Obama plays Robin Hood

The White House wants President Obama to play the part of Robin Hood at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

Obama hopes to use the big speech to remove a blemish of his presidency: an economic recovery that has left wage growth behind.

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Free community college. A $175 billion tax cut for the middle class. Faster, cheaper broadband internet. A week of paid sick leave. Discounted mortgages.

Obama wants to move forward with all of these populist proposals for the poor and middle class, and he wants to do so by taking from the rich in the form of higher taxes on the wealthy and Wall Street.

Few of the proposals are going anywhere with a GOP Congress, but the White House sees Obama’s penultimate State of the Union as the president’s last, best chance to lay down policy markers for the next two years —and to frame the 2016 battle for the White House.

It’s also meant to ensure Obama remains relevant for as long into his presidency as possible.

“I think we should have a debate in this country between middle-class economics and trickle-down economics,” top aide Dan Pfeiffer said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

“I think, in divided government, each side should lay out their agenda, what they think is in the best interest of the country,” he added.

Those comments signal another aspect of the emerging White House strategy.

If Obama is casting himself as the hero, he also hopes to cast newly empowered congressional Republicans as the villains — multiple Sheriffs of Nottingham defending the rich and influential.

“To make it appear that he’s going on offense they need to suggest and put forward a number of proposals they can say, ‘See? We were trying to do these things,’” said Lara Brown, political management program director at The George Washington University.

To be sure, Obama will also seek opportunities to work with Republicans on areas such as trade, where there may be more divisions between Obama and the left than with the White House and Republicans.

Expect to hear Obama talk about how Washington should come together on finalizing trade agreements with the European Union and Asia, and on how the federal government should find a way to bolster its crumbling roads and bridges.

But the tax proposal and calls for new spending are what the White House was emphasizing the weekend leading up to the State of the Union, signaling the administration’s real political focus.

Obama aides feel good about their chances of winning the debate.

They note recent polls showing the president’s approval ratings above water for the first time in more than a year, buoyed by promising economic news.

Multiple officials said there was a palpable sense of “momentum” since the disastrous midterms, to which the president responded with executive action on immigration, Cuba and the environment.

“It turns out the American people respond well to just getting things done,” one senior administration official said. 

The White House has sought to steal attention away from Republicans taking over the Senate.

Rather than let the early weeks of the new year be dominated by Republican legislative efforts, attention instead turned to the president’s shiny new policy proposals. And some of the attention that was paid to Republicans centered on their divisions over immigration and who should be their Speaker.

Republicans are working to combat this, and quickly moved to label Obama’s tax proposals as dead on arrival.

“This is not a serious proposal,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). “We lift families up and grow the economy with a simpler, flatter tax code, not big tax increases to pay for more Washington spending.”

Obama’s $60 billion proposal for two years of free community college was similarly shrugged off.

But the White House thinks it can force Republicans to engage. 

After the State of the Union, Obama will travel to universities in Idaho and Kansas in an effort to amplify his message.

And officials vow that the president will continue to roll out new proposals even after the speech, in an effort to keep the pressure on Congress.

The president’s team has also devoted a significant focus to sharable, social media to try to reach ordinary citizens and generate outside-the-Beltway excitement and enthusiasm for the White House’s ideas.

On Wednesday, senior administration officials will participate in “Big Block of Cheese Day” — a nod to the popular West Wing television series. A video featuring press secretary Josh Earnest and stars of the show was trending nationally on Twitter for most of Friday.

And the next day, the president will be interviewed about his speech by three YouTube bloggers — including a California teenager who offers fashion advice and a comedian known for videos like ‘My pushup bra will help me get my man.’”

While Republicans will do what they can to make sure Obama’s Robin Hood story doesn't have a merry ending, the White House thinks its issues will resonate at the State of the Union and through some of the less formal media settings.

“The president is trying to put his ideas in front of as many people as he can,” Earnest said. “And if he can go to an interesting venue where he may be able to attract the attention of some people that didn't tune into the State of Union address, for example, then we certainly would welcome the opportunity to do that.”