By Victoria Craw
He might not look it, but Obama is a president in crisis.
At the start of his sixth year in the job, his approval ratings are languishing at 43 per cent — the lowest for any president apart from George W. Bush. Nearly 70 per cent of people think the US is stagnant or worse off since he took power in 2009.
The State of the Union is his chance to turn it around, where he can speak directly to voters to outline his vision for the year ahead. So, what did he say?
- Guantanamo Bay should be closed
- Minimum wage should be increased from $US7.25 to $US10.10
- Immigration reforms should get "done"
- Six new "tech hubs" will be created to foster tech manufacturing
- Surveillance laws will be reformed
- Climate change is a "fact"
- There will be greater access to training in colleges
- There should be greater income equality
For a further breakdown, here's everything you need to know about the State of the Union.
1 - State of the what?
The speech is a constitutional tradition given in front of a joint session of Congress each year. The exception is one "designated survivor" who remains separate in a secure location in case the Congress and President are wiped out in an attack.
United States Studies Centre Lecturer Malcolm Jorgensen said speeches are typically an hour although Bill Clinton could take 90 minutes. The President is flanked by his vice president Joe Biden and Republican Speaker John Boehner.
Republican congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers — the highest ranking woman in the Republican House — delivered a response straight afterwards that focused on empowering the middle class and shrinking government red tape.
2 - "A year of action"
The speech usually starts with a big theme to rally the country and set an agenda for the year ahead. This time, Obama painted a picture of a country filled with hardworking teachers, entrepreneurs and auto-workers in an economy that is quickly recovering from the GFC. His big vision is to make sure they have the policies in place so everyone can come along with it.
"What I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all — the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead," he said.
While income inequality and the great American dream had suffered some "serious blows" he said now it's time to set the balance right.
3 - "America does not stand still"
The government shutdown and botched Obamacare rollout led to huge damage to the President's reputation last year. The State of the Union was his chance to show he will put the political deadlock behind him and act alone if necessary.
"America does not stand still — and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that's what I'm going to do," he said.
His first step will be to sign an executive order to increase the minimum wage from $US7.25 to $US10.10 for new federal contracts, in a move set to benefit cleaners, laundry, food and construction workers across the country.
4 - Silicon Valley 2.0
He also called for a boost to the tech sector with six new hubs to take advantage of the "second wave" of hi-tech manufacturing. He called on Congress to push through patent reform to allow companies to create the next big ideas and undo research cuts that help with innovation.
It's part of a huge employment push which is set to see the country regain the 8.7 million jobs it lost during the financial crisis, something it's expected to do by the middle of the year.
An emphasis on workplace equality was one of the most popular moments of the speech, causing a 33,300 per cent spike in the use of the phrase 'equal pay' on Facebook as he called for the country to improve labour conditions for women.
"You know, today, women make up about half our workforce, but they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That is wrong, and in 2014, it's an embarrassment," he said.
5 - Immigration and surveillance
He also used the platform to call for immigration reform, along with more on the job training to get workers upwardly mobile.
Changes to surveillance programs were also said to be a priority to ensure the "privacy of ordinary people is not being violated."
It comes after further leaks from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed social media apps like Facebook, Flickr and Angry Birds were used to collect information on unsuspecting users.
Mr Jorgensen said the speech was fundamentally about equality with few surprises in terms of policy. "A state of the union speech is always very predictable. It's not about new ideas," he said, adding that it was about "reinvigorating momentum" for the presidency.
6 - The soldier that stole the show
It's tradition for the first lady to invite guests to sit with her during the speech. This time Army Ranger Cory Remsburg, who was nearly killed in a roadside bomb and is still blind in one eye, almost stole the show with a standing ovation from both sides of the house.
Michelle Obama also sat next to General Motors CEO Mary Barra, the daughter of a factory worker who went on to become CEO of America's biggest auto manufacturer, as well as Cristian Avila, who came to the US illegally, age 9, and benefited from an Obama policy that allowed young people who immigrated with their parents to avoid deportation.
Boston bombing survivors Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman were also there, as was Gary Bird, the fire chief in Moore, Oklahoma which was hit by a massive tornado that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 1000 homes and businesses.
NBA player Jason Collins 35, the first athlete in a major sports team to openly come out as gay, was also a special guest of the first lady while young whizzkid Joey Hudy, 16, also had a front-row seat.
7 - The Republican response
Following the speech, Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers delivered her vision of how a Republican America would be. The speech was set in a her office with a flag, family photo and fireplace in the background and earned criticism online for failing to include policy.
"Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's," said the congresswoman whose son has Down syndrome. "And that whether you're a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you."
This article was originally published at News.com.au