Thursday, January 28, 2010
Obama's state of the union: live blog
Barack Obama addresses Congress. Photograph: Tim Sloan/EPA
8.30pm eastern time: Just a week ago the voters of Massachusetts delivered a massive jolt to the US political world when they elected a Republican in what was regarded as a rock-solid Democratic senate seat. Now Barack Obama faces Congress and the nation with his first state of the union address. We'll be following the speech and rounding up the immediate media reaction – feel free to leave your comments below.
So what should we expect? The White House has released a set of quotes from the president's speech, and you can read them here. In an earlier briefing call to journalists this afternoon, it was made plain that jobs, jobs, jobs would be the focus of a big chunk of Obama's speech.
8.40pm: The usual scenes of congressional people milling about. Oh look, there's Joe Wilson. Looking very pleased with himself - the pressure is on him to follow up "You lie!" with something more exciting tonight. Tough one for him.
8.50pm: Tonight I'll be live blogging using an Apple iPad so apologies if things go awry. I need to download all the new apps.
8.55pm: We're being told that the speech will run 70 minutes long, which is on the long side really. Harry Truman used to just mail his over, and George Washington would just show up and say "Everything's great, whatever," because he hated going up to Congress. I paraphrase.
8.58pm: The Guardian's international editor IMs to inform us that Michelle Obama's dress is "lovely". It's purple, the colour of the Suffragettes.
9.00pm: Michelle Obama's guests up in the gallery include the two police officers who were on the scene at Fort Hood: Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd.
9.05pm: The live bloggers at Wonkette note: "Did you hear that Hillary can't make it because she has important diplomatic meetings? This should fill a full nine days of cable news coverage about 'Hillary 2012: hmm just asking hmm?'"
9.06pm: Here we go: "Madam Speaker, the President of the United States."
9.07pm: See, some people still like him. Mainly Democrats. But there's a special big Obama hug for Tim Geithner - who needs it after the day he's had denying he did anything wrong over the AIG bailout.
Obama's gone with the striped red tie again.
9.10pm: Last fashion round-up: Nancy Pelosi in lilac and big beads, Joe Biden with that fancy French cuff thing he likes so much, and a purple tie with a club stripe. Right, serious stuff from now on.
9.12pm: Times, it seems are tough:
One year ago, I took office amid two wars, an economy rocked by severe recession, a financial system on the verge of collapse, and a government deeply in debt. Experts from across the political spectrum warned that if we did not act, we might face a second depression. So we acted – immediately and aggressively. And one year later, the worst of the storm has passed. But the devastation remains.
The TV feed cuts to Tim Geithner, a man possibly contemplating unemployment in a personal sense.
9.15pm: Over on Twitter, it has been noted that high-def TV makes all the really old senators look even really older. Not Obama though.
9.18pm: As popular as a root canal....
Our most urgent task upon taking office was to shore up the same banks that helped cause this crisis. It was not easy to do. And if there's one thing that has unified Democrats and Republicans, it's that we all hated the bank bailout. I hated it. You hated it. It was about as popular as a root canal.
That got a chuckle. Another shot of Tim Geithner, now with fixed grin, possibly because he just had a root canal done.
A fight! has broken out in the comments below. It's this sort of thing that gives the internet a bad name:
PhillipMcKann: President Obama waited an entire 60 seconds before he dusted off the previous administration. He is truly a petulant and pouty child.
MockingbirdGirl: I admire his restraint. I would have slagged off those idiots in the first 10 seconds!
9.24pm: Harry Reid supressing a yawn. Sorry to keep you up Harry.
9.25pm: Those of you who got "jobs" in the SOTU drinking games will be passed out by now:
The House has passed a jobs bill that includes some of these steps. As the first order of business this year, I urge the Senate to do the same. People are out of work. They are hurting. They need our help. And I want a jobs bill on my desk without delay.
A jobs bill, now, goddamit.
9.29pm: Lots of standing ovations so far, although the Republicans appear to have glue on their seats, or possibly many of the older ones are just having a sit-down.
9.31pm: Actually there's a good point here – under Pelosi's leadership the House of Representatives has produced the goods, in terms of passing bills, financial reform, climate change, and so on. It's the Senate, and the filibuster of course, holding things up. Harry Reid, stop yawning.
9.35pm: At last, some tough noises on financial reform:
One place to start is serious financial reform. Look, I am not interested in punishing banks, I'm interested in protecting our economy... The House has already passed financial reform with many of these changes. And the lobbyists are already trying to kill it. Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back.
9.36pm: Climate change, now things are getting interesting - and some rumbles of discontent from the Joe Wilsons on the Republican benches:
But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.
The key here (I'm told by our US environmental correspondent Suzanne Goldenberg) is Obama's use of the world "comprehensive" in mentioning an energy and climate bill.
Note too that he mentions building new nuclear plants - and, and this is significant (possibly), "making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development". Offshore drilling? Is that the quid-pro-quo for a climate change bill? To quote Michael Steele: Drill, baby, drill.
9.41pm: On the environment, there were some mutterings at this point:
I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.
9.43pm: A quick whip through university tuition and education, and now here we are on healthcare reform.
Now let's be clear – I did not choose to tackle this issue to get some legislative victory under my belt. And by now it should be fairly obvious that I didn't take on health care because it was good politics.
You got that right.
9.45pm: The internets here in the US are buzzing with the student tuition items I elided over so quickly ... forgiving students loans after 10 years in public service (however that is defined) is a big deal, and moving to direct loans rather than the subsidised forms of loans through private providers is a very good thing (cf the several million New York Times articles on the subject in recent years), as well as capping loan repayments at 10% of income. At last I can go to Yale Law.
9.49pm: Obama says he's not walking away from healthcare reform:
I take my share of the blame for not explaining it more clearly to the American people. And I know that with all the lobbying and horse-trading, this process left most Americans wondering what's in it for them.
I also know this problem is not going away. By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance. Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber.
9.51pm: It's onto fiscal policy - and is that a boo from the audience? Hmm? Obama looks stern, pauses and says: "Just stating the facts."
9.53pm: So, looking at the detail of what's been said on healthcare - unlike the issue of jobs or climate change, Obama did not say anything about passing the Senate bill. Interesting.
Best Twitter joke so far:
@MyrnaTheMinx Would've been awesome if Joe Wilson had shouted "you're fat!" during that child obesity bit.
10.03pm: Here's the bipartisanship-ness: monthly meetings with Republican and Democrat leaders. "I know you can't wait," quips Obama.
Some better quality sound bites now:
I will not give up on changing the tone of our politics. I know it's an election year. And after last week, it is clear that campaign fever has come even earlier than usual. But we still need to govern. To Democrats, I would remind you that we still have the largest majority in decades, and the people expect us to solve some problems, not run for the hills. And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well. Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership.
10.06pm: We're an hour in (not long to go), and I have to say this is a pretty good speech. It's not his big barnstorming-style speech, but there's plenty of good stuff in there. What it shows is that Obama is good at capturing a mood, and he can get the tone right, and that's what he's done here.
But not everyone likes it. Toby Harden, the Daily Telegraph's resident swivel-eyed-in-chief, is compelled to tweet with typical restraint and dignity:
@tobyharden Obama: "IT'S BUSH'S FAULT! I am not interested in re-litigating the past. IT'S BUSH'S FAULT!"
10.12pm: Haiti gets a mention. And Guinea, for a change:
As we have for over sixty years, America takes these actions because our destiny is connected to those beyond our shores. But we also do it because it is right. That is why, as we meet here tonight, over 10,000 Americans are working with many nations to help the people of Haiti recover and rebuild. That is why we stand with the girl who yearns to go to school in Afghanistan; we support the human rights of the women marching through the streets of Iran; and we advocate for the young man denied a job by corruption in Guinea. For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity.
10.15pm: And finally we get to Don't Ask, Don't Tell - something that was being heavily pushed by the White House earlier today:
This year, I will work with Congress and our military to finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve the country they love because of who they are.
Now this is a slight step up, "I will work with Congress" being an advance of sorts from merely calling on Congress to repeal DADT. How much of one, we'll have to wait and see, but he's committing to action by the presidency, at least.
10.18pm: After the Don't Ask, Don't Tell comment, cameras cut to the joint chiefs of staff in the audience. Stony faced. Robert Gates, the defence secretary, applauds.
10.20pm: Not a lot of foreign policy talk, and probably the briefest mentions of Iraq and Afghanistan in a SOTU for many years. Now we're getting into the peroration, and there's some good stuff in there too, tackling directly the "change" knock that gets thrown at him:
I campaigned on the promise of change – change we can believe in, the slogan went. And right now, I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change – or at least, that I can deliver it.
But remember this – I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone. Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is.
10.23pm: Powerful ending there, I'm tempted to say Reaganesque even in style.
Our administration has had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved. But I wake up every day knowing that they are nothing compared to the setbacks that families all across this country have faced this year. And what keeps me going – what keeps me fighting – is that despite all these setbacks, that spirit of determination and optimism – that fundamental decency that has always been at the core of the American people – lives on.
Non-Americans may cringe slightly at this point:
It lives on in the 8-year old boy in Louisiana, who just sent me his allowance and asked if I would give it to the people of Haiti. And it lives on in all the Americans who've dropped everything to go some place they've never been and pull people they've never known from rubble, prompting chants of "USA! USA! USA!" when another life was saved.
There then followed a strong moment when Obama looked straight at the camera, addressing the viewing public rather than Congress: "The spirit that has sustained this nation for more than two centuries lives on in you, its people."
Then comes the nod to Reagan:
We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come. A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment – to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more.
10.32pm: And that's it, handshakes all round. The Republicans kept pretty quiet this time, but the post-match analysis is talking about a Supreme Court justice, Samuel Alito, reacting when the president mentioned the recent court ruling lifting the bar on corporate campaign spending.
Here's what Obama said:
Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests – including foreign corporations – to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.
Alito, appointed by George Bush, was seen to shake his head and say: "No that's not right." The TV highlights tape will reveal more, but if so that's quite something, for a Supreme Court justice to make a public gesture like that.
10.36pm: Now it's the newly elected Republican of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, looking presidential and doing the response. Here's hoping he does a better job than Bobby Jindel did last time. He kicks off with a gag about how his sons told him to get it over with in 10 minutes because they want to go and watch television. I blame the parents.
Anyway, Bob needs more auto-cue coaching. It looks as if it has stage directions ("clench fist") written in there. Still, he gets in a Bible quote and has a nice dimple, so we can all look forward to Sarah Palin trouncing him in the 2012 Republican primaries.
10.45pm: So now it's time to catch some Fox News reaction - America's most trusted news channel. Let's see some fair and balanced. And what's this? A man in a suit saying something nice about Obama. Who is this? Someone named Mike Leavitt. Google tells me he's a former governor of Utah and HHS secretary under Bush.
Enough of that: Roger Wicker, Republican senator from Ole Miss, is on and he kicks off by talking about Obama's "left-wing base". Phew. Anyway, Obama shouldn't bother about healthcare and get on with jobs. Plus, Obama should stop going on about the Bush years. "He's been president now for more than a year," says Senator Wicker. Yep, a year and one week.
10.59pm: For some reason Fox News is interviewing a bunch of fund managers. One guy reeled off a list of things he wanted, including: "Coal is and forever will be the best source of energy." Well ok.
Ah, it's because I'm on the Fox Business Channel. Is that thing still going? I should have wondered why the stock prices were scrolling on the bottom of the screen.
11.02pm: That's better, over on Fox News Sean Hannity is there, and also says Obama has to stop blaming everything on Bush. "Will it ever end, bashing Bush?" Sean has John McCain on, who hilariously describes this as "BIOB" - Blame It On Bush. Except McCain says BOIB, which would be Blame On It Bush.
11.10pm: Curse you DirectTV, I need to change channel to PBS for Charlie Rose and it's very difficult.
Hang on - it's Sarah Palin on Fox. PBS can wait.
11.19pm: Sarah Palin did not like what she saw. She tells Sean Hannity: "There was a lot of lecturing going on tonight versus inspiring the American people."
He not understanding that we don't want to chill out a little bit on his healthcare plans, we want to kill it because it's a government takeover.
Interesting use of "chill out" there.
11.24pm: Fox News plays the tape of Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito reacting to Obama's comments, and yes: he clearly shakes his head and mouths "Not true." This, says Sarah Palin, is the president "embarrassing our Supreme Court and not respecting our Supreme Court justice", although she also notes that only one of the two men could be right. Which is fair.
11.32pm: The final word on the Alito reaction comes from Linda Greenhouse, the ex-NYT reporter who covered the court brilliantly for many years:
Justice Alito shook his head as if to rebut the president's characterization of the Citizens United decision, and seemed to mouth the words "not true." Indeed, Mr. Obama's description of the holding of the case was imprecise. He said the court had "reversed a century of law."
11.35pm: OK, let's wrap this thing up. So, a long speech, quite humble in tone, given the number of times Obama admitted to various failings. There were quite a few specifics and a tone of determination, especially in passing a new jobs bill and financial regulation, but how long that lasts in the cold grasp of the Senate remains to be seen.
There was a surprising amount of attention given to climate change and surprisingly little on foreign policy – a direct result of the domestic focus. The specifics included the spending freeze, student loans and the chance of progress on gays serving in the military, and an attempt to see the broad spectrum of domestic issues through the prism of the economy and job creation – the single issue on which his presidency will stand or fall in the next two years. On healthcare there was less than met the eye, a desire to pass reform but no clear path to do so – possibly because that is in a state of flux. But if nothing else, this address will have succeeded if it stops his fellow Democrats "running for the hills", in his words, at the first sound of gunfire.
The best line? "We don't quit. I don't quit."
Well, I quit. Thank you and good night.