Huffpost Politics

State Of The Union 2011: Speech, Reaction & Commentary (LIVE UPDATES)

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WASHINGTON -- Pleading for unity in a newly divided government, President Barack Obama implored Democratic and Republican lawmakers to rally behind his vision of economic revival for an anxious nation, declaring in his State of the Union address Tuesday night: "We will move forward together or not at all."


The president unveiled an agenda of carefully balanced political goals: a burst of spending on education, research, technology and transportation to make the nation more competitive, alongside pledges, in the strongest terms of his presidency, to cut the deficit and smack down spending deemed wasteful to America. Yet he never explained how he'd pull that off or what specifically would be cut.

Obama spoke to a television audience in the millions and a Congress sobered by the assassination attempt against one if its own members, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Her seat sat empty, and many lawmakers of competing parties sat together in a show of support and civility. Yet differences were still evident, as when Democrats stood to applaud his comments on health care and tax cuts while Republicans next to them sat mute.

In his best chance of the year to connect with the country, Obama devoted most of his hour-long prime-time address to the economy, the issue that dominates concern in a nation still reeling from a monster recession - and the one that will shape his own political fortunes in the 2012 election.

Eager to show some budget toughness, Obama pledged to veto any bill with earmarks, the term used for lawmakers' pet projects. House Speaker John Boehner and other Republicans applauded. But Obama's promise drew a rebuke from his own party even before he spoke, as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the president had enough power and that plans to ban earmarks were "a lot of pretty talk."

Obama's proposals Tuesday night ranged across the scope of government: cutting the corporate tax, providing wireless services for almost the whole nation, consolidating government agencies and freezing most discretionary federal spending for the next five years. In the overarching theme of his speech, the president told the lawmakers: "The future is ours to win."

In essence, Obama reset his agenda as he heads toward a re-election bid with less clout and limited time before the campaign consumes more attention.

Yet Republicans have dismissed his "investment" proposals as merely new spending. Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, giving the GOP's response, said the nation was at "a tipping point" leading to a dire future if federal deficits aren't trimmed. The Senate's Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said the president had gotten the message from the November midterm elections and "changed the tone and the rhetoric from the first two years."

Obama entered the House chamber to prolonged applause and to the unusual sight of Republicans and Democrats seated next to one another rather than on different sides of the center aisle. And he began with a political grace note, taking a moment to congratulate Boehner, the new Republican speaker of the House.

Calling for a new day of cooperation, Obama said: "What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight but whether we can work together tomorrow."

On a night typically known for its political theater, the lawmakers sometimes seemed subdued, as if still in the shadow of the Arizona shootings.

Many in both parties wore black-and-white lapel ribbons, signifying the deaths in Tucson and the hopes of the survivors. Giffords' husband was watching the speech from her bedside, as he held her hand. At times, Obama delivered lighter comments, seeming to surprise his audience with the way he lampooned what he suggested was the government's illogical regulation of salmon.

Halfway through his term, Obama stepped into this moment on the upswing, with a series of recent legislative wins in his pocket and praise from all corners for the way he responded to the shooting rampage in Arizona. But he confronts the political reality is that he must to lead a divided government for the first time, with more than half of all Americans disapproving of the way he is handling the economy.

Over his shoulder a reminder of the shift in power on Capitol Hill: Boehner, in the seat that had been held by Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Obama conceded that everything he asked for would prompt more partisan disputes. "It will take time," he said. "And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law."

Obama used the stories of some of the guests sitting with his wife, Michelle, to illustrate his points, including a small business owner who, in the tradition of American ingenuity, designed a drilling technology that helped rescue the Chilean miners.

Flanking Mrs. Obama in the gallery: Brianna Mast, the wife of a soldier seriously injured in Afghanistan, and Roxanna Green, mother of the nine-year girl killed in the Tucson shooting.

The president cast the challenges facing the United States as bigger than either party. He said the nation was facing a new "Sputnik" moment, and he urged efforts to create a wave of innovation to create jobs and a vibrant economic future, just as the nation vigorously responded to the Soviets beating the U.S. into space a half century ago.

There was less of the see-saw applause typical of State of the Union speeches in years past, where Democrats stood to applaud certain lines and Republicans embraced others. Members of the two parties found plenty of lines worthy of bipartisan applause.

Yet as reaction flowed in, there was immediate blowback from all corners of the Democratic base. Environmentalists, trial lawyers, gay rights activists, labor leaders and Latino-rights groups all released statements, ranging from tepid to angry, complaining about everything from Obama's proposed spending freeze to his definition of clean energy.

In a speech with little focus on national security, Obama appeared to close the door on keeping any significant U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond the end of the year. "This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq," the president said.

The president reiterated his call for a comprehensive immigration bill, although there appears little appetite for it Congress. Another big Obama priority that stalled and died in the last Congress, a broad effort to address global climate change, did not get a mention in the State of the Union. Nor did gun control or the struggling effort to secure peace in the Middle East.

Obama worked in a bipartisan shout-out to Vice President Joe Biden and Boehner as two achievers emblematic of the American dream, the former a working-class guy from Scranton, Pa., the latter once a kid who swept floors in his father's Cincinnati bar. Biden and Boehner shook hands over that, and Boehner, clearly moved, flashed a thumbs-up.

After dispensing with all the policy, the president ended in a sweeping fashion.

"We do big things," the president said. "The idea of America endures."

Scroll down for the latest updates. Click here for more info from the State of the Union and here for fact-checking from The Center for Public Integrity, Sunlight Foundation, The Huffington Post and National Journal.

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President Obama vowed on Tuesday to veto any bill with earmarks, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) strongly disagrees.

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Did Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) watch Tea Party favorite Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) speech last night? No.

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Over at Slate, Eliot Spitzer lashes out at the budget plan Paul Ryan endorsed during Tuesday night's Republican response to the State of the Union.

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We mentioned last night that Rep. Paul Brown tweeted to President Obama, "You believe in socialism." Here's more info on the story.

@ RepPaulBrounMD : Mr. President, you don't believe in the Constitution. You believe in socialism.

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HuffPost polling expert Mark Blumenthal dives into the polling from last night's speech:

The results of the instant snap polls by CBS News, CNN/ORC and the Democratic pollsters at Democracy Corps all show overwhelmingly positive responses to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address from Tuesday night. Yet if past history is a guide, these impressions will not translate into a "bump" -- a lasting, measurable change in public opinion. These snap polls, for reasons that have never been clear, almost always yield an immediately favorable response.

One of the big challenges pollsters face in measuring reactions to the State of the Union address is that reaching a fresh random sample of adults within minutes of the speech is nearly impossible. Moreover, not everyone watches the speech. So those that try to measure reactions to the speech compromise, and aim to interview only those who say they have watched the speech.

Read more.

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HuffPost's Peter Goodman writes:

His words aimed for and found the space above the partisan divide in which presumably all key constituencies can benefit: If we invest strategically to nurture broad-based economic growth, that should generate jobs for factory workers and office-dwellers alike. It should increase orders for auto parts, software and catering. And, yes, a growing economy should create more dealmaking opportunities for Wall Street -- a fine thing, provided it delivers finance to productive parts of the economy that will use it to churn out goods and services of real value.

There is simply no constituency that loses when the economy grows. This was the unspoken fact at the heart of the president's speech.

But words, of course, are something short of action, and it was hard to listen to this speech without wondering: What took so long? How could we have gone two years into an administration that began in the midst of the most punishing economic downturn since the Depression, before the president -- a man elected in large part on the strength of his empathy and understanding -- laid out this kind of vision?

Read the rest here.

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Christine O'Donnell: Obama's State of the Union address was "hypocritical."

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John McCain tells ABC News that "there [were] a number of areas that the president has clearly shifted his opinion on," and added that this year's State of the Union address had a "much different feeling."

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William K. Black blogs on HuffPost about the State of the Union:

What "this" is Obama referring to when he says "This is our generation's Sputnik moment"? (And whose generation is "our" generation?) Sputnik was a "moment" -- its launch was a sensation. It caused Americans to engage in a massive reappraisal of U.S. policy and leadership. Sputnik made clear a potential Soviet threat to American's lives. The Soviet Union first tested a hydrogen bomb in 1953. By 1957, the Soviets had the rocket technology to put Sputnik in orbit. It was clear that they would soon have the capability of attacking any American city with a hydrogen bomb -- and that the U.S. had no means of stopping such an attack. Sputnik was an enormously big deal because every American understood the unprecedented threat to our survival.

President Kennedy made Sputnik one of the keys to his campaign. It happened on Eisenhower's watch. Kennedy claimed that it showed the need for a new, more innovative generation to take the reins of power and revitalize the nation. Whatever "this" Obama was referring to, it isn't a "moment" and it hasn't caused such a reappraisal. Because Obama cannot tell us what "this" is, it's tough to use the metaphor to convince the nation that we should pay for the modern equivalent of a space race to address it.

More here.

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Senior White House advisor David Axelrod had some fun with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)'s State of the Union response. Watch.

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CNN was the only cable network to carry Michele Bachmann's Tea Party response on Tuesday night. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow took issue with the network's decision.

"Michele Bachmann is not the national spokesperson for the Republican Party," she said. "She is unlikely anytime soon to be chosen to be the spokesperson for her party. But tonight, inexplicably, a national news network decided that they would give Michele Bachmann a job that her own party never did."

Watch the segment here.

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Mark Thompson at Time tracked how many words Obama devoted to war during last night's addressed, and compared it to every State of the Union since 2001. Take a look at the findings here.

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What did President Obama's State of the Union mean for college students? HuffPost College takes a look.

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Politico observes that Tuesday's State of the Union address "was marked less by what was said than by an unprecedented lack of control over who was delivering the messages and when."

Click here for more on broken embargos, delayed speeches, and why CNN ran Michele Bachmann's live remarks when Fox News didn't.

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Obama mentioned at least seven everyday Americans during his speech on Tuesday, restoring a tradition that he skipped in 2010. Click here for more on the people he acknowledged as well as a video of all the citizens mentioned in State of the Union addresses dating back to 1982, when Ronald Reagan started the practice.

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If the State of the Union salmon humor wasn't enough for you, Roll Call poked fun of the evening's seating arrangements with a video:

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If you've been closely following this liveblog tonight, you've done a whole lot of reading about Obama's State of the Union address. Eyes getting tired? We asked our Twitter followers to react. Who needs 140 whole characters? These tweets cut to the chase in just three words ... here you go.

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The Center For Public Integrity has a recap from the State of the Union address, as well as a recap of the live fact check from Sunlight Live:

President Obama’s State of the Union address met its promise for civility but the math behind his proposals didn’t entirely add up.

For all his talk of reining in federal spending and cutting the deficit, Obama proposed an ambitious spending spree ranging from new clean energy technologies to expensive bridges and high-speed rail projects. He offered very few specifics about where spending cuts would come from, and one of the ideas he offered for offsetting some of his spending — eliminating oil and gas tax breaks — couldn’t get passed by Congress when the Democrats controlled both chambers. Now Republicans, typically more friendly to industry, are in charge of the House.

Click here for more.

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Another speech, another fact check:

Insisting that she was not upstaging the official GOP response to President Obama's State of the Union, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) offered a combative and highly misleading speech of her own following the president's address. In her "Tea Party Response," Bachmann repeated a litany of false right-wing talking points about everything from the Recovery Act and job losses to the debt and "16,500 IRS agents."

Read more at Media Matters' Political Correction.

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HuffPost's Ryan Grim reports:

The cross-party-dating tradition that began tonight did not go off as smoothly as it appeared from the television screens.

Much like in the legislative tussles between the parties and the chambers, House and Senate members jockeyed for position prior to the speech. According to House rules, no member is allowed to claim a seat for him or herself: The People's Chamber is first come, first serve. In practice, members routinely save seats for themselves before the State of the Union, a tradition that spun out of control as bipartisan groups attempted to save long rows and blocs of seats.

Click here for more.

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David Corn from Mother Jones:

Is he a fierce down-sizer of government, or an ardent champion of boosting government investment in the economy? Well, he's both. A lot of folks on both sides of the ideological divide won't be so happy. Conservatives and Republicans will grouse that Obama hasn't truly learned the lesson of the 2010 elections and remains a staunch lefty spendthrift. Liberals will fret that he's yielding too much ground to the tea partiers who believe with religious fervor that what ails the economy is government spending (not the economy itself). As for the mushy middle, those much sought-after independent voters—will they go for Obama's right-left meld? After all, many of them seem to want a government that doesn't spend money and a government that revives the economy. It might take more than minutes to see if this one-man duet (save-and-invest) connects.

Ultimately, this speech, not full of punch, was the set-up for the political battle that will rage from now until Election Day 2012. Obama wants to use government to revive the US economy. But he has calculated that he can only do so if Americans believe he is simultaneously tightening the belt of the bloated beast in Washington. The Republicans, meanwhile, will continue to reiterate their mantra: the only thing we have to fear is government spending and debt. A fundamental and ideological disagreement is at hand: government is evil, government can help. Obama is conceding part of the argument (yes, we must do something about spending) to win the argument (we must engage in communal action to survive and succeed in the global economy). To win the future—and the next election—the president has to hope that he has figured out the right cost/benefit ratio.

Click here to read more on Mother Jones.

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CNN has released the results of the second of two instant polls on President Obama's speech tonight. Like the CBS News survey reviewed here earlier, this survey finds an overwhelmingly positive response that is also typical for a State of the Union Address.

The telephone survey, conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, sampled 475 Americans who watched the speech. Like the CBS survey, CNN found that the audience composition followed the typical pattern of a skew to the President's party. Democrats outnumbered Republicans two-to-one in the CNN sample (39% to 19%), which is roughly the same margin CNN found among those who watched last year's State of the Union Address (38% Democrat, 25% Republican).

Not surprisingly, the CNN/ORC poll measured an overwhelmingly positive response to the State of the Union address: 84% positive, 15% negative (with 52% very positive). While impressive, that response is also fairly typical. Obama did slightly worse on the post-SOTU poll last year (78% positive, including 48% very positive), but better in 2009 (92% positive, including 68% very positive).

The CNN survey also found a 16 percentage point jump (from 61% to 77%) in the number who said that the policies Obama proposed would "move the country in the right direction." Once again, that's about average. Obama moved the numbers by about as after his speeches in 2010 (up 18, from 53% to 71%) and 2009 (up 17, from 71% to 88%). That's roughly the same average shift (+17) on the dozen instant response State of the Union speeches conducted by CNN (with ORC and their previous polling partner Gallup) since 1995.

Again, while typical, these sorts of positive responses rarely translate into meaningful, lasting changes in public opinion.

-- Mark Blumenthal

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If a common theme emerged from the Republican leadership’s response to Obama’s address, it’s that the president didn’t propose to trim enough from the budget. “You can’t freeze at last year’s level and save any money. That’s why you have to go back to at least 2008 levels,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told HuffPost after the speech.

“I would have preferred a speech that focused more urgently on the fact that we’re borrowing 42 cents out of every dollar we’re spending,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the number three Republican. “He has a crisis before him and us. He has to be the leader. He has to present the plans.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed. “Freezing after the last two years’ spending binge is clearly not much. We need to really significantly reduce our annual spending and we need to tackle our long-term entitlements, which he indicated an openness to doing, so we’ll see.”

McConnell said that Obama’s education plan would run up against opposition if it increased spending. “All of that involves increasing spending and our top priority now is to reduce spending and reduce spending significantly, both short term and long term,” he told HuffPost.

Calling something investment doesn’t make it useful spending, said Alexander. “Investment is a bad word when it’s used as a cover for just more random spending,” he said.

-- Ryan Grim

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HuffPost's Howard Fineman gives his take on the speech:

WASHINGTON - It wasn't Kumbaya, it was more. We have finally witnessed it: "Love Train" Moment in the capital.

The president almost made John Boehner cry by praising him as a working class hero. That was to be expected. But in his tour-de-force of good fellowship Tuesday night, Barack Obama went further.

Read more here.

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The immigration reform advocacy community wasn't impressed by Obama's tepid and vague call for support for immigration reform. National Immigration Forum Executive Director Ali Noorani said the speech showed a general impasse on moving forward with immigration reform:

Tonight we didn’t hear a plan from the President, and we’ve never seen one from Republicans. The majority of Americans want a bipartisan immigration solution that levels the playing field for American workers, holds crooked employers accountable, secures our nation, and requires the undocumented to pay taxes, get right with the law and legalize their status. Americans are tired of the divisive politics of yesterday, and it is time for a solution that moves us forward together.

Another immigrant advocacy group, The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in Los Angeles, voiced a similar complaint:

Although briefly urging congress to ‘take on, once and for all’ immigration reform, the President missed a golden opportunity to elaborate on how he will work on legalizing immigrants rather than deporting them, how he will protect immigrants and their U.S. born children against a flurry of anti-immigrant legislation at the federal and state levels, or how he will use any and all executive powers to help immigrant integration.

The Latino electorate is committed to seeing President Obama succeed as he leads our nation through one of our worst financial crises in decades. We are bereft, however, when one of candidate Obama’s promises to our community, that of reforming our nation’s broken immigration laws, remains unfulfilled after two years. His promise to bring immigrants out of the shadows must turn into action that protects more than just talented students.

-HuffPost's Elise Foley

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Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) liked sitting with Republicans so much at the State of the Union that he wants to do it all the time by proposing mixed-party seating in the Senate. (For those times that they're all in there together and not just talking to an empty floor.) "I want to sit with them on the floor of the Senate," he told reporters after the speech. "Let's sit together. Stop this division that only keeps us divided. In the Senate, if we work together and we sit together, I think there's a lot more opportunity to share things."

-HuffPost's Elise Foley

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Obama's call to address immigration is a carry-over from last year's address.

Last year, Obama pledged to continue working on "fixing our broken immigration system, to secure our borders and enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation."

Obama dispatched the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, and the Department of Homeland Security increased deportations of undocumented workers. But the administration largely didn't push Congress to pass a comprehensive immigration bill. And the watered-down version that passed the House and made it to the Senate failed to pass, too.

Last year, Obama called the system "broken." Nothing has changed.

-HuffPost's Shahien Nasiripour

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Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski unexpectedly left early from President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday night due to a family emergency. She tweeted that her youngest son was undergoing a "surprise appendectomy surgery."

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CBS News has broadcast initial findings from their survey of "more than 500" Americans who watched the State of the Union address. They report finding an "extremely positive response," with 92% expressing approval for the proposals the President made in his speech. That's slightly better than the 83% approval they obtained last year, but roughly the same as for Obama's inaugural address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009 (91%).

One reason for the overwhelmingly positive response is that the audience typically skews to the President's supporters. This year was no exception, as Democrats outnumbered Republicans in the CBS sample, 44% to 25% with 30% identifying as independent, roughly the same as what CBS found last year (41% Democrat, 21% Republican, 35% independent).

CBS also reports that approval for Obama's "plans for the economy" jumped from 54% expressed by their respondents before the speech to 81% after. Last year's address involved a similar jump, from 55% to 76% approval.

Positive responses from instant polls are typical, but rarely translate into meaningful, lasting changes in public opinion.

As in previous years, CBS conducted a representative online sample pre-recruited by the company Knowledge Networks (more on the methodology here).

-HuffPost Pollster's Mark Blumenthal

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