Remarks by the President Meeting with State Legislators
South Court Auditorium
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
**Please see below for corrections, marked with an asterisk.
4:18 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Everybody have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House. I invited all of you here because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you’ve got to be nice to state legislators. (Laughter.) You never know when one of them might end up being President. (Laughter.) So you want to treat them with respect.
It is great to see all of you. I hope that Jerry has been treating you and our team have been treating you reasonably well. (Applause.) I am partial to state legislators -- particularly, by the way, senators. I’m sorry, House members. (Laughter and applause.) I’m just saying we tend to be a little more sensible, at least at the state levels -- I don’t know about the federal. (Laughter.)
I see my friend Jim from Illinois back here -- Jim Clayborne. And he and I served together, and he is still doing a great job. My first campaign for the State Senate was nearly 20 years ago. I had to print my own fliers at Kinko’s. (Laughter.) Hardly anybody could pronounce my name. We had to go door to door -- Michelle and me and a handful of volunteers just to get enough petitions to get on the ballot. And just about everybody who I talked to -- when they did bother talking to me, because there were a number of times where people didn’t answer the door or figured I was selling something or preaching something. If they did answer the door and heard me speak for a while, they’d say, well, you seem like a nice young man -- why would you want to go into something dirty and nasty like politics? (Laughter.) And I’m sure some of you have heard that not just from strangers, but from your family members.
But what drove me to run for office, and what I’m sure drove many of you, is the conviction that politics can, in fact, be a noble profession; that you can, in fact, help to shape and create more opportunity in communities and districts and states and in our nation. And the more time I spent in my community, the more convinced I was that although change happens from the bottom up -- and it is critical for communities to embrace nongovernmental organizations and community organizations and philanthropies and faith communities in trying to make sure that our schools are working and that our streets are safe and that people have jobs and opportunity -- ultimately, we also need to have a government that is an effective partner, that is not there just to try to stay in power or score cheap political points or get on the nightly news, but elected representatives that are genuinely trying to move the ball forward and try to bring our country together rather than divide it.
And that ideal -- the belief that people who love this country can change it -– is why I ran for this office eight years ago. The financial crisis hadn’t happened yet, and it turned out that that would make our job a lot harder. But when you look back on these last seven years, we’ve made enormous progress. (Applause.)
Now, let’s face it. You’re not going to hear that progress acknowledged from the folks on the other side who are running for this office at the moment, and I understand that. That’s the nature of politics. But somehow they’ve invented a reality that everything was terrific back in 2007, 2008 -– when the unemployment and the uninsured rate were skyrocketing, and when our economy was shedding hundreds of thousands of jobs every month, and we were mired in two wars, and hopelessly addicted to foreign oil, and bin Laden was still plotting. Apparently those were the good old days before I came in and messed things up. (Laughter.)
But there is this pesky thing called facts. And here are the facts. When I took office, the unemployment rate was on its way to 10 percent. Today, it is at 5.1 percent. (Applause.) When I took office, we were losing up to 800,000 jobs a month. Today, our businesses have created jobs for a record 66 months in a row –- more than *3 million [13 million] overall. There are more job openings right now, in fact, than any time in our history.
When I took office, more than *15,000 Americans [15 percent of Americans] were uninsured. Today, only 9.2 percent are uninsured. And if we can get a few more states to expand Medicaid then even fewer will be uninsured. (Applause.)
So for the first time on record, more than 90 percent of Americans have health insurance. And for the first time, insurance companies can’t discriminate against you because of a preexisting condition, which is helping all of us. And by the way, despite the predictions, we’ve done all this and cut the deficit by two-thirds since I took office. (Applause.)
When I took office, we were hopelessly addicted to foreign oil. Today, we’ve cut our oil imports by more than half. We’ve tripled the power that we generate from wind. We generate 20 times more solar energy than we did when I came into office. And that has proven to be a steady source of good jobs that can’t be outsourced.
Our reading scores are up. Our high school graduation rates are up. Our college attendance is up. There are almost no economic indicators that don't show we have made enormous progress during the course of these last seven years, and we’ve done it in partnership with so many of you and so many state governments around the country.
I’m going to hold up my record up against anybody. Our policy prescriptions have been the right ones. We are on the right side of these debates that are taking place right now. And those things that are not yet done, aren’t done because we got folks on the other side that are intent on saying no -- even when they know it’s the right thing to do; even when it’s -- originally was their idea.
On issue after issue, the American people agree. The majority of Americans agree we should raise the minimum wage. A majority of Americans agree we should institute paid family leave and sick days for our workers. One recent poll, run by a Republican pollster, showed that a majority of Republican voters think that climate change is caused by human activity and that their elected officials should do something about it. The only thing that makes climate change “political” is that not one -- not a single one of the top 10 candidates for President on the other side agree with these Republican voters -- unique among conservative parties worldwide.
The point is, Americans are not actually as divided as our politics or sometimes our media would suggest on particular issues. We sort ourselves out partly because we're watching different things and reading different things. But when you actually ask people their opinions on issues, there is a convergence there. There’s a path for us to act in a unified way. But it requires elected officials to be serious about getting the job done, as opposed to winning the next election. And we are ready to build on that progress. We’re ready to build on what works. And our policies are the ones that work.
So part of our task is to make sure that both sides of the aisle at every level of government get the message that people are looking for us to actually do what makes sense and what the evidence and facts show are going to help working families. And the good news is that it looks like the Republicans will just barely avoid shutting down the government for the second time in two years. That’s a somewhat low bar, but we should celebrate where we can. (Laughter.) The bad news is that it looks like Republicans will just barely avoid shutting down the government again for the second time in two years. Instead of manufacturing new crises, Congress should be investing in the things that help our economy grow.
Now, given that, at least for the next year, year and a half, there’s not going to be the kind of action on a wide range of issues that we’d like to see coming out of Capitol Hill, that puts more of a burden -- but also a great opportunity -- on state legislatures all across the country. Because you can act when Washington won’t.
The Republican-led Congress hasn’t raised America’s minimum wage, but 17 states did it on their own, and that boosted wages for 7 million workers. So you are to be congratulated for that. That’s your work. (Applause.) Congress hasn’t answered my call to provide our workers with paid sick days and paid family leave, but four states have now taken action on their own, including Oregon this year. So congratulations, Oregon. We’re proud of you. (Applause.) Congress has not yet taken up my plan to bring down the cost of community college to zero for responsible students, but this year, two of your states took action to make sure that every hardworking young person can afford the new skills that they need to get a good job.
So over the last few years, states likes yours have gotten a lot done. And I hope you’re going to head back home ready to get even more done -- whether it’s some of the issues I already mentioned, or expanding pre-K, or modernizing licensing laws to help workers and our veterans fill those jobs, or putting into place some limits on the amount of carbon pollution that power plants can generate and dump into our air -- we’ve got to keep moving forward. And we’ve got to keep measuring success not just by winning elections -- although I do want us to do a little more work and pay a little more attention to state and legislative elections and gubernatorial elections and not just focus on national politics, because that’s where a lot of decisions get made -- but I want us most importantly, to be focusing on how we’re helping people in their own lives every single day.
At its worst, politics can be a dirty business. It can be a tool for those with wealth and power to rig the system so that they can keep that wealth and power. It can be a place where elected officials shy away from tough issues because they’re not interested in stirring up controversy that might cost them an election. But that makes it all the more important that we’ve got folks like you who believe in practicing politics at its best.
So when you talk to principled, passionate people who want to run for office for the right reasons but wonder if it’s really worth it, you can tell them that the President of the United States says absolutely. It is absolutely worth it. We haven’t won every fight. We’ve got a lot more work to do. But all across America, there are people who have jobs today that didn’t have them because of the work that we did. There are people who have health insurance today who didn’t have it before because of the work that we did. There are students who are going to college for the first time because we’ve made that possible. There are veterans who served tour after tour who are now home with their families and are getting help that they have not only earned but that will help make our country stronger.
So that’s what change looks like. And that’s why the right policies are important. And that’s what public service is about. So I want to thank all of you for the outstanding work that you are doing to keep your communities, your states on the right track. When you get frustrated, don’t lose heart, because we’re counting on you and, more importantly, the families in your districts and in your states are counting on you. And I think their faith is well-placed.
Thank you very much, everybody. (Applause.)
4:36 P.M. EDT