Theme of Obama’s last State of the Union: We brought America back

By LESLEY CLARK AND ANITA KUMAR | McClatchy Washington Bureau | Published: January 10, 2016

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — President Barack Obama will use his seventh and final State of the Union address on Tuesday to frame the nation’s future in an election year, pitching his agenda and his record as a proven path to success, as opposed to the vision being cast by the Republicans seeking to replace him.

The annual speech before Congress will be a sort of valedictory on his tenure, touting his signature legislative accomplishment, the Affordable Care Act, his handling of the economy, and unfinished efforts to counter Islamic State, decrease gun violence and counter climate change.

His aides said it will be a “nontraditional” speech that doesn’t contain the usual list of requests from Congress but rather focuses on themes that have defined his presidency.

The address will center on “not just the remarkable progress we’ve made, not just what I want to get done in the year ahead, but what we all need to do together in the years to come: the big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids,” Obama said in a preview video.

He’ll also tout a recent budget agreement, increased domestic oil production, new environmental regulations, rises in high school graduation rates and health insurance coverage, and drops in unemployment, crime and incarceration rates, White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said in an email to supporters. “Together, we’ve brought America back,” McDonough says in the video.

“You’ll hear a big, optimistic generous view of the future of America,” McDonough said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press, contrasting Obama’s speech with what he said was a field of Republican presidential candidates “seeming to run down America.”

Obama is unlikely to introduce any major new legislative initiatives. That reflects Obama’s political reality — he’s in his last year in office, the Senate and House are controlled by Republicans and little is likely to happen in an election year. But aides said he will urge lawmakers to move forward in areas where they can find bipartisan agreement, including criminal justice reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Obama last week acted unilaterally to require background checks of more gun buyers and launched what is expected to be a yearlong campaign urging states and localities to do more about gun control.

A seat in Michelle Obama’s box at the address will be left empty for “the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice — because they need the rest of us to speak for them,” Obama told supporters in a conference call Friday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he hoped to hear Obama “lay out a plan for the defeat” of Islamic State. But he said on ABC’s “This Week” that he would be be unlikely to support a new authorization of military force against the group because he doesn’t want to hamstring “a new president who is going to have to clean up this mess created by all this passivity over the last eight years.”

Michelle Obama’s invited guests at the address “personify President Obama’s time in office,” the White House said. Among them: two people Obama met when running for office — Edith Childs, a county council member from South Carolina, and Earl Smith, a veteran from Texas.

Another Obama guest will be Refaai Hamo, a newly arrived Syrian refugee who lost his wife and a daughter in a missile attack, a counter to Republicans sharply criticize his refugee resettlement program.

After the speech, Obama will travel to Omaha, Neb., and Baton Rouge, La., on Wednesday and Thursday. It will be his first trip as president to both cities in states that the White House says are examples of progress made over the past seven years with more people working and more people insured.

Cabinet officials also will hit the road to make the administration’s case. This year the White House is encouraging Cabinet members to boost engagement with town halls and social media, rather than simply delivering remarks, said White House Communications Director Jen Psaki.

“We want to be talking with people, not at them,” she said, pointing to Obama’s recent town hall on guns, which included both opponents and proponents of increased gun control. She said they will tout agency accomplishments over the past seven years as well as look to the future.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx will hold an event on self-driving cars. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson will host a roundtable with resettled Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will meet with current and former prison inmates to talk about criminal justice reform.

Also, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will travel to Fort Campbell, Ky., to talk with soldiers who will soon deploy to Iraq, and will travel to Miami and Tampa, Fla., to meet with U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz also will travel to Miami, to tour projects aimed at protecting the electric power grid against climate change.

©2016 McClatchy Washington Bureau
Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

President Barack Obama delivers the State of The Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol


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