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SOTU: Calling 2014 'Year of Action,' Obama calls on Congress to act or he will

President Barack Obama delivers his fifth State of the Union Address, as Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner look on.
President Barack Obama delivers his fifth State of the Union Address, as Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker John Boehner look on.
© 2014 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

In his fifth State of the Union address, an assertive President Barack Obama, called 2014 "a year of action" and called upon Congress to act on an agenda aimed at restoring equal opportunity and upward mobility, or he will use his executive powers.

Rattling down a list of the dramatic improvements in the US economy - record stock prices and corporate profits; the lowest unemployment rate in over five years; a rebounding housing market; a manufacturing sector that’s adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s; more oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world, for the first time in nearly 20 years; deficits cut by more than half; and for the first time in over a decade, business leaders say the #1 place in the world’s to invest is America - he said,

That’s why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America. After five years of grit and determined effort, the United States is better positioned for the 21st century than any other nation on Earth.

But, he said, the gains have not been equally shared, which is why he laid out an ambitious agenda filled with specific programs and policies aimed at correcting income inequality and restoring equal opportunity for mobility for all.

Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. 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 to get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.

So our job is to reverse these trends. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require congressional action, and I am eager to work with all of you.

But America does not stand still -- and neither will I. (Applause.) So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do. (Applause.)

Earlier, Obama had signaled that because Congress had refused to raise the minimum wage, he would use his executive authority to require federal contractors to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, and that he would use executive actions where Congress obstructed and refused to act.

That had Republicans howling that he was a dictator - and Speaker John Boehner threatening the President if he dares go around Congress - despite the fact that Ronald Reagan issued more executive actions and George W. Bush used hundreds and hundreds of signing statements to overturn or contradict laws passed by Congress.

In 2013, Obama thought his decisive reelection would give him the political capital, and the Republicans would have learned and finally decided to work together. But Republicans only doubled down to make sure misery index stayed high and he was condemned as not being sufficient leader, culminating in the government shutdown in October.

So Obama has to be assertive this year - it is his last chance. He has tried for five years to invite Republicans to engage, present their ideas (that's why health care reform took 18 months), he has compromised (that's why the stimulus was only $700 billion instead of $1 trillion), why he extended the Bush tax cuts (to avoid a credit default as the Republicans threatened). But despite the low approval rate of Republicans (funny how they say the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov website trumps the Republican shut down of the government), many are anticipating they will finally take over the Senate, and of course, gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics will keep the House firmly in Republican hands despite the fact more votes are cast for Democratic Congressmembers than for the Republicans.

But the Senate under Harry Reid has been the only barrier to the extreme rightwing measures coming out of the House - that is, except for post office namings - 47 votes to repeal Obamacare, dozens of votes to overturn a woman's reproductive rights, and very little else.

Since Republicans took over in 2010, nothing has come out of the House, while the Republican minority has used the filibuster to force their agenda and prevent adoption of wildly popular legislation like universal background checks for gun purchases. Even the bipartisan immigration reform legislation has been stopped cold in the House.

So 2014 is Obama's last chance to actually show progress on the agenda that has remained consistent throughout his presidency, indeed, going back to his first campaign. His principles and policies have remained constant.

The president, radiating confidence and positivism throughout the 65-minute speech, said that 2014 could be a "breakthrough year" and declared 2014 the "Year of Action" - but he laid out a challenge for Congress, whether it will "help or hinder this progress."

The question for everyone in this chamber, running through every decision we make this year, is whether we are going to help or hinder this progress. For several years now, this town has been consumed by a rancorous argument over the proper size of the federal government. 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. (Applause.)

Now, as President, I’m committed to making Washington work better, and rebuilding the trust of the people who sent us here... the budget compromise should leave us freer to focus on creating new jobs, not creating new crises. ..

In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want: for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. What I believe unites the people of this nation -- regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor -- is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all -- the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America. (Applause.)

So much of what he proposed for 2014 he has been calling for, in some cases, for years: reigniting the promise of upward mobility through measures like a minimum wage increase and expanding access to early childhood education, immigration reform, investment in infrastructure and research and development, finally shutting down Guantanamo.

He called for reducing carbon pollution and addressing climate change "with urgency", protecting the right to vote, making America energy independent, creating jobs through better education, training, collaborations with employers, investment in infrastructure.

And he went further, vowing to reform the policies on using drones and NSA surveillance, and to put an end to the "permanent war footing" - which should go far to bring back progressives to the fold (let's be clear, though, Obama Administration has only used the techniques that have been authorized by Congress and there is no evidence of using surveillance against political enemies, as Bush/Cheney and Nixon did).

And in another instance of being forceful, Obama threatened to veto new sanctions on Iran, which would end all hope of a diplomatic solution to one of the critical national security threats: a nuclear weaponized Iran.

It is fairly ironic, though, that Obama's detractors keep deriding him for a "lack of leadership", and hold up New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a true bully who does abuse power for political gain, as the model of a "leader." And now, when he stands up to exercise his executive authority to raise the minimum wage for federal contractors, they attack Obama as a "tyrant" and a "socialist."

Here's an example of the "socialist"

It’s the spirit of citizenship –- the recognition that through hard work and responsibility, we can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family to make sure the next generation can pursue its dreams as well.

And this,

The bottom line is Michelle and I want every child to have the same chance this country gave us. But we know our opportunity agenda won’t be complete -- and too many young people entering the workforce today will see the American Dream as an empty promise -- unless we also do more to make sure our economy honors the dignity of work, and hard work pays off for every single American.

Truly something to make Real Americans quake in their boots, because of course, they all lifted themselves up by their own bootstraps.

And after declaring that he would use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contractors, he pleaded with private companies to raise their minimum wage on their own, giving a shout-out to two guests sitting in the chamber, "Nick Chute is here today with his boss, John Soranno. John’s an owner of Punch Pizza in Minneapolis, and Nick helps make the dough...Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover."

Tonight, I ask more of America’s business leaders to follow John’s lead: Do what you can to raise your employees’ wages. (Applause.) It’s good for the economy. It’s good for America. (Applause.) To every mayor, governor, state legislator in America, I say you don’t have to wait for Congress to act -- Americans will support you if you take this on.

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 $10.10 an hour -- because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty. (Applause.)

Of course, to reach millions more, Congress does need to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. And Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. It's easy to remember, $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It does not involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise. (Applause.) Give them a raise. (Applause.)

The President focused on the fact that women, who make up the majority of low-wage earners, are still earning 77c for every $1 that a man earns for the same job.

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. Women deserve equal pay for equal work. (Applause.) She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job. A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or a sick parent without running into hardship. (Applause.) And you know what, a father does, too. It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode. (Laughter and applause.) This year, let’s all come together -- Congress, the White House, businesses from Wall Street to Main Street -- to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. (Applause.) Because I believe when women succeed, America succeeds. (Applause.)

Now, women hold a majority of lower-wage jobs, but they’re not the only ones stifled by stagnant wages. Americans understand that some people will earn more money than others, and we don’t resent those who, by virtue of their efforts, achieve incredible success. That’s what America is all about. But Americans overwhelmingly agree that no one who works full-time should ever have to raise a family in poverty. (Applause.)

Other measures intended to help reverse the growing inequality gap between rich and poor (which really means that the middle class is shrinking), the President proposed expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and helping Americans save for retirement by directing the Treasury Department to create a new "MyRA," a new savings bond that would guarantee a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in.

He offered Congress numerous ways to work together to advance the objective of promoting economic opportunity:

And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little or nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.

And since the most important investment many families make is their home, send me legislation that protects taxpayers from footing the bill for a housing crisis ever again, and keeps the dream of homeownership alive for future generations.

The President - as he has done throughout his presidency - called for jobs-creation measures (all of which have been stymied by Republicans who nonetheless say they are the party that would create jobs through such rhetorical devices as lowering taxes for the wealthiest 1% and companies - policies that clearly did not work when George W Bush imposed them and still the economy lost 750,000 jobs a month).

The point is there are millions of Americans outside of Washington who are tired of stale political arguments and are moving this country forward. They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That’s what drew our forebears here. It’s how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America’s largest automaker. (Applause.) How the son of a barkeep is Speaker of the House. (Applause.) How the son of a single mom can be President of the greatest nation on Earth. (Applause.)

Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation must be to restore that promise. We know where to start: The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job. With the economy picking up speed, companies say they intend to hire more people this year. And over half of big manufacturers say they’re thinking of insourcing jobs from abroad. (Applause.)

The President made a brief stab at calling for tax reform that would lower taxes but eliminate loopholes and incentivize companies to bring jobs (and profits) back from overseas. (The Republicans did not applaud.)

So let’s make that decision easier for more companies. Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home. (Applause.)

Moreover, we can take the money we save from this transition to tax reform to create jobs rebuilding our roads, upgrading our ports, unclogging our commutes -- because in today’s global economy, first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure. We’ll need Congress to protect more than 3 million jobs by finishing transportation and waterways bills this summer. (Applause.) That can happen. But I’ll act on my own to slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects, so we can get more construction workers on the job as fast as possible. (Applause.)

We also have the chance, right now, to beat other countries in the race for the next wave of high-tech manufacturing jobs. My administration has launched two hubs for high-tech manufacturing in Raleigh, North Carolina and Youngstown, Ohio, where we’ve connected businesses to research universities that can help America lead the world in advanced technologies. Tonight, I’m announcing we’ll launch six more this year. Bipartisan bills in both houses could double the number of these hubs and the jobs they create. So get those bills to my desk; put more Americans back to work. (Applause.)

Let’s do more to help the entrepreneurs and small business owners who create most new jobs in America. Over the past five years, my administration has made more loans to small business owners than any other. And when 98 percent of our exporters are small businesses, new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia Pacific will help them create more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped “Made in the USA.” (Applause.)

Here, the President clearly glossed over the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership which is despised by progressives and environmentalists who say that the TPP will only benefit multinationals and will undermine national, state and local ability to protect workers rights, consumers and the environment.

He called upon Congress to invest in research so that America does not lose its competitive edge:

Listen, China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines, and neither should we. We know that the nation that goes all-in on innovation today will own the global economy tomorrow. This is an edge America cannot surrender. Federally funded research helped lead to the ideas and inventions behind Google and smartphones. And that’s why Congress should undo the damage done by last year’s cuts to basic research so we can unleash the next great American discovery. (Applause.)

A major factor in jobs creation, he said, has been "our commitment to American energy. 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 have been in decades."

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 $100 billion in new factories that use natural gas. I’ll cut red tape to help states get those factories built and put folks to work, 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. (Applause.)

Meanwhile, my administration will keep working with the industry to sustain production and jobs growth while strengthening protection of our air, our water, our communities. And while we’re at it, I’ll use my authority to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations. (Applause.)

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 cannot be outsourced. Let’s continue that progress with a smarter tax policy that stops giving $4 billion a year to fossil fuel industries that don’t need it, so we can invest more in fuels of the future that do. (Applause)

This includes increasing standards for autos and soon, trucks.

The President took a definitive stand on climate change in context with energy policy and jobs creation, and cited the need to act with urgency:

And taken together, our energy policy is creating jobs and leading to a cleaner, safer planet. Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. (Applause.) But we have to act with more urgency -- because a changing climate is already harming Western communities struggling with drought, and coastal cities dealing with floods. That’s why I directed my administration to work with states, utilities, and others to set new standards on the amount of carbon pollution our power plants are allowed to dump into the air. (Applause.)

The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require some tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)

Immigration reform is a key element of economic growth, he said, urging Congress to take up the measure that already passed out of the Senate:

Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 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. (Applause.) Let’s get it done. It’s time. (Applause.)

Key to the President's plan for job creation is education and job-training more closely coordinated with the needs of employers.

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. (Applause.)

That means more on-the-job training and more apprenticeships that set a young worker on an upward trajectory for life. It means connecting companies to community colleges that can help design training to fill their specific needs. And if Congress wants to help, you can concentrate funding on proven programs that connect more ready-to-work Americans with ready-to-be-filled jobs.

And he called on Congress to extend long-term unemployment benefits that congress let expire for 1.6 million Americans (which will increase to 4 million). Obama put a face on long-term unemployed, pointing to a guest in the gallery:

Let me tell you why. Misty DeMars is a mother of two young boys. She’d been steadily employed since she was a teenager, put herself through college. She’d never collected unemployment benefits, but she’d been paying taxes. In May, she and her husband used their life savings to buy their first home. A week later, budget cuts claimed the job she loved. Last month, when their unemployment insurance was cut off, she sat down and wrote me a letter, the kind I get every day. “We are the face of the unemployment crisis,” she wrote. “I’m not dependent on the government. Our country depends on people like us who build careers, contribute to society, care about our neighbors. I’m confident that in time I will find a job, I will pay my taxes, and we will raise our children in their own home in the community we love. Please give us this chance.”

The President said he is "asking CEOs to give more long-term unemployed workers a fair shot at new jobs, a new chance to support their families," and has invited CEOs to the White House to make that commitment.

Tonight, I ask every business leader in America to join us and to do the same –- because we are stronger when America fields a full team.

To have a successful workforce, the president said, you need world-class education system. The President reiterated his call for universal pre-K (Republicans did not stand for this either).

But in the meantime, 30 states have raised pre-k funding on their own. They know we can’t wait. So just as we worked with states to reform our schools, this year we’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a Race to the Top for our youngest children. And as Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K that they need. (Applause.) It is right for America. We need to get this done. (Applause.)

Other education initiatives include connecting 99 percent of our students to high-speed broadband over the next four years through partnerships with private companies " without adding a dime to the deficit," redesigning high schools and partnering them with colleges and employers that offer the real-world education and hands-on training that can lead directly to a job and career, and offering millions the opportunity to cap their monthly student loan payments to 10 percent of their income.

... and I want to work with Congress to see how we can help even more Americans who feel trapped by student loan debt. (Applause.) And I’m reaching out to some of America’s leading foundations and corporations on a new initiative to help more young men of color facing especially tough odds to stay on track and reach their full potential.

The President only glossed over Obamacare, though, breezing by the point that "more than 9 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance or Medicaid coverage" and "3 million Americans under age 26 have gained coverage under their parents’ plans."

But he made a more dramatic case in putting a face on Obamacare, introducing Amanda Shelley, a physician’s assistant and single mom from Arizona, who was an invited guest in the gallery, who couldn’t get health insurance before the Affordable Care Act made pre-existing conditions a thing of the past.

But on January 1st, she got covered. (Applause.) On January 3rd, she felt a sharp pain. On January 6th, she had emergency surgery. Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would have meant bankruptcy.

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 continued,

And here’s another number: zero. Because of this law, no American -- none -- zero -- can ever again be dropped or denied coverage for a preexisting condition like asthma, or back pain, or cancer. (Applause.) No woman can ever be charged more just because she’s a woman. (Applause.) And we did all this while adding years to Medicare’s finances, keeping Medicare premiums flat, and lowering prescription costs for millions of seniors.

Obamacare is actually a parable for the obstructionists that Republican Congress has become and what Obama has been trying to fix, again, taking the high road, the positive view, and inviting more productive proposals:

Now, I do not expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. (Laughter.) But I know that the American people are not interested in refighting old battles. So, again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, increase choice -- tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. (Applause.)

The first 40 were plenty. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against.

Obama appealed to our sense of "citizenship" in challenging Congress to take up the recommendation sof his bipartisan commission (chaired by his own election lawyer and Mitt Romney's) to restore the Voting Rights Act weakened by the Supreme Court, and to institute reforms so that no one has to wait more than a half hour to cast a ballot (waits in Democratic districts in places like Florida lasted up to 8 hours in 2012).

It should be the power of our vote, not the size of our bank accounts that drives our democracy.

He gave only passing reference to gun violence prevention:

Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I’ve seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, 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, in our shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

In the lead-up to the SOTU, a commercial from former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords challenges Congress to show some spine. In the ad, Giffords faces the camera and says, "Congress is afraid of the gun lobby...Tell Washington it's too dangerous to wait," she says in a slightly slurred voice. In the ad, Giffords says that 9 out 10 Americans support background checks. "They make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to get guns," she says.

The courage that Giffords called for makes their sustained applause for the wounded warrior - the longest ovation, 1 minute 44 seconds, that anyone could ever recall at a SOTU - that much more hypocritical.

It is so easy to applaud a soldier (without any mention of the fact the Republicans cut retirement benefits for veterans in the new budget deal), and do nothing to prevent or end war.

In probably the most dramatic portion of the speech, Obama laid out a national security agenda:

After 2014, we will support a unified Afghanistan as it takes responsibility for its own future. If the Afghan government signs a security agreement that we have negotiated, a small force of Americans could remain in Afghanistan with NATO allies to carry out two narrow missions: training and assisting Afghan forces, and counterterrorism operations to pursue any remnants of al Qaeda. For while our relationship with Afghanistan will change, one thing will not: our resolve that terrorists do not launch attacks against our country. (Applause.)

The fact is that danger remains. While we 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, Mali, we have to keep working with partners to disrupt and disable those networks. 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 will have to keep faith with our men and women in uniform, and invest in the capabilities they need to succeed in future missions. (Applause.)

We have to remain vigilant. But I strongly believe our leadership and our security cannot depend on our outstanding military alone. As Commander-in-Chief, I have used force when needed to protect the American people, and I will never hesitate to do so as long as I hold this office. But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it is truly necessary, nor will I allow our sons and daughters to be mired in open-ended conflicts. We must fight the battles that need to be fought, not those that terrorists prefer from us -- large-scale deployments that drain our strength and may ultimately feed extremism.

But, he added,

So even as we actively and aggressively pursue terrorist networks -– through more targeted efforts and by building the capacity of our foreign partners -- America must move off a permanent war footing. (Applause.)

He affirmed his position on the use of drones, his desire to reform surveillance programs, and his insistence that Guantanamo be closed, because ultimately, he said, "we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military actions, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world."

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.

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 privacy of ordinary people is not being violated. (Applause.)

And with the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay -- (applause) -- because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military actions, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world. (Applause.)

You see, in a world of complex threats, our security, our leadership depends on all elements of our power, including strong and principled diplomacy.

American diplomacy has rallied more than 50 countries to prevent nuclear materials from falling into the wrong hands, and allowed us to reduce our own reliance on Cold War stockpiles. American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated. (Applause.)

And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve -- a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear. As we speak, American diplomacy is supporting the Israelis and Palestinians as they engage in the difficult but necessary talks to end the conflict there; to achieve dignity and an independent state for Palestinians, and lasting peace and security for the State of Israel -- a Jewish state that knows America will always be at their side. (Applause.)

Obama turned considerable attention to Iran, continuing this theme of the effectiveness of American diplomacy, and "give peace a chance"

And it is American diplomacy, backed by pressure, that has halted the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and rolled back parts of that program for the very first time in a decade. As we gather here tonight, Iran has begun to eliminate its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. It’s not installing advanced centrifuges. Unprecedented inspections help the world verify every day that Iran is not building a bomb. And with our allies and partners, we’re engaged in negotiations to see if we can peacefully achieve a goal we all share: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

These negotiations will be difficult. They may not succeed. We are clear-eyed about Iran’s support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, which threatens our allies. And we're clear about the mistrust between our nations, mistrust that cannot be wished away. But these negotiations don't rely on trust. Any long-term deal we agree to must be based on verifiable action that convinces us and the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear bomb. If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today. (Applause.)

But Obama asserted himself warning Congress that he would veto sanctions, which would undermine the diplomatic process (Iran has threatened to walk away from the talks if Congress passes new sanctions, despite Obama's veto threat.)

If this Congress sends me a new sanctions bill now that threatens to derail these talks, I will veto it. (Applause.) For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed. (Applause.) 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 -- and we’ll know soon enough -- 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.

He spoke of the exceptional role that America has played in the world - not just because it is the strongest military power or richest nation:

And, finally, let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe –- to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want. And no one is better positioned to take advantage of those opportunities than America....

We do these things because they help promote our long-term security, and we do them because we believe in the inherent dignity and equality of every human being, regardless of race or religion, creed or sexual orientation. And next week, the world will see one expression of that commitment -– when Team USA marches the red, white, and blue into the Olympic Stadium, and brings home the gold. (Applause shouts "USA, USA, USA".)

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might, but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them. No one knows this better than those who serve in uniform.

Obama related the story of Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg, who suffered near-fatal wounds on his 10th tour in Afghanistan. The young man, sitting next to First Lady Michelle Obama, received the longest sustained applause of the night, indeed of any SOTU that anyone could remember.

My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble, we make mistakes; we get frustrated or discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress -– to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.

The America we want for our kids -- a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us -- none of it is easy. But if we work together -- if we summon what is best in us, the way Cory summoned what is best in him, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast toward tomorrow -- I know it is within our reach. Believe it.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)

Clearly a Socialist tyrant.

See also:

'Opportunity for All': President lists key executive actions he plans to take

Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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