President Barack Obama addresses the U.S. Congress and the nation in a few hours, and faces huge expectations regarding the U.S. economic crisis. Democratic and Republican lawmakers made remarks ahead of the president's speech to a joint session of Congress.
President Obama is expected to urge Americans to pull together to confront challenges, saying that while the U.S. economy may be weakened and confidence shaken, the country will recover.
Although not a formal State of the Union Address, the first of which he will deliver next year, President Obama's speech will contain most of the elements of one - focusing on the issue of greatest concern to Americans - the economy.
He is expected to balance being honest with the American people and Congress about the challenges ahead, and trying to use the force of his personality, amid continuing high public approval of his performance, to reassure the nation.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with reporters a few hours before the president's arrival at the Capitol. "We think it will be a serious speech, but one full of hope and optimism," she said.
President Obama is expected to offer more details about additional steps planned to bring stability to financial markets, get banks to expand lending, and slow the loss of jobs across the country.
Lawmakers who, this month, approved a $787 billion stimulus measure to try to turn around the economy and hundreds of billions of dollars more last year to help failing financial institutions, say they hope the president's speech can deliver a burst of confidence.
Senate Majority Leader, Democrat Harry Reid provided a hint of another aspect of the president's speech, a renewed call for Democrats and Republicans to work together. "Barack Obama is a person who reaches out to all. He will continue to do that tonight," he said.
But lawmakers are also apprehensive, knowing that hundreds of billions of additional dollars could be needed as the Obama administration grapples with multiple issues, ranging from bank stability to a possible additional stimulus measure.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that while everyone wants President Obama to succeed, he should not expect a debate-free environment on questions of federal spending. "We're not here to attack the president; we're here to talk about spending. And we think we are off on the wrong foot with the rate of spending that we are engaged in by running up the bills and sending them to our grandchildren," he said.
McConnell's remarks reflect the general tone of Republican criticism of what they call "irresponsible spending".
This week, House Republicans urged President Obama and majority Democrats to agree to freeze federal spending while efforts are underway to repair the economy.
In response, Democrats say the president has no option except to do everything he can to halt an economic slide that began under former President George Bush.
"The economic disaster that President Obama is facing and will talk about to the American people tonight [was] really waiting there on the desk when he got to the Oval Office," said Representative Jim McDermott, a Washington state Democrat.
On another issue of concern to lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, President Obama has vowed to cut in half the $1.3-trillion U.S. government deficit by the end of his first term.
But lawmakers see a difficult road ahead in trying to accomplish this while moving forward on other key objectives such as improving health care and education, encouraging alternative energy and addressing the problem of reforming government entitlement programs that threaten even more damage to the U.S. economy.