WASHINGTON (AP) – In a rare Oval Office address, President Barack Obama vowed the United States would overcome a new phase of the terror threat that seeks to “poison the minds” of people here and around the world, as he sought to reassure Americans shaken by recent attacks in Paris and California.
The president’s speech Sunday night followed Wednesday’s shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people and wounded 21. Authorities say a couple carried out the attack and the wife pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader in a Facebook post.
“I know that after so much war, many Americans are asking whether we are confronted by a cancer that has no immediate cure,” he said, speaking from a lectern in his West Wing office. “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.”
Obama said in his 13-minute address that while there was no evidence the shooters were directed by a terror network overseas or part of a broader plot, “the two of them had gone down the dark path of radicalization.”
In speaking from the Oval Office, Obama turned to a tool of the presidency that he has used infrequently. His decision to speak in prime time reflected the White House’s concern that his message on the recent attacks hasn’t broken through, particularly in the midst of a heated presidential campaign.
Yet Obama’s speech was likely to leave his critics unsatisfied. He announced no significant shift in U.S. strategy and offered no new policy prescriptions for defeating IS, underscoring both his confidence in his current approach and the lack of easy options for countering the extremist group.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan dismissed the president’s address as “a half-hearted attempt to defend and distract from a failing policy.”
Obama did call for cooperation between private companies and law enforcement to ensure potential attackers can’t use technology to evade detection. He also urged Congress to pass new force authorization for military actions under way against IS in Iraq and Syria, and also to approve legislation to bar guns from being sold to people prohibited from flying on planes in the U.S. for terrorist concerns.
The president’s most specific policy announcement was to order the departments of State and Homeland Security to review the fiance visa program that the female shooter in California used to enter the U.S. In his remarks, Obama referred to a visa waiver program that Congress is also reviewing, but the White House later clarified he meant the fiance program.
He also reiterated his call for broader gun control legislation, saying no matter how effective law enforcement and intelligence agencies are, they can’t identify every would-be shooter. He called it a matter of national security to prevent potential killers from getting guns.