THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the First Lady
July 24, 2014
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT A DNC RECEPTION
The Waldorf Astoria Hotel
5:09 P.M. CDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hello, Chicago! (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. Look at you guys! It’s good to be home. Oh, my God, it is really, really nice to be home. And the city looks beautiful. It’s like this every day, right? No rain. (Laughter.) Yes, we’ve been watching. The weather has been kind of crazy. It is really good to be home.
Let me start by thanking Molly and Brian not just for that very kind introduction but for their tremendous hard work and generosity in supporting us, hosting this event. They are serving right alongside of us, and we’re very proud of them and their family. It’s because of people like them that we are here, so I want us to just take a moment to give them a round of applause and a thank you. (Applause.)
And I also want to recognize our Governor, Governor Pat Quinn. I just saw you — there he is. (Applause.) Governor Quinn has been a great friend and a fantastic partner in our work on military families. And I’m looking forward to doing more work with you in the years to come, because I’m going to be voting for this man. And we’re going to do everything in our power to make sure he gets over the finish line. He is the guy for this state. (Applause.) Thank you, Governor. Thank you for being here.
And of course, I want to thank all of you for taking time to be here. Gosh, I see Biff, I see so many people here! Oh, my God! I see so many old friends here today. Wow. Oh, my God, I’m not even going to start calling out names. (Laughter.) Look at you guys! Wow. I see folks who’ve been with us from the very beginning — folks who were with us back when Barack first ran for office here in Chicago, I see people I grew up with, around the corner; see people who were with us when we were out in Iowa and New Hampshire talking about hope and change, and getting all fired up and ready to go. Reggie Love was there — Hey, Reggie. I couldn’t miss your head. (Laughter.)
And then you all were with us when Barack first took office — that cold, cold inauguration.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Very cold.
MRS. OBAMA: Very cold. (Laughter.) And then we took a good look at the mess he’d been handed, and we all wondered what we had gotten ourselves into.
Remember how bad things were back then? Sometimes it’s hard to remember, but we were in full-blown crisis mode. Our economy was literally on the brink of collapse. Wall Street banks were folding — you remember that? Businesses were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Folks on TV were panicking about whether we were headed for another Great Depression -– and that wasn’t just talk, that was a real possibility. And that was just what was going on here at home. We were also fighting two wars abroad; the man behind 9/11 was still on the loose. I just want to remind everyone, this is what Barack walked into on day one as President.
Now I want you to think about how things look today, just five and a half years later. We’ve now had the longest period of job growth since World War II. (Applause.) And as millions of folks have gone back to work, unemployment is the lowest it’s been in nearly six years. We’ve cut our deficit by more than half. We’re sending more kids to college. We brought Osama bin Laden to justice. And after decades of trying to pass health reform, today, millions of Americans finally have health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. (Applause.)
And just think about how different our country looks to our children growing up today. Think about how our kids take for granted that a black person or a woman can be President of the United States –- they take it for granted. (Applause.) They take for granted that their President will end hurtful policies like “don’t ask, don’t tell” and speak out for gay marriage because, as our President said in his inauguration speech, he said, “If we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
So today, when folks ask me whether I still believe everything we said about hope and change back in 2008, I tell them that I believe it more strongly than ever before — because I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve seen veterans finding jobs as our nation proudly supports their transition to civilian life. I’ve seen children getting better nutrition and growing up healthier. I’ve seen young people from the most underserved areas reaching higher and going to college, and then reaching back to serve their communities.
And, yes, while we still have plenty of work to do, we have truly made so much of that change we were talking about. But remember, Barack didn’t do all of that just sitting alone in the Oval Office. Remember that Recovery Act that helped rescue our economy? Remember the legislation that helped save the auto industry, the Affordable Care Act that gave all those folks insurance? Those bills were all passed by a democratic Congress back in 2008, 2009 and 2010. And I say this because it is so easy to lose sight of that reality.
Too often, we forget what we learned in civics class back in middle school about how we have a separation of powers between three branches of government. I can’t tell you how many folks have asked me, well, the President passed health care, why can’t he just pass immigration reform? Why hasn’t he fixed our infrastructure yet? When is he going to raise the minimum wage? And I have to tell them, well, you know, infrastructure is a budget issue; immigration and wages are legislative issues. And we know who has the final say on all of that — it’s Congress. That’s right, it’s our Congress.
So the truth is, if we want to keep making that change we all believe in — I know. She stood in a photo line, and she is so sick of her mom and dad right now. (Laughter.) I understand. (Laughter.) But if we want to keep making that change we all believe in, then we need a President who will fight for that change, and we need a Congress who will pass it and leaders in our states who will support it.
So make no mistake about it: Barack’s last campaign was not in 2012, Barack’s last campaign is this year, 2014. Because the election in 2012 wasn’t the change that we sought, it was only the chance to make that change. And frankly, if we lose these midterm elections, it’s going to be a whole lot harder to finish what we started because we’ll just see more of the same out in Washington –- more obstruction, more lawsuits and talk about impeachment — (laughter) — more votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act or even shut down the government, behavior that just wastes time and taxpayer dollars.
In fact, it’s gotten so bad, they’re even trying to block the work that I do on childhood obesity. And that’s really saying something. I mean, for most folks in this country, making sure our kids get decent nutrition shouldn’t be that controversial. (Applause.) That’s why back in 2010, we passed legislation to ensure that our school lunches meet modern nutrition standards set by experts, based on science. But as you know, believe it or not, there are folks in Congress actually working to repeal these standards. And that’s simply not acceptable. It’s just not.
As parents, there is nothing we wouldn’t do for our children — nothing. We always put our kids’ interests first. We wake up every morning and we go to bed every night thinking and worrying about their health, their happiness, their futures. So we deserve leaders across this country who are going to do the same. (Applause.)
We deserve leaders who believe like we do that no matter how our kids start out in life, if they’re willing to work for it, they should have every opportunity to fulfill their boundless promise. They should have every opportunity to get a good education, build a decent life for themselves and an even better life for their own kids. That’s the American Dream we all believe in. And that’s what these midterm elections are all about.
And here’s the thing: We know that we can win these elections. Right now, we are just 17 seats away from taking back the House, but we’re just six seats away from losing the Senate — six seats. And we have tight governors’ races and legislative races in states across the country, races that will be won or lost by just a few thousand, a few hundred, and even a few dozen votes.
So the truth is that all of this, this is on us. So, yes, there’s too much money in politics. There’s special interests that have too much influence. But they had all that money and all of that influence back in 2008 and 2012 –- and we still won those elections. Nothing has changed. (Applause.)
And you know why we won? We won because we showed up and we voted. And at the end of the day, the folks running those special interest groups, they each have just one vote. The folks who poured millions of dollars into the 2012 election, they each have just one vote too — and so do each of us. And ultimately, the only thing that counts are those votes. At the end of the day, that is what decides elections in the United States of America.
But the fact is that during the midterms, a lot of us don’t show up. A lot of women, minorities, young people — we simply don’t show up to cast our votes. That’s a fact.
These are folks who already agree with us. They support our policies and ideas, so we don’t have to change any hearts and minds to get their votes. We don’t have to spend hours persuading them that we have the best plans. We just need to get them out to vote -– just like we did in 2008 and 2012. We need to call them and remind them that the midterms are coming, and then we need to call them again and again and again, and then we need to give them a ride to the polls on Election Day. (Applause.) And we need to convince them to be as passionate and hungry for the midterm elections as they were back in 2008 and 2012. In fact, we have to tell them to be even more passionate and more hungry, because these midterm races will be even harder and even closer than those presidential elections — but they’re just as important, just as important.
So we can’t afford to just sit back and hope for the best, and then be shocked when things don’t work out our way — we do that a lot. We need to be engaged right from the beginning. And that’s where all of you come in, because there is something that all of you can do right now, today, to make a difference, and that is to write a big, fat check. I kid you not. I’m going to be honest with you, that’s what we need you to do right now. We need you to write the biggest, fattest check that you can possibly write.
Now, I know, particularly for this group, some of you might occasionally feel a little bit annoyed that we are always hitting you up for money. (Laughter.) And that’s okay. You can admit it. But we do this because writing those checks is the single-most impactful thing that you can do right now. Because it’s simply not enough for us to have the best candidates if they don’t have the resources they need to win elections. It’s not enough to have the best values and ideas if we never get to make them into laws and policies.
So we can’t just stake out the moral high ground and feel good about ourselves — we need to act. And understand that your actions will absolutely make the difference, because when you dig deep, when you max out, that translates into staff hired and offices opened and ads running where they need to run. And we can’t wait until September or October to get going here because these candidates need these resources right now.
And then once you have given what you can, we do need you to get out there and volunteer like many of you did for us. Because we know that those person-to-person contacts, those calls made, those doors knocked on — for those of you who participated, you understand that all of that can mean the difference between victory and defeat.
And the stakes simply couldn’t be higher. They couldn’t be. If we don’t show up at the polls this November, if we don’t elect leaders in our Congress and our states who will help Barack finish what we started, then we know exactly what will happen: We’ll see more folks interfering in women’s private decisions about our health. We will see more folks denying that climate change even exists. We will see more votes against equal pay, immigration reform, raising the minimum wage for hard-working folks.
So I want to be really clear with my friends: If you think folks who work 40 or 50 hours a week shouldn’t have to live in poverty in the wealthiest nation on earth, if you believe in science and you care about the planet that you’re leaving for your kids and grandkids, if you don’t want women’s bosses making decisions about their birth control — (applause) — if you want your kids to have quality preschool and the college education they need to fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential, then you need to step up. You need to dig deep. And you need to get everyone you know out to vote this November. That’s no joke.
That is what is at stake in these elections –- the kind of country we want to leave for our kids and our grandkids. Because those kids are counting on us to stand up for them this November. They’re kids like the kids here in Chicago who are confronting outrageous levels of violence; kids who are losing their lives day after day to shootings that devastate our communities and break our hearts, and rob this country of so much talent and promise. Those kids deserve so much better than this.
I’ve met these kids. I met a kid, his name is Lawrence Lawson. I met him at a college affordability event in Virginia earlier this year. Now, Lawrence’s father died when he was just eight years old. Then at the age of nine, Lawrence, he suffered a major seizure, then he had to learn to read and walk and speak again — at nine. When he was 12, his mother passed away, and Lawrence was passed from his aunt in Atlanta to his sister in Baltimore.
But here’s the thing about this kid — he’s a wonderful young man — no matter where he was, Lawrence did his best in school, despite the odds. He joined the marching band, interned at John’s Hopkins hospital, and he graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class.
And I share this with you because as I travel across this country, I meet so many kids just like Lawrence. There are millions of them — kids who wake up early, take the long route to school to avoid the gangs. Kids who juggle after-school jobs to support their families, and stay up late to get their homework done. Kids whose parents don’t speak a word of English, but who are fighting every day to realize their dream of a better life.
These kids have every reason to give up, but they are so hungry to succeed, they are so desperate to lift themselves up — despite us. And that’s why we’re here today –- because those kids never give up, and neither can we. Neither can we.
Between now and November, we need to be energized for them. We need to be inspired for them. We need to pour everything we have into these elections so that they can have the opportunities they need to build the future they deserve. And if we do that, if we just keep stepping up, digging deep, and bringing others along with us, then I know that we can keep making that change we believe in. I know we can finish what we start. And together, we can keep building a future worthy of all of our children.
So I hope you all are ready for this. I hope I was clear. (Laughter.) We can do this, but it is completely within our hands. So I don’t want anybody to look the day after Election Day and say, oh, what could we have done — because that’s on us. If we haven’t done everything that we can possibly do — raise as much money, talk to as much — many people, find the races around the country that are close and need our help; we don’t get our kids focused on this — this is like working for Barack Obama. There is no difference. You can’t just be happy about Barack and then sit back and watch the midterm elections slip away.
This is on us. And we have everything we need right now to get it done, but we have to do the work. So we’re going to need you — checks, time, passion. Can you do that for us? (Applause.) All right. Let’s get it done.
Thank you all. God bless. (Applause.)
END 5:30 P.M. CDT