Following the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, emotions around the country are as varied as they are strong. President Obama's response accordingly strikes a sensitive balance.
When President Obama walked down the red-carpeted corridor to the White House East Room on Sunday night -- to announce the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden -- he did so against the backdrop of thousands of people celebrating the news just outside, waving American flags and jubilantly singing "The Star-Spangled Banner." He was expected to address the nation at 10:30, but his remarks didn't come until an hour later, presumably to assure hitting the right tone.
In a nine-minute speech, his message was at once powerful and sensitive. Resisting the inclination to strut and take on excessive cowboy bravado, he tempered the celebration by maintaining that, even with bin Laden's death, things are still complicated.
The president thanked the "tireless and heroic work" of the military and counterterrorism professionals over the past 10 years, stressing that the pursuit of bin Laden has been a lengthy bipartisan exercise. He also explained that, after receiving intelligence last August on bin Laden's location at a large compound in Pakistan, he directed an operation which was carried out on Sunday.
In a background press briefing after the president's speech, senior administration officials detailed the helicopter raid by U.S. forces against bin Laden's compound in an affluent suburb of Islamabad. The small U.S. team was on the compound for less than 40 minutes before shooting bin Laden in the head during a firefight. Three other adult males, believed to be couriers and one of bin Laden's adult sons, were also killed, along with one woman who was used as a human shield by a combatant. Two other women were injured.
Obama emphasized that bin Laden's death does not mark the end of military efforts in the Middle East and the counterterrorism mission. "There's no doubt that al-Qaida will continue to pursue attacks against us," he said. "We must, and we will, remain vigilant at home and abroad."
He also reaffirmed that "the United States is not, and will never be, at war with Islam," pointing out that bin Laden was behind mass murders of Muslims in Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan and other countries. He further acknowledged the irreparable losses of American families whose loved ones died in the Sept. 11 attacks and while serving in the ensuing wars.
"Americans understand the costs of war," he said. "Yet as a country, we will never tolerate our security being threatened, nor stand idly by when our people have been killed. … And on nights like this one, we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qaida's terror: Justice has been done."
According to news reports, hours after President Obama's announcement, bin Laden's body was buried at sea.
In the post-speech briefing, an administration official upheld the death of bin Laden as "the single greatest victory in the U.S.-led campaign to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida." He explained that with bin Laden having served as the militant group's only leader with broadly respected authority, and charisma that attracted followers, his successor will likely have problems maintaining loyalty and cohesion.
Still, officials also struck down any suggestion that bin Laden's death ensures anyone's safety. In fact, there may well be a heightened threat if al-Qaida operatives and sympathizers violently attempt revenge. On Monday, the State Department likewise warned of "enanced potential for American violence" following bin Laden's death. "The United States is taking every possible precaution to protect Americans here at home and overseas," one official said. "The United States will continue to fight [terrorist] threats. We have always understood that this fight would be a marathon and not a sprint."
Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver issued a statement saying, "Although we recognize this victory as a new day in our in our nation's efforts against global terrorism, we do recognize that the threat of terrorism still exists and we must remain vigilant."
The immediate aftermath has seen a range of strikingly different and strong reactions, from expressions of pride and patriotism to disgust and horror at people rejoicing in the death of anyone. There has also been the almost amusing failure of some Republicans to even mention President Obama's name in their statements praising the operation, apparently attempting to avoid giving him credit. (When he said last week that we had more serious things to deal with than his birth certificate, I would remind them, he wasn't joking). I'm in perhaps in the larger camp of mixed emotions, feeling a sense of relief -- and, yes, justice -- in bin Laden's death while also grasping that it doesn't make the world any less complex. How are you feeling about the news?
Following a bizarre, birth certificate-centric week, Obama rips into Donald Trump at the annual star-studded affair. The Root takes you inside.
In six years, Barack Obama and Seth Meyers may want to consider teaming up for a comedy tour. Sparing nobody in their routines, the president and the Saturday Night Live head writer killed at Saturday’s White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. Both bits had a particular emphasis on ridiculing guest Donald Trump, the birther icon and “presidential hopeful” who sat unsmiling in his seat as the rest of us exploded in laughter.
“Now, I know that he’s taken some flak lately, but no one is happier or prouder to put this birth certificate matter to rest than the Donald,” Obama said. “That’s because he can finally get back to focusing on the issues that matter. Like, did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? And where are Biggie and Tupac?”
Another joke from the comedian-in-chief included:
“All kidding aside, we all know about your credentials and breadth of experience. For example, just recently in an episode of Celebrity Apprentice, the men’s cooking team did not impress the judges from Omaha Steaks. … But you, Mr. Trump, recognized that the real problem was a lack of leadership. And so ultimately, you didn’t blame Lil’ Jon or Meatloaf. You fired Gary Busey. And these are the kind of decisions that would keep me up at night. Well handled, sir. Well handled.”
Following all the bafflement and anger over the release of Obama’s long form birth certificate earlier in the week, the president’s light-hearted but incisive jabs, and Trump’s tight-lipped reaction, were highlights at one of the biggest social events in the nation’s capital.
The annual extravaganza always feels a little bizarre with its somewhat random collection of Washington journalists, government officials and Hollywood stars. But while years past have been on the staid side, everyone gussied up but self-conscious and not quite enjoying it, Saturday’s dinner was a great time.
During the pre-dinner cocktail receptions in suites throughout the Washington Hilton Hotel, I brushed by General Colin Powell and his fellow former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Mila Kunis, Russell Simmons, Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel, Cee Lo Green, Jeremy Piven, New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony and his wife Lala Vasquez, John Legend, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, Mindy Kaling, Matthew Morrison, Gayle King and Steve Buscemi. Also in the house were Scarlett Johansson, Sean Penn, will.i.am, Rosario Dawson, Elizabeth Banks, NFL players Terrell Owens and Tony Romo, and Zach Galifinakis.
Proceeds from the dinner, by the way, help finance college scholarships for Washington, D.C. journalism students. First Lady Michelle Obama handed the students, including three from Howard University, their awards during the event.
President Obama ended his remarks on a serious note, acknowledging the real danger that journalists face covering natural disasters like the recent storms in the southeast, and the revolutions in the Middle East where journalists have been arrested, beaten, attacked, and even killed.
“I want to remember those that have been lost as a consequence of the extraordinary reporting that they’ve done over recent weeks,” he said. “They help, too, to defend our freedoms and allow democracy to flourish.”
After denying federal aid to the region last week, President Obama visits the tornado-racked Southeast and promises residents that they won't be forgotten.
After an outbreak of tornadoes ripped through the Southeast this week, killing more than 300 people in seven states, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama visited Alabama to see firsthand the extent of the damage. With at least 210 fatalities, Alabama was hit hardest by the storms.
"We can't bring those who have been lost back," Obama told residents on Friday as he toured eastern Tuscaloosa, the site of crumpled buildings and houses with blown-off doors. "We can help maybe a little bit with the families dealing with the grief of having a loved one lost. But the property damage, which is obviously extensive, that's something that we can do something about."
On Thursday the president issued a major disaster declaration for Alabama, unlocking millions of dollars in federal aid for residents who suffered personal property damages or losses, and for public infrastructure. A FEMA overview of federal response efforts includes the deployment of search and rescue teams; activating emergency staff to shore up transportation, mass care and public health; and moving supplies such as water, infant toddler kits and tarps to affected areas.
The influx of support is a relief for local legislators, whose earlier requests for federal aid after a different round of tornadoes on April 15 were crushingly denied.
"We're going to make sure that you're not forgotten and that we do everything we can to make sure that we rebuild," Obama said. Surveying the damage, he remarked, "I've never seen devastation like this."
Lauren Bradford, a junior at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, was even more shocked. After her experience weathering the storm, she's amazed even to be alive. On Wednesday night the 20-year-old crouched in the bathtub of her second-floor apartment when the floor began to cave in. Before falling all the way down into the unit below hers, she was blown out of the building entirely. A neighbor rushed out to help, pulling her inside his home.
"It was like something out of a war movie," she told The Root of the scene after the storm passed, a mess of flipped-over cars, toppled houses and roads blocked by fallen trees. An auto parts store that once stood several blocks away had blown right in front of her building. "Everything was gone. There was nowhere for us to go."
Bradford, who sustained cuts to her back and legs, and about 200 neighbors walked to the hospital where local paramedics and faith groups did their best to contain the chaos. Her parents picked her up from Birmingham the next day before FEMA supplies arrived, but the agency says it has now coordinated its efforts with local responders.
"Mentally it's still kind of chaotic, but I'm feeling OK," said Bradford. "I'm not worried about the stuff. I can get new stuff -- I'm just thankful to still be here."
Not satisfied with the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, detractors ask, "Why did it take so long?" Here's a look at the law that had to be circumvented to quell the Birther fray.
With Congress on spring recess and President Obama darting in and out of Washington for town hall meetings and DNC fundraisers, it had been relatively quiet in the nation's capital (except for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's press conference on the economy, the announcement that CIA Director Leon Panetta is poised to succeed Robert Gates as defense secretary, and the fallout from eight U.S. service members and an American contractor being killed by a gunman in a Afghan air force compound ... ).
But you know we're really in silly season when the three-year-old fake controversy about where Obama was born becomes the leading story on the news -- and said coverage rises to the level of a presidential statement, as well as the release of his long-form birth certificate.
Some dissatisfied detractors are countering: But why did it take him so long to release it? Why was he just sitting on it all these years?
For one, the president released his birth certificate in 2008 -- a legal document that Obama has used, and all Hawaiians use, when needing a birth certificate for things like getting a driver's license or passport. Second, it's illegal for someone to publicly disclose their long-form birth certificate. According to Hawaii state law:
§338-18 Disclosure of records.
(a) To protect the integrity of vital statistics records, to ensure their proper use, and to ensure the efficient and proper administration of the vital statistics system, it shall be unlawful for any person to permit inspection of, or to disclose information contained in vital statistics records, or to copy or issue a copy of all or part of any such record, except as authorized by this part or by rules adopted by the department of health.
(b) The department shall not permit inspection of public health statistics records, or issue a certified copy of any such record or part thereof, unless it is satisfied that the applicant has a direct and tangible interest in the record. The following persons shall be considered to have a direct and tangible interest in a public health statistics record:
The law goes on to list 13 people who fit the definition of "tangible interests," including the registrant, a spouse, a parent or legal guardian and several other agents of the registrant. The list did not, incidentally, include angry conspiracy theorists. But after the White House requested a legal waiver last week, the Hawaiian government allowed an exception in this case.
Of course, as Obama conceded in his remarks, the document's release isn't going to slow down the Birthers (or a "segment of people," as he more diplomatically put it). Because the theory that he was born in Kenya isn't about facts or legal proof -- it's some deeper, emotional obsession with seeing the president as "foreign" on "un-American" or "Muslim," no matter what. Now is just the countdown to questions over the birth certificate's paper stock and pattern, the legitimacy of its signatures or any number of continuing conspiracies.
In his own news conference Wednesday, Donald Trump said that his investigators will still have to examine the long-form birth certificate for authenticity. "I hope it's the right deal," he said. "We have to look at it. A lot of people have to look at it." (Question: What have Trump's "investigators" been doing all this time, exactly?)
The president may have done enough to finally suit people who only got caught up in the renewed media frenzy over his birth of the past few days -- but nothing will ever be enough to put the Birther industry out of business.
This year’s edition of the 133-year-old White House custom included sports, Willow Smith and a presidential kick-off. Watch our exclusive video.
The sun-drenched south lawn of the White House underwent a playground renovation on Monday morning, as the president and first lady kicked off the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Pastel-dressed families from all 50 states (30,000 visitors in total are expected) milled about the grassy landscape, with the Marine Corps brass band playing nostalgic tunes from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Wizard of Oz, before the First Family (including Sasha and Malia, as well as their grandmother Marian Robinson) stepped onto the White House balcony to welcome their guests.
“This year’s theme is ‘Get Up and Go’ because I’m a big proponent of making sure we’re moving and eating healthy,” Mrs. Obama said in brief remarks describing the day’s range of activities—obstacle courses, basketball, tennis, yoga, dance, hula-hooping and football. Other events on tap include healthful cooking demonstrations by chefs Jacques Pepin and Art Smith (Oprah’s former personal chef); story reading by celebrities such as John Lithgow, Geena Davis, and Maria and Gordon of Sesame Street; and a hair-whipping performance by Willow Smith.
Though the annual Easter Egg Roll, which started in 1878 under President Rutherford B. Hayes, has been updated over the years, one perennial attraction is the actual egg rolling. The Root was there to capture President Obama (with the first lady, Sasha and Malia watching on) set off the first race. After questioning a group of wooden spoon-wielding pre-schoolers whether they felt good about their “form,” Obama blew the whistle…and the all-day festivities officially began.
Watch our exclusive footage here.