Struggling to gain momentum after a bruising 2013, President Obama's week will focus around his Tuesday night State of the Union speech and amplifying his pledge to sidestep Congress when necessary to fight income inequality.
White House aides began previewing the speech over the weekend with Dan Pfeiffer, the communications director, saying the president will build his remarks around the theme of “opportunity, action and optimism.”
Obama has called inequality in America the “defining issue of our time” and Tuesday night he will stress the importance of shrinking the gap between the rich and poor, with calls for more “opportunity” and "mobility.”
He is also expected make his case for unilateral executive action on a variety of fronts, from efforts to increase the minimum wage to curbing carbon emissions and other environmental priorities.
Obama plans to hammer the message home in the days following the speech with travel to Maryland, Pittsburgh, Pa., Milwaukee, Wis., and Nashville, Tenn.
“The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed,” Pfeiffer said in an email to supporters Saturday. “Your ability to get ahead should be based on your hard work and ambition and who you want to be, not just the raw circumstance of who you are when you're born.”
In the final few years of a second term, presidents lose influence and leverage with each passing month. Struggling to push back against that dynamic and regain his footing after the botched health care rollout last fall, Obama has dubbed 2014 “a year of action” and has repeatedly said he has a “pen and a phone” and will utilize both by using executive actions to sidestep congressional gridlock.
But Republicans said the president is simply recycling campaign stump speeches, which contained lofty goals but no concrete steps to improve the economy, create jobs and help the middle class and other struggling Americans.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., will give the Republican rebuttal after Obama's speech Tuesday night. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., on Saturday previewed the likely GOP reaction to the speech, saying Obama is engaging in class warfare and has “a lot of explaining to do.”
"If all he has to offer is more of the same, or if he refuses to acknowledge that his own policies have failed to work, the president is simply doing what many failed leaders have done before him: trying to set one group of Americans against another group of Americans," he said. "We don't need more class warfare, and we don't need more interference from Washington.”