President Obama is delivering his fifth State of the Union speech to a joint session of Congress. He is stressing executive actions he will take this coming year — what aides say will be a touchstone of his style of governance in his final years in office. Check here for the latest updates and analysis on the speech and accompanying pageantry.
There have been 116 State of the Union addresses since 1900. This chart, created by The Post’s Kennedy Elliott, with analysis by linguists Wayne Fields and Mark Liberman, tracks the words presidents have most often used in State of the Union addresses.
Over the past week, The Fix previewed President Obama’s major themes and challenges in the speech. Here are the six talking points.
When President Obama brings up health care during his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, he will make one issue clear (yet) again: He will defend the Affordable Care Act against any and all political attacks this year.
Unlike some other initiatives such as immigration, Obama will not ask Congress for anything, focusing instead on the law’s ongoing implementation as the top priority. While the Oct. 1 botched rollout of Healthcare.gov represented a significant blow to both the White House and Democrats more broadly (especially those on the ballot this November), the high-profile speech gives Obama the chance to tout the law’s benefits and shore up the political fortunes of the men and women who backed it.
Seven months after President Obama unveiled his vision for grappling with climate change, some environmentalists hope he will choose Tuesday’s State of the Union Address to announce how he plans to go farther in protecting the warming planet.
When it comes to education, President Obama is likely to emphasize two themes that snugly fit into his larger goal of addressing income inequality: early childhood education and college access and affordability.
In the 2013 State of the Union, Obama pitched the idea of universal quality preschool for every 4-year-old in the country, a bold plan that would create partnerships with the states to add a year to the nation’s public education system at an estimated cost of $75 billion.
A year after calling on Congress to send him a comprehensive immigration reform bill, President Obama heads into his 2014 speech halfway to his goal.
Last June, after months of deliberations, the Senate approved a bipartisan plan that featured a 13-year path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants.
This is the year the war ends.
State of the Union addresses during President Obama’s five years in office have never had the question of America’s place in the world as a centerpiece. This State of the Union will be no different given that it begins the last year Obama can plausibly expect real progress on his domestic agenda, at least when it comes to working with a divided Congress.
President Obama began his second term in office intending to forge compromise with congressional Republicans – on gun control, immigration, the budget and long-term fiscal issues.
Instead, throughout 2013, his agenda and hopes for bipartisan breakthroughs were stymied.
So in his State of the Union address Tuesday night, look for Obama to focus on actions that he and his administration can take unilaterally without seeking approval from the Republican-controlled House, which remains hostile to his agenda.
President Obama has a lot of handshaking to do at the annual State of the Union address. If you plan to greet him there, leave those high fives and questions for him at home.
Reid Wilson writes over on Govbeat:
After the pomp and circumstance of the formal introduction, after the handshakes and hugs that will greet him, after the standing ovation he will receive once House Speaker John Boehner announces his presence, President Obama will almost certainly utter the line every modern president uses: The state of our union is strong.
But when it comes to the union itself, the confederation of 46 states, four commonwealths, five territories and one District, the state of our union isn’t that strong. In fact, the hyperpartisan polarization that has ground Congress to a legislative halt is filtering down to the states, creating two nations, hardly parallel, that are increasingly adopting policies advocated by national partisan groups and decreasingly pursuing bipartisan legislation that was once the hallmark of state capitals.
By any measure, the partisan divide in state legislatures is as stark as ever. Only six states — Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New York, Washington and Virginia — have legislatures in which each party controls a chamber. Of the remaining 44 — in which one party controls both chambers — 36 have governors of the same party. Nebraska effectively makes 37, a state with a nominally nonpartisan state legislature that is nonetheless dominated by conservatives working with a Republican governor.
Amid the avalanche of coverage of President Obama’s fifth State of the Union – he’s reading the speech! — it’s important to remember one simple fact: The State of the Union’s ability to shape public perception of a president and his agenda is, um, way overrated.
A quick search of the Washington Post showed 5,069 items containing the phrase “State of the Union” appearing on our website over the past 24 hours. (Sidebar: The Fix is as guilty as anyone. We have flooded the zone with current and historical readouts of SOTU over the past five days and this marks our fifth post of the day related to the speech.) Virtually every news organization in the country is live-blogging, live-tweeting, live-streaming and live-everything-else-ing the speech. Every interest group on earth — literally — is making its people available to comment on it. Heck, the Republican party is giving four — yes, FOUR — responses to it. (Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is handling the official response, Utah Sen. Mike Lee will give the tea party response, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul will offer a response and Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen will deliver the response in Spanish.)
This flurry of attention and coverage is inversely proportional to a) the speech’s ability to sway public opinion and b) the speech’s chances of becoming a major moment, rhetorically, in a president’s time in office.
David Beard is keeping track of what political commentators are posting on Twitter during President Obama’s speech.
What President Obama says tonight is likely to be grist for the partisan mill. That much is clear.
But a hundred years ago, the simple act of delivering the State of the Union was controversial.
President Woodrow Wilson in 1913 decided to read his State of the Union in-person — something that hadn’t been done since 1801. And if you believe the newspapers — and we generally do — official Washington was aghast.
Here’s how The Washington Post wrote about Wilson’s decision 101 years ago:
As we prepare for President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight, we’re asking readers to tell us what they want the president to focus on during his speech — and his time in office. Tweet at#ObamaShouldSay to share your thoughts.Tweet #Obamashouldsay
Here are some responses from readers on Twitter:
@washingtonpost I come from one of the promise zones - Leslie County, KY. I want to hear how he’ll increase economic development back home.— Skylar Baker-Jordan (@SkylarJordan) January 28, 2014
@washingtonpost Bridging the partisan divide and finding opportunities for compromise. NOT taking unilateral executive action.— Zach Hanover (@zhanover) January 28, 2014
Here are a few excerpts, just released by the White House (emphasis ours):
“In the coming months, let’s see where else we can make progress together. Let’s make this a year of action. That’s what most Americans want – for all of us in this chamber to focus on their lives, their hopes, their aspirations. And what I believe unites the people of this nation, regardless of race or region or party, young or old, rich or poor, is the simple, profound belief in opportunity for all – the notion that if you work hard and take responsibility, you can get ahead.
“Let’s face it: that belief has suffered some serious blows. Over more than three decades, even before the Great Recession hit, massive shifts in technology and global competition had eliminated a lot of good, middle-class jobs, and weakened the economic foundations that families depend on.
“Today, after four years of economic growth, corporate profits and stock prices have rarely been higher, and those at the top have never done better. But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened. Upward mobility has stalled. The cold, hard fact is that even in the midst of recovery, too many Americans are working more than ever just to get by – let alone get ahead. And too many still aren’t working at all.
“Our job is to reverse these tides. It won’t happen right away, and we won’t agree on everything. But what I offer tonight is a set of concrete, practical proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class, and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class. Some require Congressional action, and I’m eager to work with all of you. But America does not stand still – and neither will I. So wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do.”
“Opportunity is who we are. And the defining project of our generation is to restore that promise.”
The follow are excerpts from the Republican response to President Obama’s address, which will be delivered by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) (emphasis ours):
“The most important moments right now aren’t happening here. They’re not in the Oval Office or in the House Chamber. They’re in your homes. Kissing your kids goodnight. Figuring out how to pay the bills. Getting ready for tomorrow’s doctor’s visit. Waiting to hear from those you love serving in Afghanistan, or searching for that big job interview. After all, ‘We the People’ have been the foundation of America since her earliest days – people from all walks of life, and from all corners of the world – people who come to America because here, no challenge is too great and no dream too big.”
“So tonight I’d like to share a more hopeful, Republican vision – one that empowers you, not the government. It’s one that champions free markets – and trusts people to make their own decisions, not a government that decides for you. It helps working families rise above the limits of poverty and protects our most vulnerable. And it’s one where Washington plays by the same rules that you do. It’s a vision that is fair and offers the promise of a better future for every American.”
“Because our mission – not only as Republicans, but as Americans, is to once again to ensure that we are not bound by where we come from, but empowered by what we can become. That is the gap Republicans are working to close. It’s the gap we all face: between where you are and where you want to be.”
“Last month, more Americans stopped looking for a job than found one. Too many people are falling further and further behind because, right now, the President’s policies are making people’s lives harder. Republicans have plans to close the gap…Plans that focus on jobs first without more spending, government bailouts, and red tape…Every day, we’re working to expand our economy, one manufacturing job, nursing degree and small business at a time. We have plans to improve our education and training systems so you have the choice to determine where your kids go to school…to help you take home more of your paycheck…with lower taxes, cheaper energy costs, and affordable health care.”
“We’ve all talked to too many people who have received cancellation notices they didn’t expect or who can no longer see the doctors they always have. No, we shouldn’t go back to the way things were, but the President’s health care law is not working. Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government’s. And that whether you’re a boy with Down syndrome or a woman with breast cancer, you can find coverage and a doctor who will treat you.”
“As Republicans, we advance these plans every day because we believe in a government that trusts people and doesn’t limit where you finish because of where you started. That is what we stand for – for an America that is every bit as compassionate as it is exceptional…Our plan is one that dreams big for everyone and turns its back on no one.”