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Americans react to Obama's address to nation

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

President Barack Obama delivers the State of Union address before a joint session of Congress in the House chamber Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, in Washington, as Vice President Joe Biden, and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, listen. (AP Photo/Larry Downing, Pool)

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President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address Tuesday night to make his pitch that the nation must come together to address persistent problems, from the wealth gap between rich and poor to economic mobility to lagging schools.

Stymied by Congress, Obama vowed that if lawmakers won’t act, he will use his executive power to achieve some of his goals, which include raising the minimum wage for some workers hired by federal contractors and making it easier for low-income Americans to save for retirement.

The president also called on lawmakers to pass immigration reform and restore unemployment benefits, among other proposals.

The Associated Press spoke with a sampling of viewers from around the country to gauge whether the president succeeded in convincing them of the need for his proposals — or whether his address would be seen as the opening salvo in the midterm election fight for control of Congress.

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HE WAS TALKING ABOUT ME, BUT CAN HE HELP ME

Scott Valenti was astonished as he listened to the president. “He was talking about me tonight,” said the 41-year-old resident of Woodland Park, Colo. “But I can tell you, I’m no more reassured than when he started.”

After years of work, Valenti put himself through Colorado Christian University to finally get his bachelor’s degree in organizational management.

But after a post-graduation position fell through, he’s been jobless for a month with two teenage children to provide for and a mortgage to pay. Still, Obama’s pledges to help the unemployed and his urging of Congress to jumpstart job growth left Valenti cold.

“When we look back 40 years from now and say, ‘that Obama initiative in 2014 led to some change,’ well, I’m sure that will happen,” he said. “But I need a job now.”

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SEEKING A BIGGER SLICE OF THE PIE — WHOEVER DOES THE CUTTING

Naquasia LeGrand, 22, who works part-time as a fast-food employee at Kentucky Fried Chicken, said she was especially happy to hear Obama point to a pizza store owner who had raised his employees’ wages, and asked other Americans to follow that example.

“Businesses don’t have to wait on Congress to help their employees have a living wage,” said LeGrand, from Brooklyn, who has campaigned to raise the minimum wage to $15 and to allow fast-food workers to unionize.

LeGrand said she was glad to see Obama suggest going around lawmakers and using his executive power.

“I’m glad to see he’s taking steps and taking action with or without Congress and he’s going to do what he’s there to do.”

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ELECTRIC TECHNICIAN LIKES POWERED-UP PRESIDENT

Dean Weygandt, 52, of Toledo, Ohio, an electronics technician who’s active in his local union, said that when it came to Obama using executive orders for his agenda, it’s about time.

“I think he’s used executive privilege less than he should have,” Weygandt said.

“He’s tried to work with those people,” he said, referring to Republicans in Congress. “There are times before he could have used it and didn’t.”

He said he liked Obama’s ideas on retirement and reforming the tax code, saying they would bring a better future.

“Personally, I’m not living hand-to-mouth, paycheck-to-paycheck, but I’m living month-to-month and I know the importance of a good retirement.”

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NOT SO FAST WITH YOUR PEN, MR. PRESIDENT

Bill Deile, 70, a retired Army colonel and attorney living in Cape Coral, Fla., said he took notice of what he called a “veiled threat” from the president when Obama promised to take action alone if Congress wouldn’t.

“That I think, if it doesn’t spur Congress into some sort of action to clamp down on this guy, I think you’re going to see it from the states,” he said.

Deile said he appreciated that Obama touched on immigration reform, even though he doubts they would agree on how it should be handled.

“I’m sure his idea of immigration reform is 180 degrees from what my idea is,” Deile said. “His is probably to legalize everyone, and my idea is to close the borders and get those people out of here.”

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LOFTY WORDS BRING LITTLE FAITH

Mary Lynn English, 44, who has pursued more than 100 marketing jobs in recent years without success, said she wasn’t impressed by the president’s positivity.

“I was glad to hear what he’s saying, but it’s words and I’ll be happier when there’s some action. It doesn’t much matter what the president says tonight,” said English, who lives in the North Carolina mountain city of Asheville.

“All of that is happening in a stratosphere that’s going to take a good long while to get to western North Carolina,” English said.

English appreciated the president saying that policy-makers needed to make sure they reward work at a time employees often feel they are underappreciated and too often treated as disposable.

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‘DISGUST’ IN THE RUST BELT

Alan McIntyre, 43, self-employed, of the Mount Airy neighborhood of suburban Cincinnati said the speech was, “in a word: disgusting.”

McIntyre didn’t find any policies he could support. Of MyRA, the president’s proposal to help lower-income Americans save for retirement, McIntyre was negative toward the idea of a guarantee that people wouldn’t lose what they put in.

He said liberal Democrats “want to talk about how bad off people are and how they can guarantee things for people. I only need you to guarantee one thing for me: that you’ll stay out of my way.”

“You have to assume that risk, that’s called responsibility,” he said, referring to investments.

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MONEY FOR NUTS, AND PICKERS MORE FREE

Phil Erro, 69, said Obama either forgot or flew past farmers like him and the workers they need. “He’s completely skirted the immigration issue and I think he could have plugged the farm bill,” said Erro, an almond farmer in California’s Central Valley.

“I was disappointed,” he said, adding that he would have liked to see “some notion” about how Congress could reach agreement on immigration reform and that he wanted Obama to push for a path to legal residency that’s short, such as three to five years.

The small grower relies heavily on workers from Mexico and Central America to prune, harvest and do other jobs.

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MORE STUDENT LOAN RELIEF, LESS SPYING

Jonas Miller, 38, works part-time as an independent contractor specializing in disaster relief work — but has been unable to find a full-time job despite looking since 2012.

He said he was most-excited to hear Obama mention reducing student debt loads because he owes nearly $80,000 on his final two years of college and two years of graduate school.

“I find myself with an incredible burden of student loans,” Miller said, “and it’s really quite limiting in my options from this point forward.”

Miller said he was excited to hear that Obama won’t wait for Congress to move forward on major policies, but that he wished the president had spoken more about domestic spying.

“I think he’s glossing over something that really is one of the most important items to come up during his presidency,” he said.

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BORDERING ON BORED WITH IMMIGRATOIN IDEAS

Raul Sanchez, 38, a graduate student at the University of Texas, said she wished the president would have talked more about immigration reform because what he said during the State of the Union address was “a lot of what I’d heard before.”

“I don’t think that he’s put pressure on members of Congress the way that he could have, the way he did with the Affordable Care Act,” Sanchez said.

He said he thinks that Obama waited until his second term to push immigration reform because it would have been a divisive issue like it has been before.

“Though he’s making strong efforts right now, I still feel he didn’t address it very much,” he said. “He said nothing about a path to citizenship which was a bit troubling.”

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Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver; Emery Dalesio in Raleigh, N.C.; Manuel Valdes in Seattle; Scott Smith in Fresno, Calif.; Robert Jablon in Los Angeles; Deepti Hajela in New York; David Fischer in Miami and Will Weissert in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report. Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

Associated Press


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