President Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered his seventh and final State of the Union address, touting his accomplishments as president, focusing on his vision for the country's future and discussing the need to heal its deep political divides.
Speaking to a packed House of Representatives chamber in the U.S. Capitol, Obama acknowledged that the expectations are low for his final year in office, but vowed he would not stop working to achieve his policy goals.
"Fixing a broken immigration system, protecting our kids from gun violence, equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage — all these things still matter to hardworking families; they are still the right thing to do; and I will not let up until they get done," he said.
Obama also hit out at his critics on economic issues, saying "anyone claiming that America's economy is in decline is peddling fiction."
"The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world," he said, citing more than 14 million new jobs, an unemployment rate cut in half, and growing automobile and manufacturing industries.
"Gas under two bucks a gallon ain't bad, either," he said, to applause.
On foreign policy, Obama said "priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks," noting that both al-Qaida and the Islamic State group pose a threat to the U.S. But he cautioned against those who think the world is sinking into "World War III."
"Masses of fighters on the back of pickup trucks and twisted souls plotting in apartments or garages pose an enormous danger to civilians and must be stopped," he said. "But they do not threaten our national existence."
"That's the story ISIL wants to tell," Obama said, using an alternate name for the Islamic State. "That's the kind of propaganda they use to recruit. We don't need to build them up to show that we're serious. Nor do we need to push away vital allies in this fight by echoing the lie that ISIL is representative of one of the world's largest religions."
Obama, a Democrat, also took a subtle jab at Republican presidential candidates, saying Americans should "not fear the future."
"America has been through big changes before — wars and depression, the influx of immigrants, workers fighting for a fair deal, and movements to expand civil rights," Obama said.
"Each time, there have been those who told us to fear the future; who claimed we could slam the brakes on change, promising to restore past glory if we just got some group or idea that was threatening America under control. And each time, we overcame those fears," he said.
Obama also took aim at those in the presidential election campaign who have made disparaging comments about Muslims, and condemned recent attacks on Muslims places of worship.
"When politicians insult Muslims, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is bullied, that doesn't make us safer. That's not telling it like it is. It's just wrong," he said. "It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country."
Obama cited foreign policy accomplishments, including stopping the spread of Ebola in West Africa, forging the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, restarting diplomatic relations with Cuba, and sealing the Iran nuclear deal.
Obama's did not mention Tuesday's incident in which 10 U.S. sailors were detained by Iran, after apparently straying into Iranian waters in the Persian Gulf.
Other U.S. officials have attempted to play down the incident, saying Iran has agreed to "promptly" release the sailors. The incident had threatened to become an awkward distraction for Obama, coming hours before the address.
Instead, Obama focused on other foreign policy matters, including renewing his vow to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. "It's expensive, it's unnecessary, and it only serves as a recruitment brochure for our enemies," he said.
The Republican response to Obama's speech was delivered by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has been rumored as a possible vice presidential choice for the eventual Republican presidential nominee.
Haley accused the president of not living up to his "soaring words."
"As he enters his final year in office, many Americans are still feeling the squeeze of an economy too weak to raise income levels. We’re feeling a crushing national debt, a health care plan that has made insurance less affordable and doctors less available, and chaotic unrest in many of our cities," Haley said.
"Even worse, we are facing the most dangerous terrorist threat our nation has seen since September 11th, and this president appears either unwilling or unable to deal with it. Soon, the Obama presidency will end, and America will have the chance to turn in a new direction. That direction is what I want to talk about tonight," she said.