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Everything You Need To Know About President Obama's Final State Of The Union

BuzzFeed News Washington, D.C., Bureau Chief John Stanton and correspondent Tarini Parti reported from Capitol Hill.

Originally posted on
Updated on

President Obama delivered his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Here's a quick rundown of what happened:

* Let's get this out of the way: "The state of our union is strong."

* Overall, the speech stuck largely to his achievements and his vision for the future — touching upon the economy, inequality, changing technology, national security, and campaign finance — and not specific policy proposals.

* Right off the top, Obama set few policy expectations for this year "because it's an election season." He said he hoped both parties could accomplish criminal justice reform, "and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse and heroin abuse."

* Two science issues got big mentions: global warming and battling cancer. On the latter, he announced a new national effort to cure the disease led by Vice President Joe Biden.

* Obama also took veiled shots at two GOP presidential nominees: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — who has called for carpet bombing in order to defeat ISIS — and Donald Trump, for his remarks on Muslims.

* Obama notably made little reference to refugees from Syria and Iraq — resettling people has become a flashpoint in the nation.

* And people really aren't happy with Obama's version of Middle Eastern history.

* Oh also everyone wanted to know WTF Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was reading during the address.

* Kentucky clerk Kim Davis showed up — even though the congressman who essentially invited her said he didn't know he invited her. (Read more about BuzzFeed News' interaction with Davis below.)


In case you missed it: The full video is below. Here's the full text prepared before delivery.

View this video on YouTube

And it wouldn't be a State of the Union speech without the best applause and ~laugh~ lines, both in earnest and ironic:

* "And for this final [speech], I'm going to try to make it shorter. I know some of you are antsy to get back to Iowa. I've been there. I'll be shaking hands after if you want some tips."

* "We also need benefits and protections that provide a basic measure of security. After all, it's not much of a stretch to say that some of the only people in America who are going to work the same job, in the same place, with a health and retirement package, for 30 years, are sitting in this chamber."

* "Now, I'm guessing we won't agree on health care anytime soon." (Even Obama was surprised this one got reaction.)

* "Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn't deny Sputnik was up there. We didn't argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later, we were walking on the moon."

* "I told you earlier all the talk of America's economic decline is political hot air. Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It's not even close. It's not even close. It's not even close." (Video clip here.)

* "If you doubt America's commitment  —  or mine  —  to see that justice is done, ask Osama bin Laden." (Here's a video clip of that one.)

* "We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion."

* "We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around."

Here's a bonus video applause line:

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"Food stamp recipients didn’t cause the financial crisis; recklessness on Wall Street did. Immigrants aren’t the reason wages haven’t gone up enough; those decisions are made in the boardrooms that too often put quarterly earnings over long-term returns. It’s sure not the average family watching tonight that avoids paying taxes through offshore accounts."

Obama overall framed his address by saying: "Let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next president is, or who controls the next Congress."

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Those four questions were:

* "How do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?"

* "How do we make technology work for us, and not against us  —  especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?"

* "How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?"

* "How can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?"

But Obama did not shy away from making thinly veiled criticisms directed at certain Republican presidential candidates, specifically Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Republican frontrunner Donald Trump.

Referencing Cruz's comments about "carpet bombing" ISIS, Obama said, "The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn't pass muster on the world stage."

He saved his strongest condemnations for Trump, urging Americans to "reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion." Later in the speech, he added, "As frustration grows, there will be voices urging us to fall back into tribes, to scapegoat fellow citizens who don't look like us, or pray like us, or vote like we do, or share the same background."

And in an allusion to Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country, Obama said, "When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid bullied, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country."

In many ways, Obama's address was a response to Republican rhetoric about the state of the country under his stewardship.

"I told you earlier all the talk of America's economic decline is political hot air," Obama said. "Well, so is all the rhetoric you hear about our enemies getting stronger and America getting weaker. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It's not even close."


Let's pause for a heartwarming note from Jim Obergefell, the lead named plaintiff in the historic marriage equality case, who was a guest of Michelle Obama:

Jim Obergefell tells @BuzzFeedNews that he wore the same bow tie tonight that he wore June 26, 2015, at #SCOTUS.

Here's one of Obama's quotes about equality:

"I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen  —  inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word  —  voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love."

And Obama defended his record on issues like health care, foreign policy and the environment — and announced a push to cure cancer.

He hit the issue of climate change the hardest, saying, "Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You'll be pretty lonely, because you'll be debating our military, most of America's business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it's a problem and intend to solve it."

While Obama signaled his willingness to work with Republicans on issues like criminal justice and prescription drug abuse, he also reaffirmed his commitment to more politically divisive issues, like immigration, gun control, and raising the minimum wage.

And here's his full quote on cancer:

Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they've had in over a decade. Tonight, I'm announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he's gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I'm putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.

Medical research is critical. We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.

Notably, Obama made little reference to refugees from Syria and Iraq.

U.S. resettlement of refugees has been intensely debated over the past several months, with many Republicans raising security concerns surrounding the vetting process of refugees from the two countries. Also absent was any mention of the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

On Syria, a country plagued by the rise of ISIS and a deadly civil war, Obama said that the U.S. is "partnering with local forces and leading international efforts to help that broken society pursue a lasting peace." And on Iran, where 10 U.S. sailors are currently being held, Obama touted the nuclear deal, saying, "As we speak, Iran has rolled back its nuclear program, shipped out its uranium stockpile, and the world has avoided another war."

At the conclusion of his speech, Obama offered an optimistic view of the country.

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He added, "Clear-eyed. Big-hearted. Optimistic that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. That's what makes me so hopeful about our future. Because of you. I believe in you," Obama said.


After the speech, BuzzFeed News reporter Tarini Parti tried to talk to Kim Davis — the Kentucky clerk who is slogging through a legal battle over denying marriage licenses. Here's how that went in two tweets:

Tried to talk to Kim Davis. She ignored me and finally mumbled .."I'm on a mission to get to my phone."

Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley delivered the rebuttal. Here are her two best quotes:

Evan Vucci / AP

* "Today, we live in a time of threats like few others in recent memory. During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country."

* "Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference."

Reporting by Tom Namako, Kyle Blaine, and Austin Hunt.

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