Obama’s Guests at State of the Union Include Syrian Refugee and Mexican Immigrant


From left, Refaai Hamo, a Syrian refugee, Oscar Vazquez, a Mexican immigrant, and Jim Obergefell, a petitioner in the same-sex marriage case last year, will be guests at the State of the Union address on Tuesday. Credit From left, Carlos Osorio/Associated Press; Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Smith, via U.S. Army; Luke Sharrett for The New York Times

A Syrian refugee, a former illegal immigrant who went on to serve in the United States Army and the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case last year legalizing same-sex marriage will be among the official guests on Tuesday as President Obama delivers his final State of the Union address.

The three men — Refaai Hamo, Oscar Vazquez and Jim Obergefell — will be joined by almost 20 other members of the armed services and civilians associated with the issues and initiatives that have defined Mr. Obama’s presidency, and that he hopes will become his legacy.

The White House announced Mr. Obama’s full guest list on Sunday for an address to a joint session of Congress that officials said would focus more on the issues and challenges that are shaping the future of the country than specific policy proposals.

The guests are intended to illustrate “who we are as Americans: inclusive and compassionate, innovative and courageous,” according to the White House announcement. The invitees — some high profile, most conspicuously not — will sit in the House gallery with Michelle Obama, the first lady.

Mr. Hamo, a scientist who fled Syria amid civil war, settled with four of his children in Troy, Mich., on Dec. 18. After the Humans of New York, a photo blog, featured his story, readers donated more than $450,000 to support the family, and Mr. Obama publicly welcomed him to the country.

Mr. Obergefell, a real estate agent from Cincinnati, sued the State of Ohio, which had outlawed same-sex marriage, and ended up as the lead plaintiff on the Supreme Court case that in June guaranteed gay couples across the country the right to marry.

Mr. Vazquez, who was brought to the United States illegally as a child and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 2009, decided to return to his home country of Mexico and re-enter the country legally. When he returned to the United States, Mr. Vazquez joined the Army and served one tour of duty in Afghanistan, eventually earning American citizenship.

The president’s other guests include the chief executive of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, whose company has pledged millions in education funding and increased paid leave for its employees, and Sue Ellen Allen, a former Arizona inmate who founded an organization that supports incarcerated and released women there.

Two of the guests have ties to Mr. Obama from his first presidential campaign.

One of them, Edith Childs, was a county councilwoman in Greenwood, S.C., when she met Mr. Obama in 2007 on the campaign trail and delivered what became an unofficial slogan in his two presidential campaigns: “Fired up! Ready to go!” The other, Earl Smith, gave the president a military patch that he had worn in Vietnam and that Mr. Obama carried with him for the rest of the campaign.

Three guests, including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, have links to the Affordable Care Act, which remains a divisive issue almost six years after its passage. Others have links to other priorities of Mr. Obama’s, like gun control, criminal justice reform and climate change.

Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone of the Air Force, who helped take down a gunman on a train in France in August, will also join Mrs. Obama in the box, where the White House elected to leave one seat empty to represent victims of gun violence in the United States.


Why Obama’s tears are so revolutionary


Sometimes a historic moment arrives like an IMAX movie: a big, loud, jarring event that bends the arc of history.

Other times, though, it sneaks up on people. It seems modest at the time, but only later do Americans realize it marked a turning point — that something new had burst onto the national stage and the old rules no longer applied.

Did President Barack Obama have such a moment this week when he wept openly about children killed by gun violence?

Some say yes, and that Obama’s tears were more radical than people realize. Most people know the backdrop: While announcing executive orders Tuesday to strengthen gun control laws, Obama halted as the cameras clicked. He tried to regain his composure, but then the tears flowed as he talked about 20 schoolchildren murdered by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.

Some commentators later said the moment was remarkable because Obama is known for his apparent Spock-like emotional detachment.

But the moment was more than remarkable; it was revolutionary, several historians and political scientists say.

“This is the most emotion an American president has ever shown on camera,” says Jerald Podair, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. “I can almost guarantee that when there is some sort of collage shown of this president’s presidency, this one moment will be in there.”

Obama didn’t just get weepy, Podair and others say. He introduced something new to American public life on three levels: spiritual, political and presidential.

He showed the ‘power of powerlessness’

Remember the Hollywood movie “Air Force One”? In the 1997 film, a group of Russian terrorists hijack the President’s plane while he’s aboard. But they messed with the wrong President. The commander-in-chief, played by Harrison Ford, takes back control of Air Force One, trading punches and getting into gunbattles with the terrorists.

President George W. Bush displayed the "git 'er done" attitude on an aircraft carrier in 2003, where he declared "Mission Accomplished" in Iraq.

President George W. Bush displayed the “git ‘er done” attitude on an aircraft carrier in 2003, where he declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.

 The hit movie reinforced the notion of the action-hero President, a powerful man who knows how to “git ‘er done.” It’s why some historians talk with undisguised admiration about the mean streak of President Andrew Jackson, who once killed a man for insulting his wife; the frontier-honed strength of the towering Abraham Lincoln; or even the Machiavellian cunning of Lyndon Johnson, who once said he couldn’t trust a man “unless I have his pecker in my pocket.”

But Obama was inspired by a new script when he wept openly before a White House audience, says Meg Mott, a political science professor at Marlboro College in Vermont.

Obama is the first U.S. president to come out of the African-American tradition, where pastors and congregations are encouraged to be publicly open about their pain, and even failures, Mott says. She noted the political context of Obama’s tears: He was admitting that he couldn’t get gun control legislation passed even after Sandy Hook because the issue had become so polarized.

“He is supposed to be the most powerful person in the world,” Mott says. “He is the leader of the free world. But he’s crying as if to say there’s nothing I can do but accept and admit the powerlessness of my situation.”

That’s not what American political leaders have traditionally done, she says. Most of them have long been defined by white Protestant sensibilities: Pain is best kept private; a little sniffle here and there and maybe a welling up in public, but that’s it.

“Most of our white Protestant leaders have made it a point of pride to keep their feelings buttoned up,” Mott says.

Obama is different. He comes out of the black church tradition, where leaders don’t hide how they feel. His appreciation for the black church and its most famous leaders is well known. He keeps a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office. He invoked King’s phrase, “the fierce urgency of now,” in his White House gun control speech. And, like a black preacher feeling the moment, he departed from his text to improvise during that speech.

President Obama keeps a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office.

President Obama keeps a bust of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the Oval Office.

During worship services in black churches, it’s not uncommon to hear people publicly “testify” about their hardships or cry out for help. There’s a moral authority in powerlessness — being able to forgive, show mercy and “keep on keeping on” though the situation seems hopeless.

Obama “has experienced that power, the power of powerlessness,” Mott says.

Perhaps the only national political leader to approach Obama’s moment of naked vulnerability was a politician who knew something about suffering. His name was Robert Kennedy.

Kennedy’s moment came in Indianapolis in 1968. He was running for president and had stopped in a black community to speak when he learned that King had been assassinated. Fearing a riot, he stepped onto the back of a flatbed truck and broke the news to the shocked crowd.

He then invoked his suffering by referring to the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy:

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to … be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” he said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”

There was no riot in Indianapolis that night. Two months later, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated.

“He had to stop Indianapolis from exploding,” Mott says. “Rather than telling the crowd that I can solve this problem because I’m a Kennedy, he said we can work together because I know what it’s like to lose someone shot by white people.”

A black man becomes ordinary

Presidents aren’t just political leaders. They’re paternal figures. George Washington was called “the father” of our nation. Lincoln was known as “Father Abraham.” These intimate designations speak to the close bond many Americans have traditionally forged with their presidents.

Obama, though, has long struggled to be accepted as “one of us” because he is so different from his Oval Office predecessors. Some critics have tried to turn his uniqueness into a political liability. The accusations — of being a socialist, of not hailing from “real America,” the birther conspiracies — all convey a suspicion that Obama is an interloper in the White House.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave voice to that suspicion last year when he declared at a dinner that “I do not believe that the President loves America.”

“He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me,” Giuliani said. “He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

King's eyes appeared to tear up during his "mountaintop" speech the night before he was assassinated.

King’s eyes appeared to tear up during his “mountaintop” speech the night before he was assassinated.

That claim, though, won’t carry the same sting in the wake of Obama’s tears over the death of American schoolchildren, says Podair, the Lawrence University historian.

Here was a black man weeping over the murder of white children. Though Obama also invoked black children struck down by violence in Chicago in his speech, Podair noted that the moment the President broke down is when he cited the shootings of children at a predominantly white elementary school.

At that moment, Podair says, Obama stopped being the Oval Office interloper with the funny name.

“When he cries very movingly on camera, and he’s crying over white children, he is now the father-in-chief,” Podair says. “They are his children. He is clearly shedding tears over white children who he considers his children as well. It’s a major moment.”

The moment is also major because of how America has traditionally viewed black men, Podair says. They have long been viewed as “The Other” — the Great Criminal Menace, the Great Athlete, the Great Entertainer.

But Obama was just a man and a father when he cried, Podair says. Any ordinary person could relate to what he was feeling.

And for a black man to be ordinary in America is, well, extraordinary, Podair says.

“He’s not ‘The Other’ anymore,” Podair says. “He’s us, and in many ways, that’s Obama’s greatest triumph.”

Redefining presidential masculinity

It was one of George Washington’s greatest moments. And it took place away from the battlefield.

American troops were on the verge of mutiny in the waning days of the Revolutionary War. They were angry because Congress had failed to deliver back pay and pensions. About 500 officers organized a meeting to discuss whether troops should seize control of the new government.

George Washington disarmed a mutiny with a display of emotional vulnerability.

George Washington disarmed a mutiny with a display of emotional vulnerability.

Washington heard of the meeting, showed up and asked for permission to speak. He told the troops they had legitimate claims and that Congress would eventually honor its promises. Then he did something unexpected. He opened a letter to read but hesitated. No one knew what was wrong until Washington pulled out a pair of spectacles that many officers never knew he owned.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “you must pardon me, for I have grown not only gray but blind in the service of my country.”

The officers were disarmed. Some openly wept. Their anger turned to shame. Mutiny over. Washington’s appearance lasted about 15 minutes, but it saved American democracy.

He demonstrated that a president could survive by showing emotional vulnerability, if he did it the right way, says William G. Howell, a presidential historian and political science professor at the University of Chicago.

“He was conveying vulnerability borne of great sacrifice,” says Howell, author of the forthcoming book, “Relic: How Our Constitution Undermines Effective Government — and Why We Need a More Powerful Presidency.”

Historically, politicians feared expressing too much emotion like athletes feared knee injuries: They could end their careers.

The late Sen. Edmund Muskie’s presidential campaign was doomed in 1972 when he allegedly cried while publicly defending his wife from a newspaper attack during a New Hampshire campaign stop. And former Democratic candidate Howard Dean’s Oval Office ambitions were doomed by his infamous “scream” during a raucous campaign event.

Obama, however, showed that a politician could both publicly cry and show strength at the same time, Howell says.

“Presidents get in trouble when they appear to be on their heels or aloof or disaffected. This was the antithesis of that,” Howell says. “This is not a president out of control. This is a president who is conveying dogged resolution.”

Amid his tears, Howell says the President made a subtle argument. He said that just as the Constitution gave Americans the right to bear arms, it also gave them the right to peaceful assembly, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — rights that were robbed from victims of gun violence.

“He’s vulnerable plus determined. He’s expressing anger but staking out constitutional rights,” Howell says. “It seems incredibly heady, but there is this deep expression of heart that’s being conveyed as well.”

How the President acts has an impact beyond politics, says Podair, the Lawrence University historian.

Theodore Roosevelt set the tone for men around the turn of the last century with his emphasis on the outdoors.

Theodore Roosevelt set the tone for men around the turn of the last century with his emphasis on the outdoors.

He says American men often get their cues on masculinity from presidents. Theodore Roosevelt’s “strenuous life” — his emphasis on hunting, adventure, being “in the arena” — inspired American men who feared they were going soft as more of them moved to cities at the turn of the last century. John Kennedy inspired an entire generation of men to stop wearing hats in public, and his wry, detached demeanor shaped masculine culture in the early 1960s, Podair says.

“Most presidents put their stamp culturally on their times,” Podair says. “They tell people, ‘This is how to be a man. This is how to dress. This is how to act.’ “

Obama did the same for politicians and men when he wept this week, Podair says.

“Men are allowed to cry now. And now presidents are allowed to cry.”

Obama’s tears may fade from the news cycle. But he’s already suggested the moment won’t fade from his memory. During a town hall meeting on guns hosted by CNN, he said he was surprised by his tears. He also said he will continue to push for more gun control, regardless of the political costs.

“It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Secret Service cry on duty,” Obama says of his visit to Newtown, Connecticut, after the Sandy Hook shooting. “It continues to haunt me. It was one of the worst days of my presidency.”

Tuesday may turn out to be one of the more unforgettable days of his presidency. A president showing he’s not an all-powerful action hero, a black man weeping over white children, a politician changing the rules about public tears — perhaps something new did take place this week.

Obama’s critics have long said he is a radical, someone new to America, someone who is different from his Oval Office predecessors.

At least this week, they were right.


President Obama’s Last State of the Union Address Aims to Set Tone for ’16 Campaign


WASHINGTON — For the final time, President Obama will mount the rostrum in the House chamber on Tuesday to deliver a State of the Union address. But this time, aides said, he will not bring with him a long list of proposals that will languish in Congress — after all these years, a victory of experience over hope.

Instead, Mr. Obama plans a thematic message that effectively will be as much a campaign agenda as a governing document. While not on the ballot himself, Mr. Obama hopes to use what may be the largest television audience left in his presidency to frame the debate about who should replace him and where the country should go from here.

This is a decisive moment for the two-term president, the pivot point where he goes from priority setter to celebrity spectator in the contest for the future. His speech and the days that follow offer a last chance to bolster his lagging poll ratings, define his legacy, rebut negative narratives emerging from the campaign trail and challenge his would-be successors to address the issues he deems most vital.

Aides say Mr. Obama wants to present an upbeat, optimistic view of America after seven years that will contrast with the gloomy portrayals offered by Republican candidates, a task aided by strong job creation numbers but complicated by continuing turmoil in the Middle East and elsewhere.

At the same time, Mr. Obama hopes to generate support for his approach to issues like climate change, gun control, immigration and income inequality that can boost Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, even if it does not result in further action during his tenure.

“Last year, he spoke to Congress,” said Jennifer Psaki, the White House communications director. “This year, he’ll be speaking more to the American public.”

But it is a public that does not share his sunny assessment of the state of the union. In a survey conducted by The New York Times and CBS News in December, 68 percent of Americans said the country is on the wrong track, the highest such figure in more than two years. Many in the poll were unimpressed with the president’s performance on critical issues like the fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

That sour public mood has challenged Mr. Obama throughout his presidency. Since he took office, the proportion of Americans who consider the country heading in the right direction in Times-CBS polls has never outnumbered those who think it is on the wrong track. That was true for most of his predecessor’s tenure, too.

Republican presidential candidates have tapped that sentiment.

“The state of our union is a mess,” Donald J. Trump said Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC News. “We can’t beat ISIS. Our military is falling back. It’s not being properly taken care of. Our vets aren’t being properly taken care of. Obamacare, as you know, is going to fail very soon and probably in ’17, our health care — we don’t have borders. We don’t have anything.”

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said “the whole Middle East is in terrible shape” under Mr. Obama. “So I’d like to see the president step up here in his last year and lay out a plan for the defeat of ISIL,” he said on “This Week” on ABC News. “It’s a good starting place.”

That sort of talk has gotten under Mr. Obama’s skin and he wants to use the nation’s biggest platform to push back. As a preview, he sent his White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to most of the Sunday talk shows to counter the Republicans, citing the 292,000 new jobs created in December and 2.65 million in all of 2015.

The Republicans are “seeming to run down America,” Mr. McDonough said on NBC. “I don’t really get it. What I see is an America that’s surging.”

“We feel very optimistic about the future,” he added. “That’s a big difference between us and what’s going on in this public debate right now and that’s what you’ll hear about on Tuesday night.”

The speech comes less than three weeks before the Iowa caucuses kick off the voting for his successor, and one unspoken goal for Mr. Obama is to set the table for Mrs. Clinton.

Aides said they did not directly coordinate the president’s speech with her campaign, but did not need to because they know her positions on the issues.

His focus on gun control last week is one area where they are in sync, and Mr. Obama said he would be a one-issue voter this year, refusing to support candidates who oppose “common sense” measures.

But Mr. McDonough insisted Sunday that the president would not endorse in the Democratic primary regardless of Senator Bernie Sanders’s past opposition to some anti-gun legislation.

“He doesn’t get to pick the terms of the debate precisely; he gets to influence them broadly,” said Jeff Shesol, a White House speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. “That was something that was on our minds at this stage in the Clinton White House. We didn’t get to dictate the terms. But we did actually” help shape the debate.

The decision to not present a string of new proposals reflects the recognition that Mr. Obama has little chance of securing major legislation from a Republican Congress. Two areas both sides see as likeliest for agreement are an overhaul of the criminal justice system and approval of Mr. Obama’s Asian-Pacific free trade agreement.

It may also reflect the normal exhaustion of new ideas in the eighth year of an eventful presidency. The White House went through the usual policy development process in preparation for a more conventional State of the Union address, but after Mr. Obama saw the ideas laid out, none was so compelling that he wanted to make it the centerpiece of his last annual speech.

Among the ideas being discussed was a new “moon shot” to cure cancer, sought by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., whose son Beau died of brain cancer last year. Mr. Biden at one point hoped to include a major new initiative in the State of the Union, but it has taken a while to sort through the options and create a plan, so he may wait to reveal it as part of the rollout of the final year budget proposal.

White House officials said other ideas generated by the process would still be presented over the course of the year. But they said Mr. Obama decided to talk more broadly about the progress the country has made and the steps needed not just this year but for the next five to 10 years. Aides said he would talk about democracy and the importance of everyone participating in the process.

He will follow up with a two-day trip to Nebraska and Louisiana, two Republican states where he will urge governors to expand Medicaidcoverage as part of his health care program.

“Regardless of what’s happening on the campaign trail, the president still has an impactful bully pulpit,” Ms. Psaki said. “What people have noticed over the last year despite their skepticism is that he’s been willing to raise issues that haven’t been in the public domain and they’ve made their way onto the campaign trail.”


Amazon will show President Obama’s final State of the Union on demand

Amazon is partnering with the White House to make Barack Obama’s upcoming State of the Union address viewable on demand, marking the first time the annual events have been put on an on-demand video service. The speech, along with the president’s previous seven State of the Union addresses, will be made available on its Amazon Video platform this week.

In competition with Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming services, Amazon has followed their lead in producing its own shows, but the decision to take on the president’s address shows that Amazon is looking at public service as well as pure entertainment as a way to expand. This partnership with the White House makes Amazon look more like PBS than a traditional TV network, and also offers a way for cord cutters to watch a national news event without having to huddle around a monitor or use a Chromecast-esque streaming option.

But this certainly isn’t the first time Americans have been able to watch the State of the Union online. The White House started broadcasting the president’s annual addresses on the internet during George W. Bush’s presidency in 2002, and began live streaming an “enhanced” version of the speech from 2011, during Barack Obama’s first term. This year, again, you’ll also be able to watch the whole address live on YouTube or on the White House’s site, but if you miss it — or just want to pore through a piece of history as the president takes the podium — here’s another chance to watch Obama’s last State of the Union.




President Obama in tears and with a heavy heart calls for ‘sense of urgency’ to fight gun violence


President Barack Obama grew emotional Tuesday as he made a passionate call for a national “sense of urgency” to limit gun violence.

He was introduced by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Obama circled back to that shooting in the final moments of his speech.

“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, pausing to wipe away tears.

He added: “And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day,” referring to his hometown where he began his political career.

The White House is seeking to expand background checks for buyers. The measure clarifies that individuals “in the business of selling firearms” register as licensed gun dealers, effectively narrowing the so-called “gun show loophole,” which exempts most small sellers from keeping formal sales records.

Former Congresswoman and gun control advocate Gabby Giffords, who was seriously injured in a 2011 mass shooting, was also in attendance at Tuesday’s event and was greeted with a standing ovation from the White House audience.

Obama hammered congressional Republicans for opposing measures like expanded background checks as he called on Americans to punish them at the polls. He defended his actions to strengthen background checks for purchasing guns, answering critics who say the measure would not make it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.

“Each time this comes up, we are fed the excuse that common-sense reforms like background checks might not have stopped the last massacre, or the one before that, or the one before that, so why bother trying,” Obama said. “I reject that thinking.”

“We know we can’t stop every act of violence, every act of evil in the world. But maybe we could try to stop one act of evil, one act of violence,” he added.

The President blasted the gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association, and insisted that his actions are “not a plot to take away everybody’s guns.”

He compared his push for gun control to steps the United States and businesses have taken to limit traffic fatalities, require fingerprints to unlock iPads and keep children from opening bottles of aspirin.

“I believe in the Second Amendment, there written on paper, that guarantees the right to bear arms,” Obama said. “No matter how many times people try to twist my words around, I taught constitutional law. I know a little bit about this. But I also believe that we can find ways to reduce gun violence consistent with the Second Amendment.”

Obama said Congress, which blocked a tougher gun bill in 2013, still needs to impose new gun control measures. He noted that many of the actions he’s calling for can only be imposed through legislative action.

“Congress still needs to act,” Obama said. “The folks in this room will not rest until Congress does. Because once Congress gets on board with common-sense gun safety measures, we can reduce gun violence a whole lot.”

“But we also can’t wait,” Obama added. “Until we have the Congress that’s in line with the majority of Americans, there are actions within my legal authority that we can take to help reduce gun violence and save more lives.”

In addition to expanding and bolstering the background check system to cover sales that take place online and at gun shows, Obama said the administration will provide more funding for mental health treatment, FBI staff and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives agents.

On Capitol Hill, the reaction from Republicans was just as Obama had predicted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said Obama’s actions “will no doubt be challenged in the courts” and “can be overturned by a Republican President.”

“From day one, the President has never respected the right to safe and legal gun ownership that our nation has valued since its founding,” Ryan said in a statement. “He knows full well that the law already says that people who make their living selling firearms must be licensed, regardless of venue. Still, rather than focus on criminals and terrorists, he goes after the most law-abiding of citizens. His words and actions amount to a form of intimidation that undermines liberty.”

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, vowed in New Hampshire on Tuesday that she will “take on that fight” and continue Obama’s gun control push if she’s elected.

On Twitter, in a tweet signed “-H” to indicate it was written by Clinton, rather than her staff, the former secretary of state thanked Obama “for taking a crucial step forward on gun violence. Our next President has to build on that progress—not rip it away.”

And her campaign highlighted Republican candidates’ criticism of Obama’s comments on its website, warning that a GOP president would undo Obama’s actions.

Many polls have found broad support for expanded background checks — the most recent being a Quinnipiac University poll in December. In that survey, 89% overall support it, 84% in gun-owning households, 87% of Republicans, 86% of independent, 95% of Democrats.

In a December CNN/ORC poll, 48% of Americans said they were in favor of stricter gun control laws, 51% were opposed.

Support for stricter laws has been less than half since 2013. There’s a sharp partisan divide on the question, with 74% of Democrats in favor of stricter laws, while just 23% of Republicans feel the same way.

Among those who live in a gun-owning household, 29% favor stricter laws, that rises to 65% among those who live in households where no one owns a gun.

Just 35% approve of Obama’s handling of gun policy, including 56% of Democrats and 55% of liberals. That’s well below his approval rating among Democrats/liberals for other top issue.


HILLARY CLINTON IS RIGHT: Al-Shabaab recruit video with Trump excerpt: U.S. is racist, anti-Muslim


An al Qaeda affiliate has apparently released a new recruitment video, telling Muslims in America that the country has a long history of racism and discrimination and will turn on its Muslim community.

The video purportedly by Somali terrorist group al-Shabaabuses historic civil rights era footage of firebrand Malcolm X and audio of 2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump to label the United States a racist society.

In the wake of the San Bernardino, California, shootingslast month, Trump said he wanted “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”

The video runs this line, bleeping out the word “hell.”

Fierce backlash over Trump's plan to ban Muslims

Fierce backlash over Trump’s plan to ban Muslims 02:11

Before that, Trump had called for surveillance of mosques and said he was open to establishing a database for all Muslims living in the country.

The video includes recent footage of police shootings and violence against African Americans in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore — and claims that this is what is in store for American Muslims.

CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the video. Trump’s campaign did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment.

Throughout the video, excerpts of previous video messages from the late radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki are played predicting persecution of Muslims in the United States.

Al-Awlaki was U.S.-born and raised and revered as a powerful motivator in terrorist operations for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

He was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011, in Yemen.

Last month, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric was providing fodder for Islamist terror group ISIS to use in its propaganda. ISIS and al Qaeda are rivals.

At a December 19 debate with two rivals for the Democratic nomination, she said ISIS is “going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists.”

However, that claim has never been proven.

Asked about the video on Saturday, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters that “any indication that supports the notion that the U.S. is at war with Islam will be taken advantage of by terrorist organizations.”

“We are at war with terrorists. We are not at war with Islam,” he said, adding that the U.S. needs “to defeat this narrative that allows them to recruit people.”


Bill Clinton will crush Donald Trump — with a smile



When I was growing up in New York, I wanted to be a professional boxer, but was smart enough to know that if I entered the ring with Muhammad Ali — then heavyweight champion of the world — they’d have to bring out the smelling salts within seconds and the ambulance would soon arrive to cart me away on a stretcher!

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump should consider such thoughts as he ponders his plan to go mano a mano against Bill Clinton, the most popular living former president and the heavyweight champion of American politics today. So might Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is widely despised among his GOP Senate colleagues, could well be defeated for reelection to the Senate from Texas and runs for president as the “Trump Lite” candidate. Bill Clinton is the heavyweight champion of American politics because his presidency is fondly remembered as a time when the nation was blessed with rising prosperity and tens of millions of new jobs and a widespread optimism that America was on the right track and tomorrow would be better than today.

While Clinton was promoting the policies that created the prosperity that lifted the national economy — with current Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton by his side as his first lady and closest confidant — Trump heaped lavish praise on the highly successful president and the policies he advanced.

After President Clinton left office and Hillary Clinton entered the Senate and won praise on both sides of the aisle — including respect from GOP Senators that Cruz could not dare to dream of — Trump heaped extravagant praise on Hillary Clinton, whom he supported in her campaigns for the Senate and the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Speaking on Fox News in 2012, continuing his two decades of high praise for both Clintons, Trump offered effusive compliments for Hillary Clinton’s work as secretary of State, saying he was biased because he had known both Clintons so well for so long. Truer words were never spoken by the man who today sings a different song and whose statements were recently awarded the “Lie of the Year” by the politically neutral fact-checker Politifact.

My good friend, advertising executive Roy Spence, invented one of the most brilliant ad campaigns in history: “Don’t mess with Texas.” My advice to Trump, which he will regret not taking, is don’t mess with Bill Clinton, who will bury him with a wink of his eye and a smile on his face.

Clinton remains a world leader and global statesman who is admired by leaders of nations around the world, while Trump is condemned even by conservative leaders of American allies, is strongly criticized by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and is reduced to basking in high praise offered by Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and kind words from supporters of neo-fascist parties in Europe.

Clinton is a globally renowned philanthropist who makes life better for people around the world through the superb work of the Clinton Foundation, which brings together leaders in government, business, philanthropy and academia. By contrast, Trump has much explaining to do about various bankruptcies of companies he has been associated with and why he brags about his skill at manipulating bankruptcy laws to enhance his wealth while inflicting punishment on workers and investors in Trump-related businesses that failed.

Clinton is the happy warrior of American politics, who has demonstrated great skill working with political opponents to make government function effectively, while Trump praises himself for giving money to politicians to peddle influence and insults widely respected leaders such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose intensely patriotic heroism in military service he denies.

Clinton stands for a politics that is inclusive and respectful and offers every American a seat at the table, while Trump has a penchant for calling women he dislikes “fat pigs” and “bimbos,” ridicules disabled Americans with disgusting impersonations of a New York Times reporter, insults Hispanic immigrants with words such as rapists and murderers, and helps the recruiting of murderous terrorists by playing to fear and bigotry against Muslims.

There are good reasons why Bill Clinton has earned the vast popularity he possesses and why Donald Trump has earned the sky-high negative ratings that plague him with national voters, and the loudmouthed bully of GOP politics would be well-advised to not mess with the heavyweight champion of the American political world.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Chief Deputy Majority Whip Bill Alexander (D-Ark.). He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. Contact him at brentbbi@webtv.net.



To Donald Trump, the thrice-married hypocrite: Let’s look at your history and teach you what sexism really is


Donald Trump is just exposing himself by roping in Bill Clinton’s past infidelity into campaign

While you were playing with your new video game/Apple product/puppy this post-Christmas weekend, Donald Trump went off into a defensive spiral. Before Christmas, Hillary Clinton gave an interview to the Des Moines Register where she correctly noted that Trump has “a penchant for sexism,” for calling her “disgusting” for having to use the bathroom during the most recent debate, something he quite clearly feels the female half of the species should not sully itself with.

The phrase “penchant for sexism” clearly got under Trump’s skin, as he gnawed on it obsessively like a dog with a bone over the weekend.

It was a ridiculous display to witness, but there’s no reason to think it will do anything but endear him to his already robust base. However, the tantrum shows why Trump is going to have a lot of problems translating the enthusiasm that his bigotry-happy supporters have for him to the larger public, which tends to find this stuff distasteful.

Trump’s response to Clinton has been, in line with the levels of maturity he has demonstrated throughout this campaign, to implement the “I know you are, but what am I?” strategy. On Fox News on Sunday, Trump whined that Clinton is playing the “woman card” when she defends herself against men, like Trump, who imply that her gender disqualifies her from the White House.

This is a common right-wing rhetorical trick, to argue that the foul is not in disparaging someone for her gender, but in mentioning gender at all. That allows them to draw a false equivalence between saying “women are equal” and “women are inferior,” but one should not be fooled. Mentioning gender is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. The bad thing is in what Trump does, which is deriding women for having bodily functions and implying that the only value they have on earth is aesthetic.

Trump spent most of the holiday obsessing over the phrase “penchant for sexism” on Twitter.


He then tried to rope Bill Clinton into this:


He elaborated on what he meant by this on “Fox News Sunday,” by arguing that Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky counts as sexism, an argument that he doubled down on, by equating it with “abuse” on Twitter.


The assumption here is that “sexism” or “abuse” is defined as “stuff women don’t like,” such as their husbands cheating on them. It’s a rhetorical strategy that equates an extramarital affair with hitting women or raping women, an equation that non-coincidentally functions to minimize the seriousness of violence against women. Abusing your wife is a crime, but cheating is not, all for a very good reason.

To Trump and his right-wing followers that tend to perceive feminism as nothing more than women yapping too much when they probably have something they need to be cleaning instead, this definition of sexism probably feels about right. Most people, however, grasp that one can have an affair, even a highly inappropriate affair with a much-younger woman, while still maintaining the belief that women are equal to men and capable of doing things like holding higher office.

Bill Clinton is living proof of this. This is, after all, the same man who recently joked, “I am tired of the stranglehold that women have had on the job of presidential spouse.” Whatever personal flaws he may have — which are many — it’s also inarguable that he has openly espoused a belief in female equality his whole career and backed that belief up with his policies and his enthusiastic support of his feminist wife’s career.

It’s easy to see why Trump, whose current wife is only three years older than Monica Lewinsky, might struggle to see the distinction between an unfortunate dalliance and a lifelong pattern of deriding women for aging, having bodily functions, or for going in public for any other reason than to audition to be Mrs. Trump No. 4. And, as has been amply demonstrated, Trump supporters tend to think every dumb thought that comes spilling out of his head is gold.

But the public does understand these distinctions, which is why obsessing over Clinton’s affair has generally backfired on those who indulge. When Republicans impeached Clinton over his affair in the ’90s, the result was that Clinton’s approval ratings soared to 73%a level that is nearly impossible for presidents to achieve, particularly during that era, where the cynicism we currently have about politics was really beginning to harden into place. The public tends to perceive the fascination with Clinton’s affair as little more than panty-sniffing puritanism, which is, of course, exactly what it is.

It’s doubly stupid of Trump to go there, because there’s the added issue of hypocrisy. Trump’s own affair with Marla Maples, a woman 17 years his junior who became his second wife, was second only to Clinton’s affair in terms of being the sex scandal of the 1990s. If Trump wants to set aside policy ideas, public behavior, and advocacy work in favor of judging a man’s respect towards women strictly by his failures as a husband, well, he still loses that battle. Clinton had affairs that his marriage survived. Trump blew up his first marriage to marry his much-younger mistress.

What is amazing about all this is that Trump has to know he’s playing with fire here. Right now, both Republicans and Democrats have kept his personal life out of the campaign, because they know that voters tend to think that’s playing dirty. But if he himself opens the door, then it becomes fair game. While his supporters will no doubt get defensive and rally around him harder, reminding the general public that Donald Trump set the template for the rich man who regularly trades in his wives for younger models is not to his benefit in a general election. It will hurt him especially against a female candidate whose very existence shows that women have more to offer the world besides youth and beauty.

But that’s the defining feature of Trump’s campaign. Whether it’s personal short-sightedness or because he’s got some impossible-to-understand long game going on here, Trump will choose endearing himself to his bigot base over expanding his appeal every single time.






Michelle Obama:

Ridiculed for her fashion, looks, skin color, and fitness

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis:

Embraced for her fashion and charm

The late Kennedy’s education was not listed as a result of lack of space. (Kennedy received a Bachelor of Arts degree in French literature at George Washington University and went on to work for the Washington Times-Herald as an Inquiring Photographer.)

Melania Trump:

Admired for having access to money and her body

Fox stunned as Treasury head informs them the economy is better under President Obama