President Barack Obama is on the road, meeting face-to-face with Americans following a lofty State of the Union address that painted an optimistic vision for America in the years to come, while acknowledging deep divides over a variety of issues.
Following the speech widely broadcast on television and multi-media platforms, the president traveled to Nebraska where he first stopped at the home of an Omaha-area woman for a living room discussion.
He met with Lisa Martin and her husband, Jeff. Lisa wrote to the president a year ago expressing concern about the environment.
“I still have this sinking feeling of dread and sadness. Will my son be able to thrive on this planet?” she wrote in the letter, which was released by the White House.
The White House said the tour is part of Obama’s effort to “directly engage” with Americans about their struggles, successes and experiences, and about opportunities that may lie ahead.
After visiting with the president in her home, Martin introduced him to an audience at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.
"Even a mother's nighttime fears can make change happen," she told attendees.
Martin’s story fit perfectly into a key theme of the president’s post State of the Union tour to engage Americans.
“America has been through big changes before. And each time we overcame our fear and we overcame our challenges,” he told the crowd. “Each time we made change work for us and each time we emerged stronger and better than we were before.”
Bipartisan support for some initiatives
He praised the economic turnaround in Nebraska since he took office seven years ago, and a White House spokesman noted the state stands to gain much more if Congress ratifies the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement reached by the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries.
The TPP is an economic cornerstone of the U.S. strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific region. While it has bipartisan support in Congress, it also faces opposition.
The president also expressed optimism that he can work with the Republican-led Congress this year on criminal justice reform, which also has bipartisan support.
But the chasm between the White House and Republicans is likely too wide to expect much on other key administration priorities, like stricter gun control legislation, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and immigration reform.
Ending partisan rancor
On Tuesday the President called on Americans to bridge bitter differences and reject divisive rhetoric, taking thinly-veiled jabs at Republican figures like Donald Trump, who called for a temporary ban on all Muslims from entering the country.
“We’ve got to make some choices. Do we respond to these changes with fear and do we turn on each other?” he asked the audience in Nebraska Wednesday. “Or do we face the future with confidence in who we are and what we stand for and all the incredible things we can get done together?"
Analysts said the tour is part of an effort to shape Obama’s legacy, and to reshape discourse during an election year.
“He will set out on the road to not only tout the accomplishments that have happened while he’s been president but also to frame the presidential elections, to frame the upcoming election in a way that makes clear that electing a Democrat will further the policies that his administration has begun,” said analyst Winnie Stachelberg with the Center for American Progress.
Cabinet fans out across country
Top members of the president’s Cabinet are also traveling to communities across the country to talk to Americans, according to the administration.
“The President believes that the true test is not the challenges we face, but how we approach those challenges,” said a White House official, noting the Cabinet will “keep their feet on the gas” to drive toward solutions during the final year of Obama’s presidency.
The Cabinet road tour, called “State of the Union: Cabinet in Your Community,” will include stops that will highlight points laid out in the president's speech.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy is touring a solar panel facility to highlight economic growth and job creation in the renewable energy industry, a growing market seen as one way to combat climate change.
Secretary for Homeland Security Jeh Johnson is hosting a roundtable on the resettlement of Iraqi and Syrian refugees and discussions with interfaith groups about efforts to counter extremism.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch is meeting with current and former prison inmates to promote the administration’s effort to reform the criminal justice system.
The president will tout job creation and growth Thursday during a stop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Obama will also continue to push for four areas he believes the U.S. should focus on in years to come. They include ensuring a new economy that works for every person, tapping innovation to tackle big challenges like climate change, ensuring U.S. security without “becoming the world’s policeman,” and adopting a brand of politics that reflects the values of the country and the people.