By Ann-Marie Adams, Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama delivered his eighth State of the Union address before a packed House chamber on Tuesday, pushing back on “negative attacks” toward his policies and the typical moniker that comes at the end of an incumbent president’s second term: lame duck.
Obama’s 58-minute speech illuminated his top priorities and challenges for the last seven years. He also honed in on his agenda to fix a broken immigration system, to push climate change and to tackle criminal justice reform, especially gun violence. Also, the Obama administration is aiming to expand the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States.
Recently, the president signed an education bill that he said will “fix some of the challenges of the No Child Left Behind and promises to invest more in early childhood education.” On December 10, 2015, Obama signed into law a new education reform bill that shifts power from the federal government to the states. Each state will now set the agenda on issues of school performance and accountability. Under the Every Child Achieves Act, local districts will once again have power to determine how to improve troubled schools. In all, the new bill minimizes federal oversight of schools and doesn’t have an ambitous goal for education reform.
Margaret Spellings, who served as former Pesident George Bush’s education secretary from 2005 to 2009, sounded an alarm, saying Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, shephered a bill that removed the consequences to local school districts for failing to meet a federal educational standard or take the pressure off local officials to effectively fix low-performing schools.
Before Obama’s new bill, there was strict federal control on education. Now, the Senate bill nixed most of NCLB’s major accountability provisions.
Obama also touted additional achievement, especially his health care bill. To date, six million people have signed up for Obamacare, which was passed in Congress and came into law in March 2010. And nearly 18 million people have gained access to healthcare, Obama said.
He also touted his accomplishments with the economy, climate change and bringing China, one of the world’s largest emission centers, to the table. America signed a climate change deal at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change last month. The agreement calls for countries to reduce greenhouses emissions. Additionally, White House officials said unemployment was cut in half.
However, Obama signed a bill that aims to cut food stamps by $8.7 billion in the next 10 years. The cut was a part of the 2014 Farm Bill.
“All these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done,” he said.
He did not, however, set the agenda for the 2016 election as other presidents such as Dwight Eisenhower have done in the past. And he was faced with obstruction on many other issues, including Federal and Circuit Court judge appointments. On Monday, his last appointment, Felipe Restrepo of Pennsylvania, became the only the second Circuit Court judge approved in 2015. Restrepo was Obama’s last nominee to be confirmed.
Earlier this month, the Obama administration also said it would join a new push with the United Nations to allow police agencies help respond to terrorism. The Obama administration said Islamic terrorism is less worrying than “homegrown” terror. But reports are finding that domestic terrorism is just as dangerous as foreign terrorism. The Obama administration has issued reports that claim Tea Party groups and nativist groups are possible domestic terrorists.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was one of several guests who personify President Obama’s tenure in office.
While Malloy was with First Lady and Congressman John Larson (D-1) was also joined by a special guest: Geoffrey Tillman, who was wrongfully convicted of a crime and served more than 15 years.
Viewers, for the most part, saw an energetic president who pushed proposals for the coming year ending with a deep resolve that “America is emerging stronger and better.”
The speech was well-received.
According to a CNN poll, 53 percent of viewers had favored the President’s speech, matching the highest rating of his presidency reached following his 2013 address. Only 20 percent of viewers said they had a positive reaction to his speech and 25 percent reported a negative view.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gave the Republican response, in which she criticized Obama’s policies and critiqued Trump for leading the campaign trail with anger and showmanship.
Haley also cast Obama and his administration in an unflattering light, saying America “would soon have a chance to turn the page.”
“The President’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words,” Haley said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan also debut as House Speaker alongside Biden.
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson was designated as the Cabinet member who did not attend the State of the Union address.
Photo Courtesy of VOA.