As it happened: State of the Union

Key points

  • President Obama delivered his third annual State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress
  • The president attacked income inequality and stressed the need for economic fairness
  • Republican Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels delivered his party's response, calling the president's approach divisive
  • All times EST (GMT -5)
    2030: All timings Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5)

    Welcome to the BBC's live coverage of US President Barack Obama's third annual State of the Union address, in which he is expected to draw battle lines with Republicans ahead of this November's presidential election. We'll follow the speech, including all the reaction, and bring you insights from our correspondents as well as tweets, emails and the best of the blogs.


    President Obama has just left the White House to make the short drive to Capitol Hill for his starring role in what is one of the most closely watched events in the US political calendar. His real audience tonight is not the great and good gathered in the august chamber of the House of Representatives - it's the tens of millions of Americans tuning in from home, the voters whom Mr Obama will ask for a second term later this year.


    Mr Obama has just arrived at the Capitol with First Lady Michelle Obama in the presidential limousine.


    Excerpts released earlier from the speech suggest it will focus on the topical issue of economic inequality: "We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them."

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    In this election year Obama has to create a sense of achievement and optimism. A very difficult task. The centre piece of his pitch will be for "fairness", which Republicans are already saying translates as "class war".


    Republicans are not impressed by what they've already heard of tonight's speech. Mitt Romney called it "derisive rhetoric", while Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who will deliver the party's official response, said the president was resorting to "extremism". John Boehner, the Republican House Speaker, said it was "pathetic", and that he hoped for a bipartisan olive branch.


    The chamber is starting to fill up. In the audience will be Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who is due to submit her resignation from Congress on Wednesday, a year after a lone gunman shot her in the head in Tucson, Arizona. In a letter just released by her office, she promises: "I will recover and will return".


    What to watch for in the address? Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post says the president's team believe his recent poll gain is due to his efforts to put fairness at the heart of the economic debate, so he will riff on that. George Condon, writing in The Atlantic, says the most memorable State of the Union speeches in history have been those that appeal to broader visions of the future, and not just the next year in office.


    A beaming and visibly emotional Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords enters the chamber to a standing ovation, while her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, looks on proudly.


    The justices of the Supreme Court have been welcomed on to the floor of the house. This is one of very few occasions when all three branches of the US government come together into one room. There's not a spare pew in the chamber.


    First Lady Michelle Obama, radiant in an electric blue dress, enters to warm applause. She will watch her husband's address from her gallery box, with a small group of special invitees.


    The first lady is followed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Attorney General Eric Holder. Not long now till Obama takes to the podium...

    Suzanne Kianpour, BBC News, Washington,

    tweets: Secretary Clinton walks down the aisle smiling, waving, hair down, in a black pantsuit, no Bill in sight #sotu


    The hashtag #SOTU is trending on twitter in the US. Who says politics is boring?

    Katty Kay, BBC World News America, Washington,

    tweets: Ahead of #SOTU WH officials tell me they don't even want POTUS on "the same planet" as the GOP candidates. rhetorically, of course.

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    Obama's speech, entitled "An America built to last" is long and detailed, challenging his immediate audience in Congress to rise above party politics. There's a danger that, while book-ended with high emotion, it could sag in the middle.


    Like the most popular guy in Washington, the president enters the floor of the House to applause, shaking hands, slapping backs and exchanging embraces.


    Obama warmly embraces Gabrielle Giffords, to more ringing applause, then takes to the stage, soaking up the applause. Boehner presents him. Showtime...

    @TheFix, in Washington,

    tweets: It is tradition but nonetheless fascinating that Eric Cantor walks in right behind the President. #sotu


    Not all the Supreme Court justices are in attendance tonight. CNN's John King says justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito have skipped the occasion.


    First standing ovation as Obama praises the military's efforts in Iraq: "We gather tonight knowing that this generation of heroes has made the United States safer and more respected around the world." He reminds them that Osama Bin Laden is dead, along with many other senior al-Qaeda operatives.

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    The president hugging Gifford raises the emotional temperature to hot. Now Obama begins by invoking two powerful spirits: patriotism and success. He holds up the armed forces as a model to others (like his audience) as unselfish and focused. It will go down well in a country where the armed forces are just about universally hailed as heroes. Standing ovation. Then a gentle reminder the war is over and Bin Laden is dead.

    Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher,

    tweets: I guess there'll be a lot of cheers from one side and not so many from the other #SOTU to a very divided congress

    @red_red_head, in Texas,

    tweets: You know we love our country when we voluntarily subject ourselves to the vileness about to come out of our televisions. #SOTU #ForAmerica...Dude. Obama's hair looks much grayer tonight. #SOTU


    tweets: Some members of Congress will be live tweeting during #sotu. MIss Manners wouldn't like it, but what do you think? Breach of etiquette?


    Obama says US needs an economy built to last, where hard work pays off, and responsibility is rewarded. "We can do this!" the president says. He tells the crowd that another generation of returning veterans built the strongest economy the world has ever known. Another round of applause.

    Suzanne Kianpour, BBC News, Washington,

    tweets: "for the first time in two decades Osama bin laden not a threat" - potus gets a standing ovation #sotu


    And now, five minutes into his address, the president quickly draws up the battle lines of the debate. He says that enabling all Americans to share in economic success is the "defining issue of our time", calling fairness an American value. A theme we are going to hear alot tonight.


    The president calls the financial system leading up to the crisis "wrong" and "irresponsible". He's pointing the finger at the previous administration for the economic woes he says he is fixing. Will that be a successful tactic?

    Katty Kay, BBC World News America, Washington,

    tweets: Shades of Obama's 2004 speech to the Democratic convention - there are not Democratic or Republican values but American values.

    Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    tweets: Biden and Boehner both look as though they are sucking a mint. Not the same one, of course.


    Recapping some of his achievements of his administration, Obama tells the crowd - to another standing ovation - that he brought the American auto industry back from the brink by betting on American workers.

    2123: NBC News correspondent, Kelly O'Donnell,

    tweets: Unable to applaud due to her limited use of right arm. @gabbygiffords waves left hand while others clap. #nbcsotu

    2126: @onefemalecanuck, in Canada,

    tweets: So. No more war then? "@BBCWorld: Obama opens #SOTU address saying "4 the first time in 2 decades, Osama bin Laden is not a threat to US""


    The President is now talking about the topic of the day, taxes. No not Mitt Romney's taxes. He proposes tax incentives for jobs that will bring jobs home. He says multinational companies should get tax breaks - double if you're an American firm - for creating jobs. "Send me these tax reforms and I will sign them right away" he says.


    Obama is now talking about trade with China "If the playing field is level, I promise you America will always win" gets another round of applause from the House.

    2129: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    Obama used his special soaring preacher voice to talk about how the jobs are coming back. But he is now in the difficult portion, trying to explain how he will bring about an economic success based on manufacturing. Changing the tax code to stop companies moving abroad, rewarding them for staying in the USA. Too wonky for standing ovations? No, he's just got another...

    2130: Christophe Murdock, in Seattle,

    emails: Seeing lots of echoes from Reagan, Eisenhower, Truman in this speech


    It has become something of a tradition in State of the Union addresses to use real people's stories to bring a touch of humanity to the speech. Obama is using the case of Jackie Bray, as an example of how reskilling initiatives can help create new jobs. Ms Bray is smiling in the gallery as the House stands to applaud.


    Obama is focusing on education as part of the solution to the countries economic problems. He proposes that all students stay at high school until they graduate or turn 18, and asks Congress to halt a hike in interest rates on student loans due in July.


    Obama takes on the controversial issue of immigration. He wants to give children of illegal immigrants the chance to earn citizenship. The President also call's on Congress to work on comprehensive immigration reform. The comment draws a nod of agreement from Republican Arizona Senator John McCain.


    As the president calls on Congress to help encourage aspiring entrepreneurs by helping them access funding, the cameras are on Laurene Jobs, Steve Jobs' widow. She's in the gallery box with the first lady.

    @carlquintanilla, in New York,

    tweets: Steve Jobs dropped out of college. #SOTU

    The White House,

    tweets: Obama: we should support...every risk-taker & entrepreneur who aspires to become the next Steve Jobs. #SOTU


    The President's handling of the economy is front and center in this election. Tonight he seems to want to go on the offence about his administrations accomplishments. He boasts that last year more jobs were created than any year since 2005 - more than three million jobs. With the manufacturing sector gaining momentum, he says "the state of our Union is getting stronger". Will the American people be convinced his approach is working?

    2145: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    Notice that so far Obama is entirely unapologetic about the role of government and setting it up clearly as the solution in many cases rather than the problem. Battle lines for the election, but he is not engaging with the enemy's argument. At least not yet.


    The hashtag #StateOfTheUnion is now trending on twitter in the US.


    Despite the White House blocking the Canada to Texas Keystone pipeline days ago, Obama has said he will open "more than 75% of our potential offshore oil and gas resources", but goes beyond, calling for a strategy to develop every source of US energy. Now that comment gets some real applause. And, he adds, it could create 600,000 jobs.

    Katty Kay, BBC World News America, Washington,

    tweets: Obama is succeeding in combining a sense of optimism about the future with a sense of urgency. No wonder Boehner looks unhappy. #sotu


    Minutes after praising the role of government in encouraging innovation in industry, Obama takes the axe to red tape, saying he would clear the way for homeowners to refinance their mortgages more easily. It "will give banks that were rescued by taxpayers a chance to repay a deficit of trust", he adds.

    2151: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    "I will not walk away" He's talking about clean energy but it is going to be a refrain, an answer to the Right's demand to "take out country back".

    2152: Sam Morrell, in Isle of Wight, UK,

    emails: I'm not in to British politics at all but American politics highly interests me! I don't know why but it does :) Watching the speech and what he has said about employment and school students has highly pleased me! Will keep watching because I'm extremely interested....politics in my country can go to hell haha! Politics in the US can never bore me :)


    Obama delivers the populist line that the White House probably hope will be replayed again and again. "No bailouts, no handouts, no copouts", he says, pledging that taxpayers will not bail out big banks ever again, and taking a stand against credit card companies from exploiting customers.


    The BBC's Katty Kay tweets: In last year's SOTU, Obama set up tent in GOP's backyard with emphasis on enterprise, now he's relocating right back to the base's lawn.


    tweets: Is Biden checking bis blackberry? I think he just might be. #sotu


    Obama returns to the theme of taxes, taking another swipe at the man who may be his opponent in November's election, Mitt Romney. The Republican's tax returns released today show he paid an effective tax rate of 14%. The President brings up the so-called Buffett Rule after the investment guru complained that his secretary pays a higher effective tax rate than he does. Incidentally, Warren Buffett's secretary is sitting in the first lady's box tonight.

    @Da7e, in Brooklyn,

    tweets: I'm really impressed by Hilary Clinton's headband's political debut. It seems to be in favor off all the key policies. #SOTU

    2200: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    We've just had the speeches one and only joke. About how it was daft milk was classified as an oil. "I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk." I guess you had to be there.


    Hillary Clinton now trending on twitter in the US.


    tweets: "I like to be able to fire people who provide services to me!" - Obama, later tonight, about the speechwriter who included the milk line.


    In an appeal to the millions of Americans watching tonight, the president says he can't blame them for feeling "a little cynical". Obama proposes an end to "insider trading" by members of Congress, saying he would ban elected officials from owning stocks in industries they impact. That one got a rather lukewarm response.

    2202: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    This is the guts of it, the heart of the argument between left and right. Tax. "No drama, no side issues" Obama says the payroll tax cut, which helps most Americans should be passed right away. But a trillion dollars to help the wealthiest Americans? He says the right choice is to spend it on education, research and a strong military. He says it is not class war but common sense. The battle lines for the election have been drawn...

    TIME columnist, James Poniewozik,

    tweets: Eric Cantor is glaring at Obama like O stole his girl. #sotu

    2205: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    Scolding Washington as "broken" and deriding the debt debate as "a fiasco" goes down well of course, and puts him against Washington. But he is also using it to push for more presidential power - the alternative is "inefficient, outdated and remote". Oh, and he wants to lower the temperature too.


    tweets: Obama bombshell aimed at Eric Cantor: send a bill that outlaws insider trading by Congressmen. That's Cantor looking for the door! #sotu

    @Bohman_Brooks Parkville,

    tweets: Hilary Clinton is trending right now because of a headband? Get a life


    Eric Cantor now trending on twitter in the US.


    Since the president's opening remarks on the death of Osama Bin Laden, there has been almost nothing in his speech about foreign policy. He's just now turned to the topic of the Arab Spring, saying America will always stand against violence and intimidation. The president says he will take "no options off the table" in his efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, while emphasising that a peaceful resolution of the issue is still possible.

    2209: Paul, in Japan,

    emails: Maybe the upcoming election is no longer necessary Obama's truths belong to all of us, Democrat and Republican alike. I look for the Republican response to applaud Obama's plans. Wishful thinking?


    The president reaffirms America's "ironclad" committment to Israel, and highlights US influence in the Pacific - which the president has recently outlined as a major new policy goal for his military and defence policy. Rallying the House, and hopefully TV viewers, Obama says "America is back."

    Katty Kay, BBC World News America, Washington,

    tweets: One of biggest issues facing US is euro crisis - not a single mention in #sotu.

    2212: Elliot Lloyd, in England,

    emails: I study British politics at Lancaster University and from what I can see the US is miles behind the UK in policy. Obama says he wants kids in school until 18, we have that policy already in action. He says he wants better support for students. We have grants already in place. He says he wants people to pay fair taxes, we are by no means perfect but here in the UK the rich already pay higher rates. Is the US finally realising they have deep problems and finally they have a leader ready to take action? Should make us proud in a way that we already have in place laws and policies just being talked about there.

    @indradhoj, in Nepal,

    tweets: Barack Obama is working only to reaffirm the US hegemony. But he talks in a way that he is working to save the world. #sotu

    2215: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    Yes, he ends as he began, on the SEAL team killing of Bin Laden. It is, after all, the one success of his time in office that is celebrated by nearly all Americans. He's used it to talk passionately about a unity that is above politics, that finds "no mission too hard". But this is a very partisan speech, not a blue print but a document for the defense of Obama's presidency.


    And with that, Obama brings his State of the Union speech to a close. He invokes the image of the American flag, and calls on America to work as a team, saying "our journey moves forward", and that "the state of our union will always be strong".


    As Obama steps off the podium, Mike Duffy, Assistant Managing Editor, Time, tells Katty Kay the speech was "upbeat" and "hopeful", saying the speech sounded remarkably optimistic at a time when it is hard to be optimistic.

    2221: Chris, in Denver, Colorado, US,

    emails: Dear Elliot Lloyd, in England. Your country is hundreds of years older than ours, cut us some slack.


    At the Washington Post, Scott Wilson and David Nakamura said the speech can be seen as an outline for the campaign season ahead of him, though it contained relatively few "bold strokes" for reviving the fragile economy.

    2223: Peter, in Arlington, Virginia, US,

    emails: Interesting that the one reference to Russia in the speech is in the context of "accessing new markets". Times have changed.


    As the House empties after Obama's address, The New York Times' Caucus blog says the speech was "more partisan than presidential", and describes Tuesday's address as "full-bore campaigning". He adds that the address marks a tactical shift in the president's approach, even if many of his policy goals remain the same.

    2227: Andrea, in New York, US,

    emails: The president did what he does best. He told us what should be done. Lots and lots of things that should be done. What kept coming to mind was execution. How many of these things will ever come to fruition? The president has a bit of a credibility problem when it comes to actually delivering on his list of "shoulds."

    2227: Knut I. Toensberg, in Norway,

    emails: A fantastic speech that gives us something to believe in in Europe as well at a time with difficulties ahead.


    As is tradition, a few minutes after the President wraps up his speech, the Republicans are given the formal chance to respond. This year the honour goes to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, once touted as possible presidential candidate, has just started speaking from the State House in Indiana.

    2232: Trevor Taylor, in Canada,

    emails: As a Canadian I've never had enough interest in American politics to watch or even listen to an entire Presidential State of the Union Address. This was the first time. I enjoyed every moment of it.


    The governor wastes no time in criticising the president, saying that Obama must know it is not true when he says the state of the union is not grave.


    Daniel's criticises Obama for heading a government that is "big and bossy", and says that the president's approach to fixing the economy has not worked. Republicans believe in a nation of "haves and soon-to-haves", he says.


    The governor of Indiana says the only way up for Americans, and the only way out of debt, is through business. Like the President he invokes the example of Steve Jobs to make the case for business to lead the way out of recession, calling it a most "noble" of occupations. A riposte to the President's criticisms of big business.


    Taking the oft-repeated tack of the Republicans, Daniel's says trimming regulation is his Party's first priority. Preserving entitlements, while reforming the system for future retirees is next on the to-do list, he says, and he attacks Democrats for protecting the system.


    Mitch Daniels now trending on twitter in the US.


    Governor Daniels tries to take the high road, saying Republicans must bring Americans together in a way "we have not always practiced", but blames the bipartisan gridlock on the Obama administration.

    MSNBC TV's, Alex Wagner,

    tweets: Just for the record, Mitch Daniels just called this government "big and bossy." #PagingRickRoss


    Daniels criticises Obama's administration for thinking American's cannot make their own decisions for themselves. "Soon, they'll be picking our own light bulbs", the Indiana governor says.


    Governor Daniel's has just wrapped up the official Republican rebuttal. Now it will be time for the pundits to weigh in with their assessments.


    tweets: Mitch Daniels has the nerve to criticize Obama's spending when he was W. Bush's budget director before becoming Indiana governor. Hmph.


    tweets: appreciate Mitch's realistic and frank response... Offering solutions, ideas, and hope for the future. #GOPresponse #mymanmitch


    Speaking on BBC World, Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky says she thinks she heard a different speech than the one Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels did. She says that in her state, where unemployment is higher than average at 9.8%, there is a sense that things are starting to get better.


    Hashtag #mymanmitch now trending on twitter in the US.


    Mike Duffy, from Time magazine chatting, with the BBC's Katty Kay after Daniels' rebuttal, says the Republican response sounded more downbeat than he expected. He notes that Obama appeared to be energised and cheerful throughout the address - something that has been in short supply at the White House in recent times.


    South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson, a Republican, told the BBC that he appreciated the president's remarks on the military but remained concerned about upcoming cuts to the Pentagon's budget. But he said that the president's remarks on tax cuts were misleading and would destroy jobs.


    tweets: This response to Obama's great speech by Mitch Daniels reminds me of that time when zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    @mikhaill in Urbana, Illinois, US,

    tweets: #RateTheSOTU I give Obama an 8. No speech that trumpets American exceptionism is an A in my book, but I like the highlighting of strengths!

    @jravenet, in Washington, US,

    tweets: 8.5 - he called for a surprisingly strong (and *hopeful*) legislative agenda. Way better than I expected. #RateTheSOTU


    Politico's Darren Samuelson highlighted the presidents comments on energy policy, going so far as to say that some Republican policy ideas were "stolen" in the president's remarks. He "turned tables" on his opposition by saying he would open up 75% of the country's potential offshore resources.

    Suzanne Kianpour, BBC News, Washington,

    tweets: What a mad house! #postsotuscramble

    2254: Jay, in the US,

    emails: As a citizen of the United States, I can safely say that no issue in this country is the fault of one political party or the other. Obama is not to blame for every single problem in the nation because, thanks to our Founding Fathers, the President cannot make a move without the permission of Congress and the Supreme Court. Our country needs to try to work together more because we truly could accomplish so much if the two parties associated more with the title of "American" rather than "Republican" or "Democrat."


    Some more post-match analysis from Ron Fournier, editor-in-chief of the National Journal. Writing for The Atlantic, he says that even though Obama's address was a "veiled plea for re-election", the president put forward only a "tepid agenda".

    2256: Patrick, in Belfast, Ireland,

    emails: I expected a more partisan speech, seeing as he is seeking re-election and during the American media' s attention being drawn towards the Republican Nominee primaries but I saw promise for another term in this current President's resolve and commitment to non-partisan causes. P.S. Eric Cantor's face was much funnier to behold than Obama's attempt at humour.

    2257: Evan Tucker, San Diego, US,

    emails: The founder of this nation warned us not to become engulfed in party politics in his farewell address, and now Obama thinks that he can change the system once it's had hundreds of years to grow. I pray that he can succeed.

    2258: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    This was an aggressive speech, a defiant defence of the role of government as vital for the economy and an assault on a broken Washington. He tried to sound optimistic about the economic direction of the country. This speech has set the battle lines that he would like to draw in the election: fairness for the many, before tax breaks for the few. They called it a blueprint and it did have the feel of an outline, perhaps over-full, perhaps too much detail. While there were some good lines, there were no phrases that will ring down the ages. This was Obama setting out his stall, but not pulling out all the stops.


    And with that, we bring to a close our live coverage of President Barack Obama's third annual State of the Union address. A cheerful president put forward his case for "fairness" in the economy and the tax code, while confidently declaring "America is back". Will it persuade the American people to give him another term in office. Thanks for joining us, and keep up with us on all the reaction to tonight's speech.


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