The President Hopes For State Of The Union To Be A Big Reset Button

The political world is gearing up for President Obama's State of the Union on Tuesday night, an address in which the president gets to outline his priorities for the coming year. With tens of millions of people watching on TV and — the administration hopes — on their cell phones and tablets, the speech offers the chance to reframe the terms of many of the difficult issues that have so far dogged the president's second term.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. President Obama prepares to hit the proverbial reset button on his second term tomorrow night. The president will lay out his agenda in the State of the Union address. After a rough and tumble 2013, sparring with Congress over the budget and Obamacare, the president is expected to make some adjustments. He will rely more on the power of the executive order.

Now, in a few minutes, we'll talk about how effective a strategy that might be. But first, NPR's Mara Liasson on what to expect from the president's speech.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Tens of millions of people will be watching and listening Tuesday night as President Obama tells the country what he wants to accomplish. As former White House speechwriter Don Baer explains, this is the best chance the president will have all year to frame the debate.

DON BAER: It's an enormous opportunity to inject a new sense of energy into his administration, a new sense of focus around what really is going to matter; to bring Congress along with them, to the extent that's possible, but more important, to bring the country along with him.

LIASSON: The president has already laid out the themes he'll highlight tomorrow night. He wants to provide more economic security for the middle class and, as he calls it, ladders of opportunity for those trying to join it.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: While our economy is growing stronger and we are optimistic about growth this year and subsequent years, we've got a lot more work to do to make sure that everybody has a chance to get ahead. If they're willing to work hard and take responsibility, they've got to be able to participate in that growth.

LIASSON: President Obama has called income inequality the defining challenge of our time. But tomorrow night, according to his aides, he'll deliver an optimistic message that focuses on economic growth and upward mobility, not only on populist redistribution. The State of the Union is also an opportunity the president can use to help himself out of a deep hole. His approval ratings have slumped from the high 50s a year ago to the low 40s today.

And this year, his party is in danger of losing control of the Senate and seeing its minority in the House shrink even further. Republican strategist Mike Murphy.

MIKE MURPHY: I think the president is facing one of the worst problems you can have in politics, which is the "enough already" problem - which is, his numbers are upside down. People have been hearing promises without action for a long time, so I think there is going to be a lot of eye-rolling if the White House overplays its hand.

LIASSON: White House aides insist that will not be the case. With expectations low for legislative action this year, the White House is proposing a relatively modest agenda. Last year's State of the Union proposals on gun control, immigration, and a hike in the minimum wage went nowhere. Some of them will be back again this year, and while Mr. Obama may play off of Congress on some of these initiatives, his tone on immigration will be carefully bipartisan in order to preserve any possibility for progress on that issue in Congress.

Mr. Obama will also be showcasing his new approach to governing, relying less on Congress and more on his own executive authority. He'll announce unilateral actions on education, manufacturing and climate change. The president's senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, says with Republicans in Congress disinclined to pass his proposals, the president needs to act more vigorously on his own.

DAN PFEIFFER: Where Congress blocks us, we're going to use every ounce of creativity we have, to find ways to help. Let's take the example of unemployment insurance. Only Congress can extend it. But we can do things like, we're going to bring together companies around this country who have made commitments to hire the long-term unemployed, a population with great talent and skills we need to get back in the workforce. That's something that we can do on our own while we need to push Congress to act in the way we feel they should.

LIASSON: That hiring pledge, which the president will announce on Friday, doesn't have the impact or the permanence of legislation. But it does demonstrate to the public that Mr. Obama is moving forward in any way he can, and it may result in some of the long-term unemployed getting hired.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

DENIS MCDONOUGH: This year, there are more ways than ever to take part in the State of the Union.

LIASSON: That's White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on YouTube. With TV audiences declining, the White House is trying to promote the State of the Union with every social media trick in the book. It's been posting pictures to Instagram, showing the president and his aides preparing for the speech; and Denis McDonough is encouraging Obama supporters to watch it on WhiteHouse.gov/live and participate.

MCDONOUGH: During the speech, you can be part of that conversation on Twitter, and you'll have the opportunity to share exclusive graphics from the enhanced broadcast with your social networks. Immediately after the address, you will have the opportunity...

LIASSON: Right after the State of the Union, the president will get out of town and spend two days traveling to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Tennessee, promoting ideas he believes the public will like - even if Republicans in Congress do not.

Mara Liasson, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: