Obama's first State of the Union speech focuses on economy, jobs

Thursday, January 28, 2010

President Barack Obama gives his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress.
Image: Pete Souza.
AUDIO: Listen to the entire State of the Union address (1:09:29).

In his first annual State of the Union address Wednesday night, United States President Barack Obama urged Americans to overcome a deficit of trust in government and work together to solve a damaged economy and other problems.

Obama acknowledged that many Americans are frustrated and angry, doubting whether he can deliver the change he promised in his 2008 campaign. But he said change is not easy, and he will continue to pursue it. "We do not quit. I do not quit. Let us seize this moment-to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more," he said.

In his hour-long speech before both houses of the United States Congress, the president several times confronted the public anger that has caused his approval ratings to slide. "We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust-deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years," he said.

Much of Americans' frustration concerns the nation's stubborn 10-percent unemployment rate. Obama called for a number of initiatives to address the problem and urged the Senate to join the House of Representatives in passing a second jobs bill. "People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And, I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay," he said.

Among the president's economic goals are doubling U.S. exports in five years and freezing most domestic government spending for three years, starting in 2011. Obama also called upon lawmakers to continue earmark reform, saying, "Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single Web site before there's a vote, so that the American people can see how their money is being spent."

Obama urged Democratic lawmakers not to abandon the effort to reform the U.S. health care system, one of his administration's main priorities. "Do not walk away from reform. Not now. Not when we are so close. Let us find a way to come together and finish the job for the American people," he said.

He called on both Democrats and Republicans to overcome their bitter partisan divisions and work together to pass legislation to solve problems. "What frustrates the American people is a Washington where every day is Election Day," he said. "We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about the other side. A belief 'if you lose, I win.'"

On foreign policy, President Obama again pledged to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of August. "But make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home," Obama said.

He also said he is confident the United States will succeed in the war in Afghanistan and that diplomatic efforts are helping isolate Iran and North Korea for their pursuit of nuclear weapons. He also addressed critics of his foreign policy agenda, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney saying, "Let's put aside the schoolyard taunts about who is tough. Let's reject the false choice between protecting our people and upholding our values."

Another plan announced by Obama is to end the U.S. military's controversial "don't ask, don't tell" policy on sexual orientation of service members that has existed since the Clinton administration saying, "This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are." He added, "It's the right thing to do."

Obama also addressed the recent ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission saying, "With all due deference to separation of powers, last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections." In a break of decorum, Associate Justice Samuel Alito appeared to mouth the words, "No, not true", in response, according to many commentators. File:Bob-McDonnell sm.jpg

Bob McDonnell
Image: Nathan Muller.
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

The Republican Party's response to the president's speech came from the governor of the state of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. McDonnell gave the speech from the chamber of the Virginia House of Delegates. He said Democrats are spending too much and causing an unsustainable level of debt.

The newly inaugurated governor said, "What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class."

He also said Americans want affordable health care, but do not want the government to run it.

McDonnell also criticized the Obama administration's handling of the suspect accused of trying to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. He said he does not agree with the decision to try the Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the Detroit airliner plot in a U.S. civilian court.

McDonnell is one of several Republicans who have recently won elections in states which the Democrats swept in 2008.