President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address brought up a number of things worth discussing — not least among them the facial expressions of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — but the issues of immigration and foreign policy made a notable appearance that left viewers with some questions. The first: have businesses put sufficient pressure on Republicans to make the passage of bipartisan immigration bill possible — a priority, even?
Obama spoke on groups in Congress composed of both parties that are working to put a bill to the vote in coming months. “Send me a comprehensive immigration reform bill in the next few months, and I will sign it right away,” he said during Tuesday night’s address. The need for immigration reform is a topic that, at least in general, is something Boehner and the President see eye to eye on — but in the past, that hasn’t been enough.
In June, Boehner said that, “Securing our borders, enforcing our laws, and making the process of becoming a legal immigrant fairer will in fact help America remain a magnet for the brightest minds and the hardest workers in the world.” Despite the Republican leader’s call for reform, the agricultural policy bill he put to the Republican-led House was shot down at the time. Then, in late October, Republicans came to Washington to lobby against their own party representatives, with business executives and donors even holding financial contributions over the head of soon-to-be campaigning Republican Congressmen.
The only question is whether or not both parties can find an agreement that will please both sides enough to push through the legislature — assuming the bill is as “comprehensive” as the President requires — with sufficient measures to deal with increased border security, enforcement improvement, and citizenship streamlining for easier legal immigration. Many Republicans have made it clear that their most important or even sole goal for 2014 will be the removal of Obamacare — something that unsurprisingly came up a number of times, both directly and indirectly, during the State of the Union Address.
That said, elections and party pressure have a way of putting issues in perspective as they draw closer, especially with public approval ratings looking grimy for both sides of the aisle as of late. A Gallup poll showed Congress’ approval rating at a mere 13 percent at the start of 2014, up from the low 9 percent seen in 2013, but down from the beginning of last year, and considerably down from 2009′s high of 39 percent.
The President hit on a number of aspects of foreign affairs, some commentary — such as that relating to a Trans-Pacific Partnership — putting substantial, tangible trade and economic plans on the table, though long lasting effects could be in question. On the surface, the trade partnership — involving twelve nations in total — sounds promising, but it isn’t without opponents with concerns on how it could affect specific industries, like automotive and aerospace industries for example — according to Lydia Depillis’ take on the matter, with the Washington Post. His discussion of future agreements raises questions as to the intended and unintended effects that could result from such complex international changes.
His comments on the NSA’s security changes being forthcoming also had implications for international relations, improving the U.S.’s position with regards to foreign privacy concerns, but many have recently questioned just how thoroughly the system will be revamped after Obama’s announced changes earlier this month. Others items, such as his commentary on Israel, Syria, and the Middle East, put the U.S. largely on the same political footing one might expect when you look at recent history — though his rhetoric on Syria was a relevant hint at the events of the day to follow, as Congress’ passage of renewed aid to the opposition forces led to disruptions in the Geneva II Syrian peace conference. “We’ll keep the pressure on a Syrian regime that has murdered its own people, and support opposition leaders that respect the rights of every Syrian,” said Obama.