Obama will give his fourth State of the Union speech

11 February, 2013

Welcome, to As It Is.

President Obama will give his fourth State of the Union speech Tuesday. The speech signals major policy goals for the coming year and reports, as the name suggests, on the current state of the country. Today, we hear about two issues that could be in the speech. And we talk with a Congressional expert about its tradition. 

Political candidates in the United States often talk about immigration reform during election campaigns. Now, lawmakers from the two main parties are saying the system is broken and major changes are needed. Many people expect President Obama to discuss the issue of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants in his State of the Union speech. Faith Lapidus has more.

A group of Democratic and Republican senators recently proposed a series of immigration reforms. Under the plan, illegal immigrants would register with the government. They would agree to let the government investigate their financial and criminal history. And they would have to pay any fines or taxes they owe. 
In return, the immigrants would earn a special "probationary" status. This would permit them to live and work legally in the United States.

The plan would set special rules for children who entered the United States with their parents and were educated in the country. Exceptions also would be given to agricultural workers needed for the nation's food supply. The Senators’ plan would strengthen enforcement of immigration rules. 

President Obama has set out goals for his own plan.  

"The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform. The time is now." 

The administration has noted four areas that need reform. They are border security, simplifying legal immigration, a path to earned citizenship and measures against those employing illegal immigrants. 

Immigration reform is now getting a lot of attention from both the Democratic and Republican parties. Senator John McCain represents the state of Arizona, which borders Mexico. 
“Now we will again attempt to commit the remaining resources to secure the border, modernize and streamline our current immigration system, and create a tough but fair path to citizenship for those here illegally.” 

Marco Rubio of Florida is one of the Senators involved in the bipartisan reform plan.  Republicans chose him to give their party’s reply to the State of the Union speech. I’m Faith Lapidus.

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut brought attention to the issue of gun control in the United States. Twenty children were among the 26 people killed in the attack. 

Since then, President Obama recorded a message about gun control, and Congress held its first hearings on the issue. So many people will be listening to what the president has to say to lawmakers Tuesday night. Christopher Cruise has more.

Few issues in American politics bring emotions to a boil faster than gun control. Gun rights activists have fought measures designed to limit or ban the sale of powerful automatic weapons for years. 
The National Rifle Association is a national organization for gun owners. The NRA fights new gun laws in the courts and rates political candidates on their gun-related positions. 

Gun control supporters have called for laws banning or limiting ownership of weapons meant for military use. President Obama has called on Americans to take part in a campaign to fight gun violence. He says military weapons were not meant to be used by the public.   

“Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater.  The majority of Americans agree with us on this.”

The right to gun ownership is part of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. “The right of the people to keep and bear arms,” it says, is protected. But what kinds of weapons are protected is a point of sharp disagreement.

Sometimes it appears as if the two sides are not speaking the same language. Listen to this exchange between Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Wayne Lapierre, the head of the NRA during a recent Congressional hearing.

“You miss that point completely! It is basic!”“I think you miss the point.”

“Let there be order!”

The high emotion guarantees that both supporters and opponents of gun control will be listening closely to the speech Tuesday. I’m Christopher Cruise.

President Obama speaks to Congress and the American people Tuesday night. The State of the Union speech dates back to the early days of the nation. We talk with an expert about the speech. But first, Caty Weaver gives us a short history.

“Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.”

So starts every State of the Union speech in the meeting room of the United States House of Representatives. Members of both the House and the Senate gather there for the message. The president also invites other people.

President George Washington gave the first State of the Union in 1790. Radio broadcasts of the speech began in 1923, with President Calvin Coolidge. President Harry Truman’s 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television.

The State of the Union has become more than just a device for providing Congress with information. And most presidents hope the speech will move Americans to reach for higher goals.

“Walter Oleszek is a congressional expert. 

He’s joined us on the telephone to talk about how the State of the Union has changed over the years.

Welcome, Walter.”

“Glad to be here.”

“Now the constitution says the president shall from time to time give Congress information on the state of the union. How has the purpose of the State of the Union changed over the years? Well its changed in some ways, in significant ways and probably in others not so much. George Washington basically set the precedent for annual State of the Union messages before the Congress. Now, Jefferson broke the idea of appearing in person before the Congress.  He submitted annual written messages. But then Woodrow Wilson he established the current precedent again.”

“Would the writers of the constitution recognize the speech today?”

Sure, I mean there are certainly elements of continuity they would recognize a president going before a joint-session of Congress.    

But certainly in terms of the technological developments, they might be in part perhaps awed by the new developments. 

Harry Truman was the first TV presentation. And then Lyndon Johnson also made a big change, if you will. Lyndon Johnson decided in ’65 that he would do it in prime time, 9 p.m. And that’s been the case ever since.  

Thank you for joining us today. I’m Mario Ritter.