In the USA...Obama’s State of the Union address to outline ambitious second-term agenda
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian
Monday, February 11, 2013 21:30
Barack Obama plans to use his state of the union speech on Tuesday to kickstart an ambitious second term-agenda with commitments to immigration reform, gun control, cuts in nuclear weapons stockpiles and, above all, the economic recovery that eluded him over the past four years.
The speech presents Obama with a rare opportunity to rally the country behind his objectives, free of the constraints of the next wave of elections. But however ambitious his plans, the president still faces the challenge of getting some of the most contentious of those past a House of Representatives under Republican control.
The White House has made it known that Obama will focus on strategies to strengthen the American middle class as a means of improving the economy.
Obama told congressional Democrats last Thursday that his state of the union address will keep job creation at the heart of that goal.
“I’m going to be talking about making sure that we’re focused on job creation here in the United States of America. It means that we’re focused on education, and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we’ve got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we’re cultivating the kind of clean energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future,” the president said.
“It means that we’re going to talk about, yes, deficits and taxes, and sequesters and potential government shutdowns and debt ceiling — we’ll talk about that stuff, but all from the perspective of how are we making sure that somebody who works hard in this country – a cop, or a teacher, or a construction worker, or a receptionist – that they can make it if they work hard, and that their kids can make it and dream even bigger dreams than they have achieved.”
The president flagged up other priorities, too. He intends to push for some form of gun control in the wake of the Newtown shooting, although he recognised such measures will be limited.
“We’ve got to be mindful about steps we can take to end the cycle of gun violence in this country. And we should do so recognising that, again, there are regional differences here and we should respect those. Guns mean something different for somebody who grew up on a farm in a rural community than somebody who grew up in an inner city, and they’re different realities and we have to respect them,” he said.
“But what we know is: the majority of responsible gun owners recognise we cannot have a situation in which 20 more of our children, or 100 more of our children, or 1,000 more of our children are shot and killed in a senseless fashion, and that there are some common-sense steps that we can take and build a consensus around. And we cannot shy away from taking those steps.”
The New York Times reported on Monday that Obama will also use his speech to press for drastically reducing nuclear arsenals around the world after he won the agreement of the US military that the American stockpile can be cut by about a third.
Obama told Democratic members of Congress that he will be “pushing hard” for early immigration reform.
“Obviously economic growth is a priority. But making sure that we’re opening up opportunity for everybody is also important. And that’s why immigration reform is so critical. I said this is going to be a top priority and an early priority of my administration. I am heartened to see Republicans and Democrats starting to be in a serious conversation about getting this done,” he said.
“Now is the time. I recognise that the politics aren’t always easy. There are regional variations. I understand that in some places this may end up being a tough issue.”
The president has sought to placate voters hostile to immigration reform with a pledge that strong border security, more severe penalties for companies hiring undocumented immigrants, and a requirement for those who have been working illegally to pay back taxes will be a key component of any new law. But Obama added that it was important to give millions of people living in the US without the necessary authorisation a path to legal residence.
Obama hopes to exploit the shifting Republican attitude to immigration as the GOP attempts to win back Hispanic voters driven away by hostile legalisation and rhetoric.
Tellingly, the Republicans have chosen Senator Marco Rubio, a migrant from Cuba who has been critical of his party’s position on immigration, to give the rebuttal speech to Obama in English and Spanish.
But Larry Sabato, the director of the Centre for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Obama still faces the reality of a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Sabato noted that President George W Bush recognised the need for immigration reform but was unable to carry it through.
“It’s always been the details that have sunk immigration reform,” he said. “In theory, just about everybody agreed that something needed to be done, and then the details took over. It really is a problem and you’re about to see this again. If we get any reform at all, it’s not going to be of a comprehensive nature.”
Sabato said that is reflective of a wider problem for the president.
However powerful Obama’s speech, he still faces a House of Representatives under Republican control.
“There are certain political realities that can never be changed.
“What’s done on election night is done. You will not remove for the next two years the Republican majority in the House, and probably not for the rest of the decade. Therefore, Obama would have to employ magic words to change the basic reality which is going to keep him from getting a great deal of his agenda accomplished in the second term,” he said.
“What he can do in a speech like this is to continue to energise his base so that they will support executive actions, independent executive actions, whether they’re executive orders, whether they’re decisions about foreign policy. He can encourage certain trends in society, for example the increasing support for gay rights. That he can encourage with rhetoric but in terms of what he can do with the legislature, this state of the union address will prove virtually useless.”
There is an attempt my some members of Congress to overcome the entrenched partisan divide. About 40, who have united as a group organising themselves as “No Labels Problem Solvers”, will wear badges to the state of the nation speech declaring: “Stop Fighting, Start Fixing”.
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February 11, 2013Watching Obama for Signs of Change
By JACKIE CALMES
WASHINGTON — On Tuesday night, the president will address the nation and Congress on the state of the union. But many will watch as well for signs of the state of Barack Obama.
Inside the White House and out, advisers and associates have noted subtle but palpable changes in Mr. Obama since his re-election. “He even carries himself a little bit differently,” said one confidant who, like others, asked not to be identified discussing the president. He is relaxed, more voluble and even more confident than usual, these people say, freer to drop profanities or dismiss others’ ideas — enough that even some supporters fear the potential for hubris.
A man who attended a meeting in December between Mr. Obama and business executives was struck by the contrast with a tense and perfunctory session months before the president was re-elected. “To say he was a different person is too strong, but he was someone who has won a second term and isn’t going to run again,” said the man, a Republican. “This was a relaxed, engaged president who very genuinely wanted to connect.”
As the president prepares to outline his second-term agenda, it is clear from these personal accounts as well as his public acts, like his bold Inaugural Address, that he has shown an assertiveness, self-possession, even cockiness that contrasts with the caution, compromise and reserve that he showed for much of his first term.
What is not so clear is whether Mr. Obama can parlay this commanding self-assurance — borne of re-election, hard lessons learned and Republicans’ disarray — into victories as he tries to turn Washington away from its obsession with deficit-cutting to a broader progressive agenda. Or will he overreach, alienate some Americans and cement the partisan divide he once promised to bridge?
Mr. Obama is said to be aware of the risks, though among his remaining aides it is not plain who might confront him at any danger signs. And Democrats say that the president, like many of them, believes Republicans are more vulnerable to overstepping politically by obstructing his agenda.
So far Mr. Obama has carried the day. Even before his swearing-in, he had staked battle lines on taxing the wealthy and raising the federal debt limit and gave little ground, forcing Republicans to retreat. On Tuesday night, in the House chamber, he will be in their faces, setting the agenda on immigration and gun safety — issues that were unthinkable only two years ago, when Republicans had just triumphed in midterm elections — and defining a debt-reduction strategy that not only cuts spending but also raises revenues to allow government investments in programs for the middle class and small businesses.
“Obama is feeling his oats,” said Donald A. Baer, a former aide to President Bill Clinton and now the chief executive of the communications firm Burson-Marsteller.
“I think he probably believes he was cautious and hemmed in by one thing or another in the first term, and he’s decided he’s going to do more of what he really wants and be who he really is in the second term,” Mr. Baer said.
With the crisis that defined his first term behind him, and the economy growing, if slowly, the legacy-minded Mr. Obama seems almost liberated at being given more time for unfinished business like immigration and climate change, and new issues like gun safety, say those who have met with him.
Perhaps most altered is his approach toward Republicans. Mr. Obama largely bypassed them when Democrats controlled Congress, and then sought compromise once Republicans won control of the House, only to have the emboldened party refuse most deal-making with him.
Now the president is defining a third stage in the relationship: He has the upper hand after voters chose his vision of government’s role and responsibilities over the opposition’s, and he is extending it on his terms. He is counting on Republicans to join hands when they see issues — like immigration — where cooperation is in their party’s own political interest.
But in responding, Republicans are weakened by postelection divisions. Indeed, they again will have two responses to the State of the Union address — the official one by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and another from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, the Tea Party designee.
Republicans are left hoping that Mr. Obama, like second-term presidents before him, will somehow stumble and lose leverage with time. They take heart that the party without the White House typically gains Congressional seats in midterm elections, as Republicans did in 2010. But after two years running the House, they and their agenda are far less popular going into 2014.
“Within the limitations of a still-polarized electorate, Obama is in surprisingly strong shape with the electorate,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster. “People generally like the more assertive approach to leadership — it feels like he is more in charge and in command, which is what people want from a president.”
Republicans hardly see it that way.
“Since the election, he’s pursued, in my estimation, a strategy that has been intentionally polarizing,” said Peter Wehner, formerly a senior policy adviser to President George W. Bush, now a senior fellow at the conservative-leaning Ethics and Public Policy Center. “What I’ll be interested in is if the State of the Union speech is simply the latest link in President Obama’s polarizing chain, or whether it signals a new interest in working with Republicans.”
While polls consistently show that Mr. Obama’s positions are more popular than Republicans’, that is not true in many of the Republicans’ districts and states. House conservatives have already shown that they will not always support legislation from their own leader, Speaker John A. Boehner, let alone from a president their constituents dislike.
And as Mr. Obama acknowledged to House Democrats last week at a legislative retreat, even some Democrats from swing districts and states will oppose him on gun regulations and a path to citizenship for people who came here illegally.
He also confided to the Democrats his awareness of the balance to be struck between command and compromise.
“It’s important not to read too much into any particular political victory,” the president said. Then he added, “It’s also important for us to feel confident and bold about the values we care about and what we stand for.”
*******Members of Congress invite victims of gun violence to State of the Union address
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 17:37 EST
Joining the White House in its demand for tougher gun laws, two dozen US lawmakers will host gun violence victims and relatives Tuesday at President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.
First Lady Michelle Obama will help lead the way, with aides confirming that the parents of Chicago shooting victim Hadiya Pendleton will join her for the speech.
Pendleton was a teenage high school band majorette who performed at Obama’s January inauguration just days before she was gunned down in Chicago.
Democratic congressman Ron Barber will host his predecessor in the House of Representatives, Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at a mass shooting two years ago in her Arizona district.
Republican Senator John McCain will host Giffords’ husband Mark Kelly.
In an emotional return to Congress, Giffords attended Obama’s 2012 State of the Union speech one day before retiring from the House to focus on her recovery.
“Mark and I will be there again tomorrow night, because this is a critical moment in time for legislation to reduce gun violence in the United States,” Giffords said in a statement Monday, when she appeared in a debut TV ad for her new group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, which seeks to prevent gun violence.
At least 23 members of the US House, including Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi, will also host gun violence victims or their relatives.
The guests will include Natalie Hammond, a teacher who was shot three times by a gunman who massacred 20 schoolchildren and six adults last December at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
She joins congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy’s guest, Police Chief John Aresta of Malverne, New York, whose uncle was killed, along with McCarthy’s husband, in a 1993 mass shooting on a Long Island train.
House Democrats including Mike Thompson, chairman of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, last week unveiled a package of possible gun control legislation which largely mirrored proposals put forward by Obama in the wake of Newtown.
One lawmaker took his message in a different direction.
Republican Steve Stockman said his guest at Obama’s speech would be none other than Ted Nugent, the aging rocker and controversial gun advocate.
“I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama,” said Stockman on Monday.
Nugent drew the attention of the US Secret Service last April when he warned at a National Rifle Association meeting that he would end up “dead or in jail” if Obama was reelected.
Stockman last month threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings against Obama over the president’s use of executive privilege to tighten gun laws, but ultimately backed off the threat.
************Nugent invited to State of the Union after column about ‘ebonic mumbo-jumbo’
By David Edwards
Monday, February 11, 2013 15:14 EST
The conservative rocker who said that he would be “dead or in jail” if President Barack Obama was re-elected has been invited to attend Tuesday’s annual State of the Union address.
In a statement provided to Politico on Monday, freshman Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) said that Ted Nugent would be attending Obama’s speech to Congress as his guest.
“I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama,” Stockman said. “After the Address I’m sure Ted will have plenty to say.”
Earlier this year, Stockman threatened to initiate impeachment proceedings if the president used executive actions to limit gun rights.
“I will seek to thwart this action by any means necessary, including but not limited to eliminating funding for implementation, defunding the White House, and even filing articles of impeachment,” he said in a statement
While Nugent doesn’t have the power to impeach the commander in chief, he has suggested that his “buddies” would be willing to start a new American Revolution if the Obama administration attempted to “re-implement the tyranny of King George” with gun control.
Last year, he told National Rifle Association members that “I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year” if the president was re-elected. He has also called Obama a “piece of shit” who should “suck on my machine gun.”
The Secret Service eventually interviewed The Motor City Madman and determined he wasn’t a threat to the president.
While recalling his meeting with the Secret Service to CBS News, Nugent seemed to lose control of his temper and told reporter Jeff Glor that he would “suck your fucking dick” and then “fuck” a female producer.
Most recently, Nugent wrote that civil rights leaders and other “liberals are two-faced hypocrites” for giving the president a pass on a program that allows the United States government to target American citizens overseas with drones strikes.
“Jesse Jackson and Al Not-So-Sharpton would be lisping their ebonic mumbo-jumbo that the policy and the president are racist and bigoted,” he opined in a World Net Daily column. “They would organize protest marches in front of the White House, where they would burn effigies of the president.”
Nugent has until April to make good on his promise to be “dead on in jail by this time next year.”
Update (3:44 p.m. ET): Nugent told The New York Times that he would “demilitarize” himself by refraining from bringing a firearm to the president’s speech, according to Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters.
***********Kerry seeks to unblock $700 million in aid for Palestinians
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 20:50 EST
Secretary of State John Kerry is working to try to free up almost $700 million in aid for the Palestinians which has been held up in Congress, a top US official said Monday.
“The secretary feels extremely strongly that it is time now to get this support to the Palestinian Authority,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
The department was working with Congress “to get appropriated money released for the Palestinian Authority because we think it’s very, very important that they remain effective in supporting the needs of the Palestinian people.”
Some $495.7 million was set aside for the Palestinian Authority in the fiscal year 2012 which ended on October 1, while another $200 million for this fiscal year was notified to Congress last week.
The money is earmarked for specific things in the Palestinian budget such as security as well as administrative costs.
However, an additional $100 million has been released, but can only be used on narcotics and law enforcement.
The Palestinian Authority is facing its worst economic crisis in years, in part because of a failure by donors to deliver pledged funds. But its finances were plunged further into chaos after president Mahmud Abbas won upgraded UN observer status at the UN General Assembly.
Israel, which strongly opposed the move along with the United States, said it was suspending monthly transfers of the tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the wake of the decision.
It did, however, transfer $100 million in a one-off payment in late January.
Nuland said Kerry had been very active on the issue of the Palestinian aid with Congress since he took over as secretary of state on February 1.
*********Environmentalists plan massive rally to spur action on climate change
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, February 11, 2013 20:52 EST
Activists are stepping up pressure on US President Barack Obama to issue concrete plans to battle climate change, with a major rally planned in Washington following his annual address to Congress.
More than 100 groups are planning what they hope will be the largest rally in the United States on climate change, with organizers saying that tens of thousands will descend on the National Mall Sunday with buses from 28 states.
The demonstration comes after the United States last year experienced record high temperatures, extensive drought and the devastation of superstorm Sandy which some have linked to changing climate patterns.
Advocacy groups urged Obama to lay out specific proposals Tuesday in his annual State of the Union speech. Obama spoke forcefully, albeit in general terms, on fighting climate change during his inaugural speech last month.
“We can no longer afford to wait to respond to the threat of climate change,” said David Foster, executive director of the BlueGreen Alliance, a partnership of organized labor and environmental organizations.
“We can no longer wait to fix our nation’s crumbling infrastructure. The systems we rely on every day are not prepared to deal with the impacts of these events,” Foster told reporters on a conference call.
The BlueGreen Alliance and like-minded groups called for Obama to focus on measures including reducing carbon pollution from power plants, rebuilding the US water system and investing in alternative forms of transit.
Separately, the Center for Biological Diversity called for more ambitious steps, such as having the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) setting a national cap on pollution of greenhouse gases which are blamed for rising temperatures.
Obama has relied increasingly on executive authority in fighting climate change due to stiff resistance from the rival Republican Party, many of whose members question conclusions of mainstream scientists on greenhouse gases.
A proposal to set up a “cap-and-trade” system that restricts carbon emissions across the United States died in the Senate in 2010.
******Sen. Cantwell rips GOP over Violence Against Women Act: This is about life or death
By Eric W. Dolan
Monday, February 11, 2013 18:42 EST
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) on Monday spoke out against a Republican proposal to eliminate protections for Native American women in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
Cantwell noted that Native American women experience domestic violence and sexual assault at a rate far above the national average.
“However, less than 50 percent of the domestic violence cases in Indian country are prosecuted because of a gap in our legal system,” she explained on the Senate floor. “This isn’t about politics. This isn’t about a debate on what is a good way to win votes somewhere in America. This is about the life or death of women who need a better system to help prosecute those who are committing serious crimes against them.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-TX) introduced an amendment to the bill that would remove the tribal provisions from the bill. Republicans have objected to allowing tribal courts to prosecute non-Native American individuals for domestic violence crimes committed on tribal land. Coburn said the provision endangered civil liberties because tribal courts are not bound by the U.S. Constitution.
Cantwell denied the tribal provisions would violate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. She noted the U.S. Department of Justice would partner with tribal courts and non-tribal Americans would have the ability to appeal their case to a federal court. The legislation also specifically prohibits tribal courts from violating Americans’ rights.
“I’m not sure what my colleagues are referring to,” she said. “But these safeguards were built into the system because this is such an egregious problem that we have to fix.”
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