Obama talks terror threat in primetime address

President Barack Obama holds a meeting in the Situation Room to discuss the the San Bernardino, Calif., shootings, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015.

Alex Hanson

In a rare televised address from the Oval Office Sunday, President Obama assured the United States that his administration is working to keep the country safe amid a “new phase” of terrorism in the world.

The address comes just days after a couple in California killed 14 and injured 17 more in a shooting in San Bernardino. Investigators say the wife, Tashfeen Malik, declared allegiance to ISIS in a Facebook post before the killing spree.

“Over the last few years, the terrorist threat has evolved into a new phase,” Obama said. “The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it.”

He mentioned a string of mass shootings in the U.S. perpetrated by individuals who have been self radicalized and inspired by terrorists groups. Obama received an update from his national security team this weekend before delivering the Sunday evening address. 

Obama said the U.S. military will continue to “hunt down” terrorists in any country that pose a threat to America, and the U.S. will continue to provide weapons and training to Iraqi and Syrian forces fighting ISIS overseas. 

He said the U.S. continues to work with allies to stops ISIS plots, cut off financing to the terror group and prevent them from recruiting more fighters. Ceasefires and political resolutions are also in the works in regards to the Syrian civil war, Obama said.

“[Our strategy] is designed and supported by our military commanders and counterterrorism experts, together with 65 countries that have joined an American-led coalition,” Obama said. ” And we constantly examine our strategy to determine when additional steps are needed to get the job done.”

At home, Obama called on Congress to pass legislation making it tougher to purchase firearms, including banning anyone on the no-fly list from buying guns.

“What could possibly be the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semi-automatic weapon?” Obama said.

He also called for making it “harder” to purchase assault weapons; stronger screening for anyone coming to the U.S. without a visa; and for Congress to reauthorize the use of military force against ISIS.

Obama warned against being drawn into another “long and costly ground war in Iraq or Syria,” saying that’s the policy ISIS “wants” countries fighting against the terrorist groups to pursue. 

He also said the U.S. cannot define the battle as the United States vs. Islam, but said Muslims must confront the fact that some extremists use an “extremist” ideology to defend their actions.

“That does not mean denying the fact that an extremist ideology has spread within some Muslim communities,” Obama said. 

“My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history,” Obama said.

Reaction to the address — just the third of Obama’s presidency from the Oval Office — poured in quickly.

U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican who represents Ames and Iowa State in Congress, tweeted his dissatisfaction with the address.

“If I am elected President, I will direct the Department of Defense to destroy ISIS,” said Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. “And I will shut down the broken immigration system that is letting jihadists into our country. “Nothing President Obama said tonight will assist in either case.”

Rand Paul, who is also running for the Republican nomination, responded on Twitter.

“President Obama has finally been forced to abandon the political fantasy he has perpetuated for years that the threat of terrorism was receding,” said Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush. 

“We need to remove the self-imposed constraints President Obama has placed on our intelligence community and military, and we need to put in place an aggressive strategy to defeat ISIS and radical Islamic terrorism as I have proposed.”

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump live tweeted the speech, offering his thoughts.

“Nothing that happened in the speech tonight is going to assuage people’s fears,” said Republican president candidate Marco Rubio after the address on FOX News. “

Lindsey Graham, one of the most hawkish Republicans running for the GOP nomination, said on FOX News that “another 9/11” is coming to the U.S. and that the attacks are not just “lone wolves” spread throughout the country.

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, the lone Democrat in Iowa’s congressional delegation, weighed in on Twitter.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who has campaigned on a less aggressive foreign policy, also weighed in. 

“President Obama is right. ISIS will be destroyed with an international coalition in which Muslim troops on the ground are supported by the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and other leading powers,” Sanders said. “We must learn the lesson of Iraq. American troops should not be engaged in perpetual warfare in the Middle East. Further, as we destroy ISIS, it is essential that we do not allow fear and division to undermine the constitutional rights that make us a free people.”