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Obama looks to move beyond tough year with State of the Union message

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President Barack Obama will look to rally support for his agenda focused on economic mobility and income inequality during Tuesday’s State of the Union address in the face of a sharply divided Congress and with little public confidence in his ability to make the right decisions about the country’s future.

Coming off perhaps the toughest year of his presidency, due in large part to the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Obama is expected to seize on issues aimed at restoring economic fairness in an effort to regain his footing and boost prospects for Democrats heading into November’s midterm elections.

The president’s aides previewed the speech on the Sunday talk shows, suggesting Mr. Obama would look to find common ground with Republicans, but not shy away from taking unilateral action when necessary.

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“The Republican Congress is not going to rubber-stamp the president’s agenda. The president is not going to sign the Republican Congress’ agenda. So we have to find areas where we can work together,” White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

“The president will say to the country he’s not going to wait. He has a pen and he has a phone. He’s going to use those to move the ball forward to create opportunity,” Pfeiffer added.

White House press secretary Jay Carney reinforced that message on ABC’s “This Week.” “The president sees this as a year of action to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary,” Carney said.

Republicans, meanwhile, voiced their distaste with the strategy.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., charged that the approach showed a “certain amount of arrogance” on the part of the administration. “He says, well, it’s hard to get Congress to do anything. Well, yeah, welcome to the real world. It’s hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus, but that’s what he needs to be doing is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law,” Paul said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Frequently, times of divided government are quite good times in terms of achieving things for the American people,” added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on “Fox News Sunday.” “This president, it seems to me, after the 2010 election when the American public issued a, shall we say, restraining order, the president has sort of hung out on the left and tried to get what he wants through the bureaucracy, as opposed to moving to the political center.”

Tuesday’s speech comes as a new Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday found 46 percent of Americans approve of the president’s job performance, while 50 percent disapprove.

The Washington Post’s Dan Balz and Peyton Craighill put the numbers into context:

His previous low at the start of a new year was 48 percent positive, 48 percent negative in 2012. A year ago, his approval rating was 55 percent.

Just 37 percent say they have either a good amount or a great deal of confidence in the president to make the right decisions for the country’s future, while 63 percent say they do not. Those numbers are the mirror image of what they were when he was sworn into office in 2009 and lower than at any other time the question was asked by The Washington Post and ABC News.

Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports that liberals are hoping the president will offer bold solutions to address inequality, but notes doing so could carry some risk:

In a tone-setting speech in December, Obama embraced an increase in the minimum wage and spoke of his commitment to broad principles. Now he’ll have to balance how much further to take that to energize his base against the damage he could do to red-state Democrats — particularly in Senate races where the party’s on defense — by seeming to swing too far.

In another signal of potential themes for Tuesday’s address, the White House released an initial list of guests who have been invited as guests of First Lady Michelle Obama. They include Jeff Bauman and Carlos Arredondo, two survivors of last April’s Boston Marathon bombings; Gary Bird, the fire chief of Moore, Okla., which was devastated by a tornado last May; Joey Hudy, a 16-year-old intern at Intel; Kathy Hollowell-Makle, the District of Columbia’s public school teacher of the year; and, Jason Collins, who last year became the first male player in a major professional American team sport to come out openly as gay.


  • Politico reported Monday Florida Rep. Trey Radel, facing a cocaine charge and a recent trip to rehab, will resign from Congress.
  • The Atlantic’s Molly Ball attends the American Farm Bureau Federation Convention and gets an inside look at how the tea party has alienated some of the GOP’s most loyal constituents.
  • Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., isn’t worried about the tea party pushing her to the right in her quest for the Senate. She’s even saying good things about “Obamacare,” which she calls the Affordable Care Act. Modeling herself off the GOP women who reached across the aisle in 2013, Capito wants to be known as a “deal-maker,” not a conservative.
  • Emily’s List is launching a new initiative — “Impact Project” — to highlight the impact female legislators have had on policy beyond just abortion issues and position candidates for the mid-terms.
  • In the most competitive general elections, Republicans have zero women running their Senate campaigns, which GOP strategists worry could affect the tenor of TV ads.
  • The Associated Press notes 30 states are likely to consider increasing the minimum wage.
  • Arizona’s GOP legislature is challenging the state’s independent redistricting commission in federal court. Legislative leaders are hoping to redraw district lines before this summer’s primaries.
  • The New York Times’ Sam Tanenhaus and Jim Rutenberg profile Sen. Rand Paul and his relationship with libertarianism.
  • Charlie Crist seems to have disappeared from campaigning for his gubernatorial bid.
  • Texas Rep. Steve Stockman says he wasn’t MIA; he was traveling overseas and campaigning.
  • Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg News writes about the people Mr. Obama visited at their homes during the last campaign, and what they’re thinking now about the president.
  • The American Legion is concerned a large number of military commissaries may close across the country.
  • The New York Times’ Room for Debate asks 17 advocates whom they would choose as the president’s guest to Tuesday’s State of the Union address.
  • The price of U.S. Postal Service stamps went up three cents, to 49 cents.
  • Want to know which statue represents your state in the Capitol Building? There’s an app for that.


  • Columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed income inequality, Hillary Clinton, and Bob McDonnell in their Friday segment.

Simone Pathe contributed to this report.

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Questions or comments? Email Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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