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For State of Union, Obama Faces GOP Congress for First Time

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In this May 21, 2014, photo, President Barack Obama speaks in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, following his meeting with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. After weeks of criticism for his detached response, Obama showed new resolve this week on the growing crisis over veterans' health care. He called Shinseki to a White House meeting and then repeatedly vowed to take action at a news conference. The growing furor over veterans’ health care moved to campaign trail Thursday as congressional candidates from both parties called for Shinseki to be fired.  (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Julie Pace, ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama will stand before a Republican-led Congress to deliver his State of the Union address and try to convince lawmakers newly empowered to block his agenda that they should instead join with him on education, cyberprotection and national security proposals.

With Obama firmly in the legacy-building phase, his address is expected to be as much about selling a story of U.S. economic revival as it is about outlining initiatives. The approach reflects the White House’s belief that it has been too cautious in promoting economic gains out of fear of looking tone deaf to the continued struggles of many Americans.

White House advisers have suggested that their restraint hindered Democrats in the November elections and helped Republicans take full control of Congress for the first time in eight years. But with hiring up and unemployment down, the president has been more assertive about the improving state of the economy in the new year and his prime-time address Tuesday will be his most high-profile platform for making that case.

“America’s resurgence is real, and we’re better positioned than any country on Earth to succeed in the 21st century,” Obama said Wednesday in Iowa, one of several trips he has made this month to preview the speech.

Tuesday is the second-to-last time Obama will take part in the pageantry of the annual presidential address to Congress and a televised audience of millions. By the time he stands before lawmakers next year, Americans will have begun voting in the primary campaigns that will determine his successor.

Mindful of Obama’s fading share of the spotlight, the White House has tried to build momentum for his address by rolling out, in advance, many of the proposals he will outline. Among them: making community college free for many students; ensuring paid sick leave for many workers; cutting the cost of mortgage insurance premiums for some home buyers; pressing for cybersecurity legislation in the wake of the hacking on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the U.S. has blamed on North Korea.

Some proposals are retreads. Most stand a slim chance of getting congressional approval.

The real battle lines between Obama and the Republican-led Congress will be on matters long fought over.

Buoyed by their new majority, Republicans are moving forward on bills to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, change Obama’s health care law and dismantle his executive orders on immigration. The White House has threatened vetoes.

Republicans say that’s a sign of a president who didn’t get the message from voters trying to relegate his party to minority status in the November election. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the president still has a chance to change his tone.

“Tuesday can be a new day,” McConnell said. “This can be the moment the president pivots to a positive posture, this can be a day when he promotes serious realistic reforms that focus on economic growth and don’t just spend more money we don’t have. We’re eager for him to do so.”

Obama isn’t expected to make any major foreign policy announcements. He is likely to urge lawmakers to stop the pursuit of new penalties against Iran while the U.S. and others are in the midst of nuclear negotiations with Tehran. In a news conference Friday, Obama said legislation threatening additional penalties could upend the delicate diplomacy.

“Congress should be aware that if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood that this ends up being at some point a military confrontation is heightened — and Congress will have to own that as well,” he said.

The president also is expected to cite his recent decision to normalize relations with Cuba, as well as defend the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to stop Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and conduct air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Activism

California Pushes Back on Judge’s Decision to Outlaw State’s Ban on Assault Weapons

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings  between 1982 and 2021.

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assault rifle courtesy sctimes

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has appealed a federal court’s decision that declared California’s ban on assault weapons unconstitutional.

Several state officials, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also shared their disagreement with the court’s ruling during a press conference held at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The state partnered with a number of gun control advocate groups for the event, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center.

“We can agree that the decision was disappointing,” said Bonta. “In many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling and a big concern, but we cannot be, and we are not, deterred by this,” he said.

Federal Judge Roger Thomas Benitez presided over the decision in Miller v. Bonta. The case was heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bonta said his office has appealed the decision, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leave the current laws in effect for 30 days.

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation under the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) which bans the use of specific models of firearms classified as assault weapons.

In the pending court case Miller v. Bonta, James Miller, a lawyer who serves as a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners, advocated for the use of the AR-15 rifle. However, the semiautomatic rifle with certain features is an illegal assault weapon according to California gun laws.

Miller argued that AR-15 rifles can be used for self-defense under the second amendment. Miller, who also serves on the Cajon Valley School Board, initially challenged former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on California’s criminalization of AR-15 rifles in April this year.

The ongoing case, which Bonta inherited, sparked heated debates about gun laws in the wake of increasing gun violence and mass shootings.

Breed recalled her personal experience with gun violence growing up in the Bay Area.

“We’re here at San Francisco General Hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here after a friend that I grew up with was shot,” she said.

Breed was joined by Mattie Scott who lost her son to gun violence. The mayor grew up with Scott’s son who was killed in 1996 at a graduation party in San Francisco.

“We don’t want to see another person, another child lost to gun violence in this city in this state in this country,” said Breed.

“We’ve had a law on the books in the state for over 30 years, and a judge decides that our law is no longer constitutional. That law has saved countless numbers of lives,” she said.

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings  between 1982 and 2021. In the court decision, Benitez compared the effectiveness of an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army Knife. Based on the federal court’s ruling, the semiautomatic machine gun is, “Good for both home and battle,” said Benitez.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” the federal judge said in favor of Miller.

Although the murder of Scott’s son remains unsolved, she is an avid activist for social justice related to gun violence.

“The judge who issued this decision is wrong,” said Scott. “It is insulting to read his decision when he called the kind of weapon that killed my son akin to a pocketknife,” she said.

“Pocket knives don’t tear families apart. They don’t shoot up schools, churches, movie theaters, and street corners,” she said in reference to the recent mass shootings across the country.

Contrary Benitez’s belief that AR-15 rifles can be compared to pocket knives, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said that the semiautomatic rifle is a lethal assault weapon designed for the battlefield.

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction. It is used in the battlefield to kill the enemy. It’s a gun that is used in warfare and should not be available or used in the streets of the United States,” said Campbell.

Campbell has treated many bullet wounds on the frontlines of trauma care for more than two decades and has witnessed the devastation a single bullet can cause to the human body.

“It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of patients,” said Campbell describing the impact of an AR-15 bullet in patients he’s treated over the years.

Giffords Law Center Executive Director Robyn Thomas said that the federal judge’s decision to give civilians access to military-grade weapons sets California’s gun laws back by 32 years.

“The decision is not based on the correct interpretation of the law,” said Thomas.  “The comprehensive gun regulation which we have pioneered here in the state is protecting the lives of Californians. It is making us safer,” she said.

In its budget for 2021-22, the state has allocated $200 million for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program. The investment was set up to prevent gun violence in high-risk communities statewide.

“Folks that wax on about public safety and (then) they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision. Shame on them. What frauds,” said Newsom.

The governor urged lawmakers to evaluate the absurdity of the court’s decision to justify the personal use of a rifle that is, “nothing more than a weapon of war,” he said.

The governor said that gun control has always been a bipartisan issue that helped California lawmakers enact, “progressive and aggressive,” gun safety laws that regulated the people’s right to bear arms for over three decades.

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Featured

Juneteenth National Independence Day

Biden said:  “I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president.”

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President Joe Biden signed legislation into law on June 17, 2021, making June 19 a US federal holiday, Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Biden said:  “I have to say to you, I’ve only been president for several months, but I think this will go down, for me, as one of the greatest honors I will have as president.”

“I regret that my grandchildren aren’t here because this is a really, really, really important moment in our history.  By making Juneteenth a federal holiday, all Americans can feel the power of this day and learn from our history–and celebrate progress and grapple with the distance we’ve come (and) the distance we have to travel.”

Biden added:  “Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments.  They embrace them.  Great nations don’t walk away.  We’ve come to terms with the mistakes we made and in remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger. ”

“We can’t rest until the promise of equality is fulfilled for every one of us in every corner of this nation.  That to me is the meaning of Juneteenth.”

It’s the first federal holiday since MLK Jr. Day in 1983 and the eleventh federal holiday recognized by the US federal government.

Juneteenth falls on a Saturday in 2021 so most federal employees will observe on Friday, June 18th.

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Economics

State Could Create 1 Million New Jobs in Transition to Clean Economy

As California transitions to a greener economy, new jobs can be created while other jobs will be lost.

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Headshot of Robert Pollin

As California’s economy reopens, numerous labor union representatives at a news conference on June 10 demanded a safe and equitable transition to the green economy for workers.

Union members made their demands virtually at the conference, also sharing their thoughts on a new related report on California jobs by researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

The research, led by economics professor Robert Pollin, says California can create 1 million new jobs a year through 2030 by investing in energy efficiency, clean renewable energy,  manufacturing/infrastructure, and land restoration/agriculture.

“Our study shows how to get there,” Pollin said.

As California transitions to a greener economy, new jobs can be created while other jobs will be lost.

The report says $76 billion is needed to create 416,000 jobs in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy while $62 billion is needed to create 626,000 jobs in manufacturing/infrastructure and land restoration/agriculture.

Pollin said about 112,000 workers are employed in California’s fossil fuel and bioenergy industries and about 58,000 are expected to lose their jobs by 2030 as those two industries contract and coal use ends.

The damage may be most severe in Kern, Contra Costa, and Los Angeles counties, where 50% of all fossil fuel job losses will occur when the state’s fossil fuel industry contracts, according to the study.

But about 350,000 a year can be created with the investments that Pollin’s team suggests.

About 320,000 of those will be created in Los Angeles County.

Some of the money from the $138 billion to be invested would go toward helping those out of work train and relocate, if needed, to new jobs, according to the report.

About half or $70 billion of the total investment would come from public coffers while the other half would come from private investors.

If President Joseph Biden gets the American Jobs Plan passed, it could provide $40 billion a year for clean energy and infrastructure investments in California, covering about 60% of the $70 billion that may need to come from public funding.

“The Congressional THRIVE Agenda would provide about $100 billion per year for the clean energy, infrastructure/manufacturing and land restoration/agriculture programs we describe,” the researchers said.
Also, the state can borrow to supplement federal funding.

Union members who spoke at the news conference were excited about the prospect for 1 million new jobs, but they want them to be good-paying, union jobs.

Some union members were sober about the prospect of the fossil fuel industry coming to an end.
Norman Rogers, vice president of the United Steelworkers Local 675 said working at a refinery it’s hard not to see the writing on the wall with cars like the Prius and Teslas on the road.

“Now is the time for an equitable transition,” he said.

He wants to make sure workers nearing retirement, those at the mid-career level and newcomers are taken care of.

Dave Campbell, secretary-treasurer for Local 675, said they are prepared to take Pollin’s work to Gov. Gavin Newsom to discuss “securing the funding for this disaster relief and recovery package for fossil fuel workers, in this budget cycle.”

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