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Obama highlights Minnesota mom's story in State of the Union

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President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to promote an economic package he says will help America's middle class " long as politics don't get in the way," USA Today reports.

And he illustrated his message with the story of Minnesotan Rebekah Erler, who had written to him last year about her family's financial struggles.

In his first State of the Union message delivered before a Republican-controlled Congress, President Obama described the state of the union as strong and said the nation is ready to turn the page after years of financial hardship.

Erler (pictured below between first lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden, wife of the vice president), a wife and mother of two from St. Anthony, caught the attention of the president with her eloquent letter – so much so that Obama invited her to have lunch with him when he visited Minneapolis in July.

She and her family were recently invited by the first lady to attend the Tuesday night speech.

Obama said the Erlers' story is “the reason I ran for this office” before touting a package of proposals that include raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, tax breaks for child care, free community college, and lower interest rates on mortgage insurance.

As the New York Times reports, Obama also called on Congress to pass new legislation stepping up the fight against the Islamic State "to show the world that we are united in this mission."

The Associated Press notes Obama appealed for "better politics" in Washington and pledged to work with Republicans, even while putting forth an agenda more likely to antagonize the new majority.

The most talked-about moment on social media was when the president briefly went off script and took a little jab at Republicans. Watch it here:

Read the transcript of Obama's speech here.

Here's the video and a transcript of the Republican response from U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa.

PolitiFact live-blogged the president's speech and Ernst's remarks, fact-checking along the way. Here's an archive of of their fact-checking.

Here are statements from some of Minnesota's congressional delegation reacting to the president's speech:

Sen. Al Franken, Democrat: “I was glad to see that the President put such a focus on building a strong middle class. Our economy always does better when we build it from the middle out. He talked a lot about making higher education more affordable and preparing people for 21st century jobs, which have both been top priorities of mine."

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Democrat: "With the economy improving, we are no longer governing from crisis – we are governing from opportunity, and we have a chance to bring both parties together to boost our economy and make progress for middle class families."

Rep. Tim Walz, 1st District, Democrat: "I don’t agree with everything the President said tonight, but Republicans and Democrats should work together towards these common sense goals and help more Americans achieve their own American Dream. We’ve come a long ways since the dark days of Great Recession. Let’s keep moving forward.”

Rep. John Kline, 2nd District, Republican: “Bigger and bloated government isn’t the solution to the problems facing our nation. ... Rather than roll out a new $320 billion tax hike that will hit working families, the President should join us in creating a simpler, cleaner tax code that would help spur job creation and create an environment that helps families, not hurts them."

Rep. Erik Paulsen, 3rd District, Republican: “Congress will remain focused on building a healthier economy that results in more jobs and bigger paychecks for hardworking families, and I urge the President to join us in this effort. From an ambitious trade agenda to a fairer, flatter tax code, we have an opportunity to find common ground that will provide real results for millions of Americans looking for financial security.”

Rep. Tom Emmer, 6th District, Republican: "The Republican majorities were not elected to fall in step with President Obama’s agenda—the American people are demanding change. The President needs to learn to work with, not against, Congress to find solutions. It’s been only two weeks since the 114th Congress was sworn in, and we’ve hit the ground running by passing solid, bipartisan legislation. Now the President needs to act."

Rep. Rick Nolan, 8th District, Democrat: "[The president] is making it clear that a good idea doesn’t require a party label. Republican or Democrat – it’s time for everyone to put their ideas on the table on a bipartisan basis so we can arrive at the best ways to ensure that the middle class can share in America’s growing prosperity. All in all, tonight’s speech was a good start – an agenda I think the majority of Americans will welcome.”

And here are a few more tweets about tonight's activities.

(click on the image in this first one to get the full effect)

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