What President Obama should (and shouldn’t) say in the State of the Union

February 12, 2013

If President Obama wants immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, he may not want to mention it at all in tonight's State of the Union speech, a new Washington Post poll suggests.

Seven in 10 people in the survey said they would support a path to citizenship, including 60 percent of Republicans. But when the same question was asked of a separate sample of respondents, this time with Obama's name attached to it, support dropped to 59 percent overall and just 39 percent among Republicans.

On other hot-button issues like banning the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons or ending the war in Afghanistan, however, lending Obama's name to the proposal made each viewed more favorably -- and therefore if he were to put his political weight behind them it could actually increase their chances of passing. On doing something about climate change, there was no noticeable movement.

Here's the full chart, courtesy of our friends at Capital Insight:

Look deeper into the numbers and you can see how much partisanship drives the movement on each of the issues.

On a path to citizenship, Republicans don't mind the idea in theory but loathe it when attached to Obama. Independents are slightly less likely to support a path to citizenship if it is cast as Obama's proposal, while Democrats favor it in basically the same numbers with or without the president's name being mentioned.

The reverse is also true. While six in 10 Democrats support an assault weapons ban, that number jumps to more than three in four when the proposal is cast as Obama's. Independents move slightly more in favor of an assault weapon ban when Obama is tied to it, while Republicans don't like the idea with or without Obama.

Here are the four issues broken down by party identification:

The results aren't terribly surprising. Partisan polarization has never been higher in the country and, therefore, Obama's name attached to a proposal can really move the needle among the bases of each party.

But they do provide a fascinating backdrop for Obama's State of the Union speech tonight and make clear how the issues he chooses to emphasize as his own could well make a major difference in whether those proposals can pass through Congress.

Hagel showdown set for today: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Monday set a vote on Chuck Hagel's confirmation for 2:30 p.m. today, at which point Republicans on the committee will be faced with a stark choice.

Some in the GOP are still upset about the lack of disclosure from Hagel and from the administration when it comes to the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. And there was even some chatter that some of them might stage a walkout.

Doing so on the eve of the State of the Union, needless to say, would be a huge story and would highlight the partisan divisions in Congress. Levin seems to be trying to call the GOP's bluff.

And it might be a smart move. Perhaps the leading GOP senator on foreign policy matters, John McCain (R-Ariz.), says he won't walk out and that doing so would be disrespectful. And neither will the panel's ranking Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

From here, the question is whether the GOP is united in its opposition to Hagel and whether it will opt for seldom-used and risky tactics to stop his confirmation. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for example, has threatened to put a hold on Hagel's nomination in the larger chamber.

Oh, and for what it's worth, Hagel's brother says Hagel is only emboldened by the opposition.

Fixbits:

Michael Bloomberg has made a six-figure donation to Gabby Giffords and Mark Kelly's new  PAC.

Oregon, whose voters banned gay marriage in 2004 by double digits, may vote on whether to overturn that ban in 2014.

State of the Union update: Ted Nugent will be Rep. Steve Stockman's (R-Tex.) guest, while a man fighting deportation will be Rep. Luis Gutierrez's (D-Ill.).

Former Senate candidate Andrew Romanoff (D) has a clear shot in the primary to face Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) after state Rep. Karen Middleton (D) opted not to run.

Democrats also landed an opponent for Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), who is considering a run for Senate in a swing district.

A new memo from the National Republican Senatorial Committee makes a pre-SOTU point we've made before: that President Obama's more liberal tack could hurt Democratic senators running for reelection in red states.

Must-reads:

"New Rove Group Could Backfire on G.O.P." -- Nate Silver, New York Times

"Obama Prepares To Screw His Base" -- Ben Smith, BuzzFeed

"Gauging the probability of success for Obama’s agenda post-State of the Union" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan | February 11, 2013