Barack Obama
(Carolyn Kaster/AP)
May 23, 2013

Obama to Limit Drone Strikes, Renew Effort to Close Guantanamo

President Obama on Thursday unveiled a major pivot in White House counter-terrorism policy, calling for a limiting of CIA drones strikes and a shift toward capturing rather than killing terrorist suspects.

Speaking at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., the president said the death of Osama bin Laden and most of his top lieutenants meant and the fact that there had been no large-scale terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland, meant that a new policy was in order.

"America is at a crossroads," he said. "We must define the nature and scope of this struggle, or else it will define us, mindful of James Madison's warning that 'No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.'"

"Today, the core of al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on a path to defeat," the president said. "Their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us. They did not direct the attacks in Benghazi or Boston. They have not carried out a successful attack on our homeland since 9/11."

"We must define our effort not as a boundless 'global war on terror' – but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America," the president said.

Obama said that the U.S. operation in Pakistan against bin Laden "cannot be the norm."

"The risks in that case were immense; the likelihood of capture, although our preference, was remote given the certainty of resistance; the fact that we did not find ourselves confronted with civilian casualties, or embroiled in an extended firefight, was a testament to the meticulous planning and professionalism of our Special Forces – but also depended on some luck," he said.

Referring to the administration's decision to acknowledge for the first time that U.S. citizens, including senior al-Qaida leader Anwar al-Awlaki and three others, had been killed in drone strikes, he said he authorized the declassification of the information "to facilitate transparency and debate on this issue, and to dismiss some of the more outlandish claims."

"For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any President deploy armed drones over U.S. soil," he said.

The president said that he was "implementing every recommendation of the Accountability Review Board which found unacceptable failures in Benghazi" and had asked Congress to full fund efforts to "bolster security, harden facilities, improve intelligence" at U.S. diplomatic facilities abroad.

Referring to the Justice Department's subpoena of journalists' phone records as part of a leak investigation, he said he was "troubled" that it could result in a chilling of investigative journalism.

"Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," he said. "Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach."

Obama said maintaining the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay was both expensive and problematic.

"During a time of budget cuts, we spend $150 million each year to imprison 166 people –- almost $1 million per prisoner."

He said that as president, he had transferred 67 detainees from Guantanamo to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to prevent it.

"These restrictions make no sense," he said. "No person has ever escaped from one of our super-max or military prisons here in the United States — ever. Our courts have convicted hundreds of people for terrorism-related offenses, including some who are more dangerous than most [Guantanamo] detainees."

Given his administration's "relentless pursuit" of al-Qaida's leadership, "there is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened," he said to applause.

The applause was quickly followed by a protester, repeating "Close Guantanamo!"

"Ma'am, let me finish," the president said after the unidentified woman interrupted his speech for the second time. "Part of free speech is you being able to speak, but let me speak, too."

Update at 4:20 p.m. ET. ACLU: 'Encouraging And Noteworthy Actions'

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the president for "encouraging and noteworthy actions" regarding drone strikes and the transfer of Guantanamo detainees.

  • "Yet the president still claims broad authority to carry out target killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency," the statement said.
  • "We are particularly gratified that President Obama embraced our recommendations to use his authority to allow prompt transfer and release of Guantánamo detainees who pose no national security threat and have been cleared by the military and intelligence agencies," it said. "But there are other problems that must still be addressed. The unconstitutional military commissions must be shuttered, not brought to the United States."

Update at 3:20 p.m. ET. Female Protester Identified

The Associated Press identifies the woman who interrupted the president three times during his speech as Medea Benjamin from the anti-war group Code Pink.

As the AP writes:

  • "Obama said at one point he was willing to 'cut the young lady some slack' because the issues he was addressing are worth being passionate about.
  • "Benjamin shouted, quote, '86 were cleared already. Release them today!'
  • "That appears to be a reference to detainees who remain in Cuba despite being cleared for transfer from the facility."

May 20, 2013

Obama to Host Burmese President

President Thein Sein is to meet Barack Obama in Washington, in the first state visit by a Burmese leader since 1966.

The US said the visit showed commitment to helping "governments that make the important decision to embrace reform".

The US has hailed recent changes in the formerly military-ruled state, including the release of dissidents and relaxed censorship.

However, activists have raised concerns over the sustainability of the reforms and religious violence in Burma.

Thein Sein's invitation to the White House demonstrates Mr Obama's determination to keep building relations with the current government, despite warnings from human rights groups that he is making concessions too quickly, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head reports.

The US administration believes it needs to encourage the Burmese president to continue his reforms; it has suspended most but not all sanctions, our correspondent adds.

'More development'

Burma has launched a series of reforms since establishing a nominally civilian government in 2011, ending almost 50 years of military rule.

Thein Sein heads an administration that was elected in November 2010 in the country's first elections in two decades. The Aung San Suu Kyi-led opposition has a small presence in parliament after a landslide win in by-elections in April 2012 largely deemed free and fair.

Speaking at a forum at the office of US broadcaster Voice of America on Sunday, Thein Sein said US-Burma relations had "greatly improved thanks to the policies of President Obama".

"For our political reforms, we also need more economic development," he said.

He defended the allocation of 25% of seats in Burma's parliament to the military - something entrenched in the country's 2008 constitution.

"[The military] is a defensive force. You cannot deny their place in politics," he said.

International groups have also voiced concerns about serious religious violence in Burma in recent months.

At least 40 people were killed in anti-Muslim riots in central Burma last month, while widespread unrest in 2012 between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state left nearly 200 people dead, and thousands of Rohingya Muslims displaced.

Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley said in a statement that he was "incredibly concerned about the facts on the ground in Burma, including human rights violations against ethnic nationalities".

Jennifer Quigley, from the US Campaign for Burma, said: "President Obama is sending the message that crimes against humanity by state forces against ethnic and religious minorities in Burma will be ignored by his administration."

Hundreds of political prisoners have been freed - more than 20 were pardoned prior to Thein Sein's trip. However, activists say that more remain behind bars, and have described the timing of the releases as "manipulative".

On Friday, Thein Sein's office director Zaw Htay denied that the government was using political prisoners as "tools".


May 15, 2013

White House Releases Trove of Benghazi Documents

Under mounting pressure, President Barack Obama has released a trove of documents related to the Benghazi attack and forced out the top official at the Internal Revenue Service following revelations that the agency targeted conservative political groups.

The moves are aimed at halting a growing perception among both White House opponents and allies that the president has been passive and disengaged as controversies consume his second term.

The White House also asked Congress to revive a media shield law that would protect journalists from having to reveal information. The step is seen as a response to the Justice Department subpoenas of phone records from reporters and editors at The Associated Press.

The flurry of activity signaled a White House anxious to regain control amid the trio of deepening controversies.


President Barack Obama
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)
May 02, 2013

How Will Obama Make His Case on Syria?

The U.S. role in the civil war in Syria has been limited to humanitarian aid and nonlethal equipment for the rebels. But that may change with recent revelations about the use of chemical weapons.

Polls show that Americans are still not paying close attention to the conflict, but there is a reluctance to intervene — a byproduct of the experience in Iraq.

President Obama says he's weighing all options. Whatever he decides, he'll have to make a case to the U.S. public.

There are voices in Washington trying to ratchet up the pressure on the White House to do more about Syria. Most prominent are U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain said on NBC's Meet the Press this week: "We have said that they need a no-fly zone, which could be obtained without using U.S. manned aircraft. We could use ... Patriot batteries and cruise missiles to take out their air — and to supply the resistance with weapons."

But such calls are in the minority, and the White House is resisting them. Weeks ago, Obama warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would cross a red line. Now that that line has apparently been crossed, the president's tone hasn't changed. He's signaling to the public that while new options may be on the table, deliberations are still underway.

"When I am making decisions about America's national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I've got to make sure I've got the facts," he said Tuesday. "That's what the American people would expect."

Expectations aside, for now at least, Americans are not paying close attention to Syria, says Michael Dimock of Pew Research.

"Even with news recently about the possible use of chemical weapons, there's been no real surge of public interest in the situation," he says. "We're finding fewer than 1 in 5 telling us they're following it very closely, and that's been about the level of interest for the past two years now."

That low level of interest means it's somewhat of a blank slate in terms of defining how Americans look at the situation — creating an opportunity for the White House.

"There's a lot of research and literature over the decades that shows that the way in which a conflict is described has a big bearing on whether the public will support U.S. military intervention there," says Jeremy Rosner, who was on the National Security Council during the Clinton years.

Rosner offers an example: "If it's described mostly as an effort to contain violent behavior by a regime, that tends to draw much more support than for a venture which is meant to create internal change within the country."

That gets to the lessons of Iraq: a war weariness among the public, the difficulty of that mission, and its controversial beginnings and the claims of weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

Dimock says the American public gave President George W. Bush a lot of leeway on limited evidence after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"In the current environment, the public is a lot more cautious and not as eager to take bold actions on limited information," Dimock says.

Americans will want to know what exactly U.S. involvement would look like. If not boots on the ground — which seems extremely unlikely in Syria — then what the mission, goals and exit strategy are.

Duke University's Peter Feaver, who was on Bush's National Security Council during the Iraq War, says that rather than addressing those questions, he thinks Obama is preparing the public for little or no intervention.

That may suit the public now, "but there's another lesson from public opinion in American foreign policy, and that is the public punishes failure — regardless of whether they supported the policy initially," Feaver says.

While the president meets with national security, military and diplomatic advisers to decide what to do, know too that getting the American public on board is important and will get due consideration as well.

Listen

President Barack Obama stands with, from second from left, former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter at the dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library on the campus of Southern Methodist University
(Charles Dharapak/AP)
April 25, 2013

5 Presidents Appear at Bush Library Dedication

Will history judge George W. Bush more kindly than his contemporaries have?

The man himself seems fairly indifferent.

"I don't think he really cares much at all, to be honest with you," says Kevin Sullivan, who served as White House communications director during Bush's second term. "I think he cares very little about where his approval rating stands today, compared to 2005 or 2008."

His supporters care. With the opening of his presidential library and museum Thursday in Dallas, they have been making the case that he will be like a latter-day Harry S. Truman — derided as he left office, but seen as a success later on.

"The perspective of history will treat Bush better than Bush is being treated now," says former GOP Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, who served as House speaker for much of Bush's tenure.

Many historians are skeptical, saying they doubt that Bush's accomplishments will be held in higher regard in years to come than they do now.

Given the 43rd president's record on transparency, meanwhile, they say the opening of Bush's library won't do the single most important thing that might revive his reputation — give them any kind of early look at the still-classified documents it holds.

"The only way history is going to change its judgment of him is if the information is available," says Emily Sheketoff, who directs the Washington office of the American Library Association. "If he wants to rehabilitate his reputation, he's going to need to be a lot more open and expansive on why he did certain things."

Long Road To Judgment

Bush's new $250 million library, on the campus of Southern Methodist University, will be the staging ground for efforts at burnishing his legacy, including a policy center that will explore and promote his ideas.

"The Bush library is the first stage in what will be a multistage operation," says Jeremi Suri, a University of Texas historian.

Former President Bill Clinton joked at Thursday's dedication ceremony that the Bush library "was the latest, grandest example of the eternal struggle of former presidents to rewrite history."

Unlike some other former presidents, Bush himself hasn't tried much to "work the refs" — appealing to historians and the public by making a case for himself through multiple books (like Richard Nixon) or good works (like Clinton and Jimmy Carter).

When asked in 2004 by the journalist Bob Woodward how history would judge the war in Iraq, Bush said, "History. I don't know. We'll all be dead."

That's not because Bush has no respect for history, says Sullivan, his former communications aide. He had a sense of himself as part of the "sweep of history" in holding his office, and he loved telling visitors about which presidents had used his desk, the Resolute, which was fashioned from the timbers of a wrecked ship in 1880.

"He would look at the George Washington portrait in the office," Sullivan recalls. "He'd say, 'They're still writing books about the first GW, and I'll be long gone before history gives its final take on his time.' "

A Fuller Portrait

In other words, Bush is content to allow history to make its own judgments. But that can only happen, historians say, when they can get a look at his administration's documents.

"If I were sitting there advising the president — which ain't going to happen — I'd say your best bet is to get as much available as soon as possible in every conceivable way," says Lewis Gould, author of a history of the Republican Party. "Bush would be best served by opening as much as he can, as soon as he can."

Historians tend to grow more sympathetic if they can see the reasoning behind a policy, Gould says. He notes that Lyndon Johnson became an object of fascination for historians as his papers became available. Even Warren G. Harding enjoyed a brief "bump upward" in the 1960s when his archives were opened.

"The way you get ahead in the history business is being able to say, 'I'm the first to find X and I have new material,' " Gould says. "That's what revision is about. It's not about bringing somebody up or tearing somebody down."

Most historians seek to be fair in their judgments of the past, but some liberal historians have been criticized for rushing to judgment on Bush, whom they largely deemed a failure even before he left office.

The Onion recently ran an article headlined, "History Licking Its Chops to Judge George W. Bush."

But new information can change minds. Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz, who wrote a widely-noted article in 2006 asking whether Bush was the worst president in U.S. history, says he might shade it a little differently now. He was more impressed with Bush's later performance, including the bank bailout known as TARP.

"I don't think this administration is going to be judged terribly well, but it's true that the last two years were different," Wilentz says.

Documents Make The Case

If new information can affect judgment, what historians and other researchers need to see at this point is the paper trail the Bush presidency left behind. Despite all the fanfare of the library's opening, they don't expect to get their hands on the documents anytime soon.

Under the terms of a post-Watergate law, most records are supposed to be open to the public a dozen years after a president leaves office. The reality is, things rarely move that swiftly.

Nate Jones, who coordinates Freedom of Information Act requests at George Washington University's National Security Archive, notes that his group has been trying since 2004 to get access to a document in President George H.W. Bush's library regarding a confrontation that occurred back in 1983.

"For historians who want to come through the files, there's not going to be anything available for quite some time," Jones says. "Very little is available at the Clinton library, or even at Reagan's."

If Bush wanted, he could push to have many of his records released early, as Lyndon Johnson did. But there's nothing in his performance as president that suggests he favors such openness.

John Ashcroft, Bush's first attorney general, encouraged federal agencies to resist Freedom of Information Act requests. Vice President Dick Cheney created one of the administration's earliest controversies by refusing to release information about his meetings with energy company executives — a fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

During his first year in office, Bush signed an executive order allowing former presidents and their heirs to keep records sealed for an indefinite period of time, for any reason. President Obama revoked that order on his first full day in office.

If Bush wants history to revise its early judgment, he'd better be willing to release documents, Gould suggests, "and let it hang out there with the bark off, as John Nance Garner said."

"He's got about a five- to 10-year window to hope for a reappraisal," Gould says. "If you don't let anything out, the negative interpretation will become fixed, and then there's no amount of documentary release that's going to make any difference."


A colored 3-D MRI scan of the brain's white matter pathways traces connections between cells in the cerebrum and the brainstem.
(Tom Barrick, Chris Clark, SGHMS / Science Source)
April 02, 2013

Obama's Plan to Explore the Brain a 'Most Audacious Project'

President Obama has announced an ambitious plan to explore the mysteries of the human brain.

In a speech Tuesday, Obama said he will ask Congress for $100 million in 2014 to "better understand how we think and how we learn and how we remember." Other goals include finding new treatments for Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative would accomplish this by developing tools that would allow researchers to monitor millions or even billions of individual neurons as they interact to form thoughts or create memories.

It's an amazingly ambitious idea, says Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. "To understand how the human brain works is about the most audacious scientific project you can imagine," he says. "It's the most complicated structure in the known universe."

 

 

The technologies that allow scientists to watch the brain at work are advancing with amazing speed, Collins says, so he thinks it's the right time to take a chance.

"Five years ago, this might have seemed out of reach," he says. "Five years from now it will seem like we waited too late to take advantage of the opportunity."

Collins was the federal scientist in charge of the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003. But he says this initiative is a bit different because it won't be clear when the job is done.

People are remarkably similar genetically, so researchers can learn a lot about all people by looking at the genetic sequences of just a few, says David Van Essen of Washington University in St. Louis. But with human brains, he says, "the differences are vastly greater."

And trying to keep track of every one of the brain's nearly 100 billion neurons may be unrealistic, says Van Essen, who is also principle investigator of the Human Connectome Project, an NIH-funded effort to map connections in the human brain. But he says it is likely that researchers will be able to monitor smaller brains, like those found in fruit flies or mice.

Scientists involved in creating the BRAIN initiative say it could provide some really helpful research tools even if it falls short of some goals.

"What's going on in the brain is like a conversation between thousands of neurons all at once," says John Donoghue, director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science at Brown University. "So the tools we need are the ability to pick up many, many cells at the same time. And you have to pick them up so you can hear each conversation very clearly."

Donoghue says the ability to do that would make a big difference in his own efforts to allow paralyzed people to control a robotic arm as if it were their own. "We know enough to get crude approximations," he says. "But if we really understood the brain's language, the brain's code, we could potentially recreate everything you do with your own arm."

The BRAIN initiative also could lead to a better understanding of Alzheimer's disease and perhaps new treatments, says Guy Eakin, vice president for scientific affairs at the BrightFocus Foundation, which supports research on Alzheimer's disease, macular degeneration and glaucoma.

For example, Eakin says, some research indicates that Alzheimer's spreads from cell to cell in the brain, using the connections between cells. With a better understanding of those connections, he says, "perhaps we can identify interventions that would stop that spreading."

Listen

Wisconsin's Ryan Evans during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana at the Big Ten tournament Saturday, March 16, 2013, in Chicago.
(Nam Y. Huh/AP)
March 21, 2013

President Obama Predicts Indiana Will Win NCAA Tournament

President Barack Obama is picking Indiana to go all the way in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

ESPN revealed Wednesday that Obama picked the Hoosiers to win it all in his 2013 bracket. He predicted Louisville, Ohio State and Florida would round out the Final Four.

Obama has made an annual tradition of giving his bracket predictions to ESPN but only correctly picked the winner once — North Carolina in 2009. He says he thinks he can do better in his second term.

This time, Obama repeatedly advanced teams from the Big Ten. But he said “I think this is Indiana’s year.”

Obama filled out the bracket Tuesday at the White House, before departing on a trip to the Middle East.

On the women’s side, Obama selected Baylor, California, UConn and Notre Dame to advance to New Orleans. Baylor, UConn and Notre Dame are all No. 1 seeds and California is a No. 2 seed.


March 16, 2013

Chicago, Honolulu Are Competing For Obama Library

Where will President Barack Obama put his presidential library?

Four years from the end of the Obama presidency, Chicago and Honolulu are ramping up major campaigns to build the center that will house the records of America's 44th president.

In Illinois and Hawaii, the states Obama calls home, universities and community groups are drafting plans and using a mix of public and private efforts to persuade Obama to choose their site for what will be a monument to his historic presidency and an instrument to continue his legacy.

It's an early down payment aimed at influencing a decision that likely won't be announced anytime soon.

"It is a tough choice, but it's not one that I've made yet," Obama said last month.

In December, top officials from the University of Chicago, where Obama once taught law, traveled to Dallas and met with archivists at The George W. Bush Presidential Library at Southern Methodist University. At the meeting was Susan Sher, first lady Michelle Obama's former chief of staff and longtime friend who's now a senior adviser to the University of Chicago's president.

Alice McLean, who heads special programs in the university president's office, also attended the meeting, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act. In the weeks that followed, McLean met Susan Donius, the director of presidential libraries for the National Archives and Records Administration, who provided a set of architectural and design standards required for presidential libraries.

University officials declined to comment, other than to say it's premature to discuss a library.

In Honolulu, where the president was born, University of Hawaii officials have visited nearly all the 13 official presidential libraries to talk to officials involved in setting them up. An American Studies professor, Robert Perkinson, is leading a statewide effort coordinated by the university, with support from Gov. Neil Abercrombie and other state and federal officials.

The Legislature has passed two resolutions urging Obama to pick Hawaii. One resolution calls it "a matter of great state pride that President Obama is the first Hawaii-born citizen to hold that high office."

On a rocky peninsula in the last undeveloped part of urban Honolulu sits a $75 million plot of oceanfront property that the state, through the Hawaii Community Development Authority, has set aside in hopes of securing the library, Perkinson said. The property sits next to the university's medical school.

The state also has identified potential alternatives in case that site is unworkable and is expecting the overall cost, should Hawaii be selected, to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Organizers say they've been quietly laying the groundwork for a potential library for years but feel more comfortable discussing it publicly now that Obama has entered his second term.

Advocates for placing the library in Chicago speak of Obama's coming of age as a community organizer in the city and his service in the Illinois Senate and the U.S. Senate. They say a presidential library on the city's South Side could revitalize the community and be a force for economic growth.

"It's not for me to say," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former chief of staff, told AP recently.

Hawaii advocates note that Honolulu attracts millions of tourists. They point to Obama's vaunted pivot to Asia as a foreign policy focus and say a presidential library housed in the nation's foothold in the Asia-Pacific region would be a powerful symbol.

"Honolulu is my birthplace. It's the place where I grew up, and I met so many friends and fond memories, and it helped to shape me, so I'd like to find a way that after my presidency that connection remains," Obama said in an interview last month with KITV, an ABC affiliate in Honolulu. "But, you know, I live in Chicago now, and that's where I grew up professionally."

It's not necessarily a win-lose proposition.

Previous presidents have set up complex institutions and presidential centers that, in addition to a library, include other elements like a museum, think tank or foundation. Many advocates are anticipating that Obama could split up those institutions, putting the library in one state and the other components in the other.

The White House declined to comment on deliberations concerning Obama's future library.

The emerging consensus in Honolulu is that the state university is best prepared to house the library. But there's no such sense of agreement in Chicago, where a host of groups are publicly stumping on behalf of other sites on the South Side, where Michelle Obama grew up, voters first sent Barack Obama to public office and the Obama family has its home.

In Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, a cultural landmark for African-Americans not far from the University of Chicago, a vocal group of activists is pushing the site of the old Michael Reese Hospital, which was shuttered in 2008.

South Side community groups have held news conferences and met with city officials. Alderman Will Burns said the idea has been discussed in community planning meetings, although other options for the site, such as a technology park or an entertainment complex, are being considered.

Another location that could be in the running is the former U.S. Steel South Works site, an area along Lake Michigan where visitors could look to the west and see the skyline of Chicago's South Side.


 Jon Favreau
(Charles Dharapak/AP)
March 07, 2013

Departing Obama Speechwriter: 'I Leave This Job Actually More Hopeful'

Behind most politicians is a speechwriter, typing rapidly somewhere in a small office and trying to channel the boss's voice.

The man who has held perhaps the most prominent speechwriting job of the new millennium is Jon Favreau, a 31-year-old from Massachusetts who was President Obama's chief speechwriter until this month. He started writing for Obama when the president was just a senator in 2005.

He tells Audie Cornish, host of All Things Considered, that writing for the president means walking a line between two worlds.

"You're trying to balance what the president would want to say with what people are looking to hear," he says. "But you need to strike the right balance, because if it's all what people want to hear, that's not true to who he is."

Favreau says his next stop after the White House is starting a communications consulting firm; he plans to write a screenplay based on his experiences.

"We'll see how long it takes for me to find my own voice again," he says.

Interview Highlights

On the writing process

"My challenge is to make sure that whatever he's thinking, whatever thoughts he has, we can get them down on paper, and we can shape the words to basically what he really wants to say. So our process is, I will sit down with him, we'll talk for 20 or 30 minutes, and he'll have lots of thoughts on the specific speech that he's going to give. And then I will go back, and I'll work with my team, and we will put together a draft that reflects the conversation that the president and I had.

"And then we'll start going back and forth. Sometimes he will just make line edits himself and send the draft back. Or sometimes he will want to take the speech in an entirely different direction, and he will write six or seven pages of scrawled handwriting on a yellow legal pad, and we'll go back at it that way."

On the editing process

"There have been times where I'll have a phrase in there and he'll take it out — and then I'll explain to him, 'Well, I put it in here because if we do it this way, maybe it'll be a sound bite or maybe we'll get a quote that way or, rhythmic-wise, it'll be better.' And ... once in a while he'll say, 'Oh, I think you're right, let's do it this way.' And sometimes he'll say, 'No, I think the way I had it was better.' And that's just how we work. We have a very honest relationship."

On collaborating on Obama's famous race speech

"When I talk about the speech, I always say, you know, the stuff in the speech that you could hear almost any other politician say is mostly the stuff that I contributed. ... Before he gave it, he called me after a long day of campaigning, and he spoke for an hour about what he wanted in that speech. He told me it was going to be random thoughts off the top of his head, and they were not random at all. He had the entire logical argument all ready. ... He laid out the whole thing."

On his departing thoughts

"I leave this job actually more hopeful than when I first got there, and that is because I think that the president went into this more realistically than many people thought that he did. I've been working on these speeches since 2005, and so I know that almost every speech, he makes sure we have the caveat that, 'This is going to be hard.' ... He's not mistaken about how difficult some of this stuff is."

Listen

October 25, 2012

Obama Votes Early in Chicago Hometown

President Barack Obama has cast his ballot early, returning to his hometown of Chicago to drum up support for early voting.

The president says, "all across the country we're seeing a lot of early voting." He says it was "really convenient" but jokes, "I can't tell you who I voted for."

Obama signed forms and showed his driver's license at a South Side Chicago voting site and then voted at a blue voting machine.
It was the first time a sitting presidential nominee voted early and reflects the Obama campaign's strategy to encourage as many voters as possible to vote early or by absentee ballot.

About 35 percent of the electorate is expected to vote before Election Day.


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