Washington: For the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama will stand before a Republican-led Congress to deliver his State of the Union policy address and try to convince lawmakers newly empowered to block his agenda that they should instead join with him on education, cyberprotection and national security proposals.
With Obama firmly in the legacy-building phase, his address is expected to be as much about selling a story of US economic revival as it is about outlining initiatives. The approach reflects the White House's belief that it has been too cautious in promoting economic gains out of fear of looking tone deaf to the continued struggles of many Americans.
White House advisers have suggested that their restraint hindered Democrats in the November elections and helped Republicans take full control of Congress for the first time in eight years. But with hiring up and unemployment down, the president has been more assertive about the improving state of the economy in the new year and his nationally televised address Tuesday night will be his most high-profile platform for making that case.
"America's resurgence is real, and we're better positioned than any country on Earth to succeed in the 21st century," Obama said Wednesday in Iowa, one of several trips he has made this month to preview the speech.
Tuesday is the second-to-last time Obama will take part in the pageantry of the annual presidential address to Congress and a televised audience of millions. By the time he stands before lawmakers next year, Americans will have begun voting in the primary campaigns that will determine his successor.
Mindful of Obama's fading share of the spotlight, the White House has tried to build momentum for his address by rolling out, in advance, many of the proposals he will outline. Among them: making community college free for many students; ensuring paid sick leave for many workers; cutting the cost of mortgage insurance premiums for some home buyers; pressing for cybersecurity legislation in the wake of the hacking attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, which the US has blamed on North Korea.
Some proposals are retreads. Most stand a slim chance of getting congressional approval.
The real battle lines between Obama and the Republican-led Congress will be on matters long fought over.
Buoyed by their new majority, Republicans are moving forward on bills to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the US Gulf Coast, change Obama's health care law and dismantle his executive orders deferring deportation for millions of immigrants living illegally in the US The White House has threatened vetoes.