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Obama Weighs Use of Executive Authority, Set for State of the Union

President Obama; photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Obama is set to deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday night. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

President Obama is prepared to exert executive authority on a host of issues, from strengthening protections for gays, to toughening regulations as part of an energy platform and to helping homeowners with refinancing mortgages. The Washington Post frames the move as “working around a recalcitrant Congress,” and it comes as Mr. Obama prepares to address lawmakers at the State of the Union Tuesday night.

Among the actions under consideration: extending anti-discrimination protections for gays who work for government contractors, acting through the Environmental Protection Agency to craft regulations for carbon emissions at coal power plants and expanding the Better Buildings Initiative to hire workers to rehab federal and private-sector buildings as energy efficient.

On housing, Mr. Obama is considering whether to allow people underwater on their mortgages to refinance at lower interest rates. Zachary Goldfarb reports that the plan “would likely be aimed at homeowners who have otherwise kept up with their mortgage payments but have been unable to refinance because the loan against their home exceeds its depressed value.”

Mr. Obama is expected this week to call for the creation of standards to help businesses protect themselves from computer hackers.

Goldfarb writes that a White House official suggested “that while the president does not see the actions as substitutes for more substantial legislation, he also wants to move forward on top priorities.”

Lawmakers are already complaining about the anticipated moves. The news broke as Mr. Obama puts the finishing touches on the big speech. Weekend stories previewing the address suggested that Mr. Obama will pivot back to a jobs message after a three-pronged focus on gun control, immigration and fiscal policy, with automatic sequestration cuts looming in a few weeks.

The office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., sent out a list of old news headlines, going as far back as December 2009, to emphasize that the White House has put out word that Mr. Obama will shift back to jobs before.

Politico’s Glenn Thrush, meanwhile, reports that Mr. Obama is expected to challenge the Republican Party directly on key issues facing lawmakers in the coming months:

The anodyne, stage-managed West Wing leaks have the State of the Union speech focusing on “jobs creation,” poll-tested paeans to the “middle class” and a new slate of infrastructure projects that will have a tough time passing Congress. Privately, administration officials see it as an extension of Obama’s unabashedly provocative and progressive Jan. 21 inaugural address, their latest attempt to leverage favorable deals on the sequester and the debt ceiling comparable to the watershed deal Obama secured on increasing taxes on the wealthy.

Obama now hopes to use his post-election popularity to force new tax increases and fewer budget cuts on Republicans as part of any deal to avert a $1.2 trillion menu of automatic cuts increasingly likely to kick in on March 1.

Bloomberg’s Kate Hunter reported Friday that Senate Democrats are close to releasing a plan that would delay the sequester by 10 months. Kwame Holman has more on how the White House is framing the sequester here.


Later this month, the Supreme Court will examine a constitutional challenge to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The landmark case asks whether the act is still necessary and whether voters still risk disenfranchisement in certain parts of the country. The court will hear arguments from Shelby County, Ala., which is challenging the law, and from U.S. government attorneys, on Feb. 27.

The NewsHour will examine the case, and we’d like your help as we go even deeper.

We’re starting an oral history project that asks these simple questions:

Do you remember when the Voting Rights Act became law? How did that change affect your life and your community during the Civil Rights Movement? How did you see it affect others?

Listen to one example here or below:

You can record your memory now using the button below, or call (703) 594-6PBS to share your story.


  • Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., threatened Sunday to hold up confirmation votes for Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary and John Brennan to be CIA director until Mr. Obama provides greater detail about the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last September.
  • Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., speaks in the first ad for her gun-control political action committee.
  • Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Mr. Obama’s choices for his second term national security team in a speech to members of the Wyoming Republican Party over the weekend. “Frankly, what he has appointed are second-rate people,” Cheney said.
  • The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg takes a look at how young voters in Montana feel about “big government.”
  • Politico’s James Hohmann writes about the effort by Rep. Stephen Lynch to upset Rep. Ed Markey in the Democratic primary for the Massachusetts Senate special election.
  • Former President Bill Clinton gave House Democrats some campaign advice, and Mr. Obama told the group he will help with 2014 fundraising and candidate recruitment.
  • Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told CNN on Sunday that his tea party response to the State of the Union address on Tuesday is not intended to divide the Republican Party.
  • Journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas will testify Wednesday as part of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on immigration reform.
  • Nick Miroff pens a story from the border about the new sense of urgency from people to come into the United States from Mexico in hopes of getting amnesty.
  • Rep. Steve King talked with Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser about the prospect of running for Senate in Iowa with Karl Rove gunning against him.
  • The New York Times calls on Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., to step aside from his ethics committee chairmanship at least while his own actions are under scrutiny.
  • The Bush family was a victim of email hacking. Among the items revealed: planning for former President George H.W. Bush’s funeral and self-portraits painted by former President George W. Bush.
  • First lady Michelle Obama attended the funeral of Hadiya Pendleton on Saturday. Pendleton, a high school honor student who performed with her majorette squad at the inauguration last month, was killed Jan. 29 about a mile from the Obama’s Chicago home.
  • The Washington Post’s Justin Jouvenal shines a spotlight on a major legal dispute that started with an Obama lawn sign.
  • So much win.
  • Monday’s tidbit from NewsHour partner Face the Facts USA is about the (rising) debt many Americans carry.


  • On Friday’s NewsHour, Mark Shields and David Brooks discussed the Brennan confirmation hearings and the state of politics ahead of the State of the Union.

Watch the segment here or below:

  • The guys also joined Hari Sreenivasan for the Doubleheader to dish on Bush’s self-portrait and gloat about their Super Bowl predictions. Watch that here or below:

  • The NewsHour revisits Americans we interviewed in 2012 to ask the state of their union. Check out the project here.
  • Paul Solman argues the penny should be killed.
  • Jenny Marder on the rats that preceded us.
  • Larisa Epatko profiles Leon Panetta as he leaves the Pentagon.
  • Jeffrey Brown talks with Dave Barry about his new novel set in Miami.






Katelyn Polantz contributed to this report.

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