President Obama delivered an ambitious State of the Union address which called for comprehensive immigration reform, raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, fixing infrastructure to create jobs, making an impassioned plea for gun control, and creating more opportunities for working families.
“We gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded…It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love,” said the president.
Lynette Acosta, who was one of Obama’s national campaign co-chairs out of Florida, was satisfied that Obama’s speech resonated with Hispanic families. “Tech hubs for manufacturing, preschool education available for all children, more infrastructure spending, and comprehensive immigration reform – there is so much that would be good for Latinos,” she says.
On immigration reform, the president said, “If you send me a bill, I will sign it.” Political scientist Sylvia Manzano thinks that was a smart strategy on Obama’s part. “He said both houses of Congress have committees working on it, so he’s putting the onus on Congress and saying it’s really up to them to send him a bill to sign,” says Manzano.
University of Maryland political scientist Stella Rouse says she did not think Obama’s speech was as combative as some people expected. “Some thought he was going to lay down the gauntlet, but I thought he was not divisive,” Rouse observes. She thinks, however, that his agenda on education, infrastructure spending, climate legislation and increased science research “is fairly ambitions, and we’ll see how much of that will be able to be accomplish. His remarks that it is all ‘deficit neutral’ raises skepticism and can open him up to criticism,” says Rouse.
Republican strategist Mercy Vianna Schlapp says Obama’s proposals “are very much a rehash of what we have heard before. He talked about introducing a lot of programs which will require a lot of government spending,” says Schlapp.
Most thought Obama was most effective when he challenged Congress to act to enact gun control legislation, mentioning the many families who had lost lives through gun violence. “When Obama kept repeating, after introducing the families, ‘they deserve a vote,’ he was not being provocative but he was baiting Republicans to at least put it to a vote,” says Manzano.
After the president’s speech, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio delivered the Republican response, in both English and Spanish. Rubio shot back at Obama’s criticism that Republicans are the party of the wealthy. Rubio said he was not opposing the president’s policies to protect the rich, but to protect his neighbors.
“Mr. President, I live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in,” said Rubio. “My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare…They’re immigrants…The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families,” said Rubio.
Republican strategist Vianna Schlapp says Rubio was the right choice to give the GOP response. “Rubio did a brilliant job at communicating the message that there are working class Republicans who just want the government to work right, with more efficiency and opportunity,” says Schlapp.
On immigration reform, Rubio said, “we need a responsible, permanent solution to those who are here illegally. But first, we must follow through on the broken promises of the past to secure our borders and enforce our laws.”
Latina political scientist Stella Rouse says Rubio, who is one of the Senate Gang of 8 working on a reform plan, should have been more specific. “I think he missed a real opportunity to show he is one of the people behind the scenes trying to make immigration reform a reality – he spent very little time on this,” says Rouse.
There was one moment in Rubio’s speech which caught the attention of many on social media. He took a brief break during the speech to reach for a bottle of water and take a sip. Minutes later, Poland Spring, the brand of the bottle he picked up, was trending on Twitter.
In terms of his own political future, political scientist Sylvia Manzano says Rubio did well as the face of the establishment Republicans. “In terms of a ‘national introduction’ for Senator Rubio, it was very effective,” says Manzano. “While I thought his speech didn’t have too many specifics and was more just a reaction to Obama, Rubio did not come across as angry or mean-spirited. For Republicans, that is a step in the right direction.”