(ATLANTA) -- President Obama said Sunday that he is motivated by the knowledge that “but for the grace of God … I might have been in prison,” in a commencement address at historically black Morehouse College, where he spoke frankly about race and young men’s responsibilities to 500 male graduates.
In his second commencement address of this graduation season, the president called on the graduates to set examples for others and reach out to those who need help, telling them that as a black man he felt a unique connection to assist those in need because he could have faced similar circumstances.
“There but for the grace of God go I, I might have been in their shoes. I might have been in prison,” he said at the commencement ceremony at Morehouse College. “I might have been unemployed, I might not have been able to support a family, and that motivates me.”
The president said that many young black men “make bad choices,” but told the graduates, “We’ve got no time for excuses,” because the difficulties they’ve faced “pale in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured, and if they overcame them, you can too.”
“Growing up, I made quite a few myself. Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is that there is no longer any room for excuses,” he said.
The president spoke in extremely personal terms about growing up without a father present in his life, attributing his upbringing to his “heroic single mother,” and said that his legacy will be defined by his success as an active father and husband, a role he encouraged the graduates to adopt in their own lives.
“My whole life, I’ve tried to be for Michelle and my girls what my father was not for my mother and me,” he said. “I want to break that cycle where a father’s not at home, where a father’s not helping to raise that son or daughter. I’ve tried to be a better father, a better husband, a better man.
“I know that when I am on my deathbed someday, I will not be thinking about any particular legislation I passed; I will not be thinking about a policy I promoted; I will not be thinking about the speech I gave; I will not be thinking about the Nobel Prize I received,” he said. “I will be thinking about that walk I took with my daughters. I’ll be thinking about a lazy afternoon with my wife. I’ll be thinking about sitting around the dinner table and seeing them happy and healthy and knowing that they were loved. And I’ll be thinking about whether I did right by all of them.”
The president, who received an honorary degree from the school, honored one of the college’s famous graduates, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who “helped to forge the intellect, the discipline, the compassion, the soul force that would transform America.”
“He, in turn, taught others to be unafraid. And over time he taught a nation to be unafraid and over the last 50 years, thanks to the moral force of Dr. King and a Moses generation that overcame their fear, and their cynicism, and their despair, barriers have come tumbling down and new doors of opportunity have swung open,” he said. “Laws, hearts, and minds have been changed to the point where someone who looks just like you can somehow come to serve as president of these United States of America.”
Rain poured down on the crowd throughout the ceremony, forcing many in attendance to don plastic ponchos, and thunder rang out and lightning flickered in the sky as Obama wound down his speech. The president stayed dry on stage but sympathized with the rain-soaked graduates and attendees, even noting that his wife, Michelle Obama, would not be pleased with the rainy day because of what it would do to her famous hair.
“You all are going to get wet, and I’d be out there with you if I could, but Secret Service gets nervous. So I’m going to have to stay here dry, but know that I’m there with you in spirit,” he said. “Michelle would not be sitting in the rain. She has taught me about hair.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
(NEW YORK) -- Sunday morning on ABC’s This Week, White House Senior Adviser Dan Pfeiffer told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that the legality surrounding the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue service is “irrelevant,” but called the behavior “inexcusable.”
“I can’t speak to the law here. The law is irrelevant. The activity was outrageous and inexcusable, and it was stopped and it needs to be fixed so we ensure it never happens again,” Pfeiffer said.
Stephanopoulos asked Pfeiffer if he really thought the law is “irrelevant.”
“What I mean is, whether it’s legal or illegal is not important to the fact that the conduct doesn’t matter. The Department of Justice has said they’re looking into the legality of this. The president is not going to wait for that. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again, regardless of how that turns out,” Pfeiffer said.
Pfeiffer also insisted President Obama didn't find out that the IRS was targeting tea party groups until last week, when the scandal went public.
“The deputy secretary of the Treasury was made aware just of the fact that the investigation was beginning last year but no-one in the White House was aware,” Pfeiffer said, stressing that Obama was not involved in the scandal.
“Don't take my word for it,” he said, “take the word of the independent Inspector General who said that he found no evidence that there was any influence from anyone outside of the IRS.”
Several Republicans are not convinced.
“The IG report was an audit, it was not an investigation,” noted Republican congressman Tom Price of Georgia, also appearing on This Week.
“This is just the beginning of this process and we need to get to the bottom of it, we need to find out who made those decisions, hold them to account and see how high up the chain it went,” Price said.
Senator Rob Portman is among the Republicans calling for a Special Counsel in the IRS scandal. The Ohio lawmaker wrote a letter to President Obama wanting to know what if any private pressure was exerted by the White House on the IRS regarding standard for approving and monitoring tax exempt organizations. Portman also appeared on This Week.
“It seems to me that there's a lot of issues here we need to get to the bottom of, we need to find out what really happened and make sure we can begin to regain some trust in our government, that's my concern,” he said.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- Delivering her only speech at a high school graduation this year, first lady Michelle Obama joked about the failures her husband, President Obama, has encountered in life as she told a graduating class of high school seniors in Nashville, Tenn. Saturday that in order to achieve success in life, they must first experience failure.
“When something doesn’t go your way, you’ve just got to adjust. You’ve got to dig deep and work like crazy, and that’s when you’ll find out what you’re really made of during those hard times, but you can only do that if you’re willing to put yourself in a position where you might fail, and that’s why so often failure, is the key to success for so many great people,” Obama said at the graduation ceremony for Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School.
“Oprah was demoted from her first job as a news anchor. Now she doesn’t even need a last name,” she said. “And then there’s this guy Barack Obama. … I could take up a whole afternoon talking about his failures, but he lost his first race for Congress, and now he gets to call himself my husband.
“All jokes aside, the point is that that resilience and grit, that ability to pick yourself up when you fall, those are some of the most important skills you’ll need as you make your way through college and through life,” she said. “I want you to tell yourself that no matter what challenges you face that you will commit yourself to achieving your goals no matter where life takes you.”
As a student introduced Obama, he noted that his own mother found inspiration in the first lady and her well toned arms.
“Now my mom’s arms look better than mine,” the graduate said.
“I would love to see your mom’s arms. Where are they?” Obama asked as she started her speech and asked the graduate’s mother to stand. ”Yes! I love that, and she’s showing them off too!”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
(WASHINTON) -- Much has been made of the fact that senior Treasury Department officials were told about the investigation into the treatment of tea party groups in June 2012 — months before last year’s the Presidential election. Republicans who requested the investigation were also told about it at approximately the same time.
In a letter dated July 11, 2012, the man who conducted the investigation, IRS inspector general J. Russell George wrote to Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, telling him that he was investigating the issue and offering to keep him updated as the investigation progressed.
“The Oversight Committee knew about the audit because it requested it,” an Issa aide told ABC News. Issa released the letter, along with his own letter dated June 28, 2012 requesting the investigation, last week.
“We would be happy to provide a status update to the Subcommittee staff and provide a copy of our interim and final reports on the matter when they are issued,” George wrote in the letter to Issa. An identical letter was also sent the Rep. Jim Jordan, who, like Issa had raised the issue with the IRS.
The letter notes that it was Issa who had written him about “questionnaires that the IRS has issued which may exceed appropriate scrutiny and a potential lack of balance in the use of criteria for reviewing organizations that are applying for tax-exempt status.” George offers no confusions but says, “our Office of Audit recently began work on this issue.”
According the Issa aide, the committee received an email update from George in December saying, “We are leaving no stone unturned as part of our due diligence. As such, we won’t be able to provide a detailed, substantive briefing until late April/early May.”
On Friday, in his testimony before the House Ways & Means Committee, George said he had notified top Treasury officials — including Deputy Secretary Neal Wolin — about his investigation in June 2012, part of a routine briefing on the issues he was looking into.
Republicans pounced on that revelation as evidence top Administration officials knew about the targeting of conservative groups well before the 2012 election. It is now clear that at least some key Republicans knew about the investigation as well.
While George informed Treasury officials about the fact he was conducting the investigation in 2012, the Treasury Department says he did not go into detail about his investigation or tell them about his conclusion that IRS had improperly targeted conservative groups. Similarly, the letter to Issa says the investigation had begun but does not say that it had uncovered any wrongdoing.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio