This week, NBN Politics recaps the top news story from the past week and brings you five things to look for in the State of the Union. Welcome to the Fast Five: State of the Union Edition.
The week behind: Department of Justice “white paper” leaked
Controversy erupted this week after the leak of a Department of Justice white paper concerning the legal status of targeted drone killings. The leak comes at an unfortunate time for the Obama administration; with hearings underway for CIA Director nominee John Brennan, the drones have become a subject of debate on the Hill. The legal arguments presented in the paper have received predictably mixed reactions. Given that the memo offers no new information, this is hardly surprising. Realistically, the whole affair is likely to blow over. No one notable in Washington is likely to continue this argument much further. The most interesting development is the potential creation of a court to oversee drone strikes, an idea which is gaining momentum.
The week ahead: what to expect in the State of the Union
Look for a pivot back to the middle class
Obama was apparently surprised by the widespread coverage of his second Inaugural Address as a liberal push, and intends to scale back his tone in Tuesday’s address. In other words, don't look for more liberal broadsides on LGBT rights and equal pay. Expect a focus on jobs and other economic issues as Obama attempts to refocus on the middle class (whatever that means these days). It would not be surprising if we hear a return to the “middle-out and bottom-up” rhetoric of the campaign trail. Obama is also supposed to speak about wage growth, a topic likely to play well with voters worried about personal finances.
Speech will likely retread familiar ground
The State of the Union is a chance for the President to lay out his legislative agenda for the next year. Thanks to this handy infographic from the Washington Post, we can even guess what order he’ll tackle issues in. Obama will likely start out discussing the economy, move on to education and round things out with some discussions about the deficit and foreign policy. That section on the deficit will probably include some proposals about the sequester, since that is looming in the near future. Pay attention to who stands during his deficit policy proposals. If it's Biden, then Obama just proposed something favorable to Dems. If it's Boehner, Obama proposed cutting spending. If it's both, the policy just mentioned was probably so vague as to be meaningless.
Obama to tie environment to economy
Climate change was the centerpiece of Obama’s second inaugural address. While the environment will not be as central here as it was in that speech, expect Obama to tie the economy to the environment. With the reshuffling currently going on in the President’s climate team, now is the ideal time for the President to reiterate his commitment to environmental issues while framing the issue in a way that appeals to conservatives as well. The nomination of former REI CEO Sally Jewell for the Secretary of the Interior position is the first step in building a national consensus on environmental issues, and Obama will likely use his platform on Tuesday to push further on the issue.
Foreign policy will not be highlighted
After six months of Benghazi, Afghanistan and drone strikes, Obama would like to switch away from foreign policy for a bit. Aware that the recent focus on foreign policy has seemed pointless to many Americans, Obama would like to move away from distant issues like that and focus more on domestic policy. Still, expect to hear some things about foreign policy. With a trip to Israel coming up, Obama will likely focus at least a bit on our special relationship in the Middle East. He will probably touch on nuclear proliferation a bit as well, if Joe Biden’s comments in Munich are any indication.
Republican responses will highlight rising stars
Florida Senator and GOP rising star Marco Rubio is going to deliver the official Republican response to the State of the Union address. Praised for his conservative attitudes and his recent leadership on immigration, Rubio is a solid choice for a GOP that is trying to present a diverse face. From the more conservative wing of the party, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul will be presenting the Tea Party response. Like Rubio, Paul is frequently touted as a rising leader in the party. Their separate TV appearances point to ongoing divisions within the Republican Party, though Paul says his response is simply an addition to Rubio’s.