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History > 2013 > USA > Politics > White House / President (I)





Now Is The Time to Take Action Against Gun Violence        Video


President Obama reiterates his commitment to do everything in his power
to implement a series of commonsense measures

that would reduce gun violence in America.


The President started off that effort with 23 concrete actions

his Administration is taking immediately under its existing legal authority.


But to have a lasting impact,

Congress must join the administration by passing commonsense laws

like requiring a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun,

and restoring a ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines.


If they do that,

we can respect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens

while helping to keep the irresponsible few from causing massive harm.

Published on Jan 19, 2013

YouTube > White House















Obama’s Plan Sees 8-Year Wait

for Illegal Immigrants


February 17, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — A plan by President Obama for an overhaul of the immigration system would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship that could begin after about eight years and would require them to go to the back of the line behind legal applicants, according to a draft of the legislation that the White House has circulated in the administration.

The draft plan says none of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country would be granted permanent resident status and given a document known as a green card until the earlier of two dates: either eight years after the bill is enacted or 30 days after visas have been given to everyone who applied legally.

The plan includes a shortened path to citizenship for young illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children, said an administration official who agreed to discuss the details only on the condition of anonymity. In many cases, those young people could apply for green cards as soon as two years after the law was passed.

The disclosure of the document’s existence, by USA Today on Saturday, set off a series of political recriminations and questions on Sunday about Mr. Obama’s promise to allow bipartisan Congressional talks to take precedence. The furor also offered new evidence that Republicans could use the president’s direct involvement as a reason to reject a potential compromise.

The White House on Wednesday sent copies of the draft to officials in government agencies that deal with immigration and border security, the administration official said. In the face of the sharp Republican criticism, the administration insisted this weekend that no decision had been made and that nothing had changed. White House aides reached out to lawmakers in both parties on Saturday night to reassure them, officials said.

Denis McDonough, the president’s top White House aide, said on Sunday that Mr. Obama remained committed to staying on the sidelines while a group of Republican and Democratic senators tries to reach an immigration agreement by the spring. In his first appearances on Sunday talk shows as chief of staff, Mr. McDonough said the administration was preparing draft legislation only as a backup.

“We’ve not proposed anything to Capitol Hill yet,” he said on the ABC program “This Week.” “We’re going to be ready. We have developed each of these proposals so we have them in a position so that we can succeed.”

His comments came after Republicans quickly condemned the reports of a new administration plan, calling it “dead on arrival” and “very counterproductive.”

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, issued a statement late Saturday calling the president’s reported legislation “half-baked and seriously flawed.” He said its approval “would actually make our immigration problems worse.” Mr. Rubio has been among the leading Republicans pushing for a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration process.

On Sunday, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, another Republican calling for immigration changes, said on “This Week” that the president’s efforts to develop his own legislation would undermine efforts on Capitol Hill and were taking “things in the wrong direction.”

Aides to Mr. Obama have been working on immigration legislation for years in anticipation of a renewed push. Mr. McDonough did not confirm which specific proposals would be in the president’s bill if he presented one to Congress, but said that if lawmakers could not reach an agreement, everyone would find out.

Mr. Rubio “says it’s dead on arrival if proposed,” Mr. McDonough said. “Well, let’s make sure that it doesn’t have to be proposed. Let’s make sure that that group up there, the gang of eight, makes some good progress on these efforts, as much as they say they want to, and that’s exactly what we intend to do, to work with them.”

The back-and-forth was a blunt reminder that Mr. Obama remains a polarizing figure as the two parties seek common ground on an emotional issue that has defied resolution for more than two decades.

According to the White House draft, which elaborates on principles that Mr. Obama unveiled several weeks ago, illegal immigrants would have to wait at least eight years before they could apply for green cards, the first step on the path to citizenship, unless the backlogs were cleared earlier. After receiving a green card, immigrants are generally eligible to become naturalized citizens after five years.

The plan contemplates measures that could speed up the long lines in the legal system, opening the door to a faster path. But administration officials have said it is highly unlikely that the lines would be eliminated before eight years. About six million people who have followed the rules and have been approved are waiting for green cards to be issued. Most Mexicans, for example, must wait at least 16 years to receive their green cards after they are approved.

Mr. Obama proposes to reduce the backlog by temporarily adding to the number of visas available and by reconfiguring some visa categories to remove them from numerical caps. Once those lines were eliminated, illegal immigrants who would be given provisional legal status under Mr. Obama’s draft plan could apply for green cards.

The length of the path to citizenship for illegal immigrants has become a highly delicate issue in the fast-moving debate over the overhaul. Republicans who are part of the bipartisan group of senators drafting legislation have said they are looking for a longer path for illegal immigrants, to make it clear they are not jumping the line or being rewarded for violating the law to come to the United States.

Those Republicans, led by Mr. Rubio, are also insisting that the path to citizenship must hinge on advances in border security. There is no mention of any border enforcement trigger in the versions of the plan that the White House circulated on Wednesday. But increased border enforcement is part of the principles for comprehensive immigration legislation that Mr. Obama has outlined in speeches in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups for Latinos and other immigrants are increasing their pressure on Mr. Obama to shorten the path and reduce its hurdles. This month, a broad coalition of immigrant groups called for the wait to be “years, not decades,” and one group said immigrants should be able to become naturalized citizens after no more than seven years. Last week, a Latino group delivered an online petition with more than 265,000 supporters calling for an efficient pathway.

The draft does not yet include any proposed legislation for a guest worker program to handle future flows of immigrants for agriculture and other low-wage industries, the administration official said. That intensely contentious issue is the subject of parallel closed-door negotiations between labor leaders and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Under the White House’s draft plan, immigrants would have to pay any back taxes, learn English and pay fees and a penalty of probably a few hundred dollars. Immigrants with serious criminal records would not be eligible.


Michael D. Shear reported from Washington,

and Julia Preston from Hoboken, N.J.

    Obama’s Plan Sees 8-Year Wait for Illegal Immigrants, NYT, 17.2.2013,






Congress to See Memo

Backing Drone Attacks on Americans


February 6, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The White House on Wednesday directed the Justice Department to release to the two Congressional Intelligence Committees classified documents discussing the legal justification for killing, by drone strikes and other means, American citizens abroad who are considered terrorists.

The White House announcement appears to refer to a long, detailed 2010 memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel justifying the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric who had joined Al Qaeda in Yemen. He was killed in a C.I.A. drone strike in September 2011. Members of Congress have long demanded access to the legal memorandum.

The decision to release the legal memo to the Intelligence Committees came under pressure, two days after a bipartisan group of 11 senators joined a growing chorus asking for more information about the legal justification for targeted killings, especially of Americans.

The announcement also came on the eve of the confirmation hearing scheduled for Thursday afternoon for John O. Brennan, President Obama’s choice to be director of the C.I.A., who has been the chief architect of the drone program as Mr. Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

Critics accused Mr. Obama of hypocrisy for keeping the legal opinions on targeted killing secret, noting that in 2009 he had ordered the public release of the classified memos governing C.I.A. interrogations under President George W. Bush. Administration officials replied that the so-called enhanced interrogations had been stopped, while drone strikes continue.

Until Wednesday, the administration had refused to even officially acknowledge the existence of the documents, which have been reported about in the press. This week, NBC News obtained an unclassified, shorter “white paper” that detailed some of the legal analysis about killing a citizen and was apparently derived from the classified Awlaki memorandum. The paper said the United States could target a citizen if he was a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda involved in plots against the country and if his capture was not feasible.

Administration officials said Mr. Obama had decided to take the action, which they described as extraordinary, out of a desire to involve Congress in the development of the legal framework for targeting specific people to be killed in the war against Al Qaeda. Aides noted that Mr. Obama had made a pledge to do that during an appearance on “The Daily Show” last year.

“Today, as part of the president’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the president directed the Department of Justice to provide the Congressional Intelligence Committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper,” said an administration official who requested anonymity to discuss the handling of classified material.

The official said members of the Intelligence Committees would now get “access” to the documents.

Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the president’s move “a small step in the right direction.” But he noted that the legal memo or memos were not being shared with the Armed Services Committees, which have jurisdiction over Pentagon strikes, or the Judiciary Committees, which oversee the Justice Department. It was not clear whether the release involved more than one memo.

The public should be permitted to see at least a redacted version of the relevant material, Mr. Anders said. “Everyone has a right to know when the government believes it can kill Americans and others,” he said.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is expected to closely question Mr. Brennan about his role in the drone program during his hearing. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who sits on the committee, said in a phone interview that he had been working in his office on questions for Mr. Brennan about 6:30 p.m. Wednesday when Mr. Obama called him and said that “effective immediately he was going to make the legal opinions available and he also hoped that there could be a broader conversation.”

Mr. Wyden has repeatedly called on the administration to release its legal memorandums laying out what the executive branch believes it has the power to do in national security matters, including the targeted killing of a citizen. Earlier on Wednesday, at a Democratic retreat in Annapolis, Md., he had hinted at a potential filibuster of Mr. Brennan’s nomination by vowing to “pull out all the stops to get the actual legal analysis, because without it, in effect, the administration is, in effect, practicing secret law.”

Mr. Wyden said that committee members would have immediate access to the material, and that there would be a process for other senators to read it eventually. It was not clear whether lawmakers’ legal aides would also be allowed to read it.

He said the administration’s decision to allow lawmakers “to finally see the legal opinions” was an “encouraging first step, and what I want to see is a bipartisan effort to build on it, particularly right now, when the lines are blurring between intelligence agencies and the military.”

The Congressional Intelligence Committees were created in the late 1970s to exercise oversight after a series of scandals at the spy agencies. The law requires that the committees be kept informed of intelligence activities. But most administrations withhold at least some legal opinions, treating them as confidential legal advice to the president and agency officials.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said she was pleased by the president’s action. “It is critical for the committee’s oversight function to fully understand the legal basis for all intelligence and counterterrorism operations,” she said.

The New York Times and the American Civil Liberties Union have filed lawsuits to force the release of the classified legal opinions on targeted killing, including the one now going to the Intelligence Committees. A judge rejected the claims, and the decision is on appeal.

The use of unmanned drones in the war against terrorism — a technology that has greatly facilitated the ability of the government to kill specific people from any “hot” battlefield — has significantly escalated under Mr. Obama, who has used them to target Qaeda leadership. Mr. Obama has hailed his administration’s success in killing many in the terrorist organization’s senior ranks and undermining its ability to attack America.

But there have been persistent questions about how targets are chosen, especially when it comes to American citizens who the government says have taken up arms against their country as part of Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations.

Mr. Obama and administration officials have said they are pursuing a “legal framework” for those decisions, and some top officials have given speeches describing that legal framework. The unclassified white paper had been provided to members of Congress but had not been released publicly.

Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, was asked on Wednesday morning whether the president owed the public a “clearer explanation” about the standards that the government must meet before it uses the drones to kill Americans overseas. He called that an “excellent question” and said Mr. Obama took it seriously.

“He’s talking about this in a very deliberative and thoughtful way about how we move forward as a nation on these issues, because, obviously, these are questions that will be with us long after he is president and long after the people who are in the seats that they’re in now have left the scene,” Mr. Carney said.

Asked about the timing of those deliberations, he said he did not have any information to provide. “But I just wanted to convey to you the seriousness with which the president approaches these issues, and he respects the questions being asked,” Mr. Carney said.


Charlie Savage contributed reporting.

    Congress to See Memo Backing Drone Attacks on Americans, NYT, 6.2.2013,






To Kill an American


February 5, 2013
The New York Times


On one level, there were not too many surprises in the newly disclosed “white paper” offering a legal reasoning behind the claim that President Obama has the power to order the killing of American citizens who are believed to be part of Al Qaeda. We knew Mr. Obama and his lawyers believed he has that power under the Constitution and federal law. We also knew that he utterly rejects the idea that Congress or the courts have any right to review such a decision in advance, or even after the fact.

Still, it was disturbing to see the twisted logic of the administration’s lawyers laid out in black and white. It had the air of a legal justification written after the fact for a policy decision that had already been made, and it brought back unwelcome memories of memos written for President George W. Bush to justify illegal wiretapping, indefinite detention, kidnapping, abuse and torture.

The document, obtained and made public by NBC News, was written by the Justice Department and coyly describes another, classified document (which has been described in The Times) that actually provided the legal justification for ordering the killing of American citizens.

That document still has not been provided to Congress, despite repeated demands from lawmakers. The white paper was sent to Capitol Hill seven months after the military carried out President Obama’s orders to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, an American who moved to Yemen and became an advocate of jihad against the United States.

In private, administration officials say Mr. Awlaki was a commander of an Al Qaeda affiliate and actively involved in planning attacks on the United States. Publicly, it has refused even to acknowledge that Mr. Obama ordered Mr. Awlaki killed or back up its claim that he was an active terrorist. The White House has vigorously fought holding any court hearing over the killing of Mr. Awlaki or his 16-year-old son, who was killed in a subsequent attack.

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing to have the operational memo on those killings released, arguing that an American citizen has constitutional rights that a judge must make sure are being respected. We agree.

According to the white paper, the Constitution and the Congressional authorization for the use of force after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, gave Mr. Obama the right to kill any American citizen that an “informed, high-level official” decides is a “senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or an associated force” and presents an “imminent threat of violent attack.”

It never tries to define what an “informed, high-level official” might be, and the authors of the memo seem to have redefined the word “imminent” in a way that diverges sharply from its customary meaning. It talks about “due process” and the need to balance a person’s life “against the United States’ interest in forestalling the threat of violence and death to other Americans.”

But it takes the position that the only “oversight” needed for such a decision resides within the executive branch, and there is no need to explain the judgment to Congress, the courts or the public — or, indeed, to even acknowledge that the killing took place.

The paper argues that judges and Congress don’t have the right to rule on or interfere with decisions made in the heat of combat. Some officials also draw a parallel to police officers who use violence to protect the innocent. Even in wartime, there are many ways to review commanders’ and soldiers’ decisions, and while courts-martial are internal to the military, their verdicts are subject to appeal to a civilian judge. When a police officer so much as discharges his weapon, it triggers a great deal of review, based on rules that are known to everyone.

The white paper “is a confusing blend of self-defense and law of war concepts and doesn’t clearly explain whether there is a different standard for killing a senior Al Qaeda leader depending on whether he is a citizen,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies. “Its due process analysis is especially weak.”

The memo could and should have been released months ago. The administration could and should have provided a select number of lawmakers with the specifics on the killing of Mr. Awlaki and his son. The president could and should have acknowledged that decision and explained it.

Going forward, he should submit decisions like this one to review by Congress and the courts. If necessary, Congress could create a special court to handle this sort of sensitive discussion, like the one it created to review wiretapping. This dispute goes to the fundamental nature of our democracy, to the relationship among the branches of government and to their responsibility to the public.

    To Kill an American, NYT, 5.2.2013,






President Claims Shooting as a Hobby,

and the White House Offers Evidence


February 2, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When President Obama mentioned last week that he had picked up a new hobby — skeet shooting at Camp David — it was a surprising disclosure by a president whose main identification with guns these days is his effort to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

To some, Mr. Obama’s newfound enthusiasm for shooting clay pigeons — he said in an interview that he did it “all the time” at the presidential retreat — also seemed a bit suspicious.

So on Saturday, the White House tried to silence the skeptics by releasing a photograph of Mr. Obama shooting on the range at Camp David in August. The president, wearing protective glasses and ear-muffs, is squinting down the barrel of a shotgun moments after pulling the trigger. Smoke is shooting from the front of the gun.

The White House said the photo was taken on Aug. 4, Mr. Obama’s 51st birthday. But it offered no further details on whether his target practice was a regular hobby or a one-time event.

The notion of the president taking aim at targets flung into the air captivated some in the political and social media worlds at a time when he is pushing Congress to enact sweeping restrictions on high-capacity rifles and magazines.

Conservatives scoffed, comics mocked, a congresswoman challenged him to a skeet-shooting contest, a fake picture of an armed Mr. Obama circulated on the Internet, and the White House tried to make the whole matter go away.

“It was a surprise to a lot of people in the industry when we saw that and heard that,” said Michael Hampton Jr., the executive director of the National Skeet Shooting Association, whose 35,000 members do not include the president.

Mr. Obama is hardly the first politician to draw scorn for boasting of experience with guns. In 2007, during his first presidential campaign, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts was ridiculed when he said, “I’ve always been a rodent and rabbit hunter — small varmints, if you will.” In 2004, John Kerry, then a presidential candidate and now secretary of state, was lampooned for showing up in camouflage to go hunting less than two weeks before the election.

The latest commotion has its origins in the interview Mr. Obama gave to The New Republic, now owned by Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder and former Obama campaign aide. In the interview, Franklin Foer, the magazine’s editor, referred to the fight over gun control and asked if the president had ever fired a gun.

“Yes, in fact, up at Camp David, we do skeet shooting all the time,” Mr. Obama said.

“The whole family?” Mr. Foer asked.

“Not the girls,” he said, “but oftentimes guests of mine go up there. And I have a profound respect for the traditions of hunting that trace back in this country for generations. And I think those who dismiss that out of hand make a big mistake.”

Mr. Obama went on to say that the reality of guns in urban areas differs from that in rural areas. “So it’s trying to bridge those gaps that I think is going to be part of the biggest task over the next several months,” he said. “And that means that advocates of gun control have to do a little more listening than they do sometimes.”

The skeet-shooting comment caught many off guard because it is not something the president has talked about. While other presidents have used the skeet-shooting range at Camp David, database searches of Mr. Obama’s speeches and interviews turned up no mention of participating.

“I would refer you simply to his comments,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, told reporters who asked after the interview was published how often the president shoots. “I don’t know how often. He does go to Camp David with some regularity, but I’m not sure how often he’s done that.”

Asked why no one had seen a picture or heard about it before, Mr. Carney said, “Because when he goes to Camp David, he goes to spend time with his family and friends and relax, not to produce photographs.”

That did not satisfy the skeptics. The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column cast doubt on the claim, while Fox News quoted an unnamed person saying Mr. Obama had participated once during a Marine competition at Camp David but not “all the time.” Representative Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, went on CNN to question the assertion.

“I tell you what I do think,” Ms. Blackburn said. “I think he should invite me to Camp David, and I’ll go skeet shooting with him and I bet I’ll beat him.”

Gun rights supporters said the president was evidently trying to reach out to gun owners to assuage their concerns about his legislative proposals.

“He clearly doesn’t get it,” said Chris Cox, the chief lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. “But in his effort to pursue a political agenda, he apparently is willing to convince gun owners that he’s one of us, that he’s a Second Amendment supporter.”

Mr. Cox said no one was fooled. “Skeet shooting, whether you’ve done it or not, doesn’t make you a defender of the Second Amendment,” he said.

While White House officials privately dismissed skeptics by comparing them to “birthers” who doubted that Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii, even some liberals found the skeet-shooting comment hard to believe.

Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” made fun of Mr. Obama’s statement as well as those who doubted it. He essentially agreed with Mr. Cox that it was pointless for the president to try to reach out to gun rights supporters who do not believe him.

“The point is, Mr. President, what are you doing? Why try?” Mr. Stewart asked. “As far as most of your opponents go, no measure of detente, true or disingenuous, will ingratiate you to your opponents. It’s a fool’s errand.”

Indeed, the release of a single photo did not prove that the president went skeet shooting “all the time,” and in an age of skepticism, Mr. Obama’s team recognized it might not put the matter to rest. “Attn skeet birthers,” David Plouffe, the former White House senior adviser, wrote on Twitter as he posted a link to the photo. “Make our day — let the photoshop conspiracies begin!”



This article has been revised

to reflect the following correction:

Correction: February 2, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated

the type of weapon that President Obama

fired in a photo released Saturday by the White House.

It was a shotgun, not a rifle.

    President Claims Shooting as a Hobby,
    and the White House Offers Evidence, NYT, 2.2.2013,






Full Transcript

of President Obama’s Remarks

on Immigration Reform


January 29, 2013
The New York Times


The following is the complete transcript of President Obama’s remarks on immigration on Tuesday in Las Vegas. (Transcript courtesy of Federal News Service.)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.) Thank you.

Well, it is good to be back in Las Vegas. (Cheers, applause.) And it is good to be among so many good friends. Let -- let me start off by thanking everybody at Del Sol High School for hosting us. (Cheers, applause.) Go, Dragons! Let me especially thank your outstanding principal, Lisa Primas. (Cheers, applause.)

There are all kinds of notable guests here, but I just want to mention a few. First of all, our outstanding secretary of Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano is here. (Cheers, applause.) Our wonderful secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar. (Cheers, applause.) Former Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. (Cheers, applause.) Two of the outstanding members of the congressional delegation from Nevada, Steve Horsford and Dina Titus. (Cheers, applause.) Your own mayor, Carolyn Goodman. (Cheers, applause.)

But we also have some mayors that flew in because they know how important the issue we’re going to talk about today is, Marie Lopez Rogers from Avondale, Arizona -- (cheers, applause) -- Kasim Reed from Atlanta, Georgia -- (cheers, applause) -- Greg Stanton from Phoenix, Arizona (cheers, applause) -- and Ashley Swearengin from Fresno, California.

(Cheers, applause.)

And all of you are here -- (cheers) -- as well as some of the top labor leaders in the country, and we are just so grateful. Some outstanding business leaders are here as well. And of course we got wonderful students here. (Sustained cheers, applause.) So I could not be prouder of our students.

Now, those of you who have a seat, feel free to take a seat. I don’t mind. (Laughter.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I love you, (Obama ?)!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I love you back! (Cheers.)

Now, last week -- last week I had the honor of being sworn in for a second term as president of the United States. (Cheers, applause.) And during my inaugural address, I talked about how making progress on the defining challenges of our time doesn’t require us to settle every debate or ignore every difference that we may have. But it does require us to find common ground and move forward in common purpose. It requires us to act.

And I know that some issues will be harder to lift than others. Some debates will be more contentious. That’s to be expected.

But the reason I came here today is because of a challenge where the differences are dwindling, where a broad consensus is emerging and where a call for action can now be heard coming from all across America.

I’m here today because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform -- (cheers, applause) -- (inaudible). Now’s the time. Now’s the time. (Cheers, applause.) Now’s the time. (Chanting.) Now’s the time.

I’m here because -- I’m here because most Americans agree that it’s time to fix a system that’s been broken for way too long.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: I’m here because business leaders, faith leaders, labor leaders, law enforcement and leaders from both parties are coming together to say now is the time to find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as the land of opportunity. Now’s the time to do this so we can strengthen our economy and strengthen our country’s future.

Think about it. We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are, in our bones. The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths. It keeps our workforce young, it keeps our country on the cutting edge, and it’s helped build the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.

After all, immigrants helped start businesses like Google and Yahoo. They created entire new industries that in turn created new jobs and new prosperity for our citizens.

In recent years 1 in 4 high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. One in 4 new small-business owners were immigrants, including right here in Nevada, folks who came here seeking opportunity and now want to share that opportunity with other Americans.

But we all know that today we have an immigration system that’s out of date and badly broken; a system that’s holding us back instead of helping us grow our economy and strengthen our middle class.

Right now we have 11 million undocumented immigrants in America, 11 million men and women from all over the world who live their lives in the shadows. Yes, they broke the rules. They crossed the border illegally. Maybe they overstayed their visas. Those are the facts. Nobody disputes them.

But these 11 million men and women are now here. Many of them have been here for years. And the overwhelming majority of these individuals aren’t looking for any trouble. They’re contributing members of the community. They’re looking out for their families. They’re looking out for their neighbors. They’re woven into the fabric of our lives.

Every day, like the rest of us, they go out and try to earn a living. Often they do that in the shadow economy, a place where employers may offer them less than the minimum wage or make them work overtime without extra pay. And when that happens, it’s not just bad for them, it’s bad for the entire economy, because all the businesses that are trying to do the right thing, that are hiring people legally, paying a decent wage, following the rules -- they’re the ones who suffer.

They’ve got to compete against companies that are breaking the rules. And the wages and working conditions of American workers are threatened too.

So if we’re truly committed to strengthening our middle class and providing more ladders of opportunity to those who are willing to work hard to make it in the middle class, we’ve got to fix the system. We have to make sure that every business and every worker in America is playing by the same set of rules. We have to bring this shadow economy into the light so that everybody is held accountable, businesses for who they hire and immigrants for getting on the right side of the law. That’s common sense, and that’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

And -- (cheers, applause) -- now, there’s another economic reason why we need reform. It’s not just about the folks who come here illegally and have the effect they have on our economy; it’s also about the folks who try to come here legally but have a hard time doing so and the effect that has on our economy. Right now there are brilliant students from all over the world sitting in classrooms at our top universities. They’re earning degrees in the fields of the future, like engineering and computer science. But once they finish school, once they earn that diploma, there’s a good chance they’ll have to leave our country.

Now, think about that. Intel was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Instagram was started with the help of an immigrant who studied here and then stayed here. Right now in one of those classrooms, there’s a student wrestling with how to turn their big idea, their Intel or Instagram, into a big business.

We’re giving them all the skills they need to figure that out, but then we’re going to turn around and tell them to start that business and create those jobs in China or India or Mexico or someplace else. That’s not how you grow new industries in America. That’s how you give new industries to our competitors. That’s why we need comprehensive immigration reform.

Now -- (cheers, applause) -- now, during my first term, we took steps to try and patch up some of the worst cracks in the system. First, we strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000. (Applause.)

Second, we focused our enforcement efforts on criminals who are here illegally and who endanger our communities. And today, deportations of criminals -- (applause) -- is at its highest level ever.

And third, we took up the cause of the dreamers, the young people who were brought to this country as children -- (cheers, applause) -- young people who have grown up here, built their lives here, have futures here. We said that if you’re able to meet some basic criteria, like pursuing an education, then we’ll consider offering you the chance to come out of the shadows so that you can live here and work here legally, so that you can finally have the dignity of knowing you belong.

But because this change isn’t permanent, we need Congress to act, and not just on the DREAM Act.

We need Congress to act on a comprehensive approach that finally deals with the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in the country right now. That’s what we need. (Cheers, applause.)

Now, the good news is that for the first time in many years Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together. (Cheers, applause.) Members of both parties in both chambers are actively working on a solution. Yesterday a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I’ve proposed and campaigned on for the last few years. So at this moment it looks like there’s a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that’s very encouraging.

But this time action must follow. We can’t allow -- (applause) -- immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time. So it’s not as if we don’t know technically what needs to get done.

As a consequence, to help move this process along, today I’m laying out my ideas for immigration reform. And my hope is that this provides some key markers to members of Congress as they craft a bill, because the ideas that I’m proposing have traditionally been supported by both Democrats like Ted Kennedy and Republicans like President George W. Bush. You don’t get that matchup very often. (Laughter.) So -- so we know where the consensus should be.

Now of course, there will be rigorous debate about many of the details. And every stakeholder should engage in real give and take in the process. But it’s important for us to recognize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place. And if Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Yes! (Cheers, applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: So -- so the principles are pretty straightforward. There are a lot of details behind it. We’re going to hand out a bunch of paper so everybody will know exactly what we’re talking about. But the principles are pretty straightforward.

First, I believe we need to stay focused on enforcement. That means continuing to strengthen security at our borders.

It means cracking down more forcefully on businesses that knowingly hire undocumented workers. To be fair, most businesses want to do the right thing, but a lot of them have a hard time figuring out who’s here legally, who’s not. So we need to implement a national system that allows businesses to quickly and accurately verify someone’s employment status. And if they still knowingly hire undocumented workers, then we need to ramp up the penalties.

Second, we have to deal with the 11 million individuals who are here illegally. Now, we all agree that these men and women should have to earn their way to citizenship. But for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a pathway to citizenship. (Cheers, applause.)

We’ve got to -- we’ve got to lay out a path, a process that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally, that’s only fair. (Cheers, applause.) All right? So that means it won’t be a quick process, but it will be a fair process and it will lift these individuals out of the shadows and give them a chance to earn their way to green card and, eventually, to citizenship. (Cheers, applause.)

And the third principle is we’ve got to bring our legal immigration system into the 21st century because it no longer reflects the realities of our time. (Cheers, applause.) For example, if you are a citizen, you shouldn’t have to wait years before your family is able to join you in America. (Cheers, applause.) You shouldn’t have to wait years.

If you’re a foreign student who wants to pursue a career in science or technology or a foreign entrepreneur who wants to start a business with the backing of American investors, we should help you do that here because if you succeed you’ll create American businesses and American jobs, You’ll help us grow our economy, you’ll help us strengthen our middle class.

So that’s what comprehensive immigration reform looks like -- smarter enforcement, a pathway to earn citizenship, improvements in the legal immigration system so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest all around the world.

It’s pretty straightforward.

The question now is simple. Do we have the resolve as a people, as a country, as a government to finally put this issue behind us? I believe that we do. (Applause.) I believe that we do. I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp. But I promise you this. The closer we get, the more emotional this debate is going to become.

Immigration’s always been an issue that inflames passions. That’s not surprising. You know, there are few things that are more important to us as a society than who gets to come here and call our country home, who gets the privilege of becoming a citizen of the Untied States of America. That’s a big deal. When we talk about that in the abstract, it’s easy sometimes for the discussion to take on a feeling of us versus them. And when that happens, a lot of folks forget that most of us used to be them. (Cheers, applause.) We forget that.

And it’s really important for us to remember our history. You know, unless you’re one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from someplace else. (Cheers, applause.) Somebody brought you.

You know, Ken Salazar -- he’s of, you know, Mexican-American descent, but he -- he points out that his family’s been living where -- where he lives for 400 years.

(Cheers.) So he didn’t -- he didn’t immigrate anywhere. (Laughter.)

The Irish, who left behind a land of famine; the Germans, who fled persecution; the Scandinavians, who arrived eager to pioneer out west; the Polish; the Russians; the Italians; the Chinese; the Japanese; the West Indians; the huddled masses who came through Ellis Island on one coast and Angel Island on the other -- (cheers, applause) -- you know, all those folks, before they were us, they were them. (Laughter.)

And when each new wave of immigrants arrived, they faced resistance from those who were already here. They faced hardship. They faced racism. They faced ridicule. But over time, as they went about their daily lives, as they earned a living, as they raised a family, as they built a community, as their kids went to school here, they did their part to build the nation. They were the Einsteins and the Carnegies, but they were also the millions of women and men whose names history may not remember but whose actions helped make us who we are, who built this country hand by hand, brick by brick. (Cheers, applause.)

They all came here knowing that what makes somebody an American is not just blood or birth but allegiance to our founding principles and the faith in the idea that anyone from anywhere can write the next great chapter of our story.

And that’s still true today. Just ask Alan Aleman. Alan’s here this afternoon. Where’s Alan? He -- he -- he’s around here. There he is right here. (Cheers, applause.) Now, Alan was born in Mexico. (Cheers, applause.) He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a child. Growing up, Alan went to an American school, pledged allegiance to the American flag, felt American in every way. And he was, except for one -- on paper. In high school, Alan watched his friends come of age, driving around town with their new licenses, earning some extra cash from their summer jobs at the mall. He knew he couldn’t do those things. But it didn’t matter that much; what mattered to Alan was earning an education so that he could live up to his God-given potential.

Last year, when Alan heard the news that we were going to offer a chance for folks like him to emerge from the shadows, even if it’s just for two years at a time, he was one of the first to sign up. And a few months ago he was one -- one of the first people in Nevada to get approved. (Cheers, applause.) In that moment Alan said, I felt the fear vanish. I felt accepted.

So today Alan’s in his second year at the College of Southern Nevada. (Cheers, applause.) Alan’s studying to become a doctor. (Cheers, applause.) He hopes to join the Air Force. (Cheers, applause.) He’s working hard every single day to build a better life for himself and his family. And all he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America. (Applause.)

So -- so in the coming weeks, as the idea of reform becomes more real and the debate becomes more heated and there are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart, remember Alan and all those who share the same hopes and the same dreams. Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It’s about people. It’s about men and women and young people who want nothing more than the chance to earn their way into the American story.

And throughout our history, that’s only made our nation stronger. And it’s how we will make sure that this century is the same as the last, an American century, welcoming of everybody who aspires to do something more, who’s willing to work hard to do it, and is willing to pledge that allegiance to our flag.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America. (Cheers, applause.)


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    Full Transcript of President Obama’s Remarks on Immigration Reform, NYT, 29.1.2013, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/us/politics/full-transcript-of-president-obamas-remarks-on-immigration-reform.html






What We Don’t Know Is Killing Us


January 26, 2013
The New York Times


In one of the 23 executive orders on gun control signed this month, President Obama instructed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal science agencies to conduct research into the causes and prevention of gun violence. He called on Congress to aid that effort by providing $10 million for the C.D.C. in the next budget round and $20 million to expand the federal reporting system on violent deaths to all 50 states, from the current 18.

That Mr. Obama had to make such a decree at all is a measure of the power of the gun lobby, which has effectively shut down government-financed research on gun violence for 17 years. Research on guns is crucial to any long-term effort to reduce death from guns. In other words, treat gun violence as a public health issue.

But that is precisely what the National Rifle Association and other opponents of firearms regulation do not want. In the absence of reliable data and data-driven policy recommendations, talk about guns inevitably lurches into the unknown, allowing abstractions, propaganda and ideology to fill the void and thwart change.

The research freeze began at a time when the C.D.C. was making strides in studying gun violence as a public health problem. Before that, the issue had been regarded mainly as a law enforcement challenge or as a problem of disparate acts by deranged offenders, an approach that remains in sync with the N.R.A. worldview.

Public health research emphasizes prevention of death, disability and injury. It focuses not only on the gun user, but on the gun, in much the same way that public health efforts to reduce motor vehicle deaths have long focused on both drivers and cars.

The goal is to understand a health threat and identify lifesaving interventions. At their most basic, gun policy recommendations would extend beyond buying and owning a gun (say, background checks and safe storage devices) to manufacturing (childproofing and other federal safety standards) and distribution (stronger antitrafficking laws), as well as educating and enlisting parents, physicians, teachers and other community leaders to talk about the risks and responsibilities of gun ownership.

But by the early 1990s, C.D.C. gun research had advanced to the point that it contradicted N.R.A. ideology. Some studies found, for example, that people living in a home with a gun were not safer; they faced a significantly elevated risk of homicide and suicide.

The N.R.A. denounced the research as “political opinion masquerading as medical science,” and in 1996, Congress took $2.6 million intended for gun research and redirected it to traumatic brain injury. It prohibited the use of C.D.C. money “to advocate or promote gun control.” Since then, similar prohibitions have been imposed on other agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.

Technically, the prohibition is not a ban on all research, but the law has cast a pall that even prominent foundations and academic centers cannot entirely overcome. That is in part because comprehensive public health efforts require systematic data gathering and analysis, the scale and scope of which is a government undertaking. To understand and prevent motor vehicle deaths, for instance, the government tracks more than 100 variables per fatal crash, including the make, model and year of the vehicles, the speed and speed limit, the location of passengers, seat belt use and air bag deployment.

Guns deaths do not get such scrutiny. That does not mean we do not know enough to act. The evidence linking gun prevalence and violent death is strong and compelling; international comparisons are also instructive.

But we need more data to formulate, analyze and evaluate policy to focus on what works and to refine or reject what does not. How many guns are stolen? How do guns first get diverted into illegal hands? How many murderers would have passed today’s background checks? What percentage of criminal gun traces are accounted for by, say, the top 5 percent of gun dealers? How many households possess firearms: is it one-third as some surveys suggest, or one-half?

The gun lobby is likely to claim that any federally financed gun research, per se, is banned by law, a charge that would force debate of whether evidence-based policy recommendations are tantamount to lobbying. Or the C.D.C. may choose to focus on data collection and leave the policy recommendations to outside researchers. That would be a sorry situation for government scientists, but an improvement over the status quo.

It is obvious that gun violence is a public health threat. A letter this month to Vice President Joseph Biden Jr.’s gun violence commission from more than 100 researchers in public health and related fields pointed out that mortality rates from almost every major cause of death have declined drastically over the past half century. Motor vehicle deaths per mile driven in America have fallen by more than 80 percent. But the homicide rate in the United States, driven by guns, is almost exactly the same as it was in 1950.

    What We Don’t Know Is Killing Us, NYT, 26.1.2013,






In New Term, First Year Is Crucial for Obama Agenda


January 22, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The Constitution may promise President Obama another four years in the White House, but political reality calls for a far shorter time frame: he has perhaps as little as a year to accomplish his big-ticket goals for a second term.

As the president begins promoting his agenda of tackling gun control, immigration and climate change, even while bracing for yet another deadline-driven fiscal debate with Republicans, his advisers are scrambling to prioritize his ambitions to avoid squandering precious time.

Tensions are already emerging between the White House and some Democrats about how much emphasis the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. should give their gun control measures and whether a drawn-out debate over the Second Amendment could imperil the rest of the party’s initiatives, particularly on immigration.

The mass shooting last month in Newtown, Conn., elevated gun control on the administration’s agenda, suddenly competing with plans to push for sweeping changes in the nation’s immigration laws. Faced with a choice after his re-election in 2004, President George W. Bush chose to pursue a Social Security overhaul before an immigration bill and, amid partisan rancor over the Social Security fight, ended up getting neither.

For all of the revelry surrounding the president’s second inauguration this week, Mr. Obama, his aides and Congressional allies know that their window of opportunity narrows with each passing month.

“You hope and plan for a year, with the understanding that it could be several months less or several months more,” said Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary and longtime adviser to Mr. Obama. “It does require having a step-by-step plan for the year because you have a finite amount of time.”

The tenor of the president’s Inaugural Address on Monday, where he delivered a forceful argument for pursuing an ambitious liberal agenda, signaled that Mr. Obama might try to approach Republicans with a sterner hand than he did in his first term. Already, he has signed executive orders on gun control and, at least for the moment, forced a Republican retreat on raising the debt ceiling.

Yet some of Mr. Obama’s most ambitious goals still require action from Congress, and Republicans still control the House. Even the Republicans’ decision to agree to an effective three-month extension on the debt ceiling creates complications, by keeping the budget fight high on the agenda.

Senator Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, expressed the uphill climb with fiscal matters looming over the Capitol Hill, declaring: “We have to do a budget. We aren’t going to do anything of consequence here until the budget is done.”

The State of the Union address that Mr. Obama will deliver to Congress on Feb. 12 will offer the most definitive road map yet for how the White House will set priorities in his second term as well as how it intends to avoid becoming mired in a heated debate over one contentious topic to the detriment of the full agenda.

“There’s no doubt you want to get off to a strong start, and we’ve got a pretty big dance card,” said David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama who is leaving the White House this week. He ticked through a list of agenda items that included guns, immigration and fiscal issues, but he disputed the suggestion that one item would overtake the others.

“We clearly have this moment where we can get immigration done,” Mr. Plouffe added. “If we don’t get it done, then shame on us. We’ve got to seize this opportunity.”

The president has been studying the experiences of previous second-term administrations, aides said, including how Mr. Bush decided to put his plans to overhaul Social Security ahead of immigration in 2005. The failed fight over creating privatized Social Security accounts fractured Republicans, energized Democrats and complicated the rest of Mr. Bush’s term.

Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff to Mr. Bush for six years, said the failure to pass immigration legislation stands as a lesson to second-term presidents, including Mr. Obama, that “you can’t get everything that you want — that’s an unfortunate reality.”

The first year of a second term is about accomplishment and legacy, Mr. Card said, and should be planned carefully before the attention starts shifting away from the president.

“It is the agenda year,” Mr. Card said in an interview. “He will command attention, respect — and probably vitriol — for probably the next three years. After that, he’ll have to adjust to the klieg lights starting to shine on somebody else.”

Mr. Obama, like all presidents in their second term, will surely have to fight to stay relevant at some point, even if his advisers believe that moment is still well in the future.

The phrase “lame duck” ultimately creeps into every White House, former administration officials say, regardless of a president’s stature. A gradual slide is likely to begin after the 2014 midterm elections, the outcome of which will help shape the last two years of Mr. Obama’s presidency.

“There will be a new leader of the brand,” said Sara Taylor Fagen, the political director in the Bush administration’s second term. “And you are not going to enact major reform the year before a presidential race.”

To extend the power of the Oval Office, the president has also already signaled that he intends to try to leverage his authority more fully through executive actions that do not require Congressional approval.

He has instructed his legislative aides and the legal team in the White House Counsel’s Office to review all avenues, as he did with gun control measures last week, to pursue priorities that would otherwise be met with resistance from Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“You can’t just sit there and kind of fantasize about what would be great to do,” Mr. Plouffe said. “In a lot of these areas, there are limits.

“But I think it’s fair to say that we are going to continue to audit every idea and every possibility where we can do things on our own where Congress won’t act.”


Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.

    In New Term, First Year Is Crucial for Obama Agenda, NYT, 22.1.2013,






Obama Speech Leaves G.O.P. Stark Choices


January 22, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama’s aggressive Inaugural Address on Monday presented Congressional Republicans with a stark choice over the next two years: accommodate the president’s agenda on immigration, guns, energy and social programs and hope to take the liberal edge off issues dictated by the White House, or dig in as the last bulwark against a re-elected Democratic president and accept the political risks of that hard-line stance.

As Mr. Obama’s second term begins, Republican leaders appear ready to accede at least in the short term on matters like increasing the debt limit.

Their decision shows that even among some staunch conservatives, Mr. Obama’s inauguration could be ushering in a more pragmatic tone — if not necessarily a shift in beliefs. From the stimulus to the health care law to showdowns over taxes and spending, Republicans have often found that their uncompromising stands simply left them on the sidelines, unable to have an impact on legislation and unable to alter it much once it passed.

Even in the budget impasses that forced spending cuts sought by conservatives, the Republicans’ ultimate goals — changes to entitlement programs and the tax code — have been out of reach.

Now, some in the party say, it is time to take a different tack.

“We’re too outnumbered to govern, to set policy,” said Representative John Fleming, a Louisiana Republican who has taken confrontational postures in the past. “But we can shape policy as the loyal opposition.”

The new approach has already produced results. In proposing to hold off a debt limit showdown for three months in return for the Senate producing a budget, House Republicans essentially maneuvered Senate Democrats into agreeing to draw up a spending plan, something they have avoided for three years.

Republican concessions, however, may only set up larger confrontations in the coming months over spending, taxes and immigration.

For instance, the three-month delay on the government’s statutory borrowing limit set for a vote on Wednesday is likely to produce a fight this spring over changes to Medicare, even for those nearing retirement. An acceptance in principle on the need to institute changes in immigration laws could bog down later this year over what to do with nearly 12 million illegal immigrants.

And the House Republican demand that the Senate produce a budget by mid-April could set in motion a Senate effort to overhaul the tax code to raise more revenue, contrary to Republican vows to stand against any more tax increases.

The president’s inaugural speech set Republicans on edge. Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the party’s vice-presidential nominee last year, said Mr. Obama had used “straw man arguments” in taking an implicit swipe at Mr. Ryan when he said that programs like Medicare and Social Security “do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take risks that make this country great.”

Mr. Ryan said that his own past references to “takers” did not refer to programs that people had paid into over their lives, and that the president was distorting the Republican stance.

“When the president does kind of a switcheroo like that, what he’s trying to say is that we are maligning these programs that people have earned throughout their working lives,” he said on the Laura Ingraham talk-radio program.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican minority leader, called the address “basically a liberal agenda directed at an America that we still believe is center-right.”

Nonetheless, the accommodations to the president may begin Wednesday when House Republican leaders ask their members to suspend the debt limit for three months as both chambers move forward on broader budget plans. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said Tuesday that the president “would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law.”

The tests will keep coming. A bipartisan group of senators is expected to release immigration proposals within the next two weeks. Already, there are signs of resistance. Representative Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, expected to be a point person for Republicans in the coming battle, said he could not support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, a top demand of the president’s.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, vowed Tuesday to put on the floor any gun control measures passed by the Judiciary Committee, inching closer to another showdown with the House.

To smooth these initial accommodations, House Republican leaders are having to make commitments to the rank and file that may present problems in the future. To win the votes for a 90-day suspension of the debt limit, some of the House’s most ardent conservatives said Tuesday, their leaders had to promise them two concessions.

The first was that either $110 billion in automatic, across-the-board spending cuts would go into force as scheduled in March, or equivalent cuts would have to be found. The second was that the House would produce a budget this spring that balances in 10 years — a heavy lift, considering that the past two budgets passed by the House did not get to balance for nearly 30 years.

To do that, House Republicans said, substantial changes to Medicare — which previously would have affected only those 10 years or more from the eligibility age of 65 — would instead have to hit people 7 years from eligibility, producing more savings.

“In 90 days, this is going to be the ultimate test for those we entrust with leadership positions,” said Representative Dave Schweikert, Republican of Arizona. “And I believe there will be hell to pay if we squander this.”

For now, some Republicans concede that the party is standing on shaky ground as it girds for confrontation.

“The public is not behind us, and that’s a real problem for our party,” said Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Republican who has clashed with his party’s leadership.

Newt Gingrich, the last Republican speaker to face a re-elected Democratic president, said that Republicans could not be seen as simply saying no to the president.

“You can take specific things he said that you agree with, emphasize those, and take the things you don’t agree with and propose alternatives,” he said.


Ashley Parker and Jeremy W. Peters contributed reporting.

    Obama Speech Leaves G.O.P. Stark Choices, NYT, 22.1.2013,






Justice and Prosperity


January 22, 2013
The New York Times

When Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. congratulated President Obama after he completed his oath of office on Monday, Americans heard the cordial, affirming voice that regularly fills the courtroom of the Supreme Court. But the chief justice’s graciousness did not mean he was endorsing the president or his views.

As the president’s Inaugural Address made plain and as important rulings of the Roberts court show, the Obama and Roberts visions of America are very different. No disagreement is more fundamental than that about the connection between justice and prosperity.

To Mr. Obama, prosperity enables justice and vice versa. Persuasively, he said in his address, “Together, we discovered that a free market only thrives when there are rules to ensure competition and fair play.” He also said, “We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else.” And commitments to justice, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, he said, “do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

The Roberts court, on the other hand, with the chief justice in the majority, has regularly ruled as if justice and prosperity are unrelated or even antithetical — by protecting large corporations from class-action lawsuits; by making it much harder for private lawsuits to succeed against mutual fund malefactors, even when they have admitted to lying and cheating; or by allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns and advance their narrow interests by exerting influence unjustly over government.

When the chief justice cast his critical vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act last June, he made clear that he did not favor the law, which is the most important commitment to justice and prosperity so far of the Obama administration. He wrote tartly, “It is not our job to protect the people from the consequences of their political choices.”

The connection between justice and prosperity is clear and strong. “Economic growth,” the scholar Benjamin Friedman documented, “more often than not fosters greater opportunity, tolerance of diversity, social mobility, commitment to fairness and dedication to democracy.” And justice of all kinds, especially social justice, is an essential means of achieving prosperity, as economic progress in the South demonstrated after the civil rights laws brought racial progress.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the coming months about the continuing need for a critical section of the Voting Rights Act that prevents racial discrimination and about the basic rights of gay Americans. Those cases are unquestionably about justice and fundamental issues of fairness. But their outcomes will inevitably affect prosperity as well, because they deal with issues of participation in American society and, as a result, in the American economy.

The cameras lingered on President Obama after the inaugural ceremony just before he entered the Capitol, as he turned back toward the Mall and took in the crowd of a million or so of the American people whose general welfare he again swore to promote. When Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath, he had a similar chance to be reminded of the multitudes to whom the Supreme Court pledges “Equal Justice Under Law” — and to be reminded of the strong link between justice and prosperity.

    Justice and Prosperity, NYT, 22.1.2013,






President Barack Obama


January 21, 2013
The New York Times


President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action. In the coming days, there will be no let up of political combat over the debt ceiling, gun control, national security and tax policies that can either reduce income inequality or allow such inequality to stifle economic growth and opportunity for all but the very wealthiest in this society.

But, on Monday, the president stepped back from those immediate battles to explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage.

“We have always understood that when times change, so must we,” he said, “that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

In every sphere of life — improving education, building roads, caring for the poor and elderly, training workers, recovering from natural disasters, providing for our defense — progress requires that Americans do these things together, Mr. Obama said.

That applies, he said, to “the commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other. The choice is not “between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said. “For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn. We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women. Disappointingly, the need for stricter gun controls was noted solely in a reference to the safety of children in places like Newtown, Conn.

On foreign policy, President Obama expressed with fervor a view of the role of the United States in a world that is threatened by terrorism on many continents. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that what he wants to achieve in his second term must be done in the next two years — perhaps even in the first 18 months. Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort.

Time is not on his side. It is pointless to wait for signs of conciliation from the extreme right, whose central ideology is to render government ineffective. He has gotten off to a good start by putting forward a comprehensive plan to tighten gun laws, despite outrageous propaganda against sensible controls from the gun lobby.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that there is much left to be done to shore up the economic recovery and invest in education and opportunities for the next generation. And, above all, he stressed the importance of the middle class to America’s economic survival. “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said.

It’s natural for a second-term president to be thinking about his place in history. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama has the ambition and intellect to place himself in the first rank of presidents. With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

    President Barack Obama, NYT, 21.3.2012,






A Map of Human Dignity


January 21, 2013
The New York Times


Seneca Falls, Selma, Stonewall. The alliteration of that litany made it seem obvious and inevitable, a bit of poetry just there for the taking. Just waiting to happen.

But it has waited a long time. And President Obama’s use of it in his speech on Monday — his grouping of those three places and moments in one grand and musical sentence — was bold and beautiful and something to hear. It spoke volumes about the progress that gay Americans have made over the four years between his first inauguration and this one, his second. It also spoke volumes about the progress that continues to elude us.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” the president said, taking a rapt country on a riveting trip to key theaters in the struggle for liberty and justice for all.

Seneca Falls is a New York town where, in 1848, the women’s suffrage movement gathered momentum. Selma is an Alabama city where, in 1965, marchers amassed, blood was shed and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood his ground against the unconscionable oppression of black Americans.

And Stonewall? This was the surprise inclusion, separating Obama’s oratory and presidency from his predecessors’ diction and deeds. It alludes to a gay bar in Manhattan that, in 1969, was raided by police, who subjected patrons to a bullying they knew too well. After the raid came riots, and after the riots came a more determined quest by L.G.B.T. Americans for the dignity they had long been denied.

The causes of gay Americans and black Americans haven’t always existed in perfect harmony, and that context is critical for appreciating Obama’s reference to Stonewall alongside Selma. Blacks have sometimes questioned gays’ use of “civil rights” to describe their own movement, and have noted that the historical experiences of the two groups aren’t at all identical. Obama moved beyond that, focusing on the shared aspirations of all minorities. It was a big-hearted, deliberate, compelling decision.

He went on, seconds later, to explicitly mention “gay” Americans, saying a word never before uttered in inaugural remarks. What shocked me most about that was how un-shocking it was.

Four years ago we lived in a country in which citizens of various states had consistently voted against the legalization of same-sex marriage.

But on Nov. 6, the citizens of all three states that had the opportunity to legalize gay marriage at the ballot box did so, with clear majorities in Maryland, Maine and Washington endorsing it.

Four years ago the inaugural invocation was given by a pastor with a record of antigay positions and remarks. This year, a similar assignment was withdrawn from a pastor with a comparable record, once it came to light. What’s more, an openly gay man was chosen to be the inaugural poet, and in news coverage of his biography, his parents’ exile from Cuba drew more attention than his sexual orientation. That’s how far we’ve come.

And the distance traveled impresses me more than the distance left. I want to be clear on that. I’m proud of our country and president, despite their shortcomings on this front and others. It takes time for minds to open fully and laws to follow suit, and the making of change, in contrast to the making of statements, depends on patience as well as passion.

But the “gay” passage of Obama’s speech underscored the lingering gap between the American ideal and the American reality. “Our journey is not complete,” he said, “until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

He means the right to marry. As long as we gay and lesbian Americans don’t have that, we’re being told that our relationships aren’t as honorable as those of straight couples. And if that’s the case, then we’re not as honorable, either. Is there really any other reading of the situation?

Despite our strides, gay and lesbian couples even now can marry only in nine states and the District of Columbia. The federal government doesn’t recognize those weddings, meaning that in terms of taxes, military benefits and matters of immigration, it treats gays and lesbians differently than it treats other Americans. It relegates us to an inferior class.

The Supreme Court could soon change, or validate, that. There are relevant cases before it. For his part Obama could show less deference to states’ rights, be more insistent about what’s just and necessary coast-to-coast, and push for federal protections against employment discrimination when it comes to L.G.B.T. Americans. His actions over the next four years could fall wholly in line with Monday’s trailblazing words. My hope is real, and grateful, and patient.


Joe Nocera is off today.

    A Map of Human Dignity, NYT, 21.1.2013,






Obama Offers Liberal Vision:

‘We Must Act’


January 21, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Barack Hussein Obama ceremonially opened his second term on Monday with an assertive Inaugural Address that offered a robust articulation of modern liberalism in America, arguing that “preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

On a day that echoed with refrains from the civil rights era and tributes to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Obama dispensed with the post-partisan appeals of four years ago to lay out a forceful vision of advancing gay rights, showing more tolerance toward illegal immigrants, preserving the social welfare safety net and acting to stop climate change.

At times he used his speech, delivered from the West Front of the Capitol, to reprise arguments from the fall campaign, rebutting the notion expressed by conservative opponents that America risks becoming “a nation of takers” and extolling the value of proactive government in society. Instead of declaring the end of “petty grievances,” as he did taking the oath as the 44th president in 2009, he challenged Republicans to step back from their staunch opposition to his agenda.

“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-old debates about the role of government for all time — but it does require us to act in our time,” he said in the 18-minute address. “For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitute spectacle for politics or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act.”

Mr. Obama used Abraham Lincoln’s Bible, as he did four years ago, but this time added Dr. King’s Bible as well to mark the holiday honoring the civil rights leader. He became the first president ever to mention the word “gay” in an Inaugural Address as he equated the drive for same-sex marriage to the quests for racial and gender equality.

The festivities at the Capitol came a day after Mr. Obama officially took the oath in a quiet ceremony with his family at the White House on the date set by the Constitution. With Inauguration Day falling on a Sunday, the swearing-in was then repeated for an energized mass audience a day later, accompanied by the pomp and parade that typically surround the quadrennial tradition.

Hundreds of thousands of people gathered on a brisk but bright day, a huge crowd by any measure, though far less than the record turnout four years ago. If the day felt restrained compared with the historic mood the last time, it reflected a more restrained moment in the life of the country. The hopes and expectations that loomed so large with Mr. Obama’s taking the office in 2009, even amid economic crisis, have long since faded into a starker sense of the limits of his presidency.

Now 51 and noticeably grayer, Mr. Obama appeared alternately upbeat and reflective. When he re-entered the Capitol at the conclusion of the ceremony, he stopped his entourage to turn back toward the cheering crowds on the National Mall.

“I want to take a look, one more time,” he said. “I’m not going to see this again.”

If the president was wistful, his message was firm. He largely eschewed foreign policy except to recommend engagement over war, and instead focused on addressing poverty and injustice at home. He did little to adopt the language of the opposition, as he has done at moments in the past, and instead directly confronted conservative philosophy.

“The commitments we make to each other — through Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us,” he said. “They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

The phrase, “nation of takers,” was a direct rebuke to Republicans like Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, last year’s vice-presidential nominee, and several opposition lawmakers took umbrage at the president’s tone.

“I would have liked to see a little more on outreach and working together,” said Senator John McCain of Arizona, the Republican who lost to Mr. Obama four years ago. “There was not, as I’ve seen in other inaugural speeches, ‘I want to work with my colleagues.’ ”

Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, a member of the Republican leadership, said that from the opening prayer to the closing benediction, “It was apparent our country’s in chaos and what our great president has brought us is upheaval.” He added, “We’re now managing America’s demise, not America’s great future.”

Mr. Obama struck a more conciliatory note during an unscripted toast during lunch with Congressional leaders in Statuary Hall after the ceremony. “Regardless of our political persuasions and perspectives, I know that all of us serve because we believe that we can make America for future generations,” he said.

For the nation’s 57th presidential inauguration, a broad section of downtown Washington was off limits to vehicles and a major bridge across the Potomac River was closed to regular traffic as military Humvees were stationed at strategic locations around the city.

Joining the president through the long day were the first lady, Michelle Obama, and their daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11. The young girls were playful. Malia at one point sneaked up behind her father and cried out, “Boo!” Sasha used a smartphone to take a picture of her parents kissing in the reviewing stand, then made them do it again. Both girls bounced with the martial music at the Capitol.

Mr. Obama’s day began with a service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, across Lafayette Square from the White House, where the Rev. Andy Stanley told him to “leverage that power for the benefit of other people in the room.” At the Capitol, Myrlie Evers-Williams, the civil rights leader, delivered the invocation and the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir performed the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. was sworn in at 11:46 a.m. by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The singer James Taylor then performed “America the Beautiful.”

At 11:50 a.m., Mr. Obama was sworn in again by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. After the two mangled the 35-word oath four years ago, necessitating a just-in-case do-over the next day, the president and chief justice this time carefully recited the words in tandem without error, although Mr. Obama did swallow the word “states.”

Mr. Obama was more specific in discussing policy than presidents typically are in an Inaugural Address. Particularly noticeable was his recommitment to fighting climate change. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” he said.

He referred only implicitly to terrorism, the issue that has so consumed the nation for the past decade, but offered a more inward-looking approach to foreign policy, saying that “enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.” He also talked of overhauling immigration rules so “bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our work force, rather than expelled from our country.”

For a president who opposed same-sex marriage as recently as nine months ago, the speech was a clear call for gay rights, as he noted the journey “through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall,” symbolically linking seminal moments in the struggles for equal rights for women, blacks and gay men and lesbians.

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” he said.

The expanse between the Capitol and the Washington Monument was filled with supporters, many of them African-Americans attending only the second inauguration of a black president. As large TV screens flickered in and out and the audio often warbled, the ceremony was difficult to follow for many braving the Washington chill.

The speech was followed by song, poem and benediction from Kelly Clarkson, Richard Blanco, the Rev. Luis Leon and Beyoncé. The president and first lady got out of their motorcade twice to walk stretches along Pennsylvania Avenue. Mr. Biden and Jill Biden did as well, and the vice president greeted bystanders with fist-pumping gusto.

The two families then settled into the specially built bulletproof reviewing stand to watch the parade. Mr. Obama, who often uses Nicorette to tame an old smoking habit, was spotted chewing as the bands marched past.

In the evening, the Obamas attended two official inaugural balls, down from 10 four years ago. The president, in tuxedo with white tie, danced at each of them with the first lady, in a custom Jason Wu ruby chiffon and velvet gown, to Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together,” performed by Jennifer Hudson. The Obamas were back at the White House by 10:15 p.m.


Reporting was contributed by Jeremy W. Peters, Michael D. Shear, Jennifer Steinhauer

and Jonathan Weisman.

    Obama Offers Liberal Vision: ‘We Must Act’, NYT, 21.1.2013,






Among Blacks, Pride Is Mixed With Expectations for Obama


January 20, 2013
The New York Times


The Rev. Greggory L. Brown, a 59-year-old pastor of a small Lutheran church, committed himself to ministry and a life pursuing social justice on April 4, 1968 — the day the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was slain by an assassin’s bullet.

And four years ago, like so many African-Americans around the country, he saw Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency as nothing short of a shocking validation of Dr. King’s vision of a more perfect union, where the content of character trumps the color of skin. “I was so excited when he was giving that first inauguration speech,” said Mr. Brown, of Oakland, Calif. “I could feel it in my bones.”

On Monday, when President Obama places his hand on Dr. King’s personal Bible to take a second, ceremonial oath of office, he will be symbolically linking himself to the civil rights hero. But Mr. Brown, along with other African-Americans interviewed recently, said their excitement would be laced with a new expectation, that Mr. Obama move to the forefront of his agenda the issues that Dr. King championed: civil rights and racial and economic equality.

In interviews with experts and black leaders, some, like Mr. Brown, say they have been disappointed by the slow pace of change for African-Americans, whose children, for instance, are still more likely to live in poverty than those of any other race.

“The hope for Obama’s presidency was that there would be more help for places like Oakland and other urban areas that need support, safety and jobs,” Mr. Brown said. “He made people feel like anything is possible.”

African-Americans remain overwhelmingly supportive of the president, as evidenced by their enthusiastic turnout on Election Day and for the inauguration festivities and Monday’s holiday celebrating Dr. King’s birthday. Thousands of black Americans have descended on Washington from across the nation for the many parties and observances and visits to the King memorial.

They have developed a protective stance toward Mr. Obama, acknowledging the limits of his power and the voraciousness of his critics. Many cite the power of representation, the visual message of a prosperous, cohesive black family being beamed around the country and the world, and the untold aspirations that vision inspires.

But African-Americans roundly reject the notion that Mr. Obama’s election has eased racial tensions or delivered the nation to a new post-racial reality.

“I think the great mass of black people have shown tremendous patience, discipline and understanding, recognizing the dilemma that he faces,” said Randall L. Kennedy, a professor at Harvard Law School and the author of “The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency.”

Still, Professor Kennedy said Mr. Obama had been “somewhat diffident” about issues that would be of special significance to African-Americans, like the disproportionate number of blacks in prison or urban poverty. Blacks understand, he added, that that perceived hesitation “was probably a virtual requirement” for him to be elected in the first place.

“Everyone agrees that you wish more was done the first term,” said Debra Lee, the chief executive of Black Entertainment Television. “But you look at politics and realize that the president can’t wave a wand and get things done by himself.”

“That’s one of the things we learned in the first term,” she added. “This is important and symbolic, but it’s not the end-all.”

As much as many people may have hoped that the impact of race would decline over time, one of the larger surveys on the issue, a poll by The Associated Press released in October, showed that racial attitudes had not improved in the four years since Mr. Obama took office.

It also suggested that prejudice had slightly increased. In a survey by the Pew Research Center conducted in April, a majority of Americans, some 61 percent, disagreed with the statement “Discrimination against blacks is rare today.”

Charlene Flynn, a dental assistant in Denver, said she had not noticed any meaningful change in race relations in her own life, but felt that there was a common understanding within the black community that Mr. Obama faced racism on the job. She said she strongly believed that Congress had been defiant toward the president, largely because he is black.

“I really think a lot of it has to do with his race, to tell the truth,” said Ms. Flynn, 51.

Mr. Brown, the pastor in Oakland, agreed. Each week, he prays aloud for the president. “I believe in my heart he wants to make a difference,” he said. “But every time he tries, people put up a big rock wall.”

Others are not so understanding, finding Mr. Obama too cautious on the subject of race.

The activist and academic Cornel West says he is outraged that Mr. Obama would use Dr. King’s personal Bible at the inauguration without endorsing Dr. King’s “black freedom struggle.”

“Martin went to jail talking about carpet bombing in Vietnam and trying to organize poor people, fighting for civil liberties,” Mr. West said. The president, he said, “has a compromising kind of temperament.”

But others in the civil rights movement say the president has a broader role.

“I told this president early on that I’ll be the head of the N.A.A.C.P., he can be head of the country,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the president of the civil rights organization.

He and others credit Mr. Obama’s cool temperament.

“Obama very effectively used positive messages to bring the racial and ethnic groups together, not divide them,” said William Julius Wilson, a Harvard sociologist and the author of “More Than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City.”

“In terms of race and ethnic relations,” Dr. Wilson said, “he is the right president during these hard economic times because social tensions are indeed high.”

He said that one need only look back to the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was shot last year by a Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Fla., to see the potential volatility of any presidential statement about race, even one where the president asked for “soul-searching.”

When Mr. Obama tenderly lamented, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon,” he was attacked by critics like the conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for using the teenager’s death as a “political opportunity.”

Blaine Sergew, 43, an immigrant from Ethiopia who lives in Atlanta, said she felt disappointed that “the little things” the president said got blown out of proportion. “It was a very true statement, but the immaturity of the conversation about race in this country wouldn’t allow that to stand as a simple, true statement,” she said.

As valuable as any presidential statement, Ms. Sergew added, was the effect of Mr. Obama’s election in 2008. Cradling her toddler son on Election Day then, “I so distinctly remember holding him and just weeping at the possibility that my son could grow up to just assume this is normal,” she said. “Seeing images of an African-American family that is so dedicated to its members and so full of love and respect is significant for many black families. It’s like Black Camelot.”

Still, aspirations are one thing. In Mr. Obama’s second term, more African-Americans will be looking for action.

“I think there is overwhelming joy and pride that Barack Obama has been re-elected, but every community wishes for more,” said Roslyn M. Brock, the chairwoman of the board of the N.A.A.C.P. “I am hopeful and prayerful that in his second term, he will get to the social issues that continue to plague us, and leave his legacy, his mark, on them.”


Reporting was contributed by Malia Wollan from Oakland, Calif.;

Dan Frosch from Denver; Kim Severson and Robbie Brown from Atlanta;

Ian Lovett from Los Angeles; and Karen Ann Culotta from Chicago.

    Among Blacks, Pride Is Mixed With Expectations for Obama, NYT, 20.1.2013,






Pursuing Ambitious Global Goals,

but With a More Modest Strategy


January 20, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Not quite nine months into his presidency, Barack Obama woke to the news that he had won the Nobel Peace Prize — not for anything yet accomplished, but for the promise that he would end the Iraq war, win the “war of necessity” in Afghanistan, move toward the elimination of nuclear weapons, tackle climate change and engage America’s adversaries.

Yet beyond Iraq, his first-term accomplishments from that list are sparse. In a fractured world, President Obama struggled to define a grand strategy for America’s role, apart from preserving its pre-eminence while relying increasingly on a changing cast of partners.

As Mr. Obama begins his second term, aides and confidants say he is acutely aware that his ambitious agenda to restore America’s influence and image in the world stalled almost as soon as the prize was awarded. But the president has indicated that he plans to return to his original agenda, though he has hinted it may be in a different, less overtly ambitious way.

Bitter experience — from getting the most modest arms control agreement through the Senate his first year, trying and failing to engage leaders in Iran and North Korea, discovering his lack of leverage over Egypt, Pakistan and Israel, and finding Afghanistan to be a costly waste of American lives and resources — is driving him to a strategy reminiscent of one of his Republican predecessors, President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

It is a strategy in which Mr. Obama will try to redirect world events subtly, rather than turning to big treaties, big military interventions and big aid packages.

“The appeal of the Eisenhower approach is that it had a big element of turning inward, of looking to rebuilding strength at home, of conserving American power,” said one of Mr. Obama’s senior national security advisers, who would not agree to be quoted by name. “But there’s also the reality that some of the initiatives that seemed so hopeful four years ago — whether it’s driving down the number of nuclear weapons or helping Afghanistan remake itself — look so much harder now.”

Whether this approach can work is very much an open question. His early forays into covert action and lightning-quick strikes — like the fast war in Libya or the cyberwar against Iran — have set back adversaries, but the satisfactions of striking with a “light footprint” have usually been temporary at best.

His promises of transformative change are now viewed around the world with more suspicion. There was the student in Cairo who cornered a reporter a year ago and demanded to know why the prison at Guantánamo Bay was still open, and the European foreign minister who, at a diplomatic dinner in Washington, asked whether “the pivot to Asia is another phrase for ignoring the rest of the world.”

Mr. Obama’s questions during Situation Room sessions, some of his current and former aides say, seem to reflect a concern that his first term was spent putting out fires, rather than building lasting institutions.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman solidified America’s post-World War II role by helping create the United Nations, the international financial institutions and the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; President John F. Kennedy emerged from the Cuban Missile Crisis with treaties limiting the spread of nuclear weapons; the first President George Bush lured new allies from the ruins of the Soviet Union.

By comparison, Mr. Obama’s biggest accomplishments have been largely defensive: a full withdrawal from Iraq and devastating strikes against the core leadership of Al Qaeda. (When President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan visited the White House last week, he was presented a scorecard: of the “20 most wanted” Qaeda leaders when Mr. Obama was first inaugurated, 13 were dead, along with many of their successors.)

The president’s national security adviser, Thomas E. Donilon, has argued in speeches since Mr. Obama’s re-election that in the first term the president built a broader alliance against Iran than any of his predecessors; that is true, but so far it has not moved the Iranians to limit their nuclear drive.

The United States has variously offered to increase aid to Egypt or restrict it if the country heads off on an illiberal path. So far neither approach has given Mr. Obama leverage in influencing the new government led by the Muslim Brotherhood. A promising start in building an economic and political partnership with China has devolved into an argument over whether the United States is seeking to contain China’s ambitions.

“He wants to be something more than a pure manager for the next four years,” said Jeffrey A. Bader, a longtime diplomat who was one of the White House architects of the “rebalancing” toward Asia. He added that Mr. Obama “understands that being a transformative president on a global stage is about more than good intentions and good plans. It’s about finding places where you are not dependent on adversaries who refuse to budge, or who benefit from demonstrating their hostility to the U.S.”

If there is a big strategic bet in Mr. Obama’s second term, it may be that Asia is that place. The huge, unexpected burst in oil and gas production in the United States has bolstered Mr. Obama’s conviction that the United States has an opportunity to extract itself from an overdependence on events in the Middle East. In Asia, he has found a region more welcoming to American influence, largely because a greater American presence — meaning more naval ships and more investment — can quietly counterbalance China’s rising power.

Mr. Obama’s focus on Asia has reinforced his interest in the Eisenhower era. After the Korean War, Americans simply wanted to bring the troops home and focus on growth. Eisenhower had publicly committed to both balancing the budget and containing growing threats around the world, while in secret he began a broad rethinking of American national security called Project Solarium.

Just as Mr. Obama has privately worried about being manipulated by generals who were trying to lengthen the American involvement in Afghanistan, Eisenhower left office warning of the “military-industrial complex” that he feared would dominate American decision making.

At the same time, those who work with Mr. Obama, and parse his questions in Situation Room debates over the ability of the United States to influence events in places like Syria or Mali or North Korea, say they sense in him a greater awareness than he had four years ago of the limits of American influence.

He asks more detailed questions about how sending 100 troops, or 10,000, might influence long-term outcomes. Paraphrasing the president, one aide said he is more likely to ask, “So if we put troops into Syria to stabilize the chemical weapons, what can they accomplish in a year that they couldn’t accomplish in a week?”

That is a product of Mr. Obama’s bitter experience in 2009, when he yielded to advice from the military to send a surge of tens of thousands of troops into Afghanistan. He regretted it almost instantly. The move to an “Afghan good enough” strategy followed, with minimal goals and a quicker withdrawal of troops. Ever since, he has been hesitant to use traditional power in traditional ways.

“He has got to find the happy medium between not committing us to a decade-long ground war and choosing not to do anything,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, who was the head of the State Department’s policy planning operation for Mr. Obama’s first two years in office and has urged him to intervene more strongly in humanitarian disasters.

Mr. Obama’s caution has incurred a cost. To much of the world, his presidency thus far looks unlike what they expected. He promised “direct engagement” with longtime adversaries, including Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea and Venezuela. He is one for five: only the generals running Myanmar responded to his letters, economic incentives and offers of a new relationship.

In what Mr. Obama once called the “war of necessity,” in Afghanistan, the complaint heard more often is that Mr. Obama has abandoned any pretense of accomplishment in favor of accelerating the withdrawal.

“The situation is obviously not very confidence-inspiring,” Hina Rabbani Khar, Pakistan’s foreign minister, said in an interview last week. “A responsible transition means that you have achieved your objectives and then you leave. It’s not ‘We leave in January.’ It’s ‘We leave when the objectives are achieved.’ ”

And what of the grand initiatives?

A proposal for a very large reduction in deployed nuclear weapons has been in the hands of the White House for months, but the president has not acted on it. Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. promised a new push to win passage of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated during the Clinton administration. They have never submitted it to the Senate.

“We were assured by President Obama when he was elected that the U.S. would ratify this C.T.B.T.,” Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Friday. “But somehow, it has not happened.”

Given the composition of the Senate, it is not likely to happen in a second term, either. So Mr. Obama, his aides say, will have to find another way; like Eisenhower, he will have to redirect American policy quietly, from the Oval Office.

    Pursuing Ambitious Global Goals, but With a More Modest Strategy,

    NYT, 20.1.2013,






Many of the President’s Men

Are Moving On,

Though He May Still Turn to Them


January 20, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — When President Obama offered a tongue-in-cheek lament last week that he was “getting kind of lonely in this big house,” he was referring to his two daughters, who he said were less eager to hang out with their dad as they grew older.

But Mr. Obama might just as well have been talking about the fraternity of middle-aged political advisers who have been at his side since before the 2008 campaign and who are finally moving on. Exhausted and eager for new careers, they nevertheless plan to create an ad hoc support group for the boss they are leaving behind.

“It’s something we’ve thought about a lot,” said David Axelrod, one of Mr. Obama’s most trusted political aides, who returned to the Obama fold to advise on the re-election campaign and is now off to start an institute for politics at the University of Chicago. “Presidents need to have people with longstanding relationships around them,” he said, “because the instinct most people have with the president is to be deferential to a fault.”

For the first time since Mr. Obama became president, none of his Big Three political counselors — Mr. Axelrod, David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs — will be working in the White House. Now they are in the top rank of Obama alumni, a status that confers benefits of its own.

Mr. Obama still has trusted aides around him, including Valerie Jarrett, a family friend from Chicago; Denis R. McDonough, a veteran of 2008, who is moving up to chief of staff; and Alyssa Mastromonaco and Pete Rouse, two of his longest-serving staff members. “We’re strategically spaced out,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, who wrote foreign-policy speeches in 2008 and is a deputy national security adviser.

But reaching some of his oldest and closest confidants will now require a phone call, rather than simply a knock on their West Wing office doors. And that is where Anita Decker Breckenridge comes in.

Ms. Decker Breckenridge, 34, sits a few steps outside the Oval Office and is a master of the Obama Rolodex. She ran his downstate Illinois office when he was in the United States Senate. Her only moment in the limelight came when the White House confirmed that she, like Warren Buffett’s secretary, paid a higher tax rate in 2011 than her boss.

That year, Mr. Obama asked Ms. Decker Breckenridge to be his personal aide, a position that doubles as his gatekeeper. She met Mr. Obama nearly a decade ago and knows instinctively whom he does, and does not, want to hear from.

“Loyalty and trust mean everything,” she said in a weekend interview. “He is someone who has always valued long and old friendships.”

And she can find any of his old friends on short notice, particularly in the late-night hours when he likes to talk on the phone.

“We know the deal when he needs us and when he asks us to get involved,” said Mr. Gibbs, his first White House press secretary. “And that is, ‘Yes, sir.’ ”

For all the chatter about whether the president socializes enough in Washington, friends know that he has always been something of a loner. And yet he does not always like to be alone.

During long rides on Air Force One, including his solitary flights to and from Hawaii over the holidays, he was busy rounding up players for one of his favorite pastimes: a game of spades.

His most frequent partners are Marvin Nicholson, the trip director; Pete Souza, the chief White House photographer; and Jay Carney, the press secretary. All three are remaining in their positions, eliminating the need for Mr. Obama to find new tablemates.

Though much of the president’s political inner circle has dispersed, they are bound together by the latest iteration of the Obama campaign organization: Organizing for Action.

Jim Messina, who managed the president’s re-election bid, will be the chairman of the group, which includes Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Plouffe, who managed the 2008 campaign.

Not clear yet is whether Mr. Messina will hold weekly dinners at which the alumni can dispense advice to those inside the White House. Mr. Axelrod had dinners, featuring pizza and Thai food, when he was senior political adviser from 2009 to 2011.

Mr. Plouffe, who has been in the White House since 2011, is leaving this week to return to the private sector, where he has been a consultant and a public speaker. Even with the bruising battles over fiscal policy, gun control and immigration ahead, he said, he did not entertain the idea of sticking around.

“Getting fresh voices is good,” Mr. Plouffe said.

Reducing a president’s reliance on insiders can have unpredictable consequences for a second term, both good and bad, according to the presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

Dwight D. Eisenhower flourished after Sherman Adams, his overly protective chief of staff, left in 1958. But Ronald Reagan stumbled after James A. Baker III, his trusted chief of staff, was replaced by Donald Regan, a Wall Street banker whom he barely knew.

To the extent that Mr. Obama’s advisers worry about such things, their concern is having people who are willing to tell the president when they think he is wrong. Even those who have known him a long time, his aides acknowledge, sometimes hesitate to do that.

“Will it be a great strategic and political loss without Axe and Plouffe? I hope not,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, who is also a veteran of 2008 and plans to stay on. “But will the nature and character of this place change? That’s probably true.”

    Many of the President’s Men Are Moving On, Though He May Still Turn to Them, NYT, 20.1.2013,






Obama Sworn In for 2nd Term,

This Time Quietly


January 20, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — With only his family beside him, Barack Hussein Obama was sworn into office for a second term on Sunday in advance of Monday’s public pomp, facing a bitterly divided government at home and persistent threats abroad that inhibit his effort to redefine America’s use of power.

It was a brief and intimate moment in the White House, held because of a quirk of the calendar that placed the constitutionally mandated start of the new term on a Sunday.

But the low-key event seemed to capture tempered expectations after four years of economic troubles and near-constant partisan confrontation. And it presaged a formal inauguration on Monday that will be less of a spectacle than the first one, when the nation’s first black president embodied hope and change for many Americans at a time of financial struggle and war.

For Monday’s festivities, with the traditional parade, balls and not least the re-enacted swearing-in outside the Capitol, there will be fewer parties and fewer people swarming the National Mall; organizers expect less than half the 1.8 million people who flocked to the city last time.

Once the parties end, Mr. Obama’s second-term challenges are formidable, not least given his ambitious priorities of addressing the national debt, illegal immigration and gun violence.

The economy, while recovering steadily, remains fragile. The unemployment rate is as high as it was in January 2009, though it is down from the 10 percent peak reached late that year, and there is no consensus with Republicans about additional stimulus measures — or virtually anything else.

And as the terrorist attack in Algeria last week illustrated, Mr. Obama continues to confront threats around the globe, both from state actors like Iran and North Korea and from Qaeda-inspired extremists seeking to exploit power vacuums in the Mideast and across Africa and Asia.

At home, the emphasis is on reducing the deficits that piled up because of the economic downturn and the soaring costs of caring for an aging population. Yet Mr. Obama and Republicans in Congress, divided by opposing views on the role of government, are no closer to a budget agreement that would overhaul taxes and costly, fast-growing entitlement programs like Medicare. The next showdown in what has seemed a never-ending loop of fiscal brinkmanship and half-measures is likely to come as soon as next month over spending cuts.

The persistent partisan battles underscore Mr. Obama’s inability to make good on an original promise — that he would open a bipartisan era of problem solving. While Mr. Obama’s words have become less soaring and more confrontational toward Republicans after four years in which they sought to foil him, David Plouffe, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said on the CNN program “State of the Union” on Sunday that the president had written a “hopeful” inaugural address for Monday’s ceremony.

But Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said on the same program, “The president seems so fixated on demonizing Republicans that he is blinded to the opportunities as well as the obligations that he has to deal with the big problems of this country on debt and the entitlements.”

Mr. Obama draws approval from just over half of Americans — down 11 percentage points from his popularity in a New York Times/CBS News survey just after his first inauguration — with Republicans united in opposition and independents split. If history is a guide, he has a limited time to act before his post-election leverage fades.

The official swearing-in of Mr. Obama, 51, was just the seventh time in history that a president was sworn in privately before the public ceremony, and the first since President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration. Each instance since 1821 occurred because the constitutionally mandated date for the inauguration fell on a Sunday.

The simplicity of Mr. Obama’s minute-long taking of the oath of office suggested a marriage before a justice of the peace, with a big ceremony and party planned for later.

Only Michelle Obama, holding her family Bible for the ceremony, and the Obamas’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, stood beside Mr. Obama in the grand Blue Room as he recited the 35-word oath in the Constitution that was administered, as it was four years ago, by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. About a dozen relatives of the Obamas and Jane Roberts, the justice’s wife, watched out of camera range.

By contrast, the swearing-in hours earlier of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. at the vice-presidential mansion, while simple, was large enough to suggest that Mr. Biden is indeed looking beyond the next four years to the 2016 election. Among the 120 guests who watched Justice Sonia M. Sotomayor swear in Mr. Biden were Democratic dignitaries from the early presidential-nominating states, including Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire. On Saturday evening, Mr. Biden attended a party of Democrats from Iowa, the first presidential caucus state.

The private ceremonies were held because, under the Constitution, the two men’s first terms ended at noon on Sunday. In between their events, Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden went together to Arlington National Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And they prayed, separately: the Obamas attended services at the 175-year-old Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, where the enthusiastic congregation engaged in a call-and-response with the pastor evoking the president’s “Forward” campaign slogan; the Bidens and their guests celebrated a Mass in the vice-presidential mansion.

In the evening, Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and their wives attended a gala for donors to both the 2012 campaign and the inaugural expenses, where performers included Stevie Wonder.

For Mr. Obama, the solemnity of his swearing-in was broken by his younger daughter, Sasha, who seemed to recall the problem four years earlier, when a garbling of the oath by both her father and Chief Justice Roberts at the Capitol forced them to repeat the oath at the White House the next day.

With warmth that belied their political differences, especially over campaign spending law, Justice Roberts congratulated Mr. Obama, and the president thanked him twice as they shook hands. Mr. Obama then embraced his wife and daughters in turn. “Good job, Daddy,” Sasha said. “I did it!” he replied, only to have her quip, “You didn’t mess up” — leaving the president chuckling and rolling his eyes as he pivoted to thank the small group of witnesses and exit the room.

Elsewhere on a sunny winter Sunday, the streets of Washington were snarled with traffic, and hotels and homes were filling with the tens of thousands of visitors who, along with area residents, began partying through the weekend in bars and at receptions hosted by corporations and political groups.

Democratic women especially were feted. At a party sponsored by Emily’s List, which helps elect Democratic women who favor abortion rights, the talk was of 2016 — and whether Hillary Rodham Clinton, the departing secretary of state, might run for president.

Flags, bunting and red, white and blue lights festooned streets, buildings and grounds, but as usual for such events, also ubiquitous were cement and metal security barriers, along with police and troops on downtown blocks.

Much is changed since January 2009, and much of it not in the way Mr. Obama planned. His challenges ahead are perhaps not so great as then — 779,000 people lost their jobs that January, a one-month record, the financial and auto industries were teetering and millions of Americans were losing homes and savings — but they are nonetheless daunting.

While Democrats controlled Congress for his first two years, when Mr. Obama passed his signature laws for economic stimulus, expanded health insurance and financial industry regulation, Republicans captured the House majority in a conservative backlash at his midterm and are expected to keep it for his second term, given their success in drawing districts to keep them safe for Republicans. That means Mr. Obama’s other priorities for a second term — chiefly addressing illegal immigration and gun violence — likewise will hardly come easy, if at all.


Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting.

    Obama Sworn In for 2nd Term, This Time Quietly, NYT, 20.1.2013,






A White House

Aware of Second-Term Perils


January 19, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — As he tucked into a salad and a beef pastry, President Obama looked around the family dining room in the White House and stared into his future. By some forecasts, it may not be a pretty sight.

Gathered with him that evening were several of the nation’s leading historians, who reminded him of the sorry litany of second terms — the cascade of scandal, war, recession, political defeat and other calamities that afflicted past presidents after the heady crescendo of re-election.

For Mr. Obama, who will be sworn in for another four years in a quiet ceremony on Sunday and then again in more public fashion on Monday, the lessons were familiar if daunting. Embarking on the next half of his presidency, he and his advisers are developing a second-term strategy intended to avoid the pitfalls of his predecessors with a robust agenda focused on the economy, gun control, immigration and energy.

“We’ve talked a lot about this,” said David Plouffe, the president’s senior adviser who is leaving the White House at the end of the week. “We have spent a lot of time trying to figure out both what to pursue but also these issues of making sure you’re bringing the same sort of energy and same sort of focus as the first term.”

After studying the past, the president’s team concluded that it was important to make the most of the first year of his second term and stick rigorously to issues he articulated on the campaign trail. “If you stay in that zone,” Mr. Plouffe said, “I think you avoid a lot of those potential dangers.”

But of course, this is not the first re-elected president to think that. Others arrived at this point with similar confidence, only to be hobbled by developments. Some past second-term troubles stemmed from hubris, exhaustion or miscalculation; others arrived out of the blue.

Franklin D. Roosevelt found the economy relapsing and lost a fight to pack the Supreme Court. Richard M. Nixon was forced to resign by the Watergate scandal. Ronald Reagan was caught up in the Iran-contra affair. Bill Clinton was impeached, though not convicted, for lying under oath about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush was damaged by the Iraq war, Hurricane Katrina and a financial crash.

At the same time, as the historians made clear to Mr. Obama at their dinner this month, there were still second-term opportunities. Reagan overhauled the tax code and signed a new arms control treaty with the Soviet Union. Mr. Clinton balanced the budget and successfully led the Kosovo war. Mr. Bush turned the Iraq war around with a surge of troops and a strategy change and forestalled a new depression in his final weeks in office.

“In general, the historical record is not one of great hope,” said Robert Dallek, one of the historians at the dinner. “He’s fully aware of the circumstances he confronts, but he’s also upbeat about the fact that he won, and won convincingly. It wasn’t a landslide, but it certainly was a convincing victory.”

Indeed, during the course of a free-ranging two-and-a-half-hour conversation, the historians were struck by how much Mr. Obama had thought about his second term in the context of his predecessors. He was focused particularly on Dwight D. Eisenhower, another president who ended a war and tried to curb military spending. “His knowledge of what other presidents did in their second terms, what happened in their second terms, it’s very impressive,” said Robert A. Caro, the Lyndon B. Johnson biographer.

Mr. Obama has made clear in public settings as well how attuned he is to the opportunities and challenges confronting him, including history’s warning signs. “I’m more than familiar with all the literature about presidential overreach in second terms,” he said shortly after his re-election. “We are very cautious about that. On the other hand, I didn’t get re-elected just to bask in re-election. I got elected to do work on behalf of American families and small businesses all across the country.”

Mr. Obama has the unusual distinction of being the third president in a row to win two terms; the last time that happened was when James Monroe followed Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Monroe, however, was re-elected effectively without opposition and presided over what was called the Era of Good Feelings. Mr. Obama, it seems safe to say, is presiding over the opposite.

With the House in Republican hands, Mr. Obama has an uphill struggle simply to deal with various spending deadlines, much less advance a proactive agenda. Within the White House, advisers debate just how much time he has to push through big legislative initiatives before he invariably loses political capital. They noted that Mr. Clinton had a year before scandal erupted, while Mr. Bush had just seven months before Hurricane Katrina sapped his public standing.

“You hope for a year and a half. You understand it could be half that,” said Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who worked on the re-election campaign. “You’ve got to have a really, really good plan for 12 months in hopes it lasts for 16 or 18. But you have to be mindful that every day the window gets a little narrower and you’ve got to seize the moment.”

Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to the president, said Mr. Obama would tap public opinion to maintain clout. “One way of keeping Congress accountable is this constant engagement with the American people, and I know that’s something he’s committed to doing even more so in a second term,” she said.

Douglas Brinkley, a Rice University historian who was at the dinner with Mr. Obama, said that the notion of a second-term curse was overstated, but that the president would have to be assertive to remain relevant. “You have to be willing to be a strong executive-power president in your second term; otherwise, you become a lame duck,” he said.

Mr. Obama’s first term was in its own way cursed as much as anyone else’s second term, or at least replete with the sorts of crises that would challenge any presidency: the Great Recession, the collapsing auto industry, the biggest offshore oil spill in American history and two wars. Much of the worst, his advisers hope, may now be behind him.

“The advantage now is he’s not facing almost unprecedented economic trouble, which really colored his first year,” said Phil Schiliro, his former legislative director. “This is really the first time in his presidency when he’s not facing a crisis like that. The wars are winding down, the economy’s getting better. That gives him more breathing room.”

Some presidential second-term troubles were really manifestations of first-term actions, including the Watergate burglary under Nixon, the secret arms sales to Iran under Reagan, the liaisons by Mr. Clinton and the invasion of Iraq by Mr. Bush. While there have been flaps during Mr. Obama’s first term over investments in a failed clean energy company, a bungled anti-gun operation and the attack in Benghazi, Libya, nothing of historic magnitude is evident at the moment. But Mr. Obama’s staff worries that the biggest risks would be not effectively carrying out the health care program coming into full force in the second term or the economy’s not bouncing back more strongly by the time he leaves office.

Still, as he prepared to take the oath again, Mr. Obama struck the historians as relaxed and engaged, especially compared with their last dinner with him before the election, when they sensed the tension that gripped him. For now, the path for the next four years is open and he has a chance to shape it.

“You don’t have anything to run for anymore,” Mr. Caro said. “You’re running for a place in history.”

    A White House Aware of Second-Term Perils, NYT, 19.1.2013,






Who Says You Can Kill Americans,

Mr. President?


January 16, 2013
The New York Times



PRESIDENT OBAMA has refused to tell Congress or the American people why he believes the Constitution gives, or fails to deny, him the authority to secretly target and kill American citizens who he suspects are involved in terrorist activities overseas. So far he has killed three that we know of.

Presidents had never before, to our knowledge, targeted specific Americans for military strikes. There are no court decisions that tell us if he is acting lawfully. Mr. Obama tells us not to worry, though, because his lawyers say it is fine, because experts guide the decisions and because his advisers have set up a careful process to help him decide whom he should kill.

He must think we should be relieved.

The three Americans known to have been killed, in two drone strikes in Yemen in the fall of 2011, are Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was born in New Mexico; Samir Khan, a naturalized American citizen who had lived in New York and North Carolina, and was killed alongside Mr. Awlaki; and, in a strike two weeks later, Mr. Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was born in Colorado.

Most of us think these people were probably terrorists anyway. So the president’s reassurances have been enough to keep criticism at an acceptable level for the White House. Democrats in Congress and in the press have only gingerly questioned the claims by a Democratic president that he is right about the law and careful when he orders drone attacks on our citizens. And Republicans, who favor aggressive national security powers for the executive branch, look forward to the day when one of their own can wield them again.

But a few of our representatives have spoken up — sort of. Several months ago, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, began limply requesting the Department of Justice memorandums that justify the targeted killing program. At a committee hearing, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., reminded of the request, demurred and shared a rueful chuckle with the senator. Mr. Leahy did not want to be rude, it seems — though some of us remember him being harder on former President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto R. Gonzales, in 2005.

So, even though Congress has the absolute power under the Constitution to receive these documents, the Democratic-controlled Senate has not fought this president to get them. If the senators did, and the president held fast to his refusal, they could go to court and demand them, and I believe they would win. Perhaps even better, they could skip getting the legal memos and go right to the meat of the matter — using oversight and perhaps legislating to control the president’s killing powers. That isn’t happening either.

Thank goodness we have another branch of government to step into the fray. It is the job of the federal courts to interpret the Constitution and laws, and thus to define the boundaries of the powers of the branches of government, including their own.

In reining in the branches, the courts have been toughest on themselves, however. A long line of Supreme Court cases require that judges wait for cases to come to them. They can take cases only from plaintiffs who have a personal stake in the outcome; they cannot decide political questions; they cannot rule on an issue not squarely before them.

Because of these and other limitations, no case has made it far enough in federal court for a judge to rule on the merits of the basic constitutional questions at stake here. A pending case filed in July by the families of the three dead Americans does raise Fourth and Fifth Amendment challenges to the president’s killings of their relatives. We will see if the judge agrees to consider the constitutional questions or dismisses the case, citing limitations on his own power.

In another case, decided two weeks ago, a federal judge in Manhattan, Colleen McMahon, ruled, grudgingly, that the American Civil Liberties Union and two New York Times reporters could not get access, under the Freedom of Information Act, to classified legal memorandums that were relied on to justify the targeted killing program. In her opinion, she expressed serious reservations about the president’s interpretation of the constitutional questions. But the merits of the program were not before her, just access to the Justice Department memos, so her opinion was, in effect, nothing but an interesting read.

So at the moment, the legislature and the courts are flummoxed by, or don’t care about, how or whether to take on this aggressive program. But Mr. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, should know, of all people, what needs to be done. He was highly critical when Mr. Bush applied new constitutional theories to justify warrantless wiretapping and “enhanced interrogation.” In his 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama demanded transparency, and after taking office, he released legal memos that the Bush administration had kept secret. Once the self-serving constitutional analysis that the Bush team had used was revealed, legal scholars from across the spectrum studied and denounced it.

While Mr. Obama has criticized his predecessor, he has also worried about his successors. Last fall, when the election’s outcome was still in doubt, Mr. Obama talked about drone strikes in general and said Congress and the courts should in some manner “rein in” presidents by putting a “legal architecture in place.” His comments seemed to reflect concern that future presidents should perhaps not wield alone such awesome and unchecked power over life and death — of anyone, not just Americans. Oddly, under current law, Congress and the courts are involved when presidents eavesdrop on Americans, detain them or harshly interrogate them — but not when they kill them.

It is not just the most recent president, this one and the next whom we need to worry about when it comes to improper exercise of power. It is every president. Mr. Obama should declassify and release, to Congress, the press and the public, documents that set forth the detailed constitutional and statutory analysis he relies on for targeting and killing American citizens.

Perhaps Mr. Obama still believes that, in a democracy, the people have a right to know the legal theories upon which the president executes his great powers. Certainly, we can hope so. After all, his interpretation might be wrong.


Vicki Divoll is a former general counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

and former deputy legal adviser to the C.I.A.’s Counterterrorism Center.

    Who Says You Can Kill Americans, Mr. President?, NYT, 16.1.2013,






Obama Tells Senate

That It’s Time to Confirm A.T.F. Director


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama indicated on Wednesday that along with asking Congress to pass measures like an assault weapons ban, he would be increasing pressure on lawmakers to do something they have refused to do for the past six years: confirm a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

At a news conference, the president unveiled a series of executive actions and legislative proposals to help reduce gun violence, and he said he would nominate the agency’s acting director, B. Todd Jones, to be its permanent leader.

“Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job,” Mr. Obama said on Wednesday.

Mr. Jones, 55, a former Marine who is also the United States attorney in Minnesota, has led the beleaguered agency since August 2011, when he was appointed by the administration to take over in the aftermath of the scandal surrounding the bungled gun trafficking investigation known as Operation Fast and Furious, in which agents lost track of firearms they were allowing to pass into Mexico.

Until 2006, the president had the power to install a director of the firearms bureau without Congressional approval. But under pressure from gun lobbyists, Congress changed the law that year to require Senate confirmation. Since then, the Senate has failed to confirm any nominee by either President George W. Bush or Mr. Obama as senators who support gun rights have used their powers to delay nomination votes; Mr. Jones is the bureau’s fifth acting director since 2006.

One of the more vocal critics of the Justice Department and the firearms agency, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said Wednesday that he agreed with the president that it was time for the Senate to confirm a permanent director of the agency, but he raised questions about Mr. Jones’s credibility.

“The new nominee, B. Todd Jones, is a familiar face to the committee, but his ties to the Fast and Furious scandal raise serious questions,” Mr. Grassley said.

“In any case, he’ll receive a thorough and fair vetting by the Judiciary Committee,” said Mr. Grassley, the committee’s senior Republican.

For years, the A.T.F. has been battered by scandals and has had its authority undercut by gun lobbyists, who have pushed to limit its power and cut its funding. The bureau most recently came under scrutiny in 2011 for its handling of Fast and Furious after; two of the firearms used in the investigation were found at the scene of a shootout in which a United States Border Patrol agent was killed in Arizona.

Mr. Jones said in a meeting with reporters in September that during his tenure the agency had refocused its efforts on fighting violent crime and was “recalibrating” how it did business by revamping its policies and procedures.

“We are well on our way to tightening up our unity of effort and our communications,” Mr. Jones said, adding that senior officials in Washington now had more oversight over the agency’s field offices.

Mr. Jones said that some procedures had not been updated in 15 to 20 years.

“We are back to the basics, and that is what I have been working very hard at, the fundamentals,” he said, “and the fundamentals for us is protecting the American public from violent crime.”

Mr. Jones has told the agency’s offices to work closely with police departments in large cities to combat sudden increases in crime and “to focus on cases that will have the greatest impact,” a senior agency official said in a recent interview.

This year, A.T.F. agents have been part of so-called surges of law enforcement officers in the country’s most violent cities, including Oakland, Calif., and Philadelphia, working to make arrests and seize guns.

    Obama Tells Senate That It’s Time to Confirm A.T.F. Director, NYT, 16.1.2013,






White House

Denounces Web Video by N.R.A.


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — The National Rifle Association provoked a furious response from the White House on Wednesday by releasing a video accusing President Obama of being an “elitist” and a “hypocrite” because he opposes posting armed guards at schools, while his daughters have Secret Service protection.

The video also prompted commentary on social media about whether the gun rights organization might have been too strident, even for its own members.

The White House lashed out at the N.R.A. even as Mr. Obama stood with young children to unveil broad proposals to create tougher gun laws and use the power of the presidency to keep guns out of the hands of criminals.

“Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight,” said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary. “But to go so far as to make the safety of the president’s children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly.”

The N.R.A. video refers to Mr. Obama’s strong reservations about the group’s idea to prevent school massacres by posting armed guards at all of the nation’s schools.

“I am skeptical that the only answer is putting more guns in schools,” Mr. Obama said during a recent interview on the NBC News program “Meet the Press.” “And I think the vast majority of the American people are skeptical that that somehow is going to solve our problem.”

The video, posted at a Web site called N.R.A. Stand and Fight, starts by asking, “Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” The video does not show Mr. Obama’s daughters, Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, but it suggests that Mr. Obama holds their safety to a different standard than he is willing to offer for other children.

The N.R.A. does not appear to have spent much money paying for the video to run as an advertisement on television. But it still generated ire among Democrats and gun control advocates who said it improperly dragged the president’s daughters into the national debate over guns.

Kim Anderson, a top official with the National Education Association, a teachers’ union, said the video “demonstrates a level of insensitivity and disrespect that N.E.A. members wouldn’t tolerate in any classroom in America.”

The video prompted quick declarations of outrage among liberal talk show hosts and on Twitter, with many people saying that the N.R.A. had gone too far by referring to the president’s children.

But the video also generated expressions of support, with some conservatives criticizing the president for standing with children at his event. On Twitter, N.R.A. backers used the hashtag #standandfight to express support.

“Patriots, we must back the #NRA in their efforts to preserve our liberties,” one person wrote on Twitter.

The N.R.A. has been the subject of intense criticism in some quarters since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., last month. Shortly after the massacre, Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive and vice president of the N.R.A., held a news conference in which he called for more security in schools and an end to the “gun-free zones” that are common around school buildings.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” Mr. LaPierre said at the time.

But the organization has said that its rejection of any new restrictions on guns has led to a surge in new members, suggesting that its influence on Capitol Hill is not about to wane.

In a second video posted to its Stand and Fight Web site on Wednesday afternoon, the organization replays parts of Mr. LaPierre’s news conference and suggests that the “elite” news media and the president are out of touch with everyday Americans.

“America agrees with Wayne and the N.R.A.,” the four-and-a-half-minute video says.

    White House Denounces Web Video by N.R.A., NYT, 16.1.2013,






Obama to ‘Put Everything I’ve Got’

Into Gun Control


January 16, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Four days before taking the oath of office, President Obama on Wednesday staked the beginning of his second term on an uphill quest to pass the broadest gun control legislation in a generation.

In the aftermath of the Connecticut school massacre, Mr. Obama vowed to rally public opinion to press a reluctant Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, expand background checks, and toughen gun-trafficking laws. Recognizing that the legislative fight could be long and difficult, the president also took immediate steps by issuing a series of executive actions intended to reduce gun violence.

Surrounded by children who wrote him letters seeking curbs on guns, Mr. Obama committed himself to a high-profile and politically volatile campaign behind proposals assembled by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. that will test the administration’s strength heading into the next four years. The first big push of Mr. Obama’s second term, then, will come on an issue that was not even on his to-do list on Election Day when voters renewed his lease on the presidency.

“I will put everything I’ve got into this,” Mr. Obama said, “and so will Joe.”

The emotionally charged ceremony, attended by family members of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., reflected a decision by the White House to seize on public outrage to challenge the political power of the National Rifle Association and other forces that have successfully fought new gun laws for decades.

The White House is planning a multifaceted effort to sell its plans, including speeches around the country by the president and vice president and concerted lobbying by interest groups to influence several dozen lawmakers from both parties seen as critical to passage. The White House created a Web page with video testimonials from victims of gun violence and a sign-up for supporters to help advocate the president’s plan.

“I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it,” Mr. Obama said. “And, by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country. We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those Congressional districts where the tradition of gun ownership is strong, to speak up and to say this is important. It can’t just be the usual suspects.”

The N.R.A. made clear that it was ready for a fight. Even before the president’s speech, it broadcast a provocative video calling Mr. Obama an “elitist hypocrite” for opposing more armed guards in schools while his daughters had Secret Service protection. After the speech the group said it would work to secure schools, fix the mental health system and prosecute criminals but criticized the president’s other proposals. “Attacking firearms and ignoring children is not a solution to the crisis we face as a nation,” the N.R.A. said in a statement. “Only honest, law-abiding gun owners will be affected, and our children will remain vulnerable to the inevitability of more tragedy.”

Mr. Obama’s plan included 4 major legislative proposals and 23 executive actions that he initiated on his own authority to bolster enforcement of existing laws, improve the nation’s database used for background checks and otherwise make it harder for criminals and people with mental illness to get guns.

Mr. Obama asked Congress to reinstate and strengthen a ban on the sale and production of assault weapons that passed in 1994 and expired in 2004. He also called for a ban on the sale and production of magazines with more than 10 rounds, like those used in Newtown and other mass shootings. Mr. Obama’s plan would require criminal background checks for all gun sales, closing the longstanding loophole that allows buyers to avoid screening by purchasing weapons from unlicensed sellers at gun shows or in private sales. Nearly 40 percent of all gun sales are exempt from the system.

He also proposed legislation banning the possession or transfer of armor-piercing bullets and cracking down on “straw purchasers,” those who pass background checks and then forward guns to criminals or others forbidden from purchasing them.

For Mr. Obama, the plan represented a political pivot. While he has always expressed support for an assault weapons ban, he has made no real effort to pass it on the assumption that the votes were not there. But he and the White House are banking on the idea that the Newtown shooting has changed the dynamics. “I have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook,” Mr. Biden said Wednesday. “The world has changed and is demanding action.”

The future of the plan may depend on how much political energy Mr. Obama puts behind it, not just to pressure Republicans but to win over Democrats who support gun rights. Even the White House considers passage of a new assault weapons ban exceedingly difficult, but there did seem to be some consensus building for expanding background checks.

Senator Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and a longtime gun control supporter, made no mention of the assault weapons ban in a statement but pointed to the background checks. “If you look at the combination of likelihood of passage and effectiveness of curbing gun crime,” he said, “universal background checks is at the sweet spot.”

On the other side, Representative Robert W. Goodlatte, Republican of Virginia, who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, dismissed an assault weapons ban as ineffective. “But in terms of background checks, in terms of keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals and people who have serious mental health difficulties, we want to do that, and we would take a close look at that,” he told C-Span.

Gun control groups said they would campaign hard for the president’s proposals. Mark Glaze, director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said his group would focus on as many as 25 Congressional districts, including those of Democrats and Republicans. “We will be doing what we can do to make sure that sitting on their hands is the least safe place to be,” he said.

Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, a gun rights supporter, said he re-evaluated his position after Newtown. “I was shaken by it, and that caused me to think in a much more probing way about the policy,” he said in an interview. “If it has anywhere near the impact on others that it did on me, then I think the ground shifted a lot.”

But Mr. Obama’s plans still generated strong opposition. “Nothing the president is proposing would have stopped the massacre at Sandy Hook,” said Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida. “President Obama is targeting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens instead of seriously addressing the real underlying causes of such violence.”

Other Republicans echoed those sentiments. “The Second Amendment is nonnegotiable,” said Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

Representative Dan Benishek of Michigan said in a Twitter message: “Let me be clear, I will fight any efforts to take our guns. Not on my watch.”

Also Wednesday, Mr. Obama nominated B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to lead an agency that has not had a Senate-confirmed director since 2006.

The 23 executive actions Mr. Obama signed on Wednesday were largely modest initiatives to toughen enforcement of existing laws and to encourage federal agencies and state governments to share more information. Mr. Obama lifted a ban on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from conducting research on gun violence and directed that a letter be sent to health care providers saying doctors may ask patients about guns in their homes.

Several Republicans accused Mr. Obama of flouting Congress. “Using executive action to attempt to poke holes in the Second Amendment is a power grab,” said Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa.


Reporting was contributed by Charlie Savage,

Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 16, 2013

An earlier version of this article suggested that several recent mass shootings

involved 30-round magazines. While they all involved high-capacity clips,

not all of them used clips that held 30 rounds.

    Obama to ‘Put Everything I’ve Got’ Into Gun Control, NYT, 16.1.2013,






Warning Signs

of Violent Acts Often Unclear


January 15, 2013
The New York Times



No one but a deeply disturbed individual marches into an elementary school or a movie theater and guns down random, innocent people.

That hard fact drives the public longing for a mental health system that produces clear warning signals and can somehow stop the violence. And it is now fueling a surge in legislative activity, in Washington and New York.

But these proposed changes and others like them may backfire and only reveal how broken the system is, experts said.

“Anytime you have one of these tragic cases like Newtown, it’s going to expose deficiencies in the mental health system, and provide some opportunity for reform,” said Richard J. Bonnie, a professor of public policy at the University of Virginia’s law school who led a state commission that overhauled policies after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings that left 33 people dead. “But you have to be very careful not to overreact.”

New York State legislators on Tuesday passed a gun bill that would require therapists to report to the authorities any client thought to be “likely to engage in” violent behavior; under the law, the police would confiscate any weapons the person had.

And in Washington, lawmakers said that President Obama was considering a range of actions as part of a plan to reduce gun violence, including more sharing of records between mental health and law enforcement agencies.

The White House plan to make use of mental health data was still taking shape late Tuesday. But several ideas being discussed — including the reporting provision in the New York gun law — are deeply contentious and transcend political differences.

Some advocates favored the reporting provision as having the potential to prevent a massacre. Among them was D. J. Jaffe, founder of the Mental Illness Policy Org., which pushes for more aggressive treatment policies. Some mass killers “were seen by mental health professionals who did not have to report their illness or that they were becoming dangerous and they went on to kill,” he said.

Yet many patient advocates and therapists strongly disagreed, saying it would intrude into the doctor-patient relationship in a way that could dissuade troubled people from speaking their minds, and complicate the many judgment calls therapists already have to make.

The New York statute requires doctors and other mental health professionals to report any person who “is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”

Under current ethical guidelines, only involuntary hospitalizations (and direct threats made by patients) are reported to the authorities. These reports then appear on a federal background-check database. The new laws would go further.

“The way I read the new law, it means I have to report voluntary as well as involuntary hospitalizations, as well as many people being treated for suicidal thinking, for instance, as outpatients,” said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University’s medical school. “That is a much larger group of people than before, and most of whom will never be a serious threat to anyone.”

One fundamental problem with looking for “warning signs” is that it is more art than science. People with serious mental disorders, while more likely to commit aggressive acts than the average person, account for only about 4 percent of violent crimes over all.

The rate is higher when it comes to rampage or serial killings, closer to 20 percent, according to Dr. Michael Stone, a New York forensic psychiatrist who has a database of about 200 mass and serial killers. He has concluded from the records that about 40 were likely to have had paranoid schizophrenia or severe depression or were psychopathic, meaning they were impulsive and remorseless.

“But most mass murders are done by working-class men who’ve been jilted, fired, or otherwise humiliated — and who then undergo a crisis of rage and get out one of the 300 million guns in our country and do their thing,” Dr. Stone said.

The sort of young, troubled males who seem to psychiatrists most likely to commit school shootings — identified because they have made credible threats — often do not qualify for any diagnosis, experts said. They might have elements of paranoia, of deep resentment, or of narcissism, a grandiose self-regard, that are noticeable but do not add up to any specific “disorder” according to strict criteria.

“The really scary ones, you have a gut feeling right away when you talk to them,” said Dr. Deborah Weisbrot, director of the outpatient clinic of child and adolescent psychiatry at Stony Brook University, who has interviewed about 200 young people, mostly teenage boys, who have made threats. “What they have in common is a kind of magical thinking, odd beliefs like they can read other people’s minds, or see the future, or that things happening in their dreams come true.”

Even if such instincts could be relied on, the mental health system is so fragmented in the country that it is hard to know whether the information would get to the right person in time. According to Dr. Bonnie, the Virginia law professor, the Virginia Tech gunman was ordered to outpatient treatment by a judge more than a year before his rampage but was never hospitalized, which would have shown up on a background check.

The state database now includes such cases, after the reforms. “But we’re a state that has a centralized database like that; in many states there’s no one place to get it all; it’s all kept locally, community by community,” Dr. Bonnie said.

The federal background check database, which is supposed to have updated information from states, has only a patchwork, because of the wide variety of state laws on reporting, experts said. Even if it were entirely up to date, it would not catch the many millions who never see a mental health professional despite deep distress.

Some experts, like Dr. Appelbaum, say the Connecticut school shooting offers the kind of opportunity that only comes once every generation or two: to rethink the entire mental health system. It might include appointing a presidential commission; re-envisioning community mental health care; focusing more on vigilance for problems in young people, and reducing stigma.

“It seems to me an opportunity to step back and rethink what the entire system should look like,” Dr. Appelbaum said.

    Warning Signs of Violent Acts Often Unclear, NYT, 15.1.2013,






Obama Gun Proposal

to Look Beyond Mass Shootings


January 15, 2013
The New York Times


A new federal assault weapons ban and background checks of all gun buyers, which President Obama is expected to propose on Wednesday, might have done little to prevent the massacre in Newtown, Conn., last month. The semiautomatic rifle that Adam Lanza used to shoot 20 schoolchildren and 6 adults complied with Connecticut’s assault weapons ban, the police said, and he did not buy the gun himself.

But another proposal that Mr. Obama is expected to make could well have slowed Mr. Lanza’s rampage: banning high-capacity magazines, like the 30-round magazines that the police said Mr. Lanza used, which have been factors in several other recent mass shootings.

Those shootings, whose victims have included a member of Congress in Arizona, moviegoers in Colorado and first graders in Connecticut, have horrified the country and inspired Washington to embark on the most extensive re-examination of the nation’s gun laws in a generation. But some of the proposals that Mr. Obama is expected to make at the White House on Wednesday, which are likely to include a call for expanded background checks, a ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity clips, will be intended not only to prevent high-profile mass shootings, but also to curb the more commonplace gun violence that claims many thousands more lives every year.

“The president has made clear that he intends to take a comprehensive approach,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Tuesday. Mr. Carney said the proposals were aimed, broadly, at what he called “the scourge of gun violence in this country.”

While semiautomatic rifles were used in several recent mass shootings, including those in Newtown and in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed at a movie theater in July, a vast majority of gun murders in the United States are committed with handguns.

In 2011, 6,220 people were killed by handguns, and 323 by rifles, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. So while the administration is expected to try to restrict some types of assault weapons, it is also focusing on ways to keep more commonly used firearms out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with mental illness.

Of course, the administration must keep political realities in mind as it drafts its proposals: getting any new gun regulations through Congress, particularly through the Republican-controlled House, is seen as difficult. So the White House must not only weigh the effectiveness of its proposals, but also their political feasibility.

The top priority of many gun control groups is to expand the background checks so that they apply to all buyers. All federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks through the computerized databases that comprise the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But the requirement does not cover guns that are sold at gun shows and in other private sales, which account for about 40 percent of gun purchases in the country.

Better background checks would have had little effect on several recent mass shootings — both Mr. Lanza, in Connecticut, and Jacob T. Roberts, who opened fire on a mall full of Christmas shoppers a few days earlier in Clackamas, Ore., were using weapons that they did not buy. But gun control groups say that expanded background checks would help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals and people with mental illness, and would go a long way toward increasing public safety and could help prevent mass shootings.

Gun control groups have encouraged the administration to look beyond mass shootings. When the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading gun control group, issued its recommendations to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has been developing the administration’s proposals, it urged him to develop ideas that could help curb everyday gun violence as well.

“Every death is a tragedy, whether in a mass shooting that horrifies our entire nation, or one of the 32 gun murders or 90 gun deaths in our communities and homes every day,” it wrote.

With many of the proposals in Washington expected to be somewhat limited in scope, some public health researchers and gun control advocates said it was difficult to know what impact the recommendations might have.

“To have a huge, huge effect, we’re going to need a sea change in not just the laws but social norms,” David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

American civilians have 250 million to 300 million firearms, said Dr. Garen J. Wintemute, the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “Those firearms are not going to go away anytime soon,” he said.

More serious steps — like those taken by Australia, which reacted to a 1996 mass shooting by banning the sale, importation and possession of semiautomatic rifles and by removing 700,000 guns from circulation — are seen as politically untenable. In the 18 years before the new gun laws, there were 13 mass shootings in Australia, and in the decade afterward, there were none, according to a 2006 article in Injury Prevention, a journal.

But expanding background checks in the United States would help disrupt criminal gun markets, a crucial driver of urban gun violence, Dr. Wintemute said. While there has been a debate over how effective background checks have been, Dr. Wintemute pointed to studies of prisoners incarcerated for crimes involving firearms that have found that at least 80 percent of them obtained their guns through private transfers.

“If we eliminate those, I think it’s completely reasonable to expect a substantial drop in crimes related to firearms,” he said.

When a two-day meeting on reducing gun violence wrapped up at Johns Hopkins University on Tuesday afternoon, researchers made some suggestions that have been the subject of relatively little public discussion in Washington.

They called, for example, for expanding the categories of people who are prohibited from buying firearms to include those who have committed violent misdemeanors. And they called for banning not just the sale of high-capacity magazines, but their possession as well.

Other measures being discussed in Washington include strengthening federal laws to combat gun trafficking. Gun control advocates argued that other steps were needed as well, like limiting the number of guns that can be bought by an individual every month.

“If you want to dam the river, you have to address all the channels,” said Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “You’re not going to stop it until you dam the whole river.”

Some people who met with Mr. Biden as he developed his recommendations said that they hoped the final proposals would address gun violence in its many forms.

“I think there was a recognition that we’re not going to stop every mass shooting or gun homicide,” said Hildy Saizow, the president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, who met with Mr. Biden last week.

“But we can go a long way to take action that would result in fewer gun deaths, fewer gun injuries. This is not just a narrow perspective that the task force is addressing, not just mass shootings or school shootings.”


Michael Cooper and Michael Luo reported from New York,

and Michael D. Shear from Washington.

Ray Rivera contributed reporting from New York,

Dan Frosch from Denver and Kirk Johnson from Seattle.

    Obama Gun Proposal to Look Beyond Mass Shootings, NYT, 15.1.2013,






Obama Willing

to Use Executive Orders on Guns


January 14, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama this week will embrace a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence that will call for major legislation to expand background checks for gun purchases and lay out 19 separate actions the president could take by invoking the power of his office, lawmakers who were briefed on the plan said Monday.

Lawmakers and other officials said that the president could use a public event as soon as Wednesday to signal his intention to engage in the biggest Congressional fight over guns in nearly two decades, focusing on the heightened background checks and including efforts to ban assault weapons and their high-capacity clips. But given the difficulty of pushing new rules through a bitterly divided Congress, Mr. Obama will also promise to act on his own to reduce gun violence wherever possible.

Actions the president could take on his own are likely to include imposing new limits on guns imported from overseas, compelling federal agencies to improve sharing of mental health records and directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, according to those briefed on the effort.

White House aides believe Mr. Obama can also ratchet up enforcement of existing laws, including tougher prosecution of people who lie on their background checks.

At a news conference on Monday, exactly one month after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., Mr. Obama said a task force led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. had “presented me now with a list of sensible, common-sense steps that can be taken to make sure that the kinds of violence we saw at Newtown doesn’t happen again. He added: “My starting point is not to worry about the politics. My starting point is to focus on what makes sense, what works.”

The administration’s strategy reflects the uncertainty of gun politics in America and the desire by White House officials to address the Connecticut shooting while also confronting the broader deficiencies in the country’s criminal justice and mental health systems.

By proposing to use the independent power of his office, Mr. Obama is inviting political attacks by gun owners who have already expressed fear that he will abuse that authority to restrict their rights. Representative Steve Stockman, Republican of Texas, threatened Monday to file articles of impeachment if the president seeks to regulate guns with executive orders. “I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary,” Mr. Stockman said in a statement.

White House officials and Democratic lawmakers said that there are clear limits to what the president can and cannot do, and that Mr. Obama has no plans to push beyond what he would need Congressional authority to accomplish.

On Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama’s legislative effort will face intense opposition from gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, and the lawmakers they support with millions of dollars at election time and who see gun rights as a defining issue in their districts. But Mr. Obama’s allies see a rare opening for tighter gun rules after Congress has shied away from the politically charged issue for years.

“He’s putting together a pretty comprehensive list of what could be done to make a difference in this area,” said Representative Mike Thompson of California, who is heading a Democratic task force in the House. “There’s some huge, huge holes in the process that are set up to keep communities safe. We need to close those holes.”

Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, said Vice President Biden had informed lawmakers during a two-hour briefing on Monday that there are “19 independent steps that the president can take by executive order.” Ms. Speier said the executive action is part of the “most comprehensive gun safety effort in a generation.”

Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago and Mr. Obama’s former chief of staff, joined the debate on Monday and said that the president should “clear the table” by doing whatever he can administratively so small issues do not get in the way of the bigger legislative fights over access to guns.

“Don’t allow a side issue to derail these things,” Mr. Emanuel said during a discussion about gun policy. While many gun control advocates are eager to harness what they believe is a ripe moment in American life for new and robust restrictions on the kinds of guns that were used in Newtown, there is an emerging consensus on Capitol Hill and among gun education groups that improving the system of background check legislation that currently exempts private gun sales and gun shows is the most viable legislative route to pursue.

“The assault-weapons ban is a low priority relative to the other measures the Biden task force is considering,” Matt Bennett, a spokesman for Third Way, a left-leaning research group, said after hearing from Mr. Biden last week. “Political capital in the gun debate only goes so far. We think it should be spent on things that would have the greatest impact on gun violence, like universal background checks and cracking down on gun trafficking.”

Any efforts to get gun legislation through Congress will require an enormous and ceaseless pressure campaign by the administration. Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden are likely to keep up the pressure on lawmakers with public events in the weeks and months ahead, according to those familiar with the White House strategy.

Scores of senators, including many Democrats, will be wary of voting on any effort to curb access to guns or ammunition. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, is a longtime supporter of gun rights. Still, gun legislation is likely to begin in the Senate because the House is controlled by Republicans, many of whom oppose new restrictions on guns.

With fiscal issues continuing to dominate the political calendar for the next several weeks, White House officials and lawmakers say the gun safety effort is likely to be debated in separate pieces of legislation that could be introduced over time. In coming weeks, Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, will reintroduce a measure that would require every gun buyer, with limited exceptions, to undergo a background check and would force states to feed all relevant data into the background check system so those with criminal convictions and the mentally ill could be flagged.

    Obama Willing to Use Executive Orders on Guns, NYT, 14.1.2013,






Make the Cabinet More Effective


January 10, 2013
The New York Times


EVERY four years the cabinet briefly becomes the focus of national attention in December and January — only to fade from view again after Inauguration Day. True, individual cabinet secretaries will be in the news from time to time, but the cabinet as an institution will be all but forgotten. Yet the United States could benefit greatly by strengthening its scope and role.

Although the cabinet is not established in the Constitution, presidents since George Washington have convened a collective body of the heads of the executive departments. Washington used these meetings to tap into the wisdom of Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. Abraham Lincoln assembled a strong “team of rivals” in his cabinet to gird the nation at its time of greatest peril. Franklin D. Roosevelt convened his cabinet the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks, while John F. Kennedy relied on a subset of his cabinet during the Cuban missile crisis.

Over the past half-century, however, the expansion of the White House staff has centralized deliberation and decision making increasingly within the confines of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. This reliance on professional staffers, political advisers and media spinmeisters within a constrictive White House “security bubble” deprives presidents not only of the deep substantive policy expertise of top civil servants but also of the political judgment of cabinet members who are often successful politicians.

A strengthened cabinet could promote frank and creative deliberation, help coordinate policy across government and make sure all members are delivering the same political message. All of this could go far in staving off the inertia and drift so common in presidential second terms.

Cabinet secretaries given a more prominent role would also enjoy a higher profile, enhancing their effectiveness in Washington and beyond, and enabling them to serve as more effective proxies for the president. Here are four ideas to maximize the reach and impact of the next cabinet:

• Employ the cabinet as a deliberative body: Cabinet meetings have become little more than occasional photo ops. Under Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, for example, cabinet meetings were held monthly; the Obama team has met less than one-third as often. By contrast, the British, German and many other parliamentary cabinets meet weekly to assure that the entire team shares a common and coordinated vision. More regular and meaningful cabinet meetings could strengthen links across departments and with the White House staff, bolstering cooperation and reducing overlap and miscommunication.

• Strengthen links between cabinet members and Congress: The Congressional committee structure is already designed to roughly parallel the cabinet departments, with each linked to one or more committees in each house. Without violating separation of powers, cabinet secretaries could be given nonvoting ex officio status as members of committees. This would empower them and their designees to work more closely with lawmakers in devising legislation and participating in hearings and other legislative work. They also would be eligible to address committees or even Congress as a whole.

• Deploy cabinet members as presidential proxies: Countless ceremonial duties and foreign trips tax the time and energy of presidents. While cabinet members do fill in for the president at times, they could do much more by meeting with foreign dignitaries, presiding at ceremonial events and presenting honors and awards. This would elevate their stature and make them more effective policy messengers.

• Cultivate the next generation of leadership: Almost uniquely among established democracies, a cabinet post in the United States can be more of a political grave than a cradle for leaders. No cabinet official has gone on to become president in nearly 85 years, and few have run. Yet the experience gained running an executive department and learning the ways of Washington offers great expertise for future presidential candidates. It may be Hillary Rodham Clinton who breaks this trend in 2016, drawing in no small part on her experience as secretary of state.

There is a risk, of course, that a stronger cabinet could undermine the president. But cabinet secretaries would continue to serve “at the pleasure of the president.” And while presidents could benefit from the collective wisdom of their cabinet, they would not be bound by it. When members of Lincoln’s cabinet once unanimously outvoted him, Lincoln closed the meeting by saying, “Seven nays and one aye, the ayes have it.”

An enhanced cabinet would not have its own independent mandate, but it could share more fully in the president’s, and thus advance that mandate more effectively.


Raymond A. Smith, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute,

is the author of “Importing Democracy: Ideas From Around the World to Reform

and Revitalize American Politics and Government.”

    Make the Cabinet More Effective, NYT, 10.1.2013,






Tough Path Seen by Obama on Ban of Assault Arms


January 10, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — While President Obama pledged to crack down on access to what he called “weapons of war” in the aftermath of last month’s schoolhouse massacre, the White House has calculated that a ban on military-style assault weapons will be exceedingly difficult to pass through Congress and is focusing on other measures it deems more politically achievable.

As a task force led by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. readies recommendations on reducing gun violence for delivery to the president next week, White House officials say a new ban will be an element of whatever final package is proposed. But given the entrenched opposition from gun rights groups and their advocates on Capitol Hill, the White House is trying to avoid making its passage the sole definition of success and is emphasizing other new gun rules that could conceivably win bipartisan support and reduce gun deaths.

During a day of White House meetings on the issue on Thursday, including one with the National Rifle Association, Mr. Biden focused publicly on universal background checks for gun purchases and the need for more federal research on gun violence. In 15 minutes of public remarks, Mr. Biden made no mention of curbing the production and sale of assault weapons, even though he was a prime author of such a law that passed in 1994 and expired 10 years later. Both he and the president say they strongly support an assault weapons ban.

But Mr. Biden noted that his former colleagues in the Senate have long been “pretty universally opposed to any restrictions on gun ownership or what type of weapons can be purchased.” He said they now seem more open to limits on the purchase of high-capacity magazines.

A spokesman for Mr. Obama said later in the afternoon that the vice president’s remarks merely reflect a desire for a broad approach to gun violence.

“President Obama has been clear that Congress should reinstate the assault weapons ban and that avoiding this issue just because it’s been politically difficult in the past is not an option,” said Matt Lehrich, the spokesman. “He’s also stressed that no single piece of legislation alone can solve this problem, which is why he has asked Vice President Biden to explore a wide array of proposals on topics ranging from gun laws to mental health to school safety.”

The calculation on the assault weapons ban underscores the complicated politics of guns on Capitol Hill despite public outrage after a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. While the shootings prompted some pro-gun lawmakers to endorse limits on assault weapons, Republicans who control the House Judiciary Committee still oppose such limits.

A statement by the N.R.A. after Thursday’s meeting underscored the political challenges. The group accused the White House of having an “agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” and said it would go to the halls of Congress in its efforts to stop gun restrictions.

“We will now take our commitment and meaningful contributions to members of Congress of both parties who are interested in having an honest conversation about what works — and what does not,” the statement said.

The calibrated public focus by Mr. Biden also reflects a tension within the administration and Democratic circles, with some gun control advocates pressing for a robust effort on the assault weapon ban and others leery of being caught in a losing cause at the expense of other measures with more chances of success. While Mr. Biden has included Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary, and other cabinet officials in his working group, officials said the process is being driven by the White House.

In addition to limits on high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks, Mr. Biden’s group is looking at ways of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and cracking down on sales that are already illegal. One possibility is tougher laws against straw purchasing with longer prison terms for those who buy guns for others. Some officials would like to expand mandatory minimum sentences for gun law violations, but the White House in general does not like such sentences. Mr. Biden’s group is also considering seeking additional money to enforce existing laws.

Mr. Biden’s comment this week about taking executive action was seized on by some opponents as evidence that the president wanted to unilaterally restrict gun sales to legal buyers. But officials said executive action refers to limited measures like directing more attention and resources to pursuing violations of existing gun laws and studying gun violence.

The ammunition limit has drawn attention from Democrats in Congress, both because they think it might be easier to pass and because it might have more impact than an assault weapon ban. To pass the last assault weapon ban through a Democratic Congress more amenable to gun control, Mr. Biden had to accept compromises that allowed many guns to be sold.

The White House effort is coming even as some governors are seeking state legislation that would limit the availability of guns and ammunition. In Colorado, Gov. John W. Hickenlooper, a Democrat, called on Thursday for universal background checks on all gun sales in his state.

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made gun control efforts a centerpiece of his next year in office, pledging to pass a tough new assault weapons ban in his state, limits on large-capacity magazines and measures to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Mr. Obama’s push for new federal action is the first serious one in many years. Mr. Biden held several meetings Thursday with representatives of hunting and wildlife groups, advocates of gun ownership, and officials with the entertainment industry. At the start of the meetings, Mr. Biden said he would give Mr. Obama his recommendations on Tuesday, though they may not be made public until later.

In their own closed-door meetings with the vice president on Wednesday, gun control advocates emphasized their belief that measures other than the assault weapons ban could be even more effective in preventing the kinds of recent massacres that have captured public and political attention, several participants said.

“There’s a natural gravity that happens toward the ban in the wake of tragedies,” said Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who attended the meeting. “But it’s very important to point out that background checks could have an even bigger impact.”

    Tough Path Seen by Obama on Ban of Assault Arms, NYT, 10.1.2013,






Obama’s Remade Inner Circle

Has an All-Male Look, So Far


January 8, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — In an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 29, 11 of President Obama’s top advisers stood before him discussing the heated fiscal negotiations. The 10 visible in a White House photo are men.

In the days since, Mr. Obama has put together a national security team dominated by men, with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts nominated to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton as the secretary of state, Chuck Hagel chosen to be the defense secretary and John O. Brennan nominated as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Given the leading contenders for other top jobs, including chief of staff and Treasury secretary, Mr. Obama’s inner circle will continue to be dominated by men well into his second term.

From the White House down the ranks, the Obama administration has compiled a broad appointment record that has significantly exceeded the Bush administration in appointing women but has done no better than the Clinton administration, according to an analysis of personnel data by The New York Times. About 43 percent of Mr. Obama’s appointees have been women, about the same proportion as in the Clinton administration, but up from the roughly one-third appointed by George W. Bush.

The skew was widespread: male appointees under Mr. Obama outnumbered female appointees at 11 of the 15 federal departments, for instance. In some cases, the skew was also deep. At the Departments of Justice, Defense, Veterans Affairs and Energy, male appointees outnumbered female appointees by about two to one.

“We’re not only getting better than previous administrations, but we also want to get better ourselves as well,” Nancy D. Hogan, assistant to the president and director of presidential personnel, said in response to the Times analysis. “The president puts a premium on making his team representative of the American people.”

The White House itself employs almost exactly the same number of men and women, and administration officials said they hoped to even out the ratio across the government and help ensure that future Democratic administrations have a diverse and deep bench of candidates for high-level jobs.

But Mr. Obama’s recent nominations raised concern that women were being underrepresented at the highest level of government and would be passed over for top positions.

For instance, many Democrats had hoped that Mr. Obama would name Michèle Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense, to the Pentagon post. They had also hoped that he might name Alyssa Mastromonaco or Nancy-Ann M. DeParle, who are top White House aides, to the chief of staff job, or Lael Brainard, an under secretary at the Treasury Department, as secretary. But speculation about the chief of staff position now rests on Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, and Ronald A. Klain, a former chief of staff to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. For the Treasury position, most expect Mr. Obama to name his current chief of staff, Jacob J. Lew.

“It’s not so much about checking a box, like on a census form,” said Tracy Sefl, a Democratic political consultant in Washington. “It’s about the qualitative properties that the candidate takes to the position. In this case you’re talking about tremendous women, and then we get a whole bunch more white guys.”

Interviews with current and former members of the administration, both men and women, suggested that there was no single reason for the gender discrepancy in administration appointments, and several repeatedly spoke of the administration’s internal commitment to diversity and gender equity.

But several said that the “pipeline” of candidates appeared to be one problem. They said it seemed that more men than women were put forward or put their names forward for jobs. In part, that might be a result of the persistence of historical discrepancies: men have traditionally dominated government fields like finance, security and defense.

The Obama administration has helped reverse that trend by putting women in top policy-making jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields, officials said. “It makes a huge difference when you have women who are leaders,” said Celeste A. Wallander, who was a deputy assistant defense secretary until July. “They tend to have networks of excellent women they can call on.”

In many areas of government, the Obama administration has brought the gender ratio much closer to even than the Bush administration. At the Treasury Department, which has a longstanding reputation as a boys’ club, men made up about 57 percent of appointees, down from 64 percent during the Bush administration as of 2008 and 60 percent in the Clinton administration as of 2000. Moreover, women now hold some of the top policy-making jobs in the Treasury Department, including Ms. Brainard, the country’s top financial diplomat, and Mary J. Miller, the under secretary for domestic finance.

But experts on the representation of women in government and business said that the White House had more work to do to ensure that women were more equally represented, including changing the work conditions within the administration. “It is not just a pipeline issue,” said Marie C. Wilson, a women’s leadership advocate who is the founder of the White House Project, a New York-based nonprofit group. “The pipeline in government has loads of talented people in it, and loads of talented women.”

She noted that women with young families, more so than men with young families, tended to drop out of jobs that demanded long hours — a trend also noted by administration officials. Perhaps as evidence of that skew, there were about 57 percent more male appointees than female appointees at the assistant or deputy assistant level.

Experts said that family-friendly policies, like paid maternity and paternity leave, might keep more women in administration jobs. “We’re the only industrialized nation in the world with no mandatory paid leave,” said Victoria A. Budson, the executive director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard. “This is about creating a better system of labor throughout the course of a person’s career.”

The Times performed a data analysis of the Plum Book, a government listing of political appointees that comes out once every four years. The 2012 version included about 4,000 named staff members appointed by the administration as of June, and excluded members of the career Civil Service and certain security-sensitive positions. Still, it provides a mostly comprehensive view of the Obama administration, from the Defense Department to the tiny Arctic Research Commission.

An analysis of a separate pool of federal personnel data found that the number of high-level female political appointees outside the White House was about the same under Mr. Clinton and Mr. Obama, though it fell under Mr. Bush. Women held about 35 percent of those positions, like assistant secretary, in 2011 and 1999. Women held about 25 percent in 2007. The Clinton administration named significantly more women to political appointments than prior administrations, about 44 percent over all.

Though the percentage of women in the last two Democratic administrations has held roughly steady, there are a record number of women in Congress this year: 20 in the Senate and 81 in the House.


Kitty Bennett, Derek Willis and Sarah Cohen contributed reporting.

    Obama’s Remade Inner Circle Has an All-Male Look, So Far, NYT, 8.1.2013,






Obama Nominates Hagel

as Defense Secretary

and Brennan as C.I.A. Chief


January 7, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — Risking a potentially rancorous battle with Congress at the start of his second term, President Obama on Monday nominated Chuck Hagel, a former Republican senator from Nebraska whom Mr. Obama hailed as “the leader that our troops deserve,” to be secretary of defense.

Mr. Obama also nominated John O. Brennan, his chief counterterrorism adviser, to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency, putting a close aide who was at his side during the raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden into the top job at the agency.

The president extolled Mr. Hagel’s record as a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, describing how he once dragged his brother to safety after he struck a landmine.

“Just as Sergeant Hagel was there for his brother, Secretary Hagel will be there for you,” said Mr. Obama, who was flanked by Mr. Hagel and the current defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, at the White House ceremony.

“More than most, Chuck understands that war is not just an abstraction,” Mr. Obama said.

Of Mr. Brennan, the president said he was one of the architects of the counterterrorism strategy that dealt setbacks to the leadership of Al Qaeda.

“Think about the results,” Mr. Obama said, noting that Mr. Brennan had been a tireless sentry for the American people.

The president also emphasized that Mr. Brennan had embedded counterterrorism within a legal framework, saying, “he understands we are a nation of laws.”

The announcements, which were widely expected, complete a troika of personnel moves, along with that of Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts, who was named as secretary of state last month, that fill out Mr. Obama’s national security team for his second term.

The nomination of Mr. Hagel sets up a showdown between the president and Congress, with Republican senators predicting he will face a bruising confirmation because of his views on Israel, Iran and Islamic militant groups. He has also faced criticism from gay rights organizations forremarks he made 14 years ago – for which he has since apologized – about an openly gay diplomat.

Conservative and Jewish groups say that Mr. Hagel has opposed sanctions on Iran, has inadequately supported Israel and has advocated engagement with groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. They also fault him for having once referred to pro-Israel lobbying groups on Capitol Hill as “the Jewish lobby.”

Still, it was not clear how hard those groups would fight to block Mr. Hagel’s nomination after having failed to derail his candidacy since he emerged as front-runner for the job.

“We’re not in the opposition camp, we’re in the concerned camp,” said David A. Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee, a centrist Jewish group. “We’re going to count on the Senate to examine, as it must, key issues of concern.”

Mr. Harris said that Iran topped his list of concerns because Mr. Hagel had voted against American sanctions against the Iranian government over its nuclear program and had argued against using military force to prevent Tehran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement that Mr. Hagel “would not have been my first choice, but I respect the president’s prerogative.”

However, Mr. Foxman said that the senators should challenge Mr. Hagel on his positions on Israel and Iran, which he said were “so out of sync” with those of the president. “I particularly hope Senator Hagel will clarify and explain his comments about the ‘Jewish lobby’ that were hurtful to many in the Jewish community,” Mr. Foxman added.

Mr. Obama referred obliquely to the controversy swirling around Mr. Hagel, saying that soldiers in the field were far away from the politics of Washington, but should not be handicapped by it.

Mr. Obama’s choices for the Pentagon and the C.I.A. reflect a determination to fill his central national security jobs with people in whom he has deep trust and with whom he has personal rapport, according to White House aides.

Mr. Brennan, these advisers said, has developed exceptionally close ties to the president in his four years at the White House, briefing him on terrorist plots, pushing to expand the strategy of using unmanned drones to kill suspected terrorists and advising him on decisions like authorizing the Bin Laden raid.

Mr. Obama’s rapport with Mr. Hagel goes back to their days in the Senate. In July 2008, Mr. Hagel and Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, accompanied Mr. Obama on a trip to Afghanistan that helped establish the Democratic presidential nominee’s foreign policy credentials.

Like the president, Mr. Hagel is deeply suspicious of a lingering American military presence in Afghanistan, and would most likely be comfortable with a more rapid drawdown of American troops after the United States and its allies turn over responsibility for security to the Afghans at the end of 2014.

John Nagl, a retired Army officer and professor of history at the United States Naval Academy, recalled Mr. Hagel addressing a class he was teaching at West Point. “He said, ‘I was that 19-year-old rifleman. Look me in the eye and tell me that if you send a kid to get killed, it will be for a mission that matters.’ ”

“He’ll be a voice for G.I. Joe, and that’s a very valuable thing,” Mr. Nagl said.

At Monday’s ceremony, Mr. Obama praised Mr. Panetta, the outgiung defense secretary, whom he said earned a break after heading both the Pentagon and the C.I.A.

The president also thanked Michael J. Morell, who stepped in to run the C.I.A. as acting director after David H. Petraeus resigned in the wake of a sex scandal last fall.

“I hope the Senate will act on these nominations promptly,” he said. “When it comes to national security, we don’t like to leave gaps.”

    Obama Nominates Hagel as Defense Secretary and Brennan as C.I.A. Chief,
    NYT, 7.1.2013,






Obama Disputes Limits

on Detainee Transfers Imposed

in Defense Bill


January 3, 2013
The New York Times


WASHINGTON — President Obama set aside his veto threat and late Wednesday signed a defense bill that imposes restrictions on transferring detainees out of military prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But he attached a signing statement claiming that he has the constitutional power to override the limits in the law.

The move awakened a dormant issue from Mr. Obama’s first term: his broken promise to close the Guantánamo prison. Lawmakers intervened by imposing statutory restrictions on transfers of prisoners to other countries or into the United States, either for continued detention or for prosecution.

Now, as Mr. Obama prepares to begin his second term, Congress has tried to further restrict his ability to wind down the detention of terrorists worldwide, adding new limits in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, which lawmakers approved in late December.

The bill extended and strengthened limits on transfers out of Guantánamo to troubled nations like Yemen, the home country of the bulk of the remaining low-level detainees who have been cleared for repatriation. It also, for the first time, limited the Pentagon’s ability to transfer the roughly 50 non-Afghan citizens being held at the Parwan prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan at a time when the future of American detention operations there is murky.

Despite his objections, Mr. Obama signed the bill, saying its other provisions on military programs were too important to jeopardize. Early Thursday, shortly after midnight, the White House released the signing statement in which the president challenged several of its provisions.

For example, in addressing the new limits on the transfers from Parwan, Mr. Obama wrote that the provision “could interfere with my ability as commander in chief to make time-sensitive determinations about the appropriate disposition of detainees in an active area of hostilities.”

He added that if he decided that the statute was operating “in a manner that violates constitutional separation of powers principles, my administration will implement it to avoid the constitutional conflict” — legalistic language that means interpreting the statute as containing an unwritten exception a president may invoke at his discretion.

Saying that he continued to believe that closing the Guantánamo prison was in the country’s fiscal and national security interests, Mr. Obama made a similar challenge to three sections that limit his ability to transfer detainees from Guantánamo, either into the United States for prosecution before a civilian court or for continued detention at another prison, or to the custody of another nation.

It was not clear, however, whether Mr. Obama intended to follow through, or whether he was just saber-rattling as a matter of principle. He made a similar challenge a year ago to the Guantánamo transfer restrictions in the 2012 version of the National Defense Authorization Act, but — against the backdrop of the presidential election campaign — he did not invoke the authority he claimed.

Several officials said that it was not certain, even from inside the government, what Mr. Obama’s intentions were. While the signing statement fell short of a veto, they said its language appeared intended to preserve some flexibility for the president to make a decision later about whether to make a new push to close the Guantánamo prison amid competing policy priorities.

Andrea Prasow, senior counterterrorism counsel at Human Rights Watch, which advocates closing Guantánamo, criticized Mr. Obama for not vetoing the legislation despite his threat to do so.

“The administration blames Congress for making it harder to close Guantánamo, yet for a second year President Obama has signed damaging Congressional restrictions into law,” she said. “The burden is on Obama to show he is serious about closing the prison.”

About 166 men remain at the prison.

Signing statements are official documents issued by a president when he signs bills into law that instruct subordinates in the executive branch about how to carry out the new statutes. In recent decades, starting with the Reagan administration, presidents have used the device with far greater frequency than in earlier eras to claim a constitutional right to bypass or override new laws.

The practice peaked under President George W. Bush, who used signing statements to advance sweeping theories of presidential power and challenged nearly 1,200 provisions over eight years — more than twice as many as all previous presidents combined.

The American Bar Association has called upon presidents to stop using signing statements, calling the practice “contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers.” A year ago, the group sent a letter to Mr. Obama restating its objection to the practice and urging him to instead veto bills if he thinks sections are unconstitutional.

As a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama sharply criticized Mr. Bush’s use of the device as an overreach. Once in office, however, he said that he would use it only to invoke mainstream and widely accepted theories of the constitutional power of the president.

In his latest signing statement, Mr. Obama also objected to five provisions in which Congress required consultations and set out criteria over matters involving diplomatic negotiations about such matters as a security agreement with Afghanistan, saying that he would interpret the provisions so as not to inhibit “my constitutional authority to conduct the foreign relations of the United States.”

Mr. Obama raised concerns about several whistle-blower provisions to protect people who provide certain executive branch information to Congress — including employees of contractors who uncover waste or fraud, and officials raising concerns about the safety and reliability of nuclear stockpiles.

He also took particular objection to a provision that directs the commander of the military’s nuclear weapons to submit a report to Congress “without change” detailing whether any reduction in nuclear weapons proposed by Mr. Obama would “create a strategic imbalance or degrade deterrence” relative to Russian stockpiles.

The provision, Mr. Obama said, “would require a subordinate to submit materials directly to Congress without change, and thereby obstructs the traditional chain of command.”

    Obama Disputes Limits on Detainee Transfers Imposed in Defense Bill,
    NYT, 3.1.2013,





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