TIME White House

Obama Honors Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day

Marks first Memorial Day since 9/11 without ground troops in combat

President Obama laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery on Memorial Day to honor the men and women who have died serving in the U.S. military. Their sacrifice, he said, is “a debt we will never repay.”

Speaking in front of more than 5,000 attendees, Obama marked the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a major ground war, though a smaller American military presence remains in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“This hallowed ground is more than a final resting place of heroes” Obama said. “It is a reflection of America itself. It is a reflection of our history.”

He specifically mentioned Spec. Wyatt Martin and Sgt. 1st Class Ramon Morris, who were the last two U.S. soldiers to die during combat missions in Afghanistan.

“These two men, these two heroes, if you passed them on the street you wouldn’t know that they were brothers,” Obama said. “They were bonded together to secure our liberty and keep us safe.”

More than 6,500 Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan in military operations that began after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Additional reporting by Maya Rhodan

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Restates Support of Israel in Synagogue Speech

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel while reiterating the need for a two-state solution at a Northwest Washington synagogue on Friday.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security and my commitment to Israel’s security is and always will be unshakable,” Obama said, adding that not doing so would be a “moral failing.”

Obama spoke at the Adas Israel Synagogue on the inaugural “solidarity sabbath,” a holiday meant to consolidate support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism that falls toward the end of Jewish Heritage Month. On Friday, lawmakers were slated to appear in congregations across the country to mark the day.

In the wake of attack at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, there’s been growing attention to the persecution of Jews across the world. Obama noted that the rise of anti-semitism should not be treated as “passing fad.”

“When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed,” Obama said. “It will spread.”

The statements follow a wide-ranging interview published by The Atlantic on Thursday, in which President Obama stressed his love for the Jewish state of Israel, telling commentator Jeffrey Goldberg that supporting the rights of Jews abroad is equivalent to supporting the freedom of African-Americans at home.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

On Friday, he reiterated those sentiments, reflecting on his own introduction to the Israeli community. “For a young man like me grappling with his own identity, Obama said, “the idea that you could be grounded in your history as Israel was but not be trapped by it. That idea was liberating”

Obama’s statements to Goldberg and before the congregation at Adas Israel on Friday come amid nuclear negotiations Iran that have put strain on one of the U.S.’ closest relationships. But he made clear Friday that criticism is not going to change his mind.

“I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium,” he told Goldberg.

And on Friday, before a crowd in a packed synagogue where the rabbi called him a “champion of freedom,” Obama sought to reassure the congregation that he could be both a friend and a critic of Israel.

“It’s precisely because I care so deeply … that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I feel,” he said.

TIME National Security

Obama Calls Climate Change a National Security Threat

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.
Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a commencement ceremony at Lake Area Technical Institute in Watertown, S.D. on May 8, 2015.

Obama says the global change in climate will pose a direct threat to our military

President Obama is once again arguing that climate change is a threat to national security.

In a commencement address at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Wednesday, Obama noted the problems created by extreme weather, which scientists believe can be exacerbated by climate change. Members of the Coast Guard are often among the first responders during natural disasters such as hurricanes.

“You are part of the first generation of officers to begin your service in a world where the effects of climate change are so clearly upon us,” Obama told the class of 2015. “Climate change will shape how every one of our services plan, operate, train, equip, and protect their infrastructure, today and for the long term.”

During the speech in Connecticut, Obama said that an increase in natural disasters will lead to more humanitarian crises that pose direct threats to a nation’s stability. “More extreme storms will mean more humanitarian missions to deliver lifesaving help,” he said. “Our forces will have to be ready.”

The speech echoed statements presented in the White House National Security Strategy, which said extreme weather, rising tides and temperature shifts fights over scarce resources and diminishing coast lines that will have a stark impact on the global economy.

According to a White House report released Wednesday, the Department of Defense is currently examining the impact climate change can have on U.S. military bases. The Pentagon is also considering how much strain extreme weather places on the Coast Guard.

Wednesday’s speech is the latest Obama administration push to focus the nation’s attention on the threats of climate change. Obama has often said climate change is the greatest threat facing the world’s future generations. It was a sentiment he stressed during an Earth Day trip to the Florida Everglades where he said, “This is not a problem for another generation. It has serious implications for the way we live right now.”

Facing a skeptical Congress, Obama has relied on executive action in efforts to curb the effects of changing temperatures and rising seas. The U.S. has also pledged to a 28% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.

“Some warming is now inevitable,” Obama said Wednesday. “But there comes a point when the worst effects will be irreversible. And time is running out. And we all know what needs to happen. It’s no secret.”

TIME White House

Here Are the Best Responses to Obama Joining Twitter

The President now has his very own handle, @POTUS

President Barack Obama tweeted from his personal Twitter account first the first time on Monday.

It took just a few hours after the tweet went up at 11:38 a.m. ET for @POTUS to rack up more than 1 million followers, appearing to handily beat the current Guinness World Record for the fastest time to hit that milestone (it took Robert Downey Jr. 23 hours and 22 minutes in April 2014).

A video posted by the White House gave what seemed to be proof that it was actually Obama typing on a smartphone and not a staffer:

The Chicago Cubs appeared slightly offended that Obama, a noted White Sox fan, followed the Sox, Blackhawks, Bulls and Bears, but not their team.

Michelle seemed pretty excited:

Joe Biden was pleased:

And Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s senior advisor, was glad he signed up:

But it was perhaps No. 42 who had the greatest reaction—and a good question (#askingforafriend, of course):

Despite a busy schedule—he tweeted from Camden, New Jersey—Obama responded promptly, and with a good question in response:

Read next: You Asked: Why Are My Devices Messing With My Brain?

TIME Barack Obama

President Obama Now Has His Own Twitter Account

President Obama gets his own Twitter account

Two Twitter accounts weren’t enough for President Obama. On Monday, he signed up for a third.

Though Obama has been an avid user of social media — and by one study is the most followed world leader on Twitter — his other accounts @WhiteHouse and @BarackObama are controlled by the Administration and Organizing for Action, the nonprofit that succeeded his presidential-campaign arm.

The new account, @POTUS, looks like more of a personal account, perhaps to allow him to continue running it after he leaves the White House.

The account rapidly added followers, going from zero to almost 100,000 in less than half an hour and growing by the minute.

Obama made some interesting choices setting up the account. The short bio reads: “Dad, husband, and 44th President of the United States.” And the header photo at the top of his account page is a picture with his family crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the anniversary of the iconic civil rights march in Selma, Ala., in March.

The White House says the new account is a way for the President to engage directly with the American people.

“President Obama is committed to making his Administration the most open and participatory in history, and @POTUS will give Americans a new venue to engage on the issues that matter most to them,” wrote a White House blogger announcing the account.

TIME remembrance

President Obama Remembers B.B. King

"There’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight"

President Obama released a statement Friday morning commemorating the death of B.B. King. The blues legend died late Thursday at home in Las Vegas, at the age of 89.

The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend. B.B. King was born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador who brought his all-American music to his country and the world. No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.

Three years ago, Michelle and I hosted a blues concert at the White House. I hadn’t expected that I’d be talked into singing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago” with B.B. by the end of the night, but that was the kind of effect his music had, and still does. He gets stuck in your head, he gets you moving, he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn’t do – but will always be glad you did. B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever. And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.

TIME White House

Obama Pressed on How He Talks to Black Community

Barack Obama
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP President Barack Obama speaks at the Catholic-Evangelical Leadership Summit on Overcoming Poverty at Georgetown University in Washington, Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

Obama responds to critique that his rhetoric is often harsher when he's addressing an all-black audience

President Obama has been known to hold black audiences to a high standard, arguing that they need to do more to keep families together and educate their children. It’s a line that has rankled some in the black community, who note that he does not make the same case for white families in poverty.

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people—and particularly black youth—and another way of addressing everyone else,” wrote Ta-Nehisi Coates in a much-discussed essay in The Atlantic in 2013 . “I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that ‘there’s no longer room for any excuses’—as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of ‘all America,’ but he also is singularly the scold of ‘black America.’”

On Tuesday, President Obama was pressed on the question in person at a Catholic-Evangelical leadership summit on poverty in Washington, and he did not back down, using the same speeches at the historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta and the all-female Barnard College in New York Coates referenced as examples.

“It’s true that if I’m giving a commencement at Morehouse I will have a conversation with young black men about taking responsibility as fathers that I probably will not have with the women of Barnard,” Obama said. “And I make no apologies for that. And this reason is because I am a black man who grew up without a father and I know the cost that I paid for that. And I also know that I have the capacity to break that cycle, and as a consequence, I think my daughters are better off.”

During a panel discussion on poverty at Georgetown University, Obama reiterated parts of his argument, which he has also made in recent discussions about unrest in Baltimore and the launch of a My Brother’s Keeper initiative aimed at young minority men, though he also noted the role that institutional racism played.

“In some ways, part of what’s changed is that those biases or those restrictions on who had access to resources that allowed them to climb out of poverty … all those things were foreclosed to a big chunk of the minority population over decades,” he said. “Over time families frayed, men who could not get jobs left, mother’s who are single are not able to read as much to their kids.”

He added, “All that was happening 40 years ago to African Americans and now what we’re seeing is those same trends have accelerated and they’re spreading to the broader community.”

TIME White House

White House Baby Boom Highlights Obama Policy Agenda

Barack Obama
Susan Walsh—AP President Barack Obama holds a baby as he greets guests attending an event at the White House in Washington on April 16, 2015.

As the Administration pushes family-friendly policies, it has worked to be more family-friendly too

During a recent speech on his plans to get paid work leave for all new parents, President Obama veered off-script. “There have been a lot of babies in the White House lately,” he said. “See, we have another one coming right here, right in the front row.”

He was referring to director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Paulette Aniskoff, who is due in July. The others were not far out of sight. Director of Communications Jen Psaki is also due this summer, and Legislative Affairs Director Katie Fallon had twins in April and is currently on three months of maternity leave. Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s son was born several weeks before he took the helm in the White House briefing room in 2014, and at least three other senior officials, including Senior Advisor Brian Deese, have babies under age three at home.

It is a turnabout for a building better known as the wrecker of marriages and maker of absentee parents. Of the many perks of a job in the White House, a family-friendly workplace has never been one of them. The work day begins before dawn, and rarely ends until long after toddlers have gone to bed. The stress is relentless, the urgent emails come at all hours and childcare is not provided on premises. “No matter how much the president tries,” warned Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s first chief of staff, “the White House is brutal on family life.”

But in recent months, Obama, who likes to joke with pregnant women by offering the services of his ever-present doctor, has made helping parents in the workplace a major policy focus, talking about the “gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.” He has called for a new federal standard that mandates up to a week of paid sick leave for employees of businesses with more than 15 employees, and offers unpaid of paid sick leave at smaller businesses. He also has pushed for state programs that would help compensate employees who take unpaid medical leave and expanded paid leave programs for federal employees.

Now as his once-youthful staff and their partners age to upper bounds of their childbearing years, the President and his team have been faced in real time with the question of whether they can offer their employees more than the painful choice of either doing their job or seeing their newborn children. For Earnest, whose predecessor Robert Gibbs left the White House saying he wanted to spend more time with his son, it is all about scheduling. Earnest tries to set aside one weeknight when he can get home to put to sleep his 8-month-old boy. “I’m spending time at night working on my BlackBerry while my wife is cooking dinner,” Earnest says. “Walker has gone a couple of times now to get shots. Both times I’ve taken an hour and a half off in the afternoon to go to the appointment.”

Other small allowances have been made. The White House campus has nursing rooms, and the Navy mess hall has learned to be responsive to the new demands of pregnancy. “I’ve been really wanting cinnamon toast all the time lately, which isn’t on the menu, but they make it every morning,” explains Aniskoff, who is due in July. Chief of Staff Denis McDonough moved Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings meetings to earlier in the day to give senior staffers more flexibility in their schedules.

The West Wing has also embraced the task of covering for their colleagues after birth. Just like Fallon, both Psaki and Aniskoff will get to take 12 weeks of paid leave after their births. When she was offered her new job earlier this year, Psaki warned the chief of staff that she had recently become pregnant, and worried that fact could hurt her chances. “He didn’t skip a beat,” Psaki recalls. “He said, ‘this is a family friendly White House.”

That’s a far cry from the environment Valerie Jarrett, one of the president’s closest advisers, remembers in the 1980s, when she gave birth to her daughter while working at a law firm. “I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant until I was showing and then I tried to not ever talk about the fact I was pregnant,” Jarrett recalls. “Where as the women who are [in the White House] now, we talk about it all the time.”

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the timing of Earnest’s son’s birth. He was born several weeks after his father took the job as press secretary.

TIME Holidays

Watch President Obama Spring a Mother’s Day Surprise on 3 Moms

"You're doing the most important work there is"

Three mothers got a totally unexpected Mother’s Day gift this year: a surprise phone call from President Obama.

“I decided on Mother’s Day I should call up some letter writers and moms, and say thank you for being great moms,” Obama explains to a stunned mother in a video shared Sunday by the White House. “You’re one of the moms I want to say thank you to. You still don’t believe me.”

The lucky three, who hail from Minnesota, Arizona and Florida, had each written letters to Obama over the past year thanking him for supporting a higher minimum wage and for signing the Affordable Care Act in March 2010.

“I know how tough it is to raise kids and do right by them. If it hadn’t been for my mother, I certainly wouldn’t be here,” said Obama, whose own mother, Ann Dunham, died of cancer in 1995. “You’re doing the most important work there is.”

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