Washington (CNN) — Citing a “deficit of trust” in government by the American people, President Obama‘s first State of the Union address urged Congress to erode the influence of special interests and work together to confront the nation’s most pressing problems.
In the nationally televised speech Wednesday night to a joint session of Congress, Obama sought to reassure Americans angry and nervous about the pace of economic recovery that his government understood the challenges and would act boldly to meet them.
The president offered populist proposals that some say could reconnect his administration with middle-class Americans, and he offered a plea to end the partisan stalemate in Washington and work for the common good.
Americans “don’t understand why it seems like bad behavior on Wall Street is rewarded but hard work on Main Street isn’t. Or why Washington has been unable or unwilling to solve any of our problems,” Obama said. “They are tired of the partisanship and the shouting and the pettiness. They know we can’t afford it. Not now. ”
Rather than fight “the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades,” Obama called for a new political climate of “common sense” approaches that invest in the American people without building “a mountain of debt.”
“Let’s meet our responsibility to the people who sent us here,” the president said. “To do that, we have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now. We face a deficit of trust — deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years.”
To close what he called the “credibility gap,” Obama advocated ending the “outsized influence” of lobbyists. He also said government and Congress should work openly, in order to “give our people the government they deserve.”
Senators and U.S. representatives filled the House chamber, joined by members of Obama’s Cabinet, the Supreme Court, the military and other branches of government. Obama received repeated standing ovations in the 69-minute speech, including when he said job creation was the top priority of his administration.
Some humorous moments occurred, such as when Obama detailed tax cuts in his first year, prompting just a smattering of applause from the Democratic seating area. Nodding at seated and silent Republicans, Obama said: “I thought I’d get some applause on that one.”
While the State of the Union address is the height of Washington pomp and ceremony, at least one Cabinet member was missing from the event. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stayed in London, England, to attend international conferences on Yemen and Afghanistan and meetings with world leaders.
Guests in first lady Michelle Obama’s box included Kim Munley and Mark Todd, police officers who apprehended the Fort Hood shooting suspect in Texas last year.