White House: Obama will give a 'nontraditional' State of the Union

White House: Obama will give a 'nontraditional' State of the Union
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White House officials are pledging that President Obama will deliver a “nontraditional” State of the Union address in January, the last time he will deliver the annual speech as president.
 
The address will still be given in the Capitol before a joint session of Congress. But instead of rattling off a laundry list of proposals for lawmakers to consider, a senior White House official said the president will take a “big-picture approach to some of the challenges and opportunities that we face” as a country.
 
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The plan is recognition of the limits Obama faces during his final year in the White House. Unfinished legislative priorities, such as gun control and immigration reform, are all but dead in the Republican-controlled Congress, and the president is unlikely to roll out major new initiatives with just 12 months left in office, most of which will be consumed by the 2016 presidential race. 
 
But Obama does plan to urge lawmakers to move forward on proposals where there is agreement with Republicans, such as criminal justice reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. 
 
Obama will deliver his State of the Union on Jan. 12, scheduled earlier than usual so it falls before people start going to the polls in early-voting primary states. 
 
The president is expected to take time during his annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii, which begins tomorrow, to work on the speech. 
 
White House officials briefed reporters Thursday to detail Obama's goals for next year. They say he plans to focus on implementing new climate change regulations and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as pursuing closer ties with Cuba. 
 
The president this week expressed a desire to travel to the communist island nation during his final year in office, which would cap off his historic detente with Cuban President Raúl Castro. But officials did not say if or when the trip would happen. 
 
Obama also plans to tighten the nation’s gun laws through executive action and submit a plan to Congress to close the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Aides did not give a timeline to when those long-anticipated proposals would be released.
 
The White House has raised speculation that Obama could work around Congress to close the controversial facility. But a sweeping year-end spending bill and a defense policy law include language that makes it difficult for Obama to shutter the facility on his own. 
 
“The president wants to work with Congress to get this done,” an official said of a Guantanamo plan. 
 
With the nation’s attention shifting to the presidential race, White House officials insisted the president would remain a relevant figure on the political landscape. 
 
“It goes without saying, we reject the lame duck idea out of hand,” an official said. 
 
Even though the 2016 campaign has taken up a huge amount of political bandwidth, the White House believes Obama’s policies, such as healthcare reform and a more generous Syrian refugee plan, are still driving the political debate. 
 
Obama will also have to contend with growing criticism of his plan to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the wake of attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., by individuals who pledged allegiance to the terrorist group.
 
Republican presidential candidates have blasted his strategy on the campaign trail, and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from Obama’s claim that ISIS has been “contained” in the Middle East. 
 
Obama also plans to be active on the campaign trail, stumping for the Democratic presidential nominee and other down-ballot candidates. 
 
“There is no better way for this president to preserve the progress of the last seven years than elect a Democrat to replace him in November,” an official said. 
 
White House officials reiterated that Obama has not ruled out making an endorsement in the Democratic presidential primary, which pits Clinton against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.
 
Obama has remained neutral in the race thus far, but it is widely believed that Clinton, his former secretary of State, is his preferred candidate.