WASHINGTON — As the White House took the final steps at tooling President Obama’s State of the Union speech Monday, press secretary Jay Carney would only promise an “exciting and surprising” Tuesday address while lawmakers took last-minute stabs at shaping the message.
Obama is expected to put a heavy emphasis on income inequality and also wade into territory making congressional Republicans and vulnerable Dems nervous: his intention to bypass Congress on cherished agenda items.
“Restoring opportunity for all and expanding opportunity for all, those are very ambitious goals, and those are the goals the president has identified, those are the goals that the president will work all year toward achieving, and he will — in conducting that work, he will use every means available to him to move forward towards achievement of those goals, and that includes working with Congress and passing legislation and signing it where Congress will work with him,” Carney told reporters at the White House today.
“But he simply won’t stop there, because mindful of Congress’s reluctance to be cooperative at times, the president is going to exercise his authority. He’s going to use his pen and his phone to advance an agenda that is focused squarely on expanding opportunity, making sure that in America hard work and responsibility are rewarded, and that opportunity is expanded.”
Carney added, “I don’t think there’s any way to describe that, except as ambitious.”
“The president’s view is that he should use every tool available to him to move the country forward and to rally communities, businesses around the country, as well as elected officials and others — even journalists — among those at least who aren’t jaded — to the idea that — it’s just a joke — the — you know, that we can move this country forward together,” he said.
When pressed for details on the address, Carney said, “Well, it wouldn’t be exciting or surprising if I told you today.”
He added, though, that “it’s very exciting to be here and confronted with the opportunity to take action that the president sees before him.”
Republicans, though, charge that with three years left in his term, Obama is confronted with a host of problems that shouldn’t be left up to executive fiat.
“He intends to focus on income inequality leading up to the midterm elections this year. Well, the president’s right about at least one thing. Americans are hurting. Too many of the poorest Americans continue to suffer from stalled job creation, skyrocketing federal debt, burdensome regulations, and broken promises on health care reform,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said over the weekend in the GOP address.
“What President Obama fails to acknowledge is that Americans are hurting as a result of his own policies,” Blunt continued. “…When he delivers his State of the Union address this week, the president has a lot of explaining to do.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said if Obama wants to get people back to work and improve families’ financial situations, he’s got three tips: approve the Keystone XL pipeline, stop EPA regulatory actions that stifle business growth, and repeal the medical device tax.
“Seventy-nine senators support repealing the medical device tax. Harry Reid won’t bring it up for a vote in the Senate because he’s doing the bidding of President Obama who is so dug in on the health care law that he won’t allow this good idea, which has bipartisan support, to advance,” Barrasso said today on Fox.
“But I mean, this is the problem we’re dealing with. And it’s a shame for our country that we have a president who is viewed now as untrustworthy, incompetent. And Americans don’t believe that he will make the right decisions for the country.”
Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said he hopes Obama will “abandon this singular view of our Constitution” in asserting his intentions to use executive action more frequently.
“I serve in a divided government, and recognizing this fact is key to getting the work done that the American people sent us here to do,” Gardner said. “…2014 has the potential to be an extremely productive year, and I know there are officials on both sides of the aisle who want to work together. I strongly urge President Obama not to divide us politically, but rather to work with Democrats and Republicans to accomplish the goals of the American people, not those of a partisan agenda.”
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he hoped Obama would reveal the “real answers” behind income inequality when the president addresses the joint session of Congress.
“The first real answer to income inequality is to liberate the free enterprise system to create more good jobs, and that’s harder to do with the big, wet blanket of Obama administration regulations causing employers to reduce the number of jobs. During this year alone, Obamacare will cancel millions more health care policies and add new costs to employers that will cause the destruction of a great many jobs,” Alexander said.
“The second real answer to income inequality is to give parents more freedom to choose a better school for their child. I’ll introduce legislation to do just that tomorrow.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said over the weekend that the White House is too focused on the areas in which Obama and Congress disagree.
“I’m the first to acknowledge the president and I don’t agree on every issue,” Paul said. “But if you took 10 issues, I think there are two or three that we agree on, and we may agree firmly on. And why don’t we go after the issues that we agree on?”
Bipartisan proposals such as reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and more controversial bills such as raising the minimum wage and immigration reform could see movement this year as both parties give a little or a lot, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) predicted on MSNBC.
“There’s a lot of bubbling on the Republican side, because they know if they continue to alienate the immigrant community, particularly Hispanics, but Asians and others, they’ll never, never, never be the majority party. It’s even gonna hurt them in taking back the Senate or keeping the House. So I think immigration has a very good chance of actually becoming law. It’s not gonna be exactly everything I would want,” Schumer said. “It’s not gonna be everything John Boehner would want. But, on that one, I think we can make both sides happy.”
He took issue with Blunt’s pre-speech criticism of the president and his policies, though.
“If middle-class incomes keep declining over the next five or 10 years, we will have a different America that neither Roy Blunt nor Chuck Schumer will like,” Schumer said. “So this is a very important speech, more important than most, because our whole — the whole tectonic plates beneath our politics is pivoting.… It was the economy, stupid, in ’92. It’s the middle class, stupid, in 2014.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones wanting to hear certain things out of the president on Tuesday night.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Obama needs to focus on bringing jobs back to the manufacturing sector.
“This is about fighting for American workers,” Coons said. “Not just those who are long-term unemployed, who are a core concern, but those who are underemployed, and those who are working two jobs.”
Coons told the Alliance for American Manufacturers on Monday that he met with Obama on Jan. 15 to make his case. “I took my five minutes to reference a great bill that Kay Hagan has dealing with skills certification; a bill that Al Franken has dealing with strengthening the role of community colleges; and sort of went around the caucus and said, ‘Mr. President, there is a bill here, a bill here, a bill here, and you’ve got real partners. These are bipartisan bills. You can elevate the visibility and trajectory of manufacturing and job creation in the State of the Union, and there is immediate progress that’s possible in this caucus and in the Senate.’ There were five different senators who spoke about manufacturing and urged the president to make some recognition of its importance.”
D.C.’s delegate to Congress wants to hear Obama give the same deferred enforcement status that he gave to DREAMers to every illegal immigrant in the country.
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) joined five colleagues on a call with the media today to say that the administration’s ongoing work in support of immigration reform is inconsistent with continuing deportations.
“The separation of families becomes even more tragic as they are ripped apart just before immigration reform,” said Norton. “Suspending deportations would equate to a cease fire just before permanent relief.”