In Last State of the Union, President Obama Seeks to Stay Relevant

President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, during a meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss executive actions the president can take to curb gun violence. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, during a meeting with law enforcement officials to discuss executive actions the president can take to curb gun violence. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Speaking to Democratic donors recently in his hometown of Chicago, President Obama took some delight in recalling how long it had been since someone reminded him he was a “lame duck” president.

“We’ve been flapping our wings a lot,” he said, noting a Pacific Rim trade agreement, a deal to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, positive economic trends and new actions on climate change.

In that spirit, White House officials have said for weeks that Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday will be a “non-traditional speech.” That’s a well-worn line from second-term administrations entering their final year as they try to stay relevant in the national debate.

The relatively early date for the president’s annual address to Congress is indicative of the need to avoid being overshadowed by the campaign to succeed Obama, with the Iowa caucuses less than three weeks away. But Obama and his team nonetheless see a rare opportunity for the president to not just be part of the 2016 debate, but to set its terms.

“This one moment where the country sort of acknowledges that the president gets an hour to assess the condition of the country and to offer up a prescription for confronting the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities is as important as ever,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

Hoping to amplify the president’s argument to the country, the White House has tried to make the State of the Union address more than just a speech in the House chamber. It’s the launching pad for Snapchat messages, YouTube forums, and yes, even some good old-fashioned barnstorming.

The speech itself, aides say, will be built around one central theme of optimism, as the president seeks to highlight the progress he sees the nation having made since he first took office at the height of the Great Recession, and what more can be done to leverage the strengths of the American people in the future.

“There is no country in the world that is better positioned to capitalize on the kind of opportunities we see, whether it relates to our national security or it relates to our economy, than the United States of America,” Earnest said.

It’s not clear that the country shares the president’s positive view of the state of the nation. A Fox News poll released last week found that 61% of Americans were not satisfied with how things were going in the country, the highest number in two years. But Earnest attributed that in part to the “avalanche of negativity” from the Republicans looking to take his place.

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SOURCE: Michael A. Memoli and Christi Parsons 
The Los Angeles Times