Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in 50 Countries

Today, President Obama visits Kenya — the 50th country he has visited during his Administration. It’s also my 50th country traveling with the President.

To mark the occasion, as I did when the President visited his 50th state, I chose one photograph from each country that we’ve visited.

Traveling abroad with the President is very different.

Often times, I am at the mercy of the host country for access. Some countries are more accommodating to me than others. I am lucky to have counterpart official photographers in many countries who are extremely helpful to me in this regard. I of course try to return the help to them when they visit the White House with their head of state.

We’re also rarely in any one country for more than a couple of days, which gives us only a partial glimpse of each place. And because of security, the sites we are able to visit are often limited too.

All that said, we’ve had the incredible opportunity to visit the Pyramids in Egypt, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, the Great Wall in China, Petra in Jordan, and the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar (Burma). (So I really shouldn’t complain too much.)

I hope you enjoy this gallery. And stay tuned — we’ll be adding a photograph from Kenya and additionally, Ethiopia, following his visit next week.

Afghanistan, 2012

Boarding Air Force One at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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Behind the Lens: Photographing the President in 50 States

This week, the President will visit South Dakota, marking the 50th state he has visited during his administration (as such, it's also my 50th state with him). To mark the occasion, I chose one photograph from each state that we’ve visited. This was not as easy as I thought it would be. With help from photo editor Phaedra Singelis, I tried to depict a variety of situations. Some are more lighthearted; some are sad, and some are poignant. Some are with the Vice President; some are with the First Lady, and a couple are with the entire family. A selection of photos are centered on policy, and others on politics. Some focus on the President as Commander-in-Chief -- others on his role as consoler for the nation.

I hope you enjoy this gallery. And stay tuned -- we’ll be adding a photograph from South Dakota following his visit there on Friday.

Alabama, March 7, 2015. Marching at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Alabama, March 7, 2015. Marching at the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Selma. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Alaska. Nov 12, 2009. Air Force One refueling at Elmendorf Air Force Base. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Alaska. Nov 12, 2009. Air Force One refueling at Elmendorf Air Force Base. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Arizona, Aug. 16, 2009. Viewing the Grand Canyon. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Arizona, Aug. 16, 2009. Viewing the Grand Canyon. (Official White House photo by Pete Souza)

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Judicial Nominations: Accomplishments and the Work That Lies Ahead

Before the Senate adjourned last night, it confirmed 12 federal district court nominees, for a total of 307 lifetime-appointed federal judges confirmed during President Obama’s first six years. These confirmations include two Supreme Court Justic... Read more »

Continuing the Conversation: VAWA at 20

President Barack Obama signs S. 47, the “Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013,” March 7, 2013

President Barack Obama signs S. 47, the “Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013,” (VAWA), which reauthorizes several Violence Against Women Act grant programs through FY 2018; and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 through FY 2017, in the Sidney R. Yates Auditorium at the U.S. Department of Interior in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).  On Tuesday, I had the incredible privilege of attending a commemoration of this milestone held at the National Archives. During the program, I learned more about the history of VAWA – stories recounting the long road leading up to its passage, its victories and challenges over the years, and the lives it has and continues to change. One survivor vividly shared her account of abuse, near death, plans of escape, and eventual freedom from her husband’s victimization. 

Vice President Biden then delivered a powerful address, using the lens of VAWA to chronicle our nation’s evolution surrounding the dialogue on domestic violence and our treatment of women and girls; how this kind of violence no longer represents a “family affair,” but rather behavior that should be exposed to the “sunlight” for the injustice that it is. While I was only in junior high when VAWA first emerged, now as a physician and advocate for women’s health, I recognize the positive impact VAWA has had on the patients and communities I serve. Nevertheless, since joining the Office of the Vice President as a White House Fellow, I am also quickly learning how much more we all still have to do.

Since its original passage two decades ago, VAWA has dramatically changed the conversation, attitude, and work around domestic violence in America. In June of 1990, then-Senator Biden first introduced the bill, seeking to expose the all too pervasive problems of physical and sexual violence, stalking, and homicide – often at the hands of an intimate partner. VAWA’s goals were clear: “…to make streets safer for women; to make homes safer for women; and to protect women’s civil rights.” After four years of grueling testimony by survivors, civil rights groups, researchers, and other impassioned advocates, Congress could no longer deny the magnitude of the issue; the dignity, respect, and welfare of millions of women, their families, and their communities were at stake. VAWA finally passed and was signed into law by President Clinton on September 13, 1994.

VAWA has been reauthorized three times, most recently in 2013.  Since its inception, this critical piece of legislation has been the catalyst for reducing the personal and social costs of violence against women in the U.S. VAWA funding is responsible for higher rates of prosecution and offender accountability. Crucial medical, legal, and social services for survivors have been greatly expanded through the advocacy and assistance provided by agencies awarded VAWA grants. The collection and processing of forensic evidence have improved through the rise of sexual assault nurse examination (SANE) programs and by the increasingly high priority placed on testing formerly abandoned rape kits. Vice President Biden created the 1 is 2 Many campaign in 2011 to address dating violence and sexual assault among teens and young adults. Earlier this year, President Obama also established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. And the Administration has continued to raise awareness and institute federal strategies to confront violence against women and girls globally.

Still, as recent headlines confirm, there is more work to be done – not merely to identify and apprehend offenders, or even to assist survivors and their families; but to prevent violence in the first place. Today, nearly 20% of women in the U.S. have been a victim of completed or attempted rape in their lifetime. Moreover, both young women and men are at high rates of severe physical violence by an intimate partner. We also know that women and girls of color as well as LGBT individuals remain highly vulnerable to victimization. Given the prevalence of the problem, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Preventive Services Task Force, and numerous major medical associations have recommended routine intimate partner violence screening and early referral to intervention services. Through these efforts, healthcare providers like myself can play a significant role in creating a safe space for a conversation around healthy relationships; a conversation that could make a difference not just in attitudes, but also in behaviors and outcomes.

Vice President Biden is taking additional steps to continue the dialogue toward eliminating domestic violence in our nation.  There will be a Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women to gather key stakeholders and revisit some of the legal hurdles that remain.  The Office of the Vice President also released a comprehensive report, 1 is 2 Many: Twenty Years Fighting Violence Against Women and Girls, detailing the progress made as well as identifying persistent challenges and opportunities for future success. An addendum to this report highlights the tremendous work and service of over 100 organizations around the country committed to this cause.

As we reflect on the last 20 years, may we each take a moment to recognize the impact of VAWA, express gratitude for the lives that have been saved as a result of this significant law, and then get back to work -- for our patients, our colleagues, our friends, and our families. Let’s make our streets and homes safer for women, and end the violence once and for all.

Tiffany McNair, MD, MPH  is a White House Fellow in the Office of the Vice President, working on issues related to violence against women and health policy.

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Weekly Wrap Up: September 6-12

This week, President Obama spoke about the threat posed by ISIL and commemorated the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we marked the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and the First Lady hosted a "prep" rally in Atlanta.

Check out what else you may have missed this week in our weekly wrap up.

“If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

On Wednesday evening, from the State Floor of the White House, President Obama spoke to the American people about our comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

ISIL was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and has since infiltrated territories on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. Although ISIL calls itself the “Islamic State,” the President highlighted that:

ISIL is not ‘Islamic.’ No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. ... It is recognized by no government, nor the people it subjugates.

In his remarks, the President outlined the four key components of the United States’ strategy to defeat ISIL:

  1. We will work with the Iraqi government to conduct a systematic campaign of airstrikes against ISIL.
  2. We will increase support of forces fighting ISIL on the ground.
  3. We will work with our partners to continue to draw on our substantial counterterrorism capabilities to prevent ISIL attacks and sustain an effective long-term campaign against ISIL.
  4. We will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the innocent and vulnerable civilians displaced by ISIL in Iraq and Syria.

The President reiterated and assured the American people that “If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

Watch the President’s full remarks on ISIL here.

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“Even One Case is Too Many”: Vice President Biden Marks the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act

Vice President Biden on the 20th Anniversary of VAWA

Vice President Joe Biden speaks on the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, at the National Archives, in Washington, D.C. September 9, 2014. (Official White House Photo by David Lienemann)

Twenty years ago this week, President Clinton signed into law the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) -- a landmark law that empowered women and children to expose and prosecute domestic violence. The signing of the law marked the end of an arduous road to pass the legislation and put our society on the path toward effectively combating such heinous abuses. Vice President Joe Biden, then a U.S. Senator, not only authored VAWA, but helped drive it through Congress and deliver it to the President's desk. 

Today, standing in front of the U.S. Constitution at the National Archives, Vice President Biden reflected on how far we've come in our ability -- and willingness -- to address domestic violence:

Even just 20 years ago, few people wanted to talk about violence against women as a national epidemic, let alone something to do something about. No one even back then denied that kicking your wife in the stomach, or smashing her in the face, or pushing her down the stairs in public was repugnant. But our society basically turned a blind eye. And hardly anyone ever intervened, directly intervened -- other than my father and a few other people I knew.

And no one -- virtually no one called it a crime. It was a family affair. It was a family affair. Laws -- state laws when we attempted at a state or a federal level to design laws to prevent actions that were said that we now are celebrating, we were told, I was told, many of us were told that it would cause the disintegration of the family. That was the phrase used. It would cause the disintegration of the family.

"This was the ugliest form of violence that exists," he said, and though many wanted to see these crimes remain hidden in the shadows, the Vice President was committed to bringing them out into the light. "We had to let the nation know," he said, "because I was absolutely convinced -- and remain absolutely convinced -- in the basic decency of the American people, and that if they knew, they would begin to demand change."

"The only way to change this culture was to expose it . . . the best disinfectant is sunlight."

Change could not come soon enough for the victims of domestic violence. Many summoned the courage to share their stories before Congress in order to convey exactly why the nation needed to act: 

These were stories of survivors from all walks of life, all parts of the country, North, South, East and West, and Midwest.  One young woman I remember had her head put in the vice on a workbench by her father, crushing her skull, as punishment and abuse. Another who had both her arms broken with a hammer by her husband because she didn't respond quickly enough. Several others had their heads beaten with pipes by the men who professed their great love for them; a 15-year-old girl stabbed by her ex-boyfriend who had just been released from prison for beating her before. So many other cases, a famous journalist whose daughter who was killed after having a stay-away order in the Mid-Atlantic states, and her husband following her to Massachusetts because there was no computer system to be able to know it was done, they let him loose.  And he killed her.

More than anything, as we painted this honest picture of what was going on in America, public opinion began to change.  As more men -- I might add -- and women, but men spoke out, as well, minds began to change.  And the terms of the debate shifted.

Four years after it was first introduced, VAWA finally passed Congress and was signed into law on September 13, 1994.

Since then, VAWA has been reauthorized three times:

  • In 2000, when we added the definition of dating violence to protect women from violent partners
  • In 2005, when we added a new training program for health-care providers to screen patients for domestic abuse so they could better address their psychological and physical needs
  • In 2013, when -- despite Republican opposition -- we ensured services would be available anywhere to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

"When violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change."

Though we've come a long way as a society, the Vice President made it clear that much work remains: 

We have so much more to do, because there’s still sex bias that remains in the American criminal justice system in dealing with rape -- stereotypes like she deserved it, she wore a short skirt still taint prosecutions for rape and domestic violence. We’re not going to succeed until America embraces the notion -- my father’s notion -- that under no circumstance does a man ever have a right to raise a hand to a woman other than in self-defense -- under no circumstance; that no means no, whether it’s in a bedroom, or on the street, on in the back of a car -- no means no.  Rape is rape -- no exceptions.

Until we reach that point, we are not going to succeed.  But I believe that we can get to that point.  It’s still imperfect, but the change is real that’s happening.  

To pursue that progress, the Vice President announced that he will hold a Summit on Civil Rights and Equal Protection for Women in order to expand civil rights remedies in the law -- because, as he said, "You can’t talk about human rights and human dignity without talking about the right of every woman on the planet to be free from violence and free from fear."  

It’s a right that flows from the document behind me -- the equal protections clause -- inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And it’s enshrined in every document we pay tribute to. And it’s the right that measures the character of the nation. It’s the single-most significant and direct way to measure the character of a nation -- when violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret; when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.

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Weekly Wrap Up: “This is Your Victory”

Watch the West Wing Week here. Violence Against Women Act: On Thursday, President Obama signed the Violence Against Women Act of 2013, which provides resources for thousands of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalkin... Read more »

President Obama Nominates Jacob Lew as Treasury Secretary

President Barack Obama announces Chief of Staff Jack Lew is his nominee for Treasury Secretary (January 10, 2013)

President Barack Obama announces Chief of Staff Jack Lew is his nominee for Treasury Secretary to replace Timothy Geithner, right, in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 10, 2013. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Today, in an event President Obama nominated Jacob Lew -- the current White House chief of staff -- to serve as the next Treasury Secretary.

"Over the past year, I’ve sought Jack’s advice on virtually every decision that I’ve made, from economic policy to foreign policy," the President said.

Jack Lew has decades of experience tackling some of the nation's toughest economic challenges. As director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Clinton, Lew helped to negotiate the deal that balanced the federal budget -- and led to a budget surplus. In the Obama Administration, even before becoming chief of staff, he has helped to manage the day-to-day operations at the State Department and shepherd through the Budget Control Act to reduce federal spending in a second stint at OMB.

"One reason Jack has been so effective in this town is because he is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras," said President Obama. "And over the years, he’s built a reputation as a master of policy who can work with members of both parties and forge principled compromises."

The President also offered his gratitude to his current Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner -- who helped to guide the country through the financial crisis and get the economy growing again.

"When the history books are written," he said, "Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest Secretaries of the Treasury." 

Read the full remarks here, or watch the video of the event

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US Leadership to Advance Equality for LGBT People Abroad

During Human Rights Week, we reaffirm our commitment to upholding human rights and human dignity at home and abroad, and we recognize the need to build a world in which everyone can pursue their dreams free from violence and discrimination. Last week a... Read more »