The State of the Union address can get drawn out, tiresome and confusing, but the NBN Politics team broke the whole thing down. Samuel Niiro took the speech and added the context and information you might have missed, Preetisha Sen highlights some of the best and worst quotes and Ryan Milowicki breaks down how Congress reacted to the address. Hover over the numbers in this abridged transcript to see our commentary.

Part 1: Taxes

President Obama began the evening with rhetoric about the fiscal situation. Although he alienated Republicans from the start by chastising their uncooperative ways, he scored an early applause victory by saying that “now is the time for comprehensive tax reform.” Both Democrats and Republicans seemed to agree with this sentiment, and gave Obama his first bipartisan cheer of the evening, with John Boehner as the lone holdout.

(transcript)

To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected.1 After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? Why is it that deficit reduction is a big emergency, justifying making cuts in Social Security benefits, but not closing some loopholes? How does that promote growth?

Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit.

The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms and more time expanding and hiring.

I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform will not be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans.

So let’s set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors.2

Part 2: Inauguration Restatements

Obama once again tackled the issues of climate change and immigration as he did at his inauguration. In declaring that “we must do more to combat climate change,” he drew thunderous cheers from the left side of the room, but the right refused to budge. He had better luck when announcing the immediate need for comprehensive immigration reform, as the entire chamber stood and clapped. But once again, Speaker Boehner did not feel so inclined, keeping the night without a complete standing ovation.

(transcript)

Today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy. After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future.3 We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.

But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will direct my cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Now, four years ago, other countries dominated the clean-energy market and the jobs that came with it. And we’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year. Let’s drive down costs even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.4 Now, in the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.

Immigration

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

And right now, leaders from the business, labor, law enforcement, faith communities, they all agree that the time has come to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Now’s the time to do it.

Real reform means strong border security, and we can build on the progress my administration’s already made, putting more boots on the southern border than at any time in our history and reducing illegal crossings to their lowest levels in 40 years.

Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship, a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally.

And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system to cut waiting periods and attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy.5

In other words, we know what needs to be done. And as we speak, bipartisan groups in both chambers are working diligently to draft a bill, and I applaud their efforts. So let’s get this done. Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away. And America will be better for it.

Let’s get it done. Let’s get it done.

Part 3: Jobs/Minimum Wage

Perhaps President Obama’s most quotable policy suggestion came when he suggested a raise in the minimum wage. This caused another marked partisan rift in applause. The Democrats as well as Joe Biden instantly rose their feet, but the Republicans stayed stationary. As Biden sat back down, he shot an amused look at Boehner to the effect of “Seriously man?”

(transcript)

Jobs

After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over 6 million new jobs.6

But — but we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded.7 Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can’t find full- time employment.It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth: a rising, thriving middle class.8

Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills they need to get those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?

A year-and-a-half ago, I put forward an American Jobs Act that independent economists said would create more than 1 million new jobs.9 But tonight I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat: Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.10

Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio.11 A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.

So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America. We can get that done.

Minimum wage

And I ask this Congress to declare that women should earn a living equal to their efforts and finally pass the Paycheck Fairness Act this year.12

We know our economy’s stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages. But today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher.

Tonight, let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty — and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour.13

We should be able to get that done.

Part 4: Foreign Policy

The unthinkable occurred just after the halfway point of the address. President Obama began his foreign policy discussion with a patriotic statement that “America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and defeat the core of Al-Qaeda.” These words evoked cheering and loud applause from both sides of the chamber, as expected. But, for the first time all night, John Boehner pushed back his chair to join in the applause, although his face remained as stoic as ever.

(transcript)

Already we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that, over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.14

Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of Al Qaida and their affiliates.

Today, the organization that attacked us on 9/11 is a shadow of its former self.

It’s true, different Al Qaida affiliates and extremist groups have emerged, from the Arabian Peninsula to Africa. The threat these groups pose is evolving.15  But to meet this threat, we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.16 And I recognize that, in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.17

Now, we know hackers steal people’s identities and infiltrate private e-mails. We know foreign countries and companies swipe our corporate secrets.18 Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, our air traffic control systems. We cannot look back years from now and wonder why we did nothing in the face of real threats to our security and our economy.

That’s why, earlier today, I signed a new executive order that will strengthen our cyber defenses by increasing information-sharing and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy.19

We’ll invest in new capabilities, even as we reduce waste and wartime spending. We will ensure equal treatment for all service-members, and equal benefits for their families, gay and straight.20

We will draw upon the courage and skills of our sisters and daughters and moms, because women have proven under fire that they are ready for combat.21 We will keep faith with our veterans, investing in world-class care, including mental health care, for our wounded warriors, supporting our military families, giving our veterans the benefits and education and job opportunities that they have earned.22 And I want to thank my wife, Michelle, and Dr. Jill Biden for their continued dedication to serving our military families as well as they have served us.

Part 5: Gun Violence

Obama saved his most effective pathos for the end of his speech. The strongest applause of the night came during his discussion of the need for stronger gun control. His repeated delivery of “they deserve a vote” in reference to recent victims of gun violence brought the entire chamber to their feet. Even John Boehner stood and clapped for only the second time of the evening. By choosing to use his most emotionally charged agenda items last, Obama ensured that the most overwhelming approval would conclude his address.

(transcript)

It has been two months since Newtown. I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence, but this time is different. Overwhelming majorities of Americans — Americans who believe in the Second Amendment — have come together around commonsense reform, like background checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun.23

Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals. Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because these police chiefs, they’re tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned. Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.

If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote, because in the two months since Newtown, more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun. More than a thousand.24

One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton.25 She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend.

Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house. Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence.

They deserve a vote.

They deserve a vote.

They deserve a vote.

Gabby Giffords deserves a vote.

The families of Newtown deserve a vote.

The families of Aurora deserve a vote.

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

They deserve — they deserve a simple vote.

Our actions will not prevent every senseless act of violence in this country. In fact, no laws, no initiatives, no administrative acts will perfectly solve all of the challenges I’ve outlined tonight. But we were never sent here to be perfect. We were sent here to make what difference we can — to secure this nation, expand opportunity, uphold our ideals through the hard, often frustrating, but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

We were sent here to look out for our fellow Americans the same way they look out for one another, every single day, usually without fanfare, all across this country. We should follow their example.

We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title: We are citizens. It’s a word that doesn’t just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we’re made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, 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.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless these United States of America.


  1. Removing all tax expenditures, as they are properly called, for the richest Americans would save $2 trillion over ten years.

  2. The fiscal cliff scare was not kind to the markets.

  3. Last year, the International Energy Agency projected that America will be nearly energy-independent by 2035.

  4. China burns almost half of the world’s coal, but also just committed to a major investment program in clean energy.

  5. Rather than trying to sum up the immigration reform debate here, we’d rather point you to a piece we already did on it.

  6. This number relies on particularly specific framing. Obama means that since the low point of the recession, about six million more jobs have been added to the economy (as can be seen in this graph from the Bureau of Labor Statistics []). He does not mean a net gain of six million jobs.

  7. To be more precise, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are about 12.5 million unemployed Americans, for an unemployment rate of 8.1 percent.

  8. Many who didn’t vote for Obama in the 2012 election were reminded of why they made that decision with this quote. This is the same stuff that Obama has been saying for the past four years, and after hearing it so many times it doesn’t make a strong impact anymore.

  9. Obama is referring to this bill. Moody’s, in particular, estimated that the legislation would create 1.9 million new jobs. Bloomberg published less optimistic projections, though they still estimated net positive job creation. However, the vast majority of that bill did not pass. The only parts that really made it through were the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits extension.

  10. There are echoes here of Clinton’s 1996 State of the Union (“the era of big government is over”), though the case could be made that Obama is proposing something fundamentally different from Clinton’s goals.

  11. The President is referring to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovative Institute, which is a pilot of sorts for the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation program.

  12. Obama is referring to this bill, which failed in 2009 and 2012.

  13. This was a very surprising proposal, even to Democrats. Possibly the most ambitious part of a very ambitious speech.

  14. This is consistent with the timetable NATO accepted last year.

  15. These affiliates include the rebels in northern Mali and groups in Yemen.

  16. Syria is notably absent from this list. Given that Obama overruled his military advisors and decided not to send weapons there, this is not surprising.

  17. This could mean handing drone strikes over to the military instead of the CIA, or supporting the idea of drone courts. It remains to be seen what Obama will actually attempt.

  18. If the New York Times and Wall Street Journal aren’t safe, what company is?

  19. That executive order is about increasing communication about potential threats between the United States government and private companies.

  20. The Pentagon extended some benefits, such as ID cards allowing access to military bases, to same-sex partners only recently. Some benefits, such as burial in national cemeteries, are still not granted to same-sex partners of service members.

  21. This is a reference to the Pentagon’s recent decision to lift the ban on women in combat.

  22. Mental health care is a very important aspect of care for service members; last year, more soldiers committed suicide than were killed in action.

  23. The majority of Americans support stricter firearm laws.

  24. Roughly 1900 people have been killed by gun violence since Newtown.

  25. The First Lady attended Pendleton’s funeral.