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Ambassador Berry’s Remarks For the State of the Union Viewing U.S. Embassy Canbera
January 21, 2015

I’d like to welcome everyone today for President Obama’s State of the Union address.

This is more than just an annual tradition in the United States.  It is a Presidential duty, mandated by the Constitution.  The President isn’t required to give a speech, though.  Both George Washington and John Adams gave speeches, but Thomas Jefferson started sending a report.  He thought the speech was a little too similar to the British monarch’s Address from the Throne.  Until the early 20th century, Presidents sent yearly reports to Congress.

In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson gave a speech.  Since then, Presidents have generally done the same.  Herbert Hoover and Calvin Coolidge are notable exceptions.

Today, the State of the Union is a major event that is televised live worldwide.  It is an opportunity for the President to talk about the successes of the past year, and to lay out his agenda for the upcoming year.

This year, the President is approaching the speech a little differently.

At the beginning of the month, he took his message directly to the American people.  Normally, presidents announce themes the day before the speech and then go on the road to promote their agendas.  This year, he traveled around the country and gave speeches on some of the major themes weeks ahead of the address.

He laid out his proposals for higher education and job training, housing, and jobs.  His goal is to make sure that all Americans benefit from the economic recovery.

He will have very good news for the American people on the economy.  2014 was the best year for job growth since 1999, and the unemployment rate has declined to 5.6%.  This is the lowest it has been since 2008.  Since the depths of the recession, we have added almost 11 million jobs to the economy.

Manufacturing is up, jobs are coming back, and companies are actively thinking about bringing even more jobs home from overseas.

The deficit is down by two-thirds.

Home prices are coming back up, leaving fewer Americans underwater on their mortgages.

And, for the first time in decades, the United States is the number one energy producer in the world – thanks in part to our development of alternative sources of energy, including wind and solar.

With all the great job news, however, there are still some Americans who could use a little boost.  Wage growth is still a little weak.  The President will probably – once again – urge Congress to raise the federal minimum wage so that more of our people can earn a living wage.

He will likely address immigration reform and foreign policy – particularly the way forward on our relations with Cuba, combating extremism, and the situation in the Middle East.  He will also touch on his plan to make two years of community college free for responsible students.

While the State of the Union address is about policy, its delivery is steeped in tradition.

It is the one of the few times when just about every high-ranking government official is in one place.  There are some exceptions:   Justice Antonin Scalia famously refuses to attend – no matter who is President.

In a holdover tradition from the Cold War, one Cabinet member – the “designated survivor” – is always absent.  Last year, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz was the lucky winner who got to stay at home – or some “undisclosed location.”

During the speech, special guests are invited to sit with the First Lady.  Last year, guests included members of the military, survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, the first openly gay NBA player, and the Washington D.C. Public School system’s Teacher of the Year.  Other guests were invited to put faces on particular aspects of  the President’s policy agenda, such as job creation, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, STEM education, and raising the minimum wage.

After the speech, the opposing party always gets a chance to provide a rebuttal.  In recent years, this has given rising Republican stars the opportunity to develop their name recognition.

Today, the White House is working to make the speech more accessible to the public.  It is not only broadcast on television but also streamed live on the Internet.  It is now common for lawmakers and the public to use social media to discuss the President’s message in real time.

So please grab a sandwich, get comfortable, fire up your Twitter account, and enjoy the speech!