Accessibility links

Breaking News

In Rare Oval Office Address, Obama Tries to Calm Americans

President Barack Obama addresses the nation from the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Sunday night, Dec. 6, 2015. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)

U.S. President Barack Obama made a rare televised address from the Oval Office on Sunday night to calm Americans’ fears after the attacks in San Bernardino and Paris.

The president said, “As Commander-in-Chief, I have no greater responsibility than the security of the American people.” He tried to connect the average American people with images of his own daughters, images of a holiday party where 14 people were killed in the latest shooting, and “the faces of the young people killed in Paris.”

Obama said, “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it” and vowed to destroy the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS. He asked Americans not to abandon "our values, or giving into fear.”

Speaking from a lectern in the Oval Office, the president reiterated his plan to defeat IS, but would not commit to sending ground troops to Syria and Iraq.

The president ordered his administration to review the visa waiver program that the female shooter from San Bernardino used to enter the U.S. He called on Congress to pass a law preventing those on the no-fly list from buying weapons. He also used the 14-minute speech to ask for limits on the sale of assault weapons.

The address is only the third Oval Office address of Obama's presidency. The last such address was in August 2010. Obama used it to announce the end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq.

American presidents have used the Oval Office to make major announcements to the nation. Richard Nixon used it to announce his resignation and Ronald Reagan used it after the Challenger shuttle explosion. George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Americans are concerned about terrorist attacks

Obama’s address came amid concern on the rise of the Islamic State militants and the increasing threat of terrorism after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch spoke with NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier on Sunday. She said, “This horrific attack [in San Bernardino, California] has people on edge and frightened. We’ve lost so many victims and people were wounded. People are concerned and we understand that.”

April is a California resident. She had this to say to a VOA reporter, “It’s really scary because ISIS has bombs and everything… And bombs could take out a whole city.”

Another Californian, Erika said, “I mean, when the Paris thing happened, we heard on the news that obviously we (the United States) were targeted too.”

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted shortly after the Paris attacks confirmed these fears. The poll, released the day after the December 2 shooting in California, says most American voters believe a major terrorist attack in the U.S. in the near future is "very likely" or "somewhat likely."

Tim Malloy is the assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. He added that, "More than 80 percent say it's likely and a large majority says the government isn't doing enough to prevent it."

Presidential candidates weigh in

Hillary Clinton is the leading 2016 Democratic contender. In an appearance on ABC's This Week, the former Secretary of State called for a "much more robust air campaign" against Islamic State targets in Iraq and Syria. She added the United States needs "much better help" from Sunni and Kurdish groups on the ground fighting the insurgents, but ruled out sending in U.S. ground forces, as has President Barack Obama.

Donald Trump is the leading Republican presidential contender. The businessman told CBS's Face the Nation that he would be open to racial profiling and investigate people suspected of terrorism. He said he would be "very tough on families," and would "go after the wives" of attackers.

Jeb Bush is another Republican candidate. The former Florida governor and the son and brother of two U.S. presidents, told ABC that Islamic State fighters "are at war with us. We need to destroy them."

FBI investigation continues

Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating the San Bernardino attack as an act of terrorism. FBI Director James Comey, however, said there was no indication that a foreign terrorist group directed the attack.

The FBI is trying to find out why Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, shot and killed his co-workers at a holiday party. The agency is investigating their background in Pakistan and travel in Saudi Arabia.

An undated Photos shows Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Farook, the husband and wife who died in a gunbattle with authorities after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Dec. 2, 2015.
An undated Photos shows Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Farook, the husband and wife who died in a gunbattle with authorities after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., Dec. 2, 2015.

Farook and Malik had left their 6-month-old girl with relatives before the shooting. They fled after the attack that killed 14 people and injured many others. But they were killed during an exchange of gunfire with police. Police also found pipe bombs, bomb-making materials and thousands of rounds of ammunition in their home.

On Saturday, the Islamic State group said on its English-language radio broadcast that the two were its "soldiers.” In its Arabic-language radio broadcast, the group called them "supporters” without claiming responsibility for the attack.

Malik posted a message on Facebook under a different name pledging allegiance to the Islamic State at the time of the attack. Others who carried out mass killings also pledged loyalty to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on social media.

After the California shooting, some IS supporters posted messages on Arabic social media to congratulate the killers and to promise more attacks in the United States.

Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English with additional reporting from VOA's Michael Bowman and the Associated Press. Kathleen Struck was the editor.