Obama's 'Season Premiere:' 6 Surprises in State of the Union

The president took a different approach in his kick-off to year 7 in office.

January 20, 2015, 11:32 PM

— -- The 2015 State of the Union address was the opening episode of Barack Obama, Season VII.

Or so says senior Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer in a post on Medium.

If the presidency is a television series, it's latest season premiere was packed with surprises, kicking off a penultimate year that's sure to be chock full of many more.

Here's a look at a few of the biggest unexpected moments in Obama's speech:

1. Releasing the Speech Before the Speech

In a break with decades of precedent, the White House posted the full text of the president's remarks online before he even spoke a word. Previously, only members of Congress and the press were allowed an early, embargoed look.

The move follows an unorthodox two-week campaign by the president to announce his State of the Union proposals at daily events ahead of the speech ... in which he announced them.

In a statement, the administration said releasing the entire text ahead of time would allow people to follow along, take notes and Tweet. It's also an acknowledgment that far fewer Americans are tuning in, attempting to catch the audience online, at home.

2. The V-Word

State of the Union is traditionally a time for soaring rhetoric and bipartisan displays. But this year, it took President Obama just 10 minutes to go nuclear, dropping a bold warning to Republicans about the power of his veto pen.

"We can't put the security of families at risk by taking away their health insurance or unraveling the new rules on Wall Street, or re-fighting past battles on immigration when we've got a system to fix," he said. "If a bill comes to my desk that tries to do any of these things, it will earn my veto."

After just two vetoes in six years in office, it was a surprisingly swift turn to boldly warn about vetoes -- something Obama has rarely done in a State of the Union setting. The White House has issued eight veto threats so far this year.

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3. Surprise! You're a Social Media Star

Astronaut Scott Kelly thought he was simply going to be a guest of first lady Michelle Obama during her husband's speech. Little did he know, the president would publicly catapult him to becoming a social media star.

"Scott Kelly will begin a year-long stay in space," Obama said of his upcoming mission, the longest any American has spent in space. "Good luck, Captain -- and make sure to Instagram it."

Kelly's profile on the photo-sharing platform began the night with one post and about 265 followers. Those numbers instantly began to blast off. It was the first mention of Instagram in a State of the Union address.

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4. Taking on 'The Pundits'

The president took the unusual step of using his State of the Union to confront beltway "pundits," making a personal plea for progress on one area where he has, by his own admission, failed: fulfilling a promise to fix the broken politics of Washington and cure the bitterness behind the debate.

"Over the past six years, the pundits have pointed out more than once that my presidency hasn't delivered on this vision. How ironic, they say, that our politics seems more divided than ever. It's held up as proof not just of my own flaws -- of which there are many -- but also as proof that the vision itself is misguided, and naïve," he said.

"I know how tempting such cynicism may be. But I still think the cynics are wrong... Imagine if we broke out of these tired old patterns. Imagine if we did something different," he said. "If we're going to have arguments, let's have arguments -- but let's make them debates worthy of this body and worthy of this country."

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5. Transgendered Americans Get a Shout-Out

Never before has a president mentioned transgendered Americans in a State of the Union address. President Obama tucked in a surprise reference in the section of his speech that referenced the Paris attacks and called for widespread respect of human dignity.

"As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we're threatened," Obama said. "That's why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they're right, but because they make us safer."

The Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian advocacy group, praised the reference.

6. Putin's Play in Ukraine

Just as Obama declared in the speech that his administration was "upholding the principle that bigger nations can't bully the small," there was an apparent surprise move by Russian President Vladimir Putin to further antagonize Ukraine.

There were fresh reports that Russian troops were once again rolling into eastern Ukraine, backing pro-Russian rebels and taking on Ukrainian troops.

The United States is "opposing Russian aggression, supporting Ukraine's democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies," Obama said.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has been developing since August. And while U.S.-led sanctions have helped deal a blow to Russia's economy, that has done little to get Putin to reverse course.

ABC News' Kirit Radia and Dennis Powell contributed to this report.

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