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Obama Vows to Fight for Jobs

This story was written by political reporter Brian Montopoli.

Seeking to reframe his presidency in the wake of electoral and legislative setbacks, President Obama said in his first State of the Union address Wednesday night that he will fight to improve the economic circumstances of struggling Americans.

"Despite our hardships, our union is strong," the president said in the House chamber, speaking to members of Congress and millions of television viewers watching at home. "We do not give up. We do not quit. We do not allow fear or division to break our spirit."

Mr. Obama, whose approval rating has fallen amid anger over government bailouts and a ten percent unemployment rate, spent about two-thirds of the speech discussing jobs and the economy, striking populist tones throughout. "Jobs must be our number one focus in 2010," he said, calling for a new employment bill.

"Each time a CEO rewards himself for failure, or a banker puts the rest of us at risk for his own selfish gain, people's doubts grow," he said. "Each time lobbyists game the system or politicians tear each other down instead of lifting this country up, we lose faith. The more that TV pundits reduce serious debates into silly arguments, and big issues into sound bites, our citizens turn away."

"No wonder there's so much cynicism out there," he said. "No wonder there's so much disappointment."

In an effort to spur hiring, the president called for the elimination of capital gains taxes on small business investment and tax credits for new hiring and investments in new equipment.

He also vowed to double American exports over the next two years, which he said would support two million new jobs.

The president was defiant when it came to health care reform, refusing to back off his push to pass a bill despite last week's election of Republican State Senator Scott Brown to the Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts.

Brown's victory left Senate Democrats without the votes they need to overcome a Republican filibuster, effectively stalling health care reform legislation.

"By the time I'm finished speaking tonight, more Americans will have lost their health insurance," he said. "Millions will lose it this year. Our deficit will grow. Premiums will go up. Patients will be denied the care they need. Small-business owners will continue to drop coverage altogether. I will not walk away from these Americans, and neither should the people in this chamber."

"As temperatures cool, I want everyone to take another look at the plan we've proposed," Mr. Obama added, calling on lawmakers to "come together and finish the job for the American people." With Republicans virtually unified in opposition to Democratic efforts, however, the president did not offer a road map for how to get a bill passed.

CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer described the president as "very assertive" in the speech, arguing that his presentation cut against the criticism that Mr. Obama can seem overly aloof and professorial.

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Full Text of Obama's Speech
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In an instant poll conducted by CBS News and Knowledge Networks immediately following the address, 83 percent of those who watched the speech said they approve of the president's proposals.

Seventy percent of speech watchers think Mr. Obama shares the same priorities for the country as they do. Fifty-seven percent thought so before the speech. And 59 percent think the president has a clear plan for creating jobs, up from 40 percent before the speech.

Mr. Obama also addressed the ballooning national debt in his address, laying out a plan to cut the deficit that included a three-year spending freeze for most non-military and entitlement programs. The measure would only make a tiny dent in the deficit, however.

He noted that there was already a "massive deficit" when he took office, and said he would use an executive order to create a bipartisan Fiscal Commission to address it. He also called on the Senate to restore the pay-as-you-go law that mandates that tax cuts and spending must be paid for.

Mr. Obama said all Americans, including himself, "hated" the bank bailout - but said that it was "necessary" to keep businesses from closing and homes from being lost. He proposed giving $30 billion of the money the banks have returned to the government "to help community banks give small businesses the credit they need to stay afloat."

The president also defended his record, saying that he took office as America faced a second recession. Thanks in large part to the stimulus bill, he said, "the worst of the storm has passed." Yet he acknowledged the hard times that have endured.

"One in ten Americans still cannot find work," he said. "Many businesses have shuttered. Home values have declined. Small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard. For those who had already known poverty, life has become that much harder."

The president called for "a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants," as well as "opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development," garnering applause from Republicans in the audience. He then turned to a proposal far less popular with GOP lawmakers: A comprehensive energy and climate bill.

"I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change," he said. "But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future - because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation."

Mr. Obama also addressed the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy that prevents gay and lesbian servicemembers from serving openly. He said he would work with Congress "this year" to "finally repeal the law that denies gay Americans the right to serve their country because of who they love." (watch at left.)

The president said his administration has "renewed our focus on the terrorists who threaten our nation." He said "we are filling unacceptable gaps revealed by the failed Christmas attack, with better airline security, and swifter action on our intelligence."

He said hundreds of Al Qaeda's fighters and affiliates have been captured or killed and said that in Afghanistan "will reward good governance, reduce corruption, and support the rights" of the Afghan people.

When it comes to the Iraq war, he said "make no mistake: this war is ending, and all of our troops are coming home."

The president called the threat of nuclear weapons "perhaps the greatest danger to the American people." He vowed to bring dozens of countries together with the goal of "securing all vulnerable nuclear materials around the world in four years, so that they never fall into the hands of terrorists."

Should Iran "continue to ignore their obligations," he added, they will face "growing" consequences.

On education, the president called for passage of a bill to revitalize community colleges, saying that "in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they chose to go to college."

Mr. Obama also touched on regulatory reform, saying that while he is "not interested in punishing banks" in the wake of the economic meltdown, he is interested in protecting the economy.

"The lobbyists are already trying to kill it," he said. "Well, we cannot let them win this fight. And if the bill that ends up on my desk does not meet the test of real reform, I will send it back."

In a striking criticism of the Supreme Court, the president took aim at a recent decision to roll back limits on corporate spending on political campaigns, saying the high court "reversed a century of laws that would open the floodgates for special interests - including foreign companies - to spend without limit in our elections."

"I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities," the president said. "They should be decided by the American people, and that's I'd urge Democrats and Republicans to pass a bill that helps correct some of these problems."

CBS News Chief Legal Correspondent Jan Crawford, called the rebuke of the "extraordinary." Six of the justices involved in the 5-4 decision, including Chief Justice John Roberts, were in the House chamber to hear Mr. Obama's speech.

Mr. Obama called for requirements that lobbyists disclose any contact they have with the administration or Congress on behalf of a client - and for "strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office."

He also pressed for earmark reform, telling members of Congress that "you have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more."

In the second half of his speech, the president turned his attention to the tone in Washington, saying that Americans are frustrated by the notion that "every day is Election Day."

"We cannot wage a perpetual campaign where the only goal is to see who can get the most embarrassing headlines about their opponent - a belief that if you lose, I win," he said. "Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill just because they can."

He went on to say that "the confirmation of well-qualified public servants should not be held hostage to the pet projects or grudges of a few individual Senators."

"Washington may think that saying anything about the other side, no matter how false, is just part of the game," he continued. "But it is precisely such politics that has stopped either party from helping the American people. Worse yet, it is sowing further division among our citizens and further distrust in our government."

"And if the Republican leadership is going to insist that sixty votes in the Senate are required to do any business at all in this town, then the responsibility to govern is now yours as well," he said, acknowledging Brown's victory while taking a shot at the opposition. "Just saying no to everything may be good short-term politics, but it's not leadership."

"We were sent here to serve our citizens, not our ambitions," he added. "So let's show the American people that we can do it together."

As his speech ended, Mr. Obama noted that he "campaigned on the promise of change - change we can believe in, the slogan went."

"And right now," he said, "I know there are many Americans who aren't sure if they still believe we can change - or at least, that I can deliver it."

"But remember this - I never suggested that change would be easy, or that I can do it alone," continued Mr. Obama. "Democracy in a nation of three hundred million people can be noisy and messy and complicated. And when you try to do big things and make big changes, it stirs passions and controversy. That's just how it is."

The president said his administration has "had some political setbacks this year, and some of them were deserved."

"We have finished a difficult year. We have come through a difficult decade. But a new year has come," the president concluded. "A new decade stretches before us. We don't quit. I don't quit. Let's seize this moment - to start anew, to carry the dream forward, and to strengthen our union once more."

There were 98 instances in which the president was interrupted by applause in the 75 minute speech, including 59 standing ovations by at least one side.

"It was a smart speech," CBS News consultant and former adviser to President George W. Bush Dan Bartlett told CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric immediately following the address.

"Republicans can't just be knee-jerk in their response in saying 'no,'" Bartlett said. "They would be wise to find a couple of these measures - there was some outreach there on tax cuts and some fiscal restraint - that they should try to work with this president on. They can't be a rubber stamp, they have to have compelling alternatives if they don't agree with him. But this was an invitation. They shouldn't just reject it out of hand."

In a Republican response immediately following the speech, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said "the federal government is simply trying to do too much."

"What government should not do is pile on more taxation, regulation, and litigation that kill jobs and hurt the middle class," he said, adding: "Without reform, the excessive growth of government threatens our very liberty and prosperity."

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan was kept at an undisclosed location during Mr. Obama's speech in the event of disaster. In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was out of the country.

More Coverage of Obama's State of the Union:

Obama Upbeat as He Seeks to Reset Presidency
Poll: 83% of Viewers Approve of Obama's Plans
Dem, GOP Leaders Spar Over Obama's Community Banks Plan
Alito Winces as Obama Slams Supreme Court Ruling
Can Obama's Energy Proposals Please the GOP?
Ohio Voters: Obama Needs More Details on Jobs Plan
Did Obama "Set the Tone" for Bipartisanship?
Obama Priorities Revealed in State of the Union Speech
Obama's Speech Leveraged His Strengths
Obama 2.0: Pressing the Reset Button
GOP Response to Obama on Bipartisanship: "Really?"
Leaders Promote Bipartisanship... In Their Wardrobe?
Photos: Watching the State of the Union


Analysis: Bob Schieffer and Jeff Greenfield
Obama Calls For New Jobs Bill
Valerie Jarrett Defends Obama
An End To "Don't Ask Don't Tell"?
What Keeps Obama Fighting
Obama on Health Care: Finish the Job
Obama Criticizes Supreme Court
State of the Union: America's Wars
Obama: We All Hated Bailout

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