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2015 State of the Union

Obama Demands ‘Better Politics’ of Congress to Lift Middle Class

Obama: 'The State of the Union Is Strong' 2:43

President Barack Obama told Americans Tuesday night that the "shadow of crisis has passed" after years dominated by wars, recession and the threat of terror, saying that it's now time for the nation to "turn the page."

"America, for all that we’ve endured; for all the grit and hard work required to come back; for all the tasks that lie ahead, know this: The shadow of crisis has passed, and the State of the Union is strong," Obama said in his annual State of the Union address.

In a message that underscored a turn to economic populism, Obama outlined a vision for "middle-class economics" and pledged to "restore the link between hard work and growing opportunity for every American."

Obama: 'The State of the Union Is Strong' 2:43

The president was notably upbeat, highlighting positive economic news and occasionally ad-libbing beyond his prepared remarks. The address came as a new NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll showed that 45 percent of Americans are satisfied with the American economy -- the highest share in 11 years.

In his remarks to the newly GOP-dominated Congress, Obama offered a blunt veto threat of any Congressional proposals to undermine his major legislative achievements to date.

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"We can’t put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance, or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or refighting past battles on immigration when we’ve got a system to fix," he said. "And if a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto."

In a break from previous tradition, the White House posted the full text of the speech online in advance of the address. The text, usually distributed to journalists on an embargoed basis shortly before the address begins, was posted for the public on Medium.com.

On the economy

Under Obama’s plan, which is certain to be blocked in the GOP-led Congress, tax hikes on the wealthy would help finance tax breaks for middle-income Americans, including a $500 boost for families with two working spouses and a tripling of the child care tax credit.

Other proposals the president laid out included a push for more paid sick leave and a free community college education for qualified students.

'Verdict Is Clear, Middle-Class Economics Works,' Says Obama 0:56

"These ideas won’t make everybody rich, or relieve every hardship." he said. "That’s not the job of government."

" But things like child care and sick leave and equal pay; things like lower mortgage premiums and a higher minimum wage — these ideas will make a meaningful difference in the lives of millions of families," he added. "That is a fact. And that’s what all of us — Republicans and Democrats alike — were sent here to do."

On foreign policy

Obama also asked Congress to formally authorize the use of force against the terror group known as ISIS.

Obama Says U.S. Will Dismantle Terror Networks 1:59

"Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad coalition, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group," he said. "We’re also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help us in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism."

He also told Congress that he will veto any additional sanctions on Iran as the administration seeks to finalize a long-elusive nuclear deal with the country.

"There are no guarantees that negotiations will succeed, and I keep all options on the table to prevent a nuclear Iran," he said. "But new sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails — alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear program again. It doesn’t make sense."

And he defended his administration's move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, saying that it ends "a policy that was long past its expiration date."

"Our shift in Cuba policy has the potential to end a legacy of mistrust in our hemisphere; removes a phony excuse for restrictions in Cuba; stands up for democratic values; and extends the hand of friendship to the Cuban people. And this year, Congress should begin the work of ending the embargo," he said.

On Ferguson and partisanship

In his remarks, Obama also addressed partisanship and called for more reasonable debate between Republicans and Democrats.

Obama: 'I Still Think the Cynics Are Wrong' 0:48

Among the most heated controversies he mentioned were the deaths of two unarmed black men in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.

"We may have different takes on the events of Ferguson and New York. But surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed," he said. "Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift."

Addressing members of Congress directly, he imagined a future in which politicians break out of "tired old patterns" of constant fundraising, bitter arguments and constant concern about the political implications of every move.

"A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than “gotcha” moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives," he said.

But the partisan divide was on display when Obama noted that he has "no more campaigns to run."

When knowing chuckles and murmurs of approval came from Republicans in the audience, the president added with a smile: "I know because I won both of them."