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The man sitting over the president’s left shoulder Tuesday night, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, shouldn’t expect too much in the way of conciliation — beyond rhetorical flourishes — as President Barack Obama tries to lay claim in detail to an expansive second-term mandate.
Indeed, a confident, re-elected president is expected to ask Congress to finally overcome its perpetual gridlock to act on job creation, the deficit, immigration, guns and much more. But Obama won’t really be talking to Boehner or the rest of Congress at all. Having been burned multiple times in one-on-one talks with the speaker and other congressional Republicans over the past few years, all indications are that the president is planning on using the bully pulpit once again to try to get public opinion on his side and put pressure on his political adversaries.
After all, Obama has kept up a steady stream of campaign-style appearances and transformed his formidable campaign apparatus into a new advocacy organization. That will continue after the State of the Union address with Obama flying to North Carolina, Georgia and Illinois in the following days.
The hardball, talk-to-the-hand approach so far has worked; Obama got an all-revenue deal during the fiscal-cliff negotiations, and momentum has surged for an immigration accord on the wave of Hispanic voters who helped fuel Obama’s big Electoral College majority.
White House aides have long maintained that the administration’s successes have come from an outside-in push rather than through closed-door negotiations and schmoozing with GOP lawmakers. As a result, Tuesday’s speech will be as much about enlisting the public as it will Congress, as both the White House and Congress head into battle over the March 1 start of the sequester, a potential Easter government shutdown and a reprise of the debt ceiling fight in May.
The White House has been busy talking up “jobs” legislation for the State of the Union, and those poll-tested, tried-and-true items such as spending on infrastructure, new manufacturing initiatives or hiring police officers and teachers are a staple for the president.
Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday said that while there has been an emphasis on immigration and gun violence, Obama’s speech will focus on his top priority, “which is to get this economy growing, get it creating jobs, strengthening the middle class and expanding the middle class.”