President Obama will face two Republican-controlled chambers of Congress during his State of the Union speech Tuesday night as he enters the last two years of his presidency.

How the president’s proposals are answered by freshman Sen. Joni Ernst, who will deliver the Republican debuttal, remains to be seen, although history suggests that his tax-the-rich plan won’t find much love in the GOP.

Just in time for the occasion, newly minted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has apparently wised up to Americans’ partisan battle fatigue. In a statement Tuesday before the State of the Union speech he urged Obama to “turn the page” and move away from an era of near-immobility in Congress — a chronic condition against which McConnell hasn’t exactly always taken preventive measures (per The New York Times):

“The American people aren’t demanding talking-point proposals designed to excite the base but not designed to pass,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement before the speech. “They said they’re ready to see more constructive cooperation, especially on bipartisan jobs initiatives.”

Even as Mr. Obama addresses a newly-empowered Republican majority, his standing in the country is improving in the wake of several aggressive moves he has made in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, including executive action on immigration and a move to normalize relations with Cuba. After spending nearly a year hovering at about 40 percent approval, the president’s popularity has improved markedly since the contests.

On average, the president’s approval rating stands at about 46 percent, and a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Monday shows it at 50 percent for the first time since just after the 2012 presidential election. The survey reflects a nine-point increase in the last month, though other polls have shown smaller gains.

The bump in popular support comes as the economy continues to improve, with unemployment sinking to 5.6 percent and the pace of job growth accelerating.

Of course, one of Obama’s requirements for Tuesday’s address is positioning the Democratic Party favorably for the 2016 election cycle, after the drubbing it took at the polls in 2014.

Because the White House has been more forthcoming with SOTU details beforehand this year, the Times’ political editors were able to put together their thoughts about the speech before it was delivered. Read their take here.

–Posted by Kasia Anderson

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