A State of the Union address that is Obama’s last hurrah: US President will tell Congress he is moving forward to help the poor - with or without its help

The US President will use the State of the Union address to outline plans to help poor and middle-class Americans. With an election in 2016, and his star about to be eclipsed, it is a final chance to set his long-term legacy

A bruised Barack Obama hopes to use the annual State of the Union address on Tuesday night to persuade a jaded America that he still has what it takes to realise his faltering social and economic agenda and to push back any notion of  his prematurely becoming  a lame-duck.

This, even so, will not be the Obama of one year ago who stood before members of Congress energised by his re-election victory and brandishing a broad programme of initiatives, almost none of which have since been enacted, whether it was immigration reform, serious action on climate change, a revamping of the tax code or new  gun laws.

The address, traditionally watched by millions of Americans at home, will this time feature a president battered by 12 months of political misfortune and sliding poll numbers. He has been stymied both by Congress, where Republicans control the House of Representatives, but also by missteps of his own, none more spectacular than the botched roll-out last October of the government’s new healthcare programme.

It will of course come with all the requisite and ritualised pomp and bombast, including waves of Democrat-led applause and tributes by the President to special guests seated in the gallery with first lady Michelle Obama, who are expected to include two survivors from last year’s Boston bombing as well as Jason Collins, a basketball celebrity who last year became the  first active male athlete on a major US sports team to come out as gay.

It may, meanwhile, be the President’s last chance to set the contours of his long-term legacy before his star inevitably begins to be eclipsed by the approach of 2016 White House race. At the same time, a degree of rhetorical restraint will be in order because this November’s mid-term congressional elections are already around the corner and his party’s prospects, particularly when it comes to holding on to its majority in the US Senate, are dicey.

Aides hint that President Obama will dedicate long passages to one simple message that should be good for Democrats: closing the chasm between the very rich and everyone else and returning a ladder to the poor and the middle class to get themselves back into daylight. Specifically, that will include a renewal of benefits for the long-term unemployed, which has been blocked by Republicans, and an increase in the federal minimum wage.

Also expected are calls for action on energy policy, helping students pay for college fees and new federal investments in the country’s ageing infrastructure. But above all the speech will be about the middle class. "What you’re going to hear from the President on Tuesday night is a series of concrete, practical, specific proposals on how we restore opportunity," top aide Dan Pfeiffer said at the weekend. "There will be some legislative proposals, but also a number of actions he can take on his own."

Indeed, more striking as he takes the podium may be the warning Obama is expected to deliver to Congress that he means to move forward with his agenda now with or without its help. That will mean either enacting change by way of executive order without congressional approval – not something that will be possible on some of what he wants – or taking his case beyond the Washington bubble to the rest of the country, including to corporate America.

"The President will say to the country he’s not going to wait. He has a pen, and he has a phone, and he’s going to use those to move the ball forward to create opportunity," Mr Pfeiffer said.  The president’s spokesman, Jay Carney, similarly added that the president "sees this as a year of action, to work with Congress where he can and to bypass Congress where necessary. To lift folks who want to come up into the middle class".

Thus, aides say, he will unveil a deal already struck with some of the country’s largest employers, including Xerox, AT&T, Lockheed Martin and Procter & Gamble, under which they have undertaken not to discriminate against the long-term unemployed when hiring new labour. And to drive home the point, Obama will spend the rest of this week touting his programme on a tour of states including Wisconsin, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.

Even before he has spoken, Republicans, who will also be given post-address airtime for the traditional rebuttal, are pushing back, characterising his expected calls for action on income inequality as a declaration of war on the rich.

He "has a lot of explaining to do," said Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. "If all he has to offer is more of the same, or if he refuses to acknowledge that his own policies have failed to work, the President is simply doing what many failed leaders have done before him: trying to set one group of Americans against another group of Americans. We don’t need more class warfare, and we don’t need more interference from Washington."

It is not unusual for second-term presidents to be starved of legislative breakthroughs from Congress, particularly if government is divided between the parties. There have some glimmers of hope, however, for movement on immigration reform. The Republican leadership is expected to come out shortly with their preferred prescriptions for change, including legalising the status of at least some of the 11 million people already in the US without proper standing if not actually offering them eventual  citizenship as Democrats  have preferred.

 


Watch President Obama's State of the Union address

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own