President Obama draws a line in the sand with State of the Union

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • President Obama extends olive branch… to Democrats
  • Eleven proposals the president made in State of the Union
  • Fact checks galore – your links to the four best
  • What was trending on Facebook, Twitter?

A speech for Congress and past Congress: Depending on your perspective, President Obama was either cocky and combative or confident and caring (yes, one of us heard a Democrat on Capitol Hill use that word) in Tuesday night’s State of the Union address. Either way, it was one-part populist pitch (perhaps with an eye on 2016 for Democrats), one part legacy defense, and one part drawing a line in the sand. The speech’s theme was “middle-class economics,” and many of the proposals have already landed with a thud with Republicans. But the president forcefully made the pitch anyway, almost looking past the Republican-run Congress — with its approval ratings in the teens — rather than extending any kind of olive branch.

What’s Obama’s hard line about? Instead of putting forth proposals that might have appeal to the newly-in-charge GOP — besides perhaps, for, trade — the president unleashed section after section that charged up Democrats and seemed aimed at positioning his party for 2016. For Democrats: There were tax hikes on the wealthy, tax cuts for others, the minimum wage and the president’s strongest statement yet on the climate. For Republicans: the speech contained veto threats on everything from a rollback of his health care law, Dodd-Frank Wall Street regulations, immigration and Iran sanctions. Could this speech simply be a different kind of negotiating tactic for this president? He has been criticized in the past by fellow Democrats for offering too much, too soon to Republicans. Perhaps this time, by drawing a harder line with Republicans, his attitude is that either they will take him more seriously, or, if they don’t, he’ll at least preserve his legacy.

Last piece of legacy defense: Another part of that legacy defense was centered on the criticism that he came to Washington to heal divides but has instead seen partisanship grow. And last night, Mr. Obama pointedly harkened back to the 2004 Democratic National Convention speech that bolted him onto the scene. “Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn’t delivered on this vision,” Obama said, adding, “I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong.” This “Greatest Hits” framing is a bookend for this president, a last piece of unfinished business. It’s why he still could be open to negotiations with Republicans. And if it doesn’t work out, he will blame them.

Despite the president’s call to reject cynicism, in truth, there’s good reason to feel cynical or at least skeptical that not much will be accomplished between President Obama and Congress. The president himself acknowledged it: “I want to focus less on a checklist of proposals, and focus more on the values at stake in the choices before us.”

Obama’s proposals: We noted yesterday that just two of the president’s 18 proposals to Congress in last year’s State of the Union actually got through Congress. Last night, by our rough count, he proposed another 11 items for Congress to work on — and more than half of them were repeat requests from prior State of the Union addresses:


  • Paid sick leave – New
  • Free Community College – New
  • Authorization for Use of Military Force to combat the Islamic State militant group – New
  • End Cuba Embargo – New
  • Cyber attacks – New
  • Equal pay for women – Repeat
  • Raise the minimum wage – Repeat
  • Reduce student loan debt – Repeat
  • Infrastructure – Repeat
  • Trade – Repeat
  • Make voting easier – Repeat


What’s trending: We know, talking or writing about what’s happening in “Social Media” can often come across as kind of #lame, but we found some interesting takeaways from Facebook and Twitter last night:


  • 5.7 million people on Facebook made 13.8 million likes, posts, comments and shares.
  • 2.6 million Tweets related to #SOTU
  • The most talked about moment on both Facebook and Twitter was Obama’s unscripted retort in response to Republican clapping after he said he had no more campaigns to run: “I know because I’ve won both of them.”
  • The most Tweeted-about issues were: community college, equal pay, climate change and tax reform and health care.
  • The top issues for people on Facebook were: the economy and jobs, community college, taxes, minimum wage, and middle class
  • The most engaged groups of people on Facebook during the speech were women age 35 to 49, followed by men 35 to 49, men 18 to 34, and men 50 plus.
  • The issues those groups cared about varied. For women, it was: community college, taxes, economy and jobs, equal pay, and minimum wage. For men: taxes was No. 1, followed by economy and jobs, community college, middle class, and minimum wage.
    The people most engaged on Facebook came from North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.


Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted an unconditional pardon to hundreds of thousands of men who dodged the draft during the Vietnam War. Which presidents have been accused of dodging the draft? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Claire M. Steen ‏(@BearLoves14) for guessing Tuesday’s trivia: Which amendment to the Constitution established January 20 as the start and end of every presidential term? The answer: the 20th Amendment.




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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

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