Obama talks legacy, continued policy fights in final State of the Union speech

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President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.
Photo Credit: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

President Barack Obama’s accomplishments, legacy and future proposals took center stage Tuesday night as he gave his final State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress.

Throughout his speech, the president laid out many of his administration’s accomplishments since taking office, including the passage of the Affordable Care Act, continued private sector job growth and a lowered unemployment rate.

“Anyone claiming that America’s economy is in decline is peddling fiction,” Obama said. “For the past seven years, our goal has been a growing economy that works better for everybody. We’ve made progress, but we need to make more.”

In his 2015 speech, Obama argued for a slate of progressive policies that invigorated Democrats’ hopes for the last two years of his presidency right after they were handed devastating losses in the 2014 midterm election. After that election cycle, Republicans won control of the Senate and padded their majority in the House of Representatives, allowing them to block many of Obama’s proposals with the full control of Congress.

One plan Obama argued for was a state and federal partnership to provide an associate’s degree — or two years toward a bachelor’s degree or job training — at all of America’s 1,100 community colleges. That push was considered controversial and received stiff opposition from Republicans in Congress, but Obama reiterated his support for college affordability Tuesday night.

“We have to make college affordable for every American,” Obama said. “Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.”

University Democrats communications director Maliha Mazhar, an international business and government senior, said Obama’s speech was filled with progressive ideas that laid out his plans for next year and beyond, even after his successor takes office.

“I think that this really helps Democratic presidential candidates and Democrats across the nation that are running for various levels of government,” Mazhar said. “They can point very proudly to the president as a leader of the Democratic party and can say, ‘We’re with this guy.’”

Throughout the speech, Obama also gave subtle criticisms toward Donald Trump’s immigration rhetoric and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s plans to combat the Islamic State. Both Trump and Cruz have led almost every national poll released in the past couple of weeks as well as in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two caucus and primary states.

Once the president had finished, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley gave the Republican Party’s State of the Union response. Throughout her response, Haley criticised the Obama administration, arguing the country would fare far better under a Republican president.

“As he did when he first ran for office, tonight, President Obama spoke eloquently about grand things. He’s at his best when he does that,” Haley said. “Unfortunately, the president’s record has often fallen far short of his soaring words.”

Finance sophomore Robert Guerra, College Republicans communications director, said he believes Republicans — who are in control of both houses of Congress — will be able to block any of the president’s proposals, forcing him to rely on executive orders to enact any changes in his final year in office leading up to the 2016 election.

“I definitely believe this country needs to be going in a different direction, and there are a lot of Americans who feel the same way,” Guerra said. “That will definitely be evident in the 2016 presidential election.”

Texas voters will have the opportunity to first voice their opinions on which direction to take — a continuation of Obama’s progressive policies over the last two terms or a starkly new direction led by conservative ideals — on March 1 in the Texas primary.