Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Obama Lauds National Teacher Of The Year

President Obama today praised the nation’s top teachers as he honored the Teacher of the Year, a Washington state teacher recognized for transforming his hometown school and peaking students’ interest in math and science.

In a Rose Garden ceremony, President Obama thanked winner Jeff Charbonneau, a chemistry, physics and engineering teacher at Zillah High School, for his leadership.

“Twelve years ago, when Jeff decided to return to his hometown to teach, Zillah High School had no engineering curriculum. The science curriculum was lagging. Kids had to go off campus for technology classes, and the computer resources were, frankly, pretty poor,” Obama explained. “But Jeff was determined to turn that around. He wanted to convince kids that something like quantum mechanics wasn’t something to run away from, but something to dive into.”

Now, thanks to Charbonneau’s help, science enrollment is up and students are graduating with college-level science credits.

The president also praised the heroic teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School who fought to save their students’ lives during the December massacre in Newtown, Conn.

“We saw the true depths of a teacher’s commitment when six educators were killed trying to protect the children they embraced as their own,” he said. “In those moments, those brave teachers showed the world what they do is more than just educate kids. They embrace them and they nurture them and they love them.”

The president joked that teachers don’t go into the profession “for money” or the “light hours and the easy work.” They walk into the classroom every day “because they love doing what they do, because they’re passionate about helping our children realize the best versions of themselves so that our country can become the best version of itself.”

“I want you guys to know that the country appreciates you. The kids appreciate you. The parents appreciate you. What you do matters,” he said.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Obama pushes gun-control measures in Colo. speech

President Obama is looking to rally gun control backers in Washington by trumpeting the success of allies in states like Colorado and Connecticut.

Facing a tough congressional fight in the coming weeks, Obama praised a new set of gun laws in Colorado Wednesday and said they are in line with what he wants to do nationally.

"I've come to Denver today in particular because Colorado is proving a model of what's possible," Obama said during a visit to the Denver Police Academy.

The president, who has a similar trip to Connecticut planned next week, said Colorado is showing that it's possible to enact "tougher background checks that won't infringe on the rights of responsible gun owners, but will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."

The president's trip came as Congress prepares to return from its Easter recess next week, with gun control on the Senate agenda.

In the wake of a series of mass shootings -- particularly the Dec. 14 attack that killed 20 school children in Connecticut -- Obama and aides are pushing legislation that includes improved background checks for gun buyers, a renewed assault weapons ban and restrictions on the capacities of ammunition clips. Obama is also proposing programs to improve school safety and mental health treatment.

"The president wants to sign the strongest gun bill he can," said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer.

Congressional Republicans and some Democrats object to many of the proposals, citing Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.

Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., said the Democratic-run legislature in Colorado "rammed" through a series of bills, but that won't happen in Washington, D.C., because Republicans control the majority in the U.S. House.

"In holding Colorado up as a model for passing tough new gun control laws, President Obama is pursuing a model that will fail in Washington," Lamborn said.

The Denver speech began a brief western swing for Obama, including a trip to San Francisco Wednesday night for a pair of fundraisers for Democratic congressional candidates.

Colorado has been the site of two major major mass shootings over the past 15 years, at Columbine High School in 1999 and at a movie theater in Aurora in July. Legislators recently approved a new background check system and voted to limit the size of ammunition clips to 15 bullets.

At one point, Obama told the supportive crowd in Denver, "I don't believe that weapons designed for theaters of war have a place in movie theaters."

The Senate debate on a gun bill could begin as early as next week. But if a deal is struck by a bipartisan group of senators on a new background check provision, the debate could be delayed so that new language could be inserted into the bill.

Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y, Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are working on a version that could draw broader bipartisan support.

In his Denver remarks, Obama noted that the existing background check system has blocked many criminals from obtaining guns, but it contains loopholes that need to be tightened. The president said he respects the Second Amendment, that none of his proposals involve gun registration or confiscation, and that "well-organized, well-financed" critics are ginning up fears of what he wants to do.

The president also criticized possible plans to delay or obstruct a vote on some provisions, saying the victims of mass shootings deserve to have at least an up-or-down vote.

Next week, Obama is also likely to laud gun control legislative efforts in Connecticut when he speaks Monday at the University of Hartford. The school is some 50 miles from Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults on Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Connecticut lawmakers are considering a package that includes background checks for all private and commercial gun sales. It would also ban the kinds of high-capacity ammunition clips used in the Sandy Hook shootings.

Lanae Erickson Hatalsky of the Third Way, which supports Obama on gun control, said the odds are against any kind of federal assault weapons ban or restrictions on ammunition clips, especially with Republicans in control of the U.S. House.

She is more hopeful about congressional legislation improving the background check system and cracking down on gun trafficking between states. Erickson Hatalsky, director of social policy and politics for Third Way, said Colorado can serve as an example for lawmakers in Washington because it is a state where gun ownership rights are highly regarded.

"No gun vote is an easy vote," she said.