Politics 2013: Obama's SOTU address to touch on immigration, economy, growth and guns

Feb. 10, 2013 at 4:01 AM
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A look back gives insight into what President Obama will highlight Tuesday during his first State of the Union address of his second term.

Obama's inaugural address Jan. 21 was aggressive and packed with policy issues -- gun control, immigration reform, energy, education, jobs creation and gay rights. All have been moved from the background of the first term to the spotlight of his second.

Obama's first address before a joint session of Congress in 2009 focused on trying to inspire confidence as the nation was in the grip of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, telling Americans that the country would rebuild and emerge from the Great Recession stronger.

Fast-forward to 2013. Empowered by his re-election, Obama will push Congress to pass immigration reform and strengthen gun laws.

He previewed his themes last week to House Democrats during their issues conference in Lansdowne, Va., telling them he would present an agenda for economic growth that would balance more deficit reduction work with investments crucial for the economy to grow.

"I'm going to be talking about making sure that we're focused on job creation here in the United States of America," Obama said. "It means that we're focused on education and that every young person is equipped with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century. It means that we've got an energy agenda that can make us less dependent on foreign oil, but also that we're cultivating the kind of clean energy strategy that will maintain our leadership well into the future."

It also means discussions about deficits, taxes, "sequesters and potential government shutdowns and debt ceiling ... all from the perspective of how are we making sure that somebody who works hard in this country," Obama said, "can make it if they work hard, and that their kids can make it and dream even bigger dreams than they have achieved."

John Sides of George Washington University told Voice of America Obama must walk a tightrope between the economic progress made and the continuing hardships of many Americans still are experiencing.

"The economy is improving; his approval is up slightly. But I think we're still in pretty tenuous territory," Sides said. "Mass unemployment is very much still with us and likely will be with us for some time."

While economic growth is a priority, ensuring opportunity for all also is key, Obama told House Democrats.

"And that's why immigration reform is so critical," he said. "I said this is going to be a top priority and an early priority of my administration. I am heartened to see Republicans and Democrats starting to be in a serious conversation about getting this done."

"Now is the time."

Obama said another issue that demanded attention was gun violence.

Recognizing there may be regional differences that should be respected, Obama said, "[What] we know is the majority of responsible gun owners recognize we cannot have a situation in which 20 more of our children, or a 100 more of our children, or a 1,000 more of our children are shot and killed in a senseless fashion, and that there are some commonsense steps that we can take and build a consensus around. And we cannot shy away from taking those steps."

Obama told House Democrats he would discuss ensuring Americans are safe from terror as well.

"[We're] also going to have to make sure that we keep the American people safe, which means that we're going to continue to work, even as we draw down our troops in Afghanistan, to go after those who would attack America," Obama said.

Anthony Cordesman, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies -- a bipartisan think tank in Washington -- told VOA he expects Obama to include the "problems and upheavals in the Arab world."

Giving the Republican response is rising star Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who delivered a well-received keynote address during the party's national convention in Tampa, Fla.

The State of the Union response slot is considered a potential launching pad for politicians holding national ambitions. Rubio, a Tea Party-backed Cuban-American conservative, is one of the most-hyped figures in the GOP -- and thought to be eying the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, NBC News reported.

Delivering the faithful opposition's response isn't without risk, however. Another up-and-comer, Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, gave a response that was panned by Republicans and Democrats alike.

"I'm honored to have this opportunity to discuss how limited government and free enterprise have helped make my family's dreams come true in America," Rubio said in a statement. "Limited government and free enterprise are the very foundation of what makes America special and separates us from the world, particularly through our strong middle class. I look forward to laying out the Republican case of how our ideas can help people close the gap between their dreams and the opportunities to realize them."

Rubio has been at the fore recently for his work as part of a bipartisan group of senators that crafted a comprehensive immigration reform framework that would include a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Rubio has been working to sell the blueprint to conservatives.

"His speech will focus on the Republican Party's agenda to grow the middle class," an aide to Rubio told NBC News. "Immigration will likely be mentioned as one way to grow the economy, but the speech really is about the Republican Party's commitment to limited government as the best way to help the middle class, and how it differs from the president's plans for bigger government."

When he announced Rubio as the Republican responder, House Speaker John Boehner said the Florida senator "is one of our party's most dynamic and inspiring leaders. He carries our party's banner of freedom, opportunity and prosperity in a way few others can. His family's story is a testament to the promise and greatness of America."

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