POLITICS
01/20/2015 10:04 pm ET Updated Jan 21, 2015

Transgender Individuals Recognized For First Time Ever In A State Of The Union Speech

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama pushed for protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals Tuesday evening, making it the first time lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have ever been recognized directly in a State of the Union address.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened, which is why I've prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained," said Obama, adding, "That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

Obama has also mentioned transgender individuals in previous public speeches, and is the first president to have done so.

Obama declared marriage to be a "civil right" Tuesday night as well, just days after the Supreme Court announced it would take up the issue of marriage equality. This spring, it could finally rule whether it's unconstitutional to bar same-sex couples from getting married.

"I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in 10 Americans call home," said Obama.

Obama, who came out in support of same-sex marriage in May 2012, also tied gay rights to the civil rights fight in his second inaugural address. He said it was "our generation's task" to carry on what was begun at Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall -- centers of the fight for women's rights, African-American rights and LGBT rights, respectively.

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law –- for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well," he said.

It was the first time that a president had ever mentioned gay rights in an inaugural address, although some advocates were disappointed that he didn't include transgender rights as well.

Masen Davis, executive director of the Transgender Law Center in California, was thrilled with the inclusion in Tuesday's speech.

"I listened to the State of the Union with bated breath. President Obama's public recognition of transgender people in his State of the Union address was historic," he told The Huffington Post. "It is time for the American public to become aware of our stories and struggles both at home and around the globe."

"It is very heartening that President Obama has chosen to speak up for transgender people in a State of the Union Speech about American values," National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling added in a statement. "While other years, he has focused on a laundry lists of policies, mention there would have been important. In those years when we were not mentioned in the State of the Union, the President was still leading the way in advancing policies that have improved and saved transgender lives."

Last year, Obama took a number of steps to ban discrimination against the LGBT community, in particular transgender Americans. In July, he signed an executive order making it illegal to fire or harass employees of federal contractors based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The order also explicitly banned discrimination against transgender employees of the federal government.

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BEFORE YOU GO

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:

CONVERSATIONS