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State of the Union

News and analysis on President Obama's 2014 State of the Union address.

  • "We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against" #SOTU
  • "Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda [Shelley]" -Obama in #SOTU
  • Obama received the loudest applause of the night when he said Americans aren't interested in fighting old battles over Obamacare.
  • 'Citizenship means standing up for everyone's right to vote,' Obama said, once again switching topics. 

    'It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank account that drives democracy,' Obama said.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address in front of the U.S. Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

  • And now the State of the Union speech has moved on to gun control. Obama said he intends to keep trying, 'with or without Congress,' to prevent more tragedies 'like Sandy Hook.'
  • Pres. Obama: Few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. #SOTU
  • President Obama addresses gun violence in  the context of a larger section about American citizenship. Gun control dominated his 2013 State of the Union address, which came shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT:

    Abe Sauer, a frequent commentator on gun culture and concealed-carry weapon permit holder, sees no change since then:


    Attempts to implement gun control failed nationally; the NRA’s “good guy with a gun” solution has become a wedge issue for Tea Party activists to challenge moderate incumbents and even resulted in the recall of state legislators who were successful in shepherding some regulations through. …


    School and workplace shootings have continued unabated since Sandy Hook. And yet no meaningful gun legislation has been passed

    For more, read “The real state of the union: Civil liberties.”
  • Tonight, because of the extraordinary troops who lay down their lives to keep us free, the United States is more secure. 

    All of our troops are out of Iraq, Obama stresses, adding America will complete its mission in Afghanistan by the end of this year. 
  • Obama: "If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan"
  • Shall it be 10k troops or zero troops? Karzai still fighting against any Afghan security agreement to leave small US contingent in country
  • That's a big IF on whether Afghan government will sign security agreement - Karzai not willing as yet
  • Despite President Obama's assertion that the U.S. is "safer than ever" -- a common refrain during the State of the Union -- Al Jazeera America staff writer Jamie Tarabay reminds us that American involvement in Afghanistan is far from over:

    As the U.S. military begins to wind down its engagement in
    Afghanistan, it awaits a signing on a security agreement with Kabul on the
    numbers of U.
    S. and NATO troops who’ll remain. Obama, in the speech, said “a
    small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan … to carry out two narrow
    missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counter terrorism
    operations to pursue any remnants of Al Qaida.
    ” The U.S. commander in
    Afghanistan
    wants
    at least 10,000 troops
    , in contrast to the White House, which is said to
    prefer a smaller number of around 1-2,000.


    As it is, it’s not clear if current
    Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign any such agreement before the national
    elections scheduled for the spring.
    Rather than attempting to maintain a
    positive relationship with Washington, Karzai has been openly critical of U.
    S.
    military action in Afghanistan.
    This week the Afghan government held a press
    conference
    accusing
    the U.
    S. of bombing a village
    recently and killing women and children, yet
    the photographic evidence produced was for victims of a strike from three years
    earlier.
     


  • In Syria we'll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks, Obama said, adding we must remain vigilant.

    Obama's remarks come as Syrian peace talks in Geneva appear to be hitting a wall over the future of the Syrian government.
  • National security depends on trust, both at home and abroad, Obama asserts. But how much do people really trust the government after the Snowden revelations?

    Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center, says the moment for government redemption is fading fast:


    The government attempts to reassure us by citing its internal oversight mechanisms and the lack of evidence (thus far) of willful overreach. But any system that relies so heavily on self-policing courts failure.


    The window of opportunity to rein in these activities is small and closing. If Congress and the public give their blessing to the recently revealed programs, they will become the new baseline for permissible surveillance. We must decide now whether we want our union to become a surveillance state.

     

    For more, read “The real state of the union: Civil liberties.”


  • During his section on foreign policy, Obama called on Congress to close Guantanamo Bay
  • in #SOTU 2013 POTUS said "We’ll keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people" -- no such words this year #SYRIA
  • Moving on, Obama touts American diplomacy for helping prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. 

    The sanctions we put in place helped make this possible, Obama said, adding that he will veto any new sanctions bill that threaten to veto current negotiations
  • Obama reminds Americans that through inspections, it is currently "verified every day that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon"
  • Staff writer Evan Hill sees President Obama carefully threading a needle on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- sort of:


    In 2012, perhaps in a
    bid to soothe Israeli nerves as neighboring Arab nations rose up in revolt,
    Obama made his first State of the Union reference to Israel, calling the
    alliance between Washington and Tel Aviv “ironclad” and “the closest military
    cooperation between our two countries in history.



    This year, as Secretary of
    State John Kerry attempts what many view as a long-shot effort to forge a new
    peace deal with the Palestinian leadership, and amid a debate over whether two
    countries can even emerge out of the occupation, Obama made his first reference
    to Israel as “a Jewish state,” one that “knows America will always be at their
    side.



  • Staff writer Jamie Tarabay on the US and Al Qaida:

    Obama reiterated a claim he made after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 that Al Qaida was “on its heels”, claiming the group’s core leadership was “on a path to defeat,” while acknowledging “the threat has evolved,” as Al Qaida affiliates and “other extremists take root in different parts of the world.” He mentions Yemen, Somalia, Iraq and Mali, and Syria. Emboldened in Iraq, Al Qaida has taken over swathes of territory in Anbar province, while providing support to fighters attacking the Assad regime. In Mali an Al Qaida affiliate recently revealed documents detailing its bid to establish a caliphate in the African state.  

    But rather than being on the path to defeat, the group and the affiliates it has spawned continues to launch attacks.
    Al Shabab, an offshoot of Al Qaida, controls large parts of southern Somalia, Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula was suspected last year of backing a plot to attack U.S. facilities across the Middle East and prompted an emergency closure of more than two dozen diplomatic buildings in the region. It has emerged as the most dangerous of all the affiliates, according to a recent report from the Council of Foreign Relations.



  • President Obama talks about democracy in Syria and Bruma -- but what happened to Tunisia and Libya? Evan Hill wants to know:

    In 2012, a year after the Arab uprisings, Obama hailed “a wave of change [that] has washed across the Middle East and North Africa, from Tunis to Cairo; from Sana’a to Tripoli.” He pledged to “support policies that lead to strong and stable democracies and open markets, because tyranny is no match for liberty.” Two years later, Libya and Egypt have disappeared from the speech, and Obama’s language on democracy has become broader and vaguer: “From Tunisia to Burma, we’re supporting those who are willing to do the hard work of building democracy.” With an army general climbing to power in Egypt on the backs of several mass killings and Libya the scene of lawlessness that led to the death of a US ambassador, Obama’s administration has been hard-pressed to find a bright spot.

  • Obama only briefly mentioned Ukraine, saying America stands for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully.
  • 'No other country in the world does what we do,' Obama said, adding that other countries turn to us.
  • Obama mentions Iran 10 times. Syria, three times. Yemen, once. No mention of Pakistan. #SOTU
  • Speaking on veterans, Obama said he will continue working to help them acclimate here at home and receive the health benefits — including mental health care — they need.

    Obama then told the story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was severely wounded in Afghanistan. Remsburg is a guest at the State of the Union and received a standing ovation from many in the chamber.

    Business Insider has Remsburg's full, heartbreaking, story.
  • Staff writer Alia Malek sees a weakening in Obama's stance on Syria:

    Obama made clear that, “In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks,” with no indication as to how. Similarly, he made no call on the regime of Bashar al Assad to step down. In 2013 he promised,  “We’ll keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people."

    In 2012, he said “ Syria, I have no doubt that the Assad regime will soon discover that the forces of change cannot be reversed, and that human dignity cannot be denied.”

  • TBI - traumatic brain injury, has become the signature war wound of the Iraq and Afghan wars - #SOTU 1.usa.gov/1fuSDXo
  • The State of the Union has officially ended.

  • First Lady Michelle Obama with U.S. Army Ranger Sgt. First Class Cory Remsburg, who was injured while serving in Afghanistan (Gary Cameron/Reuters)


  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers has begun the GOP response to the State of the Union.
  • Tonight the president made more promises that sounded good but won't actually help Americans, McMorris Rodgers said in the GOP response. 


    McMorris Rodgers called the GOP response a 'more hopeful' vision.
  • I came to Congress to help empower people, not politicians; to grow the working middle-class, not the government, McMorris Rodgers said.
  • The real gap we face today is one of opportunity, she said, saying the gap is growing under the current administration's policies.

    Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one, McMorris Rodgers said, adding that Republicans have plans to close the gap.

    Those plans include ideas to improve schools and training programs and immigration reform that includes securing borders and ensuring America recruits the best and brightest from around the world. 
  • McMorris Rodgers predictably took aim at the Affordable Care Act and laid out the Republicans' plan for a revised health care plan.

    "So we hope the president will join us in a year of real action," she said. 'The president said many things tonight but now I ask him to listen to you.'
  • McMorris Rodgers has finished the GOP response.
  • Very likely the best GOP response of the Obama presidency.
  • Below are excerpts from Sen. Mike Lee's response to the State of the Union. Lee is delivering the Tea Party's response: 

    “In America, the test of any political movement is not what that movement is against, but what it is for.  The founders made a point at Boston Harbor, but they made history in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall.

    “Today, Americans know in their hearts that something is wrong.  Much of what is wrong relates to the sense that the ‘American Dream’ is falling out of reach for far too many of us. We are facing an inequality crisis — one to which the President has paid lip-service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting or correcting.

    “But where does this new inequality come from? From government — every time it takes rights and opportunities away from the American people and gives them instead to politicians, bureaucrats, and special interests.” 

    “Throughout the last five years, President Obama has promised an economy for the middle class; but all he’s delivered is an economy for the middle-men.”

    “We have a new generation of leaders in Washington with positive, innovative ideas – thoughtful policy reforms to, as my friend Senator Ted Cruz says –“Make D.C. listen.”  Reforms to help poor families work their way into the middle class, to help middle-class families start to get ahead, and to level the playing field and put corporate and political insiders back to work for the rest of us.

    “All of these proposals within this new conservative reform agenda, along with many more to come, mark the road to Philadelphia.  These principles and these policies will work - and will put Americans back to work. Not just by cutting big government, but by fixing broken government.  Not just by making government smaller but by promoting bigger citizens, stronger families and more heroic communities. Our goal should be an America where everyone has a fair chance to pursue happiness - and find it. That’s what it looks like when protest grows into reform.


  • First mention of Syria in context of terrorism. Obama ignores largest humanitarian crisis since World War 2. #SOTU2014
  • Obama's State of the Union a call to help those still struggling, despite economic growth at top

    In remarks that lasted for just over an hour and was interspersed with 77 rounds of applause, Obama set out his intention to work with Congress when he can, but to circumvent it if he must.

    Still, he suggested that there was scope for greater bipartisanship, despite bitter divides in Congress.

    In the speech he outlined a few domestic legislative priorities for the year ahead that he thought were especially achievable.

    On immigration reform, where analysts and legislators have indicated that a bipartisan bill might yet have a chance of passing in 2014, he again called on Congress to fix a "broken" system

    He also forcefully backed up his message of turning the tide on economic stagnation by urging lawmakers to restore the unemployment insurance for the 1.6 million people who lost it after Congress let them expire last month.

    “We can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it’s more effective in today’s economy,” he said.

    But as was made clear in the buildup to the speech from senior advisers, Obama laid out specific proposals his administration will take to bypass the partially Republican-controlled Congress, which saw so many of his 2013 goals unrealized.

    Resorting to executive actions to implement policy outside of the usual Congressional route is not something new, but it is a tactic that Obama increasingly used to enact policy outside of the legislative branch.

    In the past two years, he has used such methods to prevent the deportation of younger immigrants with threatened legal statuses, ratcheted up federal authority to place tougher restrictions against corporate polluters and instructed his attorney general to stop defending federal statutes related to both gay marriage and drug policy.

    Obama said he would sign an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour for federal contractors, a move that doesn’t need congressional approval.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Top photo- VP Biden puts his hand on Speaker Boehner's arm, then Speaker Boehner takes a whack Biden's stomach #SOTU http://pbs.twimg.com/media/BfHna4gCEAAq1A1.jpg

  • The Associated Press has compiled some reactions to the State of the Union: 

    From the AP:

    "We hope the president will join us in a year of real action - by empowering people, not making their lives harder with unprecedented spending, higher taxes and fewer jobs. As Republicans, we advance these plans every day because we believe in a government that trusts people and doesn't limit where you finish because of where you started. That is what we stand for - for an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional." - Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., in the official GOP response.

    ---

    "The president's willingness to take bold executive action on immigration reform is an important step, but Congress must act to take the broader, permanent action that is needed. Beyond the important result of keeping families together, immigration reform will strengthen our economy and allow law enforcement officials to focus on catching real criminals." - Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.

    ---

    "Americans know in their hearts that something is wrong. Much of what is wrong relates to the sense that the `American Dream' is falling out of reach for far too many of us. ... We are facing an inequality crisis - one to which the president has paid lip-service, but seems uninterested in truly confronting or correcting." - Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaking on behalf of the Tea Party Express.

    ---

    "While the president's policies are proving to be some of the most blunder-prone in history, the 59 state legislative chambers led by Republicans are implementing major reforms that are having a positive impact and statewide Republican officials across the nation are leading with decisive action. No matter how hard President Obama tries to claim that 2014 will be a `year of action' his track record of lies to sell Obamacare and his botched leadership of a dysfunctional Washington make us hope his actions will be limited at best." - Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla.

    ---

    "We were hopeful that President Obama would outline an ambitious new plan or offer more forms of executive relief to stop deportations. The president did not even mention a word on deportations. Although Obama had sympathetic rhetoric, we have seen this fall through before when he was not able to reform immigration in his first year as promised." - Cesar Vargas, co-director of the Dream Action Coalition.


  •  House Speaker John Boehner  responds to President Obama's address:

    “After five years, President Obama is clearly out of ideas. With few bipartisan proposals, Americans heard a president more interested in advancing ideology than in solving the problems regular folks are talking about. Instead of our areas of common ground, the president focused too much on the things that divide us – many we’ve heard before – and warnings of unilateral action. The president must understand his power is limited by our constitution, and the authority he does have doesn’t add up to much for those without opportunity in this economy.

  • Freshman Rep Scott Perry (R-PA) reflects on POTUS #SOTU to @mikeviqueira on @ajam "he wants to work w congress but only if we do it his way"
  • State of the Union leaves Obama's environmental policy in a haze

    While President Barack Obama has delivered the strongest rhetoric of any sitting president on the urgent need for action on climate change, his actual environmental record is mixed. So when Obama delivered his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, environmental groups waited eagerly for clues about what may lie ahead for energy and the environment in the president’s last years in office.

    But, according to many environmental leaders, Tuesday’s speech didn’t clear up much.

    Obama mentioned climate change and forcefully called for energy independence, but much of the environmental section of his speech was dedicated his “all-of-the-above” strategy, which includes big increases to one of the most controversial sources of alternative energy, natural gas.

    Perhaps more telling of the Obama administration’s future energy policy is what he didn’t say. Out of the nearly 7,000 words contained in the president’s prepared speech, climate and energy accounted for under 500. And unlike in previous State of the Union speeches, the president’s talking points left out specifics about programs that could combat climate change.

    “He reiterated the things he was already planning to do,” said Shelley Welton, the deputy director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. “But I didn’t see anything new.”

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Obama’s failure to mention water crisis disappoints West Virginians

    With their FEMA-supplied emergency water rations having run out on Monday, some West Virginia residents whose tap water remains chemically tainted feel their plight has been overlooked by the federal government. And President Barack Obama's State of the Union address did little to change that.

    The president's speech Tuesday night covered topics from the minimum wage and technology investment to Hezbollah, Iran and the diplomatic legacies of Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, but omitted any reference to a crisis that has raised health and safety concerns for hundreds of thousands of Americans in West Virginia.

    Despite an all-clear from the local water supplier, some residents around the Charleston area remain skeptical of drinking water contaminated by 10,000 gallons of coal-cleaning chemicals stored near the Elk River, a major source of drinking water in a state where coal mining pollution has already poisoned wells for many who live near mines.

    Even as Obama touted the promise of hydraulic fracturing and natural gas — which have raised massive environmental concerns — as ways of battling the country’s energy and economic woes, he made no mention of the Jan. 9 West Virginia environmental disaster, in which a Freedom Industries tank leaked 4-methylcyclohexylmethanol, along with another substance called PPH, contaminating the water of about 300,000 West Virginians in nine counties in and around Charleston, the state capital.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • Women front and center in Obama’s State of the Union address
    The focus on working women — vis-a-vis larger themes of income inequality — was the distinguishing feature of this year’s State of the Union address. From GM’s Mary Barra, the factory worker’s daughter who became “CEO of America’s largest automaker,” to Andra Rush, a Detroit-based manufacturer, to Misty DeMars, an unemployed homeowner and mother of two, President Barack Obama emphasized that “women make up about half our workforce” but still face pay and pregnancy discrimination, as well as “Mad Men”–era workplace policies.

    Advocates for working families had expected the president to further detail his universal pre-kindergarten proposal — announced during last year’s State of the Union — which would expand early-childhood education programs. But he spoke only in generalities. (The White House website provided more specifics.) Obama instead encouraged the states to pursue early education as part of school reform and promised to assemble a “coalition of elected officials, business leaders and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.”

    “He doesn’t have the support of Congress for a lot of what he wants to do … so the idea of working with CEOs and philanthropists who do want to see some movement (on early childhood education) makes sense,” said Cornell University professor Mildred Warner, whose research has found significant economic returns on investment in child care. Yet a private-sector program, however widespread, would be a mere shadow of universal pre-K funded through tax revenue. (The Administration for Children and Families, charged with overseeing the initiative, was unavailable for comment.)

    In terms of concrete legislation, Obama urged Congress to renew emergency unemployment payments to some 1.6 million jobless workers and to pass a bill raising the federal minimum wage for 27 million employees from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour (in three incremental steps). Proving his commitment to this wage increase, he vowed to use his executive authority to “require federal contractors to pay their federally funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour.”

    For struggling families, a higher minimum wage, anti-discrimination laws, paid sick leave and universal pre-K/child care are all critical — and Obama made each one a priority in his speech. States and municipalities have, to varying degrees, pursued their own legislation and ballot measures raising wages and instituting what are broadly called “work supports.”

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
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