Obama Steps Out as Nation Confronts Confluence of Crises

June 4, 2020by Julie Pace, AP Washington Bureau Chief
In this image from video provided by My Brother's Keeper Alliance and The Obama Foundation, former President Barack Obama speaks Wednesday, June 3, 2020, during virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. (My Brother's Keeper Alliance and The Obama Foundation via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Barack Obama is taking on an increasingly public role as the nation confronts a confluence of historic crises that has exposed deep racial and socioeconomic inequalities in America and reshaped the November election.

In doing so, Obama is signaling a willingness to sharply critique his successor, President Donald Trump, and fill what many Democrats see as a national leadership void. On Wednesday, he held a virtual town hall event with young people to discuss policing and the civil unrest that has followed the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Obama rejected a debate he said he’d seen come up in “a little bit of chatter on the internet” about “voting versus protests, politics and participation versus civil disobedience and direct action.”

“This is not an either-or. This is a both and to bring about real change,” he said during the town hall hosted by his foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, which supports young men of color. “We both have to highlight a problem and make people in power uncomfortable, but we also have to translate that into practical solutions and laws that could be implemented and monitored and make sure we’re following up on.”

Obama called for turning the protests over Floyd’s death into policy change to ensure safer policing and increased trust between communities and law enforcement. He urged “every mayor in the country to review your use of force policies” with their communities and “commit to report on planned reforms” before prioritizing their implementation.

“We’re in a political season, but our country is also at an inflection point,” said Valerie Jarrett, a longtime friend and adviser to Obama. “President Obama is not going to shy away from that dialogue simply because he’s not in office anymore.”

During the roundtable, Obama drew parallels between the unrest sweeping America currently and protest movements of the 1960s. But he said polls show a majority of Americans supporting today’s protesters and forming a “broad coalition” in a way much of the country didn’t back then — despite some of the recent protests “having been marred by the actions of a tiny minority that engaged in violence.”

Still, he warned, “at some point, attention moves away” and “protests dwindle in size” so “it’s important to take that moment that’s been created as a society, as a country, and say let’s use this to finally have an impact.”

Obama was already beginning to emerge from political hibernation to endorse Joe Biden’s Democratic presidential bid when the coronavirus pandemic swept across the U.S., killing more than 100,000 people, and the economy began to crater. The crises scrambled the Biden campaign’s plans for how to begin deploying Obama as their chief surrogate ahead of the November election, but also gave the former president a clear opening to start publicly arguing what he has signaled to friends and associates privately for the past three years: that he does not believe Trump is up for the job.

Addressing graduates of historically black colleges and universities last month, Obama said the pandemic had “fully, finally torn back the curtain on the idea that so many of the folks in charge know what they’re doing.” And in a nationally televised broadcast celebrating graduating high school seniors, Obama said many “so-called grown-ups, including some with fancy titles and important jobs,” do only what’s convenient and feels good.

Floyd’s death, however, has drawn a more visceral and personal reaction from the nation’s first black president. Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air.

In a lengthy written statement last week, Obama said that while he understood that millions of Americans were eager to “just get back to normal” when the pandemic abates, it shouldn’t be forgotten that normal life for people of color in the U.S. involves being treated differently on account of their race.

“This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal,’” Obama wrote.

Tensions across the country have escalated further in the days since the former president’s statement. His town hall on Wednesday will mark his first in-person comments since law enforcement officers aggressively cleared peaceful protesters from a park outside the White House so Trump could walk across for a photo opportunity at a nearby church.

Trump has cheered harsh crackdowns on the protests, some of which have turned violent, and threatened to deploy active-duty military to the states if local officials could not get the demonstrations under control. He appeared to be backing down from that position this week, and Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Wednesday that he did not believe such action was warranted.

Biden’s campaign welcomed Obama stepping forward during this moment.

“President Obama’s voice is a reminder that we used to have a president who sought to bridge our divides, and we can have one again if we elect Joe Biden,” said TJ Ducklo, a campaign spokesman.

Obama grappled with police brutality against minorities as president, including in Ferguson, Missouri, where clashes broke out after the death of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old. After Brown’s death, Obama’s Justice Department moved to enact broad policing reforms, though most were halted under the Trump administration.

Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, called this week for restoring some of the previous administration’s actions in the wake of Floyd’s death and the killing of other black Americans. Biden also called for Congress to take immediate steps, including outlawing chokeholds.

___

Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Political News

House Proxy Voting Extended Through Mid-August
Health
House Proxy Voting Extended Through Mid-August
June 30, 2020
by Dan McCue

Proxy voting has been extended through mid-August in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday.  House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul D. Irving, in consultation with the Office of the Attending Physician, notified Pelosi that the public health emergency due to the coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic remains ongoing. “I... Read More

Senators Urge McConnell Not To Hold Floor Vote on ‘Partisan’ Fifth Circuit Nominee
Judiciary
Senators Urge McConnell Not To Hold Floor Vote on ‘Partisan’ Fifth Circuit Nominee
June 24, 2020
by Reece Nations

WASHINGTON – A group of influential Democratic Senators are urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to deny a confirmation vote of President Donald Trump’s nominee for a vacant United States appeals court seat. The legislators appealed to McConnell in a letter after the Senate Judiciary Committee approved... Read More

Trillions in Stimulus Go Unchecked With Watchdogs Kept Toothless
Congress
Trillions in Stimulus Go Unchecked With Watchdogs Kept Toothless

The U.S. has spent more than half of $3 trillion in economic rescue funds passed by Congress — with little of the oversight intended to ensure the money goes to the right places. Three new oversight bodies are barely functional: A special inspector general was only... Read More

Battle Over Coronavirus Rules, Reopenings Increasingly Partisan, Bitter
Battle Over Coronavirus Rules, Reopenings Increasingly Partisan, Bitter

Urged on by President Donald Trump, Republican officials in several swing states, including Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, are ramping up pressure on Democratic governors to move faster on reopening their economies, despite experts’ warnings of a surge in infections and deaths. The mounting pressure comes as... Read More

Fever-Reading Drones Just First of a Wave of Privacy Challenges, Civil Liberties Advocates Say
Privacy
Fever-Reading Drones Just First of a Wave of Privacy Challenges, Civil Liberties Advocates Say

MIAMI — Last month, police departments in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Connecticut unveiled what was initially touted as a potential new tool against a pandemic: drones capable of taking a person’s temperature from 300 feet in the air. Both agencies quickly backtracked on using the machines... Read More

Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ Aims to Rush Coronavirus Vaccine
Health
Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’ Aims to Rush Coronavirus Vaccine

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is quietly organizing a Manhattan Project-style effort to drastically cut the time needed to develop a coronavirus vaccine, with a goal to have 100 million doses ready by year’s end, according to two people familiar with the matter. Called “Operation Warp... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top