Obama to bypass gridlock in Congress - speech

2014-01-29 10:40
US President Barack Obama greets members of Congress before delivering the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (Brendan Smialowski, AFP)

US President Barack Obama greets members of Congress before delivering the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress. (Brendan Smialowski, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Video

Obama's full State of the Union address

2014-01-29 08:31

Watch US President Barack Obama's full State of the Union address. WATCH

Washington - President Barack Obama, looking to energise his sluggish second term, used his biggest speech of the year to push for programmes to narrow economic disparities between rich and poor.

He pledged to sidestep Congress "whenever and wherever" necessary to bypass the political gridlock that has bedevilled his presidency.

Obama's State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress and millions of Americans watching at home served as the opening salvo in a fight for control of Congress ahead of the November election.

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.

His focus on executive actions that don't need congressional approval was greeted with shouts of "Do it!" from many Democrats.

"Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled," Obama said. "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."

Approval ratings

For Obama, the address was also aimed at convincing an increasingly sceptical 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.

While domestic issues dominated the speech, Obama also warned Congress he would veto any sanctions bill that threatens to derail talks with Iran, even as he acknowledged that the talks may not succeed.

The hour-long speech came as Obama is trying to recover from the blundered rollout of his signature health care overhaul. An AP-GfK poll this month found 45% of those surveyed approved of Obama and 53% disapproved.

That's worse than a year ago, when 54% approved and 42% disapproved, but an improvement over his ratings in December, when 58% disapproved of his job performance.

Obama unveiled an array of executive actions, including increasing the minimum wage for some federal contract workers and making it easier for millions of low-income Americans to save for retirement.

His proposals for action by lawmakers were slim and largely focused on old ideas that have gained little traction. He pressed Congress to revive a stalled immigration overhaul and increase the minimum wage. His one new legislation proposal calls for expanding a tax credit for workers without children.

Domestic issues

Turning to foreign policy, Obama said negotiations to stop Iran's nuclear programme will be difficult and if they fail, he will call for more sanctions.

"But if Iran's leaders do seize the chance, 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."

On Syria, he pledged "to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve - a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear".

Obama reaffirmed that the US-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.

Obama said the United States "will continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific" and called the alliance with Europe "the strongest the world has ever known". Regarding the turmoil in Ukraine, he said "we stand for the principle that all people have the right to express themselves freely and peacefully, and have a say in their country's future".

But most of his address was devoted to domestic issues, which weigh most heavily on the minds of Americans.

Most powerful figures

Obama said he is eager to work with Congress on measures requiring lawmakers' approval. "But 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," he said.

Republicans, who saw their own approval ratings fall further in 2013, have also picked up the refrain of income inequality in recent months, though they have cast the widening gap between rich and poor as a symptom of Obama's economic policies.

In the official response to Obama, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a congressional leader, said the Republican Party "champions free markets - and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you".

Republicans have thwarted most of Obama's initiatives, including on gun control and climate change, and this year's elections make it even less likely that they will support his proposals. Still, the partisan fighting has eased somewhat from when Republicans shut down the government for 16 days last fall and brought the country to the brink of default.

Obama has some hope of winning support for an immigration overhaul, as Republicans try to build support among the country's growing Hispanic population ahead of the election.

But the White House sees a robust rollout of executive actions as the most effective way to show the public that Obama still wields power in the sixth year of his presidency.

"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."

Obama only briefly mentioned the controversy over US spy programmes revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. He pledged to reform surveillance programmes, "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".

The annual speech is accompanied by great pomp and ceremony, with Washington's most powerful figures in attendance, including Cabinet members, diplomats and Supreme Court justices.

It also drew an eclectic mix of visitors to the House visitors' 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. Two lawmakers invited the mother and sister of Kenneth Bae, an American citizen held by North Korea.

- AP

Read more on:    nsa  |  edward snowden  |  barack obama  |  john boehner  |  kenneth bae  |  us  |  us healthcare  |  us economy
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

DA wants to empower fishing communities - Zille

DA leader Helen Zille says the party has a plan for harbours and small-scale fishing communities.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Friday Somerset West - 08:57 AM
    Road name: N2 Outbound
    DELAYS through Somerset West due to high volumes
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Torch 9810

The BlackBerry Torch 9810 gives you the powerful combination of...

From R2820.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

You may find yourself putting in that extra effort on looking good and making an impression. ...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.