Prepared by Flinders Washington Internship Students 2016.
Week 2 in the Capitol has started vibrantly with one of the most exciting events of the parliamentary year, the State of the Union (SOTU). SOTU’s origin is laid out in Article II, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution of the United States: The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” The event sees members of the House, Senate, Executive and the Justices of the Supreme Court, along with their respective special guests, congregate on the House Floor to hear an address by the President. The President will relay what his executive agenda is for the upcoming year, emphasizing key policy focal points and issues which need to be resolved.
As interns we received the remarkable experience of being able to watch the SOTU from Congressman Jim McDermott’s office with his staff, fellow interns and the Congressman himself. The office organised food for everybody, and we supplied some of South Australia’s great wine for all to enjoy. Being able to converse with such an esteemed and respected person was an incredible honour. The stories he had about his life were fascinating, and he was more than happy to answer any of our questions about politics, life on the Hill, global issues and of course, American sport! Watching live as the President delivered his address from the building next door was a surreal experience for all of us.
As this year’s SOTU was President Obama’s final opportunity to direct the spotlight on his agenda, we were not sure what to expect. It was relatively shorter than most SOTU speeches and the President addressed many of the achievements and failures of his time in office before highlighting his platform for the upcoming year. These achievements included the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the capture of Osama Bin Laden, the removal of many troops out of the Middle East and the historic legalization of same-sex marriage.
He noted his largest failure was being unable, in his capacity, to bridge the divide between the Democrats and the Republicans. Instead he acknowledged that the divide has grown during his Presidential terms, but he had high hopes that common ground can be found in his last year. Unfortunately, the ongoing political tension and unwillingness to compromise from the extreme ends of each party make the President’s wishes seem unlikely.
The President proposed his plans for this year and the future. The notable goals included:
- Focusing on the threat of ISIL as radical individuals, and removing discrimination based on religion;
- Moving forward with health care reform to ensure that it is affordable for all Americans;
- Cutting the cost of college education so more Americans have access to it; and
- Seeing the Trans-Pacific Partnership pass.
The President’s speech was as charismatic and engaging as always. The message that – the U.S still has a long way to go but the American dream is still alive rang loud and clear, and resounded with all those in the room and those watching around the world. He expelled a power in his performance which was invigorating to watch, and was patriotic to the U.S. in every sense. It was a very good experience for all.