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The State Of The Union Goes On Tour


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Audie Cornish. President Obama is on the road today. He's busy making the case for some of the ideas he rolled out last night in his State of the Union address. First stop, a warehouse store in Maryland. There, the president made a multipronged pitch around raising the minimum wage. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith begins our coverage.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Expect to hear this a lot in the coming weeks and months.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It's time to give America a raise.

KEITH: President Obama said it twice in his remarks at that Costco warehouse store in Lanham, Maryland this morning with employees who all make more than the minimum wage standing behind him. He said Costco's CEO is onto something paying entry-level employees $11.50 an hour and long time workers even more.

OBAMA: He's sees that if he's doing right by Costco's workers, then they can buy that 80 inch TV, too.

KEITH: In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama announced he would sign an executive order setting a minimum wage for future federal contract workers at $10.10 an hour. It's still not clear how many people that would help or how quickly, but he took that step because his calls for Congress to raise the federal minimum wage have gone nowhere.

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN: It's bad economics. It actually costs jobs.

KEITH: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan shot down an increase in the federal minimum wage on MSNBC this morning.

RYAN: If you raise the price of these entry level jobs, there will be fewer of them and we want to put people into the workforce so they can work their way up.

KEITH: Many economists argue that the impact on hiring is offset by other economic benefits. But that congressional resistance leads to the final part of President Obama's pitch.

OBAMA: And as I said last night to every governor, mayor, state legislator out there, if you want to take the initiative to raise your minimum wage laws to help more hardworking Americans make ends meet, then I'm going to be right there at your side. While Congress decides whether it's going to raise the minimum wage or not, people outside of Washington are not waiting for Congress and I'm not either.

KEITH: For progressive Democrats like Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva, the fact that the president is talking about raising the minimum wage, even just for new federal contracts, is a victory on its own.

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL GRIJALVA: Maybe it is not as the breadth of what we want done, but it's that step. We consider it a building block and a momentum builder.

KEITH: For Democrats, talking about giving Americans a raise is something to rally around in what is going to be a tough election year. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.