The most powerful moment of the State of the Union on Tuesday night came when President Obama said the victims of gun violence — people like Gabby Giffords and the family of Hadiya Pendleton — deserve a vote on gun control measures. Obama pushed back against a Republican effort to rebrand the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester into the "Obamaquester." Obama made it clear he thought the sequester was a "bad idea." But he offered Republicans an olive branch on Medicare cuts. John Boehner rolled his eyes when Obama said that if Congress didn't act to address climate change, he would. But Boehner smiled when Obama said members of Congress like job-creating projects because "I've seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings." Obama gave an exploding fist bump. McCain fake smiled when Obama mentioned his name, then managed to real smile. And Marco Rubio took a very important sip of water during his rebuttal:
11:38p.m.: A CNN poll of 53 Americans who watched Obama's speech found that 53 percent had a "very positive" reaction, and 22 percent had a "somewhat positive reaction." Twenty-two percent had a negative reaction.
11:30p.m.: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul gave the Tea Party response, and the most interesting part is his call for the GOP to embrace immigrants. Paul said, "We must be the party that says, 'If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.'"
10:56p.m.: Let's deconstruct Rubio's drink of water in the middle of his State of the Union response. First, there was the look -- was the water still there?
It was. Then there was the reach -- done while maintaining eye contact with the camera and keeping his head level.
At the moment of contact, Rubio has to look. A false move and he would have toppled the minibottle. So it's a quick camera-bottle-camera zag. Poor guy didn't know his nose was behind the C-SPAN logo.
Then he smoothly regains his posture while drinking. Rubio does this while staring deep into your eyes. He seems to know he's doing something wrong, but he can't stop.
Thirst quenched, he then sets the bottle down.
Bottle dealt with, Rubio actually talks his way back up into position, at which point he clasps his hand together, as if he's getting back to business.
Rubio, who seems to have a sense of humor, is trying to own the moment. He tweeted:
10:49p.m.: How did John McCain like it when Obama praised him in his speech? The White House pool reports:
Sen. John McCain ... passed by the press pool right after the address ended. Your pooler asked what he thought of the president's address.
"Great," he said.
It's not clear whether that was a "Great." or a "Great!" or a "Great!!"
10:43p.m.: The only sign so far Rubio is nervous: he awkwardly takes a drink of bottled water. He's not sure whether to look at the camera while he does it.
He must have been very thirsty.
10:35p.m.: Rubio says big government hurts people, and Republicans do not only care about rich people:
But his favorite attack of all is that those who don’t agree with him – they only care about rich people. Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires...
So 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 neighbors.
Rubio says big government will hurt those neighbors by slowing economic growth. He also says he would never hurt Medicare, because he loves his mom.
I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it.
Paul Ryan used this same reasoning during the 2012 presidential campaign.
10:31p.m.: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio begins his response. He's better at giving speeches than previous State of the Union rebutters. And he's avoided the look of an empty room by standing in front of what looks like a fake window.
Here's the full text of his speech.
10:15p.m.: During the guns section of Obama's speech, a woman yelled out a victim's name. NBC News' Kelly O'Donnell says the woman was removed.
10:12p.m.: The section of Obama's speech about gun control bills shows their limited chances of success. "Each of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. If you want to vote no, that’s your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote." Obama says Gabby Giffords deserves a vote, as does Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed by a bullet at age 15 last month after performing in Washington for the inauguration.
10:06p.m.: Biden has trouble sitting still.
10:02p.m.: Obama sees an end to the war in Afghanistan, though the definition of victory has been scaled back.
Tonight, we stand united in saluting the troops and civilians who sacrifice every day to protect us. Because of them, we can say with confidence that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan, and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda. Already, we have brought home 33,000 of our brave servicemen and women. This spring, our forces will move into a support role, while Afghan security forces take the lead. Tonight, I can announce that over the next year, another 34,000 American troops will come home from Afghanistan. This drawdown will continue. And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.
That would seem to accept that some al Qaeda presence is acceptable, just not the "core."
9:58p.m.: Obama calls for the passage of Paycheck Fairness Act, which addresses pay discrimination based on gender. Not all the ladies in the hall are pleased.
9:52p.m.: Obama says the federal minimum wage should be raised to $9 an hour. "So here’s an idea that Governor Romney and I actually agreed on last year: let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on." The camera cuts to Paul Ryan.
9:46p.m.: John McCain fake smiles, then slowly real smiles, when Obama mentions his past work on climate change. "I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago," Obama says.
9::38p.m.: It's amusing to watch the difference in reactions of Joe Biden and John Boehner. Speaking of the American Jobs Act, Obama says, "I thank the last Congress for passing some of that agenda, and I urge this Congress to pass the rest." Biden loves it, Boehner does not.
When Obama says of climate change, "But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will," Boehner rolls his eyes.
Finally, Obama gets a bipartisan smile when he says: "The CEO of Siemens America – a company that brought hundreds of new jobs to North Carolina – has said that if we upgrade our infrastructure, they’ll bring even more jobs. And I know that you want these job-creating projects in your districts. I’ve seen you all at the ribbon-cuttings."
9:32p.m.: Cantor has practiced his neutral face as if he knew he'd be on TV. Here he's listening to Obama talk about tax reform.
9:28p.m.: Obama says the sequester is a "really bad idea." He lays out what cuts to Medicare he might accept: lowering payments to health care providers and means-testing -- making seniors who have more money pay more.
We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital – they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive.
9:21p.m.: And here it is: Obama says the line we've all been waiting for:
Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.
Obama is clearly building toward something here. In 2011, he said the state of our union was "strong." In 2012, he said it was "getting stronger." Perhaps he's headed in the same direction as Bill Clinton, who said in his last State of the Union address, "the state of our Union is the strongest it has ever been."
9:13p.m.: Obama has entered the hall. And now those lawmakers who saved aisle seats for 12 hours just to get a chance to shake Obama's hand on TV are getting what they waited for.
9:09p.m.: Only half the Supreme Court showed up tonight. Conservative justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia skipped the fun.
9:02p.m.: Senate BFFs Lindsey Graham and John McCain chat before the speech begins.
9:01p.m.: Michelle Obama is wearing a dark red sheath dress tonight. Joe Biden was wearing little glasses to read names, but he's taken them off.
8:39p.m.: Obama is expected to address gun control tonight. Just before he began speaking, the National Rifle Association released an ad with a kinder, gentler, more reasonable tone than the last one it released, which targeted Obama's teen daughters. The NRA's new ad says new gun laws will be ineffective. It's just a guy talking to the camera and talking about a Justice Department memo saying new gun control won't be effective without a gun buyback program.
8:27p.m.: Energy Secretary Steven Chu will be our president if the House of Representatives blows up, is incinerated by aliens, or whatever your doomsday scenario might be. It's not a terrible alternate reality. "Steven Chu will be our emergency president; imagine the benevolent technocracy of robots, solar panels and lasers!" Quartz's Tim Fernholtz tweets.
8:21p.m.: Some political pundits are getting bumped for coverage of Christopher Dorner, the Los Angeles ex-cop who allegedly exchanged fire with police during a standoff in the mountains near Big Bear ski resort. The cabin he was reportedly holed up in is on fire.
8:06p.m.: State of the Union guests will include several people affected by mass shootings. But The New York Time's Michael Cooper points out that so many gun violence victims have come to these things that it's now "a somewhat grim State of the Union tradition."
7:58p.m.: BuzzFeed's John Stanton posts this photo of Ted Nugent "strolling through the bowels" of a congressional office building. He is a guest of Texas Rep. Steve Stockman. I assume the population of people who know of Nugent as "cool rock star" is shrinking while the population of people who know him as "old guy with some relationship to music and conservative political views" is growing. Not that that makes his political views any less relevant than they ever were.
6:02 p.m. The White House has released excerpts of the President's speech in advance of the 9 p.m. address from the Capitol:
“It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class.
It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love.
It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation of ours.”
“A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”
“Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”
And here are excerpts of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's response from Republicans:
“This opportunity – to make it to the middle class or beyond no matter where you start out in life – it isn’t bestowed on us from Washington. It comes from a vibrant free economy where people can risk their own money to open a business. And when they succeed, they hire more people, who in turn invest or spend the money they make, helping others start a business and create jobs. Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems.”
“Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy. The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families. It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. So 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 neighbors.”
“Economic growth is the best way to help the middle class. Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012. But if we can get the economy to grow at just 4 percent a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4 trillion dollars over the next decade. Tax increases can’t do this.Raising taxes won’t create private sector jobs. And there’s no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. 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.”
“The real cause of our debt is that our government has been spending 1 trillion dollars more than it takes in every year. That’s why we need a balanced budget amendment. The biggest obstacles to balancing the budget are programs where spending is already locked in. One of these programs, Medicare, is especially important to me. It provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately die with dignity. And it pays for the care my mother receives now. I would never support any changes to Medicare that would hurt seniors like my mother. But anyone who is in favor of leaving Medicare exactly the way it is right now, is in favor of bankrupting it.”
“Despite our differences, I know that both Republicans and Democrats love America. I pray we can come together to solve our problems, because the choices before us could not be more important. If we can get our economy healthy again, our children will be the most prosperous Americans ever. And if we do not, we will forever be known as the generation responsible for America’s decline.”
And here are excerpts of Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's Tea Party response:
o We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future. We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities. We must be the party that says, 'If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.’
o The path we are on is not sustainable, but few in Congress or in this Administration seem to recognize that their actions are endangering the prosperity of this great nation.
o Both parties have been guilty of spending too much, of protecting their sacred cows, of backroom deals in which everyone up here wins, but every taxpayer loses. It is time for a new bipartisan consensus. It is time Democrats admit that not every dollar spent on domestic programs is sacred. And it is time Republicans realize that military spending is not immune to waste and fraud.
o Not only should the sequester stand, many pundits say the sequester really needs to be at least $4 trillion to avoid another downgrade of America's credit rating. Both parties will have to agree to cut, or we will never fix our fiscal mess.
o Washington acts in a way that your family never could – they spend money they do not have, they borrow from future generations, and then they blame each other for never fixing the problem.
o If Congress refuses to obey its own rules, if Congress refuses to pass a budget, if Congress refuses to read the bills, then I say: Sweep the place clean. Limit their terms and send them home!