SOTU: Obama Addresses Gun Control, Immigration - 8 News NOW

SOTU: Obama Addresses Gun Control, Immigration

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's State of the Union address is producing fleeting moments of bipartisanship in a divided Congress.

Republicans are sitting with Democrats. Republicans have hugged Democrats. Republicans have even warmly greeted a Democratic president.

After Obama slowly walked down the center aisle, he made a special effort to talk to Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who only returned to Washington last month after suffering a massive stroke.

The tradition of the president's address to the joint session of Congress packs the House chamber. Lawmakers rise in unison to cheer and applaud on some issues, like support for Mideast ally Israel or support for veterans, or sit silently in opposition.

Gun Control

Obama emphasized the need for more background checks for gun buyers in his State of the Union address, saying that overwhelming majorities of Americans favor the proposal as a way to keep firearms from criminals.

Obama said Tuesday night that senators from both parties are working on legislation to prevent people from legally buying guns and then giving them to criminals.

He said police chiefs want lawmakers to ban "weapons of war" and magazines carrying large amounts of ammunition so law enforcement officers won't be outgunned.

The president proposed all those ideas after the December killings of 20 first-graders in Connecticut. But expanded background checks is the only one he described as having vast support -- a description that matches public polling and reflects congressional sentiment too.

al-Qaida

Obama said al-Qaida is a "shadow of its former self," and does not pose the kind of threat to America that requires tens of thousands of U.S. troops to fight abroad.

The president said U.S. troops will continue pursuing the remnants of al-Qaida in Afghanistan for a number of years.

He noted that various al-Qaida affiliates have emerged elsewhere in the world in recent years, including in Yemen and Somalia. Instead of sending large numbers of U.S. troops to fight there, he said, the U.S. aim will be to help those countries provide their own security and to help allies fight al-Qaida, as the French have done in the African nation of Mali.

Immigration

Obama is renewing his call for a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system, telling Congress during his State of the Union address: "Now let's get this done."

He asked for a bill in the next few months and pledged to sign it "right away."

Obama wants legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., among other steps.

Eight Republican and Democratic senators are working to complete a bill by next month.

An aide says the four Democrats in the group -- Chuck Schumer of New York, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennet of Colorado -- plan to update Obama on their progress during a meeting at the White House on Wednesday.

Minimum Wage

Obama wants an increase in the minimum hourly wage from the current $7.25 to $9 by the end of 2015. Obama also proposes the minimum wage be required to keep pace with inflation.

The current rate took effect in 2009. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have higher minimum wage rates than the federal requirement. Washington state's is highest at $9.19.

The proposal, which Obama made during his State of the Union address Tuesday, is sure to draw opposition from business groups and congressional Republicans who say higher rates increase costs and reduce employment. The White House says the new wage would raise pay for more than 15 million workers and indirectly help millions more.

Obama wants the rate to increase in stages over three years.

Climate Change

Obama is telling Congress that he will take action to combat climate change if lawmakers don't do it themselves.

Obama said Congress should write legislation that would give polluters market-based incentives to reduce the emissions blamed for global warming. He said if lawmakers don't do that, his administration will craft executive actions that would cut pollution, help get communities ready for the effects of climate change and encourage increased use of cleaner sources of energy.

Obama says progress can be made against climate change without interrupting economic growth.

The president says that with extreme weather getting more intense and increasingly frequent, lawmakers can believe those events are a coincidence or they can act before it's too late.

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