Politics

What Was Missing From President Obama’s Final State of the Union

CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016.

President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address presented a sweeping vision for the nation’s future, including calls for more development of clean energy to tackle climate change, the strengthening of voting rights, an end to the Cuban embargo, the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, and the defeat of ISIS.

Yet many of the issues that have defined the nation and rocked Capitol Hill were either missing entirely from the president’s address or only mentioned in passing.

Gun Violence

Despite just having issued a major, controversial executive order to address gun violence, the issue appeared in the State of the Union only as a sentence fragment: “Protecting our kids from gun violence.”

President Obama has called his inability, even in the wake of the mass murder of children, to convince the country to enact gun control reforms his biggest regret. He and First Lady Michelle Obama saved an empty seat at the State of the Union to represent the more than 90 people killed by gun violence in the U.S. each day.

The president’s final State of the Union address, however, contained no proposals for gun safety or pleas to Congress to act on the issue.

Immigration

A few weeks ago, just after the new year, the Obama Administration began sending out agents to round up and deport Central American migrants who failed to qualify for asylum. Human rights experts and Democratic lawmakers blasted the president for resorting to this tactic. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and others have called the situation inhumane, calling instead for the migrants to be given Temporary Protected Status in light of the massive spike in violent crime in their home countries.

Over the course of his presidency, Barack Obama has seen a bill for comprehensive immigration reform stall in Congress while Republican governors have sued to block some of his executive actions that protect millions of immigrants from deportation. Yet this year’s State of the Union speech also included just a single sentence fragment calling for “fixing a broken immigration system.”

Black Lives Matter

Although one of the founders of the influential activist movement sat in the House chamber during the speech, Obama did not mention the Black Lives Matter movement or its goal to reduce the massive number of black men and women killed by American police. He did not address the fact that 986 people were shot and killed by police in 2015. And more generally, his speech did not mention any of the criminal justice reform measures he has called for throughout his presidency, including an overhaul of the U.S. prison system or the end of mandatory minimum sentences.

Reproductive Rights

Over the past year, Planned Parenthood has come under attack from conservatives in Congress who have fought to cut federal funding from the country’s largest women’s health organization. Most Republican candidates for president have support these calls, citing misleading videos about Planned Parenthood’s donation of fetal tissue for medical research. A gunman enraged by these same videos shot three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado in November,

While President Obama has vowed to veto any legislation that defunds Planned Parenthood, he made no mention of reproductive rights during Tuesday’s address. This silence is particularly striking considering that a Supreme Court decision this year could determine the fate of contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights are under attack in statehouses across the country, with nearly 400 bills to restrict access to abortion introduced last year alone.