Obama: ‘Despite our hardships, our union is strong’
WASHINGTON — In his first State of the Union address Wednesday night, President Barack Obama put a premium on the nation’s economic woes while addressing the host of issues facing the United States.
In a speech that focused primarily on economic issues, the president signaled he wants Congress to continue fighting for health care reform, criticized the Supreme Court for overturning campaign finance laws, and urged tax breaks for small businesses in order to create jobs.
The president also urged reforms of the laws that govern lobbying in Washington.
“It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress,” Obama said. “And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office.”
Obama criticized the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs. FEC that overturned decades of limits on corporate spending in elections, a move many observers say will result in a “wild west” of unbridled spending designed to influence elections.
“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities,” the president said. “They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.”
Raw Story‘s live-blog of the speech follows below, along with live quotes and reactions. (All times EST.)
10:20 PM — Obama ends his speech with: “We don’t quit. I don’t quit. Let’s seize this moment, to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more. Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.”
10:17 PM — “I campaigned on change… I never suggested it would be easy, or I could do it alone.”
10:16 PM — Calls on Congress to “fix our broken immigration system.”
10:13 PM — Addressing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Obama says: “This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.”
10:07 PM — Obama urges bipartisan unity on national security. “We all love this country.” On Iraq, he says: “This war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home,” to a standing ovation.
10:04 PM — “If the Republican leadership is going to insist that 60 votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, a supermajority, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it’s not leadership”
10:03 PM — “Democrats, I remind you we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve problems, not run for the hills.”
10:02 PM — “I will not give up on trying to change the tone of our politics,” Obama says. “We still need to govern.”
10:00 PM — “Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill, just because they can.” Democrats applaud, Republicans silent.
9:58 PM — “Time to put strict limits” on lobbyist contributions to White House and Congress, Obama says. He slams Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited campaign finance spending by corporations. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by the country’s most powerful interests.” Deadpan looks from Supreme Court judges as camera pans to them.
9:56 PM — Obama slams Bush’s heavy spending as the source of America’s deficit problems.
9:54 PM — Washington Post’s Ezra Klein tweets: “Notably, Obama did not say pass the Senate bill or amend the Senate bill. There’s no more clarity on process.”
9:53 PM — “We just can’t afford” tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, says Obama, discussing his spending freeze and proposed ways to trim the budget. “I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans,” he says of the deficit.
9:50 PM — Atlantic writer Marc Ambinder jokes on Twitter: “Writes my colleague Josh Green: “Obama articulates Republican policies better than Republicans do.'”
9:49 PM — “If anyone from either party has a better approach… Let me know. Let me know. I’m eager to see it.” To a standing ovation. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stands up and smiles.
9:45 PM — “We still need health insurance reform,” Obama says, to a standing ovation. He discusses pre-existing conditions, rising costs, and the growing deficit.
9:39 PM — Obama hits climate skeptics. “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change,” Obama says, to cheers and some audible boos. “The nation that leads the clean energy economy will lead the global economy, and America must be that nation.”
9:35 PM — Republicans applaud at Obama’s overture to nuclear power. Democrats rise to a standing ovation at Obama’s call for a “comprehensive energy and climate bill.”
9:30 PM — “I do not accept 2nd place for the United States of America.”
9:28 PM — “I want a jobs bill on my desk, without delay,” says Obama. “How long should America put its future on hold?”
9:25 PM — Obama defends the stimulus package, claiming it’s saved millions of jobs, but it isn’t enough. “Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010, and that’s why I’m calling for a new jobs bill tonight,” he says to a standing ovation.
9:20 PM — Striking an early bipartisan tone, Obama says: “If there’s one thing that’s unified Republicans and Democrats, it’s the bank bailout. I hated it, you hated it, it was about as popular as a root-canal.” He adds: “We cut taxes. Let me repeat: we cut taxes. We cut taxes for 95 percent of working families…”
9:17 PM — “I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight,” says Obama, to a standing ovation. “Despite our hardships, our union is strong.”
9:15 PM — “Change has not come fast enough,” Obama says, discussing middle- and working-class anxieties and quickly comparing the fortunes on Wall Street to the struggles on Main Street.
9:13 PM — “We must answer history’s call,” Obama proclaims… “The worst of the storm has passed, but the devastation remains.”
9:10 PM — Obama shakes the hands of Speaker Pelosi and VP Biden and takes the podium. Pelosi introduces the president, speech begins.
9:05 PM — President Obama emerges to a standing ovation, with members of the Democratic leadership walking behind him.
8:30 PM — The Associated Press reports that Obama will spend “about two-thirds” of the address discussing the economy.
7:30 PM — The White House has released the following excerpts of President Obama’s State of the Union speech tonight:
We face big and difficult challenges. And what the American people hope – what they deserve – is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences; to overcome the numbing weight of our politics. For while the people who sent us here have different backgrounds and different stories and different beliefs, the anxieties they face are the same. The aspirations they hold are shared. A job that pays the bill. A chance to get ahead. Most of all, the ability to give their children a better life.
You know what else they share? They share a stubborn resilience in the face of adversity. After one of the most difficult years in our history, they remain busy building cars and teaching kids; starting businesses and going back to school. They are coaching little league and helping their neighbors. As one woman wrote to me, “We are strained but hopeful, struggling but encouraged.”
It is because of this spirit – this great decency and great strength – that I have never been more hopeful about America’s future than I am tonight. Despite our hardships, our union is strong. We do not give up. We do not quit. We don’t allow fear or division to break our spirit. In this new decade, it’s time the American people get a government that matches their decency; that embodies their strength. And tonight, I’d like to talk about how together, we can deliver on that promise.
By the time I’m finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Co-pays will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans. And neither should the people in this chamber.
Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it’s time for something new. Let’s try common sense. Let’s invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt. Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here.
To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust – deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years. To close that credibility gap we must take action on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to end the outsized influence of lobbyists; to do our work openly; and to give our people the government they deserve.
That’s what I came to Washington to do. That’s why – for the first time in history – my Administration posts our White House visitors online. And that’s why we’ve excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions.
But we cannot stop there. It’s time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress. And it’s time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office. Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign companies – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, and worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people, and that’s why I’m urging Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps to right this wrong.
I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.
6:32 PM — White House senior adviser David Axelrod confirms to CNN that Obama will seek repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
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