In the emotional climax of in a speech filled with platitudes, President Barack Obama called on members of Congress to help put an end to gun related violence in America, during his 2013 State of the Union address to a joint session of the nation’s top lawmakers.
Obama spoke on what he characterized as “common sense” reforms for firearm sales, urging members of the House and Senate to consider laws that would establish stringent background checks to prevent criminals from legally acquiring guns, along with bans on assault rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines.
“Each of these proposals deserve a vote in Congress,” Obama remarked. “If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote.”
The nation’s top executive pointed to the prominent mass shootings in the past year, such as the ones in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Col. as reasons to start stemming the violence caused by the weapons. He also used an anecdotal example of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager from his hometown of Chicago who was gunned down a few weeks ago. The girl’s parents were in attendance during the address, sitting next to First Lady Michelle Obama.
“They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote” Obama said, referencing the Arizonan Congress Woman who survived a gunshot wound to head back in 2011. “The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tuscan and Blacksburg and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence, they deserve a simple vote.”
The President’s appeal to curb gun related violence brought most of Capital Hill to it’s feet in a flurry of applause. This occurred quite frequently throughout his nearly hour long speech, with the Commander-in-Chief rousing lawmakers and citizens alike into standing ovation over 70 times.
A plan for gun violence was but one of several policy items that Obama highlighted during his remarks to Congress Tuesday night, weaving between domestic and foreign issues throughout.
As many expected, Obama opened his speech by criticizing Congress’s inability to overcome the partisan infighting and come to an agreement over government spending. He said that economists believe that the pending sequestration, or across the board spending cuts, that go into effect at the end of the month would do great harm to the overall economic health of the country.
“The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem,” Obama said. “They don’t expect all of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do us expect us to put the nation’s interest before party.”
The administration and other Democrats have fought with Republican lawmakers in recent months over the budget, the most recent examples being the showdowns over the extension of the country’s borrowing limit, and the “fiscal cliff” dilemma which resulted in the planned sequestration cuts to be delayed until March.
“The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next,” Obama said. “Let’s agree, right here right now, to keep the people’s government open and pay our bills on time, and always uphold the full faith and credit of the United States of America.”
Instead of cutting from federal entitlement programs like Medicare or from spending on educational initiatives, the president suggested that Congress instead seek to close tax loop holes that benefit the nation’s wealthy, increasing the government’s tax revenue, a statement he made throughout his 2012 re-election campaign.
Obama also laid out a number of other measures intended to strengthen the country’s middle class, many of whom are still struggling despite the recovering economy. One of the proposals he suggested was to raise the federal minimum wage, from the $7.25 to $9 an hour.
“Tonight let’s declare that, in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” he said. “This single step would raise up millions of working families. It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction. Scraping by or getting ahead.”
In addition, Obama reiterated his commitment to address global climate change, a few weeks removed from his inaugural speech where he spoke on making it a priority for his second term in office.
“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,” Obama said. “It’s ture that no single event makes a trend, but the fact is that the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods; all are now more frequent and more intense.”
To combat this trend, Obama called on Congress to seek bipartisan legislation that would encourage the further development of alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar power, to reduce carbon emissions caused by traditional production methods.
On the foreign policy side of things, the president announced that he intended to further wind down US involvement in Afghanistan, by withdrawing 34,000 troops from the country over the next year as Afghani forces begin to take over as the prime security force.
“By the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over,” Obama said.
In order to ensure the war-torn nation doesn’t descend to chaos after the end of formal American engagement, Obama announced that the US will continue to train and arm Afghani soliders, and will continue to monitor the nation for any remaining al-Qaeda terrorists.
The president also again condemned the nuclear ambitions held by the leaderships in Iran and North Korea, saying that neither nation will be allowed back into the international fold unless they stop their pursuit of nuclear warheads. He also mentioned that the US would seek, in coordination with Russia, to reduce its own missile arsenal.
“Our ability to influence others depends on our willingness to lead, and meet our obligations,” Obama said.