Legacy, politics frame Obama's State of the Union
US president to give his address with an eye on the political calender, as he seeks to shape his White House legacy.
WASHINGTON) - US President Barack Obama will give his State of the
Union address on Tuesday with an eye on the political calendar as time ticks
down on his bid to advance an agenda that will help shape his White House
Just three months after winning re-election on November 6, the
Democratic president has a narrow window to push through policy priorities on
the economy, immigration reform and gun control.
Analysts say he has
roughly a year before Washington turns its attention to the 2014 mid-term
elections, which could sweep more Republicans into Congress and accelerate the
subsequent "lame duck" status that defines presidents who are not running for
"He basically has a year for major legislative
accomplishments because after the first year you get into the mid-term
elections, which will partially be a referendum on his presidency," said Michele
Swers, an associate professor of American government at Georgetown
Obama's speech at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday (0200 GMT Wednesday)
- an annual event in which the president lays out his policy priorities for the
year - will be a chance for him to build momentum within that tight time
"I don't want to say it's the last important speech he's going to
give, but the window for a second-term president is fairly narrow," said Tony
Fratto, a White House spokesman under former Republican President George W.
With unemployment still high and massive "sequester" spending cuts
looming, administration officials say Obama will use the address before a
television audience of millions to press Congress to support his proposals to
boost the economy.
The White House is eager to show Obama's commitment to
the economy is as great as it is to immigration and gun reforms, and he is
expected to spend most of his speech reviving a theme that dominated his 2012
campaign: helping the middle class.
"You will hear ... an outline from
him for his plan to create jobs and grow the middle class," White House
spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday.
"His principal preoccupation as
president has been the need to first reverse the devastating decline in our
economy and then set it on a trajectory where it's growing in a way that helps
the middle class, makes it more secure and makes it expand." On foreign policy,
Obama will outline steps to unwind U.S. involvement in the unpopular Afghanistan
war and plans to announce that 34,000 U.S. troops will return by early 2014, a
source familiar with the speech told Reuters.
The State of the Union also
comes less than 24 hours after North Korea conducted a nuclear test that Obama
in a statement called a "provocative act." A White House aide said the test will
not force a change in Obama's speech.
"You'll hear the president address
this, but he was always planning to deal with North Korea in his speech," senior
adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on MSNBC.
ECONOMY, LEGACY The White House has
signaled Obama will urge U.S. investment in infrastructure, manufacturing, clean
energy and education, despite Republican opposition to increased government
spending and a political divide over how to tame the budget deficit.
will demonstrate concretely how we have to invest in manufacturing, making the
United States a magnet for job growth, preparing our work force, and making sure
that if you work hard that you can earn a good living," senior adviser Valerie
Jarrett said on NBC's "Today" show.
But the likelihood of passing new
short-term economic initiatives that require government spending in the
Republican-controlled House of Representatives is low.
Republicans said they would be listening for new ideas on how to control
spending and avoid looming "sequester" budget cuts with an approach that does
not rely heavily on additional tax increases.
House Speaker John Boehner
said Obama did not have the "guts" to take on the liberal wing of his party and
reach agreement with Republicans.
"To do the kind of lifting that needs
to be done, I don't think he's got the guts to go do it," Boehner told a group
of television anchors and reporters, according to CNN. "He doesn't have the
courage to take on the liberal side of his own party." U.S. Senate Democrats
plan to unveil later this week a series of targeted spending cuts and tax
increases on top earners to replace the sequester, but it is expected to be
quickly rejected by Republican leaders.
"We're done with the tax part of
the equation. If the president really wants a 'balanced' approach, now's the
time to show his hand on the spending cuts and reforms he'll accept," Senate
Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor on
Obama's speech is also expected to include a call for
comprehensive trade talks with the 27-nation European Union.
advisers argue that his push for immigration reform is also an economic issue,
and momentum for change is stronger there than it is for the president's other
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio - a Republican Cuban-American
who is championing immigration reform albeit with a more restrictive process of
legalization than Obama supports - will give his party's response to Obama's
The debate over immigration will also play out in the balconies
of the House of Representatives, where some members of the public will sit to
listen to the speech. Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois plans to bring a
man who is fighting deportation as his guest to the speech.
success on gun control are in doubt, but the president is likely to use his
speech to seek more support for proposals he laid out last month after the
Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting massacre in which 20 schoolchildren
After giving prominent mention to the fight against climate change
and equality for gays in his inaugural address, supporters will be disappointed
if he fails to lay out details in those areas. Obama could advance both issues
through executive orders, circumventing Congress and doing more to bolster his
"A second-term State of the Union is usually written with an eye
on history books and I'm sure the president is thinking about what his legacy is
going to be," said Doug Hattaway, a Democratic strategist and former adviser to
Iran's nuclear ambitions and the festering civil war in
Syria may present Obama with the toughest foreign policy tests of his second
term, but they are likely to receive little attention in his speech.
might raise concerns about cyber attacks, which have hit a succession of major
US companies and government agencies in recent months.
travel to three states in the days after his speech to sell his proposals to the