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This Week: Obama Calls for Jobs Over Austerity | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

This Week: Obama Calls for Jobs Over Austerity


Barack Obama gives his 2013 State of the Union address. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak.)

During his State of the Union Address this week, President Obama put forth a bold call for jobs and growth, including a proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to nine dollars an hour. Although progressives should push for a living wage that exceeds the president’s proposal, his leadership on the issue offers a starting point for people to organize around in states and communities. On PBS’s NewsHour on Wednesday, I talked about why raising the minimum wage is so vital to those living in poverty in the United States—and how reducing inequality is the only way forward to get our economy on track. “We need to look at and understand that inequality is perhaps the greatest threat to economic recovery and democracy, and in that context we must take action,” I argue.

But aside from a clear rejection of austerity and a push to strengthen the middle class, the president also called on Congress to prioritize immigration reform and gun control.

“Obama’s determination to devote so substantial a portion of his State of the Union Address to the gun debate that is still in formation, and his willingness to make specific and repeated demands for House and Senate votes, provided another indication that he will not let this issue go,” writes Washington Correspondent John Nichols. The president spoke powerfully about Hadiya Pendleton, the 15-year-old who was shot and killed in Chicago just three weeks after singing at his inauguration. “Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence,” said the president. “They deserve a vote.” As Nichols writes, Obama’s emotional call signals his commitment to taking action on gun violence, and his repeated statement, “they deserve a vote,” forcefully condemns the obstructionism that dominates Congress.

While there’s much for progressives to applaud in the president’s address, Aura Bogado reports why Obama’s call for immigration reform is troubling—and why some undocumented immigrants expected more from him. The president emphasized the need for a pathway to citizenship, but only with restrictions like background checks, fees and fines, and English language requirements. “Some of those restrictions might stand in the way of undocumented immigrant workers who labor long days with little pay, and little access to time or educational opportunities that would allow them to learn English,” writes Bogado. And, as Bogado told Democracy Now! this week, with a record number of deportations under his administration, “what people were hoping to hear was a halt to deportations.”

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As for the Republican response, Marco Rubio’s rebuttal to the president was, if nothing else, “remarkable for being unremarkable,” as George Zornick observes. And the only substantive part of the speech was an attack that was riddled with lies about the Affordable Care Act. Zornick fact checks Rubio’s claims and reveals how he’s “explicitly trying to scare people into thinking they’re about to either lose their health insurance or get fired because of Obamacare. But none of this is true.” Take a look at Zornick’s full analysis of Rubio’s rebuttal—and how he failed to make the case that Obamacare is hurting middle-class Americans. Also, as I told ABC News’s The Note on Friday, while Rubio’s water moment dominated coverage of his speech, what we should really be focusing on is his opposition to the Violence Against Women Act.

For more analysis on the State of the Union Address and what this means for our economy, infrastructure and future, listen to my conversation with Brian Lehrer on WNYC this week. And check back to The Nation as we continue to assess the president’s priorities.

The only thing Marco Rubio proved with his rebuttal to the State of the Union was that he is not ready for prime time, Katrina vanden Heuvel tells ABC.

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