WASHINGTON — Heading into his sixth State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barack Obama said he is a “little more relaxed” and by now “more better at it.”
Those Obama reflections came in one of a string of White House-produced videos released over the past several days intended to drum up interest in his speech before a joint session of Congress at 8 p.m. Chicago time.
One of those videos featured the reunited cast of the “The West Wing” in a very clever bit of fast-paced schtick reminiscent of the show, broadcast between 1999 and 2006.
The patter between the real press secretary, Josh Earnest, and the veterans of the Jed Bartlett fictional administration — Martin Sheen, Allison Janney, Dule Hill, Mary McCormick, Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford — was aimed at drumming up interest in a Wednesday “open for questions” session at whitehouse.gov.
The White House has been rolling out a few potential highlights in the past days as Obama’s speech comes in a new context for him.
Obama has to grapple with Republicans newly in charge of the Senate — the House chamber has been under GOP control — and two years of potentially grinding battles with Congress as he works to solidify his legacy.
In his regular Saturday address Obama previewed a main theme — one that has been a staple through the years – of boosting the middle class.
“Our job now is to make sure that every American feels that they’re a part of our country’s comeback. That’s what I’ll focus on in my State of the Union — how to build on our momentum, with rising wages, growing incomes, and a stronger middle class. And I’ll call on this new Congress to join me in putting aside the political games and finding areas where we agree so we can deliver for the American people,” Obama said.
Earlier, he announced his proposal for a federal/state plan to provide free community college tuition, an expensive nonstarter for Congress.
Over the weekend, the White House unveiled a package of tax proposals, many that will have a hard time in the House Ways and Means Committee newly chaired by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
One very contentious Obama request: to raise the top capital gains rate to 28 percent. Obama’s package includes other tax changes that would, according to the White House, “almost exclusively impact the top 1 percent.”
State of the Union guests
The House gallery at the State of the Union will be full of guests.
I reported earlier that guests in first lady Michelle Obama’s box will include Malik Bryant, a 13-year old from Englewood.
She also invited USAID subcontractor Alan Gross, the Maryland man who was imprisoned in Cuba for five years. His release last month marked a thaw in U.S.-Cuba relations, and the cameras will swing to him when Obama talks about Cuba in his speech.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., makes a tradition of inviting wounded Illinois soldiers to the speech, and this year his guest is Retired Air Force Capt. Anthony “Tony” Simone, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while on his third deployment.
Durbin started his tradition in 2005 when his guest was then-Army Maj. Tammy Duckworth, who was still a patient in a military hospital here after being wounded in Iraq.
Flash forward: The guest of now-Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., is Harper College student Homira Wardak, 19, of Elgin, who is involved with One Million Degrees, a Chicago nonprofit that provides a package of assistance to students who need help to stay in school.
Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is taking Jackson Cunningham, a youngster from Champaign. Like Kirk, he’s recovering from a stroke.
Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., has been focusing on combating human trafficking, and his guest is Laila Mickelwait of Exodus Cry, a Missouri organization battling sex trafficking.