WHITE HOUSE —
President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union Address later Tuesday to a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He will urge lawmakers to join him in steps to create jobs and narrow the gap between rich and poor, but will vow to use his executive powers if Congress does not act.
Obama and Congress face intense public skepticism about their ability to cooperate for the good of the economy. Supporters and critics say this greatly limits his second term flexibility.
Although he has recovered slightly from last year's mishandled rollout of his signature health care reform law, Republicans will continue to use the issue against him in the run-up to November mid-term congressional elections.
President Obama's Previous State of the Union Addresses
2009: Not technically a State of the Union, Obama said years of irresponsibility and short-term thinking had brought a "day of reckoning."
2010: Obama urged Americans to work together to solve the damaged economy and pledged to remove U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
2011: Obama proposed a partial government spending freeze and said the U.S. stands with the people of Tunisia, whose protests drove their president out of the country at the start of the Arab Spring.
2012: Obama outlined a new economic blueprint and highlighted progress in Afghanistan and the killing of Osama bin Laden.
2013: Obama detailed the drawdown of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
The White House says Obama will strike an optimistic tone, putting forward "real, concrete, practical proposals" to strengthen the middle class and spur opportunity.
Key political adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on Fox News Sunday
that the president wants 2014 to be a year of action.
"What we are trying to do here is restore opportunity for all Americans, grow the economy and create jobs," he said.
It's a similar theme to last year, when Obama said government has an obligation to help "re-ignite" the middle class as an engine for growth.
"The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party," the president said.
White House Guests for the State of the Union Address:
The White House is continuing the long tradition of having special guests sit with the first lady during the president's State of the Union address.
This year's guest list includes two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing, the fire chief of the tornado-ravaged Oklahoma town of Moore and basketball player Jason Collins - the first openly gay athlete in a major U.S. sport.
Also on the list of White House invitees are an unemployed mother of two, a war veteran wounded in Afghanistan, and a young immigration reform advocate brought to the United States illegally as a child.
In total, more than 20 guests are joining Michelle Obama in her box at the Capitol. Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, and senior adviser to President Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, also have seats there.
Other guests, invited by members of Congress, include the mother and sister of Kenneth Bae - the U.S. missionary imprisoned in North Korea. Also attending is the father of Navy SEAL Ty Woods, who was killed during the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012.
Facing ongoing Republican opposition to his agenda, Obama has vowed to use his office to push through key initiatives if he gets no cooperation from Republicans, who control the House of Representatives.
"This administration's agenda to create more government, more spending, more taxes and more debt has created an inequality crisis of opportunity in our country," Senator Roy Blunt remarked, indicating that the divide remains wide between Republicans and the White House.
White House spokesman Jay Carney says that like most Americans, the president is frustrated with Congress, but that a modest budget deal forged last year is a sign that cooperation is possible.
"It was an example of what can happen when Democrats and Republicans get together, acknowledge their sincere differences, but find common ground and move the country forward," he told reporters.
Specific proposals are expected on creating more job opportunities for the long-term unemployed, strengthening retirement security, expanding education and training, and infrastructure development.
Obama can use executive orders to implement some things. But Congress must act legislatively on such issues as immigration reform.
"How do we make the economy grow in a way that new jobs are created and the harvest from that economic growth is shared widely by Americans, that really is the key," noted analyst Thomas Mann is with the Brookings Institution, summing up the challenge facing the president, and Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
On the eve of the speech, an ABC News/Washington Post
poll showed 37 percent of Americans have either a good amount or a great deal of confidence in President Obama to make the right decisions for the country’s future.
The president begins a two day road trip on Wednesday to amplify themes from his speech.