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Obama Speech Commemorates LBJ, Voting Rights Act; New Details in Missing Flight MH-370.

Aired April 10, 2014 - 13:30   ET


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And he knew there'd be a cost. Famously saying, "The Democratic Party may have lost the south for a generation."

That's what his presidency was for. That's where he meets his moment. And possessed with an iron will, possessed with those skills that he had honed so many years in Congress, pushed and supported by a movement of those willing to sacrifice everything for their own liberation, President Johnson fought for and argued and horse-traded and bullied and persuaded until ultimately he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

And he didn't stop there. Even though his advisors again told him to wait, again told him, let the dust settle, let the country absorb this momentous decision, he shook them off. "The meat in the coconut," as President Johnson would put it, "was the Voting Rights Act." So he fought for and passed that as well. Immigration reform came shortly after, and then a Fair Housing Act. And then a health care law that opponents described as socialized medicine that would curtail America's freedom, but ultimately freed millions of seniors from the fear of illness could rob them of freedom and security in their golden years, which we now know today as Medicare.


OBAMA: What President Johnson understood was that equality required more than the absence of oppression. It required the presence of economic opportunity. He wouldn't be as eloquent as Dr. King would be in describing that linkage, as Dr. King moved into mobilizing sanitation workers and poor people's move movement, but he understood that connection because he had lived it. A decent job, decent wages, health care -- those, too, were civil rights worth fighting for. An economy where hard work is rewarded and success is shared, that was his goal. And he knew, as someone had seen the New Deal transform the landscape of his Texas childhood, who had seen the difference electricity had made because of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the transformation concretely day in and day out in the life of his own family, he understood that government had a role to play in broadening prosperity to all those who would strive for it.

"We want to open the gates to opportunity," President Johnson said. "But we're although going to give all our people, black and white, the help they need to walk through those gates." Now, if some of this sounds familiar, it's because today we remain locked in this same great debate, about equality and opportunity, and the role of government in insuring each.

As was true 50 years ago, there are those who dismiss the Great Society as a failed experiment and an encroachment on liberty, who argue that the government has become the true source of all that ails us and that poverty is due to the moral failings of those who suffer from it. There also those who argue, John, that nothing's changed, that racism is so embedded in our DNA that there's no use trying politics. The game is rigged. But such theories ignore history. Yes, it's true that despite laws like the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act and Medicare, our society is still racked with division and poverty. Yes, race still colors our political debates. And there have been government programs that have fallen short. In a time when cynicism is too often passed off as wisdom, it's easy to conclude there are limits to change, that we are trapped by our own history, and politics is a fool's errand, and we'd be better off if we rolled back big chunks of LBJ's legacy, or at least if we don't put too much of our hope -- invest too much of our hope in our government. I reject such thinking. Not just because Medicare --


OBAMA: Not just because Medicare and Medicaid have lifted millions from suffering, not just because the poverty rate in this nation would be far worse without food stamps and Head Start and all the Great Society programs that survive to this day. I reject such cynicism because I have lived out the promise of LBJ's efforts, because Michelle has lived out the legacy of those efforts, because my daughters have lived out the legacy of those efforts, because I and millions of my generation were in a position to take the baton that he handed to us. Because --


OBAMA: Because of the civil rights movement, because of the laws President Johnson signed, new doors of opportunity and education swung open for everybody. Not all at once, but they swung open. Not just blacks and whites, but also women and Latinos and Asians and Native Americans and gay Americans and Americans with a disability. They swung open for you and they swung open for me.


OBAMA: And that's why I'm standing here today, because of those efforts, because of that legacy.


OBAMA: That means we've got a debt to pay. That means we can't afford to be cynical. Half a century later, the laws LBJ passed are now as fundamental to our conception of ourselves and our democracy as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They are foundational, an essential piece of the American character.

But we are here today because we know we cannot be complacent. For history travels not only forwards. History can travel backwards. History can travel sideways. And securing the gains this country has made requires the vigilance of its citizens. Our rights, our freedoms, they are not given. They must be won. They must be nurtured through struggle and discipline and persistence and faith.

And one concern I have sometimes during these moments -- the celebration of the signing of the Civil Rights Act, the march on Washington -- from a distance, sometimes these commemorations seem inevitable, they seem easy, all the pain and difficulty and struggle and doubt, all that's rubbed away. And we look at ourselves and say things are too different now. We couldn't possibly do what was done then, these giants, what they accomplished. Yet, they were men and women, too. It wasn't easy then. It wasn't certain then.

Still, the story of America is a story of progress. However slow, however incomplete, however harshly challenged at each point on our journey, however flawed our leaders, however many times we have to take a quarter of a loaf or half a loaf, the story of America is the story of progress. And that's true because of men like President Lyndon Baines Johnson.


OBAMA: In so many ways, he embodied America, with all our gifts and all our flaws in all our restlessness and all our big dreams. This man, born into poverty, was weaned in a world full of racial hatred, somehow found within himself the ability to connect his experience with the brown child in a small Texas town, the white child in Appalachia, the black child in Watts. As powerful as he became in that Oval Office, he understood then. He understood what it meant to be on the outside. And he believed that their plight was his plight, too, that his freedom ultimately was wrapped up in theirs, and that making their lives better was what the hell the presidency was for.


OBAMA: And those children were on his mind when he strode to the podium that night in the House chamber, when he called for the vote on the civil rights law. "It never occurred to me," he said, "in my fondest dreams, that I might have the chance to help the sons and daughters of those students" that he had taught so many years ago, and to help people like them all over this country.

But now I do have that chance. And I'll let you in on a secret. I mean to use it.


OBAMA: And I hope that you will use it with me.


OBAMA: That was LBJ's greatness. That's why we remember him. And if there is one thing that he, in this year's anniversary, should teach us, if there's one lesson I hope Malia and Sasha and young people everywhere learn from this day, is that with enough effort and empathy and enough perseverance and enough courage, people who love their country can change it. In his final year, President Johnson stood on this stage, racked with pain, battered by the controversies of Vietnam, looking far older than his 64 years, and he delivered what would be his final public speech. "We have proved that great progress is possible," he said. "We know how much still remains to be done. And if our efforts continue, and if our will is strong, and if our hearts are right, and if courage remains our constant companion, then, my fellow Americans, I am confident we shall overcome."


OBAMA: We shall overcome, we, the citizens of the United States. Like Dr. King, like Abraham Lincoln, like countless citizens who have driven this country inexorably forward, President Johnson knew that ours, in the end, was a story of optimism, a story of achievement and constant striving that is unique upon this earth. He knew because he had lived that story. He believed that together we can build an America that is more fair, more equal, and more free than the one we inherited. He believed we make our own destiny. And, in part, because of him, we must believe it as well.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That was President Obama addressing the audience there at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the civil rights act, the passage of it. And there with John Lewis, Congressman who was one of the key leaders of the civil rights movement, along with Martin Luther King Jr.

CNN national correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux was outside the library, where she was able to watch the president's speech.

Suzanne, the president's speech, it's not first time he's addressed civil rights. In fact, pretty recently, several months ago, we heard him at the 50th anniversary at the march on Washington. This was a little bit different, talking about LBJ's legacy. What struck you as unique here?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He said the presidency -- what the hell is the presidency for but to make big changes here? It's been one of those points of debates here, Brianna, because President Obama is just a third of four presidents that, when it's all said and done, when the summit is over, we will hear from. We will hear from George W. Bush later. And one of the things people have been talking about, how do we bring about change of a country? Is it possible to replicate what happened 50 years ago when it was such a tumultuous time? And it was just two days ago that we heard from President Carter, who said you need to establish relationships between the president and Congress to move big agenda items forward. We heard from President Clinton yesterday, talking about people don't have the kind of courage those legislators had 50 years ago to potentially lose their seats to get big items done. Those are the things they need.

But not to understate this, this president, LBJ, was backed by a movement of people. And I had a chance to talk to the ambassador, Andrew Young. He said that was part of it, too, the events on the ground, and the fact that so many people were pushing the president that he had to do something, he had to act. That's the kind of thing this president needs in some ways, a ground swell, a movement to demand that Congress and the president ultimately work together to get something done because things are broken in Washington. And the president brought it home. He brought it in a very personal way, saying, look, he owes where he is today to LBJ's legacy, but also to that movement, the people on the ground that actually made that happen -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Suzanne Malveaux for us in Austin. Thank you so much.

Coming up, important new details in this mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. We now learned who said good night to the air controllers. We'll talk about what that and that means for the investigation, next.


KEILAR: All right, we want to get you up to speed on major new developments in the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370. A search plane has detected another signal that could be from the jet liner's black boxes. The acoustic signal was picked up from an Australian plane. Experts currently analyzing that signal.

And sources tell CNN that flight 370's captain now was the last person to speak to air traffic controllers. An official involved in the investigation says there was nothing unusual in the pilot's voice, no third-party voice heard in the cockpit.

And sources say that flight 370 disappeared from military radar after about 120 nautical miles after crossing back over Malaysia. They say that means it must have dipped as low as 4,000 or 5,000 feet.

Let's bring in our panel of experts to discuss these new developments. We have Mark Weiss, CNN aviation analyst and former pilot from American Airlines; Peter Goelz, CNN aviation analyst and former NTSB managing director; and Tom Fuentes, CNN law enforcement analyst and former FBI assistant director.

This is fascinating, gentlemen. It seems like there is agreement here, this idea that the plane may have dropped to 4,000 feet.

We shouldn't take it as gospel. That's what you say?

MARK WEISS, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER PILOT: We really don't know what the altitude was. There's nothing has confirmed that. It is all speculation at this point.

KEILAR: What do you think, Peter? Why can't we take it to the bank?

PETER GOELZ, CNN AVIATION ANALYST & FORMER NTSB MANAGING DIRECTOR: When you're looking at the primary radar track at the outer reaches of the radar's capability, there is a high degree of error in the -- it is simply speculation. It could have just gone off the screen. KEILAR: So it's not necessarily an attempt to avoid radar? Is that what we should understand or --

GOELZ: When we don't know that that is what it actually did, then we can't say why it did it or what the motives were.

KEILAR: The other thing that I find very interesting, Mark, is let's say that the plane did drop to 4,000 feet and then it would have had to come back up, right?

WEISS: Fantasy.

KEILAR: Fantasy, why?

KEILAR: You're not going to take a 777 and take it from 35,000 feet to 4,000 feet in the space of 120 miles and bring it back up to 35,000 feet. It just isn't going to happen.

KEILAR: Tom, we're hearing from sources that the Malaysian air force scrambled the planes after flight 370 was reported missing. They didn't tell aviation officials or search-and-rescue operations for three days. Does this just add to our concerns about the investigation?

TOM FUENTES, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST & FORMER FBI DEPUTY DIRECTOR: It's not about the investigation, but I think it adds to the concerns that Malaysia is not a very safe place, because if it takes their air defense that many days to figure out what they had come across their sky, that's incredible to me. And now, we hear 30-some days later that they scrambled jets or maybe it was rescue planes and we don't know that. They sent someone allegedly to the South China Sea, to the north, and others to the south and west. I mean, there has just been a set of conflicting stories based on their radar since day one. And so now, to say they finally figured out what their radar said, it sounds to me like it's one more story. Why should this one be any truer than the previous 10 stories they had?

KEILAR: Speaking of that, Peter, this idea of who was the last person to speak, we now understand the latest is that it was who?

GOELZ: We now say it's the pilot.

KEILAR: Yeah, the captain, right?


KEILAR: Not the first officer? So do we know that for sure? What is that based on? Do we take it to the bank? What do you think?

GOELZ: This reinforces that from the beginning the Malaysian government has had a hard time coordinating its information that it had, and making it available in a truthful way. It undercuts the credibility of the government and its investigation.

KEILAR: And it doesn't mean anything when we hear from sources necessarily that we didn't hear anything besides the captain's voice. WEISS: If you are talking directly into a microphone, you would not have heard if there were someone else in the cockpit. We don't know if there's a jump-seat rider or if the co-pilot was there. We don't know.

KEILAR: Yeah, because microphones have fields of what they pick up. Uni-directional --

WEISS: It's uni-directional.

KEILAR: -- you won't hear -- if you're talking into the microphone, you're not going to hear what is happening outside.

WEISS: You could have had somebody behind you having a conversation.

KEILAR: And it would never be picked up, right?

WEISS: It would never.

KEILAR: Mark, Peter, Tom, thank you so much for being with us and talking about this and explaining it all for us.

That is it for me.

NEWSROOM with Brooke Baldwin starts right after a quick break.