Saturday, September 21, 2013

Blasting The GOP At Congressional Black Caucus Gala, President Obama Focuses On Health Insurance And Gun Violence

Food Stamps and the long march to economic justice also on President's fiery menu at the Phoenix Awards Dinner...
Washington, DC - President Barack Obama on Saturday night made his first public remarks about two mass shootings in the nation this week as he delivered a fiery keynote address at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's 43rd Phoenix Awards Dinner.  He blasted Republicans for this week's approval of a multi-billion dollar cut to the Food Stamps program, and for voting to chain government funding to his signature health care law.

On Friday, the House passed legislation that averts a government shutdown and keeps the government running through mid-December, but it also strips funding for the Affordable Care Act.  The President vowed that he will not negotiate on that issue, warning that the GOP could hurtle the economy back into a harrowing recession.

"Let me say as clearly as I can:  It is not going to happen," President Obama said.  "We've overcome far darker threats than those."  

"We will not negotiate over whether or not America should keep its word and meet its obligations.  We're not going to allow anyone to inflict economic pain on millions of our own people just to make an ideological point."

The President also repeated his pledge not to negotiate over raising the debt ceiling, saying America is obligated to pay its bills. 

"It’s time for these folks to stop governing by crisis," he declared about House Republicans.

The President and First Lady Michelle Obama, clad in a strapless silk ball gown with a black and white windowpane pattern and a black belt, were greeted with a standing ovation from the audience of close to 3,000 as they walked onstage at the Walter E. Washington Convention center shortly after 9:00 PM to the strains of a jazzy rendition of "Hail to the Chief."   After kissing his wife, the President immediately took the podium.

Friday's funding vote came on the heels of a vote on Thursday, when the House approved a measure to cut $39 billion over ten years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka Food Stamps.

President Obama blasted them for sanctioning a plan that could throw as many as four million people out of the program.  The vote to cut "nutritional aid for struggling families" came "at the same time as some of the same folks who took that vote are receiving subsidies themselves," President Obama said.  

"So farm subsidies for folks at the top are okay; help feeding your child is somehow not."

The battle to keep the funding intact was led by CBC chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), and there was applause as President Obama mentioned her efforts.  The White House has said he will veto the bill, which was separated from the larger Farm Bill over the summer. Enrollment in Food Stamps has ballooned to historic levels since President Obama took office, in a trend that began before his election.  There are now more than 47.7 million people receiving benefits.

On gun violence, the President called on his supporters to return to the battle for expanded background check legislation as he discussed separate incidents in his dual home towns.  

Last Monday, twelve people were slain by a gunman at Washington, DC's Navy Yard; the shooter was killed by police.  On Thursday in Chicago, thirteen people were wounded by gunfire in a neighborhood park while watching a game of pickup basketball, including a 3-year-old child.

The President urged the CBC "to get back up and go back at it" to speed stalled legislation through Congress.  It failed to gain approval from the Senate earlier this year despite a strong push by the President, Vice President Joe Biden, some lawmakers, and advocates.  Both Republicans and Democrats voted against the measure.

"We can't rest until all of our children can go to school or walk down the street free from the fear that they will be struck down by a stray bullet," President Obama said.

The President said he will meet on Sunday with families of the Navy Yard victims, "who now know the same unspeakable grief of families in Newtown and Aurora and Tucson and Chicago and New Orleans and all across the country, people whose loved ones were torn from them without headlines sometimes or public outcry."

"But it's happening every single day," President Obama said. 

"We fought a good fight earlier this year, but we came up short and that means we've got to get back up and go back at it because as long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we've got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children."

The dinner's theme was "Spirit of 1963," marking the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and paid tribute to "the advances that the march led to in American life, from voting rights and school desegregation to Mr. Obama’s historic election to the presidency in 2008," CBC said.  (Above, the President and Mrs. Obama arrive)

Last month, the President and many in the cavernous hall marked the anniversary, gathering under rainy skies at the Lincoln Memorial.  

President Obama recalled the historic event without mentioning his own historic position as Chief Executive, and asked his most ardent supporters to continue to push for changes at a time when there are still efforts "to roll back our hard-won civil rights" with voting laws, and when "black unemployment remains twice as high as white unemployment." 

"I am still fired up, because I still see the work that needs to be done," President Obama said.  "The work didn’t go away."

He closed by saying the marching must continue.

"While all our challenges are different from the ones faced by previous generations...We're going to have to keep marching," President Obama said.

"And I'm proud that I'll be, at least for the next three and a half years here in Washington and then a whole lot of years after that, I'm going to be marching with you."

The President and Mrs. Obama worked a ropeline after his remarks, his fourth keynote at the dinner since taking office.  In 2012, with the dinner just weeks ahead of Election Day, Mrs. Obama attended solo and delivered the keynote, the first presidential spouse to do so.  

The President and Mrs. Obama did not dine at the event.  They arrived in a pouring rain at 8:36 PM and departed at 9:40 PM, and were home at the White House at 9:46 PM.  The President spent the day ahead of his speech playing golf at Fort Belvoir, in a foursome that included Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass.

Hosts for the dinner were MSNBC television anchor Tamron Hall and actor Wendell Pierce, best known for HBO dramas The Wire and Treme.  Over the summer, Mrs. Obama visited his Sterling Farms grocery store in New Orleans to discuss food access.

The Phoenix awards were presented to former President Bill Clinton, who accepted via video, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD), and Elaine Jones, former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. They received the Phoenix Award "for their contribution to African-American political awareness and empowerment, as well as to the advancement of minorities in the electoral process," said CBC.

*The transcript of the President's remarks.
*Photos by AP/pool; video from Congressional Black Caucus Foundation