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Live Coverage of President Obama's Press Conference with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 2, 2016 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:11] BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the question I think that they have to ask themselves is, if you are repeatedly having to say in very strong terms that what he has said is unacceptable, why are you still endorsing him? What does this say about your party that this is your standard bearer?

This isn't a situation where you have an episodic gaffe. This is daily and weekly where they are distancing themselves from statements he's making. There has to be a point in which you say this is not somebody I can support for president of the United States, even if he purports to be a member of my party.

And you know, the fact that that has not yet happened makes some of these denunciations ring hollow. I don't doubt their sincerity. I don't doubt that they were outraged about some of the statements that Mr. Trump and his supporters made about the Kahn family. But there has to come a point at which you say somebody who makes those kinds of statements doesn't have the judgment, the temperament, the understanding, to occupy the most powerful position in the world because a lot of people depend on the White House getting stuff right.

And this is different than just having policy disagreements. I recognize that they all profoundly disagree with myself or Hillary Clinton on tax policy or on certain elements of foreign policy. But you know, there have been Republican presidents with whom I disagreed with but I didn't have a doubt that they could function as president.

I think I was right and Mitt Romney and John McCain were wrong on certain policy issues, but I never thought that they couldn't do the job. And had they won, I would have been disappointed but I would have said to all Americans they are -- this is our president and I know they're going to abide by certain norms and rules and common sense, will observe basic decency, will have enough knowledge about economic policy and foreign policy and our constitutional traditions and rule of law that our government will work. And then we'll compete four years from now to try to win an election.

But that's not the situation here, and that's not just my opinion. That is the opinion of many prominent Republicans. There has to come a point at which you say enough. And the alternative is that the entire party, the Republican Party effectively endorses and validates the positions that are being articulated by Mr. Trump. And as I said in my speech last week, I don't think that actually represents the views of a whole lot of Republicans out there. With respect to Libya, you know, I have said on several occasions that we did the right thing in preventing what could have been a massacre, a bloodbath in Libya. And we did so as part of an international coalition and under U.N. mandate. But I think that all of us collectively were not sufficiently attentive to what had to happen the day after and the day after and the day after that in order to ensure that there were strong structures in place to assure basic security and peace inside of Libya.

The good news is is that we now have the beginnings of a government in the Government of National Accord.

[11:35:10] They are serious about trying to bring all the factions together, to start creating a basic security structure and to begin to monitor Libya's borders and to cooperate internationally to deal with issues like ISIL -- penetration on their territory.

And at the request of that government, after they had already made significant progress against ISIL and had essentially pushed ISIL into a very confined area in and around Sirte, it is in America's national security interests in our fight against ISIL to make sure that they are able to finish the job. And so we're working in partnership with them to assure that ISIL does not get a stronghold in Libya, even as Libya begins what is going to be a long process to establish a functioning government and security system there.

So, you know, the good news is that they recognize these -- this terrorist organization in their midst is contrary to their national interests, as well as the world's and we're hopeful that having completed this process of driving ISIL out, they will then be in a position to start bringing the parties together inside that country.

And not only us, but the Europeans and other countries around the world have a great interest in seeing stability in Libya because that -- the absence of stability has helped to fuel some of the challenges that we've seen in terms of the migration crisis in Europe and some of the humanitarian tragedies that we've seen in the open seas between Libya and Europe.


QUESTION: Thank you (ph) (inaudible) President Obama.

The first question is for Prime Minister Lee. You've spoken about the continuation of the U.S. rebalance being a significant part of peace and stability in Asia. How do you envision this continuation proceeding in the next 50 years? And what role do you see Singapore playing in this context? What are some of the hot button issues that we're likely to face as the U.S. hopefully continues its rebalance?

Second question. You've mentioned these strong bipartisan links that Singapore has had with nine different U.S. presidents from both sides of the political divide. Very strong record there. How would we address a U.S. leader which adopts a stance that's more closed-off, more anti-globalization? For example, we see that in November. President Obama, I have a question about the ministry (ph) collaboration, which has been a cornerstone of the relationship between Singapore and the U.S., especially coming on the heels of the latest announcement of the medical team (ph) to the global coalition against ISIS. With the rising threat of terror in Asia, and indeed the rest of the world, the potential for ministry (ph) confrontation in the South China Sea, how do you see Singapore featuring in U.S. plans to address this going forward?

Last question. Four more years is a phrase that I think you're hearing a little bit in the past few weeks and months. And while that's not possible, if it were...


How would you continue developing relationships with Singapore? What would be your key focus going forward, maybe the next 50 years as well? Thank you.

LEE: Well, 50 years is a very long time. Fifty years ago -- 50 years ago, nobody imagined what the world would be like today or what Singapore would be like today and that we would have such a deep and broad relationship and so many things to do together. We would like to build on this for the next 50 years.

It depends on how we -- each of our countries does. In Singapore, whether we are be able to remain stable, prosperous, open, successful. In America, whether you remain one of the vibrant leading economies in the world, in a world in which there are other powers, other centers of creativity and technology and science (ph) and progress.

But yet, unique participant with a history of contributing to the world not just for your own interests, but because you believe that the world should be a better place for all countries.

[11:40:04] And if America can do that and Singapore can maintain our success, then I think there are many opportunities for us to make common cause together.

And then the rebalancing, which the president has enunciated and executed will sustain and endure for many years to come. It will be a very different world. Countries will grow, and other countries will slow down. Demographics will have a big factor to come.

I mean, if you look at Japan, the population has been shrinking, and they will have to do something somehow to turn it around. Otherwise, 50 more years population shrinking, and you have a very small country left in terms of economy, in terms of influence internationally.

Singapore, too, has demographic issues. America has a demographic change. The population is not shrinking, but the composition is changing. And in this situation, we have to adjust to a new world, maintaining our position and our -- the ability to compete. And yet, knowing that it's not going to be the same as it was in 1946, when America was half the world's GDP. So -- or one- quarter of the world's GDP.

So, that is the crucial factor over the next 50 years. As for what we do over bipartisan links, if there is a U.S. leader who is more closed off and wants to turn inward, I don't think this is the right forum -- or indeed, there is any right forum for me to talk about U.S. politics in public at this moment.

We will work whoever is a U.S. administration, whichever party. We have worked with five Republican and four Democrat administrations.

And our experience of American elections, presidential elections has been that many precious buildup during the election campaign, and after the elections in a -- in a calmer, cooler atmosphere, positions are rethought, state -- strategies are nuanced, and a certain balance is kept in the direction of the ship of state. It does not turn completely upside down.

The Americans take pride in having a system with checks -- with checks and balances. So, it is not so easy to do things, but it is not so easy to completely messed things up.


No. And we admire that, and sometimes we depend upon that. (LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: The -- he's absolutely right.


The wisdom of our founders.

With the respect to military cooperation, obviously, Singapore is a small country, but it, as I've said before, it punches above its weight. Because so much of our work in the Asia-Pacific region is not a matter of act of conflict, but rather creating an architecture or a framework of rules and norms that keeps the peace, and that has underwritten security for the region and for us for many years, now.

And Singapore is so often the adult in the room, the level head that can help us work with a wide range of countries around certain issues. Help defuse tensions. In many ways, the diplomatic work and collaboration that we do with Singapore is as critical if not more critical than the work militarily.

But what is also true is the nature of threats today. When you think of cyber threats or our concerns about enforcing sanctions against North Korea to ensure nonproliferation in nuclear materials. Or being able to counter-message ISIL in a place like Southeast Asia, and ensure information sharing with countries where there may be a budding terrorist threat.

Those -- those are all issues of military finesse, and intelligence and precision. And -- and those are areas where Singapore excels.

So, in addition to being a very important logistical hub and center for our operations, the partnership that we're able to maintain helps us to -- to work with a whole range of other countries much more effectively than we would if Singapore weren't there, and we were having to just try to gather up all these countries individually.

[11:45:11] And that's where ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, I think, has also been very important, because it is institutionalizing many of these practices in ways that hopefully avoids conflict in the first place, which would be in everybody's interest.

As far as where the relationship goes, I think the prime minister is absolutely right; 50 years from now, it's very hard to anticipate where we're going. But there's certain trends that I think are inevitable. The Asia-Pacific Region will continue to grow and will continue to account for a larger share of the world's economy.

There are going to be countries in the Southeast Asian region that look to follow the path of Singapore into a mature advanced economy. It is going to be a big market and the United States is still going to have a massive interest in maintaining itself as a Asia-Pacific power and in maintaining strong bonds of trade and commerce and scientific exchange and educational exchange.

And given the close strategic interests, but maybe even more importantly, the close people-to-people ties between America and Singapore, I think we can anticipate that that will be just as strong 50 years from now as it is today. Singapore has to take into account not just American interests. China is a big neighbor and there are strong commercial ties and cultural ties there as well.

And in that sense, Singapore actually can serve as a useful partner with us and with China to assure that the U.S.-China relationship moves in a productive way, which I think would be in the interests of both countries.

So this -- this is going to be a central engine for world growth, and if we do a good job in maintaining stability, ensuring a rules- based order, continuing to promote greater transparency and reducing corruption in the region so that all people are benefiting from the rapid growth that's taking place, then I think the future 50 years from now will be bright.

Jordan Fabian?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You're here today touting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Hillary Clinton is against it. Her vice presidential nominee, Tim Kaine, has now reversed himself and is now against it. Donald Trump is too, meaning that the next president is opposed to this deal. So my question is if you take both candidates at their word, how do you plan to get Congress to pass this deal during the lame duck? And what's your plan to convince the members to do so, given the opposition I've just described?

And secondly, security officials inside and outside the government have said they're almost certain that the hack of the Democratic National Committee came from Russia. Does it look to you like Russia's meddling in the U.S. election? And what impact should that have on your administration's relationship with Moscow?

OBAMA: Well, right now, I'm president and I'm for it. And I think I've got the better argument and I've made this argument before, I'll make it again.

We are part of a global economy. We're not reversing that. It can't be reversed because it is driven by technology and it is driven by travel and cargo containers and the fact that the demand for products inside of our country means we've got to get some things from other places. And our export sector is a huge contributor to jobs and our economic wellbeing.

Most manufactured products now involve a global supply chain where parts are made in all corners of the globe and converge and then get assembled and packaged and sold. And so the notion that we're going to pull that up root and branch is unrealistic, point number one.

[11:50:08] Point number two, it is absolutely true. The evidence shows that some past trade deals have not delivered on all the benefits that were promised and had very localized costs. There were communities that were hurt because plants moved out, people lost jobs. Jobs were created because of those trade deals, but jobs were also lost and people who experienced those losses, those communities didn't get as much help as they needed to.

And what is also true, as a consequence of globalization and automation, what you've seen is labor workers losing leverage and capital being mobile, being able to locate around the world. That has all contributed to growing inequality, both here in the United States but in many advanced economies.

So there's a real problem, but the answer is not cutting off globalization. The answer is, how do we make sure that globalization, technology, automation, those things work for us, not against is? And TPP is designed to do precisely that.

Number one, it knocks out 18,000 tariffs that other countries place on American products and goods. Our economy currently has fewer tariffs, is more open than many of our trading partners. So if everybody agrees that we're going to have lower tariffs, that's good for American businesses and American workers. And we should want that, we should pursue it.

Number two, the complaint about previous trade deals was that labor agreements and environmental agreements sounded good, but they weren't enforceable the same way you could complain about tariffs and actually get action to ensure that tariffs were -- were not enforced. Well, TPP actually strengthens labor agreements and environmental agreements, and they are just as enforceable as any other part of the agreement.

In fact, people take them so seriously that right now, for example, Vietnam is drafting and presenting unprecedented labor reforms in Vietnam, changing their constitution to recognize worker organizations in Vietnam for the first time. So what we're doing is we're raising standards for workers in those countries, which means it's harder for them to undercut labor standards here in the United States.

The same is true for environmental standards. The same is true for things like human trafficking, where we've got a country like Malaysia taking really serious efforts to crack down on human trafficking. Why? Because TPP says you needs to. It gives us leverage to promote things that progressives and

people here in this country, including labor unions, say that they care about. So if you care about preventing abuse of workers, child labor, wildlife trafficking, over-fishing, the decimation of forests, all those things are addressed in this -- in this -- in this agreement.

I have not yet heard anybody make an argument that the existing trading rules are better for issues like labor rights and environmental rights than they would be if we got TPP passed. And so I'm going to continue to make this case. And I've got some very close friends, people I admire a lot, but who -- I just disagree with them. And that's OK.

I respect the arguments that they're making. They're coming from a sincere concern about the position of workers and wages in this country, but I think I've got the better argument and I've got the evidence to support it.

OBAMA: And hopefully, after the election is over and the dust settled, there will be more attention to the actual facts behind the deal and it won't just be a political symbol or a political football.

[11:55:10] And I'll -- I will sit down with people on both sides, on the right and on the left. I will sit down publicly with them, and we will go down through the provisions. I -- I would enjoy that, because there is a lot of misinformation. I am really confident I can make the case that this is good for American workers and the American people.

And you know, people said we weren't going to be able to get the Trade Authority, to even present this before Congress. And somehow, we muddled through and got it done. And I intend to do the same with respect to the actual agreement.

You had a second question? That was a long answer. I was -- I apologize, Mr. Prime Minister, but every once in a while...


OBAMA: The FBI is still doing an investigation. You're right that there have been some assessments made that this might have been a Russian hack.

What I can tell you without commenting on the specifics is there are a lot of countries out there that are trying to hack into our stuff. Governmental, databases, but also private sector databases and not-for-profit databases.

And this is why we have stood up such an aggressive effort to strengthen our cyber security. And we have provisions in place where, if we see evidence of a malicious attack by a state actor, we can impose, potentially certain proportional penalties. But that requires us to really be able to pin down and know what we are talking about.

And so, I don't want to get out of -- ahead of the legal evidence and the facts that we may have in order to make those kinds of decisions.

More broadly, we are trying to promote international norms and rules that say, there are certain things that states should not be doing to each other when it comes to cyber attacks. There are certain things that are out of bounds.

And those norms, I think, are going to slowly build and get more -- more adherence over time. But it's -- we're still early in the process. I mean, in some ways the explosion of the internet and its importance to our communications systems has outstripped the legal architecture to protect them. And we're playing catch up.

But we're going to have to keep on -- keep on at it.

In terms of how it affects our relationship with Russia, look. I think we've already got a lot of differences with Russia on a whole bunch of issues. But I think that we have been able to try to stay focused on those areas where we still have a common interest, understanding that we have deep disagreements on issues like Ukraine.

But perhaps, potentially, we have an interest in bringing an end to violence in Syria, how do we balance those issues. That is pretty standard state craft at this point with Russia.

If in fact Russia engaged in this activity, it's just one on a long list of issues that me and Mr. Putin talk about, and -- that I have got a real problem with.

And -- and so, I don't think that it wildly swings what is a tough and difficult relationship that we have with Russia right now. But it's not going to stop us from still trying to pursue solutions, so that we can, for example implement the Minsk Agreement, and get Russia and those separatists to lay down arms and stop bullying Ukraine.

That's not going to stop us from trying to make sure that we can bring a political transition inside of Syria that can end the hardship there.

LEE: Can I say something about the TPP? I don't want to wade into your domestic politics, but looking at it from somebody on the other side of the Pacific who has been intimately involved, and in fact, triggered the whole process, because we started the P4, the little FTA on which the TPP fall and just become this important initiative.

[12:00:04] The economic arguments for the TPP in terms of trade, I think the president has presented them eloquently, what the benefits are to American companies.