It’s finally 2016, and tonight is President Obama’s final State of the Union address. Has it already been eight years? Tonight, we'll be livestreaming the speech right here, starting at 8:45 p.m. EST at the video above. Katie Couric and a panel of experts will provide commentary and insights.
By this time next year, there’ll be a new leader in office, warming up to give his or her first presidential address to the American people. But even though Obama’s looking toward the finish line, he’s not just running out the clock on his presidency. This final State of the Union will be filled with Obama's vision for the country after he's left the White House.
The biggest issue that we’re likely to hear about in tonight’s address is gun control. The Obama administration is bringing the issue of gun safety to the forefront of his final term in office, announcing last week a series of executive actions on gun control that are meant to effect results without the involvement of Congress. Since then, the administration has waged a quiet media campaign to drum up support.
Two of the seats reserved for guests of the White House indicate Obama's intent to focus on the issue — one seat is held for Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, a supporter of stricter gun regulations who was in office during the tragic 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook that killed 26 people, most of them children. The other will be left empty, in memory of lives lost to gun violence. The official White House guest list states that the empty seat is meant to “remind every single one of our representatives that it’s their responsibility to do something about this.”
Obama is also likely to address certain issues that he hopes to keep in the public attention after he leaves office, such as the Syrian refugee crisis and immigration reform. After the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of last year, Obama denounced calls to turn away Middle Eastern refugees. “Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” he said at the time. The administration has invited as a guest Refaai Hamo, a Syrian refugee known as “The Scientist,” whose tragic story went viral after he was profiled by Humans of New York.
National security will also be a priority for the president; after an attack Tuesday in Istanbul killed 10 people, most of them foreign tourists, the threat of terrorism is impossible to ignore. Expect Obama to lay out his vision for military operations in the Middle East and monitoring possible threats in the United States. One question that is likely to go unanswered is how Obama plans to respect human rights and civil liberties while also protecting the lives of Americans.
Another guest is Oscar Vazquez, a Mexican immigrant who entered the country illegally as a child and has gone on to achieve enormous academic success, as well as serving a tour of duty in the U.S. military before finally gaining legal immigration status as an adult. Vazquez's story illustrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform that Obama has previously advocated.
The State of the Union address will air at 9 p.m. EST, and Refinery29 will be livestreaming the full speech. Tune in with us tonight to watch the final address, and see how Obama chooses to leave his legacy.