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Obama calls for U.S. to 'fix' its politics in final State of the Union speech

Wednesday, January 13, 2016, 07:52 GMT+7

WASHINGTON, Jan 12 - President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged U.S. leaders to "fix our politics" and lift Americans' standard of living in a final State of the Union speech designed to contrast his vision for the country with Republican presidential campaign rhetoric.

Obama, who is delivering his last annual speech to Congress before leaving office next January, said political discourse was meant to be messy, but - in an apparent nod to proposals by Republican candidates such as Donald Trump - required "bonds of trust" between citizens.

"The future we want: opportunity and security for our families; a rising standard of living and a sustainable, peaceful planet for our kids; all that is within our reach," Obama will say, according to excerpts of his speech released in advance by the White House.

"But it will only happen if we work together. It will only happen if we can have rational, constructive debates. It will only happen if we fix our politics."

Obama's speech, scheduled for 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT on Wednesday), is one of his few remaining chances to capture the attention of millions of Americans before the Nov. 8 election of a new president who will take office next January.

Businessman Trump is leading the Republican field. He has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, ideas Obama strongly opposes.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is delivering the Republican Party's response to Obama's address, will knock his record on fiscal and foreign policy while delivering a not-so-subtle jab at Republican presidential candidates such as Trump.

"During anxious times, it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country," she will say, according to excerpts of her remarks.

Haley is the daughter of Indian immigrants.

Obama's address comes as 10 sailors aboard two U.S. Navy boats were taken into Iranian custody. Iran told the United States the crew members would be "promptly" returned, U.S. officials said. The event gave Republicans further fodder to criticize Obama's nuclear deal with Tehran.

Politics, regrets

Earlier on Tuesday, the president voiced sadness for failing to unite Washington since taking office on a wave of hope in 2009, telling NBC's "Today" show that it was "a regret" that he was unable to heal America's political divisions.

In a reflective mood, Obama said in the NBC interview that he could have done a better job talking to the country during his presidency to address Americans' fears and concerns.

"Particularly during times of stress, the American people need to hear from their president in terms of what it is exactly that we're trying to do. Things that I've done well during the campaign I've not always done well as president," he said.

Obama's speech is expected to stick to themes he hopes will define his legacy. Although aides said it would not be a "laundry list" of proposals, he is likely to seek support for priorities such as ratifying a Pacific trade pact, advancing tighter gun laws and closing the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

He is likely to tout last year's Iran nuclear deal and improved U.S.-Cuba relations as achievements, while addressing the U.S. fight against Islamic State, which has generated criticism from Republicans for being too meager.

"There is one thing that we hope to hear from the president, and that is a comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS," Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters, using an acronym for the militant group that has taken over large areas of Syria and Iraq.

Politics will loom over the speech.

Obama is eager for a Democrat to win the White House to preserve his legacy, but anger over his policies and fears about security threats have helped push non-traditional candidates to the fore in the Republican and, to a lesser extent, the Democratic races to succeed him.

Trump leads the Republican field and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont is giving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tough competition in early voting states for the Democratic primary contest.

Reuters

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