TIME Education

Obama to Sign Bill Improving Worker Training

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
Vice President Joe Biden greets President Barack Obama as he arrives to speak at Community College of Allegheny County West Hills Center, Wednesday, April 16, 2014, in Oakdale, Pa., about the importance of jobs-driven skills training. Carolyn Kaster—AP

On Tuesday, President Obama and Vice President Biden will announce new executive actions on job training at the signing of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act

Congress and the President have finally found some common ground: Obama will sign the first significant legislative job training reform effort in nearly a decade on Tuesday.

The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act passed by Congress on July 9 will streamline the federal workforce training system, trimming 15 programs that don’t work, giving schools the opportunity to cater their services to the needs of their region, and empowering businesses to identify what skills workers need for success and help workers acquire them.

The bipartisan, bicameral bill is a response to a projection that by 2022, 11 million workers will lack the education necessary to succeed in a 21st century workplace including bachelor’s degrees, associate’s degrees, and vocational certificates.

“Workforce training is critically important to help grow the American economy still recovering from recession and bridge the widening skills gap separating thousands of unemployed workers from promising careers in 21st century workplaces,” said Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) when the bill passed.

The Obama Administration apparently agrees. On Tuesday, when Obama signs the bill into law, he and Vice President Joe Biden will also announce new federal and private sector actions to address the need for an improved job training system, which currently serves about 21 million Americans including veterans, Americans with disabilities, the unemployed, and those who lack skills to climb the career ladder. The Obama administration’s new actions also complement the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act by improving federal training programs not included in the bill.

Earlier in 2014, President Obama tasked Biden with reviewing the federal training system to find ways to improve it. As a result of that review, Biden will issue a report Tuesday that outlines “job-driven” strategies that the Administration says will make the federal training system “more effective, more responsive to employers, and more accountable for results” in Tuesday’s report.

Chief among these strategies is a new “job-driven checklist,” a tool that measures how effective programs are in preparing students for careers that will be incorporated into applications for all 25 federal training grants, at a total of about $1.4 billion, starting Oct. 1. The checklist requires programs to engage with local employers in designing programs that cater to their needs, ramp up opportunities for internships and apprenticeships, and keep better data on employment and earning outcomes.

“From now on, federal agencies will use specific, job-driven criteria to ensure that the $17 billion in federal training funds are used more effectively,” a senior White House official said on a Monday evening press call.

The Obama administration will also expand opportunities for apprenticeships, considered a “proven path to employment and the middle class,” according to a White House statement. After completing these programs, 87% of apprentices gain employment at an average starting salary of $50,000.

In addition to using competitions and grants to bolster job training in the U.S., the administration will also use technology. On Tuesday, Obama and Biden will announce $25 million award from the Department of Labor to develop a web-based “skills academy” for adult learners. And the Department of Education will experiment with education models that award skills based on a person’s tangible skills rather than their performance in a classroom setting.

“Too often job training programs are focused on providing the skills needed for yesterday’s jobs, not the jobs of today and tomorrow,” an administration official said Monday. “And teaching methods are often rooted in outdated, class-based models that haven’t kept pace with technology and new training techniques.”

TIME White House

President Obama Plans to Act as Mentor in ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ Initiative

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks at an event at the Walker Jones Education Campus in Washington to announce additional commitments for "My Brother’s Keeper," Obama's initiative aimed at helping boys and young men of color. Susan Walsh—AP

Said he'd help connect with as many young men of color as he could, in an event to mark a new round of private sector investment in his signature program

President Barack Obama will be spreading himself awfully thin if he takes on a commitment he announced Monday at a town hall for his “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative. Instead of just taking on one mentee as a part of the effort to connect more young men of color with good role models, Obama said Monday he plans to connect with as many as he can.

“The problem with just taking one is all the other guys would be like, ‘Man, how’d you get the President?’” Obama said.

After applauding a new round of private sector investments in “My Brother’s Keeper,” President Obama got his feet wet in offering advice to young men during a candid question and answer session during the event at the Walker Jones Education Center in Washington, DC.

The questions were wide-ranging—from how he learned to become a good father without having had one around, to his stance on D.C. statehood (to which Obama responded, “I’m for it” )—but the message was clear. President Obama is working hard to be a role model for young men of color in the United States.

When asked about if he set goals for himself as a teen, he said at times his goals were “misplaced;” he was too focused on basketball and having fun to think about the future. When questioned about how he learned to be a good father even though his wasn’t around, he said the fact that he didn’t experience it he wanted to make sure his kids did. And when asked what advice he had for young men, Obama noted three things: working hard, finding your passion, and building your network.

“Everything that’s worthwhile requires work,” Obama said. “For some reason, young men think [that] doesn’t apply to school. No reason why you think you will be a good reader if you don’t read a lot.”

Before taking questions from the gathered crowd, Obama announced more businesses and organizations are jumping on board with the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative.” Calling the program a “team effort,” Obama said business leaders, faith leaders, educators and community organizers are “all working together to give boys and young men of color the tools the need to succeed.”

Obama was joined by mayors, business leaders and—to his evident delight—the National Basketball Association, to announce new commitments to the program. The NBA has signed on to a five-year commitment in partnership with the Council for Greater City Schools to recruit 25,000 mentors for at-risk kids.

AT&T is pledging $18 million to support mentorship programs and 60 of the nation’s largest school systems are vowing to better educate young black and brown men from early childhood through high school graduation.

“I want to be able to look back and say we were a part of something that reversed the trends we don’t like to see,” Obama said Monday. “We want everybody to have a chance in America.”

It has been six months since Obama launched the initiative aimed at widening opportunities for young men of color in the U.S., and today’s commitments are another instance of Obama relying on the private sector to boost his second-term agenda while his efforts to work with Congress fail.

Earlier in May, a report released by the My Brother’s Keeper Task force used daunting statistics from minority communities to present targeted suggestions for combating the issue, ranging from poor educational preparedness to high rates of incarceration.

 

TIME LGBT

Obama Signs Executive Order on LGBT Job Discrimination

Protects employees of federal contractors from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity

+ READ ARTICLE

President Obama signed an executive order Monday protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people working for government contractors from discrimination.

The order protects any employee for a federal contractor from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identification. It covers about 28 million workers, making up one-fifth of the U.S. workforce, and includes no exemption for religious organizations.

“It doesn’t make much sense, but today in America millions of our fellow citizens wake up and go to work with the awareness that they could lose their job, not because of anything they do or fail to do but because of who they are,” the president told supporters at the White House, CBS News reports. “America’s federal contracts should not subsidize discrimination against the American people.”

Many U.S. companies already offer protections for LGBT employees, according to data highlighted by the Obama Administration. Some 91% of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.

The five top federal contractors–which get about a quarter of all federal contracting dollars–already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Still, although many companies were already in support of protections, Obama’s order makes it official, and without exceptions.

TIME

New Clinton Docs Disparage Ginsburg, Underscore Security Concerns at Atlanta Olympics

Clinton Global Initiative America Meetings Begin In Chicago
Former President Bill Clinton listens as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel speaks to guests at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) on June 13, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Among other revelations in the newly-released papers, the White House warned of the Supreme Court candidate's "halting speech" and "laconic nature" in one memo

The latest trove of previously-unreleased documents from the Clinton White House reveal the administration’s candid and at times unflattering assessment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg before her confirmation to the Supreme Court.

The memo, drafted by then-White House Associate Counsel Ron Klain to David Gergen, lists Ginsburg’s defense of the American Civil Liberties Union and “her failure to make eye contact, her halting speech, her “laconic” nature” as potential “performance pitfalls” for her in Senate confirmation hearings. It also includes the underlined warning that, “Judge Ginsburg views the White House’s interest and her interests as being at odds with each other.”

“She sees us as having a stake in presenting her as a moderate and in getting along well with the Senate; she sees her interests as ‘being herself,’ preserving her ‘dignity,’ and promoting her ‘independence,’” the memo continued.

The document is part of the latest batch of memos from the Clinton administration that have been released by the Clinton Library over the past several months. Also in this release is a memo from Klain outlining the subjects President Bill Clinton should bring up and which to avoid in a conversation with soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

Also of note is the multiple-choice memo to Clinton seeking his preferences for a planned trip to Spain, Poland, Romania and Denmark, and a White House memo outlining contingency planning for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.

Bonus: With this check mark, President Bill Clinton began the process of nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

Clinton Library

The Ginsburg memo:

The Breyer memo:

The Olympics memo:

The trip planning memo:

TIME

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: Obama Says 1 American Aboard Flight

TOPSHOTS-UKRAINE-RUSSIA-POLITICS-CRISIS-MALAYSIA-NETHERLANDS-PLA
A piece of wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is pictured on July 18, 2014 in Shaktarsk, Ukraine. Dominique Faget—AFP/Getty Images

At least one American citizen was on board Malaysia Airways Flight 17 when it plummeted to earth Thursday, President Barack Obama said Friday, adding that the U.S. government believes that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine.

Quinn Lucas Schansman, a dual Dutch-U.S. citizen, is believed to be the lone American killed in what Obama called “an outrage of unspeakable proportions.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said Friday at a meeting of the United Nations Security Council that the U.S. government believes the plane was shot down Thursday “by an SA-11 operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine.”

“Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel,” Power said. “Thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”

Obama called on Russia, Ukraine, and separatist groups to immediately declare a ceasefire so that an independent investigation can begin, adding that any evidence removed from the site must be turned over to investigators.

“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime,” Power said. “Thus, it is extremely important that an investigation be commenced immediately.”

Describing the downing as a “global tragedy,” Obama said it was too early to know the intentions of those who shot down the plane. “The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine and we are going to make sure that the truth is out,” Obama said.

A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukraine for the plane’s downing, Power said Russia is responsible for continuing to back Ukrainian separatists despite repeated assurances that they were working to de-escalate the situation.

“Russia says that it seeks peace in Ukraine, but we have continually provided evidence to this council of Russia’s continued support for the separatists,” Power said. “Time after time President Putin has committed to working towards dialogue and peace. Every single time he has broken that commitment.”

“This war can be ended,” Power concluded. “Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.”

Obama said it is time for Putin to put aside propaganda. “He and the Russian government have to make a strategic decision,” Obama said, saying “It is not possible for these separatists to function the way they are functioning,” including shooting down planes, without Russia’s backing.

Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin said his government blames the Ukrainian government for the shoot-down, questioning why the plane was even there. “Why did the Ukraine aviation dispatchers send this plane over a war zone,” he said, warning against “insinuations” about the attack.


TIME russia

U.S. Imposes New Sanctions Against Russia

President Barack Obama speaks about foreign policy and escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington DC, on July 16, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks about foreign policy and escalating sanctions against Russia in response to the crisis in Ukraine in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington DC, on July 16, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

The Obama Administration announced new sanctions against firms in Russia’s energy, financial, and defense sectors Wednesday in response to Russia’s continued support for Ukrainian separatists.

Senior administration officials said Wednesday that Russia has continued to violate Ukraine’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity” after its annexation of the Crimean peninsula earlier this year, precipitating the sanctions after months of warnings. The new sanctions, the first so-called “sectoral sanctions” used by the U.S. against Russia hit two banks, Gazprombank OAO and VEB, and two Russian energy firms, OAO Novatek and Rosneft, limiting their access to the United States’ capital markets.

Also sanctioned by the U.S. Wednesday are the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and the Luhansk People’s Republic, as well as the top general in Russia’s FSB security service, reportedly a leading separatist supporter within the FSB. Eight state-owned defense and technology firms dealing in arms or related material sector in Russia are also included.

“These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted,” President Barack Obama said Wednesday, adding that they are designed to limit spillover effects on U.S. and European interests. “We live in a complex world and at a challenging time.”

Administration officials said the sanctions would “only further exacerbate Russia’s economic problems,” adding that sanctions already in place are responsible for slowing the growth of that country’s economy. They also warned that the U.S. has the ability to expand sanctions if Russia continues its “inappropriate behavior.” The officials added that “there is an off-ramp here for Russia” if they move swiftly to close the border between Russia and Eastern Ukraine as well as back off supporting the separatists fighting the Ukrainian government.

However, Edward Chow, a senior fellow and energy expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says these new sanctions weren’t designed to dramatically reduce Russia’s rate of growth. “Russia was already forecast to have near-zero economic growth this year, before the Ukraine crisis which it created,” said Chow. “Most economists were forecasting negative growth this year before these latest sanctions were announced.”

Even if the overall Russian economy isn’t slowed by these sanctions, though, the firms targeted will certainly feel the hurt.

“I think the actions taken by Treasury today will limit the sources from which Rosneft can get financing and thus raise the cost of capital for the firm, making it more difficult and more costly to do business,” said Jason Bordoff, Professor of Professional Practice in International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. “It does not prohibit U.S. firms from doing business with Rosneft or bar Russian energy supplies from flowing into the global market, but it is the next step in a gradually escalating series of measures the Administration can take to ratchet up the economic pressure on Moscow, while seeking to minimize the collateral damage to the US and its allies who have close economic ties to Russia.”

European Union officials imposed their own increased sanctions against Russia separately on Wednesday.

With reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

TIME White House

Biden: I ‘Reject’ Dick Cheney’s Stance on Defense Spending

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden discusses international intellectual property protections at the 2nd Annual Creativity Conference presented by the Motion Picture Association of America at The Newseum on May 2, 2014 in Washington, D.C. Paul Morigi—WireImage

Vice President Joe Biden took aim at his immediate predecessor Wednesday, arguing that former Vice President Dick Cheney was wrong when he said this week that defense spending should trump domestic expenditures.

“I saw Vice President Cheney saying that we should be spending more money on our military, not on food stamps and highways,” Biden told Generation Progress, an off-shoot of the Center for American Progress.

Cheney criticized the Obama administration for cutting the size of government Monday at an event hosted by POLITICO. “That ought to be our top priority for spending. Not food stamps, not highways, or anything else,” Cheney said.

“When it comes to the safety of our warriors we have to spend the money,” Biden said in response on Wednesday. “But this idea of it’s somehow inherently more important to spend money on the military than on domestic needs is a policy I reject—I reject out of hand.”

Before criticizing Cheney, Biden said, “I don’t take a backseat to anyone, including Vice President Cheney, on the issue of our military. I know what it’s like to have a son stationed in Iraq for a year.”

Biden also encouraged attendees not to give up hope on the unaccomplished promises of President Barack Obama’s 2008 election. “Everybody says because we tried in ‘08 and it didn’t happen, it’s not possible—wrong,” Biden said. “We’ve gone through these periods before … Change. Change for the better, is absolutely possible and I believe it’s close to inevitable, if you’re the drivers of it.”

TIME Immigration

White House Leak Hits Democratic Governor After Immigration Comments

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

Policy differences over immigration between the Maryland's governor and the Obama Administration leads to an unusually nasty battle in the press.

In 2012, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was ubiquitous on the campaign trail for President Barack Obama’s re-elect, appearing regularly on cable TV and in spin rooms to lob attacks on behalf of the president. He was the only governor on Obama’s National Finance Committee. He and his Celtic rock band even played the White House on St. Patrick’s Day.

But all of that goodwill came tumbling down Friday after O’Malley, who is positioning himself for a White House bid in 2016, whacked the White House’s handling of the surge of unaccompanied minors across the nation’s southern border. “It is contrary to everything we stand for to try to summarily send children back to death,” O’Malley told reporters at the National Governors Association, breaking with the president who has said that most of the migrants will be returned to their home countries. The statement drew a private complaint from Domestic Policy Director Cecilia Muñoz in the form of a phone call.

But that phone call didn’t stay private, with Muñoz’s frustrations relayed to the press on Tuesday, as well as O’Malley’s request on the call to keep the children out of a proposed detention facility in Westminster, Md. The leak—which Democratic operatives pinned on the White House and which O’Malley pinned on Muñoz personally in a conversation with the Washington Post—suggested that the governor was being a hypocrite, gaining points with the Democratic base for calling more humane treatment for the children while declining to house them in his state.

“He privately said ‘please don’t send these kids to western Maryland,’” the “Democratic source” behind the leaked call told CNN.

But O’Malley and his aides offer a sharply different take on what transpired. “What I said was that would not be the most inviting site in Maryland. There are already hundreds of kids already located throughout Maryland,” O’Malley told CNN Wednesday morning. Days after the call, the proposed facility was sprayed with misspelled graffiti, saying “No illeagels here. No undocumented Democrats.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest declined to discuss the source of the leaked details of the phone call. “From the podium here, I’m not going to be in a position to share the details of a private conversation between a senior White House official and a prominent governor of an important state,” he said, adding that the relationship between the White House and O’Malley was “as strong as ever.”

A senior O’Malley administration official said the state is working with the federal government on a number of Maryland sites to house the detainee children. On Monday, O’Malley’s administration began the process to speed licensing for future Department of Health and Human Services facilities in the state. “His focus continues to be on trying to be a constructive force in resolving this humanitarian crisis at the border and making sure that these children are cared for while they await due process,” the official said.

The sharp White House response and the controversy over the Maryland facility masks the real controversy at play. The real difference between the O’Malley and the White House is not whether the children should be housed in Maryland, but how the illegal immigrants should be treated in the first place. “The better course here is to place as many kids with families and relatives as we possibly can or use the available foster system,” O’Malley said Friday, saying they should be held in the “least restrictive setting,” rather than the current facilities which he compared to “kennels.” The White House, on the other hand, is seeking a legal change that will allow them to more quickly deport those children that do not present humanitarian claims, without ever placing with families in the United States. It is that law-and-order approach that has the White House on defense from many in its own party.

TIME Congress

Compromise Disrupts the Daily Vitriol in Washington, D.C.

Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014.
Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) reacts after signing the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act with (from left to right) Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congressman George Miller, Republican Congressman John Kline, Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, and Democratic Congressman Ruben Hinojosa in the Speaker's Conference Room in the US Capitol in Washington on July 11, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

The political war of words hasn't stopped, but Republicans and Democrats are proving they can still get stuff done together

The rhetoric in Washington Tuesday was as poisonous as ever, with President Barack Obama lashing out again at House Republicans and Speaker John Boehner returning the favor. “The American people have to demand that folks in Washington do their job, do something,” Obama said, in an attack. “Giving speeches about a long-term highway bill, it’s frankly just more rhetoric,” Boehner responded in kind.

But under the hood, things did not look quite so dire. With little fanfare, the tiny sounds of compromise on infrastructure funding and immigration policy echoed through the marbled halls of Washington. House Republican leadership decided to break with their conservative flank to support a ten-month highway funding bill that the White House endorsed. Then House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said Democrats would also support the measure, just a week after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi criticized it.

Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans found themselves echoing the rhetoric of the White House as they push for a legal change that will allow for the quicker deportation of Central American children who cross the border illegally, a move that has infuriated liberals. “This would be done in a humane and responsible way,” said a Republican aide close to the House working group working on immigration, echoing the White House talking points on the proposal.

Despite the hesitant cooperation, both sides tried to use the potential for agreement as a way score political points. “Breaking news,” White House Spokesman Josh Earnest said, dryly after he was asked about the transportation deal. “Maybe the presidential rhetoric is having an effect.” Republicans, similarly, tried to cast the fleeting agreement as a victory. “The point is there are ways to get things done—they rarely included campaign speeches by the President,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

To be sure, many areas of disagreement remain, and the limited cooperation with 10 legislative days before Labor Day is more a function of clearing the docket of urgent business before the long midterm-election-year recess than a genuine breakthrough. The GOP remains divided over the $3.7 billion budget request from the White House to deal with the border fix, and there is no sign of a larger deal on immigration reform. The historic standoff over deficit spending levels remains unresolved. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid has rejected proposal by Republican Whip John Cornyn to change deportation process for Central American minors.

But the week’s work proves that even in a city riven by division and broken trust, work still gets done on occasion, even if neither party shows any interest in ending the daily onslaught of recriminations over the coming months. “Now that President Obama has endorsed the House highway bill, we hope he will urge Senate Democrats to pass some of the nearly 50 House-passed jobs bills still awaiting action,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner. “The American people are still asking, where are the jobs? And it’s time for the president to fight the Senate gridlock from his own political party.”

At the White House, Earnest said the temporary bipartisanship wouldn’t change the president’s summer plans to continue on offense. “Republicans have put their political ambitions ahead of the interests of middle-class families so many times, but like I said, I’m willing to give credit where it’s due,” he said of the highway agreement. “But it’s not going to stop this administration from continuing to advocate for the kind of long-term highway reauthorization that’s in the best interests of the American economy.”

Additional reporting by Alex Rogers/Washington

TIME Israel

Obama ‘Encouraged’ by Gaza Cease-Fire Proposal

Obama Hosts Dinner Celebrating Ramadan
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers an opening speech as the host of an iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan in the White House, Washington, D.C., on July 14, 2014 Michael Reynold—Getty Images

"The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching," Obama said

President Barack Obama reaffirmed Monday night that the U.S. stands by Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rockets, but said he is “encouraged” by a cease-fire proposal pushed by Egypt to de-escalate the situation in Israel and Gaza.

Speaking at an iftar dinner to mark the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Obama acknowledged strong views and differences of opinion about the conflict, which has flared up over the past week.

“I will say very clearly, no country can accept rocket fired indiscriminately at citizens,” Obama told a group of Muslim-American leaders and the members of the diplomatic corps. “And so, we’ve been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas.”

“At the same time, on top of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that we’ve worked long and hard to alleviate, the death and injury of Palestinian civilians is a tragedy, which is why we’ve emphasized the need to protect civilians, regardless of who they are or where they live,” he continued.

Obama cautioned both sides against escalation, saying it would benefit no one, adding that the U.S. will continue to push for a return to the 2012 cease-fire. “We are encouraged that Egypt has made a proposal to accomplish this goal, which we hope can restore the calm that we’ve been seeking,” he said. The Israeli government’s security cabinet is expected to vote on the cease-fire proposal early Tuesday morning.

“The pictures we are seeing in Gaza and Israel are heart-wrenching,” Obama said.

The President also mentioned the separate crises in Syria and Iraq — both nations are terrorized by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and the former also by forces loyal to embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. “These are particularly difficult times in the Middle East,” he said.

Obama also alluded to reports that the U.S. is spying on Muslim-American leaders. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee boycotted the dinner and similar government events over “the government’s condoning of the current slaughter of Palestinians in Palestine and the spying of American Arabs and Muslims domestically.”

Without mentioning the reports directly, Obama appeared to address the issue. “Here at home, even as we’re vigilant in ensuring our security, we have to continue to remain true to our highest ideals,” he said. “In the United States of America, there is no place for false divisions between races and religions. We are all Americans, equal in rights and dignity, and no one should ever be targeted or disparaged because of their faith.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser