President Barack Obama will use his final State of the Union address in January to deliver a “non-traditional” speech to the American people that focuses on his vision for the country, rather than a long list of legislative priorities, senior administration officials said Thursday.
Still, the White House is pushing back on the notion Obama will be a “lame duck” in his last year in office. Senior administration officials hinted Obama will present ambitious plans in early 2016 for closing the terror detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and executive actions aimed at keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
“Going into the last year, I don’t think you should expect a huge, long list from the President of legislative to-dos,” cautioned one senior official about Obama’s address. Instead, Obama hopes to use the January 12 speech to marshal public support for some of his remaining administration priorities, aides said.
White House officials acknowledge the President’s proposals for Guantanamo and gun safety are likely to run into immediate resistance among many Republicans in Congress. But the West Wing continues to hold out hope for bipartisanship on such issues as criminal justice reform, an area that has attracted the interest of influential conservatives.
Privately, aides said Obama is bristling at the thought of being irrelevant during the heat of the 2016 presidential race. Senior administration officials confidently insisted the President will drive the campaign agenda. Additionally, Obama expects to campaign hard for Democrats during the upcoming cycle and may endorse a candidate before the primary process concludes, aides said.
“The campaign trail is going to spend a lot of time talking about us,” boasted one official.
“To anyone who lived through the last year, it sounds a little naive to think we will just float through the next year,” another top official noted, pointing to Obama’s use of his “pen and phone” in 2014 and 2015 to churn out a litany of executive actions on issues ranging from climate change to overtime pay.
Guns, Guantanamo on Top of To-Do List
Yet Obama and his team fully understand they are likely to run into fierce resistance on Capitol Hill to any administrative attempts to tighten gun restrictions, rather than work through a GOP-controlled Congress — a hot-button maneuver the White House legal staff is currently assessing.
The failure to pass new gun control laws, in the face of repeated mass shootings, is widely considered the administration’s greatest disappointment, one official said. It’s on the President’s mind, an aide added.
“This is something we expect to come out in short order,” one official said, forecasting the administration’s gun proposal to be made public after the holidays.
Shuttering the terror detention facility at Guantanamo also remains a top Obama priority, officials said, despite roadblocks to such a move inserted into the current budget deal that is expected to be passed and signed into law next week.
“The President wants to work with Congress to get this done,” one aide said, pointing out several Republicans have advocated closing the prison in the past.
The White House is feeling a newfound optimism in working with new House Speaker Paul Ryan, who shepherded the massive omnibus spending and tax package through his conservative caucus in recent weeks.
“What we’re experiencing right now is something we haven’t experienced in a long time,” a senior administration official quipped, noting the country is on the verge of seeing its second major budget deal in a row passed by Congress, without any major brinkmanship.