Obama Lights up National Christmas Tree, Reflects on Sandy Hardships

President Barack Obama, along with first lady Michelle Obama and daughters Sasha and Malia, lit up the new 28-foot blue spruce tree near the White House, kicking off the countdown to Christmas in D.C.

"Our tree has been having a hard time recently. This is our third one in as many years," President Obama said, referring to the tree's predecessor, which stood three decades before it was lost in a storm early last year. Its replacement didn't survive very long The Associated Press shared. The replacement tree was declared dead in May due to "transplant shock," according to CNN.

"It just goes to show, nobody's job is safe here in Washington," Obama added in jest.

USA Today reported that Obama spoke about more serious subjects as well, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which affected millions of people throughout the Tri-state region last month and cost billions of dollars in damage.

"Now, we know that some of our neighbors to the north saw a more ruthless and destructive Sandy," Obama said. "And this holiday season is especially difficult for families who lost everything in the storm. But it's also a time for us to be grateful for the heroism and perseverance of ordinary men and women in the storm's path who've showed us that Americans will always be stronger than the challenges that we face. And as I did before Thanksgiving, I can't help but tell a story of their enduring holiday spirit."

The 90th annual tree lighting ceremony included performances by a number of musical stars, including Jason Mraz, Ledisi, James Taylor, Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds, Colbie Caillat and "American Idol" season 11 winner Phillip Phillips. The ceremony was hosted by "How I Met Your Mother" star Neil Patrick Harris, and drew a crowd of around 17,000 people on the Ellipse, a park that sits between the White House and the National Mall.

Obama is still facing problems trying to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on how to avoid a "fiscal cliff" at the end of this year, and on Saturday he called on Congress to extend middle class tax breaks, which would be one way to move talks forward.

"Both parties say we should keep middle class taxes low," the President said. "Democrats in the House are ready to do the same thing. And if we can just get a few House Republicans on board, I'll sign this bill as soon as Congress sends it my way."

GOP Speaker of the House John Boehner, however, has said that a compromise might still be far off. "There's a stalemate. Let's not kid ourselves," Boehner said last Friday.

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