GWEN IFILL: The president will deliver his fifth formal State of the Union address later this evening.
For an early look at what to expect tonight, we are joined by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
So, Jay, what is the president actually hoping to accomplish five years in — six years in, actually, five speeches in?
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY, White House: Well, Gwen, tonight presents the president with a special opportunity.
He gets to go before the nation, speak to millions of Americans, and describe why he’s optimistic about where America is and where we’re going. For the first time since he’s taken office, we really aren’t facing the severe headwinds that we were economically in previous years, either from the worst recession since the Great Depression or from the some of the shenanigans and obstructionism that we saw from Congress in 2011 and again last year.
Right now, there’s an opportunity for this country and this economy to grow more and for Washington to take action to deliver expanded opportunity for all Americans, to reward hard work and responsibility. So, that’s what the president’s focus is going to be tonight, and he really looks forward to the opportunity.
GWEN IFILL: I know you have seen the polls I have seen. You don’t have to acknowledge that if you don’t want to, but the truth is, the president’s at all-time record low approval ratings. Who do you think is listening tonight?
JAY CARNEY: Well, Gwen, I’m not sure I agree with that. There’s no question that everybody has suffered here in Washington because Americans are fed up with dysfunction here in Washington.
It was only a few months ago that I stood at this podium and took questions from reporters here about whether the Republican Party was in permanent decline after they foolishly shut down the government and cost the American economy and the American middle class dearly through that action.
And then, of course, not long after that, we saw healthcare.gov have a really rocky rollout, and that is something the president took responsibility for, and he’s ensured every day since that the Web site be — gets improved and that we deliver on the promise of affordable, quality health care for the millions of Americans who want it.
But, right now, we have an opportunity to come together, for the president to take action on his own where Congress won’t cooperate and to cooperate with Congress when Congress demonstrates that it’s willing to work with him on commonsense solutions to move this country forward, to expand opportunity for Americans everywhere.
GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the action the president’s willing to take on his own. The White House announced today that he, with the stroke of a pen, will raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers. We heard John Boehner a few minutes ago say, how many people is that going to affect?
So, how many people is that really going to affect?
JAY CARNEY: Well, it’s going to affect thousands of Americans, and it affects new contracts. So, obviously, the more time passes, the more Americans will be affected.
The point of this action is that the president will deliver on the promise of expanding opportunity using the authority he has when he can’t work with Congress. Congress has refused for the entire year since the president called for a raise in the minimum wage to act on that.
He will, of course, ask Congress tonight, in addition to his executive action for federal contractors, to raise the minimum wage across the country. It’s the right thing to do. We have a situation here where Americans across the country are working full-time. They’re being responsible. They’re taking care of their families. And yet they’re living in poverty, even with a full-time job.
That’s — in the president’s view, that’s not what we should be doing. We ought to reward hard work. We ought to reward responsibility. So that’s what he’s doing with this executive action, and that’s what he’s going to call on Congress to join him in doing.
GWEN IFILL: The president and you from that podium have said in the past several days that you plan — he plans to use the power of the pen and the phone in order to get things done in Washington, or at least the things he would like to see get done.
Last night, Judy Woodruff talked to senator Roy Blunt about that. He said the president is giving up on Congress. Is he?
JAY CARNEY: No, absolutely not. This is not an either/or proposition. It’s a both/and.
It’s not either legislate or use executive authority. It’s both legislate and use executive authority. Where Congress is willing to cooperate, on comprehensive immigration reform, for example, or on further action to invest in our infrastructure, the president is eager to do that.
But where Congress won’t act, where Congress won’t help him advance the cause of expanding opportunity, he’s going to act on his own. He’s going to use the authority to that he has to sign executive orders and presidential memoranda and he’s going to use the power of the office to convene businesses and college presidents and people around the country to expand college access and to help advance the cause of advanced manufacturing in this country.
There’s so many things we can do together that don’t require legislation. The president’s not going to tie one hand behind his back and just try to get things done through Congress.
GWEN IFILL: You mentioned immigration reform. Speaker Boehner mentioned — had told people today that he actually thinks he might be able to get some movement on that in coming days. Is this something the president is going to lock arms with Speaker Boehner on or basically let him lead the charge?
JAY CARNEY: Well, the president believes that 2014 presents the greatest opportunity we have ever had to see comprehensive immigration reform become a reality.
The Senate took significant action last year. As you know, a bipartisan majority passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill that meets the president’s principles. He hopes for action in the House. And he is certainly encouraged by some of the signs we have seen out of House Republicans leaders of late. And we will see how they move forward.
The president certainly believes that we can all work together on this. It will help our economy. It will help the middle class. It will improve our security on the border. And it will expand opportunity and innovation in this country.
GWEN IFILL: I want to ask you one final brief question, which is about gun control.
At this same State of the Union speech last year, the president spoke very emotionally about it, but yet very little has happened. Is that something we can expect him to repeat tonight?
JAY CARNEY: Well, the president pushed vary hard for background check legislation, the legislation that would have expanded the existing background check system.
It was legislation that had the support of vast majorities of the American people across the country in red states, blue states and purple states. Unfortunately, the Congress didn’t heed the will of the American people, and the president didn’t hide his disappointment.
But just because Congress won’t act doesn’t mean the president won’t act where he can. And he has done that; 23 executive action were outlined in the president’s commonsense proposal to reduce gun violence. The administration has acted on all 23 of those. And he is always looking for more ways that he can act.
So he’s going to do what he can, mindful of the Second Amendment rights of the American people that he supports, to reduce gun violence in this country. We’re reminded far too often that it’s a continuing problem.
GWEN IFILL: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, we will be watching with you later tonight. Thank you.
JAY CARNEY: Thank you, Gwen.