Barack Obama
July 07, 2014

A Presidential Contest ... For Obama's Library

There are 13 presidential Libraries in the United States run by the National Archives, and when President Obama leaves office, the construction of the 14th library won't be far behind.

A nonprofit foundation created to fund and build the Obama presidential library is already beginning to mull proposals from contenders who'd like to be home to the facility.

Think of this fight over a presidential library like a boxing match with contenders in three corners of the ring — all looking to win the big prize and all claiming a connection to Obama.

In corner No. 1, it's the University of Hawaii. University President David Lassner says faculty started planning as soon as then-Sen. Obama became competitive in the 2008 primaries. Now backed by the state of Hawaii, the university is offering 8 acres of prime oceanfront property.

"Hawaii is incredibly proud of President Obama. He grew up here. He went to school here. His parents met here. And we see the center here in Hawaii as a way of celebrating that a kid from Hawaii can grow up to be president," Lassner says.

In corner No. 2, it's Columbia University in New York, where Obama received his bachelor's degree. No boasts from the university, just a statement that says Columbia is promoting a location on its new campus in West Harlem to further its mission of teaching, research and public service.

In corner No. 3, a group of jostling competitors from Chicago despite a plea from the mayor to present one unified bid. But they all agree that Obama's post-presidential legacy should take shape in the city where his political career flourished. The University of Illinois at Chicago stepped into the center of the ring when the first-round proposals were due.

UIC Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares held up one of its proposals — the result of a partnership between the university and community activists in North Lawndale, a struggling neighborhood littered with vacant lots on the city's west side. Robert Winn, a UIC vice president, said locating the library there would show the same audacity to dream big as Obama did when he decided to run for president.

"That we could put something here, that library, that can actually serve as the backbone of change," Winn said.

But it's crowded in the Chicago corner. Four other contenders are recommending sites on the city's South Side, including the University of Chicago, where Obama was a law professor for more than a decade. Susan Sher, who served in his administration, is running the university's library campaign. She says the university is recommending three sites, but its Hyde Park neighborhood, close to the President's Chicago home, is not one of them.

"Hyde Park is pretty bustling and landlocked but if you look at some of the neighboring communities, there's a fair amount of vacant land. The kind of investment that a library would be is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities," Sher says.

Ben Hufbauer, a University of Louisville professor and author of a book about presidential libraries, says their economic influence can be substantial. He points to the Clinton Library in Little Rock, Ark.

"He placed it in a kind of depressed part of town," Hufbauer says. "It did spark a big building boom. That area is now a nice, prosperous touristy area."

And as the Barack Obama Foundation looks to winnow down the number of contenders in the ring for the second round, University of Hawaii President David Lassner, who's from Illinois, says he's willing to share a win:

"We would be happy to partner with another location that's selected by the president as well, including the great city of Chicago," Lassner says.

And Chicago contenders may consider all options, but ultimately it's up to the president and the first lady to decide where the archives of the Obama presidency will live. A final announcement is expected in early 2015.


June 16, 2014

UIC To Name Another Possible Site Of Obama Library

The University of Illinois-Chicago plans to announce a third potential site for its bid for the Obama Presidential Library.

The university said Sunday that it will announce the potential site at a news conference Monday morning.

The university says it will post its complete submission as a potential location for the library on its website. The school on the city's West Side is one of five Chicago locations hoping to become home to the library.

The two previous sites are on campus. The third will be west of campus.

The University of Chicago, Chicago State University, the Bronzeville neighborhood and a retail and residential development near Lake Michigan are also hoping to become the library's home.

New York City and Hawaii are also bidding to host the library.

NPR's Steve Inskeep (r) talks with President Barack Obama (l) on May 28, 2014.
May 28, 2014

America's Strength Extends Beyond Its Military, Obama Says

American leadership in the 21st century will be defined in part by the nation's military strength, "but only in part," President Obama said in an interview with NPR about his foreign policy priorities.

Echoing themes he expressed during a speech Wednesday to West Point graduates, Obama emphasized the importance of international norms and alliances in addressing challenges such as Russia, China and Syria.

While acknowledging that the world order is "changing very rapidly," Obama said that the United States is blessed with a growing economy and no prospect of war with another nation-state.

The country should not feel that it has to make a false choice between isolationism and retreat on one hand, or taking on all the world's problems as its own on the other, he said. Instead, the U.S. will remain not just engaged but will play a leading role in upholding American interests and values.

Extending the baseball metaphor he used last month to describe his foreign policy approach — which he referred to as a steady hitting of singles and doubles, with the occasional home run — Obama told NPR's Steve Inskeep, "Every once in a while, a pitch is going to come right over home plate that you can knock out for a home run, but you don't swing at every pitch."

Asked by Inskeep if his place in history could be summarized in a single sentence, as might be possible for predecessors such as Ronald Reagan or Abraham Lincoln, Obama said the country today is "fortunate in many ways.

"We don't face an existential crisis," Obama said. "We don't face a civil war. We don't face a Soviet Union that is trying to rally a bloc of countries that could threaten our way of life."

Obama said Americans can't be naive about the threats the country faces, but he maintained that the dangers posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to annex Crimea should not be exaggerated.

On the contrary, Obama argued that the U.S. had rallied international opinion and helped back Putin off the Ukrainian border.

"It's a mistake to think that somehow Mr. Putin reflected strength in this situation," Obama told Inskeep. "He was operating from a position of weakness. He felt as if he was being further and further surrounded by NATO members, folks who are looking west economically [and] from a security perspective."

Similarly, Obama expressed optimism that territorial conflicts between China and neighbors such as Japan and Vietnam can be resolved by following "basic international rules of the road."

Those rules — including vibrant trade and freedom of navigation — have aided China's rise, so that country has an interesting in upholding them, the president said.

America has no interest in impeding China's success, he suggested.

"China's going to be a dominant power in Asia — not the only one, but by virtue of its size and its wealth, it is going to be a great power nation," Obama said. "At some level, they're going to be a big dog in that neighborhood and we welcome China's peaceful rise."

White House officials have expressed a renewed interest in aiding "moderate" opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. In his West Point address, Obama called on Congress to create a $5 billion counterterrorism fund that would, in part, deal with the military and humanitarian problems in Syria.

Ordinary Syrians — "farmers or dentists," Obama said — have an interest in ending human rights violations in their country. Their fighting strength has not matched that of "jihadists" but their capacity is growing, he said.

While the U.S. will work with them and other countries in the region, he warned that there will be limits to any American intervention.

"I still do not believe that American military actions can resolve what is increasingly a sectarian civil war," Obama told NPR. "What we don't want to do is set folks up for failure. What we don't want to do is make promises that we cannot keep."

Obama also expressed hopes that he would still be able to keep his long-ago campaign promise to shut the prison base at Guantanamo.

That is an especially important goal now, he said, as the nation's combat role winds down in Afghanistan — the conflict that gave rise to use of Guantanamo as a holding place for so-called enemy combatants.

"What I know is that we cannot in good conscience maintain a system of indefinite detention in which individuals who have not been tried and convicted are held permanently in this legal limbo outside this country," Obama said.

When Inskeep asked him whether he felt constrained in making foreign policy choices by the limited amount of time he'll command power, Obama said he was aware of the clock from his first day in the Oval Office.

"You don't walk into the presidency and completely remake the world and ignore history and ignore the problems that are already sitting there in the inbox," Obama said.

Having said that, Obama said he hopes to settle many items on his agenda — not just Guantanamo but the legal frameworks governing national security surveillance, the use of drone strikes and methods of combating terrorism in general — so that his successor will start off with a relatively clean slate.

"I'm confident that by the time I'm leaving the presidency," Obama said, "the next president will still have some tough choices to make, but I think they'll have a basis for making them that is consistent with our best traditions."

Portions of this interview will air Thursday on Morning Edition.

San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is a rising star in the Democratic Party. He spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., in 2012.
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
May 23, 2014

Obama Taps San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro For HUD Secretary

President Obama has been playing musical chairs with his Cabinet.

At the White House on Friday, Obama announced that he's chosen Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan to be his new budget director. Donovan would replace Sylvia Mathews Burwell, who's taking over the Department of Health and Human Services.

That leaves a vacancy atop the housing department, which the president plans to fill with an outsider: Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio and a rising star in the Democratic Party.

Castro would take over as HUD secretary at a time when the nation's housing market has been treading water.

There was some positive news this week about new and existing home sales inching up in April, but the overall spring selling season has been a disappointment. Housing does not look to be the engine of economic growth many forecasters had been hoping for.

That's a challenge to the secretary because HUD plays an important role in the housing market. Through the Federal Housing Administration, HUD guarantees more than 1 in 10 home loans. Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, says FHA-backed loans can be a door opener, since they require a down payment of just 3.5 percent.

"It's considered the best option for first-time homebuyers. Given the fact that we're waiting for the housing market to recover, and we're trying to encourage first-time homebuyers, there's a lot of attention focusing on FHA."

Many lenders remain skittish about making home loans, partly out of fear that if those loans go bad, FHA and other government guarantors, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, will come after the lender. As a result, White House economists argued in an op-ed this week, credit remains harder to come by than it should be, keeping millions of potential buyers out of the housing market. FHA has been working with lenders to address that, and has launched a pilot program to discount some of its own fees.

Of course, guaranteeing home loans is just one of many functions carried out by the sprawling $45 billion department Castro's been tapped to lead. HUD also provides rent subsidies and runs a slew of economic development programs.

Bruce Katz, who was chief of staff at HUD during the Clinton administration, says in order to do that successfully in this time of tight budgets, Castro will have to work with city and state governments, as well as the private sector.

"I think a former mayor, coming from San Antonio, which is a major metropolis, understands how cities work and how a federal government can leverage up those local resources and powers in a smart, strategic way."

Donovan earned high marks for his work at HUD, especially on federal recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Katz says Donovan pushed HUD to team up with agencies overseeing transportation, the environment and human services.

"When you think about the people who are most in need of housing, they're also in need of being close to work. They're also in need of child care. And I think Secretary Donovan was really at the vanguard of those kind of integrated approaches."

Now that Donovan has been tapped as White House budget director, he'll have a chance to extend his reach throughout the executive branch.


President Obama signs the Fair Sentencing Act in 2010, as Attorney General Eric Holder and a bipartisan group of senators look on.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
April 21, 2014

Obama Seeks Wider Authority To Release Drug Offenders

Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Obama administration is formulating new rules that would give it, and the president, far more latitude to pardon or reduce the sentences of thousands of drug offenders serving long federal prison sentences.

The move comes amid a broad national reconsideration of mandatory minimum sentences approved by Congress in 1986, when America's big cities were in the grip of a crack cocaine-fueled crime wave.

"The White House has indicated it wants to consider additional clemency applications, to restore a degree of justice, fairness, and proportionality for deserving individuals who do not pose a threat to public safety," Holder said in an online video statement released midday Monday.

"The Justice Department is committed to recommending as many qualified applicants as possible for reduced sentences," he said.

In anticipation of a massive influx of applications from federal prisoners seeking clemency or a reduction in their drug-related prison terms, the Justice Department will create a team of lawyers with backgrounds in prosecution and defense, the administration says, to review the applications.

Further detail about "expanded criteria" used to review the particular situations of drug offenders seeking relief through the program will be released later this week, according the department.

The Justice Department has already held meetings with defense lawyers and interest groups in an effort to identify the cases of worthy prisoners who could qualify for clemency. The administration is looking at inmates who have "clean records, no significant ties to gangs or violence, and who are serving decades behind bars for relatively low-level offenses."

The administration's move Monday comes four years after Obama signed the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which was designed to reduce the disparity between sentencing rules for crack and powder cocaine. In a precursor to today's announcement, the president last December commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates serving long sentences – including six with life terms – for crack cocaine offenses.

At the time, Obama said that the inmates had been sentenced under an "unfair system" that meted out far longer sentences for crack cocaine than powder cocaine.

If sentenced under the current, post-2010 sentencing law, he said, "many of them would have already served their time and paid their debt to society."

Congress is currently discussing comprehensive, bipartisan legislation that would cut minimum sentences by half, give judges more sentencing discretion, and retroactively apply new crack cocaine sentencing standards to prisoners convicted under previous requirements.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, would cut by half the 5-, 10-, and 20-year minimums now required for first and second drug-sale offenses.

Holder announced last August that the Justice Department would not pursue mandatory minimum sentences in cases involving low-level, non-violent drug defendants. He followed with a set of guidelines for federal prosecutors.

In announcing the effort Monday, Holder says that there "are still too many people in federal prison who were sentenced under the old regime – and who, as a result, will have to spend far more time in prison than they would if sentenced today for exactly the same crime."

"This is simply not right," he said.

Some federal prosecutors have pushed back on efforts to change mandatory sentencing laws, arguing that they believe they are an effective tool in wringing out information involving important drug kingpin cases, or major murders.

Despite some differences, President Obama and Pope Francis shared a laugh during their Thursday meeting at the Vatican. Obama called himself a "great admirer" of the pope.
(Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)
March 28, 2014

The Pope And The President: Common Ground But A Clear Divide

President Obama's Vatican meeting with Pope Francis wasn't without a dose of irony.

The U.S. president, once the world leader whose vow of "hope" and "change" excited millions, seemed eclipsed Thursday in that department by the pope.

The pope certainly is polling better than Obama among Americans. A recent St. Leo University poll placed the pope's approval rating at 85 percent among Catholics and 65 percent among all Americans. By contrast, Obama's approval rating was 47 percent in the same poll.

Another irony: While the pope's approval ratings are higher than Obama's, Americans, including many Catholics, agree more with Obama on certain social issues than with the pope.

For instance, on reproductive rights, more Americans are closer to Obama's stance than to the pope's. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they would not like to see the court completely overturn Roe v. Wade, according to Pew Research polling. More than a third of U.S. Catholics, 36 percent, say abortion should be legal in most cases, according to an October 2013 Quinnipiac University poll; an additional 16 percent say abortion should be legal in all cases.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, Quinnipiac reports 60 percent of U.S. Catholics support it — a higher level than the general population.

To some extent, the pope benefits from his relative newness, and from the appearance of being a fresh break from his recent predecessors. His eschewing of papal lavishness and call for the Roman Catholic Church to focus more on social justice have excited millions around the world.

By contrast, the realities of being a U.S. president in the 21st century, of being ultimately responsible for drone attacks and controversial NSA surveillance practices, have left even many of Obama's strongest supporters disappointed that the president hasn't changed the world as much as they had hoped.

As Michael Anthony Novak, a theology professor at St. Leo, told It's All Politics, it's more the rule than the exception that a president and pope wouldn't have much ideological overlap.

"Popes and presidents don't perfectly line up," Novak told me. "Whenever they get together, it's a fairly rare thing that their interests would perfectly align."

The kind of alignment between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II at their first meeting, when they seemed to be of one mind on directly confronting communism, is rare, Novak said.

The U.S. president heads a superpower with vast economic and military might. The pope, meanwhile, heads the world's smallest country, Vatican City, but as leader of his church he has great moral power even beyond its adherents.

"Obama sounded out the Vatican last year about the idea of intervention in Syria," because the pope's support and moral authority might help the president make his case for action, Novak said.

"Did the Vatican think this fit the concept of just-war theory and so forth? And in that case, Francis seemed to be strongly against the idea of the West intervening in a strong military way," he said.

It was another area in which the president and the pope differed.

One area where the onetime Chicago community organizer and the former Buenos Aires parish priest align, however, is in the need to address economic inequality.

But while they both recognize the problem, the pope is certainly to the left of the president in his critique of capitalism. Still, their concern for social justice represents an opportunity for the two men to work together.

Novak notes that Obama met with the pope for a longer time than the Vatican usually allots for such meetings, even with other heads of state: "I don't know what it says yet but it says something."

Still, he says, the Vatican knows Obama is closer to the end of his presidency than its start.

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. Obama discussed a range of topics including education, income inequality, climate change and immigration reform.
(Larry Downing/Pool/Getty Images)
January 28, 2014

Decrying Washington Stalemate, Obama Calls For 'Year Of Action'

With the country slowly digging itself out of recession, some of his legislative priorities buried under Washington's partisanship and his approval ratings at some of their lowest levels, President Obama called for "a year of action" during his fifth State of the Union address on Tuesday.

During the roughly one-hour speech, Obama tried to balance his impatience with Washington with a call for a truce for the good of the country.

But absent cooperation, Obama said he would take executive action if he had to.

"I'm eager to work with all you," Obama said. "But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

To that end, Obama announced that, taking a cue from companies that believe higher wages boost productivity and reduce turnover, he would issue an executive order raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour. The president then went on to challenge Congress to raise the federal minimum wage and "give America a raise."

Obama also announced the creation of a "starter" retirement savings program for workers and tasked Vice President Biden with overseeing "an across-the-board reform of America's training programs ... to train Americans with the skills employers need."

Despite a bitterly divided House chamber, Obama found common ground with his Republican counterparts when he spoke about immigration, American exceptionalism and inequality in the rate of pay between men and women.

Instead of casting blame, Obama made an economic argument for passing immigration reform and called on Congress to get it "done this year."

During the Republican response to the speech, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Washington state, embraced coming to some resolution over immigration. But she criticized Obama for making "promises that sound good but won't make things better."

Of course, when Obama turned to a defense of his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, the Republican half of the chamber sat, while Democrats delivered a standing ovation.

"Now, I don't expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law," Obama said to laughter. "But I know that the American people aren't interested in refighting old battles."

The emotional highlight of the night was President Obama's telling the story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was almost killed by a roadside bomb during his 10th deployment to Afghanistan.

Sitting next to first lady Michelle Obama, Remsburg received at least two minutes of applause from the chamber.

Despite surgeries and struggles, Remsburg never quit, Obama said.

"My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy," Obama said. "Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated; we're discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress — to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen."

We live blogged throughout the night, so if you want a detailed account of the State of the Union, keep reading. We've also posted a transcript of the speech here.

Update at 11:51 p.m. ET. A Modest Speech:

NPR's Mara Liasson sums up Obama speech like this:

"I thought it was a pretty modest speech; it wasn't very adversarial, no soaring rhetoric but he explained what he was going to do, which is he is going to use his own powers as much as possible by himself to advance the economic security of the middle class and those who want to get into it."

Update at 11:30 p.m. ET. A Roundup Of Headlines:

Here's what other news outlets are saying about Obama's State of the Union:

— "Obama calls for 'year of action'; president vows to use his authority with new force" (Washington Post)

— "The contrast between President Obama's State of the Union Address a year ago and the one he delivered Tuesday night is the difference between soaring ambitions — understandable for someone who had just decisively won a second term in the White House — and downsized dreams. It reflects a political journey from the aspirational to the achievable." (USA Today)

— "In State of the Union, Obama Vows Solo Action on the Economy" (New York Times)

— "Obama Seeks to Jump-Start Stalled Plans" (The Wall Street Journal)

Update at 10:37 p.m. ET. The Republican Response:

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivered the Republican response to President Obama.

Both Democrats and Republicans, McMorris said, want to make the United States better.

But Obama, said McMorris, "made more promises that sound good but won't make things better."

While McMorris criticized Obama, her message mostly stayed away from polemics. She painted a picture of an inclusive GOP, saying their goal is to close what she called an "opportunity gap" in the country.

Republicans, McMorris said, have a plan to close that gap without red tape and without more spending.

The GOP, McMorris said, "dreams big for everyone and turns its back on no one."

Update at 10:20 p.m. ET. An Emotional Closing:

Obama closed his one-hour speech on an emotional note. The overreaching theme was American exceptionalism. But it was the story of Army Ranger Cory Remsburg that brought the crowd to its feet for minutes.

Remsburg, the president explained, was nearly killed during his 10th deployment to Afghanistan.

Obama closed:

"Day by day, he's learned to speak again and stand again and walk again — and he's working toward the day when he can serve his country again.

" 'My recovery has not been easy,' he says. 'Nothing in life that's worth anything is easy.'

"Cory is here tonight. And like the Army he loves, like the America he serves, Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg never gives up, and he does not quit.

"My fellow Americans, men and women like Cory remind us that America has never come easy. Our freedom, our democracy, has never been easy. Sometimes we stumble; we make mistakes; we get frustrated; we're discouraged. But for more than 200 years, we have put those things aside and placed our collective shoulder to the wheel of progress — to create and build and expand the possibilities of individual achievement; to free other nations from tyranny and fear; to promote justice, and fairness, and equality under the law, so that the words set to paper by our founders are made real for every citizen.

"The America we want for our kids – a rising America where honest work is plentiful and communities are strong; where prosperity is widely shared and opportunity for all lets us go as far as our dreams and toil will take us — none of it is easy. But if we work together; if we summon what is best in us .... the way Cory summoned what is best in him — with our feet planted firmly in today but our eyes cast towards tomorrow — I know it's within our reach.

"Believe it."

Update at 10:07 p.m. ET. Foreign Policy:

Obama has now moved on to foreign policy.

About the war in Afghanistan, Obama says: "Together with our allies, we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America's longest war will finally be over."

On Guantanamo, Obama says: "With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantanamo Bay — because we counter terrorism not just through intelligence and military action, but by remaining true to our constitutional ideals, and setting an example for the rest of the world."

On Iran, Obama says: "If John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan could negotiate with the Soviet Union, then surely a strong and confident America can negotiate with less powerful adversaries today."

Obama followed that by renewing his vow to veto any legislation that imposes new sanctions on Iran.

"For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed," Obama said.

Update at 9:58 p.m. ET. A Defense Of Obamacare:

As expected, President Obama gave an impassioned defense of his signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act.

Obama told the story of Amanda Shelley, who signed up for health care insurance through the federal marketplace, on Jan. 1. On Jan. 6, Obama said, she had emergency surgery.

"Just one week earlier, Amanda said, that surgery would've meant bankruptcy," Obama said. "That's what health insurance reform is all about — the peace of mind that if misfortune strikes, you don't have to lose everything."

As you might also have expected, this is also the part of Obama's speech that resulted in the most partisan reaction. The Democratic half of the chamber gave a standing ovation, while the Republican half sat quietly.

Obama acknowledged that:

"Now, I don't expect to convince my Republican friends on the merits of this law. But I know that the American people aren't interested in refighting old battles. So again, if you have specific plans to cut costs, cover more people, and increase choice — tell America what you'd do differently. Let's see if the numbers add up. But let's not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that's already helping millions of Americans like Amanda."

Update at 9:50 p.m. ET. 'Give America A Raise':

Taking an example from companies like Costco — which, Obama says, believe higher wages boost productivity and reduce turnover — Obama will issue an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay a "fair wage" of at least $10.10 an hour.

Obama also called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage to that same amount.

"This will help families," he said. "It doesn't involve any new bureaucratic program. So join the rest of the country. Say yes. Give America a raise."

Update at 9:47 p.m. ET. Women Deserve Equal Pay:

The most robust applause so far? When Obama addressed inequality between men and women.

"Today, women make up about half our workforce," Obama said. " But they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment. Women deserve equal pay for equal work."

Then he delivered the line that brought both sides of the chamber to their feet:

"It's time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a Mad Men episode. This year, let's all come together — Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street — to give every woman the opportunity she deserves. Because I firmly believe when women succeed, America succeeds."

Update at 9:37 p.m. ET. Calls For Action On Immigration:

Obama calls on Congress to pass immigration reform "this year."

He got in and out of the issue quickly, tying the issue to economics instead of making the emotional plea.

"Independent economists say immigration reform will grow our economy and shrink our deficits by almost $1 trillion in the next two decades," Obama said. "And for good reason: When people come here to fulfill their dreams — to study, invent, and contribute to our culture — they make our country a more attractive place for businesses to locate and create jobs for everyone. So let's get immigration reform done this year."

Update at 9:35 p.m. ET. 'Climate Change Is A Fact':

After outlining what he calls an "all of the above" energy strategy, Obama made this declaration:

"The debate is settled. Climate change is a fact. And when our children's children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did."

Update at 9:26 p.m. ET. Americans Are Moving Forward:

Like first lady Michelle Obama, whose Let's Move program has helped lower obesity rates for the first time in 30 years, he will move forward with initiatives on his own.

"The point is, there are millions of Americans outside Washington who are tired of stale political arguments, and are moving this country forward," Obama said. "They believe, and I believe, that here in America, our success should depend not on accident of birth, but the strength of our work ethic and the scope of our dreams. That's what drew our forebears here. It's how the daughter of a factory worker is CEO of America's largest automaker; how the son of a barkeeper is speaker of the House."

Here Obama got a huge applause and made Speaker John Boehner, sitting behind him, blush. Obama finished his thought: "It's how the son of a single mom can be president of the greatest nation on Earth."

Update at 9:20 p.m. ET. Rails Against Congressional Gridlock:

After taking a shot at congressional gridlock, Obama calls for a "year of action."

"In the coming months, let's see where else we can make progress together. Let's make this a year of action," Obama said. "That's what most Americans want — for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all — the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead in America."

Update at 9:18 p.m. ET. 'A Breakthrough Year For America':

Obama now moves on to say that the United States is a much better place than it has been:

"Here are the results of your efforts: The lowest unemployment rate in over five years. A rebounding housing market. A manufacturing sector that's adding jobs for the first time since the 1990s. More oil produced at home than we buy from the rest of the world — the first time that's happened in nearly 20 years. Our deficits — cut by more than half. And for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world's No. 1 place to invest; America is.

"That's why I believe this can be a breakthrough year for America."

Update at 9:14 p.m. ET. An Ode To The American People:

After receiving a rousing applause from both sides of the chamber, President Obama opened his speech with an ode to the American people — with small vignettes of everyday accomplishments.

"Tonight, this chamber speaks with one voice to the people we represent: It is you, our citizens, who make the state of our union strong," Obama said.

Update at 9:10 p.m. ET. Obama Enters The Chamber:

With the bellow of the sergeant-at-arms, President Obama enters the chamber, flanked by congressional leaders of both parties. It'll be a couple of minutes before Obama begins his speech.

Just a quick reminder: NPR's special coverage of the address has now begun.

Update at 9:03 p.m. ET. Justices, Cabinet Members Enter Chamber:

Six Supreme Court justices and the president's Cabinet secretary are now walking into the chamber.

It's worth noting that it is three members of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court — Justices Alito, Scalia and Thomas — who are not in attendance.

Update at 8:51 p.m. ET. Obama Now In Holding Room:

CBS' Mark Knoller tweets:

"Seven minutes after leaving WH, Pres Obama arrives at the Capitol. Now to holding room until time to be announced by Sergent-at-Arms bellow."

Update at 8:40 p.m. ET. Obama Headed To Capitol:

President Obama has now left the White House. His motorcade is making the short trip on Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol.

Meanwhile lawmakers are filing into the the House chamber. Some of them, of course, have been there for hours, saving a spot near the center hall that ensures a handshake with President Obama and perhaps just as important also ensures some TV time.

Update at 8:34 p.m. ET. The Special Guests:

As our friend Liz Halloran reported for It's All Politics, here are some of President Obama's guests for tonight:

  • Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman of Boston, both of whom survived the Boston Marathon bombing and were captured in an iconic photograph showing a cowboy-hatted Arredondo rushing Bauman to safety
  • Gary Bird, the Moore, Okla., fire chief instrumental in search and rescue efforts after a deadly tornado hit his town
  • Jason Collins, a professional basketball player who became the first male active player in a major professional team sport to announce he is gay
  • Joey Hudy, the Arizona teenage creator of the "extreme marshmallow cannon" that was featured at the White House Science Fair and tested by Obama
  • Kathy Hollowell-Makle, the District of Columbia public school's teacher of the year last year

Members of Congress also invite guests. A notable one: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham invited Korie Robertson of the reality TV show Duck Dynasty.

NPR's Melody Kramer tells us at least four lawmakers have now posted pictures on Facebook of them with the reality stars.

Sen. David Vitter, who posed with Robertson, wrote: "My kids are impressed I get to see one person tonight, and it's not President Obama or Speaker Boehner."

Update at 8:16 p.m. ET. People Not Government:

After President Obama speaks tonight, the official Republican response will come from Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

According to excerpts of her speech released by her office, she will emphasize that Republicans advocate for smaller government and an empowered American public. She will say:

"Tonight I'd like to share a more hopeful, Republican vision — one that empowers you, not the government. It's one that champions free markets — and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you. It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable. And it's one where Washington plays by the same rules that you do. It's a vision that is fair and offers the promise of a better future for every American."

In that same vein, Rodgers will also take a shot at the president's signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act:

"We've all talked to too many people who have received cancellation notices they didn't expect or who can no longer see the doctors they always have. No, we shouldn't go back to the way things were, but the President's health care law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's. And that whether you're a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you."

As The Washington Post reports, three other Republicans will deliver responses.

Update at 8:05 p.m. ET. The Designated Survivor?

For every State of the Union, a member of the president's Cabinet does not attend in case of a catastrophe.

ABC News and CNN report that tonight's "designated survivor" is Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who used be a professor of physics and engineering at MIT before he joined the Obama administration.

By not attending, CBS's Mark Knoller explains, Moniz preserves "the line of succession."

"Moniz tonight is under Secret Service protection and is held at an undisclosed location until the President is safely back at the WH," Knoller tweets.

Update at 7:49 p.m. ET. A Promise Of Action:

The White House has released a couple of excerpts of Obama's speech. As his senior adviser John Podesta said on Morning Edition, Obama was going to make the case for taking action through executive orders, bypassing Congress.

According to the excerpt, Obama will say:

"Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by — let alone get ahead. And too many still aren't working at all.

"Our job is to reverse these tides. It won't happen right away, and we won't agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require Congressional action, and I'm eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

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