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State of the Union

Obama courts middle class in State of the Union address

WASHINGTON, D. C. — U.S. President Barack Obama, who took office six years ago amid a historic recession and two U.S. wars, declared unequivocally Tuesday that the nation had clawed its way out of those dire straits, praising Americans for their resilience but also pointedly taking credit for leading the way.

“America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed,” Obama said in his sixth State of the Union address to the nation and a joint session of Congress in the House chamber.

After years of fighting with Republicans over where to take the country, Obama delivered an hour-long defense of his policies that at times sounded like a victory lap. He asserted that the brightening economic picture — including accelerating job growth, more people with health insurance and lower gas prices — had proved that he was right, and his adversaries misguided, all along.

First Lady Michelle Obama, left, is introduced to the audience at the U.S. Capitol where President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary

The president had been cautious over the past two years not to gloat over news of fitful economic growth, mindful that the economy remained tenuous and public confidence uneasy. But with the jobless rate well below 6 percent, the stock market nearing record highs and his job approval ratings rebounding, Obama on Tuesday night dropped his veneer of reserve and appeared to delight in having proven his critics wrong.

“At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious, that we would crush jobs and explode deficits,” he said. “Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health-care inflation at its lowest rate in 50 years.”

“So the verdict is clear,” Obama said.

At times Tuesday, Obama chided Republicans to help improve Washington’s political discourse, and he harked back to the themes of national unity that helped him get elected in the first place back in 2008.

But in doing so, he also served to remind members of the GOP of the reasons their relationship is so fraught.

When Republicans jokingly applauded after Obama noted that he had run his last campaign, the president paused and broke from his prepared text to deliver a spontaneous barb: “I know because I won both of them.”

Obama took the spotlight in front of Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, intent on proving that he would remain relevant in the final quarter of his presidency as the race to select his replace him next year begins.

Just two months after Democrats suffered a severe blow in the midterm elections, when voters handed control of both chambers to the GOP for the first time during his tenure, Obama’s speech came amid warnings from Republicans to avoid divisive rhetoric and policies.

“Tonight isn’t about the president’s legacy. It’s about the people’s priorities,” Boehner said in a video posted to YouTube on Tuesday. “Making the government bigger isn’t going to help the middle class. More growth and more opportunity will help the middle class, and those are the Republican priorities.”

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday.

Washington Post photo by Bill O’Leary

But Obama had told allies that he would not kowtow to GOP demands despite the party’s new majorities. The president announced early in his speech that he would focus less on the usual “laundry list” of new proposals — the White House had revealed most of them ahead of time — and instead focus on the “values at stake” for the American people moving forward.

He framed portions of his address around a letter he received from a woman in Minneapolis named Rebekah Erler, who said that she and her husband struggled to pay bills during the recession shortly after they were married and had a son.

“We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times,” Obama said, quoting a letter from Erler, whom he visited during a trip to the Midwest last summer. She was among the guests in First Lady Michelle Obama’s box.

The president said Erler’s story was a metaphor for the nation’s. “It’s been your effort and resilience that has made it possible for our country to emerge stronger,” Obama said. “Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America. We’ve laid a new foundation. A brighter future is ours to write.”

In the wake of the GOP rout in the midterms, the president responded by announcing a series of aggressive executive actions, including measures to protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation, to work toward reestablishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and to strike a climate agreement with China.

Related: US officials in Cuba to discuss embassies

The moves angered Republicans, who challenged the president to heed the message of voters, who had handed the GOP control of both chambers of Congress.

Instead, the White House continued its strategy into the new year, rolling out the major proposals for the next year in a presidential tour ahead of the State of the Union address. Obama laid out proposals to revamp the tax code by raising taxes and fees on the wealthiest Americans and largest financial institutions — and using the money to pay for free tuition for two years of community college and for a $500 tax credit for married couples in which both spouses have jobs.

Though the White House knew the ideas have a slim chance of being approved by lawmakers, the point was to start a debate on Obama’s terms. And the president and his advisers were determined to begin to frame his legacy as having delivered on his promise to improve the lives of ordinary Americans.

Members of the media set up cameras to interview inside Statuary Hall on the evening of the State of the Union Address at the U.S. Capitol Building.

Washington Post photo by Andrew Harnik

On foreign policy, Obama sought to build on the idea, first enunciated during a lengthy speech at West Point last spring, of a “smarter kind of American leadership” in which the United States balances military intervention with diplomacy and coalition-building.

Obama has made the case in recent weeks, as he marked the end of U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan, that the nation is safer after more than a decade of combat abroad — even though he authorized renewed U.S. military operations in Iraq and Syria to combat the Islamic State militant group.

U.S. leadership “is stopping ISIL’s advance,” Obama said, using an acronym for the group. But such a declaration seemed premature, set against images Tuesday of two orange-clad Japanese hostages kneeling in the desert before a blackrobed militant.

Ahead of the speech, cable networks showed footage of U.S. Navy warships stationed in the Red Sea off the coast of Yemen, where the government was in danger of collapsing and the U.S. Embassy was in potential danger, providing stark reminders about the threats to American values around the world.

In addition to the annual State of the Union traditions — such as Obama’s lunch with television news anchors at the White House — presidential aides noted that Obama spoke Tuesday with French President François Hollande about the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago.

“The State of the Union & the State of the World are far from alignment,” Ian Bremmer, president of the risk analysis firm Eurasia Group, observed on Twitter.

But Obama was determined to project an optimistic view of the nation’s future, and he maintained faith that the country could rise above its divisions. He alluded to his own diverse upbringing in Hawaii and Chicago and cited his keynote address as an Illinois state senator at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which launched him on the national political radar as a bright young prospect for higher office.

“A better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine,” Obama said Tuesday. “A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.”

The president acknowledged that he had heard the political pundits declare since he took office six years ago that he had failed to make good on his vision at a time when “our politics seems more divided than ever. It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws — of which there are many — but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naive.”

To the contrary, Obama insisted, as he pledged to keep working to change Washington, even as he was, in many ways, declaring victory over his rivals.

“I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth,” he said, “that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort.”

© 2015, The Washington Post

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I am 75 years old. I started working when 15 years of age when my parents died and I was left on my own.
I have been in the military when there was a draft (which I believe should be reinstated) and have NEVER COLLECTED UNEMPLOYMENT OR WELEFARE BENEFITS.
But I am a Liberal Democrat and always have been.
I listened to the entire speech last night. I did not hear Obama say that the unemployment in Illinois is improved. I did hear him say the there are millions of jobs created for the entire Nation.
He also said that there are many who have not experienced the economic upturn and that we must stay the course for their sake.
I now live on my Social Security Retirement, which I believe I have earned by working for 50 years. I continue to pay taxes. I did have a 401 retirement fund that went sour when the crooks on Wall Street and in the Banks were paying their little games during the Bush presidential years.
Even now, when my retirement income is low, I pay more taxes than many multibillion dollar corporations; corporations who continue to offshore jobs.
The problem with the US now is the HATE. There is too much money being made from hate.
If we do not get together and tackle problems as a Country then there is little hope for improvement for any but the ultra rich.

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Chuck in Illinois

Like Criminals from Chicago, the Corruption Capital of the United States..
The Official Unemployed is: 8,620,433
The Actual Unemployed is: 17,373,379
There is over 14,000,000 more not in the labor force now than there was in 2000

You can Keep your Doctor…Benghazi was because of a movie, Waco was work violence,
The war is over, but I’m sending troops back in..Where does the lying stop.

I’m from Illinois and we don’t want or support obama, he’s a lier and a cheat that has NEVER had a productive career.
How he and Soros duped people like you Twice is beyond the people in Illinois comprehension.
We can hardly wait until he is gone.
The World will be much better off when people like obama stop destroying the World and disappear from politics.
The problem with you liberal democrats is that you don’t want to work for what you have, you want someone else to work for you.
The GOP, Working for those that Work for a Living…

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I hope you too learn a lesson Costa Rica. Continue on a path of following GOP strategy and you too will continue to destroy your economy. Trickle Down economics has been a huge failure, and your PLN Politicians have followed the same path, and now look where it has gotten you. You are strife with with internal corruption. You have an enormous deficit. You have screwed over mom and pop business so a few could enhance their wealth by sucking up to huge corporations. Inequality is at an all time high. The environment is suffering. Your prisons are severly overpopulated, and filled with people who are drug abusers and petty criminals. Did I mention coruption is at an all time high?

When you let criminals run the country, this is the result. They sit home laughing and counting their ill-gotten gains, while the rest of society suffers under their short sighted and greed stricken policies that enrich them. Wake up to the reality of your situation.

We need more Barack Obama leaders in this world!

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More Obama leaders? The man hasn’t done anything but pander to our enemies, insult our allies, create MORE debt, more racial division and shrink the middle class (all the while blaming Bush!!)!

Please. Tell me WHY we need more Barak Obama leaders in this world. If anything, we need LESS Barak Obamas in this world.

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