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Posted by on Jan 28, 2014 in Featured, Politics | 9 comments

Obama’s state of the union address: Obama rides again? (News, blog and Twitter roundup)


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.


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