward differences, we’re all in this together; that we rise or fall as one. (Applause.)
There have been moments throughout our history that threatens that solidarity. And the beginning of this century has been one of those times. A shrinking world, growing inequality; demographic change and the specter of terrorism -– these forces haven’t just tested our security and our prosperity, but are testing our democracy, as well. And how we meet these challenges to our democracy will determine our ability to educate our kids, and create good jobs, and protect our homeland. In other words, it will determine our future.
To begin with, our democracy won’t work without a sense that everyone has economic opportunity.And the good news is that today the economy is growing again. Wages, incomes, home values, and retirement accounts are all rising again. Poverty is falling again. (Applause.) The wealthy are paying a fairer share of taxes even as the stock market shatters records. The unemployment rate is near a 10-year low. The uninsured rate has never, ever been lower. (Applause.) Health care costs are rising at the slowest rate in 50 years. And I’ve said and I mean it — if anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system and that covers as many people at less cost, I will publicly support it. (Applause.)
Because that, after all, is why we serve. Not to score points or take credit, but to make people’s lives better. (Applause.)
But for all the real progress that we’ve made, we know it’s not enough. Our economy doesn’t work as well or grow as fast when a few prosper at the expense of a growing middle class and ladders for folks who want to get into the middle class. (Applause.) That’s the economic argument. But stark inequality is also corrosive to our democratic ideal.While the top one percent has amassed a bigger share of wealth and income, too many families, in inner cities and in rural counties, have been left behind — the laid-off factory worker; the waitress or health care worker who’s just barely getting by and struggling to pay the bills — convinced that the game is fixed against them, that their government only serves the interests of the powerful — that’s a recipe for more cynicism and polarization in our politics.
But there are no quick fixesto this long-term trend. I agree, our trade should be fair and not just free. But the next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas. It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.
And so we’re going to have to forge a new social compact to guarantee all our kids the education they need — (applause) — to give workers the power to unionize for better wages; to update the social safety net to reflect the way we live now, and make more reforms to the tax code so corporations and individuals who reap the most from this new economy don’t avoid their obligations to the country that’s made their very success possible. (Applause.)
We can argue about how to best achieve these goals. But we can’t be complacent about the goals themselves. For if we don’t create opportunity for all people, the disaffection and division that has stalled our progress will only sharpen in years to come.
There’s a second threat to our democracy — and this one is as old as our nation itself. After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society. Now, I’ve lived long enough to know that race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago, no matter what some folks say. (Applause.) You can see it not just in statistics, you see it in the attitudes of young Americans across the political spectrum.
But we’re not where we need to be. And all of us have more work to do. (Applause.) If every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hardworking white middle class and an undeserving minority, then workers of all shades are going to be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves. (Applause.) If we’re unwilling to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we will diminish the prospects of our own children — because those brown kids will represent a larger and larger share of America’s workforce. (Applause.) And we have shown that our economy doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. Last year, incomes rose for all races, all age groups, for men and for women.
So if we’re going to be serious about race going forward, we need to uphold laws against discrimination — in hiring, and in housing, and in education, and in the criminal justice system. (Applause.) That is what our Constitution and our highest ideals require. (Applause.)
But laws alone won’t be enough. Hearts must change. It won’t change overnight. Social attitudes oftentimes take generations to change. But if our democracy is to work in this increasingly diverse nation, then each one of us need to try to heed the advice of a great character in American fiction — Atticus Finch — (applause) — who said “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
For blacks and other minority groups, it means tying our own very real struggles for justice to the challenges that a lot of people in this country face — not only the refugee, or the immigrant, or the rural poor, or the transgender American, but also the middle-aged white guy who, from the outside, may seem like he’s got advantages, but has seen his world upended by economic and cultural and technological change. We have to pay attention, and listen. (Applause.)
For white Americans, it means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s — (applause) — that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not just engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness. When they wage peaceful protest, they’re not demanding special treatment but the equal treatment that our Founders promised. (Applause.)
For native-born Americans, it means reminding ourselves that the stereotypes about immigrants today were said, almost word for word, about the Irish, and Italians, and Poles — who it was said we’re going to destroy the fundamental character of America. And as it turned out, America wasn’t weakened by the presence of these newcomers; these newcomers embraced this nation’s creed, and this nation was strengthened. (Applause.)
So regardless of the station that we occupy, we all have to try harder. We all have to start with the premise that each of our fellow citizens loves this country just as much as we do; that they value hard work and family just like we do; that their children are just as curious and hopeful and worthy of love as our own. (Applause.)
And that’s not easy to do. For too many of us, it’s become safer to retreat into our own bubbles, whether in our neighborhoods or on college campuses, or places of worship, or especially our social media feeds, surrounded by people who look like us and share the same political outlook and never challenge our assumptions. The rise of naked partisanship, and increasing economic and regional stratification, the splintering of our media into a channel for every taste — all this makes this great sorting seem natural, even inevitable. And increasingly, we become so secure in our bubbles that we start accepting only information, whether it’s true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that is out there. (Applause.)
And this trend represents a third threat to our democracy. But politics is a battle of ideas. That’s how our democracy was designed. In the course of a healthy debate, we prioritize different goals, and the different means of reaching them. But without some common baseline of facts, without a willingness to admit new information, and concede that your opponent might be making a fair point, and that science and reason matter — (applause) — then we’re going to keep talking past each other, and we’ll make common ground and compromise impossible. (Applause.)
And isn’t that part of what so often makes politics dispiriting? How can elected officials rage about deficits when we propose to spend money on preschool for kids, but not when we’re cutting taxes for corporations? (Applause.) How do we excuse ethical lapses in our own party, but pounce when the other party does the same thing? It’s not just dishonest, this selective sorting of the facts; it’s self-defeating. Because, as my mother used to tell me, reality has a way of catching up with you. (Applause.)
Take the challenge of climate change. In just eight years, we’ve halved our dependence on foreign oil; we’ve doubled our renewable energy; we’ve led the world to an agreement that has the promise to save this planet. (Applause.) But without bolder action, our children won’t have time to debate the existence of climate change. They’ll be busy dealing with its effects: more environmental disasters, more economic disruptions, waves of climate refugees seeking sanctuary.
Now, we can and should argue about the best approach to solve the problem. But to simply deny the problem not only betrays future generations, it betrays the essential spirit of this country — the essential spirit of innovation and practical problem-solving that guided our Founders. (Applause.)
It is that spirit, born of the Enlightenment, that made us an economic powerhouse — the spirit that took flight at Kitty Hawk and Cape Canaveral; the spirit that cures disease and put a computer in every pocket.
It’s that spirit — a faith in reason, and enterprise, and the primacy of right over might — that allowed us to resist the lure of fascism and tyranny during the Great Depression; that allowed us to build a post-World War II order with other democracies, an order based not just on military power or national affiliations but built on principles — the rule of law, human rights, freedom of religion, and speech, and assembly, and an independent press. (Applause.)
That order is now being challenged — first by violent fanatics who claim to speak for Islam; more recently by autocrats in foreign capitals who see free markets and open democracies and and civil society itself as a threat to their power. The peril each poses to our democracy is more far-reaching than a car bomb or a missile. It represents the fear of change; the fear of people who look or speak or pray differently; a contempt for the rule of law that holds leaders accountable; an intolerance of dissent and free thought; a belief that the sword or the gun or the bomb or the propaganda machine is the ultimate arbiter of what’s true and what’s right.
Because of the extraordinary courage of our men and women in uniform, because of our intelligence officers, and law enforcement, and diplomats who support our troops — (applause) — no foreign terrorist organization has successfully planned and executed an attack on our homeland these past eight years. (Applause.) And although Boston and Orlando and San Bernardino and Fort Hood remind us of how dangerous radicalization can be, our law enforcement agencies are more effective and vigilant than ever. We have taken out tens of thousands of terrorists — including bin Laden. (Applause.) The global coalition we’re leading against ISIL has taken out their leaders, and taken away about half their territory. ISIL will be destroyed, and no one who threatens America will ever be safe. (Applause.)
And to all who serve or have served, it has been the honor of my lifetime to be your Commander-in-Chief. And we all owe you a deep debt of gratitude. (Applause.)
But protecting our way of life, that’s not just the job of our military. Democracy can buckle when we give in to fear. So, just as we, as citizens, must remain vigilant against external aggression, we must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are. (Applause.)
And that’s why, for the past eight years, I’ve worked to put the fight against terrorism on a firmer legal footing. That’s why we’ve ended torture, worked to close Gitmo, reformed our laws governing surveillance to protect privacy and civil liberties. (Applause.) That’s why I reject discrimination against Muslim Americans, who are just as patriotic as we are. (Applause.)
That’s why we cannot withdraw from big global fights — to expand democracy, and human rights, and women’s rights, and LGBT rights. No matter how imperfect our efforts, no matter how expedient ignoring such values may seem, that’s part of defending America. For the fight against extremism and intolerance and sectarianism and chauvinism are of a piece with the fight against authoritarianism and nationalist aggression. If the scope of freedom and respect for the rule of law shrinks around the world, the likelihood of war within and between nations increases, and our own freedoms will eventually be threatened.
So let’s be vigilant, but not afraid. (Applause.) ISIL will try to kill innocent people. But they cannot defeat America unless we betray our Constitution and our principles in the fight. (Applause.) Rivals like Russia or China cannot match our influence around the world — unless we give up what we stand for — (applause) — and turn ourselves into just another big country that bullies smaller neighbors.
Which brings me to my final point: Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted. (Applause.) All of us, regardless of party, should be throwing ourselves into the task of rebuilding our democratic institutions. (Applause.) When voting rates in America are some of the lowest among advanced democracies, we should be making it easier, not harder, to vote. (Applause.) When trust in our institutions is low, we should reduce the corrosive influence of money in our politics, and insist on the principles of transparency and ethics in public service. (Applause.) When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our congressional districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes. (Applause.)
But remember, none of this happens on its own. All of this depends on our participation; on each of us accepting the responsibility of citizenship, regardless of which way the pendulum of power happens to be swinging.
Our Constitution is a remarkable, beautiful gift. But it’s really just a piece of parchment. It has no power on its own. We, the people, give it power. (Applause.) We, the people, give it meaning. With our participation, and with the choices that we make, and the alliances that we forge. (Applause.) Whether or not we stand up for our freedoms. Whether or not we respect and enforce the rule of law. That’s up to us. America is no fragile thing. But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.
In his own farewell address, George Washington wrote that self-government is the underpinning of our safety, prosperity, and liberty, but “from different causes and from different quarters much pains will be taken…to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth.” And so we have to preserve this truth with “jealous anxiety;” that we should reject “the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest or to enfeeble the sacred ties” that make us one. (Applause.)
America, we weaken those ties when we allow our political dialogue to become so corrosive that people of good character aren’t even willing to enter into public service; so coarse with rancor that Americans with whom we disagree are seen not just as misguided but as malevolent. We weaken those ties when we define some of us as more American than others; when we write off the whole system as inevitably corrupt, and when we sit back and blame the leaders we elect without examining our own role in electing them. (Applause.)
It falls to each of us to be those anxious, jealous guardians of our democracy; to embrace the joyous task we’ve been given to continually try to improve this great nation of ours. Because for all our outward differences, we, in fact, all share the same proud title, the most important office in a democracy: Citizen. (Applause.) Citizen.
So, you see, that’s what our democracy demands. It needs you. Not just when there’s an election, not just when your own narrow interest is at stake, but over the full span of a lifetime. If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life. (Applause.) If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing. (Applause.) If you’re disappointed by your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. (Applause.) Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.
Sometimes you’ll win. Sometimes you’ll lose. Presuming a reservoir of goodness in other people, that can be a risk, and there will be times when the process will disappoint you. But for those of us fortunate enough to have been a part of this work, and to see it up close, let me tell you, it can energize and inspire. And more often than not, your faith in America — and in Americans — will be confirmed. (Applause.)
Mine sure has been. Over the course of these eight years, I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates and our newest military officers. I have mourned with grieving families searching for answers, and found grace in a Charleston church. I’ve seen our scientists help a paralyzed man regain his sense of touch. I’ve seen wounded warriors who at points were given up for dead walk again. I’ve seen our doctors and volunteers rebuild after earthquakes and stop pandemics in their tracks. I’ve seen the youngest of children remind us through their actions and through their generosity of our obligations to care for refugees, or work for peace, and, above all, to look out for each other. (Applause.)
So that faith that I placed all those years ago, not far from here, in the power of ordinary Americans to bring about change — that faith has been rewarded in ways I could not have possibly imagined. And I hope your faith has, too. Some of you here tonight or watching at home, you were there with us in 2004, in 2008, 2012 — (applause) — maybe you still can’t believe we pulled this whole thing off. Let me tell you, you’re not the only ones. (Laughter.)
Michelle — (applause) — Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, girl of the South Side — (applause) — for the past 25 years, you have not only been my wife and mother of my children, you have been my best friend. (Applause.) You took on a role you didn’t ask for and you made it your own, with grace and with grit and with style and good humor. (Applause.) You made the White House a place that belongs to everybody. (Applause.) And the new generation sets its sights higher because it has you as a role model. (Applause.) So you have made me proud. And you have made the country proud. (Applause.)
Malia and Sasha, under the strangest of circumstances, you have become two amazing young women. You are smart and you are beautiful, but more importantly, you are kind and you are thoughtful and you are full of passion. (Applause.) You wore the burden of years in the spotlight so easily. Of all that I’ve done in my life, I am most proud to be your dad. (Applause.)
To Joe Biden — (applause) — the scrappy kid from Scranton who became Delaware’s favorite son — you were the first decision I made as a nominee, and it was the best. (Applause.) Not just because you have been a great Vice President, but because in the bargain, I gained a brother. And we love you and Jill like family, and your friendship has been one of the great joys of our lives. (Applause.)
To my remarkable staff: For eight years — and for some of you, a whole lot more — I have drawn from your energy, and every day I tried to reflect back what you displayed — heart, and character, and idealism. I’ve watched you grow up, get married, have kids, start incredible new journeys of your own. Even when times got tough and frustrating, you never let Washington get the better of you. You guarded against cynicism. And the only thing that makes me prouder than all the good that we’ve done is the thought of all the amazing things that you’re going to achieve from here. (Applause.)
And to all of you out there — every organizer who moved to an unfamiliar town, every kind family who welcomed them in, every volunteer who knocked on doors, every young person who cast a ballot for the first time, every American who lived and breathed the hard work of change — you are the best supporters and organizers anybody could ever hope for, and I will be forever grateful. (Applause.) Because you did change the world. (Applause.) You did.
And that’s why I leave this stage tonight even more optimistic about this country than when we started. Because I know our work has not only helped so many Americans, it has inspired so many Americans — especially so many young people out there — to believe that you can make a difference — (applause) — to hitch your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.
Let me tell you, this generation coming up — unselfish, altruistic, creative, patriotic — I’ve seen you in every corner of the country. You believe in a fair, and just, and inclusive America. (Applause.) You know that constant change has been America’s hallmark; that it’s not something to fear but something to embrace. You are willing to carry this hard work of democracy forward. You’ll soon outnumber all of us, and I believe as a result the future is in good hands. (Applause.)
My fellow Americans, it has been the honor of my life to serve you. (Applause.) I won’t stop. In fact, I will be right there with you, as a citizen, for all my remaining days. But for now, whether you are young or whether you’re young at heart, I do have one final ask of you as your President — the same thing I asked when you took a chance on me eight years ago. I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to bring about change — but in yours.
I am asking you to hold fast to that faith written into our founding documents; that idea whispered by slaves and abolitionists; that spirit sung by immigrants and homesteaders and those who marched for justice; that creed reaffirmed by those who planted flags from foreign battlefields to the surface of the moon; a creed at the core of every American whose story is not yet written: Yes, we can. (Applause.)
Yes, we did. Yes, we can. (Applause.)
Thank you. God bless you. May God continue to bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
On January 25, activists who have been fighting for decades for clean, renewable energy in order to end our society’s dangerous addiction to fossil fuels, are hoping they will finally be able to pop the champagne corks when the Long Island Power Authority Board approves a power purchase agreement for off-shore wind power for the East End.
Indeed, just a week after the Block Island Wind Farm began producing power, New York labor unions, civic and environmental organizations and elected officials hosted a rally outside of Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) praising LIPA for expressing support of offshore wind power and its anticipated vote on Jan. 25 to move forward on the nation’s largest offshore wind project. Over 100 gathered in front of LIPA, in the largest show of Long Island’s support for offshore wind to date.
Located off the east end of Long Island, Deepwater Wind’s 90-megawatt, 15-turbine project will produce enough energy to power about 50,000 Long Island homes by 2022. This pivotal decision, opening a new era for Long Island’s energy economy, would eliminate the need for LIPA to build a new fossil fuel-fired plant to meet the region’s energy needs. Keep in mind that Long Island officials keep saying the impediment to businesses coming here are the high energy costs.
Now the activists are calling on LIPA to move forward on the Island-Wide renewable energy Request for Proposal in early 2017 which could include another 210 MW of offshore wind off of Long Island’s south fork. (Europe already generates 12,100 megawatts of off-shore wind energy).
Meanwhile, in the waning days of the Obama Administration (and not a moment too soon), the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), awarded Statoil Wind US LLC, a private company from Norway that specializes in oil and gas, the lease to develop an off-shore wind farm on 80,000 acres some 12 miles off of Long Island’s south shore. Statoil’s $42.5 million bid beat out NYSERDA, the New York State energy research development agency, which had wanted to win so it could be the lead agency and expedite development of off-shore windpower for New York.
The project could provide 800 megawatts of offshore wind power in an area 17 miles south of the Rockaway Peninsula.
Now that it will be the domain of a private company, New York customers- like LIPA and Con Ed – will likely have to compete with New Jersey and others. LIPA needs to lock in supply, with a Power Purchase Agreement and details on where the company can run its cables on to shore, and do so before the Trumpsters try to overturn the lease altogether. Recall this is the same area where a private company wanted to site the Port Ambrose Liquified Natural Gas facility, which would have shut down the possibility of any wind farm.
The incoming Trump Administration’s determination to reverse course on a transition to clean, renewable energy, and return us to dependency on fossil fuels – no matter the impact on climate, the environment and ecology, no matter how it basically indentures residents and businesses to ever higher prices for energy, no matter how it endangers national security – means it will be up to the states to continue progress.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has set a goal of producing 50% of New York’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 and 80% by 2050, with an ultimate goal of 100%. Developing offshore wind power – and a wholly new industry for Long Island – is essential for achieving those targets, along with solar, geothermal and hydro power sources (East Hampton has passed legislation that it would get 100 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable sources.)
Governor Cuomo made major news during his State of the State message at SUNY Farmingdale on Long Island, announced that New York is committed to building 2,400 megawatts (MW) of offshore wind power by 2030 – enough to power 1.25 million homes. The Governor also pledged his support for New York’s first, and the nation’s largest, offshore wind project off the east end of Long Island.
“We have to start to do some big things, we have to do big things in renewable energy to get that cost to power down on Long Island,” he stated. “And we have wind power, we’ve had wind power for years. Offshore wind farms work. They can be done right, they can be done correctly, they don’t have to be an eyesore.
“I’m calling on LIPA to approve a 90 megawatt wind farm. It’s enough to support 50,000 homes. They will not be visible from the beach. They will be 30 miles southeast of Montauk. Not even Superman standing on Montauk Point could see these wind farms. But the upside is tremendous. It will be the largest offshore wind project in our nation’s history, not just in existence. It’s jobs. It’s clean energy and it’s inexpensive energy which then drives the economy. And we are not going to stop there. We have a mandate of 50 percent renewable power by the year 2030. We want to get 2.4 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030 and we are not going to stop until we reach 100 percent renewable because that’s what a sustainable New York is really all about.”
Offshore wind power is especially important in light of Cuomo’s pronouncement in his State of the State address that the Indian Point nuclear plant, which theoretically generates 2000 megawatts of energy, will be shut down by 2021.
The Atlantic waters off Long Island has some of the best conditions for off-shore windpower production in North America, if not the world. Dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of offshore wind” we could be the epicenter for a new American energy industry, already $20 billion globally. Scientists and engineers at SUNY Stony Brook are developing new battery storage systems and monitoring controls. Wind turbines need to be manufactured, installed, monitored and maintained, producing thousands of everlasting jobs along with the wind power.
And unlike fossil fuels, where the prices are unpredictable except they almost always go up (oil and gas, after all, are finite resources, costly to develop, process and deliver), wind power is a predictable, stable price that is on a trajectory to come down, not up.
“It’s been a marathon of work and effort to bring wind power to Long Island, but we are at the last mile and moving closer to the finish line,” Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment said at the Dec. 20 rally. “Long Islanders are ready for offshore wind. We have assessed the science, the economics and the societal benefits and we concluded that wind works as an important mainstream energy source. We can longer be fossil fools and deny the consequences of climate change.”
“With Donald Trump about to occupy the White House, it’s essential that states like New York take the lead in transitioning from dirty fossil fuels to renewable energy,” Eric Weltman, Senior Organizer, Food & Water Watch stated. “Climate change could be catastrophic to New York, but with the fossil fuel industry poised to set federal energy policy, we need Governor Cuomo to lead a clean energy revolution. Having banned fracking, a next crucial step is for New York to move forward with the nation’s largest offshore wind farm.”
Come out to the LIPA board meeting on January 25 to show your support.
If they build it, we will come.
To learn more about Reforming the Energy Vision, including the Governor’s $5 billion investment in clean energy technology and innovation, visit www.ny.gov/REV4NY and follow @Rev4NY.
Eight Years of Labor Market Progress and the Employment Situation in December
WASHINGTON, DC – Jason Furman, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, issued the following statement on the employment situation in December and reviewing eight years of job growth including the longest streak of total job growth on record, adding 15.8 million jobs.
Summary: The economy added 156,000 jobs in December, extending the longest streak of total job growth on record, with U.S. businesses adding 15.8 million jobs over the recovery.
Employment grew at a solid rate of 156,000 jobs in December as the longest streak of total job growth by far on record continued. Average hourly earnings for private employees increased 2.9 percent in 2016, the fastest twelve-month pace since the financial crisis. U.S. businesses have now added 15.8 million jobs since early 2010 amid the U.S. economy’s strong recovery from its worst crisis since the Great Depression. The unemployment rate—4.7 percent in December—has been cut by more than half since its peak, falling much faster and further than expected, and nearly all measures of labor underutilization have fallen below their pre-recession averages. Real wages have grown faster over the current business cycle than in any since the early 1970s, and in 2015 U.S. households saw the largest increase in real median income on record. Since 2010, the United States has put more people back to work than all other G-7 economies combined. Thanks in part to the forceful response to the crisis and policies throughout the eight years of the Obama Administration to promote robust, shared growth, the U.S. economy is stronger, more resilient, and better positioned for the 21st century than ever before. Even with this remarkable progress, it remains important to build on these efforts to support further job creation and real wage growth in the years ahead.
THIRTEEN KEY POINTS ON LABOR MARKET PROGRESS OVER THE LAST EIGHT YEARS
1. U.S. businesses have now added 15.8 million jobs since private-sector job growth turned positive in early 2010. Today, we learned that private employment rose by 144,000 jobs in December. Total nonfarm employment rose by 156,000 jobs, slightly below the monthly average for 2016 as a whole but substantially higher than the pace of about 80,000 jobs per month that CEA estimates is necessary to maintain a low and stable unemployment rate given the impact of demographic trends on labor force participation. The unemployment rate ticked up to 4.7 percent in December, less than half its peak during the recession, while the labor force participation rate—which has been largely unchanged over the past three years despite downward pressure from demographic trends—increased to 62.7 percent. Average hourly earnings for all private workers increased 2.9 percent over the past year, the fastest twelve-month pace since the end of the recession and above the pace of inflation in 2016.
2. Since job growth turned positive in October 2010, the U.S. economy has added jobs for 75 straight months—the longest streak of job growth on record and more than two years longer than the next-longest streak. Over this period, nonfarm employment growth has averaged a robust 199,000 jobs a month. On a calendar-year basis, the pace of job growth peaked at 251,000 jobs a month in 2014, the best year for job creation since the 1990s. In 2016, job growth remained strong, averaging 180,000 jobs a month. As of December 2016, total nonfarm employment exceeded its pre-recession peak by 6.9 million jobs. All of the net job creation in the current recovery has been in the private sector, as private-sector payroll employment exceeded its pre-recession peak by 7.0 million jobs as of December.
3. The unemployment rate has been cut by more than half since its peak in 2009, falling much faster and further than expected. After peaking at 10.0 percent in October 2009, the unemployment rate fell rapidly over the course of the recovery, and by mid-2015 had recovered fully to its pre-recession average. Since then, it has fallen even further, standing at 4.7 percent at the end of 2016. The rapid decline in the unemployment rate came far more quickly than most economists predicted: as recently as March 2014, private forecasters expected the unemployment rate to remain above 5.0 percent until at least 2020.
4. Real hourly wages have grown faster over the current business cycle than in any cycle since the early 1970s. In recent years, American workers have seen sustained real wage gains, as hourly earnings have grown faster than inflation. The chart below plots the average annual growth of real hourly earnings for private production and nonsupervisory workers—a group comprising about four-fifths of private nonfarm employment—over each business cycle, including both recessions and recoveries. (Economists prefer comparing across entire business cycles, as they generally represent economically comparable periods.) Since the beginning of the current business cycle in December 2007, real wages have grown at a rate of 0.8 percent a year, faster than in any other cycle since 1973.
5. Since the end of 2012, real wages for non-managerial workers have grown nearly 18 times faster than they did from 1980 to 2007. In fact, since the end of 2012, real wages for private production and nonsupervisory workers have grown over 5 percent cumulatively, more than double their 2.1-percent total growth from the business cycle peak in 1980 to the business cycle peak in 2007—a sign of the remarkable progress made by American families in the current recovery after years of slow growth in wages.
6. Robust real wage growth and strong employment growth have translated into rising real incomes for households, with the largest gains going to low- and middle-income families. From 2014 to 2015, real median household income increased by $2,800, or 5.2 percent, the largest annual increase on record. Gains were even larger in the lower half of the income distribution, ranging from an increase of 5.5 percent for households at the 40th percentile to an increase of nearly 8 percent for households at the 10th percentile. While households in the top half of the income distribution also saw increases, their gains were smaller, with an increase of 2.9 percent at the 90thpercentile of household income. Growth in both real wages and employment in 2016 point to continued gains in real incomes for American households.
7. On net, essentially all of the increase in employment over the recovery has been in full-time jobs. As measured by the household survey, U.S. employment reached a trough in December 2009. Since then, full-time employment has increased by 13.7 million. In contrast, part-time employment has increased by just 420,000 over the course of the recovery.
8. Broader measures of labor underutilization have also steadily improved, and all but one are below their pre-recession averages. The headline unemployment rate, the U-3 rate, includes unemployed persons who have looked for work in the last four weeks. Broader measures of labor underutilization each include a progressively larger group of individuals: U-4 counts discouraged workers in addition to the unemployed, U-5 adds in others who are marginally attached to the labor force, and U-6 also includes people working part-time who would prefer a full-time job (“part-time for economic reasons”). Like the headline unemployment rate, all of these measures saw large increases during the recession, with the U-6 rate in particular reaching a record high. However, U-3, U-4, and U-5 all recovered fully to their respective pre-recession averages in the summer of 2015 and have fallen further since. As of December, the U-6 rate was just 0.1 percentage point above its pre-recession average.
9. Real average hourly wages have risen in every major industry over the current business cycle—and in nearly all, the pace of increase has been faster than in the previous cycle. Since the beginning of the current business cycle, real wages for non-managerial workers have grown at an average rate of 0.8 percent a year. However, this average masks considerable variation in real wage growth among workers in different industries. As the chart below shows, workers in all major sectors have seen real increases in their hourly earnings, ranging from average gains of 0.1 percent a year for workers in the transportation and warehousing industry to gains of 1.7 percent a year for workers in the financial activities sector. For nearly all major industries, real wage gains so far in the current business cycle have outpaced gains in the 2000s business cycle.
10. Unemployment rates for all major demographic groups have recovered to below their respective pre-recession averages, though more work remains to close longstanding disparities in the labor market. The unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanic Americans peaked at 16.8 percent and 13.0 percent, respectively, after experiencing larger percentage-point increases from their pre-recession averages than the overall unemployment rate did. By mid-2015, both the African-American and Hispanic-American unemployment rates had recovered to their respective pre-recession averages. Similarly, the unemployment rates for white Americans and for Asian Americans, which have historically tended to be lower than the overall unemployment rate, have more than recovered to their pre-recession averages. Still, the fact that the unemployment rates for African Americans and Hispanic Americans are much higher than the overall unemployment rate is a reminder that much more work remains to ensure that the benefits of the strong labor market are shared among all Americans, including through efforts like the My Brother’s Keeper initiative.
11. Initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) have been below 300,000 for 96 consecutive weeks, the longest such streak since 1970. During the Great Recession, claims for unemployment insurance—which are an important leading indicator of recessions—rose sharply to near-record highs. However, they have since declined to well below their pre-recession average, and average weekly initial claims in 2016 were the lowest of any calendar year since 1973. Still, the share of unemployed workers eligible for unemployment insurance has fallen in recent years, in part as a result of reductions in coverage within States’ UI programs. A number of reforms—including several in the President’s Fiscal Year 2017 Budget—would build on the strengths of the UI system to ensure that it both provides effective assistance for those who lose a job through no fault of their own and helps to stabilize the U.S. economy during future downturns.
12. Two-thirds of States have seen their unemployment rates fall below their pre-recession averages. There was extremely wide variation in the effect of the Great Recession on unemployment rates across States and the District of Columbia, with increases ranging from nearly 200 percent (Nevada) to just 13 percent (Alaska) of their respective pre-recession averages. As of November 2016, however, 34 States and the District of Columbia have seen their unemployment rates recover fully, with a number of States seeing unemployment rates substantially below their pre-recession averages. The sixteen States that still have elevated unemployment rates include the six that saw the largest percentage increases in their unemployment rates in the recession.
13. Since 2010, the United States has put more people back to work than all the other G-7 economies combined. The rebound of the U.S. economy from the Great Recession occurred much faster than in most other advanced economies and compares favorably with the historical record of countries recovering from systemic financial crises. As shown in the chart below, the United States has been responsible for a disproportionate share of employment growth in the G-7 economies during the recovery. Although the United States comprises about two-fifths of total employment in the G-7, it has been responsible for more than 55 percent of the net employment growth since 2010, a further sign of the strength and resilience of the U.S. economy and the importance of the policies of the last eight years in putting it on a sounder footing.
As the Administration stresses every month, the monthly employment and unemployment figures can be volatile, and payroll employment estimates can be subject to substantial revision. Therefore, it is important not to read too much into any one monthly report, and it is informative to consider each report in the context of other data as they become available.
If Republicans succeed in repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), an estimated 2.7 million New Yorkers would lose health coverage, New Yorkers would lose $250 million in Health Care Savings Tax Credits, and New York State would experience a direct state budget impact of $3.7 billion and a loss of nearly $600 million of federal funding that goes directly to counties, which they use to help lower property taxes.
“The cost of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to state and local budgets and to the New Yorkers who depend on its health care coverage, is simply too high to justify,” Governor Andrew M. Cuomo said. “Since its implementation, the Affordable Care Act has become a powerful tool to lower the cost of health insurance for local governments and New Yorkers, and it is essential that the federal government does not jeopardize the health and livelihoods of millions of working families.”
The NY State of Health exchange has successfully cut the percentage of uninsured New Yorkers in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent. It has also significantly expanded eligibility and access to health coverage, allowing hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured New Yorkers to achieve economic and healthcare security.
Based on current enrollment levels, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would result in over 2.7 million New Yorkers losing health coverage. The estimated number of individuals at risk of losing coverage, based on current enrollment levels, is broken down by counties below:
Individuals at Risk of Losing Coverage
The estimated direct state budget impact of the repeal is $3.7 billion. New York’s counties have been able to use the additional federal Medicaid funding through the Affordable Care Act, which goes to directly to counties and helps to lower property taxes. A repeal of the Affordable Care Act would result in a total loss of $595 million in funding. A county by county breakdown of the allocated annual funding that each county would lose is available below, based on the most recent year:
New York City Total
New York State Total
“New York’s healthcare workers see the positive impact of the Affordable Care Act every day,” George Gresham, President, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said. “Our patients are able to access preventative care instead of coming to emergency rooms in states of advanced illness. Our employers have reduced losses from uncompensated care. Our friends and relatives are relieved of the fear that getting sick equals financial ruin. Repealing the Affordable Care Act without an adequate replacement would have immediate and devastating consequences for millions of our fellow New Yorkers and for state and local budgets. We applaud Governor Cuomo’s leadership in educating New Yorkers about costs and are proud to stand with him to advocate for the health all New Yorkers,”
Greater New York Hospital Association President Kenneth E. Raske said,“These deeply troubling numbers are only the tip of the iceberg if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. It will also severely harm the hospital community. 27 hospitals across New York State are on a ‘watch list’ for financial stress and many more both public and private face similar fiscal challenges. Repealing the Affordable Care Act without an immediate and adequate replacement plan will make things dramatically worse for safety net hospitals and the vulnerable communities they serve. I applaud Governor Cuomo for his leadership and look forward to working with the bipartisan members of the New York Congressional delegation to ensure that the health care of all New Yorkers is protected.”
“In addition to providing care to those in need, hospitals are major employers in communities all across the state,” stated Bea Grause, President of the Healthcare Association of New York. “Repeal of the ACA could have tremendous consequences for the delivery of healthcare and also in terms of jobs and economic activity. It’s imperative that Congress be mindful of this reality. I’m pleased to join the Governor in this important effort to protect New Yorkers.”
There is no question that the will of the majority was thwarted in the presidential Election of 2016 – but if ever there was a time when the Electoral College should have proved its purpose, it was this election.
Instead, the Electoral College demonstrated the worst of all anti-democratic worlds: denying the popular will while also enabling the exact sort of candidate that Alexander Hamilton described in justifying the Electoral College: so “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications,” and to prevent a “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils”. Trump fails on all accounts.
And here, you have not only Hillary Clinton receiving nearly 3 million more votes than Donald Trump – the most in history for any candidate who did not go on to win the presidency – but you have clear evidence of foreign manipulation (the Russian hacking, very possibly with collusion by the Trump campaign), fake news, not to mention voter suppression (interesting that every battleground state where Clinton lost was also where Republican legislators had imposed measures designed to suppress the vote of groups inclined to vote Democratic; in Wisconsin, 300,000 registered voters lacked the photo ID necessary to cast their ballots. Indeed, two weeks after the election, a federal court struck down Wisconsin’s legislative map as illegally partisan. And, “on Election Day, there were 868 fewer polling places in states with a long history of voting discrimination, like Arizona, Texas, and North Carolina,” (www.thenation.com/…)
The result was that Democratic-leaning voters had hours-long waits which many could not afford. And then there was the call-out by Donald Trump for vigilantes to police “you know which” neighborhoods. Turnout was affected. Indeed, despite historic levels of engagement in Election 2016, the number of votes cast in Ohio was down 1.1% and down 4.0% in Wisconsin – more than the margin of victory for Trump. That’s the art and the science of voter suppression, which was the primary strategy for the Trump campaign.
But instead of serving properly as a check-and-balance, everything that is undemocratic and archaic about the Electoral College (devised to give disproportionate power to slave-holding states and small rural states) was in play. As a result, a single voter in Wyoming is worth 200 times a voter in California, rendering this country’s notion of “one person, one vote” and “equal justice” a fraud.
(Why is it that only rural, white Middle Americans are considered “Real Americans,” but coastal, urbanites, professionals, college-educated people are considered “elites” not deserving of a say in their governance?)
Its malfeasance justifies the rising calls to abolish the Electoral College altogether – which would require amending the Constitution which is unlikely. Instead, there are calls to dramatically reform it to more properly address 21st century America, through changes that the states can make to the regulations that bind their Electoral Voters, now termed “faithless” if they vote against their state’s popular vote.
The predominant reform is for states to join the National Popular Vote (NPV) compact would require participating states to award all their electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the national popular vote. It wouldn’t take effect until enough states joined in to add up to the 270 electoral votes required to elect the president– ten states and the District of Columbia have already signed on, totaling 165 electoral votes.
If the compact were in place, Hillary Clinton, who received nearly 3 million more popular votes than Donald Trump, who only won the Electoral College by winning the slimmest of margins (less than 1%) in a few battleground states (amounting to about 70,000 votes altogether, the result of concerted voter suppression actions by Republicans), would have been President.
But this election also demonstrated how easily even a 21st century populace can be manipulated by fake news, social media and a populist snake-oil salesman, not to mention the possibility of hacking the election architecture. Indeed, it would seem that the Electoral College does have a purpose as envisioned by the founders of the Republic, as a check on populism.
Still, there are ways to make the Electoral College more democratically representative, while still functioning as a “check and balance.”
First, there needs to be an end to “winner take all” which basically erases the votes of millions of voters. Instead, states should apportion their electoral votes based on the popular vote in the state. That would be a much more representative method and more efficiently make each state and each person’s vote count.
During this election, we kept hearing how discouraged and disaffected those who would vote for third-party candidates, and their complaint that the two-party system is what is so detrimental to a true democracy. But multiple candidates virtually guarantee that the winner does not represent the majority, as is clear in 2016, where the scant votes for Jill Stein in Michigan gave the state to Trump, putting him over the Electoral top despite winning only 46% of the national popular vote.
So the second element is to allow the lowest vote-getting candidates to give their Electoral Votes to one of the top two candidates.
Another idea which would be very possible in the age of sophisticated electronic voting, is for “second choice” weighting, and if no candidate gets 50.1%, then a run off of the two top vote getters (as is the case in some primaries).
The end to “winner-takes-all” and allocation by popular vote in a state could not happen until virtually all the states (and not just Blue states or Red states which have voted for a Democratic president) have approved the policy.
Federal Government Needs to Guarantee Minimum Standards for Voting
It may surprise people to realize the federal government has no authority over elections, which are controlled by states – even within states, counties may have different rules (so much for Equal Protection). Indeed, the Constitution does not actually provide a right to vote at all, and the Roberts right wing Majority on the Supreme Court did its damage to remove what oversight the federal government had when it eviscerated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
There needs to be a new Voting Rights Act that protects the essential principle of one-person, one vote and the federal government, under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, should have the ability to establish minimum standards for access to the ballot box. It should protect more than racial discrimination, but should acknowledge partisan discrimination as a threat to the spirit and essence of democracy.
What else is needed to reform a weakened election system in these days of technological sophistication, a sprawling and diverse voter population, and the huge stakes to controlling the political reins of power? Here are more ideas:
An end to partisan-control of drawing district lines; standards that affirm – as the Voting Rights Act did – that districts have to be contiguous and make sense
And end to partisan control of state elections (like Katherine Harris, Secretary of State in Florida 2000 and also the chair of George W Bush’s campaign who purged voting rolls of 20,000 people and did all she could to insure Gore never got a fair count)
Requiring notification to every voter before an election confirming their registration, voting place and hours, and if a voter has been removed or purged or changed for any reason, timely notification with a process to challenge
A standard to allow voters to vote where they were last registered
To address the very real possibility of hacked black-boxes, require a paper trail and mandatory audits of a certain number of voting places to confirm the veracity
Minimum national standards for where polling places can be designated, how many voting machines per voting-age population, minimal number of hours open, early voting days, including spreading voting to the weekend before Election Day, and making Election Day a national holiday
A requirement that if a voter moves and re-registers, that notice be sent back to the prior voting place to be removed
Clearer, more uniform regulations about where people can vote if they are in college or have moved (for example, allowing people to vote by absentee at the last previous registered place)
Automatic sending of voter registration materials upon 18th birthday
Establish criminal penalties for interfering with voting, whether fraudulently telling people the wrong date, time or place to vote, ripping up voter registrations or interfering with voter registration; penalties for states that impede voter registration such as failing to process registrations in a timely way
Restore reasonable controls on spending – by wealthy donors and corporations – eliminate SuperPacs, pass the DISCLOSE Act, overturn Citizens United
A new Voting Rights Act that goes beyond racial discrimination but includes any type of systematic discrimination to dilute “one-person, one-vote”
Constitutional amendment that affirms the right to vote (the Constitution doesn’t actually provide it now)
None of this will happen because the Republicans have realized they can keep power without ever having to worry about the demographic shifts and pesky things like needing a majority. Putting a gate at the ballot box has worked very well.
The first thing I noticed on the bus from Christopher Morley Park in Roslyn, Long Island enroute to the Capitol Building in Washington DC to greet Tom Suozzi as a freshman Congressman representing Long Island, was how diverse our group was. This was even more pronounced when we gathered together with more than 100 for a reception.
Suozzi, a Democrat, moments after being officially sworn in on the House floor by reelected Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), noted as much himself in his good-natured way, pointing to the Pakistanis, the Indians (Sikhs, Hindus), Chinese, Jews, Latinos, Catholics, Italians., Irish, Polish, African-Americans (really too many to list) just in that tiny room.
The observation was even more poignant after we had been treated to a tour of the Capitol Building, which begins with a film, “Out of One, Many” – E Pluribus Unum, the nation’s motto. The theme of the movie was how the Congress is organized to bring together representatives of a broad mosaic of Americans with different beliefs and perspectives, and how (and this is the part I thought was a quaint notion if ever it were true), Congress was designed for compromise. “Congress is where we can find common ground.”
Clearly the filmmakers and the nation’s founders, did not take into account the extreme partisanship that has taken hold of Washington since 1994, with Newt Gingrich’s Contract on America (yes I know it was titled, “Contract for America.”), before the speaker had to resign in disgrace (and pop up again in the Donald Trump campaign).
But Tom Suozzi campaigned on his intention and his ability to bridge the divide, to work with Republicans and Democrats to forge consensus. And he repeated that pledge in remarks to the well-wishers who crammed the room in the Cannon House office building.
“With all the differences that different people have, with all our different backgrounds, faiths, traditions, cultures, foods, customs, most of what we believe in is all the same,” he declared. “There are some things that divide us, but 99% of what we all believe in is all the same. And for me, that comes down to ‘Love thy neighbor.’ And love thy neighbor is about trying to help other people to make the world a better place to live in.
“Politics is the vehicle by which we try to do that in our country. It’s a wonderful tradition. It’s one of the most unique places in the world that has that tradition. And you being here to support me gives me the strength, and the courage and the ability to have this wonderful, unique opportunity that has only been shared by a few people throughout the whole course of history of the United States of America.”
He went back to a speech that he said he used to give all the time, but hadn’t during his campaign for Congress. “It’s the speech my grandfather used to give to the new couples.
“Life is like a marriage, is like a long journey with a lot of ups and a lot of downs. But that’s okay, because in life, you can’t have a rose without the thorns. You can’t have the beautiful things in life without the suffering as well, you couldn’t appreciate the good things in life without the tough times as well.
“We see things in newspapers, on TV, we see things happening in our communities, and we have things happening in our families that are so difficult and tragic.
“But today we are celebrating the roses of life.. the best part of life, with friends and family and Americans all get together to say, listen, Let’s work together to make things better for everyone, because there are too many problems we face.
“As Democrats and Republicans they all want to help the same people – there are too many people poor people, too many addicted to drugs, too many wars going on, too many refugees, too many worrying about losing health care, too many problems in the world, too much suffering.
“But if we all work together, and we remember the values that we all share among all faiths, and all our traditions, and all the things we all believe in, then we can solve any problem in the world and with your help, we can do it.”
Ryan, Pelosi Make Pledges
Just minutes earlier on the floor of the House when he was handed the gavel and before issuing the oath to Suozzi and the other Congressmembers, Speaker Ryan had made the same appeal to work together, though it remains to be seen whether it was just the rhetorical flourish of the historic moment, or to opportunistically chide Democrats not to do to Donald Trump what the Republicans did to Barack Obama, when Republicans declared on his first day that their primary mission, their Job #1, instead of saving jobs, homes, health care, college funds and retirement savings, was to make Obama a failed president (Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, newly elected Minority Leader, said that Democrats would look for compromise and to work with Trump and the Republicans on those issues that did not involve abandoning the party’s values).
We were able to watch Ryan and the swearing in on a TV monitor, and hear Ryan say, “There’s no sense of foreboding today. There’s only a sense of potential… But there’s another reason for optimism…Just months ago, our country held a great, electoral contest…. The clash of opinions . . . the hue and cry of campaigns . . . the rancor and the dissension . . . in the end, they all dissolve in the silent and peaceful transfer of power.
“And so in just a few weeks’ time we will welcome a new president . . . who offers us yet another new beginning—a new chance to work toward that more perfect union.
“For all our arguments and all our differences, we are all united by a deep, abiding love of our country. It is the slender but sturdy thread that holds us together. We always forget about it. But it has never failed us. That is why when the votes are counted and the people have spoken, all of us accept the verdict. We come back from the campaign trail. We put away the yard signs. And today, as one body, we pledge allegiance to one flag: the red, white, and blue.
“I don’t care what your party is. Find one person in this House who doesn’t want the best for America. Find one person who doesn’t want to help the unemployed, or care for the sick, or educate the young, or honor our troops. Who here among us does not want to open wide the door to opportunity? Who here among us does not want every American—of every creed and every color—to cross the threshold? You can’t find one person—not a one. And that is a true cause for celebration.
“That being said, this is no time to rest on our laurels, but to redouble our efforts. It’s no secret that millions of Americans across the country are deeply dissatisfied with their current situation. They’ve looked to Washington for leadership, and all they’ve gotten is condescension. For years, they’ve suffered quietly—amid shuttered factories and shattered lives. But now they’ve let out a great roar. Now, we, their elected representatives, must listen. And so I want to say to the American people, “We hear you. We will do right by you. And we will deliver.”
“It is not enough to say that the condition of your birth should not determine the outcome of your life—no matter how much we mean it. In a few years’ time, I hope people will say of the 115th Congress that we didn’t just pay lip service to this beautiful American Idea; we made it a reality. We are not here to be; we are here to do. We are here to improve people’s lives. Grow our economy. Keep us safe. Improve our health care and our infrastructure. Fight poverty. Restore self-government. We’ve got our work cut out for us. And as your speaker, I intend to keep this place running at full speed.”
In a statement that suggests what kind of challenge Suozzi will face as a newly minted Congressman, Ryan promised to let the Minority party have a voice (but apparently, no actual say).
“And so to the minority, I want to say, ‘We’ve never shied away from our disagreements. And I do not expect anyone to do so now. But however bright of a contrast we draw between us, it must never blind us to the common ground we share. We must never shy away from making progress for the American people, wherever we can. And so, as your speaker, I promise to uphold the rights of the minority. I promise to hear you out, and let you have your say. If I had to sum up my approach, it would be, ‘Agreement whenever possible, but at all times respect.’
“And to the majority, especially to our returning members, I want to say, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.’ This is the kind of thing that most of us only dream about. I know—because I used to dream about it. The people have given us unified government. And it wasn’t because they were feeling generous. It’s because they wanted results. How could we live with ourselves if we let them down? How could we let ourselves down? I have for many months been asking our members to raise their gaze and aim high. Now, let us not be timid, but rather reach for that brighter horizon.”
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also called for working on behalf of the American people, but she also declared, “We will stand our ground.”
“In that spirit, in order to meet the needs of the American people, House Democrats pledge to seek common ground wherever we can: To forge a bipartisan path forward on job-creating infrastructure, to make taxes and foreign trade fair to American workers, to help Americans balance work and family life, and to ‘drain the swamp’ of big money from our campaigns, all of these provisions, President-elect Trump has pledged.
“We will seek common ground. But we will stand our ground wherever in good conscience we must.
“If there is an attempt to destroy the guarantee of Medicare, harm [Medicaid], Social Security, or the Affordable Care Act, Democrats will stand our ground.
“If there is an assault on clean air and clean water; on civil rights, women’s rights, or LGBT rights; if DREAMers and their immigrant families face the nightmare of deportation, Democrats will stand our ground.
“And if there is an attempt to silence our voices for common sense gun violence prevention, with Gabby Giffords here in the chamber as our witness — Democrats will stand our ground.”
Today, President Obama authorized a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election in 2016. “Russia’s cyber activities were intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government. These actions are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” the White House stated.
“Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election,” President Obama stated . These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior.
“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions. In October, my Administration publicized our assessment that Russia took actions intended to interfere with the U.S. election process. These data theft and disclosure activities could only have been directed by the highest levels of the Russian government. Moreover, our diplomats have experienced an unacceptable level of harassment in Moscow by Russian security services and police over the last year. Such activities have consequences. Today, I have ordered a number of actions in response.”
The President issued an executive order that expands upon his authority to respond to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners.
Using this new authority, Obama sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations. In addition, the Secretary of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information. The State Department is also shutting down two Russian compounds, in Maryland and New York, that the government charges were being used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes. Also, the State Department is declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives who will have to leave the US within 72 hours.
Finally, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence service cyber activity –including the codes and IP addresses – to help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.
“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities,” the President added. “We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized. In addition to holding Russia accountable for what it has done, the United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior, and interfere with democratic governance. To that end, my Administration will be providing a report to Congress in the coming days about Russia’s efforts to interfere in our election, as well as malicious cyber activity related to our election cycle in previous elections.”
As for the timeline, senior administration officials, answering journalists’ questions, stated:
“Our first priority was publicly disclosing the information – it was most important to make public what we knew – and we did that October 7. That was a unique if not unprecedented step to come out with the common view of US intelligence agencies that a foreign power was influencing our election. We also wanted to give warning directly to the Russians, in public and in private, numerous times, that we knew what they were doing and were preparing a response. We wanted them to absorb that message and have that affect their behavior. We were concerned about securing the election – and there is no evidence that the Russians tampered with the vote. The priority for our cybersecurity efforts was to make sure our election was secure. But the material that had been hacked and was being released – it was not like that genie could be put back in the bottle. We were putting this together in context with [hacked] information being shared, publicly released and reported on by the news media. We wanted to do [respond] as methodically as possible: what we could do with sanctions, with diplomats, with the Joint Analysis Report (JAR), and preparing other elements.”
They added that it takes considerable time to put together a package of sanctions – you need to have the evidence sufficient to stand up in court to justify the actions.
“Sanctions packages are time consuming – establishing the basis, then finding the target list. JAR itself is complex procedure as putting together info we can share publicly that provides the best possible guidance about what we know – and response to harassment [of our diplomats] is something focusing on for some time.”
The incoming administration, under Donald Trump, has dismissed the allegations. Trump stated that “we should just get on with our lives,” and signaled he would undo sanctions leveled against Putin, including the sanctions that were put into place after Russia annexed Crimea and engaged in hostilities intended to overthrow the Ukrainian government.
But the Administration officials, pointing to “flagrant violation of norms” that have also seen in interference in our election as well as a level of harassment of US diplomats in Russia – one even being assaulted by a Russian police officer – along with malicious cyber attacks that have been leveled against critical American infrastructure and American companies. to a level that is unprecedented during in the post-Cold War era and has been developing over a period of years,” threaten national security and democratic regimes.
“There is no debate in the US administration: it is a fact that Russia interfered in our democratic election. We have established that to our satisfaction. We would never expect Russia to acknowledge what they did, don’t do it; still deny they are interfering in Ukraine. We say to journalists, look at what they say and what they do. This is a country that has intervened in sovereign country even though can see – bombed civilians, but they deny it. It is not a ‘he said/she said’ situation. There are facts.”
“We have one president at a time. President Obama will execute the duties of his office until January 20. He’s acting on what he believes is in best interest of the United States.”
There are any number of actions that we’re taking that will [fall to next administration]. .When a new administration takes office, entirely in their judgment a to whether to continue the course we set in number of areas.
“But Russian actions have been sustained over an extended period of time, and by any definition, are against our national interest, not just the interests of this president – harassment of our diplomats is a direct threat of ability of US to conduct diplomacy. Interference with our election is a pattern we see in other western democracies, including some of our closest allies. Malicious cyber targeting of American critical infrastructure would be of concern to future administrations.
“We know from our own consultations this is of concern to American business, and we would expect future administrations to be concerned about the impact on the American economy of Russian cyber activity. We are taking these actions because of pattern of behavior of period of time, replicated in other countries. We believe is the right approach to take.
“We’re taking these actions consistent with our assessment of what Russia has done – they have been interfering in both the American democratic process and in the conduct of American diplomacy. That should concern all Americans and members of both parties – a sustained effort to both harass our diplomatic personnel and interfere in our democratic process. We have no reason to believe that Russia’s activities will cease – they have been engaged in malicious cyber activity not just here in the United States but in other democratic countries. One reason to sustain [these] activities is that there is every reason that Russia will continue to interfere… These are executive actions. If a future president decided to allow in Russian intelligence agents, reopen those diplomatic compounds that are being used for intelligence, that compromises US national security.”
Here are the details from the White House:
Sanctioning Malicious Russian Cyber Activity
In response to the threat to U.S. national security posed by Russian interference in our elections, the President has approved an amendment to Executive Order 13964. As originally issued in April 2015, this Executive Order created a new, targeted authority for the U.S. government to respond more effectively to the most significant of cyber threats, particularly in situations where malicious cyber actors operate beyond the reach of existing authorities. The original Executive Order focused on cyber-enabled malicious activities that:
Harm or significantly compromise the provision of services by entities in a critical infrastructure sector;
Significantly disrupt the availability of a computer or network of computers (for example, through a distributed denial-of-service attack); or
Cause a significant misappropriation of funds or economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifiers, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain (for example, by stealing large quantities of credit card information, trade secrets, or sensitive information).
The increasing use of cyber-enabled means to undermine democratic processes at home and abroad, as exemplified by Russia’s recent activities, has made clear that a tool explicitly targeting attempts to interfere with elections is also warranted. As such, the President has approved amending Executive Order 13964 to authorize sanctions on those who:
Tamper with, alter, or cause a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.
Using this new authority, the President has sanctioned nine entities and individuals: two Russian intelligence services (the GRU and the FSB); four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
The Main Intelligence Directorate (a.k.a. Glavnoe Razvedyvatel’noe Upravlenie) (a.k.a. GRU) is involved in external collection using human intelligence officers and a variety of technical tools, and is designated for tampering, altering, or causing a misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with the 2016 U.S. election processes.
The Federal Security Service (a.k.a. Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti) (a.k.a FSB) assisted the GRU in conducting the activities described above.
The three other entities include the Special Technology Center (a.k.a. STLC, Ltd. Special Technology Center St. Petersburg) assisted the GRU in conducting signals intelligence operations; Zorsecurity (a.k.a. Esage Lab) provided the GRU with technical research and development; and the Autonomous Noncommercial Organization “Professional Association of Designers of Data Processing Systems” (a.k.a. ANO PO KSI) provided specialized training to the GRU.
Sanctioned individuals includeIgor Valentinovich Korobov, the current Chief of the GRU; Sergey Aleksandrovich Gizunov, Deputy Chief of the GRU; Igor Olegovich Kostyukov, a First Deputy Chief of the GRU; and Vladimir Stepanovich Alexseyev, also a First Deputy Chief of the GRU.
In addition, the Department of the Treasury is designating two Russian individuals,Evgeniy Bogachev and Aleksey Belan, under a pre-existing portion of the Executive Order for using cyber-enabled means to cause misappropriation of funds and personal identifying information.
Evgeniy Mikhailovich Bogachev is designated today for having engaged in significant malicious cyber-enabled misappropriation of financial information for private financial gain. Bogachev and his cybercriminal associates are responsible for the theft of over $100 million from U.S. financial institutions, Fortune 500 firms, universities, and government agencies.
Aleksey Alekseyevich Belan engaged in the significant malicious cyber-enabled misappropriation of personal identifiers for private financial gain. Belan compromised the computer networks of at least three major United States-based e-commerce companies.
Responding to Russian Harassment of U.S. Personnel
Over the past two years, harassment of our diplomatic personnel in Russia by security personnel and police has increased significantly and gone far beyond international diplomatic norms of behavior. Other Western Embassies have reported similar concerns. In response to this harassment, the President has authorized the following actions:
Today the State Department declared 35 Russian government officials from the Russian Embassy in Washington and the Russian Consulate in San Francisco “persona non grata.” They were acting in a manner inconsistent with their diplomatic status. Those individuals and their families were given 72 hours to leave the United States.
In addition to this action, the Department of State has provided notice that as of noon on Friday, December 30, Russian access will be denied to two Russian government-owned compounds, one in Maryland and one in New York.
Raising Awareness About Russian Malicious Cyber Activity
The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation are releasing a Joint Analysis Report (JAR) that contains declassified technical information on Russian civilian and military intelligence services’ malicious cyber activity, to better help network defenders in the United States and abroad identify, detect, and disrupt Russia’s global campaign of malicious cyber activities.
The JAR includes information on computers around the world that Russian intelligence services have co-opted without the knowledge of their owners in order to conduct their malicious activity in a way that makes it difficult to trace back to Russia. In some cases, the cybersecurity community was aware of this infrastructure, in other cases, this information is newly declassified by the U.S. government.
The report also includes data that enables cybersecurity firms and other network defenders to identify certain malware that the Russian intelligence services use. Network defenders can use this information to identify and block Russian malware, forcing the Russian intelligence services to re-engineer their malware. This information is newly de-classified.
Finally, the JAR includes information on how Russian intelligence services typically conduct their activities. This information can help network defenders better identify new tactics or techniques that a malicious actor might deploy or detect and disrupt an ongoing intrusion.
This information will allow network defenders to take specific steps that can often block new activity or disrupt on-going intrusions by Russian intelligence services. DHS and FBI are encouraging security companies and private sector owners and operators to use this JAR and look back within their network traffic for signs of malicious activity. DHS and FBI are also encouraging security companies and private sector owners and operators to leverage these indicators in proactive defense efforts to block malicious cyber activity before it occurs. DHS has already added these indicators to their Automated Indicator Sharing service.
“Cyber threats pose one of the most serious economic and national security challenges the United States faces today. For the last eight years, this Administration has pursued a comprehensive strategy to confront these threats. And as we have demonstrated by these actions today, we intend to continue to employ the full range of authorities and tools, including diplomatic engagement, trade policy tools, and law enforcement mechanisms, to counter the threat posed by malicious cyber actors, regardless of their country of origin, to protect the national security of the United States,” the White House stated.