Remarks by the President at a DSCC Fundraising Reception
Comments of President Barack Obama on Friday November 8 in the house of Jorge Mas Santos and his wife, referring to the U.S. policy towards Cuba and other aspects of domestic policy…
THE PRESIDENT: Wow, if Jorge wasn’t so good at business, we might have to run him for something — (laughter) — because I was inspired just listening to him. To Jorge and Aleyda, and the entire Mas family, thank you so much for the incredible hospitality in this beautiful setting and to all of you who are here.
Everything that Jorge said is true and I remember as if it was yesterday, although we noted that both of us have gotten a little grayer since the first time we met. (Laughter.) When I first met Jorge, I was obviously the underdog in a presidential campaign. And I had taken a deep interest in Florida and a deep interest in Cuban politics. But the truth is I hadn’t had occasion to campaign a lot in Florida, with the exception of making sure that Florida re-elected one of the finest senators we have in this country, Bill Nelson, who is here tonight. (Applause.)
But one of the things I was confident about was given my history and concern on issues of freedom, democracy, civil society, my own background as a grassroots organizer that the policies that the United States pursued would be ones that would focus on the idea of liberty and how do we build that from the bottom-up. And Jorge immediately was able to share with me his vision and his views. And, as a consequence, we were in a position I think to make changes that empowered, that opened the possibility of greater penetration and contact from Cuban families here in remittances and in travel.
And we’ve started to see changes on the island. Now, I think we all understand that, ultimately, freedom in Cuba will come because of extraordinary activists and the incredible courage of folks like we see here today. But the United States can help. And we have to be creative. And we have to be thoughtful. And we have to continue to update our policies. Keep in mind that when Castro came to power, I was just born. So the notion that the same policies that we put in place in 1961 would somehow still be as effective as they are today in the age of the Internet and Google and world travel doesn’t make sense.
And I think that partly because we’re of the same generation, we recognize that the aims are always going to be the same. And what we have to do is to continually find new mechanisms and new tools to speak out on behalf of the issues that we care so deeply about.
Now, as Jorge mentioned, he is also a great businessman. And his family has a great tradition of business in this country. And the energy sector is one that is an enormous advantage for the United States. We’re starting to see changes in geopolitics in part because of the incredible production of both traditional energy sources and new energy sources. It’s interesting. I was having a meeting with the Central American leaders when I was in Costa Rica. And the single thing they wanted to talk most about was energy and how could the United States help them on their energy costs. And that gives you a sense of why the kind of smart public policies combined with outstanding entrepreneurs and business leaders like Jorge can make an enormous difference in our position in the world over the long term.
Now, I wish that I could say that Washington always runs on the basis of common sense. But Washington is a political place. And what we’ve seen over the last several years is a constant ratcheting up of partisanship that prevents us from moving forward on things that I think most people would say aren’t Democrat or Republican ideas. They’re just good, common-sense, American ideas. Energy independence is one of them — making sure that we’re investing in the best schools, so that our children can compete in this new global economy; rebuilding our infrastructure, not just our energy infrastructure, but our ports and our roads and our bridges and our air traffic control systems, so that we stay on the cutting edge; making sure we’re investing in research and development. Those are all things that are critically important and should not be the subject of ideological debates.
Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is again and again those efforts blocked. And, in fact, sometimes what we’ve seen is Washington hurt our economy instead of helping, most recently with the shutdown and the threat that for the first time in over 200 years, America wouldn’t pay its debts.
So we have a whole drawer full of good ideas. And some of them I can do on my own, administratively. But, ultimately, I’ve got to have a Congress that is prepared to move forward, to work on those issues where we agree even as we understand there are some issues where we’re going to disagree. And that’s why you being here tonight is so important.
One of my favorite people and one of the finest public officials that we have in this country is here tonight — Michael Bennet. He is the senator from Colorado. (Applause.) And Michael has the thankless job of traveling all around the country and raising money and recruiting candidates on behalf of the Democratic Senate Committee. And I have to tell you that when Michael and I, we traveled down to Dallas together just a couple of days ago, we both sat there and we agreed that the horizon and the possibilities are limitless for the United States in this next generation.
We are better positioned than any country on Earth to succeed in the 21st century, just like we were in the 20th century. But the only way it’s going to happen is if we solve some of the political dysfunction that exists in Washington. And that’s where you come in, because we can’t make it happen without you. And that’s why I’m so grateful to Jorge for the support that he has provided.
I’ll give you just one specific example to indicate what can happen if we focus not on the next election, but we focus on the next generation. We’ve been talking about immigration reform for decades now. Almost a decade ago, my predecessor, George W. Bush, said that comprehensive immigration reform that would strengthen our borders, improve our legal immigration system and do something about those who are here on an undocumented basis, that that would be good for the economy. And it was embraced by a large number of Republicans as well as Democrats.
We have seen the Senate most recently — Michael Bennet was part of a group, bipartisan group that helped to pass a comprehensive bill that we know would add over a trillion dollars of economic growth to our country, would reduce our deficit by $800 million, is supported by law enforcement, clergy, business, immigration rights activists. And right now, it’s being held up. It’s being held up not because it’s not a good idea. The majority of the American people support it. It’s being held up because there’s a small faction in the other party that has decided we don’t want to do anything and our main goal is obstruction.
The only way we can continue to place pressure to get that bill done is by making sure that the other side — or at least that small faction on the other side — understands there’s a price to pay when you don’t act on the basis of the interests of the American people. And so that’s something that I hope we can still get done by the end of this year.
And, by the way, if the Republicans decided to pass it — and nobody would be happier than me — even though it would be to their political advantage to do it, because ultimately I’ve run my last election. And along with the gray hair, what comes with being President is that you take the long view and you start thinking about 10 years from now or 20 years from now or 30 years from now.
And when I’m hopefully playing with some grandkids — but not too soon — (laughter) — because Malia and Sasha are only 15 and 12, I want to know that what I did made the world a better place for them. I want them to know that because of the decisions we made now, we’re more energy independent and that we’re improving our environment. I want them to know that not just they and their friends got a great education, but children all across America got a great education. I want them to know that the same liberty and freedom that they enjoy here is enjoyed in other parts of the world, including Cuba.
That’s what motivates me. That’s what gets me up every day. I want to make sure that I’m delivering for them. And I know Jorge feels the same way. And I know all of you feel the same way. That’s what we’re fighting for. That’s what this is about.
And so, I know that sometimes politics seems messy and ugly. And sometimes, it can be discouraging. And the path of progress typically involves two steps forward and then one step back. And it doesn’t always move in a straight line. That’s true for those who are still fighting for their freedom. That’s true for those who already enjoy their freedom. But what I’m confident about is if we stay persistent and we keep our eye on the prize that we’ll get to where we need to go.
And I’m just grateful to all of you for joining us in this process. And I want you to know that if we’ve got senators like Bill Nelson in our Senate and Michael Bennet in our Senate, then that’s going to help me deliver on the promises that I’ve made.
So thank you very much, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.)