PI Original Aricka Flowers Tuesday January 28th, 2014, 8:07pm

LIVE BLOG: State Of The Union Address 2014

As President Barack Obama gives his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday night, we will provide you with the highlights from the president's speech.

As President Barack Obama gives his fifth State of the Union address Tuesday night, we will provide you with the highlights from the president's speech.

8:07 p.m.: TV viewers are getting a look some of the attendees of the State of the Union address, including cast members from the A&E TV show Duck Dynasty Willie Robertson and his wife who are guests of South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. Robertson's father Phil, who is also on the show, has recently drawn ire for controversial comments he made about homosexuals in a GQ interview. 

8:09 p.m.: House Majority Leader John Boehner has slammed his gavel and introduced President Barack Obama.

8:21 p.m.: Obama is discussing income inequality early on. "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 harder than ever just to get by left alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all. So out 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 middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class."

Obama went on to say that he wants to work with Congress on these proposals, but warned, "America does not stand still and neither will I. 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 followed those words. 

8:23 p.m.: Obama gives props to the First Lady's Let's Move campaign, saying it "has helped bring down childhood obesity rates for the first time in 30 years", pointing out that it will "reduce health care costs for decades to come." He also noted that Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden's Joining Forces Alliance has helped more than 400,000 U.S. Vets and their spouses get jobs or training for work.

8:26 p.m.: Obama gets a thumbs up from Boehner and lawmakers rise to their feet in applause following the president's statement that "the strength or our work ethic and the scope of our dreams" is "how the son of a barkeep is Speaker of the House." 

8:28 p.m.: The president says "first-class jobs gravitate to first-class infrastructure," adding that Congress needs to finish transportation and waterways bills in order to protect more than 3 million jobs. Obama says he will also act on his own to "slash bureaucracy and streamline the permitting process for key projects so we can get more construction workers on the job as soon as possible."

8:36 p.m.: Considering the wild winter weather we've experienced so far this year, Obama's comments about climate change may resonate with some: "The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. 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."

Obama called for "a smarter tax policy that gives $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."

The president also wants to set new fuel efficiency standards for trucks and noted his administration's work to reduce emissions at power plants.

8:41 p.m.: Obama goes in on immigration reform: "Finally, if we are serious about economic growth, it is time to heed the call of business leaders, labor leaders, faith leaders, law enforcement and fix our broken immigration system." He pointed out that Dems and Republicans both worked on it in the Senate and that members from both parties want to in the House. "Let's get it done," he added.

8:45 p.m.: Obama introduces a new initiative to be spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden to have the job force better match employers' needs:

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. 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.

The president then called on Congress to restore the unemployment benefits extension for the long-term unemployed. Several Democratic congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, wore light blue ribbon pins to tonight's speech as a show of support for the passage of legislation that would reactivate the unemployment benefits extension. Obama also unemployment benefits need to be reformed to "so that it’s more effective in today’s economy."

8:50 p.m.: Obama makes note of the administration's gains in education:

Five years ago, we set out to change the odds for all our kids. We worked with lenders to reform student loans, and today, more young people are earning college degrees than ever before. Race to the Top, with the help of governors from both parties, has helped states raise expectations and performance. Teachers and principals in schools from Tennessee to Washington, D.C. are making big strides in preparing students with skills for the new economy – problem solving, critical thinking, science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of this change is hard. It requires everything from more challenging curriculums and more demanding parents to better support for teachers and new ways to measure how well our kids think, not how well they can fill in a bubble on a test. But it’s worth it – and it’s working.

He then renewed his call for high-quality Pre-K education for four year-olds and announced plans to basically work around congressional lawmakers' inaction on the issue.

Research shows that one of the best investments we can make in a child’s life is high-quality early education. Last year, I asked this Congress to help states make high-quality pre-K available to every four year-old. As a parent as well as a President, I repeat that request tonight. But in the meantime, thirty 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 they need.

8:52 p.m.: Obama says its an "embarrassment" that in 2014 that U.S. women make 77 cents for every dollar that men make. He then went on to say that women should be able to have children or care for a sick parent or child without fear of workplace retaliation. 

"It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode," said Obama.

9:01 p.m.: Obama calls on Congress to "give America a raise" after announcing an Executive Order to have federal contractors pay their employees $10.10 an hour. He also implored state lawmakers to get on board and raise the minimum wage in their states instead of waiting for Congress to act. 

To every mayor, governor, and state legislator in America, I say, you don’t have to wait for Congress to act; Americans will support you ifyou take this on. And as a chief executive, I intend to lead by example. Profitable corporations like Costco see higher wages as the smart way to boost productivity and reduce turnover. We should too. In the coming weeks, I will issue an Executive Order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of atleast $10.10 an hour – because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty.
 
Of course, to reach millions more, Congress needs to get on board. Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about twenty percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend. It doesn’t involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise.

9:05 p.m.: The president also plans to create a program to allow Americans to take charge of their own retirement security called MyRA.

Today, most workers don’t have a pension. A Social Security check often isn’t enough on its own. And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. 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 to 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 of Americans.

Obama also told Congress to stop their feeble attempts to overturn the Affordable Care Act. 

"Now, I don’t expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles," the president said. "So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice – tell America what you’d do differently. Let’s see if the numbers add up. But let’s not have another forty-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans like Amanda. The first forty were plenty. We got it. We all owe it to the American people to say what we’re for, not just what we’re against."

9:08 p.m.: The president said "part of the Voting Rights Act was weakened last year," via the Supreme Court's decision to strike down a portion of the law. But he added that his bipartisan commission is working on the issue and has offered up reforms "so that no one has to wait more than half an hour to vote." 

Obama then went on to say that part of citizenship "means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day." Coming off of a weekend where there was a shooting in a Maryland mall, the president said he plans "to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook." He said he would do so "with or without" the help of Congress, but did not elaborate on his plan to do so.

9:10 p.m.: The president also provided an update on military action in Afghanistan:

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 counter-terrorism 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.

9:12 p.m.: Obama also called for the closure of Guantamano Bay and touched on the NSA surveillance scandal by basically saying that everyday people are not being snooped on. 

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’s 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.
 
So, even as we 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. 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 the privacy of ordinary people is not being violated.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 – because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our Constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world.

The president also said he would veto any attempt to throw a monkey wrench in his attempts to negotiate with Iran over the next six months to prevent the country from building or obtaining a nuclear weapon. Obama also made it abundantly clear that he will not allow the nation to continually jump needlessly from one military action to another.

But I will not send our troops into harm’s way unless it’s 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.
 
So, even as we 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.

The president hit that message home, ending his speech by telling the story of Army Ranger Cory Remburg, 30, who was in attendance, and was wounded during his tenth deployment. Rembug was in a coma for months after being hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan and has gone through several surgeries, is still blind in one eye, has troubles with the left side of his body and is learning to walk and speak again.

The president ended his address with these words:

Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sergeant First Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.

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 two hundred 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, with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow – I know it’s within our reach.

Believe it.

God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

9:21 p.m.: Obama's 2014 State of the Union speech has ended.

10:19 p.m.: Some Illinois congressmen have released statements in response to Obama's State of the Union Address.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL,11) had this to say:

I was very pleased to see President Obama lay out an agenda to support working families.  Everyone deserves a shot at the American dream – to get a good education, a job that supports a family, and a place to call home.  Unfortunately, for too many, that dream is becoming harder to achieve.  Our country succeeds when our middle class succeeds and it is critical that our policies support working families. 

I was also pleased to hear the President’s call to action. Too many critical issues have fallen by the wayside because Congress has failed to act – unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage, commonsense gun control laws and comprehensive immigration reform.  It’s time for Congress to get to work.

People like my guest Maria Torres, are taking action to make their voices heard on important issues like immigration reform, it’s time for Congress to start listening. I brought Maria as my guest today because her story is a powerful example of why we need to pass comprehensive immigration reform.  Maria learned English, worked her way through college, and is now giving back to her community. But under our current laws, Maria has no path to citizenship. I believe immigration reform is one of the most important issues facing Congress because it’s the right thing to do morally and fiscally – passing comprehensive immigration reform would grow our economy and reduce our deficit.

From the congressman's office: Foster’s guest for the State of the Union was Maria Torres, an undocumented youth, who came to Illinois when she was 15 years old. After she came to the US, Torres learned English, graduated from high school with honors, and received a bachelor’s degree from Northern Illinois University in December 2012.  Torres was granted work authorization through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals but currently is ineligible for citizenship. Torres works at Family Focus in Aurora, IL, helping others navigate the immigration system.

U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL,8) released the following statement after the president's address:

I applaud President Obama for presenting a vision for our country that will aid our recovering economy, create jobs and empower working families. My neighbors, who work so hard, deserve an opportunity to achieve the American Dream and President Obama’s proposals to raise the minimum wage, support manufacturing and bolster STEAM education will give them the opportunity to do so.

Last month, unemployment insurance expired for 80,000 families in Illinois. Thousands more desperately need a raise in the minimum wage. I am encouraged by President Obama’s proposals to provide relief to working families by immediately extending unemployment insurance and raising the national minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

We need a trained workforce that can compete in the global economy and I applaud President Obama’s emphasis on manufacturing and STEAM education. Introducing students to STEAM activities, like my guest Michelle Burke does, will help make them aware of opportunities and careers they might never have thought of. When I visit manufacturers right here in Illinois they tell me that they have job openings but don’t have the right candidates to fill the positions. STEAM education is crucial to providing good jobs for future generations and allowing Illinois businesses to succeed.

Tonight, I am also pleased to see that there continues to be bipartisan support for immigration reform. Congress must pass comprehensive immigration reform that is practical, fair and humane. We need a long-term plan that will secure our borders and include a responsible path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented individuals who are living in the shadows. Immigration reform will also provide a boost for our economy by reducing our national debt by $1 trillion over 20 years.

Whether it’s providing opportunity for working families or passing comprehensive immigration reform, it is essential that we work together in a bipartisan fashion. I look forward to reaching out to members on both sides of the aisle to get results for my neighbors.

A statement from U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2):

Tonight’s State of the Union address offered a blueprint for a better America. I agree with the President that it’s time that Congress focus our attention on what’s most important to Americans – expanding opportunities and creating a more level playing field so that all Americans have a chance to succeed.

I am hoping that my colleagues will take heed and put aside partisanship to work together to get the people’s business done. And the first order of business should be extending unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage and passing a jobs bill.

A functional Congress that puts the needs of the American people first, that advances the national agenda and that works with the President – not against him – is the kind of government that the American people want and deserve.

From U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL,10):

Tonight, the President outlined his view for a path forward and emphasized two issues I’ve been focused on since taking office: restoring our economy and expanding our middle class.

Like the President, I believe passing comprehensive immigration reform and supporting job-training programs are areas where both sides can break through the gridlock and make genuine progress.

On-the-Job training programs are a win-win for our employers and for those who are looking for work, and I look forward to working with the President and any of my colleagues to expand access to these critical programs.

Fixing our broken immigration system will strengthen our economy, injecting talent and vision into our workforce, and will actually save us $175 billion. To show the face and urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform, I was honored to invite an extraordinary young DREAMer, Estefania Garcia, to the President’s speech tonight.

We must focus on growing our economy and preparing our workforce to lead us forward, and I’ve said time and again that I am ready to work with anyone who has a good idea, an open mind and a willingness to work together. The President laid a number of sensible proposals on the table that both sides can find agreement on and should get to work on, now.

10:30 p.m.: Here's reaction from Environment Illinois: 

Severe drought in Illinois is just the most recent example of the steep price Americans and the planet are already paying for global warming.

We applaud the president’s commitment to cutting carbon pollution from power plants – the largest sources – as well as his leadership in cutting carbon pollution from cars and doubling the production of wind and solar power. 

It is clear from his speech and his actions that President Obama has no intention of looking his children or perhaps someday his grandchildren in the eyes and telling them he failed to act when faced with the greatest environmental challenge of our time.  

In addition, the President’s pledge to protect more of the nation’s pristine lands is both appreciated today and will certainly be a boon to all our families’ future.

Unfortunately the President’s and the nation’s continued embrace of oil and gas ensure that we will continue to create the pollution that fuels global warming threatening our health and our environment.

Beyond the climate impacts, dangerous oil and gas drilling known as ‘fracking’ has contaminated drinking water, made nearby families sick with air pollution, turned forest acres into industrial zones, and has no place in a clean energy future for America.

This country needs, and our families deserve, a truly clean energy future.  We look forward to working with the President to enact his climate action plan and to get the nation on track for a 100 percent renewable energy future.

10:32 p.m.: Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel offered his take on the president's speech:

In tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama outlined a strong set of proposals that will strengthen the middle class and ensure every American has access to educational and career opportunities. I join the president in calling on Congress to quickly to raise the federal minimum wage so that all hardworking Americans can realize the economic security they deserve.

I also applaud the president's call to increase investment in our children's education. Here in Chicago we are pioneering programs in our high schools and community colleges to train our kids to enter college and the workforce. Our College to Careers program, five new STEM high schools, and -- for the first time -- universal full-day kindergarten are the types of investments we should be making on a national level to ensure our children remain the most competitive in the world.

10:38 p.m.: Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families applauded the president's call for equal pay and an end to the incessant legislative attacks on the Affordable Care Act.

Tonight, President Obama issued a compelling call for a nation that is more family friendly and fair, with a health care system that provides quality care and coverage people can rely on. He asked lawmakers to advance the most fundamental of American values: equal opportunity, access to quality jobs, a fair chance for all who are willing to work hard, and measures that will strengthen the middle class and protect the safety net. Congress should end the partisanship and gridlock, and heed his call by advancing the agenda Americans need.

As President Obama said, it’s time to leave ‘Mad Men’ attitudes and policies behind and adopt programs that allow people to hold jobs and care for their families. We need the FAMILY Act, to guarantee workers paid leave to care for babies, recover from serious illness, or care for seriously ill family members. We need the Healthy Families Act so workers throughout this country, no matter where they live, can earn the paid sick days they need to recover from illness and care for sick children and family members.

We need Congress to advance the Paycheck Fairness Act, to finally reduce the punitive wage gap President Obama discussed so eloquently. Too many hardworking women, and especially women of color, are victims of wage discrimination that causes terrible harm to their lives and families and makes it much harder for them to get ahead.

We need a higher minimum wage, unemployment benefits we can count on, and a real chance at retirement security.

And we need to strengthen, not attack, health care reform – the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation. We need to leave behind gender discrimination in pricing and refusals to cover those of us with pre-existing conditions. Instead, we need to secure the preventive care, contraceptive coverage, and consumer protections the Affordable Care Act has ushered in.

This was a rousing, resonant speech that speaks to the issues Americans care most about. It should be the start of a new era in which lawmakers from both sides of the aisle work together to make all our lives better. That is what the country needs.

Image: AP/Evan Vucci

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