POLITICS
01/20/2015 09:26 pm ET Updated Jan 20, 2015

Obama Tells Congress Not To Fight Past Battles On Immigration Again

WASHINGTON -- There's a major fight brewing in the Capitol over President Barack Obama's immigration policies, and whether funding for the Department of Homeland Security should be threatened to stop them. But you wouldn't necessarily know it from the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Obama only mentioned the word "immigration" twice, and didn't make the impassioned pleas he has in years past for immigration reform. There was no call for a vote on a comprehensive immigration bill, or even smaller legislative measures like help for young undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Instead, Obama's message was that Congress should stop fighting him on immigration. Or, more specifically, that they should stop fighting his executive actions to protect some undocumented immigrants from being deported.

"If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments -- but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country. ... Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants," Obama said.

Republicans are aiming to block executive actions Obama announced in November, including a new program to grant temporary authorization to stay and work in the U.S. to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Obama also ended a controversial Immigration and Customs Enforcement program called Secure Communities -- which the House-passed bill would restart -- and expanded the existing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA, which gives work authorization to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Republicans have said that Obama overstepped his legal authority on immigration, and that their vote against his executive actions is about protecting the rule of law and the Constitution.

They are now trying to figure out how exactly to go about funding the Department of Homeland Security, which they must do before the end of February to avoid an agency shutdown. The House voted last week to fund DHS, but added hardline measures that, among other things, block Obama's executive actions meant to protect certain undocumented immigrants from deportation and allow them to work legally. That bill passed the House 236-191, mostly along party lines.

Senate Republican leaders said last week that their chamber will vote on the House-passed bill, but acknowledged that they'll need to reach the 60-vote threshold to pass the bill themselves -- an unlikely prospect, given Democratic opposition.

Even if a bill like the one passed in the House got to Obama's desk, he would veto it, the White House has said. In his speech, Obama reiterated that point.

"We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix," he said. "And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto."

See more on Obama's address below:

01/21/2015 3:05 AM EST

Obama Emphasizes U.S. Security Reliance On Shaky Foreign Partners

HuffPost's Akbar Shahid Ahmed reports:

President Barack Obama used his first State of the Union address after once again ramping up U.S. military involvement in the Middle East to describe his foreign policy as a judicious mix of military force and diplomacy -- and left no doubt he believes positive engagement with the international community is key to what he called "a safer, more prosperous world."

"I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership," Obama said. "We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents."

The emphasis on diplomacy was nothing new for the Obama administration, but the president's multiple references to U.S. reliance on partners abroad invites scrutiny that may show those partners falling short of U.S. expectations.

Read more here.

01/21/2015 2:17 AM EST

From Nice-ish To Nasty: How 2016 GOP Contenders Responded To The State Of The Union

HuffPost's Christina Wilkie reports:

Likely Republican 2016 presidential candidates on Tuesday seemed to agree that President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address was off base. What they disagreed on was why. Responses issued by possible contenders after the hour-long speech ranged from civil, optimistic messages to angry visions of a world beset by terrorism.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush gave one of the sunnier Republican responses of the night -- sunnier, that is, for a put-down. "It's unfortunate President Obama wants to use the tax code to divide us -– instead of proposing reforms to create economic opportunity for every American," Bush said in a statement. "We can do better."

Mitt Romney, Bush's potential rival for the backing of the GOP establishment in 2016, also was measured in his response, calling the speech "disappointing" and "a missed opportunity to lead."

From there, the tenor of the rhetoric intensified.

Read more here.

01/21/2015 1:37 AM EST

Obama State Of The Union Address Highlights Battle For The Middle Class

HuffPost's Michael McAuliff and Sabrina Siddiqui report:

More than anything, President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address signaled a fresh battle for the hearts and minds of America's beleaguered middle class -- and Republicans weren't having any of it.

Obama mentioned the middle class at least seven times and touted "working" people at least nine as he rolled out proposals to offer new child tax credits, raise the minimum wage, extend paid family leave and make college more affordable. He mentioned "families" 16 times.

But well before Obama's speech was over, House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office was firing off responses, declaring that Obama's "regulatory onslaught squeezes the very middle-class families he claims to be trying to help," and that he was threatening to veto what Republicans consider to be jobs bills.

Read more here.

01/21/2015 1:00 AM EST

GOP Mentions Immigration In State of The Union Rebuttal...But Only In Spanish

HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:

Earlier Tuesday, it appeared the GOP's Spanish-language rebuttal to the State of the Union would be exactly the same as the English-language one, just delivered by a Latino congressman instead of a senator who wants to make English the official U.S. language.

But when the speeches were delivered in the evening, there was at least one major difference -- one key to many Spanish-language audiences. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), delivering the official Republican rebuttal, did not utter the word "immigration" once. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) not only mentioned the issue, but said Republicans want to work on it with President Barack Obama.

"We should also work through the appropriate channels to create permanent solutions for our immigration system, modernize legal immigration and strengthen our economy. In the past, the president has expressed support for ideas like these, now we ask him to collaborate with us to get it done," Curbelo said in the address, translated by liberal group American Bridge (and checked by The Huffington Post).

Read more here.

01/21/2015 12:46 AM EST

Jason Chaffetz: Taxing Inheritance Is 'One Of The Most Immoral Things You Can Do'

HuffPost's Ryan Grim reports:

House and Senate Republicans are rejecting President Barack Obama’s suggestion to reform tax code that allows heirs to inherit extreme amounts of wealth largely tax-free.

“Let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1 percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth,” Obama said Tuesday night during his annual State of the Union address. “We can use that money to help more families pay for child care and send their kids to college.”

A variety of tax strategies exist to shield much of an inheritance from taxation. And that, said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), is as it should be. Chaffetz moved quickly from talking points to genuine anger in responding to the president’s proposal. “That’s a non-starter. The audacity, that he thinks the government has a right to people’s money? He wants to transfer wealth," Chaffetz said. "It’s one of the most immoral things you can do, is try to steal somebody’s inheritance, to steal it away from their family.”

Read more here.

01/21/2015 12:40 AM EST

Dreamers At State Of The Union Hope Obama Continues To Push Forward On Immigration

HuffPost's Elise Foley reports:

The White House and members of Congress often make political statements through their choice of guests for the State of the Union. There is no place that gets more attention than the first lady's box, where the guest list serves as an illustration of the president's priorities for the upcoming year. For the past few years, that list has included Dreamers: Alan Aleman attended as one of the first lady's guests in 2013. In 2014, it was Avila. And this year, 21-year-old Dreamer Ana Zamora was one of Michelle Obama's guests. Other undocumented immigrants, some of them Dreamers, also attended this year, as guests of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.).

Even in a speech in which Obama said the word "immigration" only twice -- plus "immigrant" and "immigrants" once each -- the presence of those guests was meant to send a message that Democrats are committed to programs like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows Dreamers to remain in the country. House Republicans voted last week to end that policy, along with elements of the measures Obama announced in November, such as protections for parents.

Read the full story here.

01/21/2015 12:04 AM EST

State Of The Union Watchers Give Obama High Marks In Instant Poll

HuffPost's Ariel Levy reports:

Americans who watched President Barack Obama's State of the Union address largely approved, giving him better marks than they did for last year's speech, according to instant polling conducted by CNN.

Positive ratings from State of the Union watchers are the rule, not the exception. CNN found Obama getting high marks in all five annual State of the Union speeches they previously polled (the network didn't conduct a post-State of the Union poll in 2012). Former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton also received largely positive ratings.

Eighty-one percent of viewers had a somewhat positive or very positive opinion of the 2015 State of the Union, according to CNN -- up from 76 percent in 2014, and in line with ratings for Obama's speeches in 2011 and 2013.

Read more here.

01/21/2015 12:01 AM EST

Obama Gives Push To Restoring Voting Rights Act: 'The Right To Vote Is Sacred'

HuffPost's Jennifer Bendery reports:

President Barack Obama pushed Congress Tuesday night to restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, even though Republicans signaled last week they have no intention of doing so.

"We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it's being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American," Obama said during his State of the Union address.

Read more here.

01/20/2015 11:17 PM EST

Obama Warns Lawmakers: Stay Away From Iran Talks

HuffPost's Ali Watkins reports:

President Obama warned lawmakers in his State of the Union address on Tuesday against interfering with his administration's nuclear negotiations with Iran, promising to veto any new sanctions legislation that makes it to his desk.

“New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails  -- alienating America from its allies and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again,” Obama said. “It doesn’t make sense. That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.”

Read the full story here.

01/20/2015 11:15 PM EST

Howard Fineman: Joni Ernst Didn’t Say Much In Her SOTU Response

Howard Fineman joins HuffPost Live to weigh in on Sen. Joni Ernst’s Republican rebuttal to the State of the Union. Watch:

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