President Barack Obama will present an agenda for his final year in office and beyond, on Tuesday in his last State of the Union address, aimed at generating support for a Pacific trade pact, tighter gun laws, and closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison.
Scheduled for 9 p.m. EST, the speech to a joint session of Congress will be one of Obama’s few remaining chances to capture and hold the attention of millions of Americans before he is eclipsed by his would-be successors.
Politics will loom over the address. Obama is expected to stick to legacy themes and steer clear of new legislative proposals that his fellow Democrats on the presidential campaign trail are laying out themselves.
Aides said he would offer a more optimistic view of the United States’ standing, compared with the dire assessments put forth by Republican presidential hopefuls.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday blamed an “avalanche of negativity” from Republican candidates for swaying public opinion and causing polls to show that many Americans view the country as being on the wrong track. “The president sees this as an opportunity to talk to the country bluntly about the challenges that we face and the opportunities that are there for the taking,” Earnest said.
Obama is likely to tout the Iran nuclear deal and improved U.S.-Cuba relations as achievements, while urging Congress to back criminal justice reform, support the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, and close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
He is also likely to discuss U.S. efforts against Islamic State, which have generated criticism from Republicans as being woefully insufficient.
The White House wants to portray Obama as setting the agenda, even on the campaign trail, with goals such as gun control that will reverberate past his time in office. Last week he announced executive actions to tighten gun rules.
The speech could also be an indirect repudiation of Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s call for the United States to temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country.
“The president should articulate the argument … for the values that underlie his presidency and provide some degree of contrast with (the) competing vision for what makes America great – that we are seeing in the Republican Party,” said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress think tank, which has close ties to the White House.