WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s not just the State of the Union speech that President Barack Obama is turning on its head. It’s the whole notion of a lame-duck president.
The president is barreling into the final two years of his presidency determined to hold his own and then some against resurgent Republicans.
He’s rejecting any notion that he should be cowed by the midterm election results that gave the GOP a resounding victory. And while Obama has spoken of the need to find common ground with Republicans, in the 11 weeks since the November elections he’s dished out seven veto threats — two of them on Tuesday, just before the speech — and has shown little sign of moving closer to the Republicans on specific policy proposals.
Breaking with tradition, the president dispensed with suspense and released the details of his State of the Union proposals well in advance of Tuesday night’s speech to a joint session of Congress and millions of television viewers. With TV audiences for the annual speech shrinking, the White House decided to reinvent the State of the Union as weeks-long campaign rather than cede the spotlight for much of January to the Republicans.
Obama’s proposals include higher taxes on the wealthy, making community college free for many students, expanding paid leave for workers and more — measures unlikely to find much Republican support.
But Obama has burst into a new year with unbounded confidence before, only to run smack into the same old Washington gridlock.
And indignant Republicans stand ready to offer the president a stern reality check this time around.
The new Senate majority leader, Republican Mitch McConnell, pointedly referred back to the November elections results Tuesday. He said in advance of Obama’s speech that he hoped the president would adopt a more conciliatory tone than “the path he’s been on for so many years.”
Asked whether it’s possible to put tone aside and still be able to focus on areas ripe for agreement, McConnell said: “That’s really a question you ought to ask the president. I think ever since the election he’s … indicated he’s not for much of anything the American people voted for last November.”
Whatever the hopeful rhetoric of his speech, Obama and his team have to know that his legislative proposals on tax increases for the wealthy, education and more have little chance of becoming law. And his recent burst of unilateral action on immigration, Cuba policy and other issues can only take him so far.
William Galston, a former Clinton administration official, thinks Obama is working two parallel tracks — a more confrontational path setting the stage for national elections in 2016, and a more conciliatory one aimed at getting things done in 2015.
The latter is less evident so far, but both sides have spoken of the potential for compromise on matters like trade, infrastructure and perhaps tax reform.
Says Galston: “The question for 2015 is whether the president and the Republican leaders will be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. Will they be able to seal off the areas of guaranteed confrontation from the areas of possible cooperation?”
EDITORS NOTE: Nancy Benac has covered Washington and politics for more than three decades for The Associated Press.
Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at https://twitter.com/nbenac