A revival or a yawn? Reaction is now pouring in on President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address. Partisans may differ on their judgement — and you can almost predict what some writers and websites will say before you read them — Obama displayed a determination, energy, and a Happy Warrior playfulness that made it more than a perfunctory speech. Obama showed he has his rhetorical mojo and political chops but now the question is the same as after every State of the Union address: what happens in concrete legislative terms in the months following the speech?

The speech may underscore one fact throughout Obama’s political life on the national stage: those who count him out often count him out prematurely. He hangs in there and seems to undermine conventional wisdom that starts writing him off.

The full transcript of the State of the Union address is here.Here’s a roundup of coverage and reaction.

NBC News:

President Barack Obama won’t wait for Congress to take action on his agenda, vowing in Tuesday’s State of the Union address to use executive powers to sidestep Republican roadblocks on Capitol Hill.

“America does not stand still — and neither will I,” Obama said. “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.”
Despite the congressional logjam, Obama declared, “I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America.”
“What I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class,” he said. “Some require congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you.”

He added, “In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want.”

Still, his vow to go it alone where he sees fit stems from his experience over the last year, when recalcitrant members of Congress — particularly Republicans in the House — refused to even consider much of the president’s agenda.

Obama outlined a litany of executive actions he intends to take in the coming months to advance the themes of opportunity he focused on in his speech.


US President Barack Obama has promised to bypass a fractured Congress to tackle economic inequality in his annual State of the Union address.

Mr Obama pledged to “take steps without legislation” wherever possible to expand opportunities for families.

He unveiled an executive order to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 (£6.10) an hour for new federal contract workers.

The Democratic president is facing some of his lowest approval ratings since first taking office in 2009.

“Let’s make this a year of action,” Mr Obama said.

Noting that inequality has deepened and upward mobility stalled, he would offer “a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class”.

“America does not stand still – and neither will I,” he said. “So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families.”

Just over a year after his re-election, Mr Obama must contend with determined opposition from the Republican Party, which controls the House of Representatives and has the numbers in the Senate to block his agenda.

In last year’s address to the nation, Obama promised action on three important issues: immigration, guns and the environment. As of today, there has been no legislation on any of those. A gridlocked Congress has thwarted his every attempt to pass laws that would make it possible for undocumented immigrants to stay here legally or increase background checks on gun sales or expand environmental controls.

The president has three years left in the White House, but already everyone here is focused on who replaces him in 2016 and who will win the midterm elections in 2014. With time moving on, chances are slim that he can get anything major done in what remains of his presidency.

Time is running short before Washington DC turns its attention to the 2016 race to elect his successor, threatening to sideline him even with three years remaining in office.

The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson:

This wasn’t the presidency Barack Obama had in mind after winning his historic election five years ago. But it is the one he believes he has left.

For the first time since taking office, Obama spoke to Congress on Tuesday evening from a clear position of confrontation. The areas he identified for possible cooperation with a divided Congress have shrunk, leaving an agenda filled out by a growing number of modest initiatives that he intends to carry out alone.

Among them is an executive order raising the minimum wage paid under future federal contracts. He intends to implement more than a dozen others this year, including initiatives to improve job-training skills, technology in classrooms and fuel-efficiency standards in trucks.

The tone and approach reflect the White House’s conclusion that Obama spent too much time last year in conflict with recalcitrant lawmakers, rather than using the unilateral powers in his grasp.

But the strategy risks further antagonizing Congress and resting part of his legacy on executive actions that do not have the permanence, or breadth, of major legislation.

The more executive-style presidency scores high with the public after years of political deadlock in Washington. It also marks a refiguring of Brand Obama, the politician who promised to govern more modestly and cooperatively with the opposition after the polarizing years of the George W. Bush administration.

In his fifth State of the Union address, Obama set that aside.

The New York Times:

Mr. Obama was gambling that a series of ideas that seemed small-bore on their own would add up to a larger collective vision of an America with expanded opportunity. But the moderate ambitions were a stark contrast to past years when Mr. Obama proposed sweeping legislation to remake the nation’s health care system, regulate Wall Street, curb climate change and restrict access to high-powered firearms.

Republicans planned to fire back by blaming Mr. Obama for the country’s economic problems, but the party’s leaders avoided the language of last year’s government shutdown and hoped to present what Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington called “a more hopeful, Republican vision.”

A cross section of blog reaction:

–Andrew Sullivan always has some of the best live blogging. It needs to be read in full. Here are some of his final entries (go to the link and read his full coverage):

10.22 pm. The metaphor of the soldier slowly, relentlessly, grindingly putting his life back together was a powerful one for America – and Obama pulled off that analogy with what seemed to me like real passion. One aspect of his personality and his presidency is sometimes overlooked – and that is persistence. He’s been hailed as a hero and dismissed as irrelevant many times. But when you take a step back and assess what he has done – from ending wars to rescuing the economy to cementing a civil rights revolution to shifting the entire landscape on healthcare – you can see why he believes in persistence. Because it works. It may not win every news cycle; but it keeps coming back.

If he persists on healthcare and persists on Iran and persists on grappling, as best we can, with the forces creating such large disparities in wealth, he will look far, far more impressive from the vantage point of history than the news cycle of the Twitterverse sometimes conveys.

This was True Grit Obama. And it was oddly energizing.

10.17 pm. Why,,,do I have tears in my eyes? Because what our servicemembers have sacrificed must never be forgotten. I saw “Lone Survivor” with Mikey Piro last night. Mikey, as some Dish readers will know (listen to the podcast here) served as a commander in Iraq, and now struggles with and overcomes PTSD each day. I was under my seat most of the movie. It’s a brutal combat picture. Mikey was fine, until the very end as the real-life photos of lost soldiers were displayed. Then he sobbed a little. I’ve heard several presidents invoke military heroism in their speeches. I cannot recall one so moving.

–PJ Media’s Stephen Green famous “drunkblogging” liveglogging ends with this:

Here, at the end, he again mistakes speed for energy. And perhaps even for conviction as well. He excited Washington — elected, appointed, and credentialed media — with promises of ACTION and DOING SOMETHING and MOVING FORWARD. The rest of us, tired and wiser but hopefully less cynical, have seen and heard it all before. And we aren’t hopeful about the change

Outside the Beltway’s Doug Mataconis warned his readers that the address is a waste of time:

Later this evening, the President of the United States, the majority of both Houses Of Congress, several Supreme Court Justices and members of the military leadership, along with the diplomatic corps and other invited guests will gather in the House Chamber for the annual spectacle of the State of the Union Address. Notwithstanding the Constitutional requirement that the President keep Congress apprised of the state of the union “from time to time,” the address itself, and most especially the media extravaganza that it has now become, is of relatively recent vintage. Until Woodrow Wilson took office, every President from Thomas Jefferson forward merely sent a written memorandum to Congress, and it seemed to work out just fine. From Wilson forward, though, the nation has been subjected to a national address in which the President laid out a series of policy goals that, depending on whether or not the President’s party controlled Congress, consisted of either pie-in-the-sky dreams or a self-serving list of policy goals. With the rise of television, and especially the 365/24/7 news cycle, the address has become a rather absurd national spectacle complete with all three cable networks running countdown clocks starting at six in the morning on the day of the speech as if the nation were waiting with bated breath for the utterances from the President in the same manner that Apple fanboys away the introduction of the newest iPhone.

Jared Bernstein:

I’ll have more to say in coming days but I liked the speech quite a bit. The challenge for the president was to avoid ticking through a list of ideas that had no chance of going anywhere. I think he largely avoided that, though he did hit on ideas that Congress probably will, but shouldn’t block, like extended UI, infrastructure investment, a higher national minimum wage, and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (to raise the very low existing credit for childless adults; he noted Republican support on this one, so who knows??).

Instead, he focused on a number of executive orders targeting higher minimum wages for workers on federal contracts, retirement security, better broadband access in schools, and higher fuel efficiency standards. Of course, these will reach far fewer people than federal legislation. For example, his minimum wage EO will reach a few hundred thousand; the federal bill on which it is based would lift the earnings of 17 million.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has five takeaways from Obama’s speech. Here are three of them:

* Congress is so last year. As expected, President Obama made clear — both in terms of the policy proposals he outlined and the rhetoric he used to do it — that his focus for the next year would be on what he could do without Congress. “Whenever and wherever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that is what I am going to do,” Obama said in the early moments of the speech. Later, he urged “every mayor, governor and state legislator in America….you don’t have to wait for Congress to act.” Obama also dedicated a significant amount of time — including the closing moments of the speech — to foreign policy, a place where he has more leeway to act without Congress. It’s easy to cast this speech as poisoning the well between Obama and Congress. But, that well was poisoned long ago. This speech simply formalized that reality.

* A little flattery goes a long way. Despite the fact that relations between Obama and Congress are bad and won’t be getting any better anytime soon, the president did show a deftness he either didn’t possess or chose not to wield in years past when he praised House Speaker John Boehner as an example of the American Dream. “Here in America, our success should not depend on an accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams,” Obama said. “That’s what drew our forebears here…[that’s] how the son of a barkeep is Speaker of the House.” Cue huge and sustained applause and a surprised (and undoubtedly flattered) Boehner. Would a few more flourishes like that one thrown Boehener’s way have made any difference in the duo’s now-frosty relationship? Maybe not. But it sure wouldn’t have hurt.

* A healthcare showdown: If you were wondering whether President Obama would back down on highlighting the good that he believes has come from the Affordable Care Act, you got your answer — in a major way — tonight. “Let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that is already millions of Americans,” Obama scolded, repeating the 40 votes line for emphasis. Top Republican Congressional aides immediately took to Twitter — natch! — insisting they welcomed a fight on Obamacare. One wonders what Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor or Alaska Sen.Mark Begich were thinking at that moment.

Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal:

Well that’s unfortunate.

Obama spent a lot of time talking about the deficit tonight, meaning he’s spending a lot of time implicitly accepting the premise that deficit reduction needs to be a big priority.

Even though he’s calling for his “balanced approach” (closing loopholes!) this still sounds like deficits, deficits, deficits.

We count the word deficit 10 times.

He only said the word jobs 31 times. That’s way out of whack.


JOE GANDELMAN, Editor-In-Chief
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Copyright 2014 The Moderate Voice
  • ordinarysparrow

    It was a good SOTU speech…

    Here are more Tweets from Think Progressive:

    The first one you already got…

    Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX):

    2. Reading advance copy of Obama’s #SOTU address to be delivered. 6,778 words. “Benghazi” is not one of them.

    — Rep. Steve Stockman (@SteveWorks4You) January 29, 2014

    3. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS):

    1st Release of Obama speech reads like dictates from a King. All orders he will do to bypass Congress #LawLess

    — Cong. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) January 29, 2014

    Bonus Huelskamp:

    The new Imperial Presidency–#Obama will do everything “without legislation” to advance his radical agenda. Guess you deleted Article 1…

    — Cong. Tim Huelskamp (@CongHuelskamp) January 29, 2014

    4. Townhall’s Katie Pavlich countered Obama’s portion on climate change being a settled debate:

    As it snows in Georgia, Obama wants you to know global warming, I mean climate change, is a FACT #SOTU

    — Katie Pavlich (@KatiePavlich) January 29, 2014

    5. Erick Erickson, during Obama’s comments about equal pay for women and men:

    I bet the Abortion Barbie fan club just fainted at that.

    — Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) January 29, 2014

    6. Karl Rove:

    The man who threatened the full faith & credit of US in 2005 now lectures congress on the issue.

    — Karl Rove (@KarlRove) January 29, 2014

    Obama continues to move forward and so many are chronically stuck…

  • petew

    Most of the reasons why the President is doing so poorly in the polls no doubt has to do with the perception that he has failed to deliver what he promised. But what we forget to take into account is the fact that he has sincerely tried to deliver on all of those promises, and has only been prevented form succeeding because of the extreme obstruction provided by Republicans whose first priority is to see him fail. Obama has for example introduced several job creating bills that House Republicans have refused to consider at all. And, he has continued to support extended unemployment benefits, increased access to food tamp programs, as well supporting a long overdue minimum wage.

    So, what new was added by the Republican Congresswoman who offered the opposing comments? She only repeated overused platitudes, like, the desire for giving control of our lives to people not government. Helping others to lift themselves up from poverty and not depend on government interference. She also mentioned the Republican claim that the GOP cares about Americans who are trying hard to get buy, but wants to give them the opportunity to succeed themselves, not through government handouts—not to mention the tiresome talking point that they want affordable health care—just not the way it is provided in the ACA.

    So, what is wrong with such cliche speeches filled with generalities—the fact that nothing in it is new and hasn’t already been tried before. Any number of Presidents have expressed support for programs to help the unemployed gain work skills and job placement in the labor force. And all of us appreciate the promise of success as the result of our own efforts. So, when Republicans do lip service to these ideals while voting to eliminate extended unemployment benefits, drastically cut food stamps and, kick millions of people in Republican controlled States and State medicaid programs while refusing generous federal help to expand medicaid coverage to more residents. Thus destroying their security and forcing them to get ACA coverage, which they may not qualify for—even though as much as 100% of the new expanded medicaid costs will be covered by the Federal Government. So how are Republicans looking out for ordinary Americans in light of deliberately slashing such safety nets?

    The counter point comment was more vapid, general, and echoed he hollow drumming of Republican Hubris, mixed with the same old promises i.e. Wow! I am sure glad they are concerned with average Americans and want to see me and others succeed. But how can that be accomplished when there are no jobs there to get, or when parents must choose between their next mortgage payments and putting supper on the table! By offering a helping hand up, rather than a handout? What specifically would such help consist of—anything that hasn’t been tried before by both Republicans and Democratic on Capitol Hill? C,mon get down to specifics!
    And, while you are at it, can you tell me how you promise to include health care access,(just not Obamacare) for those who have pre-existing conditions or chronic health issues—without the use of an individual mandate? Could it be that you are more motivated by the expanded profits and perks available to companies which go back to business as usual? How else will private companies solve our health care crisis? Do you really have any ideas at all?

    The press that humors Republicans—as well as the GOP’s malicious campaign designed to convey to ordinary people, a slew of outrageous but validating lies, that the GOP wants us to believe—through rife with blatant lies and meaningless misinformation—means absolutely nothing!

    Sure, Congress has been in endless gridlock, and the President has not accomplished all that he set out to—but can we be aware that he is not the only holder of public office in DC, and cannot do everything he wants single handedlly,just because he is the President. Real success will require tearing down the wall of partisan interests and allowing job creating bills to take root and given the chance to grow. Considering the rip tide of partisanship that the President struggles with every day, and, the things he has accomplished,and that one must eventually admit are nearly miracles, the President has accomplished amazing things! Once the dark money spent under the guise of free speech and the outrageous claims of TPers make, are in the harbor with no way out but, surrender, I think historians will feel free to consider Obama a good man, and an amazingly vigorous President who came under attack from all sides, without surrendering his principles—no matter what obstacles he faced.

    I don’t think Obama is particularly obsessed with leaving a positive legacy, but what he has done during the past five year, is try to walk through a brick wall of malicious Republicans. If historian remember that, his reputation will only inmprove in the future!

  • petew

    sorry for all of the grammatical errors and misspellings above. It’s way past my bedtime.

  • bluebelle

    Pete- thank you for pointing out that accomplishing more in DC takes cooperation from other elected officials in our government. If Obama tries to work behind the scenes he is said to be weak and reduced to leading from behind, if he uses the bully pulpit he gets hit for being too political and divisive, and if he tries to use executive power to get around Congress he is accused of tyranny.

    Its time to hold other branches and politicians equally accountable for what gets done or doesn’t get done in Washington.

  • JSpencer

    It’s not enough. It’s nice to think our leader is going to burst into his leadership role with renewed energy and that something will actually happen this time, but… I think this take by Matt Miller is closer to the truth:

    We have a stupid electorate, an obstructionist congress, and a democracy that’s been taken off at the knees. What is it reasonable to expect? Sorry I can’t get on the glass half full bandwagon, I sure wish I could.

  • sheknows

    “Whenever and wherever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that is what I am going to do,”

    IMO, at this point, who cares if they call him a tyrant.( add it to the long list of other names they call him). We aren’t giving tax dollars to pay these guys to sit around and say “no”.
    So far, This has been like an unarmed conductor leading a half blind symphony. Enough.

    I don’t expect big changes, but I will settle for some infrastructure work programs ,UEC extended, early education changes, and hopefully SNAP for the needy.
    It’s sad when you wish only for those accomplishments we SHOULD have had but didn’t because of Republican obstruction. We should be moving miles ahead by now.
    Like JS, I don’t hold out for much, but I will take what I can get .
    Btw, that photo juxtaposition of Michelle and the soldier inset into the Lindsey Graham, Duck dude pretty much says it all in terms of what each party find important.

  • petew


    Like you I don’t expect to see great leaps in progress with this Congress—especially with the propaganda machine operated by Karl Rove Rush Limbaugh and others, skillfully misrepresenting the actions of the administration—at every turn. We will someday regain a more bipartisan climate in Washington. You’d think that even the laws of chance would tell us that much. But whatever happens, it is wrong to hold one President to blame for not making the progress liberals would have liked to see. He is only one person amidst hundreds of Congressmen, a slew of biased pundits and an American public with little comprehension of what is really happening in Washington. Anything he can accomplish by exercising his executive powers will be well appreciated, and as sheknows says:

    “IMO, at this point, who cares if they call him a tyrant.( add it to the long list of other names they call him). We aren’t giving tax dollars to pay these guys to sit around and say “no”.”

    The President’s repeated attempts to negotiate and compromise with Republicans, has gone mostly without any thanks from those in Congress. The media is determined to cast both sides as stubborn obstructionists who will not yield. But when it come to things like the fiscal cliff, resetting the National Debt limit and closing down Washington, all he has done is refuse to let legislation favoring special interests, hold the government for ransom. The only compromise people like Ted Cruz accept is complete and utter surrender. What this is like, is the absurd proposition that, if someone aims a gun at the president and fires, any negative consequences or personal injuries that he and the Country would sustain, are his own fault, because he didn’t get out of the way of the bullet.

    Intelligent members of a free society cannot put up with this type of crap forever. And, Obama should be remembered as often being the only adult in the room who was willing to make any concessions at all!

  • JSpencer

    Petew, you are mistaken if you think I “hold one president to blame”. Of course I don’t. The causes of dysfunction run deep and wide – and have been in place for a long time.

    Intelligent members of a free society cannot put up with this type of crap forever.

    I would amend that to read intelligent members of a free society who possess a conscience. Too bad they aren’t in greater supply.

  • petew


    Perhaps I thought you were expressing personal animosity for the President, with your “glass half empty,” comment, but, after re-reading your post I can see that you were discussing the general dysfunction In Washington as well as that of ordinary people and voters who are so far, allowing it to happen.

    I assume you agree that Obama, has been receiving unfair criticism implying that, he personally, is responsible for any disappointments expressed by far left liberals—or for that matter, anyone who desires progressive actions.I think many of those expectations are good ones, but what I see is the President, making skillful compromises in the short term, in order to gain some progress in the long term. However, after doing somersaults to gain some compromise from the GOP—without any success, his use of executive power to do whatever he can do, and needs to do, that is within that power, is completely justified.

    I also do agree with you that a general malaise that has settled into the minds of the American public, is making them ignorant of just how important their input is, especially once it’s accompanied by real knowledge.

    Have a great day!