“But his favorite attack of all is that those who don’t agree with him, that we only care about rich people,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who delivered the GOP response. “. . . Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors — hard-working middle-class Americans who don’t need us to come up with a plan to grow the government. They need a plan to grow the middle class.”
Unlike his second inaugural address, in which liberal social issues defined much of his message, Obama spoke directly Tuesday to a prime-time television audience about what he believes must be done to improve the economy and prepare the next generation of workers for the jobs it is creating.
He will take his message on the road over the next few days, visiting North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois to discuss various economic proposals.
The proposals include spending $40 billion to upgrade bridges as well as starting a fund, known as the Energy Security Trust, responsible for researching ways for more American cars and trucks to run on cleaner fuels.
When Obama spoke Tuesday about immigration legislation, gun control and climate change — issues that rank high on his domestic agenda — he did so by connecting them directly to the American economy.
He called on Americans to cut in half the energy wasted by homes and businesses in the next two decades, something that would benefit the environment as well as the economy. Green jobs, he said, will be the ones helping drive future employment growth.
In perhaps his most passionate moments, Obama also demanded action against gun violence as part of what he called “building new ladders of opportunity” for low-income communities aspiring to rise into the middle class.
He is scheduled to speak about the economic challenges facing cities at a Friday event in Chicago, his home town, where advisers say he will also discuss gun violence.
Obama has endorsed tighter restrictions on gun ownership — including a ban on assault rifles and the adoption of background checks for anyone buying a firearm — in the aftermath of the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six staff members were killed.
On Tuesday, several Democratic lawmakers brought victims of gun violence to the speech and, most notably, first lady Michelle Obama’s guest list included a teacher from Sandy Hook Elementary.
The first lady also sat with a police officer, Brian Murphy, who responded to the massacre at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, and the parents of a girl killed by gunfire in Chicago this month. The 15-year-old girl, Hadiya Pendleton, performed with her high school’s majorette team in last month’s inaugural parade. Michelle Obama attended her funeral in Chicago this past weekend.
“The families of Newtown deserve a vote,” Obama said, much of the chamber coming to its feet. “The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence — they deserve a simple vote.”
Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour over the next three years was among several new proposals that his advisers said were designed to close the income gap.
As part of his job training initiatives, Obama proposed spending what advisers estimated to be $1 billion to build “manufacturing institutes” where private and public-sector agencies, including the Defense Department and Energy Department, collaborate to prepare workers for the challenges of the new economy.
Obama also reiterated his desire to address problems in the U.S. voting system, typified in the last election by the hours-long wait some voters endured to cast ballots in crowded polling stations, many in urban areas.
He mentioned the issue in his victory speech in November and on Tuesday announced a commission to study ways of making voting simpler.
It will be chaired by the lead attorney from Obama’s past campaign, Bob Bauer, and his counterpart from Republican Mitt Romney’s, Benjamin Ginsberg.
Obama spent less time on foreign policy, emphasizing the continuing fight against al-Qaeda and the impending conclusion of the war in Afghanistan — America’s longest — at the end of next year.
He also warned the leaders of Iran that “now is the time for a diplomatic solution” to avert a military confrontation over its uranium enrichment program.
Many of his foreign policy ambitions appeared aimed at improving the nation’s economy, and he mentioned the tumultuous Middle East only in a brief passage, saying he would address the region further during a visit there next month.