The “I” “I” speech.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Out of time to push a new legislative agenda, President Barack Obama will look past Congress and to the American people in his final State of the Union address, aiming to define his presidency and his legacy before others can do it for him.
Unlike the six such speeches he’s given before, Obama plans to skip the traditional list of grand proposals, new policies and presidential appeals for new laws in favor of a bird’s eye view of what he has accomplished since 2009 and what’s left undone in his final year in office. Aides said the president on Tuesday night will give his assessment of what the country looks like in 2016 and the direction he hopes it will take in the future.
To the extent he can, Obama will also try to give a burst of energy to initiatives he is hoping to push past beyond the life of his administration.
At a marathon meeting with top advisers last week to ready his executive actions on gun control, Obama issued two directives, aides in the meeting said. The first: “Everything this year should be infused with a sense of possibility.” The second: “Don’t take the foot off the gas pedal.”
Despite his inevitable slide into lame-duck status and the partisan politics of the election year, Obama is emboldened by recent successes that formed one of the most productive stretches in his presidency.
Over the past year, Obama has reached a nuclear deal with Iran, relaunched diplomatic relations with Cuba, secured a global climate pact and an Asia-Pacific trade deal, and negotiated a budget deal with the Republican-led Congress. Unemployment fell to an impressive 5 percent and renewed confidence in the economy led the Federal Reserve to finally start raising interest rates.
Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said Obama planned in his speech to cite those achievements to argue that “we’ve brought America back.”
This year, to keep the momentum going, Obama must contend with a presidential campaign that’s already reverberating loudly and will only get louder. The White House scheduled this year’s speech earlier than usual, in part to ensure Obama had room to run before voting starts with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1.
To the dismay of some in his party, Obama doesn’t plan to use the address as an opening argument for Democratic candidates in the November election. White House officials pointed to his speech at the Democratic National Convention in July and his first rally for the Democratic nominee as his opportunities to frame the campaign.