President Obama delivers his sixth State of the Union on Jan. 20, 2015. Courtesy: Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

President Obama to Deliver Last State of the Union in January

by PABLO ROA

During his two terms in office, President Barack Obama has addressed the nation six times with his annual State of the Union address. On Jan. 12, he will deliver his final speech as Commander in Chief.

Paul Ryan (R-WI), the newly elected Speaker of the House, officially invited Obama to deliver the address Monday. While Obama is constitutionally obligated to address the nation each year, it is up to the Speaker to invite the president to deliver the speech before a joint session of Congress each year.

Here is Ryan’s letter to the President:

Obama’s speech will mark the 10th time the president has addressed a joint session of Congress and it comes at a time when the nation — and Congress itself — is strongly divided on a number of issues which Ryan alluded to in his letter.

“As we look ahead to the new year, we have both an opportunity and an obligation to find common ground to advance the nation’s interests at home and abroad.”

In his last State of the Union, which he delivered last January, Obama discussed a variety of controversial topics. The president called for free community college for all Americans and new, tougher taxes on financial institutions. The speech came less than two weeks after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, and Obama reiterated the country’s commitment to fighting ISIL and other terrorist organizations.

Obama’s final State of the Union will likely focus on many of the same foreign and domestic issues as his last address, and a lot could be at stake for the president.

“Expect Obama’s last year to focus on pursuing an agenda that he believes will endear him (and his party) to the American people,” junior government and politics and theater major Christopher Walkup said. “With a new survey showing 2/3 Americans support action on climate change, I expect Obama to pursue executive action on climate change regardless of what Congress wants.”

Obama’s legacy may very well be defined by his final year in office. Pressing matters such as global terrorism abroad and the ongoing legal battle over his immigration policies at home could shape American politics in 2016 and beyond, and might ultimately determine how history will look back on Obama’s presidency.

While Obama’s 2016 agenda will undoubtedly be packed, it’ll be difficult for the president to get a whole lot done since both chambers of Congress and most state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. The government will also be working under the shadow of the 2016 presidential election, which will make it even more difficult for the president to push his agenda in his final year in office.

“Obama is clearly trying to defy the idea of a lame duck president,” Walkup said. “If Obama’s final [State of the Union] address is chock full of policy proposals that he will pursue unilaterally, it is likely that 2016 will cement Obama’s legacy as the president who was able to implement substantive policy changes despite an obstructionist Congress.”

Freshman finance major Kamyar Dastani, on the other hand, believes that 2016 won’t have much of an impact on Obama’s legacy, in large part because he won’t be able to accomplish much.

“As far as how much he will get done, I doubt it will be much, because we haven’t seen too much on his part in the past year, as the GOP has been in control of Congress during that time period as well,” Dastani said. 

While Obama’s Jan. 12 speech will be his final State of the Union address, it’ll be interesting to see how much interest it generates among everyday Americans. Only 31.7 million people tuned in to this year’s address, which was the lowest State of the Union viewership in 15 years. 

For Walkup, the excessive partisanship surrounding the address might be part of the reason why people refuse to watch it.

“I always watch the State of the Union, but I cannot fault anyone who is sick of the same old ‘preach one thing, practice another’ style of politics that pervades our country. The State of the Union and the various responses have all become too partisan.”

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