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Obama Makes Fairness Centerpiece of State of the Union, Re-election Pitch

President Obama; photo by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama delivered his third State of the Union address Tuesday night — a preview of the general election argument to come over the next nine-and-a-half months — calling for the restoration of economic fairness and pledging to confront Republican opposition to his policies in Congress head-on.

“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by, or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, and everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” the president said.

At a time of trillion-dollar deficits, the president told lawmakers the country could no longer afford tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. He urged members of Congress to reform the tax code and implement the “Buffet Rule,” named after billionaire investor Warren Buffet, which would require individuals earning more than $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.

“You can call this class warfare all you want,” President Obama charged. “But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense.”

To hammer home the point, the president invited Buffet’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, to sit with first lady Michelle Obama for the speech.

The president’s sharper tone toward Congress followed last year’s fiercely partisan battles over government spending and raising the country’s borrowing limit. He said he would not let lawmakers stand in the way of progress, noting the recent uptick in hiring numbers.

“The state of our Union is getting stronger,” the president declared. “I will work with anyone in this chamber to build on this momentum. But I intend to fight obstruction with action, and I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place.”

And with Congress’ approval rating hovering barely above single digits, the president looked to appeal to voters who believe Washington is broken. “We need to end the notion that the two parties must be locked in a perpetual campaign of mutual destruction; that politics is about clinging to rigid ideologies instead of building consensus around common-sense ideas,” Mr. Obama said.

When it came to ideas, the president offered what he described as a blueprint for “an economy built to last,” which included streamlining job retraining programs, boosting domestic energy production and bolstering the American manufacturing sector. Mr. Obama pointed to the revitalized auto industry as an example of what could be possible in “Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Raleigh” — all cities located in critical battleground states.

“On the day I took office, our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. Some even said we should let it die. With a million jobs at stake, I refused to let that happen,” the president said.

The president will embark Wednesday on a three-day, five-state tour in support of his speech, beginning with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Phoenix. On Friday, he’ll stop in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the auto industry’s recovery will likely be front-and-center yet again.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ response for the Republican Party focused on the economy. From the Associated Press:

“No feature of the Obama presidency has been sadder than its constant effort to divide us, to curry favor with some Americans by castigating others,” Daniels said, speaking from Indianapolis. “As in previous moments of national danger, we Americans are all in the same boat.”

Team NewsHour noticed that both Daniels and the president hailed Steve Jobs.



A CBS News/New York Times poll released Tuesday found that 52 percent of Americans believe capital gains and dividends should be taxed at the same rate as income earned from work because the current policy increases the federal deficit and is unfair to people who don’t have money to invest. Thirty-six percent approve of the current policy of taxing capital gains at a lower rate because it encourages investment and helps the economy.

“I feel like I’m representing secretaries everywhere tonight,” Bosanek, Buffett’s secretary, told the Washington Post about being the president’s State of the Union guest.

The Republican National Committee spliced together President Obama’s words with earlier speeches to Congress, suggesting in the title of its web video that the president offers “Familiar Rhetoric, Failed Record.”

“It took less than five minutes for Republicans to begin taking apart President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night,” a team of reporters writes for Roll Call, noting that House Speaker John Boehner’s office emailed fact-checks to reporters throughout the speech.

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton notes that “liberal Democrats balked at Obama’s proposal to dramatically open offshore areas to oil and gas exploration and responded warily to his offer to consider Social Security and Medicare reforms,” while centrists said they “were open to a minimum tax on multi-national corporations.”

Gwen Ifill hosted our special coverage of the speech with analysis from David Brooks and Ruth Marcus. Watch that here.

There were some technical glitches, but we had a good time hosting the NewsHour’s first-ever State of the Union watch party via Google+. After the speech, we discussed the president’s use of Osama bin Laden’s killing for his finale.

Thanks to NewsHour correspondent Kwame Holman, University of New Hampshire’s Ellen Fitzpatrick, Peniel Joseph of Tufts, Jon Ward of Huffington Post, Evan McMorris-Santoro of Talking Points Memo, Iowa Republican and Drake University student Sam Pritchard and New Hampshire resident Debi Rapson for joining us, and to the entire NewsHour team for making it happen. Watch it in full here.

Finally, if you speak another language, please help with our crowd-sourcing project as we work to translate the State of the Union address.


From NewsHour politics desk assistant Alex Bruns:

So how do these grand speeches come together? Former speechwriters for Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore dished in a behind-the-scenes chat Tuesday morning hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think-tank organized by former Sens. Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, Howard Baker and George Mitchell.

“Every White House has a different process,” said Vinca LaFleur, a former Clinton speechwriter.

Oftentimes the speechwriting would begin December, just before the Christmas holiday, and would be finalized over the next month before its final presentation to Congress, the group said.

“You want the speech to be fresh,” said LeFleur.

Throughout the editing process, some presidents would weigh in more than others.

President George H.W. Bush was a limited editor. “His editing was somewhat predictable,” said Chriss Winston, his chief speechwriter. “He was a very plain speaker and he would always scribble in the margins [of our drafts] ‘too much rhetoric.'”

But his son was the opposite. “I remember the serious and heavy editing that went up to the speech,” said John McConnell, who wrote many of President George W. Bush’s big speeches. “He would go over the speech’s paragraphs with us and think aloud, and he usually came up some very good lines.”

The Obama White House offered a look at how they write the speech in this video. (Hint: Mr. Obama does a lot of the writing himself.)


“If we win the primary next Tuesday, I believe I will become the nominee,” Newt Gingrich said in Sarasota on Tuesday, according to AP reporter Steve Peoples. (@sppeoples)

And if he does win, that could be thanks in part to the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, which made a $6 million ad buy in Florida, the Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner reported.

A Quinnipiac poll out Wednesday found Mitt Romney barely leading Gingrich, 36 percent to 34 percent, among GOP voters ahead of Florida’s closed primary next Tuesday.

The former Massachusetts governor spent a good portion of the day in the headlines because of his tax return release, but also kept the heat on Gingrich over his work for Freddie Mac.

According to Politico’s Anna Palmer, new details from Gingrich’s contract with Freddie Mac show that he wasn’t just a boardroom consultant but served as a high-profile booster for the beleaguered organization. He even gave a rallying speech to dozens of the group’s political action committee donors in the spring of 2007.

Big on the Internet was Slate’s calculator that allows users to input their yearly salary to see how long it would take Romney to earn the same amount.

Judy Woodruff dissected the Romney and Gingrich disclosures Tuesday night with Brody Mullins of the Wall Street Journal and Jeanne Cummings of Bloomberg News.

Brooks and Marcus also weighed in on the tax issue.


House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talked with CNN’s John King, who asked her about the possibility of a President Gingrich. “That will never happen,” Rep. Pelosi deadpanned.

“The lawyer who a decade ago advised Newt Gingrich on how to engage in advocacy without officially becoming a ‘lobbyist’ is now working to close the loopholes that enable the former Speaker and other Members to avoid public disclosure,” Roll Call’s Eliza Newlin Carney and Kate Ackley write.

Labor unions are running TV ads against Romney in Florida, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

The Palm Beach Post finds that Gingrich is getting bigger crowds than Romney.



Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, showed up at the White House for an event honoring the NHL champion Boston Bruins with a black eye. Kerry said he’d been hit in the face with a hockey stick during a weekend game.

Former Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., remains on the hot seat over his role in the battle over anti-piracy legislation, Talking Points Memo’s Carl Franzen reported.

The congressional record is now available on the iPad, Roll Call’s Kate Tummarello reports.


All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • Rick Santorum holds a rally in Naples, Fla., at 9 a.m. and attends a presidential forum in Miami at 1 p.m.
  • Newt Gingrich has five Florida campaign stops scheduled: in Doral at 9 a.m., in Miami at 10 a.m., in Coral Springs at 11:45 a.m. and in Cocoa at 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
  • Mitt Romney delivers a rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union address in Orlando at 9:25 a.m., then makes a pair of stops in Miami at 2:15 p.m. and 3:20 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:

For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.

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