National Scene 5/13 – 5/19/09
By Linnie Frank Bailey
Barack and Michelle Obama, as President and First Lady, continue to open the doors of the White House to new cultural experiences. Fulfilling a campaign pledge to make the White House the “People’s House,” the Obamas hosted the first ever Poetry Jam to celebrate the ‘spoken word.’ The Obamas also participated in news-making graduations this week, with the President giving the commencement address at Notre Dame University, while protestors criticized his pro-choice stance; and Michelle Obama addressing the first graduating class of UC Merced after being wooed there by student letters and cards.
In policy meetings this week, the President made strong statements regarding Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, auto emission controls, and his desire to see healthcare legislation passed this year.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Poetry Jam at the White House
In the East Room of the White House, the President and the First Lady hosted an evening celebrating poetry, music and the spoken word. With a coffeehouse, jazz-club-like, atmosphere – the East Room was transformed for the event with small, candle-laden tables and dim lights. Speakers and musicians included, Joshua Bennett, Eric Lewis, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Mayda Del Valle, Esperanza Spalding, and James Earl Jones—who gave a mesmerizing speaking performance from “Othello.”
The President and First Lady were joined by the First-Mom-In-Law—Marian Robinson. Other guests included Spike Lee and his wife, actor Hill Harper, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett, the President’s aide and friend Reggie Love, and students from local colleges, including American University, Gallaudet, Georgetown, and Howard.
“We're here to celebrate the power of words,” President Obama said, adding, “Words help us appreciate beauty and also understand pain. They inspire us to action.” He introduced the first lady as his own poet. She continued by saying, “I have wanted to do this from day one. It is one thing for people to tell stories in their own space, but it’s something entirely different to tell them in this space.”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Healthcare Reform This Year
The President met with members of Congress, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. George Miller, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Rep. Henry Waxman, and House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Charlie Rangel—to discuss his desire to pass healthcare legislation in the House by July 31, before their August recess.
Calling the meeting encouraging, the President stressed that “urgency and determination” are needed to achieve “what I believe will be historic legislation!” He reiterated his desire to see healthcare reform passed by both the House and the Senate this year, saying, “Whatever plans emerge, both from the House and the Senate, I do believe that they've got to uphold three basic principles: first, that the rising cost of health care has to be brought down; second, that Americans have to be able to choose their own doctor and their own plan; and third, all Americans have to have quality, affordable health care.”
Friday, May 15, 2009
President and Vice-President Release Personal Financial Disclosures
As required by The Ethics in Government Act of 1978, both President Obama and Vice President Biden released their 2008 financial disclosure reports. Neither have any conflicts of interest, and their reports have been certified by the independent Office of Government Ethics. Copies of the reports, which detail assets and income, can be found on the web at the following sites:
Protecting the Country Comes First
Stating, "This is the best way to protect our country, while upholding our deeply held values,” President Obama restarted a Bush-era military trial system for a small number of Guantanamo detainees. The military trials, established by President George W. Bush, had been criticized by Obama as ineffective and unnecessary, however in a briefing to reporters indicating a change in plans, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “First and foremost, the president does what is in the best security interest of the United States.”
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Obama Gives Commencement Address at Notre Dame
Acknowledging the controversy surrounding his appearance at a Catholic university because of his pro-choice stance, President Obama gave the commencement address at Notre Dame University. He calmed the crowd, which included a few protesters that had managed to get inside the auditorium, and spoke on the importance of mutual respect for all opinions and finding common ground.
The President reminded the audience, “The question, then…. is how do we work through these conflicts? Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?”
Michelle Obama Gives Commencement Address at UC Merced
Addressing the first graduating class at the University of California-Merced, the First Lady told the roughly 500 graduates she believed in them and their power to change their community. UC Merced, the newest campus in the UC System, achieved quite a coup by getting the First Lady to appear at their small, diverse college of students from mostly working class families.
In February, the students launched a “Dear Michelle” Campaign, which included over 1,000 letters and hand-written Valentine’s cards telling Mrs. Obama what she meant to them, and begging her to speak at their commencement. Mrs. Obama stated she was moved by their effort.
Monday, May 18, 2009
President Meets with Israeli Prime Minister
The President met for over two hours with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, discussing the need to get back to the negotiating table and restart Palestinian-Israeli peace talks. Netanyahu stated he is ready to resume talks with the Palestinians, but that any agreement is contingent on their acceptance of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. Recapping their meeting, the President stated: “We have seen progress stalled on this front, and I suggested to the prime minister that he has a historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure….that means that all the parties involved have to take seriously obligations that they have previously agreed to."
The leaders also discussed Iran’s nuclear program and the Administration’s diplomatic outreach to the country, with the president declaring the United States wanted to bring Iran into the world community, however: “We're not going to have talks forever.”
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Joined by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as auto industry executives, President Obama announced new auto emissions and mileage rules designed to combat pollution from greenhouse gasses. The National emissions standard is patterned after policies in California sought by the Governor. “For the first time in history, we have set in motion a national policy aimed at both increasing gas mileage and decreasing greenhouse gas pollution for all new trucks and cars sold in the United States of America,” President Obama said in remarks from the Rose Garden.