Monday, January 22, 2007

State of the President

The president, the vice president and the new boss in town -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) -- will sit on the dais tomorrow night as President Bush delivers the State of the Union speech. For the first time, Bush will address a Congress controlled by the opposing party and speak to a citizenry that overwhelmingly disapproves of his job performance.

High on his agenda will be explaining and defending his decision -- unpopular in public opinion and facing stern opposition in Congress -- to send more than 20,000 additional troops to Iraq. But Bush is also expected to discuss a range of other issues foreign and domestic, including a growing confrontation with Iran and an initiative to expand access to health care. The initiative would include letting Americans take deep tax breaks for medical insurance they buy.

Virginia's newly elected senator, Jim Webb, will deliver the Democratic response to Bush's speech. Underscoring the growing role the Old Dominion is playing in Democratic politics, he follows Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who gave the response last year.

Off to the races! With most major 2008 candidates in the running or officially exploring a bid, the race for the White House begins this week after an announcement Saturday by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) that she is forming an exploratory committee. Her chief Democratic rival, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), also announced last week that he is exploring a bid, and former senator John Edwards (N.C.) announced several weeks ago. On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney round out the front-runners. (That's not to leave out California's Rep. Duncan Hunter, who plans to announce his bid Thursday in South Carolina.)

Minimum momentum: The Senate -- home to so many presidential aspirants this cycle -- has a busy week outside of the State of the Union. The chamber is expected to take up the minimum-wage bill passed by the House, and to supplement the legislation with more than $8 billion in small-business tax breaks. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on Iraq. Thursday's hearing will feature former New Jersey governor Tom Kean (R) and former congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), the co-chairmen of the Sept. 11 commission.

-- Zachary A. Goldfarb

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