12 February 2013 Last updated at 23:19 ET

State of the Union: Obama pledges to reignite economy

Key Points

  • President Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress and a television audience of millions
  • With millions of Americans still out of work, the speech focused on the economy and thorny issues such as immigration and gun control
  • Senator Marco Rubio delivered the Republican party response followed by a Tea Party riposte from Senator Rand Paul. All times EST (GMT -5)

    Hello and welcome to the BBC's live coverage of US President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech, in which he is expected to set out his second-term agenda. 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.


    Obama will address a joint session of Congress, watched by millions of television viewers. White House officials have said ahead of the speech that the president will talk about his plans to revive the sluggish US economy, and also touch on hot-button issues such as immigration and gun control.


    Obama administration officials say tonight's address is the second act in a single play - the curtain-raiser was his inaugural address on 21 January. In that speech, Obama set out an ambitious legislative agenda and sought to link liberal ideas with America's founding values.


    After Obama's finished, Florida Senator Marco Rubio will deliver the Republican party's rebuttal. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will then give a "Tea Party" riposte to Obama's speech, underscoring conservative divisions.


    If you're keen to keep up with Republican reaction to the speech as it is delivered, House Republicans launched a website today on the party's response. The Republican National Committee is also using the hashtag #NotSerious for those following on Twitter. In our tweets, we'll be using #SOTU.


    The BBC's Suzanne Kianpour tweets: Members of Congress are starting to make their way into the chamber ahead of the #SOTU. So far have spotted Sens Leahy & Flake @bbcnewsus


    So, who else is in attendance tonight? Sitting in First Lady Michelle Obama's box will be Alan Aleman, a "Dreamer" who's become something of a poster child for immigration reform. He will rub shoulders with Apple chief executive Tim Cook.


    President Obama has just left the White House. He's making the short drive down Pennsylvania Avenue to the US Capitol, ready to make his address in just under 30 minutes.


    Michelle Obama is making her way over too, although she's travelling there in a separate car. Tonight, she's in a deep red knee-length jacket.


    Kaitlin Roig, a teacher from Sandy Hook elementary school where 26 people were massacred in December, and Jack Andraka, a teenager who invented a pancreatic cancer test, and who recently spoke to the BBC, will also watch from the first lady's box.


    Obama will announce tonight that 34,000 US troops - about half of US forces in Afghanistan - will be home by this time next year, White House officials have said. The US is planning to end its combat operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.


    Correspondents say the address will focus on kitchen-table issues, such as the sluggish US economy. Obama's expected to announce plans for investment in education, clean energy and manufacturing, although Republicans are likely to dig their heels in at the prospect of more government spending.


    As the great and the good of Washington enter the chamber, here's a rare photo of a bespectacled Vice-President Joe Biden, chatting with Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid.

    Vice-President Joe Biden enters the House of Representatives, 12 February 2013

    Correspondents say the president's legislative achievements of the next year could shape his second-term legacy. This morning on MSNBC's show Morning Joe, senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett said Obama felt a "fierce urgency" to realise his plans and would use the speech to urge Congress to act.


    The BBC's Katty Kat tweets: There will be 2 GOP #SOTU responses tonight - Rubio and Rand Paul for Tea Party. Says it all about state of the party.


    Outside Washington, Americans will be tuning in around the country to watch the president speak. Ahead of the address, the BBC's Mark Mardell went to Colorado to check in with local Republicans. He found that even as they recognise the need for change within their own party, they remain steadfastly opposed to much of the president's agenda.


    Not for the first time, First Lady Michelle Obama is wearing a sleeveless dress that shows off her toned arms. As she entered the House of Representatives, she was followed by the Obama cabinet, who are making a slow entrance down the aisle as they stop to shake hands on the way.


    Washington political trivia: Tonight the designated survivor is Stephen Chu, the outgoing secretary of energy. He will spend the evening at an undisclosed location in the event of a massive catastrophe.


    The BBC's Suzanne Kianpour tweets: Lots of members of Congress wearing green ribbons to remember the victims of #SandyHook #Newtown here at #SOTU @bbcnewsus


    President Obama is making his way into the chamber now. The House is packed and everyone is on their feet.

    Anhtuan Nguyen Huynh, Reno

    emails: The societal infighting and Obama's rhetoric on jobs, guns, investments, Republican class warfare, etc in tonight's SOTU won't do the USA an economic favour. Obama's protectionism policies are detrimental and driving up the deficit in the economic game.


    Obama is all smiles as he makes his way down the aisle, shaking hands and making small talk, something the president is particularly good at.


    Other dignitaries spotted in the chamber tonight include former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. They have now become vocal advocates for gun control after Ms Giffords was shot in the head in 2011 and following December's school massacre in Connecticut. Gun laws are likely to make an appearance in the president's remarks.


    The applause continues as Obama greets his cabinet members, exchanging a quick pat on the back with Secretary of State John Kerry. He moves on to shake hands with all the Supreme Court justices in attendance and senior military commanders.


    Obama has finally made it up on to the podium. He has shaken hands with the vice-president and with House Speaker John Boehner, who are standing side by side. He blows a kiss to the first lady as Boehner presents the president to the chamber.


    Obama has opened his speech by invoking former President John F Kennedy's words that the two main political parties should not be rivals in power, but partners in progress. And the first item he has to report is that after a decade of war, troops are coming home. That wins Obama a standing ovation in the opening moments of his remarks.


    Obama says his government must work on behalf of the many, not just the few, and open the door of opportunity to every child across the nation.


    Earning his third standing ovation of the evening, the president calls on government to "reignite the true engine of America's economic growth - a rising, thriving middle class".


    Obama appeals to lawmakers to put the "nation's interests before party". Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is on her feet clapping.


    tweets: Congress is wearing ribbons color-coded by shooting incident. Can't make this up #SOTU #guns


    Obama moves on to say budget decisions will have a major impact on the economic recovery. He says the government is more than half way to cutting $4 trillion from the national deficit. But he warns that "sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts" due to take effect at the end of March would hurt the economy, calling the measure a "really bad idea".


    The president takes direct aim at Republican lawmakers who have proposed the military should be shielded from the cuts, by making even deeper scale-backs to discretionary spending. He calls that plan "even worse". "We can't just cut our way to prosperity," he says, in a familiar refrain, "we need a balanced approach to deficit reduction."


    Obama pledges to make changes to Medicare that would reduce the cost of the programme by the same amount proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission, and adds that while the government "must keep the promises we've already made", he is open to further reforms.


    Next up: tax reform. Obama calls for a plan that would create jobs and bring down the deficit. The chamber is on its feet.


    Republican House Majority leader Eric Cantor doesn't look too impressed.


    Obama has now made an impassioned appeal for Congress to pass a full budget. If they do, it would be the first time one was approved since 2009. Obama urges lawmakers to replace "reckless cuts" with "smart savings" and urges lawmakers to set aside the brinksmanship that "stresses consumers and scares investors".

    2132: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    writes: "This is a thickly detailed speech but at heart is as confrontational as his inaugural address - he's giving Congress a stern lesson on why they can't again head towards the fiscal cliff. If Republicans look a bit grim now, they are going to feel worse by the time he gets to the end."


    "Let me repeat - nothing I'm proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime," Obama says, as he moves on to talk about government investments that he says would give the US economy a much-needed lift.


    "We must do more to combat climate change," says Obama. Another standing ovation. Twelve of the hottest years on record have all come in the last 15, he adds.


    He says we can view events such as last year's devastating super-storm Sandy as anomalies. "Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science and act before it's too late," he adds. Obama says if Congress doesn't act on climate change, he will.

    The BBC's Suzanne Kianpour

    tweets: This year, Apple will start making Macs in America again" - Apple CEO Tim Cook, in First Lady's box, smiles wide #SOTU


    Obama pledges he will still "keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits", moments after saying the US has to keep pace with China in developing clean energy sources.


    Obama unveils a "Fix-It-First" programme that he says would help get people back to work by repairing bridges and other aging infrastructure. He promises to invite private investment in the programme, so that taxpayers don't have to carry the entire financial burden.


    Finally, Obama urges lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow families with solid credit scores to refinance their mortgages at today's lower rates. "What are we waiting for?" Obama asks Congress. "Send me that bill."


    Obama talks about education. He says he wants to work with the states to make high-quality pre-school accessible to every child in America. He promises it would save taxpayer dollars later by "boosting graduation rates, reducing teen pregnancy, even reducing violent crime".

    New York Times' Steven Greenhouse

    tweets: Obama is pushing activist agenda: more taxes on wealthy, higher min wage, manufacturing centers, fighting climate change. GOP not happy #sotu


    Obama says he also wants to redesign high-school education, that he will reward schools that partner with colleges and employers, and that "focus on science, technology, engineering, and math" - the skills needed to get jobs now and in the future.

    The BBC's Katty Kay

    tweets: So far, the biggest surprise the amount of time spent on climate change - and how high up it was. But what are those executive orders?

    The BBC's Jonny Dymond

    tweets: 'take a vote and send me that bill' says #Obama, revealing much weakness behind the speech: Congress won't play

    The BBC's Michelle Fleury

    tweets: #SOTU Obama says the housing market is healing but that too many Americans still can't get a mortgage.


    "Now's the time to get it done," Obama says of immigration reform. Another standing ovation. Here's a subject he can find common ground on with Republicans, whose tough rhetoric on undocumented workers has been blamed for the party's low support among Hispanics.


    On immigration, Obama also calls for better border security - but also a path for earned citizenship and a revamp for the legal immigration system. Obama outlined his plan recently at a high school in Las Vegas. "Let's get it done," he says.


    Obama calls on Congress to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. He says it can make the difference between "groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction". He proposes tying the minimum wage to the cost of living, "so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on". The 2012 Republican vice-presidential nominee, Paul Ryan, does not look convinced.

    The BBC's Mark Mardell

    tweets: #sotu Let's get it done - send me a bill - take a vote - Obama's mantra of the night


    Obama says he wants to strengthen the middle class, as he pledges to remove financial barriers to marriage for low-income households and encourage fatherhood. "What makes you a man isn't the ability to conceive a child; it's having the courage to raise one," the president says.


    Republican Representative Darrell Issa, no friend of the Obama administration, has reportedly heard enough and left the chamber.

    The BBC's Ben Wright

    tweets: 'Let's get it done'. The optimistic, weary catchphrase threading through Obama's speech


    Late in his speech, Obama turns back to Afghanistan, saying that US troops are going to transition into a support role as he announces that 34,000 troops will come home by the end of this year.

    Canadian MP Bernard Trottier

    tweets: Watching Pres Obama's State of the Union address I'm grateful for our Westminster system. US system is good for 18th century.


    Obama pledges that US commitment in Afghanistan will extend beyond 2014, when US combat operations are due to end, "but the nature of our commitment will change".

    The BBC's Suzanne Kianpour

    tweets: As Obama delivers #SOTU speech w/ Biden & Boehner behind him, the Speaker's office emailing out fact check infographics re: jobs

    The BBC's Jonny Dymond

    tweets: Many many reminders of the inauguration speech in #Obama #sotu


    Obama is also urging action against cyber-attackers. He says that earlier today, he signed an executive order "increasing information-sharing, and developing standards to protect our national security, our jobs, and our privacy", but tells Congress they must also act.


    After its underground nuclear test earlier today, Obama threatens North Korea with "further isolation".


    Moving on to trade, Obama says the world offers not just threats but also opportunities. He pledges to launch talks for a "comprehensive" transatlantic trade agreement with the 27 members of the European Union that would support "millions of good-paying" US jobs.

    The BBC's Kate Dailey

    tweets: Minimum wage, universal pre-K, infrastructure fixes: the progressive bingo card is filling up


    Obama also promises to spread American values overseas, saying the US must remain the "anchor of strong alliances" across the world, and that in the Middle East the US must support "stable transitions to democracy". He lambasts the Syrian regime for "murdering its own people".


    Meanwhile, Obama says the US will remain "steadfast" as an ally to Israel, and mentions his forthcoming visit there.

    The BBC's Jonny Dymond

    tweets: Transatlantic free trade agreement sounds dull, actually a big deal which would add jobs and growth #SOTU


    Obama moves on to say that he wants to improve the "voting experience" in the US. Noting that in the last election some people waited for "five, six, seven hours" to cast their ballots, and says he wants to see a non-partisan commission look into how to improve the situation.


    Turning to gun control, Obama urges lawmakers to "come together to protect our most precious resource: our children".


    The president invokes the memory of Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people were gunned down at a primary school in December. He says common sense reforms such as universal background checks and banning large ammunition magazines must be approved, so that law enforcement officials don't get "outgunned" on the streets.


    Obama says gun-control bills deserve a vote because "more than a thousand birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries have been stolen from our lives by a bullet from a gun". The president recalls Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot in a Chicago park after school. The 15-year-old band majorette died days after performing at the president's inauguration in January.


    "They deserve a vote," Obama says as he reels off a laundry list of mass shootings from Newtown to Aurora to Tucson. The applause is among the most raucous of the night.

    The BBC's Claudia Milne

    tweets: Wow - maybe it will be different this time on guns #sotu #newtown rousing applause


    Obama calls on politicians to "look out for one another", the way ordinary Americans look out for each other. He points to some of the people sitting with the first lady in her box - like Desiline Victor, 102, who waited six hours to vote, or police officer Brian Murphy, who survived a hail of bullets at a shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.


    The president wraps up by saying Americans must "accept certain obligations to one another". He gets a standing ovation as he steps down from the podium.


    The president is milling around on the floor of the House, shaking hands after delivering a wide-ranging speech that touched on everything from housing and immigration to gun control and climate change. He is going to be followed shortly by Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who will rebut Obama's comments on behalf of the Republicans.

    2228: Mark Mardell BBC North America editor

    describes the speech as a "full-blown progressive agenda" in which the president threw down "challenge after challenge" to Republicans in Congress.


    Politifact, a fact-checking organisation, has already been running the numbers on what the president said on the podium. On jobs, their Truth-o-meter says Obama's claim that 500,000 manufacturing jobs have been created in the last three years is true.


    Florida Senator Marco Rubio has just started speaking. He's starting off with his own story as a Cuban-American, the son of a bartender and a waitress.


    Rubio kicks off with a critique of Obama's economic policies, saying the president believes the free enterprise economy is "the cause of our problems".


    Rubio continues: "More government will not bring you more opportunities, it will limit you. And more government will not inspire new ideas, new businesses and jobs in the private sector. It will create more uncertainty."


    Rubio says many small companies are having to cut back on their workforce under the burden of "Obamacare" - the signature Affordable Care Act passed in 2010.


    Rubio: "Mr President, I don't oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbours."


    Rubio: "There's no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost four trillion dollars. That's why I hope the president will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy. "


    Rubio says growing the energy industry is key to bringing back economic growth. He says solar and wind energy have to be part of the plan, but more federal land must be opened for oil and gas exploration "in a secure and responsible way".


    Rubio: "President Obama created more debt in four years than his predecessor did in eight."


    Rubio ducks down quickly to take a slug of a glass of water.


    "We were all heartbroken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut," Rubio says, "but undermining the second-amendment rights of law-abiding Americans" is not the right way to react.


    Rubio turns to Medicare, a popular healthcare programme for the elderly. He says he would "never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors", but warns: "Anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it".


    A smiling Rubio finishes: "God bless our president, God bless the United States of America."


    Rubio closed his remarks on a note of optimism, saying economic liberty is the way to secure a prosperous future for the next generation of Americans.


    The Cuban-American Republican isn't the last speaker of the night. A few minutes from now there will be a a second riposte to the president's remarks - from Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. He's from the same party as Rubio, but he's delivering a separate speech that will reflect the views of the conservative Tea Party movement.


    Rand Paul says: "What America needs is not Robin Hood, but Adam Smith," (the 18th Century Scottish author of capitalist bible The Wealth of Nations).


    The BBC's Michelle Fleury tweets: "Republican Marco Rubio's response: "The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. " #SOTU"


    Scaling back on government spending is the focus of Paul's comments, as he says America must push back against the notion that people can "get something for nothing".


    As Rand Paul speaks, it's worth noting that the main US TV networks, not even Fox, are tuning in.


    Rand Paul appeals to ordinary Americans, telling them he knows action to cut the deficit won't come from Congress. He also attacks Democrats in the Senate for not voting on a budget for years, saying the "display of incompetence" cannot continue.


    On Rubio's mid-speech hydrating, HuffPost Politics @HuffPostPol tweets: WATERGATE! twitpic.com/c389j9


    The Kentucky senator offers his own five-year plan as a route to fiscal sanity for Washington.


    Rand Paul vents his frustrations with inaction in Congress. He tells viewers that if their representatives in Washington are not effective, "limit their terms and send them home."


    Rand Paul wraps up by saying that the nation must rediscover its respect for its founding documents. Here endeth the State of the Union action for tonight.


    @gov tweets: 1.36 million total #SOTU-related Tweets from 9:10 pm ET (President's entrance) to 10:44 pm ET (end of #GOPResponse). Was 767k in 2012.


    And with that, we end our live coverage of the State of the Union speech. A confident Obama put forward a sweeping and ambitious agenda, one that is likely to fuel debate among pundits and politicians alike. Thanks for joining us, and keep up with our main news story for all the reaction to tonight's speech.


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