Obama’s 7 State of the Union talking points. No. 6: ‘The Pen and Phone’ strategy

President Obama will deliver his sixth State of the Union address Tuesday. The Fix is previewing Obama’s major themes and challenges in the speech, focusing on one issue a day leading up to the address. Today’s talking point is bipartisanship. Click here for talking point No. 5 on foreign policy. Click here for talking point No. 4 on immigrationClick here for talking point No. 3 on early childhood educationClick here for talking point No. 2 on saving the planetAnd click here for talking point No. 1 on defending Obamacare.

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.

For weeks now, the president and his advisers have talked about a “pen and phone” strategy by which Obama signs executive orders or uses the bully pulpit of the White House as convening power to make progress on issues ranging from the economy to the environment.

Last year, Obama had little success in dealing with Republican lawmakers. He hosted groups of Republican senators for dinner, and his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, tried to repair relations with several key senators. But this achieved no significant legislative breakthroughs, although both parties, led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), arrived at a budget deal in December.

Still, the White House and Democratic lawmakers remain hopeful of compromise with Republicans in a few key areas, namely the push for comprehensive immigration reform.

In Tuesday night’s speech, you can count on Obama urging the assembled lawmakers to rise above party. It’s a theme he has touched on in just about every major speech of his presidency.

As Obama said in his 2013 “State of the Union,” the American people “don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can.”


Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.



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