WASHINGTON (AP) — For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama will stand before a Republican-led Congress to deliver his State of the Union address and try to convince lawmakers newly empowered to block his agenda that they should instead join with him on education, cyberprotection and national security proposals.
With Obama firmly in the legacy-building phase, his address is expected to be as much about selling a story of U.S. economic revival as it is about outlining initiatives. The approach reflects the White House’s belief that it has been too cautious in promoting economic gains out of fear of looking tone deaf to the continued struggles of many Americans.
White House advisers have suggested that their restraint hindered Democrats in the November elections and helped Republicans take full control of Congress for the first time in eight years. But with hiring up and unemployment down, the president has been more assertive about the improving state of the economy in the new year and his prime-time address Tuesday will be his most high-profile platform for making that case.
“America’s resurgence is real, and we’re better positioned than any country on Earth to succeed in the 21st century,” Obama said Wednesday in Iowa, one of several trips he has made this month to preview the speech.
Tuesday is the second-to-last time Obama will take part in the pageantry of the annual presidential address to Congress and a televised audience of millions. By the time he stands before lawmakers next year, Americans will have begun voting in the primary campaigns that will determine his successor.
Mindful of Obama’s fading share of the spotlight, the White House has tried to build momentum for his address by rolling out, in advance, many of the proposals he will outline. Among them: making community college free for many students; ensuring paid sick leave for many workers; cutting the cost of mortgage insurance premiums for some home buyers; pressing for cybersecurity legislation in the wake of the hacking on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the U.S. has blamed on North Korea.
Some proposals are retreads. Most stand a slim chance of getting congressional approval.
The real battle lines between Obama and the Republican-led Congress will be on matters long fought over.
Buoyed by their new majority, Republicans are moving forward on bills to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, change Obama’s health care law and dismantle his executive orders on immigration. The White House has threatened vetoes.
Republicans say that’s a sign of a president who didn’t get the message from voters trying to relegate his party to minority status in the November election. New Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the president still has a chance to change his tone.
“Tuesday can be a new day,” McConnell said. “This can be the moment the president pivots to a positive posture, this can be a day when he promotes serious realistic reforms that focus on economic growth and don’t just spend more money we don’t have. We’re eager for him to do so.”
Obama isn’t expected to make any major foreign policy announcements. He is likely to urge lawmakers to stop the pursuit of new penalties against Iran while the U.S. and others are in the midst of nuclear negotiations with Tehran. In a news conference Friday, Obama said legislation threatening additional penalties could upend the delicate diplomacy.
“Congress should be aware that if this diplomatic solution fails, then the risks and likelihood that this ends up being at some point a military confrontation is heightened — and Congress will have to own that as well,” he said.
The president also is expected to cite his recent decision to normalize relations with Cuba, as well as defend the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to stop Russia’s provocations in Ukraine and conduct air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.