President Barack Obama, leading up to his State of the Union speech this week, has vowed to make 2014 a “year of action.”
His main actions so far: rushing to check off items on the to-do list from last year’s address.
This month alone, Obama announced a manufacturing hub for North Carolina, designated enterprise zones in five cities struggling with unemployment and released a list of recommendations to streamline Election Day voting.
All three were promises from his 2013 speech. As executive actions, they also provided a window on how he plans to move forward after this year’s address. After coming into office five years ago vowing to bridge differences with Republicans yet finding that difficult to do, Obama confronts a politically divided Congress unlikely to advance much of his agenda as midterm elections approach.
“His speeches have hardened since his inaugural address” after he first won the White House, said Mitchell McKinney, co-editor of the book, “Communication in the 2008 U.S. Election” and director of the University of Missouri’s Political Communication Institute. “He says he wants to work together, but doesn’t give the mechanism by which that can happen.”
Obama will follow up his Jan. 28 State of the Union with a four-state tour to address long-term unemployment and building the middle class, senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said in an e-mail released by the White House yesterday.
The president’s stops will take him to Prince George’s County in Maryland; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Nashville, Tennessee.
“Three words sum up the president’s message on Tuesday night: opportunity, action, and optimism,” Pfeiffer said in the e-mail. ‘The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed.’’
While Obama “will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way,” Pfeiffer said he “will not wait for Congress” to act on some of his goals.
The president “has a pen and he has a phone, and he will use them to take executive action and enlist every American -- business owners and workers, mayors and state legislators, young people, veterans, and folks in communities from across the country -- in the project to restore opportunity for all,” Pfeiffer said. He provided no specifics.
Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife, Jill Biden, will travel to Rochester, New York, the day after Obama’s speech to visit Monroe Community College and talk about education and workforce development, the White House said in a statement yesterday.
Obama, like his predecessors, has used State of the Union speeches to outline a legislative agenda for the coming year and paint a broad vision for the country. In previous addresses, he has recounted the nation’s climb out of the recession and outlined hurdles ahead; called for changes to U.S. immigration law; and cited China as a benchmark for academic achievement, mass transit, revamping the economy, or developing clean energy.
Obama still will be asking Congress to act. He is continuing to push for legislation to write new immigration laws, raise the minimum wage, provide universal pre-kindergarten programs and enact some of the changes he’s proposed to limit National Security Agency surveillance. His main theme will be the economy and narrowing income inequality, which he has called the “defining challenge of our time.”
“You can expect him to be consistent with where he’s been in terms of describing his priorities,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said of the speech, set for 9 p.m. Washington time to a joint session of Congress.
Republicans already are honing their response by accusing Obama of breaking promises he made in past addresses and failing to acknowledge shortcomings, from the impact of the health-care law he championed to energy policy and the economy, particularly the gap between the rich and poor.
“He ought to practice his speech in the mirror and talk to himself about income inequality and look at his own horrible record,” National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in an interview.
Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state will deliver the party’s nationally televised response immediately following Obama’s speech.
Obama’s address will likely frame much of the debate for the November mid-term elections that will determine political control of Congress for his final two years in office and how much he can accomplish in his second term.
Republicans won the House majority in 2010, and the result was a stalling of the agenda Obama laid out in his State of the Union address earlier that year. After lawmakers compiled one of their least productive legislative records last year, Obama has vowed to act on his own when possible.
“Where Congress is debating things and hasn’t been able to pull the trigger on stuff, my administration is going to move forward,” Obama said Jan. 23 at the White House.
Earlier this month, Obama traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, to announce the first of three “manufacturing hubs” that he proposed in last year’s speech.
Modeled on a project in Youngstown, Ohio, that transformed a shuttered warehouse into a 3-D printing lab, Obama said these hubs target towns “left behind by globalization.” Competitions continue for the remaining two manufacturing institutes, which will be paid for out of existing funds.
Obama asked Congress to authorize 15 hubs, and lawmakers have yet to act on the bill.
At a separate event this month, Obama announced the designation of “promise zones” to spur development in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, fulfilling another plan from the 2013 edition of the president’s annual address.
A third promise from last year was to start improving the voting process after the 2012 election was marred by hours-long waits in Florida and other states. On Jan. 22, Obama received a report from the panel he assembled to suggest ways to shorten lines and fix other voting efficiencies.
The report supported the “steady trend” of online voter registration, said states should expand early voting and mail balloting, and urged the nation to update the certification process for new voting technology.
On the way to Raleigh for the announcement of the manufacturing hub, Carney said Obama wasn’t concerned that it has taken a year to get some of the initiatives off the ground.
“If we had announced everything in a week, you would have said it wasn’t very serious,” he said.