It's a challenge -- asking Americans to let his administration take the lead after a series of self-inflicted setbacks -- that could imperil confidence in Obama's 2014 agenda before it even gets out of the gate.
Much of the blowback leading up to Obama's prime-time speech has centered around the idea of executive overreach, that the president is simply sidestepping another branch of government to get what he wants.
Yet, Obama has a more burning question that he must answer Tuesday: Is his administration capable of delivering on his progressive blueprint for a self-professed “year of action?”
“It's not the perfect environment to be rolling out executive orders,” conceded one Democratic Senate aide. “He's got to first use his pulpit to win over some converts.”
Pointing to 2013 as a lost legislative year — and with no better prospects on Capitol Hill — the Democrat added, “What choice does he have?”
The president has said he is willing to work with lawmakers, but will press ahead solo if they fail to act. The White House is banking that the public will reward Obama for navigating around a historically unpopular Congress to enact measures to jump start the economy.
Obama, however, is essentially asking the public to support his unilateral agenda at a time when many Americans have soured on his job performance.
In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 53 percent of respondents said the administration had not been competent in running the government and nearly half of those surveyed said the president was not trustworthy.
Obama will outline executive action on infrastructure projects, climate change and a variety of economic fixes -- including some earlier proposals and fresh policies.
What remains to be seen is whether the message fades away like much of Obama’s domestic agenda in recent State of the Union addresses or if the speech gives the White House some desperately needed momentum.
On the eve of Obama's address to Congress, the White House accused Republicans of overplaying the president's intentions.
“We're not saying this is an either/or proposition,” press secretary Jay Carney said of executive action versus new laws. “It's a both/and. It's reaching out to Congress and looking forward to the possibility of further bipartisan cooperation on big, medium and small issues.”
“The president should absolutely use the powers available to him and the unique authority that the office provides to move forward,” Obama's top spokesman added.
Some Republicans argue, however, that Obama's latest State of the Union pitch is just a rhetorical gimmick. They say Obama's address Tuesday is just the latest version of his “we can't wait” tour and other campaign-style messages employed to change the narrative in Washington.
“He can work with us to create opportunity and prosperity. Or he can issue press releases,” Brendan Buck, spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said of Obama. “That's the choice the president faces this year.”