Breaking News Emails
The State of the Union is a chance for presidents to lay out a vision for the country and push Congress to take action on their top priorities.
And when President Barack Obama delivers his seventh and final State of the Union Tuesday night, he’ll have a number of outstanding goals he may want to champion in his last year in office.
Here’s a list of the biggest priorities Obama has outlined in past addresses but has not been able to close on:
“I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.” – President Obama on February 24, 2009
Guantanamo Bay still remains open and is considered the most notable 2008 campaign promise President Obama has yet to fulfill. The military prison currently houses over 100 detainees in Cuba, some of whom will be relocated to other countries this year.
President Obama signed an executive order two days after he was sworn in to close the prison by 2010. Since then the administration has continually pushed back any announcement to close it, most recently after the Paris terror attacks in November.
That same month, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the president “would not take anything off the table”—including executive action—to close the military base. PolitiFact rates this promise as “stalled” for the time being.
Banning Assault Weapons
“Police chiefs are asking our help to get weapons of war and massive ammunition magazines off our streets, because these police chiefs, they’re tired of seeing their guys and gals being outgunned. Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress.” – President Obama on February 11, 2013
The president is expected to make his final push for gun control reform, a week after he announced executive actions that would expand background checks and require almost all gun dealers to own a license. The issue was first mentioned in his 2013 State of the Union address, two months after the Newtown school shooting.
His emotional plea for reform has received massive blowback from the GOP, especially on his proposal to ban assault weapons. The president notably left out an assault weapons ban clause in his recent executive actions, a move White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said was “not possible” for the president to implement on his own.
“I call on this Congress to show the world that we are united in this mission by passing a resolution to authorize the use of force against ISIL” – President Obama on January 15, 2015
A month after the 2015 State of the Union, the White House sent Congress a draft resolution for Congress to consider. Yet the move was met with opposition from House leadership who vowed not to pass his authorization proposal or provide an alternative bill.
Last week, Speaker Ryan asked House leaders and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to jumpstart authorization talks. Even without Congress’ authorization of force, the administration has continued to use airstrikes, arm Syrian rebels, and embed U.S. Special Forces in the effort to contain ISIS.
Monthly Meetings with Congressional Leaders
“I'd like to begin monthly meetings with both Democratic and Republican leadership. I know you can't wait.”- President Obama on January 27, 2010
The president’s New Year's resolution quickly fell flat. Per NBC’s count, the White House invited leaders only 25 times since 2010. In October, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan told “Meet the Press” that Obama had invited him “over to have a meal” sometime this year—which could bump the president’s hosting gig to 26 times.
“I’m asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years –- without adding to our deficit. It can be done.” – President Obama on January 25, 2011
President Obama has continually advocated for tax reform since his first State of the Union. While the president was able to cross off some reforms, less legislation has passed since Republicans took control of the House in 2010.
Since his 2011 address, the president suggested a simpler tax code—which many Republican candidates are touting—but Congress has only added more provisions to it. He has also asked Congress to consider lowering the corporate tax rate, eliminate tax cuts for oil companies, and suggested a tax cut of up to $3,000 per child per year to help families. These proposals were not considered by Congress.
“I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses.” – President Obama on January 24, 2012
A bipartisan group of senators—known as the “Gang of Eight”—almost sent an immigration bill to the president in 2013. The bill would have granted temporary residency to undocumented immigrants for 10 years after going through a background check, paying taxes and a $2,000 fine. The bill quickly fell apart after Sen. Marco Rubio pulled out, citing that border security enforcement was not strong enough.
With no deal from Congress, the president signed his second executive order expanding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) in November 2014. It allowed DACA to cover the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and residents, while expanding work permit for young immigrants to every three years.
Though the president has tackled immigration reform on his own, he is far from guaranteeing a legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Ending the Afghan War
“Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue and by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”—President Obama on February 12, 2013
Each State of the Union has outlined the administration’s successes in Afghanistan, but in 2013 the president made his first pledge to end the war by 2014. While combat in Afghanistan has ceased, many still consider the war to be ongoing since 9,800 troops remain on the ground.
Ending the war seems inevitable following the president’s announcement that 5,500 troops would stay in Afghanistan through 2017. While the total number is a sharp drop from the 100,000 troops present in 2010, the president’s promise to withdraw all troops by 2014 and again by 2016 led PolitiFact to rate his claim as a “promise broken.”
Clean Energy Bill
“The shift to a cleaner energy economy won’t happen overnight, and it will require tough choices along the way. But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact” – President Obama on January 28, 2014
President Obama’s push for a clean energy bill in 2009 was taken up by a bipartisan group of senators, Sen. Lindsey Graham and then Sens. John Kerry and Joe Lieberman. The bill showed promise on the onset, but disagreements over offshore drilling proposals mixed with the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico led to a toxic environment in the Senate, ultimately killing the bill.
Talks revolving around another bill picked up in 2015 after both House and Senate energy subcommittees unveiled separate reform packages focused on modernizing energy infrastructure. The House version passed last month, but failed to get the 290 votes needed to overturn a veto the president has already promised. The Senate bill is expected to hit the floor as early as this month, but its passage seems slim.
Affordable Higher Education
“That’s why I’m sending this Congress a bold new plan to lower the cost of community college -- to zero...I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today.” –President Obama on January 15, 2015
President Obama has amplified his call for affordable higher education, often pitching better access as a stepping stone for a stronger economy. In 2010, Congress did send him a bill that capped loan debt at 10% of a student’s disposable income, among other provisions.
Yet the president sees education reform going further. In last year’s State of the Union address, the president pitched the idea of making community college free, a proposal that a Republican-led Congress does not support.
The White House did keep their promise of publishing an online “college scorecard,” which ranks colleges based on affordability and the number of financial aid offered.