Barack Obama

Obama's state-of-the-union address much about state of his presidency

US president hopes to use state-of-the-union speech to rebound from last year's debacles and frame priorities in battling income inequality

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 4:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 January, 2014, 5:54am

In the sixth year of a battered presidency and confounded by recalcitrant Republicans, Barack Obama will try to fight off the curse of the second-term lame duck in his annual state-of-the-union address.

The US president will seize one of his diminishing windows tomorrow to command the domestic political stage and talk over the heads of lawmakers blocking his agenda to speak directly to the American people. Obama hopes to rebound from a disastrous 2013, scarred by Republican obstruction and self-inflicted wounds.

The annual speech will also help him navigate the political terrain ahead of November midterm elections.

"This is not a state-of-the- union speech exclusively. It is a state-of-the-Obama-administration speech," said Robert Lehrman, who wrote speeches for former vice-president Al Gore and is now a communications professor at American University in Washington.

Just a year after Obama laid out a liberal agenda pulsating with ambition, he risks it being stillborn due to the blocking tactics of Republicans who control the House of Representatives and can jam up the Senate.

Still, he is expected to air plans to raise the minimum wage, extend long-term unemployment benefits and quicken jobs growth. He will frame his priorities in a call to arms to battle rising income inequality, which he sees as the "defining challenge of our time". The theme is expected to anchor Obama's remaining three years in office and ultimately his legacy. He will launch a political swing this week to build pressure on Republicans.

"When American jobs and livelihoods depend on getting something done, he will not wait for Congress," Obama's top political adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, told supporters in an e-mail. "President Obama has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American."

Obama's speech will be closely watched for signs of contrition over the botched rollout of his signature health care reform law last year. But he is expected to argue that after teething problems, the new law is beginning to prosper. The administration says that three million people have now chosen plans under Obamacare.

While the speech will dwell mostly on domestic challenges, US allies and foes will watch to see if Obama defends an interim nuclear deal with Iran.

The televised address, scheduled for Wednesday morning Hong Kong time is an important moment for Obama, not just because he needs to reinvigorate his presidency.

The inexorable clock that all second-term presidents face is winding down. And although Obama has nearly three years in office, his capacity to dominate the political conversation will soon ebb. By this time next year, 2016 presidential candidates will be taking aim at the White House, hijacking media attention and draining whatever momentum the president has at the time.

Still, the president retains the loudest voice in Washington's shrill political arena and the state-of-the-union address can help set the agenda, said Georgia State University communications professor Mary Stuckey.