State of the Union | Al Jazeera America

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State of the Union

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



  • White House photographer Pete Souza has published a collection of Instagram photos following President Obama as he prepares for the State of the Union. The above photo, of a ballpoint pen and a copy of the President's prepared remarks, has been making the rounds on Twitter.

    See the full gallery here.

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    Ahead of the State of the Union, our colleagues at America Tonight posed a simple question to our readers:  If you could ask President Barack Obama to take on one thing – one policy, one issue, one bill, one idea, one principle – what would it be?

    We've received dozens of responses on topics ranging from education to college education government surveillance. Above, you can find a small selection of submissions we've received in the past few days.   

    We still want to hear from you: Starting with the phrase “Dear Mr. President, I want…,” write your wish on a piece of paper or posterboard, take a photo of yourself holding it and either email it to us at DearPOTUS2014@gmail.com or tweet it to @AmericaTonight with the hashtag #DearPOTUS. Some of the most interesting images will be compiled in a blog post and used in our broadcast coverage of the State of the Union address. It can be a paragraph, it can be a word, it can be a Dadaist poem. It just has to be legible.

  • Opinion: President Obama should set agenda for 2014 midterms

    Pundits will parse and dissect every part of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night. Almost none of it will really matter in Washington. There is probably nothing he could say to spur Congress to support his agenda in 2014. But he may be able to shape what will determine whether he achieves much in the last two years of his presidency: the fight for control of Congress.

    Cable news pundits endlessly discuss whether Obama can save his presidency. His presidency does not need saving, but it does need a boost. According to Gallup, Obama’s approval ratings are about where George W. Bush’s were at the same point in his presidency. That November in 2006, Democrats won big, regaining control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years.

    The big difference between 2014 and the recent partisan landslides in 2006 and 2010 is the standing of the opposition party. In those elections, the parties’ approval ratings were roughly even, but they are not this time. Since before last fall’s government shutdown, the GOP has been tracking about 10 points below the Democrats’ approval rating. Voters are not too happy with Obama and less so with Democrats in general, but they dislike Republicans even more.

    State of the Union speeches have not resulted in lasting gains in presidential approval. Presidents also have had middling success accomplishing the goals they set out in their addresses (usually a quarter to half of them). Even then, the goals they tend to choose are already popular. Assuming he sticks with the pattern, there is little reason to think a torrent of legislation will flow from his words on Capitol Hill. And continuing a trend that began with Ronald Reagan, the percentage of Americans watching him lay out his goals will probably shrink from previous years.

    Presidential speeches have little influence on Congress and seldom convince voters to change strongly held beliefs. They do, however, help shape the public’s perception of which issues are important. And this is where Obama may be able to help create a environment favorable for Democratic candidates and their political issues come November.

    Read more at Al Jazeera America
  • It's been a tough year for the Obama administration and it shows in his State of the Union Address, according to Reuters. 

    From Reuters:

    President Barack Obama will lay out his strategy for getting around a divided Congress starting with a wage hike for federal contract workers in a State of the Union speech on Tuesday that reflects scaled-back legislative ambitions after a tough year.

    Obama will say in his 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT Wednesday) address that he will bypass fractious U.S. lawmakers and go it alone in some areas with a series of executive actions aimed at boosting the middle class, many that do not require congressional approval.

    Trying to breathe new life into his presidency and boost congressional Democrats facing re-election battles in November, Obama will tell Congress he is eager to work with lawmakers, "but America does not stand still - and neither will I."

    "So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do," Obama will say, according to speech excerpts released by the White House.

    The White House said Obama would announce that he is issuing an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers with new contracts.

    In his address, Obama will also call on Congress to pass a bill to increase the federal minimum wage for all workers to $10.10 an hour from $7.25 and index that to inflation.

    The executive order raising the level for federal contract workers, which applies to new contracts or existing contracts in which terms are being changed, will take effect at the beginning of next year, with janitors and construction workers among the beneficiaries.


  • While most of America's leaders will be gathered in one room tonight, one top politician has to stay behind and prepare to lead the country in case the unthinkable happens. And that man is Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, according to TIME.

    From TIME:

    If the unthinkable happens during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz will assume the role of President of the United States.

    Moniz, the 12th person in the line of succession for the Oval Office, will be protected by Secret Service agents at an undisclosed location as the so-called “designated survivor” while President Barack Obama delivers his address to Congress. Meanwhile, the vice president, members of the Cabinet, Supreme Court justices and others will gather at the Capitol to listen to the president’s annual address.

    The nuclear physicist was a longtime faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before he was sworn in on May 21, 2013. Moniz is no stranger to the federal government or the White House, having served as under secretary of the Department of Energy and White House staffer during the Clinton administration. He’s better liked inside the administration than his predecessor—and last year’s designated survivor—Steven Chu, who was considered by some administration officials to be a political loose cannon.

    Moniz is probably best known for his hair styling, which has led to comparisons with Oscar Wilde and Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.


    Read more at TIME
  • #Obama has arrived at the Capitol
  • The State of the Union rarely goes smoothly -- who can forget Rep. Joe Wilson's 'You Lie!' moment from September 2009? 

    Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) may pick up a few voters in Texas's 14th congressional district, but he'll likely catch some flack on Wednesday morning for this tweet: 




  • Also small fact: POTUS did not do #SOTU in 2009 - remember inauguration? Instead addressed joint sessions of congress 1.usa.gov/1falmlq
  • Cory Booker walks into SOTU looking like a kid on his first trip to Disneyland. Totally stoked.
  • U.S. President Barack Obama winks up at first lady Michelle Obama as he arrives to deliver his State of the Union speech on Capitol Hill in Washington January 28, 2014. (REUTERS/Gary Cameron)

  • In keeping with his inequality theme, Obama calls for an end to loopholes that ship jobs overseas, exclaiming it's time to keep jobs here in America.

    In today's global economies, first-class jobs gravitate to first class infrastructure, Obama said, building off an earlier riff about using funds to create more jobs repairing roads or other infrastructure programs.

    Obama also touted the new hubs he has promoted in earlier speeches and pushed Congress to send job creating legislation to his desk. 

    'Put more Americans back to work,' he exclaimed to Congress.
  • 'China and Europe aren't standing on the sidelines and neither should we,'  Obama said, touting a number of reforms he would like to see. 

    Obama also pushed energy reform, saying America is closer to energy independence than we've been in decades.

    'We're becoming a global leader in solar too,' he said, adding we need to continue that with a smarter tax policy.  

    'The debate is settled, climate change is a fact,' Obama firmly stated.
  • President Obama argues that the United States is closer to energy independence than ever. Al Jazeera America opinion contributor Andrew Finn is a program associate at the Canada Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has a gentle reminder for the president: 

    New rules that encourage responsible development while focusing on making Americans more judicious consumers of energy would go a long way toward securing our energy future.


    For more, read “The real state of the union: Education, immigration and environment.”
  • Obama says in #SOTU : "Today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades" alj.am/SOTU2014
  • President Obama pledges to use his authority to protect 'pristine' federal lands in the course of the race for energy independence. Jeff Biggers , the author of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland,” remains skeptical:

    Bottom line: Far from (the current administration’s) “all of the above” strategy, an effective climate action plan must operate under a comprehensive vision that mandates a just transition to a fossil-free future. 


    For more, read “The real state of the union: Education, immigration and environment.”
  • President Obama: "The debate is settled: Climate change is a fact."

    Rachel Cleetus, an economist with the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, must be breathing a sign of relief:

    Americans need to be reminded that climate change is not just tomorrow’s problem; it is already costing us billions of dollars, and without serious steps to cut our emissions and build resilience, those costs will only grow.


    The growing economic burden of unchecked climate change will fall disproportionately on the poor.


    For more, read “The real state of the union: Education, immigration and environment.”
  • Obama has moved on to immigration. '

    Let's get immigration reform done this year,' Obama said.

  • President Obama asserts that he wants to "get immigration reform done" this year.

    Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, agrees:


    The U.S. immigration system is broken. U.S. residents must wait years, even decades, for relatives to receive permanent visas. Employers face hurdles bringing in the workers they need, and the system is a bad fit for labor-market demands. And despite billions spent on immigration control, about 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants reside in the United States. These challenges have kept immigration on Washington’s agenda for over a decade.

    A comprehensive approach (to immigration reform) offers concessions across the ideological spectrum and represents good policy because fixing the visa system and legalizing most unauthorized immigrants lays the groundwork for enforcement to succeed and vice versa.

    For more, read “The real state of the union: Education, immigration and environment.”


  • Auto bailout humblebrag. #SOTU
  • Obama said he has He said he asked Vice President Biden to lead a new job training program, meaning more on-the-job training, and other reforms. 

    I'm also convinced we can help Americans return to the workforce faster by reforming unemployment insurance so that it's more effective, Obama said, before taking a jab at Congress for letting unemployment benefits expire. 

    Give [unemployed Americans] a chance, Obama implored, saying America needs them in the game.
  • US Prez @BarackObama in #SOTU : "This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance [Congress] just let expire for 1.6 million people"
  • We also have to train tomorrow's workforce by guaranteeing every child access to a world-class education, Obama says as he switches topics. 

    Obama said after working to reform the student loan program, more young people are earning college degrees. He also touted a number of other reforms he has pushed. 

    'The problem is we're still not reaching enough kids,' Obama said, before pushing access to quality early-childhood education.

    'As Congress decides what it's going to do,' Obama said he is going to take steps to make sure America's youngest have access to early-childhood education. 

    Pres. Obama spent quite a bit of time in his speech on education, highlighting everything from student loan debt to increasing students' access to high-speed Internet.

    'Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us
    ,' Obama said. 



  • Al Jazeera America staff writer Tammy Kim takes a closer look at the economic policy points at the core of President Obama's address:

    Possibility of legislated minimum wage

    History shows that a minimum wage compromise is possible. “When it comes to the federal minimum wage, it’s often the case that, in the middle and early stages, there’s fairly solid opposition from Republicans. But as the discussions move on, Republicans come around and end up supporting it,” said economist John Schmitt at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. This has been the case since the early 1990s, as voters of both parties tend to support wage hikes.  
     

    Comparative support for minimum wage

    Recently, conservative politicians in Germany, the U.K. and Japan have all voiced support for higher minimum wages, hoping to take credit for moves in that direction. The proposed minimum in England would give that nation’s lowest-wage workers 30% more purchasing power than their American peers enjoy.  
     

    Federal contractor minimum wage

    An hourly rate of $10.
    10 amounts to about $21,000 in annual pay — just above the federal poverty level for a household of three — assuming 40 hours of work per week, 52 weeks per year. It’s not a lot, and very few low-wage laborers are given such steady hours to begin with, but it would still benefit individual families and, according to many economists, boost the economy while reducing income inequality.
     

    Federal contractor minimum wage

    The lowest-paid federal workers — those directly employed by the U.
    S. government and belonging to unions — receive about $8.50 per hour, less than contract workers would get under President Obama’s executive order. But according to the National Federation of Federal Employees, most federal employees earn far above this floor. 
     

    Federal contractor minimum wage as a start

    “While it likely wasn’t his first option, it is an option that can successfully raise the minimum wage for a small sector of the American workforce, said Drew Halunen, communications coordinator for the National Federation of Federal Employees union.
     
    Executive order power

    Executive orders aren’t normally used for wage hikes, but presidents have broad authority to “promote the efficiency of the federal government.
    ” While it may be “hard to argue that raising the cost of labor promotes the efficiency of the federal government, the argument is that you get what you pay for: better workers. It’s not likely to be defeated on a legal challenge,” said Samuel Estreicher, professor at NYU School of Law. 
     

    Early use of executive order to promote labor “efficiency”

    During World War II, President Roosevelt “issued a very famous executive order saying federal contractors had to strive to hire black people,” said Samuel Estreicher, professor at NYU School of Law.
    It’s an old example of “an executive order that dealt only with federal contracts, and it was the first major breach in Jim Crow.
     

    Universal pre-K, via tax

    The benefits of universal pre-K are, well, universal.
    Studies from Oklahoma and Georgia, which already have pre-K for all, prove “gains in children’s performance at all income levels” and benefits to parents and employers of “reduced child care costs, money that can then be spent on other expenses, and reduced worker absenteeism,” said Mildred Warner, a professor and child care expert at Cornell University.

    And President Obama’s funding formula also attempts universality, or at least mass appeal. He would fund universal pre-K by increasing a sin tax — on cigarettes, not income. It’s very different, then, from New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposal to raise taxes on high-income earners to fund a similar initiative in that city. 
     

    Universal pre-K, minimum wage and family leave as inequality reducers

    We talk about child care, family and sick leave and the minimum wage as separate policies, but they have to work together.
    “The way people experience these issues isn’t necessarily in buckets. The same person may be paid less than her male coworker and therefore can’t afford child care, and when her kid gets sick can’t take leave,” said Vicki Shabo, director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families. Child care and family leave — unavailable to most minimum-wage workers — “make it easier for people to stay employed for longer, and they level the playing field. They make it less likely that people will go through spells of unemployment and also change our basic way of looking at people’s dual role as breadwinners and parents.


  • President Obama has put a heavy emphasis on education reform during this year's State of the Union. Here are two of our opinion contributors:

    Peter Taubman, is a professor of education in the School of Education at Brooklyn College in New York:

    The White House’s signature education reform initiative, Race to the Top, is often touted as a new civil rights movement. But these reforms, along with those of George W. Bush, have tragically turned public education into a multibillion-dollar “free market” that only hurts the very students and communities the reforms purport to help.

    For more, read “The real state of the union: Education, immigration and environment.”

    ---


    Daniel Denvir is a reporter at The Philadelphia City Paper:

    Inequality and segregation, perpetuated by segregated housing, remain the core problems in U.S. public schools. Contrary to the talk of perennial alarmists, American students as a whole are not falling behind. Wealthy kids’ schools are fantastic. It is the districts attended by the downwardly mobile middle class and the poor that suffer.

    For more, read “The real state of the union: Education, immigration and environment.”
  • Moving on from education, Obama declared 'women deserve equal pay for equal work. When women succeed, America succeeds.'

    He got a standing ovation for that remark.

  • "Women deserve equal pay for equal work," proclaimed President Obama. "It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode."

    Writer Jill Fillipovic agrees:

    Reproductive health care and gender equality are cornerstones of any attempt to promote social mobility. The Republican hostility toward women’s physical and financial health does not just hurt their bodies and pocketbooks; it also damages their families, freedom and the economy as a whole. 

    For more, read “The real state of the union: Civil liberties.”
  • 'Do what you can to raise your employees' wages,' Obama implored business leaders, adding they don't need to wait for Congress to act.

    Obama then touted his upcoming executive order which will raise the minimum wage of future federal contractors, saying 'if you cook our troops' meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn't have to live in poverty.'
  • 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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