Facing a scandal-weary American public and record-low approval ratings, President Barack Obama vowed to bypass Congress "wherever and whenever" possible in a fiery yet upbeat State of the Union address Tuesday night.
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The president said he's ready to use the "pen and the phone" to move the country forward in a go-it-alone approach involving a series of executive actions that wouldn't require congressional approval.
In one, he announced a plan to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour for federal contract workers with new contracts, and called on Congress to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers.
"Today, the federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. ... Say yes. Give America a raise," he said.
Obama also announced executive actions on retirement security and job training to help middle-class workers expand economic opportunity.
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He renewed his appeal for a long-stalled immigration overhaul and promoted his signature health care law, four months after a bungled rollout, to a chorus of boos from Republicans.
Obama didn't touch on foreign policy much, although he did renew a pledge to pull all US troops out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. He touched on America's support of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and expressed support for protesters in Ukraine.
Obama also vowed to veto any bill imposing new sanctions on Iran.
"For the sake of our national security, we must give diplomacy a chance to succeed," he told Congress.
The political stakes for the speech couldn't be higher.
After a disastrous 2013 marred by Obamacare stumbles and revelations about the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance methods, Democrats face the very real possibility of losing the Senate in this fall's midterm elections, leaving Congress in the hands of Republicans.
Recent polls also suggest Americans really don't like their government right now. Just one in four Americans likes the direction the country is going, and many think government is America's top problem.