Washington, DC – Welcoming President Barack Obama’s second State of the Union address to Congress, the newly elected and only Indian American Congressman Ami Bera reiterated the presidential call saying, “Now is the time to set aside petty partisanship and begin working together to move America forward.”
Giving his fourth State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress presided over by Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner, Obama spoke for one hour, with approximately 80 applause pauses, including rounds of hearty applause, as well as pockets of unsure, fleeting claps.
The most sustained periods of applause during the speech came when Obama called for passing immigration reform legislation, for getting the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization bill to his desk, and when he announced the war in Afghanistan will be over next year.
Lawmakers also clapped at length when Obama mentioned the politically volatile issue of gun control bills and said they “deserve a vote,” but noticeably seated and conspicuously not clapping during that moment was Republican Speaker Boehner.
In a related move seemingly designed to create controversy, Republican Congressman Steve Stockman from Texas invited former rock and roll musician Ted Nugent, an outspoken critic of gun control, to be his guest at the address. Nugent was quoted last year saying that he would wind up “dead or in jail” if Obama won re-election.
Speaking just four months after Indian Americans overwhelmingly voted for his reelection, Obama noted the presence of the parents of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager shot and killed two weeks ago in Chicago just blocks from the Obama residence; former Congress member Gabby Giffords, who survived a near fatal shooting; family members of the victims of the Newtown massacre; and the police officer who survived the shootings in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Conspicuously absent among the invited guests were any Sikh family members from the massacre at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek.
Overall, President Obama played to the Americans who reelected him, and outlined plans to rebuild “a thriving middle class,” calling it the “true engine of America’s economic growth.”
A large part of the US population listened as Obama called for an increase in the minimum wage — from $7.25 to $9 per hour, along with plans to speed up infrastructure projects, promote manufacturing, improve science and math education and develop alternative sources of energy.
Congressman Bera echoed the president’s talking points, saying, “We can do this by investing in our infrastructure. In Sacramento, this means we need to rebuild our levees and finish the Folsom Dam Project. That will not only create jobs, it will stimulate our economy, and keep our community safe.”
Reiterating his resolve to end the Afghan war, Obama announced plans to pull 34,000 US troops from Afghanistan over the next year, reducing the American presence by approximately 50 percent, as part of a planned overall withdrawal.
Without much substance, Republicans gave two responses: one by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and another one sponsored by Tea Party Senator Rand Paul.
Rubio, a rising political star and potential Republican candidate in 2016, attempted to criticize Obama’s speech, but contradicted himself when he spoke of using student loans and referenced his relatives receiving medicare and medicaid benefits.
Rubio was criticized by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC), its Executive Director Aaron Keyak saying, “Speaking on behalf of the Republican Party, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) neglected to even say one word in support of Israel or our nation’s efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear weapons program. President Obama was clear that we must stand steadfast with Israel in pursuit of security and a lasting peace, and do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.”
Rand Paul, representing the far right Tea Party, tried to woo Latino voters, but sounded hollow and one political pundit quipped, “Looks like too little, too late for now.”
Immediately after his address, President Obama made a conference call to members of Organizing for America, the political action group from the Obama 2012 campaign, saying, “Figure out how you guys are going to stay organized.”
Political pundits were left wondering about Obama’s strategy as William Galston, Senior Fellow of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, said in a statement, “Tonight’s speech struck me as a sign that Obama is committed to an outside-in strategy: he will take his case to the country to build support for his program and ratchet up pressure on the opposition party to go along.”
“This approach represents a high-stakes gamble. If the strategy succeeds, the president will end up with an impressive roster of legislative accomplishments. But if it leaves Republicans unmoved, he will face an unpleasant choice between negotiating with a weakened hand and accepting gridlock,” Galston added.