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Obama to Urge Action on Economy in State of Union Speech


President Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union Address on Tuesday will be closely watched in the U.S. and around the world. He is expected to renew his call for a "year of action" on the U.S. economy and to help the middle class. But ongoing political polarization in Washington will pose ongoing challenges to his agenda.

Last year, Obama urged U.S. lawmakers to put nation before party.

"The idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, who you love -- it's our unfinished task," Obama said.

The State of the Union

  • The U.S. Constitution requires that "the President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union..."
  • George Washington delivered the first annual message to Congress on January 8, 1790.
  • Thomas Jefferson decided to issue the message in writing instead of delivering a speech.
  • The written tradition continued until Woodrow Wilson in 1913.
  • Calvin Coolidge's 1923 address was the first one broadcast on radio.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt first called the speech a "State of the Union" address in 1934.
  • Harry S. Truman delivered the first televised address in 1947.
At a White House event with students earlier this month, the president previewed the theme of this year's address.

"I will mobilize the country around the national mission of making sure our economy offers every American who works hard a fair shot at success," Obama promised.

A majority of Americans share concerns about inequality. But Obama remains a politically polarizing figure, with approval ratings the lowest of his presidency.

Congressional Republicans who forced a government shutdown last year to protest his health care law still pose substantial resistance.

Earlier this month, a bipartisan budget deal averted another shutdown.

But analyst Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution agrees Obama's second term may be one of limited expectations.

"For the most part I think the president understands that he is not going to get much out of the Congress unless a miracle happened in the [2014] midterm election and Democrats regain control of the House and increase the size of their majority in the Senate. That is highly unlikely," Mann said.

In 2014, immigration reform stands the best chance of making progress. Obama's effort to strenghten gun control laws and raise the minimum wage remain blocked.

Mann says the president should not deliver a long list of goals but instead focus on rebutting Republican criticisms on health care and the economy.

"This is not the time for the laundry list. This is time to think strategically about the limits of State of the Union speeches and about what opportunities he might have," Mann said.

Obama is expected to highlight the end of the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan. Also, diplomatic efforts to end bloodshed in Syria, and the removal of chemical weapons without U.S. military action.

James Goldgeier, Dean of The American University School of International Service, says the president is certain to highlight another achievement, the interim nuclear deal with Iran.

"He is going to want to talk about the fact that he got it done," noted Goldgeier. "And I think it is also important for him to put on the defense those people who are questioning the diplomacy, those people who think that since sanctions got us to this point, more sanctions would help us do even better."

The White House has mounted a major Internet and social media campaign for the speech, which President Obama suggests will be a bit shorter this year.

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