Everything you need to know before tuning in to President Obama's last big shot to set the agenda in Washington
President Obama delivers his fourth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, a high-profile opportunity to lay out his plans and hopes for his second term — while there's still enough second term left for him to get things done before Washington turns its attention to 2014 elections, about a year from now. "I don't want to say it's the last important speech he's going to give, but the window for a second-term president is fairly narrow," Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman for George W. Bush, tells Reuters. Here's a guide to Obama's best last chance to set the agenda for a divided Washington:
What should we expect from the 2013 State of the Union address?
If you're planning to play a State of the Union drinking game, and you have to get behind the wheel (or go to work Wednesday), don't opt to down a shot every time Obama says "jobs" or "middle class." The president is tipped to spend much of the address proposing ways to ramp up job creation — giving workers the skills they need, steering federal resources toward infrastructure projects, and boosting energy production and manufacturing — in a way that rewards hard work and strengthens the middle class. But the "anodyne, stage-managed West Wing leaks" about a jobs-focused speech isn't the whole story, says Glenn Thrush at Politico. "Privately, administration officials see it as an extension of Obama's unabashedly provocative and progressive Jan. 21 inaugural address," urging action on a whole range of issues — immigration, gun control, and climate change all likely candidates. In other words, SOTU 2013 "will be less a presidential olive branch than a congressional cattle prod."
Will there be anything new?
After Obama's punchy inaugural address, the SOTU will almost certainly be "anti-climactic," says Politico's Thrush. But "there is, as always, potential for surprise." Presidents often use the big annual address to Congress and the nation to lay out an unexpected new initiative. This State of the Union also marks the debut of Cody Keenan as Obama's chief speechwriter. Keenan, who used to write for Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), "is known for a more emotive, visceral approach" to language than the man he's replacing as head scribe, Obama alter-ego Jon Favreau.
When is the speech, and how can I watch it?
Obama is scheduled to start his walk to the podium at 9 pm Eastern time. All the major networks and cable news channels will broadcast the speech, and there are ample opportunities to watch it online (Mashable has a good list of sites). If you want to watch (online or on TV) without any media filter, C-SPAN is probably your best bet. YouTube, Hulu, and CNN are live-streaming the speech, and CBS News is streaming it on Ustream. If you want more of a curated, partisan viewing experience, both the White House and House Republicans are promising "enhanced" webstreams of the speech — the White House version will include charts, graphs, and supporting data; the GOP will provide real-time rebuttal. "It's going to be a living and breathing document online," House GOP social media chief Tim Cameron tells Politico.
Who will be sitting with the First Lady?
In a tradition that extends back to Ronald Reagan, First Lady Michelle Obama will share her box with a list of guests usually invited to highlight acts of heroism — or a particular policy proposal from the speech. This year's guests include Apple CEO Tim Cook, new Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Clinton Romesha, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D), and victims of gun violence, including the parents of slain Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton, whose funeral Michelle Obama attended over the weekend. Some Republicans have invited guests, too; most provocatively, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Texas) is bringing Obama-bashing gun advocate Ted Nugent. And while "serious people don't care — or so they say" — plenty of eyes will be fixed on the First Lady herself, says CNN's Jessica Yellin. Ever since she shocked Washington by showing up at her husband's first address to Congress in 2009 with bare arms, "her outfit has become one of the best (sometimes only) surprises of the night." So, "will she bare her arms again? Right now, it's one of the most closely held secrets in Washington."
Who's delivering the official response to Obama's speech?
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is taking on the high-risk (see Gov. Bobby Jindal, 2009), high-reward job of responding to Obama's speech on behalf of his party. Rubio is a rising GOP star and often-mentioned 2016 presidential contender, so his performance will be at least as closely watched as Obama's. "From Rubio's point of view, it's less offering a rebuttal of the president's speech and more an audition for a leading role in a future Republican Party," Jim Kessler at the centrist think tank Third Way tells Politico. But if Obama has to share the spotlight with Rubio, Rubio has to share it with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who's offering the Tea Party response to Obama's SOTU. Then things just "get strange," says Chris Moody at Yahoo News. On Monday night, the Democratic National Committee offered a "prebuttal" of sorts to "Rubio's not-yet-delivered Republican rebuttal to Obama's not-yet-delivered national address." Just as Rubio has to write a reaction to a speech he hasn't seen, the DNC took its shot at reacting to a speech Democrats haven't seen. "In other words, if you can't have the last word about the State of the Union, you'd better be sure to have the first."
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