While the 2015 State of the Union Address delivered powerful, memorable messages regarding domestic issues namely on higher education, labor rights, and middle-class economics; President Obama also utilized the opportunity to elucidate the direction his presidency will be taking in foreign policy. President Obama reiterated support for U.S. allies in places like Paris and Pakistan in their battle against Islamist extremism and terrorism, touted the broad coalition the U.S. is leading in Iraq and Syria to degrade and destroy the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and spoke on successes in West Africa in the fight against the Ebola virus. He underlined the strength of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its allies in the face of Russian aggression, trumpeted the normalization of relations with Cuba, and addressed the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Overall, the messages delivered did not deviate from previous statements and were unsurprising. Perhaps what was surprising; however, was a lack of commentary regarding the legislative branch and how their support (or lack thereof) will affect the visions he set forth.

 

 While the 2015 State of the Union Address delivered powerful, memorable messages regarding domestic issues namely on higher education, labor rights, and middle-class economics; President Obama also utilized the opportunity to elucidate the direction his presidency will be taking in foreign policy. President Obama reiterated support for U.S. allies in places like Paris and Pakistan in their battle against Islamist extremism and terrorism, touted the broad coalition the U.S. is leading in Iraq and Syria to degrade and destroy Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and spoke on successes in West Africa in the fight against the Ebola virus. He underlined the strength of The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its allies in the face of Russian aggression, trumpeted the normalization of relations with Cuba, and addressed the Iranian nuclear negotiations. Overall, the messages delivered did not deviate from previous statements and were unsurprising. Perhaps what was surprising; however, was a lack of commentary regarding the legislative branch and how their support (or lack thereof) will affect the visions he set forth.

 On certain issues; such as authorization for the use of military force in the fight against ISIL, Congress is waiting for the White House to send over draft language for the resolution so that they can pass the necessary legislation with bipartisan support, although some questions on the details of the plan remain.  On other issues; however, party lines couldn’t be further entrenched and bipartisanship more challenging.

The United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany (P5+1) have been working for over a year on talks to solidify a deal with Iran that would limit their nuclear weapons program. After extending the negotiations for a second time this year, opponents to the talks, and those who believe that the United States is conceding too much in their efforts to reach a deal, clamored for a new approach. In Congress, this response takes the form of a new bill that would renew sanctions against Iran. As this bill progresses through the legislative process negotiators are imploring Congress to stand down, as new sanctions could severely damage their ability to reach a deal. While the President remains resolute in his determination to reach a deal, threatening to veto any new sanctions bill, Congress is determined to get involved. This is why House Speaker John Boehner took the unprecedented step of inviting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress next month without White House approval. Speaker Boehner’s success in pushing through a sanctions bill will depend on his ability to garner enough votes to override the looming presidential veto, and his team hopes that Prime Minister Netanyahu will drive the need for sanctions home.

 On other issues, President Obama’s staunchest opposition may very well come from within his own party. Framing trade regulations as a global competitiveness issue, in which China is trying to write the rules, the President called for a level playing field and on Congress to grant him Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).  TPA guarantees that Congress will not amend trade pacts and will instead either accept or reject them in their entirety; this grants the president greater authority in negotiations.  TPA would ostensibly allow the President to push through stalled, complicated trade deals such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While most Republicans are in favor of such a measure (those against express hesitation in giving a President they already mistrust any additional authority), many Democrats fear that granting the President this authority would lead to trade deals that favor corporate interests over American workers. To progress on the trade deals President Obama will need to garner support across the aisle because of their general unpopularity with fellow Democrats. 

 Senator John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham’s joint response to the State of the Union exemplifies the challenging political landscape in which President Obama must operate.  Senators McCain and Graham wrote that they are, “pleased that President Obama addressed a number of issues on which Republicans and Democrats can work together in the coming year,” but that, “on critical national security issues, President Obama’s speech tonight was an unfortunate demonstration of how strategically listless his Administration now is.” The administration’s success in dealing with Congressional challenges from both sides of the aisle will depend on its ability to guide and galvanize Congressional support and effectively address the partisanship that has paralyzed legislation in recent years; as evidenced by the statement above the President has some work to do.