State of the Union to focus on inequality

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President Obama will try to pump some vitality into a lackluster second term on Tuesday when he delivers his State of the Union address.

The address will include a “healthy dose” of the income inequality message the White House has focused on in recent weeks, according to one senior administration official familiar with the text. 

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The president, who has yet to add to the big legislative accomplishments of his first term, will call for raising the minimum wage to $10 per hour and extending federal unemployment benefits that expired last month.

He will also discuss energy and college affordability, two other issues that relate to the economic mobility message that is a major White House theme ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

The White House sees the State of the Union as a key part of the president’s second-term reboot, and will accentuate it with a presidential road trip where Obama will tout his proposals.

Obama — who has trumpeted 2014 as a “year of action” — will also devote considerable time in the address, which he’s been working on for the past month, on how he'll use executive action to move along his agenda, the official said. 

The emphasis on executive action and messaging on income inequality are both intended to rally Obama’s political base, which lost confidence in the president during the difficult first year of his second term.

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday found that a majority of Americans — 53 percent — did not believe the Obama administration was competent at running the government. The president’s approval ratings have been mired in the low 40s for months.

The low numbers have come after struggles with ObamaCare’s implementation, and controversy over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Both issues have hurt Obama with his base, and with his supporters in Congress.

“He needs to get people excited about the Democratic Party again,” one former senior administration official said of the president.

The White House sees the State of the Union, where Obama will speak to a primetime audience of millions, as a chance to do just that. It also wants to cast the president as someone working to get things done in a partisan atmosphere.

“They've concluded the American people want to see a president who's active, who's progressive, but who's not overly partisan,” said Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic strategist who has consulted with the White House.

“This is a chance to draw contrast with Republicans, who are like [New Jersey Gov.] Chris Christie at the G.W. Bridge — they just want to cause traffic jams. So the president and his team just have to show they’re driving around it.”

Obama has a “simple goal” in the address, a second former senior administration official said. “Stake a beachhead as the champion for the middle class economic security, come hell or high water.”

While Obama will use the muscle of the office to circumvent Congress, he is also expected to address how lawmakers should work together to pass legislation for the benefit of the nation.

The president is expected to draw attention to the two-year budget deal and the passage of a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill to highlight the work Congress can do if it works together.

Obama has an active to-do list on items that require congressional support. For starters, he would still like to see comprehensive immigration reform pass Congress in his second term. At least some Republicans — anxious to lure the Hispanic vote in the coming election cycles — seem open to passing the legislation.

Those around him say he’s been “frustrated” with the inaction in Congress.

“I think the frustration for him is that you need legislative buy in to get these bigger ticket items done,” said a third former senior administration official.  

But even before Obama hits the road to push his agenda, the White House plans to start a conversation directly with the public to push some of the president’s policies.

It’s a tack the White House has used many times to push its message via the bully pulpit.

In an attempt to rally the troops ahead of the speech, the White House released a video on Tuesday in which chief of staff Denis McDonough declares, “the State of the Union is not just a conversation with Congress, but a conversation with you, the American people.”