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Previewing President Obama’s final State of the Union address

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan January 11, 2016

Editor's note: We're watching President Barack Obama's final State of the Union; check back to our homepage for fact-checks. In the meantime, follow PolitiFact on Medium and view our annotations of Obama's speech

On Tuesday night, President Barack Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address. The White House has advertised it as a "big picture" address that skips the usual legislative wish list.

In a video previewing his speech, Obama called himself "optimistic," saying he intends to talk about "what we all need to do together in the years to come, the big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids." The White House website devoted to the speech previews the topics of the economy, climate change, foreign policy, health care and "social progress."

We’ll be fact-checking and annotating the speech Tuesday night. Here are some of the topics from our archives that we think Obama might mention.

Closing Guantanamo Bay

We’re tracking Obama’s 2008 campaign promises on our Obameter, a database of more than 500 campaign pledges. We’ve rated his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center as Stalled. Obama clearly wants to close the facility, but Congress continues to block that move. (We rate outcomes, not intentions on our Obameter.) In November, Obama signed an overall bill to fund defense that included limitations on closing Guantanamo.


Obama recently took new executive actions on guns in the wake of high-profile shootings and the refusal of Congress to pass legislation to more heavily regulate gun purchases. Obama’s actions are intended to beef up the firearms background check system and other gun regulations.

Obama has asked federal agencies to issue stricter directives for which kinds of gun sellers are required to be licensed and thus perform background checks. He has directed the hiring of additional employees to help enforce the background check system, and he has ordered the creation of new procedures for getting mental health information into the background system. Finally, he has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security to research safe gun technology, such as "smart guns."

Fighting ISIS

Some of the harshest criticism of the Obama administration recently has come from Republican presidential candidates and is focused on the Islamic State or ISIS, a terrorist group operating in Iraq and Syria. Republicans have called Obama’s strategy to fight ISIS "wrong" and "reckless."

PolitiFact recently examined the Republican presidential candidates’ positions on the Islamic State and found them fairly similar, especially when it came to military strategy. Most have called for the limited use of troops, but have been vague on details about how that might differ from the current deployment. Right now, there are 50 special ops but no combat troops in Syria and a task force of 200 servicemen, in addition to the 3,500 troops already in Iraq.

Climate change

Obama has been going solo on climate change ever since Congress failed to pass cap and trade legislation to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in 2009. (We rated that Promise Broken on our Obameter.) In November 2014, Obama announced a major new agreement with China to curb emissions, which Republicans criticized but seemed unable to block. That set the table for a major international agreement among close to 200 countries, negotiated in Paris in December 2015.

Pacific trade agreement

One issue that has scrambled the partisan lines is the Trans Pacific Partnership, an agreement to lower tariffs and other trade barriers between the United States and other countries in the Pacific (but not China). Obama strongly supports the agreement, as do some Republicans, such as Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. But Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton recently switched positions to oppose the deal; her primary opponent Bernie Sanders opposes it as well.

Criminal justice reform

Obama has long supported reforms to the criminal justice system to reduce the incarceration rate for nonviolent drug-related offenses, which have disproportionately affected African-Americans. Obama signed the the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which reduced sentencing discrepancies between crack and powder cocaine-related crimes, and eliminated a five-year mandatory minimum sentence for crack possession. We rated his promise on our Obameter a Compromise, since the legislation reduced the disparity but did not eliminate it.

That may have had an impact on the federal prison population, which has declined in recent years, as we noted in a recent fact-check.

Iran nuclear agreement

In 2015, Obama’s team finalized an international agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear capability; Republican presidential candidates have criticized the deal as overly lenient. The deal stipulates that Iran commit to not pursue nuclear weapons. If Iran abides by its terms, the United States and other countries will lift sanctions. (Read "6 things to know about the Iran nuclear deal.")

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Previewing President Obama’s final State of the Union address