President Obama gave his final State of the Union speech Tuesday night, saying America is still the greatest nation on Earth, but warning of trouble ahead if the country can’t embrace more change and fix its broken politics. In the Republican response, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said there is enough blame to go around, and urged change as Obama enters his last year in office: "We need to accept that we've played a role in how and why our government is broken. And then we need to fix it."
With soft-spoken but undeniably tart words, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley vaulted onto the national stage Tuesday night for the second time in less than a year, going after both President Obama and presidential candidates in her own Republican Party. The question left unanswered: Did she do herself good or harm — or both — in her response to the president’s State of the Union address?
Some Democrats watching Haley’s speech — which followed Obama’s final State of the Union of his presidency — praised her, albeit largely because of her explicit criticism of her party. Republicans seemed split, with some embracing her remarks and others put out that she used the significant platform to tweak her own party and its candidates.
At the very least, if Haley increased her standing in the illusory vice presidential sweepstakes of some candidates, she took herself off front-runner Donald Trump’s short list.
For one last time, President Obama took to the rostrum of the House chamber, observing an old ritual with a new purpose: shaping history.
Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night was no nostalgia trip, though the president and many around him were mindful of its timing, nearly eight years to the day after an Iowa victory launched his unlikely path to the White House.
It was a chance for reflection and a bit of self-congratulation, not least for helping the nation rebound from its worst economic downturn in more than half a century — though he was careful to credit the American people and acknowledge their continued unease.
It was an opportunity, too, for a last summons on issues such as gun control, income inequality and immigration reform, which still rest on the incomplete side of his presidential ledger.
But more than anything, the nearly hourlong speech was Obama’s effort to have a say in who follows him into the Oval Office. The next election could help cement accomplishments like his signature healthcare program, a nuclear deal with Iran and moves to stem climate change, or fell them in a single blow.
President Obama used his last State of the Union address to push for national voting reforms and went off script to specifically call for bipartisan groups to draw new congressional districts instead of lawmakers.
"I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around," he said before veering from his prepared remarks to add: "Let a bipartisan group do it."
Redistricting expert Paul Mitchell said Obama's line echoed calls by California Republicans a decade ago when they were pushing for a citizens' redistricting commission to draw boundaries, instead of the Democratic-controlled Legislature. Voters approved that measure, and the commission drew new lines in 2011.
More states, including Illinois, where Obama got his start in politics, are considering switching to commissions.
"When you strip away the politics and have it be in a nonpartisan setting, the district lines that get drawn are pretty good," Mitchell said. "I can see there being a space and time right now for this kind of redistricting reform to catch hold."
On Snapchat, reporter Sarah Wire asked some members of California's delegation to grade President Obama's final State of the Union speech. This is what they had to say.
Here’s a shorter version of Obama’s message: Lower your expectations. The president who, when he won his party’s nomination of 2008, said this might be “the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless … the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal” – that president is older and wiser now.
After seven years of work, he knows he may have to be satisfied when he leaves office with a sluggish economic recovery, a not fully rooted healthcare law and a foreign policy that still faces a generation’s work of challenges.
President Obama during his Jan. 27, 2010, State of the Union, left, and in his address tonight.
Take a selfie, and write in your name and grade for Obama's speech.
The official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address offered the party’s attempt to not only attract a younger, more diverse electorate, but also to redirect the populist anger that is rippling through the country toward more positive pursuits.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina is no Donald Trump, the GOP front-runner in the presidential campaign. The Indian American daughter of immigrants broke new ground by suggesting the GOP should take its share of responsibility for Washington's problems, and then try to fix them.
“We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves, while Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone. There is more than enough blame to go around,” Haley said.
“We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America’s leadership. We need to accept that we’ve played a role in how and why our government is broken. And then we need to fix it.”
Haley’s stature has grown during her two terms leading the Palmetto State, a conservative bastion that saw the deadly racially motivated shooting last year in Charleston, and she was tapped by GOP leaders to present a new face of the party amid the campaign to retake the White House.
Like Obama, she offered a veiled criticism of GOP front-runner Donald Trump's divisive policies and rhetoric. Without naming names, Haley warned of the most heated voices in politics, and delivered a message of hopeful, if pragmatic, cooperation.
“During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation,” she said.
She outlined a standard to-do list for the party – lower taxes, repeal Obamacare, defend gun rights and support a robust national security presence.
“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.”
We need to be honest with each other, and with ourselves: While Democrats in Washington bear much responsibility for the problems facing America today, they do not bear it alone.
There is more than enough blame to go around.
We as Republicans need to own that truth. We need to recognize our contributions to the erosion of the public trust in America's leadership. We need to accept that we've played a role in how and why our government is broken.
And then we need to fix it.
I can't take selfies.
Of course, he has taken selfies in other circumstances.
The Sanchez sisters saw it differently.
Thanks again for coming to San Bernardino.
That was an inspiring speech.
You and I are leaving together.
I believe in change because I believe in you.
Though President Obama didn't specifically name any of the Republican presidential candidates, he certainly called out one of them:
The Times' Michael A. Memoli notes that Donald Trump's proposal to stop Muslims from coming to the United States was announced after Obama's Oval Office address last month following the San Bernardino attacks:
The White House sends details of how First Lady Michelle Obama's guests are seated.
In order from left to right, starting from bottom row: Cindy Dias, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Michelle Obama, Naveed Shah, Jill Biden, Edith Childs, Braeden Mannering, Lydia Doza, Dr. Rafaai Hamo.
Second row from bottom: Oscar Vazquez, Chief O'Toole, Ryan Reyes, Satya Nadella, Jennifer Bragdon, Spencer Stone, Jim Obergefell, Earl Smith.
Third from bottom: Cory Dixon, Cedric Rowland, Sue Ellen Allen, Shelby County (Tenn.) Mayor Mark Luttrell Jr., Valerie Jarrett, Gloria Balenski, Lisa Jester.
Back row: Renna Rice, Mark Davis.
It’s one of the few regrets of my presidency – that the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.