Obama to confront GOP Congress, looming legacy in SOTU speech
Alan Gross and wife to attend State of the Union as Obama guests.
Though Republican leaders have said they share Obama’s desire to reform the nation’s complicated tax code, the party has long been opposed to many of the proposals the president is expected to outline Tuesday. An astronaut, a drug-store executive, Ebola aid workers and a freed Cuban prisoner are among those who scored golden tickets to Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by President Obama.Gross, a subcontractor for the US Agency for International Development, was released from a Cuban jail on December 17 after spending five years imprisoned for crimes against the state stemming from his efforts to hook up the island’s small Jewish community to the Internet. “That same day – with Alan’s unjust captivity resolved – the president announced to the world that the United States was changing its relationship with the people of Cuba,” the White House said Monday in announcing the 23 guests who will be seated in a special box when Obama addresses Congress on Tuesday night. “In the most significant changes in policy in more than 50 years, the President directed that we would begin to normalize relations between our two countries,” it said.
A Washington Post-ABC poll released on Monday shows Obama’s approval rating now stands at 50 percent—the highest it’s been in the poll since May 2013. While presidents executives have long relied on “poll-tested” lines, those zingers that are guaranteed to garner instant approval from a majority of viewers, their ideas need to reflect longer term societal trends. The president’s popularity has been “strengthened by rapidly improving perceptions of the economy and increased optimism about the overall direction of the country,” according to the Washington Post. “His standing is nine points higher than in December and seven points higher than in October, just before Republicans captured control of the Senate, increased their House majority to its highest level in eight decades and recorded advances in the states.” Other polls show slightly smaller gains for Obama, but on average the president’s job approval rating has been trending upward.
For Obama, lest you think he was simply trying to troll the GOP with his remarks, there’s a trove of fresh data from which to draw upon while crafting the priorities for his final two years in office as he faces off with a Republican-controlled Congress. Traditionally, the first lady’s guests embody some feature of her husband’s policy that he intends to highlight in his annual speech before the full House and Senate.
Among those will be Malik Bryant, the Chicago boy, 13, whose heart-rending message in a “Letters to Santa” program last month – “All I ask for is safety. Brendan Buck, communications director for the House Ways & Means Committee, wrote Monday that just a month ago, Obama was saying that tax reform was an issue both sides might be able to tackle. Obama unveiled his free-tuition plan at a community college in Knoxville, in a state led by a Republican governor, Bill Haslam, who has been more friendly to the administration than his Republican colleagues. Once he gets back, the GOP is hoping there is still some way to find a deal on tax reform. “We have to hope that this move is little more than an effort to score some points with his political base, and that we can move on from it quickly to see if we can find real common ground,” Buck wrote.
Some members of the Republican majority on Capitol Hill have rejected outright the free community college proposal, which would cost $60 billion over 10 years. Watching him speak to a packed Congress was like watching Barbra Streisand sing, Michael Jackson moonwalk, Tiger Woods golf, or Steve Jobs pitch a product. Biden will be astronaut Scott Kelly, who heads to the international space station in March to begin a history-making, year-long mission aboard the orbiting science laboratory.
A total of 2.95 million jobs were added in 2014, leading to an unemployment rate below 6 percent and undercutting Republican attempts to paint Obama as a job killer. John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who chairs the House education committee, said in a statement that the president was proposing “yet another multi-billion dollar federal program that will compete with existing programs for limited taxpayer dollars.” That the plan may not become a reality comes as no surprise to the Obama administration but putting the idea out in speeches across the country and stressing the importance of community colleges in educating Americans may get some states to embrace it. But opponents say the economic recovery is still uncertain, especially in light of the millions of people who left the workforce after failing to find work. Americans for Tax Reform said when it comes to tax hikes, Democrats are “like a teenage boy on a prom date: they keep asking the same question different ways but always to the same point.”
Once a topic that few Republicans talked much about, of late Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have each signaled their intention to make the wealth gap an issue in the 2016 campaign. Obama just last week signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to offer federal workers up to six weeks paid leave for parents caring for a new child. While Republicans in Congress continue to try and figure out a way to undo Obama’s executive immigration order that effectively legalizes more than four million undocumented workers, polls have tended to side with the president.
A December poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal showed that Obama’s approval rating among Latinos jumped by 10 percentage points following his executive order. Both position paper and performance piece, the Address must pitch policies in proportion while showcasing the president in a way that entrances 535 Members of Congress in person and millions watching it at home. And while a strong majority polled by CNN/ORC said they believed Obama’s order had gotten it right on the issue, 56 percent said they did not approve of the means the president used to achieve his ends. 2014 was the warmest year on record, and, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, “the 20 warmest years in the historical record have all occurred in the past 20 years.” Along with thawing glaciers, there is also some evidence that doubts about whether global warming is occurring are also melting away.
After reaching an agreement with China that commits the U.S. to new targets for greenhouse gas emissions, the president will likely need those numbers to continue growing. After Clinton so carefully crafted a role as America’s “Good Father” in 1996, Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr was now investigating Clinton’s weaknesses as a bad husband. While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner argue that the project will result in tens of thousands of jobs for American workers, a clear majority in the Post/ABC poll, 61 percent, say that Obama should wait to hear what the State Department recommends before acting. Obama and Republicans actually agree to wind down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government mortgage powerhouses — a measure that could come to a vote in the Senate.
The morning of the speech, Day 7 of the scandal, the newspapers featured Clinton’s passionate denial: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” On NBC’s “Today” Show, Hillary Clinton counterattacked against the “vast right wing conspiracy” targeting her husband since 1992. Ernst will explain what the new Congress plans to do and is already doing to change, and what it is already doing to return Washington’s focus to the concerns of the middle class and away from the demands of the political class.” Let’s give them a hand.” As the Democrats applauded the squirming Republicans, he beamed: “That’s great.” With that mischievous maneuver, Clinton spoke over the Republicans’ heads directly to the American people, emphasizing the bipartisanship most Americans want but both parties frequently fail to provide.
While again calling for “a government that is a progressive instrument of the common good, rooted in our oldest values of opportunity, responsibility and community,” Clinton tried mobilizing support for Social Security reform. Bush marveled, “Now I understand why he’s inside looking out, and I’m outside looking in.” Since his first inaugural address, Obama has failed to wow Americans with his speeches, as he did so effectively during his 2008 campaign. With unemployment down but GDP up, Obama finally can deliver some of the good news his predecessor was lucky enough to sprinkle throughout his speeches.
Obama can flummox Republicans and appeal to the public by seizing the center rather than lurching left, acting as president of all the people, not a partisan leader of the opposition-to-the-opposition. He might even integrate it all into a coherent, comprehensible, and accessible vision such as Clinton’s opportunity-responsibility-community mantra, so Americans have a sense of forward momentum. But Clinton also conveyed an intense, authentic, infectious love of the people, the policies, and the politics that disarmed many Republicans, thrilled many Democrats, and wooed many independents.
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