Obama Readying State of the Union Address During Troubled Times
Around the State
With sinking poll numbers and Republicans hoping to flip the U.S. Senate in November, President Barack Obama will offer the State of the Union address on Tuesday night as he tries to push his legislative agenda.
Obama’s speech is expected to focus on economic matters including tackling economic inequality and perhaps the Trade Promotion Partnership agreements currently before Congress. The White House is signalling that Obama will push immigration reform, which remains stalled in Congress, but hold his fire from Republicans.
Obama’s team is looking to paint 2014 as a “year of action,” a theme which should arise in the speech. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is pushing that theme.
“In his State of the Union address, President Obama will call on all of us to make 2014 a year of action. But it will be up to Democrats to get the job done,” the DNC posted on their website. “We're going to be fighting to support the president's agenda and stop Republican obstructionism.”
Obama is also relying on Michelle Obama to get the message out. The DNC sent out an email under the first lady’s name on Monday in which she defended her husband’s federal health-care law and called on Democrats to support him before the State of the Union address.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, also tried to flesh out Obama’s opportunity. Speaking to the media on Frday, Carney called the speech a “unique opportunity for the president to speak to millions of Americans who tune in and listen to the State of the Union address, and he very much looks forward to it.”
Carney did not offer much in the way of specifics, though he did hint Obama would focus on the economy.
“There aren’t many opportunities that a president gets to speak on prime time television to talk about his or her agenda for the country moving forward,” Carney said. “So I think you can expect him to be consistent with where he’s been in terms of describing his priorities. And that top priority has always been, since he first ran for president, the need to grow our economy in a way that rewards hard work and responsibility, that makes the middle class more secure, that expands economic opportunity and provides a ladder up to those aspiring to the middle class. That’s been his central preoccupation since he first thought about running for the Senate and then the presidency. And you can certainly expect that that will be the focus of what he talks about, not just next week but throughout the rest of his presidency.”
Carney also left no doubt that Obama plans to defend the use of executive orders in his speech.
“There’s no question that the president has made clear that he wants to re-emphasize the capacity that he, as president, has because of the unique power of the office to advance an agenda both working with Congress and using his executive authority -- so, with his pen to sign bills and with his phone to gather people from across the country who he can persuade and urge to work with him to advance some of the goals that will help the middle class,” Carney told the media.
Republicans are lining up to respond to the speech. U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., a rising star for the GOP, will be offering the official Republican response. After McMorris Rodgers was announced this weekend as the Republican offering the response, top GOP leaders started singing her praise. McMorris Rodgers serves in the House as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference.
“Cathy McMorris Rodgers is proof that with humility, hard work, and dedication, you can overcome any obstacle – a story to which many Americans can relate,” said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “Through the lens of her family’s experiences, Cathy will share our vision for a better America built on a thriving middle class, guided by a fierce belief in life and liberty, and grounded in greater trust between citizens and their government. We are grateful to Cathy for lending her voice and perspective to this national occasion.”
“Cathy McMorris Rodgers is an excellent choice to present the Republican address and share an alternative approach to the president’s plans to grow an already enormous federal bureaucracy,” said Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Her experience, hard work and commitment to family provide an example that Americans outside the halls of Congress understand. A strong advocate of empowering citizens rather than just the federal government, Cathy is the right choice to deliver this important address.”
Other Republicans will be also be offering State of the Union responses. U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, will be offering the “tea party” response, and potential Republican presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will be offering his own response.
But another political group outside the two major parties will also be looking to make a point on Tuesday night. More than 70 members of Congress will be wearing orange lapel pins on Tuesday night when Obama offers his State of the Union address. The pins indicate support of No Labels, a group trying to push bipartisan solutions in Washington.
No Labels calls for “political leaders from both parties coming together to develop goals for America that Republicans, Democrats and independents can agree on” which “will form the basis for a national strategic agenda -- a shared vision for the country that is a crucial step in finally breaking the cycle of gridlock and inaction in Washington and bringing about sustainable growth and prosperity.”
But the ranks of the congressmen and senators backing No Labels leans very heavily on the Democratic side. Less than 25 of the congressmen who will be wearing the lapel pins hail from the Republican majority in the U.S. House with the rest in the Democratic ranks.
Only two Republicans in the Senate -- Dean Heller of Nevada and Mark King of Illinois -- will be wearing the orange lapel pins, while four of their Democratic colleagues including U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., one of No Labels’ co-chairmen, and independent Angus King of Maine are also supporting No Labels. Three congressmen from Florida -- Republican Dennis Ross and Democrats Joe Garcia and Patrick Murphy -- will be sporting the orange pins on Tuesday night. Garcia and Murphy are expected to face competitive Republican challengers in November.
Manchin attempted to explain what his group had in mind and praised the three Florida congressmen for backing its efforts.
"This is a bold call for nothing less than transforming American politics, and we're so appreciative that Representatives Ross, Murphy and Garcia have shown the courage and the leadership to help us launch this new effort," said Manchin. "We believe that if both sides of the political divide can get together and develop a shared vision for this country, the hard work of policymaking will be much smoother."
No Labels is getting bipartisan cover from a Republican who worked for Obama as ambassador to China and focused his underwhelming 2012 presidential bid in attacking the GOP.
"In recent years, presidents have talked about being uniters, not dividers, but have never been able to deliver on that promise or told us how," said former Gov. Jon Huntsman of Utah, a co-chairman of No Labels, on Monday. Huntsman ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. "This campaign is a roadmap for how to bring a divided nation together. And it begins with political leaders like Representatives Ross, Murphy and Garcia, who are committed to working with colleagues across the aisle to look for areas of agreement."
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.