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Live-blogging the State of the Union


10:15 pm: Stay tuned to First Read -- we'll start another thread shortly for reaction to the president's speech.

Thanks for following along.

10:14 pm: CBS's Mark Knoller had the stopwatch. The State of the Union clocked in at 1 hour, 1 minute, and 36 seconds.

10:13 pm: "The idea of America endures. Our destiny remains our choice. And tonight, more than two centuries later, it is because of our people that our future is hopeful, our journey goes forward, and the state of our union is strong."

10:11 pm: "We do big things. From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That's how we win the future."

10:09 pm: Obama refers to Boehner's upbringing to much applause. "That [American[ dream is why someone who began by sweeping the floors of his father's Cincinnati bar can preside as Speaker of the House in the greatest nation on Earth."

Did he cry? Hard to see - might have wiped his eyes, but no waterworks.

10:07 pm: Expounding on what makes our democracy great, Obama says "We should have no illusions about the work ahead of us. Reforming our schools; changing the way we use energy; reducing our deficit -none of this is easy. All of it will take time. And it will be harder because we will argue about everything. The cost. The details. The letter of every law."

10:06 pm: In the wake of Congress's successful passage of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Obama calls for all college campuses "to open their doors to our military recruiters and the ROTC."

"It is time to leave behind the divisive battles of the past. It is time to move forward as one nation."

10:05 pm: Prolonged applause for this line: "We must never forget that the things we've struggled for, and fought for, live in the hearts of people everywhere. And we must always remember that the Americans who have borne the greatest burden in this struggle are the men and women who serve our country."

10:02 pm: "Obama to al Qaeda: "We have sent a message from the Afghan border to the Arabian Peninsula to all parts of the globe: we will not relent, we will not waver, and we will defeat you."

10:01 pm: Tom Curry notes that Obama does not mention Gitmo in this address.

Here's what he said in his 2009 address to Congress: "“there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists – because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer…”

10:00 pm: Big applause when Obama says Americans have "the conviction that American Muslims are a part of our American family."

9:56 pm: Obama: "Because the American people deserve to know that special interests aren't larding up legislation with pet projects, both parties in Congress should know this: if a bill comes to my desk with earmarks inside, I will veto it."

That was a promise that didn't go over very well earlier today with Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.

Reid argued today that eliminating earmarks would just give the president more discretion over spending, and he "has enough power already." Reid said that calls to ban earmarks are just a "lot of pretty talk."

9:55 pm: Another joke: "Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them in when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked."

9:52 pm: Obama makes a plug for malpractice reform. "I'm willing to look at other ideas to bring down costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits."

Seconds later, the American Association for Justice (formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America) sends out a response: "As many as 98,000 people die every year from preventable medical errors, with countless more injured.  President Obama should direct his focus towards tackling this startling figure, not promoting efforts that could eliminate the legal rights of patients."

9:50 pm: Obama: "I recognize that some in this Chamber have already proposed deeper cuts, and I'm willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without. But let's make sure that we're not doing it on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens. And let's make sure what we're cutting is really excess weight."

9:48 pm: Not a lot of applause for Obama's spending freeze proposal...

9:47 pm: Rep. Giffords' office has released a new photo of the congresswoman and her husband Mark Kelly watching the speech from her hospital bed in Houston. Check it out here, via KVOA.

9:45 pm: Some chuckles for this: "Now, I've heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law."

Obama says he's open to some improvements, referencing an unpopular "bookkeeping burden" (1099 forms) as an item that could be changed. There is pending legislation to nix that requirement.

"What I'm not willing to do is go back to the days when insurance companies could deny someone coverage because of a pre-existing condition ... So instead of re-fighting the battles of the last two years, let's fix what needs fixing and move forward."

9:43 pm: Earlier tidbit from Kelly O: By lip reading, Sen. Barbara Boxer said to the President as he was walking in: "Here's my date," referring to GOP colleague John Mica.

(Boxer and Mica are both going to be on MSNBC's The Last Word tonight.)

9:41 pm: On the tax code: "I'm asking Democrats and Republicans to simplify the system. Get rid of the loopholes. Level the playing field. And use the savings to lower the corporate tax rate for the first time in 25 years - without adding to our deficit."

9:40 pm: Some chuckles for this joke: "Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying - without the pat-down."

9:37 pm: More on immigration: "Let's stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.

The DREAM Act, which Obama supported, would have allowed a path to citizenship for some young illegal immigrations who came to the U.S. as children. That legislation failed at the end of the last Congress.

9:37 pm: "I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows."

9:34 pm: Speaker Bohhener's office just sent out a fact check on Obama's claim that "the steps we’ve taken over the last two years may have broken the back of this recession." The speaker counters that the stimulus "did not work" and that unemployment remains high.

9:34 pm: "In fact, to every young person listening tonight who's contemplating their career choice: If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child - become a teacher. Your country needs you."

9:32 pm: NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports: Aides to Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski say she has left the House chamber to join her family at hospital due to son's surgery.

"She was in the House chamber just prior to the speech when she got word that her youngest son was scheduled for an appendectomy tonight, so she headed straight for GWU hospital."

9:30 pm: "We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair." Obama's beloved Chicago Bears barely missed the big game after a tough loss Sunday.

9:26 pm: Obama asks congress to "eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies." Biden claps. Not so much Speaker Boehner.

9:22 pm: Obama: "We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business."

9:21 pm: Feels like we're on track for a lot less rowdy applause lines, especially given the bipartisan seating. Last year, he stopped over 100 times for clapping.

9:20 pm: Obama: "The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still."

9:20 pm: "Nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world." Obama will mention China four times tonight according to prepared remarks.

9:19 pm: Obama: "The rules have changed. In a single generation, revolutions in technology have transformed the way we live, work and do business. Steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers can now do the same work with 100.  Today, just about any company can set up shop, hire workers, and sell their products wherever there’s an internet connection."

9:18 pm: Tom Curry notes: Obama had a brief word as he was coming in with Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill. who beat Obama in the 2000 primary.

9:17 pm: Obama: "We are poised for progress. Two years after the worst recession most of us have ever known, the stock market has come roaring back. Corporate profits are up. The economy is growing again."

He's recently extended olive branches to the business community, including in his selection of a new chief of staff Bill Daley -- a choice lauded by the Chamber of Commerce.

9:16 pm: "At stake right now is not who wins the next election – after all, we just had an election."

9:15 pm: Speaking of bipartisanship, there's wide disagreement about exactly what color Barack Obama's tie is. But looks like it could be a party-neutral purple.

9:14 pm: Obama alludes to the bipartisan seating at tonight's speech. "What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow."

9:13 pm: Referencing the shooting tragedy, Obama says: "Tucson reminded us that no matter who we are or where we come from, each of us is a part of something greater – something more consequential than party or political preference."

9:12 pm: In the first minute, Obama says he is "mindful of the empty chair in this Chamber." We "pray for the health of our colleague – and our friend – Gabby Giffords."  Standing ovation.

Giffords is in a rehabilitation center in Texas with her husband Mark Kelly tonight.

9:11 pm: "Tonight I want to begin by congratulating the men and women of the 112th Congress, as well as your new Speaker, John Boehner." Lots of applause acknowledging the new members.

9:10 pm: Here we go. Boehner presents the President of the United States.

9:09 pm: Obama now greeting and shaking hands with the Supreme Court justices attending the SOTU. Big smiles for his newest confirmed nominee, Elena Kagan.

9:08 pm: Pretty cool, a word cloud of the speech.

9:06 pm: Obama now makes his way slowly down the center aisle of the chamber, greeting members as the lawmakers applaud and cheer.

9:05 pm: The president is entering the chamber now.

9:02 pm: They're just like us! House members had to guard their seats throughout the afternoon if they wanted prime spots for the speech. Colorado Rep. Ed Permutter tweeted: "Took shift w [Rep. Cory] Gardner to protect CO seats at SOTU. Other dels wish they as org as we are." (via NBC's Shawna Thomas)

9:00 pm: The president's cabinet (minus designated successor Secretary Salazar) is now entering the chamber.

8:58 pm: Michelle Obama is in the chamber. She's wearing a grey (maybe silver?), long-sleeved dress.

8:57 pm: The Supreme Court justices are now being introduced and seated. Six of them are here today. NBC's Pete Williams wrote about the attendees earlier today here.

8:56 pm: Here's the full text of Rep. Paul Ryan's response to the State of the Union address, as prepared for delivery.

8:53 pm: The first televised State of the Union address was Harry Truman’s in 1947. But it took almost two decades for the address to be moved to evening to attract a larger national audience.

President Lyndon Johnson was the first to move the speech to 9 pm ET in 1965. The following year, the first opposition response from the president’s opposing political party was given; Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois and Rep. Gerald Ford of Michigan delivered the Republican rebuttal to Johnson.

8:52 pm: "The Joint Session willl come to order," says Speaker Boehner.

And the president has arrived at the Capitol.

8:48 pm: With senators and representives taking their seats, lots of chatter on who's sitting with whom.

Some of the noteworthy couples:

On the Senate side:
Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Sen. Tom Coburn
Democrat Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions
Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Republican Sen. John Thune

And from the House side:
The former and current House Oversight and Governmental Affairs chairmen, Democrat Ed Towns and Republican Darrell Issa.
New York delegation foes Rep. Anthony Weiner (D) and Rep. Pete King (R).

The media attention that “prom night” has received has irked a few of the idea’s supporters. At a press conference today, Sen. Lisa Murkowski cautioned that reporters shouldn’t focus too much on the gossipy nature of the “who’s-going-with-who?” chatter. “There are no cooties to be had between Republicans and Democrats,” she said.

And some folks are going stag. Via CNN, Democrat Sen. Jim Webb said he won't be bringing a date. "It's a little silly but it's not harmful," he said. "I've got a lot of friends who are Republicans, and I don't quite see walking up to them and asking them if they want to sit with me.

8:45 pm: Beginning with President Ronald Reagan in 1982, presidents have traditionally asked guests of honor to sit with the First Lady at the State of the Union address.  These guests are sometimes referred to as “Lenny Skutniks” after the first guest invited to sit in what’s often called “the Heroes’ Gallery.”

Skutnik, a former government office assistant, is known for his heroic rescue of a woman who was among the passengers of an Air Florida flight that crashed into the Potomac River in January 1982.

This year’s “Skutniks” include the parents of Christina Taylor (the nine-year-old girl killed in Tucson earlier this month) as well as Daniel Hernandez, the intern who helped to save the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after the shooting. Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta will also sit with the first lady, as well as several other military veterans and entrepreneurs.  

8:42 pm: The president and first lady have just departed the White House en route to the Capitol.

8:41 pm: From Shawna Thomas: Here's what a lot of U.S. senators waiting to get into the State of the Union looks like.

8:35 pm: There's no mention in the president's prepared remarks about gun control. NBC House producer Shawna Thomas sends on this response from gun control advocate Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, who ran for Congress after her husband was shot and her son seriously injured in 1993:

"I know he has a number of family members here from the victims. I know The doctors and the nurses that've been taking care of gabby is here.  The President is known to speak off the cuff every once in a while. But you know what, It's my job to meet with him, sit down with him and talk with him. I can understand if nothing is said tonight. But let's wait and see what he says. If not, I'll still go forward and push him."

8:33 pm: NBC Senate producer Ken Strickland says he's standing outside the Senate chamber, where senators are gathering to prepare to walk through the Capitol to the House chamber. Several of them are wearing black and white ribbons on their lapels in commemoration of the victims of the Tucson shootings.

8:27 pm: As reported earlier today, Obama will also call for a five-year freeze on non-defense government spending.

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. This would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was president.

As my colleague Tom Curry points out, the numbers on non-defense discretionary spending pale in comparison to what a freeze in overall spending would save. (Discretionary non-security spending makes up only 13 percent of the $3.7 trillion budget.)

 Says Tom: “Just as a thought experiment -- how about a five-year freeze on mandatory spending? That would save $954 billion over what the Congressional Budget Office is currently forecasting for 2011-2015. And a five-year freeze on defensespending would save $269 billion over what CBO is currently forecasting.”

Republicans appear to be unsatisfied with a mere freeze in spending, saying that much deeper cuts are necessary. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told the Huffington Post today that Obama’s plan is simply “not enough.”  

And Republican Sen. Jim DeMint just tweeted this: "Our debt crisis demands spending cuts, not a freeze. When a car speeds toward a cliff, you hit the brakes, not cruise control."

8:25 pm: Per the prepared remarks, Obama will speak about the health care law that he signed into law last year -- with a little bit of sarcasm.

"I’ve heard rumors that a few of you have some concerns about the new health care law," he'll say.

8:21 pm: More history facts: The modern State of the Union – a wide-ranging outline of the president’s legislative agenda delivered to a joint session of Congress – began with President Woodrow Wilson, who in 1913 gave the first in-person annual message since Jefferson’s era.  

Only about a third of the over 220 annual messages and State of the Union addresses in American history have been delivered in person by the president.

8:16 pm: NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports that the "designated successor" tonight is Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The tradition of selecting one Cabinet member to skip the State of the Union dates back to the 1960s. The absence of one administration official ensures a smooth transition of power in case of a catastrophic event.

Last year, the designated successor was Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan.

8:11 pm: The full text of the speech as prepared for delivery is here.

8:06 pm: The White House has released the speech as prepared for delivery. We'll have the full remarks to you soon -- but here's a quick count of how many times the president will say some of the key words that we've been keeping an eye out for:

Job - 31
Investment - 7
Business - 20
Bipartisan - 2
Economy - 7
Education - 10
Spending - 11
Deficit - 11
China - 4
Health care - 4

8:00 pm: This year's SOTU has featured a unique flutter of anticipation in the weeks leading up to the speech: Who's got a date?

Some members of both parties will be sitting intermingled together - rather than in rigidly divided partisan blocs - in the chamber for the first time in the modern era.

The bipartisan seating idea was proposed by centrist group Third Way, which suggested in a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month that mixing up the seating could help “avoid the spectacle of one side jumping up to applaud and the other sitting glumly.”  (You can read Domenico Montanaro's report on Third Way's proposals here.)

Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado picked up on the idea and penned an open letter to his colleagues in Congress urging them to follow suit. As of this morning, 59 Republicans and Democrats had officially signed on, and many more have announced their "dates" to the speech.

7:49 pm: Per NBC's Luke Russert, the theme of President Obama's speech tonight sounds awfully familiar to some Republicans. The focus of the speech, "Winning the Future" -- also happens to be the title of a  book written by a man who might try to take Obama's job in 2012. Former Speaker of the House (and possible GOP presidential contender) Newt Gingrich wrote "Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America" in 2005. That's not lost on Gingrich-headed group American Solutions, which has a wry statement on its website now about the wording.

"While we're flattered the president is using our language (I wonder if he read the book?), we're more interested in whether his speech focuses on winning the future for politicians or for the American people."

7:42 pm: The president's reported reference to Sputnik is getting some social media traction. In addition to the hashtag #sotu, "Sputnik" is currently trending on Twitter nationwide. (And according to Google Trends, the nation is also currently setting its collective TiVo: "What time is the state of the union address 2011?" is Google's #5 hot search.)

7:39 pm: A first of many of tonight's tidbits of SOTU history, courtesy of the Congressional Research Service:

The first State of the Union was delivered by President George Washington before a joint session of Congress in 1790. Washington’s address was just 1089 words long. (Compare that to Obama’s address last year, which clocked in at 7444 words.)

John Adams followed his predecessor’s lead, giving his annual address in person. But Thomas Jefferson decried the practice as “monarchial” – too much like the British “Speech from the Throne” – and chose instead to send written messages to both houses of Congress that were then read by clerks in each chamber. 

(Some historians speculate that Jefferson had another reason for declining to deliver his oratory in person; he wasn’t regarded as a particularly inspiring public speaker, and his inaugural address had recently been panned.)

7:30 pm ET: Welcome to First Read's live-blog of the State of the Union address. The president is scheduled to begin speaking just after 9:00.

Excerpts from Obama's speech -- and from the official GOP response by Rep. Paul Ryan as well as an unofficial Tea Party reaction speech by Rep. Michele Bachmann -- have already been released.

According to excerpts released by the White House, Obama will say that this is "our generation's Sputnik moment," and he will call for "shared responsibility" between parties. You can read the excerpts here.  You can read some of Ryan's remarks hereand Bachmann's here.

Visit First Read all night for live updates, historical factoids, and background about past State of the Union addresses.