January 29

Obama flexes presidential powers in State of the Union

By DAVID NAKAMURA and DAVID A. FAHRENTHOLD The Washington Post
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama sought Tuesday to restore public confidence in his presidency after a dispiriting year, pledging to use his White House authority with new force to advance an agenda that Congress has largely failed to support.

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President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen.

AP Photo/Larry Downing

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President Barack Obama arrives to deliver the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington.

AP Photo/Larry Downing

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Selected economic indicators, 2008-2013

 

SOURCE: Maine Department of Labor, Center for Workforce Research & Information

Note: the average unemployment rate for the full year of 2013 is still unavailable; the December rate is displayed in the chart above as a proxy.

 

SOURCE: Maine Association of REALTORS

In his fifth prime-time State of the Union address, Obama made clear that instead of trying to fix the mess in Washington, he was now promising to find ways around it.

"America does not stand still," Obama said. "And neither will I. Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

In a speech that lasted just over an hour, Obama struck moments of bipartisan harmony, most starkly in an emotional moment near the end when he called on the nation to draw inspiration from Cory Remsburg, an Army ranger blinded in one eye by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan during his 10th deployment.

Remsburg, who was dressed in his uniform and seated next to first lady Michelle Obama, drew a lengthy standing ovation from lawmakers in the House chamber, and he flashed them a determined thumbs up.

For most of the speech, however, Obama made clear he would no longer be content to wait for Congress' approval after a bruising 2013 in which it rarely came. He challenged lawmakers to work with him to achieve breakthroughs on large-scale initiatives to overhaul immigration laws and provide more benefits to American workers, including a higher minimum wage and extension of long-term unemployment insurance.

But he also sketched out more than a dozen ways in which he intends to use executive powers to try to boost the economy on his own.

Obama covered topics as wide-ranging as equal pay for women, gun violence and Iran's nuclear program. He ticked off accomplishments: a rebounding housing market, lower unemployment, manufacturing gains and lower annual deficits.

Yet he made the case that Congress, and Washington politics more broadly, had become a roadblock to progress.

When Washington's fighting "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," Obama said.

He faced a tricky task: winning over a nation that has grown less trustful of his leadership after a year in which the federal government was partially shuttered for 17 days and the administration botched the rollout of Obama's signature health-care law.

For the first time on the eve of a State of the Union address, more Americans rate his performance negatively than positively, with 50 percent disapproving. To that end, Obama announced a list of executive actions that he will pursue in the coming months aimed at slowing the widening income gap among American families, which the White House has called a top priority for the year. Among them were plans to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, create a new government-backed private retirement savings plan and speed up implementation of a previously announced program to connect schools to broadband wireless.

White House aides described the initiatives as having the potential to help millions of Americans gain more take-home pay, job training and education. They pointed to previous examples of Obama using executive action to defer deportations of hundreds of thousands of young undocumented immigrants brought to the country by their parents as children and to strengthen regulations on carbon emissions at power plants.

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