Monday, May 21, 2018
Politics

President Barack Obama focuses on gun control, middle class in State of the Union

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to renew focus on the economy and reigniting a "rising, thriving middle class," calling for public spending on infrastructure and education while making an emotional demand that Congress act on gun control.

"Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," Obama said at the end of his hourlong speech, the former congresswoman and other gun violence victims looking on from the gallery of the House of Representatives.

"The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote," Obama said. "The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote."

Obama also announced the withdrawal of 34,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan within a year, about half the remaining force, proposed raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour to bring millions out of poverty and vowed to address climate change.

"If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will," Obama said, alluding to executive actions to curb pollution and spur a transition to sustainable energy sources.

Obama cited more job creation, a rising stock market and a rebounding housing market and declared, "Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger."

But Obama soon acknowledged that millions of Americans remain out of work and wages remain stagnant.

"It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country — the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love."

He addressed the budget issue, saying Congress was halfway to a goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction but rejected a cuts-only approach. "Most Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents — understand that we can't just cut our way to prosperity," Obama said, calling for ending tax loopholes that favor corporations and the rich.

Obama brimmed with the same confidence he showed during his inaugural speech last month. He defended the role of government and took on partisan tones, rebuking Republican "brinksmanship" and policies. His unstated message was that he won the election and Americans back his agenda. In reality, the country, like Congress, remains divided.

Democrats leapt to their feet at Obama's high points while stone-faced Republicans remained in their seats. But a number of Republicans stood when Obama said it was time to pass comprehensive immigration reform and when he said of North Korea's latest nuclear test, "provocations of the sort we saw last night will only isolate them further."

The middle class was also on the mind of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who delivered the Republican response and argued that government was an impediment to ordinary families. Portending the next clash in Congress, Rubio said Obama should "abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy."

Rubio, 41, has been cast as a new face of a GOP that has struggled with the country's changing demographics, and his focus on the middle class reflected the revamped message. "Mr. President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich," he said. "I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors."

Like Rubio, Obama called for changes to social programs such as Medicare but stressed they should be "modest" and only in the context of a broad deficit-cutting deal that would include tax revenue and spending cuts.

Obama's prescriptions for growing jobs included $1 billion to create a network of 15 "manufacturing innovation institutes" across the country that would partner businesses, schools and government to develop manufacturing technologies to help U.S. companies and workers compete. He called for more investment in renewable energy and a $50 billion "fix it first" program to rebuild the nation's aging bridges and roads.

Obama, 51, also emphasized education, asking Congress to work with him to provide all low- and moderate-income children with quality preschool and said high schools should partner with colleges and employers on classes that meet needs in science, technology math and engineering.

Though the speech focused primarily on the economy, Obama heralded the return of troops from Afghanistan while conceding the threat of terrorist groups is evolving. He said he would engage Russia to seek further reductions in nuclear arsenals and devote more attention to the "rapidly growing threat from cyber attacks."

Addressing gun control, Obama invoked the school slayings in Connecticut two months ago and argued Americans are rallying around "common sense" reforms, including banning high-capacity ammunition clips and more background checks for gun buyers.

The gallery of the House of Representatives was marked with faces of the debate. More than 20 Democrats invited victims of gun violence as guests. Giffords, the former Arizona congresswoman who was shot in 2011 and has left office to recover, was the guest of Sen. John McCain, and Rep. Ron Barber, who was injured with Giffords and now holds her seat. Also in attendance: the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago girl, who was killed after school two weeks ago — a week after she was in Washington for the inaugural.

The gun rights side was punctuated by rock guitarist Ted Nugent, a guest of Texas Republican Rep. Steve Stockman.

Obama also urged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented residents of the United States as long as they "earn" that right through fines, learning English and other measures.

"Our economy is stronger when we harness the talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants," he said.

Democrats also invited undocumented immigrants, including Jose Godinez-Samperio, 26, of Tampa, who graduated from Florida State University law school, but has not been admitted to the Florida Bar because he's not a U.S. citizen. Godinez-Samperio, who has a pending petition with the state Supreme Court, was a guest of Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa.

Joining first lady Michelle Obama was Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old former farm worker who waited more than three hours to cast her vote in Miami-Dade in November.

The president said that when people have to wait hours "we are betraying our ideals" and announced a nonpartisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.

"The American people demand it. And so does our democracy," said Obama, who closed with an appeal for unity.

"Well into our third century as a nation," he said, "it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story."

Obama will take to the road this week to amplify his job creation plans, with stops in Asheville, N.C., Atlanta and Chicago.

Alex Leary can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18
Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.The committee vot...
Published: 05/16/18
Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

In Hillsborough County — where one of the world’s largest Confederate flags still flies near a busy interstate — you may not be surprised to learn there’s an Uncle Tom Road.The name is a flash point and a slur, shorthand for a black person who will d...
Published: 05/16/18
Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell drops out of Pinellas Commission race

With six months to go before the Nov. 6 election, Clearwater Vice Mayor Doreen Caudell on Monday dropped her bid against Pinellas County Commissioner Pat Gerard for the at-large District 2 seat.Caudell said she decided she’d better be better suited f...
Published: 05/14/18
Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

Romano: Hey Gov. Scott, could you hire me, too?

To: The Honorable Gov. Rick ScottDear Governor,It has come to my attention that your administration has recently made some, dare I say, innovative hires for important government positions in the months before you leave office.At the risk of sounding ...
Published: 05/14/18