For the seventh and final time of his presidency, Barack Obama will stand before Congress and the American public to lay out his vision not only for his remaining months in office, but for the future of the United States.
“Not just the remarkable progress we have made, not just what I want to get done in the year ahead, but what we all need to do together in the years to come. The big things that will guarantee an even stronger, better, more prosperous America for our kids,” Obama said in an Oval Office video previewing his address.
An Optimistic Obama
In the video, Obama says he has never been more optimistic about the path the United States is on. It’s this optimism – not just for 2016 but also for the years ahead - that White House officials say will be showcased when the president addresses the nation for his last State of the Union on Tuesday.
“The United States has recovered from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and we see all of this economic volatility in countries around the world, and the strength of the U.S. economy stands in stark contrast to that kind of instability,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said.
Unlike last year, when Obama laid out specific proposals, including initiatives to provide free community college tuition and bolster cyber security, Earnest says the president this year will focus on his long-term outlook for the country, while countering some of the pessimism seen both in public opinion polls and presidential campaigns.
“So much of the rhetoric that we hear from the other side is focused on fearing the future and being anxious and insecure about a changing world. The fact is, the United States is better positioned than any other nation in the world to capitalize on the opportunities that lie ahead for us,” the White House spokesman told reporters recently.
While will Obama likely will not lay out specific legislative proposals for Congress, he is expected to call on lawmakers to take care of unfinished business before he leaves office, including approving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement and take steps to close the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
White House officials say that while Obama will not lay out a “laundry list” of accomplishments during Tuesday’s address, the U.S. president is expected to highlight how far the country has come since he took office in 2009.
“Our businesses are now on a 70-month streak of job creation, with more than 14 million new jobs in all. We’ve revamped our schools and the way we pay for college. We’ve made historic investments in clean energy and put ourselves on a path to a low-carbon future,” Obama said in his most recent weekly address on January 9.
As in years past, the president plans to hit the road immediately following the State of the Union, visiting communities in Louisiana and Nebraska this week to highlight what the White House says is progress the states have made in lowering unemployment and increasing access to health care.
On the global front, Obama likely will showcase his recent diplomatic successes in normalizing ties with Cuba, securing a nuclear agreement with Iran, and working to secure an international climate agreement in Paris.
“This president, I am sure, is going to talk about that as a signature accomplishment, and really I think make the case for why he has been so successful overseas in all of these areas. And people will be able to judge for themselves what he says,” political analyst Matthew Dallek said.
Confronting Challenges Ahead
But along with accomplishments, George Washington University's Matthew Dallek says Obama likely will address the ongoing challenge of terrorism and the fight against the Islamic State militant group.
“I think the president is going to have to talk about, again, and try to encapsulate it in a clear way that maybe hasn’t been done previously, what his strategy is with ISIS and why he believes it is working. And he’s going to have to make the case for progress that has been made in recent months,” Dallek said.
The political management professor says the issue already is playing a prominent role in the Republican presidential candidates’ campaigns, whether it is Ted Cruz calling for the U.S. to “carpet bomb” Islamic State, or Donald Trump urging a temporary ban on all Muslims from entering the United States.
Republican lawmakers have offered their own criticism of Obama’s Middle East policy.
“The president is going, I assume, to talk about the future and try to paint a rosy picture where one does not exist," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. "What we'd love to hear from the president is a real plan to defeat ISIL.”
Despite the negativity, White House officials say the president has never been more confident in the country’s capability to confronts such challenges – a message Obama will deliver to the American people in his last State of the Union address Tuesday.