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Obama Takes His Message of Economic Resurgence to Idaho

Obama Takes His Message of Economic Resurgence to Idaho

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(BOISE, Idaho) — President Obama resumed his barnstorming tour of the U.S. to promote his second-term agenda with a visit to Boise, Idaho, Wednesday.During his half-hour speech on the campus of Boise State University, the president repeated many of the same themes from his State of the Union address the night before.Obama spoke of the nation’s economic resurgence leading to the best growth in a decade despite critics fighting his policies at every turn.To drive his point home, the president peppered his remarks with football analogies before an appreciative audience that included, “The verdict is clear. The ruling on the field stands. Middle class economics works. Expanding opportunity works.”Beforehand, Obama toured Boise State's New Product Development Lab to view products local industries and entrepreneurs develop and market with the assistance of students.This was Obama’s first visit to Idaho as president, meaning he's made speeches in 47 states. He has yet set to foot in South Carolina, Utah and South Dakota during his six years in office.

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Senate Suffering Network Outage Including Email

Senate Suffering Network Outage Including Email

Credit: Architect of the Capitol(WASHINGTON) -- The Senate email system is down, the Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank Larkin said Wednesday night.Larkin told ABC News at about 7 p.m. Wednesday that "the Senate is currently experiencing a network outage, including email and mobility." He said that technicians were working on the issue.At least one Senate office said that the system went down at about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

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Mitt Romney to Give Commencement Address at Jacksonville University in April

Mitt Romney to Give Commencement Address at Jacksonville University in April

ABC/ DONNA SVENNEVIK(JACKSONVILLE, Fla.) -- Jacksonville University announced on Wednesday that former Senator and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney will deliver its spring commencement address this April."We are delighted to offer our students the opportunity to hear from one of the leading figures in industry and public service of the past three decades," university President Tim Cost said in a statement. "Gov. Romney has established an outstanding track record of accomplishments, and is sure to offer insight and inspiration to our campus community."Commencement is scheduled for April 25. Romney has said he is considering another presidential campaign in 2016.

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Drone Flies Into Capitol Hill Hearing

Drone Flies Into Capitol Hill Hearing

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  This may be a congressional first -- a drone flying overhead in a House committee room.The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology held a hearing Wednesday in the Rayburn House Office Building on the research and development of unmanned aircraft systems. One of the witnesses, Colin Guinn, CRO of 3D Robotics, brought a Parrot Bebop Drone, a $499 device weighing just over one pound, for a demonstration.The red-and-black drone buzzed around the side of the committee room, flying in place for over a minute while Guinn testified. The drone did not get near any of the lawmakers or fly over anyone’s head, much to the disappointment of Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, chairman of the committee.“I was hoping you’d fly it over the whole room instead of one place,” Smith said.“You said, ‘No haircuts,’” Guinn answered.Ahead of the short drone flight, Smith said the demonstration may have been the first of its kind and noted the committee had to obtain special permission to have a drone flying in the committee room.“The rules are still pretty strict,” Smith said.

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Rick Santorum Preps for 2016, Meets with Aides to Plan Details

Rick Santorum Preps for 2016, Meets with Aides to Plan Details

ABC/IDA MAE ASTUTE(WASHINGTON) -- Rick Santorum met Wednesday with advisors to map out a possible new presidential bid aiming to avoid some of the mistakes that doomed his last candidacy.A socially conservative former senator who was one of Mitt Romney’s biggest rivals for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Santorum is taking more steps toward another run, meeting Wednesday with a group of advisers who would join a possible campaign, planning some of the details and laying out what a bid might look like.The four-plus-hour meeting was described to ABC News by an aide who attended as a discussion of “lessons learned” from the 2012 campaign that they could use to improve their operation if he “makes the leap.” The group also got into more detailed planning that never happened before his last run, the aide said.Among the topics discussed were Santorum’s potential timeline for a decision and possible roll-out, finance and fundraising plans, possible staff additions, early-state movements, communications strategy, political discussions, and putting the experiences and lessons from 2012 “into practice.” The goal would be to turn some of the “roadblocks” they faced into “speed bumps.”One of the day’s sessions looked at some of the difficulties that the campaign experienced last time getting on the ballot in certain states. The group is looking at it now, so in the event Santorum is in, they are prepared for a “long-haul campaign” and will be able to get on the ballot in all 50 states. The aide said these “more serious discussions” on these topics “didn’t occur last time,” saying they really just went from state to state as the campaign ticked along without a clear strategy to get delegates or a detailed pathway to victory.The aide stressed that no state will be off the table this time around or considered too far gone to a “Bush or a Romney,” and they are instead now drilling down to see how they can nab delegates in each state from “Illinois to Colorado to California to New York,” examining each state’s specific delegate rules to “best maximize” Santorum’s “performance” in each state.“These were all conversations the Santorum campaign didn’t have last time,” the aide said, adding the group also went into how to maximize Santorum himself, discussing how to best prepare for debates and what schedule is best for him on the campaign trail.The aide said Santorum won’t make a final decision on a bid until later in the spring.Among the participants who made presentations at the planning meeting were a small group of senior staff and family including John Brabender, Santorum’s longtime senior political advisor who ran his 2012 campaign, Santorum's former Capitol Hill chief of staff Mark Rodgers, 2012 Finance Director Nadine Maenza, Rob Bickhart, who is the current finance director of Santorum’s PAC Patriot Voices and the former RNC finance director, longtime friend and advisor who traveled with Santorum in 2012 Greg Rothman, and communications aides Matt Beynon and Virginia Davis.Santorum’s wife Karen and several of his children were also in attendance at the meeting held in Leesburg, Virginia. The former Pennsylvania senator’s two eldest children Elizabeth and John took time off from college to help out their father’s campaign last time around and this meeting indicates the family will also be very involved if he runs again. No donors were in attendance.When asked about the meeting, Beynon said Santorum and his wife “continue to seriously consider a run for the presidency in 2016,” adding Santorum is “very concerned with the direction our nation is heading, specifically what the future holds for the countless hard-working American families that have seen their wages stagnant, job opportunities dwindle, and a society that has counted them out.”In 2012, Santorum tried to appeal to working-class voters, stressing American manufacturing, and Beynon’s comments make it clear the candidate would focus on that strategy once again. Santorum is one of the only possible 2016 GOP candidates to call for an increase in the minimum wage (Mitt Romney has as well). But, in his last campaign that message targeting blue-collar voters was often overshadowed by his socially conservative platform.Beynon added that Wednesday’s meeting is “another step in his decision-making process,” saying he has been “encouraged by the outpouring of support and encouragement he has received from old, new, and returning supporters.”Wednesday’s session follows other meetings Santorum has held over the past two weeks in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C., with supporters, friends, aides and donors. Santorum’s biggest donor in the last cycle, Foster Friess, also held a retreat last weekend in Scottsdale, Arizona, for Santorum with potential donors and supporters. Friess has made it clear he would also financially support a second Santorum campaign, and a Santorum aide described that retreat as both “positive” and “encouraging” leading to Wednesday’s meeting.Santorum won 11 primaries and caucuses in 2012, including the Iowa caucuses. It was an insurgent underdog campaign beating Romney in some states with a shoestring budget, but the field this time could be very different with other possible conservative candidates like former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former neurosurgeon and conservative favorite Ben Carson, and Sen. Ted Cruz also making moves toward possible runs as well.

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Boehner Not ‘Poking Anyone in the Eye’ by Inviting Israeli PM to Speak to Congress

Boehner Not ‘Poking Anyone in the Eye’ by Inviting Israeli PM to Speak to Congress

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- House Speaker John Boehner said on Wednesday that he didn't think he was "poking anyone in the eye" when he invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak in front of Congress next month.Earlier in the day, the Ohio Republican said in a statement that he would ask Netanyahu "to address Congress on the grave threats radical Islam and Iran pose to our security and way of life." Boehner's decision to invite Netanyahu was based in part on the fact that "Americans and Israelis have always stood together in shared cause and common ideals, and now we must rise to the moment again."White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest had no comment on the invitation, saying that judgment would wait until the White House spoke with the prime minister. Typically, Earnest suggested, the leader of one country would contact the leader of another before traveling. This invitation, he added, "seems to be a departure from that protocol."Boehner admitted that he didn't consult the White House on the invitation. "The Congress can make this decision on its own," the speaker said. "I don't believe I'm poking anyone in the eye.""There is a serious threat that exists in the world and the president, last night, kind of papered over it," Boehner claimed. "The fact is, is there needs to be a more serious conversation in America about how serious the threat is from radical Islamic jihadists and the threat posed by Iran."

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Sen. Harry Reid to Undergo Surgery on Right Eye Next Week

Sen. Harry Reid to Undergo Surgery on Right Eye Next Week

Harry Reid / Twitter(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Harry Reid will undergo surgery on his right eye next week in order to help recover full vision following an exercise accident earlier this month.Kristen Orthman, deputy communications director for Reid, released a statement Wednesday calling the surgery a "necessary step." Reid learned of the need for the procedure on Tuesday. "Senator Reid is expected to be released from the hospital quickly following the surgery but under doctor's orders to minimize strain in his right eye, he will have to work from his DC home next week," the statement read. Reid also suffered broken ribs in the exercise accident, which are reportedly healing well.

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Republicans to Female Candidates: Stop Saying You Like to Compromise

Republicans to Female Candidates: Stop Saying You Like to Compromise

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Republican women candidates must fight the perception that they are more moderate than male primary opponents simply because they are female, a group of pollsters and Republican leaders said Wednesday morning.One of the most effective ways women can do this is to downplay attributes typically associated with females, including a penchant for compromise, they said.Unveiling a report sponsored by the group Political Parity, which seeks to increase the number of women in state and federal government, pollster Nicole McClosky of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm that conducted the research, said the perception that women are less conservative harms their chances in Republican primaries.“Their voting records are as conservative as any man, yet there is a lingering perception that perhaps women candidates are more moderate,” McClosky said.Besides being seen as more willing to compromise, McClosky added, her research showed that voters tend to view women candidates as “compassionate” and “creative,” whereas male candidates evoke very different characteristics."Men have cornered the market on arrogance and stubbornness," she said, to laughter.In order to counteract these preconceptions, said Matt Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, female candidates should accentuate qualities more welcome in the current Republican Party political atmosphere.“Being willing to compromise has less of appeal in a Republican primary. The ability to create solutions, which is the ultimate motivating factor behind that compromise, is what really resonates with people,” Walter said.And the ability to successfully articulate one’s message starts with raising enough money -- something with which women frequently struggle more than men, said Sharon Day, co-chair of the Republican National Committee.“Men will walk in and ask for the full boat, all the money. And they’ll go to the women candidate, they’ll give you a $500 check and she’ll say thank you very much and leave,” she said. “You have to be able to raise the money to get your message heard."

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Senators Criticize Obama Administration over Iran Nuke Talks

Senators Criticize Obama Administration over Iran Nuke Talks

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Republican and Democratic senators grilled top Obama administration officials at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing Wednesday over progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran and whether Congress should approve a new round of sanctions before current talks conclude. Sen. Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued some of the harshest criticism against the administration, saying the White House is basically acting as a mouthpiece for the Iranian regime as it urges Congress not to authorize new sanctions while negotiations are ongoing.“The more I hear from the administration and its quotes, the more it sounds like talking points that come straight out of Tehran,” Menendez, D-N.J., said. “It feeds to the Iranian narrative of victimization when they are the ones with original sin -- an illicit nuclear weapons program going back over the course of twenty years they are unwilling to come clean on.”Last week, Menendez reportedly told President Obama he was personally offended by his request for senators to hold off on sanctions against Iran. Menendez and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., are readying legislation that would implement new sanctions against Iran only if a deal is not reached by the currently stated July deadline.  Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is working on separate legislation that would give Congress the authority to approve or reject any deal reached in negotiations. Corker, R-Tenn., said he has spoken with British Prime Minister David Cameron and negotiators from France, the United Kingdom and the European Union, and no one has expressed concern with the U.S. Congress weighing in on the final deal.“I have met no one who believes that U.S. weighing in would do anything to destabilize these negotiations. As a matter of fact, many have said knowing that Congress has to approve the deal would be a great backstop for the administration to strengthen their hand,” Corker said. The two administration officials testifying at Wednesday’s hearing -- Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken and David Cohen, the under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence at the Treasury Department -- both said approving a new round of sanctions now could potentially threaten the negotiations currently taking place with Iran.“Because of the scope and intensity of the sanctions Iran currently is subject to, and because of the economic pressure those sanctions continue to apply, Iran is negotiating with its back against the wall,” Cohen, the Treasury Department’s top sanctions official, said. “Accordingly, we see no compelling reason to impose new sanctions now, even on a delayed trigger. Indeed, we think new sanctions legislation is more likely to be counterproductive than helpful in the negotiations.”

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Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz Has Internet-Famous Hair

Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz Has Internet-Famous Hair

Pete Souza / The White House(WASHINGTON) -- Have you ever heard of Ernest Moniz? If you haven't, you need to know at least one thing about the U.S. Secretary of Energy: His hair is now-Internet famous.Moniz didn't even attend last year's State of the Union address -- he was the "designated survivor" (the cabinet official sent to a secure location just in case disaster were to strike the U.S. Capitol). But this year, the former MIT physics professor turned top government official showed up, sporting his unusual Colonial-style hair.Users have compared him to Benjamin Franklin, Mr. Bean, and Javier Bardem. The list -- and the memes -- go on and on."If it gets people interested in the Department of Energy, that's good," Moniz told The Boston Globe in an interview last year.

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Michelle Obama Shakes, Shimmies and Twirls with Mini Cats in the Hats

Michelle Obama Shakes, Shimmies and Twirls with Mini Cats in the Hats

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama found some new exercise partners on Wednesday that you may have heard of: Thing 1, Thing 2 and The Cat in the Hat.In an effort to educate kids about the importance of staying active, the first lady welcomed the famous Dr. Seuss characters and mini Cats in the Hat -- A.K.A. local school students -- to jump, shimmy and shake with her at the White House.After a spirited reading of Oh, The Things You Can Do That Are Good for You: All About Staying Healthy, Mrs. Obama ran the kids through a series of short, silly exercises. “Let’s go… Show me what you got!” she said, as she took to her feet in the East Room of the White House.The first lady showed them how easy it can be to exercise, as the group pretended to brush their teeth, walk their dog and swim. “Knees up, knees up, knees up!” she yelled, as the kids ran in place, their stripped hats bobbing up and down.Then came a brief round of limbo and freeze dance followed by some enthusiastic shaking.“Shake it up, shake it up,” the first lady said as the kids wiggled and wobbled.  “Shake harder than that!”  “Wait, don’t hurt yourself,” she said.

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NJ Gov. Christie Headed Across the Pond Amid Unfavorable Home State Approval

NJ Gov. Christie Headed Across the Pond Amid Unfavorable Home State Approval

Mike McGinnis/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's office announced he would cross the pond next month to visit the United Kingdom during the first week of February.

Like his recent trips to Canada and Mexico, it's being described as a trade mission by his office. But Christie has some difficult numbers from the Garden State, which will follow him not only to England but likely on any campaign trail as well. In a new Quinnipiac University poll out Wednesday, the survey data says Christie gets his worst overall score in almost four years. Survey participants still blame the “Bridgegate” scandal, which is indicated in Christie's approval rating of 46 percent, with 48 percent disapproving. Sixty-five to 32 percent of New Jersey voters also say Christie has strong leadership qualities, but 50 to 46 percent believe he is not honest and trustworthy.  Fifty-one to 45 percent say he does not care about their needs and problems.

[SEE THE FULL RESULTS OF THE POLL HERE]

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Joe Biden Reveals ‘There Is A Chance’ He Would Challenge Hillary Clinton

Joe Biden Reveals ‘There Is A Chance’ He Would Challenge Hillary Clinton

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza(WASHINGTON) — With the 2016 presidential election season heating up and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton considered the presumptive front-runner for the Democratic nomination if she decides to jump into the race, Vice President Joe Biden is sending a clear message: Don’t count him out.“Yes, there is a chance,” he would challenge Clinton, Biden told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an interview on Good Morning America Wednesday. “But I haven’t made my mind up about that. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and then. There’s plenty of time.”The vice president described Clinton as a “really competent, capable person and a friend.”Biden said he didn’t have to make up his mind until this summer about whether to launch another White House bid.“I think this is wide open on both sides,” he told Stephanopoulos. “Right now my focus is getting implemented what the president talked about last night: to nail down this recovery and get the middle class back in the game."

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Palin Blasts Hollywood’s “American Sniper” Critics

Palin Blasts Hollywood’s “American Sniper” Critics

Chris Hondros/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Sarah Palin is going at critics of the movie American Sniper with both barrels blazing.With filmmaker Michael Moore and actor Seth Rogen having each made disparaging remarks about military snipers in general, Palin launched a particularly vicious diatribe on her Facebook page Monday night.She wrote, "Hollywood leftists: while caressing shiny plastic trophies you exchange among one another while spitting on the graves of freedom fighters who allow you to do what you do, just realize the rest of America knows you're not fit to shine Chris Kyle's combat boots."Chris Kyle was played by Bradley Cooper in the movie American Sniper, which was directed by Clint Eastwood.Calling Kyle, who has the most kills of any military sniper, a "true American hero," Palin thanked Cooper and Eastwood "for respecting the United States Military."Both Moore and Rogen later clarified their criticisms, saying they weren't directly attacking the movie.

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Obama Boasts About Economy, Makes New Proposals in State of Union Address

Obama Boasts About Economy, Makes New Proposals in State of Union Address

Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — In his sixth State of the Union address and the first before a Republican Congress, President Obama declared an economic resurgence Tuesday night, doubling down on improving wages for the middle class.

[READ THE FULL TEXT OF PRESIDENT OBAMA'S 2015 STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS HERE]

“The verdict is clear,” the president said. “Middle class economics works. Expanding opportunity works. And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.”With his approval rating on the upswing, the president was clearly feeling his oats in a speech that was short on surprises since Obama had barnstormed the country for the past two weeks to lay out his agenda for the final two years of his second term.For instance, the president made middle class tax cuts a centerpiece of his address, telling lawmakers and the nation, “This country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.”One way Obama hopes to achieve this is by raising the base capital gains on the nation’s highest earners as well as slapping new fees on financial firms. Both proposals are expected to get a thumbs down from the Republican-controlled House and Senate.The president also advocates raising the minimum wage for all Americans, which was met with opposition even before last year’s mid-term elections.However, Obama dared Republicans to ignore the plight of the lower-class workers, saying, “If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”Also on the domestic front, the president talked about free community college, paid leave for workers, cheaper and faster Internet access and stronger cyber-security, following a spate of high-profile breaches, including the infamous Sony hack.In the wake of a global crackdown on terror, Obama also pushed back against the “bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.”Saying the nation stood in solidarity with the rest word in fighting the scourge of terrorism that now threatens European security, Obama asked Congress to pass a resolution to authorize the use of force against the Islamic State.Following the release of American contractor Alan Gross from a Cuban jail and the announcement that the U.S. and Cuba would work to restore diplomatic relations, the president also urged Congress to “begin the work of ending the embargo” against the island nation.On another point that has turned into a hot-button issue, the president also exhorted Americans -- and the international community -- to protect our planet from further climate change.“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists,” Obama said. “But you know what? I know a lot of really good scientists.”Meanwhile, as usual, the president called for bipartisan cooperation."I have no more campaigns to run," the president said, adding coyly, "I know, because I won both of them,” a line that drew some big laughs from both sides of the aisle but probably for different reasons.Alluding to his famous “there is not a black America or a white America” speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention, the president told the American people that today’s partisan bickering isn’t intractable.“I think the cynics are wrong,” he said. “I still believe that together, we can do great things.”

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Obama’s ‘Season Premiere:’ 6 Surprises in State of the Union

Obama’s ‘Season Premiere:’ 6 Surprises in State of the Union

Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) --  The 2015 State of the Union address was the opening episode of Barack Obama, season seven.Or so says senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer in a post on Medium.If the presidency is a television series, its latest season premiere was packed with surprises, kicking off a penultimate year that's sure to be chock full of many more.Here's a look at a few of the biggest unexpected moments in Obama's speech:1. Releasing the Speech Before the SpeechIn a break with decades of precedent, the White House posted the full text of the president's remarks online before he even spoke a word. Previously, only members of Congress and the press were allowed an early, embargoed look.The move follows an unorthodox two-week campaign by the president to announce his State of the Union proposals at daily events ahead of the speech ... in which he announced them.In a statement, the administration said releasing the entire text ahead of time would allow people to follow along, take notes and tweet. It's also an acknowledgment that far fewer Americans are tuning in, attempting to catch the audience online, at home.2. The V-WordState of the Union is traditionally a time for soaring rhetoric and bipartisan displays. But this year, it took President Obama just 10 minutes to go nuclear, dropping a bold warning to Republicans about the power of his veto pen."We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or re-fighting past battles on immigration when we've got a system to fix," he said. "If a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto."After just two vetoes in six years in office, it was a surprisingly swift turn to boldly warn about vetoes -- something Obama has rarely done in a State of the Union setting. The White House has issued eight veto threats so far this year.3. Surprise! You're a Social Media StarAstronaut Scott Kelly thought he was simply going to be a guest of first lady Michelle Obama during her husband's speech. Little did he know, the president would publicly catapult him to becoming a social media star."Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space," Obama said of his upcoming mission, the longest any American has spent in space. "Good luck, Captain -- and make sure to Instagram it."Kelly's profile on the photo-sharing platform began the night with one post and about 265 followers. Those numbers instantly began to blast off. It was the first mention of Instagram in a State of the Union address.4. Taking on 'The Pundits'The president took the unusual step of using his State of the Union to confront beltway "pundits," making a personal plea for progress on one area where he has, by his own admission, failed: fulfilling a promise to fix the broken politics of Washington and cure the bitterness behind the debate."Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn't delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It's held up as proof not just of my own flaws -- of which there are many -- but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve," he said."I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong... Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different," he said. "If we're going to have arguments, let's have arguments -- but let's make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country."5. Transgendered Americans Get a Shout-OutNever before has a president mentioned transgendered Americans in a State of the Union address. President Obama tucked in a surprise reference in the section of his speech that referenced the Paris attacks and called for widespread respect of human dignity."As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened," Obama said. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."The Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, praised the reference.6. Putin's Play in UkraineJust as Obama declared in the speech that his administration was "upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small," there was an apparent surprise move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to further antagonize Ukraine.There were fresh reports that Russian troops were once again rolling into eastern Ukraine, backing pro-Russian rebels and taking on Ukrainian troops.The United States is "opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine's democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies," Obama said.The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been developing since August. And while U.S.-led sanctions have helped deal a blow to Russia's economy, that has done little to get Putin to reverse course.

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Iowa Senator Ernst Delivers GOP Response to State of the Union Address

Iowa Senator Ernst Delivers GOP Response to State of the Union Address

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Iowa Senator Joni Ernst delivered the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday evening, telling the American people it was more of “a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again.”

[READ THE FULL TEXT OF THE REPUBLICAN STATE OF THE UNION RESPONSE HERE]

Ernst, a military veteran and the first woman to be elected to the Senate from Iowa, described her modest beginnings when her parents worked hard for everything they had.  She then compared that situation to today in America when “many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.”It’s because of hard economic times, according to Ernst, that the Republican Congress will work to create jobs, including passing the Keystone XL pipeline bill that the president has promised to veto.Ernst also vowed that Republicans would work to tear down trade barriers and simplify the tax code, which the White House said it would be flexible on.In regards to battling global terrorism, Ernst asserted that Congress will devise a comprehensive plan to defeat “the forces of violence and oppression.”Ernst also brought up the GOP mission “to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families.”In terms of social issues, she reiterated the Republican goal to outlaw abortion, saying “protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.”Once again speaking personally, Ernst claimed it doesn’t necessarily take “wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.”She closed by saying, “The new Republican Congress you elected is working to make Washington understand that too. And with a little cooperation from the President, we can get Washington working again.”

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State of the Union 2015: Full Text

State of the Union 2015: Full Text

Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Below is the full text of President Obama's State of the Union address, as prepared for delivery:"Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, my fellow Americans: We are fifteen years into this new century.  Fifteen years that dawned with terror touching our shores; that unfolded with a new generation fighting two long and costly wars; that saw a vicious recession spread across our nation and the world.  It has been, and still is, a hard time for many.  But tonight, we turn the page.Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999.  Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.  More of our kids are graduating than ever before; more of our people are insured than ever before; we are as free from the grip of foreign oil as we’ve been in almost 30 years.Tonight, for the first time since 9/11, our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.  Six years ago, nearly 180,000 American troops served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Today, fewer than 15,000 remain.  And we salute the courage and sacrifice of every man and woman in this 9/11 Generation who has served to keep us safe.  We are humbled and grateful for your service.America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this:  The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong.At this moment – with a growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry, and booming energy production – we have risen from recession freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.  It’s now up to us to choose who we want to be over the next fifteen years, and for decades to come.Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well?  Or will we commit ourselves to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes the effort?Will we approach the world fearful and reactive, dragged into costly conflicts that strain our military and set back our standing?  Or will we lead wisely, using all elements of our power to defeat new threats and protect our planet?Will we allow ourselves to be sorted into factions and turned against one another – or will we recapture the sense of common purpose that has always propelled America forward?In two weeks, I will send this Congress a budget filled with ideas that are practical, not partisan.  And in the months ahead, I’ll crisscross the country making a case for those ideas.So tonight, I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.It begins with our economy.Seven years ago, Rebekah and Ben Erler of Minneapolis were newlyweds.  She waited tables.  He worked construction.  Their first child, Jack, was on the way.  They were young and in love in America, and it doesn’t get much better than that.“If only we had known,” Rebekah wrote to me last spring, “what was about to happen to the housing and construction market.”  As the crisis worsened, Ben’s business dried up, so he took what jobs he could find, even if they kept him on the road for long stretches of time.  Rebekah took out student loans, enrolled in community college, and retrained for a new career.  They sacrificed for each other.  And slowly, it paid off.  They bought their first home.  They had a second son, Henry.  Rebekah got a better job, and then a raise.  Ben is back in construction – and home for dinner every night.“It is amazing,” Rebekah wrote, “what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”We are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.America, Rebekah and Ben’s story is our story.  They represent the millions who have worked hard, and scrimped, and sacrificed, and retooled.  You are the reason I ran for this office.  You’re the people I was thinking of six years ago today, in the darkest months of the crisis, when I stood on the steps of this Capitol and promised we would rebuild our economy on a new foundation.  And it’s been your effort and resilience that has made it possible for our country to emerge stronger.We believed we could reverse the tide of outsourcing, and draw new jobs to our shores.  And over the past five years, our businesses have created more than 11 million new jobs.We believed we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and protect our planet.  And today, America is number one in oil and gas.  America is number one in wind power.  Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.  And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump.We believed we could prepare our kids for a more competitive world.  And today, our younger students have earned the highest math and reading scores on record.  Our high school graduation rate has hit an all-time high.  And more Americans finish college than ever before.We believed that sensible regulations could prevent another crisis, shield families from ruin, and encourage fair competition.  Today, we have new tools to stop taxpayer-funded bailouts, and a new consumer watchdog to protect us from predatory lending and abusive credit card practices.  And in the past year alone, about ten million uninsured Americans finally gained the security of health coverage.At every step, we were told our goals were misguided or too ambitious; that we would crush jobs and explode deficits.  Instead, we’ve seen the fastest economic growth in over a decade, our deficits cut by two-thirds, a stock market that has doubled, and health care inflation at its lowest rate in fifty years.  So the verdict is clear.  Middle-class economics works.  Expanding opportunity works.  And these policies will continue to work, as long as politics don’t get in the way.  We can’t slow down businesses or put our economy at risk with government shutdowns or fiscal showdowns.  We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix.  And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto.Today, thanks to a growing economy, the recovery is touching more and more lives.  Wages are finally starting to rise again.  We know that more small business owners plan to raise their employees’ pay than at any time since 2007.  But here’s the thing – those of us here tonight, we need to set our sights higher than just making sure government doesn’t halt the progress we’re making.  We need to do more than just do no harm.  Tonight, together, let’s do more to restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American. Because families like Rebekah’s still need our help.  She and Ben are working as hard as ever, but have to forego vacations and a new car so they can pay off student loans and save for retirement.  Basic childcare for Jack and Henry costs more than their mortgage, and almost as much as a year at the University of Minnesota.  Like millions of hardworking Americans, Rebekah isn’t asking for a handout, but she is asking that we look for more ways to help families get ahead.In fact, at every moment of economic change throughout our history, this country has taken bold action to adapt to new circumstances, and to make sure everyone gets a fair shot.  We set up worker protections, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect ourselves from the harshest adversity.  We gave our citizens schools and colleges, infrastructure and the internet – tools they needed to go as far as their effort will take them.That’s what middle-class economics is – the idea that this country does best when everyone gets their fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  We don’t just want everyone to share in America’s success – we want everyone to contribute to our success.So what does middle-class economics require in our time?  First – middle-class economics means helping working families feel more secure in a world of constant change.  That means helping folks afford childcare, college, health care, a home, retirement – and my budget will address each of these issues, lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.Here’s one example.  During World War II, when men like my grandfather went off to war, having women like my grandmother in the workforce was a national security priority – so this country provided universal childcare.  In today’s economy, when having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families, we need affordable, high-quality childcare more than ever.  It’s not a nice-to-have – it’s a must-have.  It’s time we stop treating childcare as a side issue, or a women’s issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us.  And that’s why my plan will make quality childcare more available, and more affordable, for every middle-class and low-income family with young children in America – by creating more slots and a new tax cut of up to $3,000 per child, per year. Here’s another example.  Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers.  Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave.  Forty-three million.  Think about that.  And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.  So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.  And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington.  Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do. Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages.  That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work.  Really.  It’s 2015.  It’s time.  We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned.  And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this:  If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, go try it.  If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship.  That’s not the job of government.  To give working families a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest.  We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.  But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage – these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families.  That is a fact.  And that’s what all of us – Republicans and Democrats alike – were sent here to do.Second, to make sure folks keep earning higher wages down the road, we have to do more to help Americans upgrade their skills.America thrived in the 20th century because we made high school free, sent a generation of GIs to college, and trained the best workforce in the world.  But in a 21st century economy that rewards knowledge like never before, we need to do more.By the end of this decade, two in three job openings will require some higher education.  Two in three.  And yet, we still live in a country where too many bright, striving Americans are priced out of the education they need.  It’s not fair to them, and it’s not smart for our future.That’s why I am sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college – to zero.  Forty percent of our college students choose community college.  Some are young and starting out.  Some are older and looking for a better job.  Some are veterans and single parents trying to transition back into the job market.  Whoever you are, this plan is your chance to graduate ready for the new economy, without a load of debt.  Understand, you’ve got to earn it – you’ve got to keep your grades up and graduate on time.  Tennessee, a state with Republican leadership, and Chicago, a city with Democratic leadership, are showing that free community college is possible.  I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.  And I want to work with this Congress, to make sure Americans already burdened with student loans can reduce their monthly payments, so that student debt doesn’t derail anyone’s dreams.Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics.  Tonight, I’m also asking more businesses to follow the lead of companies like CVS and UPS, and offer more educational benefits and paid apprenticeships – opportunities that give workers the chance to earn higher-paying jobs even if they don’t have a higher education.And as a new generation of veterans comes home, we owe them every opportunity to live the American Dream they helped defend.  Already, we’ve made strides towards ensuring that every veteran has access to the highest quality care.  We’re slashing the backlog that had too many veterans waiting years to get the benefits they need, and we’re making it easier for vets to translate their training and experience into civilian jobs.  Joining Forces, the national campaign launched by Michelle and Jill Biden, has helped nearly 700,000 veterans and military spouses get new jobs.  So to every CEO in America, let me repeat:  If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran. Finally, as we better train our workers, we need the new economy to keep churning out high-wage jobs for our workers to fill.  Since 2010, America has put more people back to work than Europe, Japan, and all advanced economies combined.  Our manufacturers have added almost 800,000 new jobs.  Some of our bedrock sectors, like our auto industry, are booming.  But there are also millions of Americans who work in jobs that didn’t even exist ten or twenty years ago – jobs at companies like Google, and eBay, and Tesla.  So no one knows for certain which industries will generate the jobs of the future.  But we do know we want them here in America.  That’s why the third part of middle-class economics is about building the most competitive economy anywhere, the place where businesses want to locate and hire. 21st century businesses need 21st century infrastructure – modern ports, stronger bridges, faster trains and the fastest internet.  Democrats and Republicans used to agree on this.  So let’s set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.  Let’s pass a bipartisan infrastructure plan that could create more than thirty times as many jobs per year, and make this country stronger for decades to come. 21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas.  Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages.  But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region.  That would put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage.  Why would we let that happen?  We should write those rules.  We should level the playing field.  That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.  Look, I’m the first one to admit that past trade deals haven’t always lived up to the hype, and that’s why we’ve gone after countries that break the rules at our expense.  But ninety-five percent of the world’s customers live outside our borders, and we can’t close ourselves off from those opportunities.  More than half of manufacturing executives have said they’re actively looking at bringing jobs back from China.  Let’s give them one more reason to get it done.21st century businesses will rely on American science, technology, research and development.  I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine – one that delivers the right treatment at the right time.  In some patients with cystic fibrosis, this approach has reversed a disease once thought unstoppable.  Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes – and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.I intend to protect a free and open internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks, so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world.I want Americans to win the race for the kinds of discoveries that unleash new jobs – converting sunlight into liquid fuel; creating revolutionary prosthetics, so that a veteran who gave his arms for his country can play catch with his kid; pushing out into the Solar System not just to visit, but to stay.  Last month, we launched a new spacecraft as part of a re-energized space program that will send American astronauts to Mars.  In two months, to prepare us for those missions, Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space.  Good luck, Captain – and make sure to Instagram it.Now, the truth is, when it comes to issues like infrastructure and basic research, I know there’s bipartisan support in this chamber.  Members of both parties have told me so.  Where we too often run onto the rocks is how to pay for these investments.  As Americans, we don’t mind paying our fair share of taxes, as long as everybody else does, too.  But for far too long, lobbyists have rigged the tax code with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others pay full freight.  They’ve riddled it with giveaways the superrich don’t need, denying a break to middle class families who do.   This year, we have an opportunity to change that.  Let’s close loopholes so we stop rewarding companies that keep profits abroad, and reward those that invest in America.  Let’s use those savings to rebuild our infrastructure and make it more attractive for companies to bring jobs home.  Let’s simplify the system and let a small business owner file based on her actual bank statement, instead of the number of accountants she can afford.  And let’s close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top one percent to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth.  We can use that money to help more families pay for childcare and send their kids to college.  We need a tax code that truly helps working Americans trying to get a leg up in the new economy, and we can achieve that together.Helping hardworking families make ends meet. Giving them the tools they need for good-paying jobs in this new economy.  Maintaining the conditions for growth and competitiveness.  This is where America needs to go.  I believe it’s where the American people want to go.  It will make our economy stronger a year from now, fifteen years from now, and deep into the century ahead.  Of course, if there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.  My first duty as Commander-in-Chief is to defend the United States of America.  In doing so, the question is not whether America leads in the world, but how.  When we make rash decisions, reacting to the headlines instead of using our heads; when the first response to a challenge is to send in our military – then we risk getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts, and neglect the broader strategy we need for a safer, more prosperous world.  That’s what our enemies want us to do. I believe in a smarter kind of American leadership.  We lead best when we combine military power with strong diplomacy; when we leverage our power with coalition building; when we don’t let our fears blind us to the opportunities that this new century presents.  That’s exactly what we’re doing right now – and around the globe, it is making a difference. First, we stand united with people around the world who’ve been targeted by terrorists – from a school in Pakistan to the streets of Paris.  We will continue to hunt down terrorists and dismantle their networks, and we reserve the right to act unilaterally, as we’ve done relentlessly since I took office to take out terrorists who pose a direct threat to us and our allies.  At the same time, we’ve learned some costly lessons over the last thirteen years.  Instead of Americans patrolling the valleys of Afghanistan, we’ve trained their security forces, who’ve now taken the lead, and we’ve honored our troops’ sacrifice by supporting that country’s first democratic transition.  Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we’re partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America.  In Iraq and Syria, American leadership – including our military power – is stopping ISIL’s advance.  Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group.  We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.  This effort will take time.  It will require focus.  But we will succeed.  And tonight, I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL.  Second, we are demonstrating the power of American strength and diplomacy.  We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.  Last year, as we were doing the hard work of imposing sanctions along with our allies, some suggested that Mr. Putin’s aggression was a masterful display of strategy and strength.  Well, today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated, with its economy in tatters.  That’s how America leads – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.In Cuba, we are ending a policy that was long past its expiration date.  When what you’re doing doesn’t work for fifty years, it’s time to try something new.  Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.  And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo.  As His Holiness, Pope Francis, has said, diplomacy is the work of “small steps.”  These small steps have added up to new hope for the future in Cuba.  And after years in prison, we’re overjoyed that Alan Gross is back where he belongs.  Welcome home, Alan.  Our diplomacy is at work with respect to Iran, where, for the first time in a decade, we’ve halted the progress of its nuclear program and reduced its stockpile of nuclear material.  Between now and this spring, we have a chance to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that prevents a nuclear-armed Iran; secures America and our allies – including Israel; while avoiding yet another Middle East conflict.  There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran.  But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails – alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again.  It doesn’t make sense.  That is why I will veto any new sanctions bill that threatens to undo this progress.  The American people expect us to only go to war as a last resort, and I intend to stay true to that wisdom. Third, we’re looking beyond the issues that have consumed us in the past to shape the coming century. No foreign nation, no hacker, should be able to shut down our networks, steal our trade secrets, or invade the privacy of American families, especially our kids.  We are making sure our government integrates intelligence to combat cyber threats, just as we have done to combat terrorism.  And tonight, I urge this Congress to finally pass the legislation we need to better meet the evolving threat of cyber-attacks, combat identity theft, and protect our children’s information.  If we don’t act, we’ll leave our nation and our economy vulnerable.  If we do, we can continue to protect the technologies that have unleashed untold opportunities for people around the globe.In West Africa, our troops, our scientists, our doctors, our nurses and healthcare workers are rolling back Ebola – saving countless lives and stopping the spread of disease.  I couldn’t be prouder of them, and I thank this Congress for your bipartisan support of their efforts.  But the job is not yet done – and the world needs to use this lesson to build a more effective global effort to prevent the spread of future pandemics, invest in smart development, and eradicate extreme poverty.In the Asia Pacific, we are modernizing alliances while making sure that other nations play by the rules – in how they trade, how they resolve maritime disputes, and how they participate in meeting common international challenges like nonproliferation and disaster relief.  And no challenge – no challenge – poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.  2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.  Now, one year doesn’t make a trend, but this does – 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all fallen in the first 15 years of this century.  I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act.  Well, I’m not a scientist, either.  But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities.  The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe.  The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security.  We should act like it.That’s why, over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it.  That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history.  And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts.  I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action.  In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions.  And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.There’s one last pillar to our leadership – and that’s the example of our values.   As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained.  It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world.  It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace.  That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.  As Americans, we have a profound commitment to justice – so it makes no sense to spend three million dollars per prisoner to keep open a prison that the world condemns and terrorists use to recruit.  Since I’ve been President, we’ve worked responsibly to cut the population of GTMO in half.  Now it’s time to finish the job.  And I will not relent in my determination to shut it down.  It’s not who we are.As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties – and we need to uphold that commitment if we want maximum cooperation from other countries and industry in our fight against terrorist networks.  So while some have moved on from the debates over our surveillance programs, I haven’t.  As promised, our intelligence agencies have worked hard, with the recommendations of privacy advocates, to increase transparency and build more safeguards against potential abuse.  And next month, we’ll issue a report on how we’re keeping our promise to keep our country safe while strengthening privacy.Looking to the future instead of the past.  Making sure we match our power with diplomacy, and use force wisely.  Building coalitions to meet new challenges and opportunities.  Leading – always – with the example of our values.  That’s what makes us exceptional.  That’s what keeps us strong.  And that’s why we must keep striving to hold ourselves to the highest of standards – our own.  You know, just over a decade ago, I gave a speech in Boston where I said there wasn’t a liberal America, or a conservative America; a black America or a white America – but a United States of America.  I said this because I had seen it in my own life, in a nation that gave someone like me a chance; because I grew up in Hawaii, a melting pot of races and customs; because I made Illinois my home – a state of small towns, rich farmland, and one of the world’s great cities; a microcosm of the country where Democrats and Republicans and Independents, good people of every ethnicity and every faith, share certain bedrock values. Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision.  How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever.  It’s held up as proof not just of my own flaws – of which there are many – but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve, and that there are too many people in this town who actually benefit from partisanship and gridlock for us to ever do anything about it.I know how tempting such cynicism may be.  But I still think the cynics are wrong.I still believe that we are one people.  I still believe that together, we can do great things, even when the odds are long.  I believe this because over and over in my six years in office, I have seen America at its best.  I’ve seen the hopeful faces of young graduates from New York to California; and our newest officers at West Point, Annapolis, Colorado Springs, and New London.  I’ve mourned with grieving families in Tucson and Newtown; in Boston, West, Texas, and West Virginia.  I’ve watched Americans beat back adversity from the Gulf Coast to the Great Plains; from Midwest assembly lines to the Mid-Atlantic seaboard.  I’ve seen something like gay marriage go from a wedge issue used to drive us apart to a story of freedom across our country, a civil right now legal in states that seven in ten Americans call home.  So I know the good, and optimistic, and big-hearted generosity of the American people who, every day, live the idea that we are our brother’s keeper, and our sister’s keeper.  And I know they expect those of us who serve here to set a better example.  So the question for those of us here tonight is how we, all of us, can better reflect America’s hopes.  I’ve served in Congress with many of you.  I know many of you well.  There are a lot of good people here, on both sides of the aisle.  And many of you have told me that this isn’t what you signed up for – arguing past each other on cable shows, the constant fundraising, always looking over your shoulder at how the base will react to every decision.Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns.  Imagine if we did something different.Understand – a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.  A better politics is one where we appeal to each other’s basic decency instead of our basest fears.  A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.  A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, and asking them to join in the great mission of building America.If we’re going to have arguments, let’s have arguments – but let’s make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country.  We still may not agree on a woman’s right to choose, but surely we can agree it’s a good thing that teen pregnancies and abortions are nearing all-time lows, and that every woman should have access to the health care she needs.Yes, passions still fly on immigration, but surely we can all see something of ourselves in the striving young student, and agree that no one benefits when a hardworking mom is taken from her child, and that it’s possible to shape a law that upholds our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants.We may go at it in campaign season, but surely we can agree that the right to vote is sacred; that it’s being denied to too many; and that, on this 50th anniversary of the great march from Selma to Montgomery and the passage of the Voting Rights Act, we can come together, Democrats and Republicans, to make voting easier for every single American.We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York.  But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed.  Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.  Surely we can agree it’s a good thing that for the first time in 40 years, the crime rate and the incarceration rate have come down together, and use that as a starting point for Democrats and Republicans, community leaders and law enforcement, to reform America’s criminal justice system so that it protects and serves us all.That’s a better politics.  That’s how we start rebuilding trust.  That’s how we move this country forward.  That’s what the American people want.  That’s what they deserve.I have no more campaigns to run.  My only agenda for the next two years is the same as the one I’ve had since the day I swore an oath on the steps of this Capitol – to do what I believe is best for America.  If you share the broad vision I outlined tonight, join me in the work at hand.  If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree.  And I commit to every Republican here tonight that I will not only seek out your ideas, I will seek to work with you to make this country stronger.Because I want this chamber, this city, to reflect the truth – that for all our blind spots and shortcomings, we are a people with the strength and generosity of spirit to bridge divides, to unite in common effort, and help our neighbors, whether down the street or on the other side of the world. I want our actions to tell every child, in every neighborhood:  your life matters, and we are as committed to improving your life chances as we are for our own kids.I want future generations to know that we are a people who see our differences as a great gift, that we are a people who value the dignity and worth of every citizen – man and woman, young and old, black and white, Latino and Asian, immigrant and Native American, gay and straight, Americans with mental illness or physical disability.  I want them to grow up in a country that shows the world what we still know to be true:  that we are still more than a collection of red states and blue states; that we are the United States of America.I want them to grow up in a country where a young mom like Rebekah can sit down and write a letter to her President with a story to sum up these past six years:  “It is amazing what you can bounce back from when you have to…we are a strong, tight-knit family who has made it through some very, very hard times.”My fellow Americans, we too are a strong, tight-knit family.  We, too, have made it through some hard times.  Fifteen years into this new century, we have picked ourselves up, dusted ourselves off, and begun again the work of remaking America.  We’ve laid a new foundation.  A brighter future is ours to write.  Let’s begin this new chapter – together – and let’s start the work right now.Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this country we love."

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GOP Responds to Obama’s State of the Union Address: Full Text

GOP Responds to Obama’s State of the Union Address: Full Text

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Here is the full text of the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address, as prepared for delivery by Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa:“Good evening.

“I’m Joni Ernst. As a mother, a soldier, and a newly elected senator from the great State of Iowa, I am proud to speak with you tonight.

“A few moments ago, we heard the President lay out his vision for the year to come. Even if we may not always agree, it’s important to hear different points of view in this great country. We appreciate the President sharing his.

“Tonight though, rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

“We heard the message you sent in November — loud and clear. And now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.

“The new Republican Congress also understands how difficult these past six years have been. For many of us, the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction weren’t things we had to read about. We felt them every day.

“We felt them in Red Oak — the little town in southwestern Iowa where I grew up, and am still proud to call home today.

“As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees.

“We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning.“You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry.

“But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would be filled with rows and rows of young Iowans with bread bags slipped over their feet.

“Our parents may not have had much, but they worked hard for what they did have.

“These days though, many families feel like they’re working harder and harder, with less and less to show for it.

“Not just in Red Oak, but across the country.

“We see our neighbors agonize over stagnant wages and lost jobs. We see the hurt caused by canceled healthcare plans and higher monthly insurance bills. We see too many moms and dads put their own dreams on hold while growing more fearful about the kind of future they’ll be able to leave to their children.

“Americans have been hurting, but when we demanded solutions, too often Washington responded with the same stale mindset that led to failed policies like Obamacare. It’s a mindset that gave us political talking points, not serious solutions.

“That’s why the new Republican majority you elected started by reforming Congress to make it function again. And now, we’re working hard to pass the kind of serious job-creation ideas you deserve.

“One you’ve probably heard about is the Keystone jobs bill. President Obama has been delaying this bipartisan infrastructure project for years, even though many members of his party, unions, and a strong majority of Americans support it. The President’s own State Department has said Keystone’s construction could support thousands of jobs and pump billions into our economy, and do it with minimal environmental impact.

“We worked with Democrats to pass this bill through the House. We’re doing the same now in the Senate.

“President Obama will soon have a decision to make: will he sign the bill, or block good American jobs?

“There’s a lot we can achieve if we work together.

“Let’s tear down trade barriers in places like Europe and the Pacific. Let’s sell more of what we make and grow in America over there so we can boost manufacturing, wages, and jobs right here, at home.

“Let’s simplify America’s outdated and loophole-ridden tax code. Republicans think tax filing should be easier for you, not just the well-connected. So let’s iron out loopholes to lower rates — and create jobs, not pay for more government spending.

“The President has already expressed some support for these kinds of ideas. We’re calling on him now to cooperate to pass them.

“You’ll see a lot of serious work in this new Congress.

“Some of it will occur where I stand tonight, in the Armed Services Committee room. This is where I’ll join committee colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — to discuss ways to support our exceptional military and its mission. This is where we’ll debate strategies to confront terrorism and the threats posed by Al Qaeda, ISIL, and those radicalized by them.

“We know threats like these can’t just be wished away. We've been reminded of terrorism’s reach both at home and abroad; most recently in France and Nigeria, but also in places like Canada and Australia. Our hearts go out to all the innocent victims of terrorism and their loved ones. We can only imagine the depth of their grief.

“For two decades, I’ve proudly worn our nation’s uniform: today, as a Lt. Colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard. While deployed overseas with some of America’s finest men and women, I’ve seen just how dangerous these kinds of threats can be.

“The forces of violence and oppression don’t care about the innocent. We need a comprehensive plan to defeat them.

“We must also honor America’s veterans. These men and women have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedoms, and our way of life. They deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and a quality of care we can be all be proud of.

“These are important issues the new Congress plans to address.

“We’ll also keep fighting to repeal and replace a health care law that’s hurt so many hardworking families.

“We’ll work to correct executive overreach.

“We’ll propose ideas that aim to cut wasteful spending and balance the budget — with meaningful reforms, not higher taxes like the President has proposed.

“We’ll advance solutions to prevent the kind of cyberattacks we’ve seen recently.

“We’ll work to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“And we’ll defend life, because protecting our most vulnerable is an important measure of any society.

“Congress is back to work on your behalf, ready to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

“We know America faces big challenges. But history has shown there’s nothing our nation, and our people, can’t accomplish.

“Just look at my parents and grandparents.

“They had very little to call their own except the sweat on their brow and the dirt on their hands. But they worked, they sacrificed, and they dreamed big dreams for their children and grandchildren.

“And because they did, an ordinary Iowan like me has had some truly extraordinary opportunities -- because they showed me that you don’t need to come from wealth or privilege to make a difference. You just need the freedom to dream big, and a whole lot of hard work.

“The new Republican Congress you elected is working to make Washington understand that too. And with a little cooperation from the President, we can get Washington working again.

“Thank you for allowing me to speak with you tonight.

“May God bless this great country of ours, the brave Americans serving in uniform on our behalf, and you, the hardworking men and women who make the United States of America the greatest nation the world has ever known.”

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President Obama Goes Off Script After Applause Jab

President Obama Goes Off Script After Applause Jab

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- An awkward moment during the State of the Union came when an unexpected applause turned into a slight against President Obama.He turned it around and, with a smirk, added an off-script line back at his detractors.Towards the very end of the nearly hour-long speech, President Obama said, "I have no more campaigns to run," and while he paused between sentences, some applause came shortly after.After the president realized the jab, he smirked and made one of his own."I know 'cause I won both of 'em," he said, referencing his two presidential elections. That drew laughter and applause from the crowd on the House floor.Unlike previous States of the Union, it was very clear whenever the president went off script because the White House released the full speech online moments before Obama took the podium.

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