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Obama’s United Nations Speech Skips Over Congress

Obama spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Obama spoke at the United Nations on Wednesday. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

President Barack Obama’s soaring speech at the United Nations General Assembly addressed a host of pressing issues — ISIS, Ebola, Ukraine. One word he didn’t mention? Congress.  

With Congress out of town, this week has seen perhaps the purest iteration of the president’s pen-and-phone-and-podium governing style. Airstrikes in Syria were launched on the president’s authority, without a new vote in Congress. And the president is pushing for a sweeping climate change agenda for the world — though that’s something he couldn’t get through a Democratic Congress, let alone a Republican House that has passed bill after bill looking to rein in his efforts, not expand them.  

On the world stage, Congress has receded. It’s Obama’s policies that will carry the day — or not — on Ukraine, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the Ebola epidemic, or fighting ISIS. This week, at least, the president’s soaring rhetoric hasn’t been clipped by the fact his agenda has crashed and burned in Congress again and again and again.  

On fighting ISIS — an area where Congress nominally supports the president even though they ducked a vote for a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF), Obama struck a hard line.  

“No God condones this terror. No grievance justifies these actions. There can be no reasoning, no negotiation, with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like this is the language of force. So the United States of America will work with a broad coalition to dismantle this network of death,” Obama said.  

As for America, Obama took a longer view, even as he acknowledged struggles continue.  

“In a summer marked by instability in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, I know the world also took notice of the small American city of Ferguson, Missouri, where a young man was killed, and a community was divided,” he said.  

“So yes, we have our own racial and ethnic tensions. And like every country, we continually wrestle with how to reconcile the vast changes wrought by globalization and greater diversity with the traditions that we hold dear.  

“But we welcome the scrutiny of the world, because what you see in America is a country that has steadily worked to address our problems, to make our union more perfect, to bridge the divides that existed at the founding of this nation.  

“America is not the same as it was 100 years ago or 50 years ago or even a decade ago. Because we fight for our ideals and are willing to criticize ourselves when we fall short. Because we hold our leaders accountable and insist on a free press, an independent judiciary. Because we address our differences in the open space of democracy with respect for the rule of law, with a place for people of every race and religion, and with an unyielding belief in the ability of individual men and women to change their communities and their circumstances and their countries for the better.”  


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