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State of the Union: Obama vows to flex presidential powers

Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Larry Downing, Pool (AP)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.

Larry Downing, Pool (AP)
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.

WASHINGTON — Vowing to act “whenever and wherever” he can, President Barack Obama unveiled an array of executive actions in his State of the Union address Tuesday night aimed at bolstering economic security for millions of Americans. His directives, mostly modest in scope, include increasing wages for some new workers on government contracts, making it easier for lower-income people to save for retirement and providing new incentives to use natural gas.

In a sign of his troubled relationship with the divided Congress, Obama’s separate 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 and pass an across-the-board increase in the federal minimum wage. His one new legislation proposal calls for expanding an income tax credit for workers without children.

Charles Dharapak, AP President Barack Obama is greeted as he arrives to give his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

Charles Dharapak, AP
President Barack Obama is greeted as he arrives to give his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

Susan Walsh, APPresident Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

Susan Walsh, AP
President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

J. Scott ApplewhiteFirst Lady Michelle Obama waves from her box before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

J. Scott Applewhite
First Lady Michelle Obama waves from her box before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

J. Scott Applewhite), APHouse Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, arrive for President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

J. Scott Applewhite), AP
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., center, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, arrive for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

Charles Dharapak,    APHouse Speaker John Boehner of Ohio adjusts Vice President Joe Biden's lapels before President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

Charles Dharapak, AP
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio adjusts Vice President Joe Biden’s lapels before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday Jan. 28, 2014.

“America does not stand still, and neither will I,” Obama said. “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.”

Draped in presidential grandeur, Obama’s prime-time address to a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching at home 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.

“Opportunity is who we are,” Obama said. “And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”

For Obama, the address was aimed at convincing 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.

Some Republicans have also picked up the refrain of income inequality in recent months, though they 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 Republican 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 levies on Iran while nuclear negotiations with the Islamic republic are underway.

Washington’s current focus on income inequality comes as many parts of the economy are gaining strength. The soaring financial markets and corporate balance sheets stand in contrast to the millions of people still out of work or struggling with stagnant incomes that don’t stretch as far as they used to.

“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’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 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.

“The question is how many people, Mr. President, will this executive action actually help?” Boehner said. “I suspect the answer is somewhere close to zero.”

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

Among Obama’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 actually 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 remained 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 that it was time to “get immigration reform done this year.”

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. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has gone a step further, proposing 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.

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72 more reader comments:

  1. HELP US ALL

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:27am
  2. Good! Why should he sit still and fight against an inactive and obstructive congress?

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:27am
  3. Yeah that’s it just bypass those PESKY separation of powers in the Constitution HE SWORE TO PROTECT. You wouldn’t like it if a Republican President did this so why do you support it with him????????

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:34am
  4. The constitution gave him, and every president, the ability to use Executive Orders (And it's either Reagan or Bush that holds the record for doing so). Therefore, it's not unconstitutional for Obama to use them. Nor it is tyrannical or dictatorship like. And, if congress doesn't like it, they can simply end their blatant obstructionism and cooperate once in awhile. Problem solved.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:03am
  5. Someone should put a diaper over his mouth to catch all the shit coming out of his mouth

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:39am
  6. Anything on marriage equality?

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:39am
  7. Shocking (-_-) when he stops being predictable then I’ll be in awe. But until then I know the deal…fascist scum.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:46am
  8. And to think i was gonna vote for him

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:49am
  9. I don’t want a president that bypasses government to get what he wants. The government, right or wrong, is there for the people and to protect the people from would be power hungry, dictator minded presidents. As many good things as this president has done, his recent actions and threats are bordering tyranny and dictatorship.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:51am
  10. Our president has given the reps. their chance.....time to charge into the next century.....

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:44am
  11. The constitution gave him, and every president, the ability to use Executive Orders (And it's either Reagan or Bush that holds the record for doing so). Therefore, it's not unconstitutional for Obama to use them. Nor it is tyrannical or dictatorship like. And, if congress doesn't like it, they can simply end their blatant obstructionism and cooperate once in awhile. Problem solved.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:02am
  12. Well said, Beverly!

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:22am
  13. those "dictatorships powers" you mention are given by the Constituition of your country.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 9:30am
  14. Such a pleasure to look at him, listen to him, instead of George W.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:53am
  15. I'm a little put off by Boehner behind him though--he really looks like he has to go #2

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:54am
  16. He always has to go #2.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:56am
  17. Blah, blah, blah. He’s said it all before. How about a little less talk a much more walk?!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:54am
  18. I dont undetstand. What does this have to do with LGBTQ?

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:54am
  19. Don’t watch it tonight!!!!!!!! Let the ratings go down!!!!!! It will be there tomorrow

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:55am
  20. I’m not democrat or any political party but the repturds are in a veryyyy bad place for the elections.. especially regarding women and lgbt people.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:55am
  21. don't forget us minorities. We're watching, too.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:07am
  22. your not minorities.. your americans just like us. i never understood that? this country only became " minorities "after white men took over.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:09am
  23. Has anyone paid attention to congress lately?

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 2:56am
  24. Why won’t he help who are health disabled

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:00am
  25. What the hell do you expect him to do? I dont like him either but at least smart enough to know that until the congress and senate do their jobs then he has no other choice.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:02am
  26. agreed, but I do like him

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:44am
  27. What is there to DISLIKE ????????

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:36am
  28. ^Is that a serious question?

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:05am
  29. Oh sorry let me clarify, I don't like any of them. But hey at least I am not Republican. But I do agree with mostly what the Dems are doing.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 11:10am
  30. I can’t believe there are ACTUALLY gay and lesbian people that don’t like Obama..

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:03am
  31. Like actually though

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:47am
  32. kahless not hard for me to dislike him he has no ideas on how goverment works ..... Hillary did tell us he was not ready for the job and she and her husband was right!

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:15am
  33. Well believe it i'm not brainwashed by this liar

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:32am
  34. Like I said before, I just don't get it. Without love, life is meaningless. i just don't understand how you could support anyone who doesn't even support the most fundamental aspect of life, Family.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:33am
  35. Im not a single issue voter and I believe in personal liberty and the right to ones property. This guy is trampling some of the most vital freedoms this country has. It matters little on WHO I can marry if I am a slave.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:42am
  36. Only problem is that you aren't a slave and never will be. I'm sick of people bringing the word slave into everything. Black people were slaves, millions of people throughout history were slaves. You? You're just an American that wants to complain about things when your only reputable source is probably associated with Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:47am
  37. Um do you even know my political stance to be flapping off at the face like that? I hate the far right just as much as the far left. Bush was a terrible president as well. I am a libertarian not a republican boss. And I will never be a slave? Well at the rate we are losing base freedoms you are right I wont likely be but I fear for my great grand kids.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:54am
  38. How will your great grand kids be slaves?

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:56am
  39. Lets see the right to keep and bare arms is under attack, we live in a massive surveillance and police state, personal property is being eroded by things like the California Coastal Commission, the willingness of people to use local bureaucratic thugs to control there neighbors behavior they dont like is spiking rapidly, our police force is out of control, personal responsibility is tossed aside for governmental dependence more and more often..... the list goes on. If that is not the path to slavery I do not know what is.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:02am
  40. I agree about the surveillance. But guns? No, just because we want back-ground checks, doesn't mean we want to take guns. My family has loads of guns. Just because you can't own an automatic AK-47, doesn't mean you're losing your rights. I agree about the Police Force. And here we go again, everyone is always talking about Welfare. Welfare is not a bad thing. is it taken advantage of? Yes. It it bad? No. Just because someone is poor doesn't make them lazy. Most poor people want to leave poverty, but a few idiots mess it up for everyone.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:08am
  41. First of all the second amendment allows for NO regulation of guns period. So yes you are infringing rights. Secondly the Constitution NEVER gives the government the right to take money from me and hand it out to other people. Sorry Ive been poor most of my life and made it without help. If you are to foolish or lazy to earn your way it doesnt mean you get to demand a handout from the rest of us.(though I never brought up welfare at all, not sure how we ended up there)

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:12am
  42. I'm done talking to you. You have literally no soul. To just group everyone that's poor into a category and label that category as "Lazy and Foolish"... You have a nice day, jerk.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:20am
  43. Hard to believe, right?

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 6:00am
  44. Wow!!!! I love how people focus on one or two things. Seems to be guns and welfare, and lets not forget health care. no one is taking guns away, ( and please tell me a GOOD reason someone needs an AK-47 before we start talking about regulation). welfare? its good and yes, some people take advantage but come on.. really you are going to punish the people that really need it? Elderly and children included? And healthcare: well its a new system yes there is kinks, there was kinks when SS was started and there was kinks when medicare and medicaid started. should we have taken it away then also because of some kinks when it first started? Now people talk about " DOnt touch SS and Medicare!" how far we have come havent we?

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 6:33am
  45. Worst person ever to hold the office. 2016 cannot arrive soon enough.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:05am
  46. Because its not about being gay. That is minor compared to the problems in the world today

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:09am
  47. I just don't get it. Without love, life is meaningless. i just don't understand how you could support anyone who doesn't even support the most fundamental aspect of life, Family.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:16am
  48. Please Have Some One Look In To My Case I Have No Heat See Videos Under Magda Flanagan The City Is Covering This Up It Was Barred From Court Please I Need Some Help

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:13am
  49. Go get them Barack!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:18am
  50. I WATN TO SEE YOU it is time to be BRAVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:19am
  51. DO! NOT! hate HIM LET BE NICE NO BULLYING ON HERE .bullying STOP HERER USA STOP

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:22am
  52. I guess when people actually sit down and start learning about what’s going on in this country and not listening to the news and the newspapers as they are the truth because they are not the truth and when you do this you’ll learn that he’s not the best president ever neither was Bush but this guy is worse. The question that everybody should be asking is why the diversion on this soldier who was wounded that has nothing to do with the world falling apart and what is happening today in this country

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:22am
  53. Is it just me, or did the Speaker’s face become an increasingly deeper orange as time went on?

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:24am
  54. I disagree Jeff Lawrence. It’s a dangerous precedent that could have catastrophic consequences. There are branches of Government for a reason, so no one office can have more power than the other. Be careful what you wish for. Never make a decision out of frustration. More often than not, it will be the wrong one, making the problem worse.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:53am
  55. Funny, no one seemed to mind how many times Reagan and Bush used them (they hold the record by the way). The constitution gave Obama, and every president, the ability to use Executive Orders (And it's either Reagan or Bush that holds the record for doing so). Therefore, it's not unconstitutional for Obama to use them. Nor it is tyrannical or dictatorship like. And, if congress doesn't like it, they can simply end their blatant obstructionism and cooperate once in awhile. Problem solved.

    Replied on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:04am
  56. Obama ….. full of sugar honey iced tea

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:55am
  57. Kill it with fire.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:56am
  58. He’s still just another politician.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 3:58am
  59. So proud of POTUS!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:01am
  60. That was one of the best written articles I have ever read on this site.

    Separation of Powers is very important and if the President chooses to go it alone as he has threatened it will only make the opposition to him in Congress stronger.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:04am
  61. you know we all sit back and let the people that went on strike for a week or so make all the rules they got paid no matter what when were out of work we don’t get paid,,,,, when im on a one check a month I would love to see{ brock }live on 900. for a change… the dog he has gets more then we do it rides in a plane goes on vacation where ever they go it gets pampered like it was made of gold…….I love my dogs also im going to call him up and ask him can I take m dogs on his plane ….. his kids are able to see everyone they want because there his kids I know lots of kids that would like to see Justin b ,,,,,,,im just saying {brock let me get a lone for about 2 mill………} ill pay it back I promise lolololololololololol

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:05am
  62. LIES ALL LIES!!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:43am
  63. About damn time. In all my years of being around our Presidents, I’ve never seen so much obvious sabotaging done to try to make sure that the President’s time in office will be considered horrible.
    It seems many complain and point fault at the President for everything, yet these same individuals (unfortunately the Majority of citizens) have no idea what the roles of every member in office entails.
    It seems even those in office are also subject to not realize there responsibilities.
    The Republicans have been obvious enemies!
    Not mentioning the many Democratic traitors in the mix. All the while the government is forgetting (as always) why they have a job and to whom their responsibilities are supposed to ultimately always be towards.
    The destruction of a President which ruins the people and the government is stupid!
    I fear the next republican who becomes President will try to destroy many good advances for the LBGT community. Hopefully the current Commander in Chief will bar that from happening to quickly or easily.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 4:48am
  64. about time mr. president.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:32am
  65. because of Obama, same sex couples can file joint returns, with a marriage lic., and will not be denied cov. on their ins.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:33am
  66. Congrats Obama…great action speech and plan!

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:47am
  67. EXECUTIVE ORDERS

    In times of emergency, the president can override congress and issue executive orders with almost limitless power. Abraham Lincoln used an executive order in order to fight the Civil War, Woodrow Wilson issued one in order to arm the United States just before it entered World War I, and Franklin Roosevelt approved Japanese internment camps during World War II with an executive order. Many other executive orders are on file and could be enacted at any time.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 5:49am
  68. Name Number claimed: Actual number:
    Theodore Roosevelt 3 1,081
    Franklin Roosevelt 11 3,522
    Harry Truman 5 907
    Dwight Eisenhower 2 484
    John Kennedy 4 214
    Lyndon Johnson 4 325
    Richard Nixon 1 346
    Gerald Ford 3 169
    Jimmy Carter 3 320
    Ronald Reagan 5 381
    George H.W. Bush 3 166
    Bill Clinton 15 364
    George W. Bush 62 291
    Barack Obama 923 168

    Read more at http://www.snopes.com/politics/obama/executiveorders.asp#OAI504WKg6f4LCoo.99

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 6:14am
  69. He did very well

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 10:08am
  70. Can he really do that?

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 11:11am
  71. His speech was awesome! If you have nothing to hide, then surveillance is not an issue to protect this country. Because the Republicans can’t even put forth a decent jobs bill, people need to feed their families, so yes welfare is needed. The ACA is an awesome piece of legislation. We MUST have gun control for those that are irresponsible; if you’re not a nut job, you get to keep your guns providing you are responsible with them. If not, you lose them. It’s not rocket science people.

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 12:01pm
  72. i suport obama 100%

    Posted on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 1:01pm