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Ear to the Ground

Obama to Get ‘Optimistic,’ but Not Too Ambitious, in State of the Union Speech

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Posted on Jan 26, 2014

The White House

Tuesday’s State of the Union address practically writes itself: President Obama will gesture, once again, at the fanciful notion of bipartisan cooperation (while flexing executive muscle) and restate the need to rebuild America’s middle class—all with an eye on the Senate race in 2014 and beyond.

Whether the president has any muscle left to flex, however, remains to be seen. The kind of congressional chaos that turned Obamacare into a political spectacle of disaster-movie proportions last year could easily recur in other contentious legislative contexts—so, as the New York Times’ Peter Baker noted this weekend, Obama’s focus will zoom in on issues that offer him at least a glimmer of victory:

But perhaps more so than in any of his previous congressional addresses, Mr. Obama confronts the reality that, except for a possible overhaul of immigration, he has little chance of major legislative victories in the coming year. As a result, aides said, he will present a blueprint for “a year of action” on issues like income inequality and the environment that bypasses Congress and exercises his authority as president to the greatest extent possible

Meanwhile, Politico pointed to senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer’s SOTU preview email to Obama boosters, sent Saturday:

“In this year of action, the president will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way,” Pfeiffer wrote. “But when American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress.

“President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American — business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country — in the project to restore opportunity for all,” he said. “It will be an optimistic speech. Thanks to the grit and determination of citizens like you, America has a hard-earned right to that optimism.”

The message will also be carefully tailored, of course, to highlight differences between the two dominant, squabbly political parties in hopes of giving Democrats more push-back power during the next inevitable congressional showdown.

—Posted by Kasia Anderson

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