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President Obama Takes State Of The Union Themes To KU

Bill Anderson
President Obama appeared confident and jovial during his speech at KU.

President Obama focused on child care reforms, his free community college proposal and reaching across the aisle in a speech at the University of Kansas Thursday.

He is the first sitting president to visit the Lawrence, Kan., school in more than 100 years.

Before he launched into the issues at hand, the president made sure to please the crowd with some Kansas love, saying how excited he was to visit Allen Fieldhouse before his speech.

"I've got deep roots in Kansas," Obama said with a grin. "That helped me in the caucus here in 2008. It didn't help me too much in the general election. Coach Self won ten straight, I lost two straight here."

Since delivering his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday, Obama’s been trying to drum up support for his plans in places he hasn’t succeeded politically, stopping first in Idaho and now in Kansas.

"And I know it can seem sometimes like our politics is more divided than ever," said Obama. "That in places like Kansas the only blue stands for KU so because of those divisions, the pundits in Washington that any vision of a more hopeful politics must be naïve or misguided. But as I pointed out, I still believe what I said back then, that we as Americans have more in common than not.”

Obama then called on Congress to help pass a tax credit of $3,000 per child for families in need of day care, and reiterated the free community college plan that he outlined in his State of the Unionaddress Tuesday.

"Republican families [struggle to pay for child care] just like Democratic families," Obama said. "I don't want any family to face the choice between not working or leaving their children in unsafe or poor quality child care."

Obama said universal childcare is a family issue, not just a women's issue. He then told another Kansas story. When the U.S. was fighting World War II, his grandfather went overseas, his grandmother went to work in a factory in Wichita, and his mother went to subsidized daycare.

"This country provided universal childcare because they understood if women are working, then they’re going to need some help," said Obama. "Research shows it was good for the kids, good for the parents, but we stopped doing it. Even though almost every other advanced country on earth continued to do it, learned from us and did it. But we stopped doing it.”

Obama outlined how he plans to pay for new tax credits and free community college with a familiar call to Congress: change tax codes for the highest earners and corporations to pay for the middle-class.

"We've got lobbyists who've rigged the tax codes with loopholes that let some corporations pay nothing while others are paying full freight," Obama said. "Let's close loopholes that let the top 1 percent or .01 percent avoid paying certain taxes and use that money to help more Americans pay for college and child care."

The president's free community college plan would also draw money by taxing existing "529" college savings accounts. Many Republicans have chided the idea, as well as some Democrats.

Though Kansas is solidly red, voters in Lawrence are more likely to support Democrats than the state as a whole. But the opposite is true in Topeka, where Brooke Teasley lives.

"They say it’s like being a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup, and it is," said Teasley, clad in an Obama shirt with a peace sign. "It’s hard because you circle the people around you that feel the same way. There are so many that don’t, and it’s just such a divide in the philosophy."

Teasley was excited to see so many people come out to hear the president speak on a cold, January day.

"It's a nice variety of people – young and old, diverse and ethnic," she said.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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