Excerpt of News Conference
joined in progress
OBAMA: ...but no matter who I have met with, whether it was the business leaders today, or the labor leaders I met with last week, my message has been the same. It's that the American economy is at its strongest when we have a common set of values that it reflects, when we reward not just wealth, but also work and the workers who create it, because what we have relearned in painful fashion over the last few months is that Wall Street can't thrive so long as Main Street is struggling.
So, to strengthen our long-term economic competitiveness, a topic that I will be addressing in-depth tomorrow in Pittsburgh, we need to build an economy that lifts up all Americans. If we're serious about making America more competitive in the 21st century, we also have to finally solve our energy crisis.
I know that this is something that John McCain talked about in a speech earlier today. And I want to once again repeat that I commend Senator McCain for having done more than some of his party when it comes to climate change.
Unfortunately, there remains a real difference between us on energy reform. And I think it's important for the American people to understand that difference.
Uh-oh. Time and...
OBAMA: I haven't gotten to the funny parts yet, actually.
Time and time again, when he's had the chance, Senator McCain has opposed real solutions to the energy crisis. When I was reaching across the aisle to build support for a plan to double our fuel efficiency standards, Senator McCain was voting against biofuels, against solar power, against wind power, and against an energy bill that his own campaign co-chairman called the biggest legislative breakthrough we have had since he has been in the Senate.
Now, that bill certainly wasn't perfect. It contained irresponsible tax breaks for oil companies that I consistently opposed and that I will repeal as president. But it also represented the largest ever investment in renewable sources of energy. And that's why I supported it.
But it's not just that there's a difference between what we have done in the past. It's that there's a big difference between what we're proposing for the future.
While I'm glad Senator McCain is talking about energy on the campaign trail, and I do believe that the only way we're going to solve this problem is by bringing the parties together, what Senator McCain has proposed so far is not a serious plan to solve the problem. He wants a gas tax holiday that will save you, the American consumer, at most 30 cents a day for three months. And that's only if the oil companies don't just increase their prices and pocket the savings themselves, which is what they did here in Illinois when we tried the same thing.
Senator McCain wants to open up our coastlines to drilling, a proposal that his own top economic adviser admitted won't provide any short-term relief at the pump. It's a proposal that George Bush's administration says will not provide a drop of oil for at least a decade. And by the time the drilling is fully under way, in 20 years, our own Department of Energy says that the effect on gas prices will be -- quote -- "insignificant."
Just today, we heard from the head of the government office whose mission is to provide an unbiased analysis of energy policy, and he said that the idea won't affect gas prices much.
Now, Senator McCain noted the other day that the idea on coastal drilling that he and President Bush have offered polls well. And I acknowledge that. Perhaps that's why Senator McCain changed his position. But what we need right now are not appealing, but meaningless gimmicks, designed to get politicians through the next election, gimmicks that offer no real relief to struggling motorists.
What we need now is a serious national commitment to meet our responsibility to our country and the next generation, a serious and sustained commitment to transition our economy from our dependence on oil to clean affordable sources of energy. What we need now is to make America the world leader in the development of these fuels and environmental technology.
And that's what I'm offering. I wish I could just make gas prices come down on their own. No president can. What I can do, and what I will do, is push for a second stimulus package that will send out another round of rebate checks to the American people.
What I will do as president is tax the record profits of oil companies and use the money to help struggling families pay their energy bills. I will provide a $1,000 tax cut that will go to 95 percent of all workers and their families in this country.
I will fully close the loophole that allows corporations to engage in unregulated speculation that artificially drives up the price of oil. That's what we will do in the short term to provide some relief to the American people.
Most importantly, though, is what I will do in the long term to solve this crisis. When America wanted to send a man to the moon, we put the full resources of our federal government behind it and spent over $100 billion in today's dollars. Well, I want to make an even bigger commitment to free this nation from its addiction to oil.
And that's why I will invest $150 billion over the next 10 years in alternative sources of energy, like wind power, solar power, and advanced biofuels, to invest in the next generation of plug-in hybrids, investments that will create up to five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced and that will create billions of dollars in new business.
That's the kind of leadership we need to realize the promise of clean energy for our economy, our safety and our security. And that's the kind of leadership I will offer as president of the United States.
With that, let me open it up to questions.
QUESTION: And I'm just wondering, are you worried about the precedent that your decision is going to set?
OBAMA: Well, we talked about this, I think, in Florida. I answered almost exactly the same question. So, I will say it again.
We haven't just sort of done better with small donors. We have, I think, revolutionized how campaigns are financed at the presidential level. Ninety percent of our donors provide donations of $200 or less, 90 percent. So, the overwhelming bulk of the 1.7, I think, million donors that we get money from are ordinary Americans, not fat cats.
We don't take special interest money in the form of PAC donations. We don't take money from federal lobbyists. We have implemented a program where the Democratic National Committee is also not taking money from those sources.
And, so, if you look at how we fund our campaign, we are more reliant on small donors and ordinary Americans than any campaign in history. We have also been more transparent than other campaigns in terms of where we get our money from.
Do we have some big donors? Absolutely. But that's not what drives our campaign. And, as a consequence, we're actually in a position where, if a large donor wants to contribute to us, but wants something in return, I can afford to simply say, no, I'm not interested.
There's no single donor in our campaign or group of donors on which we depend, because our donor base is the American people. And that is exactly what has always been the end of campaign reform.
Now, public financing was one means of achieving that end, of freeing ourselves from special interest domination. And I feel confident that we have achieved it. And, you know, if you contrast how I'm funding my campaign with John McCain, for example, he's more reliant on lobbyists, more reliant on PACs, more reliant on special interests. There are no constraints to what the Republican National Committee can do.
So, we could have made a choice to go through the public financing system, and then, with a wink and a nod, have all this big money go into the RNC, or to, in our case, the DNC, in which case -- and that's what we have been doing in the past. But I don't think that that lives up to the spirit of what we're trying to achieve in terms of campaign reform.
QUESTION: Is there a way to fix the system?
OBAMA: Well, I think, as I said even earlier in the year, I felt that the system was broken. And I still want to see if we can fix it. And I think that part of what we're going to have to do is to create a system in which all spending is transparent, and you don't have an artificial public financing sector that's strictly limited, and then huge amounts of money, hundreds of millions of dollars that are being spent outside that system.
And that's been my goal from the start.
QUESTION: Senator, last -- last January, you pledged to support a filibuster of a warrantless surveillance bill that included retroactive immunity for telecommunications. Last week, the House passed a bill that effectively gives the telecoms that immunity. You said would support it.
In explaining the change, you said it was -- you were talking -- it was in light of the security threats facing the country.
Can you explain how the security threats facing the country are any different today than they were in January, when you said you would support a filibuster?
OBAMA: Well, the bill has changed. So, I don't think the security threats have changed. I think the security threats are similar.
My view on FISA has always been that the issue of the phone companies per se is not one that overrides the security interests of the American people. I do want accountability and making sure that, as I have said before, somebody's watching the watchers, that you don't have an administration that feels that it can make its own determinations about when warrantless wiretaps are applicable without going through a FISA court.
And -- and that's what we had. That's the system that we had previously. And I think that, if you look at why people were concerned about the original bill, it wasn't simply that we wouldn't be able to sue the phone companies. I would be happy with a system that discloses what's happened and make sure that we prevent violations of the American people's privacy, even if the phone companies are held harmless.
The issue was, can we get to the bottom of what's been taking place, and, most importantly, do we have safeguards going -- in place going into the future so that American civil liberties are not being violated?
It is a close call for me, but I think that the current legislation, with the exclusivity provision that says that a president, whether it's George Bush or myself or John McCain, can't make up rationales for getting around the FISA court, can't suggest that somehow there is some law that stands above the laws passed by Congress in engaging in warrantless wiretaps.
Make -- the fact that that provision is in there, I think, is very important and provides us protection going forward. The fact that there's an inspector general in place to investigate what happened previously gives us insight into what has happened going -- or retrospectively.
And, so, that, in my mind, met my basic concerns. And given that all the information I have received is that the underlying program itself actually is important and useful to American security, as long as it has these constraints on them, I felt it was most -- more important for me to go ahead and support this compromise.
QUESTION: Ask you, what were your thoughts about Ralph Nader's comments that you were trying to talk white and appeal to white guilt, so that you don't seem like a Jesse Jackson, and you're not confronting real problems in the African-American community? He was pretty brutal.
OBAMA: You know, look, first of all, what's clear is, Ralph Nader hadn't been paying attention to my speeches, because all the issues that he talked about, whether it's predatory lending, or the housing foreclosure crisis, or what have you, are issues that the traveling press can tell you I have devoted multiple speeches, town hall meetings to throughout this campaign.
Ralph Nader's trying to get attention. He's become a perennial political candidate. I think it's a shame, because, if you look at his legacy in terms of consumer protections, it's an extraordinary one. But, at this point, he's somebody who's trying to get attention and whose campaign hasn't gotten any traction.
There's a better way to get some traction than to make an inflammatory statement like the one that he made. It is what it is.
QUESTION: I assume that you consider the economy issue number one in this campaign. And you link the pain at the pump to the general economic malaise.
What can you tell Chicagoans here about $4- and $5-a-gallon gasoline, how that would be improved, would be reduced by those several short-term measures that you would like to implement if you were president?
OBAMA: Well, there are two elements, short-term, that could make a difference.
The first is having some serious investigation in closing loopholes in the oil futures market. Experts estimate that up to 30 percent of the current price of oil, or at least the current increase, is accounted for by energy speculation. And it is very important, I think, for us to be able to crack down on that speculation by closing the loopholes that lead this out of the regulatory framework that exists for most futures -- futures markets.
The second thing is to give people some tax relief, so that they can absorb these higher costs, both in the form of a tax stimulus rebate and a permanent $1,000 tax cut per family. Now, that will help people's bottom line day to day. What I...
OBAMA: Well, no, the first one will. The tax break will not.
I mean, the truth is, is -- and I have -- look, obviously, we're spending a lot of time talking to energy experts across the country and around the world. And the fact of the matter is, is that, once you take out some of that speculation that's been taken in the oil markets, the rest of it is driven by a big spike in demand, and a flatlining, or a supply that's not increasing as quickly.
Now, I would love, as I said in my opening remarks, to wave a magic wand and say, you elect me president, and gasoline's going to go back to three bucks or two. But that's not going to happen. That's not going to happen regardless of who's president.
What can bring gas prices down is a long-term serious energy policy. That's what we should have had in place 20 years ago. It's what we should have had in place 10 years ago. And that's what we should have in place now.
And, so, my goal is to get it right now. And the way to get it right is to make sure that we have got fuel-efficient cars that are significantly reducing oil consumption in the transportation sector, making our buildings more energy-efficient, setting up a cap-and-trade system that gives people incentives to move away from carbon-producing fossil fuels, using the money that's generated to reinvest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and setting a very clear goal that we are going to reduce our consumption by a large magnitude, 30 percent, 35 percent of our current oil consumption.
That is something that is achievable, but it's not going to be done tomorrow. It's not going to be next year. It's going to be done 10 years from now.
OBAMA: OK. Hold on a second, everybody. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator, what's your reaction to the Supreme Court's decision today striking down the death penalty for a child rapist?
OBAMA: I disagree with the decision. I have said repeatedly that I think that the death penalty should be applied in very narrow circumstances for the most egregious of crimes. I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime. And if a state makes a decision that, under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that that does not violate our Constitution.
Now, I think it's -- you know, had the Supreme Court said, we want to constrain the ability of the states to do this to make sure that it's done in a careful and appropriate way, that would have been one thing. But it basically had a blanket prohibition. And I disagreed with that decision.
QUESTION: The Supreme Court is expected to rule tomorrow on the D.C. gun ban.
Can you review for us where you stand on that?
OBAMA: Why don't I wait until the decision comes out, and then I will comment on it, as opposed to trying to prognosticate what the Supreme Court is going to decide tomorrow?
QUESTION: You commented on it before you -- you support the D.C. gun ban
OBAMA: What I have said is that I do not -- what I have said is, is that I'm a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, but I do not think that that precludes local governments being able to provide some commonsense gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of gangbangers or children, that local jurisdictions are going to have different sets of problems, and that this is a very fact-intensive decision that has to be made.
But I do think that the Second Amendment is an individual right. So, what I would like to do is wait and see how the Supreme Court comes down, and evaluate the actual reasoning in the case to see how broad or narrow the decision's going to be.
QUESTION: Al Gore -- who are you pointing to?
OBAMA: I was pointing to Lee (ph).
But go ahead.
QUESTION: OK. All right.
OBAMA: I will call on you next.
QUESTION: Al Gore and John Edwards endorsed you in big arenas with big crowds. Former President Clinton issues a somewhat tepid statement through an aide. Are you worried about -- do you need to hear more from the former president? Are you worried about the party truly uniting, if you don't get a more full-throated endorsement from the former president?
OBAMA: No, because I'm going to be appearing with Senator Hillary Clinton, the former president's wife, who was involved in an epic, historic primary with me. And then I'm going to be campaigning with her on Friday. So it's understandable that the former president wouldn't want to upstage what is going to be, I think, a terrific unity event over the next day-and-a-half.
Now if the question is do I want Bill Clinton campaigning for us for the ticket leading into November, the answer is absolutely yes. I want him involved. He is a brilliant politician. He was an outstanding president. And so I want his help not only in campaigning, but also in governing. And I'm confident that I'll get that help.
QUESTION: Depending on your -- the statement that you made yesterday about the violence in Zimbabwe and the elections there coming up, is it your sense that the U.N. and some of the regional groups in the area haven't done enough?
And if that's the case, what do you think the next step should be taken by the U.N. and by the U.S.?
OBAMA: Well, I think they haven't done enough. I actually had a conversation with the -- who we anticipate will be the next head of the South African government Minister Zuma, and encouraged and urged him to speak out more forcefully on what was happening. This is before Mr. Tsvangirai decided to withdraw from the election.
What's happening in Zimbabwe is tragic. This is a country that used to be the bread basket of Africa. And Mugabe has run the economy into the ground. He has perpetrated extraordinary violence against his own people.
What is remaining of this election is a complete and total sham. I don't think that whatever the results of this election on Friday that Mugabe will be able to claim any sort of legitimacy as a Democratically elected leader in Zimbabwe. And not only do I think that the United Nations needs to continue to apply as much pressure as possible on the Mugabe government, but in particular, other African nations, including South Africa, I think have to be much more forceful in condemning the extraordinary violence that has been taking place there. And, frankly, they have been quiet for far too long and allowed Mugabe to engage in this sort of anti-colonial rhetoric that is used to distract from his own profound failures as a leader.
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) talk with Senator Clinton and you've begun to address the issue of her debt.
What sort of role to you envision for her in the campaign (INAUDIBLE)?
OBAMA: Look, the -- I want her campaigning as much as she can. She was a terrific campaigner. She, I think, inspired millions of people. And so she can be an extraordinarily effective surrogate for me and the values and ideals that we share as Democrats. You know, I want her out there talking to people about how we're going to provide universal health care. I want her to talk about what's going to be required for us to get on a serious energy footing in this country. I want her to talk about her passion for children and early childhood education, making sure that college is affordable. And I think we can send Senator Clinton anywhere and she will be effective.
So, obviously, it will be constrained by her schedule, but I'm looking forward to campaigning vigorously with her. I think we'll have a -- I think we'll have a terrific time together in New Hampshire. And I think that she will be very effective all the way through November.
QUESTION: What have you -- yesterday you told your big donors you had given the green light to help retire Senator Clinton's debt.
Are you planning to reach out to those small donors you were talking about earlier, sort of the grassroots?
And if not, why not?
And what's her plan if you have to help her with her debt?
OBAMA: Well, you know, we don't have some 10 point strategy to do this. What I said was, to my large donors, who are in a position to write large checks to help Senator Clinton retire her debt, or at least a portion of it. And I think there are going to be those who are willing to do so. You know, small donors, you know, who are writing $5 or $10 or $15, $25 checks, first of all, their budgets are tighter. And, you know, they know that I am going to be working with Senator Clinton. If they want to make contributions, then I think there's nothing wrong with them doing so. And I want to encourage that.
But we're not I'm not going to be individually contacting $15 donors because, frankly, it probably wouldn't be that effective in terms of making a big dent in Senator Clinton's debt.
OBAMA: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Senator, the national media has had some fun lately with the discovery that you're a politician and you come from Chicago. There's a lot of pedigree there, good and bad.
From your perspective, what's good about being a Chicago politician? What does it mean?
OBAMA: Well, look, for the local reporters here -- here in Chicago, you guys have a sense of where I come from and who I am. You will recall that for my entire political career here, basically, I was not the endorsed candidate of any political organization here; that I didn't go around wielding a bunch of clout; that my reputation in Springfield was as an independent. And my reputation here was also somebody who will try to work with everybody.
And so there's no doubt that I had friends and continue to have friends who come out of the more traditional school of Chicago politics. But that's not what launched my political career and that's not what I've ever depended on in order to get elected. And I would challenge any Chicago reporter to dispute that of -- that basic fact.
I think one thing about Chicago is that people try to get stuff done for their constituents. And one of the things I'm going to try to do as president is to get stuff done for the American people, who are struggling with high gas prices and lack of health care and an inability to afford college.
And I do think that there's a non-ideological approach to politics. It's not unique to Chicago. I think it's Midwestern in some way, which is important and will represent a significant change from the very ideological, very sharp partisanship that we've seen in Washington for a long time now.
QUESTION: How important is it to you that your vice president have national security credentials and can you elaborate on the kind of resume that person will have to have?
OBAMA: I want somebody who can be a good president if anything happened to me. And I want somebody who can be a good adviser and counsel to me and tell me where he or she thinks I'm wrong, not just on national security policy, but on domestic policy, as well.
Beyond that, I will give you more details when I announce my V.P. candidate.
OBAMA: Wait, actually, Jay, you already got one, didn't you?
Sorry. Go on.
QUESTION: Senator, following up on the question that Greg Heinz just asked regarding Chicago, isn't it the case by now, concentrating more of the function of the DNC here in Chicago, that you're going to be causing more attention to be focused on this city. And in the minds of those who have a less nuanced understanding of the city, they may focus more on the traditional corruption aspects and on ongoing investigations, some of which may come to fruit during the course of the campaign?
OBAMA: Yes, but those have nothing to do with my presidential campaign. And I don't think anything -- anybody would indicate that the mere fact that I am from Chicago is going to somehow have any impact on the kind of president that I'm going to be. So, no. The answer is I don't think that's going to be relevant at all.
QUESTION: Senator, back to public -- your decision on public financing. It was widely criticized as being a flip-flop and/or a broken promise.
Do you accept those characterizations as fair?
And are you concerned that the decision might jeopardize your credibility on other pledges you've made during the campaign on issues like trade, health care and withdrawing troops from Iraq?
OBAMA: Well, I think that the characterization of flip-flop was wrong because if you looked at my statement, what I said was is that we would try to work with the Republican nominee to preserve the option of public financing. In fact, you know, if you recall my original statement, it was prompted by the fact that everybody had said, including John McCain, that they were looking to opt out of the system. And it was on our own initiative, without any prompting, that we wrote to the FEC in order to give us that option.
That was -- that was the purpose of that letter and that statement, to make sure that we preserved that possibility.
And so the answer is no. I don't think that it is going to damage my credibility at all on those issues that you just mentioned. Those issues have to do with the reason that I'm fighting to be president of the United States -- making sure that the American people get a fair shake. Those are issues that I've been working on for 20 years. If people are interested in my credibility, they can take a look at what I said when I was a first year state senator, what I said when I was a first year U.S. senator or what I'm saying now as a presidential candidate. And they'll find consistency in my approaches on all these issues.
And even my critics, including conservative critics, would acknowledge that, in fact, there's been surprising consistency in how I approach every issue, whether it's trade or economic policy. On a whole host of issues, my orientation has been how can we, in a practical, pragmatic way, give more rung -- put -- you know, place more rungs on that ladder of opportunity for the American people and how can we make sure that we've got a competitive economy that continues to grow and that continues to prosper, how are we going to make sure that we keep the American people safe.
So there just hasn't been a lot of contradiction there. And, you know, frankly, when I hear those arguments made by supporters of John McCain or from the Republican National Committee, when just in the last two weeks we've seen John McCain reversed himself on a whole host of issues like drilling on the Continental shelf, and when there were a whole host of shifts in position on public financing by John McCain himself, then my sense is these arguments are just part of the political environment, that they are part and parcel of a presidential campaign, so.
OBAMA: All right, guys.
QUESTION: Senator, just one quick question.
OBAMA: You know, I'm going to -- I'm going to -- the last question here, because -- just because you had your hand up.
QUESTION: Was that me?
OBAMA: Yes, you -- for quite some time.
Your hometown is in the grips of a wave of violence that has frustrated political leaders. The police are responding. An extraordinary statement yesterday (INAUDIBLE) police chief saying some of these parents are to blame, their own lifestyles are putting their children in harm's way. But in a lot of cases, this is 15 years too late for the police to deal with.
QUESTION: What can you do as president to give Chicago and other cities a leg up on this violence?
OBAMA: I've talked about this repeatedly. But let me try to be succinct. We have to put more cops on the streets and that's why I want to restore the COPS program. We have to make sure that we are able to trace guns that have been used in violence to the unscrupulous gun dealers that all too often are dumping illegal handguns onto the streets of Chicago. I don't think there's anything contradictory between that and being a supporter of the Second Amendment.
We have to have -- improve schools, after school programs and summer school programs that give young people a place to be that's constructive and that gives them a sense of self-worth and a belief that they can achieve beyond just participating in the drug trade. Those are things government can do.
But as I said two Sundays ago at a speech here in Chicago, parents have to do their jobs. And fathers have to be at home and be a part of their child's lives and provide them guidance and provide them values. And we, as a community, have to speak out against the violence and instill a sense -- a greater sense of self-control and responsibility in our children.
And it's true, those are not things that we're going to be able to do overnight. It's going to take some time because there are kids who have been -- have not received that nurturing for a very long time. And many of them are hardened to the point where reversing how they've been brought up is going to be a daunting task.
And just while I'm on this topic, one last point I guess I would make. There were some who criticized my speech by saying well, you haven't acknowledged, for example, the joblessness and poverty that exists in the black community. I talk about that all the time. And there's no doubt that -- in fact, I wrote about this in my book "The Audacity of Hope," that if you've got men in inner city communities that can find jobs that support families, they are more likely to participate in those families and participate in their children's upbringing and to provide a role model for those children.
And so there's -- everything else that we've been talking about in terms of the economic development and job growth is going to have some impact on this issue. But that can't -- that can't be an excuse for a failure to provide the kind of guidance that children need in the household.
So, all right?
QUESTION: Senator (INAUDIBLE) -- on Charlie Black and his comments about -- that a terror attack might be good for Senator John McCain's campaign.
Any reaction to that?
OBAMA: Well, I thought I commented on that yesterday. But I'll do so again. I'd make two points. One is I'm not sure he is -- his analysis is correct, because I am looking forward to having a debate with the authors of the disastrous policy in Iraq about what's required in order to keep the American people safe. I don't think that the Bush administration or John McCain have shaped policies that are optimal in order to deal with the terrorist threat.
We're seeing backsliding in Afghanistan. We've got bin Laden sending out audio tapes. We've got interactive Internet sites that Al Qaeda has put up because they've got a place where they feel relatively secure. We are weakened financially and our military is strained to the breaking point as a consequence of our incursions into Iraq. We've neglected some of the homeland security investments that we could have made here.
Our National Guard, as we saw in the Midwest flooding, can't function as effectively as it could. I was talking to National Guard representatives. Fifteen of their 17 helicopters in this region were overseas during the flooding.
So I want to have that debate. And, you know, I think that if the Republicans think that they can run the same playbook that they ran in 2004 or 2000, I think they're badly mistaken, because I think the American people recognize their policies have not made us more safe.
Now, having said that, I also think that using the specter of a terrorist attack as a political angle to be exploited is not what the American people are looking for. Everybody -- all of us have an interest in preventing a terrorist attack on our homeland. I think that's true of John McCain. I think that's true of Democrats and Republicans. And I think it's true of George Bush.
And so my sense is that we should try to avoid trying to exploit the issue politically and focus on what are the concrete policy differences that we have in order to achieve that goal. All right?
Barack Obama, Excerpt of News Conference Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/278456