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Obama Vows To Flex Presidential Powers In State Of The Union 2014 Speech

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By JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to energize his sluggish second term, President Barack Obama vowed Tuesday night in his State of the Union address to sidestep Congress "whenever and wherever" necessary to narrow economic disparities between rich and poor. He unveiled an array of modest executive actions to increase the minimum wage for federal contract workers and make it easier for millions of low-income Americans to save for retirement.

"America does not stand still and neither do I," Obama declared in his prime-time address before a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching on television.

Draped in presidential grandeur, Obama's address served as the opening salvo in a midterm election fight for control of Congress that will quickly consume Washington's attention. Democrats, seeking to cast Republicans as uncaring about the middle class, have urged Obama to focus on economic mobility and the gap between the wealthy and poor. His emphasis on executive actions was greeted with shouts of "Do it!" from many members of his party.

Declaring 2014 a "year of action," Obama also sought to convince an increasingly skeptical public that he still wields power in Washington even if he can't crack through the divisions in Congress. Burned by a series of legislative failures in 2013, White House aides say they're now redefining success not by what Obama can jam through Congress but by what actions he can take on his own.

Indeed, Obama's proposals for action by lawmakers were slim and largely focused on old ideas that have gained little traction over the past year. He pressed Congress to revive a stalled immigration overhaul, pass an across-the-board increase in the federal minimum wage and expand access to early childhood education — all ideas that gained little traction after he proposed them last year. The president's one new legislation proposal calls for expanding an income tax credit for workers without children.

Republicans, who saw their own approval ratings fall further in 2013, have also picked up the refrain of income inequality in recent months, though they have cast the widening gap between rich and poor as a symptom of Obama's economic policies.

"Republicans have plans to close the gap, plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts and red tape," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., in the Republicans' televised response to the president's speech.

The economy and other domestic issues, including health care, dominated the president's address. He touched only briefly on foreign policy, touting the drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan this year and reiterating his threat to veto any new sanctions Congress might levy on Iran while nuclear negotiations with the Islamic republic are underway.

Even as Washington increasingly focuses on income inequality, many parts of the economy are gaining strength, with corporate profits soaring and the financial markets hitting record highs. But with millions of Americans still out of work or struggling with stagnant wages, Obama has found himself in the sometimes awkward position of promoting a recovery that feels distant for many.

"The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by, let alone get ahead," Obama said. "And too many still aren't working at all."

The president garnered some of his loudest applause — at least from Democrats — when he took on lawmakers who oppose his signature health care law, which floundered in its initial rollout last fall. Obama said that while he doesn't expect to convince Republicans on the merits of the law, "I know that the American people aren't interested in refighting old battles."

The president's speech drew an eclectic mix of visitors to the House chamber. Among those sitting with first lady Michelle Obama were two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as Jason Collins, an openly gay former NBA player. Republican House Speaker John Boehner brought business owners from his home state of Ohio who say Obama's health care overhaul is hurting their companies. Willie Robertson, a star of the television show "Duck Dynasty," also scored a seat in the House gallery, courtesy of the Republicans.

Though Obama sought to emphasize his presidential powers, there are stark limits to what he can do on his own. For example, he unilaterally can raise the minimum hourly wage for new federal contractors from $7.25 to $10.10, as he announced, but he'll need Congress in order to extend that increase to all of America's workers.

The executive order for contractors, which Obama will sign in the coming weeks, is limited in its scope. It will not affect existing federal contracts, only new ones, and then only if other terms of an agreement change.

Republicans quickly panned the executive initiative as ineffective. Said Boehner: "The question is how many people, Mr. President, will this executive action actually help? I suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero."

White House officials countered by saying many more working people would benefit if Congress would go along with Obama's plan to raise the minimum wage across the board.

"Give America a raise," Obama declared.

Among the president's other executive initiatives is a plan to help workers whose employers don't offer retirement savings plans. The program would allow first-time savers to start building up savings in Treasury bonds that eventually could be converted into traditional IRAs. Obama is expected to promote the "starter" accounts during a trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

The president also announced new commitments from companies to consider hiring the long-term unemployed, the creation of four "manufacturing hubs" where universities and businesses would work together to develop and train workers, new incentives to encourage truckers to switch from dirtier fuels to natural gas or other alternatives and a proposed tax credit to promote the adoption of cars that can run on cleaner fuels, such as hydrogen, natural gas or biofuels.

The president's go-it-alone strategy is in many ways an acknowledgment that he has failed to make good on two major promises to the American people: that he would change Washington's hyper-partisanship and that his re-election would break the Republican "fever" and clear the way for congressional action on major initiatives.

Some Republicans have warned that the president's focus on executive orders could backfire by angering GOP leaders who already don't trust the White House.

Obama isn't abandoning Congress completely. He made a renewed pitch for legislation to overhaul the nation's fractured immigration laws, perhaps his best opportunity for signing significant legislation this year. But the odds remain long, with many Republicans staunchly opposed to Obama's plan for creating a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people already in the U.S. illegally.

Seeking to give the GOP some room to maneuver, Obama did not specifically call for a citizenship pathway Tuesday, saying only, "Let's get it done. It's time."

Opening a new front with Congress, the president called for an extension of the earned-income tax credit, which helps boost the wages of low-income families through tax refunds. Obama wants it broadened so that it provides more help than it does now to workers without children, a view embraced by some Republicans and conservative economists.

Obama singled out Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who has proposed replacing the tax credit with a federal wage supplement for workers in certain low-paying jobs. Unlike Obama, however, Republicans have suggested expanding the tax credit as an alternative to increasing the minimum wage.

Pivoting briefly to foreign policy, Obama reaffirmed that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan will formally conclude at the end of this year. But he said a small contingent of American forces could be left behind if the Afghan government quickly signs a bilateral security agreement, a prospect that looks increasingly uncertain.

The president also warned lawmakers in both parties against passing new economic sanctions against Iran while the U.S. and international partners are holding nuclear negotiations with the Islamic republic. He renewed his commitment to veto sanctions legislation if it passes, arguing that a new round of penalties would upend the sensitive diplomacy.

___

Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Jim Kuhnhenn, Nedra Pickler and Henry C. Jackson contributed to this report.

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President Barack Obama made clear Tuesday night that an Iran sanctions bill being pushed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) isn't going anywhere, threatening a veto if it ever made it to his desk.

HuffPost caught up with Menendez after the president's address and asked for his thoughts on Obama shutting down his legislation. He didn't have much to say.

"I’m not frustrated," said the New Jersey Democrat as he ducked into an elevator, pushing the buttons and looking ready to be done with the conversation. "The president has every right to do what he wants."

Menendez's bill has bipartisan support, but it faces stiff resistance from the White House, which argues it may thwart a delicate deal now in place between Iran and a number of world powers, including the United States. Under that six-month deal, Iran will stop developing its nuclear capability in exchange for an ease in existing sanctions.

Speaking to a group of reporters as he made his way to the elevator, Menendez said his "real concern" is that, without steadily imposing sanctions on Iran, the U.S. will ultimately let them all fall away.

"We'll have to accept a nuclear weapons state or we're going to end up with a military option," he said. "We won't have sanctions in place anymore."

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he noticed something different about the way the president talked about Iran during Tuesday's address.

"He talked about preventing them from building a nuclear weapon. It used to be we're going to prevent them from having the capability to build a nuclear weapon. That seems to be gone," Lankford said. "It was all about just not getting to the last stage rather than capability. That's a pretty big shift."

-- Jennifer Bendery and Michael McAuliff

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Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) didn't think much of President Barack Obama's State of the Union address (aside form his support for wounded warriors), but she was especially dismissive of his appeal for women to get equal pay. That's just so over, Bachmann argued.

"Frankly, a lot of what we heard were 40-year-old prescriptions and 40-year-old bromides. I mean really, equal pay for equal work?" Bachmann said. "I mean, this was something in the 1970s people were talking about. So I think we've addressed that."

Most economists estimate that women earn about 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

-- Michael McAuliff

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Shortly after President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters point-blank: "The world is literally about to blow up and our president did not really paint a fair picture of the threats we face."

Graham, a member of the Senate Arms Services Committee, said he wanted Obama to tell the American public during his annual address how he intends to resolve the conflict in Syria and questioned whether the administration's negotiations with Iranians over their nuclear program would be productive.

"I cannot stress to you enough how disappointed I was to hear the president's explanation of the state of affairs when it comes to the Mid-East and our national security threats," Graham said. "I thought he underplayed that and oversold. Explain what happens in the Middle East if the Syrian conflict goes on and (Bashar al) Assad continues to win."

He went on: "I would say that trying to free people from the bonds of al Qaeda is a good thing. That going into Afghanistan is a good thing. Taking Saddam Hussein out is a good thing. Trying to get people get on their feet and elect their government is a good thing."

Graham and a bipartisan group of senators have called for more sanctions on Iran. Obama has promised to veto any legislation that would increase such sanctions.

-- Eugene Mulero

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HuffPost's Ariel Edwards-Levy and Mark Blumenthal report:

CNN's instant polling among Americans who watched Tuesday's State of the Union found an overwhelming majority reacting positively to President Barack Obama's address, as it has four times previously during his presidency.

The network's poll found that 76 percent of Americans viewed the speech somewhat or very positively, in line with reactions to his previous speeches, although the percentage with "very positive" views declined. Last year, 77 percent of watchers reported a positive view of the speech to CNN, and slightly higher numbers approved of Obama's speeches in three previous years. (The network didn't conduct a post-State of the Union poll in 2012.)

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HuffPost's Jeffrey Young reports:

Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) delivered harsh criticisms of President Barack Obama's health care reform law during the official GOP response to his State of the Union address Tuesday, but stopped short of explicitly demanding its repeal.

McMorris-Rodgers highlighted the negative effects of the Affordable Care Act on consumers whose premiums rose, whose previous health insurance policies were canceled because they didn't meet the law's benefit standards and whose physicians aren't covered by the new plans available on Obamacare's health insurance exchanges. But while McMorris-Rodgers declared Obama's reforms a failure, she didn't vow that congressional Republicans would continue their push to repeal the law, for which the GOP-led House has vote dozens of times.

"No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were, but this law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's," McMorris-Rodgers said. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made no mention of Obamacare in the written statement he issued following the speaches by Obama and McMorris-Rodgers.

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Environmental advocates had mixed reviews for the climate and energy portions of President Barack Obama's speech –- praising his climate comments but criticizing his energy strategy.

A number of environmental groups wrote to the president earlier this month asking him to drop his "all-of-the-above" rhetoric on energy. That policy, they wrote, is "fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution." But Obama's speech doubled down on that language, claiming that the strategy "is working."

"If we are truly serious about fighting the climate crisis, we must look beyond an ‘all of the above’ energy policy and replace dirty fuels with clean energy," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement following the speech. "We can’t effectively act on climate and expand drilling and fracking for oil and gas at the same time."

Erich Pica, the president of Friends of the Earth, noted that the speech "was filled with unhelpful contradictions" in an email to The Huffington Post. "You cannot address carbon pollution through an all of the above energy policy. You cannot promote regulatory streamlining and trade pacts that will undermine governments regulations while trying to implement carbon pollution regulations."

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, praised the climate portion of the speech but also brought up the environmental elephant in the room that Obama didn't address tonight: the Keystone XL pipeline. His statement called on Obama to reject the proposed pipeline from Canada to Texas.

-- Kate Sheppard

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports:

The response to the president's State of the Union address from Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.), the GOP's fourth-ranking member in the House, was largely an attempt to present a humanizing side of the GOP, "a more hopeful Republican vision."

The 44-year old mother of three, who gave birth to her third child in November, talked at length about her own biography: She worked at a McDonald's drive-through in college, she got up before dawn to pick apples on her family's orchard, she was in the 4H Club, she's married to a retired Navy commander. The YouTube livestream of her speech featured a picture of McMorris-Rodgers' family when she mentioned her husband and children.

[...]

Beyond that, her speech was largely a string of generalized bromides about how Republicans want to "empower people, not politicians."

But for a party that has lost support among women voters in the last few elections -- and is viewed by a good number of voters as the party of old white men -- such a soft-focus human interest speech was just what the GOP wanted.

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel reports:

In 1996, President Bill Clinton went before the nation and shamed congressional Republicans for shutting down the government. It was his first State of the Union address after two shutdowns that closed the federal government for 28 days, and he made sure GOP lawmakers would regret what they did.

But on Tuesday, in his first State of the Union speech since the 16-day shutdown in October, President Barack Obama took a very different approach. He made only a passing reference to the government shutdown and never pointed the finger directly at anyone.

"For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government," said Obama near the beginning of his address. "It's an important debate -- one that dates back to our very founding. But when that debate prevents us from carrying out even the most basic functions of our democracy -- when our differences shut down government or threaten the full faith and credit of the United States -- then we are not doing right by the American people."

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President Barack Obama didn't mention criminal justice, drug policy or marijuana in his 2014 State of the Union address at all.

Obama recently told the New Yorker he was troubled that "Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do." Attorney General Eric Holder has identified fixing the broken justice system that disproportionately affects millions of young black men as one of his top priorities. And the administration recently seems to be taking a more lenient stance on drug policy, allowing Colorado and Washington to proceed with their experiments in marijuana legalization.

None of that, however, was in the speech.

Every interest group feels left out when their favorite issue gets excluded from the State of the Union, and marijuana reform advocates are no exception. Tom Angell, co-founder of Marijuana Majority, said he thought it was "shameful" the president couldn't spare a few words.

"There are many ways the president can act to lead us out of this mess without Congress, including commuting the sentences of the thousands of nonviolent drug offenders that are locked up for no good reason," he said in an email. "He should also use the bully pulpit to build the case for repealing mandatory minimum sentences and reforming the failed drug prohibition policies that put too many of our fellow Americans behind bars for too long."

-- Matt Sledge

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President Barack Obama mentioned in his remarks the "prudent limits" he has imposed on U.S. drone strikes, referring to new procedures for the so-called "targeted killing" program laid out in a May 2013 speech.

In Pakistan, at least, those procedures seem to be having some effect: the U.K.'s Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently found that there were no reported civilian casualties from drones in that country in 2013.

Overall, however, drone strike deaths -- including those of suspected militants -- increased in both Pakistan and Yemen in the first six months after the May speech. And 2013 ended on a grisly note for the program, when the U.S. killed up to 12 civilians in a strike on a Yemeni wedding convoy.

"We will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence," Obama said Tuesday.

So far, Pakistanis and Yemenis do not seem to be satisfied by the changes to the drone program. Pakistani's interior minister this week blamed a U.S. drone strike for derailing peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban, and Yemen's parliament approved a resolution after the wedding convoy attack calling for an end to all drone strikes in the country.

-- Matt Sledge

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The Huffington Post's Sabrina Siddiqui reports:

When President Barack Obama delivered his 2013 State of the Union address, his impassioned plea for lawmakers to vote on anti-gun violence legislation was deemed one of the most memorable moments of his presidency. That speech came just two months after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and at the onset of an ambitious push by Obama's administration to advance the most sweeping reforms to gun policy in a generation.

One year later, with his gun control agenda considered dead on Capitol Hill, the president used the same venue to pledge that he will advance measures to reduce gun violence "with or without Congress."

"Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day," Obama said Tuesday in his State of the Union address. "I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say 'we are not afraid,' and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook."

Click here to read more.

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If you were hoping to hear some details from Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) about the House GOP's upcoming immigration reform proposal, you were probably left disappointed after listening to her response to the State of the Union.

President Barack Obama mentioned immigration reform briefly in his speech, calling for reform but devoting only five sentences to the issue. McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Republican conference, boiled the Republicans' response on immigration down to two.

"Yes, it’s time to honor our history of legal immigration," she said. "We’re working on a step-by-step solution to immigration reform by first securing our borders and making sure America will always attract the best, brightest, and hardest working from around the world."

-- Elise Foley

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The always outspoken Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) walked out midway through President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, the Dallas Morning News reported.

"Tonight I left early after hearing how the President is further abusing his Constitutional powers," Stockman told the Dallas Morning News in a statement. "I could not bear to watch as he continued to cross the clearly-defined boundaries of the Constitutional separation of powers." Needless to say, I am deeply disappointed in the tone and content of tonight’s address."

Stockman has made no secret of his problems with the president, but he does seem to enjoy the media spectacle of the State of the Union. Last year, he invited rocker and Obama critic Ted Nugent to the speech; this year, he invited Chad Henderson, a student who embarrassed the media by telling reporters he had enrolled in Obamacare when he, in fact, had not.

Stockman only recently reappeared in Washington after having missed votes since Jan. 9, which he attributed to work travel and campaigning. Stockman is running in a Senate primary against incumbent Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).

Stockman went on in his statement to criticize Obama for his policies, including executive actions that the congressman views as "a wholesale violation of his oath of office and a disqualifying offense."

"After five years in office Obama refuses to admit his policies have failed," he said. "He instead demands we double down on the bitter class warfare that has left Americans jobless and hopeless. Obama’s plan for higher taxes and more spending is a blueprint for perpetual poverty. The last thing America needs is more of the Democrats’ class warfare that has left our economy a barren landscape."

-- Elise Foley

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HuffPost's Sabrina Siddiqui reports:

When President Barack Obama delivered his 2013 State of the Union address, his impassioned plea for lawmakers to vote on anti-gun violence legislation was deemed one of the most memorable moments of his presidency. That speech came just two months after the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and at the onset of an ambitious push by Obama's administration to advance the most sweeping reforms to gun policy in a generation.

One year later, with his gun control agenda considered dead on Capitol Hill, the president used the same venue to pledge that he will advance measures to reduce gun violence "with or without Congress."

"Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day," Obama said Tuesday in his State of the Union address. "I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say 'we are not afraid,' and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook."

In contrast, last year's speech highlighted the victims of gun violence who'd been invited as guests and ended with an emotional call to action. Last year, Obama mentioned guns seven times; this year, the word appeared once in in speech totaling close to 7,000 words.

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HuffPost's Dave Jamieson reports:

While pressing lawmakers in Washington to pass legislation raising the federal minimum wage, President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to call upon states and cities around the country to raise their wage floors in lieu of action by Congress.

"To every mayor, governor and state legislator in America, I say: You don’t have to wait for Congress to act," Obama said. "Americans will support you if you take this on."

The president's speech acknowledged a simple fact of the minimum wage debate: While the GOP-controlled House of Representatives has so far refused to raise the minimum wage, more and more local governments around the country are passing such raises on their own -- and they're often doing it with public support that crosses party lines.

Read more here.

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HuffPost's Luke Johnson reports:

President Barack Obama delivered a forceful veto threat in front of Congress, imploring members at his State of the Union speech Tuesday not to pass a bill to slap more sanctions on Iran.

"The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible," Obama said. "But let me be clear: If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. If Iran’s leaders do not seize this opportunity, then I will be the first to call for more sanctions, and stand ready to exercise all options to make sure Iran does not build a nuclear weapon. But if Iran’s leaders do seize the chance, then Iran could take an important step to rejoin the community of nations, and we will have resolved one of the leading security challenges of our time without the risks of war."

Obama has continually vowed to veto a sanctions bill. However, warning lawmakers on their own turf ratcheted up pressure by the president to avoid that route. Obama's remarks were met with halting applause in the chamber. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not applaud during the president's comments about Iranian diplomacy.

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HuffPost's Kate Sheppard reports:

Obama celebrated the efforts his administration has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also praising recent increases in domestic oil and gas production.

Obama said early in his address that there is now more "oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world," for the first time in two decades. "The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades," he said.

He cited the increase in natural gas production in the U.S. as one reason for this shift. "If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change," he said.

He promised to "cut red tape" to help spur the construction of natural-gas-powered factories and fueling stations for cars and trucks. "My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities," he said.

Read more here.

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Kshama Sawant won a seat on the Seattle city council last year running on a socialist platform. On Tuesday night, she'll deliver a live rebuttal to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, where she'll likely speak on some issues to the left of the president -- and give those confused about what an actual socialist is a clear look into that side of the political spectrum.

Earlier in the night, freshman Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) accused Obama of being "Kommandant-In-Chef [sic]" and a "Socialistic dictator." We'll see how satisfied Sawant is with her alleged socialist comrade's address.

-- Nick Wing

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HuffPost's Amanda Terkel and Sam Stein report:

In the lead-up to Tuesday night's State of the Union address, there was lingering hope within the gay rights community that President Barack Obama would draw attention to the discrimination that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals still face in the workplace.

And so the speech hit them with a thud when the president didn't announce plans to take executive action to ban such discrimination among federal contractors, and didn't mention the Employment Non-Discrimination Act at all.

ENDA bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The bill cleared the Senate last year, but it is currently languishing in the GOP-controlled House. While the president can't push ENDA through without congressional support, he could sign an executive order outlawing federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT individuals.

“The President’s message tonight failed to address the needs of LGBT workers looking for a fair shake in this economy," said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. "Not only was there no call for the House to pass a federal law to protect LGBT workers nationwide, President Obama also sidestepped his commitment to take action where Congress has left off, leaving out an order prohibiting discrimination by federal contractors."

Tico Almeida, founder and president of Freedom to Work, which is pushing for ENDA, called Obama's omission "disappointing," especially "given that ENDA has such strong bipartisan support."

"Moving past this evening’s address, the best thing President Obama can do for ENDA is lead by example and sign the long overdue executive order creating LGBT workplace protections at federal contractors," he said. "That order will fit perfectly in the President's planned 'year of action.'"

Read more here.

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HuffPost's Jon Ward reports:

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) challenged tea party conservatives in his response on their behalf to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday to move "from protest to progress" and to start focusing on constructive solutions for the country's problems, rather than fixating on what they oppose.

Lee used the example of the American Revolution, a favorite touchstone of many conservatives, to illustrate his point. The Boston Tea Party, he pointed out, came 14 years before the Constitutional Convention created the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia.

"Fortunately for all of us, those early patriots moved on from Boston and moved past their protest against the government they didn’t want," Lee said. "They marched forward on a road toward the kind of government they did want.

"In America, the test of any political movement is not what that movement is against, but what it is for," Lee said. "The founders made a point at Boston Harbor, but they made history in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall."

Read more here.

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"We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care – including the mental health care – that they need," Obama said. "We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families."

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President Obama sought during his State of the Union address Tuesday night to link his 4-year-old health care reform law to his broader agenda to address widening income inequality and promote financial security.

The speech comes nearly four months into the rollout of the Affordable Care Act's health insurance exchanges, whose botched start bruised both the president and his namesake reforms.

During his address, Obama focused instead on the benefits of the law that already have taken effect, and their potential to protect Americans from crippling medical expenses. He likened the health care law to proposals he made on subjects including raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and boosting retirement savings.

"For decades, few things exposed hard-working families to economic hardship more than a broken health care system. And in case you haven’t heard, we’re in the process of fixing that," Obama said. "That’s what health insurance reform is all about: the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don’t have to lose everything," he said, citing Amanda Shelley of Gilbert, Ariz., a guest of first lady Michelle Obama, whose pre-existing condition locked her out of the health insurance market until the Affordable Care Act took effect.

Obama also highlighted the contributions of Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, another guest of the first lady, whose handling of his state's health insurance exchange and expansion of Medicaid to more poor residents have made him a leading figure in the health care reform effort. "Kentucky’s not the most liberal part of the country. That's not where I got my highest vote totals. But he’s like a man possessed when it comes to covering his commonwealth’s families," Obama said.

Acknowledging the staunch and relentless opposition of congressional Republicans to the Affordable Care Act and their repeated attempts to undo the law, Obama returned to a common refrain: enough.

"The American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles," Obama said. "Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first 40 were plenty."

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HuffPost's Ryan J. Reilly reports:

More than five years after he signed an executive order to close the military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, President Barack Obama on Tuesday said it's time for Congress to help him follow through.

"This needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay -– because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world," Obama said during his State of the Union address.

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"That’s why I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones – for we will not be safer if people abroad believe we strike within their countries without regard for the consequence," Obama said. "That’s why, working with this Congress, I will reform our surveillance programs – because the vital work of our intelligence community depends on public confidence, here and abroad, that the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated."

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"While we have put al Qaeda’s core leadership on a path to defeat, the threat has evolved, as al Qaeda affiliates and other extremists take root in different parts of the world. In Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable these networks," Obama said. "In Syria, we’ll support the opposition that rejects the agenda of terrorist networks. Here at home, we’ll keep strengthening our defenses, and combat new threats like cyberattacks. And as we reform our defense budget, we have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions."

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HuffPost's Arthur Delaney reports:

President Barack Obama confronted Congress for letting more than a million workers miss out on unemployment insurance last month.

After saying the benefits system should be reformed to be more effective in today's economy, Obama spoke directly to lawmakers: "This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people."

The president then told the story of Misty DeMars, a mother of two from Oak Park, Ill., who had been steadily employed until last year. The White House announced Tuesday afternoon that DeMars had been invited to watch the speech from the first lady's box.

"In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home," Obama said of DeMars. "A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved."

Read more here.

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"Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say 'we are not afraid,' and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook," Obama said.

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Almost as an aside, President Barack Obama raised the prospect during the State of the Union of taking executive action to protect new areas of public lands. The remark came in the portion of the speech devoted to oil and gas development.

"And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations," said Obama.

Last week, 109 Democratic House members urged Obama to protect national monuments using the Antiquities Act, which allows the president to designate new monuments. The members cited the fact that Congress has gone a record amount of time without designating new public lands.

Any effort to do so, however, would surly rile Republicans, however, who have attempted to block Obama from using executive authority to designate areas for protection.

-- Kate Sheppard

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Obama weighed in on Republicans' repeated attempts to vote to repeal Obamacare.

"The first forty were plenty. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against," Obama said.

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HuffPost's Joy Resmovits reports:

President Barack Obama's 2014 State of the Union address ran short on fresh education policy ideas, unlike in previous years, according to the text of his speech.

Instead of announcing new initiatives, Obama mostly expanded on proposals he announced during and since last year's State of the Union address, tying them to his theme of fighting poverty and pushing the country forward despite legislative inaction. Obama promoted a competition to redesign high school, boosting schools' Internet connectivity, and making college more affordable and accessible -- all ideas he has already proposed.

Obama made only passing mentions of signature administration education initiatives, such as waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act, and the Race to the Top competition, according to his prepared remarks. And he alluded to the Common Core State Standards without mentioning them by name.

"Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C., are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy," Obama said. "Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test.  But it’s worth it -- and it’s working."

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President Barack Obama celebrated the efforts his administration has made to cut greenhouse gas emissions, while also praising increases in domestic oil and gas production.

Obama said early in his address that there is now more "oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world," for the first time in two decades. "The all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working, and today, America is closer to energy independence than we’ve been in decades," he said.

One reason he cited is the increase in natural gas production. "If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change," he said.

He promised to "cut red tape" to help spur the construction of natural-gas powered factories and fueling stations for natural-gas powered cars and trucks. "My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities."

Obama also called for the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies –- a familiar request from his previous State of the Union addresses. And he said that his administration will act in the coming months to set new fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks.

"The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way," he said. "But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did."

-- Kate Sheppard

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President Barack Obama addressed women's economic security in his speech on Tuesday, calling on Congress to pass fair pay legislation and other proposals that would help women in the workplace.

"A woman deserves equal pay for equal work," Obama said. "She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship –- and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a 'Mad Men' episode."

Obama said he "firmly believe[s] when women succeed, America succeeds" -- a nod to the slogan of House Democrats' comprehensive women's economic agenda. The agenda includes raising the minimum wage and passing affordable childcare legislation, equal pay legislation and a bill guaranteeing paid sick and family leave -- all of which Republicans generally oppose.

"This year, let’s all come together –- Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street -– to give every woman the opportunity she deserves," Obama said.

-- Laura Bassett

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"Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to .10. It's easy to remember -- ten-ten," Obama said. "This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.'

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"In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least .10 an hour –- because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty," Obama said.

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"Today, women make up about half our workforce. But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it’s an embarrassment," Obama said. "Women deserve equal pay for equal work."

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"Congress, give these hardworking, responsible Americans that chance," Obama said. "They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game. That’s why I’ve been asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at that new job and new chance to support their families."

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President Barack Obama devoted only a short portion of his speech to immigration, one of his top policy priorities in 2013. The reason for his brevity could be that the politics surrounding the issue are currently more delicate than ever. House Republicans plan to release priorities for reform as soon as this week, and it's a bad time to antagonize them. It's viewed as better, for now, to let the House GOP have its space to work.

Instead, Obama focused on the positive, saying "members of both parties in the House want to" address immigration reform this year and urging them to do it. He didn't go into detail about the specific policies -- he's done so in previous speeches, including last year's State of the Union address -- such as a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, border security and streamlining the legal immigration system.

And although Obama discussed executive actions he will take on other issues, he didn't announce any plans on immigration, despite activists' pleas for him to halt the deportations of undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

His full immigration comments:

Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, and law enforcement -- and fix our broken immigration system. Republicans and Democrats in the Senate have acted. I know that members of both parties in the House want to do the same. Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost trillion in the next two decades And for good reason: when people come here to fulfill their dreams -- to study, invent, contribute to our culture -- they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everybody. So let’s get immigration reform done this year.

More interesting, to many, was the positive response from some Republicans to Obama's comments:

-- Elise Foley

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"So tonight, I’ve asked Vice President Biden to lead an across-the-board reform of America’s training programs to make sure they have one mission: train Americans with the skills employers need, and match them to good jobs that need to be filled right now," Obama said.

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"But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact," Obama said.

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Obama said "the all-of-the-above energy strategy I announced a few years ago is working":

One of the reasons why is natural gas – if extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change. Businesses plan to invest almost 0 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built, and this Congress can help by putting people to work building fueling stations that shift more cars and trucks from foreign oil to American natural gas. My administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and job growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, and our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations.

It’s not just oil and natural gas production that’s booming; we’re becoming a global leader in solar, too. Every four minutes, another American home or business goes solar; every panel pounded into place by a worker whose job can’t be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so that we can invest more in fuels of the future that do.

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