Barack Obama photo

Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in San Francisco, California

April 08, 2016

Thank you, everybody. Well, it is so good to see all of you.

I will begin where Nancy began, and that is just thanking Ann and Gordon for their incredible hospitality. They have been great friends to a lot of causes and a lot of civic efforts, but they've been great friends to me, personally. And in some ways, I almost feel like I'm coming full circle here because the first time I was here I had no gray hair—[laughter]—and I was just beginning what would end up being this remarkable journey of ours, and it was by no means clear how it would turn out. But they were early friends and supporters and have been with me through thick and thin. And I'm so proud of them and so thankful for everything they have done. So give them one more round of applause.

Of course, the reason we're here is because we think a Democratic Congress is good for America. And if you need some evidence of that, then you can look at the Members who are here—Jared, Anna, Barbara—bringing passion and dedication and common sense and hard work to the business of making sure every kid in this country gets a decent education, and that we're protecting our planet from the ravages of climate change and making sure that our international relations are based on firmness and toughness and an outstanding military, but also a generosity of spirit and a willingness to engage former adversaries.

I've done a lot of tough stuff since I've been President. I couldn't do it unless I had outstanding legislators who had my back, even when it wasn't politically convenient. And these three are just a sampling of the great folks that we've got in Congress. And so please give them a big round of applause. I'm thankful to them.

And then, at the risk of being a member of the mutual admiration society, I love me some Nancy Pelosi. I was with some folks last night; we had done an event down in L.A., and afterwards I'm talking to some friends and supporters. And they were extolling Nancy's virtues, and they were explaining how, oh, and she is just so intelligent and so passionate, and she cares about all these issues, and so full of integrity, I don't know how she gets it all done. And I said, all those things are true, but she also is at daughter of a former Baltimore mayor. [Laughter] So don't let the whole Northern California, cappuccino-sipping thing fool you. [Laughter] And that combination of idealism and just tough-as-nails conviction and savvy is the reason why this country has made such enormous strides over these last 7 years. I could not have had a better partner than Nancy Pelosi. And I mean that. It's true.

And Paul is all right also. [Laughter] He's okay. He's all right. He's all right. He's a genial sidekick. [Laughter] Since I'm on the subject, I have never seen—and I'm sure others have—but I've never seen this man in a bad mood or anything other than gracious and generous to people. And that's a pretty remarkable thing. So a man of great character who I really have come to love. I mean that.

All right. We've got some work to do. I was at the University of Chicago yesterday. As I think some of the Fourth Estate remarked—they've said in the past that I'm professorial, and so I just let 'er rip. I said, you know what, I'm just going to go with it. [Laughter] I'm going to go back to my roots—and was in an auditorium with law students and law professors. And the subject was the Supreme Court. As you know, we have a vacancy currently. And I have nominated an individual who no one disputes is one of the most qualified people ever to be nominated to the Supreme Court—currently, Chief Justice of the DC Circuit, often considered the second most important court in the land after the Supreme Court.

Democrats and Republicans alike in the past have extolled his temperament, his intellect, his consensus-building. He was confirmed all but unanimously when he ascended to his current position. Chief Justice Roberts has said good things about him. And yet, we have a Republican Senate that has decided not only not to vote for him, but to not give the American people an opportunity to hear what he has to say through a hearing—or, for that matter, even meet with him. At least that was their original position.

And I used the occasion at the University of Chicago to explain that, setting aside the merits of Judge Garland, setting aside the fact that he led the investigation in the Oklahoma City bombing, by all accounts in a way that ensured justice was done, that upheld rule of law but also the memory of the victims there, despite his clear integrity and blemishless record—even setting all that aside, the notion that our democracy could support, our Constitution would suggest—that one party would simply say, we're not going to do our jobs because we're going to see how the election turns out to then see whether or not we should fill a vacancy in the highest court in the land gives you a sense of what's at stake in this election.

Because it's not just about cases and controversies that may come before the Court. It's not just about the particulars of immigration or a woman's reproductive freedom or voting rights. It's about, can our democracy work? Because the Founders anticipated that this was going to be a big, unruly place, with a lot of different points of view and a lot of people, and their whole goal was to set up a system whereby we could disagree, but maintain civil discourse and order, and that the marketplace of ideas would work and reason and fact and argument would win the day, and you'd win some arguments and you'd lose some arguments, but you'd stay true to the process. And in that fashion, self-government could work.

It was a big experiment, a big risk. It really hadn't been tried in the way that they imagined it and the way it unfolded over two centuries. And if you have a party that decides we're going to break that because it is not expedient at this moment, then what you've lost is more than just the possibilities of an excellent candidate being on the Supreme Court. What you've lost is the possibility that we can keep going within a set of boundaries and a framework of rules that allow us—in all of our diversity and all of our differences and all of our regional and economic and racial and religious diversity—to continue to be the greatest nation on Earth.

Now, that's the Senate. Things are even more messed up in the House. And I said when I was in L.A. yesterday, and initially people were surprised—I said that I actually think that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz have done us a favor. People said, well, how so? This notion that Donald Trump or Ted Cruz are outliers and that now suddenly the Republican establishment wants to—they're embarrassed by them. Why? They're saying the same things that these members of the Freedom Caucus in the House have been saying for years. In fact, that's where Trump got it. He said he'd been listening apparently to their positions on immigration and their views with respect to national security and their views on slashing taxes for the wealthiest among us and slashing Medicaid and changing Medicare. And he'd been paying attention, and he said, you know what, I can deliver this message with more flair—[laughter]—with more panache.

And the reason I actually think that they've done us a favor is because it has stripped away any veneer of responsible governance from what had been the central tenets of an awful lot of Republicans in both the House and the Senate during the course of my Presidency and before that.

Now, that is different from saying that all Republicans agree with him. I think there is a substantial number of Republicans out there who are embarrassed by it. It's just that they hadn't been hearing what was being said on talk radio and FOX News and blogs and so forth. And so now there's a little bit of recoil. Is that what we're standing for? Blocking Muslims from coming into our country? Building walls? Surveilling neighborhoods?

So it's a useful time for us to examine what do we stand for, what do we believe, what do the parties represent. And the good news is, I know what we represent. There's a difference in emphasis between the two fine Democrats who are running for the Presidency. There are tactical differences in the assessment of how change comes about, but they both believe that climate change is real and we should do something about it. They both believe we should invest in early childhood education to give every child a chance. They both believe that we should raise the minimum wage. They both believe that we should close corporate loopholes and prevent the kind of tax avoidance that puts a burden on middle class families. They both believe that we should do something to make college more affordable. They both believe that we are a nation of immigrants and that we should pass laws that are reflective of those traditions. They both believe that women should be paid the same as men for doing the same job and that we should have family-supportive policies like affordable childcare and sick leave and family leave that can actually be used. They both believe that people should be treated with dignity and respect and full citizenship, regardless of race or religion or sexual orientation.

There's not this big ideological divide among Democrats. We largely agree on what we stand for. And the good news is that the majority of Americans agree with us. Now, that doesn't mean that we can be complacent. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't be self-critical. It doesn't mean we have a monopoly on wisdom. As Nancy pointed out, one of the great virtues of the Democratic Party is that it is big and encompasses a lot of different kinds of folks, and we are inherently argumentative and opinionated and self-critical. That's good. It's healthy. It can be aggravating, if you're President of the United States or the leader of the Democratic Caucus. But it's good. It's healthy.

And I've said before, in ways that sometimes have gotten me in trouble with my fellow Democrats, that there are some Republican ideas—or that used to be Republican ideas until I started extolling them—[laughter]—that actually are useful. I believe in market economies. I believe in competition. I believe in entrepreneurship. I believe in making sure that regulations aren't—that we're not regulating just for the sake of regulating, but we're doing it in a way that doesn't impede growth. I want a Republican Party that is rational and well-functioning. I think that's good for our democracy.

But that's not what we have right now. And that's why this election is so important. Because if we are successful, not only can we advance the causes that so many of you have fought for and devoted your time and effort and energy and money to, not only do we have a chance to pass immigration reform and pass early childhood education and rebuild our infrastructure and invest in science and research and development that has been at the heart of the dynamism in our economy—not only do we have a chance to do all those things, but I actually genuinely believe it gives an opportunity for Republicans to step back and reflect on where it is that they're going.

But that means there's an awful lot at stake in this election. And I want to make sure that everybody here feels the same sense of urgency I do. In 10 months, I will no longer be President of the United States. But in 10 months, I will—contrary to Mr. Trump's opinion—still be a citizen of the United States. [Laughter] And I've said this before, quoting Justice Brandeis: The most important office in a democracy is the office of citizen.

You have all been extraordinary citizens. But the things about citizenship is it's not sporadic. You don't just do it some of the time. You don't just do it when you're particularly inspired. It is a duty and a responsibility to future generations. And I would ask that you join me and Nancy and these outstanding Members of Congress over the next 10 months to make sure that we are fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens and make sure we get a Democratic House and a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 7:29 p.m. at the residence of Ann and Gordon Getty. In his remarks, he referred to Reps. Jared W. Huffman, Anna G. Eshoo, and Barbara J. Lee; Paul F. Pelosi, Sr., husband of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi; and Donald J. Trump, chairman and chief executive officer, Trump Organization, and Sen. R. Edward "Ted" Cruz, in their capacity as Republican Presidential candidates. Audio was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.

Barack Obama, Remarks at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Dinner in San Francisco, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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